Banter was putting the finishing touches to her makeup when Corey came in and sat on the edge of the bed.
“Boys in bed?” she said.
“Yeah, we did a slightly different story time tonight.”
“What? No Princess and the farting ogre?”
“No, Kyle and Colo helped me make up a story. We made up the story about the dog who played baseball.”
“I wish I could have heard it.”
“You can. I recorded it.”
“Play it to me tomorrow sometime.”
“You’re really dressing up tonight. Glad to see you’re wearing your locket.”
Since wearing her lockpick wrist wrap, which contained a tracking bug, wasn’t always fitting, Corey had given her a locket to wear around her neck. There was a tracking bug hidden within the locket. Tracking each other had become a normal thing in their relationship since she had been stalked, and someone had tried to kill her.
“I thought I would go a little over the top. Locket fits right in. So, what about a dog for Kyle?”
“I don’t know. I think that’s your area.”
“Mine? Why so?”
“I picked out Ollie. You can do the next one.”
“I think it might be smart to get an older dog. Maybe take Kyle to the pound and have him pick out his own.”
“I would appreciate not having to go through the puppy period again. I’m not fond of stepping in warm puddles.”
“Don’t make me laugh while I’m doing mascara.”
“What if the new dog and Ollie don’t like each other?” he said.
“I wonder if we can bring Ollie and make sure? I’ll investigate it. I’m going to have some time considering this night work,” she said. “There. All done. How do I look?”
“Ravishing. I’d kiss you, but I would probably smear your lipstick.”
She smiled and put on her black gloves.
“No fingerprints tonight?”
“Nope. Goes with the outfit. And my style.”
“You better head out if you have to meet Peter at nine.”
He kissed her on the cheek.
“Walk me to my car,” she said.
“You are taller.”
“Shoes will do that.”
“Be safe,” he said.
He closed her car door for her.
Banter backed out of the garage.
She had posed as someone else before when she had been a gun-for-hire, so this wasn’t something totally new. Even so, she was feeling a little nervous. She hadn’t told Corey, but since she couldn’t carry a gun, she had her pocket whip and razor wire stashed in pockets, and a knife strapped to her thigh. A gun would have made her feel a lot better, but it wasn’t part of the persona.
She pulled into the park and ride to find a red two-door sports car. It was the only car there. Peter was leaning against it.
“Holy cow. You dress up nice,” she said.
His hair was slicked back and braided. He was clean shaven and wearing black dress pants with a silver flashy belt and a short-sleeved purple silk shirt. He had three gold chains around his neck and a big flashy ring on his left middle finger.
“I can say the same for you,” Peter said while he opened the car door for her.
“Where did you steal the car?” she said when he got in.
“Younger brother. He wasn’t too happy to loan it, but he owes me some favors.”
Peter pulled out of the lot and headed back onto the highway.
“Well, what are we going to argue about when we get there?” she said.
“Alcohol always seems to be a good one. We should actually order drinks with alcohol.”
“I don’t drink,” she said.
“Neither do I, but we won’t look so good as a pair of teetotalers at a nightclub. Whatever we argue about, just don’t throw a drink at me. It’s a pain to rinse out of a silk shirt.”
“So what? Rum and coke? I’m not up on drinks.”
“What a way to ruin a soda,” he said, causing her to laugh. “I think ladies are ordering mimosas, which is champagne and orange juice. I’ll do the rum and coke.”
“Okay and what if they don’t have it?”
“Most places do. That place looks like they’re drawing the same crowd that you would find at The Ivy Door.”
“Have you been there? That is the most expensive place.”
She didn’t say she’d been there to follow a target during a hit.
“Yeah, took a girl there. She was very impressed, and both she and the place were way too expensive for me. Never again.”
“Are you the cheap date?”
“No, the sensible one who knows when a girl is out of my salary range.”
When they reached the club area, Peter drove around the block. The area was packed with cars.
“Busy,” she said.
“Friday night. Looks like we’ll have to park a little way off.”
“I don’t mind walking. Gives us a chance to look around.”
Peter found a spot and parked. It was out of view of the club.
“This is where I’ll wait once I leave,” he said. “If anything deviates, I’ll text. Or you text.”
They got out of the car.
“Can I hold your hand?”
Banter looked at him funny.
“I’ve been through the HR harassment training,” he said.
“You have to ask permission to be in character and hold my hand?”
“You have my permission,” she said.
“Excuse the touch,” he said when he took her hand.
Banter put a smile on her face, glancing around as if she was appraising the area, but she was taking in every detail while they strolled to the club entrance. Peter stepped ahead of her when they drew near. It was crowded with both people coming and going, making it so they almost had to move in single file. Many people were also lingering at cars as if they didn’t want to end the evening or were planning their next bar hop. Based on the clothing she saw, they both fit right in.
She noted that the whole area had a totally different atmosphere from the previous night. She could tell that some of the paintball splatters had been cleaned up.
“What’s our conversation topic for the night,” she said in a quiet voice while they waited to be seated.
“Do you bike?”
“Motor or pedal?”
“Either,” he said.
“Neither, I run.”
“Yeah, you look like a runner.”
The waiter showed them to a table. Banter decided they must have arrived during a lull between the earlier and later drinkers since there were a few tables available.
“What may I get you two?”
“Mimosa,” she said.
“Cherries or strawberries?”
“And you, sir?”
“Rum and coke.”
The waiter left.
“At least I can eat the cherries,” she said.
“How long do you think you can get away with the hair?” she said.
“Until I get married, but that depends on the girl. I had one who loved it long. Current one doesn’t mind.”
“Are you a biker?” she said.
“Pedal. I like to do the fifty or more milers.”
“Doesn’t your ass get sore?”
“I don’t think I wanted to know that.”
“You get used to it. The muscles build up and you don’t get sore. It’s great. Find a straight country road and go. No one bothers me. I have a few routes. It helps me keep my sanity. What do you do? To keep your sanity?”
He paused with a light gape of his mouth. She knew that wasn’t the answer he was expecting.
“I mean now,” he said.
“I have Corey and the two boys.”
Their drinks came.
Banter took a sip.
“Not too bad, actually.”
She noted he put his glass to his lips but didn’t drink.
“I can smell that from here,” she said.
“They were generous with the rum.”
She ate a cherry mulling over just when she should start the argument. Peter was looking around.
“No one I know,” he said. “Maybe we can argue about girls. There’s a cute one over… oh, shit.”
A young woman with long bleached-blond hair, wearing a mini skirt and short top stormed up to the table.
“Bastard. You said you were working,” she hissed.
“Lanny…” Peter started to say.
Lanny picked up his drink.
“No, not the shirt...”
She threw the drink in his face, then spun and stormed out.
Peter rose, looking exasperated. He followed Lanny out.
Banter sat there, feeling like she had missed something.
Did this really just happen?
Or did Peter set this up?
She ate another cherry feeling perturbed. Then she thought, this was how she was supposed to feel or at least pretend to feel. Then she had to think what she would do.
She looked around to see if Peter was still in the building but couldn’t tell. However, she also kept an eye out to see if their target was around. She couldn’t see one man’s face since he was turned away from her, but she could tell he was checking himself out in a mirror by the bar. He was impeccably dressed and kept touching his hair as if making sure it was in place. There was some gray in his hair, showing he wasn’t young. She knew this wasn’t the target, but her gut told her to go investigate. She rose, leaving the drinks and wet table.
“Wow,” she said when she approached him.
She moved her hands as if appreciating his suit, but was careful not to touch him.
“That is a nice suit.”
He just glanced at her before returning to examine himself in the mirror.
“You are flashier than I am. Doesn’t do to have a guy who looks nicer than me.”
She shrugged her shoulders as if in defeat. That got a smile out of the man, making his thin handlebar mustache curled up even more. She turned to go, careful not to be too hasty to see if he took the bait.
“What’s your name?” he said.
His voice wasn’t one she recognized. He wasn’t wearing a strong cologne. She inhaled deeply, so she could recognize the one he was wearing should she come across it again.
“Annie,” she said, using a nickname her father called her. “What’s yours?”
“Marcus. What are you doing this evening?”
She noted he was still half checking himself out in the mirror.
“Apparently my date was double dating me and his other girl threw a drink at him. He left.”
“Not nice to do,” he said.
She pretended to pick a piece of lint from his jacket. That made him puff out a bit more like a peacock. He looked pleased at the attention.
“You have a date tonight?” she said.
“I do now.”
Not if you keep staring at the mirror, she thought.
He finally looked satisfied with his appearance and turned toward her.
“What are you drinking?”
“Mimosa,” she said. “With cherries.”
In a smooth move, he put his arm around her waist and directed her toward the bar. She noted as soon as he did a waiter went to her table and cleared it, including wiping up Peter’s drink. In short order, another couple were seated there.
The bartender served up another mimosa. She was a little impressed that he remembered what she had been drinking since Marcus hadn’t said a thing. He was served a clear liquid in a tall glass. She couldn’t tell what it was, nor could she smell what it was. However, he barely took a sip of it before he put it down.
Banter could see that standing at the bar had an advantage point. She could almost see all of the interior of the building. Usually, in a crowd, she would have had a hard time see anything since she was shorter than most. However, very few people were standing at the bar since it wasn’t yet at capacity. Most were seated at tables. However, neither her nose nor her eyes picked out the guy she was looking for.
“So, what do you do?” he said.
She almost didn’t catch the question since she was focused elsewhere.
“Exercise coach,” she said, pulling out of her head the first thing she could think of. “Focus on running and total body wellness.”
That didn’t seem to interest him, but it gave him an excuse to stare down at her chest.
“You have a great body.”
“That’s what I get when I let the guys chase me.”
He chuckled, then took another small sip of his drink. She had the feeling the drink was only there to give him something to do.
“What do you do?” she said, giving him a smile.
“I manage the place,” he said, puffing himself up a little, which was hard to do since he was already poised to strut as a peacock.
“Impressive,” she said. “This is such a nice place. You do well.”
“The place is pulling in good business.”
And bad, she thought.
“You have a card?” she said. “Maybe we can connect when you’re not working.”
He deftly pulled a card from an inner pocket and slid it down the front of her dress. She left it there. He seemed please about that. She didn’t know how to progress, but was glad he seemed preoccupied, both with watching over the waiters and peeking at himself in the mirror. She had all she needed except a visual on her target.
“Excuse me one moment,” he said.
When he left, he slid his arm across her body, ending with his hand sliding across her ass.
Banter kept from rolling her eyes and just smiled. However, as soon as he was gone, she abandoned her drink, thinking three sips was way more than enough. She sashayed once around the room, before heading toward the ladies’ room. However, since it wasn’t too far from the exit, she kept on going and out of the club. She still saw no sign of her target, despite Ray and the undercovers were adamant he was there every night at this time.
She was surprised to find that it was almost eleven-thirty. It felt as if she had hardly been inside that long. She caught a guy staring at her until he got jerked around by the woman he was with. It still surprised her when she caught the attention of a guy. Her hair was dark brown like her eyes, and she was hardly a few inches over five feet: quite the opposite of the stereotypical blonde bombshell that she thought most guys liked.
She glanced down the alley where she had been hiding the night before and was surprised to find that there was now a light above the door. That made her do some thinking while she strolled back toward the car. Something was changed. She was betting the paintball fight had caused the change. The area seemed totally different from the night before.
When she was about three cars away from Peter’s car, she stopped. The car appeared to be moving.
“Bouncing,” she muttered, thinking that was a more accurate description.
She took another step toward the car.
“Don’t tell me,” she said with a little disgust.
She could now see that the windows were steamed. She rolled her eyes and found a dark stoop to sit on to wait. As soon as she sat, she pulled out her phone and sent a text to Peter.
You done yet?
A few moments later she swore she heard giggling emanate from the car. She waited another fifteen minutes before the passenger side door opened and Lanny stepped out. She was pulling down her skirt. Peter stepped out a moment later while fastening his belt. His shirt was loose and still wet from the drink.
The two strolled onto the sidewalk holding hands with smiles on their faces. Peter held out the keys and dropped them into her hands.
“I’ll meet you at the park and ride,” he said while he and Lanny continued to stroll down the street.
Banter looked with some disgust at the keys and then the car.
“A hot steamy car. Just what I wanted to drive.”
She opened the door, somewhat loath to getting into the car.
“At least you were in the passenger seat,” she said, sliding into the driver’s seat and adjusting it.
She started the car and rolled down all the windows.
“Bucket seats and you managed to make out. How?”
She shook her head and drove off. When she hit the highway, the air was clear in the car and she rolled the windows back up.
Her car was the only car at the park and ride. She pulled in beside it to wait. It was another twenty minutes before a white BMW pulled in the lot, and Peter got out.
She handed him the keys.
“You didn’t stage this did you?” she said.
He smiled and shook his head.
She thought he looked a little too contented.
“We’ll talk on Monday,” she said.
He nodded and headed for his car.
Banter slid into her car and headed home. Out of habit, she did the usual checks to make sure she wasn’t followed. She pulled into the garage and waited until the door closed. Banter expected Corey to appear, and she was again halfway to the door of the house when it opened.
“Evening. You’re home early,” Corey said.
He was only in pajama bottoms again.
“Are you watching me?”
“I figured out how to set alerts on the tracking app. I have one on your car that rings and tells me you’re almost home.”
“If I had known you were coming home this early, I would have met you at the door all dressed up, ready to take you out.”
“I would have preferred you meeting me at the door not dressed at all with the intent of getting me out of this costume.”
“The day I do that is the day you won’t be alone and I’ll end up flashing Peter or one of the other undercovers.”
“If I did that, I would warn you.”
“Well, if the lady wants help getting out of that costume, I can oblige,” he said, taking her hand and leading her to their bedroom. “Whose card is that?”
She laughed, forgetting she hadn’t removed it.
“The manager of the club. Quite a dandy.”
She slid the card out and put it on the dresser. Corey helped her take off her jacket and unzipped her dress.
“Who said you can’t get lucky going to the nightclub,” she said.
He chuckled, dragging her into bed.
Banter knew Corey was sleeping deep. However, she couldn’t get to sleep. She wasn’t thinking about a dandy or drug lords. The cooking class was bothering her. She agreed with Corey that she didn’t need to learn how to cook, but it bothered her that she couldn’t make simple dinners. Bea seemed to be able to throw a dinner together like it was nothing and could even deviate from recipes using substitutes as if second nature. Banter wanted to learn how to do that.
“I know I’m going to mess something up,” she muttered.
She had visions of smoke detectors going off and firemen showing up. Or worse yet, someone getting sick from something she made.
“Forget about the firemen. It’ll be EMTs with the stomach pump.”
She settled into an uneasy sleep.