The house Martin had rented in Akron that Larry had paid for was a modern two-story building. The small garden in the back was entirely fenced in, with trees shielding it from neighbors’ prying eyes. Curtis had checked out the gate in the back, put a padlock on it, kept one key, and given the other one to Martin. His other four guards were encamped down the street inside another house. They were the most highly trained group he had ever been in combat with. Curtis had bought ten burner phones and distributed them. Maryanne and Tiffany could only use them to receive calls from him, Martin, or Rosemaria. They were not allowed to make calls, and every week they would destroy the old phones and receive new ones. Martin had inquired about the neighbors, and the realtor told him this was a quiet neighborhood with mostly elderly homeowners. That suited them perfectly. And yet, Curtis knew he had to have an escape plan in case they were discovered. He always had an escape plan. Escape plans were embedded in his DNA.
Curtis was contemplating his options when the girls walked into the room that had become his office. He burst out laughing when he saw them and the expressions on their faces. They had chopped each other’s hair short and used the hair color he had bought them. Maryanne’s hair was bright red, and Tiffany’s was raven black.
“I’m not keeping this look once this is over,” Tiffany said.
“I am so not a redhead,” Maryanne complained. “I can’t stand looking at myself in the mirror.”
“The important thing is that you look different. Now, if I could just fatten you up, you’d be able to fool anybody.”
“All we do is sit around and eat, so that’ll happen.” Maryanne thought for a second. “I’m sorry. I’m not complaining.”
“It’s okay. I’m used to being in war zones, sitting and waiting. Being bored was the norm. But we can’t grow too complacent.”
“Should we be nervous? Are you expecting something again?” Tiffany asked.
“If you mean has my radar picked up anything, no, nothing like that. You can relax. I’m looking forward to making dinner tonight. A casserole, I think.”
The girls looked at each other.
At that moment, Martin came through the door with two pizza boxes.
“Yes!” Maryanne exclaimed. “Saved.”
Curtis’s feigned look of hurt was interrupted by his cell phone. He listened while the others set up the dining table with plates and utensils.
The look on his face told them that the news was bad. “All four of the assassins made bail. All four have disappeared.”
The looks on the girls’ faces caused him to quickly reassure them. “But they don’t know where we are. And they are probably long gone by now.”
Martin’s good mood could not be dampened. He opened the pizza box and said, “Let’s eat this thing and worry later.”
Curtis sat down, and they all dug in. “Just one more thing. Maryanne, the prosecutor sent me booking photos of the four men. You want to have a look and tell me if you recognize anyone?” He handed her the phone, and she thumbed through the pictures. She didn’t recognize any of them.
Tiffany looked at the pictures too. She pointed to one. “This guy was at the laundromat.” She gave the phone back to Curtis. “Why’d they let these guys out when they know they tried to kill us?”
Curtis looked at the photo of the man she had picked out—Ralph Coulter, like the other thugs, was a hired assassin. Neither Ralph nor the others would give up until the girls were dead or their boss called them off.
“Who knows? The lawyers must’ve been convincing, or maybe the judge was bought off or threatened.” We won’t worry about that. We’ll take care of ourselves. The cops in Beverly Hills will investigate all four and find out who hired them.”
Martin took another piece of pizza and stuffed half of it in his mouth. “All this talk of payoffs and corruption is making me hungry. It’s just more incentive to get these dirtbags.”
Tiffany looked at him steadily for a few seconds. “Maybe they should get a hint where we are so you can set a trap for them.”
“You mean use you girls as bait?!” Curtis said. “No way. I’m counting on the cops to find them first. I’m not risking your lives. Forget it.”
“It was just a thought,” Tiffany said quietly.
“If this keeps up much longer, can we consider the option?” Maryanne asked.
“Wow. You two girls have a lot of guts for two scrawny kids with crazy hair,” Martin said.
“It’s not that we’re so brave. It’s just that waiting for something horrible to happen is worse than just facing it.”
“If you girls eat up one whole pizza, I’ll give it some consideration,” Curtis said. He regretted saying it as soon as he’d said it. The girls snatched up two pieces each and filled their mouths with pizza. He didn’t tell them using them as bait would happen when hell froze over.
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