“Four dogs. Four kids. The backyard is a disaster area. This is the life,” Corey said.
He was sitting in a lounge chair with his feet up. The table by him had a glass of iced tea.
Banter was sitting on top of the picnic table.
“I don’t think the new toy box is going to be big enough,” she said. “We probably need a shed.”
There was one big box beside a pile of parts. The four kids were figuring out how to put the new toy box together by reading the directions.
“Part A slides into Part C,” Colo said.
“A shed would be nice. I could put the lawn mower in there instead of squeezing it into the garage,” Corey said.
All the dogs were panting and laying wherever they could.
The boys managed to get three of the fours sides together. Banter thought one of the boys looked rather impressed that they were putting it together without an adult telling them what to do.
Her phone buzzed. She checked it and frowned.
“What’s up?” Corey said.
She shifted around to face him.
“I just received a notice from the job board.”
She accepted the job.
“A meeting request for Wednesday.”
She chose to use the word meeting instead of hit because of the kids.
“They better figure out how to track you,” he said.
She had already told Corey what was developing.
“Tell me about it,” she said with a sigh.
It worried her the rest of the weekend. She was glad that Corey didn’t bring it up any further that day. He waited until Monday morning.
“You tossed and turned all night,” he said.
“I never fretted over a hit like I do now.”
“Because it’s more than a hit,” he said.
“I know. I have all the rules of being legal. I have a team to consider. So much to think about. It’s a bigger game with a hell of a lot more rules. Just doing a hit was so much simpler.”
“I know you can do it,” he said, giving her a hug and a kiss.
Banter wished she had his confidence. She watched him leave for work, then headed back into the house. She wasn’t looking forward to the day.
When she did head in for work, she jogged the whole way up to the to sixth floor. She had some nervous energy to expend and was ready for action, but no one appeared after she opened her office.
“I expected all you guys to show up first thing.”
It was mid-morning before Peter arrived.
“Morning,” he said.
“I have to meet up with the drug lord again on Wednesday,” she said.
“Are we getting some of Gary’s time?”
“Yeah. He’ll be here shortly. Everyone else should be here soon, too.”
Bert arrived. He had large aerial printouts of the city.
“Birdseye view,” he said.
“You know you can look at these online.”
“We already had these printouts.”
“Last time I looked at maps like this I was looking for helicopter pads,” she said.
“Now it’s loading docks. I’ve marked a few areas that have loading docks, but none of them are just four docks like you mentioned,” Bert said.
Jose arrived with his laptop. Seconds behind him came Mark. Then a tall and stringy older man arrived.
“This is Gary,” Bert said, making the introductions.
“Heard of you, Banter,” Gary said. “What’s up?”
“We need to find four loading docks within walking distance of this point,” Bert said, spreading out a map.
Gary leaned over the aerials.
“Need a soda, Banter?” Peter said.
He rose and left.
Jose worked on his laptop. Mark was working on his phone. Bert was looking at the aerials with Gary. Banter watched them for a moment before turning back to her own laptop to sort through her emails.
“Right there,” Gary said ten minutes later.
“Right there what?” she said, not believing he found it that fast.
“Your loading docks are right here.”
She swore he was pointing at the roof top of a building.
Peter came in and put a soda on her desk for her.
“He found it already,” Banter said.
“Right there,” Gary said.
“That’s a roof top.”
“Look at all that greenery,” Gary said.
“Most of the buildings have greenery. Rooftop gardens,” Peter said.
Banter looked closely.
“Why do you say that?” she said.
She opened the soda can and sipped.
“Too much greenery. Right to the edges and beyond where the roof top should be. There’s no roof there. Your loading docks are beneath it.”
Banter had to stare hard, comparing the other roof tops with the one Gary had pointed at.
“Shit,” she said, thinking she could finally make out what he was talking about.
In a moment, her eyes saw it as if resolving a visual illusion. The area now stood out. She looked away and back again. Her eyes now immediately picked out the area.
“You can see it?” Peter said.
“Yeah. All the other roof tops have distinct edges. This row here is blurred.
She stepped back and Peter leaned in. He stared for a full fifteen minutes.
“So damn subtle,” he said. “Hard to believe.”
“We’ll have to verify,” Bert said. “I think I can get the weather helicopter to fly over. Thanks, Gary. If we need your eyes again, we’ll find you.”
“Sure. That was easy.”
“That was too easy,” Banter said, feeling a little doubt.
“Peter, let’s go check.”
Bert and Peter left her office.
“Seems too convenient,” Mark said.
“Nobody can camouflage an entire block,” Jose said.
“How did Ray handle the raid that didn’t happen?”
“At the moment, he doesn’t know,” Jose said.
“No one has reported to him. I figure he’ll be storming through pretty soon. He is in a meeting. A meeting that Bert was supposed to have been in.”
“There are going to be fireworks.”
“I think I have some work to do,” Jose said, rising and taking his laptop.
“Yeah, it might be wise to disappear.”
He also rose and left.
“Great,” she said. “Leave me in the line of fire.”
Her phone dinged. It was a text from Corey.
Dinner guests tonight. I let Bea know that we are having two more for dinner. Jed and Jean.
Banter took a deep breath.
“Drug lords to the left of me. Couple counseling to the right.”
Ray walked past her office to his. He didn’t look happy.
“And a pissed off boss in front of me.”
Banter almost counted to ten.
“Where’s Peter? Where’s Bert and Mark? Have you seen Jose?” Ray said, stepping into her office with purpose.
“Not in here,” she said.
“Find them. We need to meet.”
Banter watched him head toward Peter’s office.
“He’s out with Bert,” she said, knowing Ray wouldn’t hear her.
She was betting Jose and Mark were nowhere to be found. Ray stormed past a few minutes later. Banter went back to her emails. She figured things would all come together once Bert and Peter were back verifying what Gary had said.
She didn’t have to wait long. With her soda finished, she headed to the restroom. On her way back, she could see Bert in Ray’s office. Peter was sitting in her office.
“You have a problem,” she said.
“No. Is that your second large soda of the day?”
“It’s a bad day.”
“What did you see?”
“Nothing. The weather guys obliged and did a fly over. They took pictures. Bert and I did a drive by of the building. It’s a building. There is no camouflage. No loading docks. I can understand what Gary was probably seeing, though.”
The weather guys pics showed lots of plant hanging off the building. That would explain why our aerials looked fuzzy and the building outline not so distinct.”
“But that’s in the area where they lost me,” she said. “There has to be a loading dock somewhere there.”
“Maybe they were blocking your bug before you got out of the van.”
“If that’s so then they are a lot more sophisticated then we think.”
“I’m thinking they have raised the bar on sophistication.”
Bert stepped in.
“Ray’s office. Now, please.”
Ray looked pissed. Banter expected him to do some ranting and raving, but he didn’t.
“Explain to me what’s happening,” he said.
Ray was looking at Bert, but Bert looked over at Banter.
“Your stage,” Bert said.
“This is what we have,” Banter said.
She explained the evidence showing the club was a front to occupy the police.
“Instead of a raid, I went in as a gun-for-hire last Thursday pretending to look for work.”
She explained what happened that night and on Friday.
“If you check with the guys who monitor the job board, if they still do that, they will have noticed a hit for Mr. Peanut. That’s code for me to meet with the drug lord.”
Ray stared at her for a good five minutes.
“If we can’t track you, what good is all this?”
“We thought maybe the area was camouflaged,” Bert said, and he explained bringing in Gary. “But what we think is happening is that her bug is being blocked earlier than where she was dropped off.”
“We know what direction I was heading,” she said. “We need to look further down the road. How far can the van go in ten or fifteen more minutes?”
“That’s where we currently are,” Bert said to Ray. “We need to figure this out before Banter goes out again on Wednesday.”
“You have evidence that the club is a fake?”
Banter almost rolled her eyes that Ray had gone back to that.
“Let me show you some videos,” she said.
She left and got her laptop. They all sat in Ray’s office showing and explaining to him. It was an hour and a half before he had to agree with them.
“Shit,” Ray said.
Banter felt her phone buzz. It was Corey checking about lunch.
“I’m going to lunch,” she said, rising. “When I get back, we can brainstorm what we’re going to do.”
She hurried out before anyone could say anything. Corey was waiting for her on the landing when she stepped out.
“How has your morning been going?” he said while they trotted down the stairs.
“Intense. How’s your new office?”
“Nice. It’s that conference room where I was when my office was blown up.”
“Does it still have the big table?”
“Yes. They managed to squeeze in the desk. They had to shift the table down a little.”
“So we’re doing couples therapy tonight?”
“Yes, something like that.”
“What’s for lunch?”
“Deli. Fast lunch today,” he said.
Once they stepped out of the stairwell, there were too many people around to talk work. Banter was glad for that. There was too much to think about. She was even glad that lunch was fast.
“We’re going to stay in shape walking this many flights of stairs,” she said on their way back.
“I need it,” he said.
Banter saw no one when she returned to her office. She figured they all must have gone out for lunch. Her emails had stacked up now that more and more people were looking to her for help.
Peter stepped in. He had another soda. She could tell because it looked to be from a different fast-food place.
“You do have a problem,” she said.
“Well? How do we track me?”
“The only thing I can think of is to tail you.”
“They’ll notice. Where are those maps? Have we figured out where I would be if the van traveled another ten or fifteen minutes?”
“Well…if the van is traveling at forty mph, which is the speed limit on that road, then you are traveling about 59 feet per second, more or less.”
“Did you just figure that out?”
“I’m good with numbers,” he said. “Okay, ten minutes is six hundred seconds, fifty-two hundred and eighty feet per mile that’s about six and a half or so miles.”
“Shit. That’s further than I thought.”
Banter brought up aerial photos on her computer.
“Six and a half miles farther is a park. So we’re looking at six and a half miles, not necessarily straight ahead since they could have turned. There were lots of turns.”
“That’s a lot of acreage.”
“And that’s just for an additional ten minutes of travel time.”
Bert stepped in.
“We’re regrouping in ten,” he said.
“Ten is a bad number,” she said.
He looked quizzical.
“Ten more minutes of travel in the van going forty mph is six and a half miles.”
“Damn,” Bert said.
“And not necessarily going straight.”
“Which changes the numbers altogether,” Peter said.
“Add in the fact that we don’t know how fast the van was really going or how many turns it did and if it was indeed ten minutes or fifteen or three,” she said.
“Bingo,” Peter said.
He sipped his soda, looking deep in thought.
Bert shook his head.
“We’ll converge in here. Ray is off to more meetings.”
“I need my laptop,” Peter said.
He left his soda on the table and headed to his office.
Banter toyed with the idea of stealing his soda, but thought better of it. Instead, she trotted up to the seventh floor.
“Hi, Nessa. Where’s the fridge?”
Nessa laughed and got out a soda for her.
“Nice. Lots of room up here,” she said, taking the soda.
“Going to be busy as hell,” Nessa said.
“Same on sixth. Enjoy.”
When Banter returned to her office, everyone was there.
“We’ve drawn a circle around the point where we lost you. Ten miles,” Bert said.
“There’s that number ten,” she said.
“We’ll mark every known loading dock.”
Banter noted the ten miles circle almost included the club.
“They did circle back around,” she said.
No one said anything.
She checked the aerials around the club and out a few miles, but there were no loading docks.
“Well, it’s almost four. I have to head home,” she said.
“Damn, I have other stuff to do,” Jose said, rising and leaving.
In minutes her office was empty. She shut and locked her door. Ray wasn’t in his office.
“We have no loading docks. We have no way to track me.”
She wasn’t feeling good about things. Her brain was totally focused on the drug lord issue until she drove up the street and into the driveway. Her focus suddenly changed. The front yard looked like a dog agility course.
“What’s all this stuff doing in the front yard?”
“We ran out of room in the back,” Colo said.
“You need to see the backyard,” Bea said with a warning raise of her eyebrows.
Banter felt some irritation flow through her. The boys, however, looked excited.
“Mom. Mom. Can we show you how it works?” Kyle said.
She took a deep breath.
Corey’s cruiser pulled up into the driveway.
“Is this like Kyle jumping on the bed? You embrace it?” she said when Corey joined her to look at the front yard.
“Yes,” he said with a smile.
“Let’s go see,” he said.
Banter followed as the boys showed them the course. It was elaborate with good use of the cones and the agility course items. A few of the kitchen chairs had been used as well.
“We’re having dinner guests. We’ll need those back in the kitchen,” Banter said.
While the boys brought in the chairs, Corey changed. Banter removed her gun and holster, putting it in the gun safe.
“They said they would be here about five,” Corey said. “Jed is taking some time off of work.”
“So what do we talk about?”
“Life,” he said.
She followed him out. The boys were setting the table for six.
“Casserole is in the oven. Bowls of fruit in the fridge with salad,” Bea said.
Banter walked her out.
“See you tomorrow.”
Bea had just pulled away when another car pulled into the drive way.
“Corey,” she said, calling back into the house.
He came out.
“Jed. Jean. This is Banter.”
“Hi, Banter. I’ve heard a lot about you,” Jed said.
Banter figured he was a few years younger than Corey. His wife was the woman who had given Corey a hug. She looked even younger, sporting a fashionable top and Capri pants. Her nails were done and she reminded Banter of Corey’s last wife.
“Is Banter your real name?” Jean said.
“No. It’s a nickname. Katrina is my real name, but no one calls me that.”
Colo and Kyle came out.
“This is Colo and Kyle. And this is their dog agility course.”
Ollie, as usual, was right beside Colo. Patsy come out only as far as the porch and sat.
“This is Ollie and that’s Patsy,” Corey said. “Go ahead and show them, Colo.”
“It starts in the backyard.”
“You leave this up all night?” Jean said.
“No,” Banter said. “They just did this today. It will be taken down before they go to bed. One of the rules of dogs. You always clean up after them.”
“Mason wants a dog,” Jed said.
Banter executed a hand signal for Patsy to heel.
Colo and Kyle led them through the course.
“Quite elaborate,” Jean said.
“Ollie is well trained,” Jed said.
“If you get a dog, send both the dog and Mason to training,” Corey said. “I didn’t have to do that. I had Banter. She trained both the dogs and the boys.”
“Actually,” Banter said, “You should all go to training. Training a dog is more than just teaching it commands or hand signals. You need to know how to give those commands and what to do when you get a refusal. Ollie rarely refuses, but Patsy does. She knows what she can and can’t do. Agility courses aren’t her thing, but give her a trail to sniff and she is off running.”
“I hear they have good noses,” Jed said.
“Does the police force have sniffing dogs? I know we have the K-9 unit, but I’ve never seen a bloodhound.”
“No, we usually hire out for a sniffing dog. There is an organization that trains and leases out dogs.”
“Good to know.”
They ended in the house and sat for dinner.
Banter was pleased that both dogs ran upstairs.