The first time Wilhelmina Pang saw her, it was on the observation deck of the Yokohama Landmark Tower. They had gotten a tip that someone would try to steal the 42-carat emerald necklace from the hotel room of one of Global Insurance Group's best clients, and Wil was one of the few investigators they trusted enough to handle it.
The thief was supposed to hit after dark that night, so company policy dictated that Wil arrive at least several hours before. In mid-afternoon, Wil finally located the client – who had, astoundingly, left one of the great jewels of the world in her hotel room safe – and escorted her to the hotel room on the 64th floor to retrieve and relocate the emerald someplace safer.
As the elevator doors opened onto the hallway, though, they saw the back of a woman dressed all in black, wearing a black backpack, with her hair swept up in a black cap. She was running away from the client’s room.
Wil’s gut lurched and she immediately ran after, but after seeing the thief run up the stairs far faster than Wil could ever hope to, she dashed to the elevator and made a bet that the thief was heading to the observation deck.
When the doors to the deck opened, she saw the woman standing right at the railing, looking out over the bay. Wil concluded that she must not be quite as brilliant as her reputation made her sound -- apparently, she thought there would be a fire escape this far up. They were in fact so high up that the wind blew loud and turbulent all around them, and Wil had to plant her feet just to steady herself.
Wil took out her gun then (even though she hated having to use her gun) and yelled to be heard above the wind, "Freeze! You’re cornered!"
The woman turned around slowly and smiled at her, eyes sparkling with mischief. Wil swallowed, finding it harder than usual to focus.
"Wow, you're cuter than most people who chase me," the woman said with a wink. She held her hands up then to show Wil she was unarmed, letting the necklace dangle loosely from her pinkie.
Wil stayed professional even as she was picturing what would happen to an emerald of that size if it fell 69 floors. It was times like these when she wished that lots of little emeralds were just as good as one big one.
She shouted, "Give up now, and I'll say that you co-operated. You can ask the courts for leniency."
The thief narrowed her eyes and sized her up. "You're not a cop," she yelled above the wind, right as her cap blew off, less an accusation than an amused observation.
"Insurance investigator. Which means I don't have to follow all the rules a cop does," she said sternly. It was the line all retrieval investigators were told to give when someone wasn't intimidated, but there was no way for the thief to know that.
The woman didn't seem impressed. She smiled again at Wil, determination hardening her features even as her eyes were smiling. Her long hair was loose now, hurtling wildly in the wind, dark streamers across the cerulean of the harbor view behind her.
Oh, shit, Wil thought, not even sure why she thought it, or why she felt a tight flutter push at her from inside her chest. It felt like the day she left Queens, or the day she became a field investigator, or the first time she told a girl she liked girls – like everything was about to change, and Wil was only half sure she was ready.
But the thief didn’t have time for Wil’s introspection. She chucked the necklace on the floor of the observation deck, and Wil rushed to pick it up, taking her eyes just for a moment off the woman who should really be a lot more scared than she was.
When Wil looked back up, the thief was standing on the railing, nothing but air between her and one of the tallest drops in the country.
"No, don't! I'll let you go!" Wil said. She wasn't even sure she meant it, but she was terrified. She didn't even know how the woman had the balance to stay steady on the thin railing in all that wind.
But the woman just laughed and gestured toward the necklace, saying, "Don't ever say I never gave you anything."
She turned and jumped then, and Wil ran to her, desperate, too late to stop it but quick enough to see the long arc of an almost balletic swan dive. And then she saw a gliding parachute unfurl from the thief’s backpack, a billowing rectangle of bright red cloth that rippled with the force of the breeze. The woman controlled it soon enough, shifting her body to guide it, using it to carry herself in a long slow descent across several city blocks and finally landing in a speedboat that was waiting in the water several blocks away.
Wil stared after her, watching her form move into the distance over several minutes, watching the bright red strip grow smaller as it moved far away, floating softly down like a feather, like a lip, trembling in the ocean wind. She should have called the police, or security, or anyone really. But she just stared, confused and amazed and maybe a little enraged.
And maybe something else too.
Months later, Wil was tracking down an opal and ruby encrusted tiara that had been stolen from a museum in Venice. She had made inroads with the local sellers and had gotten good intel on the likely whereabouts of the item. She was good at her job, good at analyzing the methods and contingencies of thieves and officials alike with almost surgical precision.
She had heard descriptions of the woman, and part of her wondered (fine, hoped) that it was the same thief she met in Japan, the one who stood in the sky and nearly knocked her down with her smile. Wil had tried - hard - to put her out of her mind, but even when she focused everything she had on work, on cases, on anything but that thief, she still dreamt of her. Almost every night, she dreamt of her smile, of her wink, of her hips in black fabric. Of her hair, powerful and rebellious against the wind. She dreamt of a woman gliding to victory like a superhero.
And so in Venice, even though the description fit, she had to wonder if maybe it was just her heart (or her sex drive) instead of her instincts that thought the same woman had come for the crown. When she finally tracked down the thief’s likely hideout, having to pressure more than a few fences to find it, she snuck in quietly, deftly manipulating the lock with a scalpel-like pick.
Apparently, she wasn’t quiet enough. Soon, she heard someone running down the fire escape and when she got to the window, the woman looked up.
Wil suspected as much.
But this time, the thief look astonished to see Wil. She stopped and just looked at Wil for a few seconds before they both remembered why they were there and the woman took off into a cobblestone alley.
Wil ran down the fire escape and chased her through the narrow streets, and though she was fast, the thief was faster, and soon Wil was gasping for air. The thief ran uphill - of course- eventually crossing one of the highest bridges in the city.
Wil could feel her chest go tight and raw with fear as she saw the thief climb up on to the old stone wall. It was only about forty-five feet up, but it was clear there was no parachute this time.
Wil kept running, though, even though she knew she wouldn't get there in time, and the thief, oddly enough, stood there until Wil was close enough to speak to her.
Wil stopped a good ten feet away, not wanting to scare her into doing something stupid. She tried to catch her breath and managed to gasp, "We should really stop meeting like this." She figured that maybe if she got the woman to think she had surprising things to say, then the thief would stick around a little longer.
Which she wanted for professional reasons, of course. It wasn't as if, having almost caught up to her, Wil was looking for a way to let her escape.
The woman laughed then, loud and unencumbered, the warmth of it immersing Wil so quickly it almost scared her. But then the thief gave a little wave and turned around to jump into the water below.
Wil was a little worried, but she figured that the woman could swim, and if she were in the water, it would actually give Wil time to get into position to apprehend her. She looked over the wall and tried to spot where she had landed.
There was nothing in the water. But there was a tall garbage boat that had just passed under the bridge, making the thief’s fall shorter and softer. At least that explained why the woman had waited before jumping.
The thief, lying flat in a tall heap of garbage but apparently uninjured, smiled up at Will and shrugged as if to say, What did you expect?
Wil smiled, against her will, half laugh and half chagrin. Who in the world can time a jump like that? she thought. The thief must have known the schedule, must have led Wil around those little streets just to tire her out and wait for the passing boat.
"Who are you!" Wil shouted down, more in disbelief than anything. She was still breathing hard from the chase.
"My name's Viv!" she yelled back even as the boat gained distance.
Wil hesitated, then returned, "I'm Wil."
As her voice faded into the distance, Viv responded, "One of these times, Wil, I'm going to get you to leap after me!"
What does that mean? Wil thought, staring in concentration as Viv again floated away from her.
Though, truthfully, she had a suspicion that she knew exactly what Viv meant.
The next time Wil saw her, Viv was in custody of French police officers. Wil tried not to think disparaging or jealous thoughts about the people who managed to attain what she hadn't. Besides, it wasn't their fault that Wil hadn't stopped thinking about Viv since Italy. Okay, technically since Japan.
It was actually Wil's boss, Mr. Shing, her supervising VP of retrieval and investigation at the insurance company, who sent Wil to retrieve Viv from Marseilles. He told her to pressure them or perhaps to hint at an international incident -- anything to get Viv back to headquarters. She was also told to keep it quiet, so Wil figured that Viv must have something even more valuable than the tiara from Venice.
Mr. Shing had also arranged for an Interpol friend of his, Jay, to accompany her to smooth things over if necessary. Apparently, this case was that important. Jay had worked with their company before, usually on cases where the theft was connected to something bigger, and Wil generally got along well with him.
This time, he kept looking at her. He kept asking why she looked so nervous.
And why she was suddenly so interested in how she looked in the mirror.
Wil changed the subject.
When they got there, Jay deftly handled the politics, with Wil playing the role of the stern insurance investigator who would hold their department up for international ridicule if their very reasonable demands weren't met. Finally, Jay handled the paperwork and Wil went to the holding area to retrieve Viv.
When the door opened, Wil saw her look up.
"I was hoping he'd send you," she said, smiling from the shadows. Wil thought she looked tired.
"Don't try anything or you'll be back here," she threatened Viv. Not true, but sounded good.
Viv stood up, resigned it seemed, and walked over to her. Under the harsh light bulb, Wil noticed a bruise on her forehead.
She pulled Viv aside.
"How did that happen?"
"A flying leap off the Eiffel Tower?" she pressed, hoping to amuse the woman into talking.
Instead, a flit of anger glided across Viv's eyes.
"So the cops did this?" Wil said, jaw clenching. "From the placement, it looks like someone pushed your face into the car as they were putting you into the backseat."
Viv sighed. For some reason, Wil felt like it was the sigh of someone who was entirely sick of being around investigators.
"Did they do anything else to you?" Wil asked, searching Viv for signs of deception.
"No," Viv said, calmly, and Wil believed her. "It was just the jerk who put me in the car."
"He did it on purpose."
Viv nodded. Wil knew the answer anyway - she knew how officers were trained in every country she worked, and she knew that bruises like this happen intentionally.
"Very funny. Who?"
Viv sighed again. "Tall. Dark blond hair. Face like a monkey."
"Viv, please," she said again, softer. Asking as a favor.
Viv rolled her eyes. "Badge 6524374."
Of course someone who could identify a diamond's cutter from across the room would have been able to memorize a badge number after a quick glance.
"But you can't do anything about it. I know you're only getting me because they're doing you a favor," Viv said.
Wil frowned. Viv knew too much, she felt sometimes. But she nodded. Viv was right. They weren't exactly getting her out by the book, and lodging a complaint could keep Viv here.
They walked out to the car, with some of the officers insisting on accompanying them to make sure the thief didn't escape yet again on their home turf. It would have been rude to suggest that their services would be more of a hindrance than a help, especially given their generosity in the matter of the custody of the jewel thief.
On the ride to the airport, none of them said much, but Wil noticed how uncomfortable Viv was. And how one of the officers kept sneering at Viv. It was then that Wil decided to sneak a look at the badges of the police officers escorting them.
Wil shot a glance at Viv, who was silently looking at her, reminding her that nothing could be done. Not if they wanted to fly Viv home tonight.
Wil sat quietly, frowning the rest of the way. The officers accompanied them all the way inside the airport, until Jay convinced them that with air transit security there, it would be fine.
As they said their professionally respectful good-byes and thanks-very-muches, Wil managed to trip on a loose corner of a carpet in the waiting area.
She managed to do it in a way that tripped 6524374, sending his face into a wall.
Wil apologized profusely but somehow not entirely convincingly. Perhaps because she was glaring while she said it.
Jay took the officers to the airline desk to ask for bandages for the man's bloody nose. Wil sat there guarding the prisoner, trying hard not to notice that Viv was staring at her.
Staring like Wil was her hero.
She kissed Wil in the middle of the airport, right before Jay returned. Viv tasted sweet. Intoxicating, even. More clash, more teeth than in Wil's dreams, but wetter too.
They shared a moment, something wordless, afterward, staring at each other as they leaned their faces almost - but not quite - close enough to touch. Before Jay could spot them, they sat back in their seats and did their best to look bored. Jay told them that the officers had decided to head back to their regular jobs, for some reason declining to say another good bye to Wilhelmina, and so Wil, Jay, and Viv got on the plane.
When they got back to their Manhattan headquarters, Viv was given an appointment with Mr. Shing right away. A few minutes later, Wil noticed her leaving the office angrily.
No one stopped her.
Mr. Shing, having noticed Wil gawking, gestured for her to come into his office. He shut the door after her.
"My daughter is a ... complicated girl," he said as he sat at his desk, embarrassed to be telling her this, it seemed.
It took Wil a moment to figure out what he meant.
Finally, she said, trying to look nonchalant and failing miserably, "Viv is your daughter?"
He nodded reluctantly.
Great, Wil thought. I'm not just lying to my boss about how I basically let a thief go in Venice because she was clever and gorgeous and funny and amazing. I'm also lying to the father of the girl that I just spent a plane ride having incredibly graphic fantasies about.... Awesome. And definitely not awkward.
"I don't know why she turned out this way," he said, looking down at his desk. "I wanted her to be a ballerina."
Viv wanted to laugh but felt a little sorry for the man. She thought about pointing out that a psychologist would say that it's natural for someone who's the daughter of one of the most prominent investigators of high end thefts - and a workaholic whom Wil imagined was quite the overbearing but largely absent dad- to become a high end thief. Luckily, she realized that wouldn't be nearly as comforting to her boss as it sounded in her head, so she just said, "She's very talented."
Her boss groaned. "She just confirmed that the Vancouver burglaries were hers too."
Wil started. That was her case last year.
And they had evidence at the time that the thief knew of her movements.
"I didn't tell her anything," Mr. Shing said, seeming to read her alarm. "But. Well, she grew up in my house, and I never talked about much except work, and well.... she's just good at knowing how we think."
Great. A thief who knows investigators' moves. Who is really good at executing complicated plans. And she has a connected father. And she can leap off buildings and glide to a tiny little boat. That shouldn't be a difficult adversary at all.
Mr. Shing continued to explain to Wil that Viv would be guarded from now on by corporate security, and proceeded to list the details. Wil nodded, distracted. But she could see that Mr. Shing was trying hard to be an honest man who still protected his family. He was keeping her out of prison on condition that she returned everything she had stolen and agreed not to escape the guard detail. He really felt like this was his last chance to be a good father and make sure she changed her life before it was too late.
Also, he would appreciate it if Wil stopped by her apartment several times a week to look out for any evidence that she might be able to slip out from under their noses. That last part got Wil's attention a little more than the rest.
Wil wanted to tell him that this would be a monumentally stupid idea. Because if Wil spent more time with her, she just knew her resistance would go from a thin line to blurry tangled mess. And Wil just didn't think she should get involved with someone who would run roughshod over her heart. Not that Viv seemed like that, it's just... well, things not working out is more common than happily ever etc.
Not to mention that Wil didn't even trust herself to choose her loyalty to Mr. Shing over Viv.
And that wasn't even getting into how she was going to explain to her mother that her nice, respectable daughter was dating a criminal. A female criminal, particularly.
Wil's brain gave clear instructions to politely decline Mr. Shing's suggestion.
Somehow, Wil's mouth said yes.
To be fair, Wil's mouth was thinking about Viv the entire plane ride over.
The first time Wil showed up at Viv's door, she didn't have time to look around for anything. She didn't even have time to ask how Viv had gotten the guards to go home early.
Instead, Viv pulled her into a kiss, and soon after into the bedroom.
As they sat on the bed, they hesitated, slightly, and as Viv leaned back and looked up at Wil from under her eyelashes, Wil realized that this was the first time she had ever seen Viv scared of something. It wasn't the moment, or the night, Wil knew; Viv was scared for the exact same reason that she was. She was scared of the ending, of the hundred different ways this could be like a job that goes wrong.
It would have been easy to back out, to let her better judgment prevail, if it weren't for that moment, that swirl of fear and desire in Viv's eyes. Yes, Viv had a spark of something, a gleam that was more than just her beauty. But Wil could have resisted. She was always good at denying herself what she wanted - what she craved. But seeing Viv look up at her, wanting her, wanting Wil's body and wanting much more, and wanting - craving - for Wil to the be the brave one, for Wil to leap first.... It took Wil's breath away. It dissolved Wil's 'no' and her 'is this a good idea' and she filled that empty space with Viv's lips, with the taste of her neck, with the feel of Viv's hands gliding up her hip and waist.
After, she lay curled up against Viv's body, both of them glistening with sweat. They were still breathing hard.
"You knew who I was in Vancouver," Wil managed to say. She immediately regretted it, mostly since it was the least romantic afterglow question she could possibly ask.
Viv didn't seem to mind. With a grin like the cat that ate the canary, she said, "No one had ever come that close to catching me. It was...impressive."
Wil almost let out a laugh. "You've been flirting with me because I'm good at my job?"
"No. I noticed you because you were good at your job. It's what I noticed that made me flirt with you," she answered with a seductive smile. "And don't act like you didn't like it. Besides being too brief, we had a great time in Yokohama."
Wil rolled her eyes. "You almost got caught in Yokohama."
"Right?" Wil asked.
Viv smiled at her. "Who do you think called in that tip?"