NoNameGirl@27

Issue 29 by Lauren Avenius

NoNameGirl
Summary

NoNameGirl@27 follows the story of a twenty-seven-year-old high stakes poker playing PI who gets caught up in the world of sex, drugs, and human trafficking while following a lead on his missing sister. It is a story of Southern California decadence and South American exploitation, and the interconnectedness of seemingly innocent actions to criminal actors.

He still dreamed of the desert. He never lived there, but he knew it like you know houses and faces you’ve only ever seen in dreams. It was part of him. And no matter how the dream started, it always ended the same way, with the desert sun bearing down on him, sweat running down his forehead, then him falling forward onto his hands and knees, the grit and rocks digging into his palms, the faint taste of salt and sand and blood in his mouth as he clawed his way forward. That was how it ended. Dirt and sand and blood. And when he woke up, he could almost lick the salt off his lips and feel the gravel on his hands.

He woke and rubbed his face, trying to place himself. His room, his bed. He guessed six a.m. by the light. He looked to his right, to check the time on his phone, and saw skin shining in the dark, a pinkish sheen peeking out from the gray of his sheets.

Right. Her.

What’s her name, he tried and failed to remember. The night before was still hazy. He rubbed his face again, not caring to remember. He suddenly wanted a cigarette. He could still taste the sand in his mouth, and it was giving him an anxious and unsettled feeling, like maybe the dream wasn’t done with him yet. Like maybe this time it was going to pull him back and finish what it always started. Maybe this time he’d claw his way forward and instead of waking, he’d look up into the eyes of whoever was standing above him.

He swung his legs around and sat on the edge of the bed and pulled a pack of menthols from the nightstand. He looked over his shoulder as he tapped one out, checking to see if she woke up. She didn’t move. He stuck the menthol in his mouth and pulled on a pair of pants from the floor. He slid into his slippers and, walking out of the room, tugged a flannel from the back of the door. At the bottom of the stairs his dog was curled up, head perked and watching him. At the sight of him, the dog jumped up, stretched, and followed him to the door.

“What, you don’t want to stay in here with her either?” he asked, then snorted. The dog watched him, waiting. “Ok, you can come out too,” he said, and opened the door. The dog trotted outside, then looked back at him, suspiciously. Bud shut the door and stepped out onto the porch. Outside it was cold, damp, the marine layer heavy and gray even for November. He lit the cigarette and took a deep drag. The ember glowed, fire red then ashy gray. He took another deep drag, and exhaled slowly, watching the smoke melt away from him. He thought, that’s how it all ends any way. Red and gray.

He stumped out his cigarette and walked back into his house where he started to make coffee. She came walking downstairs, wearing one of his T-shirts, the lacy edge of her underwear barely visible underneath. He grimaced slightly – she had to have gone through his drawers to find it. Not only was she not gone, she was wearing his clothes now too? Going through his drawers? He poured a cup and watched her from behind it. She sat up on the counter, legs swinging, and took his cup. He pretended to smile, which, he guessed, was as good as smiling as far as she was concerned. Poured himself another cup.

She was talking, drinking his coffee, wearing his shirt, swinging her legs from the top of his counter, and he thought about getting a cleaning lady. To wash the sheets, the counter, his clothes. She could come while he was at work, he thought. And this made him happy. That he could come home and this would all be taken care of, the smell and residue of her would be gone and he could come home to a clean house. Empty house. Except for you, big guy, he thought, looking down at his dog. He looked up and saw that she was still talking. God, what is her name, he thought. He looked up again, took another sip, and pretended to listen, which, he realized, was as good as listening as far as she was concerned. He smiled for real this time and took another sip.

“Well, birthday boy, I better get dressed and head home,” she said, handing him her empty mug and walking upstairs. He put the cup in the sink and immediately started cleaning the counter. He still wanted to get someone in here, though, he thought. The shower turned on upstairs. To really clean, he thought.

He rinsed the mugs and fed the dog. Over the sound of the dog chewing and the shower running he walked the house and checked the drawers, a compulsion: the two drawers in the kitchen and the one in the living room, the pocket under the couch and the one under the running board in the hallway. They were all there, cold steel and heavy gray. All loaded and safety off, untouched except for the last time he checked. The shower turned off and he breathed easier. He reached in his flannel and pulled out another cigarette. He never smoked in the house, but he figured he could allow himself one birthday indulgence. Well, two, he thought, glancing upstairs. At least he knew he would still like this one even after he finished. He took a deep drag, sitting on the couch, and dropped his head back.

Twenty-seven down, fifty more to go, he thought. God it’s long, but at least I know how it ends.

#

He got into the business not by accident, but not deliberately either. He had been playing poker at a man’s house, an older man he had met on the tennis courts. They had struck up a last-minute match, and Bud had beaten him pretty good, but they had laughed a lot and afterward the guy asked if Bud liked to play poker. He invited him to his private table, “a few high rollers and a couple whales,” and told him to come with an appetite and two thousand in cash for the buy-in. That was how it started, a tennis match and a poker game.

He held his cards close to his chest, they said. And read them all like books. “You’re seeing through me like pink panties through a white dress,” one of them said, and they all laughed. And maybe he threw a few hands he knew he could have won, though most he won easy, but the ones he lost he lost hard and they laughed loud and clapped his back, and Bud knew he had stumbled into something. They liked him in an easy natural way, and he liked being with them, even though he was younger than most of their kids, or wives for that matter, if they had them, which most didn’t or seemed to be between. But they didn’t talk much about that, either. They drank beer and someone broke out an expensive scotch, and someone else poured a cheaper bourbon, and they smoked cigars at the table and cigarettes outside, and the felt of the table was fresh and the cards were crisp and Bud was happy.

Outside, smoking a cigarette, one of them came up to him. “So what do you do? Ah, don’t answer that. I don’t actually care. At your age you don’t do anything, even if you do do something. You know, I like how you handle yourself in there. Guy your age, comes to a table with a bunch of men he doesn’t know, a place he’s never seen, shows up with a billfold and keen eye and suddenly you’re running the room, but no one there knows it or cares. And the ones who do, well they like you well enough to let you. That’s a skill, you know. To read a man’s hand is one thing. But to win on it, that’s another.”

Bud didn’t respond at first; he knew better than to think he was being complimented. So instead he brought his cigarette to his mouth and squinted against the glow, letting the silence and the smoke say it instead. He knew when he was being tuned up, but he was interested in the pitch. This man had played fewer hands, but the ones he did he won well. He was confident, laughed, but kept himself under the radar. Bud could spot guys like this, guys who knew how to blend in and hide out. “So what do you do?” Bud asked, after a pause.

This was the right question, the lead in. The man swirled his drink, two fingers of the expensive scotch, and said, “Maybe something you could do too.” He handed Bud his card, Rob Sheridan, Strategic Solutions. Bud fingered the card before putting it away. Thick and weighty for only 2x3. And that was how it started.

#

He came into the office later than usual, but still early for most standards. He had three messages on the machine, all from Owen. He would get to those later. He put down his jacket and turned on the computer, entered his password, then changed his password. Another compulsion: every four days he changed his password, without fail and without system. Today’s password: NonameGirl@27.

He sat in the chair and went through his drawers, organized with paper clips, staplers, pens, flash drives and envelopes in orderly lines and containers. There was a false bottom in one, hiding IDs and $25,000 in cash, and in the safe in the armoire was a Beretta and his birth certificate. This he pulled out and contemplated his birthday. Just some ink on paper, he thought. That’s all I come down to.

He spun in his chair and looked over the paperwork from the San Jacinto job. There were a few pictures he had printed, more for Owen than for himself; he never printed anything that wasn’t for Owen. The San Jacinto job had gone well, he knew it even before looking over the rest of the report. Owen would be happy. Bud had only been in the business for two years, but he had learned fast and done well. There had been a few mistakes and mishaps in the beginning, no one was forgetting Detroit anytime soon, but in all Owen had been pleased and Bud had moved up. Bud was thinking that maybe the San Jacinto job would be the one that would get him to the next level, to managing a larger client or maybe even his own team. He hoped that was the message from Owen. He sniffed and clipped the paperwork back together, rubbed his face, and looked to the door.

These were the hard moments, the between moments, when he wasn’t in a case, wasn’t working a job, when he didn’t have a call or an errand or a meet. He looked at the clock, it read 9:35. He had a few hours before lunch with Owen at the club. He fingered another drawer unconsciously, smaller than the rest that had a separate key. His special supply drawer.

He stopped himself. He sucked his teeth and felt the itch. He was tempted to close the door to his office and open that drawer, take out some of his stash and give himself a little birthday extra. He had time, he could be straight again before Owen showed up with his waxy tan and toothy smile. He could fit one in. His foot started to shake, and he felt a slight sweat hit his skin in anticipation. He stood up, kicking the chair back, but instead of shutting the door he walked through it and down to the coffee shop on the first-floor lobby. He’d just get another coffee, he thought, and go back to his office and work. No need starting the day off there, and least not today. Besides, he still needed to call about that cleaning lady.

“Small black Americano?” The barista asked before he got to the counter.

“Yeah, thanks,” he said, shyly. He both liked and hated that they knew his drink order. Liked that it was one less thing he had to say. But hated that someone knew what he did. Mostly he forgot that there were so many other ways to drink coffee, and glancing up at the board, with various curly lettered caramelettos and mochas he felt mystified, like he had missed out on some important messaging. Who drinks all that? Maybe a South American roast, but beyond that he didn’t understand what else people were doing with their drinks. He had the same view of alcohol – if you hate the taste of it so much that you have to hide it behind syrups and mixes, then don’t drink it. Drink something else. Did people do that with wine, he wondered? But then he smoked menthols, he thought, and the contradiction almost made him want to drop his menthol habit and just go to reds. Sissy cigarettes, he heard his dad’s voice say. For women waiting for their nails to dry. Or fags who need something to hold.

He took his coffee and started back to his office. Maybe he would take a hit, if only to get his dad out of his head. He turned and stopped short. At a small table in the corner he saw pink lips and blonde hair pulled tightly back in a top bun. He’d seen this girl here almost every day for the past year and never talked to her. But there was just something about her. He thought maybe this was the real reason he came down here this morning. He stood for a second, not sure if he would go say hi, or just wave, knowing he wanted to talk to her but not sure how to do it.

At the bar he never wondered about how to talk to a girl. It just happened. But for some reason he couldn’t figure out how to talk to her. He realized he was waiting for her to look up, to smile and wave and beckon him to come. Embarrassing, his dad’s voice said. But he still didn’t move. She was looking intently at her screen, sipping absently from her coffee. She’s not going to look up, he thought, and started to leave when she glanced up, caught his eye, and smiled.

He smiled back. And then she waved him over.

“Hey, you,” she said, clearing a space on the table for him. He sat and put his cup in the spot where her laptop had just been. She acted like they were old friends, even though they had never talked.

“Getting some work done at the office, out of the office?” he asked. On the table was a Snickers wrapper and a small stack of financials which she was busily moving to her lap. She was wearing a gray wool skirt and a cream silk blouse, legs crossed and one heeled foot shaking quickly. She stood in contrast to the corals and teals around her; something about her style, her tightly wrapped hair, her dark clothes, the terse way she pursed her lips before she took a sip of coffee, there was something sharper, stronger, than the other women he knew, that made him think she belonged in New York, not in Newport Beach. She looked up and smiled again.

“Oh, this, yeah, I hate my desk. Just trying to multitask before my next meeting, figured coffee, breakfast, and some last-minute prepping. So, how are you?”

“Good, yeah, thanks. How are you?” He hated small talk. He knew he was bad at it. But she just smiled and leaned forward.

“You know, I see you around here like every day but I don’t know your name.” Something in the way she leaned on her elbow, shoulders diagonal, blouse pulling tight across her chest and one leg crossed over the other, her shoe barely pulling off her heel, it was the sexiest damn thing he’d ever seen.

“I’m Bud.”

“Chelsea.” She extended a hand to shake. Her grip was firm, cool, stronger than he expected, but her smile was broad and genuine. He swallowed hard.

“So what are you drinking, Bud?” She had a slight pause, a subtle break, before saying his name. Bud, like it was a stand alone commentary, the punchline to a joke they just made up. He liked the way it fell off her lips. Bud. She was flirting with him, he realized. And she was good at it.

“Americano. Black.”

“Hm. I take my espressos straight. Otherwise it’s a waste of my time.” She held up her cup. “Venezuelan roast, two sugars. I think a man’s drink says a lot about him.” She took a sip, eyeing him playfully.

He motioned to the Snickers. “Was that breakfast?” She smiled wryly, laughed.

“Late night,” she said. She raised an eyebrow suggestively. He laughed nervously, not thinking of his own late night. It already felt like another lifetime. But if he had thought of it, of having her in his bed instead, which he would later imagine, had already imagined, he wouldn’t have been able to keep talking. He was confused by her. Or maybe intrigued. Something about her made him feel a little nervous, insecure, made him forget who he was and where he had been, like he was in over his head in a game that he had never even heard of but that she was reigning champion. How could a woman, in just a smile, completely undo you?

“So, Chelsea, what do you do?” He paused on her name, letting it drop into the beat like a nod to their private joke, and she smiled appreciatively. She had this cute half smile, playful and mischievous. Like she was a girl who could handle trouble, but maybe was too good to get into it.

“I’m an auditor. Anti-fraud mostly. I know, super sexy work.” God, she could have said butcher and he would have thought it was sexy. “You boys are some type of insurance company?”

“Um, I do consulting mostly.” He hoped she wouldn’t push.

“Consulting… ok. Well, Bud the Consultant, it was great talking to you, but I should review these before my meeting at ten. But at least now we know each other’s names,” half smile, raised eyebrow. She was telling him something, but he didn’t know what.

“Good luck,” he said, standing up. “And be careful of Janes Capital. They’re a small operation, but they handle some big investors.” He winked and tapped a small stack of papers on the table as he walked away. He could feel her smiling at his back.

Owen chose a table outside. It was hot and sweat was beading on his taut tan forehead. Bud watched him and drank his water and resisted ordering a beer. Owen got shrimp cocktail and a margarita. It was unusually busy at the club for a weekday. There must have been some sort of match-up happening; men and women in various whites and brights were milling about both on the courts and the veranda. Their conversation was punctuated by the constant ping of tennis balls. But Bud liked the sound. He had grown up playing at the Newport Beach Tennis Club, and this was the same tennis club where, two years earlier, Bud had won himself the poker invite. He looked down at the courts, two men in a heated match, one man at the net and the other running angles from the baseline. Bud watched, waiting for the kill volley, but instead the guy hit it straight into the net. He cussed and the two men walked forward to shake hands. Point, match. Bud looked up.

“So you saw the numbers on the Jacinto job,” Bud said.

“Yep, yep. Saw those. Look good,” Owen said, licking cocktail sauce off his fingers. He was older than Bud, maybe forty, forty-five, Bud never asked, and while he had been in shape in his younger years his face was beginning to show hints of paunchiness. It was hard for Bud to watch him eat the shrimp cocktail, slurping and chomping, the shrimp popping noisily in each bite, juice dribbling down his chin. Owen washed a bite down with a gulp from his margarita. Dammit, is he going to get drunk, Bud wondered. They didn’t talk for a minute.

“Good. So I know that there is a job coming up in Marin, I don’t know the specifics but–"

Owen cut him off. “Don’t be getting ahead of yourself. The Marin job is a big job. You did great with San Jacinto, but you’re still learning. We don’t want to risk another Detroit.” Bud winced. Detroit, he knew he was going to bring that up. “Hey, hey, don’t be sour. I know, you’re a good friend of Rob’s, you two are buddies and have a whole thing going, but I still have to manage this office, you know.” Owen wasn’t the one who had hired him. Rob, the man with the two-finger scotch and business card, was the founder, but he wasn’t calling the day-to-day shots. Bud sensed that before he came along, Owen was the young gun, cocky and promising, but he had somehow failed to deliver as expected, and when Bud came along he was somehow displaced. For instance, in all the years that Owen had worked for Rob, he had never been invited to the poker table. Bud could sense that there was still some resentment there, and Detroit was a way of keeping Bud in his place. Of using what little power he had to punish him.

Owen kept talking about Jacinto, and Marin, and even a little about Detroit. Bud had needed to be bailed out of jail there. He didn’t know all the procedures yet, hadn’t yet learned how to handle himself in certain situations, but because it was Detroit and they didn’t have anyone in Detroit, Rob had needed to fly out and get him himself. It was the first job he had worked solo, and it had been frustrating and embarrassing. Rob hadn’t made a big deal out of it, but Bud knew he screwed up. Down on the courts, a guy missed his volley and grunted. Bud remembered a Junior National Tournament he had played there when he was ten. He’d made it to the finals, he and another kid both from Newport. The match lasted almost two hours, neither of them conceding. But in the end, Bud choked. He couldn’t hold serve, and the last point missed a crucial but easy volley. On the drive home, his dad went over play-by-play where he went wrong. It gave him the same sick to his stomach feeling that he had when Rob picked him up from Detroit.

Looking at Owen now, sucking down gold tequila and giant shrimp, a small rage welled up. What the fuck did Owen know about Detroit? About Marin? He was just a middle-aged middle manager trying to scrape by with an expense account and weekends in Baja. Bud shifted in his chair, leaned back.

“But don’t worry, it’s all water under the bridge now,” Owen said in his falsetto New Jersey good ol’ boys way. He was from Santa Barbara but liked to act like he was big time. “Rob has a special thing he’d like you to work on, as a favor to him.” Owen wiped his mouth with a napkin. “I’m sure you two love birds can talk about it tonight at your poker match, or whenever it is. Rob said he’ll give you the details there.” Bud put on his sunglasses and stood to leave. “What, you’re leaving already? You barely touched your sandwich.”

“What can I say, I lost my appetite.”

“Ah, well, I’m eating it. No sense it going to waste.” Owen reached across the table and grabbed the plate, his belly pushing against the table in a mesh of Tommy Bahama.

On the way back to the office, Bud stopped at Wendy’s.

“Ah, Bud, good to see you,” Rob walked over, drink in hand, and put an arm around Bud’s shoulders. “Saw the numbers on the Jacinto account, great work there.” Outside the office, Rob always referred to jobs as “accounts.” It gave the sense that he was a financial consultant, and for all Bud knew he might have been. Maybe this was just his side work. But Bud also thought that Rob wouldn’t use the word job. It was gauche, job. No, it was accounts, clients, portfolios and scenarios. Rob had the healthy tan of a man used to outdoor sports all his life – yachting, tennis, golf – he never did anything that resembled work, “a job is something a prostitute does for money, and it usually involves hands, mouth, or both if she’s any good.”

They were in Kevin Chestnut’s house, an open floor plan about a mile south of the Ritz Carlton in Monarch Beach. That was how it was described to Bud the first time he went there – the important words “open” and “Ritz Carlton.” It was a sprawling single-story California Ranch, with windows floor to ceiling lining the west side of the house, full views of the golf course and “puddle” (a small man-made lake where they sometimes drunkenly motored after dark). Kevin was in finance or consulting; it was hard to say which and didn’t really matter. He hosted the weekly game about once every month or two. Games at his house were characterized by old fashions and passed hors d’oeuvres. Kevin hired a private chef to grill steaks and shrimp, and there was someone refreshing cocktails while they played. Music was always in the background, and he made a point of playing Eric Clapton or The Eagles. His wife was never there, though there were signs of her in the house. Bud assumed that the chef and the tray service were his wife’s touches, that she called in the catering and the house staff and ordered “man date night” and then went shopping and drinking with friends. The music seemed the one thing Kevin had control over.

They played a few hands, but Bud was having a hard time getting into it. After the first big night, he took a cue from Rob and played down. “Everyone loves a winner, but no one likes losing all the time,” Rob had said. But he didn’t need to impress; he was one of the guys now and if his heart wasn’t in it, well then less money for them to lose.

His mind kept going back to that missed volley, over and over again. But not his, not from his childhood, but the one today, the no name guy down on the court who lost the point and the match. There was nothing so frustrating as going for it and missing it. Not the losing – you could be beat and feel good about it – but blowing it. Choking. Missing the shot. Suddenly he thought about the girl from this morning. Chelsea.

Dammit, I was supposed to ask for her number, he realized with a flash. She had lobbed it over, and I missed it. He suddenly got anxious for Monday, wished the weekend would be over so he could go back to the coffee shop and do it right. Americano, black. He liked that she knew what he drank.

“Hey, princess, you’re up.” It was his bet. He’d been so distracted he didn’t even realize that he was playing this hand. He tapped the felt with his knuckle. They all chuckled. “Even going to look at your cards? Kid’s that cocky. Well, you got to ante up or step out, you can’t just check.” They jeered. It wasn’t like him to be unaware of the game. If he was sitting at the table, he was playing.

“Rob, what you been doing to this kid? Head in the clouds, you better give him a day off before he falls dead in his chair. Look at him!” Paul, a good friend of Rob’s, laughed. They all knew that Rob had hired Bud, but they saw it more as taking him under his wing than giving him a job. Again, a dirty word. He was being groomed, trained, taught the business.

“It’s not work. Believe you me. It’s something else. In all the years he’s been coming here, we never once heard a complaint about a girl. Which means there hasn’t been one. What he needs is a woman!” More laughter.

Someone else yelled, “Well, we’ve got a fix for that!” and out came two guys carrying a cake in the shape of a naked woman, with candles for nipples.

“Here you go, Bud. She’ll never complain, and she’ll never spend your money. Plus, you can share her with all your friends!” They sang a loud happy birthday, and Bud blew out the candles which, it turned out, were trick.

“You’ve got to lick your fingers and do like this,” one of them said, pantomime squeezing a nipple between his thumb and forefinger.

Bud laughed and said, “I’d make a wish, but if she’s a real woman she’d just make sure it didn’t come true.” They were in the middle of a hand, but they put down their cards and started cutting cake and refreshing drinks. Bud took a plate of torso – “aah, he’s a stomach guy,” they said – and started to walk outside for a smoke.

“Hey Bud, come in here,” Rob said, pulling him back in the house and to a small room down the hall. He was with Paul and Kevin and another guy Bud didn’t know. Bud dropped his cake plate on the counter on the way and wiped his fingers. He could tell when they were taking a job. “Bud, this is my friend Michael Conforto. Mike, this is the guy I was telling you about. Very discreet.”

“Ah, great to meet you,” Mike said, smiling eagerly. He was tall and blonde, but paunchier and paler than the rest of the guys. He looked like he might, actually, work.

“So Bud, Mike has a little situation that I think you could really help him out with. It’d be a special favor to me, and I’d like to keep this one quiet. It’s a personal matter for them.” Rob had already shut the door and was pulling files from a briefcase on a table. He had apparently come prepared. Bud was used to this meeting format, but they had never discussed work at poker before. It gave it a tense air, almost surreal. Here was Rob walking him through a client intro, prepping the details, but everyone was in Tommy Bahama shirts holding mixed drinks while The Eagles’ “Take It Easy” was playing in the background. It made Bud feel like they were in an episode of Miami Vice or something. Rob handed Mike a folder, and he pulled out a bundle of papers.

“Here, this is her,” Mike said, handing the stack to Bud. It was five or six sheets of paper and a picture clipped together, outlining the travel, habits, and history of a young woman. Bud took the picture and held it. “It’s my daughter, she’s gone missing. She went down to Belize for some damned scuba trip, and she disappeared.” Mike continued, outlining the trip and her friends, the hotel and the island, where and when she was supposed to check in and didn’t, but Bud kept holding the picture. He was haunted by it. Her wavy blonde hair, and grayish blue eyes, there was something in the smile that hit him. She was twenty-one, maybe twenty-two, but looked like she could have been anywhere from eighteen to thirty, one of those beautiful girls who looks both endlessly young and somehow ageless. And her smile. Happy and bright, but so vulnerable, like her eyes were reaching out to you.

“Hey Bud, you ok?” Rob asked.

“Yeah, sorry, she just looks so much like my sister, it’s a little eerie.”

“Oh, Bud’s older sister died a few years ago. She was a prosecutor or something, died in a mugging. Tragic,” Rob said, as way of explaining. Paul and Kevin stumbled through groans of condolences.

“Oh, no, not that sister. My other sister. She looks just like her.”

“I didn’t even know you had another sister,” Rob said, almost hurt. He made a point of knowing everything about everyone.

“I don’t talk about her much. Sorry, keep going,” Bud put down the picture and the paperwork and listened as Mike explained the situation, why they weren’t getting the authorities involved, high profile, etc. etc. Things he heard before. Basically, Paul had something to hide and Bud needed to get this taken care of as quickly and quietly as possible before anyone started sniffing around. It was usually the case, affairs and bad loans, even just the whiff of bad luck and investors started fleeing. Men like this traded on their names and histories, and if yours was tainted, it was the end.

Walking out to their cars, Rob caught up with Bud and threw another arm around his shoulder. “So head down there, take a look and see what you find. Chances are this girl’s just shacking up with some surfer down there, smoking pot and doing yoga. Happens all the time. But I’d like to get this taken care of soon, if you know what I mean.”

“On it,” Bud said.

“And go down there incognito, you know. Not that I’m worried, but I don’t want this near us. Got it?” He gave him a pat on the shoulder and stepped into his car, a black 911 Targa ’79. His poker night car.

Bud considered. It was ten p.m. on Friday night. Job like this, typically two days tops. If he got down there tomorrow, there was a good chance that he’d be back by Tuesday. Plenty of time to figure out a clever way to get Chelsea’s number.

About the Author

Lauren Avenius

Lauren Avenius is a San Diego resident, and Mexican-American California native. Lauren has two upcoming publications: Crossing Borders Anthology (SIC, 2020) and 'B is for Bunker' (One Peace Books, 2020).