Pros & Cons of Betrayal by A. E. Wasp

 

Prologue

AN INTERESTED PARTY

Hockey goalie gearwas a lot heavier than I’d thought it would be. Didn’t they have all those space-age materials nowadays: stronger than steel, lighter than air, etcetera? A gaggle of peewee players in a mix of random hockey gear watched me suspiciously as I waddled to the net.

“Come on, boys,” I said, banging my stick on the ice. “Show me what you got.”

“I’m a girl,” one peewee in a face mask said, one hand on her stick, the other on her hip.

“Sorry. Come on, ice rats,” I said. “Show me what you got.”

Miranda glided onto the ice in a perfectly pressed track suit, helmet, gloves, and hockey stick. She was carrying a bucket of pucks. “May I?” she asked the tiny mob.

“Stick and puck is for kids,” some very brave boy said. Miranda had cowed men three times his age and twice his size.

“Five minutes and then he’s all yours,” she said with a winning smile that was somehow more terrifying than her glare.

“Our parents paid for the ice time,” he said, tilting his head in challenge.

Her eyes narrowed and she clicked her tongue against her teeth. “Okay.” She rested her closed hands on her hips. “How about I buy you all ice cream after this if you let me play?”

The brave kid and the girl conferred silently. She nodded. “Okay,” the boy said. “Five minutes.”

“Cross my heart,” I promised.

Miranda grinned evilly at me and dumped the pucks on the ice. “Ready?”

I got into my crouch. “Bring it.”

She then proceeded to hurl pucks at me at high speed. I ducked some of them. Stopped one. Several hit me. Hard. “Now I see why you wanted to do this, so you could legally hit me with things.”

“I’ve wanted to hit you with things for a long time.” She fired one between my legs and I flinched, glove hand covering my junk. The puck hit the post and rebounded with a clang.

“Damn, Randa.”

“Not like you’re using them.”

“Rude!” I skated my wobbly way behind the net to recover the puck only to have some teenager sweep past me and pick it up.

“Do you still think this is a good idea?” she asked.

“Letting you shoot pucks at me? No. The job, yes. It’s a great idea,” I said. “It’s a piece of cake with bonus family reconciliation for Carson. It’s practically a vacation.”

“In La Crosse. No offense,” she said to the watching kids. “Do you want a turn?” she asked the girl.

“Yes, please, ma’am.”

Miranda waved her to the high slot.

“Don’t knock La Crosse, it’s a nice town. It’s pretty. They got the Mississippi River. And Oktoberfest! That’s huge.” The girl aimed a slapper at my five-hole and I dropped to a butterfly to block it. That was going to hurt tomorrow. Quick as a flash, she shifted her grip, sending the puck to my blocker side, top shelf where Momma keeps the cookies, as they say. “Nice job, Ovechkina!” I shouted.

Miranda tapped her stick on the ice in appreciation for the girl’s shot. “Forgive me for questioning your methods, but why are we doing this now? We do have”—she paused, throwing the children around her a quick look—“some rather explosive events to investigate.” She nodded for the kid to step aside and, scooping up a puck, skated in a graceful figure eight in front of my net. Like a cobra confronted by a mongoose, I was hypnotized. With a snap of her wrist, the puck flew at my face. In desperation, I threw up my gloved hand and the puck slammed into it with a resounding and satisfying smack.

“Woo hoo! Yes!” I pointed my blocker at her. “In. Your. Face!”

Unsurprisingly, she shot two more pucks at me in rapid succession. “Why are we here?”

“For Carson!” I said dancing out of the way to the laughter of children.

“For Carson’s sake,” she said with the raise of one eyebrow. She did that better than anyone I’ve ever known.

I met her eyes coolly. “Yes. For Carson.”

She levelled her eyes at me and then skated off the ice without a backwards look.

“All yours!” I yelled to the Stick-and-Puckers as I skated marginally less gracefully after her. I caught up with her on the mats. “Carson is alone. And he shouldn’t be. He has a family, Miranda. A great family that loves him. He needs to get his head out of his ass and work it out with them before he dies alone and the only people who show up for his funeral are federal agents and people who want to make sure he’s dead.”

She straightened up from putting her skate guards on. The look she turned on me was one I was not used to seeing on her. It was compassionate. Kind.

It gave me the heebie-jeebies. “Don’t look at me like that. I know what you’re thinking. It’s not the same at all. Charlie got what he deserved. He wasn’t a nice guy. He burned every bridge he’d ever crossed and left a trail of broken hearts back and forth across the country.”

That got me the eyebrow again. “Okay, maybe not a trail. But several.”

Her eyeroll put us back on familiar ground. Thank God.

She sighed heavily, a sound I associated with her deep affection for me. “Okay. Fine. Josie and I will make it happen. Meet me outside.”

* * *

Miranda was frowning at her phone when I reached the car.

“What’s wrong?”

She shook her head slowly. “I just got an email from one of my contacts in the Miami FBI field office.”

“Good news?” I asked with a forced grin.

She ignored me, as she should. Of course, it wasn’t good news. It never was. “Do we know who’s targeting Leo yet?”

She shook her head. “We have a bigger problem.”

“Bigger problem than Leo’s townhouse blowing up and Charlie’s house getting searched?”

“Someone is trying to get an order to have Charlie’s body exhumed.”

“Exhumed? They want to dig up Charlie’s grave?” Rude. Couldn’t a man rest in peace anymore?

“It appears so.” Her expression was unusually troubled. Which was not good. I’d seen Miranda negotiate deals between governments and arms dealers and not look so concerned.

“Hmm.” I tapped my car keys against the roof of the car while I thought. “Well, then, we’ll have to get to it first.”

“Get to what first?” Miranda asked suspiciously.

“Charlie’s body,” I said, giving her my biggest smile.

Her blink was long and slower than her usual. “Charlie’s dead and buried body?”

“That’s the one!” I could just picture it, Miranda and me dressed all in black, sneaking into the cemetery in the middle of the night, shovels over our shoulder, ready for an old-fashioned grave robbing.

Miranda tapped her perfectly manicured fingernails against the roof of the car in counterpoint to my tapping. Since she had her thinking face on, I bit the inside of my cheek to stop from saying something stupid, which was my usual instinct in response to any kind of prolonged silence.

The tapping stopped. “If I recall correctly,” she said slowly, “Charlie had at multiple times expressed his desire to be cremated. I’m sure his estate followed through with his wishes.”

I nodded sincerely. “I’m sure they did. But maybe, just to be sure, we should check?”

“Absolutely.” She got into her car.

I tapped against the passenger’s window, doing it harder when she ignored me. Miranda was much too refined to sigh visibly, but her aura definitely sighed as she pressed the button to roll down the window. “Yes?”

“What should I do now?” I asked, feeling a bit at loose ends.

Her grin was all teeth and anger. “You just stand around and look pretty.”

“I can do that,” I said.

“And lie low,” she added.

“Miranda. I can’t. I have to find out what’s going on.”

“No.” She stuck a perfectly manicured fingernail into my chest. “Go find some secluded mountain cabin somewhere and hide.”

“But there are no cabana boys in mountain cabins,” I pouted.

“And yet somehow I’m sure you’d find one. Seriously, get lost. If I catch as much as a glimpse of your face, I’m telling Josie to shoot you.”

I had zero doubt she would do just that. “Fine.” I knew the perfect place.