Noelle sat on the edge of the bed, her skinny knee bouncing rapidly as she waited. She could still hear the men outside talking and she needed to pick the right moment so she wouldn’t get busted. A few more moments passed before she heard the car door slam and she made her move. She would lose them if she moved too slowly out the bathroom window or down the block to their car. Kyle had been excessively anal about their movements for years, for good reason. Noelle watched the black van pull away from the hotel parking lot as she jumped into their blue Honda. She’d wished her father was inside the car with her during her first pursuit, but she could hear his voice in her head as clear as a bell. Not too close, two car lengths behind. Stay in the next lane so they can’t see you. Be careful.
She followed the van to the entertainment district; a block lined with strip clubs, bars, and a movie theater advertising XXX classics. The van turned down the alley behind Club Solo, obscured in the darkness. Closed for the evening, it was a perfect mark. Noelle parked the car across the street and made her way back to the alley, hiding behind the few still cars that lined the street. She could see her father and the mysterious man breaking into the building and disappearing inside. Noelle leapt from her hiding place and raced to catch the door before it locked her outside. She found herself in a dark stairwell and had to use the red EXIT sign to find her way up the narrow stairway. She could hear voices as she approached the door at the top. The doorway led to a balcony above the abandoned dance floor of the club. The lights on the stage were on, shining purple and blue discs across the room. She followed the balcony and the voice to the hallway, where she could finally see her destination.
“You got a lot of fucking nerve, Santos,” the man said with a scowl. His palms were flat on his desk as Kyle rapidly relieved him of the contents of his floor safe.
“I’m just coming for what’s mine,” Santos said, shrugging his shoulders.
“Dirty pig motherfucker,” the man spat. Santos stepped closer to the man, his aim unwavered at his head.
“We’re good, let’s go,” Kyle said, standing. He swung the heavy bag over his shoulder, ready to escape.
“One more thing. Give me the ring,” Santos said. From the hall, Noelle couldn’t see the item he’d requested, but for a second, it drew the attention of all three men.
“We didn’t come here for that,” Kyle said, looking between Santos and their mark. Santos turned his gun towards Kyle briefly. “I say what the fuck we came here for,” he said, before turning the gun back to the man.
“Give me the ring,” he said slowly.
“Fuck you,” the man spat, shaking with rage. Noelle moved again, trying to get closer when the floor creaked beneath her feet.
It took a second for everything to go left. Santos turned his back to the room to investigate the noise, giving the man the chance to unsheathe the pistol he’d hidden beneath his desk. He fired the .45, blasting Santos back into the hall. Kyle dove across the floor as the man aimed for him and was able to grab Santos’ gun and fire back. A bullet tore into the man’s neck, killing him almost instantly. Noelle stepped from the darkness as the smoke cleared trying to process what just happened. Kyle looked up to see his daughter, shaking in fear.
“El,” he said, letting go of the duffel bag he held. Noelle didn’t reply; she’d been fixated on the two dead men before her. Kyle looked over at the man behind the desk and slid the emerald ring off his fat finger. It would be enough to mitigate his losses.
“Let’s go,” he said to his daughter.
Dorian glanced over at Noelle again as he pushed the car farther down the service drive. She’d been completely silent for nearly an hour. He ignored the chirping from his phone; his first and only concern was protecting Noelle. “We’re here,” he said, sliding the car into the nearly empty parking lot. He’d brought her to the only place he could think of, somewhere she couldn’t be linked to. They exited the car and made their way down the marina, passing nearly identical boats bobbing silently in the water.
“Fishing season’s just about over so you’ll have the place to yourself,” Dorian said as they arrived at the vessel he was looking for. Stark white, the Rosalyn shone like a ghost against the black water.
“Who’s Rosalyn?” Noelle asked.
“My mother. She and my dad had their first date aboard this boat. When she accepted his proposal, he added the name. He hasn’t been aboard since she died,” Dorian said. He stuck his hand out to help her board.
“I was a kid. I don’t really remember her that much. Dad though…he’s never been the same.”
Noelle wondered what else Dorian had in common with his father aside from the loss of a great love. She sank down onto the starboard bench, exhaustion finally getting the best of her.
“We’re gonna figure this out,” Dorian said, sitting next to her. He made sure to keep enough space between them so they weren’t touching.
“I’ve gone through every contact I have. If they aren’t dead, they’re off the grid. Even my father’s gone, probably dead,” she said as she stared into her lap. Dorian reached over and took her hand in his, rubbing his thumb across her knuckles.
“I’m right here and I’m not going anywhere until I know you’re safe.” Noelle wanted nothing more than to seek solace in his arms and spend what little time she had left in his bed. She knew he couldn’t keep her safe and he was even in more danger being this close to her. The longer he sat there, staring at her with those hopeful brown eyes, the clearer it became.
“You should go. I’m sure you have to check in,” Noelle said, taking her hand from him.
“I can stay.”
“You could. But if someone sinks this boat, I need you on the case,” she said, giving him a fake half smile.
The idea of losing someone else he loved tore Dorian to shreds. He grabbed Noelle’s face and kissed her, pouring his forgiveness into her mouth. They’d kissed this way hundreds of times, a loving expression that neither of them wanted to end.
“I’ll be back in the morning,” he said as he managed to tear himself away from her. Noelle smiled, silently grateful for another reason to stay alive.
Carmen’s face practically glowed when she saw Dorian step onto the floor. As a junior agent and technical specialist, she spent most of her time glued to a computer next to 11 other agents. Dorian felt a gut punch to his guilty conscious; he’d nearly stopped himself from coming here a dozen times. But he needed her and she was the only person he could trust.
“Hi babe,” she said, leaning closer to him as he sat on her desk. He’d come bearing gifts in the shape of breakfast and coffee.
“Have I told you I love you lately?” she said, sipping the hot elixir slowly.
“Are you busy?”
“Always. What’s up?”
“Honestly, this isn’t a social call. I need a favor,” he said, keeping his voice low enough so the other 2 agents nearest her couldn’t overhear.
“What’s going on?”
“I need to trace a message for me. Off the books.”
“A message?’ Dorian pulled the cell phone from his pocket.
“It’s a burner. A good one. I don’t know if I can pull anything from this,” Carmen said, inspecting the device.
“I know. But anything you can get will be appreciated,” Dorian said, laying his charm on thick. Carmen narrowed her eyes at him warily.
“Whose phone is this?”
“You don’t have any friends.”
“Are you going to cover my ass if this comes back to me?”
“I would love to watch your ass,” Dorian said whispered in her ear before he nipped at her earlobe. She sighed and Dorian knew he’d had her. Even though she was uncomfortable with bending the rules, there was much she wouldn’t do for him. He felt even guiltier for using her.
“I’ll call you if I find something.”
“Call me anyway,” he said with a wink.
Dorian spent the rest of his day locked into his office, piecing together clues. With the list Noelle gave him, he went to work looking for a connection between her and the deceased. Other than being long-time criminals, each with their own specialty, and having some affiliation with her father, there was no common ground. None of them had a clean past, but none of them had committed any crimes that deserved such gruesome deaths as far as he knew. After several hours of combing through their files, Dorian had hit a wall. Kyle was missing, Jasmine was dead, and Noelle might be next. For a split second, he wondered if Noelle was possibly hiding something, maybe even using him to cover for herself. His phone ringing startled him from the improbable thought.
Carmen rolled back to her desk as Dorian approached, ready to present what she’d found. “I knew tracing the number was pointless so I focused on the video itself,” Carmen said, pulling up the video on her computer. This late in the evening, most of the floor had emptied for the night. With a few clicks, she pulled up a scrubbed and zoomed image from the distance of a blue emergency phone.
“Okay. Those are all over the city,” Dorian said, shrugging his shoulder. Not the clue he’d thought.
“Right, except this one is the new model. See how the light at top is shaped?” Carmen said as she pointed out the difference. Dorian shrugged again.
“They only recently put the new models in a few locations,” Carmen said as she changed the screen to what showed a map littered with blue dots.
“The new phones were installed on Morgan, Jefferson, Rover, and Philadelphia. The first two are eliminated because there are no buildings in the background. Philadelphia has that beautiful fountain nearby so that one is also crossed out.”
“So she was killed on Rover?”
“At least within a quarter mile. That light is bright but it only shines so far.”
Dorian kissed Carmen on the lips before sliding the phone off the desk. “You’re beautiful,” he said, ready to depart when a thought occurred to him.
“That girl you dropped off for me?”
“Where’d you take her?”
“Nowhere. I pulled the car around and she was gone. I waited for 20 minutes. What about her?”
“She’s the body in the video.”