Nothing focuses a guy's attention like the words "We need an engagement ring."
I replied in my usual intelligent manner. "Wha?"
Sizzlin' Suzy sighed theatrically. "We're getting married a month after graduation, right?"
I nodded. She'd set that date when we were five. It never occurred to me that someday I'd have to do something about it. It was her plan, after all.
"So, graduation is in two months. Our moms are making invitation lists and it's time for you to get with the schedule."
"But …" I swallowed. Who pays attention to what the grownups are doing? "Money. I can't afford to buy you a diamond ring."
Suzy did the big, slow blink, like one of us was very stupid and it wasn't her.
"Since when do you pay for things?" she asked.
She had a point. My family's motto was to not buy anything you could steal.
Suzy and I were eighteen years old, ready to graduate from West Side High. We were practically adults. I'd been doing jobs with my folks since I was twelve. It was time to pull my first solo heist.
Nothing big. Just grab a ring, and maybe some extra stuff for spare change.
We decided Jay's Jewels was a primo target. Jay must be a hundred and fifty years old—weak, slow, and—we hoped—stupid.
Our plan was so brilliant I wondered why my folks had never taught it to me. Suzy would try on a ring, and pretend it was stuck to her finger. When Jay went in back to get some soap to slide it off, we'd grab whatever was handy and high-tail it out of the shop.
A nice, simple, foolproof plan.
My dad has a lot to say about plans. His first rule is that plans never go according to plan.
Jay showed Suzy some cut-glass costume jewelry that was in the price range for kids like us. When she asked about real diamonds, I moved close to her, to be ready when he brought them out.
That's when the plan started not going according to plan.
Jay tottered out from behind his counter and locked the front door.
"Nothing personal," he muttered as he settled on a big stool behind his counter. "Just standard operating procedure when I bring out the good stuff."
I gave Suzy the big-eye, and she shrugged back at me. We were going to plan B. We'd look at rings and decide to come back later. Sometime later, when we had a new plan.
Jay set a flat, black case on the counter, undid a couple small locks that I'm pretty sure I could have picked when I was ten, and displayed a single ring with a diamond that would fit on my dad's Hi-Fi needles.
"Try this one," he suggested.
Suzy slid it onto her finger and held it out for me, as if I were actually going to approve of this.
She smiled like I'd given it to her. I tried to smile back, but I was getting a sinking feeling in my stomach.
"We'll have to think about this, " I told her, hoping that she'd hear that our plan had gone south and it was time to get away and make a new plan.
She gave me a quick nod. We were together on the plan after all.
She grabbed the ring and frowned. Then she obviously pulled, and the ring stayed where it was.
"Wha?" I asked her. Was she sticking to the original plan after all, even though we were stuck behind a locked door. I could easily overpower Jay, and probably find the key to get out, but I didn't want to hurt the old guy. Snatch and grab is one thing. Assault and battery is another.
"I—I can't get it off. I mean it's really stuck."
She yanked again and grimaced.
Jay's eyebrows lowered as he looked at her and then me, then back to Suzy's finger.
"Let me see that," he demanded. All of a sudden, he didn't seem so old and infirm.
He took her hand with his left hand. If he could get the ring off, we were back on plan and could leave. If he couldn't get the ring off, it was plan B. I moved toward the gateway to get behind his counter to tackle him and get the key if he couldn't get the ring off her finger.
Next thing I knew, he'd flipped her hand over in some sort of come-along grip and his other hand held a honking huge pistol.