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“Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention, please?” a young boy in a gold and red mask called out. He’d set up a crate and was standing on it, doing his best to draw attention to himself within the crowded Asheville streets. Several people turned to look out of curiosity. He rewarded them with a bright smile as he pulled three apples, seemingly out of thin air. “Welcome to the debut performance of the Halfling Brothers: jugglers extraordinaire!” He waved an arm towards a boy who was identical to him in every way, right down to the mask.
The second boy smiled and waved at the crowd. The first boy tossed him an apple and he caught it. The pair began a simple juggling routine and more people turned to watch. As they finished and bowed, the small crowd applauded, mostly out of courtesy to the young boys who hadn’t done anything particularly impressive.
“Thank you and good night,” the first boy called and the pair disappeared into the rapidly dispersing crowd. They made their way into an alley where three other masked children waited.
William, the oldest at seventeen, took off his silver and green mask as he looked at the first boy. “I said to create a distraction, Jake, not put on a show.”
“This was more fun, right, Henry?” He looked at his twin.
Henry shrugged. He’d been as surprised as anyone when his brother jumped up and started shouting, but he preferred not to admit he hadn’t known his twin’s plan. “It was an effective distraction, right?”
“Where did you even find a crate?” William asked, giving up on his lecture.
Jake gave a mischievous grin. “Performer’s secret.”
“What’s with the ridiculous name?” the older boy wondered. “Are you meant to be hobbits?”
Jake shook his head. “Half-Cherokee, of course.”
“How did we do?” Henry asked.
Each of them wore a backpack and they opened the bags to reveal their earnings. William inspected them, critically. “Not a bad haul.”
While the twins had performed their impromptu show, the rest of the group had snuck behind the crowd and relieved them of a few items.
This was common practice for the children. They would run around in their masks and people just assumed they were having some fun. It wasn’t until well after they had passed that anyone discovered a missing wallet or something having disappeared from a grocery bag. Of course, they never really suspected the group. After all, who would suspect a child?
Meredith, the second oldest at sixteen, pulled up her red mask, which had silver trimming. Her brown hair was pulled away from her face in a messy bun for convenience, but it wasn’t particularly effective in controlling the stringy mess. “We could probably make a little more, tonight. The streets are busy and we aren’t likely to be caught.”
William ran a hand through his shaggy, blonde hair, which was in need of a cut. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. It’s better to play it safe.” He looked around, half-expecting them to be caught at any moment.
“Come on, don’t be such a worry wart,” Jake chided, his blue eyes sparkling with mischief.
“Yeah, we can do it. It would be better to stock up, a bit, right?” Henry chimed in.
William raised his eyebrows at the boys, knowing one was always likely to agree with the other. Realizing he was already outnumbered, he turned his attention to the smallest of the group, Josie, who was only eight. “What do you think, kiddo?”
Josie peered up at him through a pink mask, covered in glitter. She had dark skin, brown eyes and a mess of curls that wouldn’t be tamed, not that she cared. She thought about the question and shrugged. “I think we can do it, don’t you?”
William sighed as his last hope for an ally vanished. “Well, it seems I am grossly outnumbered.” He pulled his mask back on and retied it. “Let’s go.”
They repacked their bags and he led the group out of the alleyway. They ran around, laughing and playing like regular children, so no one would suspect them. An hour later, he ducked into another alleyway and the others followed closely behind. Once safe, they opened their bags and inspected their loot. William nodded as he looked at it. “Surely, now, you are all satisfied for the night?”
Meredith smiled. “This should last us a few days, at least.” Her hair was falling out of place and she brushed it back with her hand, roughly, trying to regain control.
“Good.” He smiled, as well, glad they weren’t pushing for more. “Let’s head home, then. We need some sleep.” He poked his head out of the alleyway as they closed their bags and looked around. William signaled for the others to follow him out. They had almost made it back to their building when he ran into a cop, literally. William had looked back to make sure everyone was following when he bumped into the officer, making the man spill some coffee he had been about to drink.
William grimaced as the cop swore. “Sorry, officer. I didn’t see you.”