Tank had already been gone an hour
by the time I emerged from a fitful sleep the next morning. I’d been plagued
all night by dreams of a million different scenarios of how I could be exposed
and how the Rangemen would react. None of them were all that pleasant, and one
even involved a medical procedure that saw me laying buck naked on one of
Bobby’s examination tables while a handful of men gathered to gawk at me.
Needless to say, I yawned my way through my shower and breakfast, and managed to poke myself in the eye twice with the eyeliner pencil as I drew on what I’d realised was the equivalent of half a mask, the other half being the glasses Tank had insisted on. Between that, my contact lenses and the red hair pluming around my face, I felt like I was hiding in plain sight. Despite my tired state, the fine lines of my eyeliner turned out much better than they had the previous day. It just goes to show that practice makes perfect. Not that it was anywhere near perfect yet, but it was a major improvement on what I’d managed in the plane. And I was happy with the way it turned out.
Dressed in a dark grey pants suit with a pale pink blouse, I made my way out the back door, being sure to pet Geraldine goodbye as I passed her, and down to my rental where I’d parked in the ally the previous evening. Tank hadn’t given any specific instructions regarding my parking, but I figured it was best if I didn’t announce my presence by leaving it in the driveway. Tank may not live in the Burg, but people were still bound to talk. And what if one of the men drove by during the night and saw it parked there? I had no doubt that they had all committed every minor detail of the car – especially the license plate – to memory with just one cursory glance in the garage.
The last thing I needed was Tank being accused of sleeping with Rangeman’s newest recruit, whom also happened to be the only female employee apart from Ella. Not only would it mar his reputation, it would cast me as a slut. And that was something I definitely wanted to avoid. The back ally hosted less traffic, so as far as I was concerned, it was the safest bet.
I drove the fifteen minutes to Haywood and waved to the camera so that the men on monitor duty would let me into the garage. Tank said that I’d probably be able to pick up my security pass and key fob sometime this afternoon, but until then I was at the mercy of the monitor guys. Lucky for me I’d most likely be staying in the building today.
Unbuckling my seatbelt, I checked my reflection in the rear view mirror, touched up my subtle pink lipstick and slid from the vehicle. As I adjusted my shirt and jacket, I wished that I could have added another layer of mascara, but such actions were a dead give-away that I was who I really am. Kit Danger didn’t need to rely on a flimsy barrier of coated lashes. Kit Danger had confidence up the wazoo. Kit Danger was fearless.
When I reached my cubicle – the same cubicle I’d occasionally occupied in my previous life as an unskilled, fairly useless bounty hunter – there was a suitbag hanging from the partition wall and a neatly folded pile of clothes next to the keyboard on the desk. On top was a hand written note.
Let me know if you require anything else – Ella.
It appeared Ella had covered all the bases, including gym wear, corporate wear, and day to day wear. It was, of course, predominantly black, the only pop of colour of my hair. How did she manage that?
I set the clothing and note aside, still pondering Ella’s skill, and powered up my computer, logging into the company email account that had been assigned to me. There were two items in my inbox. The first was Tank, acknowledging that he had received my proposal. The second appeared to be my schedule for the day: An hour in the gun range with Cal at nine-thirty. Two hours with Lester in the gym – gee, that was going to be fun. A meeting with Tank after lunch, and at some point today, I was required to catch up with Bobby so he could obtain an up to date medical history. I should have studied the notes Tank had provided on Kit’s life background, I realised, just in case I was asked questions that I couldn’t give the truthful answer to if I wanted to maintain my cover.
Too late now, I’d have to wing it and hop for the best.
In the absence of anything else to do, I spent fifteen minutes sifting through the contents of my desk drawers, familiarising myself with the location of standard office equipment I would no doubt be needing in the near future. Knowing where everything is kept is the first step toward efficiency. If I could maintain a level of efficiency within my cubicle, maybe it would spread to the rest of my life. Like my handbag, perhaps.
Once I had my desk organised, I made my way toward the elevator. I slowed my approach as I neared the metal doors, trying to adopt an uncertain body language and expression. The task wasn’t nearly as difficult as I had perceived since even if I didn’t manage it deliberately, I was uncertain enough about my acting abilities that it must have come across in the way I held myself.
Next thing I knew, Cal was beside me, a hand on my elbow as he gestured to the elevator. “Going down?” he asked in a rather gentlemanly manner. His attitude toward Kit-me, as I had suddenly started referring to myself, while at the complete opposite end of the spectrum to Lester’s, was just as shocking.
My memories of Cal weren’t as plentiful as those I held of other Rangemen, but they were clear enough that the man that currently stood beside me threw me off balance. Pre-Mexico Cal was large, intimidating, silent, imposing, hardened, bald, and a whole host of other adjectives, all of which I was struggling to reconcile with this floppy haired, personable man.
“I can’t quite remember,” I admitted, which, of course was a lie, but I had to act like I’d never been in this building before yesterday. A normal person would struggle to retain all the information that had been shoved into my head yesterday. It was natural for a newbie to be lost. “What floor is the gun range on?”
“It’s in the basement,” he informed me easily. “Just stick with me. We don’t want you wandering the halls like a little lost lamb.”
“Thanks,” I said as he removed his hand from my arm. I hadn’t realised until my shoulders relaxed after his hand was gone, but I’d gone stock still the moment he made contact. Surely he had noticed something like that. Forcing a smile as I hit the call button, I said, “It’s... um... Cal, isn’t it?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” he confirmed.
“Please, it’s Kit. Ma’am makes me feel old.”
He simply nodded, stepping into the open elevator. I followed him in and we rode down in silence, Cal staring at the mirrored door with a mind that was probably as zen as a bonsai garden. I, on the other hand, was staring at his obscured forehead tattoo with a million and one questions running through my head. It was only by a great internal effort that I managed to not spill any of them.
When we entered the – empty – gun range, Cal turned to face me, an appraising look in his eye.
“You ever fired a gun before?” he asked, watching my face intently.
Several times, I thought. I once shot a man dead. Probably not the type of thing a community aide worker would admit to, so instead I settled for, “Once or twice.”
“Ever been on a gun range?”
The last time I was on a gun range, Ranger was showing me how to use my very first gun. Probably, I should have scheduled in a few follow up sessions to ensure the safety of myself and others, but it just wasn’t something that tickled my fancy. I didn’t like guns back then. Still didn’t. Voluntarily going to a range and practicing a skill that was used to injure and kill others had never been on my to-do list. In fact, it was a big, fat to-don’t.
“I’ll take that grimace as a no,” Cal said, reminding me that I hadn’t answered his question. “No matter, we’ll start at the very beginning.”
“That’s a very good place to start,” I agreed.
And that is exactly what we did for the next hour and half. From basic gun range rules and etiquette to how to load, aim, and fire the guns Cal retrieved from the back room. He made me try several different models to get a feel for them, and once I was finished shooting paper people to buggery, he packed each one away carefully while I slipped my jacket back on. I thought I did alright for not having even held a gun in the last six years, but then I was never very good at it to begin with, so Cal probably had an entirely different opinion.
As I watched him slide the guns into padded cases and set them on the end of the table at the edge of the room, I felt the curiosity I’d been suppressing creep up and grab hold of me. I had to know about the hair soon or I’d go insane.
“Can I ask you something,” I asked quietly.
“You mean another something?” he countered with a raised eyebrow.
“Yes,” I said. “It’s about your ink... and your hair.”
Cal straightened from his task and met my gaze, but said nothing to discourage me from the questions I had. A lesser woman probably would have taken the mere eye contact as discouragement, but I was the fearless Kit Danger. I could do anything.
“Why would you cover up your tattoo with your hair? What’s the point?”
He held my gaze with an intense stare, like he was challenging me. “Why do women insist on wearing make up?” he asked, rather than answer my question.
“It makes us feel pretty and more confident,” I said with a shrug.
“It hides flaws and things you view as flaws. You could look like an ugly hag under all that paint and pigment and I would never know, because you will always wear makeup.”
I narrowed my eyes at him, propping my hands on my hips. “When did this become about my make up habits?”
“When I changed the topic.”
“It was a simply question,” I pointed out. “If you didn’t want to answer you could have just said so, I’d have under-.”
“Do you know what it’s like to have people stare at you wherever you go?” Cal asked, looking away, like he couldn’t bear the judgements he might see in my eyes.
“I have an idea,” I informed him, thinking back to first year and a half in Mexico. It was as if they’d never seen a blue eyed woman before, which was ridiculous, considering the amount of other blue eyed women I encountered while there. No matter where I was or what I was doing, men would stare, mesmerised by the colour of my eyes. I was constantly approached by men looking to date me, or at least get to know me a little better, anything to have me look upon them with my blue eyes. It was creepy, and annoying. I wasn’t interested in a relationship. I just wanted to be left alone.
Eventually, I had found a solution to my problem in the form of coloured contacts. It had been a toss-up between typical-brown and could-take-on-a-little-of-surrounding-hues-grey, but I’d finally settled on the grey, thinking that staring into brown eyes in the mirror, after an eternity of light and bright blue ones staring back at me would be almost like staring into the black eyes of a vampire from horror stories I told my parents I didn’t read when I was twelve.
So yes, I knew how it felt to be ogled. I couldn’t tell Cal how I knew without revealing my true identity – or at the very least the fact that I wore coloured contacts – but I knew how he felt.
“You grew your hair to try and make your tat less obvious?” I guessed.
His lips twitched. “That might have been a subconscious reason, but truth is, my razor broke a couple years back during a time when I was much too busy to replace it, and I realised that once it got past the scratchy-spiky part of growth it wasn’t so bad.”
“You’re joking, right?” I said, unsure whether he was spinning a tale or telling the truth. It still didn’t answer my question as to why he would allow his hair to cover up his tattoo. What’s the point in having a tattoo that’s constantly obscured from sight? Unfortunately, I would have to interrogate him more on the topic another time, because at that moment the outer door opened and Lester Santos stepped through.
“You’re late for an appointment,” he informed me. “Not a great way to start off your time here.”