Monday, November 23, 2009

Girl Sleuth-Chapter 45

(To read from the beginning go Here.)

A flush tormented her cheeks, but Anne notched her chin up. Maybe Erik wouldn’t notice. Jilly would just up and ask him out to dinner. But then, Jilly, had no problem flouting convention. Although… She had just helped bust up a communist conspiracy. That was hardly conventional. She would do it. She’d just open her mouth and.

Anne opened her mouth, but the words stuck in her gullet like fish bones.

Erik waited politely for her to speak. Instead, she shook her head and feigned a cough.

“You okay?”

She nodded weakly. “Fine. Just tired. I’ll see you later, okay?”

He snatched his hat from the table and jumped to his feet. “Yeah. Of course. Sorry, I should’ve remembered.”

Anne stood as well, ushering him to the door. Soon, soon, soon, she would go hide her head under the covers and never come out again.

Erik stopped at the door and turned back to her. He glanced down at his hands, which revolved his hat in endless circles. She saw his grip tighten and then he slapped the hat on his head. In two steps he had her in his arms.

Anne gasped.

His eyes seared her, burning away her embarrassment and her hesitation. He lowered his head. The touch of his lips against hers sent a spiral of sweetness into her heart that banished the terror and grief of the last week. There was nothing beyond this moment. This man.

His fingers tangled in the hair at the nape of her neck, his palms cupping her cheeks. Time compressed and then lengthened. Pulled like taffy by the emotion surging between them.

At last he pulled away a few inches. “Can I see you tomorrow?”

Anne nodded. A dopey smile played at her lips, but she didn’t care. “Mm hmm.” Her brain had turned to mush. There was no chance of putting together a coherent response.

“And maybe the day after that?”

“Mm hmm.”

“And the one after that?”

Anne tore her gaze from dreamy contemplation of his Adam’s Apple to his eyes. “Okay.”

He smiled and his eyes were as bright as Christmas lights. “Good. I have a feeling that I’m going to want to see you every chance I can get.”

His lips caressed her temple. “Good night.” In an instant he was gone.

Fingers raised to her lips, Anne leaned against her brand new door. It wasn’t the end after all. Just the beginning of something new.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Girl Sleuth-Chapter 44

(To read from the beginning go Here.)

“Absolutely.” Anne perked up a bit. “Just let me brew some coffee first.”

Erik glanced over at her and grinned. “If anyone deserves some rest, it’s you.”

“I warn you once the tale is told I intend to sleep for at least a week.”

“Then you’ll be happy to know that one of the fellas rousted your super and a carpenter and your door is fixed.”

Anne’s hand flew to her mouth. “Would you believe I completely forgot about the break-in?” She shook her head at herself.

“Well you’ve had other things on your mind.”

“Oh, just Communists and counterfeiters. I can’t imagine how that would have been enough to make me forget that my apartment was ransacked. I’ll be glad to go back to just writing about crooks rather than dealing with them in real life.”

Erik pulled into a prize parking spot and pulled the keys from the ignition, but didn’t climb out right away. He leaned toward her ever so slightly, turning his torso so that he faced her. “If it’s any consolation. I think you’re a way better heroine than Lacey Carew.” He turned away abruptly, and flung open his door.

Heat bloomed in her cheeks, arcing down to a place in the middle of her chest and setting it aglow too. An irresistible grin lifted the corners of her mouth. Suddenly she didn’t feel nearly so sleepy.

He swung open the doo for her with a flourish and offered his arm. She accepted his assistance from the car, and didn’t pull away after she’d emerged.

Perhaps she’d been too forward. She sought frantically for something to fill the air between them. Something nonchalant. Breezy. Fun. Nothing came to mind. “So what did Armstrong and you boss tell you?”

He ushered her inside their apartment building. “I thought your curiosity might be stronger than your need for caffeine.” His gaze held a mixture of pride and humor. “You were right. They were communists. And the scheme was pretty much what we thought. They meant to take the plates that Tom made and set up a press in major cities all over the country. With counterfeits that good, and coming from every angle, we’d have been at a loss. Even if we shut down one operation, it wouldn’t have led to another, because the individuals in each cell were kept separate from one another and had no information about the others.”

Anne fumbled for her keys, but Erik handed her a different set. “New door.”

The only thing to do was laugh at herself. He might as well know up front what a goof she was. “That coffee won’t come a minute too soon.”

Anne led the way to the kitchen, flicking on the lights but ignoring the awful mess in the living room. She found the percolator unscathed but had to rummage before she found the coffee in the midst of pile of jumbled boxes and cans that had been flung on the floor.

She glanced over her shoulder. “Hope you don’t mind it black.”

“The blacker the better.”

“So why did they kill Carol, and what was it about those papers that made them so desperate to get them back?”

“Well that was part of what made this operation such a threat. Seems they have a guy inside the national mint. He figured out a way to smuggle out the special paper that’s used for real currency.”

“Wow, so the fakes would have been almost impossible to tell from the real thing.”

Erik nodded. “Exactly. The panic would deepen as word of spread and no one could be sure whether the money they had in their pocket was the real thing or some forgery. As the concern spread, the dollar would be devalued and, worst case scenario, the markets would crash and spawn a countrywide economic collapse.”

“Then the papers Carol gave me were the real deal from the mint. That was why they were so desperate to get them back. If anyone got a hold of them it might mean the discovery of their inside man.”

“Right again. I was scheduled to meet with Carol on the day she was killed. Her call came in while my boss, Mercer, was at my desk. I just transferred from California, so I’m the low man on the totem pole here, and I get all of the loons. He told me to ignore it. That it was an obvious crank. I was going to, but then I thought it wouldn’t hurt to check it out. She sounded pretty scared and I figured that if I could catch a counterfeiting ring I’d start establishing myself here. So I called her back and set up a meet.

“I played the cards close to my chest since Merecer told me to ignore it in the first place. Turns out to have been a good thing that he didn’t know what I was up to, or he’d have squashed the investigation and us with it. In fact, he tried. When he learned about the support I’d drawn for the operation tonight, he pulled our backup. That was why all the agents disappeared on us.”

Anne poured him a steaming mug of coffee and another for herself. The rich aroma filled the kitchen making his words feel foreign, not a part of the real world at all. “I can hardly believe it’s over.”

“Mostly over. We’ll need you to testify.”

Anne set her coffee down with a plunk. “Wait. If your investigation was under the table, how did you get the money to take the apartment downstairs?”

“I was there that day. The day Carol was killed. We were supposed to meet at a cafĂ© near the train station. When I saw you hovering nearby after the crash, I thought maybe you were a part of the gang so I followed you home.” He shrugged, looking sheepishly into his coffee mug. “The apartment downstairs was for rent, and I needed a place anyway, so I leased it. I thought I could better keep an eye on you.”

Anne shook her head and took a hefty swig from her mug. “So that day when you came up asking for tools was what? A reconnaissance mission?”

“Sort of.” His voice came out in a croak.

“You were looking through my stuff weren’t you? I distinctly remember thinking things had been moved around.”

He spread his hands. “It didn’t take long to mark you off my suspects list.”

Anne’s heart had pooled somewhere around her ankle socks. So the only list she’d ever been on was his suspect list. Ergh! It was all so humiliating.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Girl Sleuth-Chapter 43

(To read from the beginning go Here.)

Anne glanced at the figure prone on the floor. She smoothed her palms against her skirt. Her hands wouldn’t stop shaking. “I think I’d prefer to come with you.”

The semi darkness of the large office seemed to close in around them.

Erik seemed to notice her nervousness. He reached over to turn on the nearest desk lamp. She summoned a shaky smile. Marooned in the circle of light her gaze caught on his.

“Thank you. You saved my life.” He held a hand out to her and pulled her to her feet.

“Then I guess we’re even.” They stood toe to toe. Anne’s heart revved up like it was ready to drag race. She ought to have stepped back, but she was on an eye level with his lips. They quirked up at the corners, looking both hard and soft at the same time. His Adam’s apple bob, and Anne swallowed hard too. Her eyelids fluttered close and she felt warm breath brush her cheek.

At their feet, Erik’s boss groaned and Anne jerked back. “Maybe we better get some—”

“Yeah.” He ran a hand along the back of his neck. “Yeah. Let’s get this put to bed.”

Anne sucked in a horrified breath. He flushed a painful sunburn red. “I meant, mean—come on. They’ll have some coffee going down there and I need some.”

The night devolved into a blur of bland faced men in dress shirts and dark ties, burnt coffee, and incessant questions. As another pair of nameless minions of justice departed Anne rested her head against her outstretched arms. If she could just rest her eyes for a few minutes.

“Anne?” A warm hand rested on her shoulder.

She jerked upright. “Huh? What?”

“Hey, lets get you home,” Erik said.

Anne covered her mouth to hide an enormous yawn. “Oh, okay.”

Erik led her out to the car and held open the door for her. She slid in and laid her head back against the seat. Another yawn wrenched her jaws apart. If she could just go to bed she’d never get up again.

The car dipped to the left as Erik slid behind the wheel. “You want to know what we learned?”

Monday, November 2, 2009

Girl Sleuth-Chapter 42

(To read from the beginning go Here.)

Anne’s hand felt as if it had been soldered to the doorknob. Should she tear down the hall in search of help or stay and try to help Erik?

Dear Lord, help me. Help me!

“I thought so.” Erik’s voice held no hint of fear. “It had to be you. You pulled the other agents off the stakeout. I suppose it’s a good thing I played my cards close to the vest until the last minute or you’d have sabotaged the entire operation. Too late now.”

What was he thinking? Surely antagonizing the man with the gun wasn’t the wisest option. Anne finally remembered to breathe and eased the door closed. If she left now, she might not be able to return in time.

“Your problem, Carter is that you’re cocky. You didn’t have the faintest suspicion before a couple minutes ago. And even if you did you waved them away.” The tone carried with it the hint of a sneer.

“Well we both know that you’re not going to get away with it. Armstrong will spill his guts and then you’re done. Shooting me will only make matters worse.”

“But it’ll be so much fun.”

Anne slipped out of her shoes so that she could move silently but also quickly. Half-crouching she crept along the outer wall of the room. She wasn’t entirely certain where he was and it would be better to come up behind him rather than ruin the element of surprise by approaching too obliquely. Now to find something heavy.

“You can’t hate me that much.”

“No. You needn’t take it personally. I just don’t want anyone gumming up the works for me. I’ve got a plane waiting to whisk me to a cushy position in Moscow. No more of the sanctimonious swill I’ve been drowning in for years. It’ll be a positive relief.”

“So why not just go? Why are you still hanging around the office?”

“Oh, I’ve got a job or two to do. Once your witness gets back I’ll kill you both, then I’ll head on down to the interrogation rooms and send the agents home. They’ll actually be grateful for the break.” His tinny laugh sounded more like a cackle. “Then Armstrong and I will collect the fake plates and the juiciest files from this office. Just a little something to ensure a warm welcome in our new homeland. They may give us a parade right through Red Square.”

“More likely a bullet to eat,” Erik said.

“Shut up. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Why don’t you just kill me now?”

“I was waiting for your girlfriend to get back. I’d hate to scare her off. But you’ve tempted me once too many times.”

Anne was only a few feet behind the man as he raised his gun.

“Hey! You looking for me.”

He turned to look at her and she launched the heavy typewriter she’d raised above her head. The muzzle of the gun flashed and Anne’s ears rang with noise of a shot. The typewriter struck his temple eliciting a grunt of pain. He staggered and slumped the floor, the gun clattering free of his grip.

Erik was on him in an instant. He snatched up the receiver of a nearby telephone and used the receiver to tie his boss’s hands behind his backs.

The room whirled and swirled as if someone had tossed them all into an enormous blender. Anne sank to floor. She dropped her head to her knees. So tired. So very, very tired. The temptation to curl up on the floor and go to sleep was nearly overwhelming.

A hand touched her shoulder. “Hey, you okay?” Erik’s voice was as warm and sweet as a biscuit dripping with honey.

Her head felt as if it were a granite boulder but she managed to raise it and meet his eyes. “I’m okay.”

“I’m going to go get some help from the guys downstairs. Will you be okay here or do you want to come?”

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