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The Real Family Job

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There was a stranger hanging around the brewpub.

Not the usual kind of stranger, who’d heard from a friend of a friend that it was a cool spot and stopped in for a drink on their way through town. Or couples on Internet dates who needed a place to convince their dates that they were, as Hardison put it— “a little bit hipster, but not too hipster.” Or people down on their luck, looking for help from Leverage, Inc.

No, this guy kinda reminded Parker of Nate. The old Nate, before he loosened up and went to prison and then broke out of prison. He held himself all stiff and watched everyone real close when he didn’t think they would notice.

Parker slipped behind the bar, where Eliot was pouring the occasional drink and keeping an eye on the baseball game on TV.

“Hey,” she whispered. “The guy in the blue shirt, by the window. I think he’s watching us.”

Eliot’s gaze swept across the room, pausing only briefly on the guy Parker had pointed out. “Could be local law enforcement,” he said.

Parker frowned. “But we haven’t done anything!”

Eliot looked at her, incredulous.

“Not lately!”

“We—” Eliot lowered his voice to a whisper-growl. “We did that job on Cruz last week!”

Parker rolled her eyes at him. “That was in San Francisco. We haven’t done anything here for ages.”

Before Eliot could retort, the stranger Parker had been worried about approached the bar.

“Are you Parker?”

Parker crossed her arms. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Eliot mirroring her action, ready to jump in if she needed his help.

“Who’s asking?” Parker asked.

“My name’s Jack Hale— I’m a private investigator,” the man said. “I was hired by Julia Leach to find her half-sister A— ah— woman named Parker— fits your description?”

Parker could feel her brows furrowing up, like they had a life of their own. But she couldn’t help it; if this was a con, it might be the strangest con she’d ever come across.

“I don’t know a Julia Leach,” Parker said.

Jack Hale looked discomfited by this, but he continued. “She— ah— says you stole her wallet? And her— your— father’s wallet? And her daughter’s lollipop?”

Parker tilted her head. “Are you talking about Archie’s daughter?” Stealing wallets was pretty forgettable. She might not be an everyday pickpocket anymore, but there was lots of useful stuff in wallets. And money. Lots of money.

But she didn’t steal lollipops very often.

“You stole from Archie’s daughter?” Eliot exclaimed.

And Archie,” Parker pointed out. Quite reasonably, she thought. “I had to get his attention!”

Hale coughed, like he was reminding them he was there. “So you are Ms. Leach’s half-sister?”

Parker glanced at Eliot. This felt like a trick question.

“Yeah,” Eliot said. “Archie’s her old man.”

Hale nodded. “Ms. Leach asked for me to give you this.” He pulled a wrinkled and worn envelope out of his jacket pocket and set it on the bar. He nodded once, and turned to leave, apparently satisfied.

“Wait, that’s it?” Parker asked.

Hale shrugged. “Ms. Leach paid me to find you and deliver that envelope. I’m not really interested in your— ah— personal soap opera.”

As he walked out the door, Eliot turned to Parker. “Want me to punch him?”

Parker grinned. “Nah. Let’s go find Hardison and see if he knows anything about Julia Leach.”

“Julia Leach.” Hardison leaned back in his chair, hands intertwined behind his head. “Or more accurately, Julia Leach-Newman. She hyphenated her name after her second marriage six years ago. Born and raised in Manhattan— and believe me, you do not wanna know how much that townhouse costs. She’s got a degree in accounting from NYU and is an accountant for a private firm, just like her dad.”

“Archie’s not—” Parker began.

“His cover story,” Eliot said.

Right. That made sense. Even before Archie had taught her the word for it, Parker had known that it was important to have something to tell normal people. Honest people.

Hardison pointed at Eliot. “Right. It’s all like that— perfectly normal rich people stuff.”

“You’re sure she’s Archie’s daughter?” Eliot asked.

Hardison sat up abruptly, his arms waving wildly, like they had lives of their own. “Am I sure? Are you asking if I’m sure? Man, do you wanna do what I do?”

Parker was pretty sure Eliot asked that just to see Hardison act all offended. She thought maybe Hardison knew that, too.

She interrupted Hardison, anyway. “Archie’s always been pretty careful to keep his jobs away from his family. His real family.”

“Parker—” Hardison began.

“I didn’t need them,” Parker said. “And I still don’t. I have you guys.”

At that, Hardison sprung out of his chair and hugged her. Parker was pretty sure getting a Hardison hug was what it would feel like to be hugged by an octopus. It was nice. Snuggly. Especially when Eliot got all emotional and joined in, like he was doing now.

They stayed like that for a few minutes, before Eliot got all gruff and uncomfortable and pulled away and Parker decided she’d had enough, too. She climbed over the back of the couch— ignoring Eliot’s protests— and sat down.

She pulled the crinkled envelope that the private investigator had given her out of her pocket and turned it over, examining it. Eliot and Hardison moved over to the kitchen, giving her space.

Parker was scrawled on the front in cursive.

She ripped it open, and pulled out the sheets of paper inside. It was the fancy kind of paper, with no lines on it and little drawings of flowers in the corners. The letter was written in the same cramped cursive that had been on the envelope.

Dear Parker, it began. You may not remember me, but my name is Julia Leach. We met briefly last year in New York, when our father introduced us.

It had been longer than that, but Parker guessed the private investigator had been looking for her for a while. That was good to know, at least— she didn’t like people being able to track her down at all, but at least she was hard to find.

The letter went on for a while about the stuff Hardison had already told her— all the blah blah blah details of her boring rich person life.

There was a long passage about Madison, Julia’s daughter— she went to a private academy for girls and played soccer and wanted to be an artist when she grew up.

And at the very end of the letter— There. Now you know all about me, or most of it anyway. I’ll understand if you don’t want to get to know me, but I would be grateful if you would give me a chance. I’d like to get to know my sister.

I’ve included my address and phone number, so you can contact me if you want to.

Your sister,

Julia Leach-Newman

And sure enough, right below her signature, Julia had scribbled out her phone number and address. Not that Parker needed them— Hardison already had them. And if he didn’t, he could’ve gotten them in a matter of minutes.

But Sophie said that sometimes it was the thought that counted. As Parker ran her finger over Julia’s phone number, this kind of felt like one of those times.

It took a week— during which she, Eliot, and Hardison exposed a major pyramid scheme and stole back a hundred grand for a woman who’d been suckered by them— for Parker to make up her mind about Julia.

Parker hadn’t been lying before: Hardison and Eliot (and Sophie and Nate, when they were around) were all the family she needed. But she was curious.

So one day, when Hardison was playing on the computer with his elves and orcs, and Eliot was training the new hires down in the kitchen, Parker grabbed one of the disposable cell phones they kept lying around and snuck upstairs to their bedroom.

It wasn’t a secret. She just— she’d tell them later. Eventually.

The phone only rang twice before a woman picked up. “Hello?”

Parker almost hung up, right then. But instead, she asked, “Is this Julia?”

“Yes; who is this?”

Parker bit her lip, and then reminded herself that she could always just throw the cell phone away. Hardison wouldn’t care; that’s what these were for.

“This is Parker,” she said. “I have a letter. From you.”

There was silence, for a long moment— long enough that Parker checked to see if Julia had hung up on her. Then— “You actually called.”

“Was I not supposed to?” Usually Eliot or Hardison would tell her if they thought she was going to make a mistake like that, but maybe neither of them thought she would actually call Julia.

“No! I mean, yes! I’m glad you called. You just— surprised me, that’s all.” Then, she started bombarding Parker with questions: what did she do for a living? Where did she live? Where did she go to college? Where did she grow up? Was she married? Did she have kids?

Parker didn’t give her the real answers, of course. I was in foster care until I ran away and became a master thief, and now I’m the mastermind behind a team that steals things from bad guys just wasn’t the kind of answer Julia was looking for. Luckily, her long-term cover identity— whose name was even on the paperwork for the brewpub— had better answers. It even had a last name, even though Parker really only used last names when pulling jobs.

So as far as Julia was concerned, Parker was a co-owner of a brewpub in Portland. She’d moved around a lot as a kid, but Boston was her hometown. No college, no kids— she was a free spirit, and didn’t like to be tied down.

The lies even had the benefit of being almost, sort of, true. And Julia must have believed them, because at the end of the call she asked Parker to come visit her in New York.

“We have plenty of room,” Julia said. “And I know Madison and Peter would love to meet you.”

Parker considered what Hardison and Eliot were going to say. Then, she considered whether she could con Julia while staying in her house for a whole week, without even a payout at the end.

“That sounds like a great idea!” Parker grinned.

“This is a terrible idea,” Eliot groaned, for what was probably the thousandth time, as they walked through the airport terminal.

“You didn’t have to come,” Parker replied.

“Are you kidding?” Hardison asked. “We’re not letting you do this on your own.”

“Someone’s gotta watch your back,” Eliot added.

Parker laughed, and slung her arms around Eliot and Hardison.

Just past the baggage claim, a preppy-looking brunette woman was holding a sign that read Parker. It was decorated with brightly-colored stickers.

“Are you Julia?” Parker asked her.

It was Julia, of course, so Parker introduced Hardison and Eliot and they followed Julia out of the airport. They hailed a taxi, and before too long they were standing on the sidewalk outside of a townhouse in Manhattan.

Julia’s house.

Parker had introduced Hardison and Eliot as her friends, Alec and Eliot. Those were the names they owned the brewpub under, although they were using different last names. Alec Wiles was hipster who’d been born and raised in the Portland area, and who started up the brewpub with Parker and Eliot because he liked making his own beer. Eliot Lawson was ex-military and had moved to Portland to start over, where he’d taken up cooking.

Nate said good lies were based in the truth, so their longest-term covers had a lot of truth sprinkled in.

(Sophie said the best lies didn’t give a fig about the truth, so long as the liar kept everything straight. Parker thought that was probably right, but Hardison and Eliot had overruled her.)

Eliot and Hardison both kept Julia talking, asking her questions about her family, her job, and her hobbies while Parker looked around Julia’s house, getting an impression of the woman who lived inside.

They had entered into a foyer, and Parker could see a kitchen through the open door. The floors were dark, polished wood, and the walls were painted a cheerful pale yellow. But more importantly, every wall had art on it. Parker gravitated to the closest wall, which had a giant sketch on it. She would’ve had to ask Sophie or Maggie, but she was pretty sure it was a Picasso.

Julia led Eliot into the kitchen, probably so he could see if her appliances were up to snuff, while Parker and Hardison continued to examine the art in the foyer.

The front door opened and closed with a slam. Parker whirled around, and saw a dark-haired girl, dressed in a private school uniform and carrying a backpack.

“You must be Madison,” Parker said.

She was taken aback when the girl surged forward and hugged her. “Hi, Aunt Parker!”

Parker looked at Hardison, in panic. Aunt Parker? He gestured for her to hug Madison back.


Parker tentatively patted Madison on the back, and Madison released her.

“It’s so exciting to meet you!” Madison said. “I didn’t even know I had another aunt!”

“Another?” Parker asked. Julia hadn’t said anything about another sister. Or a sister, since they weren’t actually related.

Julia and Eliot re-entered the room just then. “My brother, Andrew, lives with his wife and kids in Chicago— he owns a company out there. But he and Dad haven’t been on speaking terms for a few years, since our mom died. We haven’t seen him since.”

“Oh.” Parker wasn’t really sure what to say to that. “That’s too bad.”

“Go get changed out of your school clothes, honey,” Julia told Madison. “We’ll be having dinner in a bit.”

“I wanted to show Aunt Parker my room,” Madison complained.

“That’s fine,” Julia replied. “But only if she wants to.”

Parker shot Hardison a helpless look. He just shrugged, and looked like he was holding back a laugh.

“Okay,” Parker said. “I guess.”

Madison grabbed Parker by the wrist and dragged her toward the stairs. They dashed up three flights— if Parker didn’t stay in shape for breaking into and out of buildings, she would’ve been out of breath.

Madison’s bedroom was painted in a shocking shade of turquoise, and absolutely covered in clutter, ranging from school books and homework to ticket stubs and candy wrappers. One corner held an egg-shaped chair suspended from the ceiling, which Parker promptly claimed.

Madison threw her backpack in the corner and pulled out her phone. She scrolled through the photos, pointing out who her friends were, who she ‘totally hated’, and telling stories about both sets of people that Parker didn’t really follow. It was all foreign to Parker, who’d stopped going to school at the same time she’d run away from foster care.

Still. Madison was a sweet kid.

After a while, Madison’s phone started to ring. She glanced at it, but didn’t pick it up.

“Mom’s calling,” she explained. “Dinner must be ready.”

And then it was back down three flights of stairs, and into the dining room that adjoined the kitchen. There was only one painting in here, a Jackson Pollock.

Julia noticed Parker staring at it. “You like art? I noticed you were checking out the collection in the foyer, too, before Madison absconded with you.”

“Oh, well—” Parker began, flustered. “I just— you have a lot of it!”

“That’s all Dad,” Julia said. “He’s always been a collector.”

“I bet he has,” Eliot muttered under his breath. Hardison elbowed him sharply.

Julia explained that her husband wasn’t going to be there, as he was away on a business trip— and Parker promised herself that she would look into that, because Julia was not suspicious enough of so-called business trips. He probably wasn’t secretly living a double life as a master thief, but it was important to check these things.

Parker, Hardison, Eliot, Madison, and Julia all sat around the dining room table and helped themselves to the meal Eliot had whipped up.

“She was going to order take-out,” Eliot continued to gripe. “Take-out! Can you believe it?”

Parker didn’t see anything wrong with take-out, but she did like Eliot’s food. Everyone liked Eliot’s food, unless they had no soul.

It was...nice. They kept talking about the brewpub, and about Madison’s school, and about all the places Parker was pretending she’d been. Well, she had been to most of those places, but she’d been there to steal things.

“Sorry,” Julia said. “But I can’t remember if you told me what your last name is, Parker.”

Last names were for cons. Parker didn’t have a last name. So she blurted out the first thing she thought of.

“It’s Deveraux,” she said. “Parker Deveraux.” Sophie wouldn’t mind if Parker borrowed her favorite fake name. She’d probably say, “Oh, Parker,” and get emotional and try to hug Parker, but she definitely wouldn’t mind.

Hardison made a face, and Parker knew why. That wasn’t the name on her long-term cover, at least not the one she owned the brewpub under. She hadn’t been thinking about that, but he was definitely going to yell about that a bunch— all about how he wasn’t a wizard and couldn’t pull things off without warning, and all that.

Eliot rubbed the bridge of his nose, probably thinking the same thing as Parker, and knocked over his wine glass so it splashed all over Hardison.

“Whoops, my bad,” he said, clearly not feeling very bad about it at all.

Hardison sighed, then put on his smile he used to charm marks, directed straight at Julia. “Can you direct me to the facilities?” he asked.

“Next floor up, just to the left of the stairs,” Julia said.

Hardison excused himself, giving Eliot a dirty look as he did so.

Just after Hardison disappeared, the front door opened.

Parker and Eliot shared a look. He was gripping his knife, ready to move if he needed to.

“Hello?” Julia called, half-rising from her seat.

“Julia! How are you doing?” a familiar voice called.

The sound of Archie’s footsteps and cane got closer, and Parker relaxed.

Julia stood up. “Come on, Dad. I’ll get you a plate, and you can join us.”

Archie entered the dining room and looked around, taking in Eliot and Parker, and the empty spot next to Eliot.

“Parker,” he said. “What are you doing here?”

Julia stepped between them. “I invited her, Dad. I can’t believe you never introduced us before! That’s—”

“Julia.” Parker and Archie both said her name at the same time.

“She invited me.” Now Parker stood up. She didn’t like fighting with Archie, but she needed him to understand. “And… I wanted to meet her. To meet your real family.”

Julia made a kind of choked noise, but Parker didn’t look at her.

Archie placed both hands on his cane, one on top of the other, and stood even straighter. “I know I’ve made mistakes, Parker. If I had to do things differently…” He shook his head. “But we cannot change the past.”

“No one’s asking you to change the past, old man,” Eliot growled. “I’d ask you not to be an asshole, but I guess that’s a step too far.”

“Eliot!” Parker exclaimed.

He shrugged, completely unrepentant.

“Look, Dad,” Julia began. “I don’t know what’s gone on between you and Parker, but I asked her to come here.”

“I can’t believe she even found you,” Archie said to Parker. “Ford’s been a bad influence.”

Parker looked away, torn between wanting to defend Nate and not wanting to argue with Archie. She never liked arguing with Archie.

Finally, she said, “This was a bad idea. We should go.”

Eliot immediately rose from his chair and followed her out of the room. Just as he and Parker swept out the front door, Hardison clattered down the stairs.

“Wait, are we leaving?” Hardison asked. “What did I miss?”

In the early years, after Archie had first trained her, Parker would often stop and think, “What would Archie do?”

That was what guided her, whenever things got tough. That was what kept her alive, because Archie had drilled into her mind that it didn’t matter how big the score was if she was dead. She kept to herself, didn’t trust anyone, and never once got caught.

Hardison had gotten caught. Eliot had gotten caught. Sophie had gotten caught. They’d all gotten away, in the end, but they’d been caught.

Parker had never been caught. Archie had taught her that.

She’d never had a dad. She’d never really thought of Archie as her dad, despite what he’d told her after the Wakefield job.

But Archie was probably the closest thing she’d had— at least, until she’d met Nate.

Nate had taught her how to care about people. He’d taught her how to work with a team. He wasn’t always good at it himself— actually, he was usually pretty bad at it. But he’d still taught her. Because of him, Parker wasn’t just a thief— she was a mastermind who put her own cons together, with her own team behind her.

And when things got tough, she thought, “What would Nate do?” Because the answer was usually something that would get everyone out safe and that would get the bad guy behind bars or otherwise taken down.

Well, that wasn’t quite true. Usually, the first answer was that he’d drink. But after that, he’d have a plan.

(And when that didn’t work she sometimes asked herself, “What would Sophie do?”, because Sophie could grift her way out of anything. But even though Nate was kind of a dad-like person, Sophie wasn’t anything like a mom. Maybe a cool aunt, or a sister. But not a mom.)

Julia called and texted Parker a couple times after that, but Parker dodged her calls every time.

Meeting her had been a mistake.

She probably wouldn’t have ever seen Julia and Madison again, if it weren’t for the call she received a month and a half after the disastrous visit to Manhattan.

Parker was in the back of Lucille II, eating corn chips and listening to Eliot and Hardison bicker on the comms when her private phone rang.

Figuring that if they had her private number, it must be important, Parker picked it up. “Parker.”

“Parker, I don’t suppose you stole a sapphire necklace from a private collection in Paris sometime last year?” Archie asked.

“I don’t even like sapphires,” Parker replied, crinkling her nose. “Archie, what’s going on?”

“The owner of the necklace is a bit particular about it. And now that it’s gone missing, he seems to think I had something to do with it.”

“Did you tell him you didn’t?”

“Of course, but he doesn’t believe me. I was hoping you did, but…” Archie sighed. “Parker, he has Madison.”

Parker turned up her comm. “Hardison, Eliot, get out here!”

“Parker, you don’t have to do that—” Archie protested.

“This is what we do,” Parker said. “Just watch. We’ll get her back.”

A few hours later, they were back at Julia’s townhouse. Parker rang the doorbell. A graying man in a turtleneck and glasses answered. He didn’t look like the live-in pool boy, so Parker figured he must be Julia’s husband.

“Is Archie here?” Parker asked.

“Yes, but—”

“Good.” Parker elbowed her way past the man and into the townhouse. She could hear the soft murmur of voices coming from the second floor, so she dashed up the stairs.

There, she found Julia and Archie in the living room. Julia was curled up on the couch, red-eyed and sniffling, and Archie was stoically staring out the window.

“Parker!” Archie exclaimed.

“Parker? This really isn’t a good time,” Julia protested.

“Archie told me about Madison,” Parker said. “We’re here to help.”

“What can you possibly do?” Julia’s husband demanded.

“Not that we don’t appreciate the thought,” Julia added.

“This is what we do,” Parker said. “We help people.” Behind her, Eliot and Hardison added their agreements.

“Parker was my protege,” Archie said, with a hint of pride in his voice.

Parker stared at him. “You told her?”

Archie spread his hands. “I had to. They took Madison, for God’s sake.”

“You don’t threaten a man’s family,” Eliot agreed.

“I’m sorry,” Julia interrupted. “Are you telling me that you knew our father was some kind of— thief?”

Parker winced. “Archie’s not exactly my real dad. But he did teach me a lot.”

“About stealing,” Julia’s husband said flatly.

Parker shrugged. “I only steal from bad people now. Like I said, that’s what we do.” She pointed between herself, Eliot, and Hardison. “We help people.”

“And we’re going to get your daughter back for you,” Hardison added.

“Now,” Eliot said, as he turned to Archie. “I need to know everything about the people who kidnapped her.”

The man who’d taken Madison was named Arnold Pierce. He hadn’t taken her himself, of course; he’d hired people to do the dirty work.

No hired thug could be as good as Eliot, of course— no one was as good as Eliot— but after Archie and Julia and Julia’s husband described the kidnapping, Eliot claimed they must have been at least somewhat professional.

They weren’t as good as Eliot, but they were still professionals— or so Eliot said, and Parker believed him.

Pierce claimed he would return Madison safely once Archie returned the sapphire necklace. The necklace that Archie was adamant he hadn’t stolen.

“Why does he think you took it?” Parker asked.

“I do still have a reputation,” Archie responded, affronted. “When an object of a particular value disappears, with no trace, there are a limited number of people who could have made that disappearance happen.”

Parker nodded, satisfied. That made sense— there were plenty of thieves out there, but there were only so many people who could do what she could do, what Archie had been able to do in his prime.

She didn’t know how to locate any of them, or if any of them were likely suspects for the robbery. And they didn’t have time to track down the real necklace— the ransom note had said they only had until tomorrow morning to return it.

Which really only left them one option.

“Get me in there,” Eliot said. “I’ll get her back.”

“You sure?” Parker asked.

“I’m a retrieval specialist.” He was deadly serious, no hint of flirtation or Southern charm. “This is what I do.”

Parker nodded sharply and clapped her hands. “Let’s go steal a vanished necklace.”

Hardison and Eliot looked at her expectantly, waiting for her plan.

“Hardison, find out what that necklace looked like. The more detailed, the better.”

“You got it.” Hardison pulled his laptop out of his bag and sat down on the couch. Parker, who didn’t have anything else to do until they found out what the necklace looked like, watched over his shoulder as he did his computer magic.

After a short while, Hardison pulled up a couple of images of a necklace: a choker of large, square-cut sapphires set in gold.

“Great,” Parker said. “Now we just need to make a fake by tomorrow morning.”

“What?” Julia asked. “But won’t he know?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Hardison said. “Just gotta fool them long enough to get in the door and get Madison.”

“How do you plan on faking that necklace in under…” Archie checked his watch. “Under eighteen hours?”

Parker grinned and rubbed her hands together. “Just watch.”

She had to send Hardison to the craft store, but in the end, the necklace was pretty easy to fake, since it didn’t need to stand up to close inspection. Well, relatively easy. It was no journal of a royal mistress. Just some plaster, gold leaf for the gold parts, and some plastic gemstones for the sapphires. Then she and Hardison made a mold that matched the gold setting of the real sapphire necklace, poured in the plaster and let it set. They tried to get a few hours of sleep, then in the morning, they covered the “setting” in gold leaf and placed the fake sapphires in the settings.

“That looks terrible,” Archie said.

“It’s not that bad!” Hardison protested, just as Eliot said, “Doesn’t matter. We just need it as a decoy.”

Archie pursed his lips and looked over the decoy again. “You’ll have to take care that it doesn’t fall apart.”

“Don’t worry,” Parker said.

When Pierce’s men called, they were ready. Parker agreed to the meeting place and she, Eliot, and Hardison took the decoy necklace and headed out.

They met Pierce’s men, who were holding Madison in their car, in a deserted warehouse in one of the outer boroughs. The men looked like run-of-the-mill thugs, the kind of guys Eliot could take in a heartbeat any day.

“We’re here on Archie’s behalf,” Parker said.

“Parker?” Madison asked, her brows furrowed.

Parker pressed her finger to her lips.

Eliot crossed his arms. “We’ve got the necklace. Now give us back the girl.”

“The necklace first,” one of the men said.

Eliot nodded at Parker and Hardison, and Hardison pulled the decoy necklace out of his bag.

Archie was right, it didn’t look much like the real thing up close. But hopefully the thugs Pierce had hired didn’t know what the real necklace was supposed to look like.

“Now release the girl,” Eliot said.

“Throw us the necklace,” the man said.

Eliot and Hardison both glanced at Parker and she nodded.

Hardison tossed the necklace at the men. At the same time, Eliot dashed forward, taking down two of the three thugs immediately. Madison screamed, and the third man let her go as he caught the necklace. The necklace fell apart as it landed in his hands, just as Archie had warned, but Eliot had already swept Madison up over his shoulder and ran back toward the car they’d brought.

“So much for professionals,” Hardison said.

“Better safe than sorry,” Eliot said.

They couldn’t exactly speed away— this was New York— but Parker was at the wheel, and she’d never been a big believer in traffic laws. Well, she’d never really learned traffic laws to begin with. The point was, she was really good at being the getaway driver and Eliot had no right to look so nauseated.

“Are you okay?” Parker asked Madison.

She nodded, and sniffled. “Thank you,” she said. “They kept saying Grandpa had stolen something but— but— why would he do that?”

“About that—” Hardison began. He paused, and looked helplessly around.

Julia and her husband— whose name was apparently Peter— were ecstatic to have Madison back home, alive and well. Archie was too, of course, but the rest of the family was decidedly cool toward him. Parker suspected it would take a while for them to get over the whole “secretly a master thief” thing. It didn’t bother her, but normal people got upset by that stuff.

But even though Parker was a criminal and had lied to Julia, too, Julia’s anger didn’t extend to her. Parker gave up trying to figure it out after about five minutes.

But Julia hugged her and promised to call and made Parker promise to answer. Parker explained again and again that they weren’t really sisters, but Julia said that didn’t matter, that that wasn’t how families worked. And Parker looked at Eliot and Hardison, and thought maybe she understood.