The phone rang at 11:53 P.M. Eighteen-year-old Cassidy sat bolt upright in her bed. There was only one person who would call her this late at night. She plucked the iPhone from her bedside table and answered the call. “Mel! It’s almost twelve. What do you want?”
“It’s an emergency,” came the voice on the other end. It was Cassidy’s best friend, Mel. “It’s really important! I need you help.”
Cassidy was beginning to get worried. “An emergency?” she asked urgently. “Mel’s, what’s wrong?”
“I need McDonald’s,” her friend explained sheepishly.
Cassidy sighed and messaged her temples. “Wanting McDonald’s is not an emergency,” she hissed.
“Oh, uh, OK. Well, I want some anyway. Also, did I mention that I’m parked outside your house? I want you to come with me.”
Cassidy gritted her teeth, but tumbled out of bed nonetheless. As she struggled out of her pajamas and into jeans and a T-shirt, she said into the phone, “So you snuck out of your house at midnight because you wanted fast food. Why am I not surprised?” She tugged on shoes and a hoodie, ran her hand through her stick-straight caramel hair, and slipped out of her apartment.
“Hey!” said Mel, pretending to be offended. “I did not ‘sneak out.’ Rose knew very well that I was leaving the house.” Rose was Mel’s younger sister. They lived together two streets over.
Cassidy was out of her apartment now, breathing in the cool night air. She hurried down the staircase, being careful not to make the steps creak; she didn’t want to wake any of the people living in the neighboring apartments. A moment later, she was sliding into the passenger seat of her best friend’s beat up silver car. She pocketed her phone as Mel started the car and puttered along the road.
They reached the restaurant in a matter of minutes. It was still open, with lights shining through the glass windows and the Golden Arches inviting them in. Mel parked and the two friends headed for the doors. But as they neared the sidewalk running around the building, they saw four suspicious-looking people dressed in black clothes and baseball hats pulled low over their foreheads. Cassidy knew she didn’t want to walk near them at midnight. She grabbed Mel’s arm and, putting a finger to her lips, dragged her friend over to the bushes edging the parking lot. They were close enough to hear the strangers’ conversation.
“Do you have the goods?” asked the largest of the group.
A slender woman reached into her leather bag and presented a collection of expensive-looking necklaces. The gem pendants glinted beneath the streetlights. “Got them,” she said, her voice silky. She had a foreign accent that Cassidy couldn’t quite place.
The man who spoke next was standing rigid beside the large man. “Parfait,” he exclaimed with a French accent. “And we have the payment.” From the inside of his suit jacket, he produced a fat wad of dollar bills. He handed them to the woman, while his hulking partner took the jewelry.
Cassidy waited for the shady group to disperse before talking. “OK, Mel, come on –” But her best friend was gone. She must have darted away while Cassidy was watching the exchange happen. “Mel?” she called, louder, as the panicky feeling she’d felt when Mel first called returned.
Before she could get too worried and do something stupid, the bushes rustled beside her and Mel reappeared. A McDonald’s bag was clutched in her hand. She cowered behind Cassidy and took fast, shallow breaths.
“Why are you hiding behind me?” Cassidy whispered anxiously. “What did you do?”
Mel rung the McDonald’s bag in her hands, ripping the paper. “I bumped into a man when I was crossing the parking lot. He dropped some necklaces and got really angry. This huge guy behind him started threatening me, so I ran. But I think they’re following me . . .”
A meaty hand reached over the bushes and grabbed Mel’s arm. She was jerked over the shrub with a yelp.
Adrenaline coursing through her veins, Cassidy sprang to her feet and jumped over the bush. The Frenchman and his large crony were starting to beat up her friend. “Mel, hang on!” she shouted, aiming a solid kick at the skinny Frenchman’s shin. With a shriek, he clutched at his leg and hopped up and down, spilling the necklaces. She turned on the burly man restraining her friend. Before she could attack, his hand snapped out and wrapped around her neck. A strangled cry escaped her throat before she and Mel were slung over his shoulders and carried off to a black van in the shadows of the parking lot.
Mel had decided to sneak off to McDonald’s in the middle of the night. Cassidy had thought it was a good idea to attack a muscular man two times her size. They were idiots. They had been friends for so long that Cassidy wasn’t sure who was the bad influence. But the one thing she was sure about was that they were in deep, deep trouble.