“What?” I ask as she sweeps the fringe of her blonde pixie cut to the side. “Why?”
“Come on,” she hooks an arm around my elbow and leads me in the opposite direction that Ryker and I had come. She looks about my age but at least three inches shorter than me, and I'm not very tall, myself.
“What's going on?” I ask as I let her pull me out of the alley and into the street.
She shrugs and steers me left. We stop outside of a dive bar. “You legal?” she asks.
“What?” I furrow my brows. She nods to the bar, I follow her gaze blankly.
“Take that as a 'no',” she pulls out her wallet and sifts through a dozen cards before plucking one up and holding it next to my face with a smile of approval.
“Here you are, Dorothy,” she reads the name on the card and hands me the fake ID picturing a large-nosed woman with hair the shade of ketchup.
“That doesn't look like me,” I say. “My hair doesn't look like that.”
“Looks just like you,” she smiles and gives a gentle tug to one of my loose auburn curls. It bounces back into place just above my shoulders as she pushes me into the crowded bar.
She nudges me down a flight of wooden stairs illuminated by a green neon sign. The stairs lead to another, more relaxed bar full of tables and booths. The walls are a dark mauve and the windowless room is dim-lit.
It's not that busy down here, it being a Tuesday afternoon and all. My eyes pass over the few people seated until they find my Super Jerk sitting alone in the booth farthest from us. He's watching me with a familiar unpleasant expression. I give my escort an uncertain look and she smiles and walks ahead of me to whisper something in his ear before I reach them. She gestures for me to sit opposite him.
I give him a sideways glance as I climb into the booth and quickly look away from his harsh stare. I feel trapped as soon as his sidekick slides in beside me. “I didn't take any candy from strangers,” I say, pressing myself into the wall as if I might be able to escape through it.
To my surprise, a smile cracks across Super Jerk's face, but it doesn't reach his pale green eyes. “Yet you still managed to find more trouble for yourself,” he says.
“Hey, that asshole found me,” my eyes bug out a bit in frustration. “I don't leave my apartment for a goddamn week out of paranoia and the minute I get the balls to crawl out of hiding, look what happens. What am I, some kind of shit magnet?”
The two of them exchange a glance at my outburst. “Let's hope not,” Super Jerk says and Pixie Cut Sidekick waves a tall waitress over.
“We'll have a Blue Moon and two margaritas, please,” she requests. The woman nods and walks off.
“You planning on double fisting those margaritas?” I ask once the waitress is out of earshot. “Because I don't know how old Ronald McDonald here is,” I flash her the driver's license she gave me, “but I'm 17 and not willing to test how well this ID will hold up in court when I get an MIP.”
“Oh, calm down,” Pixie Cut says with a dismissive wave.
I watch her skeptically, then switch my attention to Super Jerk with the same expression. “Who are you people?”
“My name is Sebastian,” Super Jerk says. “And this is my apprentice, Ambrosia.”
“Like the salad?”
She gives me an unamused look. “Call me Ambry.”
The waitress swoops through and leaves our drinks on the table. Sebastian takes a swig of his beer before clasping his hands together and saying, “You're Noelle Fischer.”
I pull back into the cushion of the bench. “Excuse me?”
“Daughter of the late Joel Fischer?”
“Who the fuck are you?”
“Sebastian Keene,” he says, much calmer than I. “I worked with your father.”
I give him a leering side glance. “You knew him?”
“Yes.” He lifts the sweating beer bottle up to his lips for another drink. “We just need to know where you live. Then we'll leave you alone.”
“By 'leave me alone', you mean 'watch me sleep through my bedroom window', right? Because why else would you need that information?”
“You haven't touched your drink,” Ambry slides the margarita closer to me. I take a tiny sip and try to keep a straight face as I force down the repulsive mixture of lime and tequila.
“It's for protection reasons,” Sebastian assures me. “Ryker tracked you down easily in the park today – the first time you stepped foot outside your home since our last run-in, you said?”
“Pretty much,” I cough at the after burn of alcohol. “But seriously, you're like 20. How could you have worked for the CIA with my dad?”
“I'm assuming he doesn't know where you live,” he's still talking about Ryker. “Now that he's seen you in Pike Place, and again in Occidental Park, I think he'll know you live close by here. It won't take him long to hone in on you.”
“Or maybe he already knows where I live, but can't get in because he doesn't have a key,” I suggest. He opens his mouth to retort, but closes it without uttering a word as Ambry nudges me to take another drink. “Explain yourself and tell me why this asshole is after me, then I might cooperate.”
He glances at Ambry, who grins. I pretend to take another sip and wait for his response. “Ryker has a lot of enemies,” he explains. “Your father was one of them. We think Ryker recognized you as Joel's daughter in Pike Place, which is why he's so eager to get a hold of you.”
“So if you knew who I was last week, and that I was in danger of being kidnapped by this psychopath,” I say, “Why would you let him wander off into the night after he tried to abduct me, then send me to walk home alone and possibly right back into the hands of said psychopath?” I cock an angry eyebrow. “Does that not seem counterproductive to you?”
“I followed you home,” Ambry says. “You were fine.”
“Right?” she smiles.
I look her up and down, disturbed. I feel like I'm just trading one psychopath for another. But at least this one seems to like me. And she's like four foot tall so I could probably take her if it came down to it.
“That doesn't negate the fact that you let him waltz off into the night when you should have apprehended him,” I say to Sebastian in a scolding tone.
He raises his eyebrows at me and says, “I did exactly what I should have.”
I let out a small laugh of angry disbelief. “So why even save me in the first place if you were just going to leave me to rot later anyway?”
“Saving you once doesn't make your well-being my eternal responsibility. Maybe you should take better care of yourself so you don't have to get upset at others for not doing it for you.”
I open my mouth to scoff but nothing comes out. Instead, I glare at him until the words come. “I wasn't saying you owe me a life of servitude,” I say. “Maybe just a heads up would have been nice? Like, 'Hey, so, that asshole I just let prance away into the night? Yeah, he wants to kill you and he might gun you down the next time you leave your apartment. Just an FYI. Bye!' How hard would that have been for you?” I slide toward Ambry, motioning for her to let me out of the booth.
“He didn't mean it like that,” Ambry defends her partner and refuses to budge. I clench my teeth at her and let out a frustrated breath.
“And also,” I snap back at the conceited ass in front of me, “You're the one trying to get my personal information 'for protection reasons', are you not? Concerned family friend or apathetic douche bag?” I put my hands over the table and motion like I'm weighing the options on a scale. “Pick one.”
He's watching me with the stern patience of a mother watching her young child throw a tantrum. It makes my blood boil. “I don't know anything about my dad and the Clandestine Services, anyway,” I say. “Ryker's wasting his time.”
He blinks and doesn't speak right away. “Will you give me your address now?” He eventually asks.
I size him up. “Seriously?”
“Would it help if I said 'please'?”
I curl my lip in a flippant sneer. He takes another drink before pulling out a moleskine notebook, opening it to a blank page and sliding it across the oak table. I look at Ambry again to let me out, my patience completely depleted, but she just smiles back.
“I'm trying to help you,” Sebastian says in a gentler tone. “I'm only asking you to jot down your address so we can check in on you every once in a while to make sure you're safe.” He places a ballpoint pen on top of the open notebook, the condescension has been replaced by kindness. It seems so genuine that it's almost not totally obvious that he's trying to manipulate me.
“If you're CIA, shouldn't you be able to get my address from one of Big Brother's huge databases or something?” I say dubiously.
“I'm being courteous by asking you before resorting to other resources.”
I slide the notebook and pen back to him with a curt smile. “Well then, I could tell you where you can stick this pen, but since we're being courteous here, I should refrain.”
He nods, unfazed by my lack of cooperation as he closes the notebook and asks, “Your mother is still in Italy, is she not?” I narrow my eyes. “From working with your father,” he explains, “I gathered she left three or four years ago.”
I glare at him, then at my margarita, contemplating if I should punt Ambry off the bench and flee the scene.
“Who do you live with now?”
I don't look away from the drink. I can feel him watching me.
When I don't respond, he says, “I only ask because it's important that you keep what's happened to you and what we've told you away from your loved ones.”
I look up and raise my eyebrows. “Oh yeah? That's not a sketchy thing to say at all.”
Sebastian hesitates, but Ambry speaks up, “We don't want anyone calling the police.”
To her I ask, “And what exactly is wrong with involving the law?”
“They're small time,” Sebastian explains, giving Ambry a look that might be a warning. “They'd only get in the way of our efforts to deal with the big picture.”
I shake my head with a knowing look. But after my lapse in judgment that led to our last encounter, I guess I can't blame Sebastian for thinking I'm a complete fucking idiot.
We stare each other down briefly, his expression unfathomable and mine skeptical. “The police will know nothing of the real magnitude of the situation,” he says at last. “They won't be able to protect you.”
I look between them, the corner of my mouth twitching upward with my eyebrow. “And you two will?”
Ambry gives a half-smile. “We've done an alright job so far, haven't we?” she asks.
“We'll do our best to get you out of the situation as soon as possible so you can go back to your normal life,” Sebastian says.
He gives me a polite smile and says, “I think we're done here.”
I give him some side-eye and challenge, “Are we?”
“Unless you have more you want to discuss.”
My nostrils flare but I straighten up in my seat and turn to Ambry instead of saying anything that might rope me into a longer conversation with this dick. She finally heeds to my plea, sliding off the bench to let me out.
“Do you want this back?” I offer the fake ID to her after I'm standing.
“Oh no, keep it sweetie. In case you need a drink within the next four years,” she winks and sits back down.
I turn to Sebastian and say, “Don't stalk me.”
“No promises,” he says. The barely audible humor in his tone catches me off guard. I grind my teeth as I walk away.