CHAPTER 3

Shadow shifted her weight from foot to foot while she waited. She had gotten up before Benton and Brian, showered, dressed and gone downstairs for breakfast. The lobby of the Marriot was mostly empty, and she walked over to the breakfast buffet to grab a doughnut. When she arrived back at the row of chairs Benton and Brian were standing and talking.

"Do you have the cards?" Benton asked as he watched Shadow chew. He chuckled when he saw she had a doughnut in each hand. He had to check her mouth again to make sure she wasn’t storing one in there.

What cards?” Shadow questioned hostilely, having forgotten that Brian had picked them up the other day along with the bank statement.

"Yeah." Brian said, answering Benton’s question.

"Stephanie’s credit cards." Benton replied to Shadow’s question as he turned to look at her seeing the agitated look on her face.

I know about the fucking cards.” Shadow half yelled, finally remembering. She had made one doughnut disappear and was chewing on the second.

Benton’s thoughts halted as he tried to figure out why Shadow was being so hostile all of a sudden. “Shadow?”

I thought this was mine and Victor’s! And he isn’t even here.”

I thought we worked this out last night. Have you suddenly grown a conscious?” He sighed. “Okay. Relax for a minute, Shadow, and let me explain, but I thought I did this last night.”

You got 30 fucking seconds.” Shadow growled, doughnuts gone.

“We’ve already tried getting her to simply hand us checks for ‘investments’. It doesn’t work. You remember Dillon Conner?” He waited for the acknowledgement from Shadow before continuing. “He was busted for trying that.”

“Ten seconds.” Shadow snarled.

“So, we needed another way. The woman doesn’t keep good track of her credit cards. She has six different bank accounts and about 15 credit cards.” Benton explained. “What in the hell do you think Victor’s been doing for three days? Why do you think Brian lifted them while we were in her room? You’re the one who thought of this, Shadow.

Shadow stomped her foot. “I don’t care what Victor has been fucking doing! He hasn’t been doing shit except sitting in the goddamned room!” She yelled.

“This is why he is not going to be involved from this point on. This is what we decided last night.” Benton inhaled and took his agitated counterpart by the arm leading her semi-forcefully outside. He was wishing he would have just fucked her last night. As soon as he had turned out the lights, he had felt just how close her body was pressed against his. It had lead to an extremely arousing make-out session. She had been begging him to take her, and when he had felt her, she had been soaked. Of course, that was when they had heard Brian moving around in the sitting room. “You’re going to cause a scene.” Benton whispered harshly into her ear as they walked out the door with Brian following. “Now, listen to me.” His tone was now quiet. “Victor has been tracking her account movements for almost six months.”

“He couldn’t have been working on that for six months; we’ve only been planning it for the past four.” Shadow interjected.

“He was working with Dillon.” Benton explained, as he led her further away from the hotel doors towards his car. “Dillon was busted five months ago after working on Stephanie for almost a year. Victor was looking for a way to do this faster. You could say that great minds think alike. I’m proud of you for coming up with the idea. However, you’re right. Victor doesn’t deserve as large of a cut as he thinks he’s going to get.” Releasing her upper arm, he slid his arm around her waist gently. “Now, do you want to come with us? I can explain more of this in the car.”

Shadow nodded and sighed as they got into Brian’s white Mercedes, She saw Victor walk out of the hotel. “Benton . . .” She warned as she heard the driver’s side door open and the passenger’s door close. She had no idea what Victor was doing or who he was looking for. “Brian.”

As Brian stepped into the car Victor looked straight through the windshield at Benton. “What?” Brian asked as he glanced through the windshield. “Oh shit.” He closed the door and put the car in reverse after starting it.

"What’s he looking for?" Brian asked.

Me." Benton replied. “I guess I forgot to mention he called me last night. He wanted half. I told him to fuck off.”

Step on the gas!” Shadow yelled. “He’s got a gun!”

Fuck!" Brian yelled as he backed up and sped off. They slowed down to about fifty-five miles an hour when they got to the highway. "That asshole aimed a gun at my car. I’m gonna fucking kill him, right after I beat the shit outta you!” Brian yelled, glancing in Benton’s direction.

Don’t look at me. I was looking after our best interests.”

The hell.” Brian stated.

You wouldn’t’ve wanted to split 50 million between the four of us and you know it.” Benton replied.

Shadow sighed, irritated. "So how the fuck are you going to get 50 million dollars out of ATM machines!? The fucking limits aren’t that high!”

They are for her.” Benton replied. “That was one of the things that Dillon had convinced her to do. She couldn’t purchase cars on her credit cards. Now she can.”

That isn’t even going to give us a million!” Shadow yelled.

Brian sighed. Shadow was being more difficult than usual. He leaned over and whispered into Benton’s ear. “Next time, fuck her.”

Benton rolled his eyes as they entered the on-ramp to the interstate. He ignored Brian’s comment. He was more concerned with Shadow’s rage. “It’s a good start.” Benton finally replied, glancing towards the backseat at Shadow. “We can do this for three or four days if we need to.”

"Three or four days!” Shadow exclaimed. “I have to be at the Shaughnessy Agency on Monday!”

So do I.” Benton replied, keeping his tone calm in hopes that it would calm Shadow.

How much money are you going to give Victor?” Brian asked, not sure who would be able to answer that question.

Shadow glanced towards Benton. “Whose fucking job is this?” She hissed.

Benton turned his gaze towards Shadow. “Would you shut up for five minutes?” He paused, mouthing. “We will talk later.”

"What are you going to do with Victor?" Brian asked.

"I don’t know." Shadow said with a sigh. "If he starts acting like an asshole. I m going to take his ass out to the middle of bum fuck Egypt and beat the shit out of him.” She rubbed her eyes as if tired. All she could think about in that moment was Victor on top of her, pounding into her body, and she wondered if it was coloring her judgment.

They pulled up to an automatic teller machine, a few minutes later, and Brian got out of the car. He withdrew two-hundred dollars from the machine with each of the ten credit cards and four of the six bank cards for a total of 3200 dollars. The entire set of transactions took about 20 minutes. He handed the money to Benton once he was finished. Benton took the money, counted it, and slid it into an envelope before putting it inside the glove box. They stopped at five other machines before heading back to the hotel.

"How much money do we have?" Shadow asked.

"Sixteen thousand.” Benton replied.

"What do you have Victor doing?" Brian asked curiously.

"Nothing much yet, aside from what he’s already done.” Shadow spat, her tone indicating that she didn’t think Victor had done anything.

They pulled into the hotel parking lot and parked beside Shadow’s new Corvette. Benton stepped out of the car after her and slid his arm around her waist. “Come on. We need to go talk.” He hadn’t forgotten about telling Shadow that he would explain things to her. He felt like all he was doing was explaining things to her. For some reason, she wasn’t grasping this, and he couldn’t figure out why.

Look at the car she got me.” Shadow said enthusiastically as she motioned towards her black Corvette.

Benton grinned as he turned his gaze towards the car. “Is that the one she bought you?” He grinned as he slid his arms around her.

Shadow nodded. “2005.”

He chuckled. “We’ll got for a ride in it later.” He nudged her towards the lobby doors. They had things that they needed to accomplish before going on joy rides.

Shadow stepped inside the room and glanced around. She could see a King size bed in the back bedroom and the edge of an executive desk. The sitting room looked exactly the same as hers. “Are there two bedrooms in this one?” She hadn’t really bothered to notice the layout of the room last night. She had been too pissed to care.

Yes.” Benton replied walking over to the executive desk to pour both him and Shadow a drink. “Here. You need to relax.” He said handing her the plastic disposable glass that he supposed was for the coffee machine. “Now.” He began, though not in harsh tones, as he watched Shadow sprawl across the couch with her drink. “We started this job two years ago with Stan. I’m sure you know Stan. He was arrested eight months into the job and fled to Indonesia and hasn’t been back since. Then we sent Decker to finish it. He actually made remarkable progress before he was slammed up against a wall and read his rights for a crime that had nothing to do with Stephanie. Our last attempt was with Dillon who is now serving 20 years of a life sentence for extortion.” Benton paused to take a drink from his glass. “At that point we had already gotten Victor’s financial brain onto the task. We needed something a little more concrete than just getting her to write us checks. Victor began digging into her financial and business background and found some pretty interesting stuff. She works as a computer programmer with Intel and makes about 100 grand a year.

However, her bank accounts and spending habits put her income at closer to three or four million a year and sometimes more.” He looked at Shadow to make sure she was still paying attention. When he was certain that she was, he continued after sitting down next to her on the couch. “So, we obviously wanted to know why.”

Shadow nodded. “Perhaps she just invests well?”

We investigated that. We even hired the Shaughnessy Agency to do the more detailed digging.” Benton explained, grimacing slightly as his lap became a footstool. “What they came up with shocked even us. Apparently, she steals and makes copies of the new processors and chips that Intel creates. Then she sells them to an underground firm in Japan.”

So this is the long version of what Brian was telling me the other day?”

Benton nodded. “The only new information is the fact that Stephanie is having the Company investigated and using the same agency that we used to investigate her.”

Who owns the Shaughnessy agency?” Shadow asked.

Detective Shaughnessy.” Benton replied. “Technically, she’s neutral, but L has been trying to buy her for years.”

So. What about her flights to Japan?” Shadow asked.

Shaughnessy?” Benton questioned.

No, Stephanie.” She clarified.

Ah.” Benton said. “She makes trips from Michigan, across the United States, lands in Hawaii for a refuel, then flies to Japan and lands at the small island of Izu-Shoto. It’s about 161 miles off the coast of Tokyo. It’s a giant island resort.”

Benton, that trip would take a week in a small airplane.”

I know and apparently, it does even with extended range tanks, but I suppose the money is worth it since she gains several million per shipment.”

Shadow sighed as she turned her head towards the back of the couch, effectively burying her head in the back cousins. “So where do I fit in?”

Benton started absently massaging her calves. “Well, I’ll be honest. It wasn’t easy convincing L. that you were the best person for the job. He has numerous runs for you this weekend, and I know that’s who you got the final call from to do this job.” He slid his hand under the leg of her pants to get a better feel for her skin. “The reasons we gave L: One. You’ve never failed at any scam you’ve decided to undertake. Two. We found out that Stephanie tends to trust females more so than males. Three: Her pilot was arrested in Key West two weeks ago and she’s sitting on about 500 copied chips that she needs to get rid of. We saw a few in her room, but that wasn’t even a drop in the bucket. And fourth. L wants you to have this money.” Benton paused. “What he didn’t want was me here, but I really couldn’t stay away. This is so much money, Shadow, that I didn’t want to not be here.” He looked at her. “I wanted to be here in case you had any questions. It floors me to realize how in the dark you really were about this.”

Shadow groaned irritated in-between squirming. “You have got to be kidding me. This isn’t the job I signed up for. I don’t even know why I’m here.”

Benton slid his hands higher under her jeans as he began massaging her upper calf and knee. His drink had made its way to the side table next to the couch. “No, but you already have a free Corvette.” He knew that he was mixing business with pleasure at this point, but he really didn’t want Shadow going ballistic on him. It was true that all of the details were not given to her before she had started the job, and that was Victor’s fault. Benton couldn’t blame himself, and he wanted to. However, he had been in the Caribbean and Brazil until yesterday morning.

He would have much preferred to do this job with her instead of Victor, but Benton was not a financial expert. He knew only slightly more than Shadow, and that was simply due to experience. However, they were now cutting Victor out of the picture. He knew that was going to cause them problems.

I don’t care about the goddamned Corvette. L. buys me those all the fucking time. He promised me a BMW when I got back from this!” Shadow yelled suddenly, words muffled from the cousins. She wasn’t happy with the answers “And what does her needing to have her stolen shit shipped have to do with me?”

You’re a pilot, my dear. She could see you as useful if you happened to slip that into a conversation somewhere. It would also distract her from what we’re really trying to accomplish.” Benton replied, ignoring her hostility and pulling her into his lap.

I am not flying to Japan!”

He wrapped his arms around her lithe body and pressed his lips to her ear, whispering softly. “You don’t have to fly to Japan, sweetie. You just have to make her think that you will.” Benton was doing his best to calm her down. She seemed to want to rage today.

Shadow sighed laying her head against his shoulder after finishing her drink. Benton removed the glass from her hand a moment later and kissed the side of her head. “How long have we known each other?”

Eight years.” Shadow replied.

Have I ever steered you wrong in those eight years?” Benton asked softly. “Knowingly steered you wrong.” He amended a second later.

She grinned and shook her head wrapping her arms around him. “Why couldn’t you do this with me?”

Because I had to go to the Caribbean last week and take care of some business for Decker and Grant.” He replied softly, stroking his fingers through her hair. “Otherwise I would have been here, and you know it.”

Shadow sighed. “L. told you to go.”

Benton nodded. He knew where she was headed with this. It was the same complaint she had every time they met up. L was constantly making sure that they remained separated and not just separated by rooms and doors. It was states and countries, making it almost impossible for them to see each other. “You know why he does it. He’s afraid it would jeopardize our careers and the Company.” He sighed. They were just now beginning to broach the subject of Shadow’s hostility. He knew that she missed him.

Shadow scoffed as she felt his mouth press against hers to stop the pout that was forming. His hands had slid from her legs to around her body. “It wouldn’t.” She murmured against his lips.

You and I know that.” He stated softly. “But he’s still pissed about the beach incident.”

Shadow groaned. “That was not our fault.”

No, but all he heard was that we were lying on the sand caught up in each other while the police were setting up a raid behind us.”

But we didn’t get caught.”

Only because I happened to look up and spot four detectives standing 400 feet above us in the parking lot.” Benton replied with a grin. “As I recall, you weren’t too concerned with it even after I pointed it out.” He kissed her gently while glancing at the alarm clock across the room. “When do you have to meet back up with Victor?”

Shadow shrugged. She was happy where she was. “Whenever.”

Benton took a deep breath as he looked into her rapidly glooming eyes. “Why don’t you go finish up with him?” He had started to say more. Something about what he was going to do while she completed her part of the transaction with Victor, but it didn’t seem to make sense once it had ran through his mind. He wanted her to stay as much as she wanted to stay. Instead, he pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and lit two up, handing one to her. Inhaling, he spoke watching the stream of smoke from his lips. “I promise we’ll get together at the Agency.”

But I…” She sighed and grumbled. She wanted to sleep with him tonight.

Shadow slowly blinked and nodded. “I’m going to hold you to that.” She stood a moment later and exited the room after a long embrace.

Victor was sitting on the couch in the lobby talking to Brian when she walked over. She had gone to check the room and found that Victor was not there. After that, she had decided to check the lobby.

"So you’re doing two jobs at once and didn’t tell me about it." Victor stated, looking at Shadow as she walked over.

"No.” Shadow stated. “What the hell gives you that impression?”

You’re working with Benton again.” Victor replied. “He called me last night and is trying to cut me out of this deal. He isn’t even involved in this, Shadow. This is our job, not his.”

I am not working with Benton again. He’s working on the same goddamned thing we are and you know it!” She yelled.

"You are a lying Bitch!" Victor yelled just as he noticed Stephanie exiting the elevator.

Shadow had to reign in her instant temper at his comment. "You shouldn’t have said that." Shadow warned as she watched Stephanie walk out the lobby doors.

“I’ll say exactly what I know to be the truth. You probably fucking called him to come up!” Victor yelled.

“I did not call him!”

“You couldn’t do this case with him, so you made damned sure he was here!” Victor accused. “And thusly jipping us all out of money!”

“I did not!” Shadow yelled.

Benton had paced his room for perhaps thirty seconds before heading up to Shadow’s. Finding no one there, he rode the elevator down to the lobby and exited just in time to see the blooming conflict between Shadow and Victor. Knowing full well what Shadow’s real problem was, he approached the scene calmly. “Problem?” He asked.

"Yes." Shadow replied, glancing backwards at Benton as he approached behind her. She felt his hand pressing against her lower back a second later. "Could you take care of him for me?"

"Of course." Both Brian and Benton replied at the same time as they pulled Victor off the couch roughly before dragging him outside.

What’s the official reason we’re doing this?” Benton asked.

I was supposed to kick the crap out of him anyway.” Brian replied. “He’s skimming money from L.”

Benton laughed. “Good enough reason for me.” He had been looking for a reason to beat the shit out of Victor for months. Mostly because he had heard through the Company rumor mill that he was trying to woo Shadow. That and the man just simply got on Benton’s nerves.

Shadow glanced around the lobby. Thankfully, no one was around to witness the scene, so she followed the three out the lobby doors.

"Whose car do you want him in?" Benton asked, his grip still tight on Victor’s arm.

"Brian’s.” Shadow replied.

They shoved him in the back of the white Mercedes with Benton. Shadow and Brian got into the front seats, while Benton held a gun to Victor’s side.

What the hell has you so hot?” Brian asked Shadow as they drove.

He’s being an asshole.” Shadow grumbled.

Benton chuckled darkly from the backseat. “It doesn’t take much some days, does it?”

Not tonight, it doesn’t.” She replied.

Brian drove them out past the city, heading south on one of the old highways. Buildings were quickly replaced by trees and sloping hillsides. Eventually, he found an old gravel parking lot. Pulling into the abandoned area, he unlocked the doors.

Benton jerked victor from the door and shoved him about twenty feet forward. Glancing around the desolate lot, he asked. “How in the hell did you find this place, Brian?”

We bring everyone out here.” He walked over to a large steel panel and tapped his foot along the edge. “This used to be where the gas tanks were for the station. Throw a body in there and it’s never found.” He chuckled.

"What’s the big idea taking me out to the middle of nowhere, bitch." Victor yelled.

"I would say you need to be taught some fucking respect." Shadow stated before hitting him in the mouth. She was frustrated on numerous levels, and Victor wasn’t helping her agitation.

Victor cursed as the blood poured from his lower lip.

I’m sure L taught you to talk better than that!" She yelled, hitting him in the face again. "Stephanie probably heard what you said in the lobby, and that might have cost us the money!” She could weave anything into sounding plausible even if it wasn’t the entire truth. “That pisses me off!” She picked up a large stick from off the ground and swung, hitting him across the side of the head.

Shadow, there’s probably a tire iron in the trunk.” Benton suggested, resisting the urge to use a few of his ‘pet’ names for her. He really did love watching her beat the hell out of people.

Let me just get that.” Brian said as he remotely popped the trunk. He walked over to the back of his car and retrieved the tire iron before walking over to Benton with it. He wasn’t getting near Shadow. “This better?”

Benton took the tire iron from him and handed it to Shadow. “Less likely to break.” He grinned.

Shadow took the heavy metal bar and swung connecting with Victor’s ribs. A sickening crack could be heard above Victor’s groan of pain. However, instead of falling to the ground, he took a swing at Shadow. In retaliation, she swung the heavy bar, impacting him in the forearm before cracking him in the head again. This time he did fall. "Now I suggest you keep your thoughts to yourself.” She yelled before connecting her boot harshly with his ribcage. “Stand up!”

Victor stood painfully and said. "Fine, and when I tell the police about this..."

"You’ll go to jail for you’re record in Miami!" Shadow shot back before he had a chance to finish his sentence. "Have a nice walk back to town it’s about twenty miles north."

Brian, Benton, and Shadow turned and walked back to the car. “You ride in back with her.” Brian stated as they all stepped inside. He was surprised that Shadow had let Victor live. “Would you please fuck the hell out of her when we get back?” Brian muttered into Benton’s ear once they were inside the car.

Benton grumbled. He was not about to have sex with Shadow. In fact, he was determined not to. They had been interrupted at every opportunity, and Benton had finally given up on the whole idea.

Victor groaned as he watched the Mercedes back out of the field. “Fucking hell!” He yelled pulling out his cell phone.

Shadow, Brian, and Benton pulled into the hotel parking lot about thirty minutes later and parked at the far end away from the lobby doors. Brian stepped out of the car and glanced towards the backseat when he noticed that the doors had yet to open. “Come on. The ride wasn’t that long.”

Benton had closed his eyes the minute the car had started moving. Shadow had made herself comfortable against him, and he was content to just hold her. “Long enough.” He replied.

Shadow removed her head from Benton’s shoulder and opened her door before reluctantly stepping out onto the asphalt.

"You think Victor will try and get you back for that?" Brian asked as they began heading for the hotel doors.

"I don’t know. I don’t really care right now." Shadow replied. "When he gets back, I need to get his ideas for the rest of this job. Since I doubt any of you guys bothered to meet with him."

"Aren’t you being a bit to optimistic there?" Benton asked.

"No, he’s too damn greedy to pass this up.”

Benton laughed. He couldn’t argue with her there. “Come on, heathen.”

I should take offense at that.” Shadow grinned as Benton led them up to his room and opened the door.

He swatted her on the tail before closing the door. “Okay, you needed to talk to me?”

Shadow shook her head. “I think you answered everything I needed to know.”

Are you sure?” He turned and looked at her. “You have no other questions about what we’re doing or what we’re going to be doing?”

We have Stephanie’s credit and account cards, which we’ve already started pulling money with. We start our new jobs on Monday. Are you working at the Agency?”

Yes. I interviewed last month.” He replied. “Now. The only thing that could be confusing is how we’re going to get the rest of the money. Which you should really be talking to Victor about.”

Shadow groaned. “But I thought we were cutting him out of the deal?”

Don’t give me that look.” Benton said with a slight grin. Though, his tone was still serious. “He knows more about banks and how they work than either of us. Like you said, we need his ideas.” He slipped an arm around her. “Now, stop being contradictory.”

That doesn’t mean that I want to talk to him.” Shadow replied. “And I am not being contradictory.”

I would be more concerned about him not wanting to talk to you. And if you want to find out how to go about setting up the accounts once you have the money, you need to talk to him.” He paused. “You are too.”

Shadow huffed and walked over to the mini bar to pour herself a drink. “I am highly capable of handling this, and I already talked to him. His only solution was handing him the account numbers and letting him do it.”

Benton rolled his eyes. “I have no doubts that you can handle yourself. However, this is a lot of money. So, you need to convince Victor to give you more than one idea.”

Shadow turned around and took a large drink from the glass she had just poured. “I can handle it. I don’t need any more of his ideas.” She knew that she was completely recanting everything she had said before, but the more she thought about it, the more she didn’t want to talk to Victor.

Okay.” Benton finally said. “Would you just consider what I said, though?”

She nodded as Benton stepped towards her. He took her hand in his, catching her gaze before speaking. “Was there anything else on your mind?” He would have considered that question to be off topic, but after observing her actions for two days, he was certain she was mulling over something. And it had nothing to do with the job that they were on.

Shadow shook her head. She knew what he was getting at, but she wasn’t ready to talk about that. In fact, she wasn’t sure that she would ever be ready to talk about that. “No. We just need to finish this.”

Benton nodded as he pulled her over to the couch and sat down, pulling her into his lap.

Benton.” She mildly protested.

Shhh…” He sounded. “You won’t tell me what’s wrong, so you can sit in my lap.” He issued the last as a semi-threat while he waited for her to get comfortable.

Shadow grumbled as she adjusted herself in his lap. Sometimes he was too observant. Then again, she knew that she had been on a rampage this morning. She laid her head against his shoulder and closed her eyes as she heard him click on the TV.

She wasn’t sure how long she laid in his arms. It was the sound of his voice that pulled her from her light doze. She had been listening to him breathing. It always seemed to put her to sleep.

You should probably see if Victor is back.”

Shadow sighed looking up at him. She was comfortable where she was. However, the look on his face told her that she wasn’t staying there as long as there was business to deal with. Sliding out of his lap, she exited the hotel room and rode the elevator up to the twentieth floor. She walked down the hall like she had done numerous times during the past few days and opened the door to the room she shared with Victor. He was sitting at the table playing solitaire with a black eye and a large bruise on his jaw, and she surmised, a few broken ribs.

Leerily, she stood by the cracked door, waiting to see what he would do.

"When are we going to finish this?" Victor asked not looking up at her.

Letting the door close and walking further into the room, she replied. "Tomorrow," and almost breathed a sigh of relief as she sat down in one of the brightly colored chairs. She wasn’t in the mood for another confrontation tonight.

Victor stood and walked into the bathroom. A few minutes later, Shadow could hear the water running in the shower. When he came out it was two in the morning and Shadow was asleep on the couch. “Wake up.” He nudged her sleeping body.

Shadow made an asleep sound and inhaled before rolling over. Opening her eyes, she hoped it was Benton. She had been dreaming about sleeping curled next to him. Realizing it was Victor; she sat up and leaned against the arm of the couch. “What?”

Victor chuckled at her sleepy tone. Had he not been pissed at her, he would have been tempted to pick her up and lay her in the bed. However, he was still livid. “Benton called me and told me that you had a run in with Stephanie’s informant.”

Shadow nodded, blinking sleepily. “He was at the bar.” When Victor only nodded, Shadow realized that she needed to explain more. “We just need to hurry up.”

Victor nodded once again. “Well, you were saying something about a phone call?”

Oh. Yeah.” Shadow said inhaling. “If. Maybe if we came up with a reason for her to go to the bank and close her accounts, we could get her to open up a couple at Bank and Trust?”

He laughed. “Bank and Trust is about to foreclose. They’re in the middle of a bankruptcy due to the President skimming money.”

But it hasn’t been made pubic yet.” Shadow replied.

That doesn’t matter. They can’t open up any new accounts, let alone the several that would be needed to house hers. It’s a better idea if you just turn over the account numbers to me and let me end this the easy way.”

Several? But she only has one account?”

And if the bank loses her money, they’re only going to refund her 180,000.” Victor replied.

Shadow huffed, not believing a word he was saying. She had seen the bank statement with her own eyes. “We have two choices with this. We can either go after the account as a whole or keep skimming money through the ATM’s.”

Victor nodded. He was beginning to get the jest of this conversation, and realizing that Shadow wasn’t going to let this idea go easily. “Okay. You need to tell me why we need to proceed that fast. Stealing the money out of the ATM’s with her credit cards is safer. Once we have the cash, we can do anything we like with it.” It was hard to remember than Shadow was very low tech to spite her age.

But that’s too slow.” Shadow replied. “Benton said we needed to do this faster.”

Victor nearly slapped her across the face for that comment. Instead, he clenched his hand into a tight fist while he spoke. “Shadow, he is not your partner in this. I am. Now, you need to tell me what is going on so that I can understand where you are coming from.”

Shadow sighed. “The informant gave Stephanie a ton of information while we were playing darts. After the game I walked over to him and asked him why he was saying so much in front of me.” When Victor nodded, she continued. “He said that he had wanted me to know what types of information he had. Like he thought I needed an example. Then he told me that he knew all about me and if I didn’t leave Stephanie alone he was going to tell her who we were.”

Okay.” He paused in thought. “What we are probably dealing with is a man who specializes in finding things out. Very much like a detective, but closer to an FBI or CIA agent. Typically, that’s what they are anyway and simply moonlighting on the more illegal side.” He sighed. “However, that doesn’t negate the danger that this man could cause if he went to Stephanie or the police.” He paused. “Of course, he could have been bluffing.”

He used my name.”

That doesn’t mean anything. He could have heard Stephanie use it. I just hate to do anything terribly risky. We’re already traveling a path where others have failed.” He started pacing in the towel wrapped around his waist, and sighed when the look on Shadow’s face didn’t change. “I’ll call Bank and Trust tomorrow morning when they open and talk to the bank president. Get some sleep.” Victor walked into the bedroom, peeled off the towel and laid down.

She woke up at eight in the morning, took a shower and rode the elevator down to the lobby. Victor came down an hour and a half later. "Has she come down, yet?"

"No.” Shadow replied, not looking up from the paper she was reading.

I called the bank. The president just needs you to go in. He’s willing to work with us.”

Shadow nodded, glancing up at Victor. He still looked awful from where she had beaten him. Part of her couldn’t believe that she had had sex with him the other night. Inwardly groaning at her own stupidity, she laid the paper down. “No details?”

I didn’t know what you planned on doing. So I told him that you were going down there with a woman who was going open a few large accounts, and that you had something you wanted to discuss with him.” He paused. “We’ve worked with him before, so he knows what to expect. Of course, that’s also part of the reason he’s losing his bank. Just remember to put the money in multiple accounts.” He paused. “I still think that it would be safer if you let me do it.”

Shadow nodded, ignoring his comment. “That’s fine. I’ll deal with the details when I get to the bank.”

Stephanie came down to the lobby at noon. There was no desk clerk at the front desk, and as Stephanie walked by them Shadow yelled after her. "Hey, Stephanie, the desk clerk wanted me to give you a massage.” She was all for speeding this up given everything she had heard from Stephanie’s informant. She wasn’t sure who he was, but Shadow didn’t need anymore delays. She had a job to go to Monday morning and inwardly groaned at that. She hated working real jobs. It sucked up all her free time and energy.

Stephanie paused in her tracks and turned around. "What about?"

"Something about your bank account." Shadow replied “He didn’t give me any details. He just said that you had gotten a phone call and the message was to call the bank."

Stephanie looked confused for a moment before she pulled out her cell phone and dialed a number. A few minutes later she was cursing as she listened. “Unauthorized transactions!” She yelled. “I have to go to the bank and straighten this shit out.”

Shadow nodded as if she were astonished fully expecting Stephanie to launch the phone across the lobby. “I’d close the account.”

“I’m gonna close the account. Goddamned bank.” Stephanie announced. “If they can’t tell that I wouldn’t make those types of transactions, then they don’t need to be my bank!”

Shadow nodded, agreeing. “I wouldn’t put up with that. It’s bad enough they charge fees to have most of those accounts.”

“No shit. They should be paying me!” Stephanie snarled as she started to head out of the lobby.

Shadow simply stood where she was and watched the woman throw a mild fit over the missing funds while Victor just stood where he was. It took a considerable amount of restraint for Shadow to remain straight faced throughout the scene.

“Come on!” Stephanie yelled as she headed out the lobby doors. “You’re coming with me.”

Shadow nearly jumped at her yelling, more out of eagerness than actually being startled. “Coming.”

Shadow was piecing together the details in her head as she walked after Stephanie. She’d need to talk to the bank president at Bank and Trust. Though, she couldn’t risk a phone call in Stephanie’s presence. “I’ll follow you.” Shadow yelled as they trekked across the parking lot. She only saw Stephanie nod as they approached their cars. Luckily, they were sitting side by side, and it was easy for Shadow to pull out behind the navy blue Camero and follow her down the streets to the bank.

Stephanie was ahead of Shadow by a good two minutes by the time she pulled into the parking lot. She could see the irate woman storming her way into the bank. Stepping out of her car, Shadow pulled out her cell phone to call Bank and Trust. “I’d like to speak with Mr. Parker.”

One moment.” Came the reply.

Shadow tapped her fingers on the hood as she waited for the President to pick up. Leaning against the side of the car, she was about to hang up and call again when she finally heard the series of clicks that meant the line was being answered.

Mr. Parker speaking, Bank and Trust President. How may I help you?”

Mr. Parker.” Shadow said with a smile. “This is Shadow Conn. I believe my business partner Mr. Kail called you earlier this morning about a potential new account being opened?”

He did, but as I informed him, we’re starting a restructuring process and not accepting new accounts.”

Really?” She questioned. “This is a very large account that I need to open.” She paused long enough to let that information sink into the man’s rich skull before she continued. “I was really hoping you could open this account for me later today.” She heard the man sigh and shifted her position against the car. “I could make this very profitable for you.”

How so?”

I’ll tell you when we get there. Can you open the account for me?” She heard an extra long pause while he considered what she had said. “Millions, Mr. Parker.”

Come by later today and I’ll see what I can do for you.” He finally replied.

Closing her phone, Shadow breathed a sigh of relief. She hated relying on other people, but she didn’t exactly own a bank.

Inside, Stephanie had managed her way up to the counter and was talking to a teller by the time Shadow walked through the glass doors. "I’d like to close my account." She heard Stephanie say as she took a seat in the waiting area and listened in on the conversation.

"Okay, can I see your bank book?" The teller asked.

Stephanie handed the woman her check book and watched as the teller punched in her account number. "Okay you have fifty-million-nine-hundred-thousand two dollars and fifty-two cents. You want all that money withdrawn and the account closed? Is that correct?"

"Yes." Stephanie replied.

"Okay, may I ask why you want this account closed?"

"I don’t want the account anymore." Stephanie responded. In truth, she simply didn’t want to bank with them anymore after losing over 30 grand to fraudulent transactions, but she didn’t want them running a detailed search history on her account. Nor did she want them freezing her money until they solved the matter. Both solutions would have left her broke for weeks if not months.

"How would you like the funds?" The teller asked.

Cashier’s check, please.”

The teller nodded and left her booth momentarily to have the check drawn up. Once Stephanie had the check, she turned around and motioned for Shadow to follow her.

"What bank are you going to open a new account in?" Shadow asked.

"The one down the roads I think it’s called Savings and Loan." Stephanie said.

Shadow nodded. “I bank with Bank and Trust. They’re a really good bank with low fees. They even have interest checking.”

Really? Where’s that located?”

Downtown.” Shadow replied. “I can show you if you want to follow me.”

Stephanie nodded. “I’ll follow you then. Finding a new bank is always hell.

They got into their respective cars, and Shadow lead them into downtown Grand Rapids. She saw the sign for the bank before she realized how far she had driven. She had been too busy thinking about all the ways she was going to spend the money once she had her hands on it. They walked into the bank. There was no line so they were able to simply walk up to a teller.

Stephanie attracted the slender teller’s attention. "I’d like to open an account."

"Okay, here’s some papers I need you to sign and while you’re doing that I’ll ask you some questions." The teller responded, promptly handing Stephanie the small amount of paperwork.

Stephanie spent a half an hour filling out the papers asking, and answering questions. When they were finished, the teller processed the account and took the check. Fifteen minutes later, they were preparing to leave.

"I need to check on some of my investments." Shadow said. “I’ll meet you back at the hotel?”

"Okay." Stephanie responded and walked out of the bank doors.

Shadow walked back to the teller and said. "You know, you look familiar." She grinned. “I need to speak with Mr. Parker.”

“One moment.” She responded and walked out from behind the counter and down a slight hallway to the office at the end.

Shadow leaned against the counter and waited to be summoned down the hall. It didn’t take long before she heard the woman’s voice telling her that Mr. Parker would see her now. Walking down the hall, she entered the lavishly decorated office noticing that it didn’t match the rest of the bank in taste, style, décor or wealth. “Mr. Parker.” She said with a slight grin.

“Please close the door.” He waited as Shadow did as she was asked, and then continued. “I’ve had the account opened for you against my better judgment. That woman could lose all of her money in our restructure.”

Shadow laughed. “That is precisely why I wanted her to open it here.” At the president’s confused look, she elaborated. “Computer viruses often affect millions of computers a year. There’s a new Trojan going around that is simply deleting the data off servers.” She inhaled. “I think that your bank has been hit by the virus.”

“Do you?”

“I do, and I don’t think Stephanie Hook’s account even exists anymore. I think the money simply got wiped out.”

Catching the jest of Shadow’s words, the president asked. “Where did the money go?”

“I think a million of it went into your personal accounts, and I think the rest of it got transferred here.” She handed him an unmarred piece of paper with block lettering on it that described what he was to do with the funds. While the bank president searched through his computer, Shadow pulled out a pack of smokes and lit on up, inhaling deeply.

“We don’t allow smoking in here.” He responded automatically as he punched in the numbers and accounts that Shadow had given him.

She inhaled and ashed her cigarette into a vase on his desk. A few minutes later, she watched him look up from his screen.

“It’s done. The rest is up to you.” He stated.

Shadow picked up the piece of paper that she had handed him and touched the cherry of the cigarette to the corner. When it started to burn, she placed it into the plantless vase and watched it slowly burn to ash. Once it was completely ashed, Shadow picked up his cup of water and spilled a few drops onto it to put out the residual heat.

"Thanks for your time" Shadow said and walked out of the office. She continued out of the bank, stepping into her black Corvette and drove back to the Marriot. Riding the elevator up to the 19th floor, she stopped at Benton’s room and knocked on the door. When he opened it Shadow attacked him with a huge hug. Benton laughed. “Did it go well?” He asked wrapping his arms around her tiny body and kicking the door closed once he had pulled her completely inside the room.

Shadow nodded, placing her head on his shoulder.

Benton kissed the side of her head with a smile. “I knew you could do it.” He held her tightly for a few minutes before releasing her. “Looks like we’re finished then?”

Shadow nodded and then asked "Have you seen Brian lately?"

"Still in Stephanie’s room, I would imagine. He went there after she had gotten back. She called him yelling about her bank account."

Shadow blinked. “How long has she been back?”

“About forty-five minutes to an hour.” Benton replied.

She nodded, glancing at her watch. “I guess that’s about right. She must have been flying though.”

Benton laughed and kissed the side of her face. “Let him calm her down. We don’t want her causing us any trouble.” He pulled Shadow over to the couch and into his lap. “I promised you quiet time once we were done with this.” He murmured into her ear.

“Mhmmm.” Shadow sounded grazing her lips along the side of his neck until she reached his earlobe and began gently sucking on it.

“He wouldn’t leave me alone about you earlier. Was swearing up and down we had something going on.”

“What did you tell him?” She breathed into his ear.

Benton turned her head and murmured. “I told him he was seeing things.” And kissed her lips gently while sliding his hands along her back. “We should order room service.”

Shadow made an agreeing sound during the long kiss, but made no move to break it as she felt his hands sliding under her shirt caressing her bare flesh.

“I don’t think this is a good idea right now.” Benton whispered as he laid her across the couch, beginning to kiss her neck. He could already feel the pressure building between his legs.

“It’s never a good idea.” Shadow breathed as she wrapped her jean clad legs around his waist, feeling his hips press gently against hers. She had already made up her mind that she wanted him right then as the kisses became more fevered. “I don’t want to wait anymore…”

Benton was all for ending the waiting game that they had been playing for the last several years. He was so tired of being interrupted, sent on jobs, and just not getting to spend the time with Shadow that he wanted to spend with her. “Definitely done waiting.” He murmured.

Brian burst through the door in a huff just minutes later. "I fucking hate her!"

Shadow made a startled sound as they both heard the door open. Benton jerked up off of her. He had been about to unfasten both their pants. “Christ, Brian!” He yelled, startled. “Couldn’t you fucking knock first!?”

Brian paused in his tracks as the door clicked shut on its own. His eyes went wide as he started laughing. “Nothing going on, you say.” He continued laughing, forgetting about being pissed at Stephanie.

Shadow groaned, frustrated at the interruption as she attempted to wrap herself around the arm of the couch.

Benton continued to curse, but pulled Shadow off the arm and into his lap, stroking her hair to calm her down. Sighing, he leaned his head against the back of the couch and looked up at the ceiling cursing everyone’s timing.

Look, I’m gonna take a shower. I feel filthy.” Brian walked into the bathroom and took a long shower. He came out an hour later to Shadow and Benton curled up around each other watching some movie on HBO.

"It couldn’t have been that bad." Shadow commented from her vantage point against Benton’s chest. She was somewhat more relaxed since they had semi-satisfied themselves with some impassioned foreplay that had lead to them both orgasming. Though, she still had a burning desire to feel him inside her.

"You want a bet?" Brian stated.

"No." Shadow said shaking her head. "You ready for tomorrow?”

"Of course." Brian replied as he watched Shadow unwrap herself from Benton and stand.

"We should be done with everything by tomorrow evening." She said and walked out the door casting a backwards glance at Benton who was sitting up and rubbing his eyes. They had almost fallen asleep while Brian was in the shower.

Shadow walked down the hall and rode the elevator to the twentieth floor. She walked into her room and saw Victor sitting on the couch. Handing him a check for 100,000 dollars, she began packing her suitcases in the bedroom.

Victor looked at it and exclaimed. "This is it?!"

"That’s it. If you don’t like it I’ll take it back." Shadow replied as she zipped up the first bag.

"This is a tenth of what we agreed upon." Victor yelled, standing and approaching her.

Well, she didn’t have nearly as much fucking money as we thought.” Shadow yelled back, as she heard him getting closer. Glancing up, she saw him standing in the doorway.

Victor lost his temper at that point. Stepping forward he backhanded Shadow away from the bed. “You lying bitch!” Punctuating the last word with another slap across her face. “You’re going to bring me the rest of my goddamned money, or I’m going to beat it out of you!”

Shadow’s eyes went wide as her hand went to her bleeding mouth. “I told you. That’s all there is.” She said backing away from him.

Victor hit her again. This time he connected with the side of her ribs as she moved to duck the punch. “I don’t care if you have to write it out of your personal goddamned accounts! You will get me the rest of my money!” He growled and jerked her forwards throwing her into the wall head first, ignoring her pained screams. Someone needed to teach her a goddamned lesson.

Shadow impacted the wall and slid to the floor pulling her colt .45. “Get the fuck out!” She yelled as she pulled the trigger enough to cock the hammer.

Victor’s bags were already packed, and he picked them up before quickly heading out of the hotel room, leaving Shadow bleeding on the floor.

Shadow watched him walk out the door before standing and slowly making her way to the couch. Clutching her ribs with one hand, she pulled her cell out with the other. “Benton.” She nearly sobbed once she heard him pick up the phone.

Benton was up the stairs in a matter of minutes, forgoing the use of the elevator and knocking on the door. Once Shadow had opened it, he scooped her shaking form into his arms. “What happened?” Benton asked alarmed. He hadn’t waited to listen to her explanation before taking off up the stairs. When he didn’t get a coherent response, he pulled her over to the couch with him.

Shadow was shaking and hysterical as she sobbed. “He hit me.” She buried her head against his shoulder, those repeated words the only sounds coming from her mouth.

Benton stroked her hair and waited for her to calm down, unmindful of the blood staining his suit. When her cries became hurt whimpers, he pulled her head up gently and looked at her. “Shadow.” He said softly, pulling out a handkerchief to wipe her eyes. “What happened? What caused him to hit you?”

I gave him his check.” Shadow cried and reburied her face against his shoulder.

For how much?” His tone became concerned and reprimanding.

Hundred thousand.” She mumbled, still shaking.

Benton blinked. His first instinct was to yell at her for being greedy and stupid. However, she was bleeding on his suit. In that moment, he wanted to break the man’s hands. Calming himself down, he stroked her back gently. “Honey, you can’t do that.” He said soothingly. “Once you make a deal you have to stick to it.”

Noticing her still clutching the phone, he gently removed it from her hand before setting it on end table. He kissed the side of her face, before lifting her chin to see how badly Victor had injured her. She definitely had a busted lip and the beginnings of a black eye, and Benton grabbed a Kleenex to stop the flow of blood. “Hold that there while I get some ice.”

Shadow remained shaking on the couch while she waited for Benton to return with the bucket of ice. By the time he got back, more tears were forming in her eyes.

Benton frowned as he wrapped a towel around a few pieces of ice and placed it against the side of her face, holding her head in his lap. “Don’t.” He whispered gently feeling her burry her face against his stomach and her arms slide around his lower back. Closing his eyes, he leaned his head against the back of the couch. “First time anyone’s hit you, isn’t it?” He felt her nod against his dampening shirt, both from her eyes as the melting ice. “It’s a learning experience.” Benton said after a long pause while he stroked her hair. “You’re just going to have to mail him the rest of his money, and never do that again. I don’t care how well you think you know your partner. They aren’t going to tolerate not getting their money. They put in just as much time and effort as you did, and being pissed at them doesn’t change the outcome.” He felt Shadow really start to cry then and pulled her completely into his arms, rocking her gently from side to side. This was why he kept telling L that he needed to teach her. She always managed to walk away with 75% of the money, but this. It was these types of mistakes that she was making that constantly tore Benton apart, and he couldn’t blame Shadow. A lot of the time she simply didn’t know or didn’t know to think. He sighed. “Hon, I’m gonna talk to L in the morning. We’ve got to make some changes as far as who you partner with.”

This was not how Benton had envisioned sleeping with her as he eventually picked up her exhausted form and carried her to the bed. He stayed with her all night. Periodically, changing towels and ice and keeping it against her eye in hopes of lessening the bruising. There wasn’t much he could do about her lip, except apply ice to it every twenty to thirty minutes.

By the time morning came around, Benton had passed out with Shadow’s head against his chest, one arm supporting her as they slept. When the wakeup call came in, Benton answered it and then promptly hung up the phone. He debated going back to sleep for the next fifteen minutes, before finally nudging Shadow. “Come on. We need to get out of here. I need to go back to my room and pack up.” Shadow’s upset gaze, didn’t do him a bit of good as he pressed a very gentle kiss to her lips. “I’ll see you at the Shaughnessy Agency Monday morning.”

Please.” She bit her lower lip lightly and grimaced.

Benton turned his concerned gaze towards her and inhaled. He was afraid she was going to start crying again. She didn’t cry often, but it seemed like once she started, she couldn’t stop. “We have got to get out of this hotel.”

Shadow reluctantly blinked and nodded, but didn’t move when he stood from the bed still dressed in the clothing that he had been wearing last night. “Don’t you at least want a shower?”

I’ll take one when I get back to my room. It’s already nine and checkout is at eleven.”

Shadow sighed and nodded. She didn’t know how much he had to pack to be able to checkout.

Two hours later, Shadow closed the door to the hotel room for the last time and walked down to the elevator carrying her suitcases and overcoat. She rode down to the lobby, turned in the key and sat down in one of the chairs. She hoped that Benton hadn’t left yet, but she couldn’t bring herself to actually look for his car in the lot. Rubbing her eyes, she sighed. She supposed she just needed to leave. She had an apartment pre-rented on the other side of town.

A few minutes later, Shadow noticed Stephanie exiting the elevator and walking over to her. "I’m going to the bank to withdraw some money.” She announced before heading into the parking lot. Shadow simply watched her leave, not moving. She figured she’d wait until Stephanie got back and then leave for her new apartment. Maybe. Shadow wasn’t in much of a mood to do anything; wait, leave. She wanted pain killers.

Stephanie walked into Bank and Trust and over to a teller that hadn’t been there yesterday. In fact, she didn’t see the woman who had opened her account anywhere. She filled out a withdraw slip for a thousand dollars and presented it to the woman complete with her new account number.

"I’m sorry. There’s no account here with that number." The teller said after attempting to punch in the account several times.

"What!?" Stephanie exclaimed. "That’s impossible I just opened this account yesterday!"

"Well, I don’t know what happened, but there’s no account with that number in our system." The teller repeated as she tapped a few more buttons on the keyboard. “Let me try and research it.”

"I want to see the bank president!" Stephanie yelled.

"How much money was in this account?" The teller asked calmly, still attempting to be helpful.

"Fifty-million."

"I’ll go get Mr. Parker." The teller stated promptly and walked away. She came back a few minutes later with the president.

"My sincerest apologies.” He stated, extending his hand. “The teller has informed me of the issue, and I will most certainly do everything in my power to see that this is settled. Do you have any other accounts here?"

Stephanie shook her head.

Frowning slightly, the president walked behind the counter to one of the terminals where he attempted to type in the same number as the teller. “Can I see your ID? Perhaps this is the wrong account number.” Once Stephanie had handed it to him, he attempted to search her account using her name. Finding nothing, he spoke. “Ok, here’s what we can do I’ll call our computer specialist and have him search the database. We had a virus attack yesterday afternoon that left our systems down until early this morning.” He paused. “If the account was ever created, we should have a record of it in the computer. Then I’ll call you when we find it."

"But it was fifty-million!" Stephanie yelled. "How could it just disappear?!"

"That’s what we’re going to find out. Now go home, try to relax, and we’ll call you if we find anything."

Stephanie turned around and stormed out of the bank. She got into her car and drove away taking the first exit onto the highway in order to get to the hotel faster. When she went to enter the ramp, she skidded into the cement wall. She heard the impact of the front and passenger’s side of the car before she was flung through the shattered windshield. She landed about five feet in front of her car just barely missing the wall with her body.

Shadow, Benton, and Brian were sitting on the couch in the lobby. "How long does it take to withdraw money?” Shadow asked impatiently as she tapped her foot.

"I don’t know." Brian said. “I don’t go to the bank. I use the ATM’s or I get cash with my purchases.”

"I wanted to be out of here by now." Shadow complained, sighing.

"Me too." Benton chimed in. He had walked downstairs about 10 minutes after Stephanie had left to observe a sulking Shadow. He had resisted the urge to pull her into his arms. They couldn’t cuddle all the time. He felt bad though. She looked awful all bruised and swollen.

"What if the cops stopped her?" Brian asked.

"They’d already be here." Shadow said.

"Do you still have her credit cards?" Benton asked Brian, thinking that they could finish this job before Stephanie got back.

"Yeah." Brian responded. “We going after her credit now?”

Benton smirked. “But of course.”

Brian laughed. “I’m game.”

"Okay, let’s go get the rest of that money." Benton said. "Shadow, would you stay here and wait for Stephanie?

Shadow grumbled and frowned. “You owe me.”

I promise.” Benton responded as he and Brian walked out of the hotel.

Shadow continued to grumble. She didn’t want to sit. She wanted to leave. Her bags were packed and sitting beside her. Laying her head on the arm of the chair, she gingerly felt the area where Victor had hit her. Her ribs weren’t broken, but they definitely felt that way.

Five minutes later, the desk clerk walked over to her. "Do you know Miss Stephanie Hook?"

"Yeah." Shadow said. "Is there a problem?"

"The hospital called and said she’s been in an accident and they need someone that knows her down there." The clerk replied.

Shadow jerked herself to a standing position and grimaced as pain tore through her body. “What hospital?” She asked.

Blodgett.” The clerk responded.

Shadow sighed. She knew where that was. "I have some friends coming later. Their names are Brian and Benton could you tell them where I’ve gone?”

"Of course."

"Thanks." Shadow said as she walked out of the hotel irritated. How dare that bitch get into an accident when she was almost ready to begin the alibi part of their plan!

Goddamnit!” She yelled as she pulled into the hospital parking lot. “Even the fucking parking lot smells like antibacterial soap.” She muttered, walking into the hospital though the emergency room doors. There was a doctor standing next to the admissions desk talking to a nurse about a recent arrival. “Excuse me. Was Stephanie Hook brought in here a few minutes ago?”

"Are you a relative hers?" The doctor asked.

"I’m a close friend." Shadow said. “She doesn’t have any immediate family.” She paused. “What happened?"

"As far as we can tell, she crashed into a cement wall off of ramp 13. She was thrown through the windshield and landed abut six inches from the wall.” The doctor’s look became more serious as he anticipated the next question.

"How is she?" Shadow asked.

"She has a broken arm and leg, a skull fracture, and a lot of gashes, cuts, and bruises." The doctor said. “She is currently in surgery.”

Shadow gasped. "Is she going to live?"

She’s stable right now, and we’re giving her the best care we possibly can.” He said before excusing himself and walking back into the emergency room.

Shadow sat down on a chair with a huge sigh that made her wince. She hoped to hell that Benton and Brian completed all their transactions. It was going to be hard to explain how Stephanie withdrew money while being in the hospital.

About an hour later, Benton and Brian walked through the emergency doors "The desk clerk had told us that you had gone to the hospital.” Benton stated, concerned, but not appearing overly so. He had feared that Victor had hurt her worse that they had both thought.

Shadow read his gaze almost immediately. “I’m fine. Stephanie was in a car accident this morning.”

Benton breathed a noticeable sigh of relief before catching himself. “How in the hell did she get into a car accident?”

Shadow shrugged. “She apparently nailed a concrete wall off one of the ramps.”

Damn.” Brian cursed. “How is she?”

She’s fine. In surgery now, just a few broken bones." Shadow replied. "Did you get the money?"

"Yeah, Stephanie is officially broke." Benton said with a slight chuckle that he attempted to stifle. If Shadow wasn’t thinking about business, she was thinking about getting something to drink. It was one of the few qualities that Benton had found endearing about her.

"Good, I hope that doctor gets back soon." Shadow said, extending her legs in front of her and shifting uncomfortably in the chair.

Maybe you should have them take a look at you.” Benton suggested. Her face was still bruised, and he knew that her side had to be aching. He had heard her whining all night in her sleep. Though, he hadn’t mentioned it.

I’m fine.” Shadow replied closing her eyes as a spear of pain jolted down her side, earning her a ‘look’ from both Benton and Brian.

If you hurt that badly, Shadow.” Brian began. “Maybe you should have them take a look. You might have broken some ribs.”

They’re not broken, just bruised.” She replied semi-hostilely.

Benton sighed as he turned his gaze towards the entrance into the emergency room. He could see nurses rushing too and fro through the small windows.

The doctor appeared from behind the doors several hours later. Shadow had had her eyes closed with her head resting against Benton’s shoulder. “She is stable and out of surgery.” He began. ”But we’re only giving her 50/50 odds of making it through the night.”

Shadow sighed trying to look upset as the doctor went into detail on her injuries and what was done to fix them. Both Benton and Brian asked several questions while Shadow continued resting her head. Once the doctor had left, Shadow lifted her head and spoke. "I’ve got to go." She said standing.

Shadow, would you please get yourself looked at?” Benton asked suddenly.

I have other things to do today other than spend it at a hospital. I’ll be fine. I’ll see you later.” She walked out of the hospital and got into her car. Benton quickly followed her.

Where are you going?” Benton asked.

None of your business.” Shadow responded.

Benton sighed. "We’re going to have to split that money up.” He stated attempting to change the subject from his previous rant.

"Tell Brian to meet us at the hotel across from the detective agency around seven thirty." Shadow said.

"Let me take you to dinner tonight." Benton stated. “I’ll bring you something for the pain.” The look in his eyes, clearly begging her to say yes.

"I’ll leave a message at the front desk." Shadow said as she started her car and pulled out of the parking lot. She had a run down apartment that she could stay in, but she suddenly didn’t want to go there. She knew that the furnishings wouldn’t be kind to her ribs.

Thirty minutes later, she was walking into her hotel room at the Hampton Inn in northern Grand Rapids. The walls were white. The carpet was a light gray while the ceiling was completely white. A window was opposite the door with a white curtain. Shadow laid down on the bed with a pained groan, closing her eyes.

Benton knocked on the door an hour later, startling Shadow from her light doze. Standing, she walked over and peered through the eyepiece before opening the door.

"I rented a room on the third floor and told Brian to meet us in the lobby at seven-thirty.” He said placing a bottle of pills in her hand. “There’s a cracker Barrel across the street if you’re hungry.”

Can we just order pizza?” Shadow asked. She didn’t feel like going out.

Benton nodded. “I’ll call and order it and then I’ll call Brian and have him pick us up something to drink.” He paused. “You still not feeling well?”

Shadow shook her head reaching her hand out tiredly. Benton opened his phone with one hand and dialed while he pulled her closer with the other. As he was ordering the food, he led Shadow over to the couch. “Come here and lay down.” He mouthed while listening to the pizza girl.

The pizza and Brian arrived at the same time causing Benton to chuckle slightly as he paid. After closing the door he turned and observed the room. Shadow was still camped out on the couch, and Brian had taken the chair in the corner.

So, how are we going to split this money?” Brian asked.

I was thinking. There’s 40 million…” Shadow began.

What happened to the other ten?” Brian asked.

I don’t know. It just wasn’t there.” Shadow responded with a sigh. “So I was thinking one million to Victor and 13 a piece for us.”

Sounds good to me.” Benton said walking over to the couch and moving Shadow’s legs so that he could sit down. “I’m not in a hurry to go arguing about the funds. I just want to get this over with.”

Me too.” Shadow said turning around on the couch so that her head was resting in Benton’s lap. She had taken three of the pain pills with a glass of Coke.

Benton and Brian continued conversing about their next steps while Shadow slowly drifted to sleep.

CHAPTER 4

Detective Trace had arrived at the agency fifteen minutes early. He was always fifteen minutes early since it was his job to organize the office for the upcoming day. He had spent the evening and most of the night with Detective Shaughnessy watching movies and discussing their two new hires. He had been all for hiring Shadow, but not as enthusiastic about Benton. The man was 35 years old and didn’t exactly hold the cleanest record. He had to give the man credit though. He had remained arrest free for the last five years. His last arrest had been in 2000 for narcotics possession. However, it wasn’t the drug possession that worried Detective Trace. What worried him were the previous three arrests for extortion, gun possession, and assault that had landed the man in jail for two years and on parole for the next three.

Granted, all of that was in the past, but it still worried the detective. When he had brought up these concerns to Jody, she had shrugged them off saying that if he had been through the system personally, he was an expert in it. Further conversations on the matter, had simply started heated arguments, so Detective Trace had eventually dropped the subject. It was her agency. She could run it as she wished, and he feared that she was going to end up running it into the ground.

Sighing, Detective Trace walked out of his office and saw Benton pouring himself a cup of coffee. Checking his watch, he realized that it was 8:00 am. “Have you seen Detectives Shaughnessy or Conn?”

Detective Shaughnessy is in her office.” He replied, turning around with his mug and taking a sip of the hot bitter liquid. “Shadow isn’t here yet.” That concerned Benton. He had been trying to reach her all evening and night, but she had never answered her phone or returned his voicemails.

A few minutes later Detective Shaughnessy exited her office and walked into the front office with a stack of paperwork. “Is Detective Conn here yet?”

No.” Benton replied with a wry smile.

Detective Shaughnessy sighed as she sat down at what served to be the secretary’s desk. She had never seen fit to hire one in the 10 years that they had been open for business. “Benton, you know her, correct?”

Yes.” He replied.

Have you spoken to her since last week?”

I have. She was very interested in starting work here.” He paused and then added. “She was moving from out of town. Perhaps she was delayed. I’m sure she’ll be here.”

Detective Shaughnessy nodded. “Perhaps she’ll call. I have several cases that I need you two to begin working on later today. We’ve already done all of the investigations. I just need the information sorted and then a plan of action.”

Benton nodded. He had his own files to find and review once Shadow decided to show. Vaguely, he wondered just how much research she had done on the Company and if his and Shadow’s names had appeared yet. He knew that L was careful to not spread their names round too much, but there was still a chance.

Shadow arrived at the Shaughnessy Offices around 8:15 Monday morning. It was an impressive four story brick building with dark tinted windows and detailed landscaping. She parked her car close to the building and entered through the lobby doors. Shadow had to find a directory in order to locate the Shaughnessy Agency. Once she found the black trimmed glass case listing all of the offices, floors, and businesses, she stepped onto the nearest elevator and rode it up to the third floor.

As she got off the elevator, she glanced at her watch knowing full well she was going to be half an hour late. There wasn’t really anything Shadow could have done about it, at least, not in her opinion. She had spent most of the night drinking away the pain and cursing Victor. Though, the pills that Benton had given her Friday had definitely dulled the pain.

Still, she was lucky to be dressed appropriately. Her three piece suit almost didn’t fit anymore. It was a black Italian item that she had purchased six months ago and progressively shrunk out of. When she entered the office the first thing she heard was: "You’re late.”

She resisted the urge to groan and roll her eyes. Instead, she said. "I had trouble finding the complex.”

Try and be on time tomorrow." Detective Shaughnessy replied with a sigh. "I hope you like the decorating in your office. You can change it if you like... Your name plate is on the door.” She never looked up from the paperwork she was reading.

"Thanks." Shadow replied and walked into her office. She glanced around the room and grimaced. The walls were a strange shade of 1920’s faded red while the carpet was some sort of blend between tan and grey.

Groaning, she sat down at the particle board desk that she was certain came from Good-Will and turned on the computer. The booting process was much slower than she would have liked, and she took the opportunity to gingerly feel her bruised eye. The makeup she had applied covered most of the damage to her face, but she still felt like she had been hit by a truck.

Sighing, she turned her gaze towards the flickering screen. The first thing she noticed was that the network was on, but after trying to connect to a webpage, she began searching through the control panel to locate the seemingly nonexistent network. She found an Ethernet modem, but for some reason the connection slowed to a crawl before left the office. After a little more investigating, Shadow realized that she was networked to a 56k central modem. Disgusted, she turned off the computer and picked up the phone to call the remodeling agency. The number just happened to be written on the top of the desk in black marker.

"’Better than it was’ remodeling company. How can we help you?" The male voice on the other end asked.

"I need an office remodeled." Shadow replied as she attempted not to laugh at the name. No wonder it wasn’t listed specifically next to the number.

"What are the measurements of the office?" The voice asked.

"Thirty by fifty feet." Shadow replied, giving her best estimate. It looked to be about the size of L’s small reading room. "The walls are at a slight curve outward and lead to a large floor to ceiling bay window.” She paused. “What kind of remodeling do you specialize in?"

"We do everything." The man replied. “We’ve remodeled everything from Colonial houses to modern office complexes to diners.”

"Excellent. I’d like the walls and ceiling sheeted with black marble and a chandelier installed. The floors are currently carpeted. I’d prefer hard wood. Oh, I need new curtains. Something that matches the walls, but not quite so dark. The height of the window is about nine feet." She randomly announced over the phone, hoping he had gotten all of the information written down or typed into a computer. However they did it.

"Okay, is there anything else you would like?" The man asked.

"Yes, I’d like the doorway widened to accommodate double doors and dark stained oak installed. I’d also like the doors controlled by a remote.” She paused, thinking. “Oh, I’d also like my computer upgraded. Can you find someone to do that for me?”

I certainly can. What’s the address?"

Shadow paused in thought. She hadn’t bothered to look at the address when she walked in, and she had left the paper in her car. “I’m not sure. I just started working here, but it’s the Shaughnessy Agency in the Shaughnessy office complex.”

"You work for Detective Shaughnessy?" The man asked.

"I do." She responded.

"She helped me out one time I think I can get you a discount on the price of your remodeling."

"I’d also like silver candle holders along the walls." She preferred candle light to electric light bulbs. She supposed it was because L kept his mansion list with candles.

"Certainly.” Shadow heard a few clicking sounds before he spoke again. “It should cost about seven thousand dollars with the discount. Without it, it would cost at least twice that much."

"I’d like the remodeling to start tonight at 5:45. Can you have it done by 7:30 tomorrow morning?"

Yeah, but it’ll take all the men I’ve got."

I can pay extra." Shadow said.

"We’ll have you started by 5:45. See you then." The man replied and hung up.

Benton walked into Shadow’s office just as she was setting the phone back into its cradle. Turning, he closed the door and spoke quietly. "Stephanie’s out of intensive care. The doctors said she will survive the accident and be discharged within the next week or two."

Shadow looked up from her computer. “You’re kidding.” Her tone a mix of disbelief and shock.

I wish I was. Brian just called me.” Benton replied taking a few more steps into her office.

Shadow cursed. “Fucking figures we wouldn’t catch a break. Goddamnit! She’ll be out on the fucking street looking for whoever stole her goddamned money.” She inhaled, not really calming. This was the last thing that Shadow wanted to hear today. She had expected Stephanie to be hospitalized for at least a month not a week and a half.

"She’ll have to make some quick deliveries." Benton replied with a sly smile as he sat his hand on the top of her desk. “It will take her some time to figure out what happened.” He reassured.

"I hope you’re right." Shadow sighed as she booted her computer, randomly commenting. “I hate this damned thing."

"I know Detective Shaughnessy has all the computers wired to one modem." Benton said. “And I suspect it’s still a 56k.”

"What am I suppose to do, play computer games all day." She paused. “Old one’s, like pong.”

Benton chuckled and walked around her desk to place his hands on her shoulders. Feeling the tension in her muscles, he began to gently massaging them, asking. “Not having a good morning?”

No. I woke up late, and I hurt.” She replied grumpily. “And I have a remodeling crew coming at a quarter till six.”

He frowned and pulled her back from the desk. “It’s been three, days Shadow. How fucking hard did he hit you?” Benton began unfastening her shirt so that he could take a look at her side. Pulling open her shirt, he got a partial glance at the massive purple bruise. “Fucking hell. Are you sure he didn’t break your damned ribs?” He began probing along the bruise and her visible ribs ignoring her protests. There was one benefit to her being so skinny, he could almost visibly check her for broken bones.

It would hurt worse if they were broke, and I can still breathe.” She replied grimacing and attempting to jerk away from his probing fingers. “Would you stop?”

I’m gonna kill him.” Benton stated coldly as he turned her slightly in the seat to get a better look. “Slowly. I’m gonna fucking kill him slowly. Then when he’s fucking dead, I’m gonna kill him again.” He lifted her arm before letting it go. He had seen enough. “You are going to let me look at you later.”

Shadow sighed. “Don’t worry about it.”

Don’t worry about it? You look like someone threw you through a meat grinder.” He leaned down and looked into her eyes, almost staring her down. “We still have things to take care of, and he’s hindered your ability to move and your appearance.”

She exhaled, beginning to fasten her shirt. “I’ve got it handled.”

Benton placed his thumb below the swelling in her lip and cupped a few fingers under her chin tilting her head upwards. “We have to take care of that money, and we have to finish Stephanie.” He leaned closer to her ear and whispered. “Brian is sitting on over a million dollars. You’re accounts should be about that large. We have to divide that up and get most of it out of the country, or we are going to have Federal police knocking on our doors. Do you understand?” He paused. “This is a larger take than we’ve ever done.”

Shadow nodded. “I’ll take care of it.” The look in her eyes pleading with him to drop the subject.

He looked at her. That was her standard answer. Over the years he had come to realize that that either meant that she didn’t know what to do, or whatever it was scared her. In the end, she always took care of it, but sometimes it wasn’t on everyone else’s timeframe. Breaking with his usual nod and exit, he asked. “Do you know what to do with it?”

Looking at Benton, her gaze hardened as she stood up and finished putting her clothing back together. “Of course I know what to do with it. Damnit, I didn’t start this shit yesterday!”

Benton nodded. He didn’t offer anymore advice or help. Right now, they were all fine. In fact, they were sitting very well on 41 million dollars. By his math that was just over 13 million a piece. Hell, it was enough to take that vacation with Shadow and retire from all this shit. Taking a deep breath, he walked out of her office.

Shadow sighed and closed her eyes resisting the urge to call him back. Instead, she started digging through the programs on the computer; Office XP, Photoshop, Acrobat, Access, MSN Messenger, Yahoo...

Detective Shaughnessy walked into Shadow’s office about half an hour later. Instead of stopping in front of her desk, she walked behind Shadow and commented. "How do you like the computer?”

"It has a lot of programs.” Shadow replied, ignoring the fact that her personal space was being invaded.

"What did you do before you came here?" Detective Shaughnessy asked trying to strike up a pleasant conversation since her last words to the woman had been slightly hostile.

"I was a cargo pilot." Shadow replied. "I flew odds and ends across the United States."

"What kinds of stuff did you fly?" Detective Shaughnessy asked just as the phone started ringing. “Boxes mostly.” Shadow replied and picked up the phone. "Shaughnessy Agency. What can I do for you?"

"Fly some cargo for me" The man said.

"What are we investigating?" Shadow asked, immediately recognizing the voice to be Grant’s. She made a slightly confused look as she tried to think upon why he would be calling her right now, and on this phone. He had her cell number. In fact, how in the hell did he get this number? She’d make a point to ask him later. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the liberty to ask with Shaughnessy in the room. She could only agree and then call him back later.

"Various items." Grant said.

"And what price range are you looking for?" Shadow asked.

"A thousand kilos.” He paused. “Is someone in the office with you?"

That’s correct, and how much were you looking to spend max?”

"A hundred thousand dollars." He said.

"Where would you like to meet?" Shadow asked.

"Pick up the stuff in Texas and deliver it to Mexico on the border. I want it delivered by tomorrow night or in the morning. Wednesday by the latest." Grant stated.

"I’ll meet you there." Shadow said and then hung up the phone.

"Who was that?" Detective Shaughnessy asked.

"A possible client. I’m going to meet him Wednesday morning." Shadow replied, looking over her shoulder at Shaughnessy.

Okay.” Detective Shaughnessy said just as Detective Trace walked into the office.

"There’s an officer out front. He would like to talk to Detectives Conn and Docks.” Detective Trace stated.

Shadow nodded and stood, following Detective Trace into the front office. She was not at all happy to be talking to a cop on her first day working at a legitimate job. A moment later, she felt Benton’s familiar arm slide around her waist. Not realizing that she had tensed upon entering the hall, she relaxed slightly. That disturbed her. She liked to think that she wasn’t terribly reliant or close to anyone, but being around Benton over the past few days had made her realize just how much she had missed him.

"Let’s take a walk you two." The officer said shaking his head slowly at the scene before him. In the last two years, he had done this well over a dozen times. The same pair. The same type of crime. This was old hat to the middle aged police Chief, but he still hated doing it, and every time he watched them walk down the hallway, they seemed to be closer. Three feet back in 2002, they were practically on opposite walls and scowling. One foot back in 2003, they were within arms length of each other, scowls gone.

He remembered the afternoon he had knocked on an open Foyer door only to catch them darting through the house yelling at each other. Chief Breck didn’t even remember what the argument was about or if they had even told him, but it had stopped the minute they saw him standing in the doorway.

Today, he was looking at a mid-thirties Benton with his arm around the rising pilot’s waist. He couldn’t help but shake his head. It was like an ongoing soap opera of the weirdest kind. “Composed this time, I see.” He commented dryly as they stepped into the elevator.

Benton laughed. “You will never let us live down the Foyer incident, will you?”

Chief Breck chuckled. “I thought I had walked into a domestic disturbance. I was ready to call for backup.”

Shadow covered her mouth with her hand as if she were contemplating something. In truth, she was trying not to become embarrassed again. She had stolen Benton’s keys that day because he had been drinking more than her and was hell bent on driving in to town. That one act had managed to get her tackled against the hall wall right before the Foyer to the yells of; give me back my goddamned keys, you little heathen. Of course, it was then that they both realized that there was someone at the door.

As they stepped out of the elevator, Chief Breck’s tone became more serious. “You know I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have to be.” He stated. "But I’m sure you’ve seen the news by now.”

Shadow looked at the chief confused. “I haven’t seen the news. Have you?” She turned to Benton.

Benton shook his head. “I haven’t had time to turn on a TV all weekend.”

The chief shook his head. “Stephanie Hook’s accounts are empty. She was also in a car accident Friday. You two were the last people she was seen with before both incidents.” He stated as they exited the building for the parking lot. “Do you know anything about her missing money? Or the car accident?”

"No, and I thought you hated street patrol, Chief Breck." Shadow said with a sly smile.

"Let’s stay on the subject for the moment" Chief Breck said. "You both better tell me what’s going on right now. I don’t want to have to haul you both downtown and fill out more paperwork.”

Shadow sighed. The Chief could have probably filled out the paperwork without them. “Nothing is going on. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Nor do I.” Benton replied keeping his tone straight and his eyes on the police chief.

The Chief sighed. “If I find out you two were involved in any way...”

We know.” Shadow replied. “Anything we can do to ease your mind.

The Chief paused in his steps. This was par-the-course for them, and he knew what she was getting at. “Not this time, Shadow. I have the Feds knocking on my door over this one. It wasn’t chump change this time.”

Shadow resisted the urge to curse.

“You two keep your noses clean.” It was the only advice that he could offer them at this time. The Fed’s had walked into his office at 7:00 this morning and started digging through all his files both paper and digital. Chief Breck had had to leave his office an hour later before he threw them all out. He had gone to do some street patrol through Grand Rapid’s ghettos when he had received the call to go question Shadow and Benton. He leaned close to Shadow and Benton and whispered. “They’re digging up your files.”

Shadow frowned as her and Benton turned and walked back into the office complex. “That wasn’t normal.” She stated as her eyes darted from Benton to the lobby doors as if she expected a SWAT team raid at any moment.

I know.” Benton replied, turning his gaze towards her. “I think this may be every bit as serious as I was telling you.” The realization was closer to a sledge hammer upside the head as he pulled Shadow close to him. He didn’t know if she was worried, but he sure as hell was. He had no desire to wind up in jail for the rest of his life. He had done time already and wasn’t about to go back under any circumstances.

Once inside the elevator, Shadow laid her head against his chest, sliding her arms around him. “I don’t know what to do with the money.” She finally admitted, the words muffled against his chest.

Benton tightened his arms around her. Those were not words he expected to hear. “Is it a single account, Shadow?” When he felt her nod, he groaned. That had been his worst fear; that she hadn’t listened. “Shit.” He sighed, getting control of himself before he got really angry. “Baby, we have to go to the bank tonight and split that money up. This isn’t the typical 100 grand heist. It’s only insured by the bank up to 180 thousand.” For the moment, his tone was calm as he tried to think of an easy solution to their mounting problem.

Shadow sighed. “That’s a minimum of twenty accounts.”

Benton nodded. “If you hadn’t pissed off Victor, I’d call him and get him to do it, but he’ll want more money once he figures out just how much we took and the risk involved.”

Shadow nodded as the elevator doors opened. The conversation was over due to lack of privacy, and she watched as Benton released her and stepped into the hallway.

We’ll go out for lunch.” Benton said with a slight smile.

Cracker Barrel across the street.” She grinned as she followed him.

When they walked into the office, Detective Trace

asked bluntly. "What’d that cop want?"

"He wanted to know if we knew someone he was looking for. We didn’t." Benton replied, eyeing the man closely.

Shadow bypassed any potential conversations and entered her office, sitting down at the fake wood desk. She had no idea what to do about any of this. It was way over her head, and she really felt like she was drowning. Why had she taken this job? It was more money than she’d ever need in a lifetime. It had also been her biggest challenge. Unfortunately, now that she had the money, she had no idea what to do with it. Generally, it was as easy as walking through a river and coming out clean, but the way Benton had stated it to her, it would be more like walking through that river twenty times and still needing a bath.

At 12:05 Benton walked into her office. “Let’s go get some lunch.”

Shadow took a deep breath. “I don’t think I’m hungry.”

I know you’re hungry. Come on. Let’s go relax for a couple hours.” He walked behind her desk and picked up her hand, helping her out of the chair.

Fifteen minutes later, they were seated at a table towards the back of the dining room. Thankfully, they weren’t crowded by the lunch rush. “We are not going to talk about business.” Benton announced with a grin.

That caused Shadow to grin. “Then what do you propose we talk about?”

Benton thought for a long moment. He wanted to ask her what she had been up to for the past several months, but he knew that that would lead to business. His next thought was to ask her about her docks in Florida, but that was definitely business. After a long moments of silence, he was beginning to think that this was a bad idea.

Shadow had been watching him contemplate what to say, and as the minutes wore on, she found herself simply staring at him, memorizing his features as if she had never seen them before. “I missed you.” She said even before the words had registered in her mind.

Benton was jerked from his thoughts at her words, and he took a deep unconscious breath not sure how to respond. It was then that the waitress walked up to the table to take their order. “I’ll have a 16 ounce sirloin, well done, baked potato and salad.” He ordered, thankful for the interruption.

Shadow was biting her lip when the waitress turned towards her. “I’ll… have the same and a strawberry daiquiri.”

Jack and coke.” Benton interjected. “Make that two.” He glanced at Shadow knowing that she’d need one.

Do we have to go back this afternoon?” Shadow asked once the waitress had left to place their order.

Benton grinned. He had been thinking the same thing. “Unfortunately, but how does movies, beer and pizza sound later?”

Perfect.” She smiled.

Benton had actually felt nervous as they sat and talked, drinking several drinks a piece. He couldn’t understand the jitteriness in his stomach. It was almost as if he were on a first date. After several minutes, he finally managed to quell the feeling.

Lunch lasted an hour and a half as Shadow kept distracting him from getting out of the car to spite her injured lip. Of course, that just meant that their kisses had to be extremely gentle, which only added to his pressing arousal.

Shadow.” He finally murmured against her lips. “We have to go back inside.”

Detective Trace had been looking out his window when he saw a white Corvette pull into one of the parking spaces in the center of the lot. It hadn’t particularly gotten his attention until he saw both Benton and Shadow step out of the two-seater. Checking his watch, he realized that it was 1:30. This caused him to exit his offices for Detective Shaughnessy’s. “Did you send our two new hires on a business lunch?”

No. Why?” Jody asked looking up from the remains of her morning paperwork.

Because they just got back.”

Detective Shaughnessy made a contemplative sound as she heard the front door open and hushed whispers followed by giggling. It reminded her of two teenagers misbehaving while they thought no one was looking.

Frowning, she stood and walked out into the front office to see Benton pouring two cups of coffee, and Shadow pressed up against his side whispering something into his ear. Shaughnessy simply watched the scene for the moment, wondering if she had made a mistake in hiring them both. She had figured that since they knew each other, they’d work well together. However, she was now certain that there was more going on than a simple past acquaintance.

It was then that Benton began to turn with both cups in hand. Handing one to Shadow, he spoke in hushed tones. “Behave, heathen.”

Shadow grinned before she realized that they were being watched and tried to dim the smirk that had appeared on her face.

I trust you two were discussing business on lunch.” Jody stated, eyeing them both.

Of course.” Benton replied straight faced as he took a sip from his mug to hide the smile.

I left two cases on your desks. You can collaborate with each other or examine them on your own, but either way, I need your opinions and a plan of action.”

Benton followed Shadow into her office. “We need to attempt to find the files.” He reminded after the door was closed.

We just got here.” Shadow complained.

Benton sat down in the office chair in front of Shadow’s desk. “I know we just got here, but we need to get this done.”

Shadow sighed as she sat down in her chair and pressed the power button on her computer. She flipped through a couple pages in the file lying on her desk while they waited. “If I trusted Shaughnessy not to barge in here, I’d consider leaving this computer on.” She grumbled and closed the folder, uninterested.

Benton laughed. “Let’s start sifting through the database.” He wasn’t going to let her get sidetracked, because if she got sidetracked then he’d get sidetracked. Then neither of them would accomplish anything.

Shadow pulled the keyboard across the desk and began typing. Realizing that she didn’t have the usernames or passwords, she began searching through her less than impressive desk. She found a scrap of paper in the top drawer that listed some account names and passwords. “Jackpot.” She grinned, setting the page on her desk. Though, she was frowning a moment later.

What?”

There’s about a thousand files.” She groaned.

Benton hmm-ed thoughtfully. “What are some of the file names?”

Shadow skimmed the first few names. “Baker, Colcort, James, James two…”

“Those are probably all last names.” Benton suggested. “What’s under Colcort?”

Shadow double clicked on the file name. “Skeleton file. Name. Age. Address. Occupation.” She paused while reading the paragraph. “It has him listed as working for the Company.”

“As what?” Benton asked.

“Executive.” She laughed.

Benton grinned and shook his head. “We need to be very careful then.” He was amused at the way it was stated, but that didn’t diminish the fact that Brian had been observed. “When did they stop investigating him?”

Shadow shrugged as she paged down the file. “It doesn’t say. It was last saved three weeks ago though.”

“Three weeks ago.” He contemplated. “That was right around the time you interviewed?”

She looked up from her computer, frowned, and then nodded. “It was.”

Benton hmm-ed. “We’ll have to ask Brian if he knew that he was being followed. However, the file we want might be listed under Decker’s last name.”

“Do you know what it is?” Shadow asked.

“His last name?” Benton paused. “Shit. No. I’ll have to call him.” He pulled out his cell phone a moment later and dialed Decker’s cell. He ended up getting the voicemail and left a brief message outlining what he needed.

At 5:00, Benton glanced at his watch. “We need to go.” They had been pouring over various files all afternoon.

But I have people coming.” Shadow replied, looking at him.

He walked behind her and pulled back her chair. “This isn’t over. Come on.” His tone was serious as he pulled her chair backwards scooting her out from under her desk. He had promised her a relaxing lunch and night, not evening.

Benton had been alternately contemplating the cases on his desk, the need to find the file, and their current situation. The latter had just caused him to become more and more pissed as the hours passed, and he was practically fuming at this point.

Shadow followed Benton out to the parking lot, and they got into his car. She gave Benton the directions to Bank and Trust. “What were your instructions to Mr. Parker?” Benton asked as they stood in front of her car looking at the one story brick building that housed the nearly bankrupt Bank and Trust.

Just to transfer the money and close Stephanie’s account.” Shadow replied, counting the number of cameras on the front of the bank.

Jesus fucking Christ!” Benton exclaimed actually losing his temper. “How could you leave it so simple?! Tell me it isn’t in your name at least!”

Shadow shook her head. “It’s not.”

Were you drunk when you did this?” He asked irritated.

NO!” She yelled back, crossing her arms. “I haven’t been drunk in days!” That hurt. She loved to drink, but she typically didn’t do it when she was on a job.

We can’t even do all of this today!” Benton yelled. “That much money being transferred would alert half the banking world!” He sighed when he saw Shadow stepping back from him. When she managed to back herself against the hood of her car, Benton attempted to calm his tone. “We’ll do the best we can with this.”

At 5:45 the remodelers and electricians walked into the Shaughnessy Agency. Detective Jody Shaughnessy was still sitting at the secretary’s desk doing paperwork when they entered. “Can I help you?”

“We’re here to remodel detective Conn’s office.” One of the men stated.

Detective Shaughnessy raised an eyebrow. This was a little more than she had meant when she told Shadow that she could change around her office. Jody had been expecting a few pictures, maybe a plant or two, not a ten man crew. “It’s down the hall.” She replied with a frown.

They entered Shadow’s office and started setting up. . . They threw out all the furniture and carpet. The remodelers widened the door and ripped down the wallpaper first thing. The sounds of chainsaws could be heard halfway down the elevator shaft. The furniture was next to be thrown out.

Did she give furniture details?” One of the men asked as he walked back into the room from throwing out the last cheap piece of particle board.

Nope. I simply called our usual supplier. They should be here about 5:00.”

At midnight they finished laying the new floor. Detective Shaughnessy had left the office at 8:00 giving the remodelers instructions for locking the office.

At 4:00 they finished the remodeling and started cleaning up the mess. At 5:00 the furniture and computer arrived. They were completely finished and gone by 7:45.

Shadow and Benton had had the money broken into six accounts spread across the United States before they left the bank. It had been an exercise in patience and phone calls. It had been especially hard since the new account wasn’t at Bank and Trust. It had been opened at Federal Trust. That had required help from the bank President in getting to the account. Then, they had needed to open several more across the United States. By the end of the encounter, Benton was ready to beat the tiny red-head himself.

We’re going to continue to move this shit until we can get it into bank accounts in Columbia, Indonesia, Switzerland and fucking Germany. He had a stack of paperwork the size of four encyclopedias when he stepped into his car. Backing up he saw Shadow standing to the side of the parking space looking at him. “I’ll see you at work tomorrow.”

Shadow stood there in shock. They had driven in the same car and now he was leaving without her. “Benton!” She yelled, but it was to no avail. Wrapping her arms around her aching ribs, she walked to the edge of the street and sat down on the curb.

It was at least a three mile walk back to the hotel and she was in no condition to be walking that far. Part of her still debated walking it. Another part debated calling a cab. She certainly had the money for it. The reluctant part of her pulled out her cell phone and called Benton.

Benton was about a mile from the bank when he both felt his phone start to vibrate and heard it ring to the tune of ‘Murder by Numbers’. Pulling the phone off his hip, he saw the display and tossed his phone onto the passenger’s side floorboards. He wasn’t in any mood to deal with Shadow and her incompetence tonight. He knew she simply hadn’t known what to do, but it didn’t leave him any less angry. He would talk to her at work tomorrow. Maybe he’d calm down by then because right now all he wanted to do was put his fist through her little body.

Shit.” He cursed suddenly, realizing that Shadow had no way back to the hotel.

Making a sharp U-turn in the middle of the road, he suddenly felt guilty. He had gotten angry and taken it out on her. Rubbing his eyes, his saw Shadow sitting on the curb looking miserable and clutching her closed cell phone. Benton cursed more as he made another U-turn and stopped his Corvette in front of her. “Come on.” He said with a sigh after opening the door.

Shadow stepped inside the car and slammed the door. “I fucking hate you!” She snarled not bothering to fasten her seatbelt.

Benton didn’t say a word throughout the drive back to the hotel. He deserved that. Letting Shadow off at the lobby doors, he parked the car. As he walked through the lobby, he didn’t see her anywhere. That bothered him. Benton had at least expected her to wait inside.

Sighing, he stepped onto the elevator and debated going to his room. As much as he didn’t want to deal with her when she was pissed, he didn’t want her pissed at him. Especially when he had no idea what he had done to warrant such hostility. Certainly, he had forgotten that they had driven in the same car, but that could be explained. He had a mountain of paperwork and his mind was on not getting arrested. After a long moment of debating, he punched the button for Shadow’s floor.

A few minutes later he was knocking on her door and hoping to hell she’d answer. He heard movement within the room which meant that she had gotten up, but when he didn’t hear the handle being turned, he wondered if she was going to open it. He placed his hand on the door handle gently, not moving it. The few seconds he had been standing there were turning into an eternity as he mentally begged her to open the door.

Shaking his head slowly, he started to leave when he finally heard the lock click. Before he even had time to turn around, he was tackled in a hug from behind that nearly pitched him forward into the wall. He managed to turn just in time to stop the door from closing and locking them both out. He hadn’t expected that.

Pushing her back into the room, he let the door close on its own. He had heard her mumble something from against him and it had taken him a few minutes to ascertain what it was. “Oh god, Shadow. You have nothing to be sorry for.” He stroked her hair. “I was the one being an ass.” He sighed. “You’re lack of knowledge isn’t your fault. This got way out of hand really fast, and I’m sorry I wasn’t here to help you.” He supposed that that summed it up as the words spilled from his mouth. He was mad at her. However, he was furious at himself for letting L send him away when he knew that Shadow was getting into something that was way over her head. Hell, it was almost over his head, but if they had been working together, they could have avoided a lot of this mess.

It was then that he noticed his tiny red-headed con artist clinging to him, and he slipped his arms around her. Picking her up, he carried her to the couch and sat down. Benton, then, slipped her phone out of her pocket and opened it, dialing the number for Papa John’s. “I promised you pizza and beer.”

There isn’t anyplace that delivers beer.” Shadow stated; her head buried against his chest. “And I don’t want to go out again.” She couldn’t decide it he was still mad at her or not. Over the years, she had learned that he could hide his true feelings in favor of ones more suitable or less conflicting.

He chuckled. “No, but there are curriers, and I’ll call one of those next.”

Finally, she asked with a sigh. “Are you mad at me?”

No, baby. I’m just frustrated at the whole mess.” He replied, wrapping his arms around her. “A lot of this could have been avoided.”

Forty-five minutes later, Shadow was lounged across his lap with a piece of pizza and a beer watching a movie on HBO. “Why do we always watch Gangster movies?”

So we can laugh at the inconsistencies.” Benton replied with a grin as he pulled her into a sitting position. He was watching her eyes slowly close and then open as she tried to stay awake after their stressful day. “I think it’s bedtime, Hon.” He said softly. He felt her shake her head and chuckled. Lifting her up he carried her to the giant King sized bed and laid her down across the comforter.

I don’t want to sleep.” She muttered curling against the covers.

Not even if I stay?” He questioned, undressing down to his boxers before undressing her and sliding under the covers. Benton was certain that she was tired enough to sleep fully dressed and completely on top of the bed. However, he had no intentions of letting her. He waited until she became comfortable around him before turning off the bedside light.

Benton and Shadow had to rush to shower and dress before work. He had woken at 7:15 to Shadow’s sleeping head on his chest and one hand curled around his. Reluctant to wake her, he had waited until 7:30 before gently nudging her awake. Of course, that had meant that they had had to jump in the shower together, but he had heard no protests from his half-awake heathen.

They had arrived, wet hair and all at the Shaughnessy Agency at 7:59 to Benton almost pushing her through the glass doors of the lobby with one hand still untangling her mess of wet red hair.

"Your remodeling crew came in last night.” Detective Shaughnessy stated as she watched Shadow and Benton enter the office in complete disarray.

Shadow nodded, glancing over at Detective Shaughnessy, who was once again sitting at the defunct secretary’s desk. “Good. I just hope they finished it all last night.” She ignored the irritated tone in her boss’s voice. She wasn’t in the mood for a goddamned argument, not after yesterday, and started to walk into her office when she was interrupted.

“Here.” Detective Shaughnessy said picking up a stack of paperwork. “I need you to enter this into the database. Have you finished looking over the cases that I gave you yesterday?”

Shadow turned around and walked back to Shaughnessy taking the stack from her. “When do you need this input by? And I’m still reading through the 400 pages.”

“Noon.”

Shadow nodded and headed back to her office. “Anything else you need?”

“A goddamned apology would be nice.” She replied suddenly.

“For what?” Shadow asked not turning around. ‘I am not apologizing for being late.”

"For fucking up my life, my brothers, my boyfriend's, causing my parents to get divorced. Need I go on?" Detective Shaughnessy stated, coldly.

What?” Shadow laughed incredulously. "Are you accusing me of that?"

Yes.” Came the answer.

"Then why did you hire me?" Shadow asked. For the life of her, she couldn’t remember doing anything to this woman. Maybe Benton remembered more than she did. For now, she didn’t refute the charges. It was quite possible that she had done all that. She used to be a holy terror when it came to fucking up people’s lives. Of course, it had all been done in the name of money.

"You were qualified." She responded.

"It’s nice to know you don’t discriminate." Shadow said as she pushed open the doors to her office. She didn’t feel like arguing and was extremely thankful that the doors had been left slightly ajar. She had a feeling that if they were completely closed, she’d never be able to get into her office. She pushed the doors closed and walked over to her new mahogany executive desk.

Spotting the remote to the doors, she slid it into her pocket before sitting down in her plush leather office chair and turning on her new computer. It was twice as fast as the old one that was now sitting on a small table in the corner. It looked as though all of the data and information had been transferred onto the new computer, and for once, Shadow was grateful.

Checking her watch, she noted the time to be 9:30 and realized that she hadn’t seen Benton since they had entered the office. She sighed. It was Tuesday already. Pulling out her cell phone, it dawned on her that she had to make a delivery to Mexico tomorrow night. There was no way she could do it. The flight alone was longer than she had free hours. “Shit.” She muttered dialing the number for Decker. Once he picked up the phone, Shadow spoke. “I can’t do that delivery tomorrow.”

Shadow, not doing it is not an option. My suppliers need this shit out of their warehouse. You know why. Didn’t Grant call you and give you the details?”

He just said I needed to do it.” Shadow replied.

You need to do it because the cops have been heavy on that warehouse lately.”

Fuck.” She cursed.

Like I said. Not doing it is not an option.”

Shadow cursed some more before finally telling him she’d be there on time. “Oh.” She said as an aside. “Did Benton get a-hold of you?”

I got his message. I have yet to call him back.” Decker paused. “You wanted to know my last name?”

Yes.”

Jones.” He responded.

She hung up a moment later after getting some more details from Decker, and then realized that she needed to call the warehouse. Picking up the phone again, she dialed.

"Hello." A man’s voice answered.

"Is the delivery ready for tomorrow night?" Shadow asked.

"Yeah, how much money did Grant offer you?" The man asked.

"One-hundred thousand." Shadow replied.

"L. Bays only paid the other pilots fifty-thousand." The man said. "I guess it’s a good thing he’s not in the country right now."

"I guess.” Shadow said. "Where’s he at?"

"New Zealand." The man replied.

Have that cargo ready for me. I’m on a tight schedule." Shadow said and hung up a moment later. She really wasn’t in the mood to talk, and she knew she was still going to be half a day late.

 

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