Julia Gray, Girl Scout, chess marvel, the kindest person you’ll ever meet: my best friend. We became friends in the way of many children. Her name’s Julia Gray and mine’s Lorena Hatten. We were thrown together by alphabetical order and had the luck of being genuinely compatible partners. We spent lunch together, went to each other’s houses, and off we were. A pledge of eternal loyalty and a prick of the finger later, it was official, we were closer than sisters.
The first time I realized her confusing hold over the criminal underworld, we were walking home from a trip to the park. (Julia had gone to win a chess tournament and I was there to console those unhappy about being beaten by a 14-year-old girl.) We decided to take a shortcut home. Yes, this shortcut happened to include a dark alleyway. Yes, when we went down the alley three men appeared with switchblades. Cliches have to come from somewhere, you know. We were in the process of trying to figure out how to give them all our money while our hands were up when some light fell on Julia’s face. The men promptly turned white, stuttered out an apology, and ran.
Julia was left with her winnings and I was left with a mystery. What had Julia done that so terrified three hardened criminals? Now, this should have been easy enough to figure out. We’re best friends! I ask her, she tells me, mystery solved. However, when I asked her why those men had been so afraid of her all I got was an incredulous look and a chuckle. “I’ll figure it out,” I warned her. So began my days of guessing.
“You have info on them,” I announced as we walked through the crisp fall air to school the next day. Julia looked up, “Who?” “The criminals,” I replied, “Maybe even the local mob. That’s why they’re afraid of you.” Julia had on the same look of disbelief she had worn before, “I don’t think anyone’s really afraid of me, Lorena,” she answered, flicking a lock of dark brown hair away from her eyes. “Hmm,” I replied. “Besides, where would I get information to hold over the mob?” she continued. “I’ll be right next time,” I threatened, sticking my finger in her face.
Now that I was watching for it, I saw Julia’s influence everywhere. The school’s bullies never eyed her lunch money. The local gangs always turned and swaggered the other way when they saw her on the street. When some scary looking guys came into our favorite tea shop to talk about “protection” she gave them a look and they just left! I continued to wrack my brain for ideas.
“You’re a hacker,” I proclaimed as we signed onto the library computers, “You’re a hacker and are threatening to expose their money laundering unless they stay away.” Julia blinked at me, “Lorena, I only know basic computer code. If anyone was going to hack the mob, not that you should, it would be you.” I preened a moment before sighing, “So that’s a no?”
“That’s a no,” Julia smiled.
“It’s because you’re a Girl Scout,” I declared after Julia’s troop meeting. “What does that have to do with anything?” she replied indignantly. “I’ll bet you transport things,” I said excitedly, “You hide contraband in Girl Scout cookie boxes and pay your mules in badges and actual Girl Scout cookies!” “That’s ludicrous, Lorena,” Julia replied, “Abigail is in my troop. Do you really think Abigail could do anything criminal?” “She wouldn’t have to know,” I mutter, “She just has to give people the ‘cookies’ and bring back the money.” “No, I am not using the Girl Scouts as mules,” Julia snapped. “What would they even transport? Don’t answer that.” I hummed discontentedly as she changed the subject.
“I’ve figured it out,” I crowed after a chess tournament, “I know why all the criminals around here are afraid of you.” “And why’s that?” Julia sighed. “It all comes back to the fact that you, my friend, are a chess prodigy,” I professed. She looked down, “I wouldn’t quite say. . .” “You are,” I said firmly, “Anyways, you must be chess buddies with the mob boss.” She looked up, “What?!” I ignored her, “Maybe he likes the challenge. Maybe he just likes your glowing personality. Maybe you even give him good advice over chess.” “I would never. . .” she tried. I cut her off, “It doesn’t necessarily have to be illegal advice! It could be ‘business’ management! But he (or she) doesn’t want his chess buddy to get hurt, so he tells his people, ‘Leave Julia alone or else.’ That’s why they’re afraid! You are the brain behind the brain behind it all. You have fingers in all of their pies!”
“Lorena,” Julia stated, putting her hands on my shoulders, “That’s even more absurd than the Girl Scout smuggling ring.” “Are you sure?” I asked, “Because the only other thing I could think of was that you’re an assassin. Which, OK, best friends forever, right? But that may take some time for me to get used to.” “I’m not an assassin!” Julia cried. “Then you being the brain behind our local crime is the best option,” I told her calmly. “I think I would know if I was giving advice to a mob boss over chess!” Julia yelled. “How?” I asked, “Do you know what our local mob boss looks like?” My best friend looked at me, then sighed, “Whatever you say Lorena. . . Whatever you say.”
Two teen boys walk down the street, sneakers scuffing on the sidewalk, hands shoved into the pockets of their hoodies. “Have you heard?” asks the slightly taller one. “What?” asks the slightly shorter one. Taller one leans forward and whispers, “Some guys almost robbed Lorena Hatten. Shorter one looks up sharply, “You’re kidding.” “Nope,” Taller replies, “And that’s not all. They tried to rob her while she was out walking with her best friend,” “They tried to steal from Gray?” Shorter whispers, “Hatten must have gone nuts! Don’t they know what that girl can do? Her friend alone’s a bleedin’ genius, but Lorena’s the gal who stopped a turf war and got all of us using candy as currency that one time because she was bored.” “Apparently she was more amused than anything else,” Taller replies, kicking a pebble, “Didn’t think she’d made that much of an impression or something.” Shorter whistles, “Wow.” “Yep,” said Taller, “I’m just glad things are settling down. The girl’s completely nuts. Smart. . . but nuts.”