“Where you going?” Kyle said.
“I don’t know how to cook and want to learn.”
“So, I don’t poison you,” Banter said with big eyes.
They were at the kitchen table finishing breakfast. Corey had cooked bacon and eggs. Colo was upstairs getting his phone.
“Where are you going?” she said to Kyle.
“Firing range with Dad,” Kyle said, toying with his kiddie holster.
He used it to carry his phone. Both boys had phones that were supposed to be used for emergencies or for texting her, Corey, or his parents.
Kyle giggled and rolled his eyes.
Colo joined them.
“Boy, Ollie is still tired. He’s sleeping on my bed.”
“We need two more dogs,” Kyle said.
“We haven’t even agreed on one more dog,” Corey said.
“But Dad,” Kyle said, flailing both hands.
“You’re whining. You know what happens when you whine.”
“Yeah, I get nothing,” Kyle said with a big sigh.
“Are we using big guns today?” Colo said.
Both boys had gone through the gun safety class. Their certificates of completions were stuck on the fridge along with their targets to display how well they had done.
“The usual nine-millimeter,” Corey said.
“I found a book on guns,” Colo said. “There are some pretty big guns out there.”
“And I’m reading it, too,” Kyle said.
“Small guns for now,” Corey said. “Look at what you’ve done.”
He flashed his eyes at Banter.
“They’re reading,” she said with an innocent smile.
“I’ll see you guys in a couple of hours,” she said, rising. “And don’t shoot anybody.”
“We’re shooting at targets,” Kyle said, being a little too serious.
“Keep it that way,” she said.
Corey gave her a hug and a kiss.
“You have your locket on. Nice.”
“I actually forgot to take it off from last night. Someone distracted me.”
Her drive to the cooking school was uneventful, but she felt butterflies in her stomach.
“Great. The one time I don’t have to hide and I can park close, and the lot is full. Go figure.”
Banter drove around the block and found a side street where she could park. She jogged to the school, but slowed when she reached the stairs to the building.
“It’s way too hot to run.”
She was already sweating when she stepped into the building.
“Nice. They’ve got the air turned up.”
She saw a placard directing people to the cooking class. It pointed down the hall. She found it was the last classroom.
“A classroom? I thought we were learning to cook?” she said under her breath, already feeling disappointed.
She was surprised to find the room full with both men and women of all ages, ranging from young teenagers to gray-haired retirees.
“Welcome. Please find a seat. I’m Janice your head chef for today.”
Janice was a slender middle-aged woman.
Banter found a place in the back. There wasn’t enough seating for everyone, so she leaned against the wall.
“We’re going to cover some of the basics before we move to the kitchens. Cooking can be an exact science like chemistry, where every measurement must be exact. It can also be where we can do a pinch of this and a pinch of that and still get a delicious meal.”
That’s what I want, Banter thought.
Handouts were passed around. Banter looked through hers while Janice continued to talk. The first few pages reviewed different measurement types and how to measure liquids and solids. The rest of the pages were about spices and what paired well with what. She wasn’t hearing anything that would help her with cooking. Banter thought Janice was just babbling and wasting time to fill up the two-hour class.
“All right, let’s head to the kitchens.”
Everyone in the classroom rose and filed out. Banter kept to the rear, finding herself doing her usual people watching. A handful of old ladies were giggling and acting like teenagers. One middle-aged man was ogling every lady but the old ladies. He drifted back and walked beside her.
“Hi,” he said.
“Since when do old guys need to cook?” she said.
She was amused that her comment appeared to set him back, and he didn’t look like he knew how to answer.
“You just need to snuggle with one of them up front,” she said, gesturing at the gaggle of old women, “and they’ll cook you up a storm.”
He grinned, seeming to have regained his composure.
“If they can cook up a storm, then what are they doing here?”
“Very good question,” Banter said. “Probably retired with nothing better to do.”
“And what about you?”
“Between peanut butter and jelly, Chinese takeout, and pizza, who needs to cook. Unfortunately, I now have a family, and they need better nutrition than that.”
She was hoping that conveyed to him that she was married with children since, she realized, she hadn’t put her wedding band back on.
“So, what are you here for?” she said.
She felt some of her police training coming through which caused her to continue to probe.
“Wife of thirty-five years died. I have to fend for myself. I’m getting sick of TV dinners.”
“Good luck,” she said, feeling a little wary of him.
He didn’t look like he was lacking a wife by his clothing or how he was groomed. If anything, he looked like he knew how to take care of himself.
A rash of giggles from the old ladies caught everyone’s attention. It was then that the man brushed against her as he moved over to a table where Janice was gathering everyone around. Banter recognized the touch and the technique. It was a pickpocket maneuver. He had completed an exploratory touch to see if she had anything in her pockets. She knew he wasn’t here to learn how to cook.
While everyone gathered at the table, she fingered her locket and took out the tracking bug. Janice wanted everyone to get together in groups, Banter edged toward the man and became part of his group. There were five kitchen areas. Everyone broke up into groups of six.
“Please familiarize yourself with your kitchen,” Janice said.
Banter bumped into the man as if she was examining the contents of a cabinet.
“Oops, sorry,” she said while she put her bug on him.
“Okay, today we’ll start with a simple breakfast. An omelet with biscuits.”
Banter slipped out her phone.
“No phones,” someone said.
“Making notes,” Banter said, thinking they were being a little bossy.
The remark hadn’t come from Janice.
Banter opened the camera app and managed to videotape the man picking a wallet out of a woman’s jacket. She thought he was rather brazen for doing it during the class instead of afterward.
“Hi, I’m Betty. We’re supposed to mix up the biscuits,” Betty said.
She was a middle-aged woman with thick glasses.
“Oh, yeah. Sorry, I’m too busy looking at everything and not paying attention to the food. What are our ingredients?”
Betty picked up a card that was laying on the table.
“This is what we need,” she said.
Banter could understand why she needed glasses since the woman seemed to be having a hard time reading the card. However, Banter wasn’t too much of a help since she was trying to keep an eye on the pickpocket.
“Okay, here’s our ingredients,” Banter said.
There were canisters on the counter.
Betty read out what they needed and Banter measured out the ingredients. It bothered her that of their group, the pickpocket was the only one not helping. He was hard to keep track of.
“Sticky stuff,” Banter said while she spooned the biscuits into the pan.
Betty slid the pan into the oven.
Everyone grouped around to watch the making of the omelet. However, it wasn’t long before the pickpocket drifted off to another group. She recorded the guy picking another pocket and even recorded him slipping a hand into one of the old lady’s purses sitting on a table.
The food started smelling good.
“Okay, take out your biscuits.”
“Wow. Look at how tall ours got,” Betty said.
“How come ours are so tall?” Banter said.
“Someone used a tablespoon instead of a teaspoon to measure the baking powder?” Janice said with a laugh. “Too much baking powder will do that. Okay, everyone. Plate your meal.”
“Means to serve it up,” someone said.
A biscuit and a serving of omelet were placed on each plate.
“Give your meal a taste and rate it.”
Everyone agreed. The biscuit didn’t taste good.
“I think you used the tablespoon,” Betty said in a side whisper to Banter.
Banter realized she was right.
“Sorry. The measuring stuff all looked the same to me.”
The omelet was tasty. The biscuits were tossed.
“See you next week,” Janice said after the dishes were washed and put away.
Everyone spilled out of the kitchen. Banter thought the whole two hours was a waste of time. She hurried out, pulling up the tracking app on her phone. The man had headed out the back. She had to give him credit for being good. Since he wasn’t heading toward the parking lot, she figured he wasn’t parked there. That was to his advantage. Should anyone notice a missing wallet, he was already gone.
She trotted over to her car since that was en route to intercept the man.
“This time I was lucky for not parking in the lot.”
At her car, she paused to access her trunk. She strapped on her gun, then headed out at a fast jog. She dialed 911 as she went.
“911, what is your emergency?”
“This is Banter, undercover operations.”
She gave the code she was to use that validated her identity.
“I’m in pursuit of a 034 and need a patrol car at the corner of Lafayetta and 72nd.”
“I read you, Banter. I’m calling one now.”
“If my position changes, I’ll call back in.”
Banter picked up her pace to make sure she reached where she thought the man was heading. Then she spied him. He was walking at a steady pace but didn’t appear to be in too much of a hurry. His direction was still toward the intersection she had indicated to the police. At the end of the block, she saw the patrol car turn up toward her. Her target didn’t seem concerned, however, the police car did grab his attention. He neared a car, but before he could hit the fob to unlock his door, Banter tapped her gun against his car, causing him to freeze.
“I would stop right there,” she said, keeping a couple of paces away from him. “You are under arrest and have the right to remain silent. This guy will read the rest of your rights to you.”
An officer, Banter knew as Wayne, had left the patrol car and was approaching the man from the other side.
“Afternoon, Banter. What do we have here?”
“I don’t know what you mean.” the man said.
“I witnessed it myself and I have video,” she said. “He probably still has the wallets on him.”
“Sir, you want to make this easy and show us?” Wayne said.
“It’s not wise to pickpocket a pickpocket,” Banter said to the man in a quiet voice.
He didn’t look happy but pulled out four wallets from under his shirt.
The other officer joined them.
“Hey, Lloyd,” Banter said. “Pickpocket.”
“I didn’t know you were working today,” Lloyd said.
“I wasn’t which is why I had you called in.”
“We’ll take it from here,” Lloyd said.
“I’ll upload the video of him as soon as I get home,” she said.
“No hurry,” Wayne said. “We have some wallets to hold him for a while.”
He handcuffed the man while reading him his rights.
Banter left the trio, and jogged back to her car. She turned the air on high once the car was started. The day was warming up and she was already sweaty from her jog to the car.
She was again halfway to the door to the house when it opened.
“Why are you here, but your bug is at the police station?” Corey said, looking at his phone.
“I collared a pickpocket at cooking class,” she said. “Can you make me a sandwich?”
“You were supposed to be learning to cook not working.”
Corey followed her to the kitchen and started taking things out of the frig.
Banter noted both boys were on the couch reading.
Kyle waved a hand.
“Hi,” Colo said.
“They found a new book. I can’t drag them away from it,” Corey said. “So how was class?”
“I messed up biscuits because I was watching the pickpocket.”
“Maybe that’s your whole problem. Focus.”
She rolled her eyes.
“You’re as bad as the guys who have been on the force for years. That’s all they can do. That’s all they see. Is bad guys,” he said.
“I noticed because he checked my pockets. I recognized the move.”
“I’ll have to go talk to him about feeling up my wife.”
Corey finished making the sandwich and slid it over to her.
“The omelet was good, but not enough for lunch,” she said.
Corey took out iced tea from the fridge and poured her a glass.
“You do make a good sandwich,” she said.
“And I make sure you don’t drink too much soda. Who helped with the collar?”
“Wayne and Lloyd.”
“Lloyd just came off nights. I thought he was only doing weekdays, though. Hope, he’s enjoying the day shift.”
“Most do, don’t they?”
Corey nodded, but he seemed thoughtful.
“Maybe I can go to the pound with Kyle on Monday. I can attend my morning meetings, then come home,” she said, keeping her voice low and speaking into her sandwich.
“The boys were already using the picnic table as an obstacle. We can talk tonight,” he said.
Banter looked over at the boys who were engrossed in their readers.
“You think they’re listening?”
“I remember the days as a kid pretending to be busy with something and listening in on my parents,” he said. “I’ll never put it past them.”
“So, Master Cook. What’s for dinner?” he said.
“Whatever Bea left us in the fridge to make. Otherwise, you get bad biscuits and an omelet.”
“What’s a biscuit?” Kyle said.
Banter looked at Corey. He smiled. She shook her head.
“I love it when you’re right,” she said.
“I usually am.”
“A biscuit is a lump of bread,” she said.
“How was the firing range?” she said, looking over at Kyle.
“Good,” Kyle said without looking up.
Banter turned toward Corey for confirmation.
“They take after you, Mom,” he said with a grin. “It’s your job to watch them next. I have to go out about three, but I’ll be back by dinner.”
“Sort of. We’ll talk later.”
“You have guns to clean?”
“No, I made them do it. To use a gun, you have to clean the gun.”
When Corey left at three, she put dinner into the oven. Bea had put together a casserole. Banter poked through it with a fork to see if she could tell all the ingredients. She could identify more by smell than sight.
At four, she roused up the boys for a walk.
“You have to keep balance in your day,” she said when they complained. “Besides, Ollie needs to go out.”
They walked one of the mile routes they used for running. As soon as they were back home, the boys dove back into their readers until she called them for dinner. She was just dishing up their plates when Corey came home.
“Sorry, I’m late,” he said.
“Nope, just in time,” she said.
“Did you guys do anything besides read?” Corey said, settling in his chair.
Banter dished him up a plate.
“Walked,” Colo said.
The boys ate fast. Banter knew they wanted to go back to their readers, but she kept them busy with cleaning up the kitchen and going out back with Ollie.
Corey did his usual night time routine of putting them to bed. He came down and sat beside her on the couch.
“So how is Kyle managing to read in bed?”
Since it was summer break, both boys could stay up later and read in bed.
“He’s already asleep. Colo could read all night if he didn’t set himself an alarm. He’s rather disciplined.”
“So what was story time?”
“We listened to last night’s video of story time. Here, let me show you.”
Corey pulled out his phone. The video was jumpy because Kyle couldn’t keep still and kept moving the bed. Each one contributed part of the story about a dog who played baseball.
“Blackmail material for when they’re teenagers,” Corey said.
“It’s wonderful. Definitely a keeper,” she said.
“I’m like Kyle. Bedtime.”
“Shoo. I’ll be in shortly,” she said.
She knew he would be asleep before she went in, and that she didn’t need to hurry. When she finally rose an hour later, she remembered he hadn’t talked about where he had gone that afternoon. She shrugged, knowing she would find out eventually. There was no need to wake him up to ask.