Once upon a time, there was a world class thief in a red cape…
Okay, maybe she wasn’t world class yet, but she was working to get there. At the very least, she aimed to pay off the rest of her student loans and save her grandmother’s house from foreclosure. After she finished those goals, maybe she would conquer the world next.
It was a Saturday night during a humid Atlanta summer, one where earlier pop-up thunderstorms made the air and her clothes extra sticky. She wore all black except for the red cloak with a hood pulled up over her head and the matching mask that covered her eyes. All those anime cosplays she made over the years really came in handy.
She peeked around the corner of an out-of-the-way alley in midtown, making sure the coast was clear. An advertising blimp hovered above her, it’s bright lights shimmering with promotions of the latest 8G phone and whatever new interactive show was on cable. Like she could afford VR goggles for cable…
Ducking behind the dumpster until the light had passed, she finally approached the back door of the Perrault Bakery.
“You there, Scarlet?” a slightly nasally male voice chirped up in her ear piece.
“I thought we weren’t going to use our real names,” Scarlet hissed softly.
Adam, her helper on these little break-ins, was her buddy from college. A tech genius, he was also drowning in loans. Currently, he was a block away in his parked car, working his magic on his laptop and portable internet. He rigged up their comms in a couple days before they robbed their first store three months ago. It had been a little shop that sold old fairy tale trinkets and books. After a Little Red Riding Hood ornament got caught on Scarlett’s bag and she accidentally brought it home with her, Adam said something stupid like it was their destiny, and picked a name for her and his own epithet to go along with it.
“You hate my code name,” Adam sounded like he was pouting.
“You’re not really the ‘Huntsman’ type,” Scarlet snuck up to the smart lock and crouched down by the door to wait. With cameras all over the city, she always assumed she was being watched and on a time table before one of those hero guys showed up.
She heard his typing over the comm as he snarked back, “I am hunting for the entry code, Red Cape.”
“Still not a fan of that name.”
“You don’t own a red baseball hat, so we couldn’t go with ‘Red Cap’ like in the story.”
“Sorry I’m not a sports person,” she said sarcastically. “You didn’t have one either!”
“Yeah… Disappointed my dad the first time I threw a baseball through his windshield.”
“Just get the damn door open!”
A few moments of Adam’s grumbling and typing passed before the light on the lock switched from red to green.
Scarlet pushed open the door and slipped in. She paused a moment just to make sure an alarm wasn’t set off, but it looked like Adam had gotten good enough to take out those things first. The only time they had ran into a real problem was at an antique store that still used bolt locks. She had jiggled the door too hard, set off the alarm, and sprinted back to Adam’s car just as they heard police sirens in the distance. Ever since then, they decided to pick businesses with smart locks. Those were so hackable.
Slinking through the bakery’s back room, she enjoyed the lingering scent of baked goods from earlier in the day. She had half a mind to stuff a bag full of bear claws, but abandoned that thought when she got to the front and saw all the cases had been emptied for the night. No free dinner for them.
Sliding behind the counter, she came up to the cash register. Most places kept a little money up front to be ready for the next day. Breaking into safes took too long, and frankly, they hadn’t learned how to do that yet. Instead, she would swipe the little bit from the register to get them by. Besides, she didn’t want to screw over the business entirely.
She wasn’t a monster.
As she used a pocket sized crowbar from her belt to pop open the drawer, Adam chirped in her ear, “I’m picking up movement from the roof.”
Scarlet grabbed the biggest bills first and crammed them in her little purse, “What’s it look like?”
“It’s person sized. It just dropped behind the building. I can’t see it from the car anymore.”
“I’m almost done-”
The back door creaked open. Scarlet paused at the sound, her mind racing. They had been so efficient that they never really prepared for facing an opponent. Suddenly, she really wished she took a couple self-defense courses in college.
Cramming the last of the paper bills in the bag, she ducked down and crawled to the front of the counter. Scarlet held her breath as she peeked around and saw two glowing electric green eyes emerging out of the dark kitchen.
In the doorway stood Wolf, one of the heroes that patrolled Atlanta. A new government program allowed for more vigilante justice after the last great recession led to a shortage of police officers. Wolf was a tall woman wearing a glowing goggled mask over her eyes. Pointed ear implants were fastened to her head, better to hear her opponents. Plated claw like gloves covered her fingers to protect her hands in a fight. It matched the light brown armor over her catsuit underneath.
Wolf looked like a cyber nightmare. Scarlet really wished she wore more than some red cape she cobbled together over a weekend and a cheap red mask from a party store.
“I know you’re here,” Wolf’s voice was melodic. “Come out, and surrender peacefully. I would hate to hurt a little girl like you.”
Scarlet pressed against the side of the counter, her mind racing for an exit. Back door was now blocked. It would take a few seconds to unlock the front door. She couldn’t call Adam for help without giving away her hiding spot.
Wolf’s footsteps moved towards the back of the counter. Scarlet stayed low, crawling around to the front as silently as she could to keep the display case between them. Each step from the hero was countered with panicked shuffling from the thief.
“I’ve been looking for you, Red Cape. That’s your name, right? It’s not nice to break into businesses, taking people’s hard earned money.”
Wolf’s hand lunged over the counter and snagged the red hood. Scarlet yelped as she was hoisted up and over until she was face to face with her captor. Her arms flailed and she grabbed the first thing she could: a shelf full of coffee cups.
Scarlet pulled the shelf and toppled it onto the two of them. Wolf took the brunt of it, releasing the thief.
Scampering up, Scarlet dashed to the front door which she found was already unlocked.
“I got you!” Adam shouted in her ear. “Get out of there!”
She raced out to the street and spotted Adam’s shitty Honda down at the end of the block. But she didn’t have time to make it as Wolf dashed out after her.
Scarlet screamed and sprinted in the other direction. At least if she got caught, Adam would be free to bail her out of jail. Scarlet touched her ear piece, “Help me!”
“Should I run her over with my car?” Adam’s voice was just as frantic.
“No! Just help me lose her!” Scarlet glanced over her shoulder to see those glowing green eyes easily keeping her fast pace.
“Okay! Hold on,” Adam said, the sound of typing coming fast over the comm. “Next time we go to a part of town we both know.”
“Huntsman! Focus!” Scarlet screamed back at him, knocking over a trash can into Wolf’s way.
The hero easily vaulted over it.
Adam replied fast, “Go left! There’s a Marta station at the end of the block. Try to lose her there, and I’ll pick you up at the next stop!”
Good thing we’re in the club district, Scarlet thought as she skidded around the corner. Now on the main road, lined with various nightclubs and bars, she spotted the Marta station, Atlanta’s railway system, in the distance. Throwing herself into the crowd of people, she stayed as low as she could, shouldering through them.
“MOVE!” Amplified by her suit, Wolf’s voice rang out over the music and the shocked drunk people.
Luckily, they were too intoxicated to get out of her way fast enough. Scarlet got to the stairs and dashed down into the underground station. She hopped over the gate, ignoring the shouts of the ticket taker droid, and ran for the train platform.
It was an obvious move to go into the nearest car, so she veered hard to the left to get further into the party crowd just as a train was arriving. Wind picked up as it sped in and slowed to a halt.
Slinking in, she ducked between two seats as people filtered on and off the train car. She held her breath watching, waiting to see if those glowing eyes followed her.
Finally, a bell dinged, the doors slid shut, and the train started moving. No Wolf.
Scarlet hugged her bag of money in relief and rose to her feet. She ignored a few stares from the other passengers. Even though this was the wild party district, normal people didn’t usually wear red capes and masks on the train unless it was Halloween or Dragon Con.
The train passed into a tunnel, and it grew dark for a few moments. In the darkness, about three cars back, Scarlet saw Wolf’s glowing green eyes illuminated, watching, waiting for the next stop. The lights flashed on, and the thief stared in disbelief at her pursuer.
“Come on, man!” Scarlet groaned.
She needed a new plan. She stuck out too much with her bright red cape.
Moving to the front of the car, putting as many people between her and Wolf to shield the hero’s view, Scarlet stepped near what looked like a bachelorette party and shrugged off her cloak and mask. Even balling them up, the clothes were too big to cram into her little bag, now full of money. She would have to get rid of it.
At least she looked more normal with her dark jeans and black tank top.
A celebratory howl from the girl group next to her gave her another idea. Kneeling down, she put on her most terrified face and reached out to touch the bride to be, “Excuse me.”
The blonde in the silver tiara looked shocked at suddenly being grabbed, “Yes?”
“I’m so sorry, but I need some help,” Scarlet looked between the other five women with her. All were dressed cute with sashes and matching pink sun hats. “My ex is after me, and I just need help getting off the train. My friend is waiting for me at the next stop.” Scarlet made her eyes water, “Can… can you help me?”
Never doubt the power of women helping women. Because as they reached the next stop, Scarlet had been draped in the woman’s Bride-To-Be sash, had another lady’s floppy hat on her head, and a wall of six women surrounding her as they stepped off the train. She tucked the cape under her shirt trying her best to look like a pregnant woman mixed in with them.
Keeping her head low, Scarlet peeked up from under the brim. Sure enough, Wolf barreled through pedestrians out of her train car. She sprinted up to find regular people bustling about. No bright red capes to be seen. Wolf pushed through the bachelorette group, ignoring their protests, and ran up the stairs to the street. With the hero out of sight, Scarlet took her cape back out and dumped it into a nearby trash can as they walked up to the street.
In the middle of her woman wall, she calmly walked past the hero. Wolf swore quietly to herself, searching everywhere for the thief, before retreating back down into the subway.
Scarlet was finally free.
After thanking her new friends, she spotted a familiar Honda parked nearby. Adam tumbled out of the driver side, his tech cords tangled around him, and ran at her, “You’re okay!” His red curls bounced in time with the glasses on his nose.
They embraced tightly, and Scarlet relaxed, “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
They climbed into the car, Scarlet pushing an empty food bag further into the floor for leg room, and dropped her head back.
Adam didn’t turn on the car yet and stared hard at her, “That was way too close.”
“We need to be more careful next time.”
“Next time! Scarlet, you’re lucky you’re not in the back of a police cruiser!”
“Which is why we need to be more careful.” Scarlet turned in her seat to face him, “We have too much shit riding on this. Our loans, my grandmother’s house! I can’t let Wolf keep me from this. So we’ll figure it out, okay?”
Adam didn’t look okay at all.
Scarlet sighed heavily and rubbed her temples. Only now did she realize how much her hands were shaking. She whispered, “I can’t do it alone. I need you. I need my Huntsman.”
The smallest of smiles broke through his fretting, “Name’s growing on you.”
“Yeah, maybe,” she looked ahead at the Marta station. Wolf still hadn’t emerged again. “We’ll see what happens. Let’s… take a break for now, work our dumbass jobs, and whatever.”
“I’m good with whatever,” Adam finally turned on the car and pulled away into the night.
Cracking the window, letting the cooling summer air brush against her face, Scarlet closed her eyes and thought of her grandma. The woman needed Scarlet, she needed help, and Scarlet planned to make sure she would give her just that.
Wolf clicked her tongue against her teeth in annoyance as she scanned the subway station a third time. She knew Red Cape got away, but there was always the tiniest chance that the thief was stupid enough to reemerge at the last moment or leave a clue behind.
Months of study on Red Cape’s little robbery cases had almost been in the books, and Wolf would have filled her hero quota for the quarter with capturing Red Cape. This had meant more to Wolf than the normal petty thieves she targeted. This had been her first real named villain.
And that villain had been some scared twerp who was lucky to be in good enough shape to get away.
Wolf had a hunch that this wouldn’t be her last chance. Desperate people like that thief would act out again.
A flash of color caught her eye near the stairs. She went over and saw sticking out of a trash can a sliver of scarlet fabric. Wolf yanked it out and found the red hood her target had worn.
A wide toothy grin spread across her face.
There was no way Wolf would share this evidence with the other heroes. This would be just the beginning of her hunt for this so called Red Cape and Huntsman.