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"Never, ever let a mosquito fly up your shorts, Roxy." Cyndi resisted the urge to scratch her backside as she removed her costume. Stripping out of the red bustier with its shiny boob tassels, she finally gave up trying to be a lady and scratched for all she was worth, moaning in satisfaction as she dug at the half dozen bug bites on her left butt cheek.
"Itchy or not, you still done some good work tonight, Sugah." Roxy laughed, a hard gravelly sound, roughened by decades of vodka on the rocks and Lucky Strike cigarettes. Roxy Feathers sounded oddly masculine for a woman in her profession, but then, who knew? Maybe Roxy was a man. In this new world she was all wrapped up in nothing surprised Cyndi any more.
"I don't know about all that, Roxy. I don't have half your talent." If, by talent, Cyndi meant shaking her— um—assets for dollar bills from drunken bums on a Friday night.
The older woman scoffed, waving her hot pink feather boa up and down in Cyndi's face. "Talent? Ha. What I got is practice and a reputation. I been here a long time and they know what to expect from me. You? You got that young body of yours goin' on! Dem boys out there, they love a perky set and you got you a perky set, for sure."
Roxy disappeared from the dressing room in a flurry of fake feathers and cheap perfume, her laughter echoing back to where Cyndi sat in a rusty folding chair scrubbing at her stage makeup.
The thick wad of cash on the counter in front of her was more than enough justification for flaunting her assets a couple hours a week. Flipping through the crumpled bills, Cyndi counted well over $300 for the two hours she worked. Swatting at groping hands and sweaty, horny men took some getting used to but the money—oh the money was so worth it. An eight-hour graveyard shift at the Waffle House wouldn't have produced even a third of that in tips. She certainly wouldn't get anything near that scrubbing toilets and washing windows. Besides, if she had a God-given perky set, she might as well put it to good, lucrative use. It's not like she actually had to get naked. In Virginia it was against the law to actually show any of the good stuff even in a gentlemen's club. She kept her clothes on and made a truckload of money. It was a win-win situation. Except for the part when she lied to her husband every Friday night.
Over the past several months, Roxy had taken her under her wing. Thanks to the seasoned dancer, Cyndi now knew which regulars to keep clear of, how to recognize a grabber, and the best ways to get the biggest tips without stepping too far outside her comfort zone.
Because six-inch, red heels and a matching sequined bustier were so inside her comfort zone.
Apparently middle-aged housewives with killer push-up bras were a real commodity in the world of exotic dancers. The stack of bills sitting on the table was testament to that. Ironically the whole thing sort of made her feel empowered too. The most sexist job in the world oddly made her more confident. Her woman's studies teacher back at Mt. Holyoke College would have had a stroke if she heard Cyndi say such a thing.
It was nearly midnight. Jason had to be pacing the house already. If she ran late, he started calling around, getting his cop buddies to search the streets for her. That was the last thing she needed. In his mind, the streets of Virginia Beach were teeming with men waiting to have a piece of her.
Glancing in the mirror, she made sure every last streak of red, white and blue eye shadow was gone before brushing out her wild, teased hair. Removing the rest of her Miss Liberty outfit, Cyndi pulled on a pair of jeans, tugged a worn out sweatshirt left over from her husband's academy days over her head, and slipped into scuffed and dirty tennis shoes before following Roxy's path out of the dressing area.
"See you next week, Johnny!" She waved to the bartender, a twenty-something business school student she happened to know wore women's underwear underneath those neatly pressed Dockers he sported.
"You have yourself a good one, little lady," he drawled. On certain days Johnny fancied himself from old west Texas, which was pretty funny considering no cowboy she had ever heard of had a preference for wearing silky lingerie.
"Thanks, you too!"
"Have a good week, Cyndi."
"You too, Jade. Stay safe, okay?"
"You know I will." Jade smiled and ducked through the door heading into the back of the building.
The young runaway was probably only sixteen, although she claimed to be the required eighteen to dance at Sugar Shakers on Friday and Saturday night. Cyndi was pretty sure Jade moonlighted at the corner of Seventh Street and Pacific Avenue during the rest of the week. A pretty rough looking dude Jade identified as her boyfriend hung around the club on occasion. At best, the guy was probably her pimp. Given Jade's likely age, child molester seemed more appropriate.
Cyndi threw up a little in her mouth when her hand encountered something sticky on the front door.
The air was heavy with sea salt. Cyndi breathed in deep, clearing her lungs of the dank club air.
In the alley behind the building, a cat screeched as it came running past her. A loud crash sounded in the shadows of the alley. Cyndi picked up her pace, nearly running to the bus stop and telling herself the cat had just knocked over a trash can or something. Why hadn't she taken the car to work?
Because she would have a hell of a time explaining it to Jason if someone saw her parked outside the club.
The city bus rambled around the corner and pulled up to where she stood. Cyndi didn't waste any time entering the safety of the vehicle. She was so grateful to be off the dark street she almost missed the shadowy figure that stepped out of the alley way with something slung over its shoulder. Homeless people were always digging through the club's dumpster. She had no idea what this one had found but it looked heavy.
"Heeeyyy...I knooow...yooouuuu. You're Ladyyyy Libberrtyyy." The slurred words came from the seat behind her. Cyndi ignored him but the drunk was persistent. "Come...on...showwww meeee your tassels!" The voice dissolved in drunken laughter.
Without looking behind her, Cyndi stood up and changed seats. Her wasted admirer belched loudly before falling into a perverted version of the National Anthem. He was on his third repetition of "Rockets and beer, bums trippin' 'round everywhere" when the city bus mercifully arrived at her stop.
The house was lit up like an airport runway when she arrived at the foot of the driveway. Tactically sound, Jason always said. Better to see the bad guy first before he saw them. The image of the shadowy figure that had come out of the alley earlier passed through her thoughts briefly. There was no place for shadowy figures in their yard. Every square inch of property was flooded in light. Planes could land there.
Jason pulled the door open just as she reached for the knob with her key. "Where have you been?" Filling the doorway with broad shoulders and a grim expression, he looked her up and down. "I was just about to call dispatch, you know."
"The bus was late. I'm here now though and I'm exhausted. Let me in."
Jason stepped aside to let her pass but followed her into the kitchen of their cozy little ranch house. "Seriously, I was getting worried. How come you're so late? Why didn't you take the car tonight? How come I don't know where you go to work?"
"Give it a rest, Jason. You know the offices change every week. I don't know where I'm going to be until I get there. You can stop worrying now, I'm fine. The great resort city of Virginia Beach has nothing to fear except its wild foxes and I stayed far away from the beach tonight, I promise."
How the lies flowed so easily these days.
"Oh, please. One stupid tourist website posts one ridiculous article and suddenly you think foxes are the only danger around here."
"I'm really beat, Jason. How is Harper tonight?"
"Stop trying to change the subject, Cynthia Jane Mills. You are thirty minutes late. Do you know what could happen in thirty minutes?"
"I could get raped, beaten, or robbed. You name it, it could happen to me. I am the world's biggest target." Cyndi sighed in exasperation as she tossed the purse she still carried down on the counter. "None of that happened. The bus was just late."
"You should quit that job. It's too late at night. I'll pick up some overtime." Concern lit his blue eyes as he tried so hard to remain stern. Jason never stayed mad at her for long. Her tough, cop husband was just a big old softy underneath it all. Sometimes he just tried a little too hard. She touched his cheek and smiled.
"I'm not quitting. We could use the extra money and you can't work twenty-four hours a day."
"We don't need it badly enough for you to put yourself in danger."
"How much danger can I be in? I'm locked inside an office building mopping floors and scrubbing sinks."
Cyndi hated keeping secrets from the man she loved but if he knew what she actually did every Friday night from eight to midnight, he would show up guns a blazin' and go all Hawaii 5-0 on the place. Maybe she should have stayed at the office cleaning gig. The pay was crap but the work was honest.
The wad of cash in her pocket screamed at her to shut up. No way she could go back—it would take a month of office cleaning to make $300.
Jason leaned against the counter, arms folded across his chest. She recognized that look immediately. He was doing the cop thing, analyzing her, and she could tell he knew something didn't add up. His left eyebrow rose just a tad higher than the right as he studied her. "Why do you have glitter in your hair?"
Cyndi shook her hair and a shower of glitter rained down on her sweatshirt. Damn. Somehow she had missed a boat load of sparkle. Damn, that stuff got everywhere.
"Jody brought her daughter's costume for a dance recital to work so I could help her fix a tear. It was all covered in sparkles. The damn stuff got on everything. Had to go back over the carpets with the sweeper twice and I'm still not sure we got it all."
Jason continued to stare down at her from his full six feet of height. His stare was laser sharp, his presence imposing. It was no wonder he was so good at catching the bad guy. Hardened criminals squirmed under the intensity of that stare. Hopefully he couldn't see through her despite the fact she felt as transparent as the shower curtain hanging in their bathroom.
"You think Harper is going to want to do that stuff?"
"Harper is four. It's a little early to predict if she will be a dancer or a swimmer or...whatever."
"Yeah, well, I just don't want that glittery stuff all over the house. The guys won't ever let me live it down, I show up to work all sparkly like that." He shook his head.
Cyndi stepped closer to her husband and wrapped her arms around him. "I'm exhausted, honey. How about we go to bed?"
Jason hugged her close. "You gonna wear a little French maid's outfit like you do when you clean those offices?"
"Can't fault a guy for trying." Jason's grin was a sharp contrast to his earlier scrutiny. He pulled out the neckline of her top and peered down into it. "Come on. I know you gotta wear some kinda uniform!"
Thank God she had changed in to her old white bra from the discount store and left her bustier at work. Stepping back, Cyndi held her arms out and spun around slowly. "You're looking at it, baby. Doesn't my ratty old sweatshirt turn you on?"
"Not as much as a little maid's outfit would. It's nearly Halloween. Maybe I ought to pick one up for you to wear at work. You know, so you don't mess up your own clothes."
"Ohhh, Jason... you are such a guy!"
"You would rather I be such a girl?"
"Of course, not! Just don't be so obvious about being a man all the time." Cyndi filled a glass of water from the tap, drank it in one gulp, then placed her used cup in the sink before heading toward their bedroom. "Come on, cop man. You play your cards right I might let you frisk me before we go to sleep."
Cyndi heard light switches flip, door chains sliding and the announcement that the house emergency alarm was being set. Jason rushed through his nightly round of safety checks as he yelled to her from various locations around the house.
"Do you have anything on you that might hurt me?" Snap went the deadbolt on the front door. "Needles, knives, or guns?" Click went the security latch on the sliding door to the back yard. "Do I need gloves or cuffs...?"
"Not sure you're gonna need gloves but cuffs might be fun," she called back as she climbed out of her clothes and dropped into the cool sheets. Her head hit the pillow and exhaustion consumed her. The last thing she heard was the sound of Jason undoing his belt as he entered the room followed by the click of the magazine on his gun as he checked to be sure it was loaded before dropping it into the bedside safe. She was fairly certain she actually heard him dangle a pair of handcuffs before she slipped away into sleep. Falling asleep was never her problem. Staying that way was.
Just like every single night of her adult life, sometime later Cyndi awoke suddenly. The room was dark, the house quiet. Only the soft, even hum of Jason breathing disturbed the silence. After tossing and turning for a while, she decided to get up and see what the girls were up to. Just like most every night.
The group of insomniacs she referred to as her girls were members of an online police wives group she belonged to. Internet was the one real splurge neither she nor Jason could give up no matter how frugal they tried to be. Grabbing a blanket off the back of a chair, she curled up in the corner of the sofa and waited for the familiar log-in screen. The clock on the microwave had read 2:56 when she passed through the kitchen for a glass of water. So many years of Jason working the night shift had drastically altered her sleep patterns. Even when he was home she never slept all the way through the night. Three a.m. was the witching hour for her. Without fail, every single night, three hundred and sixty-five nights a year she awoke at the same time. Somewhere in the back of her mind she believed that if something was going to happen out on Jason's patrol, it would be at three in the morning. Her subconscious obviously believed that if Cyndi were awake, she could somehow prevent the horrible thing that was supposed to happen to the man she had loved for fifteen years.
The familiar blue background of the site filled her computer screen. Cyndi joined the secret group of police wives immediately. As far as she could tell, they were all there. She greeted the group with her usual conversation starter.
Cyndi: Good Evening, Ladies...It's 3 a.m. Do you know where your husbands are?
Angela: With a hooker...AND her john! LOL
Diana: Crack house!
Cyndi: Ah, so all the usual places then? LOL
Diana: Jason on duty tonight?
Cyndi: Nope. It was my work night.
Angela: How's that new job of yours going??
Cyndi: Made $300 bucks tonight...
Diana: That's something like $150 an hour!
Cyndi: I know.
Jessy: Does Jason know yet?
Cyndi: No. And he isn't going to.
Diana: How do you explain all the extra money?
Cyndi: *sigh* I don't... I only give him about $100 of it every two weeks. What I would make if I was still cleaning offices.
Angela: What about the rest?
Cyndi: Right now? It's in an oatmeal container in the back of the pantry. Jason hates oatmeal! LMAO
Diana: LMAO I might have to steal that idea. Donnie has no idea that all those calls coming in on Saturday night aren't actually from shopping network customers...Wouldn't it be interesting if Detective Massey discovered what his wife really did while he was working the night shift?
Jessy: Maybe he'll think it's hot that his wife moonlights as a phone sex operator? LOL
Diana: I totally doubt that! LOL Hard to give up though, been doing it since college... How do you think I paid for the Bachelor's degree? Ha-ha! I think I am as addicted to it as those creepers who call in every night!
Jessy: eeewww! LOL
Angela: So what y'all are saying is that your husbands work their asses off worrying about money and they have no idea you two sexy things are raking in the dough?
Cyndi: Trust me when I say Jason doesn't give a damn about money. All he worries about are perps...and potential perps...and people who don't even know they might qualify as potential perps...
Jessy: Your boy needs to get over himself, Cyn... not everyone is out to get him.
Cyndi: Try telling that to him! LOL I've been unsuccessful at getting through to him for too many years.
Diana: Donnie doesn't care about money either. As long as he has clean socks and underwear and his next meal is always waiting he could care less about what comes in or goes out.
Angela: Yeah, my Jake is the same way. As far as he is concerned there is a money tree growing in the basement...oh wait...we live in the south, we don't have a basement.
Jessy: LOL Sam thinks we have a tree too, I swear!
Angela: Not to change the subject or anything but a weird call came in to dispatch tonight when I was on shift.
Diana: Weird how?
Angela: Some heavy breathing dude called in from one of those dump phones, you know the pay-as-you-go cell phones? Yeah, he called in, said "The girl is dead" and hung up.
Cyndi: That was all he said?
Angela: Yup. He didn't say anything else, just hung up. I couldn't even dispatch a unit to check it out, we had no idea where he was calling from. The number just came up as "cell phone."
Diana: Hmmm...maybe just a drunk playing games?
Angela: He sounded pretty sober and lucid to me but who knows? He could have been an escaped mental patient or something. I passed the information on to Jake. He was on duty tonight so he and his partner did a little digging but nothing turned up.
Jessy: Because there are so many escaped mental patients wandering around the streets of Virginia Beach... You are more likely to run into a fox! LOL
Cyndi: OMG! Jason and I were talking about the foxes tonight too! He thinks I give too much credit to that stupid article.
Diana: The beach has foxes all right but they are more the two-legged variety just waiting to pounce on all the pretty bikini clad sheep!
Cyndi let out a big yawn. Harper would be awake in another three hours.
Cyndi: I am gonna call it a night, ladies. Little one will be up with the sun.
Diana: Yeah, I'm pretty beat too. Night all!
The other ladies bid farewell and Cyndi shut her computer down. In no time at all, the sun was shining and little Harper was standing by her bed. The nightstand clock read 6:30, much too early to get up.
"I'm hungry, Mommy."
"Of course you are, my little sweet pea," Cyndi muttered. "How about you cuddle Mommy for a minute or two first?"
"Okay!" Harper wasted no time climbing in between her and Jason. Her husband never even stirred and it wasn't long before she and Harper both drifted back to sleep.