By Diana Rowland
Mangle and his crew—two men and two women—gathered around a folding table in the basement of his mama’s dry cleaners. He’d borrowed a fancy black suit from the rack upstairs, dead set on impressing his new gang.
“All right,” Mangle said, smacking his hands together. “This heist will set us all up for life. I picked each of you for your skills—your wild card skills—that’ll make it an absolute cinch to steal the Red Diamond. We’re going all-in on this, the plan is solid, and we’re going to succeed.” He lifted his chin toward the woman with legs for miles and short-cropped black hair. “Kayla, tell the others what you can do.”
She lounged back in her chair with a sultry smile. “I sing people to sleep.”
The others murmured in appreciation, and Mangle congratulated himself for a solid hire.
Across the table, Sam smirked. “I can make smoke bombs from my belly fat.” He jiggled his rolls for emphasis.
The crew’s reaction was a cross between disgust and fascination, but that was good enough in Mangle’s eyes.
Next up was Jolene, a middle-aged woman with red hair pulled into a messy bun. She crossed her arms over her chest. “I crack safes.”
Sam grinned. “Niiiice. And I can give you some smoke for cover.” The others nodded in agreement.
Mangle beamed. He waited a good ten seconds for the scrawny young man with a scraggly beard and shifty eyes to speak up before he elbowed him. “Bobbie, don’t be shy. Saving the best for last and all that.”
Bobbie cleared his throat. Then cleared it again. “Yeah, so . . . well . . .” His gaze skittered around the room. “I, uh, blow up.”
Sam frowned. “Wait, you mean you blow things up, right?”
“Nah, I blow up. Boom.” He added sound effects that morphed into a strained laugh.
Mangle clapped him on the back and looked eagerly from face to face. “Pretty impressive, huh?”
To his dismay, not a single one looked the least bit convinced.
“Um,” Kayla said, forehead puckering. “Like, full explode? How are you even here, alive?”
“I come back together eventually, but it takes a long time. So, I’d prefer to just be used as a threat.”
Mangle rapped his knuckles on the table as he’d seen a mob boss do once in a movie. “That’s the deal we agreed on. Don’t worry.”
Jolene narrowed her eyes. “Hang on, Mangle. This dude is going to walk in there and say ‘Gimme the diamond, or I’ll blow up’? And he gets a full cut?’”
“Well . . . yeah,” Mangle said, doubt creeping in like fog over the river. “It’s a gamble, but would you risk it?”
Sam looked thoughtful. “Er, I guess that makes sense.”
Kayla whacked him on the arm. “Like hell it does. If some rando walked in here and said ‘Give me all your money or I’ll blow up,’ I’d laugh my ass off then tell him I’d help stuff the dynamite up his—” She shot to her feet and planted her fists on the table. “I think you’re lying through your yellow teeth about being a wild card just to get a cut of the take.”
“Chill out, guys,” Mangle urged, standing up. “We’re all on the same—”
“Oh yeah, Miss Sing-‘em-to-Sleep?” Bobbie shouted. “Why are you picking on me? How do we know that Sam here is telling the truth?” He glared at the hapless Sam. “C’mon, dude, show us a smoke bomb.”
“Show us a fucking smoke bomb. Pull it out of your belly like you said. Bet you can’t.”
Mangle waved his arms. “Everybody take a breath. Breathe in.” He inhaled deeply as mama had taught him to do when upset.
“Shut up, Mangle!” the others said in unison.
Mangle let the breath out as quietly as possible and shrank back.
Sam shoved himself up and waggled a finger at Kayla. “I believe Bobbie. Why would he lie?”
Kayla shook her head. “Well, aren’t you a pair.”
As Mangle mentally scrambled for a way to defuse the standoff, Jolene, calm and cool as Mangle wished he could be, said, “Sam, it’s probably in everyone’s best interest for you to just show ‘em what you got.”
Bobbie dragged the card table out of the way. “There you go, big boy. Plenty of room to do your thing.”
Sam scowled. “Fine.”
Mangle’s spirits lifted. They’d be back on track in no time once Sam showcased his skill.
Sam whoop whoop whoooooped and spun in circles, hunched his arms around himself and under his shirt. Ten spins later, he stopped, staggering drunkenly, proudly displaying a smoke bomb in each hand.
Mangle clapped with glee.
Bobbie gaped. “Are you shitting me? You just pulled those out of your pockets!”
“I did not!”
Kalya groaned. “You moron, they still have price tags on them.”
To Mangle’s horror, they did indeed have big yellow !!Fred’s Fireworks!! stickers. He took a deep, deep breath.
Sam hunched his shoulders, but then he focused on Jolene. “Hang on. You said you crack safes. You mean like an egg, right?”
“Nah. I’m just aces with locks.”
Mangle’s confidence slipped down another notch. “But . . . you answered an ad for wild cards.”
“Sure did.” She jerked a shoulder up in a shrug. “But I never said I was one, and you didn’t ask. I had the skill listed in the job description, so I applied.”
Mangle groaned. “Kayla, please tell me you’re actually a wild card.”
Kayla bit her lip. “I might have been stretching the truth a teensy bit.”
“Stretching it from what?”
Her face reddened in a flush. “The truth is . . . I’m a club singer, okay? Just a really lousy one. Total flop. The only people who stick around are the ones too drunk to walk out. My boss made a crack about how my super power was making people leave, and I got fired. That’s why I need this gig.”
Mangle’s last hope was fading fast, but he locked eyes with Bobbie. “Tell me straight. You can really explode. Right?”
Bobbie stuffed his hands into his pockets and shuffled his feet. “Sorry, man. I was hoping to bluff my way through and score a sweet payout, but I guess I’m just a dud.”
Kayla looked around the room. “And I guess this means the heist’s off.”
Mangle folded into his chair and let out a morose sigh. “Mama always said I wasn’t playing with a full deck.”