This is PG-17 rated for language and adult subject matter. No graphic sex. Return to Tuesday Tales.
I’m going with something from my monster manuscript, Undivided, again. The prompt this week is marching band…is it in here? You tell me…and while you’re at it, should I still keep writing? No, this is not a sweet story, but one I’ve had on the screen off and on for just over a year. It needs some work but the story never seems to leave me alone for long before it calls my name.
“I forgot what a pain game nights can be.” Anna allowed the car to idle forward by inches at a time. The brake lights on the sedan in front of them hadn’t gone out once since they’d pulled up behind it—Garrett checked his watch—fifteen minutes before.
“How far away are we?” Garrett shifted in his seat, wondering for the tenth time in as many minutes what the hell he was doing with Anna.
The object of his contemplation shrugged. “About a mile.”
“All this is for a high school basketball game?” Unbe-freakin-lievable.
Her laugh sent a shiver to his groin. “This is the light traffic.” A car edged in front of them from the left and Anna slammed on the brakes. “Football games are much worse.”
After another several minutes, they made it into the parking lot, and Anna brought the car to a stop next to a black and white sign that read drop-off zone. Garrett hated the feeling of being treated like a gimp, even if he technically was one at the moment. But he had to admit the idea of another long walk over uneven, snow-covered ground held very little appeal.
Anna gestured toward the front of the building. “It shouldn’t take me long. You can wait by the flag pole over there. But if you get cold, go on inside.” She grinned at him. “Just keep your cap on so I can find you.”
Garrett regarded her with a silent, unblinking stare for a five-count, then backed away and closed the door. He turned as the Mustang growled away from the curb. Then he broke into a grin. This could be fun after all.
He took the opportunity to scope the area, noting the location of the school doors as well as the crowd going through them at a steady clip. Lots and lots of high school students, the handful of younger siblings, faculty, and of course the assorted proud parents. A van pulled to the drop zone and a trio of geeky looking kids exited carrying instrument cases. Members of the halftime marching band, no doubt.
Returning to his surveillance, Garrett shook his head. At this stage of initial observation, they weren’t even people to him, merely entities to be categorized by age, profession, reason for being in a particular place at a particular time. He started putting the faces he was seeing into subcategories as they passed, not yet looking for one specific subcategory, instead looking for anomalies, those people who didn’t really fit any of the profiles for those who would typically attend the event. John had been good at subject profiling, Garrett remembered. His partner had always claimed if the job was done right, the oddities stuck out like mourners at a clown’s funeral.
“Bingo!” Garrett said under his breath when he suddenly caught sight of a glaring anomaly. The kid he and Anna had rousted from the drug house was getting out of a black SUV driven by a middle-aged man. From the other side of the car emerged a trendily dressed, stocky teenaged girl with long blond hair. Garrett frowned, knowing he had seen her before but for the moment unable to recall where. She sure as hell didn’t look like the kind of girl who would attract the attention of a fast mover like the kid . . . named Tom, as he recalled. And this, Garrett thought, wasn’t the kind of event a school-hooking, weed-smoking, budding drug dealer would attend for fun. But it wasn’t about fun for this kid tonight, he understood.
Tonight was all about business for young Tom Street.
“Damn,” Garrett muttered under his breath. “You’re going to trash my night with your shit, aren’t you, kid?”
“Did I leave you so long you’re starting to talk to yourself?” Anna asked from next to his right shoulder. Then she took a closer look and frowned. “What’s wrong?”
Oh, man, he hated that he was about to screw over what had started out as a good evening. He draped his arm over Anna’s shoulders, drawing her close and bending to talk to her. To the casual observer, they would like a young couple in an intimate conversation.
“It is imperative that you do not react to what I’m about to tell you,” he whispered, stopping and turning her to face him. He bent his head and kissed her gently, then pulled back to meet her eyes.
“You’re scaring me,” she murmured, the fear reflected in her eyes. “Are the people who’re looking for you here?”
“No,” he was quick to reassure her. “This has to do with your teens.” When she registered what he was saying, she started to turn in order to look at the crowd around them. “Don’t,” he warned. “I’ve got eyes on. You stand there and pretend I’m dazzling you with my wit and charm and you’re falling in love with me while I fill you in.”
Anna nodded and flashed him a stunning smile, leaning into him. Any other time and he’d have been happy to take advantage of that situation. Now, he only groaned inwardly and adjusted his stance to stem his reaction to her nearness.
She shook her head. “He wouldn’t. He can’t even be bothered to go to school.”
Garrett described the car and the girl Tom had arrived with.
Anna’s brow knit into a frown. “This isn’t making sense. Tom likes girls but he goes for the petite dark-haired ones.”
“I’ve seen this one before,” Garrett told Anna. “At the mall and on the street. She’s one of the girls you chased off.”
Anna reacted visibly, a look of horror spreading over her fine features. “No,” she whispered. “It can’t be Cassie.”
“Would Cassie show at a basketball game?” he pursued, holding her tighter when her muscles tensed. The last thing she should do was fly off in search of the girl. “Don’t. You can’t help them by jumping in this time.”
Anna went still. “Yes, Cassie would come to a basketball game. She’s a social girl, knows everyone, likes to hang out with friends. I’m pretty sure she drinks but she stays away from drugs. She wouldn’t even be Tom’s first choice of a backup date.” Anna closed her eyes as emotional anguish splashed across her features. “He’s using her, isn’t he?”
Garrett kissed Anna on the forehead, as much for comfort as for cover. “We’ll sort it out, Anna. Maybe we can stop it before—damn it!” Another incongruity, and not a good one at this point.
In as casual a movement he could manage, Garrett kept his arm draped over Anna’s shoulders and steered them both into the crowd and toward the door.
“James, tell me what’s going on.”
“Local undercover on the job,” he murmured directly in her ear. “Time for us to move. Tom and the girl went this way.”
“How do you know it’s local?” she asked as they walked.
“I know,” he assured her.
The undercover cop was going to be a problem. There was no way to use her and no way to lose her, and no way he was going to blow her cover. And, Garrett realized with a sinking feeling, anything he did that drew attention to him would end up in an official report somewhere down the line. So much for hiding in plain sight. He needed a new plan.