From work in progress, Undivided:
By the time they pulled into the parking lot, cars were being deflected to the overflow area. Anna drove to the drop-off zone instead. 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 snow-covered uneven ground held very little appeal.
“It shouldn’t take me long. You can wait by the flag pole over there,” she said, pointing, as he pushed himself up and out of her car. “But if you get cold, go on into the gym. Just be sure to sit on the home team side. Oh, and, um…keep your cap on so I can find you.”
Garrett sent her a silent, unblinking stare just before he closed the door. As he turned away, the Mustang moved off with a throaty growl. A grin spread over his face and his heart lightened.
He took the opportunity to scout the area, noting the location of the school doors as well as the people who were going through them at a very steady clip. Lots and lots of high school students, the handful of younger siblings, faculty, and of course the proud parents of the basketball team. During the stage of initial observation, they weren’t even people to Garrett; they were 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 checking for one specific subcategory, instead analyzing 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 this, Garrett remembered with a pang in his heart. He used to say if the job was done right, the anomalies stuck out like mourners at a clown’s funeral.
And just like magic, there it was. A glaring anomaly.
“Bingo!” Garrett said under his breath.
The kid he and Anna had rousted from the drug house was getting out of a mid-sized sedan that was driven by a middle-aged man. From the other side of the car emerged a trendily dressed, stocky teenaged girl with blonde hair that fell like a waterfall about her shoulders. 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, Tom. And a basketball game wasn’t the kind of event a school-hooking, weed-smoking, budding drug dealer would attend for fun.
No. Tonight was all business for Tom Street.
“Damn,” muttered Garrett. “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 as she walked up to him. Then she sharpened her gaze as she peered into his face. “What’s wrong?”
Oh, man, he hated that he was about to cheat himself out of what had started to be a good evening. Garrett draped his arm over Anna’s shoulders, drawing her close so his words would be for her ears alone. To the casual observer they would look like a young couple in an intimate conversation. Anna tensed, obviously startled at his tactic and he hoped like hell she didn’t misinterpret his actions. But his worry was apparently unfounded, as after the briefest of hesitations, she relaxed and softened into his loose embrace.
“It is imperative that you do not react to what I’m about to tell you,” he whispered, turning her to face him. He bent his head and kissed her gently, then pulled back to meet her gaze.
“No,” Garrett was quick to reassure her. He kissed her again and irritation flashed through him that this wasn’t the real thing, but instead was all courtesy of a teenaged delinquent. “This has to do with your teens,” he murmured against her lips.
With a gasp, Anna struggled to turn but he’d anticipated her need to study the crowd.
“Don’t,” he warned, tightening his arms. “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. His body, oblivious to the true circumstance, reacted immediately and quite predictably. Anna’s eyes widened and her smile turned almost feral.
Keep your mind on the job, man.
“How likely is it the kid we picked up the other day would attend a basketball game?” he asked, stepping back an inch so he could concentrate.
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 shook her head. “This isn’t making sense. Tom likes girls but he goes for the petite dark-haired ones.”
“I’ve seen this one before.” Garrett closed his eyes and rifled through his memories. The girl’s face came to him like a series of photographs and he sought Anna’s gaze again. “At the mall and on the street where we found Tom. 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 Anna tighter when her muscles tensed and she apparently readied herself to fly off in search of the teen. “Don’t,” he warned. “You can’t help them by jumping in this time.”
Anna went still. “Yes,” she replied, her voice flat. “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 briefly before opening them to lock on his. “Tom’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!” he muttered when he spotted another anomaly.
In a casual movement, he kept his arm draped on Anna’s shoulders, steering them both into the crowd and toward the door.
“James, tell me what’s going on.”
“Local undercover—on the job and on the hunt,” he murmured in her ear as they crossed the threshold. “Time for us to move. Tom and the girl went this way.”
“The police? How do you know that?” she asked as they walked.
“I know,” he assured her.
The undercover cop was going to be a problem, Garrett mused. There was no way to use her and no way to lose her, and no way was he going to blow her cover. And, he 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.
For now, though, he needed backup. Or rather Anna did. Garrett slowed his steps, lingered near the entrance as other people dodged them to enter the gymnasium. He pulled Anna to the side of the throng, pushing her up against the brick wall. He felt like a horny teenager and could only hope they didn’t stand out too much as he bent to gently capture her lips.
“Got your cell phone?” he asked against Anna’s mouth, continuing to nip playfully.
“Umm-hmmm,” she answered, with a combination of sigh and moan that made Garrett long to scrap his self-appointed mission and drag the woman in his arms off to a dark corner.
Instead, he pressed his hands on the wall to either side of Anna’s face while he nuzzled her beneath one ear and began to whisper instructions. “After we get seated, take out your phone, set it on vibrate, check your text messages. Act as though you got one but don’t be obvious–just keep it casual and normal. Then you text ‘back,’ to your friend, Keith…or your brother…or both. You text that Tom is dealing and tell them they should alert the local cops to that fact. Then you put the phone away and you pretend to enjoy the evening, and you stay the hell out of anything that happens.”
Anna pulled back abruptly and stared at him. She opened her mouth and drew a breath but whatever she was going to say, he stopped her with two fingers on her lips.
Looking forcefully into her eyes, Garrett said, “Just do it.”