By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: She leaned closer, as if to kiss me. Her breath fanned my ear as she whispered, “We’re being watched.”
My only goal last night was to go to a bar to forget Beth. I had absolutely no intention of hooking up with another girl. I definitely didn’t have any intentions of getting kidnapped or ending up in some godforsaken warehouse with my hands zip-tied behind my back.
Damn bars. Damn Beth. And damn Clara.
That’s her name, by the way. Clara. At least, that’s the name she gave me when she sashayed across the dim space to my round table for two.
“Hi, I’m Clara,” she said. “You look like you need some company.”
I kept my eyes on my drink. “Nice to meet you, Clara, but I’m not that kind of guy. At least, not tonight.”
She slid into the seat across from me and propped her chin in her hand. “So what kind of guy are you?”
I rolled my eyes. “Look, honey, I’m not interested in any kind of action. I just want to drink my drink and go home. By myself.”
Her eyes got a little wide, and she jerked her face back. “Wait, do you think I’m a hooker?”
Lifting my tumbler to my lips, I shrugged. “Don’t know. Don’t care. I just want to be by myself.”
As I took a big gulp, Clara huffed, all insulted, and I rolled my eyes again.
“I’m definitely not a hooker,” she said, her voice less honeyed now. “I saw you come in, and you looked kind of…well…”
“Pathetic?” I said wryly.
She fought a smile. “You said it, not me. So, is it your job or your love life?”
I took another sip and put the glass on the cocktail napkin. “Love life. And let me guess: you’ve got all the answers I need to make me forget about it.”
She laughed then, and the sound was warmer than the alcohol in my glass.
“Men,” she said. “Do you realize you literally fit the stereotype of being interested in only one thing?”
“Hey, that one thing could complete your life. You don’t want the dream?” I said, grinning. “Big strapping husband, couple of kids, a dog—”
“A white picket fence, a station wagon, and the perfect pot roast to welcome you home?” she cut in, grinning back.
I have to admit, that made me laugh. Hard. Or maybe it was the booze I’d imbibed. Either way, I thought it was funny.
I held up my hands in mock surrender. “Okay, okay, you’ve got me. I’m being a little bit chauvinist.”
She held her finger and thumb apart an inch. “Just a little bit.”
I chuckled and shook my head. “Well, then that means I gotta buy you a drink to apologize. And it’s just a drink, okay?”
Clara nodded and raised a hand for a waitress. She gave the woman her order and sat back, more at ease and relaxed. As if she’d already been drinking.
We talked about all sorts of stuff: movies; music. She asked about my job, and I told her I was a project manager. I asked about hers, and she took a big gulp of her drink and waved her hand.
“I’m an analyst, which is even more boring to talk about than it is to do,” she said. “So, would it be presumptuous of me to ask about her?”
My smile faded, but I realized that it had been a long time since Beth and I had exchanged thoughts and ideas this easily. Maybe the breakup, as hard as it was to admit, was a good thing. At least I got to meet Clara because of it.
I shared with her the bare bones of the relationship—two years—and the reason for the breakup—Beth kept dodging on the commitment question. Clara did that chin-in-her-hand thing and nodded from time to time. She hummed her agreement or murmured her disappointment at all the right places.
We sat there for a few hours and ordered food. At one point Clara got up to use the bathroom, and I sat back. Talking to her had actually made me feel better. Two guys passed the table, and they both looked kind of intense as they took a booth across the bar from me. God, is that what my face had looked like when I first came in?
Clara came back with a smile that said…something. You know. Something. And, honestly, if she’d followed through on that something, I would have been game for it. Not just because of Beth but because I was actually starting to like Clara.
At the very least, I would have said yes to a nightcap; didn’t matter whose place we went to.
She brought her chair next to mine and leaned closer, as if to kiss me. Her breath fanned my ear. It tickled, and I started to turn in her direction, you know, kind of flirt a little.
“Don’t look around, but we’re being watched.”
My heart started to hammer in my chest. Was she serious? This wasn’t some damn Mission Impossible movie.
“There are two men at a booth across the bar,” she whispered, putting her hand on my knee and giving it a soft squeeze. “They’ve been following me, and I’ve been trying to shake them.”
“Are you in trouble?” I whispered back, hating how my voice shook even at that low volume. “Maybe you should call the police.”
“This dress doesn’t quite allow for it,” she whispered, “but…”
She drew back from me with the laziest smile I’ve ever seen on a woman. It reminded me of when Beth would get on just that side of tipsy. Her eyes, just like Clara’s now, would get that dreamy-drowsy look that turned me on. I gotta say, it was starting to do the same now—until she opened her little purse and I saw a small pistol and a federal badge in there.
I swallowed hard, and she squeezed my knee again.
“Maybe we should get out of here,” she said, that smile still in place. “Go back to your place?”
My hands shook a little as I pulled some bills out of my wallet and threw them on the table. She threaded her arm through the crook of my elbow, still smiling like she was the prom queen going home with the quarterback. Yeah, we were going to have quite the night; just her, me, and that gun of hers.
“Smile,” she said in a low voice, squeezing herself against my arm. That smile stayed in place, but her tone had gone into instructor mode. “You’re going home with the biggest score of the year. Tonight’s going to make you forget about Beth and any other woman you ever dreamed about sleeping with.”
I nodded and tried to smile, although it probably looked like I was constipated or something. We made it through the door and down the sidewalk. As soon as we were about twenty feet from the door, she pulled away and started walking like…well, like a woman with a badge.
“Did you drive here?” she asked, her voice all business now.
I shook my head. “Uber. I didn’t know how smashed I was going to get, so I figured it was better to catch a ride.”
“Damn,” she muttered. She opened her purse and pulled out a phone from god-knows-where. I would never have guessed it even had room for the other hardware in it. As she spoke, she kept scanning the street in front of us and behind.
“Clancy,” she said into the phone, “I’m out of the bar, but I’m going to need backup. I have a civilian with me…Don’t you think I know that, Clancy? … Ha, ha, very funny. All right, ten-four.”
She put the phone back in her purse. “Okay, so my partner’s about ten blocks away. He’s calling for backup, but we still need to hustle and see if—get down!”
Clara pushed past me and ripped her purse open at the same time. She held up her gun. My heart was pumping so hard, I was afraid I’d die of cardiac arrest right there. Forget the backup, I needed an ambulance.
Sure enough, the guys from the bar had followed us. I couldn’t hear what they were saying; my blood was roaring in my ears. They had guns too and yelled something. After a couple of minutes, Clara put her gun on the ground and held up her hands and I did the same.
The guys rushed us, and one of them conked me on the head with his gun. I blacked out, and now here I am. In this damn warehouse.
Damn Beth. This is all her fault.