“Don’t mind me,” he said with a modest wave of his hand and a big smile. His clothing consisted of baggy corduroys, sneakers, and a collared shirt that needed a bath.
“I do mind you. Who are you?” Banter said.
“Chief’s son, Bradley,” someone said.
“Good morning, Bradley. Out.”
She made her last word a command.
“I’m just auditing,” he said, making a move to find a seat.
“Out. You’re not on my roster. If you’re not on my roster than you don’t have permission to attend this class. You need to go talk to your boss.”
“He doesn’t work here,” someone muttered.
“Then you shouldn’t even be here. Out.”
He didn’t look like he was taking her seriously. She thought he looked more surprised that she even cared.
“Out,” she said in a more serious tone.
“Bradley,” someone said with a thumb jabbed toward the door.
“I’ll be quiet…”
“Out.” She took a step toward him to show him that she meant it.
“Okay. Okay.” He put his hands up in a show of defeat and left the room.
The man closest to the door rose and pushed shut the door.
Banter watched the door for a few more moments. Her pause must have conveyed some mistrust. The same man again rose and peered out.
She changed the slide.
“When you are on a surveillance, you need to know the layout of the land, the culture within and who might be in the area. For example, Bradley might have been able to come in if I didn’t have a roster or if this hadn’t been a class that required permission to attend it.”
There were some nods.
“I’m going to tell you how I do surveillance based on a particular scenario. Then I’m going to tell you how the police do it and what they do wrong.”
She saw Peter smile. Everyone else seemed serious and was paying attention.
The first hour of class went fast. If it wasn’t for the weight of the baby in front of her, she might have forgotten about her again. The baby remained blissfully silent.
“Let’s take a bio break and come back in ten,” she said.
She locked the screen on her laptop and closed the lid. When the last man filtered out, she followed and shut the door. She headed toward the restroom. It was empty. She enjoyed the quiet and the fact that she could rest her voice.
She found she could shift the belt for the baby carrier to unfasten her pants without taking it all the way off. While she was on the toilet, she checked the baby’s diaper. It was dry.
She thought about taking the elevator up to her floor to get a soda, but Peter was standing out in the hall with one. He handed it to her.
“Ah, mother’s milk,” she said in a sarcastic voice.
A man in a badly fitting suit came down the hall. He was checking doors. When he came to the conference room and found the door unlocked, he looked into the room through the door window, then went inside.
“Now who?” She headed for the room.
“I’d guess an auditor. There are a few running around.”
Peter followed her. They both entered the classroom to find the man look at her computer.
“Who are you?” she said.
“Joel. Security auditor.”
“Good. The laptop is locked. It was in a closed room. I am now back. You are out of here,” she said, gesturing with her thumb.
“Who are you?” he said, switching his gaze between her and the baby.
“Banter. Security advisor. I’m teaching a class.”
“None of your business.”
He didn’t look happy with her answer.
“You bring your kid to work often? Or is she part of the class?” He sounded snippy.
“She’s not my kid. I found her in the garbage last night. I’m waiting for Social Services to show up and take her.”
He didn’t seem to have a snippy remark for that. For a moment she thought he might not believe her. However, officers were filtering back in, and that seemed to curb his attitude.
“This is a special security class. I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” she said.
He looked at the officers taking their seats, then nodded and left. Everyone watched him go.
“Auditor,” someone said with some distaste in his voice.
The last man in shut the door.
The second hour of the class involved everyone teaming up with a buddy. She gave them each a scenario in which they had to decide what they would do and why. They discussed the details of each location.
“Great. Now go out and do it and tell me if it works,” she said.
She knew they were expecting her to tell them what would work or not.
“The best way to learn is to go out and practice and adjust accordingly. Each scenario can change at the drop of a hat. Take two hours this weekend and case out an area. On Monday, we’ll convene at nine am and go over what worked and what didn’t. You must wear body cams, so we can see. One from each pair will be the one doing the surveillance. The other will observe the other and take notes.”
They didn’t look like they were taking her seriously.
“All these scenarios involve actual places. If you can’t figure out where they are, I’ll tell you.”
Only one group needed help in determining the location.
“Two white guys in a black neighborhood.” The two officers shook their heads.
“This happens all the time,” she said. “The police force is culturally lopsided.”
The baby fussed.
“That is the bell. See you on Monday.”
Banter locked her scree, then closed her laptop while everyone filtered out. She slid it into the car seat and hoisted it up.
Peter was waiting for her.
“Car seats suck,” she said.
“They are good for carrying babies,” he said. “And apparently laptops.”
“Pain in the rear. Bulky as heck.”
They took the stairs to go up the two flights to the fourth floor. The jostling of going up the stairs quieted the baby. Banter was glad to see Ray in his office.
“Time to get rid of this kid.”
Banter picked up her pace. She stopped by her office first to put her laptop on the desk before continuing to his office.
“Ray,” she said, setting the car seat on his desk.
“Banter. Our local celebrity.”
“What? Hell no. Where’s Social Services?”
“They were here and left. They’re really glad that you are stepping up to take care of this baby. It is great publicity.”
“Publicity? What? No. They need to take this kid. You…”
“Several officers are stepping up where Social Services is failing. It’s making us look good. We’ve needed some good publicity. You taking care of an abandoned baby is great.”
“Shouldn’t you have asked me and Corey first before you made this decision?”
“You have two kids. A third should be easy.”
The baby was now fussing as if keying off her irritation.
“What the fuck, Ray. I’ve never taken care of a baby. Taking care of six- and nine-year-olds is a whole lot different from a newborn. I think you should take care of this baby.” She made movements to unfasten the baby carrier.
“What? No. No. Banter. You’ll get reimbursed for diapers and such. Besides, it’s already done. She’s assigned to you.”
“This isn’t about diapers, Ray.”
The baby was now working herself up to a full cry. Banter could already see the results of where this conversation was going. She wasn’t getting rid of the baby today.
“I’m going home. If I’m taking care of an infant, then I’m taking maternity leave.”
“Wait, a bit. We have a news team that’s coming through later.”
“What’s maternity leave? Eight weeks? I’ll see you in eight weeks, Ray.”
She left his office, leaving the car seat on his desk, to go to her office.
“Only one diaper left, after this, girl.”
She grabbed the bottle and formula since she didn’t know if her crying was because of a dirty diaper or she was hungry.
“Don’t go home just yet,” Ray said from her doorway. He was almost yelling to compete with the crying of the baby.
“Out of my way, unless you intend to change her diaper.” She made her voice as threatening as she could.
He stepped hastily out of her way.
In the restroom, she changed the baby’s diaper, which was wet. For good measure, she put a bottle together and sat in a stall for some privacy. The baby only drank a few swallows before falling asleep.
She slipped her phone out and called Corey. He answered immediately.
“What’s up?” he said.
“Ray told Social Services that I was keeping the baby and he sent them away. He thinks this is a good publicity stun.”
“It probably is.”
“You’re awfully calm about this.”
“It is what it is, Banter. I’m aware of the politics that are going around. Both good and bad.”
She knew he saw more of it than she did.
“I think it’s a little gutsy to tell an employee to take care of an abandoned baby without even asking first.”
“Yes, it is. Are you going home?”
“I told him I’d see him after eight weeks of maternity leave, and he panicked. A news crew is roaming around, and he wants me seen. You know I don’t need this job.”
“No, you don’t, but unfortunately, we need you.”
She breathed a sigh of resignation. “I don’t have enough diapers.”
“Call Bea. Have her go to the store. Have her and the boys go up in the attic. There are boxes next to the gap where the crib was. There are probably clothes we can use for her.”
She stared tiredly at nothing.
“You sound tired,” he said.
“How did the class go?”
“I think well. They weren’t pleased to get two hours of homework.”
“If they really want to learn this stuff, they need to do what the professor says.”
“Professor Banter. Puh.”
Corey chuckled. “Can I take you to lunch?”
“I’ll come down and get you.”
She ended the call and called Bea.
“Bea. Guess what?”
“You need more diapers.”
“Damn, you’re good.”
“The boys and I were already up in the attic. There’s nothing that is going to fit her. At least, not yet. I’ll go out and get diapers and a couple of onesies for her.”
“Thanks, Bea. I hope to be home after lunch, but apparently the police are using this as a publicity stunt, so I have to wait until the news crew goes through.”
“See you then.”
Banter rose and headed for her office. It surprised her to see Corey in Ray’s office. They had shut the door. Ray didn’t look happy. Corey looked a little stern. She really wished she could hear the conversation, but they were both keeping the volume down.
She sat in her office and hooked her laptop back up to the docking station, but she didn’t log back in, choosing to sit there and wait.
The baby burped, and some formula oozed out.
She searched through the plastic bag. Luckily, Bea had put the wipes in, so she didn’t have to use the last diaper. She wiped up the formula on the baby and her hoodie.
“Ready?” Corey stood at her door.
“Yeah. Someone upchucked a little.”
She flashed her eyes at the irritation of it and followed him out to the elevators without even a glance in Ray’s direction. Or anyone else in the office.
“Stairs,” she said. “I have some frustrations to work out. And this thing can handle a little bouncing.”
They trotted down the stairs with no further conversation until they were in Corey’s cruiser.
“Are you going to tell me what you told Ray?” she said.
“He got an earful. I told him I was going to put in a formal complaint with HR. I threw in some sexism.”
“Assuming I knew how to take care of a baby because I’m a woman.”
“Well, I just completed the crash course and will add it to my resume.”
He chuckled, then paused. “Uhm.”
He had pulled out, but then pulled back into the parking space.
“What?” she said.
“She needs to be in a car seat.”
“I left it in Ray’s office.”
“Looks like we’re walking to the deli.”
Banter eased herself out of the car. It beeped when Corey locked it. The sound echoed in the parking garage. They walked back through the building, using the public hallway that brought them out to the front.
“I think I saw the news crew,” she said, picking up the pace.
“I didn’t see a thing.”
She knew he had.
“The usual?” he said.
They crossed the street with the light. He opened the door to the deli for her. A crowd of people met them. Banter put a hand across the baby to keep people from jostling her.
“Way in the back,” Corey said.
He was tall enough to see. She headed back there and found a two person table that was covered in trash. The trash bin not too far from the table was overflowing. She added the trash on the table to the trash on the floor. A few minutes later, a worker came out from the back and cleared it all out. It was a good fifteen minutes before Corey arrived with their drinks, but instead of going back up to the deli counter, he sat across from her.
“We should probably pick a name just to call her instead of the kid or the baby or it or this thing.”
Banter shook her head. “If you find a stray and you name it, you got to keep it.”
“Your dad called you Annie. We can call her Annie.”
She knew he was ignoring her last remark.
“Better than Katrina Jr,” she said.
He shrugged and smiled. “I could have said Banter Jr.”
“I’m glad you didn’t.”
Corey rose, having seen that their order was up. He was soon back with their sandwiches.
“After lunch, go home,” he said, midway into their meal. “You look tired. I don’t care what Ray says about staying for the news crew. You’ve already gone above and beyond your call of duty.”
“I’ll have Bea stay, so I can get some sleep.”
They finished their lunch.
“She sleeps pretty soundly,” he said.
“As long as I’m nearby. Really nearby. I couldn’t put her down in class. I think she has separation anxiety.”
Corey chuckled. “Abandonment issues.”
They both laughed.
They finished their lunch. The deli was clearing out. They had an easier time leaving the building.
“What was Ray thinking?” she said while they waited at the corner for the light to change. “That adding a third child is nothing? I can see adding a newborn in any household has a ripple effect.”
“I remember many sleepless nights. Both boys went through bouts of colic. Now they can eat anything, and it doesn’t phase them.”
The light changed, and they crossed.
“Look. They’re out in front of the building,” she said, slowing her pace.
“I don’t want to give Ray the satisfaction,” Corey said, taking hold of her shoulder and gently turning her around. “We’ll go around the long way to your car.”
They rounded the corner.
“We don’t have to go all the way around,” she said.
“All the doors on this side have neither locks for you to pick nor scanners to get in with a key card.”
“That’s what you think,” she said.
Half way down was a door. She waved her key card near the wall by the door. There was a click, and the door opened outward a crack. Corey fit his fingers in the crack and opened the door the rest of the way.
“Now you know a secret,” she said, sliding past him.
“Did you install that?”
“No, whoever setup the readers made this door require a key card to exit unless of course the fire alarm goes off, then it auto unlocks like all the rest. But I discovered the reader can read the card from some distance away. Like through the wall. It’s still secure since you need a key card.”
They were now in a corridor that led to the stairwell and a door that led out to the hall that led to the parking garage.
Banter was thinking they were being pretty sneaky in avoiding the news crew. Unfortunately, they exited the door out to the parking garage and ran into Ray. She could see a cameraman and a reporter standing behind him.
“Shit,” she hissed under her breath.
“Here she is,” Ray said with a big smile.
“Oh my. He is tiny.” The reporter was just a hair taller than Banter. Her heavy makeup was so she would show up looking good on camera.
Banter could see that the camera was on them two and not on Corey, who towered over both of them. She controlled herself from frowning and flashing her eyes.
“She’s a girl,” Banter said. “I need to get her home. This has been way too much for her.”
She almost wished the baby would start fussing or crying.
“This is so wonderful what you are doing? When did you find her?”
“The other night.”
“I heard you plucked her out of a garbage can. Is this true?”
“Yes. I found her wrapped in rags and abandoned. We would really like to find the mother.”
“I’m sure you do,” the reporter said.
“We do have to go,” Corey said, nudging her along.
Banter glanced back to see the reporter doing a wrap up where it was just her in front of the camera. The cameraman was excluding Ray.
“You still need the car seat,” Corey said in a quiet voice. “I’ll run up and get it.”
She slid into her car and watched him walk by the reporter and Ray as if they didn’t exist. They also ignored him. Only a moment later, the reporter appeared to give Ray a goodbye. Ray went back into the building. Banter watched the two news people walk out of the parking garage to their van.
She was about to settle back into her seat when she spied a man going from car to car testing doors. He didn’t seem to look to see if anyone occupied the cars. Nor did he look like he cared if anyone saw him. He reached her car.
If you would like to read more, the book is now on the Galatea app.
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