When we go, we go without our packs. It was Alice's idea to leave them at the container yard so we seem more desperate, like we have nothing but each other. We leave our packs and the dog Tom stole from a town somewhere behind us. She's supposed to guard it all. I think we look desperate enough whether we have our packs or not but I'm the smallest and don't like making Alice angry. She is the boss, she says. Nobody says she isn't, so I guess it's true.
Alice is the boss even though she isn't the biggest. That's Buzz, and he says he's only fourteen but everyone thinks he's a college kid so long as he doesn't talk too much. Buzz is huge but his voice is squeaking and high, something like the noise my dad's car makes when he starts it in the morning. As long as he doesn't talk, people think the rest of us are his younger sisters and brother or maybe even his children, we don't quite know. In Middletown he bought a case of beer, though, so we don't much care what people think outside of that.
We picked him up almost as soon as Tom and I decided to run. He wanted to come after we explained what we were doing, and soon after that Alice joined in and our plans changed. Buzz went along with it. He likes Alice because she doesn't talk about his voice or how big he looks. She just tells him what to do and he does it. We all do.
This time, traveling without our packs and leaving them with the stolen dog, this time we hoped to steal a purse. It was a simple plan we used all the way from Harrisburg to Elizabethtown. Two of us distract people with a fake fight or an injury, one keeps an eye out, and the last one steals a purse left on a chair or on the ground. Then we all meet up somewhere close by to take everything out of it and divide it up. In one town it's possible to make lots of money that way. Even so, most people use cards now, which slows us down. Tom says we'd be rich by now if it was the seventies but it's not. Tom is often one of the two distracting people, with me being the other. Brother and sister make it easier to walk away whenever people stop to break up a fight. We can just walk away and hope we took enough time for Alice and Buzz to make off with a purse or a backpack. It works well because nobody expects kids like us to steal from them. Nobody wants to believe we're those kinds of kids.
Alice is pretty enough that sometimes she can just ask for money. If she braids her hair in the morning I know she plans to find someone to ask. She'll bounce her ponytails and lean in too close and if it seems like they want it, put her hand on their chest. Then she'll get a ten or twenty and bring it back to us. When she does it I think about chicks waiting for their momma bird to bring home a fat worm, all of us chirping for how much she got.
When we get to where we are going—the town center—there is a craft show going on. Alice tells us to split up and look for stalls that are using moneybags instead of registers. After we count them up, Buzz goes to each one and forces the stall owner to go to the front to answer questions. He's the best because of his voice. It makes people focus on not laughing at him, which distracts them more. I watch behind the stalls while Alice and Tom pull cash from the moneybags. They don't take everything so the cops aren't called right away. By the time we finish, Alice's pants are full of cash and we know that we've done better than most days. We know that we're going to be alright for a while.
On the way back to our bags, Tom sings a song he hasn't been able to get out of his head. I sing along, only because he's been singing it so much that I know the words. Alice is happy because of the money, so she sings some parts of it, too. Buzz doesn't sing but he smiles every time I look at him.
We get back to the shipping containers and the dog barks only twice before she recognizes us.
Tom pets the dog and Alice counts the money so we all know how much is there. She counts slow and makes stacks of one hundred, tapping each stack against her thigh so the bills are even. It's the most money we've ever got on a trip so we watch her count, just to see it happen.
And while we're all watching Alice count up her fourth stack of bills, the dog Tom stole barks, so we look up to see a man. He's thin and older than my dad. I think about how my dad would nod at the man, how he'd stumble to his feet and wipe his hands off on his shirt like he was going to shake hands but never would. The man has a walking stick in his hands that looks like one at the craft fair we stole from, and I know he saw us do it all. Alice stops counting and puts all the money in her pack. When she gets up, Buzz gets up with her, and the thin man with the walking stick squares off his shoulders.
He tells us he knows what we did, and his voice echoes off of the containers around us. He says we could be in a lot of trouble and how all he needs to do is call the cops on us. He keeps his tight eyes on Buzz but he's pointing at Alice. He tells us we had no business stealing other folk's money.
Alice asks him how much he wants—how much it will take for him to walk away. The dog stops barking once Alice says something, and I guess the dog thinks Alice is the boss, too.
He says he's going to tell our parents, and Alice says we're all orphans, which is close enough to true but still makes me feel weird to think about. She asks him again how much he wants to just forget he followed us.
Buzz is getting nervous. He's pulling on his fingers and turning his head to the side the same way he did when a policeman stopped us on the street. I think Alice notices, but she's too busy with the man to calm Buzz down, so I try to get him to look at me by saying his name in a whisper. He looks at me but so does the man with the walking stick, and I don't know what to do except look at Tom, who is holding the dog and staring at the man.
He says he wants everything, and his answer sticks between where he's standing and where we're gathered. Alice doesn't answer him, so he says it again. He says it louder.
Buzz says no in his high, nervous voice, but Alice says that's too much. That we need the money to survive, to eat. It's not true for Tom and I—we can just go home to our quiet, frightening father—but it might be true for Buzz and Alice, so I don't say anything.
The man is getting impatient. He's moving the walking stick from hand to hand and looking at each of us with quick, darting eyes. Alice says we can work something out. She walks a few steps closer to him with her hands out and says we can help each other.
He says he doesn't want any tricks but doesn't move his eyes from Buzz when he says it, so I figure he already has a good idea of what sort of tricks could happen. Alice steps closer and says she just wants to talk to him, to work something out that's good for everyone. Alice is right next to him and his face changes. She turns around and tells us to stay put, so we do. She walks with him to the other side of the shipping container. She walks with him and he follows behind her.
Tom starts singing again, and I look at Alice's bag, I think about all the money in it. Buzz just stares at where Alice and the man walked off. He doesn't sit down. He stares at the empty space and I stare at the bag and Tom sings while petting the dog.
It's ten minutes before Alice comes back. I can tell she was crying. She gets her bag and walks back behind the containers, and then comes back again. She's holding the walking stick. She says he forgot it.
Tom asks her how much he took and Alice says half. She gives the walking stick to me and says it's good for me to have some sort of weapon. She counts out the money again and says we have two hundred and forty dollars from the day. Tom says it's still a lot and I say so, too. Alice nods but doesn't say anything. She puts all the money back into her bag and says she wants to get a hotel room so she can sleep in a bed and get a shower. We agree except for Buzz, who's pulling at his fingers again.
The motel we find has a front desk clerk who doesn't seem to care who we are, so we don't even need to convince Buzz to act like an adult. Alice is already acting like whatever happened didn't. Tom ties up the dog behind the motel and says he's worried she'll choke herself on the rope, but Alice says the motel doesn’t allow dogs, and that’s that.
The room is cold and dark, and we leave it that way. Tom turns on the TV and takes up our bed until I push him over. Buzz takes the other, because he normally sleeps next to Alice. Alice gets her bag and goes into the bathroom immediately, which is fine. I'm excited to sleep under covers and have a TV humming nearby. I ask Tom if we can order a pizza and he says he'll get one with his share of the money, and I laugh at how great it will be. Tom hits me over the head with a pillow but I'm too tired to fight back, so I throw the blankets over my head and laugh more.
Alice comes out of the bathroom with her hair in a towel and a dress on. It's the same one she wore when we first met her, thin and brown with sewn-in blue flowers. She looks like an adult when she wears it. She says who's next and I grab my bag before anyone else claims the next shower. As I run past she messes up my hair and smiles. Tom tells her about the pizza as I shut the door. The water is hot and perfect, and my skin takes in all the heat.
When Tom and I first started, we didn’t have any idea of what we wanted to do. We did it as a half dare to each other, it came naturally. Before it was a dare to stay up the latest or to steal a beer from dad, but the dares got bigger. They became stealing the car for a joy ride. They became running away. I don’t remember what the bet was that made us pack up some clothing and food, but it doesn’t matter now. It led us to where we are, to a hotel room with two strangers, avoiding police. It led us to hiding in abandoned buildings and learning who to trust. It led to one big dare we couldn’t explain to each other.
When I wake up the next morning, I see Alice standing by the window. She looks at me and says we have a big day. She says it loud enough that Tom and Buzz wake up, too. She says we’re going to get our money back.
She won’t say how she knows where the man lives. Tom says it’s a bad idea, so Alice says it’s not something everyone needs to come along on. She says she’s going and anyone can come along if they want to. I say I’m coming and Tom looks angry but says nothing. Buzz says he’s coming, but we already knew he was. He always does.
Tom says he wants to check on the dog and walks out of the room with some pizza crusts and a slice he saved for her. Alice doesn’t look at him when he walks past her but I can tell they are going to fight soon. Tom isn’t as scared of Alice as I am. He’s still scared, though. She knows it enough to stay quiet when he’s walking past her. She knows he’s scared and that she doesn’t need to say anything to keep it that way.
We pack and I get Tom’s stuff because he hasn’t come back yet. We take everything we can from the motel room. It doesn’t bother me as much anymore. I’m happy to have some towels that don’t smell like me. I’m happy to steal and not feel bad about it.
Buzz carries Tom’s bag and we go outside. We don’t go to the front desk because they’ll want to check the room.
Tom staring at the rope we used to tie up the dog. The end of it is brown and the dog is gone. Alice and Buzz come around to the back of the motel, too. We all look at Tom, who doesn’t look back.
He says someone took his dog and nobody says anything even though we all know it wasn’t his dog to begin with. He says someone stole his dog and it’sgone, now. Alice says the dog just got loose. I see the dried blood but I like Alice and feel bad for Tom, so I say the same thing.
Tom looks tiny by himself, I know he’s older than me but his shoulders are tight and he looks like he did when we first moved to Steelton. Tom won’t lift his head up and I think he might be crying but I don’t want to walk any closer to him, either. None of us move until he does.
He says it doesn’t matter and puts down the rope and walks to Buzz, who hands him his pack. We follow Alice to the outside of town. Tom doesn’t sing the song we all know the words to even though I want him to.
The place we go is quiet and pretty. It has lawns and garages, basketball hoops in the driveways. We look out of place, we look desperate. Alice must feel it, too, because she combs her hand through her hair and looks at the rest of us. She says this is the neighborhood. She says we’re almost there and I realize there is no way she knows where the man with the walking stick lives. I hold his walking stick in my hand, it makes me feel safer.
She can’t know where that man lives, but I follow her anyway.
We’re in front of a house that isn’t the man’s but Alice says it is. Buzz stares at it like it is, anyway. Like the people in the house took something from him. Alice says this is it and comes up with the plan. We’ll break in through the back door, if there is one. Tom and I will watch the front and Buzz will help her find the money and anything else we can use. I expect Tom to tell her no but he doesn’t say anything and I guess that means we’re going to rob from a house.
It’s like nobody lives in the houses. There are only a few cars in driveways and nobody outside. I feel like we are in a model of a neighborhood. It’s better this way. It makes me feel like we aren’t really robbing anyone, because everything is just here and no one uses it anyway.
We go to the back of the house and there is a door. Alice turns the knob and it clicks open. We all laugh out of nervous luck. Alice tells us to hurry through and shuts the door behind us. There is a little dog that runs up to us yipping but wagging its tail. Alice smiles at Tom and Tom tries to look uninterested but he leans down to pet it. It stops yipping and lets Tom pick it up.
The house looks like any house. It is plain inside and I can’t imagine the man with the walking stick living here. Alice tells me to watch for people so I make my way to the front room with Tom. We look out of the front windows like we’re waiting for our father to come home or for food to be delivered. He doesn’t let go of the dog and opens the window a little bit so it can poke its head out. Tom looks so much happier and I wonder if all he needs is a dog to stop running away.
Buzz and Alice start on the first floor and are not quiet. I hear metal and glass and wooden furniture crashing down. I hear Alice laughing. I tell Tom that I wish they were quieter and he tells me he doesn’t care.
I put my hand on his back and say I want to go home. He looks at me and stops petting the dog, who sees something outside and tries to fidget out of Tom's arms. I tell him we’ve done enough and we can go home. He nods. I think he thinks the same thing but doesn’t want to say it.
Alice and Buzz come up the hallway with nothing in their hands. Buzz asks why Tom has the window open but Alice ignores him and says the money must be upstairs. She tells me to go with Buzz to the bedrooms while she checks the basement.
I go up the stairs with the walking stick in front of me like a bat because I’m scared. I don’t look back at Tom. Buzz is behind me and telling me it’s good that there are no lights on. The upstairs isn’t dark, but it scares me, still.
We go into the first bedroom and it looks like nobody ever sleeps in it. I tell Buzz it’s a guest room and there will be nothing in it. We go into the next bedroom and it looks bigger and the bed isn’t made. We go to the dresser before we notice someone on the other side of the bed.
Buzz sees something dark in the person’s hand, and he grabs the stick from me and swings it at the person. I don’t know if he hit anything at all, but we run out of the room. Buzz doesn’t have the walking stick and I try to think of what the person was holding in their hands.
I don’t want to go back upstairs to look and I don’t know if that person is hurt or something else. We run downstairs and the front door is open and Tom isn’t there. Alice is running up the stairs because she heard us from the basement, and she sees the cop cars before we do. She tells us to run and we do because what else is there?
She runs out the front and we run out after her, but we all stop on the porch.
Everything happens then. I see Tom, already handcuffed and screaming at the cops that he was trying to get the dog back. Alice is pulling me by the shoulders, yelling we were supposed to go out through the basement. Buzz is pulling at his fingers and walking out towards the police cars. He’s shouting something but his voice is so high it sounds like he’s just screaming. It’s making the policemen nervous and they are starting to point all their guns at him. I can hear the person upstairs yelling from a window about us trying to kill her.
Tom is going into a police car and Alice is telling Buzz to shut up as she crawls down to the ground; so I do, too.
I lie on the ground and put my arms out because Alice is the boss, but not all the time.