Banter was crammed between a large garbage bin and the building. She was flat on her stomach. She found it impossible to identify the crud she was lying in. There was a heavy odor cooking around her that smelled like the combination of urine and rotting garbage. She had her black hoodie on, pulled low over her face. The temperature was eighty degrees, even though it was almost two am on a Friday. She was sweltering. Sweat kept sliding down the side of her face, irritating her since she couldn’t move to wipe it away. If she dipped her head at all, the salty sweat slid into and stung her eyes, blurring her vision.
She was armed with a paintball gun that was loaded with customized paintballs. The balls contained fluorescent orange paint and her tracking bugs. The undercover group had been after a drug lord for months, but he kept evading them. Banter had offered up one solution. Mark him with a bug and see how far they could track him. She had four shots to work with.
Three undercover officers, disguised as rogue teenagers, had a paintball fight there earlier in the evening to set the scene. The buildings were splattered with different colors including the orange. Even a few cars were hit. The building next to her was a nightclub where the drug lord liked to spend his evenings. She had been told they knew he was there.
It was getting near the time when he left. He had a small limo that drove him around, but whenever the police followed it, it ended up in a garage and the drug lord went missing. Somehow, he was changing cars, and they weren’t catching it.
There was no conversation coming through the earpiece in her ear. However, she swore she could hear one guy breathing. One of the guys out there was watching the front of the building and he was only going to talk to her when he saw their target leaving. She had no visual of the front door and only a partial view of the street where the car would pick him up. There was a narrow window in which to hit her target.
In the shadows across the street or around the building, she knew where the other two undercover officers who were posing as teenagers. They were to create a diversion, allowing her to pull her shot and remain undetected. This was supposed to be simple, but she had a bad feeling about things. The area was a little too quiet. No one had left the nightclub in over an hour which was unusual considering the time. The number of cars in the area were fewer than the other times they had staked out the club. She was wondering if the earlier paintball fight had spooked them.
A creak behind her caused her to hold her breath and listen hard. She suspected it was the door. There was one door on this side of the building. However, the light over the door had no bulb.
“Oil that damn thing next time,” someone said in a whisper.
Banter didn’t recognize the voice.
There were muffled footsteps heading away from her. Based on the different footsteps, she estimated that there were three people. She shifted to look without moving the paintball gun, but the garbage bin blocked her view. Then she felt the waft of cool air that had escaped the building through the door. The air carried a whiff of cologne. It was rather strong. She almost preferred the smell of the garbage.
The undercover watching the front was alerting her. The limo pulled up into view.
A man came out the front door. She also felt the cool air from this door wafting down. Her nose caught the odor of a man who needed a shower. Something didn’t feel right.
“Target out side door,” she said in as quiet of a voice as she could.
The voice was very sure of himself.
Banter rolled her eyes. She wasn’t going to be believed. That irked her. She wished she could pull a shot at her own guy.
She slid through the grime while she moved from behind the dumpster, tucking the gun tight against her so it didn’t bang or catch on anything. She rose and checked down the alley. Her eyes were well accustomed to the dark. There was no one in sight. She trotted soundlessly to the end of the alley to peer around the corner. There was a car, not a limo, picking up their target. She moved as quick as she could, aiming and pulling her shot. The paintball splattered against the man’s suit coat.
“Fucking kids,” he said with a hiss.
He took off his suit coat in haste and threw it to the ground.
Banter risked one more shot, hitting the man in the middle of his back. She then dropped to the ground.
“Arg. Damn it.”
He sounded in pain. She knew paintballs hurt, especially since all that was between his skin and the paintball was his thin silk shirt. He was going to have a nasty red welt.
There were two bangs of gunfire and bullets whizzed over her head. She knew they didn’t know where she was, and that the shots were merely their attempt to scare off the paintball shooters.
The target cursed while he got into the backseat of the car. She noted he didn’t even care that he left his suit coat behind. The car drove off while two of his lackeys headed in her direction.
“Need a little help back here,” she said in a whisper, hoping the gunfire spurred the two guys to move ahead of her asking.
The two lackeys, still unaware of her on the ground, were almost upon her when two paintballs splattered on the wall across from her. The men swerved toward the direction of the shots then ran down the alley. Banter rose when they left, trotting behind them. Two more paintball splatters directed the men to turn one way. When she reached the end of the block, she turned the other way.
Banter jogged for three blocks with the paintball gun hidden as much as she could under her sweatshirt. She was feeling really hot and sweaty now. A car pulled up to her. She slid into the back and sprawled along the seat to stay out of sight. The car drove off slowly.
“What happened back there?” Peter said.
He was a young-looking guy who had played one of the rogue teenagers. Banter thought he looked like he was still in high school, but he was already a six-year veteran of the police force.
“The target suspected something. He left through a side door.”
“Our guy saw him come out the front.”
“I remember our target wears a strong cologne. That should be part of his profile.”
“Never smelled it.”
“You have been working in garbage too long.”
“On this gig, I have.”
“I think he is sending a decoy out the front which might be why you guys aren’t seeing him when you follow him. You might be following the wrong target. This time he’s tagged.”
“Good,” Peter said.
Banter almost fell asleep while he drove. He was a smooth driver, taking corners gradually and stopping slow. She knew he was taking the long way around to a not so good neighborhood where everyone kept to themselves and didn’t ask questions.
He pulled into the garage of a vacant house and turned off the car. She rose, leaving the paint gun. There was another car in the two-car garage. She got into the passenger seat. Peter slid into the driver’s seat. She took off her hoodie, rolling it up, while he pulled out of the garage, aiming for the middle of the city.
“Go through the drive-thru. I need a soda,” she said, fanning herself.
There was no air conditioning in the car. She thought about complaining about the beater cars the police force used, but figured due to their budget that her complaints would fall on deaf ears.
Peter, despite sweating profusely, seemed to ignore the heat. His long brown hair was plastered against him. He had more than just a five o’clock shadow.
They cruised through an all-night fast-food place. They both ordered sodas. They both kept an eye out for anyone who might have tracked them.
“I like working with you,” Peter said.
He was sucking his soda down fast.
“You just like soda,” she said, sipping hers at a more leisurely pace.
“Yeah and the fact you like to get soda,” he said. “And you don’t sit there and chatter.”
Banter glanced at him. Peter was an unusual officer. He didn’t like to talk too much which was fine with her. She didn’t like to talk either, and they both fell into a comfortable silence while he drove around the city. He finally ending up parking a few blocks from the police station. Peter got out and went one way. Banter got out and went another. Within a short time, they converged in Ray’s office. He was the Director of Undercover Ops.
Ray was looking very pleased. He was dressed casually in jeans and a t-shirt. Banter rarely saw him out of his suit and tie. He didn’t look so official.
“We got him. Followed him to a building where we suspect they’re making meth and receiving shipments of drugs.”
Banter sipped her soda and wrinkled her nose. Even though she had removed her black hoodie and had rolled it up, she could still smell it. It stank. Or maybe it was her gloves, which she still had on.
“Now we have some places to watch and get evidence,” Ray said.
“Are we finished here?” she said, giving her gloves a quick sniff. “The stink is getting to me.”
“I don’t smell a thing,” Peter said.
Ray also shook his head.
“You guys need to have your sniffers checked,” she said.
“We’re done here,” Ray said. “We’ll meet in the morning. Have a good night.”
“You mean have a good morning,” she said.
She knew Ray would ignore her shot at semantics and didn’t wait for any retort while she left his office. Ray’s office was on the sixth floor. She had a long walk down since she didn’t like taking the elevator. At the door to the parking garage, she paused before stepping out in high alert. She panned the area carefully while she headed for her car. The area, however, was deserted and quiet.
She drove home with her usual vigilance to make sure there was no tails. It was close to four in the morning when she hit the garage door opener and pulled in. She waited until the garage door closed before she stepped out of her car.
The door to the house opened before she got to it.
“Morning,” Corey said.
He was wearing only pajama bottoms.
“Waiting up for me?”
“I checked on you when I woke to go to the bathroom. Saw you were heading home.”
“I keep forgetting that my car still has that tracking bug we put on it earlier this year,” she said.
“Boy, you stink.”
“You noticed. All the guys in the office have bad sniffers.”
“Yeah, we tagged our target, and they can now follow him to collect evidence until he changes clothes. Hopefully, he reveals enough secrets that they can follow him without the bug.”
“Shooting him with a real gun would have been quicker,” she said.
“Hey, there, sweetheart. You are on the side of the law now,” Corey said.
“I’m just saying,” she said, tossing her sweatshirt into the washer.
She finally took her gloves off and tossed them in as well.
“I’ll give you a hug and a kiss after you shower,” he said, putting up a hand as if warding her off.
Banter smiled, holding in a chuckle.
“Very wise, my dear man.”
She stripped off the rest of her clothes in the laundry room, throwing them in the washer and starting the load. With how deep the boys slept, she knew the washing machine wouldn’t wake them. She headed to their bedroom and the master bath to take a shower.
“You need tomato juice to cut the smell?” Corey said.
She laughed while she turned on the shower.
“That’s for a skunk. I was just in garbage.”
“I’m just saying,” he said mimicking her.
Banter took a few extra minutes to just stand in the warm water. She was tired, but felt the need to take some extra time to breathe steam to get the stink out of her nose. For a moment, she thought about staying like that until the hot water ran out until she remembered they had a special heater that provided constant hot water on demand.
With a sigh, she turned off the water and stepped out to drip all over the bathmat while she toweled dry. She left her hair wrapped in a towel until she brushed her teeth. She flung the towel over the shower rod.
She grabbed both her night shirt and her wedding ring when she stepped out of the bathroom. The ring was always left on the dresser when she had to go out in the field.
Corey was already back in bed. She slid in next to him.
“I love when you have damp hair. It always smells so fresh,” he said when he snuggled up to her.
“It’s getting long, too.”
She knew it wouldn’t be long before he was back to sleep. Usually, his even breathing put her to sleep. However, tonight, her mind was still working, thinking back over what had happened tonight.
“Oil that damn thing next time.”
Those words bothered her. Partially because they were spoken by someone she’d never heard before.
Damn, she thought. Were the police following the wrong target in the limo, and the real drug lord was sneaking out the side? And she had caught it?
She had only just become part of the undercover group. This drug lord had been a target of the group for some months now, but they were getting nowhere. Ray had brought her in on the team to provide a new look at what they were doing and to perhaps, provide some insight. Banter felt like they were trying too hard in setting up things: like the paintball fight. To her that was a warning that something was up and explained why things didn’t go as usual that night.
“What?” Corey said beside her in a sleepy voice.
“Sorry. Am I fidgeting?”
“You’re mumbling. What’s up?”
“Something didn’t feel right tonight.”
“Your gut is usually right.” He paused. “Unless you’re cooking.”
“Oh… how was dinner? That bad?”
“Your slow cooker masterpiece was a hockey puck by the time the boys and I got home. We ordered pizza.”
“Damn. What did I do wrong this time?”
“I would say not enough liquid in with the meat. Or too high of heat. Or too long. Or all of the above.”
“I followed the recipe and cooking instructions exactly.”
She knew there was exasperation in her voice.
Bea was their nanny and a great cook.
“I should be able to follow a recipe for that one time Bea needs off.”
“One would think so,” he said.
“Maybe,” he said, snuggling closer to her, “you should try a cooking class. Recipes are just the ingredients and some direction on how to put it together. Maybe there are things people assume you already should know. Maybe a class will give you that information.”
“Ray and the boys need a few classes on tracking and profiling.”
She knew she was sidetracking the conversation.
“That’s your forte. Show ’em your stuff.”
She mulled over his suggestion.
“When do I have time for a cooking class?”
“Saturday mornings. I’ll watch the boys.”
Banter churned this thought in her head for a few moments.
“You already looked up a class, didn’t you?”
“Ten am. The class starts this Saturday. There’s a cooking school a couple of miles from your old apartment.”
She sighed, letting out a little of her exasperation.
“Banter, I don’t care if you can cook or not. We have Bea, Chinese takeout, and pizza. You do make a killer peanut butter and jelly sandwich. We’ll survive. I think I can look past that and still love you.”
She chuckled at his sarcasm.
“Your sweet talking needs a little work there, dear man.”
She felt him smile into her hair.
“I’m only suggesting since it seems important to you. You don’t have to go if you don’t want to.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Besides, consider it time for yourself.”
“And you can eat what you make.”
“Is that a threat?”
Corey chuckled, shaking the bed.
“Go to sleep, Banter.”
Banter smiled at herself. Maybe a cooking class was all she needed.
Corey’s even breathing finally put her to sleep, but her sleep was short. The alarm went off an hour later.
“You stay in bed. I’ll set your alarm,” Corey said to her.
It felt like a few moments later that her phone alarm went off again. It was nine am. She had a ten am meeting with everyone about what happened last night. She rose and dressed.
“I love that man,” she said when she found a soda and a hard-boiled egg waiting for her in the fridge.
She was done with her egg when she realized the house was quiet.
“Where are the boys? And the dog?”
She texted Bea.
Where are boys? Dog?
We’re off on adventure. All is good.
Banter wondered what that was about. Since school was out, finding things to occupy the boys was getting to be a challenge, especially now that she was working.
She headed out to her car. Corey was still using his cruiser to commute to work, which left the SUV and her car. However, they were letting Bea use the SUV to drive the boys around since it was larger. Bea’s car was parked in front of the house.
Banter backed her car out and closed the garage door. When she reached the parking garage at the police station, she had to drive up to the second level. Coming mid-morning meant she wasn’t going to get a spot on the first level despite a large section was reserved for police use only.
She flashed her key card to enter the building, then walked up the stairs to the sixth floor. The noise level was high and there was a chaotic group gathered. She could tell based on how they were geared that they were heading out to do a raid. One nice thing about druggies was that they slept in late. It was easy to catch them mid-morning before they were fully awake.
Ray wasn’t in his office, and she didn’t see the other members of her group. She found an empty chair away from the action and sat. It wasn’t long before the group left and the area quieted. Banter closed her eyes and almost felt as if she could fall asleep.
“Can I help you?”