What if the Big Bad Wolf was family? Could you choose to save Little Red Riding Hood if it meant turning your back on blood?
My latest novel, SEEING RED, is available now on Amazon. Read the bonus scene below.
Piper tells hunter about a new con
Note: The following scenes are from an early draft of the novel, in which Piper is the Big Bad Wolf character and she has convinced Hunter to reluctantly participate in a couple of cons in the interest of protecting Josh and Aaron.
“We’re not doing it again,” Hunter insisted. It was all she had time to say before Josh came reluctantly into the kitchen, ready for his nightly insulin shot.
Piper said, “We’ll talk about it later.”
“Talk about what?” Josh asked. He was at an age where he needed to know everything about everything and they couldn’t have this conversation in front of him.
Hunter would’ve liked to respond no, we won’t talk about it later, but instead, she took their dinner over to the dining table while Piper administered the insulin. Hunter called Aaron into the kitchen and they all sat down to eat together, a rare opportunity.
When they were done eating and Piper ordered the boys to wash the dishes, she grabbed Hunter by the elbow of her flannel shirt and pulled her into the living room.
“Hey,” Hunter objected, taking her sleeve back but following Piper.
“it’s not like it’s going stretch out,” Piper said with a roll of her eyes. She led Hunter all way the front door and she thought for a moment that Piper was going to make her go all the way outside for this conversation, but instead they stood in the tiny foyer with the inner door shut. Then Piper said, “I have a solution that will allow us to get caught up on the mortgage and let Aaron play football.”
Hunter folded her arms over her chest and pressed her lips together, giving her sister an unimpressed look. She hoped the look alone would be enough to show Piper she had no interest in hearing about this. Unfortunately, when Piper set her mind to something, she wasn’t easily deterred.
“I found the perfect mark,” she said, keeping her voice low so the kids wouldn’t hear.
“It’s better than last year, I promise,” Piper said. She put her hand on Hunter’s arm again and this time
the touch was imploring. “This girl came through the line at the café this morning and it was like she dropped down from Heaven. You would not believe how right she is for this con.”
“No cons, Piper,” Hunter said.
She was outright scowling by now, trying to decide between shoving her sister out of the way so she could leave the foyer, or simply giving in to the frustrated tears building in her throat. “Look, I don’t blame you for getting swept up in Jed’s manipulations, but he’s in jail now. Scams are dangerous and we’re better than that. We don’t need to run cons to get by.”
“Look around,” Piper said, her voice raising with emotion as she gestured to the house at large. “Does this look like getting by?”
“We have a roof over our heads-”
“Not sure for how long,” Piper interjected.
“Josh is in good health-”
“Insulin prices are on the rise again,” Piper said.
“We’re only $200 away from funding Aaron’s football dreams-”
“Might as well be a million,” Piper said.
“Will you stop?” Hunter asked, her voice raising to a shout. She caught herself and they both glanced through the glass foyer door toward the kitchen, but there was nothing but the sound of dishes being washed. Hunter lowered her voice again and looked into her sister’s eyes as she said, “I haven’t slept right in almost a year. Every time I close my eyes, I see that guy and the look on his face. We ruined his life, Piper.”
They were a few hundred bucks away from living in a women’s shelter back then and Josh’s blood sugar levels were out of control – they were desperate.
“We did no such thing,” Piper said coldly. “All we did was take some easily replaceable funds from his wallet to make sure that we didn’t end up on the street. We had to do it.”
Hunter could see that Piper believed that, and she knew those were the kinds of ideas Jed had spent years feeding into her. So far, Hunter had been unsuccessful in pulling them back out of her head. She didn’t expect it to happen overnight – Jed had literally taken Piper out of the gutter when they were teenagers and Hunter understood why Piper put him on a pedestal.
She had just hoped that after a year of incarceration, his hold on her would have started to weaken by now. The boys had begun to see through Jed’s manipulative façade even before he went to prison, but Piper still didn’t see him for who he really was.
Hunter just stared at her sternly, knowing that any argument she made right now would fall on deaf ears. Then Piper said, “It’s going to be different this time.”
“I’ve heard that before,” Hunter said.
“No, really,” Piper said. “It’s a victimless crime.”
“I thought you said there was a mark,” Hunter said. “Some girl in the café?”
“Not her, but her grandmother,” Piper said. “And I promise you we are not going to take a single dime out of her pocket.”
“How does that qualify as a con?” Hunter said, then she held her hand up before Piper could answer.
“Never mind, I don’t want to hear it because we’re not doing it.”
Then she did push her sister out of the way, going back into the kitchen where Piper couldn’t continue the conversation in front of the boys. But Piper followed her and grabbed a dishtowel, snapping it playfully at Aaron and saying, “Okay, you two have done your time. Go upstairs and start your homework. And I better not hear video games for at least an hour.”
She didn’t have to tell them twice.
They left the last few dirty dishes in the sink and scampered up the stairs, then Hunter went to the sink to finish the job. Piper leaned against the door frame, her arms crossed in front of her, and said, “I’m not asking you to do this for me. It’s for them. It’s always for them.”
Hunter and Piper went to the grocery store together on Thursday morning after the boys got on the bus. It was pretty uncommon for the two of them to have time in their schedules to do this chore together, and Hunter suspected that Piper had switched her shifts around at The Magic Bean on purpose so that she would have more time to wear Hunter down about the con she wanted to pull.
She hadn’t shut up about it ever since she first tried to pitch it, and every time she brought it up, Hunter found an excuse to leave the room. But now that they were walking together down the dairy aisle, Hunter was a captive audience.
“We don’t have to decide on anything right now,” Piper said, putting a gallon of WIC-approved milk in the cart. “All I’m asking is that you hear me out while I explain what I want to do.”
“What you want to do is illegal,” Hunter said. “And even if you’re not concerned with the laws of man, it’s also morally wrong.”
Piper picked up a carton of eggs and said, “That’s the beauty of this con. We’re not taking advantage of anyone and we’re not taking money out of anyone’s hand. All we’re going to do is take what the government rightfully owes us. We’re a family struggling to make ends meet and we have kids to support. Do you really think one measly gallon of milk a week is enough calcium for two growing boys?”
Hunter rolled her eyes at this. She’d been on and off of food stamps and the Women, Infants, and Children program for most of her life – no one needed to tell her just how inadequate the allowances were.
They rounded the corner and passed a woman pushing a shopping cart full to the brim with all manner of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as impulse purchases like cookies and potato chips. Hunter looked down at their own shopping cart. It was utilitarian, filled mostly with things that the government would allow them to purchase.
As soon as the woman was out of sight, Piper whispered, “Just think how nice it would be come in here with our pockets full and load up on anything we want.”
“Fine-” Hunter started to say, and Piper immediately squealed in her ear.
“Thank you,” she said. “You’re going to like this idea.”
“I can pretty much guarantee that I won’t,” Hunter said.
The con Piper had in mind turned out to be some kind of Medicare fraud. Piper gave Hunter as many details as she could process, but Hunter never really had an eye for scams the way that Jed and Piper did. A lot of it went over her head, but it essentially boiled down to creating a shell company and using an elderly person as a pass-through to bill the government for medical services that had not actually been provided.
“I thought you said this had to do with a girl in The Magic Bean,” Hunter said.
“It does,” Piper said. “She’s wealthy, living with her grandmother, and she’s going to help us get to the old woman so we can gather the information we need to run the con.”
“This sounds complicated,” Hunter said, rubbing her forehead. “This is going to help us pay our mortgage before the bank gets fed up with us?”
“There are a lot of moving parts involved to get the con set up,” Piper admitted. “But the beauty of it is once all that legwork is done, we’ll be able to draw on this scam for months or maybe even years – without hurting anyone, I might add.”
“So no money comes out of the pocket of this old woman?”
“Not a dime,” Piper said.
“Or the girl?”
“Or the girl,” Piper agreed. “Uncle Sam will be the only one who’s funding this, and we wouldn’t even be in this position if he had better systems in place to take care of the people who are in need. We’re at a disadvantage, Hunter, and we have to take what belongs to us instead of waiting for a handout that’s never going to happen.”
Hunter rolled her eyes. She’d heard things like that before, words that came from Jed’s mouth.
“Why do you need me for this?” she asked.
Pipers eyes lit up, thinking that she was getting through to her sister, but Hunter really only wanted to know because it sounded like Piper already had her heart set on this idea. She didn’t know whether she would be able to persuade her against it, but maybe if Hunter was a crucial part of the plan, she could refuse to help.
“I need you to distract the girl so that I can get what I need from the grandmother,” Piper said. “And this is where scam gets really perfect. The girl is a lesbian.”
She raised her eyebrows as she said it as if this detail was supposed to change Hunter’s mind entirely – as if Hunter was so desperate to meet girls that the prospect of being complicit in fraud would be a good reason to get close to someone.
Hunter cocked her head and gave Piper a sharp look, asking, “Why exactly is that perfect?”
“You’re the right woman for the job,” Piper said. Then she smiled and added, “Besides, maybe you’ll like her.”
“That is the most ridiculous thing I ever heard in my life,” Hunter said as they rounded the end of the grocery aisle and she lowered her voice to avoid being heard. “I’m sure we’ll fall madly in love and get married as soon as she finds out that my sister is using her grandmother for some harebrained scam.
Why don’t you just pretend to be a lesbian and do it yourself?”
“I can’t be everywhere at once,” Piper said. “I’d be happy to do the fun part if you knew how to handle the rest. Do you know anything about how Medicare billing works?”
“No,” Hunter said.
“Well, I do,” Piper said. “Jed taught me this scam years ago and it’s a good one.”
Hunter rolled her eyes again – it was an involuntary reaction to hearing Jed’s name.
“The only reason – the only reason– I helped you last time was because Josh’s hospital bills were out of control and we were days away from living in a car. I did it for the kids’ safety, not because you have grocery cart envy. I know how much it sucks to work double shifts and still barely make it, but we’re not doing this. We’re not as desperate as we were last time.”
Hunter didn’t even know how it happened. One minute, she’d been putting her foot down with Piper, and the next they were strolling down the sidewalks at Grimm Falls College, looking for Piper’s potential mark.
“I just want you to see her,” she said, looking around.
“Why?” Hunter protested. This little field trip wasn’t going to change her mind. “And how do you even know she goes here?”
It was the top of the hour, the shift in classes underway and a lot of people were walking along the sidewalks that ran between all the academic buildings. Hunter felt conspicuous and out of place even though she was the same age as everyone else here. In another life, maybe she could’ve been one of those care-free students heading to class.
“I see her at The Magic Bean pretty regularly,” Piper said. “She always wears this ridiculous red hat so she’s not exactly hard to spot, and only college students have that much time during the day for coffee breaks.”
Hunter was skeptical that they would be able to find the girl – there must be a few hundred students walking all over campus at this very moment, and that was assuming that Piper’s assumption was right and the girl had a class right now. Hunter was about to say so when Piper grabbed her sleeve and yanked her up against the wall of an old brick academic building.
“Quit doing that,” Hunter said, pulling her arm back and smoothing the fabric.
“Shut up and look,” Piper said, pointing. Hunter rolled her eyes at this rudeness, but she followed her sister’s gaze and saw a red knit cap bobbing through the crowd and coming toward them.
“Are you sure that’s her?” she asked.
“Positive,” Piper said.
The girl had long, wavy dark hair that hung over her shoulders and her skin was a pale porcelain. She had large, pretty eyes and unlike all the other students caught up in their thoughts around her, she looked straight ahead and wore the most intriguing expression of contentment. This wasn’t a girl who was just going through the motions of life – Hunter could tell at a glance that she was actually happy.
Hunter looked side-long at Piper and asked, “Would it have killed you to mention that she looks like a freaking supermodel?”
Piper smiled mischievously and Hunter shook her head.
“Not going to happen,” she said. The girl was coming nearer to them, clearly angling for one of the two buildings that they had sandwiched themselves between, so Hunter asked, “What exactly are we trying to accomplish here today?”
“I want you to meet her,” Piper said and Hunter’s eyes went wide.
“You said you wanted me to see her,” she corrected.
“I lied,” Piper said. She started brushing Hunter’s shoulders and smoothing the wrinkles of her shirt, and Hunter batted her hand away when Piper tried to fix her hair. “Here she comes. Talk to her.”
Hunter glanced back to the sidewalk. The beautiful girl in the red had was coming closer at an alarming rate. Hunter swallowed a frog in her throat and asked, “About what? Piper, I don’t want to do this.”
She wondered if she had time to simply run up the sidewalk in the opposite direction. It wouldn’t be fun, but she could walk home from here. She was feeling ambushed and her heart was in her throat.
“Just relax and remember why you’re doing this. It’s all for Aaron and Josh,” Piper said. Then before Hunter had a chance to remind Piper that she hadn’t agreed to do anything, let alone this, Piper abruptly shoved her.
Hunter stumbled backward on her heels, pinwheeling her arms to catch her balance. Then she felt a pair of hands on her back, steadying her. When she turned around, it was none other than the girl in the red cap. If nothing else, Piper had incredible timing.
“Whoa,” the girl said, her lips turning into and absolutely heart-melting smile. “Are you okay?”
“Umm, yeah,” Hunter said, trying to find her words. “I guess I’m a bit clumsy today. Sorry.”
“It’s no problem,” the girl said. She was looking at Hunter in a way that was pretty rare for a stranger, like she really saw her. Hunter wondered if that meant the girl would take one look at her and see the duplicitous purpose for their meeting, but the girl just smiled and asked, “Are you a freshman? You look a little lost.”
“Yeah,” Hunter said, glancing around, but Piper was nowhere to be seen. “That’s exactly what I am. Lost.”
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