Stevie Stone by Kelly Claire

Stealing cars wasn’t what I imagined as my ideal career, but I try to take opportunities as they come. When I was a little girl my first choice was to be Wonder Woman. Unfortunately I never developed a strong second choice. This lack of direction is what led me to my current career. I had never worked in repo before, but I was sure I’d pick it up as I went along. It seemed pretty straight forward. You grab the stuff and go. What could go wrong?
Stevie Stone
Stevie Stone by Kelly Claire
It must have seemed like an unusual fit for a wannabe actress, but anything had to be better than waitressing. If I had one more asshole order java then patronisingly explain it meant coffee I was going to kick some serious ass. My interview started easy enough. As soon as I stepped inside Harriet Hollywood’s Repossessions a Hispanic guy the size of a woolly mammoth gave me a look and said, “You Stevie Stone?” I was tempted to grunt, but instead just nodded. He was wearing long baggy tan shorts, white socks pulled up to his knees and a wife beater tank. He had tattoos covering his arms and a scar that ran down the side of his face. I immediately realized that even The Rock would have to butch it up to fit in with these guys. “Harriet will be out in a minute.” I sat down, looked at my outfit and felt ridiculous in my grey pants and red blouse. I glanced around the room then rolled my eyes in disgust. There they were. The obligatory signed photos of celebrity clients on the wall. This was an especially annoying practice in LA. You couldn’t even go to your gyneocologist without seeing touched up, smiling celebrities staring down at you. Head shots at a repo company? Whatever. The front office was decorated with a couple of cheap desks, linoleum on the floor, some file cabinets and an old looking beige sofa along the back wall. The only unexpected accessory was the abundance of silk flower arrangements scattered around the office. The woolly mammoth was sitting in the back with two smaller versions of himself. They were having a discussion in Spanish. Being paranoid, I assumed they were talking about me. I was trying to decipher their conversation with my limited skills when the back office door opened and a gust of flowery perfume exploded into the room. A woman in her early sixties walked in. She had white blond hair stacked on top of her head, too much make up and huge breasts that looked like two missiles ready to launch. She wore a jean miniskirt, a purple top that hugged every mound and white heels that were so high they almost looked like stilts. The wholly mammoth made a gesture in my direction and the woman strode over gave me a big smile, held out her hand and introduced herself telling me to call her Harry. I shook her hand then just stood there not knowing what to say, wondering if I was on one of those shows where they prank people. “Come into my office so we can have a chat,” she said gesturing for me to follow her. As she passed the woolly mammoth she said, “Hey Hector, go earn me some money and take the two little shits with you.” I took a deep breath and shot my eyes between the two of them. What happened next was totally unexpected. Hector and friends started laughing. “Okay, boss,” he said. “There are some new repo papers in your mailbox.” Box? Hector had a mailbox? I don’t know what I expected, but Hector going to his mailbox wasn’t it. “Now get your fat ass off my sofa and leave,” Harry said with a wave of her hand. My eyes darted over to see Hector’s response. I guess he enjoyed the abusive banter because all he did was smile. Harry opened the door into her office. I must have looked shocked because she said, “Not what you thought is it sweetheart?” It definitely was not. It was all white, with a glass desk and a big white fur rug on the floor. The walls had pictures of men in different stages of undress. “I like to look at a bit of eye candy. It makes the day go by faster,” she said, giving me a wink and telling me to take a seat in one of the white leather chairs that faced her desk. The office’s décor was a surprise, but the real shock was the row of bookcases that flanked her desk on the side walls. It seemed as if Harry was a charter member of a book club. Harry saw me staring at her bookcases and said, “My packaging can confuse people. They think a goddess don’t read.” Was I supposed to respond? All I could think of to say was, “No kindle?” “I like to feel what I am reading,” she said with a wink. “Now tell me why a cute little thing like you would want to do repo work?” I secretly wanted to jump for joy at the little comment, considering several casting directors had told me to start smoking and become addicted to energy drinks to help lose the extra weight I was apparently carrying. On a good day I can zip into my size four jeans without having to lie on my bed and suck in a pound of flesh. I was normal weight, but by Hollywood standards I was obese. I didn’t have an answer to her question so I blurted out, “It has to be better than waitressing.” I couldn’t believe I said that, but something about Harry made me feel comfortable. Harry started to laugh. “You know sometimes this work can get ugly. You understand that?” I wasn’t sure what she meant exactly by ugly, but I knew people weren’t going to be especially glad to see you when you were repossessing their car. “I can imagine.” I lied. “No, honey you can’t, but I could use someone like you. When people see Hector coming they tend to take off. They’d never suspect that you’d be working repo.” I nodded in agreement. “I think you’re going to work out just fine.” I started to feel nervous. What did I get myself into? “Harry?” “Yes, hon?” “I’m an actress. Would it be alright if I took off sometimes for auditions?” “Darlin’, this is LA everyone’s an actor. Even Hector’s taking classes. You make your own schedule. I put the repo orders in your box. You get the merchandise back on your own time.” I talked over the details with Harry and agreed to be back in the office tomorrow morning. I was going to be trained by Hector. Something to look forward to. Chapter Two I arrived at Harry’s on time. I skipped the grey interview pants and wore jeans, a black T-shirt and black sneakers. A girl has to match. I didn’t know what to do about a purse. Did I bring it on the job? If not, where did I put all my stuff? I was sure Hector and friends didn’t have this problem. In the end I decided on a fanny pack. I knew it was a major fashion faux pas, but I was sure the boys at Harriet’s wouldn’t notice. I just hid the offending bag at my building because the other type of “boys” in West Hollywood would notice and I would never live it down. My two closest friends in LA were Jeff and Jason. They were always very quick to tell me when I needed to moisturize, wax my eyebrows and when I should use whitening strips. They were definitely into high maintenance beauty, but when they complimented me I knew they weren’t just blowing smoke up my butt. I knew I earned it. It was great getting a man’s perspective. Well, at least a gay man’s perspective. Harry had told me to park my car in the lot behind the office and to come through the back door. I parked next to a white Cadillac Escalade with gold trim and rims that looked like the ones that spun around. There was enough gold to make even a pimp jealous. I guessed the owner wasn’t concerned about the environment. Next to the Escalade was a silver minivan. Obviously that person didn’t see the big sign that said in obnoxiously big black letters, “If you don’t belong, you will be towed.” I grabbed my fanny pack and cringed hoping no one would take my picture and put it in a magazine with a black bar covering my eyes in the “What not to wear” section. I debated with myself about whether to put the top up on my old Volkswagen Beetle. I left it down, there was nothing to steal anyway. I took a deep breath, opened Harry’s back door and walked in. I was instantly greeted by the pungent mixture of flowery perfume and hairspray. I walked through a small hallway and passed a bathroom on my right and peeked in. Harry must really like silk flowers. There was a vase of them on the counter, one in the corner on a stand and another behind the toilet. I smiled to myself picturing Hector and friends using the bathroom. I came into the office and saw Hector and his two minis weighing down the sofa in the same spots they were before. They seemed to be wearing the same clothes. Maybe it was a uniform. Would I be assigned a wife beater tank, baggy khaki shorts and white knee socks? As soon as Hector saw me he got up, smiled and said, “Hey, I’m Hector.” He held out his hand. “And these two are Gus and Victor.” He pointed at each one when he said their names. “Don’t you assholes know any manners? Stand up and shake hands. Bunch of hicks don’t know nothin’.” They both grinned and did what he asked. I was surprised. Somehow I didn’t expect Hector to be correcting people on their manners. Harry’s office door flew open and she came waltzing out. She was wearing a red and white polka dot skirt, a white blouse and black heels. She looked like Minnie Mouse on steroids. “Hey, Goldilocks, are you ready to get started?” She said winking at me. I nodded. Was I Goldilocks? I wanted to say look at the roots honey. I owe my blondness to my hairdresser’s expertise at highlights and my ability to pay him an excessive amount of money. Some things you can’t scrimp on. Harry scooted out Gus and Victor by calling them a bunch of shitheads and to go earn her some money. They nudged each other, grabbed some work orders from their box and left. They only get one box? She explained the procedures and how to fill out the paperwork while Hector sat on the sofa talking on his phone in Spanish. When Harry was done she smacked my ass and told us both, “To get the hell out of here.” If she had been a man I would have decked her, but for some reason I wasn’t offended by the ass slapping. Before we left Hector grabbed a little spray canister and gave it to me. “Put this in that old lady thing.” Old lady thing? I’m being dissed for my fashion choices by Mr. Wife Beater? “You mean my fanny pack?” “If that’s what it’s called. My nana wears one.” Great. Me and his nana. “What is this thing?” I said holding up the silver canister. “It’s pepper spray.” “Why would I need this?” “You’ll see.” That didn’t sound promising. “I don’t even know how to use it.” “You just aim and shoot. Just make sure you aim for their face, not yours.” He chuckled and shook his head laughing at his own joke. “If you do those blue eyes of yours will be changing into red ones mighty quick.” More laughing. At least he seemed happy. When we got to the parking lot Hector looked at my car. “This is yours isn’t it?” “Yeah. Why?” Hector started laughing and slapping his thigh. “I knew it. Those two dumb asses owe me twenty bucks.” “You guys bet on what type of car I had?” “Yep, and I won. I knew you’d have one of these girlie shit type cars. Dumb and dumber said you’d have a hybrid to be all hip to the environment.” He got his keys out of his pocket and clicked the alarm of the silver minivan. Then he mumbled something about how the pimp mobile was the boss’s car. I wasn’t sure why the three of them betting on what kind of car I drove bothered me, but it did. “Cool car.” I said hopping into the passenger seat. “What about it?” He asked looking at me suspiciously. “Nothing, I was just wondering if you copied all your friends in the PTA?” “Hey, I’m sensing some attitude,” he said. “Oh. And nice socks. Are you afraid of varicose veins and need a little extra support?” I took off my fanny pack, shoved the pepper spray in it, threw a Barbie doll that was on the floor into the backseat and slammed the door shut. “Whoa, little girl is hitting me with some major ‘tude,” he said while adjusting the air conditioning before pulling out onto Hollywood Boulevard towards the Westside. “The little girl comment. Not helping,” I said wagging my finger at him. “Alright. Calm down. Damn, you’re almost as bad as my wife.” He huffed and shook his head. I crossed my arms and glared at him. He gave me confused look. “Fuck. I really don’t mean to make you pissed off. It’s just I hang out with guys, not chicks. Unless of course I was gonna see them naked. But that’s different.” “You mean to say that you’re not really a complete sexist ass. You just pretend to be.” “Yeah, that’s right.” Hector and I parked in front of a house in the flats of Beverly Hills. It was one of those typical McMansions, a huge house built on a too small lot. A testament to ego rather than to taste. During the drive over my temper had died down. I realized Hector was not insulting me. He just really didn’t know how to talk to women. I had come to this conclusion by overhearing his conversations with his wife who had called at least four times. He had talked to her in a mixture of Spanish and English so I was able to understand some of it. I actually felt sorry for him. It sounded like he was getting a considerable scolding for something he had done. Through it all he never yelled and was pretty mellow. It seemed like this was an everyday occurrence. I didn’t want him to know I was being nosy so I got out my phone and pretended to sort through my messages. “What are we doing here?” I asked. Hector hadn’t spoken to me on the drive over. I think he was afraid of saying the wrong thing. “See that black Ferrari?” He pointed to the driveway two houses up. There was a big gate, but we could see the car behind it. “Yes.” “We’re waiting for the piece of shit owner to leave it somewhere where it ain’t locked up, so we can nab it.” I was confused. I expected to be going to a different sort of neighborhood. Certainly not Beverly Hills. My face must have betrayed my thoughts because he said, “What? You think people in this neighborhood can’t be deadbeats?” I never really thought about it before. But yes, I really didn’t think my first repo would be in Beverly Hills. “Yeah, I guess I did.” “Shit,” the Westside is where most of our work is.” He said shit as if it was a three syllable word. “I had no idea.” I had wrongly assumed that I would be hanging out in the parts of town that I didn’t frequent very often. “The more money the repo is worth the more money gets in our pocket. Harry doesn’t do any small ass stuff. I’ll tell you though these rich dick wad types are sneakier than any of the homies’ in the hood.” Geez. I hope I didn’t have to repossess something from anyone I know. That could get a little awkward. I was ready to tell Hector as much when he started up the van and said, “There he goes.” I looked over and saw two men; both had dark slicked back hair and an extraordinarily large amount of chest hair peeking out from the collars of their shirts. They looked like the rich types that hung out on Sunset Boulevard, drinking wine all day, pretending to be in the “business,” looking to get laid. I had to fend off quite a few in my previous food service profession. “I’ve been following around this ass wipe for a week,” he said. “That’s why I have my wife’s van. He spotted my car on first day.” “Why what kind of car do you have?” He let out a whistle. “A sweet magenta Camaro. The rims alone are worth two thousand.” No wonder this guy spotted him. That’s not exactly a blend in car in this neighborhood. “Does it have one of those really loud engines?” “Hell, yes it does. Man it’s got as much power as any man needs. Shit is it loud?” He said shaking his head. “Does it have more power than this van?” I couldn’t help myself. He seemed so serious about the “power”. He said it with such reverence. “You don’t know nothin’ about…” Hector looked at me and saw that I was smiling and stopped himself. “Alright, alright the girl can give some shit.” We were following the Ferrari from three cars behind. Even though we were in Beverly Hills, the car still stood out. Most of the other cars were somewhat more understated. There were a lot of Mercedes, BMWs and Toyota Priuses for the Hollywood environmentalists and Hummers for those who didn’t give a crap. “Didn’t you think your loud, magenta car would get noticed around here?” “Look at me. I wasn’t going to blend in anyways. I might as well get some driving enjoyment.” I looked at Hector and acknowledged he was right. It would be hard for a man with his girth to blend in anywhere. I was right about my assessment of the chest hair guys. They swung around into the valet parking lot of Sunset Plaza. We waited in the van from across the street at a discreet distance and saw the two men walk down the street. Hector quickly pulled out and drove into the parking lot. He found a spot and hopped out. A valet guy who had long blond hair pulled into a man bun, an obvious spray tan and teeth white enough to signal a plane, came running towards us. “Excuse me, but this is valet only,” he said. “I’m not doing valet,” Hector said, walking past him. “I’m sorry sir, but it’s not a choice, this area is for valet parking only.” Hector looked more annoyed than angry. “Man, this is my wife’s car and I am under her instructions that no one. I repeat, no one. Can drive this car but me.” The valet parking attendant looked pained. I could understand his dilemma. Hector didn’t look like someone you’d want to piss off. “If you don’t want us to drive the car that’s fine, but you have to still pay the seven dollars to park.” “Seven dollars?” The valet guy nodded. “Man, what a frickin rip off,” Hector grumbled then reached into his wallet pulled out the seven dollars and tossed it to him. “Now, fuck off before I get mad.” The valet guy took the money and ran. Hector reached into the back of the van while complaining how LA was a fucking rip off and pulled out some small tools. I followed him to where the Ferrari was parked. Luckily, the car was in the back part of the lot. Hector took out what looked like a long stick, slid it down between the window and the door then pulled it back up. “Damn, this is a mother fucker.” He tried it a couple more times. “Take that, bitch,” he said. Then he reached for the handle, opened the door and fiddled with some wires. Was this legal? I couldn’t believe I was standing there as look out, while somebody broke into a car. Within seconds I heard the Ferrari’s engine rev up. Hector got out of the car and motioned for me to get in the driver’s seat. I shook my head. “I’ll drive the van. You deserve the power,” I said hoping the sound of the engine would entice him. I thought I would drive the van back to Harry’s and he would take the Ferrari just in case this sort of thing was in the grey area of the law. “What I said to that guy was no bullshit. No one else drives the van but me.” “But how will she know?” I pleaded. “Shit. She knows everything and I don’t want to get into it with her. Now just get in the car and follow me.” He seemed to be genuinely afraid of his wife. She did sound a little scary from what I had heard earlier. I felt a little sorry for him “Fine,” I said and got in. It stunk like cigarettes and bad cologne. Hector started to walk away. I rolled down the window and yelled out, “Hector, would you please bring me my bag? I don’t feel comfortable driving without my license.” Hector gave me a ‘You’ve got to be kidding me look.’ “You mean that frickin ass grandma bag?” “Yes. Can you and your wife beater tank top get it for me?” Smart ass. He walked away grumbling something about women and saying, “Shit.” He brought me my fanny pack and tossed it in the passenger seat. “Here’s the repo paperwork in case you get stopped,” he said. Stopped? By whom? I started to panic. “Chill, Goldilocks. Sometimes people call the police. They think they can sweet talk the cops into getting their car back. My number is on the back of the paperwork if you need something. I’ll see you back at Harry’s place.” He walked back to his car and pulled out of the parking lot. I gingerly drove the Ferrari around to follow him, as I was waiting for the light, the hairy owners came out of the restaurant, carrying takeout. When they saw me, they started yelling and running towards the car. My heart started racing. Crap. The two men started pounding on the car window. Pretend they aren’t there I told myself. I started to look at my cuticles. Man, I could use a manicure. The pounding was getting louder. Thank God the windows in the Ferrari were apparently industrial strength. The noise was getting louder and people were starting to stare. It was getting really embarrassing. I had to do something. “I am legally allowed to take your car,” I finally screamed holding up the repo papers as proof. I kept repeating this hoping they would understand and stop pounding on the windows. Tired of yelling, I decided to crack the window and explain. Just as I opened my mouth the more agitated of the two reached through and yanked my hair making my head slam against the window. Ow! “Now what, bitch?” Whoa. What’s with the name calling? The hair puller had a strong accent French accent. And I presumed his weapon of choice was his cologne. Yuck. He wore enough to knock over a small elephant. “Let go of my hair,” I yelled. Paying for highlights was bad enough. I couldn’t imagine what fixing a big bald patch would cost. The guy holding my hair looked at his friend and they both started laughing. “This dumb bitch wants me to let go.” Again with the name calling? “I’m within the law to take your car. Now, let go,” I yelled grimacing in pain as he pulled my hair harder. I was getting mad. The light had changed, I had a bunch of cars behind me and this guy was calling me names and grabbing my hair. I felt like I was eight years old fighting with one of my brothers waiting for one of us to say “uncle”. “If you let go of my hair, I’ll give you back your car,” I bluffed. The two them started laughing again. I could feel my temper rising. I had enough of their idiotic cackling. Maybe I should bite him like I use to with my brothers. Then again I’d have to actually touch him. No thanks. The light turned green again. I wanted to bolt out of there, but this guy had my hair and I was not going to lose a hunk of it. I searched around for my fanny pack and pulled out the canister Hector had given me, yanked off the lid and squirted it right in the guy’s face. The man started screaming, covering his eyes with his hands. His friend jumped back with his arms in the air, as if to say he gave up. “I’m going to fucking kill you,” hair puller shouted. Hmm, a little scary, but overall that was pretty easy. This pepper spray stuff was fabulous. I punched the gas pedal making my fanny pack fly off the seat. All my stuff fell onto the floor. Dammit. I reached down, shoved it back in and took off down Sunset Boulevard towards Hollywood. I was nervous and shaking a bit, but for some reason I started to laugh. I was still laughing when I saw the lights flashing behind me. I fumbled for my phone and told Hector what was happening. He said his usual shit and that he would be there in a few. I wasn’t sure if the sight of a three hundred pound man with tattoos covering a good portion of his body was going to help, but he was the supposed expert. I tried to explain to the police officers what happened, but they didn’t seem to hear me. Instead they asked me to stand away from the car with their guns drawn. I told them how I was a perfectly within my rights to be driving this car because I was a repossession professional, but they weren’t listening. When I admitted to them that I didn’t own the car. And yes I had sprayed someone with pepper spray. They slapped handcuffs on me and we headed towards their police car. This was not good. “Hey, what the fuck are you doing?” Hector yelled from across the street. He trotted across Sunset Boulevard holding out his hands daring the cars to not let him pass. I looked at the police officers to see what they were going to do. I didn’t want Hector to get shot. “You motherfuckers are arresting my assistant man.” I was his assistant? I don’t think so. The police officers looked me over and started laughing. “I told you,” I said wanting to stick my tongue out. My maturity level was at a new low. “Did Harry recruit her at the sorority house?” Sorority? They didn’t even know me. “For your information I was never in a sorority. I found them completely archaic and discriminatory.” They laughed even harder. I looked at Hector in disgust and turned around showing him I still had the handcuffs on. “Hello? I’m sorry to interrupt your little ‘I’m a bunch of assholes meeting’, but I’m still handcuffed here.” The two cops looked almost identical. Both were Hispanic, medium height, with dark hair and eyes, except one looked like he had been eating more donuts than the other. “I don’t know. We got a call that she sprayed pepper juice in some guy’s face,” the donut one said. Hector looked at me for an answer. “The guy grabbed my hair through the window and wouldn’t let go,” I explained. “See the dick head had it coming,” Hector said to them. “Alright Hector, show us your papers,” the skinnier one said. I told Hector the papers were still in the front seat of the car. When Hector went to get them, donut cop unlocked the cuffs. I looked down at my wrists and instinctively started to rub them. When Hector was walking back a generic looking white sedan pulled over to the curb. A guy who was a major hottie stepped out and greeted Hector. He was a couple inches taller than Hector had longish straight brown hair and a drool worthy body. Even though he did the complicated hand shake thing he wasn’t wearing the wife beater uniform. He had on baggy jeans and a long sleeved, grey top. I heard them talking in Spanish. They both looked at me and started smiling. Now I was being made fun of in two languages. The mystery guy looked at the two cops and did that recognition nod that men do then glanced my way again, got in his car and took off. Hector walked over and asked, “Goldilocks, you okay?” I nodded. I couldn’t believe I was actually responding to the name Goldilocks. Hector gave the paperwork to the cops. They saw it was legit and after apologizing to me took off. “Hey, Hector who was that guy in the white car?” “A friend.” Duh, I figured that out. “Is he a cop?” I asked. “What’s with the twenty questions?” “Twenty? I’ve asked two.” “It seems like twenty. Let’s get this car back so you don’t have to get all jiggy with your pepper spray again.” He did a little karate move when he said this and then laughed at himself. “You’re hilarious.” I said giving him a bitch look. He looked guilty then mumbled something about me following him back to Harry’s place. I could hear him saying his long drawn out shit as he drove off. Chapter Three I sighed when I clicked open the gate to my apartment’s underground parking garage. I was glad to be home. My tires seemed to squeal in agreement as I pulled into my parking spot. I grabbed the fanny pack and walked to the elevator hoping that none of my neighbors were around. I was too tired to talk to anyone. I debated about whether to knock on Jason and Jeff’s door. I knew they would baby me and make a fabulous dinner, but they would also ask a zillion questions. I wasn’t sure I wanted to get into the hair pulling, pepper spraying story. Better to just go to my apartment, get on my pajamas and zone out in front of the TV. When I walked down the hall I saw a familiar figure waiting for me. He was leaning against my door with a knowing grin on his face. “Anything new you want to tell me about?” Bryan asked putting his arm around my shoulder and giving me a kiss on the cheek. God he smelled good. I had to keep chanting to myself that we were broken up. “No, nothing to tell,” I said. He obviously already knew about what happened. He had friends everywhere in this city and they were never shy about reporting my shenanigans. Bryan and I had met in my senior year at UCLA when I broke into a science lab and freed the animals they had been doing experiments on. I was running from the campus police when I saw Bryan walking by and shoved the bunny I was holding into his messenger bag. I was smitten when he helped me ditch the campus police and didn’t even get angry after the bunny ended up crapping all over his law books. He was from one of those families that seemed to have their fingers and money in everything. They wanted him to go into politics like his father and grandfather. He wanted that too, but not for the same reasons they did. He actually thought he could make a difference. I thought he was battling a hopeless cause. He worked in the district attorney’s office as a prosecutor, which was the first step in his carefully constructed future. Six months ago he had asked me to marry him and I turned him down. I loved being his girlfriend, but being his wife sent me into a panic. There was no way I could see myself going to fundraisers and having that fake smile plastered across my face that his mother had permanently glued onto hers. If I married him I knew I’d have to change and I didn’t want to change. I liked me. After rejecting his proposal we both agreed to take a break and figure things out. “Why didn’t you use your key?” I asked. We were in that awkward phase where we were friends, but still wanted to jump each other’s bones. “You never gave me another one after you lost yours and I had to let you in,” he said. I didn’t remember, but that sounded like me. “Stevie you can’t be serious with this job. Working in repo is definitely not a good fit for you,” he immediately launched in. I ignored him. This wasn’t the first time he didn’t approve of my career path. I unlocked my door and threw my keys on the kitchen counter. My apartment was a small one bedroom in a building built during Hollywood’s golden age. On the plus side it had high ceilings, wood floors and crown moldings. On the negative side it had no air conditioning, old appliances and bathroom fixtures that looked like they had been left over from the silent film era. The best part of the apartment was the balcony that overlooked the pool, which luckily on most days had an abundance of gorgeous gay men working on their tans. “Don’t start,” I said. “You know this job isn’t right for you,” he said. “How are you going to take someone’s car?” “Actually I’m surprisingly good,” I said. He gave me a doubtful look. “I am.” “Come on Stevie you graduated at the top of your class. You know you can get a better job than this.” “I like this one.” This was the basis of most of the fights we had. I did something he thought was crazy and he tried to convince me that it was a terrible idea. “You need to quit,” he said. “No way.” “I can help you find another job.” “I happen to like my boss and my co-workers are quite pleasant. So forget it.” I crossed my arms in front of me. He glared at me knowing it was a lost cause. “Stevie,” he said. “I deal with these types of people every day. You’re just too…nice for it.” I put my phone on speaker to listen to my messages ignoring him. It was Jeff. “Stevie we really need you to bring us some maxi pads and come up as soon as you get home.” What? I had to replay his message three times to make sure what I had heard was right. Maxi pads? What’s up with that? I heard Bryan sigh behind me. I turned around and smiled. I had a feeling Jeff’s message would stop him from nagging me about my job. Maxi pads would definitely not be on Bryan’s top things to talk about. “I don’t want to know,” he said holding his hand up. Jeff and Jason lived in the apartment above me. “You don’t want to come with me and find out what’s going on?” I teased. “No I don’t.” “I know they’d love to see you.” “I’m sure they would.” I started laughing. Jeff and Jason loved Bryan almost as much as I did. They thought I was crazy for turning him down. Bryan genuinely liked them, but sometimes got uncomfortable when they looked at him like he was lunch. I didn’t blame them. Sometimes I would stare at Bryan and find drool slipping out the side of my mouth. He was a foot taller than me and his body looked like one of those after shots in an advertisement for a gym. He had eyes the color of chocolate and dark blond hair that hung to the side and was always getting in his eyes. There was also something about him that made people want to bask in his aura. “Scared?” I asked. “Yes,” he said smiling. “The last time I saw them Jason kept accidentally bumping into me and touching my ass.” True. Jason was tipsy and couldn’t resist. “You could take it as a compliment,” I said. He came closer to me and tilted my chin up to look at him. “I’d rather get compliments from someone else.” Yikes. “I’m sure you’ve gotten compliments from lots of people lately,” I said accusingly. He grinned. “Maybe…but not from the one I want,” he said kissing me lightly on the lips. He had been baiting me like this for the past couple of weeks and I wasn’t going to give in. Even though I really wanted to. Having sex wouldn’t be good for either one of us. It was guaranteed to be fabulous. It always was, but the after wouldn’t. We’d still have the same problems. At least being friends we could still be in each other’s lives and not have the pressure of trying to fit into our different worlds. I never asked if he had slept with other women and he never told, but I suspected he wasn’t staying home watching chick flicks with his two gay neighbors like someone else we both knew. I tried not to think of Bryan with anyone else. It wasn’t good for my psyche. “I better go see what they need,” I said giving him a kiss on the cheek. He pulled me close and hugged me. “Your hair smells different. And what’s this?” He asked touching the side of it. I reached up and felt it. It was definitely a little crunchy. “The pepper spray was more powerful than I realized,” I explained. “I should have known,” he said shaking his head. He gave me a quick kiss on the lips goodbye. No tongue. Like a good friend and left. Within five minutes I had the requested box of maxi pads, and was knocking on Jeff and Jason’s door. Their apartment looked like a magazine spread, whereas mine looked like a dorm room in training. They shouted for me to come in the bedroom. Jason and Jeff didn’t have a TV in their living room. They said it ruined the aesthetics. I interpreted that as meaning they thought it was tacky. They don’t even bother commenting on my place anymore. I told them it wasn’t that I had bad taste it was just that I had bad funds. Jason was a red haired, blue eyed, good ol’ southern boy who just happened to be into dark, exotic looking men. That’s were Jeff came in. He was half Columbian, half Japanese and gorgeous. Jeff worked as a makeup artist in the entertainment industry and Jason was an entertainment lawyer. They’d been together for five years and were perfect for each other. When I got into the bedroom I stopped in my tracks. “Oh, my God, what have you two done?” I was sure my eyes must have looked as if I they were ready to spring out of my head. They were lying on their bed with pillows propping up their butts wearing only pajama bottoms. Their asses were huge and looked like they had been inflated with an air pump. “What do you mean?” Jason said giving me a wide eyed innocent look that I was sure he practiced in the mirror. Jason was the crazy one of the two and always seemed to get Jeff wrapped into his schemes. Jason liked to put on a little man’s tough guy attitude. I didn’t even realize he was gay until I met Jeff. Then the gig was definitely up. It’s wasn’t that Jeff was campy in any way, it’s just that if he got you a glass of water he brought it to you in a wine glass, with crushed ice, a lemon wedge on the side and a cocktail napkin. “For God’s sake it looks like your butts are ready to explode.” “We just worked out really hard today,” he said. “Yeah, right. Why do you need my maxi pads then?” I held them up in the air as a witness to his insanity. “Is it to wipe the sweat off your swollen asses?” I hated when Jason tried to bullshit me. He must have gotten away with a lot as a child because he would say the most outlandish stories and people would believe him. He wasn’t necessarily a liar only a really big exaggerator. Jeff was the sane one. “I told you she wouldn’t believe us.” Jeff said accusingly at Jason. “Dammit. Miss Nancy Drew has to notice everything.” “Jason, anyone would notice those asses,” I said. “I told him you would be suspicious when we asked for the pads, but he,” Jeff pointed at Jason, “Didn’t believe me.” I rolled my eyes at Jason. He blew me a kiss back. “So what really happened?” I asked. “We got butt implants,” Jason blurted out. I stared at them with my mouth hanging open. “You did what?” I shook my head in disbelief. Of course, I knew about breast implants. This was LA. Even the meter maids had gigantic boobs that stuck straight out, defying gravity. But butt implants weren’t as common. “Why would you do that?” I asked. “Our friend Omar got a new boyfriend who gave him a credit card with no limit and he offered,” Jason explained. “And you know Jason can never turn down a freebie,” Jeff said. Jason was known to be very careful with his money and was a fanatic coupon clipper. “He offered to buy you new butts?” “You wouldn’t understand. You’ve got a fat ass.” Was that a compliment? “Stevie, you know gay men like big, round firm butts,” Jeff said “Well, you too certainly are asses.” I gave Jason the maxi pads. “So, why do you need these?” I knew I probably didn’t want to know the answer, but I was too nosy not to ask. “We’re having a slight reaction the implants,” Jeff said I looked at Jason, wondering what kind of reaction would require maxi pads. “Are asses are leaking,” he said. I blinked my eyes a couple of times and looked at Jeff who nodded. I was trying not to get grossed out by pushing the image of their ass leaking out of my head. “You asked,” Jason said smirking obviously finding my discomfort funny. Jerk. I walked down the stairs back to my apartment in a daze. My thoughts were clouded with visions of the boys using my maxi pads. Not exactly an image that would lull me to sleep. At least they were too distracted by their implants leaking. Otherwise they would have noticed the faint smell of pepper spray still lingering around me and would have grilled me about my day. When I got inside my apartment I did a head shake in the hope that I would rattle my brain into forgetting the vision of the two of them in all their swollenness. After that was accomplished I went straight into the bathroom and hopped into the shower, doing a little extra hair scrubbing to get rid of the pepper spray residue. Then I did a quick towel off, pulled my wet hair into a pony tail. When I was putting on some undies and a T-shirt I heard someone in the front hallway. Don’t get freaked out I told myself it could be Jeff and Jason. Then I started thinking there was no way it could be them. Jeff and Jason would fall backwards from the new weight of their posteriors. They could barely move. My heart started to pound. Where was my bag? Damn. It was lying on the kitchen counter. For someone who never even saw pepper spray until this morning, I was a total pepper spray junkie now. I could hear footsteps walking around. What should I do? I decided to tiptoe into the hallway to take a look. “Where are you bitch?” “Yeah, come out,” another voice taunted. “We know you’re here.” Oh, my God. It was the hair puller and friend from this afternoon. I ran to my bedroom window, yanked it open and screamed my head off. I was so loud I was sure people as far away as the valley could have heard me. Not exactly the action woman I thought I was. I ran back to the bathroom and locked the door. I heard them run down the hall. I flinched when I saw the bathroom door handle turn. I held the handle and pushed all my weight against the door. I was so scared I felt like I was going to throw up. “You sneaky bitch,” hair puller said. “Fidel shoot the handle off the door.” “I didn’t bring the gun. You were supposed to bring it.” “No. It was you.” “You’re always blaming me.” “Fine. Forget it. Let’s just break the door down.” I braced my feet on the floor and pushed my back against the door just as they both started to ram into it. With each hit I felt myself getting angrier. After all I was just doing my job. They should have paid their bills. “Bitch we’re going to get you bad. You’re going to be our little bitch girlfriend,” said hair puller. I heard Fidel laugh. I couldn’t take it anymore. “You just love that word don’t you? You know what bitch means? A female dog. So actually it is not really that insulting to me. I love dogs.” “Shut up, bitch,” hair puller said. “You just proved my point. Your repertoire is very limited,” I grunted while pressing against the door. “You’re one crazy bitch,” shouted hair puller. “There you go again.” “She’s right you know,” said Fidel. “You do always use the word bitch.” “What? Just break down the door,” hair puller said “You got us in a lot of trouble today…whore.” He learned a new word. “Yeah you’re going to take us to our car,” Fidel said. “I don’t know where it is,” I answered. I didn’t either. We just brought it back to Harriet’s and she had someone else take it wherever it needed to go. “We’ll you’re going to find out and then we’re going to have some fun,” hair puller said. “You’re going to find out what it’s like to be with a real man.” “When you find one let me know,” I said. “She just insulted us, didn’t she?” Fidel said. No shit. Just then I heard other footsteps run down the hall towards my bedroom. More of their name calling friends? “Stevie, are you all right? Where are you?” It was Jeff and Jason. “Call the police,” I screamed. I exhaled with relief and slid down to the floor. “Let’s go,” shouted Fidel. I heard them run down the hall towards the front door. I looked around for something I could use as a weapon. Nothing. As a last resort I grabbed a flat iron and hair spray, took a deep breath and flung open the bathroom door. I immediately stopped when I saw Jeff and Jason blocking the hallway. They were crouched down in attack position with their eyes squinting in anger. “What the hell is that?” asked hair puller his eyes wide with disbelief. “I don’t know, but it looks like they’re wearing diapers,” Fidel answered. I shook my head and did a double take. I was shocked to see Jason and Jeff looking so fierce that I didn’t bother to notice what they were wearing or rather not wearing. They stood there with white bun huggers, designer of course, with very large maxi pad bulges. I should have told them that they only needed to use one at a time. “Jeff you block the door until the police come,” Jason said. “And no you ignorant men in desperate need of a good waxing, we are not wearing diapers. Haven’t you ever seen women’s maxi pads?” “What kind of craziness did you get me into Emil?” Fidel said. “Just shut up and let’s go before the police get here.” “I don’t want to get near those guys. It looks like they have some disease. Their butts are like a baboons. What if it is catching?” “Just don’t get near their asses. Let’s go!” Fidel shouted. “I know where you live.” I said, before putting my hand over my mouth when I saw them swing their heads around. Why don’t I just hang a sign on myself that said, “Kill me?” The hairy beasts seemed shocked to see me out of the bathroom and charged towards me. Jeff and Jason wasted no time in propelling themselves after them. I stared stunned at the sight coming towards me. Emil grabbed my wrist and raised his hand as if he was going to hit me. I took that opportunity to squirt him in the face with the hair spray. He covered his eyes and started screaming. I heard sirens in the distance. Fidel looked confused. He lunged toward me, but was pulled back by Jason and Jeff who grabbed him by his arms. “You stupid bitch,” Emil screamed still clutching at his eyes. The last bitch was just too much. I grabbed my flat iron, walked towards him and smacked him as hard as I could in his privates. Emil grabbed his crotch and fell to the floor moaning. Seeing his friend lying on the ground in agony sent Fidel into a panic. He wrenched his arms away from Jeff and Jason and screamed, “Don’t get your asses on me.” He tried to bolt. All three of us went running after him. He got as far as the door when Jeff jumped onto his back. “Don’t touch me,” Fidel screamed while moving backwards smacking Jeff and his swollen ass against the wall. Jeff cried out and fell to the floor. I ran towards him and tried to help him up. Jason whose face showed he was beyond pissed, reached out and pinched Fidel’s nipple, twisting it until his hand turned red. I thought Fidel’s eyes were going to pop out of his head. “I don’t want to be your boyfriend,” he begged in a high pitched voice. Jason looked at me and rolled his eyes. “Listen, you hairy ape, I’m going to let go but if you try to go out that door I am going to rub my infected ass all over you. You got it?” Fidel looked at him in horror and nodded. We heard what sounded like elephants coming down the hallway. Jason, Jeff and I blew out a collective sigh of relief. “Damn,” said Jason. “A bunch of hot uniformed guys and we’re not even close to looking our best.” I tried to smooth down my hair, which by this point was hanging in pieces all over. “Oh honey, forget it,” Jeff said taking my hand away from my head. “There’s no hope.” We looked at each other and started to laugh. “Maybe they won’t notice,” Jason said which made us laugh even harder. Screw it. I opened my front door and yelled down the hall, “We’re in here.” I didn’t care that the three of us looked ridiculous. We stopped two psychos with nothing but hair spray and a flat iron. Jason and Jeff even did it while wearing an abundance of women’s feminine products. To show my appreciation tomorrow I was going to buy them a boat load of maxi pads, order them a nice take out dinner and put on their favorite Broadway musical. Chapter Four When I walked into the repo office Hector hopped up and did the kung fu kick pepper spray move thing he had done yesterday, but now he had an audience and it was even more exaggerated. Gus and Victor started slapping the sofa, whooping and hollering, clearly enjoying Hector’s performance. “Careful, don’t pull Goldilocks’s hair because she goes crazy when you mess with her ‘do,” Hector cackled. Luckily, I grew up with brothers and knew not to take the ribbing personally. If they didn’t like me they wouldn’t bother. “At least I have hair,” I said looking directly at Hector’s bald head. This made Gus and Victor laugh even harder. They pointed at Hector, whooping and giving each other high fives. He rubbed his head and said, “Girl, you don’t have to get mean and shit.” “Oh and did I miss the memo that said there was a work uniform?” I exaggeratedly stared at their matching baggy, khaki shorts and white wife-beater tanks. They looked at one another in shock noticing for the first time they were all wearing the same outfits. “You know how couples who’ve been together a long time start to dress and look alike,” I said. “You never noticed before?” “Shit, Goldie. Now you’ve got us all freaked out,” Hector said. Gus and Victor chimed in agreeing with him. Victor and Gus said something in Spanish to Hector, grabbed their paperwork and left. I called after them, “Adios, boys.” “Man,” Hector said shaking his head. “What? You started it with the,” I did the kung fu chop thing. “He was pulling my hair and wouldn’t let go. What would you have done?” “Well, for one I would have knocked the shit out of him. And two, I don’t have any hair for him to grab.” I knew Hector was right. Those guys would have maybe cussed at him, but they would have left him alone. “I heard about your break in last night,” he said while looking over the day’s paperwork. “How?” I asked. “Shit I have cop friends don’t I?” It looked like he was trying to hide a smile. “What’s so funny?” “Apparently you are the talk, girlfriend,” he explained. “I had at least four guys call me up laughing their asses off about it.” I stared at him. “You hang out with some freaks don’t you?” he said. “Yeah, I do,” I answered looking directly at him. He frowned. “Okay I walked into that one.” I didn’t really think getting almost attacked was all that funny. Maybe strange, hairy guys breaking into apartments was the norm around here. “Does this type of thing happen to Harriet’s employees a lot?” “No,” he said chuckling to himself. “Have to be a crazy ass motherfucker to come to my neighborhood and try that shit.” Great. “What about Gus and Victor?” He shook his head. “No. Only you.” Maybe waitressing wasn’t so bad after all. “Hey don’t sweat it Goldilocks,” he said. “One of us will make sure no more crazy repos follow you home.” My phone vibrated in my pocket. I took it out and saw it was Bryan again. He had already called three times this morning. I hit the ignore button. If Hector had already heard what happened I was sure Bryan must have already gotten a copy of the police report and interviewed all the officers involved. Avoidance was the best choice. There was no way I wanted to explain Fidel and Emil to him. “Hey, where’s Harry?” Her perfume was all over the office. But considering how much she wore it could still be lingering from a week ago. “She goes to class today,” he answered. “What kind of class?” “The kind that uses books.” I was beginning to tell that Hector had a limited information policy. He didn’t ask and he didn’t tell. Most likely because he didn’t know. “Where does she take classes?” “How the hell do I know? Fuck you ask a lot of questions.” “I’ve only asked two.” “You’ve asked three and it seems like a lot more. Why the fuck do you care what classes she takes? Do you want to go with her?” Boy, someone is grumpy. Hector should quit repo and get a job with the CIA. He really seemed to know how to keep a lid on information. I was going to see if I could get some more details about the hottie guy in the white car, but considering his reaction to my previous questions I decided to shelve them. Hector grabbed our paperwork and we headed out to the parking lot. He hadn’t exaggerated about his car. It was a bright magenta muscle car, with huge rims that blinded me with their brightness. Hector looked at me and smiled. “Now you’re in for a treat. This car kills. No fucking van today.” I smiled and got in the passenger side. Hector certainly had pride of ownership. He must polish his car every spare moment he had. It smelled like a combination of leather cleaner and Armor All. The seat was so slick I had to grip the sides from slipping forward. When Hector started the car he revved it up and looked at me. “Now, that’s what I’m talking about.” I nodded and made a mental note to bring ear plugs. The engine was so loud I was afraid of hearing loss. We made our way south down Highland to Pico. Hector shouted over the engine noise that today was going to be an easy one. The mark was an old lady who wasn’t making payments on her Mercedes. My stomach tightened. An old lady? I didn’t like the sound of that. We ended up in Cheviot Hills. It’s an older area, where the houses were traditional, fairly large and nicely maintained. It looked like suburban anywhere. Hector and his magenta muscle car had no hope of blending. When I looked at Hector he seemed oblivious that he stood out and he just tapped along to the Spanish music he had playing, enjoying the morning. We stopped in front of a white house with black shutters and a carefully maintained rose garden out in front. “Fuck. The old lady has the car in the garage. You’re going to have to knock on her door and con her into opening it,” he said. He must be joking, “Yeah right.” “Do you think she’d open it for me?” He asked like I was crazy. He was right. She’d double lock her doors if she saw Hector coming. “I don’t want to break in. Harriet doesn’t like that sort of shit. It will be easy Goldie,” he said. “No one would suspect you. Just sweet talk her into it.” I’ve got to lie to an old lady to take her car? I sort of enjoyed taking the hairy guy’s car. But an old lady? “Why don’t you use a tow truck like Gus and Victor?” I asked stalling for time. “Those punks don’t have the gift like I do.” “Gift?” “Yeah, from God. How else could I hot wire any car in under two minutes?” I shrugged. “Besides it makes it cheaper to repo cars. Keeps costs down, which gives us a bigger profit margin,” he explained obviously proud of his two minute ability. Hector the business man. “Is it legal though?” I asked. He stared at me, not answering my question. “Well is it?” “Damn, Goldie do you have to be all technical and shit,” he said with a huff. “Man, what’s with bringing me down and all?” Who knew? Three hundred pound tattoo guy had a sensitivity issue. “Sorry, Hector sometimes my nosiness takes over.” I quickly back tracked, not wanting to make the big guy depressed. I glanced over the paperwork still stalling for time. Hector nudged me out the door and said he would wait for me around the corner. I was supposed to message him when I got the woman to open up the garage door. I walked to the front porch feeling like I should be visiting my granny, not stealing her car. I knocked on the door. It was obvious from the shuffling sounds she was looking out the peephole. I heard her undo the chain latch. When she opened the door she wasn’t quite what I expected. She was definitely older, maybe in her seventies, but was very attractive and well put together. Now that she opened the door I didn’t know what to say. Quick think of something. “Mrs. Howard, I’m with the Los Angeles County Automotive Authority and I need to check on your vehicle’s registration. To make sure it matches with the intended car.” The lies just flew off my tongue. The lady looked confused. “You said you were from where?” “The Los Angeles County Automotive Authority would please open your garage door so I can check your vehicle.” I could lie too easily. I must be a bad person. She squinted her eyes and looked me up and down. For once I was grateful for my typical white bread look. Very non-threatening. “Am I in trouble?” She asked. “No, we just need to check your car.” “Well…alright. Go to the front and I’ll open the garage.” I felt a bit guilty, but relished the fact I had a new career as a serial liar. I nodded and said I’d meet her. As soon as she shut the door I messaged Hector and told him what was going on. He responded with his usual guttural, drawn out, “Shit.” I put away my phone as the guilt swept over me. I’m talking an old lady out of her car. How low could I go? As I was simmering in my damnation, the garage door opened. I saw the Mercedes that needed to be repoed. It was a new two seat silver convertible with an old white Pontiac parked next to it. “There you are …I’m sorry, what was your name?” She asked. Do I give her my real one or should I come up with a fake? “I’m Stevie,” I said not sure I could handle responding to an alias. “Oh,” she said smiling at me. I got out my organizer out of my bag and pretended to check out her registration. “Is everything all right?” she asked. “Yes, it all seems to be in order, but I’m going to have to call it in to be sure.” “This is actually my brother’s car,” she said. “He’ll kill me if anything happens to it.” “I thought it was your car? Your name is on the registration.” “My name is, but my brother was going through a divorce and his ex-wife was trying to take it away from him. He’s been giving me the money to make the payments on it.” “Do you do that? I mean …does he make sure to give you the money every month?” I asked. “Oh, yes. Jimmy is never late. It’s just that lately a friend of mine has needed money so I’ve been loaning him some. I’m not always good at making the payments on time. I’ve called the bank though and they understand.” No, they don’t. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Hector motioning me to get Mrs. Howard back towards the house so he could hot wire the car. The plan was for him to sneak in, get the car and I’d rush around and drive his car a couple of blocks away to change cars because he didn’t trust me with his “Baby” which was fine with me. I was afraid of driving that rocket engine around anyway. “Well thank you for your time Mrs. Howard. Everything seems okay.” I got my phone out and pretended to make a call. “Darn. I don’t get a very good signal from here. Do you mind if we stand over there?” I motioned over to her rose garden. “I think it would be better.” The karma kick back on this job must be a killer. “Of course dear,” she answered. We walked around to the side of her house. I started asking her questions about her roses to distract her from seeing Hector saunter into her garage. Within two minutes he had her car started then backed it out and drove around the corner. “The person you loaned the money to they’re good for it right?” I asked hoping she could get the car back so she wouldn’t get in trouble. She shifted around a bit. “I think so. You see it’s a man who I’ve been dating and he assures me he will give the money back by the end of month. He’s been having cash flow problems, but he’s got plenty of money otherwise,” she whispered looking around to make sure her neighbors couldn’t hear. This didn’t sound good. “Are you sure?” I questioned again. “Oh, yes. He drives a really nice car and dresses extremely well. I’ve never seen his house, but I’ve seen pictures. It’s being renovated,” she explained. Oh no. “Where did you meet him?” I was afraid to hear her answer. “I met him on a senior dating website.” It kept getting worse. “I wouldn’t give him any more money until he gives you back what he owes you,” I said hoping she would listen. “I told him yesterday that was the last thousand.” Shit. “How much does he owe you?” “After yesterday…” She said stopping to think, “Fifteen thousand.” Oh my God. “Please don’t give him any more money. No matter what kind of story he comes up with,” I said a little too forcefully. “I couldn’t if I wanted to,” she said. “There’s nothing left dear. My brother has me on an allowance. But I know what you’re thinking and don’t worry he is good for it. He used to be a pastor for goodness sake.” Sure he did. I drove Hector’s car around the corner feeling sick to my stomach. He was leaning against the side of the Mercedes looking irritated. “What the fuck were you two doin’ exchanging frickin recipes or something?” I told him the whole story feeling terrible we just added to the woman’s problems. “Man…that was one expensive fuck,” he said shaking his head. Yep. Hector pretty much summed it up. “It would have taken me days to get that car. You did good Goldie. Looking like a fuckin’ ass sorority Barbie really works for you,” he said. That was a compliment to remember. “Thanks,” I said. “And looking like an escapee from a maximum security prison works for you too.” He stared at me and I raised an eyebrow back at him. “Damn Goldie, why do you have to always get mean and shit,” he said. I sighed and ignored him. Eventually he’d learn. When we got back to Harriet’s, Gus and Victor were sitting on the sofa playing video games. I hadn’t noticed the screen before, it had been hidden behind a vase of the ever present silk flowers. They were both still wearing the baggy khaki shorts and white socks pulled up to their knees, but Gus had on a grey T-shirt instead of the wife beater. I glanced at Hector and hadn’t noticed earlier that he had mixed it up too. The bottom was the same, but he was wearing a black T-shirt instead of the usual uniform. “Hey nice outfits,” I said trying not to smile. They stared at me waiting. “What?” I said. Silence. “What?” I asked again. “That’s it?” Hector asked narrowing his eyes at me. “That’s all you’re going to say?” “Yeah, why?” “Nothing,” he answered. “I guess we were waiting for you to get all nasty and freak us out again.” Gus and Victor looked relieved and went back to playing video games. At least Hector couldn’t get on me for my fanny pack again. I traveled light today. I only had my phone, some money and pepper spray tucked into my jeans. I made sure I wore baggy ones with a lot of pockets. Of course, I knew when I was with Hector the pepper spray wouldn’t be necessary. I’d just have to hide behind him and it would be like I was protected by a giant concrete bunker. “Punks you should have seen Goldie today. She is a bullshit genius,” he said and then told them the whole sorry story. “Damn I’m a bargain. I’d do an old lady for a thousand,” Gus said laughing. Victor smacked him in the stomach. “That’s someone’s abuela, dickhead. And what the hell are you talking about? You’re so hard up you’d do a goat for free.” “Ain’t that the shit,” Hector said laughing, “And Victor’s right, you shouldn’t talk about someone’s nana that way. Fucker.” I stared at them in all in amazement. I was suddenly let into a party I never had an invitation to before. Gus and Victor got lucky today too. They repoed a boat from a guy who was being visited by a woman who wasn’t his wife, he was preoccupied enough not to notice them hitching the boat trailer to their truck. They even snuck up and took pictures on their phones of the guy getting serviced. From what I saw, he definitely looked distracted. Harry’s office door flew open and a gust of perfume circled around announcing her arrival. “How’d you shits and Goldilocks do today?” I didn’t especially like my new name, but I took comfort that I wasn’t included in the plural “shits”. Hector and Victor handed her their paperwork. They both seemed eager to get her approval. She glanced over it and gave them a nod. “Good work, asswipes,” she said smiling at us. “By the way you know that Ferrari you two brought in,” she looked at Hector and me. “It got trashed last night.” “What the hell?” Hector said. “Don’t worry it wasn’t on our watch. I had already turned it over when it happened.” Hector exhaled loudly. “That’s a fucking relief. That means you and I will still get paid Goldie.” I nodded and pretended like I knew what he was talking about. Harry was wearing what looked like a left over costume from Star Trek with her tight green dress and white high heeled boots, yet no matter how ridiculous she looked, somehow she still commanded respect. “Hector told me you’re working out great Goldilocks,” she said, giving me a wink. “I had a good feeling about you.” I could see why the boys wanted to please her. I had only worked for a couple days and already I felt like I didn’t want to let her down. I looked at Hector and gave him a smile. Aw, big tattooed sensitive guy likes me. He ignored my sucking up and looked back at the video screen. “Thanks,” I said. “I’ve learned a lot from Hector.” She raised her eyebrows at me, then looked at Hector. “Hey big fuck breath, make sure you teach her the right ways. I don’t want Goldilocks getting arrested.” Arrested? Hector smiled. “Damn Harry you’re going to scare Goldie off talking shit like that.” “Don’t worry sweetie he only got arrested once, but I bailed him out within a couple of hours and got it all straightened out,” she said patting me on the shoulder. That didn’t make me feel better. Harry yelled out some obscenities at the boys and left. “Hey Goldie, do you know how to play?” Hector asked pointing at the game console. I played video games all the time with my brothers. I was even better at playing Grand Theft Auto than I was at lying. My parents would be so proud. “Yeah I know how,” I answered thankful for the delay from what was waiting for me at home. I had a feeling Bryan would be there with another round of “you need to quit your job.” Procrastinating with video games seemed like an excellent plan. “Good. We can team up and play these two assholes,” he said. Victor and Gus started laughing. “What are you punks laughing at?” Hector said giving them both head smacks. “Your wife is going to kick your ass if she finds out you hung around here again instead of going home,” Gus said. Victor nodded in agreement. Hector’s brown skin seemed to get a little paler. “No one is gonna tell her are they?” He glared. Their eyes widened and shook their heads. “We’ll try. But Hector your wife is some scary shit,” Victor said visibly cringing even talking about her. I couldn’t wait to meet her especially since she could make these guys practically pee in their pants at the mere mention of her. “Don’t I fuckin’ know it,” Hector said. Chapter Five We beat Gus and Victor too many times to count and I was driving home on a video game high. I didn’t need to look in my mirror to know Hector was making sure I got home okay. The sound of his car engine vibrated everything within a hundred feet radius. I was turning onto Sunset when I saw lights flashing behind me. Not again. I pulled over and waited. Hector pulled up in front of me. When I saw who the cop was in my side mirror I rolled my eyes. “Hi Stevie.” It was Bryan’s surfing buddy Kevin. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I said getting out of the car. Kevin looked like he belonged on a police recruitment poster. He had a blonde buzz cut and was only a couple inches taller than me, but what he lacked in height he made up in width. He worked out like crazy and it showed. I liked him, and normally I’d be happy to see him, but now? Not really. “What?” He said smirking. “You were going two miles above the speed limit back there.” Kevin’s partner started to laugh. He was a buff black guy with arms the size of my thighs who I recognized from one of Bryan’s super bowl parties. “That’s not why you pulled me over and you know it,” I said, stomping towards him. “I need to see your license and registration,” he said getting out his pad pretending like he was going to write me a ticket. “And be slow about it because Bryan in still ten minutes away.” His partner started laughing again. “You shouldn’t be encouraging this kind of thing,” I said to him. “What? You were driving over the speed limit,” he said looking over and grinning at Kevin. “Two miles? Hardly reckless driving is it?” “It doesn’t matter,” Kevin said. “It could be one mile over the limit and Marcus and I could still write you a ticket.” I let out a huff and crossed my arms in front of me knowing I was trapped. “Goldie, what’s going on?” Hector had made his way over with a worried look on his face. I let out a gust of air. “I’m fine. These two have pulled me over just to harass me,” I said glaring in Kevin and Marcus’s direction. “What the fuck?” He asked, obviously confused by my cryptic answer. “You know this guy?” Kevin asked me. “She’s fucking talking to me. Don’t that mean she knows me,” Hector snarled. From the look on his face he may as well have tacked on ‘dumb shit’ at the end. Kevin and Marcus didn’t look as amused as they did before. In fact they looked really pissed off. I jumped between them, not wanting them to misinterpret Hector’s vocabulary. “It’s okay Hector. He’s a friend of mine,” I said pointing to Kevin. “He’s just having some fun at my expense.” Kevin and Marcus stared at him with their stern cop faces on. “Shit, why the fuck didn’t you just say they were messing with you? Sorry amigos,” he said giving them a smile. “I like anyone who takes the shit out of Goldie here. Man, with her fucking mouth she could use it.” What? I glared at him. “Thanks a lot, partner.” I wasn’t sure, but I think I might have actually stomped my foot. Marcus and Kevin’s cop faces relaxed and they started smiling. “Whoa, be careful. She’s gets all mean and shit when she’s mad,” Hector said raising his hands in my direction and taking a step back. “You’re partners with him?” Kevin asked looking skeptical. I nodded. “Doing what?” He asked disbelief spreading across his face. I ignored his question. I didn’t want to give them any more ammunition. “Hey,” Kevin said to Hector. “What kind of work do you two do?” “We work at Harriet’s Hollywood Repossessions,” Hector said obviously proud of his job. Kevin and Marcus’s mouths fell open. “You’re doing repo work?” Kevin asked me. I crossed my arms not saying anything. “Hell, yes she does,” Hector chimed in. “And she’s pretty fucking good.” At least Hector redeemed himself. “Oh, my God,” Kevin said to Marcus. “Remember that call we heard about?” Then they both stared at me with big grins across their faces. “That was you. Wasn’t it?” Kevin said chuckling to himself. I pretended like I didn’t hear him. “I should have known. No wonder Bryan is freaked out,” Kevin said. “That wasn’t her fault,” Hector said. “Those fuckers were crazy.” At least there was some loyalty among the repo brotherhood. When I saw Bryan’s black beamer pull up I stifled a growl and got back into my car. Too angry to even yell at him. I watched as he got out of his car and greeted Kevin and Marcus. Why did he have to look so good in his work clothes? He was wearing navy pants and a light blue shirt unbuttoned at the neck. I knew his tie was probably in the front seat of his car. He usually yanked it off as soon as he left his office. He gave me a sideways glance and ignored the bitch look I gave him. I noticed his mouth was tight and his eyes definitely weren’t all warm and fuzzy at the sight of me. Hector came around, rested his hands against my window and leaned down to talk to me. “So who the fuck is that?” He asked shooting a glance at Bryan. I pursed my lips together. “A friend,” I said. He raised his eyebrows. “He don’t look at you like a friend. He looks at you like he wants to fuck you.” Shelley and Keats had nothing on Hector. “He’s a friend who used to be a boyfriend,” I explained. Hector nodded. “He’s not doing some weird stalker shit on you? Is he?” “No.” “That’s cool,” he said nodding again. “If he becomes a problem let me know and I’ll kick the shit out of him.” “Thanks, but no shit kicking is necessary.” Bryan walked over and introduced himself to Hector. “Hey don’t I know you?” Hector asked, studying his face. Bryan didn’t say anything. He was too busy taking in all of Hector’s three hundred pounds. The man did have a lot of bulk. Then a look of recognition passed across Hector’s face. “You were the lawyer against my cousin Manny.” Oh, no. This might get ugly. Sometimes people got cranky when you sent their family to jail. “How is he doing?” Bryan asked still ignoring me. “He’s doing fucking great. He’s training to be a mechanic. Even helped me with my car,” Hector said pointing at Baby. “He was such a fucking crack head. It was cool you recommended rehab instead of juvy.” Bryan acknowledged what he said, but didn’t say anything else. I could tell by the soft lines around his eyes that he had a long day. I felt a little guilty. I knew I was probably the cause. “Thanks again man,” Hector said. Then he turned and looked at me. “Sorry Goldie, I can’t kick the shit out of him. I owe him.” Bryan looked at me. “He thought you might be a stalker and offered,” I quickly explained. “Geez… I said no.” As Marcus and Kevin drove off they smiled and waved at me. Very annoying. “So are you gonna make sure she gets home okay?” Hector asked Bryan. “I got it covered,” he said. Hector nodded. “Shit Goldie and the cop lawyer,” he said under his breath. “Girl, I’ll see you in the morning.” Then he did the nod thing guys do to Bryan and drove away. I narrowed my eyes and blurted out, “I can’t believe you had them stop me.” “Then you should have answered your phone,” he said through clenched teeth. “I’ll meet you at your place.” “Fine.” I answered trying to sound as snotty as possible. There was no point arguing with him. I knew he’d follow me home whether I liked it or not. Bryan pulled into the parking spot next to mine. We were silent as we made our way to my apartment. Both of us were still too irritated with each other to speak. I opened my door and tossed my keys on the kitchen counter. Bryan didn’t waste any time. “You need to quit this job Stevie. You’ve been doing it for less than a week and you already have guys breaking into your apartment.” His voice got louder with each word. It’s been two days actually. And he had no right to tell me what to do. “I like my job and I’m good at it. It wasn’t my fault my first repo was with a bunch of crazies,” I said. He took a deep breath trying to calm himself. “Stevie I checked these guys out. They’re not people you want to mess with,” he said Fidel and Emil? Nah. After seeing the two of them wrestle with guys wearing bun huggers and maxi pads they lost their ability to scare me. “They didn’t seem that bad,” I said. “Not that bad? They broke into your apartment and according to your statement wanted you to be their new girlfriend.” I knew it. He already read the police report. “Okay… but they got caught and now it’s done and over with,” I said. What else did he want me to do? Pack up and move to Mexico? I certainly wasn’t quitting my job. You get psychos everywhere. Sometimes even on auditions I had to fend off worse guys than hair puller and friend. Bryan came closer to me. “They got out on bail today.” Out on bail already? My head started to throb. “When?” “This morning,” he answered. “And they don’t seem like the type of guys to just let something like this go. They had a woman and two guys wearing what looked like diapers beat the shit out of them. Do you really think they’re going to forget about it? Every police department in the state has heard the story. You’re lucky you weren’t on the news. I must have gotten fifty calls today asking me about it.” There I went embarrassing him again. “Did your parents find out yet?” I’m sure they loved hearing about this. Almost as much as they loved hearing that we broke up. I bet they brought out the champagne with that one. “I don’t give a fuck what my parents think,” he said. “All I care about is convincing you what you’re doing is insane.” True. Bryan definitely didn’t take any shit off his parents. I’m the one that had a problem with them. They knew Bryan would never allow them to be rude to me, but I had always felt their silent disappointment in his choice of a girlfriend. If they could have had “wrong choice for our son” stamped on my forehead they would have. “Just because I don’t look like Hector doesn’t mean I can’t do this job just as well as he does.” “It’s too dangerous Stevie. You need to quit.” He paced the room. “You know I could have your boss encounter some legal problems. Then you’d have to quit.” I narrowed my eyes. “You wouldn’t dare.” He stared back at me for a couple beats then sighed. “No, I wouldn’t,” he said putting his hand on his stomach. “Shit…you’re going to give me an ulcer before I hit my thirties.” “You don’t have to worry about me,” I said. “I can take care of myself.” He gave me a doubting look. “Okay there have been times when… I’ve appreciated your help.” Like the time I thought I was working for a company that test drove cars from LA to Mexico and ended up getting arrested and thrown into a Tijuana jail. How was I supposed to know they were stolen? The company seemed legit. They had a web site and everything. “I really thought… as you got older you’d stop getting yourself into this crazy type of crap, but instead you’ve only gotten worse.” “What? You thought I would grow out of being me?” I said louder than I intended. He always seemed to want to mold me into something I wasn’t. “Come on Stevie you know that’s not what I meant,” he said, putting his hand on my arm. “Yes, it is,” I said, pushing his hand away. “I’m not your problem to fix anymore.” The words came out before I could stop them. “You’re right. You’re not my problem.” He started to say something, but stopped himself then stared down at the ground. “This friend thing isn’t working.” What? He looked up and locked eyes with me. “I can’t sit back and watch you put yourself in these situations anymore,” he said. “I was a wreck worrying about you today.” “I’m sorry,” I said. “I should have answered your calls.” “I think I just need to take a break from…all the chaos,” he said. “Just until I can get my sanity back.” “I’m the chaos?” I asked. He slowly nodded. I definitely didn’t see this coming. “Be careful,” he said then gave me a lingering kiss on the lips and left. I exhaled loudly taking in what he had said. A break from me? Not see each other at all? This friendship stuff certainly had its sucky moments. We used to fight then make up by having wild sweaty sex. This kind of fighting definitely wasn’t as fun. When I went to bed that night at least I wasn’t worried about hair puller and friend. I had bigger issues now. Like what was I going to do without Bryan? “I’m getting fucking hungry. When is this bitch going to lead us to her car?” Hector complained. We had been sitting in Hector’s Baby for a couple hours and he was getting cranky. Our repo must have parked her car in a garage because it was nowhere in sight. “Do you want me to go the liquor store and get you some food?” I was getting nervous. I had a feeling seeing Hector really hungry was not a happy experience. I was grateful he didn’t ask any questions about what happened with Bryan last night. He was sticking to his don’t ask, don’t tell policy. “I can’t,” he said giving me a sideways glance. “My wife told me I can’t eat between meals.” I almost spit out the coffee I had been drinking. “You’re on a diet?” “Fuck no. I ain’t on no fucking diet. She just doesn’t want me stuffing my face all day. So I won’t drop dead. Cause we got kids and all.” I nodded. “Good plan,” I said. Hector could definitely stand to lose a few… hundred pounds. “What is this place anyway?” he asked. “These women go in looking normal then they come out walking like they just got majorly fucked.” We were waiting outside of a well-known spa called Bare Lips. They were known for their waxing and could make you virtually hairless within twenty minutes. Jeff and Jason were regulars and had been encouraging me to go, but from the pained look on the ladies leaving I was definitely passing. “It does waxing,” I said. He made a disgusted face. “You mean where they get rid of all the pussy hair?” I did a mental cringe. “Yep. And other places.” I considered myself a pretty open minded person, but discussing pubic hair with Hector was something I never thought I’d be doing. “Why do fucking chicks do that?” I shrugged. I didn’t know either. I bikini waxed, but unless they gassed me and put me under I was never getting the full rip. I even felt faint when my panty liner got twisted up. Hector shook his head. “Men don’t like a bare pussy. It makes it look like a couple of chicken cutlets I should be grilling on my fucking barbecue. Shit what a bunch of crazy mother fuckers.” I started laughing. “What?” “Nothing,” I said still laughing. “I just don’t think I’d ever heard it put that way before. “Damn right you ain’t.” “Are you saying guys prefer we do nothing?” “I didn’t say we wanted a fucking jungle hanging out and shit. But we don’t want chicks completely bald either. At least that’s the way it is in my neighborhood, who the fuck knows in yours.” At least I was okay in Hector’s guidelines for vagina upkeep. I fell somewhere between jungle and bald. Hector glanced over my shoulder. “Finally. The bitch is on the move.” We watched her walk down the alley into the driveway of the house immediately behind the spa. Hector asked me to get out and see where she was going. I stopped in front of the driveway, got my phone out of my pocket and pretended to check my messages. She went into the garage and came back carrying a wallet in her hands. I casually walked towards the garage and tried the door. It was unlocked. I opened it and peeked inside and saw our repo, a white BMW seven series looking back at me. I watched her go back into the spa and then went to tell Hector what I found. “Girl you know we ain’t supposed to be breaking into peoples’ garages and shit,” he said. “This comes from the gift from God guy?” “I’m not saying you shouldn’t. Just that we’re not supposed to,” he said. “Harry understands my gift, but we should keep everything else between us. Comprende?” “Understood,” I said. Hector went to work doing his thing and I waited in the car as look out. When I saw the owner race up the alley with her bowl of wax in hand and her spatula armed and ready, I knew it wasn’t going to be good. I raced out of the car with the repo papers. By the time I got up the driveway I heard Hector scream, “Crazy bitch.” I flung the garage door open and raced in. The salon girl was standing close to the door, spatula in her hand with wax dripping down onto the floor. Her eyes looked like they were ready to bounce out of their sockets when she saw Hector heave himself out of the car and walk towards her. An angry Hector was definitely a scary sight. His mouth was pursed together and he was mumbling in Spanish as he kept looking at the blob of wax on arm and then back to the girl. She pushed past me as she made her way to the door yelling that she was going to call the police if he came after her. “What the fuck is this? Shit she attacks me and she’s calling the police? How fucking twisted is that?” We could have called her in for assault, but decided it wouldn’t be the wisest choice. We didn’t think the police would understand about us breaking into the garage and Hector using his gift. We figured it would be best just take the merchandise and get the hell out of there. We met up with Victor and Gus when we dropped the car off at the office. Harry wasn’t there, but I could tell from the perfume quotient she had probably just left. I didn’t want to ask Hector where she was until he got some food in him. Otherwise I’d get an even shorter response than normal. We shoved our paperwork in Harry’s mailbox and quickly made our way to the fast food chicken place down the street before Hector could fly into a lack of food induced rage. We ordered then found a table in the back. It was amazing how fast people scattered when they saw Hector coming their way. “You don’t eat any meat?” Victor asked in disbelief after he asked why I didn’t order a sandwich. “Not even chicken?” I knit my eyebrows together confused. “No chicken,” I said. “Fish?” he asked still not quite understanding the concept of meat. “No.” I had been a vegetarian ever since I found out where that packaged stuff from the grocery store really came from. I had no objection to other people eating meat. I believed in the food chain, but I just wanted a chain that didn’t have a face on it. “Girl, no wonder why you’re so fucking skinny,” Hector said. Skinny I definitely wasn’t. “Are you one of those freaks that throw paint at people who wear fur and shit?” Gus asked. Once, but it didn’t count because I missed. “No. I just don’t eat anything that once had a mother.” “Shit I’ll eat anything with a mother or a father as long as it tastes good,” Gus said. Victor cut his eyes to Hector and me then to Gus. “Nah it’s too easy,” he said laughing. Hector started laughing with him. “You’re a pig Victor,” I said. “What’s going on?” Gus said smiling along with us completely oblivious. “You’re such a dumb shit,” Hector said. “What?” Gus said. “What’d I miss?” “Your brain must be the size of a fucking chicken McNugget,” Victor said. “Forget it.” Gus shrugged. “I don’t get it.” I had a feeling Gus didn’t get a lot of things. “Goldie you have to fucking eat meat to get some meat,” Hector said laughing at his own joke. “Men like a woman with some extra bits to grab onto. Don’t we?” He asked Gus and Victor. “Gus only grabs himself so he wouldn’t know,” Victor said giving Hector a high five. Gus and I stared at each other waiting for them to stop. “Hector is right Goldie. We don’t like skinny ass girls. Who wants to ride a bunch of creaky ass bones.” What? Was I in some parallel universe? All those years of guilt after eating chocolate for nothing. “But we also don’t want to have to dive through fucking layers of blubber to find her fucking pussy either,” Hector chimed in. Victor and Gus both nodded agreeing with him. Thank God our number was called out before they went into any more details of pussy diving. At least they made me fill better about stress eating a whole bag of cookies last night after Bryan left. Maybe getting a bigger ass was the way to go. “You’re going to have to pull that off eventually,” I said pointing to wax girl’s damage. Hector looked down at the blob of wax on his arm and snarled. “No I don’t. It can stay there fucking forever for all I care. Gus and Victor started laughing. “I can just rip it off,” I encouraged trying not to laugh. “It will be like a band aid.” Only it was the biggest band aid I had ever seen with enough hair attached to knit a sweater. “You’re such a pussy,” Gus said. “Wanna call me that again so I can kick your sorry ass?” Gus held up his hands in mock surrender. “Hector this diet thing is making you a miserable fuck,” Victor said. “I ain’t on no fucking diet,” Hector said reaching across and pinching Victor’s arm. “Ow. What the fuck?” Victor hollered. “Do I have to put you two in the corner?” I said looking around the restaurant at the people staring at us. “Geez, behave.” “He’s the one who fucking started it,” Hector mumbled. “How old are you?” I asked. Gus and Victor laughed, but I gave them the death stare and they quieted down. I didn’t want them to rile Hector up. There had to be some partner loyalty. “Hey Goldie, Harry wanted me to warn you. She thinks those dick heads that broke into your apartment have been doing some office drivebys.” I gulped down the fries that had suddenly made a lump in my throat. I wondered if Jeff and Jason would mind if I moved into their guest room. “Harry doesn’t even know what they look like.” I said, hopeful she was wrong. “The fuck she doesn’t. Anything that happens to any of us she always makes it her business to check it out,” Hector said. “She’s even better at finding out shit than my wife.” Good to know. As we were leaving the restaurant Hector nudged me and did a little nod to look across the street. I glanced over and saw Bryan waiting by the valet sign. He was with Lizzy Stockwell who I recognized from one of his mother’s parties. She was a lawyer and worked for his father’s company. She was tall and lean with long brown hair and looked as if she just stepped out of a fashion magazine. She was whispering in his ear and had her arm through his. They were looking friendly enough to make my stomach churn. I looked down at my combat boots, khaki green cargo pants and black t-shirt. Why couldn’t I at least have made the extra effort on my hair today? It was in its usual pony tail. I could make it look half way decent if I wanted to take the extra twenty minutes to flat iron the waves and frizz, but as I was always running late the time just never seemed to be there. “Don’t worry Goldie she ain’t got nothing on you,” Hector whispered. Yeah right. “She’s way skinnier than you. What fuckin’ guy likes that?” I’m going running as soon as I get home. Maybe I could even do some ass clenches on the walk back to the office. “What the hell are you two whispering about,” Victor said. Hector looked to me. I nodded letting him know it was okay. “See that guy across the street by the valet sigh?” Victor and Gus cut their eyes over to Bryan. “That dude is Goldie’s ex-boyfriend who is a supposed to be a friend now, but they both still want to fuck each other,” he explained. Hector certainly had a way with words. Victor and Gus nodded. “It’s all right Goldie,” Victor said glancing over in their direction. “You’re way thicker than she is.” Thicker? That didn’t sound good. I didn’t want to be thicker. Maybe I could trigger my gag reflex and throw up my lunch. What’s a little bulimia in an emergency? I know they were trying to be nice, but it was definitely not helping. I glanced over and saw Lizzy kiss Brian on the neck. He didn’t look like he especially enjoyed it, but he certainly didn’t pull away either. Crap. The gag reflex wasn’t necessary because now I was feeling nauseous. Jealousy was a great dieting tool. “Come on let’s go,” Hector said tugging on my arm. “You don’t want to see that shit.” We started walking away, but I couldn’t resist taking one more look at Bryan. The valet guy was holding the door for him and he was coming around the car when he glanced over and saw me. He stopped mid step obviously surprised. We stared at each other for a couple of beats not sure how to handle our new status. Bryan broke the awkwardness by giving me a grin before he got in the car. I smiled back relieved that at least he wasn’t mad enough to ignore me completely. “See girl I told you,” Hector said. “It’s obvious he likes your meatier ass over her bony one any day.” Where was a good tape worm when you needed one? Chapter Six “Who are we meeting again?” I asked. Hector and I were driving down Sunset heading towards downtown. When we’d gotten back to the office and his phone buzzed. Hector checked who it was and went outside. That was strange because Hector normally didn’t care who heard him and would talk as loud and as long as he wanted. When he came back he whispered to me that we had to leave to meet someone. “Who?” I asked. “A friend who wants to talk to you,” he said already irritated with my one question. “Why?” Hector sighed. “Shit. Why do you have to ask so many questions? You’ll find out in about twenty minutes. Can’t you wait until then?” “No, I can’t,” I said crossing my arms. He looked at me sideways and then shook his head realizing I was going to badger him until we got there. “Remember that dude you were fucking nagging me about when you got pulled over for getting all jiggy with your pepper spray?” I ignored the nag comment. Did he mean that hottie guy? “In the white sedan?” “Yeah, that’s who we are going to meet.” What? “Why?” Hector did a little huff. “You asked who we’re fucking meeting and that’s who it is. I don’t know nothin’ more.” “Who is he? What does he want? How do you know him?” Hector put his index finger to his temple and rubbed. “Shit how many questions can you ask without taking a fucking breath. My head is pounding.” I narrowed my eyes. “Why do you have such an aversion to questions? I only asked three.” “You asked four including the first one and I don’t know what the hell aversion means, but I do know I hate having to answer a bunch of fucking questions that you’ll find out in a couple of minutes anyway,” he said still rubbing his temple. What a big baby. We pulled into a rundown coffee shop in a neighborhood I probably wouldn’t have normally ventured into, but with gigantic Hector by my side I knew no one would mess with us. When we walked in the hunky Latin guy was already seated in a booth on the back wall. He gave Hector a barely perceptible nod of recognition. He was wearing jeans, and a baggy black t-shirt that revealed a tattoo that read “Coli” on his upper left arm. I slid in next to Hector even though half my ass was hanging off the side. Hector introduced us. I smiled and said hello, but all I got was a miniscule nod in reply. The mysterious guy’s name was Manuel Alba. He had green eyes and enviable brown hair that was long enough to touch the collar of his shirt. His hair really pissed me off. It wasn’t fair. Why should a guy have hair that shiny? It took me twenty minutes with my flat iron before my hair even looked like it belonged to a human. The waitress came around and dropped off some glasses of water for us and took our orders. Manuel and I ordered coffee, while Hector ordered a cheeseburger and fries. I gave him a look. “I thought you weren’t supposed to eat between meals,” I asked. “I ain’t. This is dinner,” he said. We just had lunch. I looked at the clock on the wall. “It’s three thirty.” “And? Is there a fucking rule that says I can’t have dinner at this time?” I held up my hand. “Fine. You’re the one who has to deal with your wife not me.” Hector groaned. “Damn you’re right. Where the fuck is the waitress?” I looked at Manuel and noticed his mouth was turned up at the corners into an almost smile, but he still didn’t say anything. Maybe he was a hot mute? Since I was on the outside of the bench I told Hector I’d find the waitress and change his order to coffee. When I sat back down Hector and Manuel were talking in Spanish. “I wanted to warn you that you need to be careful,” he said to me. His voice sounded smooth and sexy with a slight Spanish accent. “Why?” The waitress brought our coffees and Hector grumbled something about needing a lot of cream and sugar. “The men that broke into your apartment are connected to a large drug cartel,” he said. “They think you stole something of theirs.” “What?” I felt the color draining from my face. I didn’t know anything about drug cartels, but I knew enough that it wasn’t good for them to be mad at you. “Did you take anything from the car when you repoed it?” He took a drink and locked eyes with me over the rim of his cup. “Goldie ain’t no fucking thief,” Hector chipped in. Tell him partner. Screw his diet. I wanted to give Hector a big cake. “I’ve never stolen anything,” I said. Manuel’s expression showed nothing. It was a similar look Bryan had when he didn’t want to tell me about one of his cases. Then I remembered Hector’s vague answer when I first saw him. “You’re a cop aren’t you?” I asked. He didn’t say anything. Instead he reached down and set a file on the table and opened it up. “Questioned for stealing animals from a university lab?” Oh my God. “You have a file on me?” Silence. “The key word here is questioned.” I pointed out. I was not totally lying. I was only questioned. They never caught me. “Did you do it?” he asked. Tough choice here. I sighed. “Okay yeah I did… but you should have seen what they were doing to those poor mice and bunnies.” “Damn Goldie. Not eating meat and shit and now this,” Hector chuckled making the booth bench shake. “Man Gus and Victor have to hear about this crap.” Okay, now I was taking back the cake. He looked at the papers in the folder again. “Arrested for assault?” He asked. Oops. I’d forgotten about that. I felt Hector chuckle next to me. “It wasn’t my fault. Some guy kept trying to grab my ass. I told him to stop and he kept doing it. I finally got fed up and shoved a pie in his face. How was I supposed to know he was allergic to peaches? I helped him get his Epi pen didn’t I? Does it say that in your little folder?” Manuel stared at me not saying anything, but I noticed his cop face had relaxed a bit. “Why the fuck were you carrying around a pie?” Hector asked. I gave him a ‘you’re a dumb shit’ look. “I was waitressing. And those assault charges were thrown out.” Thanks to Bryan. “Transporting stolen cars across the border,” he said sorting through the papers. “I was never convicted,” I interrupted. “They told me I was test driving new vehicles.” “You fell for that?” Hector asked shaking his head. “Obviously,” I said not hiding the irritation in my voice. Manuel looked down at the folder again. “Getting arrested at a gay pride rally,” he continued. “And the charges were dropped yet again.” “I bet that’s ‘cause her ex-boyfriend who still wants to fuck her is a cop lawyer,” Hector said. Manuel’s eyes shifted to me waiting to explain. I elbowed Hector in the ribs. “Ow. Damn there’s no need to get all violent with me. Manuel is cool.” I glared at him wishing I could put a muzzle over his mouth. He shrugged back. “The charges were dropped because I was innocent. It doesn’t have anything to do with him.” Even though I knew Bryan didn’t do anything illegal I didn’t want any hint of wrong doing to fall back on him. I had already done enough damage to his image as it was. “So what happened?” Manuel asked, his eyes clearly assessing my answer for truthfulness. “It wasn’t my fault. My friends Jeff and Jason got into a skirmish with a couple of guys who insulted their parade outfits. I just got caught in the middle.” “It seems you get caught in the middle a lot,” he said shutting the folder. I made a snotty face at him. There was no reason to get sanctimonious with me. Manuel stared back his expression revealing nothing. “Damn Goldilocks you’ve got a rap sheet longer than mine,” Hector said. “Who would have thought I was paired up with such a hardened bad ass?” He snickered to himself. “I was never convicted of anything. Whatever happened about being innocent until proven guilty?” I protested. Manuel stared at me expectantly. “Okay I was guilty of a couple. But only the social injustice stuff. I would never steal or hurt anyone.” “Girl he’s just messing with you,” Hector said. “Yeah you have a rap sheet, but I ain’t heard anything bad in there. Well maybe the car thing, but you explained that. So who gives a fuck?” I sighed loudly. “Well apparently your friend here does,” I said. “I just like to know all the angles before I get involved,” he said leaning back in the booth. Involved? “What do you mean?” I asked. “You’re a friend of Hector’s and you’re in some deep shit,” he said. “You mean Emil and Fidel,” I scoffed. “They’re not who I am concerned about.” I waited for more, but no other explanation came. “And?” I asked making the hand motion to continue. Silence. “You’re not going to tell me who you are concerned about,” I said tapping my fingers on the table. “No.” “Why?” “Damn Goldie what is it with you and the fucking questions,” Hector asked. “He’s told you all you need to know.” I swung my head to look at him so fast my pony tail whipped around and smacked me in the face. “What has he told me? Except I need to be careful? Tell me what I need to do? That would be helpful?” Manuel apparently didn’t hear anything I said because he ignored my questions and turned to Hector and asked, “Goldie?” “Goldilocks.” Hector said as way of an explanation. He nodded. “It suits her,” he said looking at me. “Did either one of you hear what I said? A little more information would be helpful.” My voice came out louder than I planned. Manuel shifted out of the booth and stood up. “Hector will fill you in,” he said. “I’ll be around.” Then he threw some money on the table and left. Chapter Seven “Telling me to make sure I lock my doors is not filling me in Hector.” I should have known I wouldn’t get any information from Mr. Lockjaw. “Damn right it is,” he said giving me a sideways glance. “How does Manuel know about the drug cartel? Does he work narcotics?” Hector kept his eyes on the road and said nothing. “Hector? Come on…I’m worried about this,” I said hoping the victim route would work on him. “It’s not exactly easy to hear a drug cartel is pissed at you for something you know nothing about.” He looked at me and sighed. “Goldie there ain’t nothing to worry about. Manuel said he would take care of it and he will.” I knit my eyebrows together. “When did he say that?” “You heard him,” he said. When? “I did not hear that,” I persisted. “Girl, are you deaf or something? He said he’d be around.” He clucked his tongue. “Shit you don’t hear nothing.” “He doesn’t even know me.” “He knows we’re partners,” he said. “And he don’t want someone like you to get messed with by people like them.” “So Manuel is a cop?” Hector rolled his eyes. “Who the fuck cares what he is? Does it really matter?” He was hiding something. “I care. Now spill it,” I said narrowing my eyes. Hector looked over at me for a beat then turned back to the road not saying anything. “Is he a fed?” Silence. “DEA?” Nothing. “You’re not going to answer me?” He started to rub his temple. “Looks that way don’t it?” Ugh. “Why? What’s the big secret? Why can’t you tell me? How does he know about Emil and Fidel?” He rubbed his temple harder. “Girl, if they gave a gold medal for asking questions, you’d fucking win.” “I’m hoping out of frustration that you’ll answer at least one.” Hector grimaced. “Damn. I was already fucking starving and now I have a headache.” We pulled into Harry’s parking lot. I said good bye to him feeling somewhat guilty about my barrage of questions. “Take some aspirin when you get home,” I suggested. He grumbled something about medicine being for pussies and waited for me to get in my car so he could follow me home. My car vibrated all the way down Sunset. I waved to him when the building gate opened. He tooted his horn that played a mariachi song back and waved out his window. When I pulled into my parking spot I decided being babied by Jeff and Jason was exactly what I needed. I slumped back in the elevator and checked my phone to see if Bryan had messaged. Nothing. I groaned and shoved the phone back in my pocket. We hadn’t gone a whole day without talking in six years. It felt weird like I had lost something, but didn’t have a clue where to find it. I stomped down the hall wanting one of Jeff and Jason’s lemon drop martinis in the worst way and knocked on their door. I dragged myself inside and plopped down on one of their huge armchairs in the living room then unloaded on them the day’s events. “What?” Jason asked apparently confused. I slurped down the martini in my hand and held out the glass for another. “I’m not going to repeat myself until you get me another one of these.” Jason gingerly walked into the kitchen. His butt was still swollen, but at least it didn’t look like it was from a different species anymore. Jeff was lying on his stomach across from me on the sofa with his butt somewhat deflated as well. “Here,” Jason said passing me another lemon drop martini. “Now tell us again what happened.” I took a big gulp feeling the warmth go through me. “Bryan isn’t talking to me and those guys that broke into my apartment are in a drug cartel and they think I stole something from them.” “Well darling you’ve been busy,” Jeff said clicking his tongue at me. I rolled my eyes. “Tell me about it.” “Bryan will be back,” Jeff said. “I give it another week.” Jason nodded. “Absolutely. And you’re one lucky girl because his butt is totally delicious looking. God, I hope mine will look like his when the swelling goes down. You were such a fool to turn down that gorgeous piece of ass.” Jason always had to remind me how dumb I was not saying yes to Bryan’s proposal. Sometimes I thought I was too, but then I remembered how crappy it was to always feel like I was letting him down. “I’d hate to see what kind of cartel would let those guys in,” Jeff said taking a sip of his martini with his pinky finger stuck up in the air. “I bet it’s a hairy and ungroomed one,” Jason added. “Having a drug cartel mad at you isn’t good,” I said. “Even one who lets in stinky guys with a lot of chest hair.” Jason laid on the ground slurping his martini with a pillow propping up his ass. “Honey if those guys…what were their names?” He asked looking at me for help. “Fidel and Emil?” I answered. “Yes,” he said, waving his hand dismissively. “If those hairy apes are the best they have to offer then you have nothing to worry about.” “He’s right,” Jason said. “Even if we hadn’t come in you could have taken them.” I shrugged. Maybe I could have. They seemed only good at pulling hair. “What do they think you stole?” Jason asked. I took a gulp of my martini. “I don’t know. I certainly didn’t take anything. I was afraid to touch anything in their car.” Jason made a face. “I don’t blame you. I hope you used the antibacterial wash I gave you for your key ring.” My key ring gift was the one time Jason overrode style for practicality. He was a germaphobe and constantly worried about contamination. “I practically bathed in it,” I said gulping down the rest of my martini. “Thank God,” Jason said. “Their cologne stink took me ages to get off.” I held out my glass to Jason. “Another please.” Jeff and Jason gave each other a look. “What?” I asked. “You want another?” Jason asked skeptically. “Yep,” I said trying not to sound as tipsy as I was feeling. “You two have a problem with that?” After the past couple of days I earned a third martini. “Okay, but I don’t want to hear complaints about your head in the morning or how dry your skin is,” Jason said heaving himself up off the floor and taking my glass. “Wait sweetie,” Jeff said to Jason. And he emptied his glass and held it out for a refill. “A true friend doesn’t let their friend get drunk alone.” I gave him a big smile. Then we both looked expectantly at Jason. I really didn’t care one way the other, but it was fun to see Jason in a moral quandary. He sighed then picked up his glass and chugged it down. Jeff and I clapped and did the wave while shouting, “Go Jason.” Obviously the lemon drops had already taken effect. Two more martinis later and we were all on the ground. I had a pillow propping up my head and they had pillows under their asses. “Maybe you should call Bryan and ask him what the hell is up,” Jason slurred. “I mean it’s not like you’ve changed or anything. You’ve always been nutty. Why should he expect anything else? To not be your friend is low.” “I’m not calling,” I said. And what’s up with the nutty comment? Even in my fuzzy state I knew calling Bryan drunk was not a good idea. Last year Jason decided to experiment on Jeff and me with his new recipe for low calorie margaritas. After several pitchers they had me convinced I needed to cleanse my soul. I ended up calling my younger brother and confessed how I had scrubbed his toothbrush around in the toilet as revenge for selling my underwear to his friends. He was so grossed out he went to the doctor convinced he had a mouth disease. Thanksgiving that year was definitely more interesting than usual. “Yeah, you should call him,” Jeff agreed. “Jason is right. You’ve always been crazy. What’s different now?” “Hey thanks a lot,” I said sitting up and looking between the two of them. If they were saying this I must be a totally insane. They were hardly the poster boys for mental health. Maybe Bryan was right? “That’s not a bad thing,” Jeff quickly explained. “We love that you’re nutty,” Jason agreed. That sounded a little better. At least I think it did. “So it’s a good thing?” I asked. “Um hmm,” Jeff said taking another sip out of his drink. “At least you’re never boring sweetie,” Jason said. “I abhor boring. Detest it.” “I think someone here can’t hold his liquor,” Jeff said in a sing song voice and held up his hand trying to secretly point at Jason. “I can see what you’re doing,” Jason said getting annoyed. “And if you recall I wasn’t the one who threw up sangria all over our new three thousand dollar rug.” Jason could sometimes go bi-polar on us especially after a few drinks. Jeff started laughing remembering. “What’s the big deal? The stain came out didn’t it?” I cringed knowing what was coming. Jason took his cleaning very seriously. “It only came out after I spent two hours on my hands and knees scrubbing with club soda,” he stood up and slammed his martini glass on the coffee table. “You don’t appreciate me. Here I am washing your ass every day and rubbing cream on it to make sure it doesn’t get infected. And do you care? No.” I stood up mumbling something about needing to get up early for work and made a quick exit. I knew after hearing the words ‘ass washing’ it would only go downhill from there. When Jason lost his temper there was usually a lot of yelling and recriminations and Jeff telling him he was over reacting and needing to calm down. Instead of going back to my apartment I headed out the front door of the building and started to walk to the liquor store. I knew my cupboards were empty and after five lemon drop martinis I had the munchies. The good thing about being drunk was I forgot about calories, carbs or getting fat. I just went straight for my comfort food of choice, which usually was chocolate anything. As I rounded the corner to turn on Santa Monica a familiar looking black Ferrari pulled up to the curb. I looked over and saw two blurry figures coming my way. I blinked several times trying to get my eyes to focus and see past the martinis. Then I saw a swath of gold buried deep in a mound of chest hair. It was Emil and Fidel. “You’re going with us bitch,” Emil said. Not this again. Fidel nudged his arm. “I mean you big…uh… pussy,” Emil quickly corrected himself. Fidel and I looked at each other and sighed. Emil saw our expressions and immediately tried again. “You…cunt,” he blurted out obviously pleased with himself hoping for shock value. He looked to Fidel and me for approval. I crossed my arms in front of me and Fidel shook his head. “What?” Emil asked us. “That is a big insult. No?” “I don’t know why, but it doesn’t sound degrading enough,” Fidel said. “How is that possible?” Emil asked his voice getting louder. “I used the worst of the degrading words for women.” What an idiot. “It’s not the word,” I explained. “It’s the delivery.” Fidel snapped his fingers delighted with my answer. “Yes. That is it. You sound childish when you say it. Ridiculously so.” I nodded and patted Emil on the back. “Maybe you should stick with the word bitch. It seems like it’s the only one you’re good at,” I said agreeing with Fidel. “That is not true,” Emil whined. “I am good at all the degrading words…you…um…whore.” Then looked at us with his hands up in the air, with a ‘you see’ look. We both shook our heads disgusted with his latest attempt. Emil pursed his lips together and glared. “Enough. You…um…person are going with us,” he said. I shot my eyes to the Ferrari. “How? You only have two seats?” It was like a light bulb went off in both of their heads. They looked at each other in shock and started yelling at each other in French throwing their arms up in the air. My buzz was starting to wear off and they were giving me a headache. I’d rather listen to Jeff and Jason argue, at least I understood what they were saying. I started to walk away then stopped remembering about the drug cartel. Maybe I could find out from them what’s going on. “Will you two stop,” I said loudly trying to be heard over their yelling. They ignored me and started giving each other little shoves that I recognized from my brothers as the beginnings of a full scale fight. I got between them and yelled, “Stop.” They were still trying to give each other little pokes, but I pushed them further apart. “What?” Fidel asked. “Yeah what is it…bitch?” Emil said proudly. I sighed loudly and gave him the death stare. What an ass. Fidel slapped his arm. “For all that is good in the world will you stop with that?” Emil growled and slapped him back. Fidel returned the slap and they were back to the shoving thing. I stepped between them again and pushed them apart. “Knock it off.” They stopped and looked down at the ground ashamed. My buzz was definitely wearing off. Damn. And my calorie and carb awareness was starting to come back with a vengeance. Now I wasn’t going to enjoy my self-medicating comfort food. “You two need some serious help,” I said when they peeked up at me. “Listen I did not take anything from your car when I repoed it. So you can leave me alone and go back to whatever you two normally do.” Hang out and braid each other’s chest hair? They gave each other a look. “What?” I asked. “We don’t believe you,” Fidel said. “It was there before you took the car.” “And even if we did believe you we’d still have to hurt you,” Emil added. “We already told our boss about your stealing and he was very angry.” I started to feel nauseous. “Better he’s mad at you than us,” Fidel said. “What do you think I took?” I asked starting to feel a little desperate. “We can’t tell you,” Emil said. “If you think I already have it than why won’t you tell me,” I asked. Neither one answered me. Instead they exchanged nervous glances. “We can’t,” Emil said. “Why?” I pressed. “What difference would it make?” “Just get in the car,” Fidel said. “You can sit between us. If you fight us we’ll put you in the trunk.” Emil grabbed my arm and tried to drag me towards their car. I pulled my arm away and stomped on his foot making him yelp out in pain. Fidel lurched forward and tried to wrench my arms back, but I shoved my knee hard into his privates making his eyes roll into the back of his head. He crumpled to the ground, making a make-shift cup over his balls and whimpered. With him incapacitated I took off down the street with Emil in fast pursuit. When I shifted right and ran into the alley behind the dry cleaners I could hear him huffing behind me. A white sedan screeched to a stop right in front of us blocking our path. I started to panic thinking it might be their reinforcements. I was relieved when I saw Manuel get out of the car. The expression on his face made Hector look like a wimp. Apparently Emil thought he didn’t look very friendly either because the huffing behind me suddenly stopped. I turned around and saw the back end of him disappear around the corner. “Are you okay?” Manuel asked coming closer to me. “Yeah,” I said. “Thanks for your help.” He gave a barely perceptible nod. “Are you sure you’re alright?” he asked. “You’re looking kind of green.” “No, really I’m fine.” I lied. The five lemon drop martinis didn’t like being churned up by all the running and a wave of nausea rolled over me in protest. “I’ll give you a lift home,” Manuel said eyeing me suspiciously not entirely convinced of my answer. “It’s all right. I can walk,” I said. I don’t want to puke in your car. “You can’t walk home by yourself,” he said. Oh yes I can. I might need to hack up and I don’t want you around to see it. “Being out here alone at this time of night isn’t exactly being careful.” “The five lemon drop martinis told me it was safe.” I had a feeling he wasn’t just going to let me stroll home in the middle of the night after almost being kidnapped. I was sure there had to be laws about that in whatever job he had with whatever agency he was in. One side of Manuel’s mouth tipped up into an almost grin. “Five?” “Yep,” I said smacking my lips together. “I need to take you home,” he said. My stomach was still not happy. “I think it might be better if I walk. I like the air.” “The martinis?” I nodded. “Don’t move,” Manuel said. I held up my hand letting him know I heard and moved to the side of the alleyway while he parked his car. “We’ll walk then,” he said when he came back. “Fine.” I wanted to ask him all the leftover questions from earlier in the day, but as I was still on the verge of throwing up I stayed quiet. We walked side by side not saying anything. Manuel was certainly not one to make small talk. He would occasionally glance my way. I was sure he was watching my face turn a different shade of green with every step. I felt the martinis swirl and I started to feel warm. When I reached the front of my building the lemon drop martinis decided to greet their makers. I leaned over and puked in the street knowing my neighbors would kill me if I barfed in their carefully planned garden. Afterwards I wiped my mouth with the bottom of my shirt feeling too shitty to even be embarrassed. “Feel better?” Manuel asked. “A little.” “Are you done?” “I think so.” I had to be. It seemed like I threw up everything but my internal organs. He held out his hand and did a ‘give me’ gesture. “Keys.” I reached in my pocket and dropped them in his hand. He opened the front door of the building and went into the elevator. Somehow I wasn’t surprised when he pushed the right number for my floor or when he knew which apartment was mine. “Wait here,” he said. Normally I wouldn’t take kindly to being bossed around, but I was too tired and sickly to muster up any outrage. I presumed he was checking to make sure Fidel and Emil weren’t hiding under my bed. I wanted to tell him he needn’t have bothered because their cologne would have left a trail giving them away, but decided against it. Any amount of conversation would require more energy than I had in my reserve bank. “It’s clear,” Manuel said motioning me inside. I glanced around hoping my apartment was at least clean. Not bad. There was a minimal amount of mess. “Are you going to be alright?” He asked scrutinizing my face. “Am I still green?” “No.” “Then I’m good.” He checked me out one more time. I prayed I didn’t have any residual barf on my face. “Lock your door after I leave,” he said. “And no more midnight walks alone until all this blows over.” “Gotcha,” I said attempting to wink, but ending up looking like something just flew into me eye. I was still drunk. The alcohol must have seeped into my pores and hung on for dear life. He left and I locked the door. Then I plopped down on the sofa and dug my phone out of my pocket. I stared at it for a while tempted to message Bryan. I really missed him being around. But then I thought about what he said about needing a break for me. I didn’t blame him. Sometimes I wanted a break from me too. I put the phone on the coffee table and passed out. Chapter Eight “At least you won’t be asking me a ton of fucking questions.” I had explained my hangover situation to Hector as soon as I walked in the office and begged for no loud Spanish music when we headed out. I was grateful Gus and Victor had already come and gone. Without an audience Hector would be more subdued and not give me such a hard time. He came closer to me, took a sniff and made a face. “Damn girl, you must have chugged it back cause you still smell like my Uncle Jose’ and he is a total fucking booze whore.” Fabulous. I was getting told I was stinky by someone who looked like his knuckles should be dragging on the ground. When Harry saw us from her office she gave us a wave and shouted out, “You look like shit Goldie.” “Thanks,” I said. “Why does she look like crap?” Harry asked Hector. “I hired her for her wholesome good looks, so she could trick the shit out of our clients,” she hollered twisting back and forth in her office chair with her hands firm on her desk. It looked like Harry was exercising. She was wearing an eighties sweat band under her bee hive hairdo and had on a black and white striped leotard. “She has a hangover,” Hector explained. Harry put a tights covered leg over the edge of the desk and stretched it out. “Goldie, darlin’ no one is going to open the door for you looking like that. Run a brush through your hair and put on some lipstick or something.” I waved that I heard her, grabbed my purse and headed to the bathroom. The way I felt Harry was lucky I didn’t crawl in on my hands and knees. I had a message on my phone this morning where I heard two people moan in unison. I didn’t need to look at the number to know it was Jeff and Jason. They must be feeling the pain too. I pushed my way through the silk flowers towards the bathroom mirror and stifled a scream when I saw the missing link staring back at me. Mascara was rimmed around my eyes making me look like a rabid raccoon and my hair would give any bird nest envy. I’d have to ask Jeff and Jason what to do about my skin later tonight. It looked parched and was badly in need of some nourishment. I spent ten minutes trying to make myself look like I shouldn’t be wearing an animal skin and carrying a club. When I came out of the bathroom Hector nodded his approval. “Better,” he said. “You look more like yourself.” “Everything okay now darlin?” Harry asked looking at me while bending over and touching the floor with her hands. I had a flashback of the eighties aerobics tape my mother used to put on every morning. Harry exercising must be a regular occurrence because Hector didn’t seem to notice. “I think so,” I said. “Good,” she said looking at me approvingly. “Now you two shits go earn me some fucking money.” Hector grabbed our paperwork out of his box and briefly glanced at it as we made our way out the back to the parking lot. I looked around half expecting to see Emil and Fidel. But then I figured Hector would have probably scared them off. I cringed every time I thought of last night. Why’d I have to hurl in front of the hunky Latin guy? I knew I’d never hear the end of it if Hector and the boys found out. I was fairly confident Manuel wouldn’t say anything considering him and Hector talked in monosyllables to each other. I doubted you could grunt your way through and still tell the basics of the story. But I guess’ Stevie upchucked in front of me’ wasn’t an epic worthy of Homer either. We got into Hector’s Baby and drove down Hollywood towards the Westside. He refused to drive in my “girlie” car, saying it was bad for his image. I pointed out his hypocrisy by asserting the minivan he sometimes drove was not exactly manly. He said the van was manly because it showed how “he made a couple kids and that proved his fucking cock worked just fine.” I couldn’t come up with any other arguments after the word cock. My mind went blank thinking of Hector as a baby making machine. He handed me the paperwork asking me to tell him the cross streets. I looked down and told him the names. “I know exactly where that fucking is,” he said. Hector had another gift besides hot wiring cars. He seemed to know every street in Los Angeles. We never used the GPS on our phones as he said that was for “pussies”. Gus told me Hector’s gifts also extended to being able to pick any lock. He was a talented guy. He leaned over and turned the music on. I groaned putting my hands up to my ears and turned it off. “Remember? No music.” “Shit Goldie, why’d you have to get all wasted last night? I like to listen to my fucking music. Damn. It just isn’t the same.” I gave him a bitch look and he slumped down in his seat. His wife had him well trained. He knew when to back off. “You don’t have to get all nasty. But I guess I can do without it for one day.” Then he looked at me sideways. “It is going to be one day right? You’re not some fucking drunk are you?” Another chance to give him the bitch look. “No, I am not,” I snarled. “Last night my friends Jeff and Jason tried to cheer me up by making me my favorite lemon drop martinis and we just got carried away.” Hector made a face. “What a girlie fucking drink. You won’t catch any guy around my block drinking any alcohol with fucking fruit in it.” Hector seemed to use the word fuck as an adjective, noun and a verb. “Let me guess… you make your own moonshine in your garage that does double duty. It takes the grease off your engine and makes a great before dinner cocktail.” He stared at me for a beat. “I don’t know what the fuck you just said, but I’m guessing it was some mean shit.” I glared at him and grabbed the paperwork off my lap and started reading it. When I looked at the merchandise I knew Hector wouldn’t be happy. “Did you check out what we were repoing today?” He eyed me suspiciously. “I just saw it was in Santa Monica. Why?” “It’s a bike,” I said waiting for his reaction. He shrugged. “That’s cool. No prob’. My gift still works on bikes.” He wasn’t getting it. “It’s not a motorcycle. It’s a bike. You know the kind with pedals.” He made a sour face. “A what?” “A bike.” “What the fuck? You mean the kind my kids ride on?” “If your kids’ bikes cost over twenty thousand dollars then yes it’s that kind of bike.” He snapped his head to look at me. “Twenty thousand? A fucking bike that doesn’t even have a motor costs that much?” “Yep.” Jeff and Jason rode bikes and I learned about the gear from them. I suspected they just rode so they could wear the outfits. “Man…people really pay that much?” I nodded. “Shit what a fucking rip off.” Yep. “Sure is.” “You’re getting the merchandise ‘cause there’s no way I am. A guy has to have fucking standards.” “Fine.” The least I could do was back him up. I hoped my still hung over head would hold out. We did a drive by checking out the house. It was a white craftsman, three blocks from the beach and looked nicely maintained. When it was first built it probably cost fifteen thousand, but now went for over a million. Hector parked a couple blocks away. He was so disgusted with having to repo a bike he barely looked up from the dash board. “I’m going to go check it out,” I said opening the door. “You know we’re not supposed to break into anyone’s house,” he said out of the corner of his mouth. I nodded. “Harry don’t like it when we do that illegal shit and stuff.” I nodded again knowing he didn’t follow his own advice. “Okay. Now make sure you don’t get caught. I get enough bitching from my wife I don’t want to hear it from Harry too.” “Got it,” I said. “Do you have any tools for the bike?” “What kind of tools?” “The kind that would take a wheel off. So we can fit a bike in the back of your car.” He scrunched up his face. “I don’t need a fucking tool to take off some pussy ass wheel off some crappy bike. I’ll just use my hands. That’s all the fucking tools I need.” I raised an eyebrow at him. “Yes I have some. They’re in the trunk.” “Good.” “Whatever. Just let me know when you’re done.” He reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a little black bottle and a cloth. “I’ll be here polishing my rims until you get back. No sense me wasting my fucking time.” I walked away still hearing him mumbling complaints about how the repo business was going down the shitter. I was wearing running shoes, black sweat pants and a white t-shirt. My hair was in its usual pony tail. It was the perfect blending in outfit. I was just someone jogging through. I was definitely not there to take your possessions. When I got to the house I went to the door and gave it a knock figuring I’d just play dumb and ask for directions if anyone was at home. When no one came to the door I walked around to the side and opened the gate. I tried the garage door, but it was locked. Damn. I could go back to the car for help, but considering Hector’s mood I wasn’t sure it was such a good idea. I checked every window and door, but they were all locked too. I was just about ready to leave when I glanced down and saw a familiar looking rock. Could I be so lucky? I picked it up and turned it over. Yes! It was a hide-a-key. There was no alarm sign so I was good to go. I opened the door to the garage and crept in. There were no cars, but the bike was there in the middle of the garage like a sculpture in a museum. It was a bright yellow and resting a couple of feet above the ground on a rack. It was well taken care of. It looked like the bike equivalent of Hector’s car. I knew it wouldn’t be too heavy for me to lift off the rack. The more expensive the bike the lighter it would be. I was just getting it off when I heard a car pull up in the driveway. Shit. My heart felt like it was going to jump out of my chest. I wanted to run, but I didn’t want to leave empty handed. I rolled the bike out the door and waited on the side hiding behind some garbage cans. I heard a couple arguing on the driveway. “You love that thing more than me,” a woman shouted. “I just ride to relieve stress,” a man’s voice argued back. “Do you realize how difficult my job is?” “You ride that bike…more than you ride me.” It was getting ugly. I looked down at the bike and said, “You’ve been causing some trouble around here.” “Well maybe I enjoy riding it more than I enjoy riding you. Have you ever thought of that?” Yikes. That was a low blow. This guy deserved to get his bike repoed. The two of them went on and on with one accusation after another. I was sitting on the ground with my hands over my ears. My throbbing head was not happy. “You know what I’m going to do?” The woman screamed. “I’m going to take a hammer and destroy that bike. What do you think of that?” “Oh no you’re not.” I peeked around the corner and saw them both rushing into the house elbowing each other along the way. I bolted around the corner pushing the bike along the side of me. I was keeping my eye on the door and wasn’t paying attention where I was going and ended up bumping into a tree. Then I heard a mass buzzing sound springing up from the weird squishy thing that fell from a branch. When I looked down it was almost like a cartoon. There were a bunch of angry looking wasps circling around looking for some payback for destroying their home. When they spotted me they came buzzing in my direction at full force. I ran pushing the bike next to me because it was too tall for me to ride. But when I saw the swarm was closing in I hopped on it and tried to reach the seat. I ended up riding on the bar killing my butt and doing serious injury to my privates. But my fear of the angry swarm behind me overruled the major pain to my lower regions. “Hey that’s my bike,” The guy shouted. The fighting couple was on the front lawn staring at the spectacle before them. The man started to run after me. “Oh, no you don’t,” the woman yelled pulling him back. “Let go of me. I need that bike.” Get a life mister. “You are so sick.” I didn’t turn to look back at them, I was too busy trying to ignore my pain and getting the hell away from the black cloud behind me. I raced down the street hearing the buzzing all around me. I turned the corner and saw Hector crouched down polishing his rims. “Help!” I screamed. He squinted trying to see what was chasing me. Then I saw his eyes bulge out recognizing what was trailing me. He jumped into the car and shut the door behind him. I was just about ready to put a curse on him for abandoning me when he leapt out of the car holding what looked like two rocket launchers. I rode by him and he jumped in front of me directly in the path of the wasps like a huge three hundred pound wall of flesh. “Take that you mother fuckers,” he yelled. I kept pedalling but turned around to see Hector holding the launchers in front of him. A huge stream of foamy stuff was coming out of them. “Yeah. You like that assholes. Come get some more from Papa, fuckers.” I stopped and turned the bike around and watched Hector with my mouth hanging open. He was moving his arms around and crutching up and down like he was doing Tai Chi. It was almost as if he was in one of martial arts movies where the characters mouths move and the English dialogue comes with a three second delay. I was surprised that even with his amount of girth that he could be so flexible. “I thought so.” He said giving one last squirt as the black cloud high tailed it in the opposite direction. “Little shits.” He walked over to me. “Are you okay Goldie?” “Yeah, thanks.” “What was that stuff you sprayed?” “It’s a type of pepper spray. It’s the super macho size. It can take down a fucking elephant. I got it in Mexico. Pretty cool huh?” “Yep. Cool.” I took a deep breath and felt my heart rate slowdown from ‘I’m going to die a horrible death’ to ‘I want a king size Snickers’ pace. I tried to get off the bike but when I tried to lift my leg I winced because my crotch was on fire. I sucked in the pain and hurled my leg over the side, got my foot blocked by the seat and fell over with the bike on top of me. “Crap,” I said when I saw my arm was bleeding. I didn’t heal well. The slightest scratch and it seemed to take months for the scar to go away. “Shit girl you went down like a rock. Are you all right?” Hector lifted the bike off and helped me up. “Yeah, I’m fine.” I looked down and saw my pants were torn on one leg and my knee was bleeding. I quickly checked the bike to make sure I didn’t do any damage. Whew. It seemed fine. Dang. I rubbed my arm. “I did all this from one fall?” Hector nodded. “You also got a cut on your cheek.” “Really?” I reached up and felt the side of my face. “Its cause you too fucking skinny Goldie. You need some extra meat.” Here we go with the meat thing again. Hector lifted the bike again. “What the fuck? It don’t weigh nothin’.” “That’s why it’s so much money,” I explained as I limped along following him back towards the car. “What? That don’t make sense.” “So when you ride it’s lighter so you’ll go faster.” “Rich people are fucking crazy.” I heard yelling. I peeked around Hector and saw the arguing couple heading our way. She was a thirtyish attractive blond and he looked like he was in his fifties, salt and pepper hair in a comb over and had a middle age spread around his stomach. The woman hopped on his back trying to prevent him from coming in our direction or rather the bike’s direction. “Here they come,” I said. “Hurry, get the wheel off.” Hector was bent down next to the bike wheel. He barely glanced up at the approaching couple. “Any guy that pays twenty thousand dollars for this light piece of shit deserves to get his ass kicked.” “That’s my bike,” the man said pointing his finger. Hector slowly stood up and I watched the man’s eyes widen. The woman smiled and let herself slip off the man’s back. “Um…that’s mine.” He said his voice quivering. Hector rolled his eyes and took out the paperwork from his pocket. “This here,” he said shaking it in the air. “Says that you haven’t paid your bills and we are repoing this shitty ass bike.” He gave the bike a little shove. The man inhaled sharply and reached out for it. “Now don’t give me any shit about it ‘cause I’m already pissed about having to take this fucker.” “What?” The man said confused. Then he turned to the woman. “You didn’t make the payments did you?” A look of triumph creased across the woman’s face. “No. I. didn’t.” “You bitch,” The man shouted. Hector ignored them, got the tire off and put the bike in the trunk while the couple continued to argue. I walked around them and got into the car. When Hector got in he shook his head and said, “What a bunch of crazy mother fuckers.” When we got back to the office Gus and Victor were playing video games and barely noticed us coming in. Hector was carrying the bike, but held it away as if he was too disgusted to have it close to him. He had put the wheel back on in the parking lot still grumbling about how humiliating it was to have to repo a bike. The boys glanced up, gave a grunt to greet us and went back to playing. Hector seemed relieved and quickly put the bike in Harry’s office. She wasn’t in, but her perfume lingered marking her territory. “Damn,” Gus shouted. “You suck,” Victor said. “Man, it’s boring to play you. You ain’t even a fucking challenge.” Hector looked at me a shook his head. Then he went and got a first aid kit from one of file cabinets and tossed it to me. “What happened to you Goldie?” Victor asked noticing my cuts for the first time. Hector gave me a ‘don’t say anything’ look. “It’s nothing,” I said. “Did one of the repos do that to you?” He pressed. I shook my head. I wanted to help out Hector, but I didn’t want to lie either. He knit his eyebrows together. “Did you do that breaking in somewhere?” “No.” “Then what the hell happened. What’s the big mystery?” Gus jumped in. I exaggeratedly drifted my eyes over to Hector. He crossed his arms and pursed his lips together. I raised my eyebrows at him wanting him to take over. He was the one with the issue with the bike. Not me. He sighed and flung his arms up in the air. “Fuck it. She fell off a bike after being chased by a bunch of crazy mother fuckin’ wasps. Okay?” Gus and Victor had confused looks on their faces. “What the hell?” Victor asked. Hector exhaled loudly. “We had to repo a fucking bike today. And I don’t want to hear any fucking shit about it either.” They looked at each other then back to us still not understanding. “What’s the big deal?” Gus asked. “We repo bikes all the time.” Hector’s face twisted up with disgust not wanting to give the details. He looked at me to explain. “It’s not a motorcycle. It’s a bicycle.” They both scrunched up their faces trying to understand. They still didn’t get it. I stomped to Harry’s office and brought it out. Hector visibly cringed away from it. “This kind of bike,” I said shoving it in front of them. They were quiet for a minute then burst into laughter hitting their legs and falling over on the sofa. “If you tell anyone I am going to kick your asses,” Hector said. “I don’t know Hector. This might be too good to keep to ourselves,” Victor said still laughing. Hector walked over and pulled him off the sofa by his shirt. They both stopped laughing. “Damn Hector we were just pulling some shit,” Victor said. “We wouldn’t really say nothin’.” Hector let go and he tumbled backwards onto the floor. “What the hell?” Victor shouted. “Sorry you sort of slipped,” Hector smirked. “You guys are so pathetic,” I said. “What’s the big deal?” “You’re a chick,” Hector said. “You don’t understand.” Victor and Gus nodded. “It’s worth twenty thousand dollars,” I argued. “I’m sure Harry wouldn’t have agreed to repo it unless she got a big chunk of it.” Victor and Gus got up and looked over the bike in amazement. “Damn. This fucker is worth that much?” Gus said. “Yeah and it don’t weigh nothing either,” Hector pointed out. “Lift it.” Gus picked it up and handed it over to Victor. “Fuck me,” Victor said. “This is bullshit.” “And look,” Hector said. “It even has a hole in the seat. What kind of cheap mother fucker thing is that?” I tried not to laugh. “Do you know what that’s for?” They stared waiting for me to tell them. “It’s for the guy’s…um…” I didn’t want to actually say the word but I knew the subtle way wouldn’t cut it. “Balls.” Looks of horror spread across their faces. “What the fuck?” Hector said his face pursed up in disgust. “If a guy rides a long distance a certain area can get numb,” I added. I found out about the numb nuts situation when Jeff and Jason had called me totally freaking out. They thought they had some strange disease. I researched online and found out about the numbness issue. I saved them months of Viagra and doctor’s visits. “Numb? Like you can’t feel it?” Victor asked in shock. That’s what numb means. I nodded. “Or use it.” They all broke out in a chorus of curse words. “Let me get this straight,” Hector said slapping his hands together. “These guys spend twenty thousand on a bike that has a hole in the fucking seat to let their nuts hang?” I nodded. “If they don’t their dicks can’t get fucking hard?” I nodded again. They gave each other looks then broke out into another round of cursing. “That kind of shit would never go over in our neighborhood,” Hector said. “Would it amigos?” Gus and Victor nodded. “We like to exercise and use our dicks at the same time,” Victor said. Hector and Gus started laughing and gave him high fives. “Got that right,” Gus said. “Unfortunately for you the only body part besides your dick you exercise is your hand,” Victor said slapping him on the back. Hector high fived Victor then laughed and pointed at Gus. “He got you bad, fucker,” Hector said to Gus. He glared at both of them. Just then the front door to the office opened. We all turned to see who it was. My jaw dropped when I saw Mrs. Howard walk in. I gave Hector a sideways glance to see if he recognized her. He did a little nod letting me know that he did. She looked like she should be going to church pot luck in the valley not a repo office on Hollywood Boulevard. Hector made eye contact with me and let his eyes drift to the back door. I shook my head. I didn’t want to run away. My guilt over tricking her was bad enough I didn’t want to add to it by avoiding her. Mrs. Howard looked shocked when she got a look at Hector and his two minis. I walked over to her and said hello. “Stevie right?” She looked embarrassed. I nodded. “Can I help you Mrs. Howard?” “You remember me?” She asked. I ate a gallon of ice cream to get over the guilt of lying to you. “Of course.” “I’m not here to cause any trouble.” That was a relief. “The bank explained what happened.” She said her voice quivering. “Then why are you here?” I asked as gently as possible. She glanced over to the boys who were listening intently. They quickly pretended to play video games grabbing the controllers and yelling at each other about which game to play. I noticed they picked one with less violence and started to play. I’m sure they didn’t want to insult someone’s nana. “You knew what my man friend was up to didn’t you?” “It didn’t sound good,” I answered. “Tony, that’s his name…he wouldn’t return my calls after I told him I couldn’t give him any more money. My brother doesn’t know about his car. He gets back in three days,” she said wringing her hands. “I don’t know what to do.” “I’m sorry, but I can’t get your car back for you.” “Goldie was just doing her job,” Hector called out from the back. Apparently he had the gift of supersonic hearing too. “I know,” she said. “Then why are you here?” I asked. “Yeah,” Hector chimed in from the back. I turned around and gave him the death stare. I didn’t need an echo. “I was hoping…that you could…maybe help me get my money back from Tony,” she said. Me? “How?” I asked. “Yeah how?” Hector shouted out. I turned around to glare at him again and saw Victor elbow Hector in the ribs. “Ow. Fucker. What the hell?” Could he be any more obvious? Mrs. Howard looked confused about who to answer. “Why do you think I could help you get your money back? I don’t even know who this Tony person is,” I asked. “I’m not sure…it’s just that you seemed so good at lying to people. I totally believed you when you said you were from the Automobile Authority place,” she said. “I thought maybe you could con Tony into giving me my money back.” I heard Hector and the boys laughing. “Damn. I told you fuckers she was good,” Hector said. I pretended I didn’t hear him. “I don’t think I can help you,” I said. “I wouldn’t even know where to begin.” Mrs. Howard nodded. Then tears started to fill in her eyes. “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said sniffling. “How am I going to tell my brother what happened? He’s got such a temper on him.” Guilt rushed through me. I had to at least try to help her. “Okay,” I said reaching for a pencil and paper from the top of one of the file cabinets. “Tell me everything you know about him.” “What?” Hector yelled. “Goldie what the hell are you doing?” His reaction sounded scarily similar to Bryan’s. “You don’t know how to find people and shit,” he said walking over to us. I watched as Mrs. Howard took a step back. “Hector this is my business not yours,” I snapped. “Girl giving me ‘tude again.” His phone rang stopping him in mid-rant. He looked at who was calling and I could tell by his expression it was his wife. I had already seen the same look on his face several times today. He groaned then answered with the familiar, “Yes Yolanda.” Thank goodness for Yolanda. I knew she would keep him occupied long enough for me to get the information from Mrs. Howard without any more interruptions. I glanced at Victor and Gus who were so into their game they had forgotten we were there. At least they wouldn’t be pestering us either. Mrs. Howard didn’t really know much about the geriatric lothario except his name was Tony Grazio. He was a supposed former pastor at a church in Northridge. She told me the address he gave her was fake because she went there looking for him and no one had ever heard of him. I told her I’d call her when I found out anything. She left looking a lot happier than when she came in. I really wanted to help her, but the person I’d normally go to about something like this was Bryan. Considering he wanted a break from the chaos telling him about this was not an option. It would only enforce why he made the decision to take a break from me. There had to be another way. Chapter Nine On my way home from work I had a brain storm. Kevin owed me after that bogus stop he made for Bryan. He could run a check for me on Mrs. Howard’s mystery man. I gave him a call. Luckily it was his day off and we agreed to meet at Barney’s Beanery a basic burger place that played loud music and was just around the corner from my apartment. I pulled into my garage and gave a wave to Hector who honked his mariachi horn in reply. But instead of going up to my apartment I walked out the garage door and went to meet Kevin. I walked into Barney’s and looked around for him. There was the usual assortment of rockers and wannabe actresses, but no Kevin. Then I flicked my eyes over to the corner and saw Bryan staring back at me. Damn Kevin. I should have known he’d tattle. I walked over dreading the lecture he was bound to give me, but at the same time my stomach flip flopped at seeing him again. I’d missed him. I slid across the booth and tried to ignore how good he looked. Bryan must have gotten off early from work because he was wearing jeans and a brown surfer T-shirt. I liked seeing him dressed that way. It was almost like he was two people. There was Bryan who wore power suits and disapproved of my craziness and then the other Bryan who hung out with beach bums and would have sex with me on the kitchen table. “Kevin is dead meat,” I snapped. “It’s good to see you too,” he said smiling, showing his dimples. “I can’t believe he told you.” “Why didn’t you come to me in the first place?” “I thought you wanted a break from the chaos,” I said pointing to myself. He grinned. “It turns out… I kind of missed the chaos.” The waitress came and set a coke in front of me which Bryan must have ordered. She looked like a cross between Marilyn Manson and an eighties Madonna. She stared waiting for us to order. When we were done she stomped away swinging her black hair side to side. “So what’s going on?” he asked. I didn’t say anything. I was still thinking about whether to tell him the truth or not. “I don’t know if I want to tell you,” I said. “Is it worse than smuggling stolen cars across the border?” I made a face at him. “No.” Smart ass. “Come on Stevie,” he said. “Tell me.” “Fine,” I said. “But no lectures.” I stared and waited for him to agree. He stared back at me. “What?” “No lectures?” “Will I need a drink stronger than my beer?” “No” “Fine then. No lectures.” The waitress came back, slapped a hamburger and fries in front of Bryan and veggie tacos for me. She snarled, asking if we needed anything else. When we said no she sauntered away as if she had far more important things to do. “Well?” Bryan said biting into his burger. “Let’s hear it.” I told him about Mrs. Howard and the scum who swindled her out of her money. I could tell by his expression he wasn’t too pleased about an old lady being taken advantage of. “I don’t blame you for wanting to help her.” He lifted his bottle of Corona and took a drink. “I haven’t even met her and I want to go kick this guy’s ass.” He asked the waitress for a pen and on a napkin wrote down all the information I knew about Mrs. Howard’s con man. We paid the Marilyn/Madonna waitress and walked outside then stopped at the corner not knowing whether to say goodbye. “Come on,” he said giving me a little nudge with his arm. “I’ll walk you home.” “It’s okay. I can go by myself.” “Too bad,” he said and gave me a look daring me to say no. “Fine,” I said putting my arm through his. I couldn’t imagine just walking side by side like we were just acquaintances. It would have felt too weird. I wanted to ask him if he was dating Miss Perfect I saw him with, but then I thought better of it. Did I really want to know? Was it any of my business? Sometimes I wished I wasn’t so reasonable. “So you’re really going to stay at this job then?” He sounded calm, but the vein on his neck was throbbing. “Yep, I really like it.” “Why?” I hesitated because I hadn’t really thought about why before. “I like my boss…my partner is great and so are the other guys.” “That’s the people not the job.” True. “I also like the work because I’m good at it.” I could tell he wanted to say something else, but stopped himself. “I just worry about you,” he said. “I know, but you don’t need to. And thanks for not mentioning all this,” I said gesturing to my cuts and ripped clothes. “You’re welcome.” He waited a beat before asking, “No one did that to you did they?” He was trying to sound casual, but I knew him well enough to see the thought of someone slapping me around made him want to jump out of his skin. “It’s not what you’re thinking.” “Enlighten me then.” “I fell off a bicycle while being chased by a swarm of wasps.” He tried not to laugh. “You’re wrong,” he said. “That’s exactly what I was thinking. In fact that happened to me just yesterday.” “You asked,” I said slapping his arm. We turned the corner onto my street and I stopped when I saw the familiar black Ferrari parked across the street. It was dark, but I could still make out Emil and Fidel waiting for me. What were they doing here again? If they were here I bet Manuel would be around somewhere too. I looked up and down the street, but didn’t see anything that seemed unusual. Of course, I doubted I’d be able to see him unless he wanted me to. “What’s wrong?” Bryan asked. “Nothing,” I said. “I just thought I saw someone I knew.” “It was more than that Stevie.” Shit. He knew me too well. Think of something. I pretended to squint in the Ferrari’s direction. “Oh it is them,” I said waving. “Hi guys.” Fidel and Emil looked confused. Then Fidel who was in the driver’s seat smiled and gave me a little wave. Emil shoved his hand down and Fidel pushed him. The two of them started arguing and slapping each other. “You know them?” Bryan asked suspiciously. “Yeah.” “How?” “They’re friends of Jeff and Jason’s.” “Really?” He asked skeptically. “Those guys are?” I nodded wishing Emil and Fidel would shut up. From what I could hear it was getting ugly. They finally stopped fighting and I could see Fidel on the phone. Bryan wasn’t totally convinced, but he didn’t ask any more questions because the Ferrari sped away up the street. I was thankful it was so dark otherwise he might have recognized their pictures from the police report. We reached the front steps of my building. “Thanks for walking me home,” I said taking my arm out of his. He nodded towards the front door. “I want to make sure you get inside.” I decided it wasn’t worth arguing about it. When we got to my apartment I got my key out and opened the door. “I think I’m okay now. Thanks for your help.” I gave him a peck on the cheek. There was an awkward pause. “Well…good night.” I said. He smiled then started to walk away. I watched as he stopped and seemed to be having a conversation with himself then shook his head and strode back towards me. He pulled me close and kissed me while letting his hands wander. It was definitely not what I would consider a friendly kiss. It was more like I’d like to slam you against the wall and jump your bones kiss. He pulled away cursing under his breath. “Why’d you do that?” I asked, trying not to pant. “I don’t know,” he said. “You drive me crazy.” Then he walked away mumbling something about calling me tomorrow. “Finally a normal fucking repo,” Hector said and slapped the paperwork in Harry’s completed repo box. I made a face at him. “That was normal?” “Yeah.” “A guy jumped on the hood of the car,” I said. “Yeah.” “You had to drive away with him still on it.” He quickly took a look around the office. “You should keep that part to yourself.” Understood. “A guy chased the car with a bat.” Hector started laughing. “That was great the way you reversed and made that fucker run. He was all the big man until he saw your bumper coming at him.” I still couldn’t believe Hector considered that a normal repo. “So this is what I have to look forward to in the future,” I asked. “Hell yeah,” he said. “I hope so.” “Those guys were kinda scary,” I said. They were way crazier than Emil and Fidel. “They were pissed, but they’re supposed to be that way. Wouldn’t you be if someone was taking your car?” He had a point. “At least it wasn’t a fucking bike or a crazy bitch throwing wax at me. Just a normal repo and some pissed off guys. Just the way I like it.” He practically clicked his heels together. “I’d rather have the bike and the wax girl.” His face twisted up like he just sucked on a lemon. “Girl you don’t know what you’re saying.” Just then Gus and Victor came in complaining that they couldn’t believe we beat them in today. Hector immediately started bragging about our repo. I think he was trying to make them forget about the bike. They’d been hassling him about it a lot. They didn’t bother teasing me because they knew I didn’t care. I didn’t have the same repo standards as they did. “Damn. Goldie here has been holding out. She’s a fucking crazy driver. Man NASCAR has nothing on her. You guys should have seen that fucker run.” My phone started vibrating in my pocket. It was Bryan. I motioned to Hector I was going in Harry’s office. He barely noticed because he was too busy regaling in his repo story. Harry didn’t mind us using her office. She wasn’t there that much and said it made no sense to leave it empty. I found out this wasn’t her only repo business. She had others in Las Vegas and San Diego. Of course I didn’t find this out from Hector. Gus told me. I’d learned if I wanted any information he was the weak link. Unfortunately the link didn’t seem to know that much. “Hey Stevie I did a lot of digging today and found out some interesting stuff on Tony Grazio.” “What’d you find out?” “It’s better if I tell you in person.” “Okay. Do you want to meet at my place tonight?” I asked. The minute I said it I wanted to hit myself. After last night’s kiss it probably wasn’t the best idea. I had a restless night picturing him naked, sweaty and doing the wild thing with me. My dreams were so realistic I even slept on the opposite side of the bed to avoid the wet spot. I woke up feeling disappointed and frisky. “I think it would be better if I just stopped by your office. Will you still be there in about an hour?” Bryan said as if he read my mind. “Sure. I’ll be here.” I hung up with him and came out of Harry’s office. The boys were in their usual after work positions on the sofa thrashing it out playing video games. “Hey Goldie get your ass over here so we can teach these smucks who the bad asses really are.” I walked over and smacked Hector’s leg and told him to make some room. Then I plopped down and grabbed a controller. “How come you always get to partner with Goldie?” Victor asked Hector. “Cause that’s what we are, we’re partners. So fuck off.” I smiled to myself. At least I was popular. “Man, it sucks that I always get stuck with this shit,” Victor said shoving Gus off the sofa. “Knock it off asshole,” Gus said picking himself off the floor and pushing Victor to move over. “Will you guys stop it so we can play?” I said. Sometimes I felt like I was teenager babysitting again. The guys were sweet, but their bickering gave me a headache. “See fuckers. You don’t want to piss off Goldie. She gets all mean and shit.” Yeah right. I’m a big meanie. Hector and I won as usual. The guys were begging for one more game when Bryan walked in. Gus and Victor looked at Hector. “It’s cool. He’s not a dick or anything,” he said attempting to whisper. He obviously never learned to tone down his voice because it carried across the office loud enough for even my deaf great uncle to hear. I watched as Bryan’s mouth turned up in a smile. I elbowed Hector in the ribs. “Would you be quiet,” I said out of the corner of my mouth. “Ow. Damn Goldie.” I gave Hector a ‘shut up look’. “What?” He asked. I shook my head. He just didn’t get it. Bryan walked over and shook Hector’s hand. I made a face at Hector to behave. He still didn’t have a clue. Note to self. Don’t bother trying to muzzle Hector. “Hey if it ain’t the cop lawyer,” Hector said. Bryan introduced himself to Victor and Gus. They gave him the guy nod, but Hector made them stand up and shake Bryan’s hand. He explained about his cousin and how Bryan had helped him. I could tell this brought some respect, helping someone from the neighborhood was a big deal. Knowing another round of Call of Duty was not going to happen, Gus and Victor said their good byes and left. Hector lingered around being nosy. It was strange, but even though Bryan was in his work clothes he still seemed to fit in with the guys in the office. That was one of the things I always loved about him. I could take him out with any of my friends even the really wacky ones and he’d always blend in somehow. I was the one who had trouble fitting in his world. “What’s in the folder?” Hector asked Bryan. Bryan looked at me to see if it was okay to say anything. I let him know that it was. Hector watched our exchange. “Fuck. Goldie and I are partners. We don’t keep shit from each other.” It was true. After Hector had saved my butt so many times I felt like I could trust him with anything. “Why do you call her Goldie?” Bryan asked trying not to smile. Bryan would get some teasing mileage from this one. I’d got so used to being called that I’d forgotten how ridiculous it sounded. “Cause she looks like Goldilocks,” Hector explained. Bryan smirked at me. “Don’t start,” I said to him. “What?” Hector asked completely oblivious. “I’m just surprised she lets you call her that,” Bryan said smiling at me. I’m doomed. He’d tease me about this forever along with his zillion of friends that seemed to pop up wherever I went. Hector badgered Bryan about the folder again. “Your friend Mrs. Howard was lucky she didn’t let that con artist swindle her into giving him her house,” Bryan said laying out on the desk everything he had on him. “He has several aliases and has been in and out of jail most of his life.” “Maybe I know him,” Hector said. “Do all criminals know each other?” I asked sarcastically. “There she goes again with the ‘tude.” “His real name is Ronald Davies.” Bryan said. “I definitely don’t know anyone with a fucking white bread name like that,” Hector said. I stared at Hector. Would he just shut up? “Girl you don’t need to make a face like that. You only need to tell me something once and I got it.” Once? Who was he kidding? “How’d you find him?” I was always amazed at Bryan’s resources. “Through the web site where he met Mrs. Howard,” he explained. “He had to use a credit card and we traced it back to him.” “You are scary good,” I said. He gave me a sly smile. “So you’ve told me before.” I felt the heat crept from my neck to my cheeks. We both knew he wasn’t talking about his investigative skills. “Did you get an address on him?” I asked trying to ignore his comment. It was true he was good at everything. And I mean everything, but neither one of us had changed from six months ago. “Yes…but before I give it to you,” he said locking eyes with me. “Promise me you aren’t going to do anything dumb with it.” Here we go. “Like what?” I said trying to look as innocent as possible. “Like go after him yourself. I’ve already passed this on to Kevin. He’ll take care of it.” Will they do it by the time her brother gets home? Doubt it. “I’ll just pass on the information to Mrs. Howard,” I said. Hector was unusually quiet. I think he knew to stay out of it. “And that’s it?” He asked. I nodded. “Promise?” “Promise,” I said crossing my fingers behind my back. I knew this was childish, but it let me feel good about my karma. I walked Bryan outside. We were standing in front of the office while Hector pretended to sort through a file cabinet filled with old repo orders and kept sneaking a look at what we were doing. Subtle he wasn’t. “Thanks Bryan,” I said giving him a hug. I knew once I got close to him it was a mistake. Neither one of us wanted to let go. Last night’s kiss was floating around in my mind and being this close was not a good idea. There was so much heat between us that I thought my undies would catch fire. I knew my lower regions would hate me, but I had to pull away. “Thanks again.” He gave me a little nod pretending he didn’t notice that we both wanted to rip each other’s clothes off. Thank God Hector was still in the office or I would have been tempted to pull him in there and get naked. “I’ll call you tomorrow.” He was going to give me a kiss on the cheek, but then thought better of it and walked across the street, got in his car and drove off. I walked back into the office and locked the door behind me. “Girl why don’t you two just fuck and get it over with,” Hector said shaking his head. “It’s complicated.” He made a disgusted face. “That’s bullshit. Fucking is the one thing that’s not complicated. Dick goes in pussy. The end.” I just stared at him. The world over people had written about love and passion. In one statement Hector annihilated it all. “By that evil face you’re giving me I’m guessing you don’t want to talk about it.” “You guessed right.” I had already beaten myself up over whether I did the right thing in turning down Bryan’s proposal. I didn’t need the Mexican love doctor questioning me about it too. “You lied to him about letting the cops handle the old lady’s fuck buddy didn’t you?” “I didn’t really lie,” I explained. “I was crossing my fingers.” “I thought so,” he said giving me the shame on you sign. “So when do you want to start looking for this fucker.” I’m sure my face looked as surprised as I felt. “You’re going to help me?” “Yeah, we’re partners ain’t we?” He was so sweet I wanted to pinch his cheeks. I held back though. Somehow I didn’t think he would appreciate the gesture. “Thanks Hector. I owe you.” “You don’t owe me shit Goldie. You’d do the same for me wouldn’t you?” I would. “Yep.” “Besides I don’t like fuckers taking advantage of someone’s nana. It just isn’t cool.” No it wasn’t. I hoped we could put an end to the nana gigolo and stop him from spreading his love to anyone else. Chapter Ten “I hate the valley,” Hector grumbled. We’d been waiting outside Ronald Davies’s apartment house for a couple of hours and my partner was getting cranky. “Why?” He took a deep breath. “The fucking air here is nasty.” “You live less than ten miles from here.” “So,” he said. “What’s your point?” I didn’t bother to go into it with him. Throughout the day we would bicker with each other over nonsensical things. Sometimes it was fun, but I was too tired at the moment to rise to the challenge. “Hey Goldie ain’t that him?” “Yep.” He was in his sixties with obviously dyed brown hair. He had a slender build and was wearing torn jeans and a red polo shirt two sizes two small that stretched tight against his chest. I presumed when he took Mrs. Howard out he didn’t wear this type of gear. She’d never be interested in a guy who dressed like he was a member of a boy band. Hector took out the picture Bryan had given us and checked it out. “Are you sure?” “Yeah,” I said. “Look at the face not the clothes.” “Yeah,” he agreed. “That’s him. Should I go and beat the shit out of him?” “No.” “Why the fuck not?” “We won’t get Mrs. Howard’s money that way.” “A couple of smacks in the face and he’ll give me the money.” “No, I don’t think that will work.” I had a weak stomach for violence. I also didn’t want to see Hector get in trouble. “Okay then what’s your plan?” Plan? I was supposed to have a plan? “Let’s see where he goes first.” We watched him walk around the corner and I got out of the car to follow him. He entered a restaurant called Café Venice where booths lined the walls and tables with red checked cloths and wine bottle candleholders. It was crowded and had a dimly lit large bar on the right hand side of the restaurant. It was a type of place where the door opened and everyone shielded their eyes from the light. I glanced around and saw Ronald sitting at the bar. I knew that if I wanted to get this guy’s attention my work clothes and pony tail weren’t going to cut it. I went back to the car and called Jeff and Jason. I asked them to go to my apartment and pick out a slutty outfit and bring it to me. Jeff almost squealed with joy over the phone. They loved dressing me up. I had already told them about the situation with Mrs. Howard’s con man and they begged me to let them help. Jason had been an actor before going to law school and never really gave up the dream. He saw this as an opportunity to show his hidden genius. “Okay girl what’s the plan?” Hector asked. I didn’t have one yet. “The plan is… when my friends get here you’re going home.” Yolanda had already called five times and by the tone of Hector’s voice I could tell she was not happy about his extracurricular activity. He never told me any details of their conversations and I pretended I didn’t hear. I just looked at my phone pretending to read my messages or out the window. I didn’t blame her. She had three kids under the age of five and was constantly living in survival mode. I didn’t want to be the cause of any problems on the homestead. Jeff and Jason were more than eager to take over his shift and besides they’d be able to blend better than Hector. “What?” “You need to go home. It’s getting too late.” “Shit I don’t have a fucking curfew.” I raised my eyebrows. “Okay maybe I do, but I can take the heat from the wife.” “No you can’t.” Hector was about ready to argue with me, but I held up my hand to shut him up. “What friends?” He asked. “Jeff and Jason” “You mean the diaper guys?” He chuckled. “What the fuck are they gonna do?” I gave him a nasty look. “First of all I can take care of myself. And don’t forget they tackled those repo guys with painful swollen asses.” “Okay girl. No need to get all pissy with me.” His phone buzzed again. He didn’t bother to look at it. We both knew who it was. “I appreciate you wanting to help, but you should be at home.” “You’re scared of my wife too aren’t you?” “Yep,” I said. “Totally.” Even though I hadn’t met Yolanda I knew it wasn’t wise to piss her off. I didn’t want her mad at me for keeping her husband out too late. If she terrified Hector and the boys she must be a badass. Jeff and Jason pulled up behind us. They were in Jeff’s white Prius. “Figures,” Hector mumbled when he saw their car. “Be nice,” I said. “Not everyone needs an engine the size of a small country.” I was a little worried about my two worlds meeting for the first time. Jeff and Jason eyes widened when we got out of the car and they took in Hector’s girth. I did the introductions. “My… you’re a big boy,” said Jason when he shook Hector’s hand. Hector didn’t say anything. Instead he slid his eyes over to me. Jeff slapped his arm. “You are so rude,” he said to Jason. “He doesn’t have a filter over his big mouth.” He said as an explanation to Hector. “That’s cool. My wife embarrasses me sometimes too.” Jason was going to say something, but Jeff elbowed him. “Hey make sure you watch her back tonight,” Hector said to Jeff ignoring Jason completely. Then he got in his car and with a roar drove off. I slapped Jason’s arm. “Why’d you have to say that?” “Yeah,” said Jeff slapping his other arm. “Well excuse me,” Jason said. “I was in a state of shock. I didn’t expect to see Big Foot’s rather large brother standing in front of me.” Jeff and I continue to chastise him until Jason agreed to make some cookies for Hector to apologize. I knew Hector would forgive just about anyone if they gave him food. “Now let’s get out the slut outfit,” Jeff said rubbing his hands together unable to contain his excitement. I climbed into the back of their car to get changed. Jeff assisted in the transformation. Jason peered over the front seat to supervise. When I saw what they had picked out my mouth hung open. “I said slut not exhibitionist.” They had picked out a blue knit miniskirt I usually wore with leggings because it barely covered my ass. A black low cut top that made my C cups look like DD’s and black fuck me sandals they had bought me a year ago and I had never worn. Jason made a disgusted sign with his hand. “Oh please…you need to spice it up. That old con man would think you were going to beg him for change in the outfit you’re wearing.” He pointed his finger up and down at my jeans and t-shirt. My outfit wasn’t that bad. I pulled off my clothes and put on my costume. That’s the way I had to think of it otherwise I’d never be brave enough to wear it. Jeff did some magic with my hair and makeup and I was ready. For what? I wasn’t sure yet, but I knew I’d think of something once I got there. “What’s the plan,” Jason asked. Again with the plan. “You’ll see,” I answered. “Just go along with whatever I say. Think of it like an improvisation class.” I got out the photo of Ronald and showed it to them. Jason smiled. “This is going to be fun.” Fun? Was he insane? I was dressed like a ‘ho and felt like I was going to throw up. Hardly a joyous night for me. We walked in and headed straight for the bar. I sat down next to Ronald and gave him a smile. He looked me up and down and licked his lips. Jason sat next to me and Jeff pulled up another bar stool so he was facing us. Jeff tried to order a white wine spritzer, but Jason talked over him and ordered us three glasses of red wine. From the look of the other patrons this wasn’t the type of place that guys would order spritzers. “You want to invest how much?” I said to Jeff trying to get the act going. “Ah…as much as I can,” he said not sure where I was going. “You won’t regret it. I have tripled my money in less than three months.” Jason said lowering his voice trying to butch it up. I could feel Ronald leaning closer to us. “Can I put another ten thousand in?” I asked Jason. “Yeah, but try to keep it to yourself. We don’t want it to grow too fast,” he said. “Excuse me,” Ronald said tapping me on the shoulder. “Could I buy all of you a drink?” His voice was deep and gravely. It sounded like he had been smoking since infancy. I gave him a snotty look. “We already have drinks,” I said turning my back to him. Playing hard to get works every time. “Do you want it all in cash again,” I asked “It makes it easier to hide the profits,” Jason said. We went on about our imaginary money making scheme and how the profits kept flowing in. I could feel Mr. Con Man practically salivating over our every word. Ronald tapped me on the shoulder again. “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help but over hear.” “Then don’t,” I said turning my back to him again. “Excuse my friend Veronica she can be a little abrupt,” Jason said. Veronica? That’s the best he could do? “A woman so beautiful is allowed,” he said in a voice so smarmy it made my stomach curl. “Would it be possible for me to join you?” We got him. Jason looked at Jeff and me for pretend approval. We both nodded letting Ronald see our reactions. We were appropriately dubious then gave him the okay only after checking him out with questioning suspicious expressions. Mr. Smarmy turned his bar stool so it was way too close to me and gave me a wink. I wanted to stick my finger down my throat and gag. He introduced himself as Donald. How original. “So tell me what kind of business are you in,” Ronald asked looking like a dog waiting for a treat. “We’re in porn,” Jason blurted out. Great. Like this guy needed that kind of visual. “Really,” Ronald said sneering at me and giving me another once over. “I don’t act,” I clarified. “I produce.” “What a pity,” he said smiling at me. His capped teeth were so big he could barely shut his mouth. “We make short porn reels that we sell over the web,” Jason said clearly enjoying his own performance. “Isn’t there already a lot of porn on the web already?” He asked. From the sound of it he had first-hand knowledge. “Yeah but we’re specialized,” Jason quickly explained. Ronald leaned in closer. “Really. How?” Jason looked at me, but I was drawing a blank. We both stared at Jeff for help. “We do shaving videos,” he spit out. What? Jason and I stared at Jeff in disbelief. Luckily Ronald was intrigued and didn’t see our expressions. “How exactly does that work?” he asked. Jeff shifted around in his seat. “You know a guy shaves a girl p...pussy and gets turned on and they f…fuck,” he stuttered out. Jeff wasn’t the type of guy who said crude words or cursed easily. “That’s sounds good,” Ronald said. “I saw a magazine back in the day about that once. It was called ‘Shaving Monthly’. It was really hot.” Good God? They had magazines devoted to that? “Are you sure you only produce the movies?” Ronald asked me. “Sorry,” I said. “I don’t shave on camera.” “It could be just between us,” he said running a finger along my arm. Gross. “That’s quite an offer, but I’m a lesbian.” Might as well go for the big L. “Really? Let me know if you change your mind.” What an idiot. “If we become partners maybe I could watch you and your friends,” he added licking his lips again. “Maybe,” I said giving him a wink. His eyes opened wide and he shifted around excitedly in his seat. I swallowed down the vomit that threatened to spew out of my mouth. “We’re going to expand to other fetishes too,” Jason jumped in. “Like guys who are into feet. We’re going to do shorts with a lot of foot licking and fucking.” Jason never knew when to stop. Ronald asked a lot of questions about how we got paid. Jason went into a detailed explanation about the online payment system that we had supposedly set up. He was so convincing I started thinking he should actually go into the shaving/foot licking internet porn business himself. When Jason was going through the investment details and closing the noose around Ronald I spotted a guy at the end of the bar. He was staring at me with black empty eyes. He had black hair cut very short, and a couple days stubble on his face. He was wearing black pants and a white t-shirt with a thick gold chain that accented the skull tattoo on his neck. I wasn’t the only one who found him creepy because everyone at the bar had left a large radius around him not wanting to invade his space. He raised his glass and gave me a sneer that made me want to go home, lock my doors and hide. “Veronica?” Someone kicked me under the table. Ow. I turned back around and saw Jeff and Jason were staring at me expectantly. “We’ll all meet back here tomorrow night?” Jason asked me. “I think I can squeeze it in around our production schedule,” I said giving Ronald a big smile, who gave me an air kiss in response. Double yuck. “Great. I will bring the contracts for you to sign and you’ll bring the twenty grand,” Jason said. “After I invest in the movies I can watch. Right?” He asked me. Pig. “You bet,” I said. “That’s one of the perks.” Ronald’s phone buzzed. He looked at the number. “I’ve got to go,” he said then took my hand and kissed it. “I’ll see you later.” He left so quickly he almost knocked over his bar stool. I searched through my purse to find my antibacterial wash. I slathered it on then squeezed some out for Jeff and Jason who were holding out their hands expectantly. “Maybe I’ll quit my job and go back to acting,” Jason said. “I am good.” “Oh, God here we go again,” Jeff said. “Where the hell did you come up with shaving? You should have said waxing. No one shaves anymore,” Jason said waving his hand around. When he got excited his hands were an entity onto themselves. “I didn’t see you coming up with anything better. Licking feet? How disgusting is that.” “Stop bickering,” I whispered. “He is going to check us out. How are we going to fake that?” Jason and Jeff looked at each other and shook their heads. “You are so square sometimes sweetie,” Jason said. I made the talking sign with my hand. “What are two babbling about?” “Honey they have all kinds of weird stuff online,” Jeff explained. “And we’ve seen it all. If that old perv looks up shaving porn he’s going to find it.” “Don’t give us that prissy look,” Jason said. “It’s not like we’re into that. We’re just nosy.” Okay that made sense now. They were worse than me. “Yeah and the people who make that stuff don’t exactly put their bio at the end,” Jeff said patronizingly. “For all he knows it could be us.” Who knew? “Did you see those horrible caps on him? George Washington wants his teeth back. Did he carve those things from pieces of wood?” Jason asked. “I think he just wants to give us the money because he is a horny bastard. I don’t think he even cares if he gets it back.” I glanced back around to make sure Ronald had actually left when I noticed the creepy guy was still staring at me. I watched as his eyes cut to the entryway of the bar. I followed where he was looking and took a deep breath when I saw it was Manuel. The creep calmly put down his beer kept his eyes on Manuel and took off out the emergency exit. I excused myself to Jeff and Jason who had gotten in a heated discussion about caps and teeth bleaching. I walked over to Manuel who was leaning against the bar drinking a beer. He was wearing baggy jeans and a loose navy T-shirt that still couldn’t hide his brawn. “Fancy seeing you here,” I said. “Hector called me.” Figures. “Oh…well.” I was going to see what he thought of Mr. Creepy at the bar. “What’s up?” “It’s just…there was this weird guy staring at me tonight.” Manuel looked at me up and down. “I’m sure a lot of guys were staring at you tonight.” I had forgotten what I was wearing. Last time I saw him I puked and now I was dressed like a ‘ho. “No it wasn’t like that,” I explained. “He was really creepy and as soon as he saw you he left out the emergency exit.” This got his attention. “What’d he look like?” I described him. “Do you know him?” I asked. “Maybe.” I didn’t bother to ask him any more questions. I knew Manuel was a mute went it came to information. “Hector shouldn’t have called you,” I said. “I can take care of myself.” He shrugged and took a drink from his beer. “He’s worse than my mother,” I said. “Hector’s worse than everyone’s mother.” Somehow I couldn’t picture Manuel having a mother. I imagined him sprouting up from a pod fully grown holding a beer. “Has Hector always been like that?” Manuel didn’t answer. Instead he gave me a half-smile and took another drink. How could that question be too private? There was a commotion coming from the other end of the bar. We both looked over and saw Jeff and Jason. Obviously their bleaching discussion had turned into a full blown argument. They were getting louder and people around them were starting to stare. “Friends of yours?” I nodded. “They’re my neighbors.” I heard someone yell, “Will you two shut the hell up.” “Excuse me for a minute,” I said to Manuel. Jeff and Jason looked at arguing as foreplay. Unfortunately I was sure the people around them didn’t. “Why don’t you mind your own business,” Jason said standing up and getting into the guy’s face. “I’m trying, but you two queers are fucking annoying,” he said. “Who gives a shit whether strips or trays bleach the best?” He was about the same size as Jason and was dressed in jeans and work boots. Oh, no. This was going to get ugly. “Who are you calling a queer?” Jason yelled. By the time I got to them a chair was already flying through the air. Everything went nuts and all I saw were arms swinging and bodies slamming against walls. There was a stampede of people rushing towards me to get out of the bar. I was paralyzed not knowing which way to go when I felt someone grab me from behind like a football and carry me out of the restaurant. “Are you okay?” Manuel asked while putting me down. “Yeah,” I said. “But what about my friends?” Jeff and Jason talked a good game, but the only thing tough about them were their mouths. From Manuel’s expression he wanted to be anywhere but dealing with this. “Wait here,” he said and went back into the restaurant. After a couple minutes I saw him dragging Jason outside by his shirt, while Jeff trailed behind holding his cheek. “Is my face cut?” Jeff asked running up to me. I examined it. “No. Just bruised.” “Thank God,” he said. “I can’t believe we got out of there in one piece.” “You had some help didn’t you?” Jeff cut his eyes to me then to Manuel. He pointed at him and mouthed, ‘You know him?” I nodded. “Those animals ripped my new Versace shirt,” Jason said trying to piece it back together. Then he looked up and noticed Manuel for the first time. “Well…hello there.” He was so obvious. Manuel didn’t say anything. After I introduced them Jason and Jeff stumbled over their words while eyeballing Manuel. I was impressed. He didn’t seem fazed by their fawning. He definitely was a guy who wasn’t threatened by their attention. “I can’t believe you two got in a bar fight over teeth bleaching.” I complained. This wasn’t the first time they had made a scene over something so inane. Their last big public fight was over whether White Zinfandel should actually be called a wine. “It was more about him,” Jeff said pointing to Jason, “not wanting to believe the facts.” Here it comes. Jason took the bait and they launched into another argument. I looked at Manuel and shrugged. “Do you need a ride home?” he asked. “Yeah.” I certainly didn’t want to be stuck in a car with them while they were behaving this way. “Guys. Manuel is giving me a ride home,” I said trying to shout over their voices. They instantly stopped, walked over and kissed me on the cheek. “Okay, honey we’ll see you at home,” Jeff said. “I’ll call you tomorrow to go over our sting. Okay sweetie?” Jason added then went back to arguing. “Are they okay to drive?” Manuel asked. He probably thought they were drunk, but sadly that was just them. I could tell he didn’t want to come out and ask if they needed a ride too. I didn’t blame him they weren’t exactly showing their best sides. “They’re fine.” I followed him to the parking lot. Instead of the white cop car he had a new black Mustang GT turbo. “What happened to your other car?” I asked when I got in the passenger seat. He gave me a sideways glance. “Oh come on,” I said. What could be confidential about that? When he started the car it sounded so powerful I was sure Hector would have engine envy. He looked like he was thinking about smiling. “The other car is for work.” “And what kind of work is that?” What the hell I might as well go for it all. Silence. I exhaled loudly. “If you don’t tell me then I’ll imagine the worst.” “Imagine away.” As we sped around the curves of Laurel Canyon I gripped the door handle. “Do you always go so fast?” He glanced over at me. “Not always.” I felt the red creep from my neck to my cheeks. It didn’t sound like he was talking about driving. “What did your friend mean about a sting?” He asked. Jason watched too many movies. “Didn’t Hector tell you anything?” “No.” Of course not. I launched into the whole story. When I got to the porn part I hesitated. “What?” He asked. “It’s kind of embarrassing.” “I’ve heard it all,” he said. “Really?” “Really.” That was comforting …and a little intimidating. When I told him about the shaving and licking feet web sites he started smiling. “Hey, you said you heard it all,” I protested. “I thought I had.” Wow. I even shocked the scary hot looking maybe cop FBI, CIA guy. “We’re supposed to meet him tomorrow to get the money.” He turned onto my street and parked his car in front of my building. “Is Hector going with you?” I made a face. “No way.” I appreciated him wanting to help and he was good at surveillance, but I knew Hector wouldn’t be able to muzzle his mouth. “Does he know that?” “He will,” I said. “And besides it’s past his curfew. Yolanda doesn’t like him out that late.” Manuel looked amused. “That’s harsh.” He had a slight accent that made everything sound so much better. “It’s true.” “I know, but it’s still harsh,” he said. “I’ll walk you up.” I was going to tell him it wasn’t necessary, but after that weird guy at the bar I was glad he was here. When we got to my door I got my key out and opened it. I let out a gasp when I saw my place had been trashed. Sofas were turned over and pillows were scattered around. All the drawers had been dumped out onto the floor. “What the hell?” I said. Manuel stepped in front of me, reached behind his back and got out a gun that was tucked under his shirt. “Wait here,” he said before going inside to take a look around. I stood in the door way with my mouth hanging open surveying the damage. “They’re gone,” Manuel said slipping his gun into the back of his jeans. I walked in and felt my lips trembling. It was such a mess. “I’ll call it in,” he said getting out his phone. He walked to the hallway while I wandered around not knowing where to start. “Did Emil and Fidel do this?” I asked Manuel when he came back in. “I don’t know.” “I don’t have anything of theirs,” I said. “I swear.” “I know,” he said. “They’re not going to stop are they?” “No. Not until they get what they’re looking for.” My heart beat faster and the room spun. I stepped over a couple of cushions and got to the sofa to sit on the arm. Manuel came and sat down next to me. “You okay?” he asked. “Yeah.” After I stress eat a bag of cookies. “If you’re supposed to be taking care of things then why didn’t you know about this?” I asked, gesturing at the mess. “The objective is to make sure you’re safe. Not your apartment.” We heard the sirens coming and we both glanced towards the door knowing we would soon be invaded by a bunch of uniforms. “I’m getting tired of this,” I said. Manuel heard the cops coming down the hall. “I know.” He got up off the sofa and started to walk out. “Where are you going?” That’s it? That’s all he was going to say? “I’ll be in touch.” Then just like that he was gone. “You can come home with me,” Bryan said. He had been told about the break in and got here two minutes after the police. I was sure my name and address had an added tag line to call him. “It’s alright. I can stay here,” I said then sighed when I thought about how much mess I was going to have to clean up before I could crash. The odds were stacked in my favor they weren’t going to come back tonight. “I’ll stay with you then,” he said. We locked eyes both knowing what would happen if he stayed. “Not for that. Well… I guess I could, but only if you forced me to,” he said smiling. “Thanks for the offer, but I think I’m okay,” I insisted. “Shouldn’t you be out with your snotty lawyer friend anyway?” I couldn’t help myself. Since I saw them together it had been festering inside of me. I understood Bryan would be dating. But her? Mentioning her seemed to help him remember something. He looked at his watch. “I can change my plans.” Crap. He was dating her. There was a commotion coming from the hallway. Bryan and I both turned to look at what was going on. I grinned at Bryan when Jeff and Jason came rushing in. To say they were excited was an understatement. Of course during their ranting and raving about how awful it was about the break in, they still managed to ogle Bryan while telling him how great it was to see him. “You poor thing,” Jeff said rubbing my back. “You can sleep in our guest room until we get this cleaned up.” “And to cheer you up I’ll even make you my cinnamon rolls for breakfast,” Jason chimed in. I looked over to Bryan. “Apparently I can’t compete,” he said. He definitely could, but not tonight. “I’m sure you could take care of her better than we could,” Jason drawled out looking him up and down. I tried to hide my smile while grabbing Bryan’s elbow and walking him to the door. Jason never let up. “See,” I said. “You don’t need to worry about me.” “I always worry about you.” He brushed my cheek with his hand. “If you’d let me I could make you forget about the break in,” he said while letting his eyes drift over me. “Especially in that outfit.” I put my hand over my mouth remembering the ‘ho look I still had going on. “Um…I was kind of doing an improvisational workshop with Jason and Jeff and this was my costume.” He grinned. “I thought you gave up on acting?” “I didn’t give it up.” My agent just hasn’t called with any auditions lately. “I’m just on a short hiatus while I get used to this job.” “And how do you kind of do a workshop with just the three of you? And since when is Jeff an actor?” Damn. “Jason came up with the idea of us going into a bar and pretending we’re other people. For fun,” I said too quickly. Bryan wasn’t buying it. “You’re hiding something.” I gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. “I’ll call you tomorrow.” His face turned serious. “Shit…what are you up to Stevie?” Before I could answer him he held up his hand. “Forget it. I don’t want to know,” he said. “My fast growing ulcer won’t be able to take it.” Then he kissed my forehead and left. Chapter Eleven Sometimes I wish I could die and come back as a gay man. They certainly knew how to live. I was driving down Sunset on my way to work with my stomach full and happy. I got breakfast in bed and Jeff and Jason even cleaned up my apartment for me while I soaked in a bubble bath. They made me feel like I was a kid living with my parents again when there was always food in the fridge and toilet paper in the bathroom. I parked in the lot behind the office and walked in on a cinnamon roll high. When I got a couple feet past Harry’s office I stopped, then back stepped. Manuel was sitting behind the desk on the phone. He motioned for me to come in and shut the door. It was surreal to see him casually sitting there in his usual baggy jeans and T-shirt looking as sexy and masculine as ever, which wasn’t easy considering he was surrounded by silk flowers and Harry’s eye candy all over the walls. He got off the phone and waited for me to say something. “What?” I asked. How much trouble could I be in? All I did this morning was gorge on cinnamon rolls. “Shut the door.” “Why?” “Goldie would you please just shut it?” Since he asked nicely I got up and closed the door wondering what was going on. “That guy Davies was found dead in his apartment this morning,” he said. “Oh, my God,” I said putting my hand over my mouth. “How?” “Execution style,” he said. “Gunshot to the back of the head.” “Do they know who did it?” I asked. “No. Do you?” I waited for him to indicate he was kidding, but he just sat there waiting for my answer. “You’re joking right?” Silence. “You’re serious about this?” I asked. “Does it look like I’m serious?” I knit my eyebrows together in concentration. “I can’t imagine you not being serious. So how could I tell if you weren’t?” Before he sighed and looked down I could have sworn I saw one corner of his mouth turn up into an almost smile. “Did you talk to Davies after I dropped you off last night?” “No. Why?” “He tried to call you around midnight.” My heart started to race. What? “How do you know that?” No answer. “Did your friends from last night talk to him?” “No,” I said. “You’re sure?” “Yes,” I answered. “They would have told me if they had. Besides we never even gave him our numbers.” “Anything else you want to tell me?” He asked. “I don’t think so.” I couldn’t think of anything else that would help. He stared at me for a minute then stood up obviously finished with what he came for. Then he walked over to me and slipped a piece of paper into my hand. “Try to stay out of trouble Goldie,” he said. I looked down and saw the familiar writing. It was the paper I had given Ronald last night with our fake names and the time we were supposed to meet him. I turned to ask Manuel how he got it, but he was gone. I looked down the hallway, but all I saw was Hector’s wide body blocking any view to the back door. “What the fuck is going on?” Hector asked. And the morning had started out so well. “I swear all I did was eat cinnamon rolls,” I said still in shock at Manuel’s news. Hector narrowed his eyes at me. “And you didn’t bring any for me?” He was a man with a one track food mind. “I had them at Jason’s,” I said. I couldn’t be sure, but I thought Hector might have done a little squeal of annoyance. “Damn. I bet they were good too. I bet that fucker can really cook.” I reminded him about Yolanda. “When people give me food it don’t count,” he explained. “Fine. Next time I promise I’ll bring some for you.” Hector made a face. “Fuck that. Next time you’re going to call me so I can come over. I ain’t getting stuck with any table scraps.” “It’s a deal,” I said trying not to laugh picturing Hector in Jeff and Jason’s apartment. My phone rang. It was Bryan. “Ronald Davies was murdered last night,” he said. “He was last seen in a bar with a good looking petite blond and two gay guys who got in a fight over teeth bleaching. Does that sound like anyone you know?” My stomach twisted and I felt like I was ready to be sick. Hector almost got his wish about me sharing the cinnamon rolls with him. My face must have showed what I was feeling because Hector mouthed ‘What’s going on?’ I ignored him and said, “Nope. Doesn’t ring a bell.” Then squeezed my eyes shut waiting for him to go off. But instead I heard him sigh into the phone. “Stevie this is big. I want you to stay away from anything to do with Davies or Mrs. Howard. Got it?” “Okay.” “Are you just saying that? Or do you actually mean it?” “Mean it,” I said. “Totally.” I cringed. That didn’t come out as convincing as I hoped. I heard him scowl then hang up. Hector shook his head. “Girl, even from this end I could tell you were bullshitting.” I told Hector what Manuel and Bryan told me. “Shit Goldie what are you going to do?” Even Hector was at a loss. I wasn’t sure, but I knew I had to tell Mrs. Howard what happened. We were driving to Cheviot Hills to talk with Mrs. Howard. I already called Jeff and Jason and warned them what was going on. They were unconcerned and proceeded to ask me if I wanted to go for a run with them tonight to burn off the cinnamon buns. From the sound of their voices they had hit the mimosas after I left. The panic would set in later. “We’re going to see the old lady?” Hector asked. I nodded. “Do you think she knocked off the old guy?” “No. She doesn’t seem the type.” “Goldie, there isn’t any type when it comes to a woman getting fucked over.” He was right. “But then why wouldn’t she have done it right after when no one could connect them. Why come to us for help?” “For one thing she didn’t come to us. She came to you. And for another, maybe she did that so she could set you up. Did you ever think of that?” I shot my eyes over to Hector. “No, she wouldn’t do that.” “The fuck she wouldn’t. She doesn’t know you from shit Goldie. Why wouldn’t she?” We knocked on Mrs. Howard’s door. She opened it right away as if she was expecting us. “Did you get the money back?” She asked rubbing her hands together. “No. We didn’t,” I said not wanting to tell her what really happened. “You fell for him didn’t you?” she asked. “I don’t blame you. He was truly talented, if you know what I mean.” Unfortunately I did and fought back my gag reflex. “Hell, no. She didn’t,” Hector said then muttered his usual shit. For once I was grateful for his outburst. I waited for him to carry on and tell her what happened. But instead he nudged me with his elbow and with exaggerated eyes motioned to Mrs. Howard. Usually he couldn’t keep his mouth shut but now when I needed him to blab the news so I didn’t have to, he suddenly turned into Mr. Discreet. “Mr. Davies was murdered last night,” I blurted out. “Oh, my God,” she said. “Murdered?” We nodded. “By whom?” “We don’t know. When was the last time you spoke to him?” “Not for a couple of weeks when I said I wouldn’t loan him anymore money,” she said. “And he never tried to contact you after that?” “No dear,” she said. “What are you going to do about your brother now?” I felt bad for her. She ended up worse than when she started. Now she’d never get back her money and would still have to face her brother. “Oh, don’t worry about me,” she said waving her hand around. “It will be fine.” I was surprised by her change of demeanor, but everyone acted differently to these type of things. Maybe she hadn’t had time to digest it all. Hector and I said our good byes and left. We stopped at a donut shop so I could buy Hector a cinnamon roll. He had been dropping hints about how hungry he was since we left the office. He was in junk food heaven now that he found a loophole in Yolanda’s orders. If I bought it for him it wasn’t cheating. “You know something about that old lady wasn’t right,” he said while he shoved in a piece of donut. “What do you mean?” “She didn’t seem that bummed she wasn’t going to get her money back. And didn’t you tell me she was scared shitless about her brother finding out about her fuck me loan?” I nodded. “Well how come suddenly she’s mellow ‘bout him finding out?” He was right. She was petrified when she mentioned him before. “And she should have been more upset about not getting her money back shouldn’t she?” I said. “Yeah ‘cause she ain’t getting any fucking money from a dead guy,” he said finishing his donut and chucking the bag in the trash can. “I think we need to watch the old lady.” Hector and I had a very unproductive day sitting in front of Mrs. Howard’s house. We didn’t get any answers instead all we got were stomach aches from all the junk food and tingling asses from not moving all day. While sitting there in a vitamin deficiency delusion I decided to break into Davies apartment that night and take a look around. I thought if I broke into his apartment I could get some answers. I didn’t tell Hector about my plans. I knew he’d want to tag along and even though his gift would have come in handy he wasn’t exactly someone who wouldn’t be noticed. I waved good bye to Hector and he honked his horn blasting mariachi music back. I pulled into my garage then when I knew Hector was long gone I pulled back out and headed towards Laurel Canyon to make my way to the valley. Davies building was in the typical seventies style where they threw out all aesthetic value for practicality. It was five stories with about ten apartments on each floor. I parked a block away and waited to follow one of the residents in. When I saw a guy in his twenties entering the building I made my move. I figured if he questioned me I’d just flirt a bit and worm my way in. I had just made my way up the steps when I felt someone tug my ponytail. “Where do you think you’re going?” I did a mental cringe when I recognized Manuel’s voice. “Nothing,” I said turning around and giving him a smile. “How ‘bout you?” Manuel waited for the real answer. “I want to know why Davies called me last night,” I said. “Something doesn’t feel right to me. And by the way how did you get that piece of paper on it before the police did?” Silence. “It’s because you’re a cop aren’t you?” I didn’t really expect him to answer, but I thought I’d give it a try. “A lot of questions,” he said. “They’ve built up because I never get any answers,” I said. “How did you know he called me anyway?” Bryan didn’t mention it when he called, which told me Davies phone was picked up before the investigators arrived. But it was only a matter of time before they checked his phone records and they traced him to me. I dreaded being interrogated and having to explain the whole shaving business. “You snatched the phone before anyone else got there didn’t you?” I asked not waiting for his answer. He gave me a half-smile. “Do you want to break in or not?” he asked, clearly not willing to tell me anything. “What’s with all the secrets?” I asked, irritated at his silence. “Hector can vouch for me. I’m okay. Really.” “It’s better for you not to know.” His cryptic answer only made me want to know more. “Why?” His eyes locked with mine. “If you don’t stop the questions I’m going to put tape over your mouth, throw you over my shoulder and take you home.” I pursed my lips together. “You wouldn’t.” He said, “Try me.” I didn’t think for one minute he wasn’t serious. Manuel didn’t seem the type of guy to make threats. “Fine,” I said crossing my arms over my chest. “Are you still going to help me or not? Or am I not allowed to ask that?” He ignored my smart ass question and walked towards the front door. He pulled something out of pocket and within a couple seconds had the door opened. “Let’s go,” he said his eyes searching around the area. I headed for the elevator, but Manuel tugged on my shirt to follow him up the stairs. “Why are we going this way?” “Less chance on being noticed,” he said “Most people are too lazy to take the stairs.” And I understood why. Davies’s apartment was five flights up and I was out of breath trying to keep up with Manuel. If his stair climbing was any indication, Mystery Man definitely spent a lot of time doing cardio. Manuel cracked open the stairwell door and took a look around. Davies apartment was next to the stairs. There was police tape across the door. I followed Manuel and waited while he picked the lock. I couldn’t see what he was doing, but within seconds he unlocked the dead bolt. He gently pulled back the police tape and went inside. I followed and shut the door behind me. “I’ll check out the bedroom. Have a look at his desk and see what you can find,” he said. I blinked trying to see where he went. Manuel must have been part feline because apparently he didn’t need to wait for his eyes to adjust to the light. I squinted and tried to take a look around. Then wished my eyes hadn’t adjusted. The apartment was decorated in sleazy bachelor style with leather sofas and an assortment of pornographic pictures strewn about the room. “What a pig,” I mumbled to myself. I made my way through the living room helped by the street lamp light streaming in through the window. Instead of a dining room table there was an oversized desk with stacks of folders. I picked one up and opened it only to find a picture of an older woman and her details from the web dating site Mrs. Howard had mentioned. Davies had carefully listed the alias he had given her and all the lies he had told her about himself. The file also showed how much money he had gotten and the dates. I went through more files and they were all the same. “What’d you find?” Manuel asked looking over my shoulder. “He certainly was organized,” I said and handed over the file on Mrs. Howard. Manuel quickly glanced through it. “And busy,” he said rolling the folder and putting it in his back pocket letting me get a glimpse of abs that looked like they had been chiselled from stone. I must have had my mouth hanging open because an extraordinarily large amount of saliva had pooled in my mouth that I had to either gulp down or risk drooling. “Let’s go,” he said. Just then there was a loud bang that sounded like a firecracker. The dining room window shattered sending glass flying all around us. Manuel shoved me against the wall away from the window and covered my body with his just before another shot blasted through. “Are you hurt?” He asked looking me over to make sure I was still in one piece. “No,” I said my voice quivering. “Stay here,” Manuel said reaching behind him and pulling out a gun from under his shirt. He crept close to the broken window with his gun drawn. I was never good at waiting. I crawled across the floor using some of Davies porno magazines as make shift cushions to avoid the broken glass. I peered out the window behind Manuel and saw the scary looking guy from the bar racing away in a familiar looking Ferrari. Where were Fidel and Emil? “What part of stay was confusing?” He asked. “None,” I said. “I just didn’t want to.” His expression was not a happy one. “Next time I tell you to do something you better do it.” “Okay,” I said. But not really meaning it. I didn’t want to make him more pissed off than necessary. I could tell by Manuel’s expression he didn’t believe me, but let it go for now. “Did you recognize him?” Manuel asked. I nodded. “He’s the creep at the bar I told you about.” We could hear sirens in the distance. “Come on. We’ve got to get out of here”, he said, putting his gun away and pulling me by the hand as we made our way out of the building. Manuel motioned for me to follow him to his car, which was parked along the side street behind the building. As we drove away my heart was pounding so fast I felt like it was going to bust through my chest. I glanced at Manuel, who looked just the same as he always did. Calm and totally in control. “Do you know who that guy is?” I asked when I finally was able to slow my breathing. “Yeah,” he said. I waited for more, but he didn’t say anything else. “And?” I asked tapping my hand on my leg. Manuel hesitated, and I could see he was thinking about whether to tell me the truth. “Is it that bad?” I asked. He glanced over and said, “They put a contract on you.” I stared at him in disbelief. “Me? Why?” I asked. There had to be a mistake. “They think you stole something from them. If they can’t get it back they’re going to make you pay. That’s how it works,” he said. “But I didn’t steal anything. I swear I’m telling the truth,” I said wanting to scream. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. “They think you did.” “This sucks,” I said leaning my head back and shutting my eyes wishing this whole thing would go away. He passed over the folder we had taken from Davies apartment and pulled out a DVD along with it. I stared down at it confused. “It seems like Davies kept track of his women in other ways too,” he said. I glanced down and saw the DVD had a big white label with the date and Mrs. Howard’s name across the top. “Oh my God,” I said when I finally clued in. No wonder he was killed. A slew of women being taped from numerous unflattering angles was enough to piss anyone off. Manuel didn’t say much on the drive home and I didn’t have the energy to ask any more questions. I was too busy thinking about what he told me and getting more freaked out by the minute. When we got to my apartment he parked his car and walked me up. Manuel took the keys from me and opened the door. He took his gun out from the back waistband of his jeans and told me to wait while he checked out my apartment. I couldn’t have been that freaked out because I couldn’t resist trying to get another peek at his abs when he lifted his shirt. “It’s clear,” he said holding the door open for me. I tossed the file and DVD on the coffee table. Then I sat down on the sofa, grabbed a pillow and hugged it to my chest. “What am I going to do?” I asked. He threw my keys on the counter and sat in the chair next to me. “You should stay somewhere else until I can get this worked out,” he said. I wasn’t going to take his suggestion about going somewhere else. I was tired of being afraid. “How can you work this out?” He didn’t answer. “Isn’t it time you opened up with the secrets? I have a guy out there who gets a major payday to kill me. How can me not knowing be better?” “There’s worse out there than Ortiz,” he said. My ears perked up. “Is that the scary bar guy’s name?” He gave a barely perceptible nod. “First or last name?” “Does it matter?” He asked. He was right. It wasn’t like I was going to send him a party invitation. “How do you know him?” I asked. “We have some mutual acquaintances.” His phone vibrated. He glanced down and read a message. “I’ve got to go,” he said and stood up to leave. “Where are you going to stay tonight?” “Here,” I said letting my eyes wander not wanting to look at him directly. I wasn’t afraid of Manuel, but he could be a little intimidating. “It’s not a good idea,” he said. I crossed my arms in front of me refusing to budge. “I’m not going to run,” I said. “Even if I wanted to I wouldn’t want to put anyone else in danger.” Why should they be included in my bullseye? “Ortiz isn’t sloppy,” he said How comforting to have such an expert marksman after me. “I’m still not going,” I said as forcefully as I could. His eyes met mine and held. “Then I’m just going to have to call Hector to stay with you.” What? My mouth hung open and I did a little foot stamp thing that I did when I was in first grade and couldn’t shake the habit. “You wouldn’t,” I said. Hector raiding my empty cupboards, disfiguring my living room sofa with his bulk and nagging me was almost as scary as the idea of a contract on my life. “I’m sure he could even bring a couple of his kids,” he added. He took his phone out and started to punch some numbers. I tried to grab it out of his hand, but he reached out and grabbed my wrist so quickly I hadn’t even seen it coming. Boy did he fight dirty. I made a face at him. “Okay,” I said. “You win.” “I usually do,” he said releasing my wrist. “So where’s it going to be?” He asked. I took my phone out and pushed Jeff and Jason’s number in so hard it almost fell out of my hands. I asked if I could crash at their place for a while, before I even got off the phone they were already mixing up a pitcher of apple martinis knowing what I needed even before I did. The only hardship of staying with them was to my waistline otherwise it was like being at a permanent spa. “All done,” I said. “And if my butt gets huge from them stuffing me with food it will be your fault.” He looked me up and down in a way that made me feel like I should blush. “I’ll take my chances.” I gulped as a wave of heat went straight to my lower regions. After that I didn’t have much to say. With that one glance he had effectively silenced me. He walked me up the one flight of stairs to their apartment. When Jason came to the door he practically purred at the sight of Manuel who gave him a miniscule nod in response and told me he’d be in touch. “That man makes my soldier stand at attention every time I see him,” Jason said handing me a drink. I readily took a very unladylike swig. “Thanks for the visual,” I said and held out my glass for another round. Chapter Twelve We were in the office going over our repos for the day when I slid the offending DVD and folder across the desk to show Hector. “What the hell is this?” He said a little too loudly. I squeezed my eyes shut as his words seemed to echo off my skull. The apple martinis were good going down, but the after effects were a killer. I didn’t tell Jeff and Jason about the contract killer. I didn’t want them to worry or even worse call Bryan. We stayed up way past our bedtime doing karaoke and ended up falling asleep on the living room floor. I dragged myself into the office looking like an extra from a zombie flick. “Girl, are you hung over again?” Hector said leaning over to take a whiff then scrunched his face up in disgust. “Damn. What’s up with that?” I made an attempt to roll my eyes, but stopped mid eye roll when the pain became too much. “I went over to Jeff and Jason’s last night,” I said as way of an explanation. “What the fuck? Is that all they ever do is drink and cook?” They also exercise and get butt implants. “No,” I said defensively. “They work too.” “Shit then I need to get their fucking jobs so I can go in smelling like a booze hound and not get fired,” he said. “I smell that bad?” “Hell yes. And you might what to do something with this,” he said motioning to his bald head. “I don’t think your hair should have all those fucking lumps in it.” I felt around my head and groaned. I had tried to put my hair up in the car on the way over. Apparently I wasn’t good at multi-tasking. I pulled a brush out from one of drawers in the desk I use to store my girlie things and tried again. Hector nodded his approval then shifted his attention back to the folder and DVD. “I got that from the Davies apartment last night,” I said. Then told him the whole story, but omitted the part about Manuel being there. I trusted Hector, but I didn’t know how Mystery Man would feel about it. Hector’s face twisted up. “Shit,” he said. “That is seriously messed up.” I nodded. “You going without me and this sick fuckin’ thing,” he said pointing at the DVD. “Do you think we should watch it?” I asked choosing to ignore his comment about not taking him with me last night. “Maybe there was some kind of clue on it about Davies and Mrs. Howard.” He rubbed his stomach making it jiggle around. “Man, I just ate my fucking breakfast.” “What if it isn’t what we think it is?” “Yeah right. You think that prick taped himself watching fucking TV with her?” “No. But we need to be sure,” “Shit the only thing we are going to be sure after watching that crap is the size of his fucking dick.” Not a visual I wanted. “You don’t need me to watch for any fucking clues,” he said. He was right, but I didn’t want to suffer alone. “What happened to us being partners and all?” I asked, raising my voice and crossing my arms across my chest. “Damn girl. You don’t have to get all huffy and shit,” he said, “I’ll watch the fucking thing. But if I have to look at someone’s abuela doing the nasty you’re buying me one of those cinnamon rolls again.” “Deal,” I said. Hector and I went into Harry’s office and put on the DVD. We both had our hands poised ready to cover our eyes. We heard the back door open and Gus and Victor walked in. I shot my eyes over to Hector. He shrugged. “Fuck it.” I took that to mean ‘let them suffer through it too’. When they came into the office we explained what was going on. Their reactions couldn’t have been more different. Gus leaned against the desk and said. “Cool. Nana pussy. It might give me hope my dick is gonna be working in forty years.” “Shit it don’t work now. Why the fuck will it in forty years?” Hector said trying to give Victor a high five, but he had other ideas. He wanted to make a run for it, but Hector grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him back. “No way,” he said. “We’re a team and if Goldie is making me do this shit, so are you.” Now we were a team? The back door slammed again and a gust of familiar perfume wafted through the air. I looked towards Hector. “It’s okay. She’ll probably actually want to see the fucking thing,” he said. I glanced around the office and was reminded about her décor. Hector was probably right. Gus was whooping and hollering saying “Go grandpa,” when Harry walked in with a smile on her face. I cringed when she looked at the screen just as Davies and Mrs. Howard were getting into position. “You assholes and Goldie could have warned me,” she said taking a seat at her desk. I made a mad face at Hector. “That way I could have gotten to work a little earlier. I missed the whole damn foreplay,” she said taking out a pair of cat eyed glasses from her desk and putting them on. Hector started laughing and mouthed, “I told you.” “Don’t worry Harry there wasn’t that much to begin with,” Gus said grabbing some candy off her desk while keeping his eyes on the screen. “Gramps likes to get straight to the fucking.” “You’re sick,” Victor mumbled looking down at the ground. The pounding in my head went full throttle when their moans starting coming from every corner of the office. I wanted to smash the speakers with my bare hands. Who would have thought Harry would’ve had surround sound? “Do you think she knows she is being filmed?” Hector asks. “No,” I said. “She isn’t self-conscious at all. No woman is that comfortable with her body.” Especially when her skin looks like it has been replaced by crepe paper. I stared down at my hands and reminded myself to use sunscreen. “And besides she never looks in the camera’s direction. But see how Davies can’t stop smiling at it.” We both went back to watching just in time to see him give a wink to the camera. “What an asshole,” Hector mumbled shaking his head. “Do you think he used this shit to get cash out of the old ladies?” “I don’t know,” I said. “But I know someone we can ask.” “Mrs. Howard?” He asked. I nodded. “I wonder if that’s the reason he was murdered.” “People get clipped for a lot less than that shit,” Hector said. He was right. After seeing all the stuff at his apartment I was surprised someone hadn’t got to him earlier. When their moans hit a crescendo and the geriatric porn finished Harry said, “Very disappointing ending.” I wondered what kind of ending she expected. “Okay, shit heads go earn me some cash. You too Goldie.” We cleared out of her office shutting the door behind us. “I don’t want to be part of the team anymore if you guys are going to watch sick shit like that,” Victor grumbled. Hector gave him a slap in the back of the head. “Stop your whining,” he said “You’re worse than my fucking kids.” “I gotta give the old guy credit. He lasted pretty long,” Gus said. “It’s called Viagra dumb ass,” Hector said giving him a head slap too. Gus and Victor got their repo slips and left. After saying good bye to Harry, Hector and I went out to the parking lot and got in Hector’s car. “You know we’re going to have to give this back to her,” I said to Hector holding up the DVD. “Hell no, we ain’t,” he said shaking his head. “Why?” “‘Cause I don’t want to,” he said sounding like a toddler. “What’s the big deal? We will just swing by and drop it off,” I said. He made a sour face. “Yeah? What are we gonna say? Hey nana lady we found this DVD at that dead guy with the big dick’s apartment after Stevie broke into it. We thought you might like it back ‘cause your naked ass is all over the place in it. Hell no. I ain’t doing it.” Hector had a point. It could be awkward, but I didn’t want to lug it around with me in my bag. I wanted to get rid of it and pretend it didn’t exist. “She doesn’t have to know all that stuff,” I said. “We can just hand it to her saying we found it and thought she should have it.” “Why don’t you just throw the fucker away,” he said. “I thought of that, but I really think she should know. What if there is a copy out there somewhere. Or if she dates another jerk like Davies. She needs to be more careful.” “I get all that shit. But there is still no fucking way I’m going with you. I’ll drive you, but I’m waiting in Baby,” he said. “Fine,” I said. I knew when to let it go. I didn’t blame Hector for being uncomfortable. After watching Mrs. Howard play hide the snake with Davies I felt awkward seeing her too, but I wanted to get rid of this thing. I felt residual slime just being near it. When we pulled up to Mrs. Howard’s house I got out of the car with a sense of dread. It felt like every step I took was carrying me forward to a place I didn’t want to be. When I got to the door I glanced back at Hector who had slid so far down in the seat I could barely see his eyes over the steering wheel. He gave a downward wave with his hand telling me go on. I faced the door, took a deep breath and rang the bell. I heard Mrs. Howard behind the door looking through the peep hole. She opened it and greeted me with a quizzical look. “What’s wrong?” “Nothing,” I said. Except you’ve made a sex tape and didn’t know it. I swallowed what seemed like a baseball size wad of air and yanked the DVD out of my bag and gave it to her. “This is yours.” She turned it over in her hands. “What’s this?” “I’m….really…don’t,” I stumbled out. I was going to say I didn’t know and make a run for it, but I didn’t want her to have a heart attack when she watched it for the first time. “It’s a tape Davies made of you two having sex,” I blurted out. “I thought you should have it.” Mrs. Howard’s eyes lit up and she grasped the DVD tighter. I’ve never given birth, but I imagined the relief at expelling that baby from your body mirrored how I felt at this moment. “Thank you for giving this to me,” she said clutching it to her chest. I was confused. This wasn’t what I expected. “Did you know about the DVD already?” “No,” she said. “Really?” I asked. I wasn’t convinced she was telling the truth. “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go,” she said and shut the door. I walked back to Baby and told Hector what happened. “Shit you got off easy girl,” he said. “But don’t you find it weird that she wasn’t shocked or anything?” “Who the fuck knows?” “I’m telling you Hector it seemed like she already knew about it.” He shrugged. “Maybe. But do you really want to hassle an old lady about whether she knew she was making a sex tape or not? I mean who the fuck cares?” “Something doesn’t feel right,” I said. “What doesn’t feel right is I want my fucking cinnamon rolls,” he said. “All this shit is making me hungry.” I slid my eyes over to him. “This is making you hungry?” Hector was always hungry. “Yeah. Now let’s go find me some fucking donuts,” he said. “Fine,” I said. “But I’m telling you Mrs. Howard is hiding something.” “Right now I don’t give a fuck,” he said. I sighed knowing why. His mind was clouded by cinnamon rolls. “And besides who gives a shit if she knew about the tape or not? What difference would that make? Maybe she was into that sort of thing and was embarrassed and shit.” “I don’t think so,” I said. “Remember she never looked at the camera? And she wasn’t self-conscious at all.” “What are you getting at?” He asked. “I don’t know yet, but I’ll figure it out.” “Shit Goldie can’t you ever let it go?” “No.” I was sucked into all this for a reason and I wasn’t about to let it go now. Hector and I were in a parking lot in Marina Del Rey. “How could you not notice it was a boat?” I asked staring down at the paperwork. “A very large boat.” “Fuck if I know,” he said shoving a piece of cinnamon roll in his mouth. I was sure Yolanda was going to figure out the gift thing and would put a stop to Hector’s cinnamon roll rampage. But until then I was his donut dealer. I was ambivalent about keeping him supplied. He did need to lose weight, but a sugared up Hector was far easier to deal with than a hungry one. “And it’s in the water,” I said pointing out the obvious. “How are we going to repo that?” Hector took another donut out of bag. “Damn these things are good,” he said ignoring my question and shoving half of one in his mouth. I snatched the bag out of his hand. “You are on donut restriction until we figure out how we’re going to get that boat.” He narrowed his eyes and reached for the bag, but I saw it coming and slapped his hand away. “I’ll tell Yolanda,” I threatened holding the bag out of the window. “Damn girl, what happened to partner loyalty and shit?” “I’m saving you from a sugar induced coma,” I said. “You’re ignoring our predicament.” “I don’t know what the hell you just said.” I put the bag in the backseat. “How are we going to do this,” I said shoving the paperwork on his lap. We had one hundred percent repo success rate and I didn’t want our average to go down. “I bet Baby could pull that shit,” he said. “Please,” I said rolling my eyes. “It’s almost the size of a cruise ship.” “So?” I gave him the death stare. “Are you having that fucking PMS thing? Or is your hangover making you so freaky? Cause you’ve been all jumpy and shit,” he said. Another opportunity to give him the death stare. I was in the PMS zone. I was also hung over. But I was jumpy because there was some scary guy who wanted me dead. Hector cringed when he saw my expression. Yolanda must have taught him a lot about dealing with women who were on the verge. Instead of harassing me he got out his phone to call Harry and told her what was going on. He listened a couple minutes then put his phone away. “Well?” I asked. “We have to drive the fucking boat to the marina in Newport Beach,” he said getting out of the car. “She’ll have someone drive us back to get Baby.” “Why didn’t she tell us this morning?” She could have given us some warning. “She said she was distracted seeing gramps doing the nasty and forgot,” he explained. Hector and I went to the entrance and were met by a locked gate. “No problem,” he said whipping out his tools and within a couple minutes his gift kicked in. We walked down the ramp and immediately took a right. Our repo was the biggest boat in the marina. “Snatch Shack” was painted in big red letters on the side. I really loved my job. A boat with a name like that deserved to be repoed. I glanced around as Hector and I made our way around the side furthest from the parking lot. There was only an older couple two slips away enjoying a midday drink on the back of their boat. They already looked sloshed. Hopefully they’d be too busy topping off each other’s drink to notice us. “Are you going to be able to start this thing?” I asked staring up at the huge monstrosity in front of us. “Hell yes. My gift keeps on giving,” he said laughing to himself. I rolled my eyes. Hector’s ego was growing as fast as his waistline. “How are we going to get up there?” I asked looking for an easy entry. The only way up was to hoist ourselves across the rope and fling ourselves onto the deck. Hector’s eyes mimicked mine and I could see a look of terror crease across his face. “Man I shouldn’t have ate those three cinnamon rolls,” he said rubbing his stomach as if that was the only reason he couldn’t heave his three hundred plus pounds across. “If only,” I said sarcastically. “I’ll go then and see if I can unlock the side door from the inside.” “Okay, but be careful Goldie,” he said. “I don’t want to save your ass if you fall in the fucking water. Being rescued from a guy the size of a boulder didn’t bring me any comfort. “You’re a good swimmer?” I asked finding it hard to imagine him frolicking in the water. “Fuck no. I meant I’d get a big stick or something and haul your ass out.” That’s what I thought. Hector stood watch while I grabbed the rope and wrapped my legs round it. The rope was rough and my hands were getting scratched as I inched my way across. When I got to the end I stopped. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it over the side of the boat. I was in decent shape. Jeff and Jason made sure of that, but I didn’t exactly have bulging biceps. “Shit Goldie. It ain’t time to take no rest,” Hector hollered. That half eaten cinnamon roll in the car was definitely going in the trash. “I don’t know if I can do this.” “Girl you can haul your skinny ass over that railing. No problem,” he said. How pathetic. Being called skinny brought me such inner joy. “We could always call Gus and Victor for help,” he said. “But we’d hear about it for the rest of our fucking lives.” Our two partnerships were friendly, but hyper competitive. Every night we compared repos to see who had swiped the biggest and the most expensive. We were pretty even, but this monster would tip us to the win column. No doubt. “No way,” I said. Then gripped the rope, turned around and pulled myself over using my feet to help push off from the side. I heard Hector yelling his guttural shit cheering me on. “Not bad Goldie.” I told him to untie the ropes while I went down the stairs, opened the door and lowered the ramp. Just as we were pulling it back up a short balding man in his late fifties rounded the corner with a woman who was almost wearing a dress and looked like she wasn’t old enough to vote. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” He screamed. Hector and I looked at each other for a beat. We knew if we had to deal with the owner this repo would take forever. He’d call the police. We’d have to explain. There would be lots of drama. Sometimes avoidance was the best choice. “Run!” We both yelled charging up the stairs and racing down the deck. Even though Hector was the size of a woolly mammoth he was surprisingly fast. We slammed to a stop when we got to the control room and stood there with our mouths hanging open staring at all the gadgets and dials. “It looks like that fucking ship on Star Trek,” he said. He watched Star Trek? “Do you think you can drive this?” I said. “Hell yes,” he said and ran around. “It has an engine doesn’t it? Fuck yeah,” he said smiling as it roared to life. Just then I heard a splash. I rushed to the side of the boat. The owner had tried to make a jump for the railing and fell in. He was treading water and saying words that would make even Hector blush. His jail bait friend was leaning over trying to help him showing breasts so big they could be their own life raft. “What’s going on?” Hector asked. “Snatch Shack is taking a bath.” “Dumb ass,” he said pushing what looked like the throttle. The boat jolted forward knocking me off my feet onto the floor. “Fuck. Sorry Goldie,” he said bending down to help me up. “This baby has more power than I thought.” “Try not to hit anything on the way out,” I said. “I’m guessing that would eat into our profits.” “Don’t sweat it. I just had to feel her juice.” “Use less juice,” I said. “It’s going to be a tight squeeze until we get into the main channel.” Hector pushed the throttle thing again and gingerly eased the boat out. “Man I could do with one of these. How fucking cool is this?” He said waving to the older couple as we passed by. They waved back clearly enjoying their cocktail hour while exchanging questioning glances. Hector gave me a big smile, obviously enjoying driving this monster of a boat. I sat back on one of the seats, letting him have his moment. I sighed when I looked up. The sky was blue, the weather was a perfect seventy degrees and I had to agree with Hector it was pretty cool. When I glanced back towards the marina, my stomach dropped. Scary looking bar guy was sitting in the Ferrari parked next to Baby staring in our direction as we went deeper into the channel. Crap. I stared back wondering what type of person got paid to kill people. Then I started to get mad. I didn’t do anything. The more I thought about it the angrier I got. I went to the side of the boat, stood up and gave him a big wave. He looked even less pleased than before. I watched as he screeched out of the parking lot. After dumping the boat and getting a lift back to Marina Del Rey. We picked up Baby and were driving back to the office when my phone rang. It was Bryan. “What’s up,” I said trying to sound like a person who didn’t have a contract on her life. “Do you want to tell me why Davies phoned you the night he died?” He didn’t yell, but I could feel his anger seeping through the phone. “Wrong number,” I suggested biting my lip and hoping for the best. He made a disgusted sound that I recognized from my past brushes with the law. “Give me a minute,” he said. I knew Bryan was trying to control his temper and if it meant him not yelling I would give him as long as he needed. Hector nudged me wanting to know what was going on. I held up my hand and told him to wait. Then I heard him take a deep breath and he said, “Moreno is the detective on this case and he’s already identified you as the woman in the bar who was seen talking with Davies the night he died. He wants to talk to you and asked me to arrange it.” I started sweating. “When? And where?” I had met Moreno a couple of times. I knew he went to Bryan as a favor rather than just bringing me in himself. “In an hour. At the station in Moreno’s area,” he said. I looked at my watch guessing how long it would take me to get there after Hector dropped me off. “I will be there,” I said hoping an earthquake would shake me into the earth’s core never to be seen again. After I got off the phone I started to thunk myself in the head with the palm of my hand hoping to knock some sense in there. Either that or make myself pass out so I wouldn’t have to go. “That bad?” Hector asked. “You have no idea,” I said then told him what Bryan said. “Damn Goldie you are such a fuck up that you make me look normal,” he said laughing. “Man I wish I could be there to see their faces when you tell them the shaving shit.” I stopped mid-thunk. “It’s going to be bad isn’t it?” He started laughing even harder. “Hell yes. You’re going to be the talk of the town again girlfriend.” One of the things I admired about Hector was his no bull shit policy. But right now I could have done with less honesty and a lot more bullshit. Hector switched lanes and drove past Harry’s. “What are you doing?” I asked. “You can’t go with me.” “No shit,” he said looking in his rear view mirror. “I passed the office ‘cause I don’t want those dumb assess who broke into your crib to follow you to the valley. I turned around and searched for the Ferrari, but didn’t see it anywhere. “I don’t see them,” I said. He looked in his mirror again. “They’re in the lane next to us, one car back, in the piece of shit grey car.” I turned back around and saw Hector was right. Fidel and Emil were in a car that was a throwback from the seventies. It was big and shaped like a box on wheels. “That’s all I need,” I moaned. “Could this day get any better?” “Don’t sweat it Goldie,” he said checking his mirror then giving me a grin. “Watch this.” Baby’s engine roared as he immediately swerved to the left cutting off the cars in the next lane and sped into the side street. I looked back and saw Fidel and Emil were honking their horn, weaving in between cars, struggling to keep up. Hector swung a sharp right. I had to grip the side handle to prevent me from sliding off the seat. He turned into a dry cleaner and kept the car running waiting for them to catch up. As soon as he saw them turning onto the side street he stepped on the gas and bolted out in front of them. They slammed on their brakes stopping inches away from hitting Baby. Hector jumped out of the car, went to the driver’s side door, ripped it open and yanked Fidel out by his shirt. I hopped out of the car getting ready to stop Emil if he decided to make a run for it, but he looked too afraid to move. His eyes bulged as if they were ready to pop out of their sockets staring as Hector came towards him. “Goldie,” Hector called while dragging both of them by the scruff of their necks. “Move the cars to the side of street while I have a chat with these two fuckers.” I did what he asked and walked across back to the parking lot. Fidel and Emil were sitting on the wall looking like a couple of pre-schoolers who got in trouble for not sharing. “These pieces of shits here say they were following us to warn you,” he said crossing his arms in front of him shaking his head. I stared at them waiting for them to explain. They exchanged a look. Then Fidel nudged Emil urging him to speak. But Emil shook his head and nudged him back. Hector and I watched as this exchange soon escalated into them bitch slapping each other. Hector slid his eyes over to me. I shrugged back. I’d seen it all before. “You’re worse than my fucking kids. If you don’t stop this shit, I’m going to jump in and play. And I know you ain’t going to like it. Got it?” Emil and Fidel stopped and stared wide eyed at Hector. “Now go on and tell Goldie your bullshit story.” Emil nudged Fidel for him to talk. He was about to hit him back, but when he saw Hector clench his fists and take a step forward he froze. “Someone has been hired to rub you down,” Emil said. What? “Out. As in kill,” Fidel said smacking his hand against the wall. “Your English is awful.” “I know,” I said. “Big guy? Skull tattoo on his neck? Scary black eyes? Drives your Ferrari?” “What the fuck?” Hector said looking like someone just stole his cookie. “You knew about this and didn’t tell me?” “I only found out last night,” I said. “So?” he asked sounding like a ten year old. I ignored his pouting and focused on the two idiots sitting on the wall. “Why did you tell me about him?” I asked. “Because we are pissed on,” Emil said. “Off. You mean pissed off,” Fidel corrected shaking his head. “Idiot.” Emil narrowed his eyes and was getting ready to smack him. But took one look at Hector’s growing impatience and he thought better of it. “Why?” I asked. “See that piece of car shit?” Emil said pointing at the curb where his banged up car was parked. I nodded, ignoring his incorrect word usage. “Our Ferrari is gone and that is its replacement,” he said waving his hands around getting louder with each word. “It sucks big business.” “And?” I asked waving my hand for him to hurry it up. I had to meet Bryan and I didn’t want to be late. “If he messes up and doesn’t kill you. We get our car back. ‘Cause then he would be a screw up too,” he said. “That would be very good. No?” I looked at Hector. “What a couple of fucking douche bags,” he said. I sighed in total agreement. Then looked at my watch and panicked. “We’ve got to go,” I said to Hector. He nodded then walked towards Emil and Fidel who instinctively put their hands up to protect themselves. “Put your hands down fuckers. I’m not going to kick your ass. But if I catch you two following my partner again I will. Got it?” They nodded looking down at the ground avoiding any eye contact with Hector. “Shit that’s what I thought,” he said giving them a snarl. “Hey Goldie do you want to pull their fucking hair as a little payback?” “Will you just come on,” I said getting worried about the time. Hector sauntered his way to the car mumbling to himself something about being the man. I glanced at my watch again. “We’re not going to make it,” I said dreading how bad this was going to look for Bryan. “How much time we got?” Hector asked. “Twenty minutes.” “Shit. No problem Goldie. Baby can get you there,” he said giving the dashboard a pat. “What about my car?” I asked. “No time.” “Are you sure?” “No prob’ Goldie.” “What about Yolanda?” I asked. “Shit I can do what I want,” he said. Sure you could. “She’s at her mother’s tonight, isn’t she?” He pretended he didn’t hear me. I looked out the window trying hard not to laugh. “So what’s this about someone being hired to kill you,” he asked sounding hurt. “It’s the drug people Fidel and Emil work for. They still think I have something of theirs,” I said. “And if they can’t get it back, they’re going to kill me.” “Man the drug dealers have really gone to shit if they hire those two assholes.” Hector pulled into the station parking lot with two minutes to spare. “Thanks Hector,” I said and hopped out of the car telling him I’d get a ride home from someone else. I ran to the door flung it open and crashed straight into a young cop who was unfortunately carrying two cups of coffee that were as hot as the earth’s inner core. “Crap! That’s burns,” I screamed while ripping off my sweatshirt. The cop kept apologizing while trying to wipe off some of the coffee still dripping down my neck with his sleeve. In his zest to do a thorough job his arm kept drifting down to my breasts. “Hey,” I said stepping back. “I know your trying to help but that doesn’t give you an all access pass.” His face turned red and he looked like he’d like to become invisible. “When I heard the chaos I knew it had to be you,” Bryan said giving me a grin. I stuck my tongue out in reply and tried to help the cop clean up the rest of the mess. But he waved me away anxious to get rid of me. “You okay?” He asked on the way to Moreno’s office. “Besides being scalded by coffee that had been heated by a thousand suns, I’m great.” Although being stalked by a paid killer was definitely a drag. “Good. Because Moreno isn’t going to cut you any slack. He seems to think you know something about Davies murder.” I made a disgusted sound. “Do you?” He asked. “No?” Telling the truth felt pretty good. He pulled me aside into a doorway. “Someone broke into Davies apartment last night. Do you know anything about that?” “Nah. Would I do that?” Honesty was over rated. Evasiveness was the best tactic. “Yes,” he said searching my face to see if I was telling the truth. I tried to not to show anything on my expression, but he knew me too well. “Shit Stevie,” he said. “Please tell me you didn’t.” The vein on his neck started to stand out and I could see he was trying to remain calm. “I didn’t,” I squeaked out. His hard expression told me he didn’t appreciate my effort to placate him. “Why do I have the feeling you know who the person was who shot the shit out of Davies apartment too?” I swallowed the lump that had built in my throat and shrugged. He sighed. “What’s going on Stevie?” “It’s nothing I can’t handle.” “Really?” I nodded. “Yep. I can take care of it.” I knew Bryan didn’t believe me. But we were pressed for time so he couldn’t grill me. Moreno’s office looked like a cubicle with walls. He was sitting behind his desk waiting for us. He had obviously been off patrol for a while because he resembled a pillow with appendages and a bad comb over. I had only seen him socially before and wasn’t used to the stern cop expression that greeted me now. I sat in the chair across from him feeling a little self-conscious in my coffee stained pink tank top and jeans especially next to Bryan who was in his work uniform of a grey suit and tie looking yummy as always. He sat down next to me and draped an arm protectively around the back of my chair. “Bryan told you why you’re here?” Moreno asked. I nodded. “Are you here as her lawyer or for the district attorney’s office?” He asked Bryan. I mentally cringed. I knew I put him in a tight spot. “Her lawyer,” he said without any hesitation. I looked over and gave him a grateful smile. He brushed the back of my neck with his fingers in response. I wish he wouldn’t have done that because now my mind wasn’t focused on Moreno it was focused on his warm hand that moved to rest on my back. “Stevie?” I looked up and saw Moreno staring at me expectantly. “How did you know Ronald Davies?” I sighed knowing how awful it was going to be to tell him the whole story. How could you put a website dedicated to watching women shave their privates in a dignified way? I doubt even the Queen of England could pull that one off. So I just launched in and told the god awful truth. Every detail. Except the part about the contract killer and Manuel. They didn’t need to know that little titbit. By the end of story Moreno’s cop face was gone. It had been replaced by a friendly ‘you’ve got to be shitting me’ expression. “The stories about you certainly weren’t exaggerated,” he said. There were stories? As in plural? “And your two friends will corroborate your story?” Moreno asked. I nodded. I called Jeff and Jason on the way to the station and told them what was going on. Jason was more excited than he should be. He loved the drama. Acting out his part again to an audience, even if it was only a crowd of one, still gave him joy. “No one in the station is going to believe this,” Moreno said. I looked at Bryan who was trying hard not to smile. I narrowed my eyes at him. “What?” I asked almost daring him to say it. “You never disappoint,” he said with a grin. I crossed my arms in front of me in a big huff. I knew my story was ridiculous, but I wasn’t there as entertainment. Bryan and I walked out to the parking lot. I needed a ride home, but I was too ticked off at the mutual ‘Stevie is an idiot’ convention back there to ask for one. “You’re mad?” Bryan asked. “Gee, how can you tell?” I asked sarcastically. “By the way you stomped down the hallway and tried to slam the door in my face,” he said crossing his arms in front of him. When he put it that way it made me sound like a total bitch. “Okay, maybe I did overreact,” I said. He raised his eyebrows. “Okay I did overreact, but you guys didn’t exactly make it easy for me,” I said. Bryan laughed. “Easy? What did you expect Stevie?” “You’re not going to tell anyone are you?” I asked. “Of course not. But it doesn’t matter. I’m sure Moreno has already repeated the whole thing to his buddies. They’ll pass it on to anyone who wears a uniform. And that even includes the meter maids.” Crap. It wasn’t that I cared what people thought. I just didn’t like looking like an idiot. “Do they have any idea about who murdered Davies yet?” I asked. “No. They’re waiting on forensics. But it was a clean shot at close range to the back of the head.” “Where did it happen?” I thought it was weird that I noticed no blood stains when I was in his apartment. “In the bathroom. He was against the wall then he took the shot. Davies definitely knew it was coming?” “Any signs of a struggle?” He shook his head. “Did you tell Moreno the truth about Davies calling you?” I did feel weird knowing I was the last person he tried to get a hold of before being knocked off. “Yeah. I don’t know why. He didn’t even have my real number. We weren’t supposed to meet until the next day. He could have just been looking for a date,” I said not being able to stop the sour look on my face at the thought. “What did Mrs. Howard say when you visited her?” Damn he was good. “How do you know that?” “Her house is being watched Stevie,” he said. “She was the only one with a motive.” Were they going to try to pin this on her? Mrs. Howard was a lonely gullible lady, but hardly a killer. “What are you talking about? There was a stack of files of women who’d want to kill him,” I said waving my hands around. “Not to mention Mr. Pervert’s porn collection.” “Really? And where did you see all this?” He voice going into lawyer mode. Dammit. “I don’t remember,” I said back tracking. As I was thinking how I was going to get myself out of the hole I had dug for myself when I saw Manuel’s black Mustang pull into the parking lot. He got out and leaned against the door. I waved and he gave me a barely there nod. “Who is that?” Bryan asked not sounding very happy. “A friend,” I said not wanting to explain. “I’ve got to go.” Bryan grabbed my arm and pulled me back. “With him?” “Yeah.” “Where?” He asked shooting his eyes over to Manuel. His expression showed he was definitely not pleased with my choices in friends. How could I tell him when I didn’t know either? “Dinner,” I said hoping it would get him off his question mode. He narrowed his eyes. “You mean on a date?” “Yeah. Why?” I was going to answer no, but then I changed my mind. He was going out with Ms. Perfect lawyer so why couldn’t I go out with someone too? Even if it was a lie. “I thought you said he was a friend.” Couldn’t he ever stop being a lawyer? He always tried to twist my words around. “I meant a friend who I also date.” “You never mentioned going out with anyone,” he countered. “And neither did you,” I said. Try to lawyer speak out of that one. Bryan didn’t say anything else, but I could tell by his expression he was thinking of a way to grill me some more about Manuel without looking like a hypocrite. “I’ve got to go,” I said not wanting to give him the chance. I gave him a kiss on the cheek then headed towards Manuel who was still leaning against his car as if he had all the time in the world. “Your boyfriend?” He asked. “He used to be.” “Does he know that?” “Yeah. Why?” “‘Cause he looks like he wants to kick my ass,” he said. “Oh, he always looks that way,” I lied. I didn’t want to go into the complicated mess that was Bryan and me. “What’s up?” “Let’s go somewhere else,” he said eyeing the police station. I got in his car and we ended up at one of those throwback restaurants that was modern in the sixties, but now looked dated. We sat in a corner booth with Manuel taking the seat against the wall. I was starved and ordered anything I could find on the menu that was veggie including a chocolate cake. “Is that all you’re having?” I asked Manuel feeling like a pig after I heard his pathetic order of just coffee. “I found out what they think you stole,” he said ignoring my question. I swallowed hard almost afraid to hear. “What?” “A USB drive,” he said. I knit my eyebrows together. “You mean one of those stick things?” “Are you really asking me that?” Okay, so I wasn’t so computer literate. “No, I was just making conversation,” I said sarcastically. “So what’s on the drive thing?” “A list of undercover DEA agents,” he said. Now I was beginning to understand and it didn’t make me feel any better. A drug dealer could only want one thing with a list like that and I was sure it wasn’t so he could add them to his Christmas card list. “Abdoul’s people bought it and your two friends were in charge of bringing it back to him. But somewhere between purchase and delivery it got lost.” “Who is Abdoul?” “Amin Abdoul is one of the biggest heroin suppliers to the US.” “So I’m getting blamed for Fidel and Emil’s blundering?” Although I wasn’t happy that I was in this mess, I was glad they never got the list of agents. I hate to think how many people might have got killed. “Looks that way.” Manuel leaned back in his seat stretching, at the same time I heard a moan from across the restaurant. I glanced over and saw our waitress who was huddled behind a wall staring at every move Manuel made. She apparently had recruited two more waitresses into her fangirl club. I looked back at Manuel who was either completely unaware of the admiring group or didn’t give a shit. I gave him the once over again. His golden skin showed off his bulging biceps. He had a face that looked like it belonged on a cover of a romance novel and an understated sex appeal that oozed from every pore. I took a drink of water hoping to extinguish the uncomfortable warming I was feeling. I didn’t blame the ladies for taking a peek. I had to admit he was worth the look. “Goldie?” “What?” I asked fishing out a piece of ice and chomping on it. “Are you okay?” He asked with a confused expression on his face. “Sorry, I was just thinking,” I said. “Why doesn’t this Abdoul guy just go after Fidel and Emil then? They’re the idiots who lost it. Not me,” I asked breaking out of my admiring trance. “It didn’t sound right to me either at first,” he said. I started to get anxious thinking about the computer stick thing. I thought I would feel better finding out what the drug cartel thought I took, but I didn’t. Wanting to self-medicate I took a huge bite of cake and felt my body relax as the chocolate worked its magic. “And?” I asked shoving in another piece of cake. Silence. “Well?” I could tell he was holding back on me. He gave me an almost smile. “I was waiting for you to lick the plate.” Smart ass. “Oh. Now you have a sense of humor?” “I wasn’t kidding,” he said. If it wouldn’t have totally grossed him out I would gone for it. “Can you just tell me already?” I asked tapping my fingers on the table. “They’re Abdoul’s nephews. That’s why they’re not dead.” “They’re brothers?” “Cousins.” That explained the matching chest hair and bickering. Family can drive you crazy like no one else. “That makes sense,” I said eyeing the frosting left on my plate. “Instead of killing them their uncle makes them drive around in a piece of crap car.” Abdoul was smart. Taking away their Ferrari was like taking away their manhood. If they didn’t have the chick magnet car they couldn’t pick up any shallow women. It was perfect. “What do you mean?” He asked. I forgot Manuel didn’t know about what happened today. For some reason I assumed he was all knowing. I gave him the low down about Hector’s flashy maneuvers and Fidel and Emil’s change of transportation. “I’m sorry I missed out on all the fun,” he said. He had a strange sense of fun. “Where’d Abdoul get the information from about the agents?” “That’s what we need to find out,” he said. My anxiousness went into overdrive. “Did you say we?” His grin told me that he did. “Am I going to want to hear this?” I asked. “That depends,” he said. “Do you want to be a target for the rest of your life?” That would be a definite no. “I’ve got a plan,” he said. I gave him a skeptical look. “Trust me,” he said. And the funny thing was I did trust him. Maybe I was blinded by his sexy accent and Greek god like body, but I felt pretty confident he wouldn’t get me killed. I wasn’t sure what he had in mind, but it had to be better than just sitting waiting for the crazy guy from the bar to take another shot at me. The stress of worrying about him was starting to make me break out. Potential killer I could handle. Underground zits were too much to take. “Okay what’s your plan?” I asked. “Abdoul is going to be at a fundraiser tomorrow night. And we’re going to be there too.” My mouth dropped open. “Are you crazy?” I asked my voice squeaking with panic. He grinned. “Sometimes. But not about this.” “Are you sure there’s not some crossover craziness involved here? Because I don’t think he’s going to be pleased to see me there.” Winding up a big time heroin dealer wasn’t my idea of a fun time especially when the evening ended with me dead. “Probably not. But if he’s in jail it won’t really matter will it?” “What do you mean?” I asked. “We’re going to set him up,” he said. I wasn’t sure I heard him right. “We? As in you and me?” “Yeah.” Okay forget about him getting grossed out. After hearing his idea I needed that frosting taunting me on the plate so I took my finger, scooped it up then licked off every last bit, letting my sugar fix do its business. I looked up to find Manuel staring at me with an amused expression. “Feel better?” He asked. I nodded trying to discreetly dip my napkin into my water glass then wiping off my sticky finger under the table. “So what’s the plan?” I asked. “We’re going to sell him back his USB drive.” “But we don’t have it,” I said stating the obvious. Manuel gave me a sly grin. “He doesn’t know that.” Chapter Thirteen “What did you just give me?” I asked Jason staring at the empty tea cup in my hand. I went over to my two gay mamas hoping for a little pampering and advice. After agreeing to trap Abdoul I realized I didn’t have a clue what I should wear. I needed to blend in with the crowd at the fundraiser and my usual attire of jeans and a T-shirt wasn’t going to cut it. After hearing my situation Jeff and Jason went into over drive. They called Sloane/Shane one of their drag queen buddies to send over some dresses. It was depressing trying on dresses that you knew looked better on a man. “Calm down sweetie,” Jason said. “It’s just dieter’s tea. No big deal.” I looked over at Jeff exasperated. “I don’t envy you. He tried that tea out on me last week. I was in the bathroom long enough to finish the latest Stephen King book,” he said. Good God. I knew what book he was talking about and it could be used as a foot stool. “Did you know about this?” I asked Jeff. He shook his head. “No. It was all that one,” he said then pointed at Jason. “I drank three cups of it,” I said starting to feel my stomach break into spasms. “You were looking a little bloated,” Jason said. “And that dress we picked out for you doesn’t allow for any extra bulges.” He was right about the dress being unforgiving. It was a white with a simple round neck that showed no cleavage and was deceivingly conservative, but the back more than made up for the front. It was so low cut it almost showed booty cleavage. I tried to protest not sure if I was going to be able to wear my favorite Spanx. But they said it was perfect even dragging in Shane/Sloane who proclaimed it was fabulous. I wasn’t so sure, but was too tired to go up against the three divas. I relented wishing I could lose ten pounds in a day. “So you drugged me?” I said putting my hand on my stomach trying to make the cramps stop. “Don’t be dramatic,” Jason said taking a sip out of his glass of wine. “I didn’t drug you. It was just some herbs for goodness sake.” “Herbs that are going to make you crap a whole lot,” Jeff said chuckling while topping off his glass of wine. “I’m glad you think this is so funny,” I said to him while racing over and grabbing a stack of gossip magazines off their table and running to the bathroom. “Oh come on honey don’t be mad at me,” Jeff said. “He’s the one who did it. Not me. Be mad at him.” My stomach felt like there was a marching band stomping on my intestines. In the first five minutes I had to do three mercy flushes and knew I wasn’t even close to being done. I hoped my internal organs weren’t going to expel from my body by the time Jason’s witch’s brew was done going through me. I looked down at the stack of reading materials and realized it wasn’t going to be enough. I heard a knock on the door. “Sweetie, can you light the candle in there?” Jason asked. “Go away,” I said. “I’m only thinking of you,” he said. “It’s lavender scent. I’m sure it can’t be very pleasant in there.” I did a mental eye roll. Was he kidding? Pleasant? “Jason I am going to kill you when I’m done.” I was staying with Jeff and Jason until I wasn’t a target anymore. So no matter how mad I got I was stuck with them. “Good thing you’re going to be in there for a long time then,” he said. “I made that tea extra strong.” My stomach twisted again. Was it really just dieter’s tea? Why didn’t they call it dysentery tea and be done with it. “You’re going down Jason,” I said. “You know that topless picture of you with the dough boy stomach? It’s going up on Facebook for the world to see after I get out of here.” Jason broke his foot and couldn’t exercise for a couple months. To use up his nervous energy he baked. A lot. And ended up gaining a slight belly that unfortunately was caught at a very unflattering angle. “You wouldn’t,” he breathed out. “Oh, I would,” I said ripping off a piece of toilet paper and wiping off the beads of sweat that had formed on my upper lip. I was totally lying, but I wanted to scare him as payback for cleaning out my colon. “Why’d you have to give me three cups for God’s sake?” I heard Jason outside the door prodding Jeff to talk to me out of being mad. “He really did it for your own good honey. You’re wearing white, the most unforgiving of colors,” Jeff said. “I think I’ve lost half my body weight.” “That was the idea sweetie,” Jason chimed in. “When you calm down I swear you’ll see the dress will fit perfectly.” I didn’t want perfect if it meant being held captive in the bathroom. As I was contemplating whether to forgive Jason I heard ice clinking outside my door. “Oh my God. Are you two having a drink outside my door when I’m dying in here?” I shouted throwing a magazine against the door. I normally didn’t resort to throwing things, but then again I had never been slipped a drug that would make me crap my guts out disguised as a soothing cup of tea. “We’re pouring one for you too sweetie,” Jeff said. Did they really think I was going to have a drink? In here? I was pretty open minded, but sharing a cocktail with them while on the commode was crossing even my sketchy line of what was okay. “Will you guys just go away?” “We’re celebrating your cleansing,” Jason said. I did an exaggerated eye roll. Cleansing? They never missed an opportunity for a drink. “Well celebrate somewhere else,” I said. “Away from here.” There was a collective sigh. “Fine, we will be in the living room waiting for you,” Jason said. “From my own experience I am guessing you should be in there for another hour or so,” Jeff added. Kill me now. Only when my colon was completely empty did I dare venture out. When I went into the living room I saw Jeff and Jason had drunk all the cocktails and decided to rearrange their furniture. This was normal for them. Hetero guys drank and watched sports. Jeff and Jason drank and redecorated. I grabbed a pillow and plopped myself down on the floor watching them work off the booze. “Sweetie, how are you feeling?” Jason asked warily. “Like I just crapped my guts out. How about you?” “But you feel less bloated don’t you?” “Who wouldn’t after that? My intestines were begging to make it stop.” “But you’re not mad at me anymore are you?” I made a face. “I’m not. But my colon hates your guts.” He smiled. “I knew you couldn’t stay mad at me.” In his warped mind I knew he thought he was helping me so I decided to let it go. “I forgave him too,” Jeff said. “Lord knows why, but I did.” Then it struck me. I knew why Jason gave it to me, but why Jeff? His body didn’t have an ounce of extra anything. I turned to Jeff who was busy shuffling around the coffee table in front of me. Why’d he poison you?” I asked. “You certainly weren’t bloated.” He had a perfect body with every muscle defined. “I didn’t poison anyone,” Jason said from across the room. “It was herbs.” Jeff and I ignored him. “That one,” he said pointing at Jason. “Was too afraid to take it himself so he thought he’d try it out on me.” Figures. “You agreed,” said Jason. Jeff rolled his eyes. “I agreed to nothing but a cup of tea. You neglected to inform me what kind of tea.” “You never asked,” Jason said trying to look as innocent as possible. Jeff and I gave each other knowing looks. Jason was in his revisionist mode where if you say it enough it must be true. He should have been a politician instead of a lawyer. Jason offered me a drink, but I held up my hand. I was afraid anything I put in, was going to come out and I had seen too much of the bathroom already I didn’t want to risk it. “By the way Stevie that detective Moreno called when you were in the bathroom,” Jason said nonchalantly while moving a picture from one wall to the other. My stomach twisted, but from nerves not from the crap tea. “What? What did he say?” “Hmm…This wall or that one,” he asked Jeff. Jeff tilted his head to the side. “That one,” he said and pointed to the far wall. Their non interest was going to make me scream. “Jason what did he say?” I said wanting to throw my pillow at him. He sighed. “Just what you said he would,” he said clearly distracted by his OCD kicking in and wanting to put everything in the right spot. “He talked to both of us and just wanted us to corroborate your story,” Jeff chimed in sensing my frayed nerves. ‘Are you guys worried at all about this?” I asked. Jeff clucked his tongue. “Why? You can’t get arrested for talking to a guy about shaving porn in a bar.” “There’s nothing to worry about. I’m more concerned about where to put this chair,” Jason added. How could they be so relaxed? “Although that one was getting into his lawyer role too much and loving every minute of it,” Jeff said shaking his head. “I threatened to sue him if he harassed you,” Jason said, trying to decide where to put the coasters on the coffee table. I wasn’t liking the sound of this. Jason was good at his job, but he worked as a corporate lawyer at a movie studio. He negotiated contracts with agents and actors. He wasn’t exactly on Bryan’s level. Moreno didn’t seem like the type of guy who would respond well to a threat. “What’d did he say?” I asked afraid of what I might hear. “Not much. Just that it was an ongoing investigation and he’d probably have to talk to you again,” Jason said. That didn’t sound too bad. “And if I didn’t like it I could go to hell.” That’s not good. I put my face into the pillow and sighed. Could things get any worse? “Then the conversation ended and Bryan called on your phone.” Yes it could. “Tell me you didn’t pick up?” “And miss a chance to talk to that gorgeous man? Forget it.” I looked up at Jeff who cringed. “Sorry, I couldn’t hold him back.” “Don’t let him fool you Stevie. He’s just mad because I beat him to the phone,” Jason said. “He wanted to talk to Mr. Hardbody as much as I did.” I looked over to Jeff who shook his head and mouthed, ‘I didn’t’. I wasn’t sure who to believe on this one. They both fawned over Bryan. “What did he say?” I asked hoping for a painless answer. “He wanted to talk you,” Jason said. I could feel the anxiety racing through me. “And what did you say?” I asked. “I said you were unavailable.” I exhaled with relief. “Because you had drunk some dieter’s tea and were in the bathroom getting less bloated.” Oh my God. I put my hands over my head not wanting to face it. “Why did you have to say that?” I mumbled into the pillow. “He wanted to know why you were unavailable. And I didn’t want to lie,” he said. I lifted my head up. “What are you talking about? You love to lie.” I said. “That’s one of your favorite things to do besides sex and drinking.” “She knows you so well,” Jeff said while moving an area rug. “I couldn’t think of anything fast enough,” Jason said. “You didn’t tell him where I was going did you?” Please let him say he kept his mouth closed. If Bryan found out where I was going tomorrow night he would know something was up and I didn’t want to mess up Manuel’s plan to get me out of this mess. “No.” Thank God he showed some restraint. “But he said he would call back.” I looked at my phone which was perched ominously next to my overnight bag. What did Bryan want to talk to me about? I wanted to push everything out of my mind and just crash. Watching Jeff and Jason buzzing around the room was exhausting. I went to my bag and scrounged around looking for my favorite pajamas then realized I forgot to pack any. I grabbed my keys and told the guys I’d be right back. I quickly ran down the stairs while looking around afraid the scary guy would jump out. I never told Jeff or Jason about the hit man. They thought I was hiding out from Emil and Fidel. I stuck the key in the lock, raced into my bedroom, yanked out my pajamas and headed for the front door. I rounded the corner into the stairwell when I felt someone jab something hard into my back. My heart dropped into my stomach and my reflexes went into over drive. Scary bar guy found me. I snapped around ready to use my palm straight up into the guy’s nose. But I stopped mid-air. It wasn’t scary guy. It was a small, older woman holding a gun. “I want it back,” she said narrowing her eyes at me. She had a startled look about her that I attributed to too much Botox. She was wearing a black velour hoodie with matching pants that would have looked great if she were going to high school, but ridiculous on a woman who was probably a charter member of AARP. Did she want that stick thing too? “I don’t have it,” I said. I was so done with being accused of something I didn’t do. “I saw you there,” she said. “Where?” I said getting more confused by the second. “Don’t stand there and deny it,” she said waving the gun around. I held up hands. “Whoa. Watch that thing,” I said. “I want to help, but I really don’t know what you’re talking about.” I could tell by the way her hands were shaking this type of thing wasn’t the norm for her. “You were at the bar with him. I saw you,” she said giving me a snarl. “Were you having sex with him too?” Sex? She was obviously delusional. Because the only sex partner I had lately required batteries. Bar? Then it hit me. Davies. She didn’t want the stick thing she wanted her porn DVD. “You’re talking about Ronald?” “Quit stalling and give me my DVD.” “Listen lady I don’t have it,” I said. Just then the stairwell door opened on the floor above. We could hear someone coming down the stairs. The woman’s eyes shot up the stairwell then back down to me. I could see she was angry about being interrupted. “I want it back. Just like her,” she said then bolted out the door. I leaned against the wall, took a deep breath and let it out. Bryan was right. I was a magnet for trouble. No wonder he was dating Lizzy. She probably didn’t have old ladies holding her up in hallways demanding back their geriatric porn DVDs. “Stevie? What are you doing?” I looked up and saw Jeff peeking down from above. “Nothing. Just taking a rest,” I said. “Well hurry up. Jason and I are arguing about placement up here and we need your help.” I was too tired to tell them about the old lady with the gun. I’d save it for another day. And why bother calling the police? They’d ask too many questions I wasn’t going to answer. I’d figure out what to do about it tomorrow. “It’s going to be a quick answer because I am going to bed,” I said climbing up the stairs dreading the drama that was waiting. “Fine, but it’s your room we are rearranging now. So it might be longer than you’d like.” Dammit. Chapter Fourteen “Shit girl were you drinking again last night?” Hector asked his face twisting up. I plopped down on one of the desk chairs in the office. “It’s not what you think.” Then I told him about the tea and about the old lady with the gun. “Damn Goldie. You’ve had a busy night,” he said chuckling. “I hope Yolanda doesn’t hear about that fucking shit. I don’t have the time to be sitting on the crapper for that long. I’ve got shit to do.” I nodded. With three kids and his obsession with making sure Baby was spotless I didn’t know when he had the time to work. “Why the fuck did she think you had her DVD?” He asked. I shrugged. “She said she saw me with Davies at the bar.” “What? Did she think he passed them out to everyone he fucking met?” “We need to swing by Mrs. Howard’s before our first repo,” I said. “Why?” Hector took out the repo paperwork from our box. “She said she wanted it back just like her,” I said. “You think Nana put the nut job on to you?” “I don’t know, but let’s go find out.” Hector and I parked Baby across the street from Mrs. Howard’s. “Have you ever noticed this woman never opens the fucking door?” He asked as we crossed the street. “What do you mean?” I asked. “She’s like my Aunt Luisa and only cracks the fucking door.” He was right. “I never noticed that before.” “Old lady shit I guess,” he said. “Afraid someone is going to bust through it and attack them and shit.” I rang the doorbell and waited to hear Mrs. Howard shuffle around and look through the peep hole. But after two knocks and another door bell. Nothing. “Maybe we should check around the back. To make sure she is okay and all,” he said sliding his eyes over to me. We both knew what he was saying. “You think we should break in?” He looked around and whispered. “Yeah.” “Let’s go,” I said motioning for him to follow me into the backyard. We unlatched the side gate and walked through. The back was landscaped like the front, neat and orderly with a lot of rose bushes. We turned the corner and peeked through the glass door. “Think it’s safe to open?” I asked. “Who the fuck knows? But we’re gonna anyways,” Hector said taking his tools out of his back pocket. I stood watch while Hector worked his gift. “Damn that was too easy. Nana here needs some better fucking locks,” Hector said swinging the door open. We made our way through the downstairs with no surprises. The house was well kept just like the outside. It was decorated in grandma chic with older looking flower patterned sofas and knick knacks on every surface. We opened drawers and searched around, but didn’t find anything. We were heading up the stairs when I realized we missed a room. “Hang on,” I said pointing to the hallway right off the front door. “Let’s check out what’s in there.” “Damn Goldie. I’m already up the stairs. Do I really have to come down?” I really had to get him to the gym. “Yes.” “Shit,” he mumbled. “What a pain in the ass.” I ignored him and tried to open the door, but it was locked. “Work your magic,” I said pointing to the door. Hector was panting from his stomp down the stairs and his face showed he was anything but happy. “Damn that was a lot of stairs,” he said while getting out his tools and getting to work on the lock. “A two story house is hardly a sky scraper.” “It fucking feels like one,” he grumbled. After a couple movements with his tools he threw open the door. Unable to fathom what we were seeing we stood frozen with our eyes springing out from our heads. “What the fuck?” Hector said. I was speechless and blinked a couple of times making sure I was seeing right. The windows were blacked out and on the walls there were black peg boards that held an assortment of whips, chains and sex toys. There were different sized dildos in various colors and vibrators hung up along with other equipment that I had never seen before. There was a rack with straps and pulleys that looked like they were stolen from the Grim Reaper’s torture chamber. In the corner there was several black leather dominatrix outfits hanging from a clothing rack along with some scary looking pointy shoes to match. “Are we both thinking the same thing?” I asked not able to take my eyes away. “That nana is a total freak,” Hector said his voice squeaking with the word freak. I nodded then blinked again trying to picture Mrs. Howard here and couldn’t do it. “Maybe it’s her brother’s room,” I suggested. Hector slid his head to the side and looked at me. “He’s gonna wear those fucking outfits?” He asked pointing towards the corner. I glanced over at the leather and rubber again. “But it just doesn’t fit,” I said. “I don’t get it.” “It does if she is a fucking bullshit artist,” he said. Just then we heard a noise coming from the closet. “Did you hear that?” Hector whispered. I nodded. He held his finger to his lips then attempted to tip toe over to check it out with me trailing right behind him. When we got to the door he put his hand on the handle, but didn’t open it. “What?” I whispered. He made a pained face. “I’m afraid it’s going to be fuckin’ nana in one of those outfits. Man. I don’t want to see that.” “Just go on,” I said. “Don’t be such a baby.” “Okay, but if I have nightmares it’s gonna be your fault.” Blah. Blah. Blah. “I’ll take my chances,” I said and gave him a little nudge. He took a deep breath then swung the door open. We both jumped back not knowing what to expect then glanced furiously around. Nothing. The closet was stuffed with just more black leather gear and extra toys. “I bet one of those boxes got dildo heavy and fell down,” I said. “Damn. How much weird shit does one woman need?” Hector asked. I shrugged. “Maybe there was a sale.” “Let’s get the fuck out of here,” Hector said. “This dungeon crap is giving me the creeps.” “I will save you mistress.” Out of nowhere a skinny old guy crashed out of the closet and leapt onto Hector’s back. He started to whack him on the head with one of the chains that were attached to his black leather bondage outfit. Hector tried to shake him off, but the guy who must have been a hundred years old latched on and wouldn’t let go. “Goldie do something,” Hector yelled while running around bumping into walls making the room rain down with dildos. I raced over and tried to pry the guy loose, but every time I got an arm or leg off he would maneuver his spider like appendages and continue to pound on Hector with his chains. “Get this crazy motherfucker off me,” Hector screamed. I frantically searched around and snatched a two headed monster dildo thing from the air and started to club the guy with it. “Leave him alone,” I shouted whacking the old guy in the face, but he still wouldn’t budge. “Mistress, I love you mistress,” The guy kept chanting. If gramps didn’t shut up the whole neighborhood was going to hear us. “Help,” Hector shouted while trying to bat the chain away with his hands. I snatched a whip from the ground and worked up a sweat while whacking the old guy with both of my weapons until he began to loosen his grip. When I saw him weaken I went for the kill. I dropped the whip and with both hands swung the monster dildo at his head. “Mistress,” The guy said and collapsed to the floor. Hector and I looked at each other for a beat then bolted for the back door not waiting for the old guy to get another wave of energy and spring at us again. I raced through the side yard then across the street making a beeline towards Baby with Hector following right behind me. I was shocked he was able to keep up. I guess a senior citizen in a leather bondage outfit smacking you with chains was a strong motivator. I slid across the hood of the car to the passenger side as Hector roared Baby’s engine to life and screeched away from the house of freaks. “What the hell was that?” Hector asked while trying to catch his breath. “I don’t know,” I said back struggling to get the words out. He glanced over with bewildered eyes then looked down at my lap. A look of horror spread across his face. “What the fuck?” I shot my eyes down and screamed when I saw the big monster dildo was still in my hand. “Oh, my God,” I yelled and tossed it up the air wanting it away from me as fast as possible. “Don’t get it on Baby,” Hector shouted. He was worried about his car at a time like this? “Get it away from me,” I yelled tossing it over to Hector. “Fuck that,” He said batting it back to me while swinging Baby a sharp left to avoid driving into a mailbox. “Oh no you don’t,” I said smacking it back. It ended up hitting Hector on the head then bounced between us landing on the seat. Hector was pushing it in my direction with one hand and driving with the other when we heard a gunshot smash into Baby’s back windshield. Pieces of glass shattered around us. We covered our faces then whipped our heads around expecting to see bondage boy in hot pursuit. But saw scary bar guy with a gun in his hand leaning out the driver’s side window instead. “I am sick of this shit,” Hector yelled. So was I. “Just drive I got this,” I said trying to be heard over the noise. I ducked when scary guy let off another shot. Then I grabbed the monster dildo and climbed into the back seat, took aim and flung it out the window. It sailed through the air, bounced off scary guy’s face and landed on his front windshield. “Score,” I shouted. All those years wearing those hideous outfits on my high school softball team really paid off. Shocked by the dildo’s assault he dropped his gun and fell back into the car. He tried to regain control of the Ferrari but it started swerving side to side. I watched as his face registered what the three foot rubber monster blocking his view actually was. He started to furiously rub his face clean with his shirt and ended up slamming his car into a very elaborate black and gold wrought iron gate in the shape of a large sunflower. “Yes,” I shouted then climbed back over the seat and latched my seat belt. “Nice shot Goldie.” “Thanks.” “Man that fucker didn’t know what to do,” Hector said. We both burst out laughing. “No one would ever think they’d have a super-size dildo flying at them,” I said, laughing so hard I could barely get the words out. “Hey, Goldie,” Hector said. “Yeah?” “I could really use a fucking donut right now.” Hector and I had already disinfected ourselves from the monster dildo, gorged on donuts, dropped off Baby to be fixed at his cousin’s garage and were now heading towards South Central to our first repo in my Volkswagen. “Man, Goldie your car is a piece of shit,” Hector said. I had to agree. It was a roach coach. I tended to eat a lot in my car and there were pieces of fast food wrappers strewn about and a few old fries. “Why thank you,” I replied sarcastically. “Not all of us relax by cleaning our cars.” “Shit maybe you should ‘cause this thing is fucking sick,” he said picking a fry off his seat with two fingers and throwing it on the floor. “Considering what happened today I would think your sick quotient would be higher,” I said resisting the urge to smile. He made a face. “Don’t fucking remind me that nana has got some major issues,” he said. “No kidding.” “The abuelas in my neighborhood babysit and make tamales and shit. Not make DVDs of themselves fucking some guy they met on a dating site. And do all that other kinky shit we found in her house. And what was the deal with that old fucker in that weird ass outfit?” I shook my head. “I don’t know.” “Have you ever seen anything like that before?” He asked. “Never.” “Me neither,” he said. “I’ve heard of crap like that, but thought it was only in the fuckin’ movies and shit.” “What do you think really happened between her and Davies?” I asked. “It was a shame that fucker was dead because those two freaks were perfect for each other.” “She lied to me didn’t she?” I asked starting to feel like an idiot. “Shit,” he said. “Don’t let it get you down.” “I believed her when she said Davies conned her,” I said. “It’s ‘cause you’re just fucking nice and all. Doesn’t mean you’re a dumb ass or anything.” Getting cheered up by Hector was certainly an experience. “Thanks,” I said knowing he was trying to help. “What are you going to do about it?” He asked. I thought for a moment then said, “I’m not sure yet.” I didn’t really know where to begin. This is where I would usually call up Bryan and pick his brain, but since our break I was hesitant to call him. “Do you think she clocked him?” He asked. After seeing her cave full of toys the thought had crossed through my mind. “I don’t know,” I answered. “You don’t want her and that old shit to come after you. You already have the fucker in the Ferrari and the old lady with the gun. You don’t need anymore.” No kidding. “Are you going to tell your cop lawyer what happened?” I shook my head. “I don’t think so.” “Manuel?” “Probably,” I answered. Hector nodded. “Are you really going to dinner with him tonight?” I lied to Hector about the reason I was going out with Manuel. I told him that we were meeting to discuss what to do about Fidel and Emil. If he knew the real reason I was sure he’d want to tag along. “Yeah,” I said looking over and seeing his worried expression. “I thought you said he was a good guy and all.” “Shit he is. The fuckin’ man,” he said with a huff. “Then what’s with the strained mom look?” “Nothin’,” he answered. “It’s obviously not nothing,” I said. He looked uncomfortable. “You know he isn’t the type to stick around and all if you two fuck. Just so you know. He’s not a dick or anything he just doesn’t stay in one place for too long.” Sometimes I wished he had a filter on his mouth. “Who said anything about that?” I said raising my voice. “Nothin’, I’m just saying,” he said “Well don’t.” “You and he haven’t yet?” He asked eyeballing my reaction. I wish. “No.” He gave me a look. “No,” I said louder. “Okay girl. No need to get all excitable.” “Well stop then,” I said slamming my car into gear after the light changed. Hector was worse than my mother. Chapter Fifteen “What’s all that noise?” I was talking on my phone with Bryan while Hector was yelling at the owner of our repo. “It’s Hector trying to negotiate with a client.” The client was the owner of an ice cream truck who must have eaten more of his product than he sold because he was almost as big as Hector. Apparently there was a moral code about repoing someone’s livelihood. My partner was trying to work out a deal with him, but it sounded like it wasn’t going well. I heard Bryan sigh on the other end. “Please tell me the client doesn’t have a gun.” “Nope.” Unless it is covered in chocolate. “Have you visited Mrs. Howard?” I could tell by his voice that he already knew what my answer should be. “Why?” “A black Ferrari smashed into a mailbox after someone in a magenta muscle car threw a king sized dildo at the driver. Sound familiar?” Hey why are we painted as the bad guys? “Maybe?” I could have lied, but now at least I could pick his brain. “So what happened?” He was calm, but with Bryan you never knew when his temper would surface. Or maybe that was just with me. I gave him the low down on Mrs. Howard and her bondage boy. Neglecting the part where the driver of the Ferrari was a hit man out to kill me. To my surprise he started to laugh. “How come these things always happen to you?” “I’m unlucky,” I said not even believing it myself. “Yeah that’s it,” he said. “Must be.” “Looks like I need to check out Mrs. Howard a little more closely,” he said. That’s what I hoped. “Will you tell me what you find out?” “Don’t I always?” “No.” “So who was in the Ferrari with no plates?” I should have known he wouldn’t let that go. This is where I couldn’t tell him the complete truth. He’d go ballistic. “Just an old repo gone bad.” We both knew it had something to do with Fidel and Emil, but were at a standoff. “You really work with some winners,” he said. “Just like you,” I countered. It wasn’t like in his job he worked with the most pristine law abiding citizens. “Okay I can tell where this conversation is going.” Hector and the ice truck guy’s voices were getting louder. I couldn’t understand what they were saying because they were talking in Spanish, but I knew it wasn’t good. I walked a little further away covering the mouth piece. “Tell Hector to take the deal,” Bryan said. He spoke fluent Spanish as well as French whereas I never got past hola’ and bonjour. “You’re such a show off,” I said. He disconnected promising me he’d call when he got any info on Mrs. Howard. What was weird about the call was there were plenty of opportunities for him to throw in some sexual innuendos, but he didn’t. I know we both agreed to move on, but it felt strange. “Hey Goldie. Will you help me carry this shit?” I looked over and saw Hector struggling to carry half the truck’s ice cream supply over to his car. “What are you doing?” I asked taking a couple boxes out of his hands. “I loaned the guy some money to cover his payment and he gave me this shit as interest on the loan.” We started to load the boxes in my car. “Yolanda isn’t going to like this,” I said staring at all the boxes. “She ain’t going to find out on account I’m putting them in your freezer. Besides it’s a gift so I’m not breaking any fucking rules,” he said obviously proud of himself the way he thought it all through. “My freezer can’t hold all this stuff.” And if the ice cream is in my freezer I will find every excuse to venture down from Jeff and Jason’s to scarf them. God help me when all this junk gets sorted out and I actually back in my apartment. Hector would find only wrappers and a bunch of I owe you notes in their place. “That’s a bunch of bullshit Goldie and you know it,” he said. “I’ve seen your fucking freezer and there’s nothing in it.” I made a face at him. “That’s not true.” “An ice cube tray doesn’t fucking count.” “Fine, but I get an ice cream a day as rent.” “You were going to do that anyway,” he said. “Yep.” “Then it’s a fucking deal.” Hector and I drove to my apartment in a faster than usual pace before the ice cream melted all over my trunk. “Goldie can’t you get this piece of crap to go any faster?” He was used to Baby’s rocket size engine. Driving my car was like driving a lawnmower. “Sorry Hector, this is it,” I said. “Damn girl that’s just sad,” he said. “Fuck I can run faster than this shit.” I gave him my bullshit face. “I saw that,” he said. “You were supposed to.” “Shit,” he shouted. “It wasn’t that bad,” I said looking over at him. Hector’s normal cocoa color had turned four shades lighter. “No fucking way.” “Okay, I’m sorry,” I said not understanding why he was so upset. “You can run as fast as my car.” “What the fuck are you talking about?” He asked scrunching up his face. I was totally confused. “I don’t know. What are you talking about?” I asked. He looked behind us. “Damn that crazy fucker and the nana are behind us.” Oh my God. I looked back and saw Mrs. Howard’s familiar Buick with bondage boy riding shotgun. It was hard to tell it was him at first because he had replaced his leather with civilian clothes. “I don’t care if you blow this thing up just get me away from that fucking nut job,” Hector shouted in total panic mode. I immediately put the gas pedal to the floor. My car started to shake in protest. I swerved left down San Vincente trying to maneuver my way away from them, but Mrs. Howard was still fast on my tail. There was no way I was going to out run them. “Goldie get this bitch moving,” Hector whined, “I don’t want that old guy on my ass again.” I looked sideways but there was no way for me to get around the car to my left. It was approaching rush hour and the streets were getting more crowded by the minute. Then something occurred to me. Why should we be running away? All we did is try to help. We should be chasing her. I looked in my rear view mirror then immediately swung a left into a carpet store parking lot and slammed on my brakes. I didn’t need to look back to know she followed us. I swung open the door. “Girl, have you lost your fucking mind?” Hector screamed clutching his door handle. “Maybe. But I’m annoyed so I don’t care,” I said getting out of my car and stomping towards Mrs. Howard who was waiting patiently by her driver’s side door. She looked like she should be attending a church social instead of chasing us down. Bondage boy was waiting in the passenger seat with his head hung down like a dog who had just been scolded. “Why are you following us?” I shouted. She held up her hands. “I’m sorry. I just really needed to talk to you.” “You have a lot of explaining to do,” I said getting louder with every word. I felt pretty confident she and slave boy wouldn’t do anything to me in public. Besides I was too angry to care. Once my temper was unleashed there wasn’t much I could do. I was on a woman rage and they’d better back off. And I figured they were so old I could take them even without the help of my partner who had locked himself in the car. She sighed and said, “I know what you must think of me.” “You have no idea,” I said. Where do I begin? “Herman told me what happened and I am sorry. He shouldn’t have attacked your partner. He thought he was protecting me.” Bondage boy was named Herman? I blinked trying to make the flashback of him on Hector’s back retreat from my mind. “What’s going on?” I asked. “Do you know what it’s like to have your husband drain your bank account and leave you after thirty five years because he says you’re boring?” “No. But what’s that got to do with that thing?” I said pointing to bondage boy. “I understand your anger with Herman, but please don’t be disrespectful to him.” “Then tell that fucker not to jump on people’s back.” Hector had obviously decided it was safe to come out of the car. “He was under the impression you two were burglars,” She said looking back at Herman who was still in the car with his head down. “Enough of this bullshit. What the fuck is that freak ass room in your house?” Hector said. Apparently he was just as tired as I was. “Okay,” said Mrs. Howard taking a deep breath. “The truth.” “Yeah,” Hector and I both said at the same time. “I needed money. There was niche for a senior dominatrix so I signed up. It certainly surprised my ex-husband which was an added plus. I wasn’t boring anymore.” She made it sound so easy. Niche? Was there an ad up at the local grocery store? “Why did you make a fuck tape with Davies?” Hector pressed. Her face registered embarrassment. “I didn’t know he was doing it. I swear. I thought he was a pastor.” “Did you kill him because he was blackmailing you?” I asked. Hey since she was being all honest and everything I might as well go for it. “I didn’t kill him. I swear.” “You didn’t answer me. Was he blackmailing you or not?” “Yes.” “So everything you told me was a lie?” She shook her head. “No. Tony started to blackmail me after I told him I wouldn’t give him any more money.” “Do you even have a brother?” I asked. “Yes. And the car really is his.” I looked at Hector to see what he thought. He shrugged back in response. “Then why the fuck when we told you Davies was dead, you didn’t care about getting your money back?” Hector asked then crossed his arms in front of himself. “Because Herman was kind enough to give me a bonus for our sessions,” she said while looking back at him. If he bent his head down any lower he’d be face down on the pavement. “I was able to pay the back payments on the car and got it back from the bank.” “I’d do anything for you mistress,” he said looking up from his downward dog position. “I didn’t give you permission to speak, slave,” Mrs. Howard hissed out. Herman slunk down and whimpered. “Forgive me mistress.” I hid behind Hector who had moved back a couple steps away from the freak show. Boy, Mrs. Howard could get mean. She turned back to us looking like she should be passing out donuts after church. “You obviously take pride in your job,” I blurted out. Hector elbowed me and gave me a disgusted look. “Damn. And he pays for that shit?” Hector asked shaking his head. Mrs. Howard nodded. “Yes. Herman and I have a very special relationship.” “If special means fucking freaky, then yes you do.” Mrs. Howard looked angry. “Please do not disparage what you don’t understand.” Hector’s expression looked like he just ate a lemon. “What the fuck?” I explained to Hector what she meant. He really should work on expanding his vocabulary. “Fine,” he huffed. I could tell he wanted to say much more than fine, but held back. I was guessing the way she talked to Herman had something to do with Hector’s sudden self-censorship. “Who was the old bat who held a gun to Goldie demanding her DVD back?” She grimaced. “Elise is a friend of mine from my bridge club. She and her husband went on a double date with Tony and me. And she ended up not being able to resist his charms either.” I resisted the urge to dry heave. Hector let out a disgusted sigh. “Charms my ass. All that guy had was big teeth and an even bigger dick.” Embarrassment flooded Mrs. Howard’s face, which was surprising considering she was driving with a guy who up until an hour ago was wearing a leather cat suit. “You certainly don’t mince words do you,” she said. Hector made a face. “I don’t know what the fuck you just said. But it don’t sound good.” I whispered out of the corner of my mouth what Mrs. Howard meant. Hector nodded. “Fuck no I don’t.” “Tony was blackmailing Elise. She found out you got my DVD back.” “Found out? You told her,” I said. She nodded. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know she would do that to you. But after Tony threatened to show her husband the DVD of them together she went a little crazy. I told her maybe you got hers back too.” “Do you think she could have killed him?” I asked. “That’s impossible. Elise couldn’t kill anyone.” “I know this shit is important, but we got to go.” Then Hector leaned down and said out of the side of his mouth, “My ice cream is fucking melting.” At least he had his priorities straight. I knew better than to stand between Hector and his food. “Will you tell please tell your friend I don’t have what she wants?” I asked while ignoring Hector who was tugging on my arm like a pre-schooler. Mrs. Howard said she would then went back to her car and took off. Hector hopped into the driver’s seat and hurriedly waved me in. “Damn girl will you hurry up already?” I got into the passenger’s seat and had barely shut the door when Hector floored my Volkswagen making it screech out of the parking lot. We made it to my apartment in less than ten minutes. Now my car was making loud pinging sounds that I had never heard before. It sounded like it was dying. “What did you do to my car?” Hector ignored my question and was already grabbing one of the shopping carts that were left in the parking garage. He loaded the ice cream boxes into the cart. “Goldie come on and help me with this shit,” he practically begged. Hector had forgotten bondage boy and only had eyes for the bartered for frozen dairy. We were able to pack everything into one cart and hustled upstairs to my apartment. When we walked in I let out a sigh. It was so nice to be home. I was treated like a queen at Jeff and Jason’s, but it still wasn’t my place. We unloaded the boxes into my empty freezer, but couldn’t fit the last one. “You want to help me?” Hector asked holding up a box of drumsticks. I knew I shouldn’t. I had to fit into that slinky dress tonight. I’ll be strong I told myself. Hector tore open a wrapper and handed one to me. Any willpower I had a minute ago was gone. I finished off three before I started feeling sick. Hector ate the rest. “These drumsticks are kinda healthy,” Hector said while licking some ice cream that was dripping down the cone. “They have some nuts.” Even I couldn’t convince myself of that one. “Nice try Hector.” My phone buzzed. I glanced down and saw it was Jeff and Jason again. They had been messaging me every ten minutes for the last hour. I was late for their ritualistic grooming ceremony where they poked and prodded me into beauty. I knew I had to look presentable when Manuel and I tried to con Abdoul but they were ridiculous with the amount of time their preparations took. “Is it them again?” Hector asked stifling a burp. I nodded. “What the hell do they want?” I shrugged. He’d only get suspicious if he found out Jeff and Jason were going to make me over Hector’s phone buzzed. He glanced down and made a face. “Is it Yolanda again?” He nodded. “That’s the second time you avoided her message. Are you suicidal?” I hadn’t even met Yolanda, but even I was starting to get anxious that he hadn’t answered her. “She’s got some weird fucking power where she can tell if I am eating something bad for me.” “You’re always eating something bad for you.” “Exactly. That’s why she knows.” I shook my head trying to figure out his logic. Hector and I cleaned off our hands and faces trying to remove any evidence of our drumstick rampage. After we were done he walked me to Jeff and Jason’s door. “Come on girl. I know you and my buddy aren’t just going to just hang out tonight talking about those assholes.” “Why not?” I asked, trying to look as innocent as possible. Manuel had told me not to tell Hector where we going. He didn’t want him to show up in a misguided attempt to help. “Shit girl, it just isn’t right that you fuckers are keeping me out of the loop.” “That’s not true. I told you what we’re doing.” “I’m not a dumb ass Goldie. I know why you’re not telling me.” “If you know than you don’t need to ask.” Hector gave an offended look. “Damn girl that was cold.” I gave him a ‘You’re shitting me look’ just as his phone buzzed again making him cringe. “Call me if you need me,” he said giving up his inquest. He answered his phone while walking down the hallway spouting apologies to Yolanda. Chapter Sixteen Jeff and Jason’s door flung open and I felt a pair of hands grab and yank me into their apartment. I looked up and found two pairs of eyes staring at me in horror. “Will you look at her,” Jason seethed. I glanced into the mirror and noticed I still had some chocolate stuck to my chin and the ends of my hair had a sticky substance that I suspected was ice cream. “I’ve seen it,” Jeff said wagging his finger at me. “And it isn’t pretty.” I had a feeling it was going to go downhill from here. I was going to be washed, scrubbed, plucked and exfoliated within an inch of my life. Jeff and Jason tended to do everything by extremes. Their butt implants being a prime example. One day they were saying the squats at the gym weren’t working. The next they had swollen posteriors. After an hour of them arguing and treating me like a Barbie doll I was done. After I convinced them I had to have helping undergarments especially after my ice cream feast. The last ten minutes had been particularly painful as I struggled to pull up the two sizes too small Spanx undies I had in my drawer. In the end it had been a team effort with both of them taking a side and me the middle while we hoisted it past my butt and thighs. The execution of the undies had been unpleasant, but the suckers were amazing. Of course I could barely breathe, but any bulges I had were somehow sucked in never to be seen again. When I looked in the mirror I gave both of them a kiss. “Thanks guys.” I had to admit I looked pretty good. The white dress hugged me in all the right places and the silver shoes and purse were perfect. My hair which was always temperamental had decided to behave and hung down my back in loose soft waves. The only jewellery I consented to wear were the diamond stud earrings Bryan had forced on me for our five year anniversary. I would have felt ridiculous in all the bling Jeff and Jason wanted me to wear. “We are soooo good,” they both said in unison. I didn’t argue. They had turned this not bad duckling into a sparkling sucked in swan. Manuel arrived five minutes early. Jeff and Jason elbowed each other while racing towards the door both of them eager to ogle Manuel first. Jason always the more aggressive of the two won out. “Well, hello there,” Jason cooed like a schoolgirl. I couldn’t see what Manuel looked like yet, but from their excited giggles I was sure it was even yummier than usual. I heard him greet them. His accent made even hello sound sexy. When the boys stepped back and let me take a gander I felt like my tongue was going to flop out of my mouth and roll onto the floor. He was wearing a black tuxedo, a white shirt that highlighted his cocoa colored skin and a small silver cross around his neck. Manuel obviously said something to me because Jeff and Jason were waiting expectantly, but apparently lust had temporarily given me hearing loss because I hadn’t heard anything, but my own panting. I decided to just fake it and smile pretending I had heard everything. Manuel gave a slight grin. “Oh, honey,” Jeff said shaking his head. “Just go.” I internally cringed, but went with it. I kissed my makeover artists goodbye while ignoring their murmurs in my ear about jumping Manuel’s bones. Although I wouldn’t mind riding that stallion I still felt pangs of guilt about Bryan. I knew we broke up and he had probably already moved on numerous times, but I wasn’t sure I was ready to do the same. When we got in Manuel’s Mustang I was surprised when he reached into the glove compartment and gave me a bracelet. Aww. It even went perfectly with my dress. “It’s a type of wire,” he said. I knit my eyebrows together. What? “It’s a recording device.” I took back my aww. “How?” I asked looking it over. It was a delicate looking diamond bracelet. How could it record anything? “You don’t need to know.” I should have guessed. On the ride over Manuel briefed me on what was going to happen when we met up with Abdoul. “You’re still okay with this?” I nodded. “I didn’t get all dressed up for nothing.’“ Manuel looked me up and down in a way that made me want to blush. “Not bad.” I might be in trouble. We pulled up to a house the size of a small town and handed the car over to one of the valet guys, while I tried to stop the butterflies that were thudding along in my stomach. Manuel put his arm around my waist and whispered in my ear, “Relax Goldie.” I guess I wasn’t as good as covering my nerves as I thought. When we got inside I looked around the room. Typical. All the rich people in LA seemed to use the same two designers. This year it was Byzantine and everything sparkled with gold and velvet. The furniture, the food, and the frozen Botox faces trying to smile were duplicated all over the Westside. Bryan’s mother was one of the trendsetters. I witnessed her English country manor look transform into a gilded monstrosity last year. I followed Manuel to the bar. “I’ll have the same,” I said after hearing Manuel ordering a beer. “He ordered a beer without a glass.” The bartender asked with a confused look on his face. “Yep. He sure did.” I didn’t care. It was hot and I felt like a beer besides being around these people brought out the teenage rebel in me. “That’s what I want.” The bartender didn’t look impressed when he set down a couple Coronas in front of us. I took a big gulp and couldn’t help notice the society ladies drooling over my hot Latin escort, while glaring at me. I smiled back and gave an especially nasty looking one a wink. She walked away in a huff. “Nicely done,” Manuel said. “Thanks,” I said taking another swig. I watched as Manuel’s eyes shot over the crowd looking for his mark. All the friendliness on his face the moment before was gone. In its place was a hard cold mask that was pretty scary. The society lady herd dispersed almost as if they instinctually felt danger lurking nearby. I followed where Manuel was focused and saw an older dark haired man with a beard who rivalled Hector’s bulk. His tuxedo shirt looked like he had bought it in his thinner days because the buttons were straining to break free. He was in the corner surrounded by two hulking guys and a younger, slightly thinner version of himself. “Abdoul?” I asked. He gave a barely perceptible nod then said, “Wait here.” What? What happened to both of us meeting him? My face must betrayed my thoughts because he said, “I just need to check things out first.” His tone of voice let me know I’d better stay where I was. I watched as he made his way through the crowd towards him. “I thought you hated these things?” said a familiar voice behind me. Damn. I didn’t want him to find out what was going on. He’d never go for me being used as bait. I turned around and gave Bryan a smile. Be relaxed I told myself. Maybe he won’t figure it out. He looked gorgeous in his tux, but then again he looked good in nothing at all. My stomach flip flopped with the nothing at all thought. It had been way to long since I saw a man naked. “I wanted to see if they were as awful as I remembered,” I said taking a gulp of my beer for emphasis. “And? Are they?” He asked knowing I was lying. “Sure are.” I swigged down the rest of my drink to calm my nerves. Then slammed down the bottle on the counter and ordered another one. “How’s the Davies’s murder coming? Any leads?” After my afternoon round up with Mrs. Howard and her friend my gut told me she didn’t kill him. Her gun toting friend didn’t sound like a killer either. She just sounded desperate to get back her sex tape and save her marriage. “And tell me why I should I share that with you?” I gave him a weak smile. “Cause you love me?” “Sad, but true,” he said. I knew it. But it was still nice to hear. “Are you going to tell me?” “What are you going to do for me?” He grinned. Anything you want. “Buy you a drink?” “It’s an open bar.” “That’s why I’m offering.” He smiled and shook his head. “How can I beat that?” I shrugged giving him a smile back. “The bullet that was fired into Davies’s apartment after he was murdered was a match for the one that killed him,” he said giving me a sideways glance. “You wouldn’t happen to know the person who fired it?” What? I had to quickly gulp down the beer in my mouth before it dribbled down my chin. I shook my head. “Why would I know that?” “You’re not going to tell me?” “What’s there to tell? He let out a groan and drank the rest of his beer. “You’re here with him?” He gave a nod in Manuel’s direction. It wasn’t really a question because I could tell he must have already have seen us together. I nodded. “He just left to talk to some old friends.” “That friend is a big time drug dealer,” he said glancing over at Manuel and Abdoul. I shrugged. “Maybe he’s nice.” “Nice?” He asked not believing I just said that. “Well you’re at the same party as him so obviously he can’t be that bad,” I said as way of an explanation. Bryan gave me a disgusted look and grabbed my hand pulling me into a hallway then opened a door that led into the library. “What are you doing,” I said yanking away from him. “You can’t just go dragging me around like that.” “What’s going on Stevie?” I could see by his face he definitely wasn’t happy. “Nothing,” I said getting worried Manuel would wonder where I went. “Really? Then why are there undercover feds all over this place?” “But how?” I was going to ask before checking myself. I should have known he’d find out. He had friends everywhere. “Really?” I asked pretending to be surprised. He gave me a ‘Don’t bullshit me look’. “How would I know why they’re here?” “You’re somewhere you hate and your new guy left you alone in that dress,” he said looking me up and down, “to go talk to a drug dealer because he is nice. Does that make sense to you?” “I’ve got to go back,” I said. “Your friend doesn’t exist? Did you know that?” “What?” I asked not sure what he meant. “I had him checked out.” What? He moved on a long time ago why should he care who I go out with? Of course I wasn’t really dating Manuel, but that wasn’t the point. “You had no right to do that,” I said trying not to yell. “I had every right,” he said. Oh no he didn’t. “Why?” I asked louder than I had wanted. He didn’t answer. Instead he pulled me close and kissed me hard on the mouth while letting his hands wander. He pressed me up against the wall and leaned into me letting his tongue tangle with mine. I knew this was mistake, but I didn’t care. It felt too good to stop. Bryan’s hand moved up to my breast and lifted up my dress running his hands up my legs. But then he stopped caressing and started moving his hands around like they were searching for something. I wanted to scream. I forgot about the hide my lumps special undies. He must have thought what the hell is she wearing? But got over it because he gripped the sides of my fat sucker and ripped it off. I was relieved as I was able to breathe again and he was able to let his fingers wander. I reached down and unzipped his pants ready to repay the favor when he pressed me against the wall and lifted me onto him. Was I seeing stars? Now I remembered what I had been missing. Chocolate was definitely not even a close second. After we finished we stood still for a minute panting. What had we just done? Whatever it was I was sure the wild beasts in the jungle had nothing on us. “We have to talk,” Bryan said breaking the silence. Then it was like a sledge hammer hit me in the head. Manuel must be going crazy wondering where I was. “I’ve got to go,” I said untangling myself from him. “Stevie you can’t just run away from this,” Bryan said. “I know. But right now I really have to go.” I gave him a quick kiss on the lips and hurried back to the party. I found Manuel at the bar. “Have fun?” He asked when I walked up. I felt color rush to my cheeks. But then I reasoned with myself. How could he know Bryan and I just did the wild thing? He was just a man after all. It wasn’t like he had magical powers or anything. “What do you mean?” I asked playing dumb, “I just had to go to the restroom.” “You forgot about the bracelet.” My eyes widened in horror. “You mean…” He smiled. Oh. My. God. I squeezed my eyes shut “Who heard?” I asked “Only me.” That was mortifying, but it could have been worse. “And the guys in the control van.” It was worse. “And the undercover guys at the party.” I banged my head on the bar. Why me? My first orgasm in months and it had to be a group effort. “It’s not that bad Goldie.” I looked up and blew the hair off my face. “Easy for you to say.” I started freaking out imagining that tape being fed to the radio stations and Bryan’s career in shambles and me being offered my own reality show. “What if it gets out? Bryan’s family...” All kinds of scenarios ran through my mind. The worst was me and Bryan on a billboard on the Sunset Strip with some kind of tacky tag line like, ‘Legal lust’. “It won’t.” “But how do you know?” His eyes met mine. “Because those guys want to live,” he said. “You’re sure?” “It’s already been taken care of. Besides I asked them to shut down the feed as soon as I heard what was going on.” Relief flooded through me. I bit my lip not sure what to say. I wanted to thank him, but then I’d have to acknowledge that he heard Bryan and I having sex. Well at least the foreplay. And I just wanted to forget it ever happened. Not the sex part. That was fabulous. Just the other people heard us part. “You heard what Bryan said about the bullet that killed Davies?” “Yeah,” he said. “You knew already?” “I had an idea,” he said. I wanted to stamp my foot. “And you didn’t tell me?” He gave me a sideways glance. “Guess not.” Smart ass. “We gotta go,” Manuel said taking me by the arm. “Where?” “Abdoul,” he said. “Remember the plan.” “What plan?” “Try to say as little as possible.” “Oh…that plan.” Normally I’d be insulted, but I didn’t have the energy. After having the mother of all orgasms I was feeling too relaxed. “What happened when you talked to him,” I asked. “He agreed that he wouldn’t have his people try to kill you tonight.” “Great. A one day reprieve.” I tried to be casual when we approached Abdoul. His mini me who was standing next to him was staring at me in a way that made me instinctively hide behind Manuel. He looked at me as if I was up for auction and he was checking out the goods before he bought. “So this little thing is the one who has been causing me so much trouble,” Abdoul said giving me a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “That’s me,” I said. “I love mixing it up. Sometimes I don’t even know I’m doing it…yep… it happens frequently.” Manuel gave me a look that said, ‘Zip it’. I swallowed and self-muzzled. When I got really nervous I babbled. “Mr. Alba tells me you want a million dollars for something that is already mine.” I could tell he was one of those people who thought manners were exceedingly important. When he was ready to slit your throat he’d ask which direction you’d like the knife to go. “Yes.” I said then clasped my mouth shut. “Tell me why I shouldn’t just kill you now considering you stole this from me,” he said still smiling. I was ready to open my mouth, but Manuel beat me to it. “Because if you do that I guarantee you and your son will be dead before the night is over,” Manuel said in a voice that was totally calm, but one look at him and you knew he wasn’t bullshitting. Anger clouded Abdoul’s eyes and he met his gaze. “Making threats is not wise.” “No threats. Just a reminder of our earlier conversation. If you aren’t interested in getting this back I’m sure another party would be.” Abdoul narrowed his eyes. “There is no need. Your terms are agreeable.” Then his son tugged on his jacket like he was a five year old trying to get his mother’s attention. Abdoul leaned over and listened while his son whispered something in his ear. They both glanced in my direction then over to Manuel. “My son would like to make you an offer,” he said to Manuel. Manuel waited for him to continue. His expression showed he wasn’t looking forward to what Abdoul had to say. “My son Ali wants to buy her,” he said nodding his head in my direction. “Along with the other item.” What? Manuel’s eyes darkened into black pools. “She’s not for sale.” Thank God for that. “He really thinks that’s possible?” I asked in disbelief. “A two for one discount?” Abdoul looked at his son who nodded. “Yes, that is the case.” Not happy. Not one little bit. “Why don’t you just hit me over the head with your club and drag me by the hair back to your cave?” I turned to Manuel and gave him an ‘As if’’ look. Ali whispered in his father’s ear again. “We will double our offer. He likes her spirit and thinks this will enhance their lovemaking.” Good God. “Are you kidding me?” I asked through clenched teeth grasping for something horrible to say. “You….You sad little man.” I knew it wasn’t the string of expletives that Hector would have unleashed, but I had issues with cussing. “Let’s go,” Manuel said to me. We started to walk away. But Abdoul ushered us back with apologies. “Your son goes otherwise no deal,” Manuel said. Abdoul shouted out orders to his body guards in a language that I didn’t understand. “He has to leave,” Manuel said. Then he added something in their language that had them all looking flustered. Impressive. I’ve tried to learn Spanish, French and German with no luck. I never got passed the greetings and asking where the bathroom was. Abdoul and Manuel went back in forth with me not understanding a word. Manuel must have gotten his point across because Abdoul shouted something at Ali and he stomped away trailed by one of the body guards. “I apologize. We didn’t realize she belonged to you,” Abdoul said giving me another one of his creepy smiles. I was ready to ask what the hell that meant, but Manuel gave me a stern look that quickly shut me down. “Do you have the item with you?” Abdoul asked me. Manuel answered before I could. “As soon as we get the money, you’ll get it back.” They worked out the details of the drop off and pick up while I stood listening. I glanced over my shoulder and saw Bryan talking with a familiar face at the bar. It didn’t surprise me that Kevin would be here. He often worked overtime at these types of things doing security for extra money. Bryan didn’t look as happy as he should have considering he just had some major sex action. He should have had an, ‘I just got laid face’ instead his expression looked hard and angry. Feeling my gaze he turned and our eyes met. I gave him a knowing smile and his expression softened a bit and he smiled back. I was feeling all warm and fuzzy until I saw Lizzy’s manicured hands wrap themselves around Bryan’s neck. She gave him a way too familiar kiss on his cheek. She was wearing a black dress that looked glued on to her size zero body and had enough jewellery to make even the drag queens in my neighborhood jealous. She was with a red headed friend of hers that looked equally under nourished. Was she his date? My mouth went dry and I could have sworn I had a stress induced hot flash. “Goldie?” Manuel asked nudging me back into the conversation. “Yes?” I asked Manuel relayed the drop off and pick up information to me. We were going to meet Abdoul at Union Station at midnight for the exchange. I listened while I was trying to watch Bryan and Lizzy out of the corner of my eye. Bryan looked visibly uncomfortable and politely pulled her arms away from his neck while glancing over to me. Her toothpick friend tried to move onto Kevin, but he brushed her off too. “Sounds good,” I said not knowing what to say. Then Manuel started speaking to Abdoul again, as it wasn’t in English I had no idea what they were saying. It seemed like whatever Manuel was asking, he wasn’t happy with the answers he was getting from Abdoul. I could tell if we weren’t in a room full of people Manuel would have gladly broken his neck. “Well goodbye, for now,” Abdoul said extending his hand to me. I didn’t like the idea of touching him. But I held my hand out to shake his anyway not wanting to offend him. But instead of shaking my hand he kissed it. I dropped my hand to my side and rubbed it against my dress. I was going to get the dress dry cleaned anyway so I might as well get my money’s worth. Abdoul flounced away with his two body guards following greeting other guests along the way. “What did he say?” “Nothing,” Manuel said brushing me off. “Come on Manuel, tell me what made you so ticked off when you two were babbling in…What were you speaking anyway?” “Arabic,” he said while keeping a watch on the people around us. No wonder. “And?” “I told him to call off Ortiz.” My stomach tightened at hearing his name. If a casting call was made for a scary looking hit man he would definitely get the job. “Did he agree?” “He said that it was too late. That he had no way of contacting him.” “Do you believe him?” Manuel thought for a moment. “Unfortunately I do. Ortiz is known for going underground when he has a kill.” I struggled to push down the bile that was creeping up my throat. “So what do we do now?” Manuel brushed a piece of hair out of my face that had broken free from my carefully coiffed ‘do. “We get to him first.” Chapter Seventeen “You have to go where?” Manuel asked. “The bathroom.” The two beers I just had raced through me and I had to go. I started to cross my legs to emphasize my point. If I had been three I would have been cupping my privates and hopping up and down. “Unless you have a portable potty in your car I have to go now.” Manuel sighed. “Go. I’ll wait for you here.” My bladder wanted to jump for joy. I left Manuel in the foyer, after asking where the bathroom was and made my way down the hallway. Apparently the owner didn’t believe in turning on many lights because it was hard to see what was in front of me. I didn’t get rich people. They’d spend thousands on a dress then penny pinch on electricity. I did my business as fast as I could, washed my hands and then flung open the door. “Hello my tigress,” Ali said. He was blocking my path with one of his bodyguards. “What are you doing?” I said glancing nervously over their shoulders for help. But the hallway was empty. Ali licked his lips. “Taking you home with me.” You’ve got to be kidding me. “Your father won’t like it,” I reminded him. He smirked. “Maybe. But he will forgive me. Like he always does.” Obviously his father never understood that children needed boundaries. I began to scream, but the bodyguard slapped his hand over my mouth and dragged me down the hallway. I tried to kick him, but he was so big it was like hitting wall. The bodyguard got frustrated and threw me over his shoulder while Ali kept telling me not to worry we’d be together soon. We went out through a side door. Just as I was resigned myself to the fact I was going to live out my days being in a harem someone leapt out of the bushes and tackled the bodyguard. In the scuffle I ended up on the ground. I looked up to see two guys were rolling around on the grass using their best wrestling moves. I squinted my eyes trying to see what was going on when I recognized one of the wrestlers was Hector. “Get off him!” I shouted taking my shoe off and running towards them. I waited until I could get a good shot then brought my four inch heel up and smacked the bodyguard in the face. He grabbed his head with both hands and screamed. Hector used the opportunity to flip and pin him to the ground. “Goldie, get him,” Hector shouted motioning behind me. I turned around and saw Ali running away. I flung off my other shoe and chased after him. It wasn’t hard to catch up to him considering he looked like an egg with legs. I tackled him to the ground landing in a patch of wet grass. I struggled to get the upper hand, but his size made it impossible. We were both jostling for position when I heard him moan. And it wasn’t like a ‘you’ve hurt me’ moan it was like ‘I am loving this’ moan. Oh. My. God. I was ready to jump off and go vomit when I remembered I was still holding my shoe. Let’s see if you like this you sick little man. I lifted it up and saw his eyes register what I was planning to do. I brought the shoe behind my head ready to smack him when he panicked and flung me off face first into the grass. I turned around just in time to grab his ankle making him stumble back onto the ground. I scrambled to get on his back, but he kept bucking up throwing me off. It was like I was riding a wild bull in the rodeo when I felt strong hands grab me around the waist and lift me up. I snapped around and saw it was Manuel. “You okay?” He asked. “Yeah.” Even though my long dress had turned into a miniskirt with grass stains. “What took you so long anyway?” “You got the bracelet wet when you washed your hands.” I shut my eyes wishing I could beam myself away. I forgot to take it off before I went to the bathroom. Would the humiliation never end? I didn’t even know the guys in the control van and yet they’ve already heard me having sex and peeing. All the agents Bryan must have been talking about swarmed around and slapped cuffs on Ali who was shouting out terms of endearments to me saying we’ll still be together. What a weenie. I stared down at my dress. “Look at me.” Manuel surveyed the damage. “You still look good,” he said giving me the once over again. “Gee thanks,” I said sarcastically. “Grass stains and shredded material is all the fashion this year. I will tell that to the raging drag queen when I give it back to him. You’ll be able to read my obituary in a couple days.” Manuel half smiled. “I’ll take care of it.” “What? How?” “Don’t worry.” I was in no mood for his cryptic answers. I looked like Wilma Flintstone with a bad hair day. And now my arm was starting to throb with pain from the gash I got taking down Ali. I was ready to get mysterious man to spill his guts when I got distracted by Hector shouting, “You fuckers got it wrong.” The Feds were slapping cuffs on Hector. “Come on. Let’s go help our friend,” Manuel said. I was stressed and felt like crap, but seeing Hector in a blue tuxedo with a ruffled white shirt made everything seem better. I glanced over and saw Manuel vouch for Hector to the Feds. “Bunch of shit heads. Don’t even know who to arrest and shit,” he mumbled. “Looking sharp Hector,” I said with a straight face. “Damn right I do.” Then he caught himself and narrowed his eyes at me, “And?” Considering my past comments on his and the guys work uniform he had a right to be suspicious. “And nothing. I just have never seen you all dressed up before. Where’d you get it?” Inside I was dying, but I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I didn’t dare look at Manuel because I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from laughing. His expression relaxed. “It’s from my fuckin’ wedding. Yolanda picked it out.” “Nice. And it still fits too,” I said. On the last word I had to bite my lip from laughing because his pants looked spray painted on and his shirt seemed like it was going to burst open any moment. “Hey Goldie your friend is coming,” Manuel said shooting his eyes behind me. The way he said friend should have clued me into who it was. I glanced over my shoulder and saw Bryan approaching us with an expression that I recognized from my previous mishaps. It was a mixture of anger, relief with a dash of worry. The usual. “I’m okay,” I burst out. He pulled me close and wrapped his arms around me. “Are you sure?” He asked while kissing me on the side of my cheek. “Yeah.” “What happened?” Before I could tell him Hector cut in and gave him all the details including the part where I hit the guy with my shoe. This bit of information got a grin out of Bryan. I saw Manuel had drifted off and was huddled in the corner talking to some guys that definitely didn’t look like any Feds I had ever seen. They made Hector look like he belonged in the boy scouts. Kevin had walked over at the tail end of Hector’s explanation. “You always have to find trouble Stevie,” he said giving me a wink. “Ain’t that the fuckin’ truth,” Hector added. I made the cut it out sign with my hand. Why did they have to pile it on? “I’ve got to talk to you,” Kevin said to Bryan while looking over to me. “I’ll be back. Don’t move,” Bryan said then gave me a quick kiss on the lips. He and Kevin were huddled together a few yards away while I internally cringed. Finding out the scoop about Ali was bad enough, but finding out about our meeting with Abdoul later would be worse. “Goldie you are going to be in deep shit,” Hector said out of the side of his mouth. “Your cop lawyer ain’t going to like what you are up to.” “I know,” I said. “How’d you find us anyway?” “I have my own fucking tricks you know.” “You followed us didn’t you?” “Yeah, smart ass,” he grumbled. “Man those people,” he said pointing to the mansion, “Are fucked up. They wouldn’t let me in. That’s why I was on the side of the house. It’s not like I’m wearing my fuckin’ chinos or anything. They must not be used to brown people.” I was not going there. “I bet Manuel had trouble too,” he said. Was he kidding? Manuel not only looked like he belonged, but that he owned the place. I didn’t have the heart to tell him the truth. “Yep. It must be the brown thing,” I agreed. “You know Goldie partners should stick together and shit,” he said sounding like a ten year old. “You’re right,” I said feeling a little guilty. “I really appreciated your help.” “Okay. But now you owe me some fucking donuts,” he said. I had a feeling I was going to go into debt with this one. I glanced around getting nervous with Bryan getting the low down from Kevin and Manuel looking like he was ready to stage a coup with his rough riders in the corner. Knowing I had to meet up with Abdoul later only added to my stress levels. But in the meantime I knew I had to get rid of Hector. Even though I was grateful for his help he had the potential to really mess up the meeting with Abdoul. After a smaller effort than I had imagined I convinced Hector to go home to Yolanda. As if on cue she called and gave him an earful. Hector tried to give me the tricky hand shake thing to say goodbye, but I still couldn’t get it. “Damn girl. I must have showed you this shit a hundred times,” Hector said. “Sorry. I was never good at those hand slapping things girls did at school either.” Hector made a face. “What the fuck? It ain’t the same thing.” “Oh. I know. I was just saying…” Hector made a face again. “Damn girl. You sure know how to get me freaked out and shit,” he said walking away while giving some of the Feds who tried to hand cuff him the finger. “We gotta go Goldie,” Manuel said making me jump. I hadn’t even heard him approach me. I glanced over to Bryan who had been joined by two Feds. I decided meeting with Abdoul would be less scary than when Bryan found out everything I had kept from him. “Can we walk around the back?” I whispered. “No.” I waited for the rest of the sentence forgetting Manuel was the king of monosyllable words. “Okay here’s the thing,” I said. “My boyfriend tends to get a little overprotective and I’m afraid if he sees me go there is going to be a problem.” Did I just call Bryan my boyfriend? No answer from Manuel. To me that meant he agreed so when I didn’t go the way he wanted there wouldn’t be a problem. I pretended to follow him then snuck my way into the bushes and ran as fast as I could through the garden. I was trying to beat Manuel to the front before he noticed I was gone. I had just reached the back veranda when I felt someone trip me. I stumbled trying to control myself, but ended up falling flat on my face just missing the bottom step. I flipped around and saw it was Ortiz facing me and I froze. I wasn’t sure I believed in evil forces in the world, but if they existed they should get in touch with this guy’s public relations rep. Hello pure evil. He grabbed my arm and yanked me to my feet. His shark eyes scanned the crowd for witnesses. He was wearing a black tuxedo to blend in and his gun was nowhere in sight. Did that mean he was going to kill me with his bare hands? I shot my eyes around and saw there was a group of plastic looking women in their forties chatting animatedly in the corner. “Your job isn’t needed anymore,” I blurted out. “I’m dating your boss’s son.” I had to push out that last sentence. “I don’t have a boss,” he growled. “Only a payday when I kill you.” He was obviously passionate about his job. I opened my mouth to scream, but he reached out and put one hand around my neck choking my airway. I started coughing fighting to get a breath while he squeezed my life away. I brought my knee up and hit him as hard as I could in the weak spot. He let out a groan and his hands instantly went into protective mode, cupping his privates. His eyes burned into mine letting me know as soon as the pain subsided I was done for. I raced up the stairs and made a beeline to the women in conversation. When I approached they all became silent staring at my ripped dress. “Whew,” I said. “See that guy there?” I pointed to Ortiz who was still bent over in pain. “He just gave me the best sex of my life,” I said. Their faces lit up or rather they tried through all the Botox and fillers. “He is like a machine and can do it all night long, but he’s just too much man for me.” I could have sworn I heard purring. “He’s all yours ladies,” I said bracing myself for the stampede. Chapter Eighteen I was squirming in my seat because Manuel was giving me the silent treatment. When I ditched the psycho hit man and got to the front of the mansion Manuel was not pleased. Apparently he had all the undercover guys in a frantic search for me. I figured since he was already simmering I’d better not tell him about Ortiz. Why bother? He would be long gone by now anyway. Manuel didn’t yell or say he was angry, but I could feel the frustration radiating out of him. And it was kinda scary. I tried to apologize, but he only slid his eyes over to me then back again. “Where’d you get the bruises around your neck?” He asked in a voice that was almost Zen like. “Bruises?” I asked playing dumb. “Yeah. The ones that look like someone tried to choke you.” I wanted to tell him the truth, but old habits were hard to break. I was so used to covering my tracks I couldn’t stop now. “They must have come from Ali?” I said. Then for some reason unknown to me I opened my eyes wide, moved my head like a mechanical doll and stared out the window. I was such a weirdo. “Goldie they weren’t there after Ali.” I should have known Mr. Mystery man would know. He probably had a built in bullshit detector attached to his brain. “Ortiz gave me a meet and greet in the garden,” I said giving him a sideways glance. “I know.” “How?” “He was spotted by one of the men, but he got away.” “If you already knew why’d you ask me?” “I wanted to see how long you’d go before you told me the truth.” I crossed my arms in front of me. “Why’d you run off? You know Ortiz is out there waiting for his chance.” It was sad to admit, but I’d rather face Ortiz than Bryan. If he found out what was going on there would be a lot of yelling about how I put myself in danger blah, blah, blah. We were already going to have to talk about ripping each other’s clothes off. How many discussions could a girl take? I wasn’t a let’s talk about our feelings kind of person. “I’d rather not say.” I knew from past experience with Manuel he wasn’t a big discussion kind of person either. “That poor guy,” he said shaking his head. “Who?” “That guy back there. No wonder why you drive him crazy.” “Thanks a lot,” I said making a face then looking out the window. I had just been attacked by a guy who wanted to buy me, choked by another who wanted to kill me and I was going to have to tell a drag queen I ruined his favorite dress. I didn’t need Manuel adding to the list of sins from tonight. And the scary part was it wasn’t over yet. “When we do the exchange you’ve got to find a way to get Abdoul to tell you where he got the USB drive.” “How?” “I’m sure you’ll come up with something,” he said. I made a face. Was he kidding? It wasn’t like I could use any feminine charm considering I looked like I’d been attacked by a pack of wild dogs. I thought we were heading straight to meet Abdoul, but instead Manuel took me home to get changed. Thank God. We had just stepped off the elevator when I heard a scream coming from behind us. I tried to turn around to see what was happening, but Manuel already had his gun drawn and tucked me behind him with my back to the wall. Where the gun came from I didn’t know, but it looked big enough to blow a chunk out of someone. “What have you done to Sloane’s dress?” I’d recognize that shriek anywhere. I peeked over Manuel’s shoulder and saw Jeff with his hand covering his mouth staring at me like I was brought back from the dead. Manuel shoved his gun into the back of his pants and covered it with his jacket. “I can explain,” I said. Jeff did a little wave with his hand and said, “Don’t waste your breath on me. You’re going to need it all for Sloane.” Jeff came closer and looked me up and down. “Oh, honey, your hair.” I had bruise marks on around my neck, cuts on my knees and my dress had been turned into something out of the prehistoric era and all he was worried about was my hair? Jeff shook his head. Is it that bad? Now I was getting sucked into caring. I instinctively felt around my head and pulled out a couple sticks. I held them out to Jeff to hold. “Are there more?” He nodded. “Um, hm.” “A lot?” “Um.” He said biting his lip. “You could have told me,” I said to Manuel. Silence. Waiting….okay nothing. I told Jeff to keep quiet about the dress. I didn’t want Sloane to find out any sooner than he had to. Then I remembered what Manuel had told me. “You’re going to handle the dress thing right?” He nodded. I let out a loud sigh of relief. I didn’t think Manuel knew what he was getting into with Sloane. Had he ever seen a drag queen in a rage? I knew from experience it wasn’t pretty. Manuel had obviously lost his patience with the dress talking because he rushed us off and into my apartment. He had me wait in the hall while he checked everything was clear. “You’re going to have to wear a wire,” he said once we got inside. “So put on something loose.” “No more bracelets?” “No. Now you are going to have to wear an old fashioned wire. We need to record any conversations.” So that’s why he insisted I go home to change. I knew it had to do with something more than fashion. Well at least now I wouldn’t forget I had it when I went to the bathroom. My phone was on the bar and it was buzzing so much it almost fell off the counter. I stared at it and debated whether I should pick it up. Nah I told myself. It could only be bad news. If it was Bryan I wasn’t ready to go there on so many levels. And if it was Jeff and Jason stressing about the dress that was a no go too. Better leave it. “Aren’t you going to get that?” Manuel asked. “Nope.” He thought about it for a moment. “Wise choice. I wouldn’t answer it either.” I nodded. Yep. Even sexy, manly Manuel agreed with me. I went into my bedroom to change. It felt like I hadn’t been there in years. I wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed and go to sleep but knowing Manuel was waiting, I grudgingly grabbed some sweats out of my dresser and put them on. My phone rang beside my bed. I was going to ignore it, but my curiosity got the better of me. All the people who were annoyed with me would call on my cell phone. I only had the land line for the family members who still hadn’t grasped the concept of cellular technology. I looked at the caller I.D. and didn’t recognize the number. I picked up the receiver. “I have your fat friend.” My stomach fell when I recognized the voice. It was Ortiz. “Goldie, don’t do anything stupid,” Hector said before the phone must have been yanked away. “Meet me on the corner of Santa Monica and Fairfax in twenty minutes. And come alone. If you bring anyone else he’s dead.” My heart felt like it was ready to beat out of my chest it was thumping so loud. Think. Think. I told myself. Then I realized there was nothing to think about. I couldn’t risk it. I had to do what he said and figure out something when I got there. I laced up my sneakers and snuck out the bedroom window and shimmied down the drain pipe landing on the pool courtyard where I was greeted by Mr. and Mrs. Markowitz. They were a couple in their eighties who had originally come from Poland and still sounded like they arrived yesterday. “Steebie, vhat are you doing?” Mrs. Markowitz asked looking at me over her glasses while lounging by the pool with a martini. “Oh…hi Mrs. Markowitz I’m…just trying to…um work out more and thought this was a good way to start,” I babbled looking up at my apartment hoping Manuel didn’t hear me. “Vhat did she say?” Mr. Markowitz asked cupping his hand around his ear. “She said she vants to vork out,” she said. “Vhat?” He shouted. I couldn’t stay for the next round and took off only to hear Mr. Markowitz say, “Vhat is that crazy gurl doing now?” I raced out the front door and ran down Santa Monica Boulevard checking the watch I had the foresight to put on. I was running as fast as I could. All I could think about was saving Hector. Halfway there I had to stop on the corner of Crescent Heights. I put my hands on my knees, took a deep breath and started hacking. Unfortunately instead of air I sucked in a cloud of second hand smoke. I was surrounded by a group of people getting out of an AA meeting and they were puffing up all around me. I really needed to get to the gym more. This was pathetic. Here I was rushing to save Hector and I could barely make it five blocks. What was I thinking running down there? I should have driven. No one walks in LA people work out for hours to get body beautiful then drive around in the parking lot at the mall for an extra ten minutes just to find a spot closer to the elevator. “You okay?” asked one of the AA smokers who had piercings on his face in places I didn’t even know you were able to get pierced. “I’m fine. Thanks for asking,” I said deciding I must look really winded if even the guy with his eye lids pierced was concerned. I glanced back towards my apartment hoping I wouldn’t see Manuel. I relaxed when I only saw the usual assortment of well-dressed hunky looking boys. I trusted Manuel but I couldn’t risk not listening to Ortiz. I couldn’t do that to Hector. I breathed in one last gust of second hand smoke and took off again. When I made it to the corner at Fairfax I didn’t know what to do. Did I wave letting him know I was here? I didn’t have to think for long. I knew he was coming up behind me when I saw the homeless guy who was searching for plastic bottles in the trash can glance my way and run for cover. I turned around to face him. “Where’s Hector?” He smiled and I saw he was missing one of his front teeth. A sense of satisfaction spread over me knowing it was probably Hector who gifted him with the gap tooth look. “He’s in the car,” he said with a nod towards the grocery store parking lot across the street. I thought it was suspicious he’d leave Hector like that out in the open. He wasn’t exactly the type to sit there quietly. “I don’t believe you,” I said. “I prefer a clean kill, but if you don’t come with me I’ll manage here.” At least he was tidy. “Fine,” I snarled. We walked across the street with Ortiz sticking close to my side. I was sure when he looked at me all he saw were dollar signs. We got to a large black SUV with tinted windows. I was getting nervous. There was no screaming or yelling. If Hector was in there he’d be trying to tip the car over. Ortiz nodded for me to get in. “Open the door,” I said. “I’m not getting in until I see that Hector is okay.” His face twisted with frustration, but he went around to the back door and cracked it. I peeked inside and saw Hector lying down on the flattened seats with his hands and feet tied up and his mouth gagged. He wasn’t moving. Tears started to well up. “You killed him?” I asked. I was ready to scratch his eyes out when he said, “He’s not dead. He wouldn’t shut up. I shot him with a tranquilizer gun.” Thank God. I sucked in a big gulp of air. I hadn’t realized I had stopped breathing. Hector started groaning. “Get in the car,” Ortiz said looking worried. I did what he said then glanced back to check on Hector who was slowly regaining consciousness. I knew I had to wait for him to wake up if we had any chance of escaping. There was no way I could lug Hector with me. It would be like trying to pull an Orca down the street. I was in survival mode trying to think of a way to get us both out of there alive. “So why did you get into this business?” I asked Ortiz stalling for time. “Didn’t get enough hugs from your mom?” He raised one lip in response looking like a dog ready to growl. “Got picked on too much at school?” The other side of his mouth shot up. “Small dick? And now you’re getting your revenge for getting short changed on the appendage department?” “If you wanna stay alive for the next couple of hours you’d better shut your mouth.” Hours? At least that was a good sign. That would be enough time for Hector to be back in full Hector mode. “Haven’t gotten laid lately? Is that where the all the anger comes from?” I knew that wasn’t true if the Botox ladies had anything to say about it. His mouth tightened and he looked like he wanted to smack me across the face. “Do you want to die now?” “No. Not really.” “Then shut up. You’re just as bad as that fat fuck back there,” he said pointing to Hector. “Why do you say that?” I asked. “Shut up.” I was never good at following directions. “So why’d you kill Davies?” “He didn’t answer my questions right.” “How?” “He said he didn’t know you. I don’t like people lying to me,” he answered. “So killing is okay but lying crosses the line.” I knew Davies was a creep but I didn’t like the idea I was somewhat responsible for his death. “Don’t you ever shut up?” Ortiz growled. No. “Where are we going?” “There’s been a change of plans,” he said giving his creepy gap tooth grin. “Why?” “I was going to enjoy killing you.” “Was? You’re not going to kill me?” “It’s all about the money baby.” I made a face at the baby comment. “I was given a better offer to deliver you alive,” he said with obvious disgust. I glanced back at Hector who was now fully awake and trying to untie the ropes around his wrists. I could tell by his expression it was way past snack time. He almost had steam coming out of his ears. When Hector got free he was going to kick Ortiz’s ass all over the place. “Really? Who are you delivering me too?” I asked not sure I believed him remembering what Abdoul had told Manuel. We were going through the canyon heading towards the valley. “The guy who hired me just offered double to keep you alive.” Abdoul did lie about being able to contact Ortiz. Or maybe his goons saw him at the party? “Who was that?” I asked stalling for time. “You’ll find out soon enough.” “I thought you didn’t have a boss?” “I don’t.” “Then why do you let him push you around?” “You’d rather me pop a bullet in your head?” He had a point. “Why does this person want me alive?” Abdoul was going to get his information so why save me now? He could easily just have told Ortiz to wait until after the exchange tonight. “He doesn’t, his son does.” Ali. Dammit. Why did Jeff and Jason put me in that dress? Maybe if Ali saw what I really looked like he’d give up trying to make me his love slave. “Take that! You fucker,” Hector yelled. Hector had put his still tied hands around Ortiz’s neck and was pulling back hard strangling him. Ortiz grabbed Hector’s arms and tried to peel him off. I tried to grab the wheel but it was almost impossible because Ortiz was thrashing about grabbing anything in front of him. Including my hair. “Hector, do something,” I screamed. I could handle a lot of things, but having my hair pulled wasn’t one of them. “I can’t let go of this fucker. Scratch him. Do some girlie shit,” he yelled. That wasn’t such a bad idea and unleashed my claws on Ortiz’s hand. “Goldie. Get the steering wheel,” Hector screamed. I shot my eyes to the front windshield and saw the street sign getting closer. I reached out and grabbed the wheel turning it a sharp right. Whew. We missed the sign, but I turned the wheel too far and we were heading for the embankment. I squeezed my eyes shut wishing I would have listened to Bryan. Maybe those fundraising dinners weren’t that awful after all. I mean how bad was it to have to plaster on a fake smile? Lots of people did it all the time. I was supposed to be an actress wasn’t I? Why couldn’t I just pretend I was in a role that never ended? When the car hit the embankment it sounded like something out of the movies with all the scratching metal and curse words flying through the air. The air bags popped open and my face was buried in what I imagined a giant silicone breast would feel like if my face collided against it. I pushed the bag away and swung my head around to survey the damage hoping Ortiz somehow flew out the window and smacked head first into a tree. Instead I saw he was groggy but still in his seat trying to fight his way through it. But where was Hector? I unbuckled my seat belt and scrabbled over to the back seat where Hector was lying face down mumbling something about donuts and Yolanda. I jostled his arm trying to keep as quiet as possible. I didn’t want to awaken Ortiz from his haze with any unnecessary noise. “Hector?” I whispered in his ear. No response. I tried again. “Wake up Hector,” I whispered while tugging on his arm. “We’ve got to get out of here.” Hector started moving his head side to side moaning. He had a cut over his eye that was trickling blood down his face. Behind the cut was a lump the size of a golf ball that looked like it was growing by the minute into a baseball. I poked his stomach a little from the side. He rolled over, but was still out of it. I hoped some good Samaritans would come and help us, but it was too dark down in the embankment for anyone to see us. It didn’t help the SUV was black and hidden by a bunch of bushes we had slammed into. I heard Ortiz groaning in the front seat. We’ve got to get us out of here. Mr. Evil wouldn’t be asleep for long. In a burst of nervous energy I punched Hector hard in the stomach. He sprung forward and hit his head on the roof of the car. “Shit. That hurts like a motherfucker,” he yelled. His motherfucker was so loud and drawn out it took ten seconds for him to finish the word. I tried to shush him, but he let out a few more shits and fucks before he remembered where he was. We locked eyes knowing what the other was thinking. Holy Shit. Let’s get the hell out of there. “Now,” I said and flung open the side door dragging him with me. Hector and I stumbled out of the SUV just as Ortiz was just waking up. We pushed our way through the bushes and ran straight into a spider web. I hopped up and down completely grossed out trying to get it off my face. I shook my hair frantically back and forth thinking a mama tarantula had laid thousands of babies in my hair. “Girl, have you lost your fucking mind? Move your ass.” “I ran into a spider web,” I whimpered. “No shit Goldie. We’re in the middle of a forest,” he huffed. Laurel Canyon was hardly a forest. “Can you check to make sure there are no spiders on me?” I begged. A bullet skimmed past us. “Okay forget the spiders,” I said. Hector and I took off and made our way onto the street. We tried to see if there were any cars we could flag down. “Don’t go in a straight line,” I said between breaths. “It will be harder for him to get a clear shot.” We zig zagged back and forth looking like characters straight out of a silent movie. “I can’t keep this up,” Hector said huffing so hard behind me he sounded like a steam engine. I was barely holding it together too. “Let’s hide over there,” I said pointing to a tool shed. “As long as it’s close I don’t give a fuck.” The shed hopefully was on the outskirts of someone’s property. When we got there both of us leaned over and tried not to throw up. “Man, I really need to lay off the donuts,” Hector said barely able to get the words out. “I thought I was going puke.” I nodded taking in a deep breath. “Me too.” I needed to start running with Bryan who was Mr. No Nonsense when it came to working out. I go jogging with Jeff and Jason sometimes but I purposely try to distract them by looking at the clothes in the windows, then we stop for a cappuccino. “Man that dude is one crazy motherfucker,” he said. “No kidding.” Hector peeked around the corner to check to if Ortiz was coming. “Where is he?” I asked. “Who the fuck knows?” “Maybe he got sucked down into the bowels of hell.” “I fuckin’ hope so,” Hector said. “That piece of shit rammed Baby and pulled a gun on me. When I popped him the mouth he pulled out a weird gun and shot me in the ass.” “Are you feeling okay?” I asked remembering the cut on his head. “Fuck no. My head hurts and I’m fuckin’ hungry.” “Are you dizzy?” “Yeah. I need some food. Yolanda is going to fucking kill me. She’s been calling my phone non-stop.” “What? You have your phone with you?” I asked ready to wring his neck. “Don’t get so excited. The battery must be dead ‘cause Yolanda sure as hell would still be calling.” Just then we heard footsteps. Hector checked around the corner. “Is he there?” I asked peeking around the corner with him. My stomach dropped when I saw Ortiz with a gun the size of a bat in his hand coming in our direction. “If we stay quiet maybe he’ll go away,” I said. I was living in fantasyland. Hector picked up a couple tree branches from the ground and passed one to me. “If he gets near us we’ll jump out and kick his ass with these,” he said holding up his branch. I doubted they were going to do much against what looked like a rocket launcher but at least it was worth a try. When the alternative was death Hector and I could be surprisingly still. We held our breath waiting for him to pass when out of nowhere Marvin Gaye’s, “Let’s get it on” blared out into the canyon from Hector’s pants. What the hell? When did he take his ring off vibrate? Hector fumbled around for his phone. We exchanged frantic glances grabbed our branches and ran for the hill behind us. “I thought your phone was dead,” I said and scrambled for cover behind a tree as bullets pinged around us. “Me too,” Hector said. “Must’ve been in a dead zone instead.” We had almost made it to the top when Hector hollered out in pain and fell to the ground clutching his butt. “Are you okay,” I asked and crouched down beside him. “Fuck. He shot me in the fuckin’ ass again.” “Can you still run?” I asked just as a piercing pain wrenched through my shoulder. I fell back against the ground and felt the warmth of my blood gushing out of me. “Shit.” Hector said. I couldn’t agree more. “I’m going to enjoy this,” Ortiz growled and stepped out from the shadows. He raised his gun taking aim. I put my hands over my eyes waiting for him to finish us off. “Put it down Ortiz.” I opened my eyes and made sure I wasn’t hallucinating. Manuel was standing behind Ortiz with a gun pointed directly at his head. Finally. Ortiz’s mouth curled up with frustration. “This doesn’t concern you Coli.” Coli? I remembered the tattoo on Manuel’s arm. “You heard me,” Manuel said in a voice that sent chills through me. I didn’t even have a gun, but if I did I would have chucked it down by now. Manuel could be very scary. “You’ve gone soft. In the old days you would have already wasted me,” Ortiz said while still keeping his gun trained on Hector and me. “I’m losing patience,” Manuel said. “Put the gun down.” “So you can kill me? I don’t think so,” Ortiz said. “You’ll live if you go against Abdoul.” “I’ll be dead either way,” he said. Manuel didn’t say anything. “How ‘bout we split this job,” Ortiz said. “Be like that time in Peru. How many kills did we get that trip?” What was he talking about? “Like hell he will,” Hector said. “Shut up you fat fuck,” Ortiz growled. “Okay now you done pissed me off,” Hector said. “You’re lucky you have that big mother fuckin’ gun or I’d sit on your fuckin’ ass.” Ortiz’s face twisted up in anger. He wanted to shoot Hector, but he knew if he did he’d be dead. “Last chance Ortiz,” Manuel warned. “You know I’ll kill one of your friends before you can take me out. Are you willing to risk that?” Manuel didn’t answer. He shot him instead. Ortiz fell to the ground. Blood gushing from his head. Manuel calmly tucked his gun into the back of his pants. “Am I dead?” Hector asked with his eyes squeezed shut. “No?” I said. “Then are you dead?” “No.” Hector opened his eyes. Did he eat some magic mushrooms while we were up here? “What the fuck happened?” Hector asked Manuel. “He asked the wrong question,” Manuel said holding out his hand to help me up. Seeing Ortiz lying on the ground with a chunk out of head made me feel sick. I had never seen anyone killed before. Was it wrong to feel relief someone was dead? “Are you okay?” He said glancing at my arm. I looked and saw blood was soaking through my shirt. I sat back down feeling woozy then embarrassed at being such a wimp. I didn’t mind blood as long as it wasn’t coming from me. “You k…k…illed him,” I stammered out. Manuel crouched down next to me and said, “If I didn’t, you’d be the one with a bullet in your head.” “But…” I still couldn’t grasp he had just taken someone’s life. Manuel gently pulled my shirt up so he could get a look at my arm. I glanced down amazed at how calm he was. I was still shaking whereas he looked as if he just left planet Zen. “It’s only a flesh wound,” he said. Was there any other kind of wound? I was covered in flesh. In fact I had too much flesh especially in certain areas. He took off his jacket and pressed it against my arm. “Hold this down and keep applying pressure.” I did what he said, but tried not to look while I was doing it. “What about my fuckin’ wound. My ass is gushing over here,” Hector moaned. “Don’t I get any help?” Manuel looked up and said, “There is no way I am helping you with your ass.” “Oh. That’s fuckin’ great. Give Goldie all the special treatment and not me. I’m in a lot of pain over here.” I heard sirens in the distance. Manuel looked at Ortiz on the ground. “You two didn’t see what happened here.” It wasn’t a suggestion it was more like a command. I glanced at Hector who was nodding in agreement. “But the body is right in front of us,” I said stating the obvious. I wasn’t an expert, but I did watch people on television who were. I knew the amount of information the cops could find out with one of those little plastic bags and a Q-tip. “Let me worry about that,” Manuel said. Within a few minutes I understood what he meant. His rough looking friends I saw earlier at the party swooped in and took the body before the cops got there. A couple of them stayed behind and quickly cleaned everything up. “Let’s go,” Manuel said pulling me up off the ground. Was he kidding? I was bleeding. I didn’t want to go anywhere but the back of an ambulance where hopefully they had a lot of drugs. “Where?” “To meet Abdoul.” Didn’t he ever take a break? “But I’ve been shot,” I said playing for sympathy. “It’s just a scratch.” I wasn’t being a baby. There was a hole in my arm. And it really hurt. “I don’t wanna go,” I whined. I knew I should care about getting Abdoul, but I figured he wouldn’t find out about Ortiz for a while giving me time to take a bath while shoving my face with chocolate. “Ortiz will be replaced. We need to get to Abdoul,” Manuel said. I nodded reluctantly. “Wait I sec,” I said holding up my finger. I went over to Hector who was still lying on the ground. “Are you going to be okay?” “Hell no. My ass is fuckin’ killing me.” I knew if he was that grumpy he was going to be fine. I smiled then gave him a kiss on the cheek and walked back to where Manuel was waiting. “You guys are leaving me?” Hector called out. “Sorry Hector,” I said over my shoulder. “But how am I going to explain my ass?” “I’m not touching that one,” Manuel said while leading me to his Mustang. Manuel eased me into the passenger side. “Is he going to be okay?” I was worried my partner might get in trouble with the police. Hector with a bullet in his butt and a pool of Ortiz’s blood in front of him was trouble. “He’ll be fine.” Maybe he thought that was an answer, but it wasn’t. Manuel slid me a sideways glance before he punched the gas and took off into the canyon heading back towards the city. “What happens when the police get there?” I asked starting to panic as three squad cars raced past us heading in Hector’s direction. “He’ll be gone already. They’ll make sure he gets fixed up and back home with Yolanda.” His explanation made me feel better knowing he wouldn’t have to do the explaining or rather bullshitting for all of us to the cops. I felt sorry for Hector having to face Yolanda. “She’s going to kill him,” I said. “No she’s not.” I glanced sideways at him. “What do you mean by that?” He was out past his curfew and was going coming home in his wedding tuxedo with a bullet in his butt. Yolanda was going to flip a biscuit when she saw him. “I’ve taken care of it?” “How?” “I called her.” “And?” I pressed. “That’s it?” I pressed. “Yes.” I guess even Yolanda was intimidated by him. I sunk down in my seat trying to contain my yawns. All this drama was exhausting. Chapter Nineteen “Do we really have to meet Abdoul tonight?” I whined sounding like I was ten years old and asking for a later bedtime. I knew I was being unreasonable but I didn’t care. I was dirty, hungry and my arm hurt. I know it was supposedly just a scratch, but it still was painful. Besides being almost murdered had frazzled my nerves and I just wanted to curl up on my sofa, eat candy and fry my brain watching reality shows. “If we don’t, you’ll never be safe.” “Am I ever?” Who were we kidding? It wasn’t like this was the first time I’d ticked someone off. Manuel’s face tightened. “This is different.” I sighed. He was right. I’d bothered people before, but no one of Abdoul’s criminal calibre. “Goldie, sneaking off tonight wasn’t smart.” “He told me I had to come alone,” I explained. “Otherwise he’d hurt Hector.” “Don’t do it again.” I suppressed a shiver. I knew Manuel would never hurt me, but after what I saw tonight I was a little scared of what he was capable of. “What did he mean when he said in the old days?” I could tell he knew what I was asking about because his expression changed. “It’s something you don’t need to know.” “I don’t need to, but I want to.” “Don’t go there Goldie,” Manuel said. His voice was stern with a touch of scary. I looked out the window wishing this night was over. I wanted to ask more questions, but thought better of it. It was obvious there was a past between the two of them. It was also obvious he wasn’t going to talk about it. I felt relieved Ortiz was dead but I also felt sick to my stomach every time I pictured him dead on the ground. Just as we turned onto Sunset lights flooded the car. Manuel looked into the rear view mirror. “I’m guessing your boyfriend wasn’t happy the way you ditched him,” Manuel said. I turned around and was blinded by the obnoxious glare. “Bryan?” “He’s in the car with the cop from the party.” I sighed. My reserve energy tank was on low, close to running on fumes and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to deal. Unless… “Do you have anything sugary to eat in here?” I asked. “No,” Manuel said. I put my head back on the seat and shut my eyes. I should have known Mr.Hardbody wouldn’t have anything good. There wasn’t even a stray water bottle rolling around on the floor. “I need chocolate. And I need it now.” “Goldie I’ve seen crack heads less strung out than you are.” I sighed, resolved to my fate. I think I would have done anything for a candy bar short of selling a body part. A siren blared behind us. “We have time. What do you want me to do?” He asked. “I’ll talk to him.” Manuel pulled into a gas station. We both got out but Manuel stayed behind leaning against the driver’s side door. How could he look so relaxed? He just killed someone and was ready to trap one of the world’s biggest drug dealers. I was a wreck and on the verge of begging to be dropped into a vat of chocolate where I could self-medicate into a sugar induced high. When Bryan got out of the car my stomach flip flopped at the sight of him. He was still wearing his tuxedo, but had discarded his jacket and tie. A primal urge came out of me. I wanted us to find a tree, haul ourselves against it and be like jungle animals. “What the hell is going on?” Bryan shouted storming past me towards Manuel. “What went on in the canyon?” Manuel barely glanced in his direction. “You tell me.” I could see Bryan’s temper rise to where a vein in his neck possibly bursting by Manuel’s answer. “Don’t bullshit me. Who do you work for?” Manuel didn’t answer. “I’m going to find out who you are,” Bryan said narrowing his eyes. Bryan didn’t make empty threats. If Manuel was hiding something he would find out. “I wouldn’t go hunting for something that’s none of your business.” Manuel’s tone left nothing to the imagination. “Stevie is my business,” Bryan said. This is where I needed to step in. I could see it was starting to go in the direction of my dick is bigger than yours. “You’ve got this all wrong,” I said to Bryan. “Manuel is helping me.” “How? By getting you kidnapped. Even in your warped world that can’t be considered helping,” he countered. My blood started to boil at the warped comment. “Well in my world we’re leaving.” I walked away. Bryan grabbed my arm. “Stevie what the hell is going on?” “I’ll be okay Bryan,” I said trying to reassure him. There was no point in telling him the truth. It would only get him upset. “Don’t go. I have a bad feeling,” he said locking eyes with me. My anger deflated when I saw the concern in his eyes. “I’ll be okay.” “Do you want me to cuff her?” Kevin chipped in. I peeked around Bryan’s shoulder and glared at him. “It’s nothing personal Stevie,” he said then looked at Bryan to check what he should do. I was relieved to see he signalled him not to. I glanced at Manuel who was watching everything unfold with a look of cool detachment. But I had a feeling if Kevin would have tried to cuff me it would have gotten ugly. Bryan came over and gave me a hug then whispered in my ear. “Be careful.” That was it? No lecture? I knit my eyebrows together. “Aren’t you going to try to convince me to stay?” He sighed. “Could I make you change your mind?’ I thought about it. “No.” “That’s what I thought,” he said. I started to walk away when Bryan called out to me. I knew I couldn’t get away so easily. “Hey you wouldn’t happen to have had anything to do with a break in at Mrs. Howard’s house tonight?” Between trying to trap a drug lord and almost getting kidnapped who had the time? I shook my head. “Is she okay?” “She’s wasn’t there, but her house is trashed.” “I swear I didn’t have anything to do with it.” For once I could truthfully claim all ignorance. “I can’t believe he just let me go,” I said to Manuel once we got back in the car. I still couldn’t believe Bryan just gave up. It wasn’t like him. “It was the smart thing to do.” I took a deep breath. “Yeah, but it just feels strange.” “Maybe he was too tired to argue,” Manuel said with a straight face. I pursed my lips together. I knew perfectly well what he was referring too. “I doubt it.” I knew Bryan and one sexual encounter was not enough to exhaust him. Three maybe. But one? Never. “Have you thought of a way to get Abdoul to tell you how he got the list?” Manuel asked. “Not yet,” I said. Men usually loved to brag about how clever they were. I doubted Abdoul would be any different. I was thinking I’d just ask him. “No plan?” “I’m not really a big planner type of girl.” Manuel half smiled. “I would never have guessed that.” I could tell he was making fun of me. I made a face. “It’s worked for me so far,” I said. Manuel was smart enough not to comment. I looked out the window at the mixture of tourists and locals on Hollywood Boulevard and tried to ignore the tightness of my stomach as we got closer to Union Station. “Do you think Abdoul will try anything tonight?” I asked. “If he’s smart he won’t.” Just then I remembered what Ortiz had said in the car about not killing me. I told Manuel what he had said about Ali. “Is what he said a good or bad thing?” I asked. At least I didn’t have a death target on me anymore. Manuel didn’t answer. Instead he pulled out his phone and made a couple calls. I tried to figure out what he was saying but he spoke in Spanish. “What’s going on?” I asked. Silence. “I want to know.” “You’ll be safe,” he said. “You trust me right?” “Yes,” I said not hesitating. “Then you don’t need know.” I let out a groan. I knew badgering would be futile so I decided to change the subject. “Why did Ortiz call you Coli? What does it mean?” “Hector didn’t lie about your questions.” I ignored his attempt at distracting me. “Is that your real name?” I could see he was debating whether to answer me. “I was called Coli because I’m from Columbia,” Manuel said. “How come Hector doesn’t call you that?” I jumped in surprised he answered. “Because he didn’t know me then.” “But Ortiz did?” He nodded. “Were you a….a,” I was stumbling over the words not sure now I wanted to know the answer. “Like him?” “No.” I exhaled with relief. I knew Manuel wasn’t the law abiding citizen Bryan was but it would have been hard to stomach him on the same level as Ortiz. “Then what did he mean about the old days?” Maybe if I asked him enough times he’d eventually answer. “Does it really matter?” “Yeah it does,” I said. I hadn’t realized how much I wanted to believe he was a good guy. My gut told me he was but the way he shot Ortiz without giving it a thought was a shock. “It doesn’t to me.” His voice was flat and cold and left no room for any further questions. We drove the rest of the way in silence both of us at a loss what to say. I knew he didn’t owe me any kind of explanation. Who was I to him? A friend of Hectors? When we neared Union Station he pulled over to a side street, reached into the back and pulled out a briefcase and opened it. Inside was a headphones and what looked like a bunch of wires. “What’s that?” I asked peeking over the top of the briefcase. “Your wire,” he answered taking out some utility tape. He held up a round flat thing. “I’m going to need to attach this to you,” he said looking down at my shirt. Yikes. I knew from the movies it would be going around my chest area. “Are you okay?” I nodded. “Why?” “The color just drained from your face,” he said. “I’m fine,” I lied. Considering I was trying to trap a notorious drug lord I was surprisingly calm. “You ready?” He asked holding up the wire. I nodded. He rested the briefcase on the dashboard then reached across putting both of his hands on my waist. I leaned forward almost resting my head on his shoulder. He eased his hands from my waist feeling around for the right spot to put the wire. His fingers brushed against my skin while he taped it just below my breasts. “Does that feel okay?” “Yeah,” I said. “You’re sure?” He asked with his hands still around my waist. “It’s not too tight?” “No, it’s fine.” When he pulled his hands away I swallowed hard ignoring the heat that still lingered. “I could try to find a better spot for it if you like,” he asked with a grin. “It’s good,” I said trying to sound like I meant it. When we got to Union Station Manuel parked in the lot around the back. It was almost deserted except for a few stragglers. In LA the commuter trains stopped before midnight. The city wasn’t exactly mass transit friendly. “Think of a code word you can blend into the conversation if you feel uneasy about anything,” Manuel said. My mind went blank. “Like what?” “Anything.” “Give me a suggestion.” I knew I was being a pain in the ass, but it’s not like I was the expert or anything. “Drop off,” he suggested. “That wouldn’t draw his attention.” “Don’t like that.” That was too easy for me to say without intending to and then I’d blow the whole thing. “How about coffee?” Who doesn’t like that? I could easily weave that into the conversation. In fact I was dying for a mocha. He raised an eyebrow. “You’re going to be subtle with that code word?” “Yep.” Manuel didn’t look like he believed me, but since we had a timetable there wasn’t time to debate about my choice. He handed me a USB drive for the exchange. “Don’t worry Goldie,” he said. “You won’t see us, but they’ll be people watching your back.” It sounded like he was saying it more for himself than for me. I wasn’t worried from what I’d seen I knew Manuel would have all the angles covered. I took a deep breath and headed into the station. I was supposed to meet Abdoul at the south east corner by the benches. I didn’t want to tell Manuel I was never good at directions. I figured I would just go wherever I saw Abdoul. It wasn’t like he was going to be hard to spot. But I didn’t see him. Which way was south east? It couldn’t be that difficult I told myself. Where was the beach in relation to the station? I started to panic and kept turning around in each direction trying to figure it out. I saw out of the corner of my eye a homeless man who had been watching me inch away from me. Great. I was looking so nutty I even was scaring him away. I was ready to go ask the old lady with a grocery cart for advice when I saw Abdoul standing in the back left corner. He had his arms crossed in front of him and looked like a three year old who had just had his lollipop taken away. I gave him a wave. He looked at me like I was going to be dead in response. Someone was definitely in a pissy mood. I glanced up at the walkway that rimmed the station looking for anyone that might be part of the gig tonight. There were railings with doors that led to offices. But nothing. The only two people around was the homeless guy I freaked out and the cart lady. “Hiya,” I said to Abdoul. He looked me up and down and let out a disgusted sound. “This is what my son cannot live without? You are a crazy girl.” What happened to his manners? “I’m crazy? Your son tackled me to the ground.” “That is a compliment,” he said. What? I was ready to lay into him about how women should be treated, but remembered I still needed to do find out who his source was and make the exchange. I could yell at him later. “Interesting…” I said trying to diffuse the situation. “You say that sarcastically?” I shook my head. “Not at all. Sometimes I do like it when a man takes charge,” I said giving him a smile while wanting to shove my knee in his weak spot. His face relaxed. “Maybe you won’t be so much trouble after all.” I gave him my best “I had braces” smile. “Why should I be any trouble? I know you’re the boss.” “That’s what I told my nephews. Just demand to be in charge and people will listen,” he said. “I so agree.” He was so easy. “Do you have the USB drive?” I nodded and patted my pocket. “You have the money?” He nodded and looked down at a briefcase on the floor. “Show me,” he said holding out his hand. I raised an eyebrow. “You first,” I said softening the demand with an eye flutter and a bashful smile. “Of course,” he said. He leaned down grabbed the briefcase and opened it. Wow. I had never seen a million dollars before. I leaned down closer sucked in by the aroma of dirty cash. But Abdoul slammed it shut and almost got my face caught while doing it. “Now it’s your turn,” he said sounding like he was playing truth and dare. When I took out the USB drive Abdoul practically had drool coming out of his mouth. I handed it over. “For your sake I hope this has what I need.” Me too. He took some kind of computer device out of his pocket and put the USB drive in it. My pulse raced hoping Manuel didn’t make his first mistake. I watched as Abdoul broke out into a creepy smile. “Wonderful,” he cooed. Manuel was definitely a pro. “So how did you get that anyway?” I asked. “It must have been really hard.” He waved his hand dismissively. “Money makes everything easier.” I wouldn’t know. “It must take more than that. You must have been smart enough to make the right contacts.” He looked up with pride in his eyes. “It was a little difficult at first. I found out very easily torturing agents only gave me a few local names. But making contact with some low level computer hack worked infinitely better.” “Really? How?” I urged. “I hired a girl to seduce Davidson. After a couple of months he was like a pathetic dog. He sold out his agency because he thought she needed money to help her sick mother and he believed every word.” Bingo. “Did you come up with the idea yourself? To hire the girl?” “Of course.” As Abdoul rattled off more details of his brilliance I could have sworn I saw Herman creeping near cart lady. Then again it could have been just another old guy wearing grandpa pants that were hiked up to almost nipple level. When Abdoul finished bragging I leaned down and pick up the briefcase surprised everything had been so easy. I felt a handcuff snap on my wrist and shot my eyes up to him. “What are you doing?” He shrugged. “Ali asked for a present. And I’m going to make sure he gets it.” I stood up and glared. “Really? Haven’t you heard spoiling a kid is not the answer?” “No.” I remembered the wire. “I’d really love a mocha.” I asked trying to sound as natural as possible. Abdoul narrowed his eyes. “What?” “Before you kidnap me could I please get a mocha?” I said emphasizing the word mocha. “No. You made an error in judgment Miss Stone.” I cringed. The gig was up. No wonder I hardly ever booked acting jobs. I had one line and I blew it. I went into panic mode and started screaming, “Mocha. Mocha.” Abdoul quickly started for the back door of the station yanking me along the way. I grabbed onto a bench and held on. He pulled but I wouldn’t budge. Abdoul reached into his jacket and showed me his gun. He won. I let go. Just then I heard a shot. Abdoul cried out in pain and grasped his chest. Blood began to seep through his shirt. I turned to look where the sound came from and was shocked to see Herman and the cart lady wrestling over a gun. Why was Herman shooting at us? My arm was being pulled to the ground. I glanced down and saw Abdoul collapsed on the floor in a pool of blood. I grasped the cuff as hard as I could and tried to pry it off. I wanted to be anywhere, but tied to a dying Abdoul. I groaned realizing it was hopeless. I heard a crack of a gun and dived down to the floor. I peeked up from under the bench. The cart lady was on the ground and Herman was taking aim ready to fire the gun at me again. Where was Manuel? I tugged at Abdoul trying to move, but he was too heavy. I was ready to jump behind him and use his body as a shield when another gun shot rang out. Herman was on the floor clutching his leg. The cart lady had obviously recovered because she was whacking him on the head with an umbrella. A bullet whizzed past me. I dove down and clutched my head. Gunshots were ringing out everywhere. I peeked out and saw there were men in every corner of the station firing at each other. It was like the Wild West and I was the stuck in the middle. I had to get out of there. But how? I had a dead guy tied to my wrist, not exactly a small obstacle. I felt around for Abdoul’s gun there was so much blood I didn’t want to look. I was patting down his jacket when I felt pain rip through my leg. It felt like a pack of bees had stung my thigh. I winced afraid to look down. I was ready to suck it up when I felt a hand on my back. I raised my arm ready to smack whoever it was. But someone wrapped their arms around me pinning me down before I had the chance. “Stevie stay down.” I snapped my head around shocked to hear Bryan’s voice. “What are you doing here?” I asked. “Trying to make sure you don’t get yourself killed.” A bullet cracked into the bench. Bryan pushed me down covering my body with his. “Are you okay?” He asked. “Yeah,” I answered trying to be brave and ignore the pain He pulled out a gun from the back of his jeans. “I want you to run over there,” he said pointing to the hallway behind us. “I’ll cover you.” I dragged my arm up along with Abdoul’s and showed him the handcuff. “Damn” he said. We both ducked down when a bullet smacked above us. “Hold your arm out,” he said taking aim. I did what he said shutting my eyes not wanting to look. I heard the gun go off and I yanked my hand up relieved to be freed from the albatross that was Abdoul. Bryan motioned for me to move. “Go.” I hesitated. I could feel the blood seeping through my pants. “You have to get out of here,” he said motioning around us. I pointed to my leg. Bryan’s eyes followed. “Can you walk?” he asked. I could see his eyes fill with worry. “I don’t know.” Just then a guy fell over the second story railing and landed with a thud on the ground in front of us. “You’ve got to move,” he said nudging me forward. I gave him a quick kiss then crouched down and ran as fast as I could ignoring the sharp pain stabbing throughout my upper thigh. I hid behind a trash can and motioned for him to follow. Just as he was getting ready to run everything went black. The power must have been cut. I screamed out for Bryan when what felt like a wall fell on top of me. “I gotcha Goldie.” Hector? “I can’t breathe,” I said and tried to push him off. My leg screamed out in agony. I kept trying to move, but it was hopeless. It was like trying to move a beached whale. Hector kept telling me to keep down. From under a wall of blubber I lifted my head gulping for air, while cursing myself for my part in Hector’s expanded waistline. Why did I help him get those donuts? I was beginning to accept the fact I was going to die, smothered to death by Hector’s girth when I heard him yelp out. “Damn. That was motherfucker,” Hector grunted and rolled off me. “Someone kicked me in the ass.” “Hector?” Bryan’s voice carried through the darkness. “Cop lawyer dude?” “Yeah.” “What the hell,” Hector said. “Why’d you kick me?” “Cause you were crushing me,” I chimed in. “Oh…sorry,” Hector said. I felt Bryan’s hand around mine then leaned against him. There was sporadic gunfire and shouting in languages I didn’t have a hope in hell of understanding all around us. Bryan pulled at my shirt trying to direct me away from it all when a rain of gunfire burst out so loud I stopped moving and covered my ears. I felt Bryan pull me close enveloping me into him. Then just as soon as it started the gunfire stopped. Are you okay? Bryan asked. “Fuck no,” I heard Hector say. “Stevie?” “I’m fine.” I said. He kissed my head and let out a sigh. I let myself enjoy the feeling of being next to him for a minute before calling out, “You good Hector?” “No. Considering I just got kicked in my swollen stitched up ass.” Hector was okay. The lights came on. I flicked my eyes around. There were at least twenty bodies skewed around the floor. Manuel was standing by the entrance with night vision goggles around his neck and was holding what looked like two big machine guns. His eyes met mine and he gave me a questioning look. I waved that I was good. His buddies from the party started coming out from the corners patting each other on the back and doing that tricky hand shake thing. “Damn,” Hector said shaking his head. “This looks like a war zone.” I glanced over at Hector. He was still wearing his tuxedo only now his butt looked even bigger. Must be bandages from the gunshot. Boy was he going to be in trouble with Yolanda. Bryan leaned over and examined my thigh. “You need to get to this looked at.” I didn’t need to look to know it was bad. My pants were soaking and I could tell Bryan was trying to hide how freaked out he was. Hector peeked over. “Damn. That is a lot of fuckin’ blood. Is she going to be alright?” “Go get your car,” Bryan said in voice that said he’d better move now. I was starting to feel lightheaded. “Let me have a look,” Manuel said. Bryan said something in Spanish to him and they had a heated exchange that ended with Bryan stepping back. “We don’t have time for this,” Bryan growled. “She needs to get to the hospital.” “She’ll bleed to death before she gets there,” Manuel said after examining my wound. I could hear what they were saying but was feeling too weak to participate. Manuel shouted out some directions to his men. One of them came rushing forward with a first aid kit. “Shouldn’t we be calling an ambulance and shit?” Hector asked sounding worried. “Goldie ain’t looking so good.” “We can’t do that,” Manuel said. I could feel him cutting my pants. Bryan reached over and held my hand. I bit my lip trying to ignore the pain when he tied something tight around my leg. “Why the fuck not?” Hector said sounding irritated. “Because this never happened. Isn’t that right?” Bryan said to Manuel his voice thick with anger. “Yes,” Manuel answered without looking up or breaking his concentration. He was frantically trying to stop my leg from bleeding. “What the fuck are you two talking about?” Hector said. “If she doesn’t make it you’re dead,” Bryan said to Manuel. Their voices started to get fainter and all I could see was black closing in. I heard voices calling my name as I drifted off. Chapter Twenty “What happened?” I asked. Bryan was sitting on the side of my hospital bed holding my hand and looking at me with concern. “You don’t remember last night?” I blinked a couple of times trying to figure out what he meant. Then it all came back. The train station, Abdoul and … “I was shot,” I said feeling the bandages on my leg. “You almost bled to death,” he said his eyes showing the strain the night had taken on him. “But I didn’t,” I said with too much enthusiasm. He gave me a look of frustration I had seen many times before. “How much trouble am I in?” “None.” I knit my eyebrows together. “I’m not going to answer a boat load of questions from the cops?” “No,” he said then he took both my hands in his. “You have to be sure to listen to me. You can’t tell anyone what happened last night. Not even Jeff and Jason.” “Why? What’s going on?” I asked trying to sit up then cringed as pain throbbed from my leg. He sighed looking exhausted. “Your friend Manuel is involved in an organization that doesn’t like loose ends. And you my darlin’ are a big one.” I didn’t like where this was going. “What about Hector?” I asked worrying what kind of loose end he’d be. “They’re not concerned about him. Apparently they believe he can keep quiet about what happened.” Hector could keep a secret, but he certainly wasn’t quiet. “They’re concerned about you. And have made it perfectly clear they don’t give second chances,” Bryan said locking his eyes with mine. A shiver of fear went down my spine. “What does that mean?” I asked already knowing the answer. “If they find out you talked, they’ll kill you,” he answered. “Manuel wouldn’t let them do that.” Anger flashed in his eyes. “I think you’re right, but with these type of people you don’t always know who you can trust. It’s possible he wouldn’t know until it was too late and neither would I. We wouldn’t be able to help you Stevie. They would put a bullet in your head if they thought you were going to cause them a problem.” I didn’t speak for a minute letting what he had said sink in. “You mean the cops don’t know anything?” “It was a drug deal that went wrong,” he explained. “That is the official story.” I guess that was as good of an excuse as any. “What tale did they give for me getting shot?” “It was a repo gone bad. No suspects.” “And Hector?” “You were both at the same repo,” he said sounding like he had rehearsed it. “What about you?” “I was at home looking over legal briefs. Heard you were shot and came down to the hospital.” “Sounds believable,” I said. “But Hector and I were brought in here at different times.” “The hospital records say something different.” Dang. They really had everything covered to the very last detail. Then I remembered the strangest part of last night. “There was an old guy there last night named Herman? I mean he was there right? I didn’t hallucinate it did I?” Bryan’s phone vibrated he looked at the number then ignored it. “He’s dead.” I shut my eyes as the memories of last night flashed in my mind. “Remember when I told you someone broke into Mrs. Howard’s house?” “I didn’t do that,” I said throwing the words out as fast as I could. Bryan gave me a smile that didn’t reach his eyes. “I know.” “Hector filled us in about Herman and Mrs. Howard,” he said in a way that told me Hector filled him in on way too much. “He told you everything?” I asked making a face. “Everything.” Just what I needed Bryan hearing about the dildo attack. “You’re not mad?” “At this point Stevie I’m just glad you’re alive.” Me too. I knew from my previous run in with Herman he was a nut job but it seemed a stretch that he’d try to kill me. “Kevin talked with Mrs. Howard. She told him Herman thought you and Hector broke into her house again. She thinks he must have gone to warn you to stay away.” “Some warning.” “He had a cataract in one eye and could barely see out of the other. I don’t think he knew where he was shooting.” “He checked out Herman’s back ground. He didn’t have anything in his past that would lead me to believe he was a murderer.” “What about Mrs. Howard?” “She had to be hospitalized after Kevin told her Herman was dead.” “Is she okay?” He nodded. What’s Herman’s story going to be?” I asked. I couldn’t imagine how they could tie in Herman to a drug deal shoot up. “Wrong place. Wrong time.” That seemed like a pretty weak story to me. “That’s it?” “They don’t need to go into any detail. He had no family. No criminal background. No one will want any answers.” “What a mess,” I sighed. “I would say so,” he agreed. “And you’re alright with all of this?” I knew it had to be hard on Bryan. This wasn’t how he lived his life. It wasn’t exactly the way I rolled either, but I tended to be more adaptable. The only time Bryan ever came close to the grey area of the law was when he had helped me out in the past. But now he had crossed not only over the grey, but was definitely in the black zone. “There was no other choice,” he said. I could see he wanted to say something else, but was holding back. “What is it?” I asked worried about what it could be. He sighed with what seemed like the world on his shoulders. “I love you Stevie.” There was a lot of stuff between us that we hadn’t resolved, but I didn’t care. I’d missed him. My life just didn’t feel right without Bryan. “I love you too.” “You’re sure you’re going to be okay here by yourself?” Bryan asked while kissing my neck. I raised an eyebrow. “Why don’t you ask what you really mean,” I said. “Okay then,” he said smiling. “Are you sure you won’t get into any trouble when I’m gone?” Bryan had been babysitting me for a week at my apartment, but unfortunately he had to go back to work. Something about a big case starting today. I felt a little funny about him leaving. Ever since I got out of the hospital we hadn’t left each other’s sides and it felt right. Bryan being there also helped me at night when the nightmares came. I was good at leaving things in the past, but sometimes the ghosts would creep up on me. “What kind of trouble could I possibly get in?” I said motioning to my crutches. “Stevie you could be in a coma and you’d still find a way,” he said with a grin. I should have probably been insulted but considering the last couple months he did have a point. “Just stay in one piece until I come back tonight,” he said giving me a look that made my heart skip a beat. He gave me a soft kiss on the lips with a little tongue reminding me why I had enjoyed my recovery at home so much. After Bryan left I hobbled over to the bar and grabbed the fanny pack I had dug out of my closet. I knew I was going to be hassled by my fashion choice but I couldn’t carry anything with these stupid crutches. I’d get some grief from Bryan for leaving but there was no way I was going to stay home all day and stare at the walls. I grabbed the door handle and yanked it open bumping straight into Manuel. “Going somewhere Goldie?” I hadn’t seen Manuel since the night the night of the big shoot up. He had been in contact with Bryan that first night to make sure I was alright but nothing since. I figured he had been a little busy considering the mess he had to clean up. But I knew he’d turn up eventually. “Just going down to the mail box, but it can wait,” I said totally lying. Bad habits were hard to break. “Your mail arrives in the afternoon. Aren’t you a little early?” He asked with a bemused expression on his face. I ignored his question feeling stupid. Did I really think I could bullshit Manuel? I hobbled backward and gestured with my hand to come in. “Bryan just left,” I said not knowing why I felt compelled to tell him that. “I know.” Of course he did. I went over to the sofa and sat down with my leg outstretched. Manuel sat in the chair opposite. I looked at his face to see if I could see any changes. Nothing. I expected after killing so many people there would be something different in his eyes. “How are you doing?” He asked looking at my leg. I was wearing khaki cargo pants that were loose enough not to press on my stitches. I shrugged. “Peachy. Almost good as new.” “You look good.” Good time to change the subject. “What happened to Emil and Fidel?” I asked. Then covered my mouth with my hand when I realized what I did. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to talk about it with him. “They’ve gone back to the Mideast to fight with Ali for control of the family.” My stomach twisted at the mention of Ali. Even though Bryan had told me he had been deported I half expected him to burst into my apartment at any moment trying to drag me back with him. “Don’t worry about them,” he said reading my expression. “They’ve been warned.” After what I’d seen being warned by Manuel and his friends was definitely a bad thing. “Thanks…And I wanted to thank you for everything else too,” I said still not sure what I was allowed to say. He gave me a half smile. “And just so you know my associates have been warned that you are off limits.” I took a deep breath. I knew already he would never let anyone hurt me, but it was nice to hear anyway. “I’m sorry to be such a pain.” “That’s not the way I think of you Goldie.” “Really?” I asked. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know the way he felt about me. Too complicated. “You know if you ever need anything you can call me,” I offered. After all Manuel did for me. I owed him big time. He arched an eyebrow. “Anything?” I felt heat rush to my cheeks. “We’ll judge it on a case by case basis. Shall we?” I knew he was teasing me, but he wasn’t going to get the best of me. “We’ll do that,” he said looking amused. His phone vibrated. He looked down at it then stood up. “I’ve got to go,” he said coming over to the sofa and holding out a hand to help me up. “Will I see you around still?” I asked feeling a little guilty how much I wanted him to say yes. He handed me my crutches. “I’ll be away for a while, but if you need me you can use this.” He handed me a phone. “A bat phone?” I asked. “Something like that,” he said giving me a slight smile. “You’ll be okay though right?” I asked feeling nervous for him. “No need to worry Goldie. I’m always fine,” he said. As I watched him walk down the hallway he certainly looked fine. “Shit Goldie what the fuck are you doing here?” Hector asked when I limped through the back door of the repo office. He knew I’d told Bryan I would stay off my leg and rest. Technically I wasn’t going against the before mentioned agreement. I took a cab and was using crutches, which meant my leg was totally resting. “What repos do we have today?” I asked ignoring him. I could be mysterious too. “Girl, your boyfriend is going to go ape shit when he finds out you went into work today.” I smiled to myself. I still liked hearing Bryan being called my boyfriend. “I’m staying off my leg. I have crutches don’t I?” Hector looked at me like he’s heard all my bull shit before and wasn’t buying it. “It just ain’t about that. I heard the doctor myself at the hospital and he said you’re supposed to stay at home until your leg is all better and shit.” “I couldn’t take just sitting at home anymore. It got so boring,” I whined like a little girl who wants a juice box. “Okay that was just sad girl,” Hector said shaking his head. “My baby daughter can’t even get that screechy with her voice.” There was no way he was going to talk me out of staying. Harry was the only person I had to listen to. After all she was my boss. But this week she was at one of her other offices so I was safe. “Bryan is going to be pissed off,” he warned. “He can’t be mad at me,” I said while looking through our mailbox. “Why the fuck not?” “Some things are private,” I said not glancing up from the paperwork. I’d make it up to him. “Private my ass,” he said. I wasn’t going to tell him Bryan couldn’t really complain about me being tired considering we had been at it like rabbits since I got home from the hospital. It was amazing how creative we could be when we had to. Resting never felt so good. “Look Hector if you’re worried about Bryan being mad at you. I will explain to him I forced you to take me.” “Shit you’re sure Goldie ‘cause I don’t want that guy mad at me. I’ve seen what he can do when he’s mad.” I gave him a look. This was the first time he even eluded what happened the night at the train station. Hector’s eyes showed he instantly understood and he immediately side tracked. “Since I know I won’t be able to talk any sense into your ass. Hand over the fucking paperwork and let’s go.” I passed them over with a smile. Hector grunted in reply. When we got outside I saw Baby gleaming in the sunlight as if she was welcoming me back. “Girl you’re in for a treat,” he said proudly. I pursed my lips. “I’ve had the treat before Hector.” He looked at me sideways. “Damn. I can see you are feeling better ‘cause you got your mouth back.” “Thanks.” I threw my crutches in the back seat, unhitched the fanny pack and tossed it on the ground and got in. Hector passed me over a can of pepper spray. “Put that in your granny bag,” he said taking off down Hollywood Boulevard. “Since you can’t run you should it just in case.” I shrugged. I picked up the fanny pack and unzipped it just as Hector slammed on his brakes. My fanny pack went flying out of my hands and all its contents landed on the floor. “Great,” I said glaring at Hector. “What? Is it my fault that fucker in front of me doesn’t know how to drive?” I searched around on the ground looking for my keys when I saw something I didn’t want to see. I picked up a USB drive and showed it to Hector. “What’s this?” I asked. “How the fuck do I know?” I swallowed the lump that was building in my throat. “Isn’t it yours?” I said biting my lip. “No.” “You sure it wasn’t left in your car?” “In Baby? No fuckin’ way.” He was right. He cleaned Baby every chance he got. It had to have come from my fanny pack. My heart started racing. “Hector?” “Yeah.” “We have a problem,” I said holding the USB drive away from me with two fingers. “What?” He asked glancing over to see what I was holding. His face registered what the problem was. “What the fuck?” “I dropped the fanny pack the day I repoed the Ferrari and must have put it in there by mistake,” I rambled out. “You mean you had that shit the whole time?” I nodded. “Well throw it out the fuckin’ window,” he said moving as far away from it as possible. “What if someone gets a hold of it?” Hector reached into his pocket, pulled out a candy bar and started shoving it in his mouth. “Then I’ll drive over the fucker,” he said. I wanted to get rid of it as bad as Hector but knowing our luck someone would be able to put it together and we’d be screwed. “What if that doesn’t work?” I said starting to panic. “I think we need to get a hold of Manuel and tell him what happened?” Hector finished his candy bar, shook his head and let out a loud, “Shit.”


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