Editor’s note: If you’re new to the series, start here. If you’re wondering about the chapter title, well, it’s a work in progress, remember? In fact, as I was editing this, I found myself questioning whether it really merited being a “chapter” at all – that maybe it should have just been tacked on to the end of Chapter 2. Mainly because while I love that there is exposition, witty dialogue, and pancakes, there’s not a lot of action here. Speaking of which, if you’re wondering “Hey, Gray, where’s the sex?” trust me…it’s coming. Got feedback? I’d love hear from you, either in the comments or directly.
“I knew you were trouble!” Jason glared at Jane as she came through the door. Crew Chief Jonesy just gave her a merry grin, though, as he accepte a tray with four large cups from the barista. “And you still can’t pay for anything, unless you robbed those poor fellas too…” Jonesy suddenly froze, looking distressed.
“You gotta pay for coffee now?” he said, sounding panicked.
“What?” Jason shifted focus for a moment to the wide-eyed medic. “No, no, Jonesy, you know you never have to pay for your coffee. Especially since you have to lug those poor guys to the clinic.” He glared at Jane as she sat in a booth, a small amused smile on her face. “Quit grinning like that! He told me what you said about getting three beds ready! How can you call that self-defense?”
She nodded thoughtfully, expression becoming more serious. “You’re right. That was a mistake.” Looking at Jonesy, she said “I’m sorry to cause you more work, friend. But I was wrong.” She held up a hand, thumb tucked. “Doc Jonesy’s gonna need four beds.” As Jason’s glare darkened, she gave him a nod. “Fire up the grill, Jason-my-friend, I’ve got a powerful hunger, and this girl’s work has just begun.”
Jason looked for a moment as if he would explode. Suddenly he sagged, leaning against the counter for a moment. “But…you can’t pay!” His objection was only half-hearted as he turned to the grill.
“Don’t worry about it!” Jane called to his back. “My moneyroll is on his way. Breakfast, and then some.” Jason looked at her over his shoulder, an eyebrow cocked in mute question. “Eggs, scrambled, sausage links, pancakes, and coffee.” She paused for a moment, thinking, then added “And throw some cheddar on those eggs, wouldja, darling?” She settled back in the booth, giving Jonesy a wave as he walked out the door. Her eyes closed and a serene smile came across her face at the sound of the griddle sizzling mingling with Jason’s muttered imprecations.
Shortly the man brought the plate of food to her table and sullenly dropped the plate with a rude clatter. “That’s another $7 added to your tab,” he announced darkly.
“Seven?” she said, surprised. “That seems kind of steep for, well-” she waved her hand around, indicating the shop’s decor, “– a place like this.”
“You get a $2 pain-in-the-ass tax,” he snapped. “I told you that you should just go. Now you’ve just gone and stirred things up that didn’t need stirring. Four men – Incubikers, no less – in the clinic. Not that they were really good men to start with, but still.” Jason looked up intently at her. “There’s been a truce, almost, lately. Uneasy, sucky for everyone, but mostly peaceful. Violence is not the answer!”
“Kinda depends on the question, don’t you think?” she said quietly, then took a forkful of eggs. She motioned for Jason to join her across the booth. He grudgingly sat downas she swallowed, humming appreciatively. “Good eggs.” Gesturing with her fork, she continued. “Question for you: who was that redhead they were escorting? She was…” she looked away a moment, seeming to go through several possible adjectives before finally settling on one. “Striking. Moreso than I’d expect from that crowd, that kind of porn.”
Jason chuckled bitterly. “Oh, she’s not part of the porn. I wish she were, it would be easier on…” He stopped and sighed, taking a different approach. “She’s Michael’s own little pet – he thought she was ‘striking’ too, and so he just had to have her. Any trace of mirth left his face. “So he took her.”
“Took?” Jane asked through a mouthful of pancakes.
“Took her from Alecs.” Jason nodded upstairs, indicating his lodger. “From him and from her little boy.” He looked down at the table again. “Continues to take her. Night after night.”
Jane looked puzzled. “Why doesn’t anyone – ” she began, but Jason cut her off.
“The answer to any question beginning with ‘Why don’t they – ‘ is usually…”
“Money,” Jane finished the quote. “Yeah. Figures. They pay off the police, eh? Can’t Alec go higher in the food chain?” Before he could answer, she held up a hand. “Never mind. Stupid question. He didn’t go quite high enough, did he? They found a way to discourage him from trying again.”
The barista set his lips, looking away before replying. “If you count his fingernails, you won’t get near ten.”
The woman’s face went blank. “Ah. I see.” She ate the rest of her meal in silence, and after a moment Jason got up and returned to polishing and re-polishing the glassware behind the counter.
Just as Jane was mopping up the last of her syrup with the final shred of pancake, the door opened and a well-muscled man in a dark designer sports coat walked in. Ignoring Jason, he walked over and tried to loom over the woman by standing too close to the booth. His attempted intimidation was a diluted by her complete disregard for his presence, and his face slowly grew red as she continued to idly draw little designs in the syrup.
“Hey, bitch. Mr. Nesmith wants to talk to you.” His voice had a nasal whine to it, making him seem more petulant than threatening.
With a glacierlike calm she turned her head to look up at him. “Really? And why do you think that is, shit-for-brains?” His mouth opened, but she continued before he could speak. “Do you think it might have something to do with the four assholes I sent to the clinic half an hour ago? And do you think,” her voice suddenly took on a strident tone, like a slap in his face “- that if he decided to just send one asshole to get me, he expects you to treat me like shit?” Eyes narrowing, her voice suddenly lowered, becoming a low, predatory purr. “Or maybe…tell me, schmuckballs, what did you do to piss Tony off? Did you say no when Kitten wanted you to take your turn? Because if he sent you to me alone…he must not be expecting to get too much back.”
The man’s face had gone white as the woman talked, and when she finished, his stance was a little more unsure, and finally he shifted away from the booth. “Mr Nesmith…requests your company,” he amended, voice surprisingly gentlemanly. “If you would be so kind as to let me escort you, Miss….?”
“Thank you, schmuckballs. That’s much better.” She didn’t move from the booth for a moment, taking a final, leisurely sip of her coffee. Then with a lithe movement she was out, the motion so sudden that the man jumped a bit as she suddenly was inches away from his broad chest. Looking up at him, she winked. “You can call me ma’am, for now. Pay the man, and let’s go. Mustn’t keep little Tony waiting.” She handed her rucksack over the counter to Jason. “Keep an eye on this for me, willya?” He nodded, a grimly amused smile on his face, her tab in his hand. “Oh, and don’t forget the asshole tax, Jason! Schmuckballs certainly qualifies.”
Jason presented the bill neutrally to the rough man who glanced at it with a look as if he were swallowing glass. With a muttered “Fucker!” he threw a ten at the counter, and stiffly opened the door for her as they went out into the morning light.