Strangers & Sinners
The music coming from the large conference room wasn't quite as annoying or as loud as he thought it would be. A crowd - there's a crowd, he breathed easier. He could get lost in a crowd - sort of stand in the shadows, unobtrusive, watching - taking in the scene - not having to participate in small talk, senseless chatter, silly holiday nonsense. This works. I can handle this, he thought. Just another miserable fucked up Christmas - alone.
He took in the scene - the Christmas tree with its colored balls, tinsel and plastic angel - too many wreaths hanging everywhere - mistletoe on one particular door. Better avoid that one; might have to kiss something ugly. Clusters of tired people bunched together around the buffet pretending it was good, laughing too loud - lots of three-piece suits - God! They've got a taste for shit when it comes to clothes! The stone-faced expressions on the men, the pinched, artificial smiles on the women, Yeah, sure, having a wonderful fucking time. He hunched back into the wall, arms folded across his chest, his legs crossed at the ankle, angry at everything and nothing, shaking his head - refusing a drink when the waiter passed by with a tray.
She saw him across the room, watched as he unbuttoned his jacket and adjusted his wire-rim glasses on his face. What a gorgeous hunk! Why couldn't I be meeting him? He looks like an outsider... and about as thrilled at being here as I am. Probably here under duress - like me. She sighed, but unlike him, accepted a glass of wine from the passing waiter.
Spotting the reason she was attending this little soiree, the well-dressed, dark-haired woman made her way over to her client. Extending her cheek to be kissed, she smiled at him, thinking for the tenth time this evening that there had to be a better way to earn a living.
Nicholas Verona spotted her as she moved across the room. That one's interesting, he thought. Really nice ass... nice hair... turn around so I can see your... very nice... 34D... maybe 36D... mmmm, very nice package... *really nice ass.* He saw her smile at one of the suits and watched the two of them slip out of the room. And the light bulb went off inside his head. A hooker! She's just another piece of ass - paid ass. Shit!
He didn't know why that riled him. For some odd reason, he didn't want her to be just another piece of ass. He wanted her to be... someone else - something else.
Hookers are everywhere these days, his inner voice reminded him. They dress to blend in with the crowd; men and women - paid escorts - a few moments of pleasure - paid pleasure - in the course of a day or night.
Hell! Sometimes, they're more than that. Sometimes, they're... Christ! Who cares what they are! But that one... she looks like she could use a good hard spanking! He grabbed a glass of wine off a tray from the next passing waiter, gulped it down and headed back to his office. It's the weekend. I'll get my coat, get the hell out of here and call it a day. Fuck! It's the weekend and this time of year really pisses me off - all that good cheer crap, false smiles, fucking holiday season. Yeah, Merry up your ass, too! Lips pursed together, he barely nodded at the people he passed on his way out of there.
She finished her business with him and excused herself as soon as she possibly could. He was a good paying client but a totally unimaginative one. It was getting harder and harder to spend any time with him. She constantly encouraged him to be more creative - try a different position. He politely refused and they conducted business as usual. She gave him a goodbye kiss, grabbed her personal items and practically ran to the elevator that would take her to the basement where she had parked her car. I *have* to get *out* of here. I did my thing; paid my dues. Eight clients in one day - enough! I just want to go home - soak in a tub - and sleep in my own bed. My *own* bed! Oh crumb! My own bed is... doesn't matter. I *am* going to spend this *entire* weekend in bed.
The highway was slippery, icy, and miserable. The snow was plowed so high she could barely see the edge of the road and the exit signs. She chose to get off the main highway and take the local access road. That's got to be a little safer than trying to maneuver this icy surface - not to mention, all those idiots trying to speed around me. She came off the exit ramp onto the parallel road when she heard that dreaded sound - thud, thump, thud, thump. Damn! A flat tire! Pulling off to the side, she reached for her cell phone, speed dialing AAA's emergency road service. Nothing. No ring - no answer. Her cell phone was dead. Now, what am I going to do?
You'll go look for a phone, that's what you'll do, her head voice barked.
Too cold and too dark, she argued. I'll put the hood up, flash my emergency lights, wait a few minutes. Maybe, someone will come by and help me out...
She heard the disgusted snort inside her head. Yeah, right!
Groaning, she added, and then, I'll go look for a phone.
Sighing heavily, she put her emergency lights on and got out of the car to lift the hood.
"Mmmm, mmmm. Now, that's what I call a *fine* lookin' woman. Whaddya' say, my man? Is that fine? Or, is *that* fine?"
Oops! Plan B, chickadee, she thought as she automatically repositioned the key ring in her hand so that one or two keys were between each finger. Her other hand slipped into her coat pocket and out again, very skilled at wielding a pocketknife and extraordinarily ready to do so. I'll happily shove it into your gut if necessary, mister, she thought determinedly as she eyed the young man approaching her.
She watched him saunter over, his body in a graceful confident strut, hands open and arms at his side, eyes never straying from her face. The other one hung back a little; she didn't care for the smirk on his face and knew he was supposed to distract her so the closer one could do whatever the hell he was going to do.
Assault? A simple mugging... like any mugging was simple... rape?
"We don't want to hurt you, woman. Just open that coat of yours. Let's see how *very* fine you are."
Rape. Red lights flashed in her head. Sirens screamed at her. *Run!*
She stood her ground. "Don't come any closer," she said softly. "I'm warning you. Don't come any closer."
She watched them close in on her. They laughed in that way she remembered that monsters laughed - when you're six years old and you've gone to bed... and you know they're hiding under your bed. You have to go to the bathroom and you're afraid to because that means you have to put your feet on the floor and they'll grab your ankles and pull you under and nobody will ever find you again and you know you're going to die.
AD Verona didn't get to leave right away. He got side tracked - again. The Deputy Director wanted a few words with him, delaying his departure. Jesus H. Christ! The man just has to get in my face. Nick sighed, putting the problem off till Monday. He was anxious to be on his way and when he finally got onto the highway, he felt the heaviness in his chest begin to dissipate.
With one hand on the wheel and the other rubbing the tired muscles at the back of his neck, he stretched his head one way and then the other, trying to ease some of the kinks out. I'm going to get out of these clothes, grab a beer, and lay on my ass. I'm going to ignore the holiday, find a game to watch - get shit-faced and... wouldn't mind getting laid... He thought about that for a moment. He knew the likelihood of that happening was slim. I'm going to have a few beers and just lay on my ass - maybe watch a little TV, catch up on some reading.
As he turned off the exit ramp onto the local access road, he spotted the icy patch ahead of him. Prudently, he chose to detour back a few blocks and take the longer way home. It was definitely out of his way and added another 8-10 minutes to his trip but it was better than ending up in a ditch. He didn't know these streets as well as his usual route and he drove slower, carefully watching the road. Spotting the car parked halfway up the short street with its hood up, he saw three people displaying body language that just wasn't right. Intuitively, he knew the three didn't belong together. He slowed down considerably and kept his eyes on them as he pulled over.
He approached them from behind, watching the aggressive man ambling toward the woman with unmistakable confidence, almost as if he were simply claiming what he thought was his. The other one kept a little distance. AD Verona recognized the pose and the game plan. They were up to no good. She, on the other hand, looked deceptively calm, but he knew a defensive position when he saw one. The hood of her coat shadowed her face somewhat and he couldn't make out her features at this distance. The street lamp didn't help at all; it was hardly the brightest.
If she saw him, she didn't show it. She also showed no awareness or concern when he moved on silent feet and came up behind the second attacker. Damn it! They're just kids, he fumed. The young man let out a startled yelp when he felt an arm around his neck and a knee in his kidney. It was sufficient incentive for him to beg off. The first attacker turned when he heard his friend yell. It was a serious mistake on his part. She jumped him from the rear, trying to jam her keys into his neck but he lost his balance and fell flat on his face. Undeterred, she jumped on his back and kept jumping as she screamed every ugly and foul word she knew.
Verona took it all in and grinned. He almost felt sorry for the boy. Poor kid. She's beating the shit out of him. He handcuffed the other kid to the door of the car and started chuckling as he listened to her tirade. "Camel dung! Horse manure! That's what you are!" She yelled at the hapless punk while she jumped up and down on his back. "Were you spawned from an armpit? Have you no decency? Bull feathers! And... and... hairballs! You're worse than a hairball! Worthless piece of... of... hmmm."
"Shit," Verona offered, laughing softly. "The word you're looking for is shit."
She stopped jumping and looked at the man who had probably saved her from whatever god-awful thing that might have ensued if he hadn't shown up. Oh, it's you, she thought. The hunk with the wire-rim glasses and the scowl - from the party.
His eyebrows shot up when her full gaze focused on him. Ah, the hooker from the party. He saw her face up close for the first time and realized he was holding his breath. Those eyes! Her eyes were the deepest brown - not unlike his own - but hers were flecked with gold. Tiger eyes. Her hood had fallen back when she jumped on the perpetrator and he could see her face was rosy, flushed from the cold air and her physical exertion. Her dark brown hair, piled on top of her head with a comb, seemed to have gold flecks as well and he wondered if the thatch of fur between her...
Stepping to the side of the limp young man on the ground, she slipped her keys and her small knife into the pockets of her coat. Extending her hand, she offered her smile to the man who had come to her aid. "Thank you," she said softly but firmly. "Your timing is perfect. I really couldn't have handled this by myself."
Verona smiled back. He was immediately attracted to her husky voice. "Glad to have been of assistance," he rumbled in response. "Young punks like these two - with nothing better to do - can really ruin a lady's day."
"Oh, I didn't mean... that is, I do appreciate your help but I could have handled those two by myself. It's the tire." At his incredulous look, she explained further. I never got the hang of changing a tire."