In no way has the copyright on that book expired.  I have not authorized anyone else to use the name ShadowConn in any capacity nor has anyone ever contacted about usage of the name or purchasing any rights to the usage of the name for any product or service or other useage.  All uses of the name by anyone other than myself are unapproved, unauthorized and intellectual property theft. The character ShadowConn was first concieved in the late 1990s by myself for use in fiction, as a character in Vampire New Orleans PBEM RPG (2003 to present) and as a vampire in the Camarilla LARP (White Wolf) Vtm (late 1990s). She is also a character in the Blooddoll series, which is published on Amazon and Barnes and Noble in 2018. And let me make this *very* clear.  The owner of the name ShadowConn is MYSELF, Stacey Carroll, and has been for the last 20+ years.  I do not authorize, endorse or approve of any other usages of this name by anyone other than myself.

 

 

Fun Fact: The Conn stands for Con Artist.  Shadow stands for hidden or obsfuscated.  The sum of the parts equals - Hidden Con Artist.

 

Original Book Follows as it was originally published on LULU

 

THUNDERSTORMS AND .45’s

By

Stacey Carroll

When all it takes is a blanket and a dream…

Jason Corbin – Cover designer

Jody Corbin – editor

Copyright: 2005

ISBN: 1-4116-4305-4

CHAPTER 1

 

Shadow groaned as she held her fedora in place with one black gloved hand. “How in the hell is anyone going to see us when I can’t even see the road?” She questioned over the howl of the wind and rain.

Someone will see us.” Victor reassured as he stuffed his gloved hands into his black London Fog trench coat and stared down the airport highway. He couldn’t see a damned thing in this weather.

If this was the east coast, I’d swear we were having a hurricane.” Shadow commented just as a large boom of thunder temporarily drowned out the sounds of the storm. Pulling the brim of her fedora down, she glanced down at her watch. “Midnight.” She announced as she shifted uncomfortably. Her black duster was no longer collecting beads of water. It felt more like a steady stream flowing down her back starting at her black Fedora. Sighing, she removed her hat for the tenth time, draining the water from the brim before placing it back on her dampening head. 

"Are you ready?” Victor asked, ignoring her comment. It wasn’t his idea to start this game tonight. He would have much preferred to begin after the torrential downpour. Preferably, under a clear blue sky with the temperature well above 60.

"Yeah." Shadow said, shaking more water from her head as her heels both crunched and sloshed in the black gravel. She was standing in the middle of a growing mud puddle that hadn’t been there when they had arrived. “Whose idea was this again?” She asked, glancing over at her luxuriously dressed partner. Victor had always had good taste in clothing, and she was quite sure that he had brought out the Italian suit just for tonight. The rich dark color practically glowed, even in this weather, and she couldn’t help but admire.

You’re idea, dear.” He commented idly, casting a sideways glance at her. At least she had dressed appropriately. Victor had been half-worried that she’d be sporting her usual attire of jeans, pre-torn T-shirt, and boots. Instead, he was quite impressed. His red-headed partner had actually chosen well; black slacks, a white blouse, black stiletto dress boots, and a black overcoat. "Okay, let’s get this show on the road." Victor ordered, as he stuck his black gloved thumb out to the passing cars.

Shadow nodded. This weather was not agreeing with her in the slightest. She felt like she was freezing to death. Rubbing her aching wrists, she realized that her ankles were quickly following suit.

 

The first car they tried to hitch a ride from was a white Stealth that accelerated past them and then slowed a block later. "Jackasses." Shadow commented, shifting her stance and tapping the toe of her boot on the gravel in hopes that it would wake her feet from their growing numbness.

The second car was a red Jeep. They slowed down to about 5mph, but didn’t stop. Probably due to the rising wind, but Shadow didn’t care. She was already thinking about the job. They had been planning this for months, but still only had a rough sketch of what was going to occur. Shadow figured she would say something about a business meeting. They’d feed them a hard luck story about how the meeting was canceled. If things went well, they’d probably end up with a hotel room for the night. A brilliant plan, in Shadow’s opinion, and no complications.

Sighing, she glanced down the road looking for distant headlights while numerous thoughts echoed through her mind. After they finished the scam, Shadow would go to work for a well known and respected detective agency. Victor had lined up a job with the G.R.P.D.

An approaching Navy blue Camero pulled her from her thoughts, and she watched curiously as the car slowed and then pulled onto the shoulder about 20 feet in front of them. “This could be the one.” Shadow commented as she turned to face the rapidly reversing car. She could see the water and gravel spraying up behind the tires. When the car came to a stop, Shadow saw the man’s window slide down and his arm beckoning them over.

Need a ride?" The man asked from the passenger’s side after they had walked within shouting distance.

"Yeah." Victor answered.

"Well, get in." The man opened the door and moved his seat forward, allowing Shadow and Victor into the tiny back seat.

"Thanks a lot." Victor said, closing the door.

"Where are you headed?" The woman driving asked, pulling off the curb and speeding down the water logged highway.

"The nearest hotel." Shadow replied as she watched the airport lights dim in the background. "We came here for a business trip, but it was canceled at the last minute due to bad weather” She sighed.

Who were you meeting?" The man asked.

"Some investors." Shadow said. “We’re trying to break into the biofuel market.” She paused as if in thought. “We found a few restaurants willing to pay us to take their used cooking oil, but we need some venture capitalists in order to buy the 500 acre farm that would be used for storage and processing.”

"That’s an unbelievable idea." The man replied, impressed. “With the fuel prices getting to be the way they are, we certainly need an alternative fuel.”

"You’re telling me" Victor said. “Who would have thought that a barrel of oil would reach past sixty dollars?”

"Sure as hell, not me.” The man replied. “And the name’s Brian." He extended his hand backwards and shook Victor’s briefly.

"Tell you what, we’re staying at a hotel, so I guess I could get you a room for a couple of nights” The woman in the driver’s seat interrupted. “At least that would give you time to organize another flight.”

"That would be wonderful.” Victor said. “But you certainly don’t have to. A ride to the hotel is certainly more than we expected.” He paused. “And the name’s Victor.”

Nice to meet you.” Brian responded. “This is Stephanie.”

"Oh, don’t worry about it." The woman interjected amidst the introductions. “It’s the least I could do. You’re both soaked as it is.”

"We’d really appreciate it." Shadow said. "When we get back home, I’d certainly be willing to reimburse you for the room."

"That won’t be necessary." The woman responded.

I can’t thank you enough." Victor said as he glanced out the window. They were entering downtown Grand Rapids business’ district. The desolate landscape around the highway had transformed into large brick buildings, scattered skyscrapers, and shopping malls.

With the conversation ended, Shadow stared out into the rain covered city watching the brightly lit signs and trying not to fidget miserably. She hated being wet. When she began pulling at her clothes, Victor place a steady hand on hers and leaned next to her ear. “We’ll be there soon.” He whispered.

Five minutes later, they pulled into the parking lot of a Marriot suites. Pine trees lined the drive leading to the grand lobby entrance, and Shadow counted twenty sets of windows, which meant that the hotel had at least that many floors. It didn’t really look like a hotel. It looked more like a giant towering white skyscraper with the dark red Marriot sign blazing just beyond the top floor.

Shadow, Victor, and the female were dropped off at the glass fronted lobby while Brian parked the Camero. The three of them walked through the gold trimmed double doors and entered the massive hotel. Shadow had top stop herself from gawking. The lobby was at least at large as her entire mansion.

Walking over to the ornately carved courtesy counter, she listened to her heels click on the white marble floors. Victor had gone to sit down in one of the plush red loungers, while Shadow stood beside the woman, hand resting on the counter. She was impressed when Stephanie rented them a suite instead of a regular room.

Two doubles or a King?” The clerk asked.

A King is fine.” Shadow replied, forgetting who she was rooming with.

The entire transaction took less than ten minutes, and soon Shadow was walking through the lobby towards the reclining Victor with the hotel keycard in hand. It was Brian who stopped her before she had gotten to her destination. "Did Stephanie already rent you guys the room?" He asked.

She did.” Shadow replied, flashing the keycard.

Great.” He acknowledged with a nod of his head and walked over to Stephanie-who was headed for the elevators.

"Thanks a lot." Shadow called out behind her as she continued towards Victor. Brian looked familiar to her, but she had yet to place him.

“You got the room key?” Victor asked with a mischievous smirk.

“Yes.” Shadow replied with a slight grin and motioned for him to stand up. She was still soaked to spite being out of the rain for a good forty minutes. “Come on, I need a shower and a change of clothes.”

“We don’t have any clothing with us.” Victor stated with a slight grumble.

Shadow paused in her tracks. Rolling her eyes, she cursed. “I knew we forgot something.”

“So did I, that’s why I didn’t want to do this in the rain.” He replied leading her towards the elevator.

“Well, it’s too late now.” Shadow grumbled as she watched the glass doors close. She pulled off her hat to reveal wet tangles of curly red hair. Pushing the button for the 20th floor, she leaned back against the wall and sighed. “We can call a department store or something. Have them deliver some clothing?”

“At one in the morning. Shadow, nothing is open.”

“There has to be something open. I am not spending a night in dripping wet clothes!” She exclaimed, obviously exasperated.

Victor sighed. There was no reasoning with her when she was like this. At times, Shadow reminded him of a child-a stubborn, willful child. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Have they closed the airports yet?” Shadow asked suddenly.

"They closed them around midnight." Victor repiled.

What time is it now?"

"Quarter after one." He answered, glancing down at his watch just as the elevator doors opened, granting them access to the top floor.

They stepped off the elevator and found their suite. Shadow slid the keycard into the reader and pushed open the door, revealing the interior of the massive suite. She could see at least two rooms; a front room and a bedroom further back. The carpet was a typical industrial weave in dark blue with lighter colored diamond shapes. Walking to the center of the room, she took inventory of the furniture. The darkly stained dining room table had been polished to a high gloss. She wasn’t fond of the adorning floral arrangement, but it was a nice detail nonetheless.

We have to order room service while we’re here.” Shadow commented with a grin.

Victor chuckled. “I’m sure they’ll be happy to bring you breakfast.” He replied taking off his trench coat and hanging it in the front closet. His hat he sat on the shelf above. He was remarkably dry considering the weather. His feet were soaked, but that was to be expected. “I’ll make some phone calls and see if I can’t get some clothing up here. You wear . .what? a size two?”

Shadow nodded pulling off her boots and throwing them against a wall with a grimace. Her coat and hat were next. They landed on the couch as she headed into the bathroom.

There were two bathing areas within the ornately tiled bathroom; a shower stall and a whirlpool bath. Disrobing, she decided to take a bath in hopes that the warm water would ease her aching joints. She knew it would take Victor awhile before he found someplace that was open and willing to deliver.

Turning the water on hot, she let the faucet run for a few minutes before plugging the drain and sliding within the sloped confines. Soon, she was submerged in liquid warmth with her eyes closed.

In the sitting room, Victor pulled out his cell phone and the phone book-which was now sitting comfortably on the plush red couch next to him. Flipping through the pages, he found quite a few department stores in the immediate area. However, most of them had closed at 10:00. Grumbling to himself, he flipped through the pages again. Not finding clothing was not an option.

Finally, he decided to call a few local tailors. If nothing else, he could have something made for her to wear tonight and tomorrow morning. The phone conversation was brief with the one tailor that did answer the phone, and Victor told him what he needed and by when. The price was ridiculously high, but given the time of night, he didn’t have much of a choice. A full set of clothing for his soggy partner was going to cost them over a grand. Correction, it was going to cost him over a grand. He knew that Shadow wouldn’t pay for it.

A few minutes later, he heard the bathroom door open. Shadow, was indeed, dressed in one of the long white terrycloth robes provided by the hotel. She looked significantly more comfortable and warmer than she had 45 minutes ago. “How was the bath?”

Shadow grinned. “Whirlpool tub and unlimited hot water.”

I may have to try that.” Victor said with a smile as he stood and walked over to the mini bar. “Drink, dear?”

Please.” Shadow responded watching him pour two glasses of Maker’s Mark whiskey.

Do you need ice?” He asked.

Nah.” She responded as she watched him turn around with the glasses in hand.

Victor walked the drinks over to her and handed her one before sliding his free arm around her waist. “I did manage to get a-hold of one tailor, who will be bringing you a set of clothes.”

Shadow took a drink from her glass before leaning her head against his dry, suit covered chest. “How’d you manage to stay dry?”

Remember when we went shopping, and I pointed out the London Fog trench coats?”

She nodded.

“You decided you wanted the Armani version.” He replied after taking a sip from his glass. Gently pulling her across the room with him, he sat down on the couch and pulled her into his lap.

“Did you get me any night clothes?”

“Since when have you ever worn anything to bed?” He asked with a smirk. It sounded better than him telling her that he hadn’t. It hadn’t crossed his mind that she’d want to sleep in anything other than under the blankets.

Shadow finished her drink in two swallows and glanced at him with a cocked expression. “You did not expect me to sleep next to you naked, did you?”

He chuckled, stroking her wet hair. “It doesn’t matter to me how you sleep.”

"Do you know what room those people are staying in?" Shadow asked, changing the subject suddenly.

He shook his head. “No idea. I didn’t get a chance to talk with Brian before he walked off with ‘Stephanie’?” He questioned her name, not sure if he had heard it correctly in the car.

Shadow nodded, glancing back at the wet bar. “I’m not exactly dressed to go visiting anyway.” She sighed.

Victor laughed. “The tailor should be here anytime. Though, I would suggest that you sleep tonight. We’ve had a long day.”

“It wasn’t my idea to fly from Florida to Michigan on the spur of the moment.” Shadow rebuffed.

“Of course it wasn’t” He laughed. Victor could laugh about it now, but it wasn’t funny 16 hours ago. “But, contrary to popular belief, L. does not have his hands in every piece of the pie that you want to play in, and the Miami police are not in the pie.”

“Now you tell me.” Shadow sighed exasperatedly flopping backwards against the soft arm rest.

“I tried to tell you before.” Victor grinned slightly. She had balls. He had to give her credit for that, but some of her adventures bordered on insane. Jacob Stone had been on her shit list for months after foiling one of her large drug deals in Sarasota. Victor had heard that 100 kilos of cocaine had been confiscated by the Sarasota police along with 400 packages of Pseudoephedrine. Shadow had plans to get into the Ecstasy business and already set up a lab in Sarasota. It was simply waiting for the shipment.

The confiscation had cost her almost a million dollars in lost profits, or so she said. Victor had a feeling that it had cost her more like two million in lost profits. Either way, it had ended with Shadow hunting the man down in Miami, learning his work and home schedule, and then losing her temper and gunning him down in front of the police station at dawn. That had gotten the attention of every cop within 100 miles. Had Shadow not been driving a turbo charged Camero, she would have been chased down and caught. The news footage of that chase had her clocked at 150mph.

Victor had picked her up Naples after receiving a frantic call from her at 10:00. Of course, he had been watching the news in his mansion in Sarasota at the time. The coverage had stopped at about 9:30 because they had lost her. As it turned out, she had ducked off the side of the road outside of Miami and into some brush. The cameras had panned the road in front of her car in that split second and when they turned them back, she was gone. “And you owe me for this morning.”

“Oh come on.” Shadow said, shifting in his lap. “L. would have been pissed had you not helped.”

“You use that excuse entirely too much. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you were the man’s wife.” He replied, kissing her forehead. She was young; 28 to his 45. He had known her for the last eight years down in Columbia, Florida, and wherever else L. tended to send his favorite group of troublemakers. Usually, it was Benton who accompanied Shadow, and Victor preferred it that way. She was taxing to his contacts. Speaking of contacts, he glanced around. Where was that tailor?

“I am not his wife. He’s like 60 years old!” She exclaimed, mortified.

“Shhh.” He breathed, bringing his mouth to her lips in a gentle kiss. “You are going to give yourself an ulcer by the time you’re 30. And he’s more like 65.” Victor grinned.

Once distracted by the kiss, Shadow wanted more as she entangled her mouth with his. Caught up in the moment, Victor’s hands began to caress her barely clothed body before they were interrupted by a knock.

Shadow groaned pulling away from his willing mouth. “Tailor?”

“Probably.” Victor replied, shifting her out of his lap so that he could answer the door. Peering through the peephole, he saw a man carrying two packages and a black bag as well as a few reams of cloth. “It’s the tailor.” He opened the door allowing the man inside the suite.

“I have the set of clothing that you requested, and a few yards of material in case the lady requires something more.” The tailor said as he walked over and handed Shadow the packages.

Shadow opened the first one, taking off the ribbon that had been holding the box closed, and pulled out a pair of dark blue jeans. Checking the size, she noted that they were three’s, and frowned slightly. They would work. They’d just be baggy.

The next item she pulled out was a black cameo with spaghetti straps. In the bottom of the box was a pair of flat black boots. The other box held undergarments and socks.

This’ll be fine.” Shadow said after setting the clothes on the couch and the empty boxes on the floor.

“You sure you don’t want anything else while he’s here?” Victor asked.

Shadow shook her head. “This will get me through until we can go shopping tomorrow.”

Victor nodded and showed the tailor out the door and into the hall where he gave the man 1000 in cash before walking back inside and locking the hotel door. “Are you going to sleep now?”

“Maybe.” Shadow replied, standing and walking over to the wet bar to pour herself another drink. “But I don’t really feel like sleeping.”

Victor walked up behind her and slid his arms around her waist. “How about you stop drinking, and we go to bed. We have a busy day ahead of us tomorrow.” His tone low in the quiet room.

Shadow finished pouring herself the drink and turned around in his arms with the glass in hand. “I don’t sleep. You know that.”

Victor edged her towards the bedroom, kicking the doors closed behind them, while Shadow sipped at her newly poured drink. Sliding the glass out of her hand, he sat it on the bedside table before laying her backwards in the bed and untying the belt on her robe.

“Victor.” She murmured, sliding her hands down the front of his shirt, unfastening the buttons.

Shhh.” He had already slid out of his jacket before positioning himself above her and capturing her protesting mouth with his.

He knew she wasn’t going to refuse him as he slid the cloth away from her skin and began tracing his mouth from her lips to her chest, caressing one nipple with his tongue as she began to squirm. He could feel her hands upon the tailored waistband of his pants, unfastening and pushing them down freeing his already aroused manhood. A moment later, he was positioning himself between her legs and pressing his sex against hers gently, teasing her.

Shadow shifted her hips then, pressing upwards as their sexes gently rubbed together. She could already feel herself becoming damp with excitement. Anticipation getting the better of her as she gazed up into his lust filled eyes, she pressed harder against him. His mouth muffled the escaping moan, tip of his sex barely penetrating, and then more fully as she felt his shaft edging inside her. They both moaned once he was fully inside her. Seconds later, their bodies entered a rhythm that threatened to send them both through the roof.

Quiet pleasured sounds became harsh grunts and moans as Victor pistoned inside her over and over again. Soon, she was screaming and begging him to take her harder. He could feel her tensing as her sounds becoming more frustrated-her grip on his back becoming hard as her hips bucked against his.

“Now, minx.” He rasped, thrusting hard inside her as he felt her muscles begin to spasm and clench around his pulsing manhood. The screams of pleasure practically echoed off the walls as they both climaxed, her body arching hard against his as he panted with the final few thrusts before collapsing next to her.

Shadow panted, her breathing rough as she rolled over against him with her head on his chest-eyes still somewhere in the back of her head. Minutes later, they were both calmly asleep after Victor had turned off the bedside lamp cocooning them in darkness for the rest of the night.

***

"Great." Shadow said as she walked back into the bathroom. "We need to find out what room they’re in." Once she was dressed in her new clothes, she walked out into the sitting room to find Victor lounged across the couch redressed in his suit. He had woken before her, showered, and redressed. They had been talking about the job since before she was fully awake.

We can do that later.” Victor responded. “I thought you wanted some new clothes first. I know I do.” He couldn’t stand wearing the same clothes two days in a row, and these had spent the night on the floor.

Shadow laughed. “Well. Yes. We don’t have any here.”

Then why don’t we go do that first. Then come back and try to find Brian and Stephanie.” He suggested, standing. “There’s a whole mall of possibilities waiting.”

She chuckled. “Okay, fine.” She hated being delayed, but he was right. They needed clothing. Hindsight was always 20/20 when it came to these things. “Why didn’t we pack?”

Because someone had to leave Florida in a hurry.”

Shadow groaned. “Can we forget about that for awhile.”

Victor grinned. “Come on, I have the hotel limousine ready and waiting downstairs.”

They both walked out of the suite and down the hall to the elevator not seeing Brian or Stephanie anywhere in the lobby or outside the hotel. The driver already had the back door to the limousine open and waiting for them.

Shadow bounced slightly when she saw the black stretch limousine. Stepping inside, she waited for Victor. Once he was inside and the doors were closed, she spoke. “So where are we going?”

I figure the mall is a good place to start. They have a luxury one up the street.” He replied.

Shadow sprawled across the backseat during the drive allowing Victor to massage her calves as they talked about the upcoming ‘events’.

Now, did you call in any backup for this or is it just you and me?” Victor asked.

Benton should be in town later today or tomorrow, but I don’t think he wants any part of this particular job.” Shadow replied. She hadn’t talked to him in well over a week, and the conversation had been brief since he had been expecting a phone call from L.

Victor nodded as the car pulled to a stop in front of the Woodland Mall entrance. A moment later, the driver had the door opened and both passengers stepped out into the light drizzle.

Does it ever stop raining here?” Shadow asked.

Springtime.” The chauffeur replied with a grin. “It gets better closer towards summer.” He closed the door and walked back around to the driver’s door while Victor and Shadow headed inside the mall.

He’s going to wait right?” Shadow asked.

Victor nodded as he led her down the large corridor filled with various shops. “Where would you like to go first?”

They have a Marshall Fields in here, don’t they?”

Victor nodded and walked them over to a mall directory. “Yes, they do. It’s down this corridor.” He pointed out the location of the store and where they were before leading her down the walkway towards the large department store.

Shadow was practically hopping along next to him as they walked. She didn’t relish shopping, but she liked new things. “I’m gonna check out the jeans once we get inside.”

That’s fine. I need to pick up a few new suits and some casual wear.”

Shadow headed for the women’s clothing the minute they entered the store and immediately picked up three new pairs of Joe’s jeans before heading over to the racks of shirts. She picked up a couple of black lace cameos, a few Nike fitted tank tops, and a couple of button down dress shirts. She was happy with the boots that were brought to her last night, and she wasn’t big on undergarments, so she didn’t pick up any of those. Instead, she met Victor at the cash register between the women’s and men’s departments. “Shit, we actually have to pay for this.”

Victor laughed outright at her sudden realization. “Yes.” He responded simply. It was one of the few times where they actually had to spend their own money.

Shadow pulled out her Discover once she arrived at the checkout. Upon hearing the total, she nearly had a heart attack. It was almost a thousand dollars. “How much were the jeans?”

Most of them were 160 a pair.” The woman replied, sliding Shadow’s credit card through the reader.

Victor’s suits totaled more than a grand by themselves, and once the rest of his purchases were rung up, he had dropped almost two grand on new clothing. “I think that’s enough for today.” He commented as they headed back down the mall towards the exit.

They were back at the hotel by 5:00, and Shadow had decided to lounge her jean clad body across the couch with a book and a glass of scotch. Falling asleep for a brief nap, she was awoken by the sound of someone knocking on their door. Opening her eyes, she saw Victor had already opened the door and Brian was now standing in the room.

"Hi, how do you like your room?" Brian asked watching Shadow sit up on the couch.

"It’s bigger than I thought." Shadow replied.

She rented me a suite, too." Brian commented as he glanced around.

Really? How long have you known her?" Shadow asked, unaware that he had known her for more than a few months.

"A couple of years." Brian replied, stepping further into the room and away from Victor who seemed to be looming behind him.

Well, I guess I should thank her for the room." Shadow said yawning and standing. She had had plenty of sleep. Victor had seen to that by exhausting her right before bed. That thought caused her to grin briefly as it had been quite awhile since she had orgasmed that hard with anyone. Then again, the man was quite skilled, and she caught her gaze traveling Victor’s suit clad body before stopping herself and turning her attention back to Brian. “What room is she in?”

“1903.” He responded. “I can show you.”

Shadow nodded. “We’ll be right back, Victor.”

They walked out of the room and stepped onto the elevator at the end of the hall, riding it down one floor to the 19th. Stephanie’s room was two doors down from the end of the hall, and Shadow knocked gently on the door.

Oh, hi.” Stephanie said, surprised after she had opened the door to her room.

I just wanted to thank you for the room again.” Shadow said. “I don’t know what we would have done if you hadn’t picked us up.”

"It was the least I could do. I saw all those cars slowing down and then passing you.” She paused. “Say, I was just about to head down to the bar. Why don’t you join me?”

Sure.” Shadow nodded. The invite had been unexpected, but it wasn’t one that she was willing to turn down. “How late are they open?” Shadow asked as she glanced at her watch. It was about 7:00, and she couldn’t help thinking that the day had gone by really fast.

They stop serving drinks at two, but they only kick you out of the bar area.” Stephanie glanced backwards and then spoke again. “Let me change shirts real fast. Come on in.”

Shadow entered the suite with Brian and looked around. It wasn’t any different from the one that she was staying in. Averting her gaze and making idle conversation with Brian, she waited for Stephanie to change. “Double beds in this one.” Her and Victor had a King sized bed. Shadow inwardly groaned at that realization. She was going to be forced to sleep with the man every night they were here. Of course, part of her mind was wondering if that was so bad.

Once Stephanie was ready, they headed down to the lobby and through the hotel’s massive restaurant to where the bar was located. It was still packed with people, and Shadow glanced around looking for anyone she knew. Thankfully, she didn’t recognize anyone.

Come on. My favorite table is open.”

Shadow and Brian followed Stephanie to a table in the back of the small bar, and watched as a waitress greeted them promptly, asking for their drink orders. Shadow ordered Vodka as she glanced around the room for the third time. Noticing the bartender, she excused herself and walked over towards the twenty foot solid black oak bar sitting down on one of the high stools. She wondered why she hadn’t noticed him before.

The bartender walked over to her a few minutes later. "The waitress said you were here." He replied with a sly smile.

"Yeah. What do you know about the woman over their next to the wall?" Shadow asked. “Sitting with Brian.”

"Stephanie Hook.” He replied with a shrug as if he were simply remembering a name on a credit card. “She’s a slush with close to fifty-million dollars, from what I hear.” He peered at Shadow closely. “Why? What are you thinking?”

I’m not thinking anything.” Shadow replied with an almost guilty grin.” The bartender was one of her long time friends from Florida, but he had moved to Michigan almost three years ago to start a new life.

“You are always thinking, my little red-head. But let me give you some words of advice. You are not the first person to try and woo her from her bank accounts, and you won’t be the last, but you need to be careful.”

"Why? Is she that smart?" Shadow asked.

"No, the cops find them first." The bartender replied as their tones became more hushed.

"How do they do that?" Shadow asked, curious as the bartender sat her down a margarita that he had prepared for her.

"They have to gain her trust before they can get her cash, and that takes time. So, by the time they finally earn her trust, all of a sudden they’re being slammed up against a wall and read their rights." The bartender explained quietly.

Shadow hmm-ed, contemplating the bartender’s statements. She wasn’t sure if she believed him or not. Though, she didn’t have any reason to distrust his words, and as a bartender he probably did hear a lot more than was common knowledge.

However, she wondered how informed he stayed these days since he was out of the Company loop. She knew that he used to be one of L’s top informants. In fact, she wondered how he had managed to get out of the Company. Once you were in, you stayed in.

Seeing the look on her face, he commented. “Be careful. That’s all I’m saying.”

So, when are you coming back?” She asked with a smile.

You know I’m not coming back. I’m done with that.”

But you were good.”

And I’m getting too old for that kind of life, but I’ll be here when you come around.” He smiled.

Shadow nodded and stood before walking back to the table. She wasn’t terribly worried about what the bartender had said. After all, Benton was coming in to town. She already had Victor. Turning her attention towards the table, she noticed Brian and Stephanie deep in a conversation. Shadow simply sat down and took a sip from her drink. Another drink had already been brought to the table, and she noticed that three glasses were now sitting in front of Stephanie, two of which were empty, the third glass half empty.

"How long was I gone?" Shadow asked.

"About a half an hour." Stephanie replied. "When the waitress came back she said you had a phone call."

"Yeah, it was a business call from the investors that stood us up last night. They said they had found a better investment after they had canceled our meeting." Shadow explained as she took another drink from her glass.

Stephanie glanced at her watch. “They called you this late in the evening? And how did they know you were here?”

"They gave me their home phone number and told me to call if I had any questions." Shadow replied smoothly before changing the subject. "What are you drinking?"

"Scotch." Stephanie replied. "I saw you took the hotel limo out today. Do you need a car?"

Shadow blinked. “Well, I suppose a car would be nice, but I haven’t gotten around to getting a rental just yet.”

"Do you like Corvettes?" Stephanie asked, continuing her previous thought to spite what Shadow had said.

"Yeah, they’re alright." Shadow said. “Expensive.”

"Well, how bout I take you out tomorrow around noon, and we take a look at a few?" She suggested.

Well ... Okay.” Shadow said, casting a confused look at Brian, whose shrug simply told her to ‘go with the flow’.

The bartender walked over to the table their table a few minutes later and leaned down to Shadow, whispering. "There’s a poker game about to start in the back room."

Shadow looked up at him. “It hasn’t started yet?" She mouthed.

"No, they’re waiting to see if you want in." The bartender whispered into her ear.

In." Shadow said and stood up. She just couldn’t pass this up. She knew that Victor would be pissed at her if he found out, but what he didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her. "If you’ll excuse me, I seem to be very popular with the phone tonight.”

She proceeded to the back room and took a seat at the round poker table with seven other people. The room was dim and smoky. Several of he men had lit cigars, and she choked on the smell.

"Took you long enough." One of the men said.

"I had business to take care of" Shadow replied, after she had recovered.

Where have you been lately?” One of the men asked.

Florida. You know how I only get up here once every few months.”

The man nodded. “Still you promised us that you’d be around more.”

Yeah.’ she grinned. “Hey. Don’t you guys usually play at the 76th street bar?”

A bar fight shut them down early this afternoon.”

Another man began shuffling the cards and dealing them." Five card stud, deuces wild."

How in the hell?” Shadow questioned as the cards were dealt.

Some dumbass got taken at the pool tables, got pissed, and pulled a gun.”

Shit.” Shadow commented, glancing at her cards.

"Ten in for the ante." The first man informed and waited until everyone had placed their bills in the center of the table.

"I raise ten." The man said sitting to the right of the dealer. The raise was matched and everyone passed except Shadow, the dealer and the man to the right of him.

Shadow was looking at three Queens, a two and an Ace. “I raise fifty."

"I pass." The dealer said.

"Well, I don’t." The man said and raised it ten more. Shadow matched his raise and called. She then waited for everyone to lay down their cards before laying her own on the table face up.

"I have three Aces." The man said confidently.

I have a Full House." Shadow stated and raked in the money... The waitress walked into the back room. "Can I get anybody anything?”

Shadow ordered a shot of vodka while the rest ordered whiskey. When the waitress finally brought their drinks they were well into their third hand.

Three hours later the group broke up, and Shadow walked out into the front room sitting down at the bar. "What time is it?” Shadow asked, noticing that most of the patrons had cleared out of the bar.

"It’s just after midnight." He replied as he began wiping down the bar.

"When did Stephanie and Brian leave?"

"About thirty minutes ago.” He replied rummaging under the counter and pulling out a napkin with writing on it. “She said that she’d meet you in the lobby at noon tomorrow.”

Shadow laughed, amused, taking the napkin and crumpling it. “Okay. Can I get another drink then, and has Victor been down?”

The bartender handed her a glass of scotch and shook his head. “I haven’t seen him all night.”

Shadow sighed. “I swear all he does is hole himself up in the hotel rooms and doesn’t do any work.”

The bartender chuckled. “Perhaps you should go motivate him.”

The grin appearing on Shadow’s face was all telling. However, instead of responding to him, she asked. “I’ll be seeing you later?”

You know it.” The bartender replied. “Now go get some sleep.”

She laughed as she exited the bar and walked out into the lobby. Taking the elevator up to the 20th floor, she walked into the suite a few minutes later and saw Victor asleep in the huge bed as if he didn’t have a care in the world.

Shadow decided to take a quick shower and walked into the bathroom. When she came out Victor was lying on his side on the bed, staring at the bathroom door. "You’re finally back."

Shadow nodded. "You were asleep when I in. I didn’t think you’d want to be woken." She paused momentarily. “And Stephanie wants to buy me a Corvette later today."

Victor sat up on the edge of the bed. “What did you say to that?

"Nothing... I didn’t say anything. I was too surprised to do anything other than agree. She doesn’t have any reason to buy me a car." Shadow stated as she glanced at the clock, exhausted. “What in the hell did you do to me last night?”

A slow smile appeared on his face. “I think that’s your body telling you that you can’t stay up for weeks at a time.”

“Bite me.” Shadow replied as she sat down in one of the chairs and pulled out the money she had won during the poker games. When she finished organizing, counting, and putting it away in a large leather briefcase that she had picked up before leaving the mall, she had counted almost ten grand.

"Where did you get all that money?" Victor asked.

"I’ve had it." Shadow said. "I’m going to go down to the lobby and find Stephanie. While I’m gone I want you to find out about Brian.”

Shadow, it’s almost two in the morning. Go to bed, woman.” Victor ordered half-jokingly. He knew she kept long hours, but he couldn’t remember the last time he had actually seen her sleep other than last night.

I’m fine.” Shadow replied, standing from the chair. She had mostly ignored his rant about what time it was.

Standing, Victor walked over to her and slid an arm around her waist. “Honey, I know you want to get this started, but it isn’t going to do you any good if you don’t get some sleep.”

Shadow sighed. “I don’t want to sleep.”

You must sleep.” Victor replied, pressing his lips against her ear and pulling her gently towards the bed while he unfastened her pants. A moment later, he was pulling the tiny shirt off her body. Unsurprisingly, he found nothing underneath the clothing as he laid her into bed before sliding under the covers next to her. When he felt her head resting against his shoulder, he drifted to sleep.

 

CHAPTER 2

Shadow walked out of the hotel suite at exactly 11:50am and rode the elevator down to the lobby. Stephanie was already waiting for her dressed in what Shadow would have considered a summer dress. Inwardly shaking her head, Shadow vowed to never wear anything so garish. The purple and pinks reminded her of a badly laid out flowerbed.

“Are you ready?” Stephanie asked when she saw Shadow approaching.

“Yep.” Shadow replied with a smile.

“I have the perfect car lot. I always go to the one up on 28th street.”

Shadow nodded as they headed out of the lobby.

Stephanie’s car was already parked under the large carport, and they stepped inside the comfortable interior a moment later. After fastening her seatbelt, Shadow glanced out the windshield as Stephanie drove them to a lot full of Corvettes. All styles, models, years, and colors were displayed throughout the dealership.

Parking the car, Stephanie asked. "See anything you like?" As they got out of the car, she continued. "I already called the insurance company."

"Why are you buying me a car?" Shadow asked suddenly. The curiosity was really starting to drive her mad. "Do I remind you of someone you used to know?” She had heard of stories where perfect strangers would buy people things, clothing, cars, houses, but Shadow had never really believed it to be true and never thought that it would happen to her. People just weren’t that nice.

"Yeah, you remind me of my little sister." Stephanie said. "I should’ve figured you’d question what I was doing.” She paused. This wasn’t something that she wanted to talk about. It had taken her all of five minutes to realize that Shadow reminded her of her younger and wilder sister. “Jane was twenty years old when she died. In fact, she looked a lot like you except her hair was dark brown.”

"...I’m sorry." Shadow said thinking that this is going to be too easy. In fact, it was already too easy. Shadow, honestly, couldn’t believe her luck. She had never entered a potential scam and gotten this far so quickly. It was also a little unsettling. It caused Shadow to stop and think. There was no way that it could be this easy. What was it that L used to tell her? If they’re giving you something, they want something in return. Shadow wondered what it was that Stephanie wanted from her.

"She died about a year ago.” Stephanie continued. “It was a drunk driving accident. We were extremely close, so I guess I’ve never really gotten over it." She paused and put on a smile. "Now, enough of that, which do you want?"

"The black convertible over there." Shadow replied thanking the heavens that the woman had changed the subject. Death was not something that Shadow liked to think about. It was all too real in her world of crime and corruption. She’d never forget the day she had heard gunshots in L’s mansion. Inwardly, she shuddered at the memory.

"Great." Stephanie said.

Shadow had been rather impressed that they had yet to be bombarded by salesman. Shadow hated dealing with salesman. They reminded her of a skuzzier version of herself, except less honest. She paused. Was that even possible? A moment later, they walked into the dealership showroom and found a salesman.

Stephanie took care of all of the transactions while Shadow stood back and watched. After about 15 minutes, Shadow began to pace the sales floor. There were lots of spectacular cars, and she took inventory of quite a few. The Chevy Cobalt was rather nice. It was sitting off to the side with a dark red paintjob. Shadow loved high gloss paint and slid her hand along the smooth metal.

After checking the retail sticker, she decided that it was a little cheap for her tastes. The Monte Carlo was also an interesting car, but Shadow didn’t like the new style of body. She much preferred the late 80’s and early 90’s models.

A few minutes later, Shadow was called into the office to sign the title, and look over the paperwork. Soon, Shadow had the keys and temporary title in her hand. The salesman walked them out to her new Corvette. After the temporary plate was placed on the car, Shadow and Stephanie drove back to the hotel and parked.

What do you think of it?” Stephanie asked as they walked towards the Marriot.

It’s a nice car.” She responded with a grin. In truth, it was a spectacular car made even better by the fact that Shadow hadn’t had to pay for it. Victor would be impressed. In fact, she had to show it to him. For that matter, she wanted to show it to Benton too. That thought caused her to glance around the parking lot. Benton was supposed to be in town today. Frowning slightly, she made a mental note to call him once she got to her room.

Moments later, Shadow and Stephanie entered the hotel and rode the elevator up to the nineteenth floor where Stephanie got off. Shadow continued up to the twentieth floor and stepped out into the ornate hallway.

Brian was about to knock on her hotel door.

Brian.” She announced and watched as he dropped his hand.

Just the woman I’ve been looking for.” Brian said with a grin as he turned around and headed down the hall towards her.

Oh?”

Yeah. I just got off the phone with L.”

Shadow raised an eyebrow. “Really?” She was still trying to place the man with her vague memories. Shadow knew that she had seen him before. Was it in Florida? She sighed. “Okay. You need to jog my memory.”

Brian Colcort.” He took her hand and kissed it gently. “We met a few years ago at L’s mansion. You were a little out of your head at the time. It’s good to see you’re doing better.” He smiled.

Shadow laughed. “I can imagine. She rubbed her eyes. “So what did you need to talk to me about? And what do you do for L?”

Brian led her back towards the elevator, and they stepped inside. “I take care of L’s problems.”

Shadow’s eyes widened at his statement. She knew exactly what that meant. “What’s the problem?” She tentatively questioned, not sure that she really wanted to know.

The problem is Stephanie Hook.” He replied simply. “Let’s go back to my room and I’ll show you.” He paused as the elevator doors opened and they stepped out into the hallway. “I had no idea you were involved in this until I saw you last night.”

Shadow nodded as they walked down the hall and he unlocked the door allowing them both inside. Once Shadow was inside, Brian closed the door. “Benton should be here today.” He commented as he walked over to the dining table and picked up a thick file. “The only thing that I can gather is that L is letting you get whatever funds you want from Stephanie before we end this thing.”

Why is that?” Shadow asked stepping further inside the spacious suite.

Because she is apparently trying to branch out.”

You’re going to have to be a little more clear.”

Look this over for a moment.” Brian replied handing her the file.

Shadow opened the file and sat down on the couch, spreading out the contents on the cushion next to her. “This goes all the way back to 1993.”

We’ve been keeping tabs since Decker took notice of her.”

You’re kidding.”

Nope.”

Shadow continued to look through the file, reading bits and pieces of the information presented. “This is unbelievable. She had an affair with Decker between 1993 and 1994.” She paused. “But how did this get L’s attention?”

L was keeping tabs on his wife who was also having an affair with Decker.”

Shadow hmm-ed as she turned the page. “So we found out that she keeps a permanent suite here, a house in Hudsonville, and owns Hook Cargo?”

Brian nodded. “Read more on the cargo company.”

Shadow skimmed a few paragraphs. “Well, shit.” She commented. “This can’t be right. You have fuel records on how much she burns a month, and she owns a Seneca V. I own a Seneca V and I couldn’t burn that much avgas if I tried.”

That is because she flies to Japan twice a month. Read.”

IBM has an investigation going for stolen chip technology?” She turned the page. “I don’t understand why you’re here though.” She flipped through a few more pages. “This doesn’t seem to have anything to do with us.” She finally concluded.

It doesn’t until you realize that she is trying to expand.” Brian explained. “Computer chips are lucrative but dangerous, and she doesn’t have the infrastructure to keep shipping them. However, we do, and she’s leaning on Decker to allow her to move her operations down to Brazil on his property.”

But L owns that property.”

And so she has been doing her own investigating using her own detectives. The thought is that she is going to dig up enough information to try and blackmail L into letting her move down there.”

Who are the detectives she’s using?” Shadow asked.

Jody Shaughnessy and Jason Trace.”

Fuck.”

Yes, but trust me, you and Benton will be an asset once you get into those offices. L wants you to find all of the files that she has on the Company.”

Shadow nodded. “But why didn’t he call me?”

He called you last night, but you didn’t answer. So, he called me this morning.”

And what is your job?”

To keep Stephanie distracted until we’re finished.”

Shadow nodded. “Okay. I think I understand.”

Brian nodded. “What you need to understand is that we’ve been working on this for years, and we’re about to finish it. Your job is to get the money, get the files and get out.”

Shadow nodded as she folded up the file. Leaving it on the couch, she stood and exited the room. Entering her rooms, she mulled over what Brian had said to her. It didn’t completely make sense in her mind. However, she did understand what she was to accomplish. Sighing, she looked up and saw Victor playing solitaire at the dining table. "What’d you find out about Brian?" Shadow asked after closing the door.

"He’s 30 years old, he owns a white Mercedes, met Stephanie at work, and he’s known her for about a month." Victor said. That was all he was allotted to say to her on that matter, and he knew that it directly conflicted with what Brian had told them yesterday. Still, he couldn’t do anything about that. Shadow could come to her own conclusions.

Brian was one of L’s top informants and hit men, and well known for his lethal solutions. Victor actually feared the man and knew that he was involved to make sure that everything went according to plan. Needless to say, that put Victor on edge. His job was to keep Shadow in line and make sure she got away with the money. L wanted her to have that money.

Shadow raised an eyebrow at that information. It didn’t coincide with the information that Brian had just told her. At this point she wasn’t sure who to believe. She would have to question Brian further, and Benton. She figured that Benton may know a little more than Victor, and she could get his perspective on this. "Okay good.” Shadow replied, seemingly happy with that answer. “Stephanie said I reminded her of her sister. What a laugh."

"I thought this was suppose to be a challenge." Victor commented.

"So did I." Shadow said. "I think we should teach her how to play poker and take her to 76th street."

"Uh... .no, I don’t think so." Victor said with a laugh. "Just because we get along on 76th street doesn’t mean she will. What happens if she screws up and gets herself shot?"

She grinned. “You are just no fun.” Changing the subject, Shadow remarked. “I think we should just run a bank scam on her. Presents are nice, but I want cash.”

"And how are you going to accomplish that?" Victor asked, knowing full well that Shadow had very limited understanding on how banks worked. Of course, Victor had assumed that that was why he had accompanied Shadow on this job.

Shadow pondered for a moment. "The front desk had a call from the bank about her account, and the desk clerk told us to tell her because ...“

"What did the call say?" Victor asked, interrupting.

Shadow sighed. She figured she should have been used to this by now. “I don’t know. Why don’t you figure that out? I’ve done all the work on this so far." Shadow replied slightly irritable. "And you know, I don’t think it was just a coincidence that we just happened to be on the same road at the same time as Stephanie Hook and that we were in the right spot so that she picked us up. Do you?"

"What are you talking about?" Victor asked, shocked that she was making such accusations.

"This has all been orchestrated." Shadow accused. “There’s no way that this was all by chance. I was lead to believe that this was a fresh job.”

"Who told you that?" Victor asked annoyed and stood from the table. “I’ve been nothing but honest with you, Shadow. We may lie to our targets, but we can’t lie to each other.”

"No, but you can withhold information from me. I recognized Brian. I met him a couple years ago at L’s.”

Victor sighed. “This is a lot bigger than it appears on the surface, but our job is to take her money. That’s it. That is all we need to be concerned with.”

Fuck you!” Shadow yelled and headed for the door. “If you can’t fucking tell me what’s going on!”

Shadow!” Victor called after her as he grabbed her by the arm just as she opened the door. “Close the door. We need to talk about this.”

Shadow jerked her arm out of his grasp. “There is nothing to talk about, Victor. You tried to set me up. I’ve been doing all of the work on this while you’ve been living it up in this room!” She suddenly found herself furious and suspected that it was because she had been left out of the loop. She hated being left out of the loop.

I have not been ‘living it up’ in this hotel room for the past three days.” Victor said taking a step backwards to give her more room.

Coulda fooled me.” She interjected.

I’ve been making phone calls and checking out the area. I’ve also been researching Stephanie.” He paused. “Come on, Shadow. Do you think that if I was half the asshole you’re accusing me of that I would have even asked you to help me?”

Quit it!” Shadow yelled. “Don’t you start that shit with me.” She turned to leave the room.

Do you want me to tell you what she’s been up to or not?” Victor paused briefly. “Damnit, Shadow. Let me explain what’s going on!”

No!” Shadow yelled, throwing open the door. “I already know!” She stormed down the hallway as the door slammed behind her.

Shadow rode the elevator down to the lobby and saw Brian standing by the door. She walked over to him and asked. "Who are you waiting for?" She asked as she glanced out the glass doors. She saw a white Corvette parking beside her black one. “Benton finally here?”

He is.” Brian replied with a slight smile. He knew she’d be glad to see him. He expected to see bouncing or some enthusiasm out of the woman, and was disappointed when it didn’t happen.

Shadow was relieved to see Benton walk through the lobby doors, but none of that showed on her features as she watched him walk towards them. Her mood was still colored by her conversation with Victor. She wanted answers.

How are we all doing this fine Wednesday afternoon?” Benton asked with a grin as he casually slipped an arm around Shadow and pulled her close for a brief hug.

Good.” Shadow replied with a genuine smile as she wrapped her arms around him.

Excellent. It’s a long fucking drive from Florida to here.” He commented, releasing her. “However, I understand that I’m needed.”

Brian nodded as they walked over to the breakfast area and sat down at a table. “Has L briefed you?”

Yeah, he told me to stay in Brazil.” Benton replied with a laugh.

Brian chuckled. “Then I take it you got my last message?”

I did and finished up in Brazil as soon as I could.” He paused. “So who all is involved in this?”

You, me, Shadow and Victor.”

Benton nodded. “And what is the goal?”

To relieve the woman of her money, stop her investigation, and clean up.” Brian replied. “I have the latter.”

He nodded again. “So that wasn’t just a rumor?”

I’m afraid not.” Brian replied. “We think that the Shaughnessy agency has quite a few files on us.”

Benton hmm-ed. “Not good, but we can look for those next week. Do we have a plan for the cash?”

I was thinking that we should simply take it out of her accounts.” Shadow interjected. “I hate waiting for checks.”

Brian and Benton both chuckled. “Well, that requires getting a-hold of her cards and her bank statement. And that is more Victor’s specialty.” Benton informed relaxed.

He doesn’t have access to her room.” Shadow responded as she watched Benton. He was dressed in an Armani suit with black buttons, hair combed to perfection aside from the one hair that always stayed out of place. Shadow had to resist the urge to touch it.

No, but I do.” Brian stated. “When do we want to accomplish this?”

Immediately.” Shadow responded, bringing her thoughts back to the conversation.

Then let’s do it. Stephanie is down at the pool right now.” Brian informed.

A few minutes later, they entered the elevator and rode up to the nineteenth floor. "What room is Stephanie’s?" Shadow asked.

"1903." Brian replied.

"What’s your room number?" Shadow asked.

"1905." Brian replied, turning around to face her, walking backwards.

"How close are you to Stephanie?” Shadow asked, curious.

"Close enough." Brian said with a dry chuckle. "The sooner we get this done, the sooner I can get as far away from her as possible."

Great, that means you can get to things that we can’t." Shadow grinned optimistically.

Are you trying to kill me at a young age, Shadow?” Brian mockingly retaliated only to receive a laugh from the red-head.

He turned around as they approached the door to Stephanie’s room. "Does anybody have a key?" Shadow asked after freeing her mouth from Benton’s as he had decided to place a quick kiss to her lips.

"Of course." Brian replied as he walked up to the door and unlocked it.

"What are we looking for?" Benton asked, nudging Shadow so she’d stop giggling.

"A bank statement." Shadow said as they walked into the room. "And anything else that looks important."

You must think she’s been here awhile, if you’re going to find items like that.” Benton commented as he began searching through the room, opening drawers, and checking in closets.

Well, she has been in this suite for about two months.” Brian chimed in as he followed suit with Benton. “But I suspect she’s been here longer.”

Shadow walked into the bedroom and began searching, grumbling slightly when she didn’t find what she wanted. Benton entered shortly after her and began rechecking the vanity. “I think this is going to be futile, Shadow. No one in their right mind leaves the type of paperwork lying about that you want.”

It has to be here.” Shadow grumbled slamming closed a drawer just as she felt Benton’s hands on her waist. Turning around, she felt him capture her mouth in a passionate kiss before they were both startled by Brian’s yelling.

Shadow groaned only to be hushed by Benton. “But…”

“Shhh…”

"Holy shit, you guys aren’t going to believe what I found!”

"What?" Shadow asked appearing in the bedroom doorway, wiping her mouth discreetly. She wanted to talk to Benton alone, but it didn’t appear to be happening.

Benton walked up behind Shadow, peering over her shoulder.

"About a hundred-thousand dollars worth of computer chips." Brian said pulling out a well used cigar box from deep under the couch.

"Where did she get that?" Benton asked, more wondering to himself than actually expecting an answer. “Wait, you said ‘computer’ chips?” For some reason he had thought that Brian had said poker chips, and he couldn’t recall ever hearing that the woman played poker. “Actually, they’re worth more than that.” He commented as an aside, walking around Shadow and over to Brian in order to peer inside the box.

Jesus Christ.” Benton muttered.

Come here, Shadow, you’ll see what I was talking about.” Once Shadow had walked over, Brian continued. "These are the chips I was telling you about. These are copies. Though, I would imagine their perfect copies judging by the packaging.” He used his free arm to pick up a slightly pink static bag containing two chips and handed it to Benton.

L. should get in on this racket.” Benton commented as he examined the bag.

He’d rather extort half her profits,” Shadow commented with a laugh. “I don’t think we have any contacts that far East anyway.”

You were with her a couple weeks ago.” Benton stated still examining the bag. “You remember that pilot that was arrested?”

It was all over the damned news.” Brian responded.

"They started investigating about four months ago. They did extensive searches of all boats coming and going off the Great Lakes, but they never found anything.” Benton said as he placed the bag back in the box. “After awhile they thought the person was living on 76th street. Undercover officers started hanging out at all the bars. It was so bad, that I had stopped going. The poker and pool rackets disappeared.” He shrugged. “However, eventually they must have found someone willing to talk because the cops showed up at her cargo operation on the Great Lakes and started pulling files. The pilot fled to the Caribbean, and I’m sure you remember that high profile arrest, Shadow.”

She nodded. “Yeah, L told me about it.”

Jesus.” Brian said. “I didn’t realize it was that elaborate.”

Neither did anyone else. As strange as it sounds, the pilot didn’t rat out Stephanie. He took the full blame and said that he was doing it on his own using her equipment.”

She still should have been brought in for questioning.” Shadow interjected. “He hasn’t even gone to trial yet, has he?”

Not yet.” Brian interjected.

Benton nodded. “She was, but no one ever heard how that went. She sure as hell hasn’t talked about it.” He looked at Brian.

Stephanie never said anything to me. She was gone for about three days last month, but I never questioned it.” Brian said standing from his kneeling position. It wasn’t his job to question it. The box once again concealed it its hiding place.

"Someone who goes to the 76th street bar all the time besides me?" Shadow said, contemplating the insider that was used by the police. "I think we need to hang around the bar for awhile.” She had been slowly edging towards Benton, unaware that she was doing it until she felt his arm around her waist.

Benton laughed. “Curious now, are you?” He released her a moment later, not glancing over at her to check the pout that he knew had formed there. "By the way, I found a bank statement you wanted, Shadow.”

Grabbing the sheet of paper, Shadow grinned. “Bout time someone did something useful.”

Brian was sifting through the bedside tables, finally locating Stephanie’s pocket book. He removed her account cards and a few credit cards before speaking. “Okay, let’s get out of here.” He slid the pocketbook back into its place and closed the door before following Shadow and Benton into the hall.

Benton swatted Shadow on the behind as they exited the hotel room while Brian checked the door to make sure it had locked.

"What does that bank statement say?” Brian asked.

"She has fifty-million dollars." Benton replied after slipping the paper out of Shadow’s hands and tri-folding it before putting it inside his jacket.

The elevator doors opened just as they had pressed the button to head back down to the lobby. Stephanie stepped out much to everyone’s disguised shock. "What are you guys up to?"

"Nothing much." Shadow replied.

"We were all just thinking about going to the bar on 76th street." Benton interjected with a smile to spite Shadow’s death glare in his direction.

“Benton.” Shadow muttered. “I need to talk to you.”

“We’ll talk later.” He whispered into her ear.

"Yeah, we were all going to ride in the same car, but since I know you’ll want to go you could ride with Brian.” Shadow said, deciding to go with the flow.

"Sounds great." Stephanie said. "When were you planning on going?"

Benton glanced down at his watch. “About now.”

“Let me go change and I’ll meet you down in the lobby.”

Stephanie said with a smile.

Brian walked past Shadow and Benton he whispered. "I’m going to get you back for this. You could have asked her to follow us."

Benton chuckled as they all stepped into the elevator, his arm sliding comfortably around Shadow. "This works out perfectly.” She whispered into Benton’s ear.

“Missed me did you?” Benton whispered.

No.” Shadow stated. “You told me you’d be up.”

Benton made a half agreeing sound before pulling her closer.

We can take her to the bar and then watch to see if we can find the informant.” She stated trying to keep her mind focused on the task at hand. However, she was moving her mouth closer to Benton’s, intent on getting another kiss.

“Could you two quit it for five minutes.” Brian interjected suddenly.

Both Shadow and Benton jumped at the sound of Brian’s semi-irritated voice and separated quickly. Shadow leaned against the back of the elevator while Benton positioned himself against the side. “What’s got you so uptight?” Benton asked.

“We are on a job, not a vacation.” Brian replied. “And part of my duties involve keeping everyone in line and on the same page.”

Benton sighed. “You called me.”

“You have more experience than Shadow.” He stated. “But that doesn’t mean that L won’t chew my ass if he finds out you’re here.”

A few moments later, the elevator doors opened and they stepped onto the marble flooring of the lobby. Surprisingly, it was packed with people, and Benton felt Shadow press closer to him. “They’re probably here for a convention.” Benton soothed as he tightened his arm around her waist, leading her through the crowd and out into the less populated parking lot.

Shadow settled into the front passenger’s seat and fastened her seatbelt. She wasn’t fond of them, but Benton always made her wear one. Leaning her head back against the seat, she turned her gaze towards him. She watched as he pulled out into the traffic. He was almost as good a driver as her chauffeur.

I know.” Benton said removing his hand from the stick shift to encompass He could feel her gaze on him as he drove, and placed her hand on the gear shift; his hand encompassing hers. “I promise.”

You promise every time.” Shadow replied quietly.

We’re both going to be working at the same Agency. I’m sure we’ll at least get some semi-quality time there.” He turned a corner before continuing. “One of these days we’re going to take a long vacation to some vacant beach where no one can find us.” It was a running theme with them. They always joked and dreamed about running away together. It had started years ago when they had first met.

Shadow smiled. “You keep promising.”

Benton chuckled. “I’m sure we could get some time away after this is all over.” He leaned over and kissed her gently as they pulled into a parking space in front of the 76th street bar. “I promise we will.”

Shadow sighed. “Okay. So. What do you know about Brian? I keep getting conflicting answers.”

Brian is L’s hit man.” He replied bluntly. “If he’s around, he’s here to kill someone.”

Shadow blinked. “What?” She questioned as they stepped out of the car.

L pays him to kill people. I doubt he’s here for the scam.” At her leery look, he added. “It’s not you or I. I’m positive of that.”

Entering the bar, they found Stephanie and Brian sitting at one of the back tables. Stephanie had just left the table to play darts, or so Shadow surmised since the woman was pulling the darts out of the electronic board.

"What’s happened so far?" Shadow asked turning her gaze towards the table. She wasn’t surprised that Brian and Stephanie had beaten them to the bar. Benton had taken the scenic route and then they had gotten delayed in the car.

"I’ve had the privilege, of watching Stephanie drink for the last twenty minutes." Brian stately dully. “What took you guys so long?”

Shadow shrugged as she sat down in the chair Benton had pulled out for her. She wasn’t about to go into detail on the long kiss that had precluded their actually getting out of the car. “Sounds like you’ve had fun so far.” She grinned mischievously.

"Oh... yeah, loads of fun." Brian replied dully. "I’d rather lose thousands of dollars playing pool with you."

"It can’t be that bad." Shadow said with a laugh.

Not everyone can be as entertaining as you when drunk.” Benton grinned.

"She slurps at her drinks." Brian stated with a grimace.

"Maybe it is." Shadow recanted with a grin.

"I’d rather watch a bunch of overweight alcoholics drink shots of Rum than listen to her slurp." Brian added.

"Well, how many drinks do you think she’s slurped down?" Shadow laughed.

"At least five." Brian said flagging down the waitress.

She walked up to the table a few minutes later and asked for their orders. Benton ordered a screw driver, Brian ordered a Bloody Mary, and Shadow ordered Vodka. Stephanie came back to the table just as the waitress was setting down the new glasses.

She’s an alcohol magnet.” Shadow leaned over and whispered into Benton’s ear, getting an amused smile from him. “How was your dart game?" Shadow asked Stephanie.

"It was alright, I only hit the bull’s eye once."

Well.” Shadow grinned. “I’ve never played before do you think you could show me?"

"Yeah, sure." Stephanie said picking up her drink and heading for the dart board.

"Can you play darts?" Benton asked.

"Yeah, everyone can play darts. The idea is to play well." Shadow grinned and followed Stephanie to the board.

"What you do is you pick up one of these darts, aim for the board, and throw." Stephanie explained and handed her the dart.

Shadow took the dart and pretended to take a long time aiming. She even took a few practice throws without releasing the dart. When Shadow finally did throw it, it ratcheted off the thin piece of silver metal lining the board, darted sideways and finally impaled the wall.

That was good for a beginner." Stephanie said optimistically as she walked over and pulled the dart from the plaster board before walking back over to Shadow. "Maybe you’ll do better at a game?"

"Maybe." Shadow said.

"I’ll throw three darts for a score and then you’ll throw three darts for a score." Stephanie explained.

Shadow nodded fidgeting with her darts and glancing back at the table where Benton and Brian were sitting.

Stephanie picked up three darts and threw them one at a time. The electronic numbers registered her score at 210. She, then, pulled the darts from the board and stepped out of Shadow’s line of sight. In fact, she took two extra steps to the right just to make sure she wouldn’t get speared by one of the metal tipped toys.

Shadow held two of the darts in her left hand, while she aimed with her right. Letting the little spear fly, it hit the center bull’s eye for one-hundred points. The second dart impaled itself on the seventy-five point sliver, while the third dart hit the fifty point triangle for a total of two-hundred-twenty-five.

"That was a great game" Stephanie said. "You think you’re getting the hang of it?"

Shadow nodded. “I think I’ve got it.” She grinned.

Want to make it more interesting and play, for say, 20 dollars?”

"I don’t know." Shadow said, appearing to mull over the question. Really, Shadow wanted to go back to the table. She never got to spend any time with Benton, working or otherwise.

Come on. It’ll be fun.”

Finally, Shadow nodded. “All right. Twenty dollars.”

Brian and Benton were sitting at the table. So far they had gone through three drinks a piece and were now talking about Stephanie’s side business after Benton had dodged numerous questions about him and Shadow.

"So Stephanie’s shipping computer chips." Benton said in an attempt to change the subject from Brian’s constant harassment. Just because their goddamned beach incident got halfway across the world did not make them a fucking couple. "Well, you know somebody’s going to find her out soon. Her pilot getting arrested was probably the beginning of the end."

"Yep, But we should be done in three days." Brian said.

"Yeah, I wonder what Shadow’s got in mind for her part of the scam." Benton mused.

"I don’t know, it should be interesting." Brian said. “So, what is up with you two?” He paused, taking in the irritated look on Benton’s face. “Come on. All you do is wonder what she’s up to. I see the sideways looks, and I saw that hug.” It was the best unkept secret in the Company. “And you never did explain to me what happened on the beach.”

Let it go.” Benton stated annoyed. “There isn’t shit between me and her, and you know it. And I am never explaining what happened at the beach.” He took another drink from his glass.

Brian laughed. “Fine. Fine. Be that way. I still think you should go spend some quality time in your room when we get back. And you are the one that brought her up again.”

I have to bring her up. She’s involved in this.” Benton retaliated.

Brian chuckled.

Someone should offer to beat the shit out of you.” Benton commented dully.

L does caged matches on the weekend. I’ll take you on.” Brian replied with a laugh.

Benton breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Shadow returning to the table. “Thank god.” He muttered under his breath.

Shadow raised an eyebrow as she sat down. “What did I miss?”

I’ll tell you later.” Benton replied.

Brian laughed outright before asking. "How much money did you win?"

"About five hundred." Shadow replied. “She kept wanting to play more.”

"How’d you manage that?" Benton asked.

"She kept thinking she could win it back.” She grinned, picking up her nearly untouched drink. “She’s really got a gambling problem, and it gets worse the more she drinks.”

"Who’s that man with Stephanie?" Brian asked suddenly as he just happened to notice a man standing with her.

"He’s the man we’ve been wanting to know about." Shadow replied. “He walked up to us while we were playing and started talking to her. He was telling her shit that I didn’t even know. In fact, I wish I didn’t know.” She sighed. “But yeah. That’s the man, and he has all the information you never wanted to know.”

Benton looked at Shadow then, concerned. “What the hell did he say?”

He was telling her about her ex-pilot and what he was going through with his lawyers and how the investigation was going.” Shadow rubbed her eyes before taking another drink. “Apparently, the man has taken all the blame and admitted guilt.”

Benton’s jaw dropped open even though he had already known that fact. “Why in the hell…?”

Shadow shrugged. “Hell if I know. But it gets better. The police don’t entirely believe him, and they want to search her docks and offices again.”

Shit.” Benton and Brian both exclaimed.

Wait.” Benton interrupted. “Why in the hell was he saying all this in front of you?”

Don’t know, but I’m about to go find out.” Shadow replied standing from the table after finishing her drink.

She waited for the man to walk away from Stephanie before approaching him. When the man sat down at the bar, Shadow sat down next to him and asked blatantly. "What do you do for Stephanie?"

The man turned around to face her and asked flatly. "Who wants to know?"

"I do." Shadow replied with the same ambivalent tone.

I’m only an information man" He said.

Shadow sighed. She wasn’t really in the mood for games. She had met people like this before, and it seemed to her that games were all they ever played. "About what?"

"About a lot of things, Shadow." He replied.

I’d ask how you know my name, but if you’ve watched the news lately…”

The man shrugged. “They never used your name on the news and the images were blurry, except for the car. The cameramen really seemed to like that car.”

Shadow laughed, but narrowed her gaze on the man. “I heard what you told her. Now, why would you talk in front of me?”

Because I know exactly who you are, and I wanted you to know what I can find out. Consider it your last chance to walk away and forget whatever you’re doing with Stephanie.” He paused. “I have yet to tell her anything about you, but all it would take is one phone call.”

Shadow frowned as her teeth began to grind. “Try it and see where it gets you.”

The man chuckled. “Unlike your friends.” He motioned towards the table. “I am not intimidated.”

You should be.” Shadow said and stood. “I’ll be seeing you again.” She resisted the urge to storm back to the table, but mentally, she was envisioning the man standing before her bloody and beaten. She could practically hear the clicks as she cocked her pistols and aimed for something non-vital, perhaps his groin. Then she’d move to his hands, his feet, and when he was writhing on the ground, she put a bullet straight through his head.

"How’d you get so good at that game so fast?" Stephanie asked pulling Shadow from her murderous thoughts.

"Beginners luck, I guess." Shadow replied, focusing her gaze on the woman and realizing that she was standing in front of the table.

"Maybe." Stephanie said. "Well, I’m ready to go."

"Okay." Benton said as he and Brian both stood up.

"You guys go ahead I have some things I need to do after I leave here." Shadow said.

Benton stood, casting a quick glance at Shadow. He resisted the urge to ask her what was wrong and to find out what she had learned. Mentally, he made a note to call her once he got back to the hotel.

Shadow ordered another drink as she watched everyone else leave. Her mind was mulling over the male that she had talked to. She had met him somewhere before, but damned if she could remember where. She stayed at the bar for another hour and then left. She really didn’t have anything else to do. She had just wanted some time alone.

Victor had left the room shortly after Shadow’s little outburst. He wasn’t surprised. She had a tendency to go off at the mouth when she was confused. According to her, she was the only one who ever did any real work. She was L’s pilot and a small time scam artist. Victor made an irritated sound at that thought. He couldn’t fathom why she was here. This was way over her head.

He had called L numerous times before Shadow had become officially involved to state his concerns. L had dismissed all of them, and Victor had finally come to the conclusion that L wanted her to have part of the money. That irritated Victor. She didn’t deserve any of the money. L’s take on this was going to be 20 percent as it was, and 20 percent of 40 million was a fuck of a lot. L could have just handed her his take instead of bringing her here.

Sighing, he pulled out his cell phone and called L for what felt like the ten thousandth time in three weeks.

I am on my way to meet with the Red’s in New Zealand. This had better be important, Victor.” L stated as soon as he had opened his phone.

Victor stepped off the elevator just in time to see Benton and Shadow heading out into the parking lot. “Benton is here.”

L furrowed a brow as he stepped inside his limousine. “Benton is in Brazil.” He stated with some finality.

Benton just walked out of this hotel with Shadow and Brian.

L watched as his driver closed the door. “What is he doing in Michigan?”

I have no idea.” Victor responded. “However, I believe that there is more going on here than meets the eye.”

I put you on this job with Shadow for a reason. I’ll deal with Benton when he returns. For now, continue as you have been.” He paused as he watched the slums on both sides of the street. “Give Shadow the full update on the job. I don’t want her thinking that Benton is taking your place.

Victor nodded as he sat down in one of the plush chairs in the lobby and closed his phone. He would simply wait for them all to return while he tried to decide on what to tell Shadow. He watched as Brian, Stephanie and Benton eventually filtered their way back into the hotel. He was surprised that Shadow wasn’t with them. Victor had seen her leave with Benton.

It was almost an hour and a half later when the taxi pulled up to the lobby doors, and Shadow walked inside. When she didn’t stop to talk to him, Victor called her name.

Shadow turned upon hearing her name and walked over to Victor. “What?”

I need to talk to you.” He said.

About what?” Shadow asked irritated.

The job we’re doing. Can we go upstairs?”

She nodded as she watched Victor stand. “I can’t imagine that there’s anymore that you need to tell me that what you’ve already said.” She commented as they stepped onto the elevator.

There’s a lot more to this.” Victor responded as he watched the floor numbers light up.

Shadow sighed and stepped off the elevator after he did, allowing him to unlock the door. “Okay, so tell me.” She finally stated once the room door was closed.

We’ve been doing this scam for a long time. You were right. It’s been years in the making. The reason I am on this job is to deal with the money once we get a-hold of it. I’ll need to transfer it to several accounts so that it doesn’t alert the Fed’s.”

Bullshit.” Shadow stated. “You haven’t even talked to Stephanie. How in the hell are you going to get her to let you into the bank with you?”

Victor sighed. “That is a problem. However, not an unsolvable one. All I need are the account numbers from you, and I can do the transfers remotely. I already have several accounts opened and ready.”

I’ll see what I can do.” Shadow replied. “But I think we’re going out tomorrow to get some of the money.”

Victor nodded. “Just don’t pull too much and let me know how much you take.”

Shadow nodded. “Okay.” She paused. She felt slightly better about things, but she wanted to talk to Benton. “I’m going to go talk to Benton.”

Victor nodded. “He’s not even supposed to be here.”

But he is, and I want to talk to him!” Shadow replied hostilely as if Victor has accused her of doing something wrong and exited the room in a huff.

Benton opened the door of his hotel room to an angry looking Shadow. “What happened to you?”

Victor is being an ass.”

He is always an ass. Come on.” Benton offered, opening the door wider for her.

Brian was sitting on the couch and he waved as Shadow walked inside. “Problems?”

Always problems.” Shadow replied. “He wants all the account numbers so that he can make the transfers remotely.”

Benton hmm-ed. “I don’t think we can do that. I don’t trust the man that much. He’d be likely to hide half the money from us.”

Shadow nodded. She wasn’t happy that Brian was in the room. She had wanted to talk to Benton alone. “I want what’s mine.”

I know. We all do.” He slipped his arm around her and lead her into the huge bedroom, closing the doors. “Okay. So it’s obvious that you want to cut Victor out of the deal.”

Shadow nodded. “I want that money. It’s bad enough having to split it three ways. Four would be ridiculous.”

I agree.” Benton said. “So we’ll do our best to make this happen. You know that we’re starting tomorrow?”

Shadow nodded. “I thought we would.”

We are.” Benton looked at her. “Did you want to stay here tonight or go back to your room?”

Shadow looked at him. “I guess I need to go back to my room since Brian is here tonight.” She sighed.

You don’t have to. This way we could all go downstairs together.”

I know, but I told Victor I was coming down here, and you know how he stays in touch with L.”

Brian does too. There’s no way we can hide my being here.” Benton replied. “So we might as well enjoy the time we have.”

But…”

No buts.” Benton said sliding his arms around her. “Stay here tonight. I’ve already had the third degree from Brian while you were playing darts with Stephanie.”

Shadow giggled. “More beach?”

They are not going to let us live that down.”

I wasn’t the one who started it.”

But you didn’t deter me either.” Benton replied. “It was just damned lucky that I looked up when I did.”

Shadow laughed as Benton grabbed the remote for the smaller TV and then lead them both over to the bed. She curled around him with a soft sigh as she laid her head on his chest.

 

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