This wasn’t what tonight was supposed to be like. Nobody in Napa seems to care about the vigilante act. Why did Jia think signing up was a good idea? She bikes toward home, cutting down side streets and through neighborhoods every chance she gets.
She stays off the main roads as much as possible. Easier to avoid any drunks heading home. That’s easier said than done out here. It seems like you’re either in a downtown area, on a highway, or in the country where you can go miles without seeing much except grape fields. A few drops of water start falling which make her peddle faster. It’s light but could pick up any time. She has to get a car if she’s going to keep doing this. After tonight though she’s not sure she even wants to continue.
Riding through the last neighborhood before she’ll reach the highway her family’s winery sits on, Jia hears a crash in the distance. At first she dismisses it. Probably someone taking out the trash. It’s awfully late for that though. Then she hears it again. It sounds like someone hitting something. She hears glass breaking. This time of night that can’t be a good sign.
She could ignore it. She could even call the cops and let them handle it. There’s a squad car just a few miles away. Her confidence that she can handle this isn’t high right now. She’s not even confident she wants to handle it. She’s here though. By the time the cops show up whoever is doing this could be long gone. She registered as a vigilante to help people. Now’s her chance.
Deciding to get involved is only the first step. The difficult part is figuring out where that glass broke. She heard it ahead of her and to the right but there’s six houses in that direction. There’s only one street light on this stretch of road so she can’t make out many details. She listens, hoping to hear more noise, but whoever did the breaking has stopped. She thinks the noise came from one of the three closest houses but she can’t be sure.
With no other option Jia leans her bike against a tree and gets ready to start creeping into people’s yards, looking for any sign of broken glass. Her heart beats so fast she fears it might burst. It’s not a warm night but sweat’s pouring off of her.
Whoever’s behind this could have targeted any of these houses but they would have chosen one for a reason. She starts scanning for any sign or clue that would make one the best target. She notices two cars parked in the driveway of one of the houses. That probably means a fair amount of people are home. Not a great target. Another has their porch light on. It’s dim but might scare someone off. The other house doesn’t have any lights on, no cars out front, and nothing about it makes her think someone is there.
She creeps closer to this house. As she nears it, she sees the mailbox is open and overflowing with mail. That’s almost too easy. If nobody’s been home long enough for that much mail to build up the place is an easy mark.
It’s a one story ranch style house. Clearly the people who live here are at least fairly wealthy. Beyond the fact that they can afford any house in Napa this is easily the biggest house on the block. It’s got nice finishes and a big garage. It’s the kind of place anyone would want to live in and the kind of place any thief would want to rob.
Circling the building, Jia looks for any sign of broken glass. Nothing out front. All of the windows are in good shape. A quick glance through a garage window reveals there’s no vehicles inside. There are too many signs this place is empty. With nothing to go on she makes her way around the side of the house. There’s a tall wooden fence surrounding the back yard which she’ll have to make her way over. That’s not an issue in itself, she can climb a fence, but she really hopes it doesn’t mean she’s about to meet a nervous pet on the other side.
Hoisting herself over, she lands on her feet and is relieved to see no sign of a dog house or anything else suggesting a pet. A lot of people in the area only fence their yards if they have pets but maybe this family just likes privacy. The wooden fence is only along the front and back of the yard. In between she finds cheap wire fencing, allowing her to see into the yards of the neighbors.
Glancing at the next house over she can see the people there have their back porch light on but there’s no sign of anyone outside this late. That’s good, she doesn’t relish the idea of having to explain to a neighbor why she’s sneaking around in the dark.
Once again she considers calling the cops. Even if she’s going to investigate herself it might be a good idea to have backup on the way if things go bad. She dismisses the thought. She needs to handle this herself. She can’t call for help every time she gets a little nervous.
Half expecting to find the sliding glass door along the back of the house broken, she’s disappointed to find it seems intact. There’s two other windows back here but neither of them is broken either. With only one side of the house left Jia starts getting ready to move onto the other houses on the block. Maybe her detective skills aren’t as advanced as she hoped. Rounding the final corner of the house though, she changes her mind. Those Nancy Drew books she read as a kid may have taught her a few things after all.
There’s only one window on this side of the house but it’s wide open. Looking at the pushed up panel, she can see the glass is shattered and there are shards all over the ground. It looks like whoever did this only broke the window so they could unlock it. There’s no sign of anyone out here so whoever did this is likely inside.
Jia feels nervous standing around out here. Whoever is inside could come out at any time and there’s no way to know who they are or how dangerous they might be. Jia’s confident she could handle even an armed opponent up close and personal, but if they see her across a room, she isn’t magic nor is she bulletproof.
She takes a deep breath and starts to pull herself through the window but at the last minute she has a change of heart. Before she goes into the unknown she decides to call the cops. She needs to be able to handle herself but she has no idea what she’s walking into. She hates calling them the first time she stumbles on an interesting situation. If things go bad in there though she’ll feel a lot better knowing backup’s on the way.
Jia slinks back around the corner of the house as she calls. She keeps an eye on the window but doesn’t want to be standing right outside if the intruder emerges. They might not even exit through the window, but she’s trying to play it safe. The phone rings a few times before a tired sounding woman picks up. “Napa police department. How can we help?”
“Yes, there’s a robbery in process on the 200 block of Clinton Ave. I’m not sure of the actual address, it’s too dark outside to see. It’s a big house with a wooden fence around it though. I think it’s the only wooden fence on the street. They broke the side window and I think they’re still inside.”
“We’ll get an officer out there as soon as possible. Thank you for reporting this. May we have your name?”
“This is Jia Crawford, I’m a registered—”
She’s cut off before she can finish her sentence. “We know who you are Ms. Crawford. Please go home and leave this to the police. I appreciate you reporting it.”
“I’m actually going to investigate so I will very likely be in the house when your officers arrive. If they don’t see me out front, please don’t let them go in guns blazing. Thanks.”
She hangs up before the woman can respond. Without any other excuses to delay she heads back to the window. Watching out for glass on the ground, she pushes aside the curtains and peers inside.
There’s no sign of the robber. She’s staring at what appears to be an office, with a computer desk that hasn’t been disturbed. The door leading out of the room’s open. She pulls herself up and is able to quickly make her way inside. There’s a fair amount of glass on the other side of the window as well but she manages to avoid it as she hops in. She makes a little more noise than she likes when hopping over the glass and instantly freezes. Listening for any sign that she isn’t alone, nothing stands out. Maybe they broke the window then got scared and ran off. Hopefully she’s not about to stumble upon an angry homeowner who thinks she’s the robber. Especially not if they have a gun.
Finding no sign of anyone in the office she tip toes to the door and glances out. There’s a long hallway here that goes in both directions. To the left she sees a few more rooms and a dead end while to the right the house opens into a common area.
Putting her detective skills back to work, she notices a night light plugged into one of the hall’s wall sockets. It doesn’t give her much to go on but it’s just enough to make out a bit of water on the floor to the left. There’s no guarantee the thief didn’t come back and go the other way but it seems like a good place to start.
The door to the first room’s open but there’s no sign of anyone. It looks like a kid’s room with blocks spread all over the floor. Moving further down the hall she comes to a sudden stop. There’s noise coming from the next room. It sounds like things are being thrown all over the place. Like someone’s looking for something. Jia creeps closer and sees the door’s wide open. As she looks inside she can tell she’s found the master bedroom.
Amidst the darkness there’s a shadow rushing back and forth. It’s moving from a room off of the bedroom and then back to the bed where it throws it’s haul into a bag. Then it goes to the dresser and seems to repeat the process.
Jia’s breathing’s strangled. This is her last chance to back out. She can just sneak back out the window and head home. The cops will be here soon. Soon enough anyway. It might actually not be that soon. If she doesn’t do something these people might come home to a bunch of their stuff being gone. It’s not life and death but it probably matters to them. She can’t let that happen if she can prevent it.
Trying to stay in the shadows, Jia sneaks into the room. The dark prevents her from seeing anything about the robber, including if they have a weapon. She’s not taking any chances. They rush into what Jia can only assume is a closet. Jia positions herself just outside and flattens herself against a wall, just far enough to the side that their peripheral vision shouldn’t catch her, especially in this darkness.
As they make their way back to the bed, they don’t seem to realize they’re not alone. She uses that as her chance to strike. Rushing them from behind, she grabs their right arm by the wrist. She snakes her left leg in front of their right leg which leads to them being tripped off balance. They don’t fall to the floor but that was never the point. With them off balance Jia puts all her weight behind her and rushes forward, spearing them onto the bed. She could have thrown them clear across the room but she’s in someone’s home. She doesn’t want to destroy anything she doesn’t have to.
Jia flips them over and despite the dark she can tell they’re a man. She jumps on top of him, straddling him with her legs, trapping his arms to his body. At this point she starts pummeling him. Mostly body shots to the chest and gut to knock the wind out of him. She mixes a few strong punches to the face in to disorient him.
The man starts to whimper and cry. He tries to raise his hands to shield his face from more hits but they’re trapped by Jia’s legs. After an eternity of punch after punch the man finally manages to say, “Please stop. I give up. You’ve gotta believe me, I give up.”
The voice she hears fills her with electricity. It’s a voice she knows far too well. She can’t see well enough to confirm her suspicion but she has to find out. She delivers a few more strong body shots to keep the man down before climbing off of him and rushing to the room’s entrance. At this point she flips on the light.
Lying bruised and bleeding on the rumpled bed is none other than her little brother Shin. He’s clutching his face and there’s a lot of blood leaking from his nose. Jia hopes it’s not broken.
“You little idiot,” she says as she rushes to the bed.
Shin looks out of it, clearly dazed. He’s a short guy of only 22. He’s always been slender and wears his hair short. He’s wearing all black at the moment but no mask or anything to hide his identity. It seems the only thing he did to prepare to rob this place is put on some gloves. He seems to recognize her voice and when Jia tears her glasses off to get a good look at him he says, “Okay, now I know I have a concussion.”
“You might, but that’s not why you’re seeing me you moron.” Jia looks around for something to put on her brother’s nose before he gets blood on everything in this place. She can’t find anything so she reaches down to the bottom of her shirt and tears a piece off. “Here, put this on your nose.”
He does as he’s told. “Damp. Really hope that’s rain and not sweat. Why are you here? How are you here? Did you follow me or something?”
She frowns. Everything’s always about him. “Nothing so clandestine. I signed up to be a vigilante. Mom and dad would probably have told you if you ever called or came home. I was walking home tonight and I heard you breaking a window. You weren’t exactly a ninja on this one. I didn’t realize who I was beating on until you spoke up. I’d have probably beaten you up at least a little less if I knew it was you.”
“Gee thanks,” he says as he tries to stuff the piece of shirt up his nose. “Why would you want to be a vigilante? That seems dangerous and stupid.”
“Says the boy who just broke into a family’s house. Is that how you got that car I saw you driving awhile ago? Stealing crap? You’re better than that.”
He tries to stand but moans, putting a hand on his side. “It’s not like I wanted to. I got into debt with some guys who you don’t get into debt with. That’s how I got the car. I didn’t steal it. I couldn’t pay them as quick as they wanted and they told me I could either do this,” he says, gesturing to the bag of jewelry and purses on the bed, “or they’d hurt me and, well…”
“What aren’t you telling me?”
He sighs and lightly taps at his side. “Look, I decided to go the route that I thought would end with me not being beaten to a pulp. Apparently that didn’t work out so well.”
She throws her hands in the air and starts pacing. “You can’t just go stealing things. Why didn’t you go to mom and dad and ask them for the money? They’d have helped you. Hell, I’d have helped you.”
“Ya, so there’s one more thing dad can be upset with me about? I wasn’t going to do that. You don’t have the kind of money I needed anyway. I don’t know if mom and dad have it.”
Their parents do well for themselves. That tells her more than she wanted to know. “Why this place? Why are you only a couple miles from home? I thought you were staying out in Sonoma or something.”
“I am. I didn’t pick the place. The people I owe money to gave me an address and told me to come here. They said the family would be out of town and nobody would get hurt. I was just supposed to take the jewelry and purses and stuff. Figured it wouldn’t be that big a deal, their insurance would cover it. They picked it because it’s close to the family. That way if I got caught walking around the area I could just tell whoever caught me that I was going to visit family. I really need this stuff sis. You have to let me take it. You don’t know what they’ll do if I don’t.”
Shaking her head, she walks toward him. “You’re an idiot. I’m not going to let you steal from these people. I should turn you over to the cops.” As the words leave her mouth she remembers what’s coming. She puts her hand over her mouth and her eyes go wide. “You need to get out of here. Now. I called the cops before I came in here and they were sending a car out. Napa cops are slow but they can’t be that far away at this point.”
Shin’s hands go together in a begging gesture. “Please let me take the stuff. I promise you I won’t ever do this again. I’ll get my head on straight and be better. You don’t know what they’ll do.”
“I know what I’m going to do if you don’t leave. I’ll tell the cops you got away, just get the hell out of here. Go home, sleep in your old room. We’ll talk in the morning. I’ll be along as soon as I can and we’ll figure out your problem but I can’t let you take this stuff. You’re not a thief and I’m not letting you become one.”
He hesitates but stands and starts to head for the door. Jia’s glad to see no blood stains on the blanket. No real evidence. “Wait.”
Shin turns around. “What? The cops could be here any minute, right? I need to get out of here.”
“Ya, but you need your bag.” Jia dumps the bag he had been piling valuables into and some of it makes it’s way around the room. She’s careful to keep her hands on the bag. She doesn’t want anyone wondering why her fingerprints are all over this stuff. “You’re not leaving it here. That’s evidence. God you’re a terrible criminal.”
“Sorry I’m so bad at stealing.”
“You should be. There’s one more thing. I need you to hit me. Hard. In the face. I need a black eye or a bleeding nose or something.”
His eyes go wide and he shakes his head. “What? You already have a black eye. I’m not going to hit my sister.”
“Yes, you are. Otherwise they’ll be suspicious of how you got away. This,” she says while pointing to her eye, “is already a few days old. One good hit then out the back slider. You go over the back fence and cut through the field back there. Just keep going, don’t stop until you’re home. I’ll go out the front door and wave the cops down. I’ll say you went out the front. That should get you away without an issue. Now hit me.”
“There’s gotta be another way. I don’t want to hit my sister.”
“A little late for that thief boy. Besides, after that beating I gave you, you must want a little revenge. Tomorrow you’re going to a doctor and getting your ribs checked by the way.”
Subconsciously rubbing his ribs he says, “They’re fine, just a little sore. You aren’t strong enough to break my ribs.”
“We’ll see. For now though, just hit me and get out of here. I need to get out front to throw them off.”
Shin still hesitates. He’s never been the most assertive guy. He has to know she’s going to get him back for this, even though she’s basically demanding he do it. Still, she is insisting and she will need to explain why he got away. He balls up his fist and punches his sister right in the eye. He tries to at least avoid her nose and manages to do so. She’s still knocked back by the hit.
“Ow, you little moron.” She rubs her face and can already feel a welt. “I guess that’ll work. Didn’t know you had that punch in you. You owe me so bad.” Her hand moves to cover her eye. She wishes she had something cold to put on it.
“Are you okay?”
“I’ll be fine, just get out of here before the cops show. I didn’t take that hit for nothing.”
Shin nods and grabs his bag. He runs out of the bedroom and his sister follows him to the living room. They find the rear sliding glass door and Shin is about to run out it when Jia says, “Wait.”
“Come on, I really need to go.”
“Unlock the front door first and open it a crack for me. You have gloves on. If you don’t it’ll be weird when they find my fingerprints on the lock. If you ran out first, there’s no reason I’d have to unlock the door.”
“Good catch.” Shin does as he’s told but opens the door only a crack. With that he runs to the back door, opens the slider, and closes it behind him. Jia uses her clothing to push the lock back into place so she won’t leave a fingerprint on it. They probably won’t go so far as to fingerprint a break-in but it can’t hurt to be careful. She doesn’t want anyone asking questions she can’t answer.
With that done Jia heads out the front door and is glad to see no sign of the cops. She doesn’t want to explain why she’s just coming out if she already chased the robber off. She sits down on the steps and rubs the side of her face. It really hurts.
She wanted to help people, at least tonight she got to do so. She only had to become an accessory to an attempted robbery to do it. She stopped the theft at least. The stuff is still here. This family might come home to a window that needs fixing but they won’t come home to find all their valuables gone. She made things better. Hopefully that balances the scales from letting her brother go. She shouldn’t have. There should be consequences for his stupidity. He’s her brother though.
After a few more minutes she sees blue and red lights at the end of the street. They slowly make their way toward her and when they get close she gets up and walks toward them, waving her arm in the air to draw their attention.
The car stops and two cops get out. It’s the same two from earlier in the night. The older officer says, “You look like crap.”
“Maybe I wouldn’t if you guys didn’t take so long to get here. I had to handle this on my own. Which I did.”
“Did you get the guy who broke in?”
She looks down, not wanting to meet his gaze. “Not quite. I caught him off guard and got a few good shots in but he surprised me with this,” she says as she points to her face. “He made for the door. I chased him out the front but it took a minute to recover and by the time I got out here, I couldn’t see any sign of him. I made him drop the stuff though.”
“I think he was trying to take a bunch of purses and jewelry and stuff. I looked after I realized he was gone. He was piling it all on the bed and when I beat the crap out of him, it flew everywhere. I don’t know if any of it got damaged but it should all be there. Apparently he decided getting out of here was more important than stealing.”
The officer has his hands on his hips as he walks toward the house. “He got away. You didn’t handle it. I guess it’s good that nothing was stolen though. Any sign of the family or whoever lives here?”
She frowns. Hasn’t she earned more respect than that? “Not that I could see. No cars out front or in the garage. I think they weren’t here for some reason. Maybe that’s why the guy picked this place.”
“Could be someone they know. We’ll look into it. Good job or whatever. Next time you have to stick your nose into something, try to get the guy. He’ll probably just hit another house now.”
Jia wants to protest but she can’t let on that she knows who did this. “I’ll try to do better.”
“Do so. What can you tell us about the thief?”
“Not a lot. I didn’t turn the lights on until after he was gone. He was bigger than me so I wanted to get the drop on him. He’s taller than I am, probably by at least six inches. Definitely a guy, where I hit him, I’d have felt if it was a woman. Pretty fast, with a mean right hook. That’s about all I can say though.”
“Skinny? Fat? Their race? Right handed or left handed? You have to be able to give us something else.”
“In between I guess on weight. I didn’t get a good look at them like I said. They were wearing a mask and gloves, no clue on race. They had all black on. It was actually hard to see them except for when they walked by the window. They punched with their right hand, so maybe right handed. They broke in through the office window. That’s actually how I got inside too. That’s about all I can tell you though. Wish I could be more help.”
The second officer, the younger woman with long blond hair and a nice smile speaks up before her partner can. “It’s more than we usually have to go on. That helps a lot. Thank you for your help Jia.”
She steps back. “You know my name?”
The officer laughs and moves toward her, patting her on the shoulder. “We all know your name.”
“I keep hearing that. Apparently being the only vigilante in Napa is good for something. What’s your name?”
The older officer rolls his eyes and heads toward the house. His partner looks at the ground and says, “Sorry about him. He’s not a big fan of vigilantes. Most of the force isn’t I guess. Kind of feel like you’re coming for our jobs. I figure we can use all the help we can get though. I really appreciate you getting involved. I’m officer Klein. Cassie Klein. It’s nice to meet you.” She extends a hand which Jia takes.
“Nice to meet you too. I’d love to ask you some questions about why everyone hates me and what I might do to turn it around. Any chance you’d be up to giving me some pointers?”
Nodding, Cassie looks toward her partner who’s already entering the house. “Sure, just look me up on Facebook. First name with a c, last name with a k. I’d better get inside before my partner chews me out for wasting time. It really was good to meet you. I’ll look forward to your message.” She starts to walk away but after a moment she stops herself and turns around. She points at Jia’s face. “Also, I’d call it a night. Go home and put some ice on that.”
Cassie Klein hurries into the house and is gone. Jia considers following but decides she’s done enough here for one night. She turns and walks down the street until she finds the spot she left her bike. She jumps on and starts peddling for the winery. It’s still a few miles away and if she rides fast she can probably beat Shin there. If he doesn’t show she’s going to kill him.