Twenty (Taiisha)

Taiisha squatted in shadow, watching her prey.  The day was sunny but chilly, threatening snow if some clouds showed up, but she showed no signs of being particularly cold.

The man she had followed was inside a restaurant getting a submarine sandwich.  She could see him through the windows, excusing himself as he squeezed past another patron, carrying a bag in one hand and a drink in the other.  He was dressed in a garish running suit, shiny electric blue with yellow and black stripes that didn’t suit his neatly trimmed beard and darkly handsome face; he looked like an Ivy League lawyer trying to pass as a rap artist.  At least the ill-advised fashion made him easy to watch, even easier than his limp did.  He’d hurt his left leg at some point.

When casino-hopping Antonio the information sponge had gotten in touch with her, he’d been bursting to tell her that he’d found someone who’d know what the Ravens wanted; this was that man.  For his trouble, Taiisha had given Antonio a smile and a promise to remain in his Rolodex.  Only the smile was an inconvenience.  Antonio was an idiot and she thought that it was good to be shut of him for a few months.

And here she was, still close to Nikki, but now watching this man instead, this man called Martin Stonecipher, this Raven.  Taiisha watched him through the Subway restaurant’s window.  As he headed for the exit she started walking toward the door.  She had pulled her hair back in an uncharacteristic ponytail and put on makeup that accented her lips, and she concentrated on this new face as she adjusted her pace.  Martin was eight steps from the door, then seven six five four and Taiisha was right where she wanted to be three two one–he opened the door and she pulled it out of his hand, putting on a mildly annoyed face and speaking with an Italian accent.  She’d lived in Italy for a long time, to perfect it.  “What do you do here?” she snapped.

“Oh, sorry, I beg your pardon,” Martin said to the woman he’d almost hit with the door.  Didn’t see you there.”

“Who are you?” she snapped.  He saw instantly that she was far too angry for a near miss with a glass door.

Martin braced himself for an undeserved outburst.  “Excuse me?”

“I know you follow those people.  So do I.  So who are you?”

“Lady, I have no idea what you’re talking–“

Taiisha pointed to the hotel Eddie and Nikki were staying in.  “In that hotel.  You watch them, and you follow.  You listen to them.”

Martin’s face changed from mild irritation to cautious appraisal.  His mood shifted even farther than that; if he had competition, he liked to know about it beforehand, the people paying the bills and pulling the strings knew that, dammit.  “You’d better come with me, lady,” he said.  He led the Italian woman to his car and opened the door for her, and she slipped inside without so much as a thank you.

He expected her to wait for him to talk first, but she didn’t even give him a chance to breathe.  “What are you follow them for?” she asked, her accent growing thicker with the agitation in her voice.  “Are you police officer?  Has that man done something wrong?  He has, hasn’t he?  He’s a bad, bad man, isn’t he?”

The car was positioned nicely; he could see Sharp’s car and the main lobby entrance.  They’d picked a Holiday Inn with only one main exit, and that was helpful, too.  Martin glanced at the woman next to him occasionally, but kept his eyes on the doors and car the rest of the time.  He didn’t stare, just relaxed, letting his mind take in the whole scene, alert only for the faces of Eddie Sharp and his unknown assistant.  “I’m not a cop,” was Martin’s answer to her shotgun queries.  “But you’d better tell me who you are, and who it is you’re following.”

Taiisha studied Martin’s face, his eyes somewhere outside the car.  Her false face had convinced him, even if he pretended it hadn’t.  “I don’t know his name,” she lied.  “He’s a fat man.  He drive that silver car there.”

“Well, it looks like we have a common acquaintance,” Martin said with a chuckle.

“I don’t acquaintance him,” she replied, mangling her English on purpose.  “He has my daughter.  She’s taken from me fifteen years, and I’ve found her with him.  With this bad man.”

Martin smiled without looking at her.  “Bad man, indeed,” he said, relaxing.  “What’s the girl’s name?”

“Kerry,” she said.

“And yours?”

“Grace.  You may call me Gray.  Why are you follow this man?”

“I’m here to see if he’s done a bad thing, or not,” Martin replied, looking at her this time.  “We just want to find out.  How did you find me?”

“I see you here.  Their car leaves, you follow.  It comes back, you come back.  I saw you yesterday and this morning.”

Martin nodded.  Had he been so obvious that a civilian could spot him?  Damn knee surgery had taken more out of him than he’d thought.  He wished Sharp would run, give him more of a challenge.  This crap was like watching paint dry.  Martin wanted to track the man like a bloodhound, not sit outside a hotel day after day.

Taiisha moved a little bit closer to him, sliding slightly toward him on the seat, close enough that she could all but smell his libido awakening.  “I want my daughter away from this man,” she said, meeting Martin’s hazel eyes.  “But I don’t know what to do.  Will you help me?”  She leaned closer.  Kissing distance.

Martin smiled.  This job might not be so boring after all.