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Because I Can

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Her first theft was embarrassing to think about now- no planning, no artistry, no backup or even a getaway. The only constant was the adrenaline. It was the adrenaline that got her started in the life of an internationally famous criminal, thief, and icon. But that first warm night in New York City, light rain falling and failing to cool anyone down, Carmen was crawling out of her skin to dance. She got into the club, the bass pounding in her ears and in her ribcage, her hips moving with the rhythm and the blood running hot in her veins, and danced like her life depended on it. She danced to exorcise the demons burning under her skin, and after an hour and a tall glass of water, Carmen felt almost human again. Human enough to stop moving for a moment, at least. It was during a quiet moment in the bathroom that she saw the coat check.

Now that she was more mature in her theft she looked down her nose a bit at wallet-snatchers, but never too harshly. She could never forget that she'd made her own break from the straight-and-narrow that way. Her barely-eighteen self had slinked into the narrow closet, gotten slender hands into unfamiliar pockets, and retrieved four wallets before the men's room door opened and she grabbed her own coat, stuffing the wallets into her pockets and hoping he wouldn't check them. He gave her a sideways look, suspicious of this skinny morena chick, but not suspicious enough to stop her and ask questions.

She grinned over one shoulder and winked, then adjusted her crimson coat and wide-brimmed hat that was already her trademark in the barrios of New York... even if her stupid brothers kept stealing it. Well, no more of that. She was a smart girl, resourceful, and now she had a pile of credit cards and wallets at her disposal. The steps that followed, selling fake I.D.s to those who dealt in such things, moving up in the buying-and-selling business, with progressively more expensive items and more wealthy, absurd buyers, were not the same. They were the acts of a polished criminal, sinning because she was a sinner.


Nancy leaned back in her chair, surveying the woman in front of her. Even in the prison orange she wore, her hair tied back in an unforgiving ponytail, one lock fell in front of her right eye. Woman of mystery, they called her. You'll never see both her eyes at the same time, they said. And now Nancy was locked in a room with one of the greatest criminal masterminds of their time, as she confessed everything. Well. Nearly. It was a heady sensation.

The best part of the story wasn't the unraveling of crime after crime. Even stealing the Eiffel Tower wasn't terribly impressive; it was large, yes, but all large things could be broken into pieces, and with enough people it could even be done quickly enough that nobody would be caught in the act. Interpol had already worked out most of the logistics of it, and though Nancy had to admit that using a submarine was particularly brilliant, for her the most interesting heist was the first- that transition from law-abiding citizen to criminal.

"Tell me more about this first crime, Ms. Sandiego," Nancy asked. She didn't have long until the Feds arrived, but she'd caught the bad guy, and she had the right to confront her.

"Why do you want to know about it?" Carmen asked. "It's so long ago now, it hardly matters."

"Indulge me," Nancy said, and dared a small, grim smile.

"Fine." Carmen made a tiny gesture with one hand, an aborted reach for the brim of her famous red hat. "It was the Bronx, nineteen seventy-nine. The club's closed now, but it was my favorite back then. It was called the Castaway. It was small, played mostly funk, but I hear it shifted to rock in the eighties. The owner died in eighty-seven, Ramon White. I stopped going when I went into business." She leaned back in her chair, and steepled her fingers in her lap. "Miss Drew, what are you looking for? Surely this particular case is closed by now..."

"Yes," Nancy said. "I just want to know."

"Know what? Where I started? Every crime? You've been following me for decades, and trust me, I've noticed how close some of these encounters have gotten; how could there possibly be any holes in your research? What answers could I possibly have?"

"Why?" Nancy asked, blue eyes looking straight into brown. Carmen leaned her head back and laughed. It was surprisingly rich for someone dressed in prison orange.

"Why? Really?" Humor colored the questions, and she laughed. "You've hunted me across the country, the gumshoes across the world, and you want to know why?" She leaned forward on her elbows, as if telling a secret.

"Because I felt like it."

Outside the interrogation room a door slammed, and Carmen stood. Nancy stood quickly, ready to jump, but Carmen only listened. Most noises were muffled by the thick walls, but the sound of close gunshots came through clear. Nancy went to the door but it burst open, and two masked people in black came through carrying guns.

"And," Carmen said, "Because I could."

A blow knocked Nancy unconscious, and when the Feds arrived a few minutes later she was busy untying herself and collecting clues. And though she spent hours researching the case, she never saw Carmen again.