Leni and the Jetts

Aug 11th, 2016
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  1. Leni stood in the doorway of the Loud House, bags packed, saying goodbye to her family as she waited on the taxi to take her to the airport.
  3. "I'll miss you guys like, SO much while I'm gone!" She said, fighting tears back as she group hugged as many of her siblings as she could get her arms around.
  5. They returned her hug, before Leni let go to wipe a tear from her eye.
  7. "We'll miss you too, Leni, but it's only for the weekend. You'll see us again before you know it!" Lincoln assured her.
  9. Leni had applied for a paid internship at a major fashion label, and had actually been accepted. Since then, every few weekends she'd have to travel to a major city to help prepare the clothing for display and wear by the models. This weekend was no different.
  11. The cab pulled up and honked the horn. "That's my ride, I love you guys!"
  13. Leni blew them a kiss and set off towards the cab as the driver loaded her things into the trunk. As the cab drove away, Leni pulled out a small piece of paper and handed it to the driver from the back seat.
  15. "Can you like, stop at this address for a sec? I got some stuff I need to pick up before we get the airplane place."
  17. "You mean the airport?" the cabbie asked.
  19. "Yeah, there!" Leni replied happily.
  21. He read the address and raised an eyebrow, looking back at the smiling blonde teenager in the back seat. "You sure you want to go here, miss?"
  23. "Uh huh!" Leni nodded, her smile shining brightly as her sunglasses bounced atop her head.
  25. "Okay..." The driver turned off the highway and down towards the docks. Within a few minutes, he stopped outside a busy-looking shipyard.
  27. "I'll just be one second, I promise!" Leni said, hopping out of the car and heading into a maze of shipping containers.
  29. Leni hummed a happy tune to herself as she counted houw many containers she had already passed.
  31. "Thirteen, fourteen, ah! Here it is!" She stood in front of a container no different than the thousands stacked all around her. Leni bent down and took the combination lock securing it in her hand. "Ugh... which numbers opened this thing, again?" she said aloud. "Oh, yeah!" She reached into her bra and pulled out a small sticky note with a combination written on it.
  33. "Thank goodness I still have this." she said to herself, entering the combination and struggling to open the heavy steel doors. As she does, lights inside the container flicker to life, their hum filling the room as Leni stepped inside.
  35. The back and parts of the wall had been decorated with fashion posters and a few mannequins with partially finished dresses on them.
  37. On one side of the wall sat a workbench and a chair, and mounted above it on the wall was her Accuracy International AWM, chambered in .308.
  39. "There it is!" Leni smiled, reaching for the sniper rifle. She took it off the wall and laid it on the workbench. She then produced a guitar case from beneath the bench and opened it next to the rifle. The outside of the case was decorated with old band stickers and a little beaten up. But it was Luna's old case, so beggars couldn't be choosers. She began taking the rifle apart into its main pieces before opening the guitar case. Inside, each part of the weapon fit exactly into the foam outline within. It was a perfect disguise. After placing the weapon inside its case, she snapped it shut. Leni turned around to the other side of the container and lifted a floral print duffle bag onto the bench, straining under its weight.
  41. "Phew!" she said, wiping her brow as she unzipped the bag. Stacks of hundred dollar bills burst from it as she grabbed a single stack and stuffed it in her purse. "That should do it!"
  43. Leni gathered her extra gear and headed out of the container, remembering to lock it.
  45. She reappeared out of the maze of shipping containers and back into the cab, her new additional luggage in the back seat with her.
  47. "Whatcha got there, miss?"
  49. "Oh, nothing! Just some stuff for work."
  51. The cab continued on towards the airport as Leni decided to pop her headphones in and listen to some music. The town of Royal Woods passed by as she watched it from the window. This would be the fifth time this summer she'd taken a trip out of town, but after the initial butterflies of the first few trips had passed, she'd settled into a calming routine.
  53. Before she knew it, the cab had pulled into the terminal at the airport. "Here you are, miss," the cabbie said, leaning over to look at her.
  55. "Oh, can you like, take me to the important people airport?"
  57. He raised an eyebrow. "The executive terminal?"
  59. "Yeah! That's the one!" Leni replied, her smile never fading. It was infectious, spreading over the cab drivers worn features.
  61. "No problem miss." He turned back around and continued down a few blocks more to a much smaller, yet more expensive looking terminal.
  63. He and Leni exited the car as he removed her bags from the trunk. "You sure you don't need any help with your bags?" he asked.
  65. "Nope, I'll be okay, thanks." Leni said, reaching into her purse and handing him two crisp $100 dollar bills. "If anyone asks, you drove me straight to the airplane place, okay?"
  67. He looked down at the money, then looked back at his customer. She couldn't have been more than sixteen, where would a kid come up with this kind of money? Especially considering the neighborhood he'd picked her up from. It was middle class at best.
  69. Regardless of the circumstances, he gladly took the money. "Sure thing miss. You have a safe trip."
  71. The cab pulled away from the curb as Leni took her luggage into the terminal. She was greeted by a pilot waiting in the lobby.
  73. He was quite handsome, though Leni couldn't say she approved of his tacky uniform. But, she figured he didn't have a choice.
  75. "Barbie?" he asked in a soft voice.
  77. "No, I'm... wait," Leni paused, a finger on her chin in thought. "Wait yeah! Yes, I'm her."
  79. He nodded and smiled. "Follow me, your jet is all ready to depart."
  81. With that, a few concierges took her bags, and one attempted to take her guitar case.
  83. "No, thanks, this is my carry-on," she smiled.
  85. "Of course, ma'am," he nodded, herding the other bags towards the tarmac.
  87. A gleaming private jet waited for her, a red carpet leading from the stairs into the aircraft.
  89. "Will you be needing anything before takeoff?" The pilot asked as they walked towards the plane.
  91. "Just some water, please," she said before her stomach growled. "And maybe a caesar wrap."
  93. Leni climbed the stairs and took in the luxury surrounding her. Mahogany panels and plush leather seats greeted her as she picked the comfiest looking one. On the table in front of her sat a manilla folder, the words 'Barbie' stamped on it in bright red.
  95. She opened it and emptied the contents onto the table. A few large pictures of a scary looking man with a goatee and sunglasses slid across the table, as well as a few other papers with enough words on them to give her a headache just looking at them.
  97. Luckily for her, the important parts were highlighted for her!
  99. "Hmm," she said to herself as the attendant closed the jet door and brought her a bottle of water and caesar wrap as requested. The jet began to taxi as she read through her papers.
  101. 'Drug smuggler'
  103. 'Crime boss'
  105. 'Suspect in ordering multiple hits'
  107. 'Bad man'
  109. These highlighted phrases stuck out as she looked at the other papers in the folder. Leni pulled out a map with routes and routines of her target, all color coordinated, showing where he'd be on an average day and when he'd be there, and with how much protection. Leni wasn't one for wordy lists, but she could understand color coded maps like it was her job. Which, in this case, was true.
  111. She pushed her dossier to the side of the table as she began eating her wrap. Once the plane was in the air, Leni marveled at the rapidly shrinking town. She tried to spot her house as she flew, but soon they were enveloped by clouds, spoiling her fun. Oddly enough, long rides in the van would leave her with a serious case of car-sickness. But airplanes were no problem for some reason.
  112. She told her parents that she was going to LA but in reality, this jet was bound for New York City. She went where the jobs took her, but for the most part, her work was limited to the northeast, since she was only available on weekends.
  114. Not many people in her line of work could set their own schedules and still get contracts, but she had a perfect record so far, and her reputation in this industry mattered to her as much as the reputation she hoped to build in the fashion industry. Once she had enough money to start her own label, that is.
  116. Now that she was in the clouds and done with her wrap, she pulled out the map of her mark's favorite locations. She noticed an eatery he stopped at every Saturday for lunch had a perfect vantage point via a tall abandoned building a few blocks away. She wrote down the address and leaned back in her chair, propping her feet up and reclining in her seat. It would still be a few hours until they touched down.
  118. The jolt of the aircraft touching down at JFK woke her. Leni gathered her papers and put them back into the envelope before putting them in her purse. The stewardess opened the door as a luxury taxi waited for her on the tarmac. She loaded her luggage into the car and hopped in.
  120. "What's the fanciest hotel in town?" she asked as she shut the door.
  122. "That'd be the Waldorf Astoria, Miss..."
  124. "Le—" she stopped herself just in time. "Barbie."
  126. "It's pretty expensive, are you sure you want to go there?" he asked.
  128. "Yes." Leni nodded happily. "To there!"
  130. She tried to take in all the skyscrapers, but found her a crick building in her neck. Before she knew it, she was stuck in bumper to bumper traffic.
  132. "Aw, why are we stopped?" Leni asked.
  134. "Typical log jam Miss Barbie. That's New York for ya," the cabbie replied. "Say, while we're stuck here, what brings a gal like you to the big apple anyway?"
  136. "Oh, I came here for work," Leni giggled.
  138. "Work? Darlin' you can't be more than fifteen!"
  140. "Oh, I'm a paid intern," Leni replied.
  142. "Really, who for? A music label?"
  144. Leni looked at him quizzically. "Music? No, I want to be a fashion designer."
  146. "I see," the driver replied. "So what's with the guitar?"
  148. "Oh, it's not a—" she stopped herself in the knick of time. "I mean, I like to play it in my free time."
  150. "Really? Well we got some time now," he said, turning off the radio. "I'd love to hear some live music."
  152. Leni grew nervous. "Oh, well... I uhm... I still have to... what's the word for playing it while you twist those twisty thingies at the top?"
  154. "Tuning it?" he replied flatly.
  156. "Yeah, that's it! I have to tuning it!"
  158. Thankfully, the traffic had moved on enough to reach the awning to the historic New York hotel.
  160. "That'll be $45.00 miss Barbie."
  162. Leni produced another hundred from her purse.
  164. "Keep the change!" She sang happily. Leni truly loved it when she made people smile.
  166. The cab drove away as she checked into the hotel. The penthouse suite was reserved under the name 'Barbie'. She still had a whole afternoon to spend in NYC, and figured she'd drop her things off in the room before heading out to shop and buy souvenirs for her family.
  168. She set her luggage down in her opulent suite and headed out to fifth avenue. Leni browsed the shops as though she was born to be there. She was a 16 year old girl with a wad of cash fat enough to choke a horse. Nothing was too good for her sisters and her little brother. The sisters were easy to shop for; she bought Luna signed Mic Swagger set list, Lori a pair of khaki shorts identical to the ones she normally wore, only these cost $300 for some reason, a rubber chicken signed by Bob Hope for Luan, a prototype baseball bat not set to be released until next year for Lynn, a first edition of Edgar Allen Poe's complete works for Lucy, a designer pageant dress for Lola... or was it Lana? Anyway, a designer dress for one, and an industrial drain snake signed by Billy Mays for the other. She bought Lisa a new telescope to replace the one Lily had knocked over, and she bought Lily a mobile for above her crib with the cutest little rocket ships hanging from it.
  170. All that left was Lincoln. He was a bit harder to buy for, considering Leni knew next to nothing about comics. She found herself off fifth avenue and into a comic book shop with a cardboard cutout of that guy her brother liked so much in the window. Leni walked in as the bell on the door announced her arrival.
  172. The sweaty nerd behind the counter nearly choked on his pocky when he noticed her walk in.
  174. "Something I can help you with?" He managed, frantically wiping his cheeto-stained fingers on his cargo shorts.
  176. "Uhm, yeah. I'm looking for like, comics about a guy who solves mysteries," she said, perusing the comics behind the glass case in front of her.
  178. "Ace Savvy?" he grunted.
  180. "Yes! I'll take one Ace Savvy please," she said opening her purse.
  182. "Uh, miss, you realize that Ace Savvy number one retails for eight hundred dollars?" he replied condescendingly.
  184. "Pfft," Leni huffed, producing her wad of cash. "One, two, three..." she counted out eight hundreds and handed them to the pit stained proprietor.
  186. He unlocked the case and handed the plastic encased comic book to her. "Anything else I can do for you?"
  188. "Oh, no, it smells terrible in here. Buh-bye!"
  190. Leni headed back to her hotel, dragging her purchases through the marble floored lobby. She finally made it back to her suite and piled all her shopping bags on the couch. Leni flopped down on her bed, kicking her shoes off and curling up beneath the covers. Tomorrow was going to be quite the busy day.
  192. Leni was up with the sun on Saturday, but not because she had somewhere to be. Her daily beauty regimen took some time to complete. Once she was primped for the day's events, she carried her guitar case and a floral print backpack with a few 'peace' stickers and rainbows decorating it downstairs and walked to the building she had picked out yesterday, jamming out to the music on her phone as she went. The crowded sidewalks of NYC didn't leave much room for dancing, but she played the hand she was dealt. Leni finally arrived at her destination after a bit of a hike. As she entered, a security guard stopped her.
  194. "S'cuse me miss, but what's your business here?" he asked sternly through a handlebar mustache.
  196. Leni glanced around quickly. How could she explain away a guitar case in an office building? Luckily for her, she spotted a coffee shop on the first floor.
  198. "Oh, I'm here to play in the coffee shop at lunch time. I just wanted time to warm up a little early." Leni hated lying, but sometimes it came with the territory. She batted her eyebrows a few times and the guard relented. Once inside she headed towards the coffee shop, but only for a moment. She waited near it until the guard at the front questioned someone else before she slipped out of the shop and into the stairwell. She had learned the hard way on her first job that elevators didn't take you to the roof. She nearly missed her mark that day. But so far, her perfect record remained intact.
  200. Leni climbed the stairs, humming a jaunty tune to herself as she ascended. Years of cardio had trained her legs to feel no pain as she hefted her guitar case up the multiple flights of stairs leading to the roof access.
  202. Once she made it to the roof, she set her case down and removed her backpack. Leni merrily hummed a song she'd gotten stuck in her head in the elevator at the hotel as she removed a set of binoculars.
  204. "Here's my extra eyes," she said to herself, observing her target's favorite eatery. Ribbons tied on the awnings outside the restaurant gave her a sense of wind direction. Most folks in her profession had to write down numbers and do math to figure out things like impact angle and windage, but Leni could simply look at a location and assess every variable visually. Some folks learned by doing, but Leni learned by seeing.
  206. She set the binoculars back in the bag and retrieved a bipod and a long, dark tube. Leni opened her guitar case and began assembling the weapon using a song she'd come up with just for the occasion. "Upper half, lower half, one two three! Put them together and what do you see? I'll earn lots of money, handily, and I'll spend it all on my family!" she sang to herself, her rifle now assembled.
  208. She screwed the silencer into the end of the barrel and mounted the rifle on the bipod, setting it below the ledge of the building so no one would see it until her mark arrived. Leni reached back into her floral pack and produced a collapsable folding chair, throwing it open with a flick of her wrist. She sat in it and checked her watch.
  210. It would still be another hour before her target would be arriving. Luckily, she came prepared. She removed a copy of Teen People and began thumbing through it, legs crossed as she waited for the time to tick by. By the time she reached the back cover of the magazine, it was time to wait on her mark. She raised the rifle on the ledge, resting the legs of the bipod on it to steady her aim as she looked down the scope, sunglasses still perched perfectly atop her blonde hair.
  212. She closed one eye and scanned the alleyways and side streets while she waited. Eventually, a convoy of red SUVs filed down the narrow street towards the diner. Leni reached a hand to the top of the scope to adjust the windage.
  214. "Just two clickies to the right... and one clicky up," she whispered to herself. Leni laid a perfectly manicured hand on the bolt action lever and drew it back. Carefully, she fed the magazine into the rifle, closing the bolt and trying to slow down her breathing.
  216. A loud ringing nearly startled her off the edge of the building until she realized it was only her phone.
  218. She fished it out of her purse and noticed it was a call from home. She glanced back through her scope and saw the convoy already beginning to park. Could she talk to her family and pull off a job?
  220. There was only one way to find out.
  222. "Hello?" Leni answered, holding her phone between her shoulder and her ear as she struggled to align her sight picture.
  224. "Hi Leni!" Multiple voices shouted in unison. Looked like she was on speakerphone so the whole family could talk to her. But why were they calling her now?
  226. 'Oh no, I forgot to text them when I got here!' She thought. Well, that was one mystery solved.
  228. "How do you like LA? Have you seen any movie stars yet?" She picked out Lincoln's voice from the pack.
  230. "Uhm, LA is great! So many... uhm... california people walking around!"
  232. Leni waited as the car doors opened. Lots of greasy mobsters climbed out as she scanned each face. She was guessing her mark was in the middle car.
  234. "I got you guys some presents for when I get home," she added, eliciting a pack of squeals from her siblings. Her mark got out of his car as she spotted the outline of a ballistic vest worn beneath his button up shirt. "Looks like someone's wearing armor!" she sang to herself.
  236. "Who's wearing armor?" Lincoln asked over the phone.
  238. "Uhm, no one!" Leni stammered, forgetting she was on the phone as she dropped the rifles magazine and unloaded the chamber before searching her case for her armor piercing rounds. She deftly retrieved the magazine with the black tipped bullets and loaded them into her rifle. She pushed the bolt closed and took a deep breath before a long, slow exhale. Leni lined up her shot, the crosshairs just above her mark's chest as she placed her finger on the trigger and began to squeeze gently.
  240. Leni smiled as she waited for the recoil before remembering she was still on the phone! How was she going to explain away a gunshot? Even a silenced one?
  242. "Hey, you guys, can you do me a favor?" Leni asked as her siblings agreed.
  244. "Can you all yell as loud as you can for me?"
  246. Silence, but only for a moment.
  248. "Okay," they replied before yelling.
  250. Leni pulled the trigger, the sound of the shot drowned out by her yelling siblings. Her unblinking eye stayed in the scope as she watched the bullet meet its target. A red mist exploded out of the marks back as his bodyguards fanned out, guns drawn.
  252. Leni smiled.
  254. "All done!" she said, unscrewing the silencer and removing the bipod.
  256. "Done with what?" a voice from the phone said. She really had to stop forgetting she was talking to her family.
  258. "Uhm, intern stuff! Can I call you guys once I get to the hotel?" she asked, kicking herself for not having just thought to say that sooner.
  260. "Sure Leni, we love you!"
  262. "I love you too! Bye!"
  264. "Phew," Leni said as the sound of an approaching ambulance and police cars echoed in the distance. She scrolled through her contacts and found 'Ken'. She pressed call and waited as it rang.
  266. "Hello?" a voice from the other end said.
  268. "Mike, Charlie," Leni said happily. She had no idea why she had to call him and tell him that after a job was done, but those were the rules, and she didn't question it.
  270. "I think you have the wrong number."
  272. The call ended as Leni looked at her phone in confusion. "I called Ken, right?" she asked herself before remembering she fell for this every time. He was supposed to say she had the wrong number in case anyone was listening.
  274. Leni cheerfully disassembled her rifle and put it back into the case, packing up her chair and other gear and heading off the roof before she stopped at the door.
  276. "Oops! Almost forgot!" She set her guitar case down and hurried over to the ledge to collect her shell casing. "Can't leave you here, little guy!"
  278. Leni started down the stairs with her gear, more than ready to keep exploring New York now that she had an extra day. But, before she could continue her big city adventure, she had to meet 'Ken'. Leni was a bit tired by the time she reached the lobby. She ducked into the bathroom and began fixing the small imperfections in her appearance that resulted from her hike up and down the stairs of a skyscraper. Once she was ready for primetime, she strode confidently out of the bathroom, her gear in hand.
  280. She had almost made it out the door when someone tapped her on the shoulder. Leni flinched, but slowly looked over her shoulder.
  282. 'Oh no, it's the building police!' she thought, plastering her most innocent looking grin across her face as the same security guard from earlier eyed her suspiciously.
  284. "S'cuse me, miss, but aren't you supposed to play in the coffee shop soon?" he asked, eyebrow raised in scrutiny.
  286. 'Why does everyone think I play guitar just because I'm carrying a guitar case?' Leni thought in a panic, eyes darting over the security guards shoulders as she looked desperately for a distraction. She knew all she had to do was make it to the curb and hail a cab, then she'd be home free.
  287. "Oh, uh, well, I was just doing that thing, like, where you make sure your guitar sounds right... what's that called again?"
  289. "Tuning?" he asked.
  291. "Yeah, tuning! I was just tuning it and I remembered I left my guitar plucker back at my hotel room! So I need to go get it so I can play some music for the coffee people," Leni explained, her smile spreading back across her lips.
  293. The security guard narrowed his eyes at her. "You staying out of trouble, miss?" he asked threateningly.
  295. Leni paused to think up a reply while two police cars and an ambulance raced by on the street behind her, sirens wailing.
  297. "Uh... yes?"
  299. Before the moment could get any more tense, Leni spotted her chance to escape.
  301. "Look, that guy's emptying his coffee mug into the drinking fountain!" She gasped, pointing over his shoulder.
  303. The heavy set security guard turned around and caught the culprit red handed.
  305. "Hey, you! Stop right there!"
  307. Leni power walked out of the lobby and onto the sidewalk where she quickly hailed a cab. Being a beautiful blonde girl certainly had its perks in NYC.
  309. "Where to, ma'am?" her driver asked.
  311. "The Walter Historia please."
  313. The driver glanced back at her in his rear view mirror as she put her earbuds in.
  315. He pulled away from the curb, knowing where she meant.
  317. "Oh!" Leni interrupted, removing an earbud. "Don't go this way, there's a real mess down there."
  319. The cab driver leaned out of his window to get a better look down the street. Sure enough, flashing lights and a log jam of cars waited just a few blocks over. He turned down a side street as Leni replaced her earbud and marveled at all the tall buildings and interesting people roaming around the big apple.
  321. Leni climbed out of the cab with her guitar case and headed into the lobby. She certainly loved spending time in fancy hotels, but it didn't come without a pang of guilt. Sure, she had fun living the high life by herself, but it just wasn't the same without her family. The lonely feeling settled in as she waited for the elevator. It was going to be a long ride to her suite. The elevator played the same bland tune as before, only this time Leni wasn't keen on humming it. Once she got off at her floor, she produced her keycard. Thank goodness the staff was nice enough to write her room number down on it! She only needed to drop her things off before heading back into the city.
  323. In her dossier, there was a meeting place she was to find her handler at for payment. She had done this a few times before, and always met with the same person. Someone who went by the name of 'Ken'. He always wore a hat and sunglasses, so she wasn't even sure what he looked like. It had also taken her three jobs before she realized the connection between her codename and his. She hailed a cab and took it to the train station, where she waited patiently in a perfectly matched spy outfit she'd brought just for the occasion. She was more than happy to step out in public looking so fabulous, even if the whole purpose of the outfit was to not look conspicuous.
  325. Leni found herself people watching behind her own sunglasses before a man in a business suit, hat and sunglasses with a bit of stubble sat down and began reading the paper. Once the paper was spread out in front of him, he whispered.
  327. "Barbie."
  329. "No, my name is... Oh, right, Ken!" she remembered, turning to face him.
  331. "Eyes forward, Barbie!" he reminded her.
  333. "Oh, sorry!" Leni whispered, correcting herself.
  335. "I don't have time to go over why we use code names again, Barbie." he said, reaching into his pocket and producing a key to a locker. He slid it on the bench over to her, still hiding behind his newspaper. "The locker number is on the key. We received confirmation of completion of the contract forty five minutes ago. We'll be in touch."
  337. With that, 'Ken' folded up his paper and calmly boarded the next train as it came by. Leni grabbed the key and headed off towards the rows of lockers. She matched the number on the key and opened it. Inside sat a floral print duffle bag, with a sticky note attached that read: 'Per your request'.
  339. Leni had never liked the drab colored bags she usually received payment in, and suggested a wardrobe change. She squealed to herself as she yanked the bag from the locker to look it over. "Oh my gosh, it's adorable!"
  341. Her celebration was short lived, however, once she had a horrible realization. It clashed with her outfit! That certainly put a damper on her joy, but it didn't matter. She took a peek inside the bag and found that old dude one the hundreds looking back at her. She smiled, zipped it back up and headed back to her hotel room, her 'fashion intern' business taken care of.
  343. She found herself outside the door to her opulent suite once again. Once inside, she dropped her new duffle bag and hefted her guitar case on the bed, opening it up. She took a hotel towel and spread it out on the desk in her room before laying out the rifle, and a few cleaning supplies she brought with her. Before putting on her rubber gloves, she dialed up her house, placing the phone on speaker. Once it began to ring, she got to work.
  345. "Hello?" A voice she was pretty sure was Lynn's answered the phone.
  347. "Hi Lynn! It's Leni!" she said happily, just hearing her sister's voice was enough to assuage her guilt a bit.
  349. "Oh, hey Leni! How's California?"
  351. "It's good," she said, taking apart her weapon and laying each piece out and meticulously cleaning the little bit of carbon and old CLP that had accumulated on the moving parts. "It's really crowded here! Like, how can so many people use a sidewalk at once?"
  353. "I dunno," Lynn answered unenthusiastically. "So, what did you get me?" she wondered excitedly, hoping to squeeze and answer out of her usually gullible sister.
  355. Leni smiled. "You'll just have to wait till I get home to find out," she said in a sing-song voice, rubbing the firing pin with a rag.
  357. "Aw, man... hey, wait! What if we picked you up from the airport? Then we wouldn't have to wait!"
  359. Leni gasped. "That's a great idea!"
  361. "Cool, I'll go ask Mom and Dad if it's okay, see ya tomorrow, love ya!" Lynn said hurriedly.
  363. "Okay, love you too!" Leni hung up the phone, happily going back to cleaning her weapon before a realization hit her like a ton of bricks. How was she going to explain a guitar case to her family? How was she going to explain $80,000 in a duffle bag? She dropped her cleaning supplies and hurriedly re-dialed her house. It rang and rang as her heart raced.
  365. "Hello?" Thankfully, it seemed Lynn hadn't gone far from the phone. Maybe there was still time.
  367. "Lynn, it's Leni! You guys don't have to pick me up from the airport—"
  369. "Nope, Mom and Dad already said it was cool. We can't wait to see you!"
  371. The excitement in her voice came through her cell phone loud and clear. It looked like her whole family wanted to reunite with her at the same time.
  373. "Me too!" she forced herself to reply happily.
  375. 'Not good!' she thought.
  377. Leni hung up the phone, her rifle still in pieces before her. She rubbed her palms over her eyes and sighed. She'd really done it this time. Leni rolled back from her desk and looked out of her window. The shimmering lights of NYC reflected in her window as she lost herself in the hustle of the city that never sleeps. Leni never gave much thought to her work. She knew her sisters always joked about how she wasn't exactly smart, but she wasn't too dumb to realize what they were saying. If she was honest, it hurt. Despite her best efforts, she had never proved any of them wrong.
  379. That was, until she got this job. Unfortunately, she was sworn to secrecy. 'Ken' made that point very clear on her first assignment. Leni's father had taken her to the range one day, and she was a natural. Something about the simplicity of aiming and squeezing a trigger just spoke to her, the way fashion and design did. Her father let her use his rusty old hunting rifle and she went to the shooting range every day after school.
  381. It was there that she was approached by the man who would become her handler 'Ken'.
  383. Leni abhorred violence, and would have never considered hurting anyone. But, in the true style of a master manipulator, 'Ken' managed to explain the details of her job in such a way, that she now legitimately believed her job was no more unusual for a high school junior to have than waiting tables at a diner. After all, everyone they sent her after was bad, their files said so, and why would they lie?
  385. The great injustice in her taking this incredibly lucrative job was that she had to contribute to her parent's bank account in secret. Leni made more money than she could ever hope to spend without raising suspicion, which is why she kept her extra earnings in her storage container. She hadn't counted it in a long time, but she absolutely adored the disguise she got to wear when making deposits into the family bank account.
  387. Still, what she wanted most was to be acknowledged for her contributions. When their parents left, Leni had almost no responsibilities. To any other Loud child, it would be heaven on earth. But not to her. She was always babied, always treated like she was a danger to herself or others if left unsupervised.
  389. Which, she was ashamed to admit, might have been a little bit true. But it still didn't change the fact that no one ever expected anything of her, and that hurt. Anytime she did anything right, all her siblings met her with surprised praise, as though it were a miracle from heaven that their idiot sister Leni managed to not screw something up.
  391. She had to admit, there was a cathartic element associated with her job. With every ticket punched, she proved to herself and the world that she could do something not only right, but amazingly well.
  393. A knock at the door pulled her from her thoughts.
  395. "Room Service!"
  397. Leni looked towards the door, raising an eyebrow.
  399. 'Did I order room service?' she wondered, putting a towel over her disassembled weapon and checking the peep-hole. Sure enough, a bellhop in his kitschy little uniform stood behind a cart, waiting for her to answer the door. Leni cracked the door as far as the chain lock would allow.
  401. "Uhm, I like, didn't order any room service,"
  403. The bellhop picked up a piece of paper from the tray. "This is from a mister... Ken?"
  405. "Oh!" Leni replied happily, closing the door and undoing the chain. The young man pushed the cart inside her room as she fished out two hundred dollar bills. "Here ya go!"
  407. The young man's eyes widened as she pushed him out the door. "Holy sh—"
  409. She didn't have time for foul mouthed bellhops as she closed the door, turning her full attention to the silver dome covering her dinner. Leni picked up the card and read it for herself.
  411. "For a job well done. Congratulations on number five, ace."
  413. Leni blushed. "Oh, that Ken is such a sweetie."
  415. She set the card down and removed the tray, steam rising off of a steak and lobster dinner with all the fixings. Below the food sat a bottle of vintage wine, which she was all too prepared to set aside. She wasn't 21, and wouldn't even dream of disappointing her parents and sisters by breaking the law. Well, that law, anyway.
  417. She sat on her bed and pulled the cart in front of her, flipping on the television to the local news.
  419. "Breaking news tonight, the man linked to multiple organized crime syndicates was gunned down in Brooklyn today, a lone assassin firing a single bullet from an undetermined distance marks the fifth murder of criminal figures of this style in cities across the United States."
  421. Leni smiled before changing the channel. A good employee always verifies the job is done before clocking out. That's what her sister Lori told her when she picked up her first job.
  423. She finished her food, pushing the cart outside and hung the do not disturb sign on the door. She made quick work of cleaning her rifle and then ran herself a bath. The complementary robe and slippers were incredibly soft as she slipped into them, waiting for the jacuzzi tub to fill.
  425. Finally, it was ready. She slipped off her robe and stepped into the bathroom. Catching a glimpse of herself in the mirror, she paused. Her birthday suit looked as good as ever, but no perceived flaw, no matter how minor, escaped her gaze. She put a hand on her abs, testing the flatness of her tummy.
  427. 'Maybe shouldn't have eaten, like, the entire steak...' she thought, disappointed in herself. 'Whatevs, I'll just get on the treadmill before my flight.'
  429. Leni slid into the bubbly abyss and turned on the jets, the air bubbles messaging the worries of the day into nothing.
  431. Tomorrow was going to be quite the challenge, hiding $80,000 and a rifle in a guitar case from her family. But, it was simply another opportunity to prove to herself that she could pull this off if she put her mind to it.
  433. After her relaxing night in, Leni was ready to head back to the airport. As she climbed into the cab, Leni was confident she could manage a reunion with her family without them asking about her extra bags. She figured they'd be so distracted by her gifts that they wouldn't even notice. All she had to do once she arrived home was stash her weapon and money until she could call a cab to the pier.
  435. Easy peasy japanesy.
  437. Leni tried to soak in the rest of her time in the city as she traveled to the airport. The tall buildings never ceased to amaze her as the stop and go traffic inched towards JFK. At long last she arrived at the airport. A man with a sign with her name on it waited for her, taking her past security and to her waiting private jet. If there was one thing she loved about this job, it was flying. And not just any flying, but being aloft in her own secure aircraft was nothing short of magical.
  439. She buckled herself in positively giddy with excitement as she listened to the whine of the jet engines spinning up. In truth, if fashion designer didn't pan out, Leni would have loved to try her hand at being a pilot. She had even done a little research into flying lessons, but the manuals and publications pilots were required to read were nothing short of staggering.
  441. Leni was no fan of reading, and everyone knew it. She had quickly deleted her search history, lest anyone find out and ridicule her for it. The jet rumbled forward to the active runway, Leni took in all the details of the airport. Such a busy place, she wondered how they coordinated it all. In no time, they were on the runway, the acceleration of the jet pushed her back into her seat.
  443. She reveled in the thrill of takeoff, watching the ground shrink below her as they pulled up, rapidly gaining altitude. She enjoyed the return flight's more than the flight to her destination. When she was traveling to a job location, there was much more stress involved, but the return trip was all smiles, with nothing to do but daydream and look out the window on the ground below. The sky was clear, and Leni was more than happy to thoughtlessly stare down at the ground below her.
  445. Unfortunately, return flights always seemed shorter than the arrival flights. Before she knew it, the pilot was announcing their descent into Royal Woods regional. Leni reviewed her plan in her head one more time. Her family would probably be waiting in the van, the hassle of herding ten kids into the airport was too much for anyone but possibly her mother, father, or Lori to handle. She would quickly distribute the gifts, hoping that would draw attention away from her 'guitar'.
  447. The pilots greased the jet's wheels onto the runway as Leni gathered her bags. She stepped off the ramp and headed towards the terminal. Waiting at the curb was a familiar sight: Vanzilla, packed full of her family. As soon as they saw her come out of the terminal doors, the sliding door screeched open. A flood of little girls and one little boy poured out, swarming her as she struggled to hug them all.
  449. She got right down to business before they could ask any questions. She broke into her bags (the correct one, not the bag stuffed to the seems with cash, thank goodness) and began handing out the souvenirs. Each sister found themselves far too enamored with their gift to question the extra bags. The last sibling left to receive a present from Leni was Lincoln, the hardest one to shop for in her mind.
  451. He had waited patiently behind his sisters, and Leni hoped she was about to reward him properly.
  453. "How was LA, Leni?" he asked genuinely. She could always trust him to take an interest in her life, even when the others only did so passively.
  455. "It was like, super hot, but totally fun." Leni replied, fishing into her bags for his comic.
  457. "I got you something, I hope you like it!"
  459. Leni produced the plastic wrapped comic and handed it to him.
  461. Lincoln's breath seemed to catch in his throat, his hands reaching out, tremors nearly keeping him from grasping it. At first, Leni worried he didn't like it. Before she could say anything, he spoke.
  463. "Leni... do you know what this is?"
  465. "Is it the wrong comic guy?" she replied, worried. "I asked the man, and he said this was—"
  467. Lincoln latched himself around her waist in a tight hug. Her fears relieved, she hugged him back. "I'm like, super glad you like it, Lincoln."
  469. After everyone had their gifts in hand, they piled into the car. Leni plugged her earbuds in, trying to stave off her usual carsickness. Something about Vanzilla just did this to her.
  471. Meanwhile, in the back seat...
  473. Lincoln couldn't believe what he was holding. It was issue number one! There were only twenty six known and verified copies left on earth! He was terrified to even get his fingerprints on the plastic protector that covered it. He didn't dare read it; he could look up the comic online later. He flipped it over to the back and noticed a pricing sticker.
  475. "Eight hundred dollars?" he gasped. Where on earth did Leni get that kind of money? He glanced over at Lisa sitting next to him. She appeared to be doing math on a calculator. "What are you doing, Lis?"
  477. "Running numbers," she replied, not looking up from her calculator. "According to this, Leni spent over nine thousand dollars on our gifts alone."
  479. Lincoln's eyes widened. "No... there's no way that's right," he said, though he knew better than to question Lisa's math.
  481. "Trusht me, Lincoln. I've been following the money trail for a while now, and I don't believe our dear, simple Leni is at all what she seems."
  483. Lincoln scoffed. "How do you figure?"
  485. "As you know, I'm the one who makes sure the lights stay on in this family, and as such, I have unfettered access to Mother and Father's bank accounts. Before Leni began her internship, I had to do some creative accounting to keep all the utilities flowing. Once she began, my accounting prowess seemed unneeded. Suddenly, Mother and Father had enough money to cover all monthly expenses, though neither of them had reported receiving a raise, or a windfall of extra currency."
  487. Lincoln was still not convinced. "C'mon, that's just a coincidence! We've been getting better at saving water and turning off lights when we leave the room. In a house as full as ours, that adds up!" he argued.
  489. Lisa pushed her glasses up against the bridge of her tiny nose. "While true, we could live completely by candlelight, and still not see anywhere near the savings I've been tracking. And, to top it off..." Lisa reached into her pocket and pulled out her smartphone, opening up a graph of bank statements. "Every week after she returns from one of her excursions, our account balances see an increase, a deposit from an unnamed source." Lisa put the phone away and folded her arms. "Coincidence? I think not."
  491. Lincoln stared blankly at his sister, trying to take in this wild theory. "But, she even told us it was an unpaid internship! Even if she were the one doing it, why would she lie?"
  493. Lisa sighed, her shoulders slumping in defeat. "That reasoning still escapes me. Even the most analytically sound minds cannot possibly predict the motivations of a girl like her."
  495. He smiled patting his sister on the shoulder, even though he knew she didn't much care for physical contact. "Look, this is Leni we're talking about here. Do you think she even knows how to deposit money into a bank account?"
  497. She had a tough time arguing that point. Leni could barely spell her own name, let alone secretively add to the family's funds at the bank downtown without anyone getting suspicious. "Well... maybe it isn't Leni, but whoever they are must have some deep pockets."
  499. Satisfied that he'd heard Lisa out for long enough, he turned his attention back to his gift. He still couldn't believe he was holding one of the last copies of the original Ace Savvy number 1 in existence. That amazing fact got him thinking. Eight hundred dollars was quite a lot of money, and if Lisa's math was correct (and let's face it, it was), then Leni really did have money stashed somewhere!
  501. He picked his head up from his comic and looked towards the front of the car. Leni sat a row ahead of him, peacefully bobbing her head to her music as his other sisters chattered about their gifts. They all loved Leni, but sometimes her... lack of wits, got annoying rather quickly. It was no secret that she wanted desperately to improve herself, but, for whatever reason, she seemed unable to grasp simple concepts and ideas. With the rare exception of lock-picking, wood carving, and fashion design, there didn't seem like there was much she could do.
  503. Most of the time, Lincoln felt genuinely sorry for her. On the rare occasion when she did try her hand at something new, or one of her sister's wanted to try their luck at teaching her something, they would all run out of patience and give up, but not before making Leni feel worse about her intelligence that she already did. She would always seem to bounce back, becoming the happy, carefree beauty they'd all grown to love, but in those times when she had to come to grips with her own shortcomings, Lincoln could sense her raw pain and disappointment in herself.
  505. It hurt him just to know how much she struggled, but what could he do? He was just a boy.
  507. In the time he'd spaced out, lost in his own thoughts after his chat with Lisa, Vanzilla was pulling into the driveway of the Loud House. His sisters all piled out of the car, racing inside to assemble, frame, or otherwise play with their gifts, leaving just Leni and Lincoln standing outside the car.
  509. "Thanks again for the comic, Leni, I love it!" he repeated. He couldn't wait to tell Clyde what an awesome sister he had.
  511. Leni beamed at him. "You're welcome! I'm just glad I bought the right one," she replied, opening the trunk of the van.
  513. "Here, let me help you carry these in," Lincoln offered as the door swung open.
  515. "Thanks Lincoln," she said, looking over her bags. To her horror, she noticed she had brought two matching floral print bags! One contained eighty grand, the other, her dirty clothes. Leni could have kicked herself for not realizing it sooner. She had to be sure she picked the right one. Before she could stop him, Lincoln stepped in front of him.
  517. "Oh, cool! Did you buy Luna a guitar? Can I see it?" he asked, too quickly for her to answer as he grabbed the guitar case. He pulled it out of the car and it nearly yanked his shoulder from his socket as it plonked to the ground.
  519. "No, it's just her old case! I... uh..." Leni didn't like lying, especially not to someone she loved, but she had to think of something convincing, and had to do it fast. "I converted it into a cute suitcase!"
  521. Lincoln raised an eyebrow, pausing as Leni flashed him a sheepish grin, hoping he would buy that. "Doesn't seem like it would hold a lot of clothes," he said, hefting it back up into the van with all his might. "Besides, what do you have in here, rocks?"
  523. "No, it's like, just heavy clothes!" she said nervously, plucking the guitar case from her little brother's grip and lifting it as though it were empty. "And nothing else!"
  525. Lincoln held his suspicion, but shrugged it off. Leni could sometimes act a bit strange when it came to her personal belongings. Lincoln looked back at the trunk and noticed the matching bags. "Didn't you only leave with one of these?" he asked, scratching his head.
  527. "Uh, yeah, I saw it in a store in Brooklyn and liked it so much, I bought it again!" Leni grabbed both bags and scampered into the house to avoid any more questions. Lincoln was left standing alone by the car, Leni having miraculously carried all her bags inside the house on her own.
  529. "Wait..." he said to himself, narrowing his eyes. "Did she say 'Brooklyn?'"
  531. Lincoln paid her slip of the tongue no mind. After all, Leni has mixed up more common words before. Lincoln headed inside the house, ready to radio Clyde about Leni's amazing gift she got for him. He made his way up the stairs, the hallways unusually empty as each of his sisters were more than likely still admiring/using their presents. Lincoln opened the door to his room and gabbed his radio.
  533. "Clyde, come in!" he said excitedly.
  535. "Go for Clyde, what's up Lincoln?"
  537. "Dude, you'll never guess what Leni got for me from her trip to California!"
  539. "What?"
  541. "Ace Savvy issue number one!"
  543. A long pause fell over the radio before Clyde responded. "Quit playin'."
  545. "I'm serious! Issue one!"
  547. "As soon as I'm done organizing my Dad's Elizabeth Taylor collection, I'm coming over! I gotta see it with my own eyes!"
  549. Lincoln set his radio down and found his laptop. A quick internet search and he found a version of the comic on the internet. He excitedly read through each page, still in slight disbelief that he actually owned a copy of issue number one.
  551. Meanwhile, in Leni's room...
  553. Lori had already left to hang out with Bobby in her new shorts, so Leni had the room to herself. Leni set the guitar case in the closet, and her duffle bag lazily thrown onto her sister's bed. She gladly flopped down onto her own bed, grateful to be home. With Lori gone, it was time for her to conduct what had become a ritual of sorts. Leni reached for her purse resting on the nightstand. She fished around for something, her hand searching clumsily until she found it.
  555. "There you are, little guy!" she said, retrieving the shell casing she collected from the rooftop. She held the shining brass casing between her fingers, examining its every inch. Her targets were bad guys. She knew that. They told her some of the awful things they'd done to people. Her first job was a difficult one. He, too, was a bad man. But, when the time game to put eight pounds of pressure against the trigger with the safety off, she was having trouble.
  557. Her window was closing as he exited his car. She remembered asking herself if she could do this, if she had gotten herself in over her head. Then she thought back to her dossier. This man killed people, he kidnapped children and sold them to the highest bidder. Leni thought about her siblings. What if this man had kidnapped Lincoln, or Lana, or Lynn, or any of her sisters? What if he had taken them away from her, never to be seen again?
  559. That anger gave her enough conviction to squeeze the trigger.
  561. Leni retrieved a file from her nightstand and began carving a number into the side of the gleaming brass.
  563. A number 5.
  565. A knock at the door startled her, as the casing slipped from her fingers and onto the floor.
  567. "Leni? Are you in there?"
  569. It was Lola.
  571. "Just a second!" Leni scrambled to throw her duffle bag and 'guitar' case into the closet before opening the door.
  573. "As soon as she opened the door, the young pageant princess flung herself around Leni's waist. The surprise attack left her stumbling backwards. Her foot found the casing and sent Leni falling back onto her bed, her little sister still attached. The casing went careening out of her room and down the hallway, unbeknownst to Leni.
  575. "Thanks so much for the dress!" Lola giggled, straddling her sister and raising herself to her knees, as she sat on Leni's stomach. "Look how great I look in it!"
  577. Leni couldn't help but laugh. "I saw it and like, totally knew you would make it look amazing!" Leni tickled her little sister, sending Lola into a fit of laughter as Leni rolled her off her belly. Lola couldn't be held down as she hopped up off the bed.
  579. "Watch my pageant walk!" Lola said, strutting her stuff as Leni looked on and clapped.
  581. Meanwhile, in the hallway...
  583. Lisa had just finished setting up her telescope, and thought a juice box would be the perfect answer to her thirst for apple juice, instead of science. As she left her room, she noticed Lola tackling her older sister. Lisa would normally pay no mind to such juvenile activities, but a glint of brass tumbling from her room caught her eye.
  585. At first, Lisa made the most obvious assumption: a tube of lipstick had escaped its perfume laden prison. As Lisa passed its final resting place, she noticed it was not what she originally thought. She stopped, reaching down to examine it.
  587. Lisa picked it up, holding it up to her glasses.
  589. She gasped.
  591. This was not lipstick. Not at all.
  593. Lisa abandoned her quest for juice as she scurried back into her room. She closed the door and climbed into the chair in front of her computer. Lisa examined the item a bit more closely before her little fingers danced across the keyboard. The more she researched, the less she believed.
  595. "Sweet mother of discovery..." she whispered to herself, feeling clumsily around for the casing beside her computer. Lisa examined it one more time, noting the number five scratched into the side.
  597. Meanwhile, back in Lincoln's room...
  599. Clyde had been unable to actually get out of the house to see the comic, but instead they both found it online and read it together while maintaining radio contact. Once they reached the end, Lincoln felt a rumble in his stomach. "I'm signing off, Clyde, I gotta grab something to eat."
  601. "Okay, see ya Lincoln!"
  603. Lincoln carefully placed his comic in the only drawer he had with a lock on it, and opened his bedroom door. His favorite sandwich clouded out any thoughts of adventures or Ace Savvy as he strolled down the hall, only to have Lisa throw her door open. Her sudden appearance startled him as she grabbed his collar and tried to yank him into her room. Fortunately for him, she wasn't nearly as strong as she hoped.
  605. Lincoln followed Lisa into her room as the brainy Loud closed and locked the door.
  607. "Lisa, what's wrong?" he asked, straightening his shirt from the wrinkles she had given him trying to pull him into her room.
  609. "Lincoln, do you remember how I speculated that Leni was contributing to the family finances?"
  611. He rolled his eyes. "Yes," he sighed wearily. Sometimes Lisa just wouldn't let a failed hypothesis go.
  613. "Well, I've come to the conclusion that Leni is not an intern for a fashion label at all," Lisa said, pacing back and forth in front of Lincoln.
  615. He raised an eyebrow, arms folded. "Really? Then what is she?"
  617. Lisa stopped mid stride, and turned to face Lincoln. In the most serious tone she could muster, she replied.
  619. "She's an ashashin for hire."
  621. Lincoln could only hold a straight face for so long before both hearing Lisa say the word 'assassin' and implying that Leni actually was one cracked him up. He let out a torrent of laughter, holding his gut at the very idea. Lisa was not pleased.
  623. "I expected this kind of reaction from you, so allow me to present you with exhibit A!" Lisa produced the casing that had rolled out of Leni's room.
  625. Once Lincoln had composed himself, he gave her his attention.
  627. "Lipstick?" he asked, still catching his breath.
  629. "No, dingus, look closer!" Lisa snapped.
  631. Lincoln took the casing and realized what it was. "Is this—"
  633. "A bullet casing, from a round chambered in the .308 caliber. Moreover, as you can see from the indications on the bottom near the primer, it was also armor piercing."
  635. He paused, glancing at the bullet casing, then back to Lisa. "But, what does this have to do with Leni?"
  637. Lisa adjusted her glasses. "As I was on my way downstairs to acquire a juice box, I noticed a shining object come tumbling out of Leni and Lori's room. What you hold in your hand, was that object."
  639. That was certainly unusual. Neither Leni or Lori had any use for guns or bullets. In face, the only gun in the entire house was their father's old hunting rifle, and that was locked in a safe in the attic!
  641. "So, let me see if I have this right," Lincoln said, pinching the bridge of his nose in confusion. "You think our sister Leni, the one who still doesn't have a drivers license, who once took Lana to a beauty pageant and Lola to play in the mud at the park... is an assassin?"
  643. After he said it out loud, it sounded kind of ridiculous.
  645. Determination etched across her face, Lisa grabbed the edge of the chair in front of her computer and struggled to climb into it. After her third attempt, she glanced at her older brother. "A little help?"
  647. Lincoln helped her into the chair and she began bringing up the research she'd been doing.
  649. "I cross referenced the dates Leni began her internship with all the high profile killings performed with a .308 caliber round. She's been on four trips, five counting the one she just returned from. To date, there have been five high profile killings in cities all across the country, all with the same caliber round."
  651. It took Lincoln a moment to snap out of his daze, brought on by the onslaught of data his sister was presenting him with. "Okay, I admit it's unlikely, but that's still no reason to think Leni is out there killing people! She didn't even go to any of these cities!"
  653. "How do we know that? Did anyone check her plane ticket?"
  655. "C'mon, Lisa, that's just crazy! Leni would never lie to us!"
  657. "You don't believe she would if she believed she was protecting us? Who knows what kind of unscrupulous characters she's been working for!"
  659. Lincoln shook his head. "No, Lisa, this has gone too far. Leni is not a hitman! She's Leni!"
  661. She turned to him, arms folded as he stood beside her chair. "Look at what's carved on the side of the casing."
  663. Lincoln turned the shining brass shell until he saw an etched number five.
  665. "I... this..."
  667. "Lincoln, stop doubting me and observe the facts right in front of your face," Lisa insisted, annoyance clear in her tone.
  669. "But... it just doesn't make any sense!" Lincoln replied, wrapping the shell casing in his fist.
  671. "I realize that, and I know this is all circumstantial, but I would be willing to bet my Nobel prize that real, hard evidence can be acquired in her room."
  673. Lincoln was more than weary of entering Leni and Lori's room. It was nearly as off limits as his Mom and Dad's. In fact, any time he needed access to it, he had to devise a plan and use the ventilation systems. And the only time he'd successfully infiltrated it, he'd nearly got caught.
  675. Lisa recognized the look on his face. "I know it seems impossible, but if we can just get inside that room, I'm positive we can prove or disprove this hypothesis once and for all."
  677. Lincoln fidgeted with the casing in his hand. He still wasn't wild about the idea, but if this would finally put to rest his sister's insane theory, then he supposed he could charge into the breach of potentially angering Lori once more. He took a deep breath and exhaled loudly.
  679. "Fine, but how are we gonna get in?"
  681. Lisa smiled. "Leave that to me. All I need you to do is join me in being the first one to be done eating dinner."
  683. He was immediately suspicious. "What are you gonna do? She's got that super high tech lock on her door, and she changes the code daily!"
  685. His little sister scoffed at the very idea that something so simple would be able to thwart her plans.
  687. "Don't you agitate your aesthetically pleasing cranium, Lincoln. Just follow my instructions, and we'll have our proof."
  689. Even though he was still far from convinced, he nodded. "Okay, I'll do it."
  691. Lincoln left Lisa's room, still idly twirling the bullet casing between his fingers. He looked down the hallway toward Leni's room. He could hear her cheering on Lola's pageant walk. The more he thought about it, the more insane Lisa's ideas became. This was the same girl who nearly walked into downtown Royal Woods because a sign told her the kitchen was in that direction!
  693. But the casing clenched in his palm suggested otherwise. He quickly stuffed it into the pocket of his jeans and retired to his room. He could lose himself in his comic books for a few more hours until dinner time. The hours flew by, and before he knew it, his mother was calling them all down for dinner. The usual stampede began right on time. Usually, he'd wait for it to pass. But this time, he had to be at the front of the heard. Lincoln sprinted out of his room, using the banister to slide ahead of his sisters and score his seat, Lisa was next, their chicken nuggets ready and waiting.
  695. With a nod, they both began inhaling their food. Before his sisters could even get the mustard out of the fridge, Lincoln and Lisa were done. they disposed of their plates and headed upstairs.
  697. Once in the hallway, Lincoln leaned against the wall, keeping watch for any other sisters that may have finished dinner early.
  699. "Keep watch, I'll be right back," Lisa said, scurrying to her room. Lincoln peered down the stairs. The clanking of silverware on plates and dull conversation let him know everything was going according to plan. The foodfight hadn't even started at the kids table yet, so he knew they were still golden on time.
  701. Little footsteps drew his attention back to the hallway. Lisa came running out of her room, clad in black from head to toe, even wearing little black combat boots with the pants tucked into the tops. Lincoln had to admit she looked cute.
  703. "Ready to assault the objective?" Lisa asked, her tiger-stripe camo face paint wrinkling as she spoke.
  705. "Where did you get all this?" He asked, noticing the duffle bag across her shoulder.
  707. "That's classified," she replied, laying the bag on the ground and unzipping it.
  709. If he had to guess, Leni had something to do with it. She was always glad to make costumes for her sisters. Although he imagined Lola would be pretty upset once she realized how much of her makeup Lisa used for her warpaint. But that was an argument for another day.
  711. Lisa pulled out a small blue device with a cord leading from it. She headed to Lori's door and struggled to reach the outlet on the keypad to install her gadget.
  713. "Ahem," she said, glaring at Lincoln over her shoulder. He sighed, putting his hands beneath her arms and lifting her to the proper height. She plugged into the keypad, and in moments, the light shifted from red to green, the door unlocking itself.
  715. "No problem." Lisa smiled as Lincoln put her down. They both peered carefully into Leni's room, acutely aware of any additional traps that might come into play.
  717. "Okay, where should we start?" Lincoln asked.
  719. "I'll check Lori's closet, you check beneath Leni's bed."
  721. The two went to work. The precious minutes ticked by, neither of them finding any proof of any murder-related activities. Lincoln searched Leni's closet, finding only shoes, clothes and her not yet unpacked travel bags. Averse to going through his sisters dirty clothes, Lincoln began to look around. Where else could Leni hide something? He sat down on her guitar case before recalling how heavy it was when he tried to unload it from the car.
  723. He slowly stood up and turned around, staring at the old, beat up instrument case. He knelt down next to it, undoing the latches and raising the lid.
  725. Lincoln gasped. "L-lisa. I think you better look at this."
  727. "What? There's still some space behind Lori's closet I haven't—" the air left her lungs as she walked over and laid eyes on the contents of the guitar case.
  729. "Sweet mother of science..." Lisa whispered, as Leni's AWM gleamed back at them in the low light.
  731. "What... what is this?" Lincoln asked softly. He reached into his pocket and produced the casing. He held it close to the bullets already loaded in the magazines.
  733. "Lisa... it... it's the same size."
  735. Lincoln's hand began to tremble as he and Lisa realized the truth. He refused to believe what was right in front of his face. The item in that guitar case was unmistakably, a rifle. A high tech, fancy looking rifle at that. Both siblings were rooted to the ground, frozen in their own bodies. The implications of what finding this weapon in Leni's closet meant for not just them, but their family were too huge to process at that moment.
  737. "Lisa..." Lincoln whispered, now very aware of how dry his mouth had become in the last few seconds. "You were right..."
  739. It took his younger sister a moment to find her voice. "I... I wish I wasn't..."
  741. Heavy footfalls climbing the stairs drew both their attention to the hallway. Someone was coming up the stairs!
  743. "Quickly, close the case!" Lisa ordered as Lincoln's unsteady hands fumbled with the latches. Lisa scurried around the room, hurriedly pushing drawers back into dressers and trying to leave everything as she found it.
  745. Lisa turned back to him as she began her run towards the door. "Lincoln, let's go!" she said as she ran by. He finally secured the last clasp and leapt towards the door behind his sister. Lisa skidded to a halt on her heels as she whirled around. "The code breaker!" she whispered harshly, pointing to the device still attached to the keypad. The footsteps were growing louder as they neared the top of the landing. Lincoln took a few steps back and yanked the gadget from the keypad. They dashed passed the landing and towards Lisa's room. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the Loud climbing the stairs was none other than Leni herself.
  747. Luckily for them, she had turned around to answer their mother halfway up, missing the two smaller Louds dashing from her end of the hallway. They made it to her room and slammed the door, both of them leaning against the door, panting heavily. The seconds passed slowly as Lincoln and Lisa finally had time to consider what they had seen. As their thirst for air began to lessen, they glanced at each other.
  749. "Leni... Leni's a-a murderer!" Lincoln said before Lisa shot a tiny hand over his mouth.
  751. "Quiet, you want her to hear you?" she whispered harshly. "She's already killed five people, who knows what she'll do to us if she finds out we know her secret!"
  753. A chill raced down Lincoln's spine. He hadn't considered that. Leni may as well have been a total stranger after this discovery. He shuddered to think was 'this' Leni was capable of.
  755. "But what are we gonna do?" Lincoln asked, removing her hand from his mouth.
  757. "I...I don't know, I just need time to think." Lisa replied, pacing around her room, still in her cute tactical outfit. "One thing we absolutely must do, is keep this between us until I conceive a course of action." She stopped pacing and faced him, pushing her glasses higher up onto her nose. "For now, it will be best for all of us if we just pretend this didn't happen."
  759. Lincoln nodded, his chest finally having stopped heaving as he caught his breath. He grabbed the knob on Lisa's door and let himself out. He walked back towards his room, still in a state of disbelief. He walked on autopilot as he found himself sitting on his bed, staring at his feet. In that guitar case, there was a gun, and bullets. And those bullets were the exact same size as the casing Lisa said came out out Leni's room earlier that day.
  761. He glanced to his right, his issue of Ace Savvy number one stared back at him. Only this time, it was different. It was bought with blood money. The comic itself might as well have been covered in it. Lincoln took the comic and put it in a drawer in his nightstand. He couldn't bare the thought of his hero being purchased with someone's life.
  763. He stretched out on his bed and stared up at the ceiling. He still couldn't believe Leni, his sweetheart of a sister, who was mortified at the idea of someone eating the live lobsters at the supermarket was the same girl who had put five different people in the ground, for money! People who probably hadn't done anything to her, or even knew who she was!
  765. Lincoln glanced at the clock on his wall. Even though he usually made it a habit of staying up late and playing video games, or reading comics during the summer, tonight he was unusually tired. He figured perhaps if he slept some, perhaps he could help Lisa get a better idea of how to handle the situation in the morning.
  767. With a twist of the switch, Lincoln turned off his lamp, casting his room in darkness. He removed his shirt and pants, leaving only his underwear and shimmied under the covers.
  769. In moments, he found himself in a fitful sleep. He seemed to wake every hour or so, still tired, but unable to get continuous rest.
  771. Lincoln glanced at the clock again. It was well into the early morning hours.
  773. Deciding a glass of milk might help him salvage the rest of the night, he threw off his sheets and crept out of bed. He opened his door, peering into the darkened hallway. He could hear Lynn snoring away in her room as he passed. The nightlight in Lana and Lola's room cast a streak of light into the hallway as he continued on towards the stairs. He stopped at the top and glanced down the hall towards Leni and Lori's room.
  775. Another bolt of ice slithered down his back as he headed down the stairs. Sleep hadn't helped him come to grips with the situation any better, it seemed. Lincoln avoided the creaky steps as he tip-toed towards the kitchen. By sense alone, he dodged the tables, chairs and toys strewn about the living room and kitchen. He grabbed a glass, poured himself some milk, and placed it in the microwave. He began heating it, careful to stop the appliance with one second remaining, so as not to wake his mother and father downstairs.
  777. With a deft hand, he stopped it at :01. He carefully removed the glass from the microwave, blowing on it as he turned around, ready to head back upstairs to his room. He had only made it one step into the living room when a voice spoke from the darkness, nearly startling him onto the ceiling.
  779. "Someone was in my room today, Lincoln."
  781. After he caught his breath, he set the glass on the dining room table and squinted into the darkness of the living room, searching for the owner. He spotted a silhouette on the couch, the outline of a pair of sunglasses perched atop it's head left no doubt in his mind who he was talking to. A lump settled in his throat.
  783. "L-leni, isn't scaring people Lucy's job?" he joked nervously. He could see her moving her hands as she sat on the couch, but it was too dark to see what she was doing. She ignored him.
  785. "You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?" she asked, the sounds of metal interacting with metal greeting him as she continued to mind her handiwork.
  787. "Me? N-no, you guys have a lock on it, remember?" he replied, beginning to feel the sweat bead on his forehead.
  789. "Uh huh, I do. But someone told me that you and maybe... someone else had a way to get around that lock," Leni replied coldly. Her voice was much different than the Leni he'd grown up with.
  791. The lamp beside her clicked on, illuminating the two of them. To Lincoln's horror, Leni was holding a pistol, nonchalantly screwing a suppressor into the barrel, one leg crossed over the other, as though she was merely filing her nails.
  793. "You don't have to lie to me, Lincoln, I'm your sister!" She pled, not taking her eyes away from her weapon as she continued to assemble it. "Besides, Lisa told me everything."
  795. Lincoln was frozen. That was definitely a gun, and Leni was definitely holding it as she finished attaching the suppressor. Once finished she looked up at him. From off the end table, she grabbed a magazine and fed it into the bottom of the gun, but not before chambering a round. "You just had to go snooping around my room, didn't you, Lincoln?"
  797. As the weapon's bolt snapped shut with a metallic clank, Lincoln snapped out of his terrified silence.
  799. "Please, Leni! Lisa and I won't tell a soul, we promise!" he begged, putting his hands together and falling to his knees.
  801. Leni stood up from the couch. "I know Lisa wont. And like her, after this, I know you won't either."
  803. She raised the gun to his head. Lincoln stared down the barrel, petrified with fear. He inhaled to scream, but she struck before anything more than a soft whimper could escape.
  805. Then he woke up, panting heavily and drenched in sweat, but safe in his bed all the same.
  807. Lincoln glanced at his clock after catching his breath. It was still early, but he was certainly not going back to sleep anytime soon. Not when Leni the assassin was waiting for him. Which, he realized, she could be in the waking world as well.
  809. He threw his sheets off of his bare legs and shuffled off the edge. The draft chilled his feet as they touched the floor through his socks. His room had a nasty habit of being colder than the rest of the house, considering it wasn't meant to be a bedroom in the first place. He wracked his brain trying to figure out what he and Lisa were going to do about their sister's double life. He hoped Lisa was having an easier time devising a plan than he was.
  811. Unable to go back to sleep, he opened his door and peered into the hallway. Everyone was still asleep; normal for a summer day in the Loud household. They all appreciated the extra sleep until their father woke up to cook breakfast. Once that happened, it was a free-for-all to get to the breakfast table first.
  813. Lincoln turned to his dresser and grabbed a shirt and pants. He started down the hallway, the rising sunlight pouring through the downstairs windows provided the only illumination as he stepped around toys, power-wheels and soccer balls. He reached Lisa's room and gently tried the handle. It turned and he slowly opened the door. He poked his head into her room, only to find Lily and Lisa both sleeping peacefully.
  815. Lincoln sighed as he closed the door. It looked like he'd have to bear the burden of this knowledge alone for a little while longer. He hoped Lisa wasn't having the same terrifying dream he had. He crept quietly down the stairs, when he noticed the television in the living room was turned on.
  817. The familiarity of this scenario to his dream worried Lincoln as he considered simply going back to bed. He stood, frozen at the top of the stairs until a brunette ponytail popped up from from the back of the couch, a fist pumping in victory.
  819. He breathed a sigh of relief as he looked closer at the television. Lynn was watching soccer at five in the morning for some reason. Lincoln uprooted his feet from the carpet and began down the stairs. Lynn had the television muted so as to not wake up their parents, and if he knew his sister, she was probably having trouble containing her own excitement.
  821. Lincoln rounded the corner of the couch to see his sister glued to the match at hand.
  823. "Lynn? What are you doing up this early?" he asked.
  825. "Duh, I can't watch euro-league soccer if I'm asleep!" she replied as though the answer was obvious.
  827. That made sense. He climbed up on the couch next to her and tried to take in the action, although he knew next to nothing about the sport itself. As he watched them kick the ball endlessly back and forth to each other, he felt compelled to ask the obvious question.
  829. "So, does anyone ever score in this game?"
  831. "Yes," Lynn replied angrily, upset that he would even dare to ask.
  833. Lincoln stayed silent and continued to watch as two players battled each other for control of the ball. It seemed as though one player nudged the other during the struggle. The victimized player instantly fell to the ground, as though his opponent had given him a haymaker to the face.
  835. Lincoln couldn't help but laugh.
  837. "Are you serious? That guy barely touched him!"
  839. Lynn shot a glare at him, tired of her criticizing one of her beloved sports. "Why are you up this early?"
  841. Lincoln thought for a moment. He could share his knowledge in a veiled manner, couldn't he?
  843. "Lynn... can I ask you something?" he said earnestly.
  845. His sister's glare softened, a bit taken aback by his forthrightness.
  847. "Uh... yeah, sure," she said, turning away from her scoreless soccer match and giving him her full attention.
  849. Lincoln paused, a moment of doubt clouding his mind.
  851. "Well... what if someone you thought you knew, did something so horrible, you could never look at them the same way again?"
  853. Lynn studied her brother's face. He was seriously distressed about whoever he was referring to. She thought for a moment. Who could have betrayed his trust like that?
  855. Then it hit her. The anger returned tenfold.
  857. "Just wait till I get my hands on Ronnie Anne! I don't care what Lori says, I'll shave her head for cheating on you and then I'll—"
  859. "No, it's not Ronnie Anne!" Lincoln said quickly. He most certainly didn't want to bring Lynn's wrath down on a girl he genuinely liked.
  861. "Then who is it?" Lynn asked, her anger beginning to simmer down.
  863. "It's just a hypothetical question, but what if you thought you knew someone, and then you found out that they did something you never in a million years thought they were capable of?"
  865. Lynn paused to think about his question. "Uh... like what? Like take your spot on the team or steal your lunch or something?"
  867. "Well..." He knew he couldn't outright say murder, but he had to talk to someone other than Lisa about this. "What if they were doing something to help out their family, except what they were doing was totally and completely wrong?"
  869. "If they're doing it to help their family, I guess it depends on how wrong we're talking."
  871. "Really wrong, like the most wrong thing you can think of," Lincoln replied.
  873. "Well then you should probably tell them to stop. Even if they're helping their families, wrong is wrong."
  875. Lynn narrowed her eyes. "Are you selling drugs or something?"
  877. "No!" Lincoln insisted again. "It was just a hypothetical!"
  879. Lynn continued to study him. "Is it Clyde?"
  881. Lincoln sighed, getting off the couch. "Thanks for the advice, Lynn."
  883. He turned to leave right as his sister couldn't help but shout 'Goal' at the top of her lungs, earning an angry shout from her parents bedroom to 'keep it down'.
  885. Lincoln climbed the stairs, his conflicting feelings about what he and Lisa had discovered still unresolved. Once he reached the top of the stairs, he took a glance towards Leni and Lori's room. He just couldn't believe that his nice, kindhearted sister who tried her best to care for her siblings and parents when they had the flu during flu season, could be capable of murder.
  887. He went back to his room and laid on his bed, staring up at the ceiling and waiting for the rest of the house to wake up. As he lay there, he contemplated his options. He could tell his parents, but that would only escalate things, and might even end up with Leni in prison. The very idea made him shudder. Leni couldn't survive in prison, that much he knew.
  889. His only other option would be to confront her about it. That idea simply terrified him. After all, she's already killed five people. What trouble would a sixth or seventh be? Thoughts raced around in his mind for what felt like hours before he finally heard the normal commotion of his house fill the hallway.
  891. Lincoln headed out into the hallway, walking towards the stairs when he spotted Leni coming out of the bathroom. His heart beat faster in his chest as she walked towards him, oblivious to his newfound knowledge of her side job.
  893. "Morning Linky!" She said happily.
  895. "M-morning Leni," he stammered in reply. He found himself frozen in place as she walked towards him.
  897. "Sleep well?" she asked, now right next to him.
  899. "Yeah... fine..." he said staring awkwardly.
  901. "Uh, you're like, blocking the stairs."
  903. "Oh! Yeah, sorry," he moved out of the way so Leni could head downstairs for breakfast.
  905. "Lincoln," A voice from behind him said, nearly startling him out of his skin.
  907. "Lisa, geez!" he said, a hand on his chest as he caught his breath. "Don't sneak up on me like that!"
  909. "Lincoln, I've been pondering our predicament, and I think the best way to resolve the situation is to confront Leni about this in private."
  911. He breathed a sigh of relief, glad that he and his sister had come to the same conclusion.
  913. "Good, me too. When are we gonna do it?" he asked.
  915. Lisa shot him a quizzical look. "We?"
  917. "Yeah, WE," Lincoln replied, his expression falling. He already knew where she was headed.
  919. "This strikes me as something you would be more suited towards, as opposed to me," Lisa stated plainly.
  921. "Lisa, she kills people for money!" Lincoln reminded her.
  923. "Precisely why I think it's best if you do it. No offense Lincoln, but the future needs my brains, and I wont risk having them splattered against a wall."
  925. Lincoln already knew that arguing would be pointless. It looked as though he alone would confront Leni about her activities.
  927. "Okay, okay. I'll tell her."
  929. Lincoln headed downstairs for breakfast. No use confronting a serial murderer on an empty stomach. As he rounded the corner to the dining room, he watched in horror as Leni grabbed a knife off the counter and strode towards Lily as she babbled happily in her highchair. Lily noticed her older sister moving towards her and instantly started to tear up.
  931. "Oh, don't make that face!" Leni insisted, raising the knife. "You like, totes knew this was going to happen."
  933. Could it be possible? Had Leni tasted blood and found it addictive? What if she was forced to kill again and again, starting with Lily, and ending with him and the rest of his family! Lincoln had always wanted to be in the newspaper, but not for being chopped up by one of his sisters! It seemed clear now that Leni had become a murderous demon woman bent on making the streets run red with blood!
  935. Consequences be damned, Lincoln couldn't let Leni hurt his baby sister. He rushed over, grabbing Leni by the wrist that held the knife and yanked it away from Lily.
  937. "Please, Leni, you don't have to do this!"
  939. "Lincoln!" she huffed, raising her arm and lifting him up off the ground as he clung to it. "Don't you, like, know how dangerous it is to grab my arm when I have a knife? I could've hurt you!"
  941. He raised an eyebrow and dropped back down to the floor. "But... you had the knife, and... you said—"
  943. "Yeah, I have to cut up Lily's banana or she could like, totally choke!"
  945. Lincoln paused. He had failed to notice the fruit sitting in front of his baby sister. "But, Lily looked terrified, and she loves bananas!"
  947. Leni rolled her eyes. "That's because Lily hates having her fingernails clipped." she said, showing him the nail clippers in her other hand. "Honestly, what's gotten into you Lincoln?"
  949. 'What's gotten into ME?' he thought.
  951. "Uh... nothing, sorry. I think I'm just gonna have a pop tart..." he left Leni to her business and headed towards the toaster. Maybe Leni wasn't a crazed homicidal lunatic, but that still didn't erase the fact that she had killed five people simply because someone paid her to. She was still dangerous, and he realized that.
  953. He took his food to the living room and sat down on the couch, the warmth from the toaster pastry warming his legs from beneath the paper towel it sat on. How could he even broach a subject like this? 'Hey, Leni, I heard you've been killing people for money. I think you should stop.'
  955. It wasn't exactly tactful, but then again, neither was putting a bullet in someone's face. Lincoln sighed before taking a bite. What if Leni reacted the way she did in his dream? What if her whole personality was just an act? What if she'd killed more than five people, but only started counting recently?
  957. All these and more terrifying questions raced through his mind as he tried to eat. With the weight of the world on his shoulders, he found his appetite waning. The entire day seemed to drag on as he attempted to gather his courage and confront her. Unfortunately, that courage was nowhere to be found. This was an adult matter, and he was just a boy. Would she listen to him? Would she even care? What if she confirmed his worst fears, and told him she liked it?
  959. Before he knew it, the clock struck 8 pm. Leni would be going to bed soon for her 'beauty rest'. If he was going to confront her, he'd have to do it soon.
  961. Lincoln sat on his bed in his pajamas, still lacking the courage or stupidity to confront Leni about what he and Lisa had found. A soft knock at the door drew his attention. Lisa stood in his doorway, ready for bed.
  963. "I take it since you don't have any extra holes in your body, you haven't informed Leni of our discovery?"
  965. Lincoln shot her a glare. "No, I haven't. I'm... I'm scared, okay?" he spat. Where did she get off rushing him to do something she wouldn't even consider?
  967. "Lincoln, bravery is not a lack of fear. It's realizing you are afraid, but pressing forward regardless. Just last week I was mixing volatile chemicals that had a 36 percent chance of creating a toxic cloud that would have poisoned our entire family, and possibly contaminated the neighborhood for the next decade. You bet I was scared, but did I let that stop me?"
  969. Lincoln scratched his head for a moment during her pause. "Wait, you did what?"
  971. "No, I didn't let it stop me!" Lisa continued. "I did it for the greater good," she went on, pacing his carpet as she usually did when delivering a thesis or in this case an inspiring speech. "Just like you, too, must confront Leni for the greater good. Not just for our family's sake, but also for hers. She won't survive on death row, Lincoln. We need her to quit while she's ahead. Besides that, I certainly don't need federal agents sniffing around."
  973. He narrowed his eyes. "Why?"
  975. "Let's just say some of my experiments may have entered a moral grey area that the authorities may not be sympathetic towards."
  977. Lincoln pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. How many lawbreakers did he live with?
  979. "Fine, fine. I'll do it for her." Lincoln hopped off his bed and puffed out his chest before turning to Lisa. "And no more unethical experiments."
  981. "Okay, okay!" Lisa insisted as she watched her brother march out of his room and down the hall.
  983. "Godspeed you brave, brave idiot."
  985. Lincoln's courage began to retreat with every step he took towards Leni's room. His feet grew heavier and his palms slick with sweat. He had to do this. He had to save his sister. Lincoln stood frozen in Leni's doorway. She sat on her bed, casually filing her nails in her pajamas when she noticed him.
  987. "Oh, hey Linky!" she said happily. There wasn't anything new or different about her demeanor than there had been in years past. That revelation was particularly frightening. Killing people had little to no effect on her day to day routine. She was that ice cold.
  989. Lincoln swallowed his fear and managed to rasp out a few words. "Hey, Leni..."
  991. She raised an eyebrow as her little brother remained stock still in her doorway. After a moment's pause, she questioned him.
  993. "Everything, like, okay?"
  995. 'No! You're a murderer!' he wanted to shout.
  997. Far less confrontational words replaced his thoughts.
  999. "Uh... Leni, there's something I need to talk to you about."
  1001. Leni stopped filing her nails and sat more upright on her bed, turning her legs to face him.
  1003. "What is it?" she asked genuine concern for him across her face. She patted the spot beside her on the bed and beckoned him over.
  1005. Lincoln found his legs and began trudging slowly over to her as though he were a convict walking to the electric chair. Which could have been a fate reserved for his sister if he didn't stop her now.
  1007. He slowly took his seat next to her, now more nervous than ever as his heartbeat pounded in his ears.
  1009. "You know you can totes tell me anything," Leni reassured him. He was certainly about to test that theory.
  1011. "Anything?" Lincoln repeated nervously.
  1013. Leni smiled, putting an arm around his narrow shoulders and pulling him into a small side hug.
  1015. "Duh! That's what big sisters are for!" she relaxed her arm, but kept it around his shoulder. That didn't exactly allay his fears. "Now, what's up?"
  1017. Lincoln inhaled deeply, gathering all his bravery.
  1019. "Leni..." he whispered. "I know what you've been doing."
  1021. He was almost too afraid to look at her, but he had see her reaction for himself. Especially if said reaction was to wrap the other arm around his neck and silence him for good.
  1023. Leni stared blankly back at him, which in and of itself was not unusual. It took her a few moments to say something as Lincoln waited for what felt like days.
  1025. "I... uhm... Okay," she sighed, dropping her head and removing her arm. "I'm sorry, but I just can't stop!"
  1027. Lincoln's eyes widened. It was as he feared. She had developed a taste for deciding who lives and dies, and now she couldn't get enough!
  1029. "You have to!" he stammered quickly. "What if you get caught?" he asked urgently.
  1031. "Like, I've been at this for years, Linky, I won't get caught."
  1033. His jaw hung slack. Perhaps he had misheard.
  1035. "Y-years?"
  1037. Leni exhaled heavily. "Yeah, but buying it at the mall would be totes embarrassing, they only make it for kids and I never take enough for Lola to notice—"
  1039. "Wait, wait, wait," Lincoln interrupted standing from the bed. "What are you talking about?"
  1041. Leni looked at him like he was the dumb one. "Borrowing Lola's gummi vitamins. What are you talking about?"
  1043. Lincoln drug his hand down his face in frustration. Closing her bedroom door with his foot, he squared up in front of her. He was just going to confront her in plain language.
  1045. "I'm talking about you going on your 'internship' trips and killing people for money!"
  1047. The words smacked the elder sister like a runaway truck. She was completely speechless. How had he found out? How long has he known? Who else has he told? She needed to do some damage control, in a hurry.
  1049. "I-I like, totes don't know what you're talking about." She tried to play innocent, but now it was her turn to sweat.
  1051. Lincoln had figured she'd try to deny it. He had to execute his backup plan.
  1053. "Then what's in the guitar case you brought back from New York?"
  1055. Leni scoffed. "A guitar, duh!"
  1057. "And where did you buy this guitar?" Lincoln continued, his fear now overcome by frustration.
  1059. "At a music store in queens," she answered naturally.
  1061. "You told us you went to California," he reminded her.
  1063. She froze. Had she told them California? She couldn't remember!
  1065. "I-... uh..."
  1067. Lincoln got down on one knee in front of her and took her hand in his own. He looked her straight in her now faltering eyes.
  1069. "Leni, what's in the guitar case?"
  1071. He desperately wanted her to tell him he was off his rocker. He wanted her to walk over to the case, undo the latches, and find a beat up second hand guitar staring back at him, but he knew that wasn't going to happen, no matter how hard he wanted it to.
  1073. She closed her eyes. She couldn't lie to him. She was tired of hiding.
  1075. "You already know what's in it," Leni whispered.
  1077. Lincoln closed his eyes, flushing from them a line of tears that rolled down his cheeks, gathering at his chin.
  1079. "Leni..." he muttered quietly, maintaining his composure by a thread. "How many?"
  1081. His tears were becoming infectious as her vision began to cloud. "W-what?" she asked.
  1083. "How many people have you killed?" Lincoln asked harshly, staring back into her eyes as his own flashed with outrage.
  1085. Leni sniffed. The tears were falling freely now. She had hoped the day would never come for her to confess her sins, and to her own kid brother, no less. But this time, fortune had turned its back on her.
  1087. "Five."
  1089. It was true. The number carved on the casing was a sick running tally. Her own personal scoreboard. Lincoln felt sick as he stood up and wiped the tears from his eyes.
  1091. "Please... can I just explain—"
  1093. "Explain?!" Lincoln shouted. "How in the heck do you think you can justify killing people?"
  1095. "I did it for us!" She yelled back, more frightened than angry. "I did it to help our family! What have you ever done?"
  1097. Lincoln was honestly surprised at how he was handling the situation, when only moments ago he was sure Leni would have killed him by now.
  1099. "Well I didn't murder anyone!" he replied quickly. "Just... why? If you wanted to help the family, why not just get a normal job like Lori?"
  1101. Leni wiped the tears from her eyes and stood from her bed, now towering over her little brother. "Because..." she thought for a moment. "I'm dumb."
  1103. He was not expecting that answer. "What?"
  1105. "Don't act like you don't know!" she snapped, pointing an accusatory finger at him. "I know I might not, like, be the smartest person ever, but I found something I was good at, and I got paid good money to do it. How do you think Lori is gonna pay for that fancy school she wants to go to without any scholarships? Did you ever think of that? Or how Mom and Dad are gonna have enough money to put eleven kids through college?"
  1107. Truth be told, he hadn't. College was one of the last things on a little boy's mind.
  1109. "Oh, Leni's too dumb to drive a car, Leni's too dumb to play an instrument, or ride a bike! I heard it all, from my own family!"
  1111. At this point, she seemed to just be venting. Lincoln wisely decided to stay quiet while she let this out.
  1113. "I may not be smart, or coordinated, but I found a way to help, and I did it because I knew none of you would think I could!" By the time she was done, Leni was gasping for breath. She just stood there, waiting for a stunned Lincoln to reply.
  1115. He knew he was guilty of the exact sins she had described. Leni had been the butt of more than one joke at her expense in the Loud house, but he'd never imagined it would have driven her to this.
  1117. "I... I don't know what to say, except... I'm sorry." He took a step towards her. "But Leni, you... you killed people." He was still having trouble grasping that hard truth.
  1119. "I killed bad people. Ken said so," Leni said in her defense.
  1121. "Who is Ken? Were they bad just because he said they were?" Lincoln's anger began to flare up again. Not aimed directly at Leni, but that she could be so easily taken advantage of.
  1123. "I like, read the files, they were bad guys!" she insisted. Lincoln did seem to remember the people Lisa had been researching were all slain criminals.
  1125. "But that doesn't make it right, Leni! The law is supposed to decide what happens to criminals!"
  1127. "What about your superhero comics? They do it all the time! How come it's okay for them and not me?"
  1129. "Because they aren't real!" Lincoln was nearly shouting again. He reigned in his anger and tried to calm himself. He had confronted her, now he had to ask her to stop.
  1131. Leni plopped back onto her bed in defeat, holding her head in her hands as her sunglasses tumbled off of her head. "A-are you gonna tell Mom and Dad?" she asked through her tears.
  1133. How could he? The whole reason he'd confronted her was to save her from the electric chair, not to sell her down the river. "No," he said, sitting beside her on her bed. "But you have to promise me something." He whispered to her, rubbing her back gently as she cried.
  1135. "What?" she asked, looking up from her lap. Her mascara was streaked down her face as she tried to wipe her eyes.
  1137. "Promise me, that you will never kill another person again."
  1139. She looked into his eyes. She couldn't lie to him or anyone else anymore. If she needed a reason to stop, now she had one. "Okay. I promise."
  1141. They embraced each other close before letting go. Leni grabbed a box of tissues on her nightstand and began to clean up her face while Lincoln dried his own tears.
  1143. He turned to leave, but not before stopping at her door.
  1145. "Leni," he said over his shoulder. "I love you."
  1147. "I love you too, Linky."
  1149. After he left, the emotional toll the previous conversation took weighed on her as she felt her eyelids droop. Lori was still out, but figured she'd be home eventually. She snuggled beneath her blankets, all set to sleep before she heard a buzzing. She glanced at her personal cellphone on the charger. It was silent. It was her other phone.
  1151. The one Ken had given her.
  1153. Lincoln stepped out of Leni's bedroom, closing the door behind him. He felt lighter than air, having the emotional burden dominating his thoughts these last two days lifted off his shoulders. However, even though he felt the issue had now been resolved, there was still something else on his mind.
  1155. He had Leni's word that she would stop, yet that still revealed an utterly undeniable truth. His sweet, dimwitted if not well-meaning, big hearted sister moonlighted as a killer for hire. The reality of the situation hadn't really set in. At least he hoped it hadn't. He knocked softly on Lisa's door, a few of his siblings having already retired to their rooms for the evening.
  1157. Tiny footsteps pattered their way to the door and opened it. Lisa was already in her pajamas, but more than willing to hear the results of his and Leni's chat.
  1159. Lisa smiled at her older brother. "Good to see you're still among the living," she said, opening the door to allow him entry. "So? How did it go?"
  1161. He hesitated at first. Could he truly say it went well?
  1163. "She... she admitted everything," He muttered, the weight of his words revealing themselves as they left his lips.
  1165. "I see..." Lisa replied, reading her brother's expression expertly. "And she has agreed to cease and desist?"
  1167. Lincoln angled his eyes toward the ground. "Yeah..."
  1169. "Splendid."
  1171. Lincoln looked up. "Splendid? I'm pretty sure our sister being a murder is far from splendid!"
  1173. Lily stirred in her crib.
  1175. "Will you keep your voice down?" Lisa admonished him.
  1177. "But... what does this mean about her? About our family?" Lincoln asked, following Lisa to Lily's crib to make sure she was still sleeping peacefully.
  1179. "Lincoln, every family has secrets. This is going to be one of ours. Except I won't be able to bury this one in the back yard in the middle of the night."
  1181. Lincoln filed the second part of her sentence in the back of his mind for further investigation. His only focus now was on the Leni situation. "I guess... I feel like us confirming this should be more... I don't know... meaningful?"
  1183. Lisa turned from Lily's crib with her arms folded. "Look Lincoln, what Leni's been doing is wrong, we both know it. But involving anyone other than those who already know would just cause more trouble. The best we can do now that the situation has resolved itself, it move on with our lives."
  1185. Lincoln could hardly believe his ears. "We're just supposed to... ignore it?"
  1187. "In layman's terms..." Lisa began. "Yes."
  1189. Lisa sighed. She could already see the wheels turning in her brother's head. "Lincoln, your moral compass is an asset. Don't let one magnetic variation make you think it's malfunctioning."
  1191. It was getting late. The talk with Leni, and now Lisa had worn him out emotionally. He figured perhaps a night's sleep might give him a different perspective on the situation. He left Lisa's room and cast another glance down the hallway. The light was off in Leni's room. He took the short walk to his room and readied himself for bed.
  1193. As he laid in his bed, the moonlight streaming through his curtains illuminated his copy of Ace Savvy number one. It had quickly become his most prized possession, but now with the truth of Leni's side job revealed, he began to look at it in a different light.
  1195. It was purchased with what was undeniably blood money, and therefore was stained by it. Lincoln rolled over and faced the ceiling. What about what his sister's gifts? Would he have to tell them they were tainted? He supposed not, since the idea was to keep Leni's secret between the three of them. He shut his eyes and prayed for rest without any more dreams of him being killed by his sister.
  1197. However, fate would only grant part of his wish.
  1199. Lincoln was startled out of bed by gunfire coming from the hallway. He sat up, terrified, but unsure of what he's heard as he listened again. Another burst rattled off from downstairs as Lincoln fell to the floor. He opened his door to find his sisters behind stacked sandbags, all peeking out from behind cover and taking shots at an unseen enemy downstairs.
  1201. Lucy popped out from behind her bunker and fired a few shots from her AK-74. Lincoln couldn't believe his eyes. Lynn, Luan, Lori, and of course Leni were all busy firing and dodging bullets.
  1203. He low-crawled behind one of the barriers towards Lynn. With a ringing in his ears, he shouted to his sister.
  1205. "Lynn! What the heck is going on?"
  1207. "They found her!" she shouted back, popping back over the inexplicable sandbag barrier and firing a burst down towards the enemy. "Reloading!" she shouted, pulling a magazine out of her body armor he hadn't noticed her wearing before.
  1209. "Who found her?" He shouted back.
  1211. "Leni's boss!"
  1213. "Frag out!" Luan shouted from her end of the sandbag wall. She pulled the pin and launched the small sphere down the stairs. The other sisters covered their heads as an explosion rocked the house. "That was a blast!" Luan continued, before popping up and firing on the wounded enemies below, her smile never disappearing.
  1215. "They found out she wasn't gonna work for them anymore, and they weren't happy!"
  1217. A grenade sailed over the sandbag barrier and landed between Lynn and Lincoln. He was too stunned to move away before it went off.
  1219. He shot up in bed. He was certainly getting tired of his dreams being this stressful. But, thankfully it was morning, and his stomach growled loudly. With no war being waged in the hallway, he decided to get breakfast and try and move on with his life, just as Lisa instructed.
  1221. Leni reached into her nightstand and grabbed her other phone. It was a text message. It always was.
  1223. It was just a jumble of letters and numbers to the untrained eye, but luckily Leni had the key to translate it.
  1225. Using the key, she read the message.
  1227. 'Standby for tasking... Another job is coming down the pipe. I'll be in touch.'
  1229. Leni didn't reply, but she never needed to. The agency seemed to be getting busy. She remembered her promise to lincoln, but at the same time, she wasn't sure what her employers were truly capable of. She had turned down contracts before, but only due to unavailability, not because she had a moral change of heart.
  1231. She didn't know anything about the agency, and they kept it that way on purpose. Insulated actors were far less likely to jeopardize their operations if ever caught. But would they let her leave with what she knew? What if they sent a 'Leni' after her? Leni clutched her pillow and tried to get some sleep. She would have to meet with Ken eventually, and give him her two week notice.
  1233. She only hoped he would accept it.
  1235. Days passed after Lincoln and Leni's heart to heart. He tried his best to continue on with life as normal, and for the most part, it didn't seem as impossible as he first guessed. Unfortunately, every time one of his sisters mentioned or played with the gifts Leni had gotten them from any of her previous trips, he was reminded. He hardly even looked at his comic once he'd figured out what had paid for it. Even though he hadn't really had too many deep discussions with Leni before, the more he thought about what she'd done, the more curious he became. What was it like to kill? Did she regret doing it? Did it change her?
  1237. Everytime he was alone with her, he wanted to ask, but he knew that continuing to talk about it wasn't helping him or her get on with their lives. Lisa seemed perfectly capable of acting as though nothing had happened. Although, considering what she had revealed to him about her experiments in the past, this was probably one of the least traumatic things she had dealt with.
  1239. He tried to spend his precious summer days as he normally would, and with Clyde and Ronnie Anne's help, he was able to take his mind off his troubles for a few hours at a time.
  1241. Leni, like Lisa, was also able to go about her day to day without anyone being the wiser. She was still the same old forgetful, sometimes dimwitted but well meaning sister she had always been. However, every night before bed she would check her other phone with her heart in her throat. Would tonight be the night she gets the job specifics? The night where she explained her retirement? Would they even let her retire? What if they blackmailed her with her job history in order to force her to stay? What if they stopped paying her and she became their assassin slave?
  1243. Ordinarily, Leni could separate rational outcomes from wild fantasies, but because she knew so little about who she worked for, she had no idea what kind of action they'd take. She banished those thoughts from her head as she read a copy of Teen People on the living room sofa. Her sisters had all found something away from the house to do on this particularly beautiful summer evening. It was rarely this quiet in the Loud house. Unfortunately that silence was shattered by the telephone in the kitchen ringing. Leni remained on the couch as she heard her mother's footsteps heading toward the phone.
  1245. "Hello? Hey hun— wait, what? Lynn, slow down. Honey, just calm down and tell me—Honey, stop crying! You're a grown man!"
  1246. Leni peered over the top of her magazine as her mother whispered harshly into the phone. "I'm coming, just calm down, we'll make this right when I get to the police station. I love you, goodbye."
  1248. Leni's full attention was now in the kitchen as she watched her mother scramble to find her purse and the keys to her car.
  1250. "Mom?" she asked nervously, sitting up from the couch.
  1252. "Stay here and wait for your brother and sisters, sweetheart, Mom's gotta go take care of something."
  1254. In the blink of an eye, her mother had started the car and screeched the tires down the road. Leni watched her drive away from the living room window. She found herself alone in the house. Leni hadn't really had a good opportunity to take a cab to the docks to put away her gear from her last job, and it looked like this would be the final time she'd ever have to do it.
  1256. She produced her phone and called for a cab before heading upstairs to grab her money and weapon. She sat on the steps of their porch, floral print duffle bag and guitar case resting beside her. To an untrained observer she was just a teenage musician waiting for a ride to her next gig, not a deadly assassin waiting for a lift to her stash house.
  1258. She just hoped that the cab would arrive before...
  1260. "Dang it..." she muttered to herself as Lincoln came riding his bike down the sidewalk.
  1262. He pulled up to the garage and took off his helmet.
  1264. "Hey Leni!" he said walking up to her when he noticed the guitar case and recalling what was in it. "What... uhm... is that—"
  1266. "Yeah," she said somberly.
  1268. He stared at her bags and swallowed nervously. "You aren't, uhm, going on another—"
  1270. "No, I'm like, going to put them away for good," she replied as the cab pulled up by the curb.
  1272. Maybe he wasn't convinced she was giving up. Maybe he wanted to catch a glimpse into this side of her life. Perhaps he was darkly fascinated with her side work. Whatever the reason, he found himself speaking regardless.
  1274. "Can I come with you?"
  1276. Leni thought for a moment. He already knew just about as much as she did, and the only thing in her container was the rest of her money, a few mannequins and rifle parts. She supposed there was no harm in it. Leni stood up and grabbed her bags, her brother still anxiously awaiting her reply.
  1278. "Yeah, but you have to like, keep it a secret."
  1280. He was well aware of that, but nodded all the same. Lincoln silently followed his sister into the cab as Leni loaded her bags into the trunk. Leni slid in the seat next to him and instructed the driver where to go.
  1282. "The docks?" Lincoln asked.
  1284. Leni nodded as she stared blankly out of the window. This was more than just a quick trip to ditch her gear. This was a funeral precession for a part of her life that helped her feel like she was helping her family. All at the behest of the little boy sitting beside her. She idly watched the scenery pass her by when she felt her brother's hand take hers.
  1286. She looked to him and he smiled at her. "You're doing the right thing, Leni."
  1288. Leni knew he was right. This was for the best, and not many in her field retire with a perfect record. So she at least had that going for her.
  1290. "I know, but like... how am I supposed to help our family out now?"
  1292. "You can get a regular job, or maybe an actual fashion internship," he suggested hopefully.
  1294. Leni sighed. "I guess so..."
  1296. The ride continued on as they sat in silence, Lincoln holding Leni's hand as the car pulled into the entrance to the pier. They climbed out of the car as Leni took her bags and Lincoln waited on her as the cab pulled away. Wordlessly, Lincoln followed his sister in between the rows of shipping containers as Leni kept a soft count of the ones they passed.
  1298. "So, Leni?" Lincoln began as they walked. A question had been eating at him ever since Lisa proposed that their sister was a successful assassin. "What... what's it like to uh... you know..." Lincoln made a gun with his fingers and pretended to pull the trigger.
  1300. Leni knew what he meant.
  1302. "The first time was kinda hard, cause I don't really like blood or any of that yucky stuff," she replied as they continued to walk. "But with this," Leni said, raising the guitar case "I don't really have to get too close. And I read all about the guys. They're bad guys Lincoln, they hurt people, kidnap kids and take what isn't theirs."
  1304. Lincoln tried to absorb everything she'd said, but he simply couldn't wrap his mind around Leni actually lining up another person in a rifle scope and ending their life, even though they hadn't done anything to her. He had plenty of video games centered around that very concept, but to actually do it in real life? For Money?
  1306. He simply couldn't understand it. He knew Leni's only intent was to help the family, but at what price?
  1308. Before he could contemplate her words further, she gasped, stopping in her tracks. In between two shipping containers was a gap where Lincoln supposed one used to be.
  1310. "No... oh no!" Leni said, panic rising in her voice as she looked down the row and recounted, just in case she had lost count while talking to Lincoln. "Thirteen, fourteen... it's supposed to be right here!"
  1312. Lincoln was a bit concerned by her reaction as she counted again.
  1314. "What's supposed to be right here?" Lincoln asked.
  1316. "My steel house!"
  1318. Lincoln glanced around at the identical containers. "You mean a shipping container?"
  1320. "Yeah, what the heck could have happened to it?" she asked in full on panic mode.
  1322. "Well..." Lincoln began. "Maybe someone shipped it somewhere?"
  1324. "That's what happens to shipping containers?"
  1326. "I mean... generally, yeah," Lincoln replied calmly. "What was in there?"
  1328. "All my money!" Leni shouted in panic as she dropped her duffle bag on the ground with her guitar case.
  1330. "How much money?" Lincoln asked curiously.
  1332. "Four bags worth!" she said, motioning to her floral print bag. Lincoln knelt down and unzipped the bag, nearly losing his breath as he gazed at the contents.
  1334. That was the most money he'd ever seen at one time! "Leni... you... this is how much they..."
  1336. Leni nodded somberly. With no way to track it down, it seemed her monetary gains were lost to the sea.
  1338. "Where am I gonna keep this now?" she asked, picking her case back up and slinging her duffle bag over her shoulder. With a sigh, she set off back towards where the cab had dropped them off.
  1340. "So, was this where you would go before you left to... you know..." Lincoln asked.
  1342. "Yeah, I'd like, tell the cab guy I needed some stuff from down here, and they never asked any questions."
  1344. Just as they arrived at the entrance to the docks, both Lincoln and Leni's cell phone vibrated with a new text message.
  1346. 'Emergency, come home NOW!"
  1348. They checked the message and looked at each other. Lori rarely used the mass 911 text to call all Louds back to base. Leni quickly got a cab and she and Lincoln headed back to the house. When they arrived, they found two black suburbans parked in the driveway. Leni swallowed nervously as she and her little brother climbed out of the back of the cab.
  1350. "I'll go in and see what's going on if you want to hide your stuff."
  1352. Leni nodded and headed into the garage, storing her case but keeping her duffle bag on her. Some things were safer to hide in the house than others. Leni stopped at the porch. She hadn't told Ken about her retirement plans, surely this wasn't the agency coming to silence her, or hold her family hostage?
  1354. Leni put her hand on the knob and turned. Inside, her father was in tears, with her mother desperately trying to comfort him. Two large men stood over them, their blue windbreakers had FBI in yellow letters on the back.
  1356. "You have to believe me! I would never try to cheat the government!"
  1358. "Look Sir, the evidence says otherwise. We'll be in touch, don't leave town." One threatened before turning to leave. They walked past Leni without a word as she stepped into the livingroom.
  1360. "What's going on?" Lincoln asked, finding his words after the intimidating agents had left.
  1362. "Nothing, honey, it's nothing." Rita insisted, though his father's expression told a different story. "There was just a little misunderstanding at Daddy's work, something that we're going to work out very soon."
  1364. Lincoln glanced up the stairs, spying Lisa lording over the living room with her arms folded. He knew if there was one sister in the house that knew what was really going on, it was her. She motioned towards her room with a nod and set off, Lincoln following her as he ascended the stairs.
  1366. He met her in hers and Lily's room and shut the door.
  1368. "I suppose you're wondering what's got our father in hysterics."
  1370. Lincoln nodded.
  1372. "Well, I can assure you it's something much more serious than arachnids," Lisa sighed, taking off her glasses and rubbing the lenses with the bottom of her shirt. "The company our father works for has been fabricating evidence to frame him for all the tax evasion the board members have committed over the last fifteen years. In short, they did the crime, and set up our father to take the fall."
  1374. Lincoln was dumbfounded. "They, they did? But why him? Why Dad?" he asked, running a hand through his white hair in disbelief.
  1376. "Who knows why he was their patsy, but the fact of the matter is, there is overwhelming evidence against him, and all he has to defend himself is his word." Lisa set her glasses on her desk and desperately tried to keep the tears from flowing. "I-it appears as though not only may he end up in jail, but the fines incurred from this could very well cost us the house..." she sniffed. Lincoln couldn't believe what he was hearing. In a few days his whole world had been turned on its head. First his sister was a traveling assassin, and now his father was being framed for tax fraud, and his entire family had a chance of ending up on the street.
  1378. "But... you've got a plan right? You always do!" he pled with his sister.
  1380. "Yes well..." Lisa said, before wiping her eyes and her puffy red cheeks before putting her glasses back on. "We would all have to get jobs, and work anytime we weren't at school, just to keep the roof over our heads."
  1382. "That's it? You're just gonna accept this?" Lincoln asked, shocked. "Can't you do some kind of lawyering or hack into their computers to prove Dad's innocent?"
  1384. "It doesn't work that way, Lincoln!" Lisa barked, the anger at her inability to fix the family's problems in her usual manner weighing heavily on her shoulders. "Even if I could, the FBI has confiscated everything! Their security is too tight... even for me."
  1386. He could tell it was hard for her to admit that. Lincoln pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. How could this be happening to his family? It was all too much. He left her room without another word and found himself at the top landing of the stairs. His Mom and Dad seemed to have taken their problems into their bedroom, possibly to shield them from it.
  1388. Lincoln headed down the stairs, still trying to process Lisa's revelation. Once at the bottom, he came across Leni, curled up on the couch, her knees to her chest. Her eyes were red a puffy, just like Lisa's. It seemed the waterworks were contagious. Lincoln sat next to his sister. She wiped her eyes, the pillow she clutched to her chest was already damp with her tears.
  1390. "Do you think Daddy's going to jail?" she asked him. Lincoln looked at her. For the first time since her confession, he saw the old Leni. The innocent girl scared for her future, the girl she'd always been, despite what Lincoln had imagined her to be in his nightmares.
  1392. "I... I don't know," he replied honestly.
  1394. Leni sobbed. "I'm scared, Linky..."
  1396. She got rid of the pillow and put her little brother in its place. Here he was, an 11 year old boy trying to console a stone cold killer. They held each other there, on the couch. Lincoln was acutely aware that his other sisters must be feeling the same apprehension, but at that moment, it was only the two of them, desperately seeking comfort and security from the other.
  1398. "Me too, Leni."
  1401. The next few days in the Loud house were markedly different from their normal summer vacation. Every child knew what was going on, to the degree they could understand it. Even Lily was not her normal, curious and energetic self. As though she sensed everyone's sadness, it then began to affect her, too.
  1403. Their Mother and Father were gone most of the day, visiting with their Dad's lawyer, and most every time with him coming home in tears.
  1405. Lincoln found joy in nothing he used to do anymore. In fact, the whole house just seemed to lay about all day. Even with Lori in charge, her normally strict rules didn't seem to bother anyone.
  1407. One day, Rita and Lynn Sr returned home with pizza, and in massively better spirits that the previous days. Mainly because their father wasn't weeping as he walked through the door. The smell of pizza woke every nose in the house as the herd of children thundered out of their rooms and down the stairs and into the kitchen.
  1409. Lincoln followed his sisters down into the kitchen and stared in wonder at not one, not two, but THREE extra large pizzas! This was unprecedented. Each child could have more than one slice!
  1411. Once all the Louds had gathered in the kitchen, their mother made an announcement. "Kids, we've got some wonderful news," Rita began, as Lynn Sr put his arm around his wife's shoulder.
  1413. "Your father is not going to jail!" Every child cheered, rushing their parents into a group hug that lasted more than a few seconds.
  1415. "You mean it?" Lola asked, tears shining in her eyes.
  1417. "That's right, the lawyer worked out a deal to keep him with us! Now let's have some pizza!" Lincoln could hardly believe his ears. His Dad wasn't going to get locked up after all! He rushed towards the celebratory pizza along with the rest of his family and dug in. After the hectic assault on the defenseless pie, Lincoln took his seat at the kids table. The kitchen was strangely quiet as most of his family had their mouths full of pizza, when Lincoln noticed Lisa was absent from the kids table. After finishing a record two slices of pizza, he threw away the paper towel he had used as a plate and ventured into the house to find Lisa.
  1419. Since their parents had ordered three extra-larges, there wasn't the normal 'you snooze you lose' competition for slices. He poked his head into the living room to find Lisa sitting by herself on the couch, staring blankly at the ground in front of her. Lincoln had encountered her in this state before, usually when she was trying to figure out a formula or experiment of some kind in her head.
  1421. "Lucy? The pizza's getting cold, and it looks like Lola's off the wagon again, you better hurry if you want to eat," Lincoln said, approaching the couch.
  1423. Lisa snapped out of her trance and looked at him. Though she tried to hide it, there was a clear concern in her young eyes.
  1425. "You okay? I don't know if you heard, but Dad's not going to jail. Aren't you happy?"
  1427. Lisa sighed. "She used the word 'deal'. Usually when a 'deal' is struck, both sides are getting something." She adjusted her glasses and folded her arms. "What our side got was to keep our father out of jail. The question is, what did their side get?"
  1429. That idea landed on him like a bag of dried cement. Now that he thought about it, she HAD used the word 'deal'. He guessed the state just 'dropping' the charges out of the goodness of their hearts was a pipe dream at best, but if he wasn't going to jail, then what else could they have wanted?
  1432. Leni only ate a single slice of pizza (minus the crust of course, too many carbs), which was a rare sight indeed, considering the diet she was currently trying out. She was elated, along with the rest of her family to hear their father was safely from the state prison. After a few more hugs from her mother and father, she retreated to her room to get a cleansing facial scrub when a distinct vibrating rattled around the room. Leni put a hand to the pocket in which she kept her cell phone. The sound came again, except it wasn't her cell phone that produced it.
  1434. She glanced towards the drawer in her nightstand. She knew exactly where it had to have come from now. She walked over and opened the drawer to find a notification of two new text messages.
  1436. Hesitantly, she opened them. The same jumbled code as the previous texts. She set to work decoding them, and read the message to herself once it was decrypted.
  1438. URGENT----BARBIE
  1442. CONTRACT VALUE----$300000
  1445. Leni nearly swallowed her gum. She had honestly never even seen any target value higher than medium. On top of that, the contract value was more zeroes than she'd ever seen outside of math class! Almost instantly, thoughts of all the fantastic clothes and sewing equipment she could buy with that money sprang into her mind. Shortly thereafter, however, those happy thoughts were pushed out of her mind by the fairly emotional conversation she had with her little brother once he found out her little hobby.
  1447. Leni moaned to herself. 'Why wasn't I better at lying?' she thought, but almost instantly shook the thoughts from her head. 'No, you heard what Lincoln said, and he's right. Murder is like, wrong and stuff. And you're a good person,' She thought to herself. Leni took another look at the text message in her hand before Lori pushed the door open. Startled, Leni's phone fell from her grasp and tumbled to a stop at Lori's feet. Leni prayed that Lori would just keep her nose in her phone like always, but of course, this time she glanced over the top of the screen.
  1449. Her heart sank as Lori bent down to pick up. Her older sister squinted at the odd jumble of letters and numbers on the screen. Leni thought she felt her heart stop as she waited for Lori to say something.
  1451. "Leni, I think your phone has a virus."
  1453. 'Like, duh! She can't read the message without the decody thing!' Leni remembered, sighing in relief before taking her phone back.
  1455. "I think you're right! I should totes take it to the store in the mall tomorrow!" she said, pocketing the phone and quickly leaving her room.
  1457. As Leni headed back downstairs, her mind drifted back towards her internal struggle. Three hundred thousand was SO much money! And she'd get it for something she already knew she was good at! She wouldn't have to work out of a shipping container anymore! But just as soon as those grand plans came, the dreary cloud of her promise to Lincoln came to rain on her parade. As she descended the stairs, she found Lincoln and Lisa still in the living room, seated next to each other on the couch.
  1459. "Hey Linky, Hi Lisa!" Leni sang happily, as she passed. For two kids who just ate pizza, they sure didn't seem too happy.
  1463. Before Leni had come downstairs, Lisa was posing her hypothesis to her older brother.
  1465. "So you see, if he's avoiding jail time due to a plea deal, he's still on the hook for something, and if I had to guess, I'd bet it's the fine."
  1467. Lincoln rubbed his eyes. It seemed like his parents weren't being one hundred percent truthful about the good news. It seemed it was only partial. He recalled what Lisa had told him when they first heard of his father's possible sentence. "We'll all have to get jobs, Dad will never find a job as an accountant again, and have to work with Lori at the Game and Grub, where I'll probably end up working! I won't be able to spend a single quarter on an arcade game because I had to put it all to save the house! We'd have to scavenge the stale garlic knots and old pizza from the dumpster after closing time just to eat!"
  1469. "Lincoln!" Lisa shouted, snapping him out of his tirade just as Leni began coming down the stairs.
  1471. "Hey Linky, Hi Lisa!" Leni sang on her way down.
  1473. Lincoln glanced towards Lisa, knowing that spark in her eyes. It looked like she did have a plan, but Lincoln had the distinct inkling that he wasn't going to like it.
  1475. "No. No!" Lincoln replied swiftly, knowing exactly what she was thinking. "Lisa, there has to be another way, Leni is DONE with that part of her life!"
  1477. "Lincoln, relax, I don't mean returning her to the life of a hired gun. She's already completed five assignments. All we need to do is use her compensation. Even with her extravagant gifts and contributions to the family accounts, she's only spent at most a tenth of her earnings. It should be more than enough to cover most of the fines."
  1479. Lincoln felt a weight slide into his gut. Only Leni and himself knew what had happened to her earnings. "Uh... that actually might be a problem."
  1481. Lisa raised a quizzical eyebrow. "Why would that be a problem?"
  1483. Lincoln briefly explained his and Leni's journey to the docks, and the resultant find, or lack thereof.
  1485. "What? In a shipping container of all things?! What did she think was going to happen?!" Lisa nearly shouted, only to have Lincoln shush her.
  1487. "Lisa, not so loud!" Lisa readjusted her glasses and took a few calming breaths. "This is Leni we're talking about, okay? She's just not a planner."
  1489. Lisa mumbled under her breath as she massaged her temples. Too much nonsense tended to give her a headache. After a few moments of silence, she sighed.
  1491. "What?" Lincoln asked. "Did you think of something?"
  1493. Lisa ran a hand through her bangs before turning to him. "We have two options. Either we do nothing and accept our fates as wage slaves for the foreseeable future, or Leni takes another contract."
  1495. "Nuh uh. No way, I made Leni promise," He said as quickly as before.
  1497. "Well I don't know what you want from me, Lincoln! I can only work with the resources available, so unless that Nigerian prince that scammed you out of your allowance is going to make good on his promise of millions, I don't see any other viable options!" Lisa replied angrily. She was used to being the family problem solver, and it frustrated her to no end that she had been presented with one she could potentially solve. Especially since the solution she was offering was simply being taken off the table by the other party.
  1499. "Look, we'll... we'll think of something, let's just give ourselves some time to think it over." Lincoln said, standing from the couch and heading into the kitchen.
  1501. The days dragged on as the court proceedings continued. It became more and more apparent that luckily for them, their father would avoid jail. However, it also appeared that the heavy fines would be there to stay. By now, Rita and Lynn Sr had sat the entire family down and explained in detail what had happened, and what was to happen next.
  1503. As Lincoln sat on the couch with the rest of his siblings, he could tell his Mom and Dad rehearsed this speech a few times to avoid tearing up. He and Lisa were already abreast of the situation, but the younger siblings were essentially told that allowance, toys, going out to eat, and all the things little kids enjoy would soon be severely limited. Luan offered all of her earnings from her entertainment business, Luna was willing to sell some of her instruments, and Lori was also going to give up dates with Bobby. Dates that cost her any money, anyway. Every Loud sibling was willing to help their parents in their own way, but in the back of their minds, Rita and Lynn Sr. knew it wouldn't be near enough. They would be shackled to this debt for conceivably the rest of their lives.
  1505. In the days that followed, the true austerity of the Loud's financial situation began to take hold of the family. Lola was using every last bit of her empty lipstick and makeup, while Leni was busy repairing any tears or holes her siblings found in their clothes. Luna switched to acoustic guitar after she sold her amp and axe, while Luan had made the switch to cheaper, chinese made props.
  1507. Leni could see the sadness in her family's eyes as each day passed. Food in the Loud house whittled down to the bare essentials, and no Loud was able to enjoy a snack before dinner time. Seeing her family suffer wore on her, especially since she could make all the problems go away with a single, well placed round.
  1509. The phone Ken had given her had remained silent, though that was not unusual once she had been notified of an incoming task. Lori had gone with Bobby to the park, so Leni decided to clean her weapon. What possessed her to do so, she couldn't say. Perhaps she missed the weight of it against her shoulder, or the smell of the gun oil with a hint of burnt powder. She closed the door, and opened her closet, producing her guitar case. She set a towel down on her dresser and opened the case. Her weapon gleamed back at her in the lamplight. It was as though Leni was visiting an old friend as she removed the two pieces, silencer, and bipod.
  1511. She did miss them.
  1513. Leni began humming happily to herself as she began to disassemble her weapon. A repetitive task was something that truly set her mind at ease, and nothing was more repetitive than inspecting gun parts and pieces for carbon buildup. She lost herself in her work, but unfortunately forgot to close the door all the way.
  1515. Lincoln always knew to knock if the door was closed, but since it wasn't he simply strolled right in, one of his regular orange shirts in hand with a small hole near the chest.
  1517. "Hey, Leni, do you think you can patch up—" he froze, and so did she as their eyes met. There was silence for a moment as the firing pin slipped from leni's grasp and rolled to a stop by Lincoln's foot.
  1519. "Leni... what are you doing?"
  1521. "I, uhm... nothing, just cleaning it!" she admitted as he picked up the silver piece of metal and held it in his hand.
  1523. He walked over to her desk and looked at all the tiny pieces and pins laying on the towel. If this were a jigsaw puzzle, he wouldn't know where to begin.
  1525. "Why?" He asked.
  1527. "Because... Because we can't keep living like this."
  1529. Lincoln's eyes widened as she answered him. "Look, I know this isn't fun, but we'll figure something else out! Lisa and I are—"
  1531. "Wait, Lisa knows about... this" she waved her hands frantically over her disassembled weapon "too?!"
  1533. "Uh... well..." Lincoln stammered.
  1535. "I thought you said this was between me and you!" Leni replied. "What if Mom and Dad find out? I could go to jail, or worse, get grounded!"
  1537. "I didn't tell her, she figured it out! You know how smart she is!" Lincoln reasoned, trying to de-escalate the situation.
  1539. Leni sighed and slouched in her chair. "Lincoln, like, I hate seeing us have to add water to juice and milk just to make it last longer! I want to fix this, and I know I can, but... I don't want to be a murderer."
  1541. Lincoln raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean?"
  1543. "I got another contract. It's worth thirty... no... three..." Leni said trying to remember as she scratched her head. She quickly grabbed a pen from her dresser and wrote the number she remembered on a piece of paper. "This many," she said, showing Lincoln the number.
  1545. The little boy nearly lost his breath at the amount. That would be enough to cover the debt and then some.
  1547. But at what price?
  1549. Lincoln thought for a moment. He knew what Lisa would say in this situation. He was even beginning to doubt his own sanity while he stared at the number Leni had written on the scrap of paper. The answer to their problems was in pieces before him, yet, he couldn't help but think of this as a test. A litmus for his own moral compass. Sure, setting Leni loose to ventilate some stranger would be easy. But he had once read in his Ace Savvy comics that the easiest choice is not always the right one.
  1551. "Leni... I, I can't..." he paused for a moment to consider his words. Would it be presumptuous to think she was just waiting on his permission to act? On the other hand, he had made her promise not to kill anymore. This was as much his fault as her own. "Look, I can't help you on this one... this is your decision," Lincoln continued after what felt like the longest tactical pause of his life. "But no matter what, you're a good person Leni, you're my sister and I love you, and I know you aren't a murderer."
  1553. Lincoln left the room, closing the door behind him. Leni was left alone with her trusted weapon, her partner in crime. The one item that let her see one of her favorite things in the world (other than a purse and matching sundress on sale for half off): her sisters and baby brother happy. While purchasing all the gifts on her trips to exotic locales, the only thing on her mind was the looks on their faces when she would give them to the family. She had even been extra careful to make sure no one ever knew what she was really doing!
  1555. But like seemingly most things in her life, she just wasn't quite sharp enough to pull it off. Leni put her elbows on the desk and covered her eyes with her hands. Overwhelmed by the decision she would have to make, she began to cry.
  1557. 'It's like, just not fair!' Leni thought. 'All I wanted to do was help Mom and Dad! People all over the world help their families, and this like, totally doesn't happen to them!" As she sobbed, her phone vibrated on the desk. Thankfully not the one Ken had given her. She wiped the tears from her eyes and held up her phone.
  1559. '1 NEW MESSAGE'
  1561. It was from Lincoln, and it had an attachment. She opened it to find a picture of all of her siblings taken at their trip to the lake last summer. They were all smiling, all hugging the Loud beside them with one arm. There was text below the picture.
  1563. "I love you, Leni, and always will, no matter what."
  1565. Leni held her phone to her chest, as though she would be able to hug her siblings in the picture if she tried hard enough. Then another phone vibrated, but this time she knew there would be no comforting momentos contained in its message.
  1567. Lincoln stopped in the hallway outside. It was strangely empty, although less commotion was unfortunately becoming the norm in his household.
  1569. "Ugh! This cheap lipstick is terrible!"
  1571. His ears perked up as he made his way towards Lola and Lana's room. Even the normally cluttered hallway was a clean and tidy-ish shadow of its former self. Most of the Loud children made an effort to give up something to help the family finances, and they took special care to make sure at least some of their siblings saw them do it. In secret, however, each Loud still squirreled away a few possessions that they couldn't stand to part with, regardless of how worthless they might seem. Lincoln, for example, still had his Ace Savvy number one, along with a few other items of varying monetary and sentimental value. He was sure his sisters had done the same, if for no other reason than to avoid peer pressure to get rid of the item should the other children find out.
  1573. Lincoln found himself at the door frame of his twin sister's room. Lola was vigorously scrubbing the lipstick from her lips as she sat in front of her vanity mirror. Multiple open tubes sat scattered in front of her.
  1575. "How hard is it to make a decent shade of fire engine red in China? They ARE reds for God's sake!" Lola shouted at the mirror before pounding her gloved fist on the child sized vanity, knocking a few tubes to the already stained carpet.
  1577. "Hey, Lola," He began.
  1579. She turned from her reflection and glared at him, before dropping her icy gaze into a frown. Crappy lipstick wasn't her brother's fault. "Hey Lincoln..." she groaned.
  1581. "Something the matter?" he asked.
  1583. "Other than the fact that I can't get decent makeup at the dollar store, nothing."
  1585. Lincoln thought for a moment. He had already talked with Lynn about Leni's situation. Well, in not so many words, but he had already gotten one point of view. Perhaps a new one wouldn't hurt?
  1587. "So, Lola, what if... hypothetically, I had a way to solve our family's money problems—"
  1589. Lola turned to him. "Then I would tell you to 'hypothetically' do it already! How much longer do you want to watch me suffer?"
  1591. "Wait, you didn't let me finish!" Lincoln replied quickly. He scratched his right arm with his left nervously. "What if this way involved something bad?"
  1593. Lola raised a perfectly manicured eyebrow. "Bad? Bad like how?"
  1595. "Like... illegal bad."
  1597. "How illegal are we talking?" Lola asked nonchalantly.
  1599. "Like, go to jail forever illegal."
  1601. Lola stood from her vanity and stepped closer to her big brother. "Lincoln, I will not continue to live with substandard makeup. I don't care what we have to do," she whispered threateningly.
  1603. Unnerved, Lincoln quickly reminded her that it was just a hypothetical solution. An answer she did not appreciate at all. He left her room, fearing bodily harm and continued down the hallway. He flopped onto his bed and pulled out his phone. This was a sticky situation that didn't have an easy solution. As tough a time as he was having with it, he couldn't imagine how hard this must have been for Leni. After confronting her and making her swear not to kill again, now it seemed like the only way to save the family.
  1605. Lincoln opened his photo album app and scrolled until he found a picture of the whole family at the lake last summer. Family was all he had, and when outside forces threatened to harm it, how far would he be willing to go? Would he tell Leni to take one last job? Should he? He attached the pic to a text and added a short message, sending it off to space and back to a phone across the hallway. He set his phone on his chest and exhaled heavily. After a moment, it vibrated.
  1607. 'Hey nerd, sorry to hear about what happened to your Pops.' the message read. It was from Ronnie Anne.
  1609. Perhaps she might have a different perspective on his slew of hypothetical questions?
  1611. 'Only one way to find out' he thought before setting his thumbs to work.
  1614. Leni picked up Ken's phone and decoded the message.
  1618. Leni glanced at the clock. It was already almost seven!
  1620. Her heart was in her throat as she put away her weapon and composed herself. She reapplied her makeup and headed out the door. The unusually empty hallways meant no one saw her leave, and even if they had, she'd wager few would care to ask where she was off to so late. They all had their own problems. Ones she hoped she had the courage to resolve.
  1622. The cab ride to the park was short. She was beyond nervous about telling Ken she wanted out. How would he react? Would he even let her leave? What if he told on her, or worse, sent someone after her or her family? Her legs operated on autopilot as she walked down the sidewalk in the orange light of sunset.
  1624. Sure enough, on bench number three sat an average looking man she recognized as Ken reading the newspaper. She sat down next to him quietly.
  1626. "I hear the geese are migrating early this year," he stated plainly.
  1628. Leni wracked her brain. Even when she wasn't in fear for her or her family's life, she was never good at remembering passphrases.
  1630. "Uh... really? I heard they were, uh... doing it later?"
  1632. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed him roll his eyes. "Good enough, I know it's you, Barbie."
  1634. Leni could scarcely hear him over the sound of her own beating heart. "Listen, Ken, I like... n-need to tell you—"
  1636. Ken folded his newspaper and set it across his lap. "Before we begin, you need to be made aware that the agency regrets to inform you that your employment will be terminated," he began.
  1638. For Leni, time seemed to slow to a standstill. This was it. He was going to kill her right here to tie up any loose ends! She watched in horror as he reached into his coat pocket. Leni flinched putting both arms up in a futile attempt to block the suppressed, subsonic 9mm round she knew was about to explode out of the barrel of the gun he was no doubt reaching for.
  1640. "After this contract is completed," he finished.
  1642. Leni opened one eye and realized he had removed a dossier, not a pistol from his jacket.
  1644. "Obviously this is a high priority target, with a purse to match."
  1646. "I... I get a matching purse too?"
  1648. Ken sighed. He would certainly not miss her misunderstandings.
  1650. "No, just the money we agreed upon. Now, as I said, in order to be released from your obligations, you must complete the contract. If this contract is not completed, you will be branded unreliable, and may be subject to termination in a more... literal sense."
  1652. For all its loud beating earlier, her heart seemed to stop.
  1654. "L-literal sense?" she repeated, grasping the envelope with a shaky, well manicured hand.
  1656. "Correct. Your flight is Friday. Don't miss it." With that, Ken stood from the bench and walked the opposite direction from which Leni had arrived. Leni sat alone on the bench in the deserted park as she watched the sunset, nothing but her purse and an envelope containing the identity of a life she was contracted to take to keep her company.
  1658. Her chin began to quiver as her vision blurred. This was no longer a matter of making a choice between right and wrong. This was now a choice between life and death. Like it or not, by that Sunday, someone was going to die.
  1661. Once Ken was far out of earshot of Barbie, his phone buzzed in his pocket. He was already expecting the call and quickly answered it.
  1663. "Go," He said.
  1665. "What is the status of agent 67?"
  1667. "She's taken the contract."
  1669. "And you're sure she'll carry it out? You remember what the listening device picked up after she returned from the last contract, don't you?"
  1671. "Yes. A boy, possibly a sibling attempted to convince her that her actions were wrong, and it seems to have worked."
  1673. "And how have you rectified this?"
  1675. "I put the fear of mortality in her."
  1677. "And if she still refuses?"
  1679. "I have a contingency plan."
  1681. Leni sat on the bench for what felt like forever. She wanted a way out, and it seemed the universe saw fit to give her one, albeit in a cruel way. She wanted to quit to honor her promise to Lincoln, and now it looked like she would have to break her promise in order to keep it, which made about as much sense to her as someone needing to rob a bank so they don't have to rob banks anymore.
  1683. The streetlights were beginning to come on, and she knew if she didn't get home soon, her family would begin to wonder where she'd gone. She forced her shaky legs to lift herself off the bench and made her way to the road to hail a cab back home. The rest of the evening was a blur, before she found herself seated at the dinner table. She simply pushed the food around on her plate, her appetite long since evaporated after her meeting with Ken.
  1685. Her head was swimming, thoughts and debates raged inside her head as her mother pulled her from her thoughts.
  1687. Leni looked up towards the head of the table. Her sisters and father had all already eaten and left, leaving just the two of them.
  1689. "Sweetheart, you haven't touched your food and hardly said a word all day. What's the matter?" Rita asked.
  1691. "Nothing..." Leni replied softly. It wasn't like she could let her in on what was really going on.
  1693. "C'mon, you think I can't tell when one of my kids has something on their mind?"
  1695. She glanced up from her plate at her mother. What could she really say? 'Mom, I promised Lincoln I'd stop killing people for money but I have to do it one more time to save our family and get out for good?'
  1697. "I..." Leni began, before a phone began ringing.
  1699. Rita groaned, fishing her phone out of her purse. "I swear, how is it possible that people know to call me when I'm eating—" Rita began, stopping mid sentence as she looked at her phone. Her brow furrowed as she stared at her still ringing phone.
  1701. "Hang on, dear, it's the lawyer," RIta answered it and left the room.
  1703. Secretly, Leni was grateful for the interruption. She took her plate to the kitchen and headed back to her room. Friday would be here before she knew it, and she had packing to do.
  1705. She had done it all before. She told her parents she had to head out of town for her internship. It was short notice, but they had grown used to it, so they of course, thought nothing of it. Everything was the same as it was before, except for one thing.
  1707. Lincoln knew what she was really going to do.
  1709. She put on her happy face and said goodbye to her family at the door, the cab waiting for her outside. She had stashed her 'guitar' in the garage so no one would see her load it into the cab. The other Loud siblings were exceptionally happy about her trip. Not to see her leave, but because they knew Leni always came back with the best souvenirs. As she said her goodbyes, Lincoln was the last in line.
  1711. She could tell there was something he wanted to say to her, but both knew he wouldn't dare in front of the whole family. They paused before Lincoln wrapped himself around her waist. She gladly returned his hug. They held each other for a moment before releasing. His words echoed endlessly in her head as she smiled at him.
  1713. "Be safe, and hurry back, Leni," Lincoln said softly. "I love you."
  1715. "I love you too."
  1717. The ride to the airport was nothing special, but it did give her time to review her target. Some oil sheik with an unpronounceable name. She'd get a more detailed dossier on the plane, but for now, she didn't care. She couldn't even look forward to her favorite part of these missions; the jet ride.
  1719. She thought back about the giddy excitement she would feel on prior missions. She knew killing wasn't nice, but she also knew that the people she targeted weren't nice either. In that way, she rationalized it to herself. But after Lincoln discovered her secret, her actions and the realities behind her job became much more real.
  1721. Maybe this was the way she was supposed to feel. Perhaps this was all the guilt she had done so well to ignore finally catching up with her.
  1723. Her arrival at the executive airport was met by the same pilot, who took her same bags, who handed her the same envelope with a more detailed description of her target. She was heading back to New York City, only this time she had no desire to shop, see the sights, or enjoy the hustle of the city.
  1725. She checked into her hotel and made her way up to her room. The bed looked incredibly inviting as she dropped her bags by the door and flopped onto her belly. The plush sheets and mattress delivered on their promise as she lost herself in them. She raised her head from the face-down position on the bed and looked out of her window. She had a stunning view of Central Park, and ordinarily she'd be happy as a clam to be in such opulence, for free, no less.
  1727. Leni rolled onto her back and found herself completely worn out from the trip over. She sighed and raised herself to the sitting position and rubbed her eyes.
  1729. "C'mon, Leni, get your head in the game!" she said to herself. She HAD to complete this assignment, then all her problems would be solved. Well, minus the broken trust of someone she loved. Desperate to clear her head, she wandered into the bathroom. If there was one thing that sounded phenomenal right now, it was a long soak in the jacuzzi tub.
  1731. Once the bubbles got to work, she felt herself relax. With her guard down, she lit a few scented candles and let the stress of her coming day melt off her back.
  1733. Just as she was about to doze off in the tub, her phone rang; it was home. She answered the call and put it on speaker.
  1735. "Hello?"
  1737. "Hey Leni, how was the trip?"
  1739. It was Lincoln.
  1741. "Good, it was like, totally boring."
  1743. "Oh, well I just wanted to make sure you made it okay."
  1745. Leni smiled. It was just like him to worry about her now that he actually knew what she was doing.
  1747. "Yeah, I made it. How's everyone else?"
  1749. She heard Lincoln sigh.
  1751. "Empress Lori is in charge," he moaned. "Dad's been in meetings all day and Mom said she some lawyer thing to do and wouldn't be back until tomorrow."
  1753. Leni cringed. They all knew how Lori could be, and especially with all the stress of what had been going on with their father, probably only made it worse.
  1755. "Just hang in there, I'll be back soon."
  1757. "We'll try. Love you Leni."
  1759. "Love you too, Lincoln."
  1761. Leni hung up the phone and sank back into the tub. This was it. Her last job, and her family would be safe, and all of this business would finally be behind her. She soaked for an hour before getting ready for bed. Unfortunately the restful sleep she needed and usually received before her missions would not come.
  1763. Everything about this mission seemed off. Before she knew it, her alarm was blaring. She rolled over and slapped at it. She found a bit of inspiration as she woke and got dressed. This was nothing she hadn't done before, and this was the last time. Her little siblings could enjoy being kids, and wouldn't have to work to scrape together money to buy lunch at school. All she had to do was finish her job.
  1765. She gathered her weapon and headed out the door. She wore her normal clothes, just as she always had. Doing nothing out of the ordinary, she found herself on the rooftops she had grown accustomed to on these trips. She positioned herself at the ledge and took out her binoculars. The car would be arriving right down a narrow alleyway, giving her a clear shot. Flags near where he target would appear gave her the wind direction as she knelt down and opened up her guitar case.
  1767. Her rifle gleamed back at her in the morning sunlight. It was the last time she would see her old pal in this situation. That knowledge comforted her as her heart rate began to increase. She had never gotten the jitters before, and now was not the time to start. She took a deep breath, and exhaled slowly.
  1769. "This is for Linky. For Mom and Dad, and for like, everyone else," she whispered to herself. Leni began assembling her rifle and set it on the ledge, bipod extended and scope and suppressor mounted. She put the butt against her shoulder and welded her cheek to the stock, looking down the scope. Her sight picture seemed a bit unsteady. She raised her eye from the scope, wondering if she hadn't tightened her optics enough.
  1771. However, it wasn't her mount that was the culprit; it was her hands. They were shaking.
  1773. 'Not now, not now!' she thought, taking her hands off her weapon and rubbing them together.
  1775. 'Just breathe, Leni,' she thought, trying to calm herself. This was nothing she hadn't done before, what was wrong with her now?
  1777. Flashes of Lincoln ran through her head. She had to do this. It was for her family, her nerves couldn't get in the way!
  1779. "C'mon Leni! You have to do this, there like, isn't any other option!"
  1781. Leni stepped away from her setup and tried to shake off her nerves, but nothing seemed to be working.
  1783. After a few deep breaths, she stepped back up to the ledge.
  1785. The motorcade was coming!
  1787. Time was up. She reset behind her rifle and tried to calm herself. She fed the magazine into the weapon and chambered a round. Leni had managed to calm her hands as she peered through the scope. She followed the center car until it came to a stop. The seconds seemed to drag by as she became aware of her sweaty palms. She hated being sweaty, and it seemed like just one more distraction to keep her from completing her mission. She felt her heart pounding inside her chest as she waited for her target to leave the car.
  1789. "I can do this," she said to herself.
  1791. 'Promise me that you'll never kill another person again.'
  1793. Her sight picture began to blur as she remembered Lincoln's words.
  1795. 'You're a good person Leni, you're my sister and I love you, and I know you aren't a murderer.'
  1797. She blinked, flushing a stream of tears down her cheek as her sight picture came back into focus. The target exited the car.
  1799. It was now or never.
  1801. Leni lined up her shot, placing her perfectly manicured finger on the trigger.
  1803. 'I can do this, I can do this I'm...'
  1805. She took her finger off the trigger.
  1807. 'I'm not a murderer.'
  1809. She wasn't sure how to feel about herself. By keeping her promise, she doomed her family to wage slavery. Why couldn't she just pull the damn trigger?
  1811. An loud gunshot startled her, stealing her breath. Had she accidentally fired?
  1813. She felt no recoil, and checked her weapon. The safety was still on.
  1815. Leni looked down the scope to see her target, face down next to a wall splattered with blood.
  1817. Someone else had taken the shot!
  1819. Leni grabbed her rifle off the ledge and sat behind it, cradling the weapon in her arms as she nearly hyperventilated. Her heart was racing as she fumbled for Ken's phone. Before she could dial him with her unsteady fingers, it began to ring.
  1821. It was Ken.
  1823. Did he know it wasn't her that took the shot? Was he on his way up the stairs to terminate her like he said he was going to?
  1825. She just stared at the screen, tears running down her face as she pressed the answer button and held it to her ear.
  1827. "Mike Charlie. Your services are no longer required," Ken said, before hanging up.
  1829. His call was followed shortly by a text message with instructions for meeting.
  1831. Leni was terrified. She sat on the rooftop as the sirens wailed towards the scene of the shooting. Ken was surely going to kill her. She considered not going, but knew if Ken wanted to find her, there was nowhere she could run. She broke down into sobs. All she wanted to do was help her family, and now she would receive a bullet for her efforts. It wasn't fair. All because some corporate jerks framed her Dad, she was going to die.
  1833. She wasn't sure how long she spent crying on that rooftop before finally gathering the strength to put her weapon away and try to dry her tears. Her mascara was running down her face, and she tried to dry it the best she could.
  1835. Thankfully, the building she had used was abandoned, so there would be no need to fast talk any security guards on her way down. Her meeting with Ken was in an hour. It was tentatively the last hour of her young life. She slowly made her way off the rooftop and back down to the street, heading straight to the train station. As the cab made its way into the city, Leni pushed all the sad thoughts out of her mind. Nothing drew more attention that a beautiful crying teenage girl. Gathering all her courage, she at least knew that if she were to die, she would do it after keeping her promise. She pulled out her personal phone and opened the text chain between herself and Lincoln. She looked at the picture of her family he'd sent her and smiled. She sent him a short text, and turned off her phone.
  1837. "I love you Lincoln, I kept my promise."
  1839. She left the cab and entered the train station, sitting on the same bench as the last time, and waiting for her executioner to arrive. Would he kill her right then and there, in public? Would he turn her in to the police? Would he drive her out to the middle of nowhere? Morbid questions raced through her mind before being brought to a halt. She spotted Ken walking towards her bench, wearing the same enigmatic clothes he always had, a newspaper tucked beneath his arm. Leni lowered her sunglasses. If she started tearing up again, she didn't want him to know it.
  1841. He may as well have been the reaper himself walking towards her as he calmly took his seat next to her, nonchalantly opening his newspaper.
  1843. "Barbie," He said softly.
  1845. This was it. He was going to pull a gun on her, force her to his car and drive out of town to a field in the middle of nowhere.
  1847. "K-ken," she managed, barely hiding her terror.
  1849. "Excellent work as always."
  1851. Leni flinched at the words before processing them.
  1853. "W-what?" she asked.
  1855. "You completed your contract. Your employment with us is no longer needed. Your final payment is here."
  1857. He slid a small envelope towards her.
  1859. She stared at it. No gun, no cops, no long car rides to a shallow grave. It was the same way she'd been paid five previous times.
  1861. "You mean, you aren't gonna, like, literally terminate me?" she asked softly.
  1863. "Why would I do that? You completed your contract. Killing successful employees would be bad for business."
  1865. Leni broke all manner of protocol and threw her arms around him.
  1867. "Oh my gosh, thank you Ken!"
  1869. The startled handler took a moment to process the act, before gently returning her hug. After he released her, he stood up, leaving the envelope.
  1871. "Goodbye, Barbie," he said, standing up and walking down the platform, just as stoically as he always had.
  1873. Leni couldn't believe her reversal of fortune. She quickly grabbed the envelope and took out the key, making her way to the locker and claiming her family's salvation. She was positively giddy as she made her way back to the hotel. The bath she took was one she was sure she would never get a chance to take a scant few hours ago, and coming that close to death made all the difference. She reflexively glanced at her phone and realized it had been off this whole time!
  1875. 'Lincoln must have been worried sick!'
  1877. She turned it back on, and as soon as it established signal, it flooded with texts from her little brother. She quickly texted him back that she would be home tomorrow, and for him not to worry. Putting herself at ease, she sank back into the bubbling water before another shocking realization hit her: She hadn't gotten gifts for everyone!
  1879. She jumped out of the tub and got dressed, high tailing it out of her room and into a cab for some last minute shopping.
  1881. The day passed without incident and before she knew it, she was touching down at the airport in Michigan. She felt so good to be home, and she couldn't wait to see her family. Once she arrived back home, her siblings flooded out of the house to greet her, all happy to see her, and all happy to get their souvenirs.
  1883. None more so than Lincoln. They hugged as Leni lifted him off the ground and swung him around for good measure.
  1885. "Leni, I was so worried!" he said, not wanting to let go.
  1887. "I know, I'm sorry Lincoln. Things got like... a little crazy out there, but everything is gonna be okay now."
  1889. Once all the others had gone back inside, Leni and Lincoln sat on the steps of the porch, watching the sunset.
  1891. "I kept my promise, Linky," Leni said proudly.
  1893. "I know, I'm glad you did," he replied, hugging her once more.
  1895. They sat in silence for a few more minutes before Lincoln spoke up.
  1897. "I've been looking for jobs, and I think I can get my old job at the game and grub back to make some money for the family."
  1899. Leni smiled at him. "I don't think you'll have to do that. Unless you like, want to," she said.
  1901. "What? Dad's still on the hook for all those fines and stuff."
  1903. Leni got up and headed towards the garage, with Lincoln in tow. During the commotion of her siblings enjoying their gifts, she had managed to stash her payment without anyone else seeing. She dropped the bag at his feet and opened it up. The young boy gasped at the amount of money threatening to spill out over the sidewalk.
  1905. "But... you kept you promise... right?" he asked.
  1907. Leni nodded, zipping the bag back up and quickly writing a short note on it.
  1909. "You didn't rob a bank or something for this, did you?" he asked.
  1911. "No! Now c'mon," she motioned as the two headed towards the porch. Leni left the bag on the doorstep. "Okay, when I ring the doorbell, we have to run into the backyard!" Leni said, ringing it and dashing off the porch as Lincoln followed closely.
  1913. Lynn Sr. answered the door as they watched from around the house. He stuck his head out and looked around. "Darn neighborhood kids and their—" he stopped as he noticed the bag on the ground. He picked up the note and read it aloud to himself.
  1915. "To Lynn Sr. and Rita Loud."
  1917. He unzipped the bag and nearly fainted on the porch. "Rita, RITA!" he shouted inside the house as their mother joined him. She too was just as shocked as they hugged each other and nearly cried. "I don't know who you are, but thank you so much!" Lynn Sr. shouted into the empty street. Leni and Lincoln giggled before heading in through the side door.
  1919. By now all the Loud children had gathered in the living room to look at the giant bag of cash that had appeared mysteriously on their doorstep. Lincoln spotted Lisa in the crowd and she shot him a knowing look. He nodded, and winked. Lisa removed herself from the crowd and joined him in the kitchen.
  1921. "Well, looks like it was your turn to solve a family crisis for once," she said to him.
  1923. "It wasn't just me, Leni did all the work, and she kept her promise," he replied happily.
  1925. Lisa opened her mouth to reply, knowing full well the nature of Leni's former hobby, but, for once, decided not to question it. After all, look how much trouble that had brought them all in the first place.
  1927. "Then congratulations on a job well done."
  1929. The morose atmosphere that had permeated the Loud house in the past few weeks had disappeared in an instant, and it seemed everything was returning to normal. With the fines paid and the extra money going towards filling the gap until Lynn Sr. found a new job, everything seemed right with the world once again.
  1931. To celebrate the end of hardship, the parents ordered pizza, only this time they allowed the kids to pick any toppings, and any size they wanted. Once everyone had eaten their fill and gone off to their own devices, Rita and Lynn Sr. sat alone at the kitchen table.
  1933. "What a day," Lynn Sr. said, slouching in his chair. "How about some coffee, hun?"
  1935. Rita got up. "Sounds good dear," she said, heading towards the fridge. "Oh darn, we're out of vanilla creamer. I'll just run to the Quik Stop and get more. Be right back!" Rita found her purse and keys and headed towards the car. In no time she was heading down the road. However, instead of turning into the store, she drove past it, heading towards Ketchum Park. She parked the car and got out, walking down the well lit jogging path and found a bench beneath a street light.
  1937. After a few moments, a mysterious man in a hat and baseball cap joined her, his newspaper tucked beneath his arm.
  1939. "Muerta," he said.
  1941. "Ken," She replied. "I held up my end of the deal."
  1943. "Yes you did. And as for mine, your husband will have an interview for a new position at a fortune 500 company next week, please make sure he doesn't miss it."
  1945. "And my other conditions?" Rita asked impatiently.
  1947. "Right, your family is off our books for good," he said, folding his newspaper and laying it across his lap. "You know, I wasn't sure I could get an old pro like you out of retirement so easily."
  1949. Rita gave a half smile. "Don't flatter me. You know just as well as I do that if that job wasn't completed, your neck would have been on the line just as much as my daughter's."
  1951. "Yes, well, she was one of the best we've ever had, though I guess I know where she got it from. Still hard to believe she had operated right under your nose without you knowing until I called. I suppose motherhood dulls the senses a bit?" he asked.
  1953. "Yeah, calling in the middle of dinner, thanks. Honestly, she was the last person I would have thought to be involved. And another thing," she turned to face him. "I don't appreciate you getting my daughter involved in this business. You're lucky I'm committed to my family... and my retirement," she replied threateningly.
  1955. Ken nodded, unshaken by her threats. "We all have a job to do, Muerta. Morals can't come into play in this line of work. I trust you've already received payment?"
  1957. Rita stood from the bench. "I have. One more thing: If I ever see you near my family again, I'll kill you," she said in a disturbingly motherly tone.
  1959. "Now if you'll excuse me, we're out of vanilla creamer, and my husband is waiting."
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