That kind of girl doesn’t belong here.
At first, the only thing it takes to catch my attention is nothing more than a streak of blonde and a hip sway. I do a double take.
She’s broken my train of thought as I’m hyping myself up for my job as an undercover cop. I turn and stare as I’m leaving my apartment; she’s just coming home, apparently.
The shrimpy blonde strolls mindlessly by and nearly bumps right into me. This tiny, sweet, innocent-looking woman with the beat-up backpack, teal leggings, shredded denim shorts is staring at her phone. She looks like she’s barely in her twenties. Everything about her screams collegiate.
My mind can’t help but wonder why she isn’t headed home for Christmas.
She needs to get the hell out of this shitty apartment complex and never come back. She may as well have a target on the back of her fuzzy little cardigan. And on that tiny but temptingly round ass.
I watch her pass me and unlock a door which I presume to be hers. And it’s right next to mine.
The near brush with her clothes has left a trail of a floral, citrusy scent that conjures up something from my childhood that I can’t quite place.
Something happens to me, and I don’t know what. That thing grabs onto my throat and tells me she needs my protection. I’m headed to work and she’s going to be alone in the building all night, and I have to do something about it.
There’s no way I can let her close that door just yet.
“Hey, can I ask you a favor? I think my phone has been stolen.”
She looks back, her door ajar. “Who, me?” Her eyes travel up and her mouth falls open.
I get that a lot. I’m a big guy. Taller than most. I work out a good bit to keep in shape, in case I need to wrestle a baddie to the ground. I could easily pass for a bouncer or somebody’s hired meathead thug. The scars on my hands and face only help to support people’s assumptions about me.
She licks her lips. My mouth twitches into a smile. Her fierce eyebrows are raised, and her wicked blue eyes are taking me in. Nobody says anything for a second, but damn the click between us is so obvious I can almost hear it.
The girl catches herself and locks back up whatever realness showed up on her face a second ago. Finally she shrugs. “Oh, uh…sure, you wanna use my phone to find yours?”
She shakes her head and hands it over, a slight tremble in her hand. Just like that. Shit, girl, I think. You really shouldn't have done that.
It’s totally unethical what I’m doing. Some might even say creepy. But I’m tall enough that she can’t see me tapping in some tracking codes into her phone. And that’s all the permission I need to be what I am. I was just an undercover cop a few seconds ago.
Now, I’m also her watcher.
It takes about five minutes. I see her waiting out of the corner of my eye, her arms are crossed and she’s starting to tap her foot. I steal a few glances while I key in the codes and waiting for things to start working. That’s when I notice her leggings have little stars on them. She has green Chuck Taylors on her feet. She’s got a mop of messy blonde hair that falls into her eyes. She’s got reading glasses hanging on a beaded chain around her neck that she wears with an old cardigan that reminds me of somebody’s great-grandmother. She looks like a mix of studious and smart-ass. I can already tell she’s going to be a handful. She sighs a little.
“How’s it going up there? Finding it yet?”
“Huh?” I forget for half a second what I’ve told her I’m doing on her phone and then I remember. “Oh, yeah. It’s coming up. Sorry it’s taking a while, I kept forgetting my login.” As I talk to her, I edge in closer.
Oddly, she doesn't back away like most people do when I tower over them. I’ve got motorcycle boots, faded leather jacket, filthy jeans and about three days’ worth of funk on me—it’s more or less my work uniform these days. I’ve been trying to bust up a major drug ring in this neighborhood. My getup is a harsh and brutish contrast to this—creature of light. That’s the only word I can use to describe her. She’s a gorgeous little thing from another dimension in this dank hallway, with its stained carpets and peeling paint.
I brazenly take a full step closer when I hand her phone back to her. I’m practically on top of her when I say, “Thanks.”
I’m standing on her doormat, same as her. I lean down and inhale a noseful of her hair. There it is again. What is that? I close my eyes. The scent makes me think of trees from…somewhere. I know, it’s weird. I can’t help it. Whatever it is, it’s making me want to stick close to her.
She takes her phone and steps back into her apartment. I realize she’s looking at me nervously. “Dude, did you just sniff my head?”
She cocks her head. “Weird.”
But I can see in her eyes she doesn’t actually think it’s weird at all. She feels it too. I’m not saying she wants to take a whiff of me or anything—did I mention three days’ worth of funk?—but there’s an inkling that she likes me.
Maybe the inkling is coming from the fact that I’ve just borrowed her phone and sniffed her scalp and she’s not already deadbolting her door.
“What are you doing here, anyway?” I ask.
She furrows those arched eyebrows at me. “I live here?”
What I say next comes out in a growl, although I don’t mean it to scare her. “You should go. Find somewhere else to live. You’re not safe here.”
Her eyes widen at me for a second, and then the mask of sarcasm returns. “Well, thanks for the tip…”
“Lars,” I say, giving her my real name before I can stop myself.
I see a trace of a smile tease the corner of her lips and she narrows her eyes at me. “Lars. I’m Wendy.”
This time, it’s me who smiles. “No way you’re a Wendy,” I say, looking her tiny body up and down. She’s gotta be barely five foot two and the fierceness in her eyes tells me she’s got the snap of a pissed off chihuahua. “You’re more of a Tinkerbell.”
She rolls her eyes. “Short people jokes. Fabulous. OK. Good night, ‘Lars.’” She says my name with air quotes—like she doesn't believe that’s my real name—before shutting her door and deadbolting it behind her.
I walk away and try to put my game face on.
What am I supposed to be doing right now? Oh yeah. There’s a guy on Lenox Avenue waiting for me drop a couple hundy on a bag of dope in exchange for some information.
Morty. He thinks I’m a hired thug scouting the area trying to encroach on Slate’s turf on behalf of some other criminal mastermind, and I pay him a lot of money to keep me in the know.
Lately though, his fount of information is starting to dry up. I need to get my way up the chain of command, because I sense something bigger is going on around here.
The girls who work the corners haven’t been around lately. And I don’t think it’s because they were released from their contracts and decided to settle down in the suburbs.
The thought of the sex workers disappearing puts me on edge, and the thought of tiny Wendy running into the wrong character at the wrong time of day really spikes my Spidey senses.
I’ve already put a tracker on her phone, but I feel like it’s not enough. Outside in the parking lot, I take a guess as to which car is hers. I know all the other cars; hers is the only one I don’t recognize. And when I touch the hood of her old beat-up Toyota, the engine is still warm. So, I do what I do. I reach under the wheel well and put a tracker there.
Then I text my man, Fletcher. He gets me whatever I need. And right now, I need hidden cameras for the hallway and outside Wendy’s window. Nobody and nothing goes in or out of her place without me knowing about it.
If the sex workers are starting to disappear, there’s no telling what Slate might do with a sassy, hot little college girl tromping around his territory like it’s no big deal. I’m going to do everything in my power to keep an eye on Wendy.
Correction. An eye on my Tinkerbell.
If I’m honest, there are way worse things to keep an eye on.