I was in trouble. Sweat poured down from the roots of my hair, down my face and between my breasts, making it harder to see my opponent. My jaw ached. My legs were tired. It would’ve been laughable except that the situation wasn’t very funny. Being in a cage in an underground fight club isn’t conducive to humor. Never is.
I circled my opponent slowly, eyeing his hirsute frame with more than a little trepidation. He didn’t exactly have me cornered, but contrary to my expectations, he was quicker than his bulk suggested, landing a few blows. A change in strategy was required. I was, or at least in my mind a fond hope, lulling him into a false sense of security, giving him the impression that I was running scared. Which I was, so in that respect, it wasn’t too hard to be convincing. Without warning, I lashed out with a flying kick, ostensibly to catch him by surprise, which in reality was a feign.
He laughed. The bastard actually laughed. Gleaming teeth were bared in a gruesome grimace, a hand that resembled a side of beef coming out to smack my leg easily aside. I landed at his feet awkwardly. I had him. Jerking both my legs together, I jackknifed them in the direction of the cage, causing his brow to furrow in puzzlement. He wasn’t expecting the same legs to swing back in a vicious arc, sweeping him off his feet. Literally.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Trite but true. Curious, I watched as his head thudded against the granite-hard floor, easily gathering his ugly mutt in the crook of my arm. As I suspected, he was far from being out for the count, thrashing wildly. I scissored my legs around him, gripping him so his movements were severely restricted. Then, I started squeezing. It’s odd how most underestimate how long it takes for a man, any man, to lose consciousness. I wasn’t aiming to strangle him to death, just to give up the fight. A minute or so later – it could’ve been longer – his palm smacked the floor repeatedly in surrender. I wasn’t fooled. This was not, as they say, my first bloody rodeo. I kept the pressure on. Eventually, he went limp, losing consciousness.
There were catcalls, several boos and a few desultory cheers. Safe enough to conclude that I wasn’t the most popular of winners. Springing gingerly to my feet, I genially kicked the man lying on the floor on his side to make doubly certain that he was unconscious, then raised both my hands in victory. Two middle fingers slowly extended. The boos grew louder. Several choice expletives followed. It was my turn to laugh.
After gathering my winnings, which consisted of several crumpled bills, I rolled them into a neat bundle and shoved them into bra, ignoring the leering grin from the fixer.
“Watch it,” I growled. “Unless you want to join Incredible Hulk over there.” I gestured with a jerk of my head.
“There’s another mixed bout next week.”
I pretended to give it due consideration. He’d made a lot of money off of me, so his invitation wasn’t unexpected. “I’ll think about it,” I murmured, licking my upper lip, watching his eyes round and jaw almost drop open. Laughing, I patted him on the cheek. “See ya later, motherfucker.” Added to my parkour, this was my way of training and staying current with my skills. Job done. Time to move on.
The envelope was the usual manilla variety. The contents were interesting. My target was a pirate – scraggly beard, huge mutt, a shock of brown hair and blue eyes. Whoop-di-do! This was definitely a first. I was more than intrigued. Retrieving my identity bag from its secret hideout, I rifled through the stack of driving licenses held together with a rubber band. This was no random selection. Fuck! If I had a penny for every single time that I found myself wasting precious minutes on what ultimately led me back to my first instinctive choice … Brandy, it is. I went to an all-night pharmacy, driving my ratty old jalopy – a Camaro convertible of indeterminate age. I needed several items. Most of them you don’t need to know about and the only one of note – hair dye. Later that night, I was back on the road, chewing on my burger, onion rings and diet coke – for god’s sakes, don’t laugh. I get my exercise – as mentioned earlier, parkour is my thing. It’s easy enough to set up – all I need is a quiet forest or even a clump of trees in the middle of nowhere. Plenty of those around in good old US of A.
Just outside Seattle, several hours later, I did some shopping – suitcase, a fresh set of clothes, underwear and toiletries. I never take anything personal when going undercover. The car was a rental in my own name, which I returned at the center furthest away from the bar. Flagging a cabbie, I checked into a motel and then had him take me to the bar.
It was quiet – far too early in the day for a crowd. I knocked on the door marked ‘manager’ and waited to be invited inside.
“My name is Brandy. We spoke earlier. For the waitress gig.”
“Ah. Yes.” He gave me an expectant look.
Clearly a man of a few words. He eyed me up and down appraisingly. I was wearing a tight purple colored t-shirt that said ‘Bad Kitty’ in bold, red font, over blue jeans. I thrust out my breasts ever so slightly, watching him squirm involuntarily. I smiled, revealing a dazzling row of perfectly formed teeth. I knew how they’d looked. I’d brushed vigorously in the rest stop just an hour ago.
“ID?” I enquired, whipping out my fake driving license. It wasn’t good enough for a check by a cop with an onboard computer, but then again, I wasn’t expecting the manager to look me up.
He nodded, giving it a cursory glance. “Alright.” He sighed. “When can you start?”
He looked around as though he needed approval for the next bit. Handing me a few pieces of paper, he growled. “Pay’s twelve dollars an hour. Take it or leave it. Tips are your own.” He didn’t crack a smile when I nodded enthusiastically. “Fill in the application form. Rules are on the last page. Changing room and aprons are out back.” He jerked his head. “Get started after you’re done with those.”
“Can I get a pen please?” I requested with a polite smile. “I’ve told you mine. What’s yours?”
“Just call me Bob. Last name’s Kowalski.”
“Hiya, Bob. Thank for the job. I won’t let you down.”
He just grunted, waving me away.
Fuck, that was easy. I filled in the paperwork and got to work.
I’d waitressed before although that was years ago when I was in high school and again later at university. It’s not exactly the same as riding a bicycle, but the basics came back pretty quickly. Over the course of my first day, I attempted to make friends with the bartender, who introduced himself as Joe. Now, any server at a bar worth his or her salt knows that your bartender can be your best friend or worst enemy. Joe, unfortunately, turned out to be another one of those surly, silent types. He was a handsome devil – completely bald, with the darkest, brownest eyes I’d seen on a man, tall and clean-shaven. He didn’t give me the time of the day, not even a second look to which I’d become accustomed. Oh, and by the way, in case I hadn’t mentioned it, I’m drop dead gorgeous. I also, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, have a reasonably sized ego. Oh, alright. Massively sized one. Bigger than most, at any rate. Even with the hair-color change to a natural red to clash with my green eyes, I was pretty sure that I was even a more attractive a package. Joe, well, didn’t seem to care. Was it just me? No way to tell, as the patrons – an assortment of sailors, dockworkers and slutty barflies were a motley mix. Joe didn’t give any of them the time of the day either. I know what you’re going to say. Who am I to call them gals slutty?
Days turned into weeks. Joe still hadn’t cracked a smile at me, although Bob did warm up a little. It was understandable that Joe had turned up his nose at the trash that passed for female companionship. I’d even made friends with few of them, mostly hookers who wanted my help setting up customers or warn them of the weirdos. The daily ritual of sharing my tips was at the end of each day was my opportunity to flirt without interrupting work. It was nearing spring when I decided that enough was enough. It was a quiet night – a Monday, not that it made a huge difference at a Seattle bar by the docks.
“What’s up, Joe?” I asked him, fluttering my eyelashes at him as I handed him a roll of bills. “Here’s your share.”
He grunted and accepted it, stuffing it into his front jeans pocket.
“Is that a roll of bills or are you just happy to see me?” I joked.
Nothing. Not even a derisory curl of his lip, which I knew that he was more than capable of issuing. “Go get cleaned up, why don’t you? You stink.”
That’s the most he’s said since we met. Progress indeed.
The bad news was that I still hadn’t spotted my target. I was good with faces – in my line of work, I had to be. I’d mocked up a number of variations to the look – using the editor program on my laptop to morph the image, memorizing all of them. I was beginning to despair. All the research I’d done told me that he’d show up. I also routinely checked the CCTV footage from around the docks after hacking into them – grueling work but effort that had to be expended. The fee was too enticing to pass up, so I decided to give it a few more weeks. How was I to pass the time? Flirt with Joe, of course. See if I can bag him. Ugly term, I know, bitches. But I can think of no other. He was a fine piece of meat – not even a sliver of excess fat under his skin.
The next day, the usual crowd of sailors filtered into the bar. I flirted as usual, even tolerating the occasional slapping of my curvy-yet-pert ass. Made for more tips. Not that I cared about the money. I didn’t want to make waves or draw unnecessary attention to myself. That evening, Bob Kowalski asked me to stay for the second shift. Shanna was a no-show, I was told. I went up to Joe, giving him the good news.
“I’m free later. Wanna go get a bite to eat?”
“When hell freezes over,” he retorted with a genial smile. It transformed his face, the bar lights glinting off the hard angles of his chiseled countenance. “You do realize that we actually work in a bar, don’t you? There’s free food available if you’re hungry.”
Ah. A first. I was getting through to him. “The food here’s so-so,” I retorted with a twinkle in my eye, unfazed by his refusal. I’m made of sterner stuff. His eyes were steady on mine – eye contact was another good sign. “Besides, I might’ve been talking about more than food.”
“Like drinks?” was his dry response.
“D’you know that you can be a real dick, don’t you? Rain-check?”
“Sure.” He shrugged. “Why not?”
It was time to check in with my boss. He wasn’t really my employer. I worked mostly on commission. Kinda freelance bounty hunter. I got into my trusty Camaro and sped out of the parking lot, putting some distance between me and the bar. Along Highway 99, there’s a rest area I’d noticed on my way over where I pulled into, making sure no one was following me. It was highly unlikely, but hell, it was a force of habit I couldn’t break. I pulled out my smartphone from the secret hiding place within the glove compartment and made my call, thanking my stars that it still had enough juice after being on standby for weeks.
“Sit rep.” Murphy wasn’t big on small talk. Not that I cared.
“Nothing to report. No sighting. Are you sure that this bar’s the right one?”
“There’s no faulting our intel, Randi. Chatter’s pretty clear. He’ll show. Make no mistake. If he’s not already there, that is. There’s been no sighting of his ship anywhere over the past several weeks. Months, in fact. His usual routine is one year on the high seas, the other year off. His onshore days are spent fencing the stolen merchandise, several cargo containers of them.”
“We must know what he’s stolen. Can’t we track the merchandise?”
“He’s careful that way. Doesn’t steal anything traceable.”
“Hmm. How badly do you want him?”
“What you’re trying to ferret out of me is if we still want him. The answer is yes.”
“Why did he choose Seattle? The file didn’t say.”
“No idea. Best guess is that he has a crew locally to do his hocking. Does it quite cleverly too, or so our little birdie told us.”
“Is that the same CI that told you that he operates out of Seattle? In this particular bar?”
“Yup. Although, we’ve had independent verification of his info.”
“Fuck. I’ll stick around then. Hope that it’s not a complete waste of my time.”
There was a long silence at the other end. I thought Murphy might’ve hung up, except that I’d have registered the call disconnecting. “He may have changed his appearance. He’s known to do that.”
I sighed. “Yes, Murphy, I know that. It was in the file. I mocked up every conceivable disguise and memorized how they looked.”
“Oh, alrighty then. Talk soon. Let me know if you get any nibbles – even a hint. If he follows his pattern, he’ll be away by the summer. And Randi, be careful. The bastard’s a vicious psychopath.”
“Jeez, Murphy,” I drawled. “I didn’t know you cared.”
It was his turn to sigh. “Oh, how I wish I were twenty years younger.”
“In your dreams,” I jeered with after a little giggle. Everyone at the agency knew that Murphy was happily married, or at least what passed for it these days. With men, one never really knew. At least, he’d never made a pass at me. Hadn’t even looked at me cross-eyed. “Bye now.”
The drive back was uneventful. Just for the heck of it, I pulled into an all-night diner and ordered my favorite – burger with all the trimmings, fries – they didn’t have onion rings – and a strawberry milkshake instead of diet coke. Yum. I ate thoughtfully, ignoring the interested leers from a couple of truckdrivers, which to be honest, didn’t do my ego any harm. It had taken a bit of a battering lately thanks to Joe’s indifference. I felt heat course through me, my sex dampening a wee bit, just at the thought of those fine muscles under my fingers. It wasn’t unusual for me to be this attracted to a man I’d barely knew. After all, I hadn’t had sex in several weeks. None of the sailors, able bodied as they were, caught my interest. I wasn’t averse to out-of-town strange. Just wasn’t in the mood while on assignment. I hated living in a motel, even though I’d introduced some variety by switching them every couple of weeks, which was more of a security precaution.
Time was running out. I couldn’t afford to wait till the very last moment. I trusted Murphy, but not his intel. I didn’t know his CI from Adam and had no reason to believe him. I’d been in the business long enough that people lied more often than not. I never quite understood the psychology of it – always seemed like one of those bad TV shows where the witness or perp reveals all in the last scene, with no earthly reason why they couldn’t do that in the first bloody interview.
If nothing else, I could have some fun seducing Joe. I could sense that he was thawing. And I wasn’t even trying very hard. If I put my mind to it, I doubt any man could resist me. Or was it just my massive ego talking? When I got back to work the next day, Shanna had news for me. “There was this guy who was looking for you. Kinda tall and broody, if you know the type. I’ve seen him plenty of times – though he’s not quite what I’d call a regular.”
“What did he want?”
“Didn’t say.” She nodded at the back of the bar, where the quality of patrons significantly deteriorated. “He’s back there. Black leather jacket. Beard. Can’t miss him.”
My interest perked up. I lost my apron, wandering back there with a tray and a cloth, wiping tables that didn’t need it. Shanna was good at keeping her section clean. We traded sections every week, just so we don’t have to face the riffraff all the time. It was very accommodating of me, I know. But hey, I do have some more tolerable qualities as a human being. He was there, with a beer on the table – it was almost empty. I recognized him – like Shanna said, not quite a regular. I hadn’t pegged him for my target even though he’d pass muster as my Blackbeard. For one, his actions weren’t suspicious. He mostly drank, flirted with the hookers, but too much of a skinflint to buy their services. His clothes weren’t flash either. Nope. Not my target.
“Wanna refill?” I enquired, giving him the once over. Another reason I’d discarded him as a possible was that he appeared slightly taller and stockier than my target. Both could be explained away easily enough. The eyes were blue – tick. Beard looked different. Still – tick. Should I reconsider him?
He gazed at me with a puzzled frown. “You Brandy?”
I nodded. “So?” I feigned indifference. “Wanna refill or not?”
“My name’s Mitch. I need a favor.” I raised an eyebrow, leaning forward to let him have a glimpse of my cleavage. “Bunch of guys were thinking of having a party. You know. Private like. You interested?”
“I’m not a hooker,” I informed him with a haughty smile.
“Not saying that you are. You’re better looking than the local working girls. And the money’s good. You’ll serve drinks and look pretty. The rest is up to you.” He wrote a figure on a napkin with a ballpoint pen and pushed it across at me. I picked it up, then rolled up the napkin, stuffing it in my apron pocket.
I shrugged. “I’ll think about it. When’s the party?”
“In a week. I’ll be back tomorrow. Same time. Let me know, huh?”
When Shanna asked me what it was about, I was close to socking her. The bitch already knew. She used to hook, before deciding to get cleaned up after finding a man wo wasn’t a pimp. Weaned herself off drugs too. Good for her. What made her think that I’d be interested? My blood was boiling. But I let it pass. I needed her on my side, just in case things went south. I told her about the conversation.
“What are you going to do?”
“Haven’t decided yet. Like I told him, I’ll think about it.”
It occurred to me that Shanna put the guy up to it. I was still pretty sure that he wasn’t my Blackbeard. I kept a close watch on him just in case, following him around after he left the bar. He was just another dockworker who sidelined as a pimp or a drug-dealer or both, I reckoned. Just making some extra on the side. He didn’t seem to mind my rejecting his offer, just shrugging. There were plenty of sluts in the bar to choose from.
It was a week later when they came at me. It’s a good thing that I’m always on high alert. It’s my training, I guess. It was in the parking lot, after closing time, in the wee hours of the morning. Joe was still in the bar, helping Bob with the inventory.
I was fiddling for my keys in my jacket pocket, when four of them rushed me, two on either side. I evaded them easily, enough, lunging back, then did a backflip. On to my feet again, I reached for my knife and pepper spray and came up empty. They were both missing. It was then that I realized that it was no accident. They’d gone through my jacket. My car keys were missing too. One of the four was the guy who called himself Mitch.
“Come on, guys, what’s this all about? Can’t take no for an answer?”
Mitch was the one who spoke. “Brandy, you’re a disappointment, girl. We had high hopes for you. Now, it’s time to pay the piper.”
“You high, or something?” I enquired, more to buy time. Joe and Bob might be coming out soon. Or were they in on it. As soon as the thought crossed my mind, I dismissed it.
They moved again. This time I was ready for them. I smacked the first one across the face, then used my feet with good effect on the other two, well-aimed karate kicks. Mitch hung back, watching the fun. Quite deliberately, I let one closer to me, then used the heel of one hand to crack the guy’s jaw, the one whose face I’d smacked. He went down like a ton of bricks. One down. Three to go. The other two, now joined by Mitch, came at me again.
I knew that I was outnumbered. It was just a matter of buying time till I got reinforcements in the form of Joe and Bob. Fists flailing, screaming at the top of my lungs, I rushed them. They weren’t expecting it, assuming that I’d make a run for it. That was the reason Mitch had been hanging back, cutting off my escape route. I landed two solid blows, both on sensitive spots – one solar plexus and the other the side of the neck. I heard another satisfying crack before Mitch’s fist hit me on the side of my jaw. I’d moved just in time, so it was a glancing blow, but the motherfucker’s fist was the size of a mallet.
I staggered back, shaking my head to clear it. There was a ringing in my ears. “Fuck!” I screamed, spitting out blood.
Mitch rushed me again. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the other remaining goon rise to his feet, clutching his midriff. I sank to my knees and used both my hands to spin him over my shoulder, using his momentum.
“Hey! What’s going on there?” It was Bob – the sweetheart.
I could’ve cried, but I didn’t. I screamed again, noticing Joe following Bob into the parking lot. “These bastards assaulted me. Call 911. They’ve stolen my phone.”
They hadn’t – it was still hidden in my car, but I didn’t want Joe or Bob knowing that. My attackers staggered away. It was Joe who helped me to my feet. “You alright?” he queried, feeling my face. He inspected my cut lip, the bruise on my jaw and ran his hands over the rest of me. It was heavenly. I felt my nipples tighten in response when he chanced upon my breasts.
“Nothing major,” I informed him belatedly. “What took you so long? I started screaming ages ago.”
He didn’t answer right away, giving me an odd look. “There were four of them. You do know how to handle yourself, don’t you?”
“I had five older brothers. Plus, I grew up in a rough neighborhood.”
His eyes gleamed with amusement. “New York? The Bronx Zoo?”
Grinning like an idiot, I nodded, then shook my head. “Jersey.”
The trick about being undercover was to stick to the truth – as much as humanly possible. I actually had grown up in New Jersey.
He sighed. “Let me get you back into the bar.” He lifted me bodily with ease, carrying me back in through back door, laying me on the couch in Bob’s office. He was back moments later with a first aid kit. His touch was gentle. My eyes shuttered, letting him do his magic.
“They stole my car keys,” I complained, pouting. “Can you give me a ride?”
He nodded. “Sure thing.”
I was half expecting him to carry me to his car. Disappointingly, he didn’t. I trudged meekly behind him to his vehicle. It was a pick-up truck. Figures. “Nice car,” I complimented him. There was no response. He fiddled with the radio, finding a channel that played classic pop. Nice. How old was he anyway? I hadn’t bothered to ask. With his smooth skin and well-toned muscular structure, it was hard to tell. Not that it mattered. I was willing to wager that he was dynamite in bed.
“Where do you live?” he asked eventually, after we were on the road a few minutes later.
“Can we go back to your place?” I pleaded. “Just in case they know where I live and follow us there?”
“You’re just trying to get into my pants,” he teased me, tossing me a devastating smile.
“So?” I retorted with an impish one of my own. “And don’t give me that sass about not finding me attractive. I’ve noticed the way you ogle me when you think I’m not looking. Women have great peripheral vision, you know.”
“Fuck!” he swore, swinging the pick-up suddenly onto the left-most lane, pressing hard on the accelerator. “You were right. Those fuckers are following us.”
I swiveled my head instinctively to a solitary pair of headlights, now fast receding into the distance. “How did you know?” I didn’t question his conclusion, but I was understandably curious.
“I recognized Mitch’s wheels. Noticed him in my rearview mirror. Hold on. I’ll lose him.” With another sudden spurt of gas, we were literally flying. It was thrilling.
It was a good twenty minutes later. We are at Joe’s apartment. “My, you’re good at this!” I gave him an admiring glance.
His place was neat and clean – almost clinical, which kinda surprised me. Not all men were slobs, of course, but this guy’s place was spotless. I ran a wondering finger over the kitchen counter as he got us beers from his fridge. It was nice and cozy, sitting at his kitchen table, clinking bottlenecks and sipping beers like long-lost buddies. “What now?” he asked. “Can I call you a cab?”
“Just call me Brandy,” I joked. He didn’t crack a smile. “D’you know that you haven’t once called me by my name?” It was true. I don’t know how it was possible, but he managed it somehow. Still nothing. “Can I use your couch?” It wasn’t hard to tell that this was a one-bed. “I’m not sure Mitch hasn’t figured out where I live.”
I suspect Joe knew that I wasn’t really worried about Mitch. I had time to arm myself. He might’ve stolen the Camaro, but instinct told me that he wasn’t interested in my car. Besides, I didn’t want Joe to know that I was camped out a motel. No one knew. I’d given the address that went with the fake driving license, a po box and a fake local address.
“You can share my bed, if you’d like,” he offered, after what seemed like an eternity.
Finally! We stared at each other for several seconds. I felt the rise of sexual tension between us like a hot flame, my insides churning with that familiar feeling of anticipation. We finished our beers, mine in a real hurry. I set the bottle down on the table. Without a word, he placed both bottles carefully in the kitchen trashcan, wiping the table.
“Force of habit,” he offered unnecessarily. “I sleep in the nude,” he added.
“Me too,” I whispered.
My clothes were off in a trice, before I slipped under the covers. We reached for each other wordlessly. Oh, it was good. He took his time, careful to arouse me expertly, his fingers magical as he slipped them inside me. My clit was throbbing within moments of his flicking, the engorged bud burgeoning under his ministrations. His lips were busy too, sucking my nipples like there was no tomorrow. But delicate like, teeth nipping, tongue rasping over them until I was moaning in delight. And all I did was rake my nails up and down his back, occasionally sinking them into the tight buns of his ass. He was indeed a gorgeous specimen.
When he went down on me, I started screaming, his wicked tongue even more knowing than his fingers. Oh, god! I climaxed quickly, the blood rushing to my head. My sex quivering, I returned the favor, sucking him deep into my mouth, fingers tickling his balls until he started jerking spasmodically. When I felt him tense, I slowed down, moving up and down his lean torso, kissing the little nubbins on his hairless chest. Then back to is cock, flicking the tip with my tongue. I almost came again. But wanted him inside me when I did.
He hadn’t said a word, just grunting, but when I straddled him, positioning his penis against my vagina, teasing him, he started moaning, the guttural sounds animalistic, filling the room. Without warning, he arched his hips, plunging his cock inside me. Sweet. I started screaming again.
We fucked all night, taking turns going down on each other with once in the shower after we got some sleep. I didn’t have to get to work until late afternoon, so I could afford to sleep in. He had to get in earlier but didn’t seem to care. Who was I to argue?
The next morning, he bought me breakfast at my favorite diner along Route 99. I wasn’t in love, but this was no ordinary one-night stand. I wasn’t gauche enough to ask him stupid questions, tempting as it was. Definitely not – what are you thinking? Nor any personal questions. It was too soon. He didn’t seem curious about me either. We spoke about the weather, politics and football. He didn’t seem to care about sports, which was odd. I didn’t probe.
After we got back to work, neither of us spoke of it again for days. He didn’t make another move, nor did I. Perhaps, for him, it was a one-night stand. And I had other fish to fry. My assignment was beckoning. It was going nowhere in a hurry.
It was approaching summer, the temperature touching the high fifties, one day even sixty. Time to move on. I’d checked in with Murphy twice in the intervening period, informing of my encounter. He promised to track down that bastard Mitch as the possible suspect, who was nowhere to be seen. It was Bob who later explained that he’d called 911 and filed a complaint without mentioning my name, giving Mitch’s name and the description of the other three. The investigating officers had taken notes and left. Word must’ve gotten out to that slimebucket. It was odd though. I’d have pegged him as someone with a little more persistence. Had I scared him off? I was going to lose my commission – I was pretty sure Mitch was my target – suspected me and tried to take me out. Still, I hadn’t lost hope. Mitch’s contacts were at the dock, so where could he go if he needed to unload the rest of his merchandise?
I had tried every single possible avenue of investigation including searching craigslist, twitter feeds, even hacking into the telephone lines in the bar, in the unlikely event that Bob Kowalski was involved somehow. Mitch must be long gone, so I texted Murphy that I was ready to give it up. I was doing the garbage run one day, running into Shanna on the way back inside. I apologized, whining that I’d rather be on the beach on a day like this.
“You’d fill out a bikini real good,” she remarked, not without a tinge of envy. “I’d join you, of course. Maybe we can go out this weekend?”
I nodded. “Sounds like a plan. Why don’t we invite others? Joe might be interested.”
Perhaps he’d rethink his one-night restriction if he saw me in a bikini. One final fuck before I moved on. God knew I’d earned it in this godforsaken hole.
Shanna shook her head. “Joe doesn’t go to the beach. I know because I’ve already tried asking him.” She sighed. “It’s almost a year since he’s been with us this time. He came on a summer’s day, just like today. He’ll be gone for a year. Then he’ll be back the next. He’s an oddball. I’ve never met someone who has no hair.”
The next day, I let Bob know that I was leaving, letting him know that it was time to move on – I wanted to head back into the city with a better offer from an upscale bar.
“Aw, we’re sure going to miss you, Brandy. You’re a fine waitress. I’m sure you’ll do well. I know. Let’s throw you a party.”
A week later, I was handing in my share of the tips to Joe at the end of my morning shift. I hadn’t told him yet. I wasn’t sure if Joe had mentioned it, so I decided to break the news.
“Joe, I’m leaving.”
He nodded. “I know. Bob mentioned it.”
“And that’s it? Is that all you have to say?”
Broad shoulders rose and fell in a shrug. “What else is there to say?”
“That it was fun? That you enjoyed that one night we had together? That you might want to do it one more time before I leave? Something. Anything. All you have is that expressionless face – those dead eyes like you were …” my voice trailed away. I was babbling. Worse, I was getting hysterical. Over a man who couldn’t care less. Like a bloody psychopath.
“Alright,” he muttered. “I had a great time. It’s just that I’m no good with words. You know what? Let me say this. You remind me of that old song. Brandy something. I don’t remember who sang it. Happy?”
I felt warm all over. It was the longest speech I’d heard from him. I met his eyes. “Kiss goodbye?”
He shook his head, smiling slightly. “Don’t push your luck.”
With a heavy heart, I went back to my car, reaching inside the glove compartment. The party was for later that night. I’d decided to head to the motel, have a shower, change and come back for the party. I pulled out my phone, my finger poised over the dial button. I realized that I’d just been about to break protocol. Rules that I’d lived by my entire adult life. Ever since my training. All because I was feeling sad and happy. Sad because I was leaving without completing my assignment. Happy because Joe had … my mind went blank and then started clicking into high gear. I sent out one text to Murphy and then a whole series of them. I couldn’t risk calling.
An hour later, satisfied, I went to the motel and had a shower. I put on the prettiest dress that I had – a slutty slip dress that was more lingerie than evening attire. I headed back to the bar. It was already lively when I reached. I made a beeline for the bar, hugging and kissing the regulars along the way. Sitting on a barstool, I beamed at Joe.
“It feels odd, you know, Joe, sitting her like a real customer.”
He just grunted. Shanna swung by – she was on duty, hugging and kissing me, a little teary eyed. I whispered in her ear as I hugged her back, “I’ve left a little something for you in my car. Why don’t you go get it, sweetie?”
“What was all that about?” Joe asked, eyeing me with undisguised curiosity, wiping the countertop with his customary fastidiousness.
“Girly talk. You wouldn’t understand.”
“Ah. Of course.”
“You know something, Joe? I’d pictured you in so many ways – on the beach, swimming. Or in a suit. Even as a sailor – like the drunken louts that pass through here. I’d never pictured you in a beard and blue eyes. Those contacts of yours – they’re really amazing. I was up close and personal. Still didn’t spot them. Shame on me for not guessing sooner.” I rested my chin on my hands, eyeing him with interest.
I had to hand it to him. He didn’t blink. Not a muscle of his face twitched. His expression didn’t change. It was that fraction of a second that he paused, then continued wiping that told me I’d found my target. I didn’t take my eyes off of him. When his right hand headed under the bar, I rapped out. “Hands where I can see them,” my strident voice cracking like a whip across the entirety of the bar.
Everyone went quiet. I could feel curious stares of the other patrons.
“How much time do I have?” he asked.
“None. We’re surrounded. Or rather, you’re surrounded. I don’t want anyone to get hurt. That’s why I came alone. And sent Shanna outside. I don’t really care about the others. And don’t try anything funny. You know how I handled Mitch and his thugs. I’ll hit you so hard that …”
He moved fast. Instead of reaching for the gun I knew was squirreled away under the countertop, he went for my throat. I wasn’t quite sure what he thought he was going to accomplish. Perhaps he didn’t want to go down without a fight. It was the pirate in him.
A second later, he stared at his bloody hand, and the knife I held in my hand, wondering where it had come from. Actually, it was more like a long hairpin with sharp edges.
“It was in my hair, moron,” I informed him quietly.
“How did you guess?” he gasped, cradling his wrist.
“I didn’t. Not really. Although I should’ve sooner. You see, I can’t be certain if Mitch was just trying to scare me away or kidnap me so he could find out if I was after you. He wasn’t really sure if I was after you either, was he? Just your nasty suspicious mind. He couldn’t just kill me either. Had I died under suspicious circumstances, there’d have been a proper investigation and your whole operation would’ve been blown. Why did you suspect me? I was so careful.”
He took the wipe-cloth and wrapped his bloody hand with it. “It was in your eyes. There’s an intelligence in them. You’re too fucking smart to be waitress.”
“Fuck!” I breathed out, not sure if I ought to take it as a complement or consider wearing contacts like him. “Really?”
“Really. Okay, that was just my first clue. Call it a hunch or whatever. Truth is, I’m paranoid by nature. I check everyone out, especially new faces. There were too many red flags. I had Mitch follow you around for a bit. You kept switching motels, for one thing. Your ID was good, but seems you were hatched out of an egg a few years ago.”
I nodded, making a mental note to work on my fake identities.
They took him away a minute later. He went quietly. He wasn’t stupid. There were still ways out. Lawyers. Trials. He had plenty of time. Only, he wasn’t going to go anywhere. The bastard had killed too many innocents – wealthy seafarers, cruise passengers and associated crew. No judge in his right mind was going to grant him bail a second time. The first time around, it was for a lesser crime. He was out on bail before the CI informed us we’d released a psychopathic pirate. Even if he was granted bail, me or someone like me would be on his ass 24×7.
Murphy flew in to congratulate me and thank me personally, meeting me in my motel as I was checking out. That was nice of him. he didn’t have to do that. We exchanged notes, more me giving him a report than the other way around.
“Do you think he’ll take a plea?” he asked after I was done.
I shrugged, shaking my head. “No way. He’ll be looking for a way out. He’s good at what he does. Does anyone know his real name? I’m fairly certain that it isn’t Joe, nor the alias he used the first time he was arrested.”
Murphy laughed, shaking his head. “Oh, and by the way, Ferguson had a message for you.”
“I’ll quote verbatim. What took you so long? The Randi Moffat I know should’ve nailed the fucker in a week.”
It was my turn to laugh. Ferguson was FBI. “Give Ferguson my report. I was beginning to suspect Joe when Mitch turned up,” I admitted grudgingly. “Mitch distracted me. Served as a splendid decoy.”
Murphy’s eyebrows rose. “Why did you suspect him?”
“He didn’t make a pass at me. He was the only guy at the bar, patrons included, who didn’t. Even Bob chased me around the desk in his office once a week on payday. Even the motel clerks. Joe – nothing. At first, I thought I was slipping. Or he had a girl. He didn’t. I checked. He wasn’t gay either. He did give me the odd look when he thought I wasn’t noticing. I suspected that he liked me but wasn’t making a move. He had to have a powerful reason. It wasn’t until today that I discovered why.”
“And?” Murphy prompted.
“It wasn’t I who made him. It was he who made me. And ultimately, it was what gave him away. If he’d left it alone, instead of setting Mitch on me, he’d have gotten away, free and clear. Ironic, isn’t it?”