Three

Garrett crept along the edge of the halo of light, slipping around the street lamp that produced it and ran the last few yards to Le Petit Café, a stuffed backpack slung over one shoulder. Two shadows followed him, dressed from head to stiletto pumps in black. Elliot scowled at the click, click, click of Denise's heels, giving her friend a glowering glare. Denise shrugged and peered through the shop window.

The sky above them was gray-blue, almost black, and a soft glow spread across the street and sidewalk from the windows and glass doors of the café. Inside, Clark was alone, all of his three employees gone for the night. He wiped down the tables and counters, tossed the rag behind the blue-marble bar, and went to the rack for his jacket.

"Get down," Elliot hissed, dragging Denise away from the glass.

Clark flipped the open sign with one hand, oblivious to the three thieves in the night, and jammed his keys into the lock. Satisfied, he turned off the lights, pushed open the door, pulled on his coat, and started down the street towards his apartment on the east side of town.

The door closed slowly on its own as he walked away, and Garrett darted to grab the handle. Plunged into utter darkness, the boy caught the door and sighed, passing his backpack off to his manager as she slipped around him and into the café. Denise tiptoed in after her, leaving Garrett to shut the door quietly behind them.

Le Petit Café opened at quarter to six the next morning with the arrival of Clark and his workers. They yawned and stumbled in as Clark strode forward, a cup of coffee already in one hand. He stopped just before the doors, frozen in place as he scanned the neon orange vines that snaked across the insides of his store like a spider's web.

"We've been stringed," he said flatly.

He unlocked the door and stepped inside, hacking his way through the thick strings of Play-Dough-like Whoop-E-String. It clung to his hair and clothes, but all he could do give a small smile.

Grinning, Clark clapped his hands, a lone sound in a room of aghast café workers. "Well, done, Elliot. Well done."

"Um, Mr. Haven," Quinn LeClure pursed her lips, "why are you clapping?'

"It's—I'm—," Clark stared at the girl and lowered his hands. "I…never mind. Get this cleaned up."

"Sir?"

Clark plucked a slimy orange string from his hair. "You heard me."

Quinn sighed and trudged through the moist jungle, cringing away as she ducked and weaved to avoid the hanging noodles. The others followed her, but Clark hung back until they had cut a clear path for him to the bar. Then, he strolled to the phone and dialed.

"Hello?" Elliot's voice was ragged and out of breath on the opposing end.

Clark walked a few paces away from the counter, narrowing his eyes as he stared out the window. From there, he could see across the street and into his sister's café. She stood, leaning against the counter while holding out a cup for Denise.

"I've been stringed, Elliot."

The young woman turned slowly towards the window, then met Clark's gaze from across the way. "Oh?"

"Yes," Clark smiled. "Not quiet the elaborate play of revenge I was hoping for, El."

His smile grew as he saw the corners of her mouth dip down into a defeated frown. Somewhere behind him, Quinn and his workers struggled to pull open the door to the janitor's closet.

Elliot's frown slowly faded into a malevolent, wild grin. "Are you sure, Clark? Are you really sure?"

A prickle of unease stirred inside Clark and his smile evaporated, turning into a scowl of suspicion. "Elliot…"

There was a crash.

Quinn screamed.

Clark whirled.

The door to the closet smashed to the floor and the employees leaped back. Beneath the heavy wood, the marble floor cracked. Clark stared, trying to ignore the frightened eyes of the employees. Quinn swayed and dropped like a stone, leaving one of the others—Rick—to catch her. He grunted and dragged her towards a table to sit down.

"Clever," Clark growled into the phone. "You cracked my floor."

"I won't be able to open for another day," Elliot said flatly. "And some of my chairs are ruined. Oh, look, she's going to fall."

Clark's brow drew together just as there was another crrrrassshh. Behind him, Quinn lay sprawled on the floor, pieces of chair scattered around her as Rick stood over the entire mess, stunned. A single screw rolled away from one of the chair legs, only stopping to tap at the toe of Clark's shoe.

He stooped to pick it up and lifted it for closer inspection, the phone still pressed to one ear. Across the street, Elliot cackled.

"One more thing, Clark." The young man looked to his sister. She raised her eyebrows. "If you plan on reassembling your furniture, I would go outside."

Clark hesitated, but Elliot had already hung up. She popped out one hip and folded her arms across her chest with a nod towards the street. Preparing himself for an ambush, Clark put down the phone and stepped outside.

The air was cold and he shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket to warm them. He scanned the plaza of small stores, but saw nothing. Turning a questioning look towards Roma Elliot, he received a finger pointing straight up. Sighing, he craned his head back. Above him, slung across the top of the lamppost, was a plastic bag filled the screws, nails, bolts, and whatever else Elliot and her team had managed to dismantle. And, resting atop the nails, bolts, and screws, was a gleaming screwdriver.

"Well played, El," Clark said. "Well played."