The sculpture exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is a favorite of the Richmond elite for charity events. The rotunda has a separate entrance and the sculptures are large, sturdy, sparsely placed and therefore safe from revelers as they mingled, danced, wined and dined. Normally, I try to stay away from things like this, I’m not good at polite, insincere conversation and air kissing is a skill I never acquired.
Which is why I’m standing behind the cake in caterer’s uniform. Put on a white top and black pants and you became not exactly invisible, more like a fixture, blending with the background to be noticed only when needed, like the soap dispenser or automatic hand dryer. Barring any unfortunate incidents with the tipsy and handsy, you safely blend into the background buzz.
I sliced cake and directed any gluten/dairy/peanut free-ers to the fruit tower on my left. Lena was on my right, behind the bar, pouring and scowling and informing anyone who wanted anything other than WOB they were SOL unless they CUTC.
Nobody understood her, but she said it with such conviction they thought they should. Not wanting to appear gauche, they took their plastic glass of WOB or “wine out of a box” and walked off understanding they were somehow shit out of luck, saving Lena from having to deal with making drinks when they CUTC “coughed up the cash.”
We had an excellent view of the entrance so we would see Allie and the ADA arrive.
Lena was in the middle of shaking a martini for a guy who’d coughed up a ten spot when ADA Jackson came through the door. Lena stopped shaking. “Shit, what the hell happened?”
Nothing good. Thaddeus was heading straight for us. Allie nowhere in sight. Somehow, I didn’t think it was a sudden craving for cake sending him our way. He was stopped halfway across the floor by a bejeweled woman with a suspiciously smooth face. They were doing the air kiss-kiss when Allie came through the door, slid to the right, tucked herself into a corner and then my phone was buzzing in my shirt pocket. I pulled it out and saw a one-word text. “Paddle.”
“Dammit. We got trouble.”
“Oh god. I can’t stand it.”
I slapped my sister on the arm, “Lena, would you straighten up.”
Her response was a snorting raspberry and more laughter. The three of us were gathered beside a giant sculpture that was either a spaceship or a part of the female anatomy, while Allie relayed her tale. Lena started snickering when she mentioned the limo, by the time she got to beating off spiders, her twin was bent double and howling like a hyena.
I shoved her behind the sculpture to howl it out. “Allie, can this be salvaged?”
“I don’t know. He wasn’t happy.”
“I imagine not.” Having your date scream when you touched her had to be a mood killer.
“Champagne and a limo.” Lena said, having whittled her laughter down enough to join the conversation. “Hell yeah, that guy was wanting a little some’n some’n. And you screamed bloody murder and started beating off bugs.” Lena paused for a cackle, a few hee-haws, and a whew before continuing, “Thaddeus Jackson, A.D.A and Brown Recluse, he touches you and your skin rots off. Fuck me, that is fucking epic. Hey,” Lena’s face lit up with a maniacal kind of hope, “Do you think there was a video camera in there?”
Allie gasped, “Oh, Goddess, do you think?”
I glared, “Not helping.”
“Just sayin. That A.D.A. seems like the type.”
“Okay okay, I guess the subtle approach is a crash and burn. We can always do it the old-fashioned way.”
The old-fashioned way usually involved rope, duct tape, and a second location, “No.”
“Oh come on,” Lena went from howling to wheedling, “I could have him taped up and in the trunk in five minutes.”
“No.” I repeated and shoved back behind the space-vajayjay.
That girl was way too fond of duct tape.
“Allie, can you do the apology thing?”
“I can try.”
“That’s all I ask.”
Ancient Mediterranean Art was Allie’s favorite exhibit in the Museum. There was something about it grounded the soul. It could not however, make this moment any less awkward. Even art that had survived thousands of years had its limits.
When she’d pointed out her favorite piece to the man beside her, a Grecian urn the height of her shoulder, he’d grunted into his whiskey. When she’d asked if he thought it was big enough to stand in, his only response was to scratch his still-splotchy neck.
Subtle was not working. There would be no easing into this.
She took a few – in through the nose and out through the mouth -breaths, sufficient oxygen being helpful in any situation, and faced the surly man at her side, “Thaddeus, I’m so sorry about earlier.”
The ADA threw back the remaining whiskey in his glass and said, voice flat and staring straight ahead, “You mean when you faked a spider to get away from me?”
Oh. He was going with brutal honesty. Most men were willing to pretend, “Uh….”
“I’m not an idiot.”
“No, I suppose not.”
“Why the hell did you agree to go out with me in the first place? I’d guess this was about Lars and the witness we all know you are hiding by the way, but you agreed to the date before it happened so why…” His words ended on a sudden bark of laughter, “Ah hell, the guys were right about you.”
“Oh?” She heard the frost in that single, short syllable. Allie was a woman in a male dominated field. Those males had an awful lot to say about her, rarely was any of it true.
“They said you were being polite.”
“Oh.” The frost melted away This time, they’d gotten it right. “I’m sorry.” She wasn’t sure aa second apology was her responsibility, but she had learned that it did help take the sting out of rejection.
Finally, he turned, facing her, eyes searching, “You could have said no.”
“I said no for months.” She’d had excuses to go with those negative responses, but after excuse number ten, one would think the man would have figured it out.
“I suppose you did. I’ve always been a hardheaded son of a bitch.”
Allie blinked. That was surprisingly self-aware.
“I know my reputation. Is this because of your sister?”
“Not entirely, but your obvious derision of Mckenna does not endear you to me.”
“No, I guess not. In my defense, dealing your sister is…. difficult.”
“I would think saving you from sending the wrong person to prison for an untold number of years would make up for any difficulties along the way.”
“It probably should. Speaking of, where is Sachet Cabrolet?”
Allie’s mental Whew! at the subject change was loud and long. Time to lie. This, she could do. Allie found that the secret to a good lie was to keep it short, “I wish I knew.” Follow it up with a truth, “Mark is terribly worried about her.” And distract, “Shouldn’t you be more worried about the guns?”
Thaddeus Jackson frowned, “Lars was stabbed.”
Oh no. Surely, he knew about the guns. …
“So what’s this about guns?”
ADA Jackson didn’t know about the guns. They had not planned for this. Wow. That was kind of careless.
“Uh…” Maybe she could play dumb, “I don’t know, that’s why I was asking.”
“Miss Kinkaid, what the hell are you talking about?”
Last name. The conversation had just shifted from man to woman to ADA and citizen. Not the direction she wanted to go. Time for a subject change. “We know Lars was your brother.” Ha! Take that!
Offense as defense was one of Lena’s favorite tricks. Her twin’s version usually involved bones snapping and blood pouring, but her verbal version could work.
“So? I don’t make a secret of it.”
“You didn’t get along.” Allie mentally crossing fingers and toes. They had to have had something right.
“We got along fine”
“It was Nadia I couldn’t stand.” A.D.A. Thaddeus Jackson kept blowing their theories apart, “Lars and I would see each other every so often, just not when that bitch was around. Now, what the hell is this about guns?”
Distraction was a bust. Playing dumb was a bust. Offence as defense was a catastrophe. The circus was looking better by the second. But for now was the time for a strategic retreat.
“I uh… have to find the ladies.” Allie spun on her heel. She didn’t even make it past the urn.
Her arm was grabbed. Pain stabbed, shooting from shoulder to elbow. What was it with men grabbing her bad arm? She had a whole other one.
Gasping she eased back and found herself against the wall The ADA in front of her on hand on the wall by her head, the other gripping her now throbbing arm. “What guns?”
There was movement behind him. Allie peeked around his shoulder. Oh no. This was not going to end well. “I’m sorry, but you should let go of me now.”
His grip eased, but he didn’t release her, “Miss Kinkaid, I’m tired. I itch. The girl of my dreams has zero interest. Please, just tell me about the guns, because by god, it’s been one hell of a night.”
If she didn’t do something fast, his night was going to get much much worse. She poked her head around the ADA’s shoulder and met the eyes of the demon in a thousand-dollar tux, “I’m okay. It didn’t hurt.”
“Who the hell are you talking to?” The ADA had time to just barely look behind him before the demon brought his hand down on the hand holding her arm. Allie was released to the ADA’s pained grunt. She’d seen Lena make that same move. Broken wrist.
“You!” was all the ADA got out before Andre’s arm was around his throat and a hand was over his mouth. She’d seen this one before as well. The hold could render your victim unconscious in ten to twenty seconds and could kill them in thirty to forty.
“Please, don’t kill him.”
The demon did not look happy with the request, “No?”
“I would very much like to kill him.”
“It will make things difficult.”
“Very well.” The demon held the man until he went limp. Then bent, lifted him in a fireman carry turned, and dumped him in the Grecian urn.
So yes, a full grown man could fit in there.
He turned to face her. The rage bled from his beautiful face and there stood Andre Torril, “Where’d you get the Tuxedo?”
“I was already wearing it. It was only a matter of removing the cap.
“Allie Kincaid, you owe me a dance.”
“I killed neither that little prick nor the idiot from yesterday. I would think a dance a small concession for such sacrifice.” Andre offered his arm.
Fool that she was, she took it. “Sacrifice?”
“Yes, a huge one. I sat in an interrogation room for three hours.”
“We appreciate it.” He could have gotten out at any time. He had the connections, but he’d been distracting Carter.
“It smelled like vomit.”
She somehow managed to keep the smile off her face. “How… unpleasant.”
“And that man’s tip was shit.”
“You did keep the privacy window from rising.”
“He didn’t know that. And he rented the limo using Groupon.” Andre spat the word out as if it offended him to the bone.
“Well, he is a federal employee.” Although, as an ADA in the Eastern District of Virginia he should make a decent salary.
“That is no excuse.” Andre continued to voice his outrage as he led her back to the sculpture exhibit, “Using a discount coupon for a first date is tacky as all hell. If you can’t afford to pick a lady up in a limo, then use your damn car.” And so saying, he whirled her out to the floor and took her in his arms and began to waltz?
“You do know that’s not a waltz playing?” It wasn’t even slow. They were surrounded by gyrating swinging bodies.
“A minor inconvenience soon to be remedied.” Andre waltzed her around and up to the platform where the band was playing. He did little more than nod and that fast the music stopped and started again, a slow but steady three-quarter beat.
“I, unlike your Assistant District Attorney, am a very generous tipper.”