Gillian had the best instincts in the personal security business; everyone said so. It was a good thing she did, because with her bad memory, she'd have made a terrible conventional investigator. Everyone agreed on that as well.
Of course, it didn't take any special skills to see that the blind date at the next table wasn't going well. It was obvious to anyone within earshot of their less-than-cordial conversation. Their body language was a dead giveaway, too. Just look at the way she was leaning forward, frowning, both hands on the table. His posture was defensive, leaning back, arms folded defiantly over his chest. He was frowning as well, but where she was angry, he looked merely impatient. It wasn't an argument between lovers or close friends. Her attire and makeup was just a tad too careful, too studied, for an ordinary evening out with the boyfriend. The guy was even wearing a jacket, which you didn't see much around here. This was Santa Monica, not Manhattan. They'd both dressed to impress, but had apparently left their party manners at home.
Gillian sipped happily on her glass of chenin blanc and picked at her kale salad while tuning out her friend's latest complaints about her ex-husband. She loved Sharon and she wanted to be supportive but she'd heard it all, via text and email and myriad phone calls, since she'd left Los Angeles ten years ago. Anyway, the couple at the next table might not be having fun, but Gillian was enjoying the view. The guy had caught her eye the moment he walked into Rustic Canyon's back room, trailing the attractive blonde. What was this woman's problem? The food here was supposed to be the best in town. The wine list was excellent. Her date was drop-dead gorgeous. In a city full of movie actors and male models and rock star wannabees, that was saying something. That silky, dark brown hair, those beautiful hazel eyes, the hint of a five o'clock shadow on his jawline that Gillian was aching to caress. He was tall but not too tall, maybe six feet or little bit over, broad-shouldered but with a lean build and legs that went on forever. His tanned complexion had the requisite lines of a man in his late forties or early fifties who'd spent a lot of time in the open air. And those lips looked so—kissable. Since his date wasn't interested, maybe Gillian should offer to take him off her hands.
God, Gillian. Calm down. It hadn't been that long since she'd had sex. Had it? Mr. Gorgeous wasn't an actor, she was certain of that, but he did look oddly familiar. Where had she seen this guy before? As cute as he was, you'd think she could remember that.
"Gillian. You haven't heard a word I've said since those two sat down," Sharon said under her breath.
She winced. "I know, and I'm sorry..." Gillian caught the flash of metal out of the corner of her eye. Stunned, she watched as Blondie pulled a small handgun out of her clutch purse along with some cash, which she left on the table. It looked like one of those tiny Smith and Wesson 638s. Why the hell would someone like her be carrying a piece into a place like this? Fuck this stupid country and its stupid motherfucking gun laws. Oblivious to her audience, Blondie closed the purse and eased the gun into position under the table. Gillian strained to hear what she was saying but all she could make out over the restaurant din were three words: "gun," "David" and "get up." Okay, that was four words.
"Crystal! What are you doing?" The poor guy looked more dazed than scared. He stood up slowly, his eyes focused on the gun.
Gillian groaned inwardly. Of course her name would be Crystal.
"Shut up, David," Crystal hissed.
Crystal wasn't exactly a criminal mastermind. Who in their right mind pulls a gun on someone in a crowded restaurant in front of dozens of potential witnesses.
Whether she was crazy or stupid—or both—the woman was dangerous. Gillian was going to have to think of something fast. Really fast. They were in the back room of a crowded restaurant on a Saturday night. The lighting was subdued, the tables were packed closely together, everyone was drinking and the conversation was flowing as freely as the alcohol. Everyone was staring at their date—or their smartphone. Gillian had her weapon with her but she couldn't confront the woman here. It was too risky. "Sharon. Call 9-1-1."
Sharon looked scared and confused. "Gillian. What is going on... "
Gillian shook her head. "Just make the call." She'd cased the restaurant solely out of habit as soon as she'd arrived. Though the restaurant was good-sized, there were only two entrances—one facing Wilshire and one that exited through the kitchen into the parking lot behind the building. Crystal would be going out the front door, so Gillian would go out through the back and stop her from doing—whatever it was she wanted to do to David.
"Okay." Sharon's voice was shaky but she already had her phone out and was dialing.
Gillian watched as David weaved slowly between the tables, his captor following behind, one perfectly manicured hand keeping him close, the other on her gun. Her eyes fell on the twenties Crystal had left on the table. It was odd that she'd left money for the bill. It meant she was willing to risk jail time for assault and kidnapping—but not theft. Weird and getting weirder. Welcome to LA.
"Tell the operator there's a woman pointing a gun at her date," Gillian said. "I'm going to take the back entrance and try to head her off." She stood, mentally calculating the distance and time she needed. "Stay down and don't draw attention to yourself." Sharon had turned pale, but she was still clutching her phone, waiting for the 9-1-1 operator to pick up. She nodded gamely.
Briskly, Gillian threaded her way toward the kitchen. Someone in the front of the restaurant screamed, "Oh God! She's got a gun!"
Hearing the sound of expensive glassware breaking behind her, she pushed open the door reading "Staff Only" and pulled out her I.D. It was a bluff. She had no real authority here, but the police were still minutes away. She was that poor man's best chance of getting free. She stood tall and fearless. "I'm Gillian Anderson, with Tactical Executive Security."
Even before the woman had pulled a gun on him, this was the worst blind date he'd ever been on. Crystal MacCluie was nothing like her Welcome, Eros profile. Oh, she was attractive enough, but she was not terribly bright and had no sense of humor whatsoever. Worst of all, she had a very superficial understanding of bee husbandry. When David tried to explain that humans had been bee keepers for ten thousand years, and that until very recently it had been a mutually beneficial relationship, the woman became belligerent.
"I thought you were one of us! I thought you were different!" What was she talking about? Who is "us"? He tried to reason with her but she cut him off. "Exploiter!" and "Vermin!" had been his reward and those were the least offensive epitaphs. She finished up with, "You goddamned motherfucking academic asshole!" That last one had hurt, especially since he had left that life behind to become a humble beekeeper.
Now it had become the worst blind date in the history of internet dating. If he survived the rest of the evening, the first thing he was going to do when he got home, after he called his kids and told them how much he loved them, was cancel his account at Welcome, Eros and demand a refund.
Woozily he stumbled forward, Crystal's gun at his back, her hand twisting his arm painfully backward. He thought he heard a scream, but he couldn't be sure. He hadn't had that much to drink, only a couple of glasses of wine, but his ears were buzzing and his vision was blurred. Had she drugged him? That...fiend! No. Wait. Was that the right word for a female demon? Demon-ess? That didn't sound right either. Not a succubus. There wasn't going to be any sex happening here, at least none that was voluntary, he was certain of that. He shuddered. What was she planning to do with him?
"Keep going," Crystal snarled. David obeyed to the best of his ability, lurching around the tables in the dimly lit, crowded restaurant, going from the back room through the central dining area until at last they were near the front door. He'd forgotten how big this place was. It felt like they'd been walking for ages. The owner, Monica, stepped out from behind the bar, looking concerned. David had helped Monica and her husband Stephan relocate a swarm of bees from their backyard six months ago.
"Is everything okay here?" she asked, looking first at David and then over at Crystal.
"We're fine," he choked out, as Crystal gave his arm another twist. He was not fine. He was fucked. As Crystal pushed him through the door, he thought he heard glass breaking. In the far distance, someone yelled, "She's got a gun!" Good observation, just a little too late.
He'd gotten there early, parked his truck in the back lot, and walked around to the entrance to wait for Crystal. When he saw her find a parking spot right in front of the restaurant, he'd told Crystal that her parking karma was phenomenal. Now it seemed obvious that the universe was playing a sick joke. He watched fuzzily as she used the remote to pop open the trunk of her vehicle. "Get in," she instructed, "and hurry up!" There was no way he was going to fit in the trunk of a goddamned Prius. "Don't make me use this," she warned, waving the gun. "It looks small but it shoots regular sized bullets and at close range, I know I can't miss."
"Why can't I ride in the car with you?" David moaned. What the fuck was she doing?
"Don't be ridiculous." Crystal was scornful. "I can't hold you at gunpoint and drive, not in Saturday night traffic! Now get in!" He did, awkwardly folding his legs up into fetal position, and hugging himself tightly. As the trunk lid closed, enveloping him in darkness, he forced himself to stay conscious.
He was still alive, for now. And, dammit, he was going to figure a way out of this mess.
A tall man in immaculate chef's whites and toque stepped from behind the stove, and peered at her credentials. "I'm sorry, Ms. Anderson, but you can't be back here. It's against health regulations."
"There is a situation in progress. One of your guests has been kidnapped at gunpoint," she said, calmly stepping into the steamy kitchen. "The police have been called but I'm afraid they won't get here in time. Where is your exit door?"
"Through here, Ma'am," said one of the waitstaff.
Gillian followed her out the kitchen into a narrow hallway, and opened the back door. Quickly she scanned the small parking lot. Empty. There was no way Crystal would have been able to walk from the front door to this lot and drive off—not in that short amount of time. It seemed unlikely, but she could have found street parking near the restaurant. Cursing her four-inch platform heels, Gillian ran to the front of the building. There was Crystal--climbing into the front seat of a white Prius four door. But the passenger seat was empty. Where the fuck was David?
"Stop right there, Crystal!" Gillian commanded, running toward the car. Crystal ignored her, slid into the driver's seat and turned the ignition key. Reaching the Prius, Gillian pounded on the driver's window, displaying her I.D. It had worked in the restaurant. "Turn this off and exit the vehicle immediately! Keep your hands where I can see them," Gillian added when she spotted Crystal's hand reaching for the gun she'd left in plain view on the passenger seat. Well, she certainly wasn't a pro. Ignoring Gillian's command, Crystal put the car into gear and took off the parking brake. Shit. Gillian didn't want to pull on her. Maybe she could talk her down. "You aren't going to get away with this. Look around you. There are too many witnesses. The police are on their way. It's over."
Crystal glared at Gillian. Gillian held her gaze. Finally, Crystal turned off the engine. "Take the keys out of the ignition and get out of the car," Gillian ordered. Sullenly, Crystal obeyed. "Give me the keys. Put your hands on the top of the car and keep them there."
"I don't know who you think you are but you can't just walk up to someone and start ordering them around," she complained, handing Gillian an oversized key-ring. Along with the remote and an assortment of keys, there was a small red and yellow button attached with the familiar McDonald's logo. The words, "McDogshit" was printed over the golden arches. Lovely.
"Oh, really? Because I thought I just did. Now what have you done with David?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Crystal said airily. She stood with her arms folded over her chest, and one hip jutted out. At least she wasn't trying to get away. Gillian had not dressed for foot pursuit.
A small crowd had gathered in front of the car: some patrons of the wine bar, a few random pedestrians, even a homeless man with a shopping cart had stopped to watch. Several had their phones out and were surreptitiously filming the drama. Great. Well, evidence was evidence, no matter the source.
"She put him into the trunk," the homeless man said.
"Yeah, I saw it too," one of the bystanders agreed.
"Thanks for the tip." Gillian popped open the trunk. Inside David was all scrunched up and looked absolutely miserable. He was much too tall to fit comfortably into that tight a space. Suddenly, she remembered where she'd seen David before. A few years ago, he'd done a series of videos about some problem with honeybees and colony-collapse and posted them on YouTube, entitled "The Naked Truth." They'd been extremely popular, Gillian recalled, perhaps because he'd filmed them wearing nothing except a strategically placed teacup. She'd been sent the link by someone in the States. One of them had gone viral and had over five million views. She couldn't remember much about what he'd said about bees—but the man looked just as good out of his clothes as he did in them.
Just as a police car finally arrived at the scene, Gillian reached in and grabbed David's hand. "Let's get you out of there, David. This is no place for an entomologist."
In his drugged state, David wasn't sure who was standing over him when the lid of the trunk opened up. It was a woman, but it wasn't Crystal. Though she looked vaguely familiar, he was positive they'd never been introduced. This woman, whoever she was, wouldn't be easy to forget, with her long blonde hair, huge blue eyes, an elegant Roman profile and lips the color of ... lips. He couldn't be more specific than that, not until he was more awake.
"You're really pretty," he blurted out. She smiled, which encouraged him. With the pretty lady's help, he struggled out of the car, barely managing to avoid hitting his head. He didn't think he'd been in there long but his back was stiff and his neck hurt too. Still woozy from whatever Crystal had dosed him with, David swayed, putting his arm around his rescuer's shoulder as she grabbed his waist. "I don't feel so hot," he said. It was true. He felt awful.
"I know. We need to have you examined by a doctor. My name is Gillian. David, the police are here. They're going to want you to go down to the station and make a statement."
The police officer looked around the assembled crowd. "Someone want to fill me in on what's going on here?"
"I can, although it might be a good idea to call the paramedics first," Gillian said. "David is having a hard time remaining upright."
The policemen took out a small notebook. "And you are?"
"Gillian Anderson. I'm an agent with Tactical Executive Security. My I.D. is in my bag, but I'm afraid my hands are full at the moment."
"I can see that. And are you the person who first called 9-1-1 about an alleged abduction?"
Sharon raised her hand. "That would be me. I was having dinner with Gillian at a table across from that woman. Gillian saw her pull the gun on this man and told me to call 9-1-1."
"That's a lie!" Crystal said indignantly.
The officer held up a hand. "Lady, you need to pipe down. You'll get your chance."
"She did so have a gun. I saw it," said the homeless man.
"That gun is still on the seat of your fucking Prius," said Gillian. "Sorry, Officer." David thought she sounded impatient. He should—he should try to pull himself together. Instead, he began sliding to the ground. Sharon rushed to his side and helped Gillian ease him to the sidewalk. Gillian cradled his head in her lap, and began stroking his hair. He opened his eyes wider. She wasn't just beautiful, she was kind and brave, and had soft, cool hands. God, her hands felt good. Whoa, David. You're flying high. She was much prettier than Crystal, too.
"Okay, I guess we are going to need that ambulance." The policeman pulled out his phone and began texting.
"I got footage of the whole thing, Officer." A young man with a neatly trimmed goatee stepped out of the crowd and peered down at David. He held up his smart phone to the policeman. "I was in the bar and followed her out. She held the gun to his back, and threatened to shoot him unless he got into the trunk of her car. Do you want to see it?"
"How many of you folks got this crime-in-progress on your smart phones?" the officer said wearily. A dozen hands went up. "Nobody tried to stop her, huh?"
The man with the goatee looked shocked. The hand holding the phone dropped to his side. "She had a gun."
"I stopped her," Gillian said under her breath. David tried to nod in agreement.
They all sounded very far away to David, like he was listening to a crime show on a TV in the next room. Perhaps the light was growing dim, because it was getting harder to see. Except, it was the middle of June. It shouldn't be getting dark this early. He grabbed at Gillian's hand.
"What is it, David?" She put her ear close to his lips.
Her perfume smelled heavenly. Up close, her hair looked like threads of golden silk, almost halo-like. If he believed in guardian angels, which he most assuredly did not, he thought he could be forgiven for mistaking her for his. "Thank you for saving me," he managed to whisper before everything went black.