Slowly, I raise my pistol and point it at his stomach, keeping it obscured from the rest of the fast food joint by half-covering it with the bulky sleeve of my black trench coat. “Money. Now.”

It only takes two words and a gun—be it real or fake, though in my case, it’s real—to rob someone. Easy, right? If only. It’s the not-getting-caught part that’s tricky, and really tricky at that.

I have the bullet wound to prove it.

The guy behind the counter, the cashier . . . he’s my ticket to the money. Unfortunately, he’s also a pimply dweeb in his teens who is currently staring at the gun like a deer caught in headlights. I can see the terror in his eyes, the bead of sweat making its way down his forehead.

Fuck. I hate the teenagers. They almost always freeze up on me, with that same panicked look. At least the old-timers, the ones in their fifties, have been around long enough to know how to handle this situation. Most of them, anyway.

I lick at my lips, growing desperate. Time is everything. If someone sees me—if someone calls the cops . . .

No. I can’t let my mind wander there, to that place. If it does, I’ll get nervous, and I’ve gotta stay level-headed right now. Since clearly the kid—whose name tag reads “Charlie”—isn’t going to be the calm one here.

“Look, I won’t hurt you,” I hiss, lowering the gun slightly. More to keep someone from spotting it than anything else. “You just have to empty the register and give me the cash. Okay?”

“Y-yes,” he stutters, his cracked, slim lips quivering. I see his throat jump as he swallows. “I’m sorry, I . . . I’ll do it right now.”

I reach into the pocket of my trench with my free hand and pull out a bag made of stretchy material. I created it myself for this purpose, during one late night of cocaine and debauchery with my then-boyfriend, Shark. “Put everything in this as discreetly as possible.”

He nods, trying as quickly as he can to fill the bag. I let the gun rest against the counter—the lower part still obscured by my sleeve—and test my luck by glancing behind me, trying to see if anyone’s aware of what’s taking place.

I came at a less busy time of day, something I figured out from weeks of stalking this place. There’s just two families sitting at bright red booths, the parents distracted by their children’s ketchup finger-painting or French fry food war. Thank God.

It’s not one of those big or well-known restaurants, just one of those burger places that becomes popular in some typical suburban town and then grows into a chain of three or four. Each is vague, identical to the last, with a clientele made up of smiley, glib families.

When I turn back toward the cashier, the bag’s nice and plump with stacks of the green. Perfect.

“That’s all,” he says. His face has gone entirely pale. He’ll probably faint five seconds after I leave.

I take the bag from him and remove the gun cleanly from the counter, sticking it inside the oversized pocket of my trench. The bag feels heavy, rewardingly so. It gives me an energized little jolt, knowing I have a nice reserve of cash in there, waiting for me.

I nod at the boy as I walk backwards toward the door of the diner, my eyes never leaving him. I think about adding something—“Wait ten minutes before you call anyone, especially the police”—but it probably wouldn’t do much good, and the families sitting nearby might hear me.

When I finally get to the door, I turn around and rush out, clinging to the bag with a white-knuckled grip. You did it, Gabriela. Again.

Of course I know I’m not out of the woods just yet. I still have to make it back to my place without getting caught. If he calls the police and they spot me running . . .

I round the corner, passing some stone-faced businessmen drinking coffee and eating bagels as I do. I hear a brief snippet of their conversation—“Did you hear that Samson got promoted?”—before disappearing into a nearby alleyway, riddled with Dumpsters and pieces of gum splattered on the ground.

I pause, leaning into one of the cool walls of a building, and only then tear off my long blond wig. It’s old, ratted and faded, and not terribly convincing, but it does its job.

Putting both the wig and the bag of cash down, I take out my real hair from its restraining bun and hairnet, letting the wavy raven locks tumble past my shoulders. I feel so much more me without the blond phoniness covering my head.

I don’t wear masks. They attract attention. I wear wigs, high heels, and buckets of makeup in an attempt to disguise myself. My boyfriend Shark used to hook us up with colored contact lenses too, but now that I’m a solo agent I just go with the wigs and makeup. The contacts are overkill, anyway.

I’ve never been arrested. It’s a miracle, really. Probably because the cops in this town are lazy and inept, and I’m usually pretty careful. Really careful, even.

And the cops that do get close are generally the crooked ones. They aren’t too hard to get off my back, be it with cash or some other means. It’s amazing how desperate some of them are for womanly attention.

I know how I sound. I realize I’m not a good person. But you know what? Fuck being a good person. Fuck those cops on their high horses, pretending to be good people when really, most of them are just desperate men with desperate and deprived needs. Fuck them.

Maybe I’m a bad person. But at least I’m a realist.

I retrieve my bag from the ground and take a look inside. It’s only a brief peek, but it’s enough to see I got a lot. More than I thought I would. Jackpot.

With a smirk, I stuff my wig into the bag and then take off, out the other side of the alley. I know this town backwards and forwards. I’ll go out the other side and hit Main Street where, just past the candy store and hardware shop, there’s a ramshackle old Victorian that’s been abandoned for ages. The city has been wanting to do something with it for a while, but because of a lack of funds, it’s just sat there as an eyesore. Hopefully I’ll get at least a few more months out of it before they tear it down—which has been their intent for a few weeks now, or so the rumors swirling around claim.

When I reach the Victorian on the fringes of downtown, I glance in both directions to make sure no one’s looking before I walk up the side of the property.

It’s the kind of house you can tell was beautiful back in the day. With its peeling paint and stately front door, picture windows that have been boarded up and smacked with signs reading No Trespassing or other such useless commands, it makes me sad in a weird way. Watching this once-pretty home fade away, left crippled and broken from time.

I walk around to the back. One of the windows, which probably used to overlook a grassy and welcoming yard, is broken. The pieces of wood that had been blocking entry have been torn apart, leaving only shards in their wake. Shark did that: He broke the glass and the wood one night, and then declared the Victorian “our place.” Words that made me smile.

I toss the bag of cash through the window and then, as gracefully as possible, follow it inside. Walking in through the front door is a no-go, as it has a billion locks on it and would be far too obvious anyway. The window, though trickier, is my only way in. One little present Shark left me before . . . things went south, I guess you could say.

The city hasn’t come around and noticed my presence—or the broken window—yet, but it hasn’t been that long. I know they’ll find out eventually. And when they do, I’m screwed.

But that’s a problem I’ll deal with later.

I stroll through what I’ve decided is the dining room. Pieces of furniture still remain, even after all this time. Creepy shit, too, like a broken glass doll or a tipped-over chair splattered with cobwebs, or pieces of newspaper covered with what I pray to God is mud. None of it has much rhyme or reason.

Some of the pieces I figure were left by the house’s original owners. The rest probably belonged to the homeless people that once took up residence here, before the city chased them out. Or they died. Honestly, I’m not sure what happened to them—Shark had told me they were gone, and left it at that. I knew better than to ask questions. He hated questions.

Sometimes, in moments of sheer lunacy or loneliness (aren’t they one and the same, really?), I’ll talk to the house as if it’s Shark. Because—and I know this must sound crazy—it reminds me of him. It’s broken and dirty and messed-up. It was abandoned and unloved. And even though it seems empty, it’s filled with things, things that don’t make sense but still define its character.

And that was Shark, basically.

It sounds fucking corny, but goddamn—he saved me. In a story as old as time, I ran away from home when I was fourteen, after my stepfather proved to be a piece of shit and my mother refused to intervene. I begged my sister Violeta to run away with me. I can still remember sitting hunched over her bed, in tears as I wept for her to come. But it was late, and she was tired. Violeta was never good when she was tired.

Perhaps she didn’t believe me.

So I left her. It’s not a decision I’m proud of. In fact, I have nightmares about leaving her quite often, and not a day goes by that I don’t wish I could’ve taken her with me.

I haven’t seen her, the stepfather, or my mother since then. It’s been two years now, though it feels like longer. Like fucking decades.

She’s fifteen now; we’re only a year apart. But we were always different girls growing up. I was the tomboy, she was the girly-girl. Gabriela and Violeta. Gab and Vi to everyone that knew us, the girls that rode bikes together and swung together and did everything together. Well, until we “grew apart” one day. Or rather, she grew apart from me.

Not that blaming will do any good.

I met Shark one week after leaving, when I was living on the streets and begging for money. It sounds dramatic, I know, but that’s honestly all I was doing. It was what I had seen in movies, and all I knew how to do. Stealing hadn’t even occurred to me.

Shark, seventeen then and street smart thanks to his druggie mother taking off a year earlier, showed me the ropes. He was the closest thing to a friend that I had had since my hazy bestie days with Violeta, and our friendship eventually blossomed into . . . romance? I hate calling it that, really I do, but there’s not a better way to describe what it was. Except for maybe a “mutual appreciation” of one another, in the most non-platonic way possible.

But they killed him. Those cops, those horrible holier-than-thou fiends. It was just a bank robbery. Sure, something like that takes skill to pull off, but neither of us imagined it could go that wrong.

He was shot twice, once in the stomach and once in the head, and died on the streets. I was able to flee successfully, by some fucking miracle, but not without taking a bullet to my shoulder.

It’s all been a blur since then. Getting my wound stitched up by one of Shark’s old friends, I was able to lay low. Until today, anyway. It’s my first robbery since the bank.

I’m trying to get enough cash for a plane ticket out of here, before the police track me down. And they will. I don’t need to own a TV to know my face is being plastered all over it, albeit in a wig. But they have footage of me, and they’re taking this seriously because . . . well, because I shot someone. Someones. And so did Shark.

It wasn’t supposed to go so wrong. It really wasn’t.

With a sigh, I walk around the dark and mostly empty home. Shark was able to get us some futons from garage sales, but that was it. Which is fine—it was really all we needed. Well, that and food, but we have—or had—enough money to keep us both fed. Although eating is tricky when you don’t have a working stove or fridge or microwave.

There was talk of finding an apartment after the bank robbery, but obviously that didn’t work out. A shame, too. As much as I like the Victorian, it would’ve been nice to have a place with heat and working appliances.

“Why’d you have to go and get killed?” I ask the ceiling, for no real reason. Then I chuckle to myself humorlessly, thinking of how rotten my luck is. Always has been, always will be.

It’s just as this thought is occurring to me that I hear it. The sirens, that is. Police sirens.

I know instantly what’s going on. They’re here for me. At long last, they’re here. Predicable; foreseeable; sad. But I’m certain of it. There’s not a flicker of doubt in my mind.

Sure enough, the sirens stop outside my house. Voices. Shouting. They’re coming around the back, I think, though it’s hard to tell with all the windows being boarded up.

I can’t make out what they’re saying, but their voices are urgent. They’re going to break in. Right? Must be.

I don’t think it over: As soon as my fight or flight instinct kicks in, I’m running up the nearby staircase to the second floor. There’s three floors in total, though the last one’s just an attic.

I run into the bedroom, where Shark had put the futons. I shut the door but can’t lock it, since the locks are old-fashion and actually require a key.

I can hear the voices. Coming for me, breaking down the door or the window or something and coming to get me. I don’t know how they found me, or care. What’s more important is that I’m trapped. Truly, horribly trapped.

As this sets in, I feel a sense of dread come over me. A sense of hopelessness, which has to be one of the worst feelings in the world. If not the worst.

And distantly, like the beat of a drum, I hear them running up the stairs. Toward this room, toward me.

“Make this easy on yourself and come out, Gabriela,” one of them yells.

His voice is muffled through the door, but I still very clearly hear my name. How does he know? My mother, surely. She must’ve seen my face on TV and phoned them up, blabbing on and on endlessly about what a “bad seed” I was and how she “tried her best” with me, and what a shock it was that I actually had it in me to “shoot and kill someone!”

But that’s the thing. We’re all bad people. The difference is that some of us are brave enough to admit it.

“I’m not going to prison,” I whisper. And on that note, I take out my gun, still stuffed into the pocket of my trench coat. I can either try to shoot my way out of here, try to kill those officers who will no doubt be credited as “heroes” in tomorrow’s news, or I can kill myself.

What to do, what to do . . .

It’s frightening, how calm I am. Full of dread, yes. But scared? No. A sense of peace has washed over me, knowing that either way, I’m not going to jail. Whatever I decide, I am not going to jail. And that’s it, that’s all I needed to know in order to slow my racing heart and relax my sweating, clenched fists.

Gabriela, you’re not going to jail.

The door opens, but my mind has already gone elsewhere.

Only after they come inside do I look up and see the three officers standing before me. That’s right, three. They must’ve thought I was real special to send three in.

Well, I am special. I’ve robbed half this town and killed two people, all before I turned eighteen. What an achievement.

I might’ve laughed at that, too, if I wasn’t staring down the barrel of their guns. If I wasn’t listening to one of them whine, “Drop your weapon, put your hands up!” over and over.

Isn’t it amazing how just one click can change a person’s life? Can end a person’s life? One pull of the trigger . . .

I study my pistol, debating who I should shoot. Me or them? I’ve always hated big decisions.

With a smile, I make up my mind. Just like that.