Mike stared out the window. Her mind replayed the last few days, and the decisions she’d made, that had brought her to this moment, on a loop. Buildings got taller and older, and rents dropped. Romio’s voice dutifully filled the car with sound, going into fine details and digressions about the plan, the team, who was worth trying to befriend, who should be kept at a professional distance. Mike knew she should be listening, taking advantage of the motormouth who had convinced her to join this enterprise, but she couldn’t. There was only so much Romio she could take.

Romio turned into a fenced off parking lot, pulling behind a defunct auto shop with decade old “NOTICE OF PROPOSED LAND USE ACTION” signs covering much of the facade. He parked alongside a handful of other cars, tucked away from sight, and both of them exited the vehicle and made their way through the back door. Inside, the rest of the freelancers were busying themselves. Some chatted, a few sat alone, reading or preparing their gear. Two of them, Vicente and Ang, stood together at the end of a large table, gesturing to the schematics, maps and blueprints covering the table, making comments to one another, and jotting down notes. Ang was well dressed, but clearly tired and in need of rest and a fresh set of clothes. His black hair, normally slicked tightly to his head, had grown loose, with strands falling into his face. Vicente looked similarly worn down, and was an otter.

Ang looked up at Romio and Mike, and smiled with relief. “So this is her, huh? You got her on board?”

Romio nodded “You know me, give me enough time, I’ll talk the sun and the moon into switching places.”

Mike looked at Romio and shook her head, “That’s just night happening Romio. You can’t take credit for night.”

“Damn Mike, it’s a figure of speech. It’s fuckin’ poetic license.”

“Enough. Mike, I’m glad you decided to join us. From what Romio says, you should be a real asset on this one. So let’s talk.”

With that, the freelancers gathered around the table, and Ang and Vicente walked them through the operation, gesturing to the variety of material covering the table as visual aids, explaining details, each answering questions raised by the other. They were nearly finishing each other’s sentences.

It was a mining operation, Lithium, in the middle of the Nevada desert. Cell service was non-existent. Cops were hundreds of miles away, and there were a whole lot of places to get lost while the heat died down. The whole town was basically an overgrown mining camp. There was a single line to cut for help from out town, and in town, a total of four buildings had alarms: The security station, the fire station, the post office, and the Wal-Mart. Best of all, the whole place had a curfew.

Vicente smiled, which was kind of upsetting and aggressive looking, because of him being an otter. “We move in on a Thursday night, just after curfew. We get people inside each of the buildings with alarms, we cut the line out of town, and we’re free to hit the post office for the payroll, and the Wal-Mart where last week’s payroll was spent. We’re gone before most anyone in town knows we were there.”

Ang opened the floor for questions. The freelancers in the room were pros, and immediately began attacking the plan’s weak points, looking for angles Vicente and Ang had missed. Every issue they raised was swiftly addressed. These two had done serious work preparing the job. Mike was impressed, but something was still bothering her.

“So, Vicente, the job seems solid, and I understand my role in it, but I still feel like I have to ask… you’re an otter, right?”

“Uh, yeah, I am, but I don’t see what that has to do with—”

“So does no one else think that’s weird? That this job was planned by a talking otter?”

Vicente was stunned. Ang was furious. “Jesus Christ Romio! Who is this bitch? You fucking vouch for this her, and she comes in here, starts talking shit about Vicente? Fuck, you saw the plans, you know he knows his shit!”

“Yeah, he’s clearly really good at planning crimes, I just… I guess I felt like it was really weird that no one had addressed that he’s an otter. I mean, Romio talked about the job the whole drive up, and I’m kinda shocked he didn’t mention it.”

Romio screwed up his forehead. “What the fuck Mike, why would I mention it?”

“Yeah, should he have mentioned that I’m Chinese? Is me being Chinese ‘kinda weird’ too? Hell, you’re a girl named Mike. No one stopped the meeting to talk about how that’s ‘kinda weird.’”

“Okay, those aren’t comparable at all. Also, you guys all knew I was a woman before I got here, so clearly Romio did mention it at some point.”

Vicente was incredulous. “I mean, yeah, like Ang said, you’re a girl named Mike. I just wanted to avoid an awkward moment where people assume you’re a man, and then they find out you’re not.”

“Wait, so you wanted to make sure people knew I was a woman, but not that I knew Vicente was an otter?”

“No, that’s not what I said. I said that since your name is Mike, people make assumptions, cause your name doesn’t match, and I wanted to avoid awkward moments caused by that.”

“Right, but when you tell me one of the people planning the job is named Vicente, and you don’t say he’s an otter, that sets me up for a surprise, that also doesn’t match, and I get surprised, and I don’t like being surprised on a job.”

Vicente finally spoke up. “So, wait, is Vicente not an acceptable name for an otter? Why don’t you tell me, Mike, why don’t you tell me what name would match.”

“I don’t know, I mean…no name? Most otters swim around and eat fish and clams, and don’t have names and orchestrate robberies of small mining towns.”

“Wow that is… Wow. Look, I’m gonna be honest here, when Romio told me he was bringing a girl onto the job, I was excited, you know? Because it’s not like I don’t know I’m an otter. It’s not like I don’t know people think it’s weird.”

One of the other freelancers piped in “We don’t think it’s weird Vicente, we just—”

Vicente cut him off. “No, it’s fine. I know what people see when they look at me. And I’ve worked ten times as hard as anyone else would have to be to get here, and when I hear about you, I think ‘Great. Finally someone who understands what it’s like to have people dismiss you.’ You know? I thought if anyone was going to understand, it would be you.”

“Okay, I’m really sorry, because clearly you have a lot going on, and I didn’t mean to dredge all of this up. Again, I’m very impressed by the quality of your work, I respect you as a professional, I just wish I’d known about the otter thing.”

“The ‘otter thing’? It’s not a ‘thing’. It’s my body, it’s part of who I am. I just… you know what, I don’t even want to rob this town anymore. I’m done. Maybe I’ll go swim in a river and eat some clams.”

Ang put his arm around Vicente “Come on honey, it’s just one insensitive idiot, you can’t let her ruin the whole heist for you. You’re gonna feel a lot better if you just rob this town.”

“No, I’m serious, I don’t even want to anymore. I just want to go home.”

“Well,” said Ang, “ you heard him. The crime is off. Sorry everyone. We’re not gonna do this crime.”

For the entire ride home, Romio was silent.