An Afternoon In The Life Of
~~~An Afternoon In The Life Of~~~
I didn't need this shit.
Not today. I had a damn date.
Today I had an appointment with Mr. Alexander to see what he could do with my hair now that it had grown out a bit. I had to get my nails redone by Nonnie in the mall. Her mother might be a waking nightmare but darned if she didn’t do great nails.
Vincent had his panties in a twist and demanded I go get this one lone FTA before I get on with my life. Vincent is my cousin. I blackmailed him a few years ago into a job as a bail bondsman. I'm not a very good bail bondsman, really, but it pays the bills as I'm a very lucky bail bondsman. Or is it bail bondswoman? Lula would know.
So this afternoon, Connie called saying Vinnie's snit needed to be dealt with so I had to, absolutely HAD TO, go pick up this FTA. Small fries, she said, some geek that got a moving vehicle violation.
I looked through the file again.
Huhn. Out of towner was heading down the turnpike and suddenly wigged out, sliding off the road. No evidence of anything other than an overdose of geekdom- no weapons, no road rage, just a very confused kid. He listed his residence as his grandmother over in Hamilton Township and said he was staying in town for a few days on business. Looked like an easy capture, but when did my life ever turn out easy? I lived the Mutt and Jeff comedy routine except people ended up dead on my fire escape or chopped up on my couch.
Well, we'll see about this one. No point in dooming it with negative energy. I decided to go for the honest approach. I pulled up to granny's residence and knocked at the door. A tall, thin woman with a sleek bun of white hair answered the door, frowning down at me. I'm not a diminutive woman by any means, but she made me feel about two feet tall.
"May I help you?"
I fidgeted a bit and gave a bright smile. "My name is Stephanie Plum and I work for Vincent Plum Bail Bonds. Your grandson has missed his court date and I need to take him in to reschedule."
Grandma blanched and her knuckles tightened on the door frame. "My grandson?"
"Yes." I didn't like the look in her eye. It didn’t look good for me getting my hair and nails done and still meeting Morelli by six for the movie.
"Well, Ms. Plum, I'm afraid there may be a problem. Andrew has disappeared."
"Mrs. Wells? How do you mean ‘disappeared’?" I hate it when FTA's disappear. They usually show up dead or chained in some crazy mob wife's basement.
"Last night, Andrew was in his room, looking through his books and suddenly there was a popping sound. Something thumped on the floor, and when I went up to look he was gone."
Uh Oh has just been upgraded to Oh Crap. Visions of last Christmas flashed behind my eyes and I suddenly wanted to sit down. Diesel was one thing I'd hoped was the result of too much holiday cheer in the Plum household. Now I had another disappearing reappearing situation.
"Do you mind if I look around?" Mrs. Wells gave me a close look for a moment before stepping aside. She closed the door firmly after me and waved me up after her on the stairs. "Was this a social visit from your grandson?"
Her house was immaculate. It was also sort of…strange. There were a few odd statues over the mantle and a very intricate but disturbing scroll along the wall. This was obviously not a good respectable Italian household in the Burg. Granted, Mrs. Wells wasn't Italian by any stretch of the imagination and Hamilton Township would never measure up the Burg, but I was starting to get the heebie jeebies.
"My grandson was in town for business."
Wonderful. I knew that already. "What sort of business?" Great, there was that look again. I got the impression Mrs. Wells didn't trust me any further than I could throw me. She looked to have pretty good upper body strength for an old lady.
She paused, hand on the doorknob. "Andrew always was a special young man. He's working for a private corporation out of Cleveland. He was sent here to retrieve a few old books and had just completed the transaction when he had that unfortunate incident in the car. He was looking forward to his hearing so he could go back to work." She smiled fondly. "It's wonderful to see children these days taking such an interest in what they do."
Huh. That answered absolutely nothing. Not really. So he worked in Cleveland and liked his job. He was couriering a few old books. Had a strange car incident. Was now missing after thump in the bedroom. I needed a donut badly. Or maybe a butterscotch Tasty Kake.
"This is his room?"
"When he visits."
She pushed the door open firmly and stood to one side, arms crossed. The room wasn't nearly as neat as the rest of the house, but it was obvious the detritus was from travel instead of a naturally sloppy person. A stack of comic books tumbled out of a duffle and a few t-shirts littered the floor. I knelt by a stack of very old looking books, picking one up carefully.
I could no more have read it than the man on the moon. I didn't know what sort of language it was written in, but it wasn't English or Italian. Pretty much ruled out my areas of expertise. Besides, I was much more fluent in Italian sign language. I sighed, picking up the second book. It was full of some truly disturbing images, frightening creatures and bloody dismemberments. I swear I am going to have nightmares for weeks.
I dropped the books, surreptitiously wiping my hands on my jeans. "Er."
Mrs. Wells arched an eyebrow. "I recommend you contact his employer. I have hesitated to do so as it might have been a false alarm, but Andrew would never have missed his appointment."
I nodded, shaken. Still numb, I rattled down the stairs and out to my car. Mrs. Wells stood in her door, watching me like a hawk after a mouse. I was all together too happy to scurry my butt back into the latest incarnation of my transportation, irrationally wishing for the Buick's bulk in between me and the scary lady.
There are lots of scary ladies in Trenton. I was sort of engaged to become the granddaughter in law of one, Morelli's grandma Bella, but even encounters with her didn't leave me cold. Mrs. Wells was one intimidating woman, and she hadn't even threatened to put the evil eye on me.
I made it back to the office in record time, stalking in and sliding onto the Naugahyde couch. "I need a donut." Connie, the office manager and guard dog, pulled a Twinkie from her desk and tossed it to me. It wasn't a Tasty Kake but it would do. Lula just gave me a look and shook her head. Today she was decked out in spectacular fashion, neon pink boob tube, black fuzzy mini skirt, and four inch flats. Lula had a hard time of letting go of the fashions of her previous profession, that of a 'ho. Somehow, I couldn’t see her wearing anything else, even though she was relegated to filing for Vinnie in her current employment.
Vinnie, the weasel with duck issues, popped his head out of his office. "So, where's that body receipt for Andrew Wells."
I just looked at him.
"Christ. You are positively the worst bounty hunter in the business," he snarled, slamming the door.
I had to agree with him most days. I flipped open Andrew's file and looked up at Connie. "Can you get me the number for Watchers International in Cleveland?" A few moments later, she pushed a slip of paper across the desk and I dialed the number into the phone.
"Watchers International, can I help you?" said a very chipper young woman on the other end. I tried not to be depressed at how happy she sounded while I was stuck with another miserable mystery. I hated mysteries, mostly because I can’t leave well enough alone and walk away. I didn’t know this Andrew Wells from a hole in the head but I couldn’t just let him be all disappeared and do nothing. Besides, if I found in a timely manner I could use the pittance of my payment to buy some new shoes for tonight. Wishful thinking, I know.
"Hello, my name is Stephanie Plum and I'm enquiring about Andrew Wells. I work for the company that provided his bond and it seems he's missed his court date. Do you have any suggestion on how I find him?"
A very tense silence on the other end. "Missed his court date?" The voice was considerably less chipper now.
"More like disappeared late last night. His grandmother wasn't specific about the details, but she did suggest I contact you."
"Did she? That's wise of her. Do you happen to know how close he was to completing his business in the area?"
What an odd question. Didn't they care that he was missing? What was so important about his business? "He indicated to his grandmother that he was finished when he was pulled over for reckless driving. The books were still in his room when I checked today."
I blinked. What on earth? "Three. One with horrid pictures, one in a really weird language and the other had silver swirlies on the binding." Ha, take that Valerie. She always won the games of Memory we played as kids.
Er, not what I wanted to hear. Now the distinctly unhappy woman at the other end was sounding unhinged. I didn't like unhinged. I liked calm, collected, and knowing exactly where my FTA was.
"Ms. Plum is it?"
"Someone from our organization will be joining you shortly. What is your address?"
I told her and shrugged at Lula and Connie's questioning looks.
"Stay exactly where you are. It is imperative that we find Andrew as soon as possible. Please do everything you can to help out our associate. Should you have any questions, please call back as soon as possible. Ask for Rupert Giles directly."
Before I had time to ask when I could expect someone, the phone clicked off. I stared at the receiver for a moment, confused, before I turned to Connie. "She said someone was coming to help look for Andrew."
"Coming from Cleveland?" Connie raised her perfectly plucked eyebrows and pursed her lips, a bright shade of candied cherries.
"Er, I have no idea. I think from somewhere closer, maybe. This is getting weirder than I want to deal with today. I have a date," I wailed. They both nodded in sympathy. I looked around for a nail file, unsure what to do now. Do I just sit here and wait for who knows what to show up? This could be hours. Ugh.
After about six minutes of waiting in which I rebuffed a ragged nail, the door clinked open and all three of us turned to look. My jaw dropped to my chest. I could hear Lula coughing into her filing. Connie just stared. All I could think was that this was some sort of female Ranger. I had thought that Jeanne Ellen Burrows fit that role, but she was more Catwoman than a Rangerette. He'd trained her, sort of like what he did with me, but with considerably more success. Ranger was a bounty hunter extraordinaire with lots of extracurricular activities. We have a complicated relationship. He was a rumored to have been a navy Seal in a former life. In the current one, he makes my knees weak and I stay as far from his touch as I can. I am a nearly-engaged girl, after all.
The newcomer was dressed head to toe in leather, I shit you not, from lethal-looking black leather boots, to sleek black leather pants, to some sort of bustier underneath a heavy denim jacket. Her hair was long and brown, swirling around her shoulders, and her hand gripped a duffle of indeterminate origin. But what stopped us all in our tracks were her eyes. They were hunter's eyes, a predator lurked inside, and one that had touched things far worse than I saw on an everyday basis. Or, at least every other day.
She surveyed the office and sighed. "I guess this is the bond place." She looked down where I was sitting and quirked her lips up into a smile. "And you must be that Stephanie chick." She stuck out her hand. "Faith."
I stuck mine out automatically, wincing at the grip. Who was this woman? "Faith what?" She just gave me this look that made me rethink the intelligence of asking that question. "Never mind. Yeah, I'm Stephanie."
Connie and Lula were still staring. I could see the wheels in Lula’s head turning and I knew if I didn’t get Faith out of there soon, Lula was going to open her mouth and we’d never leave. That, and Faith probably wouldn’t like what she heard. I stood, grabbing up my purse and gesturing to the door. There were no unfamiliar cars on the block, and plenty of spaces, and I turned to Faith with a questioning look in my eye. She just gave me a mild glare and a half smile. "You don't really want to know."
I reached out and poked her gently on the arm. She scrunched up her brow. I smiled weakly. "I just wanted to see if you're real."
She nodded like she heard things like that all the time. "I'm real. Real enough anyway. Now where do we start on Andrew?"
"Uh…" I hated to say it, but I had no idea. He wasn't familiar with the neighborhood and vanished out of his bedroom. I told Faith as much. She grimaced.
"So back to Mrs. Wells' place?" Please, please, please let her say no.
"Best bet I guess." She shouldered the bag and got in car after me. I turned on the radio and motored away from the parking space. Gobsmack blared out and Faith nodded her head appreciatively.
“You might be alright, after all. You got good taste in music, anyway.” She tilted her head, to get a better look at me, I guess. “So, Steph, mind if I call you Steph? How’d you get into the bounty hunter business?”
I wasn’t thrilled by the new nickname, but I answered her anyway. “I was a lingerie buyer that got downsized and I needed rent money. The weasel that owns the company is my cousin.”
Faith nodded again, her gaze flicking over the familiar sites of Trenton. She didn’t seem particularly shocked, or surprised, at the surroundings so I guessed from her accent she was from the Northeast somewhere. Figuring that conversation would be better than sitting around in mildly intimidated silence, I said, “So, what exactly do you do?”
She got very still, fingers tracing swirly patterns on the window. “I’m what you might call an exterminator.”
I tensed, as any good Jersey girl would do around that term. She swiveled to face me, face unaccountably sad. “Don’t worry, I’m reformed now.”
Only slightly pacified, I zoomed through a yellow light. “So what exactly do you exterminate then?”
She half laughed under her breath, twisting her hair back into loose knot. “Whatever needs exterminating. That’s all you need to know.”
Righto then. No more questions on that thread. “What does Andrew do for your company?”
She relaxed, all prior hostility seemingly gone. “He’s a researcher, mostly, but he makes the most excellent cheese blintzes and killer crepes.”
I blinked. I’m not sure what I expected. “So he’s important then?”
She thought for a moment, raising her eyebrow at the afternoon viewing crowd filing into Stiva’s. “He has his place. We all do, now.” She fell silent again, thoughts drawn into herself.
All too soon we pulled back up at Mrs. Well’s house. Faith strode up the front steps, a picture of absolute confidence. I tried not to make it obvious I was hiding behind her when Mrs. Wells opened the door.
“Hi, I’m Faith. You’ve already met Steph here. We’re here about Andrew; Giles sent us.”
For a heartbeat, Mrs. Wells looked at Faith then extended her hand. Faith grasped it without hesitation and grinned. The grandma nodded, a faint smile on her face. “It’s good you’ve come.”
Faith bounced in the door, looking around like I had earlier. She stopped, staring at the scroll before turning with raised eyebrows. “Andrew’s talents run in the family then?”
Mrs. Wells chuckled, low and soft. “Yes, indeed. I was delighted to find someone else in the family with the gift. When he and his brother Tucker used to visit, we would have so much fun.”
Faith broke out into laughter, shaking her head. “Andrew’s got some gift, but sometimes it’s better to keep him in the kitchen.” Mrs. Wells nodded like she knew what Faith was talking about. I was so confused. I hated being out of the loop, but I was a bit afraid that if I was in the loop I might be pissing my pants. I hated that more.
Faith climbed up the stairs two at a time after Mrs. Wells. She opened the door and peeked in, sighing in relief when she saw the books. She put them all in the duffle bag and pulled out a small jar. With a nod to Mrs. Wells, the brunette scattered the powder over the clear area on the floor, muttering under her breath. Where the dust hit the carpet it glowed a sickly green.
Her eyes met those of Mrs. Wells, and she looked much older than her possible 25 years. With a groan she rubbed her face. “I knew it. Damn it. Red was right, but he’s still close by, most likely. They don’t work alone, and someone must know what they were after.” She stood, stretching her shoulders, arms raised.
“Alrighty. I need to find the nearest warehouse district, preferably before dark.” She picked up the duffle and nodded to Mrs. Wells. I wandered off down the stairs after her, completely befuddled. I had no idea what the dust was for, I had no idea why she needed a warehouse district, and I had abso-freaking-lutely no idea what was going on. When I got outside, Faith was waiting by the car, arms crossed.
“Do you want to tell me what’s going on?”
The glare was pretty obviously a no, but she sighed. “No, I really can’t. Andrew has been…taken by a rather nasty fellow. My guess is that the guy tried to get the book and knowing Andrew, he didn’t want to give it up and got taken along with it.” She rolled her eyes. “He probably knew someone would come rescue him since the book is so important.”
“What’s so important about a book? It’s just a book. Who’d trade their life to protect a book?” This just sounded too ridiculous.
Faith gave me a look as she buckled her seat belt. “Sometimes books are just books, you know, the kind you pick up in airports and leave on coffee tables. Sometimes they’re not.” She chewed on her lip, looking out at the grey covered sky with a frown. “This is one of those times.”
OOoookay. I once was involved in a fiasco involving a missing heart, so I could understand. Sort of. I definitely needed donuts. Without asking her, I turned in to Tasty Pastry on Hamilton. Screw donuts, I wanted a chocolate éclair. This was too weird for donuts.
Faith broke out into a grin at the sight of rows of pastries and selected two fritters. She seemed happy, but I wouldn’t give up my éclair for anything. We continued rumbling down the road when Faith asked where we were going. I shrugged.
“You wanted warehouses? I can find the warehouse district, it’s near Stark Street.”
She nodded but looked concerned. “Do you think you can find out which warehouses have been recently rented, perhaps by unseen persons?” She had an intense look on her face, nearly feral. I gripped the wheel tighter.
“I know someone I can call.” I don’t know what was setting me on edge about this FTA. He was, for all intents and purposes, a geek. Hardly something to get worked up over. Then again, I said that about Dougie and Mooner. I fished out my cell phone and dialed the cavalry.
“Ranger. I need you to find something out for me.”
“Babe, you alright? You sound a little unhinged?”
I took a deep breath. Yes, unhinged. Faith had been perfectly pleasant, but something about her made my skin prickle. “I’m fine. Really. I need to know if any of the warehouses down near Stark have been rented remotely recently. Out of towners.”
I could picture him nodding. “By when?”
Faith coughed beside me and I wondered if she could hear the conversation. She must have wonderful hearing. “As soon as possible.”
“Are you alone?”
“Out of town rented warehouses. Got it.” He clicked off. I continued staring ahead, swerving my way in and out of traffic like a good Jersey girl. Faith huffed a bit, applying another coat of lipstick.
“I’m not that scary, you know. Not for people like you.”
What other kind of people are there, I wondered. Out loud I said, “I’m not scared.”
She just nodded and pulled a long knife out of her duffle. It had to be one of the meanest-looking knives I’d ever seen and ran her finger over the blade, testing the sharpness. I tried not to run off the road. She looked out at the passing buildings with a sickly smile on her lips.
“This looks like home.”
“Home?” Her home was like Stark Street, littered with broken cars, hookers and pimps druggies? She shrugged slightly, rolling her shoulders.
“I’m from Boston originally. I grew up in a place like this.” She shut her eyes, lashes dark against her pale cheek, like she didn’t see much sun. “Not any more though.” Plastering a smile on, she rooted through the bag again, pulling out a bit of wood.
“Er, what’s that?”
She laid it on the seat between us. “This is for you. I expect you to stay in the car, but just in case.”
In case of what? I didn’t ask as Ranger called back. “The newest rental is 356 Hazel. It was rented two days ago by a shadow company out of Brussels. No indication what they wanted with it.” He paused, as if he was thinking. “Do you need some help?”
Er, yes? But I couldn’t say that. For starters, I hated asking Ranger for help. It always came with strings. Secondly, I wasn’t sure how well Faith would take to interlopers. She didn’t seem to like working with people, even though she tolerated me for now. “I’m cool.”
He hung up which left me holding a dead phone and unsure of what to say. Faith snapped me out of my funk by pointing to the left. “There’s Hazel. Turn left.” On autopilot I followed her directions.
356 Hazel was a dilapidated building with all the windows boarded up tightly. Strange thing though, the boarding looked new. I slowed to a stop, surreptitiously checking my bag for pepper spray, hand cuffs and stun gun. My real gun lived in Morelli’s cookie jar since Valerie was keeping actual cookies in mine now that she and her brood moved into my apartment. I picked up the bit of wood that looked suspiciously like a stake and fiddled it around my fingers.
Faith was halfway out the door with the duffle when she ducked her head back in. “Look, Steph, I know you’re the big bad bounty hunter and all, but trust me. It’s better for everyone if you stay in the car. Andrew, if he’s in here, won’t run. I’ll make sure he comes back.” She flicked a gaze over her shoulder at the door to the warehouse before looking back at me. “I get you, chica. You hate sitting on the sidelines. But trust me on this one. Don’t follow me. I’m not the most diplomatic person they could have sent, but I am damn good at what I do.” She paused for a moment, looking at me with serious brown eyes before shutting the door firmly.
I watched her swagger to the door and kick it open with one shot. Wow. I can never manage that. Even Ranger might have to take a kick or two, though I’ve seen him bust a door open with his shoulder on one hit. He’s more the lock picking type.
I sat there for a moment, watching the cross traffic at the end of the block. Faith was right, I hated sitting on the sidelines. I hated not knowing what was going on. It couldn’t hurt to go take a look, now could it? Just a tiny peek around the door just to see what was going on and then I’d go back to the car like a good girl and sit on my hands. No worries. Right?
I opened and closed the car as quietly as I could and crept to the door, now swinging loosely on its hinges. I could hear something inside, something that sounded suspiciously like fighting. I don’t care how much Faith looked like a Rangerette, there was no way she could handle a fight on her own. All I’d seen her with was a knife, not even a gun of any sort. And nobody brings a knife to a gun fight.
I pushed open the metal door silently, squeezing my way around the frame, keeping close to the wall. It was dark inside, only tiny slivers of light shining through the cracks in the boards, catching dust flecks like a swirl of silver snow flakes tumbling. I saw more light through a door across the open floor and I walked forward, happy I’d worn sneakers today. Sneakers were excellent for sneaking.
I rounded the corner and stopped in surprise. Faith was in the middle of the room, moving like death incarnate. She had a short sword with a strange handle in one hand and the long dagger in the other. She was surrounded by a pack of men, all snarling with entirely too frightening faces complete with long teeth. I gasped and slid down the wall at my back.
While I was busy getting my breath back, Faith took two more passes with her sword and three men turned to dust instantly. She laughed, free and wild, and her hair swirled around her shoulders, a living curtain. She leaped to the left, graceful as a gazelle, and sliced the head off the last, er, man. I was still quaking when she turned to the corner of the room.
The corner was full of darkness, but something moved. Or I think it was something; maybe it was somethings. I have no idea. Faith grinned bearing teeth.
“Come on, big boy, don’t you want to come out and play? I came all the way from Cleveland to get a little entertainment; don’t you want to oblige the lady?”
No, no, no, whatever you are, stay in the corner! But it couldn’t hear my mental ramblings. It did, however, hear Faith. It crept out of the dark corner, waving some sort of tentacles and I thought maybe I’d have to tell Grandma Mazur she was right about the aliens. Certainly seemed like we had a live one here.
Faith didn’t freak. Oh no. She just leapt forward, feet barely touching the ground, and swung her sword again. Some icky goo spurted from the front tentacle, and Faith laughed.
“That all you got, big boy? Come on, I thought you Vorshracks were supposed to be tough.”
There was some sort of shriek from the thing and it lurched forward, further into the light. I thought I might throw up. Gross doesn’t even begin to cover it, and it smelled horrible. I was busy trying not to yarf up the éclair when I saw something behind the Vor-whosit. A slumped body with sandy red-brown hair, just like my FTA. I started creeping along the floor, trying to get a better look. A lump of something gooey landed in front of me and I shuddered, but kept going.
A last squeal of anguish from behind me made me turn around. Faith stood over the creature, sword stabbed neatly through what looked like the eye. She looked up, met my eye, and whooped.
“Now that’s what I call fun. Back in Cleveland I have to share. Fuck sharing, I’m doing field detail from now on.”
That’s it. I’m never going to Cleveland again. It’s got a crappy baseball team, Drew Carey, and apparently monsters like my friend Vor-hyhall or whatever. No, thank you. Never.
By now, Faith had reached the body on the other side of the room. She knelt down, pushing the hair back from his forehead. “Andrew?”
It was a surprisingly tender movement from the woman who just hacked the heck out of a probable space alien. The boy, no, young man’s eyes opened.
“Faith? You came?”
“Of course I came, you little pudwhacker.”
He grinned weakly and pulled a book from under his shirt. “Did I do good?”
Faith smiled, helping Andrew to a sitting position. “You did great. Now, you’re going to go with the nice bounty hunter lady, get this car issue straightened out, and come back to Cleveland. Dawn’s taken over the cooking since you’ve been away and we desperately need your help.”
I was still feeling a bit gobsmacked about the whole affair so I didn’t react as quickly when I heard a voice behind me say, “Holy shit.”
All three of us turned to see the new comers and I was only slightly surprised to see Tank and Ranger in the doorway. Tank was the one who spoke, which was interesting since he almost never said anything.
Ranger was looking at the carcass on the floor with entirely not enough surprise for my tastes. He looked at me, still slumped on the floor and gave that tiny head shake. “We were in the area and saw your car. You alright, babe?”
“Oh, she’s five by five. She sat out the action.”
That drew Ranger’s attention across the room, beyond the scary corpse and my pathetic assed self. Faith stood up slowly, dagger still in hand though she’d dropped the sword. He stood stock still, staring at her. She cocked her head and stalked forward, every inch a wild animal.
“Well, well, what have we here? Steph, you didn’t mention the local attractions.” Her lips curved up in a gamine smile and I had a brief flutter of jealousy. Ranger inclined his head slightly, the only indication he heard her.
Ranger was supposed to look only at me; that was the way things worked. This was ridiculous. I had Morelli. Ranger was never going to be. I knew this. I know this. I sighed, exasperated. A movement at my side brought my attention to Andrew. He had this smile on his face, a wistful dreamy one. “She always gets this way after slaying. Makes her hungry and horny.”
Tank had ambled forward and was poking the dismembered thing with a two by four. My interest wasn’t in Tank, though, it was on the dance in front of me. Faith moved toward Ranger slowly, sizing him up. He was quite a tasty bite to size up, too. Cuban-American with skin like mocha, hair pulled back into a short pony tail, tight fitting black t-shirt, trousers, and combat boots. He was in commando mode today. He was also one of the hottest men on the planet, in my opinion.
He still hadn’t spoken since Faith made her move. She stopped, shrugging out of the jacket and dropping it to the floor. Ranger flicked his eyes over her and I knew she had his attention. It wasn’t that she was throwing sex at him, it was more than that. It made me feel distinctly inadequate.
“You’ve seen this before, haven’t you, soldier boy? I bet I know where, too. Riley said some of his men had struck out on their own a few years back, right after everything went down in Sunnydale. Looks like you’re doing well.”
At the mention of this Riley person, Ranger tensed, eyes narrowed. “I do what I can.”
She laughed, loud and clear, a huntress in her element. “So you know what I am, then.”
What she was? Not who? This just gets weirder and weirder.
“He might have mentioned.” Now Ranger uncrossed his arms, letting them hang loosely at his side. Faith stretched again, all lean muscles.
“So, handsome, wanna dance?” Faith dropped the dagger on the coat and stepped to the side, directly in line with Ranger. With no warning, she struck out with a fist. Ranger blocked it neatly, an inch from his face. She beamed, pleased. “Alright! This won’t be such a waste of time.”
And then it was on. They moved after each other dancing back and forth. Fists and feet and legs and arms moving in complex motions, like a choreographed ballet. It was beautiful.
I felt a tug on my arm and Andrew was trying to pull me to my feet. “We need to leave now.”
“Before she beats him. It’s just better. Get that guy over there and come on.” Andrew looked over at Faith and Ranger sparring and rolled his eyes. I didn’t want to go anywhere, but Tank was suddenly there too, helping me to walk.
What was this? Ranger was mine! Ugh. Not really, but still, I hated this. No way would I leave him here. Er, leave her. After all, Faith was sort of my responsibility. Not that she looked like she needed the help.
There was a particularly loud grunt from Ranger and I saw him go down on one knee. Faith hadn’t even broken a sweat. She leaned over him and said in a stage whisper, “You give up?”
He snapped up his head and landed a blow to her solar plexus that sent her flying. She shook it off like it was nothing.
By now, Tank and Andrew had gotten me to the door. I dug my heels in. “But, I don’t want to go! How will Faith get back home?”
Andrew gave me a weird look. “The same way she came. Willow’ll send for her.”
Tank pursed his lips and shuffled us both outside. I planted my fist on his chest, forcing him to look down on me. “You know what’s going on, don’t you?”
Tank sighed, removing my fist first, then picking me up bodily and marching me to my car. “Yes, Stephanie, I have an idea.”
“This has to do with what he did before he came up here and moved into the Batcave, doesn’t it?”
Tank halted his attempt to stuff me into the driver’s side of the car. He looked down at me, face unreadable. “That is his story to tell. You probably know too much already, if you saw the other one fight.”
“What is she?”
Andrew chirped up from the passenger seat, all neatly buckled up. “She’s a Slayer.”
Oh, that was so helpful. “And?”
They both looked at me, not saying another word. Men. “Fine, let’s go and get you a new date and I’ll take you back to your grandmother’s. She’s looking forward to seeing you.”
Andrew beamed. “I love visiting Gran Wells. She has the greatest stories.”
I bet. I sighed, pushed Tank away from my open door and closed it shut with a bang. He didn’t react, watching to make sure I drove away. I looked at the clock and saw it was only 3 o’clock. Wonderful. I could drop off Andrew and still have time to buy a new pair of shoes before the date. Nothing is better than a new pair of shoes.
And tomorrow, Ranger is going to have a whole helluva lot to explain.