The sudden light startled Stella. She had been so focused that she had forgot that she had been in the dark. She liked it this way, all alone and with no one to disturb her. She was one of the rare women in that area so she didn't like any man to sneak out on her and watch every move she made. Except her dad. Her father had always encouraged her and said that she can have every job she wanted and he would love her anyway. Well, he had said that the few moments he had been at home. She had loved him unconditionally. Her mother died before she started high school. School was a painful memory she didn't want to remember. Her father had bought her a small apartment from the money he had earned from his last robbery. He had got caught and had spent the following five years in prison. After school, she had gone to medical school. It was before… well, she thought she had spent enough time with memories and turned with an angry stare at the inspector.
" Do you always work in the dark?"
"Makes me feel like I'm alone," answered she with accusation in the voice. After all, he had disturbed her in her bubble.
The inspector looked at her with amazement before he looked at his watch and laughed. " Not bad, Stella."
She smiled in response while the other policemen went in. " Purley couldn't crack that safe," said the young policewoman in admiration.
"Neither could Spears, " replied the inspector.
" You know whom to call first, " said the policewoman while taking pictures with her camera.
The inspector put on the gloves, taking the occasion to flirt with the beautiful woman. " You're expensive Stella. Those guys cut us a break on subpoena jobs, goodwill, community services…"
" I do it for the money. I'll send you a bill," said Stella hurriedly. She felt that she didn't want to be compared to criminals since her business was a serious one. She rejected the advances of the old inspector, picked up her equipment and left.
" Don't you wanna see what's inside?" asked the policewoman.
" I never look inside," said Stella over her shoulder. " Have a good day!" shouted she before she saluted George, the inspector in chief. She hurried to the office, Bridger Company that she owned. She had started it for a year ago. She was glad that she had quitted the medical school as she realised she was not fit for the blood and surgery. Her business was successful and had become so in less than a year. She hurried on the road, behind the wheel of her red Mini. It was a treasure she took good care of it. She got a good price for it because it needed to be repaired but once fixed, the car almost flied on the Philadelphian roads. She liked to drive fast and to sneak in everywhere. Her Mini was a perfect city car. She spotted an available parking place and took it. She went in through the glass doors, into the elegant shop.
" How long to crack it?" the receptionist asked.
" Four minutes, 43 seconds," replied Stella proudly, giving her car keys.
The receptionist gasped. " You're the man."
"What's in the line-up?" Stella interrupted.
"Todd Millikan called. He has a prototype lock he wants you to test. He said he added two false contact points on the tumbler."
"I'll pretend to be stumped for a second or two."
"And there's a Charlie Croker in your office. Says you know each other," added the receptionist. She thought it was strange that Stella could know a handsome guy like the one in her office. As far as she knew, Stella didn't go out with anybody. Stella was too elegant to hang out at nightclubs and cheap bars. She would stay at home and unlock her locks or something but never flirt. She was hopeful that Stella would find someone to spend her life with. Stella on her side wasn't so happy. Charlie Croker meant trouble. Big trouble. She had sworn that she would never see the man's face again after the terrible accident.
She remembered it well. Charlie came to her house with sad eyes. He had told that her father was dead and had been murdered. She remembered that she had screamed at him, accusing him of the murder. He said it had been Steve that had betrayed them. He had run away and taken the gold. John was the only victim. Stella blamed Charlie for the murder and the last time she saw him was at the funeral. After that, she had cut all the lines and started Bridger, to honour her father and continue on his path, legally of course.
Now he was here again, sign that her past will always haunt her. It was also jealousy she had felt because he had been the one that had seen him the most. He was of course the son her father never had. She calmed herself and opened the door to her office ready to attack.
"Hi Stella." He had a wide-open smile. Stella wanted to scream and rip that smile of his face. She thought he had no right to come here and smile when he knew what he had done. She had no idea how to handle it. Charlie was always smiling and joking. He was never angry or irritated. She could deal with irritated people but never relaxed and confident. And also he looked at her with interest, like she was an easy woman he could get in his bed quickly. She knew he was quite a Casanova but she didn't like to be treated like this. She had her dignity.
Charlie was thrilled to see her. He had not seen her since the funeral. She had been really angry with him, blaming him for everything. Could she never understand that he loved him as much as she did? He had loved John and he had wanted the best for Stella. But she had rejected him. She had chosen to put a distance between them. She rolled her eyes and went to deposit the keys on her desk. " Didn't I tell you I never want to see you again?" She took off her jacket while she stared angrily at him hoping he would understand the look and leave her office and her life. " It was when you told me my father died after you pulled him in for one last job." She turned her back to him and hoped he would feel guilty and leave. Charlie didn't want to get in conflict with her. He needed her for the mission. She was important for the plan but if she didn't want to be in it, he would find another way. But he was confident she would accept when he told the news. He sighed because she wasn't going to be easy to convince.
" We found him, Stella. He's in Los Angeles. The gold bricks he stole from us had a Balinese dancer stamped on them. My contact, Skinny Pete, says an LA dealer's been buying those bricks."
Talking was nothing to Stella. She wanted proofs. " Yeah? And how do you know it's him?"
" Skinny Pete sent me this." He put the picture on the table. " Steve changed his last name to Frizelli." She looked at the picture and guessed it must be him. Still, she had forgot Steve and everything to that mission.
" Why are you telling me all of this?"
" I checked data bases behind high-end safe companies. I found that Steve had a Worthington 1000 delivered to his home office. You install a Worthington 1000 only if you've got something big to guard."
"No you don't." Stella was irritated now. She didn't know what he wanted to get at but she had her ideas.
" The problem is that no one on my crew can handle Steve's safe. I need somebody I can trust."
He confirmed her doubts. He wanted her to help on the mission. She would not become like her father no matter how much she loved him.
" Look, I'm a safe involved technician. I'm not a thief." Like you she had wanted to say but she old her tongue. She couldn't understand why anyone who steal when money can be earned legally. This would be the thing she would never understand in her father. How he would continuously risk his life to take someone's belonging.
" It's not about the gold Stella. Okay? John was like a father to me too," said Charlie defensively.
Stella was more moved that she wanted to show. The sound of her father's name opened a door in her heart, she thought closed. She was surprised at the harsh tone. The relaxed Charlie could raise his tone. She felt ashamed at the accusation. After all, if it were not about the gold, why would he want her there?
"Look. I'm sorry," excused Charlie. "It just that I can't move on until I've set things right." Stella felt a dagger of pain through the heart. She had spent month in therapy to help her through the pain. She found out that it was better to forget and handle with the loss. She had said to herself it was safer to stay in the shadows. She put the photo away.
" I've moved on," said she before she turned her back to him again. Charlie took the picture and sighed. He had hoped to persuade her into this but apparently it didn't work. He took one last glance at her back and left.