[Note from Frolic: Looking to get into the holiday spirit? We’ve got the perfect romantic suspense novella for you! Come back every day this week for a new chapter!]
Violet checked her outfit in the mirror. Then she went to change her shirt. She had only said see you tomorrow. It wasn’t like she actually had a date. He said he’d see her and she’d blurted it out. She changed her shirt again. She decided to really push the envelope, ripped off all her clothes and switched to tights and a skirt with a big sweater. She surveyed herself in the mirror and frowned. She usually didn’t mind being tall, but sometimes she had the feeling that she wasn’t a tall, so much as a grande. Her father said that her ancestors had all been women who needed to move cows or men around on a regular basis and she was therefore sized appropriately to the job. In Junior High that had not helped her feel like a delicate flower. She turned again and checked out her own ass. In her estimation, it was a pretty good ass. So as long as he liked ass, then she was in business. She pulled on her boots and coat and packed her bags.
She stomped de-icer off her boots as she walked in to the coffee shop. Melissa looked up and surveyed her outfit with a lifted eyebrow, but didn’t deviate from the Caramel Macchiato she was putting together for a customer.
The customer left as Violet set up her computer on her usual table.
“Someone’s hoping for a Mystery Guy drive-by,” said Melissa, coming around the counter to straighten the shelves.
“We actually talked for a few minutes yesterday while you were helping the baby-faced hoard.”
“Oh, I noticed,” said Melissa. “I noticed him follow you right over to your table.”
“Really?” Violet chewed her lip hopefully.
“I think there’s a possibility that he might stop by and I thought maybe this time I might actually get his name.”
“And show him your fantastic legs.”
“I’m not saying that’s the entire goal…”
“But if it comes up, you may take a little walk to the sugar and back.”
“Perhaps,” said Violet and Melissa laughed.
“Are you sure about this? I mean, he seems nice, but he carries a gun and he seems kind of like…”
“Like he’d be a little too handy in a fight.”
“How would you know?”
“Well, I’ve been hanging out with you for twenty-five years, so I’ve played my fair share of Threat Assessment. I’m just saying he triggers a few too many I can punch stuff alarm bells for me.”
“I know,” said Violet, with a sigh. “He’s dreamy.”
Melissa shook her head. “And you complain about my guy choices.”
“Just the one guy choice,” said Violet. “That you keep making.”
“I know you hate him, but he has potential.”
Melissa went behind the counter and brought out the broom and began to sweep the floor, catching the nearly disintegrated leaves that had been tracked in on boots and pushing them ruthlessly into the drop down dust pan. Violet opened her computer and typed in the password.
“Potential for what?” demanded Violet, unable to hold it in any longer. “Going to jail? Leo is an idiot and he doesn’t care about you.” She opened InDesign and pulled up the brochure she was working on. The text was crap, but by the time she was done it would look like gold.
“That is not true,” said Melissa, banging the broom forcefully against the dustpan. “Even if we hadn’t dated for a long time, I’ve known him since Junior High. He’s one of my oldest friends. He cares about me.”
Violet opened her mouth to refute that statement and then thought better of it. Leo probably cared about Melissa in the way that people care about their neighbor’s dog—as long she didn’t require effort, he probably thought she was cute. But telling Melissa that seemed cruel.
“He even came over this morning with this other guy to fix my car.”
Violet thought about that, looking for the angle. “What did he want?” she asked.
“He didn’t want anything! He and Mason just fixed up my car.”
“That he broke in the first place.”
“Changed the oil. Checked it all over. Made sure it was running good and that all the lights and everything were working. And this was before ten in the morning mind you. Doesn’t that say that he’s really making an effort?”
Violet hesitated, wanting to blurt out that it sounded like he was planning to use it as a get-away vehicle. That seemed to be a bit of a leap even for her. “Who is this Mason guy?”
“I don’t know him actually.” There was a hesitation in her voice and Violet looked up from the screen.
“You don’t know him and you didn’t like him?” she asked. Melissa shrugged uncomfortably. “Where did he land on Threat Assessment?”
“Six-foot-four, two-sixty, and a neck tattoo,” admitted Melissa.
“Oh, good, because that’s who you want at your house before ten in the morning.”
“He could be perfectly nice. I don’t know. He didn’t say a lot. But it doesn’t matter because they just fixed the car and left. Which I think shows consideration and ambition. The two things you’re always complaining about.”
Violet had to admit that those were her two areas of complaint. She still felt suspicious, but she didn’t have any fall back arguments other than it was Leo, so there had to be a catch.
“Good for him,” said Violet, with a shrug.
“You don’t sound convinced,” complained Melissa. A gaggle of customers came in just then and saved Violet from having to respond.
Violet worked steadily as the customers came in and out and she wrapped up the brochure and sent off a proof. Not that she expected a response. Three days before Christmas was not a good time to get a response from anyone. But at least she could say that she had met the client’s ludicrous deadline, and could therefore feel good about the rush fee she would be charging them.
She switched to grading the never-ending pile of Art History papers, each one with a shakier understanding of history than the last. There was a screech of brakes outside the window nearest her and she looked up to see Melissa’s car pulling up to the curb.
“Are you expecting Leo?” asked Violet.
“Leo? No, why?” Melissa looked up from the book she was reading on her phone.
“Because he’s driving your car again and he just parked.”
Leo got out and was followed by a very large man in a baseball cap and a fur-lined coat. He looked like a reject from a Macklemore video. Leo went to the trunk of the Honda and looked both ways before opening it. Violet began to get a very bad feeling about what was about to happen. They both took out duffle bags and approached the Starbucks.
Melissa and Violet had gone to different high schools so she didn’t actually have any first-hand experience with what Leo had looked like at seventeen, but Violet always thought Leo looked like a prematurely aged teenager. His round face, blue eyes and sparse, scraggly blonde beard had probably seemed hip and edgy when he was thirty pounds lighter and didn’t have the puffy confused look of a chronic drug user. But now, at thirty-two, he was a strange boy-man with a permanently dissatisfied expression.
Leo and the large man entered the Starbucks still looking at the mostly empty street.
“Leo,” said Melissa frowning, “what are you doing here? We didn’t discuss you borrowing my car.”
“Yeah,” said Leo, looking uncomfortable. “So here’s the thing Mel, Mason and I are going to need your car.”
Violet watched as Mason flipped the open sign off. She looked at her phone on the far side of the table—just out of easy reach—sucking power from a plug-in on the floor.
“Leo,” said Melissa, “we’ve talked about this. You can’t just borrow my car without asking.”
“We’re not asking,” said Mason, reaching across the counter and snatching the phone out of Melissa’s hand.
Violet dove for her phone, but Mason pulled a gun out of his waistband and pointed it at her. Violet put her hands up.
“Leo!” squeaked Melissa.
“Now calm down,” said Leo, coming over and taking Violet’s phone off the table. “Everyone just calm down. Violet, don’t get pissed.”
“Oh, it’s a bit late for that, Leo,” said Violet.
“Mel, we just need you to lock up for a while. It’s going to be fine.”
“Mason is pointing a gun at Violet,” said Melissa. “This is not fine.”
“Keys,” said Mason, snapping his fingers under Melissa’s nose.
Reluctantly Melissa reached under the counter and pulled out the ring of keys. Leo pulled her around the counter and took her to the front door. As they all watched Melissa, Violet used one hand to scrawl a message on one of the history papers and shoved it as close to the window as possible. She was still hoping that Mystery Guy stopped by, but now for entirely new reasons.
Melissa came back from the door and Mason snatched the ring of keys from her hand. “Bring her over here,” said Mason, jerking his head at Violet.
Leo reached for Violet. “Touch me and you lose a testicle.” Leo held his hands up, but then gestured for her to move to the counter. Violet picked up her nearly empty hot chocolate cup and moved to stand next to Melissa.
“OK,” said Leo, looking at Melissa and Violet. “Don’t freak out Mel, but we’re going to go rob the bank.”
Roman checked his teeth in the rearview mirror, hoping there were no bits of whatever stuck there from lunch. Maybe she hadn’t meant see you tomorrow. Maybe it had just been one of those polite things people blurt out. But he went in there a lot. It was plausible that he could show up. There was always more coffee he could drink.
He checked the time on the parking sign. It was nearly eight, so he was in the free zone and he could skip the trip to the meter. He got out of the car and shivered. It felt like snow. The Northwest rarely snowed this close to the water, but it felt like snow was imminent anyway. He pulled his bigger jacket out of the back. He didn’t like wearing it—it never fit right over his gun—but he put it on anyway.
He looked at himself in the reflection of his car window and took a deep breath, inhaling and letting it out slowly. He felt nervous. He’d been out with a couple of people since Cassidy. It hadn’t been that big of a deal. But this felt… momentous. He took another breath and rolled his eyes at himself. He was being stupid. It was just coffee. It wasn’t even an actual date. She might not even be there.
Except that he really wanted her to be there.
Roman straightened up, put his shoulders back and headed down the block passing the bank. He smiled at the gold letters remembering Violet’s plan with amusement. It really was a pretty good idea—if you liked robbing banks. The parking spots nearest to the coffee shop were angle and back-in only and the stall nearest the door was filled by a blue Honda that had ignored both those strictures and was parked by the curb taking up two spots.
“Begging for a ticket,” said Roman, shaking his head.
The driver was lucky it was the Friday before Christmas and no one, including parking enforcement wanted to work. Ignoring the blatant flouting of both social convention and parking laws, Roman hunched his shoulders against the chill wind crawling down his collar and hurried to the door of the Starbucks.
The coffee shop looked strangely dark as he approached. He tried the handle and felt the bolt of the lock clunk against the frame. He peered through the steamy window. Violet’s laptop was still on the table, the swirling screensaver twirling away. He walked along the front of the store to where he could get a better look at Violet’s table. Through the window he could see a pile of papers. The paper on top had been pushed close to the window and had a message scrawled across it in big block letters.
Like everything else about Violet, it was unexpected. Most people don’t leave notes pre-robbery. He reached for his phone. He was going to need some back-up.
About the Author:
Bethany Maines is a native of Tacoma WA, who is actually very much like her fictional heroines: she travels to exotic lands and has the ability to kick some serious butt with her fourth degree black belt in karate. And while her travels may not necessarily include fighting super agents of evil so much as eating spicy foods and hiking to the tops of mountains (okay, really big hills), her black belt skills are mainly employed in teaching karate to a classroom full of kids (although there was that one time in Paris), and her day job is something she actually enjoys (graphic design is fun!), she’s pretty much a secret agent in her own right. Find her here: https://bethanymaines.com/