BY: A. Tietz







Robin was home; the Professor was at the college. That was the schedule. Trace had already made sure the Professor was at College today. As she rolled the Rider Truck slowly toward the Trenton home, she mentally registered the feel of the weapons strapped to her body as she noticed the same Cable Company Van parked two houses away. Last night the Van had been parked two houses away in the opposite direction of where it was now. The van could be legit, what couldn’t be finished yesterday could be worked on today. It might be a neighborhood cable problem. Trace didn’t like it though. It was an unknown. No need to panic yet. But investigation was definitely necessary. She had to play it cool, no secure plan until the unknown was known. She silently recognized that if she had to, she would take the woman now. She did not want to force this, but she may have no choice. She had to check out the van, she needed to find out if it was for real or a front for surveillance. Perhaps her best source of info on the van would be Robin. Time to meet the woman.

Trace was still nervous about meeting Robin. But this was her turf; she could wing a kidnapping without a plan if she had to. Better to save her life than make a good first impression. Her heartbeat was up, time to play the game even if someone else, probably Crab, was changing the rules.

She took a breath and knocked on the front door. She rang the doorbell after a few moments.

Shit, nothing. But the woman’s car was in the driveway.

Too late already? No, this is a hit on the Professor. Still no answer.

Her gut clinched.

No need for force yet. Check the back yard.

She had seen flowers and garden paraphernalia; maybe the woman was gardening. She peered in the window; no one was to be seen. She walked to the gate of the backyard fence. Silently, she came to the corner of the back of the house. Her gun was drawn. She quickly peered around the corner, then immediately ducked back. She saw Robin and the cable man. He was feeding her some line of bull about the back fence. She stashed her gun in the ankle holster under her jeans.

Okay, be cool, she came around the corner casually.

"Um hello, uh, sorry but I thought I heard voices."

The man looked at Trace quickly. His eyes looked like a deer caught in the glare of headlights. He was no cable man. She kept her face cool, but she wanted to kill him. He had to be Crabs henchman.

"Oh…..ahhh, well Mrs. Trenton, I, um, appreciate the access from your backyard. It’ll give us a lot easier time of looking for the problem. I don’t want to keep you from your company. I’ve got to get going anyway, it’s been a long day."

He was headed straight for the back door.

Trace had been advancing on them slowly. Every sense was on alert. She had placed herself between him and the back door. Trace was not paying much attention to Robin, but she was also trying not to look like she would kill the man with her stare.

"I’m from the Happy Animal Clinic. Should I come back Mrs. Trenton?" she asked as mildly as possible.

She hadn’t moved though, he would have to pass right by her.

"No really I’m done. Thanks again. Hey can I get to my truck around the house, this way," he nervously glanced at where Trace had come from and then looked back at Robin. Trace was watching every move.

"Sure, there’s a gate on that side of the house," she smiled a little puzzled.

The man was already on the move. Trace walked over to the doghouse and looked at it curiously, tugging on it as though checking the weight. While pretending to check out the doghouse, she turned to face the back of the Trenton’s home, having the doghouse to her side, her back to the fence and Robin. She couldn’t afford to have her back to this guy. Robin was walking toward her from the back fence. The man disappeared around the house. Still on alert, Trace looked over the doghouse again, watching out of the corner of her eye for any movement.

"I’m sorry, I sort of forgot you were coming," she heard the hesitancy in Robin’s voice.

Trace was trying to compose herself. The cable guy may be legit, but her gut said no. What should she do now?

Without looking directly at Robin she said, "Oh that’s okay. Must be a busy day for you. You’re having cable trouble and I am coming to pick this up," she motioned to the doghouse and smiled.

"Well I didn’t know we were having cable trouble. I watched my favorite garden show earlier this afternoon. But a few minutes ago the cable guy showed up. They need access through the back fence of all things," she sounded puzzled.

Trace tried to put a friendly tone in her voice and a humorous smile on her face, "So they didn’t call, huh? At least we called. We did call didn’t we?"

As Trace looked into the eyes that had been living in her dreams, and couldn’t breathe. God’s this was no time to get emotional. She couldn’t let her guard down, there was too much at stake. Still, she couldn’t break the gaze. There was silence, it seemed timeless. She was real, this was her, the woman of dreams, she felt that peace again, like she was about to be welcomed home.

The woman kept her gaze for a moment, she seemed reluctant to look away as well, and then she blinked and stammered, "Um, oh, what, well no they didn’t. You did, you’re right. I mean not you, of of course, uh someone from the clinic called. Yes, they called, the clinic."

Robin smiled self-consciously and looked at the doghouse. The woman was obviously a little frazzled by their meeting and Trace caught the hint of a blush on her face. She was beautiful. Her hair was in a French braid. She was considerably shorter than Trace’s 5’11" frame. Most women usually were. She was dressed casually in jeans, a simple country blue, flower print, cotton blouse and Birkenstocks. Trace was barely aware of the woman’s clothes though. She was still reeling from looking into those mesmerizing eyes.

"Well good, it’s important that we call."

God’s I sound stupid.

Uncomfortable, she looked around quickly. "So you’re responsible for these flowers I guess, if you’re watching garden shows," she smiled looking around avoided those eyes for now.

"Well yeah, I love the newness of spring and springtime flowers. I know it sounds boring, but gardening is soothing to me. I watch shows once in a while, just for tips."

Still looking around at the colorful garden Trace said, "It shows, these blossoms are simply beautiful," and their eyes met again.

She wasn’t really talking about the beauty of flowers. Her mouth was a little dry.

Robin smiled a genuine smile and was definitely a little pink. "Thank you," was all she said still holding Trace’s eyes.

God’s what was she going to do? She felt paralyzed by that beautiful face and those kind and inviting hazel green eyes. She looked just like the dream, only with long auburn hair. So beautiful, so warm and genuine. But she couldn’t stand here all day just staring.

Staring? I’m staring! Staring is not good. God’s Trace are you drooling? You’re acting like a lovesick puppy, Trace was scolding herself mentally. And just where is the cable guy now? You’re staring at a gorgeous woman who might just get shot if you don’t get a grip and do your job idiot. Oh and stupid, you are still staring!

And she was, she was staring at the lovely woman not able or willing to break that connection.

A phone rang. It broke the spell. "Oh, I should probably get that. I’ll be right back."

Trace panicked, "Oh well, I am sooo sorry to ask this, but I have been running all day. This is embarrassing but could I impose and ask to use your restroom?"

Trace was walking quickly toward the house with the woman. She didn’t want to leave her alone. She didn’t have a fix on the cable guy.

"Sure, um just a minute," Robin picked up the phone which was lying on the patio table.

Trace had missed that.

"Hello, Yes it is. No, he just left. About 10 minutes ago I think. No problem. Bye. Well I guess they call after the fact," Robin had a smirk on her face.

Damn, they’re checking, Trace thought.

"Geez, I am glad they don’t check on me like that," she tried to chuckle.

Robin moved to open the sliding glass door then she turned with a warm smile and invited Trace in. "I know what its like to not even get a moment in a work day," Robin said graciously as she led Trace toward the hall and the restroom.

"It’s the first door on the left," Robin motioned.

"I REAAAALLLY appreciate this, thank you so much." Trace disappeared down the hall.

The woman was in the house now. She had to think.

They wouldn’t do a day job. It wasn’t the right setting. But they called, they were checking up on things. Where’s the van now, are they gone? It won’t be a bomb job, too residential. The Professor doesn’t rate, or does he? What the Hell do you know you cheating bastard. Just how much more info do you have from the Viet Nam trip that I didn’t find. And who are you screwing with, if it’s the Colonel I’ll probably see my grave tonight. Damn don’t know if I should take her now? Is there time for a plan or is it snatch and run?

This was getting sticky. Helping those you are supposed to kill gets too many fingers in the pot. She didn’t like that. Time was ticking by and she couldn’t stay locked up in the bathroom.

Come on girl, think!!!!!!!!!!!!

Trace knew she couldn’t leave Robin now. She had to stay around. But she had a big yellow Rider Truck to get rid of plus a doghouse. The doghouse was the key. She had to risk it. She had to call Roddy somehow.

Okay, waaaaaay time to get OUT of the bathroom stupid.

Robin was in the kitchen. She was drinking some soda and had poured a second glass, which was sitting on the counter.

"With the kind of work you’re doing I thought you might like a glass of something cold to drink. It’s coke; I hope that’s okay. I have bottled water if you prefer."

Trace smiled and inwardly sighed; this meant she could stay a little longer, "Wow, thanks. That’s really nice. I am addicted to Pepsi myself."

She took the glass and a nice cold gulp. Her mind was racing.

Okay Trace come on, make her like you. She is just being polite. You need to draw this out.

Trace cocked her head raised an eyebrow and asked with a chuckle, "So did the cable guy get a coke too? Or is it just those of us who call?"

Robin had a delightful humorous grin on her face, "Naw, the coke is just for those who comment about my beautiful flowers."

Trace’s cursed her luck. Why couldn’t she just be the person picking up the friggin doghouse. She could stay here and perhaps quickly find out if she could get this adorable woman to REAALLY flirt with her. She had too much at stake. She hated to do this, but time was not their friend.

She smiled kindly and said as gently as possible, "By the looks of your doghouse it was quite a big puppy. Did she ever eat the flowers, or did you have her well trained?" There was immediate sadness on that beautiful face and Trace kicked herself but was silent.

"Daisy was my happiest flower." There was a single tear that slid down her cheek. She looked out into the garden.

"I am sooooo sorry Mrs. Trenton. I am sure she was beautiful. They bring us such joy. And they’re gone all too quickly."

Robin looked down at the floor, then back to the garden and said, "She was my best friend. No, she didn’t eat the flowers, she helped with digging though," and she smiled at the memory.

"I was proud of myself, I was still able to plant some Daises this year. My way of saying hello and goodbye."

Robin sniffled and whipped her eyes and said with a little embarrassment, "I’m sorry. You’re just doing your job."

"No, I do understand. I make it a point to be sure I know the circumstances before I make one of these pick ups. She was a golden retriever, right? They are beautiful animals, so loving and giving. Daisy was very lucky to have such a loving owner Mrs. Trenton."

Robin took a deep breath said thank you and walked out the sliding glass. Wanting to give the woman a bit of time to collect herself, Trace followed slowly, not too close, still remaining alert for any odd movement or sound.

"Mrs. Trenton sounds like I’m some 95 year old librarian. My name is Robin," she turned and extended her hand to Trace with a warm grateful expression now free of tears.

Trace smiled and took Robin’s hand before she knew what she was doing. God’s she had to save this woman. Trace the "Ice Queen", actually felt a little weak in the glow of the warm thankful smile and the feel of the gentle hand she held.

"You are so kind to donate this Robin." Trace put the drink down on the patio table.

"Well it’ll be a long while before I’m ready to get a new dog, I know the doghouse will be put to good use," Robin seemed determined to look at the practical.

Trace shook her head in exasperation, "Now if I can just get it in the truck."

"Oh I can help you. My husband and I have moved it before."

"Thanks for the offer of help but its not allowed. My company’s been sued so they’re really strict about not allowing anyone other than staff to help. I can usually manage, but my back has been giving me a little trouble. I’m afraid I’ll have to call in for help. If I call now, someone might still be in the office. I’ll just go to my truck a minute if you’ll excuse me. I need my map." Trace started for the side of the house.

"Hey, you don’t have to go around that way. It’s shorter through the house. Are you sure we can’t just give it a try, I’m stronger than I look?"

Trace looked at Robin with a frustrated with work orders expression on her face and said, "Sorry, I’ve got my orders. I know this will take longer than you probably planned, sorry. Oh, and don’t worry, I’ve heard about watching out for big things in little packages. I’m sure you’re more than strong enough. But, we can thank the sue-happy people for this. I think they were from California." Trace smirked and Robin giggled.

They had walked through the house and emerged through the front door. Trace immediately looked for the Cable Van. It was not to be seen. She needed time and help!

Robin’s reply was understanding, "Time’s not a problem for me I don’t have to go anywhere, but it makes your day longer."

Trace was headed for the truck but turned around with a curious and playful smile, "Does this mean I get more coke?"

She was rewarded with a smile that was even more heart stopping than in her dreams.

"I’ll see what I can do," Robin beamed with an enjoyable grin and with that she turned around and headed toward the kitchen.

Trace walked around the truck looking for signs of the van or any obvious tampering with the truck. Her cursory review revealed nothing. She retrieved the map and quickly headed toward the side of the house again. She needed to look out into the field if she could. She climbed the fence on the side of the house to give her a better view. Nothing, at least nothing she could see. She was wondering if they knew she was not what she appeared to be. If they were Crab’s lackeys they had her profile and her picture. She wasn’t disguised enough to fool them. She strongly suspected they where still watching maybe even listening.

Roddy probably had not had time to get her message through Jacker yet. But then Roddy may have his finger a little closer to the pulse of his network. He was likely expecting her call.

She dialed Roddy. "Yo," was the answer.

"Mr. Dobson this is Jessie. I am at the Trenton house to pick up the doghouse. There’s been complications. I need help. I am gonna need a different vehicle. I know its gonna take longer to do the pick up. But we really need this doghouse and I wouldn’t want to damage it or anything. I don’t have the proper cover or tools to deal with this. Its just not an easy pick up like we thought it would be. The lady is a real peach. I am not sure how her husband will be though. I haven’t asked but I kind a get the idea he won’t be home for a while yet. So she is gonna let me stay till one of the boys can come by, provided its as soon as possible. We need to get this done. Its already way passed pick up time but we just have to do this last one. It has to be today!! You know I’m at Crosscreek Drive, right?"

"Okay, just one of the boys, not more?"

"Well one just to help with the lifting, we might use someone to watch our footing and stuff too, you know keep things straight. Two would definitely be better if you still have some experienced movers there. The cover might make it easier to handle. In fact, I need two covers and be sure to send the usual tools."

"Sounds cumbersome and super heavy like, dead weight?"

"No definitely not that bad, just kind of tricky. The neighbors and who ever is about might just wonder what’s going on."

"Its 6:45pm. They won’t get there till dark you know."

"Dark is okay, less bother perhaps to the neighbors. But get them on it NOW, please." Trace began to walk around the house. "Careful of any traffic," Trace put an emphasis on the word traffic. She wanted Roddy to send people who knew they were being watched and in danger.

"Right, helps on the way Jess," Roddy hung up.

Trace had a cold phone, so did Roddy, but she couldn’t be sure the surveillance wasn’t picking this up. She had to play the character. Roddy was quick though, he had gotten the message. Now she had to stall long enough till they got here. She was still uncertain of how this was gonna go down. She would probably have to take this woman now. It would have to be a kidnapping. The truck had been there too long though. Authorities would trace the truck. With a kidnapping authorities would be quick on the job. In daylight there could be witnesses. All this was wrong. Trace liked clean planned stealth. This was a messy, trail leaving, make it up as you go, kind of action. She was making her way to the back door, casting a wary eye over the fence.

"There you are, thought maybe you didn’t want more coke after all," Robin teased, "Were you able to get some help?"

The gardener stepped onto the patio with two glasses of soda.

Trace still wanted to look into the empty field in back of the house. A frontal assault was just stupid. Surveillance and any assault would be launched from back here, unless the Van was out front again. But not while Trace was here.

"Well, help’s coming but it’ll take a little while. I hope you don’t mind."

Robin beamed a genuine smile, "I enjoy the company. I still don’t know your name, do you want me to just call you the dog lady?"

Trace looked surprised. She had not even introduced her fake self. She had picked an alias Roddy knew. "Oh well, I guess that got missed, sorry. My name’s Jessie, but I can answer to dog lady too," Trace smirked and looked at the doghouse.

"Thanks for understanding about all this, Robin."

The woman grinned up at Trace sideways, "Not a problem. After all you like my flowers."

Trace chuckled, "Well, do you give personal tours of this garden of yours?" she asked hoping to peer over the fence on the way.

"Sure, and I’ll even try looking modest," Robin kidded.

Trace could really enjoy this. Where the hell had this woman come from? A walking dream, charming, beautiful, real, even better than the dream.

With a gleam in her eye Trace said, "Oh and I promise to be impressed."

Robin giggled and led the way. There was a shed on the lawn near the patio. Behind it were more flowers and bushes.

As they approached the back fence Trace piped up, "Do I hear water?"

"Water? No, I’m not watering yet, I don’t think." Robin looked around the garden puzzled.

"Yes running water, its very faint, its back here."

"I don’t hear it, but there is a creek back there," Robin looked curiously at her visitor.

"Really? I love the sound of a creek or a river," Trace commented as she began using her height to look over the fence. "Can it be seen from here?"

"It is kind of swollen with spring shower water this time of year I think. You can probably see it. I don’t exactly have your vantage point though," said the petite woman standing on her tiptoes.

Trace was getting a good look. Nothing seemed amiss. She was grateful that she didn’t feel like they were being watched. They had to be though. The hit couldn’t be just the Professor. Not with as much dirty laundry as she had uncovered. It had to be a crucial hit for Crab. If the man was just doing a favor for his Lieutenant and Captain friends, he might be just using Trace as a normal assassin. But she had to play like she was on the hit list too.

She looked down at the lovely guide. "Is that your secret? Does the creek moisture give your flowers such gorgeous color?"

"They do seem to flourish better over here than on the other side of the house," she looked a little less proud and she surveyed her garden.

"Oh, now you’re being modest, right? All of these flowers are glorious. I wish I were here to see them in the morning sunshine."

Trace was a bit embarrassed, "I mean flowers anywhere you know, that is, um, the morning light seems so bright, with the sun."

She sounded pathetic and tried to cover it by asking, "So, what’s your favorite flower Robin?"

Trace hoped Robin had not seen through her cover up. Were this a normal encounter, she would love nothing more than to be here in the morning.

Robin grinned with delight, "You may think it boring but I just absolutely love roses. They have so many different shapes and colors and the fragrances are divine."

Trace was off in thought about what she could possibly say to this enchanting woman without her tongue hanging out of her mouth looking like a lovesick schoolgirl? She had to remind herself she couldn’t lose focus, this woman was in danger; hell Trace herself was in danger. Suddenly Trace felt exposed again. She was fighting the urge to scoop up the small woman and get the hell out. But it was daylight and Roddy’s crew was on the way. She hated not knowing how it would play out.

She was lost in these thoughts when she heard a lovely voice saying, "Well I guess it was boring, I lost you."

Trace stumbled for some words. But she looked down at the woman and heard herself coming up with a charming reply, "I was just wondering, if the flowers shine so brightly and have such fragrance and colorful hues because they are cared for by such a lovely gardener. Perhaps they bloom because of you."

Trying unsuccessfully not to blush, Robin cocked her head after a few seconds of silence while digesting Traces comment and said, "Okay, first you got me to offer you a cool drink cause you liked my flowers. Are you aiming for dinner with your flattering comments?"

"EEE God’s was my stomach that loud?" Trace looked embarrassed.

She was hungry, but her stomach was quiet. She just wanted to get them in the house.

"I’m sure you had planned to be home by now and it is approaching dinner time. Sorry, hope no one is waiting Jessie."

Trace almost laughed out loud, as she thought of her vacant room and empty latte cup. "Me, uh no, I’m just, well no, no one’s waiting for me," Trace sounded more uncomfortable than she wanted.

"My husband is working late tonight, he does that a lot. Who knew war history could be so entertaining," she forced a chuckle.

"You know I can make a mean coke, are you willing to chance dinner?" the short woman looked into blue eyes with a hopeful expression.

"When I meet your husband remind me to thank him for liking history," she heard herself saying.

Damn what’s coming out of my mouth!

She couldn’t flirt with the woman. She was about to abduct her!


She wondered what the deceitful Professor found so interesting away from home.

War History, yeah right. History lessons with a younger redhead I’ll bet you cheat-faced bastard. That’s okay you’ll be a dead bastard soon.

That sobered her. "Hey don’t go to any trouble for me Robin. I’ve survived on coke before."

The fitly shaped woman grinned at her guest, "Well, I have to work out, but I could never just survive on coke. Eating is just too savory to miss." And with that she pulled a baked ham out of the fridge with more containers to follow.

Trace was amused. She had come for a meeting hoping to make a positive connection to help in a kidnapping, and she was now going to get a home cooked meal, and likely some more lovely smiles and possible flirting. She had even made this married woman blush. This whole thing was out of the ordinary, just like those dreams.

Trace quickly reminded herself they were likely not alone. She hadn’t found any bugs when visiting the home last. But she was looking for inferior and obvious types of home security or video tape recording, bought and installed by the Professor, not intelligence surveillance by the CIA.

Maybe was she imagining more about surveillance and the cable van etc, because of such a strange connection to this woman? Her gut told her she was right, that there were too many bad connections on this professor. She was pretty sure there were no cable problems. The Professor had the goods on someone. The question was, whose short hairs was he pulling? If she knew that, she would know how big a hit this was and how deeply it needed to be covered, meaning how much danger she and Robin were in.

She spied a TV. "Robin, do you mind if we turn on the tube and see if your cable problems are over. I kinda like to catch the weather on the news. You know planning my route and things."

"Be my guest Jessie. The remote is in this drawer."

She clicked it on as she handed it to Trace.

"Nice and sunny again in the Independence part of the country," the TV blared loud and clear.

Trace turned down the volume and started flipping channels.

"Wow looks like they fixed the problem by leaving," Trace joked.

Cable problems my ass!

She put down the remote turning down the volume.

"What can I do to help? I came for a doghouse and I am getting dinner. This has got to be one of the best pick up stories on record; Oh, uh… I mean you know the pickups at work um…" Trace had put her foot in it.

"Ahhh come on, tell the truth. You get at least one dinner or lunch a week don’t ya. And plenty of cokes I’m sure," Robin accused playfully. "Lots of heavy doghouses, am I right?"

The woman was standing in the middle of the kitchen with her hands on her lovely hips wearing a mockingly accusatory expression. Trace rolled her eyes "Welllllllll ummm, now Mrs. Trenton…"

Robin just started laughing. Trace let down and moment and giggled with the disarmingly charming and adorable woman.

Trace had never met such a dangerous woman in her life. She was used to the upper hand. It was Trace that was usually the charming one. Things were always controlled by her as in, when she wanted things to happen, where and how. She was the one her date or potential date couldn’t keep her eyes off of, even if the date was a target. But this woman was so charming Trace was loosing focus.

"Well, I’m not a cook, and a girl’s got to eat," Trace arched her eyebrows.

"I guess it’s a good thing for you I had a doghouse then," the gardener responded quickly.

Trace cocked her head sideways, put a smug look on her face and said, "I’m hoping a good gardener means a good cook. I’m going to go wash my hands. By-the-way, don’t be shocked when my partners in crime show up."

The gorgeous woman yelled playfully after the retreating and dazzled assassin, "Do you think I have enough ham?" All Trace heard were more giggles.

Back in her bathroom retreat she shook her head.

This cannot be real. How can I be flirting with this charming married woman whose husband I have to kill. Focus Trace or Crab wins.

It was still knawing at her. There had to be surveillance. Her mind was racing again. Why was there no hit yet? Where was the van? If she didn’t kill the husband, she was sure to be the next mark. She had no desire to spare the bastard this lady was married to. But she had to admit she had no desire to cause Robin that kind of pain. If she killed them both and she wasn’t a mark she would stay alive? No, the Professor was blackmailing the wrong kind of people, she was marked too. And she knew she couldn’t kill this woman. Killing him wouldn’t even buy time if there was surveillance. If no surveillance, then killing the man WOULD buy time.

This was getting too involved. She was supposed to have come to kill the husband, fake both their deaths, kidnap the woman and disappear. This fake cable guy had surprised her and she didn’t like that she had not seen the possibility of it coming. That’s what getting emotional did, it made her lose focus. As this was playing out, since they were becoming friendly, Robin was going to feel betrayed by Trace. She had known that from the moment she chose not to kill the woman. Robin would hate the person that stole her life. But after this afternoon, Robin would loathe Trace for betraying her trust. There was no winning.


"Did you get lost?" the distant joking question brought her back to the moment.

She quickly dried her hands. Silently she determined to return to the familiar of doing a job. No more getting charmed. Back to business. She walked back to the kitchen.

"The warm water felt good on my hands, sorry I took so long."

"That’s fine, I am just warming up leftovers. Hope that’s not too disappointing."

"Listen, I was just teasing. You don’t need to share your food with the doghouse mover. You have been overly gracious. I can wait in the truck. The guys should be coming any time really."

The woman looked surprised, disappointed, and a little hurt. "Oh, well, I really have no plans…I mean. I just thought since you were waiting and you’re so fun and sweee…" she looked away embarrassed.

Robin seemed unsure of how to proceed or what to say, "I’m sorry. I hope I haven’t offended you. I didn’t mean to assume…"

"Oh Robin no, you’ve been great. You seem like an exceptional person. And you’ve been so understanding about all this. I just don’t want to impose or take advantage of your good nature. I should have just asked to come back tomorrow, or when you were free."

The hairs on her neck prickled. Trace heard something.

Robin looked a little desperate. "No, that’s okay, really. Please your company is welcome and…"

"Shhh Robin, listen. I hear something. Um, just stay here a minute. Don’t move. I’ll be right back."

Robin watched the confusing woman walk into the living room so quietly it was eerie.

The noise outside was purposeful. If it was Roddy’s crew, they may have been there a while, checked the perimeter and thought it was safe to approach the house. Trace listened, and looked through the curtain without disturbing the drapes. There was just one. Good, if Roddy had sent two, it was better to keep one hidden. The doorbell rang. She opened it slowly.

"Jessie this is a late call woman. You owe me, ya know?"

A young man in a black leather jacket, ripped black jeans and grease styled black hair stepped into the living room.

"Where is this thing, let’s do it? I’m late for a babe date. Dobson called me just in time man. I was headed out to the Waterfront in Philly when I got the call." He looked around quickly as if checking the place out impressed. "Woe, not bad Jess."

She knew this was one of Roddy’s boys. The right names, the right address, and most importantly the mention of the Waterfront in Philly.

Robin came into the room, "Is there someone, OH?!" her voice was surprised as she spotted the young man.

"How did you know anyone, I mean was he at the door?" Robin asked in amazement.

"Jess’s got a rep like that. I haven’t seen it but I hear she can vanish when you’re in the same room with her. Sorry you had to wait Ma’ am but I honestly booked here as soon as our boss called me. I had to drop off a friend who was with me. Then straight here. My name’s Cade."

The leather clad new arrival was playing the part to the hilt. Now Trace knew there were two of them. Hopefully he was as a good a wingman in a pinch as he was an ad-lib actor.

"Oh, well uh that’s fine. Its not really a problem." Robin said looking a bit disappointed.

Trace was definitely uncomfortable. "So did you run into traffic?"

"No. Great directions, it was smooth all the way. So what’s the play Jess?"

The guy was definitely a good actor. He was playing it off like an everyday work duty running a little late. Somehow the man looked ready and yet relaxed.

So you’re worth something. Hope we won’t have to test that.

"The doghouse is out back. It’s probably more bulky than anything. Come on, its out this way."

They walked into the kitchen and Trace opened the back door. "Take a look. There’s a gate around the left side of the house, could you go make sure its open, be sure we don’t have any obstacles. I’ll be out in a minute."

The man nodded and walked over to the doghouse.

Trace called out to him, "Hey, you know what, go ahead and go out to the truck, open the back okay. I’ll be there in a sec?"

"Right," and the man headed off on his mission.

Trace was dreading this. She needed to talk to him first before she could make the final decision. Did she take Robin now or wait for the Professor? She turned around to see a sad face.

What the hell is the real story here? Seems like she’s lonely.

Trace was just the doghouse mover. Maybe that was it. The doghouse was really going and Robin was remembering the dog again. The woman probably needed a moment to deal with emotions.

"I need to go get something in the truck. I’ll make it as quick as possible."

"Okay Jessie, thanks."

Trace wasn’t sure she could read the woman’s face. She seemed to look sad, puzzled, and unsettled. By the look on Robin’s face it seemed she was sad that the evening had been brought to a close so quickly. But it was more likely that she was remembering the loss of her dog and she just didn’t want to deal it. Trace moved toward the back door.

"Here Jessie, you need a flash light. I don’t want you to trip." Robin began rummaging through a kitchen drawer. She handed Trace a neon-yellow handled flashlight.

Great extremely visible, you can’t lose that in the dark.

"Thanks Robin," she took it hesitantly.

Again the sad and uncertain look. What was it in those eyes? But Trace had to get to work. It had gotten dusk in the time she had passed with the lovely Robin. She stepped out the back door, looking into the field by the creek. She mentally checked herself.

This is the real deal. Stop mooning and do the job Trace. Then maybe people don’t get dead.

On her way to the truck she noticed the neighborhood was quiet, but not barren, someone was taking out the trash down the street. As she approached the truck, she didn’t spot the second man.

Good cover, she thanked Roddy silently.

"No one then?" was her first question.

The man shook his head in response.

"You dialed in or no?" she asked quickly.

"They told me no hook up. This is a tight job I thought. What is up with this?"

"It is tight. Just follow my lead. You dropped off a friend eh? Well let’s get hooked up and have a chat. Your phone cold?"

The man nodded and flipped out his phone almost like a gun. He handed it to her.

Trace’s voice was low but authorative as she spoke into the phone, "Okay, you need to look for traffic. Could be heavy. Take a spin and check it out. Five block radius," Trace handed the phone back to Cade.

"It was clear, no traffic man, we checked. Got here as soon as possible, but I guess you didn’t have a problem passing the time, right?"

So the man had accessed it quickly enough. Roddy hadn’t been stingy. He’d sent some talent. He wasn’t blabbing the whole roués for listening ears, he was playing along. But he needed to follow her lead with a little fewer questions. "Like I said just FOLLOW my lead," she said with only a slight snarl.

"Hey its cool," he assured her looking a little smarted.

"Listen, if its clear then no need to hurry, more like routine. We put the doghouse into the truck. Then you drive the truck. Have you brought all the covers? "

"Yeah, I put them in the truck. Cover for both. We need it right?"

"Right, but it will be one of my custom pick up jobs. You get to take the doghouse to its resting place. I will follow you in the car solo. Then I come back and take her up on the dinner offer maybe. Okay? Unless we need to change plans, and if we do then the plans will change fast. Just do what I say and stay cool. Now I’ve got to get back in there. Come back when you get the traffic report." She headed back to the house.

Taking to the side of the house again, she quietly rounded the corner of the west side of the house to find a very sad woman standing in front of the doghouse. Trace was surprised that the loss of a dog could cause so much sadness. Unfortunately there was so much more to come. It would be great if this were the only sadness Robin would be experiencing today.

"I’m sorry its taking so…’" the woman jumped, startled.

Trace had a way of doing that. "Ooops, sorry to scare you. I do that sometimes."

Tearful eyes met her own. "I told myself I could do this. Earlier today it seemed like I would be okay. But now, I don’t know. I feel lost," she looked back at the doghouse. "I’ve made my peace with her. She’s still with me. I just don’t know how I feel. Maybe if someone was here with me, but I feel foolish calling someone."

Shit. This is not good. She CANNOT call anyone.

"Well it’s getting late, your husband will be coming home soon right?" Trace asked dreading the answer.

"I don’t know, he just said he’d be late." She sighed deeply.

"I’ll be okay Jessie. Sorry. I’m just gonna go into the house." Robin slowly walked into the kitchen.

Trace felt bad for the woman. She kicked herself, pissed at this scary territory of feeling.

Screw the feeling part. You have got to do this Trace, focus girl. Let her cry, it’ll be the first of many tears. You’re lucky you’re not the cause of them yet.

She didn’t have time for feelings but she found herself with the suspicion that Robin wasn’t a moderately happy American, she was unusually sad. It wasn’t just the dog. Cruelly Trace was looking forward to meeting the professor. She went back to look for Cade. He was coming up the side of the house.

"No traffic," was all he said.

"Good let’s move the doghouse into the truck."

Trace heard it before Cade did, but he wasn’t far behind. They hit the ground guns drawn before the car door was closed. Trace could see it was just the professor as she peered through the fence. She put her semi-auto handgun back in the ankle holster and Cade followed suit. Then she motioned him to cover the front of the house. Returning to the backyard she started to move the doghouse.

"Jessie, don’t try that yourself," she heard Robin’s voice filled with genuine concern.

The professor came through the house saying, "What’s going on here, Robin what’s the deal with that truck by the side gate?"

"I donated the doghouse and they’re picking it up today Doug," Robin’s tone was indifferent and she didn’t even turn around.

"Damn, Finally! That thing is huge. We’ll have a lot more space back there. We should have a barbeque soon." He kissed the back of her head.

Trace saw a hardened haggard expression come over Robin’s face.

Cade came in through the front of the house. Robin and the professor’s back was to him so he motioned it was still all clear.

"Come on Cade, let’s get this moved," Trace instructed feeling helpless to make this easier for the woman.

The look on the professor’s face registered his surprise that there was another mover. He watched Cade walk out the door as he moved toward the kitchen cupboards. He was standing at the kitchen counter with a glass in hand, "You’ll feel better once this is done Robin, you’ll see."

Trace saw the vodka come out of the top cupboard. "Damn I need a drink. What a day……….Professor Slate’s student…………..writing a book. So…….. they’ll want……………another book. Shannon and I ………will have to stay late…..working on……a new book.

Trace couldn’t hear everything, but it was clear that this callus prick was prattling on about his own pathetic life instead of comforting his saddened wife. Robin looked so different, like she was tired, indifferent, yet upset at the same time.

"Come on Cade let’s do this," Trace said with the disgust she felt.

"Hey don’t put any dents in my fence would ya. I don’t want to have to call anybody," the professor was now leaning out the sliding glass door.

Trace swallowed the urge to reach for her gun. "Will do sir, we’ll be REEEEEAAALLLY careful, just like you said, "Trace put as much sarcasm into her voice as she dared.

The professor eyed her for a moment then he turned to walk back into the kitchen. Robin was standing by the kitchen table looking on. Trace wanted to kill the man right there. Instead, she decided on a little unsettling prank. As soon as the professor’s back was turned Trace moved to within an inch of the man with lightening speed. He didn’t even know she was there.

Before he took a step she spoke into his ear with a very purposeful eerie voice, almost a whisper, "Be assured professor, I do great work. Dents only happen when and where I want them and ALWAYS in the dark."

Startled, he jerked quickly around to face the voice. His expression was one of amazement that wanted to turn sour except for the fear in his eyes. Trace smiled a cold thin smile, locking eyes and watching his fear increase.

What a fuckin weasel.

Her eyes held his gaze as she turned her head toward Robin, then she turned her eyes upon the lovely gardener with obvious pleasure and appreciation displayed on her face and said, "Robin, after we load this in the truck I’ll need your signature. When we’re done I’ll knock on the front door for you," Trace put the appropriate emphasis on the you word.

She held the lovely Robin’s eyes with as much desire as she dared, until she saw some pink flush across the woman’s cheeks. Trace wanted to make it clear she was done with the bothersome professor and very willing to appreciate what he was willing to ignore. She had used the woman’s first name to help convey the friendliness they shared. Although Robin had blushed with slight embarrassment, the expression on her face now was almost victorious as she looked at her dumbfounded husband.

"Thank you Jessie, be careful of your back. You should have a brace on you know," the nurse was coming out in the woman.

Trace enjoyed the incredulous look on the professor’s face as she said; "I forgot the dumb thing when I went back to the clinic after the morning rounds. But I’ll watch it. And Cade is strong. Thanks Robin."

Her smile this time was dazzling and not lost on either the professor or the lovely gardener. As she turned to the task of moving, she saw the calculating, toxic stare she was receiving from the professor out of the corner of her eye. Trace hoped she hadn’t crossed any line with the man. She wouldn’t want him to take out that frustration on Robin. Her gut told her he could easily be the type of coward to abuse women.

Trace and Cade moved the bulky doghouse as quickly as possible. She left Cade at the truck and went to knock on the front door.

"Hi I…" Before Trace could finish Robin was placing her fingers to her own lips and quieting Trace as she looked over her shoulder into the house. Then Robin stepped onto the porch quietly closing the door until it was just barely open.

"I’m sorry I thought maybe he was calling me. I was waiting for you." The woman managed a tired but sincere smile. What had made her so tired? She looked worn. Trace had a moment of guilt for gladly anticipating how she would kill professor son-of-a- bitch.

"Robin, is everything okay. I mean, I know I’ve been here much too long. And I guess I wasn’t exactly what your husband expected. Sorry, its just that he didn’t sound too respectful and I do good work even if its hard labor. I hope I didn’t…"

"I didn’t think it was respectful either. I’m sorry Jessie. He can be a bear sometimes. I hope he didn’t offend you. I think, well, he just had a terrible day. No excuse, but I…"

Trace couldn’t let her go on. She was apologizing for a bastard. As Robin spoke she saw such a parade of expressions cross the woman’s face, sadness, embarrassment, weariness, regret, resignation. Where had the beautiful charming Gardner gone? During their afternoon meeting, she had been so warm and confident, so lovely and gracious. That woman had vanished as soon as the professor had appeared. There was so much more here than Trace had time for.

She needed to sound reassuring, "Hey, no, no really, its cool. We all have bad days sometimes. I’m fine Robin. I hope I didn’t make your evening harder to bear though. You shouldn’t have to apologize. You didn’t do anything. Geez you were the one who was ready to make this fast food freak a home cooked meal. You have NOTHING to apologize for."

Robin brightened a little, "That’s right, you still don’t know if I’m a good cook or not. I’m sorry. If you’re ever hungry and in the neighborhood you’ll have to stop by," she chuckled but was obviously very sincere.

"Yeah, maybe this neighborhood needs door to door canvassing for donations to our furry four legged friends. I’ll have to make sure I hit it at lunch time." Trace smiled broadly with her jest.

"If it helps, Wednesday’s are ham sandwich days." Robin grinned delightedly and with definite hope in her eyes.

Trace was reluctant to go, but she had to get this job done.

‘I’ll definitely have to remember Wednesday’s. But for now I guess I’d better get your signature. Here." She handed Robin the clipboard.

Robin sighed and looked up tentatively, "Jessie, I… it was," She was fumbling with what to say, "well I just wanted to um say thank you. Thanks for everything. You were so good about getting this done."

There was gratefulness in those eyes, but there was much more regret in the look Trace received.

"Hey keep those flowers blooming. Ham sandwiches taste better when consumed in a garden with great company. So don’t be surprised if I show up Wednesday. Just remember you asked. Right now, I have to get going. Cade’s already late for his date. Wish I could say that." Trace laughed and started walking down the porch steps.

"Do you like them hot or cold Jessie?"

Trace looked back at the beautiful charming woman that had returned briefly, and asked in puzzlement, "What?"

"Ham sandwiches, do you like them hot or cold?" Robin clarified with a bright and hopeful smile.

Trace stopped. Her mind was screaming at her to get on with this job. And all she could do was stop and stare at a dream come to life. As she looked into those hazel green eyes, Trace saw a glimpse of the reality in dreams. The reality that this woman was real. The reality that Robin inspired real hope, and a true deep longing in her soul that had been present in all those dreams. The moment was brief. The truth of feeling was scary and it had brought her back to the present today. She was faced once again with the task of saving the woman and becoming her worst nightmare at the same time. She had to say something though that would keep a smile on the lovely woman’s face for now.

"Surprise me Robin. You’re the cook. I’m sure, no matter what; it will be delicious if you are the one making it. I guess I’ll see you Wednesday. Have a good evening." By the look on Robin’s face she had said the right thing.

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