Jack made an offer to Ione after showing a photo of a man responsible for several explosions in Europe.When Karen returned home from work, she found Ione on the couch, wrapped in a quilt such that only her face was visible. Diesel looked up from the crook of Ione's legs. The grey cat scrambled to get on his feet. He climbed over Ione, ignoring her protests, then leapt from the couch to land near Karen. Diesel mewed.
"I see that." Karen knelt down to rub the grey cat. "How long has she been there?"
"I'm right here." Ione rolled the quilt down her waist. "How was work?"
"Over for the week, just how I like it." Karen slipped off her black pumps. "What's with you?"
"Nothing." Ione brushed a stray lock of hair out of her face. "Just thinking."
Karen stepped over Diesel to get into the living room. "And what were you thinking?"
"That we need to go out tonight. Someplace different. Someplace we've never been."
"I like what you've been thinking about." Karen looked over her housemate's clothes. "You need to get changed, though."
Ione looked down at herself. "What?"
"Friday night dress code. Time to flaunt ourselves." Karen grabbed Ione's arm and pulled. "You have at least one dress. I was there when you bought it."
Ione kicked off the quilt. "I have several dresses."
"The steampunk outfit doesn't count. It'll poke holes in my car's seats. Choose a different one."
"I wasn't thinking of that one." Ione set her feet on the floor. "But it does give me a figure."
"That's the corset." Karen pulled again, getting Ione to her feet. "There. Now, go. Get ready. I'll feed the beast here," Diesel mewed, "and be right up to help with your makeup."
Ione shuffled in sock feet to the stairs. "You sure?"
"We both need this, Ione. Now, go! Who knows? Maybe we'll get lucky tonight."
Ione went upstairs to her bedroom. She began laying out her clothes for the night, a sleeveless satin black dress that fell mid-thigh on her and black hose. After a quick shower, she put on the clothes. Ione modelled the outfit in the mirror, checking its fit. The dress felt right to her, but she picked out flaws in her own appearance, flaws she could always find; too much hip, not enough leg, lips neither full nor thin. Ione sighed. Nothing she could fix in ten minutes and if the lighting was dim enough, no one else would see.
Karen rapped the bedroom door before entering. "That's more like it!" She walked once around Ione, appraising the outfit. "Why don't you wear this more often?"
"Where?" Ione shrugged. "No one at work would appreciate it. Well, maybe Olivier, but only to encourage me. He hates being the only one dressing well in the department."
"We're always looking for people who can dress well at the bank." Karen led Ione to the computer chair and sat her in it. "Now, let's get your war paint on."
Half an hour later, the two women left their house. Karen's hair was out of its usual pony tail and was allowed to cascade down her back and over her burgundy leather jacket. Her own dress, a deep red with an asymmetrical hemline, fluttered in the breeze. Karen shivered. "Winter is coming." She pulled a pair of gloves out of her jacket pockets.
"It's not that cold." Ione zipped her black leather jacket half way up.
"You're wearing nylons, you cheat." Karen ran to the driver's door of her Fiat. "Let's go before I freeze my butt off." She unlocked the doors and got inside.
Ione slipped into the passenger side and buckled up. "So, where to?"
"I wasn't the one thinking of going out tonight." Karen started the Fiat's engine.
"Why break a streak of Fridays?"
"You wanted to go somewhere different."
Ione nodded. "Yes. I don't know where. I never got that far in my thinking."
Karen gave her friend a sidelong glance. "What else were you doing under that quilt?"
"Diesel demanded attention. Lots of attention. And treats."
"I see." Karen laughed. "Okay, the Market's out this time. I think we've hit everything there. Gatineau's out, too. If I'm being hit on, I don't want you translating. No offense, you're good at French, but it gets awkward with someone in between."
"Gets awkward when sex is involved, too." Ione giggled.
"Then, too. And I'm not sharing tonight, no matter how much begging there is."
"I never beg."
"I didn't necessarily mean you." Karen winked. "All right, pick a direction."
"I was hoping you'd point."
"Imagine I'm pointing east, then."
Karen brought out her iPhone and ran a search. "Okay, I found a few places. Oh, this sounds good. Obsession. Here, read." She handed the phone to Ione.
"I've never been there. Perfect."
"Good." Karen set her GPS to help guide her to the nightclub. She put the copper Fiat into reverse and backed out from the driveway. A quick shift later, and the car was moving out of the neighbourhood. Construction forced several detours, but Karen got she and Ione to their destination.
Obsession Lounge was in a large grey concrete building in an industrial area of the city, sharing the structure with an adult store. Karen brought the Fiat around to the nightclub's side of the parking lot and found a spot. Ione waited as Karen switched shoes from her blue pair of sneakers to a pair of open-toed three inch red velvet high heels. They got out of the car and walked up to the main doors, joining the growing queue to enter.
When the two women reached the head of the line, the bouncer at the door appraised them. Ione spotted the poster for the night's entertainment, a rock group she hadn't heard of from Toronto. She paid for the tickets to go in. Once inside, Ione let Karen choose where to sit. Karen found a table close enough to the dance floor but still far enough away so they could talk to each other. They slipped off their jackets, finding the nightclub warmer than expected.
A waiter stopped at their table. Ione asked for a glass of the house white wine while Karen, designating herself the driver for the evening, ordered a diet cola. Before the waiter left, Ione added an order of nachos to share between the two women. As the waiter left, Karen let her gaze linger on him. Ione only rolled her eyes. "He's too young for you."
"Nope." Karen flashed a mischievous grin. "He's too young for you. I can still hit on him without being called a cougar."
"Just going to point out that you weren't carded, either, when we came in."
Karen adjusted her glasses. "The kiddies are all in the Market. Look how hard it was for us to get here."
The waiter returned with the drinks for Ione and Karen, setting them down as the house lights dimmed. The bar area glowed blue from the xenon gas in the lights. Other bright colours, from neon red to argon purple to the ghost white of krypton, rolled across over and through the nightclub. Ione took a sip of her wine as the house music came up. Karen scanned the room, looking at the men coming in and seeing if any came without female accompaniment.
Familiar notes filled the nightclub. Karen grabbed Ione's arm. "Let's go!"
"'Gangnam Style'!" The video for the song appear on a large screen behind the stage.
"It's still a thing?"
"Come on, Ione!"
Ione downed the rest of her wine, managing to set the glass down before Karen pulled her to the dance floor. "I'm not drunk enough for this!" Ione yelled.
On the dance floor, Ione fumbled with the dance steps for the first few bars. She tried to match Karen move for move until her body remembered the steps again. The music coursed through her. Ione threw herself into the moment, joining the other dancers on the floor. Karen soon had a partner, to her delight; he dove under her legs in unison with Psy in the video.
Too soon, the song ended. Karen high fived her dance partner. Ione made her way back to their table just as the waiter arrived with the order of nachos. "Thanks. Can I get another glass of wine, please?" The waiter nodded and left. Ione sat down and grabbed a chip loaded with cheese to nibble on.
Karen arrived with her dance partner in two. "Great! I'm famished!"
"It just got here."
"Perfect!" Karen picked up her diet soft drink and took a sip. "Oh, Ione, this is Ben. He's amazing."
Ione's head snapped up. Getting a better look despite the dim lighting over the table, she recognized the barista. "I believe we've met already. I wasn't expecting to see you here, Ben." Ione let an undercurrent of suspicion into her otherwise friendly tone.
"Ione!" Ben exclaimed. "I didn't see you come in."
"We got here maybe twenty minutes ago," Karen said. She grabbed a chair from another table. "Have a seat."
Ben took the offered seat. "Thanks."
"Funny meeting you here." Ione picked up another nacho chip.
Ben shrugged. "I have the night off."
Karen looked from Ione to Ben and back. "How do you two know each other?"
"We met at the coffee shop earlier this week."
Ione nodded. "He was the barista serving me."
Ben nodded. "Mind if I have a chip?"
Karen waved her hand over the plate. "Please. Ione, did you see us out there? That had to be the best time I had dancing to that song. Ben, how did you get that good?"
"I took dance lessons when I was younger. I thought it might come in handy some day."
"It did." Karen wrapped an arm around Ben's shoulder to give him a quick squeeze.
Ione forced herself to smile. "Interesting coincidence you're here."
"I didn't know you'd be here."
"Neither did we." Karen devoured a chip. "It was Ione's idea to go somewhere new tonight."
"Sometimes, we have to trust our instincts." Ben gave Ione a pointed look. "Other times, best to look before leaping."
Ione shifted uncomfortably on her seat. "Sometimes, it's hard to know which is which."
Karen glared at Ione, then smiled at Ben. "Ignore her. She's had a rough week."
"So she told me."
"You told him?"
Ione sighed. "I told him less than I told you." She looked over at Ben. "No offence."
"None taken." He game the taller woman a sympathetic smile. "In these days, people still need a sympathetic ear. So, instead of the neighbourhood church or synagogue of yesteryear, we have bartenders and baristas."
"I know, right?" Karen leaned towards Ben. "My grandparents harp on me to go to church more often, but I'm so busy during the week that I need a day to vegetate. Same thing with Ione here. When was the last time you saw the inside of a church?"
Ione shrugged. "Three years ago, when my cousin Hélène got married, I think. A Catholic church outside Montreal. Everything in French and Latin."
"See? Exactly what I meant. Meanwhile, bars are open mainly in the evening, after work, so where does that leave the morning people? Cafés, coffee shops, even the odd doughnut shop." Ben picked up an almost bare chip from the pile of nachos. "Makes for the perfect spot for someone who studies humanity."
Karen recognized the song starting up. "I love this song! Ben, dance with me, please?" She grabbed his arm. "Please?"
"Better go with her, Ben."
Ben got up and followed the tiny woman out on to the dance floor. Ione watched from the table, taking a chip loaded with cheese and meat to munch on from the nacho plate. A part of her mind worried over Ben's appearance. Might have been a coincidence, but too many of those have occurred ever since Ione returned from Paris. She just couldn't place a finger on why it was happening. Everything she knew, she worked out long before going to Paris and meeting with the British agents. Ione paused her thoughts. She thought back, going over the accents Jack and Ben had. Jack's accent didn't really exist. He sounded like he could be from anywhere. Ben, though, definitely had a local accent as far as Ione could tell. Of course, Ione reasoned, a good enough agent could imitate accents well enough. The other possibility that came to her mind was that Jack and Ben were internal investigators, researching her and her actions to make sure that she hadn't been compromised. Placing Ben in as a barista seemed far fetched for that. Why not just ask her questions direct instead of playing games?
"You're thinking again." Ione looked up as Karen and Ben returned to their seats. Karen gave Ione a glare. "We're here to have fun, Ione. It was your idea."
"I'm having fun." Ione popped another nacho chip in her mouth. "See?"
"What about dancing?"
"What about it?"
"You should try it."
"I don't have enough wine in me yet."
"You've had three."
"I ordered three. I've only had two." Ione looked around for the waiter. Seeing him, she flagged him down. "Hi, sorry, I'm still waiting for a white wine." The waiter apologized and made his way towards the xenon-lit bar.
Karen shook her head in dismay. "I'll pay for it when he gets back but only if you get your butt out on that dance floor. Take Ben with you. He's an amazing partner."
Ben smiled at Ione. "I'm not as good as Karen."
"Like hell you're not." Karen gave Ben a playful push. "Ione, go. Dance. Be wild."
Ione got up. "Ben? Don't feel pressured or anything."
Ben stood up and took Ione's hand. "It'd be my pleasure."
Ione let Ben take the lead on to the dance floor. Despite the growing crowd, Ben found an open space that he and Ione could dance in. Ione matched his moves as best she could; she never considered herself a good dancer, though she could fling her arms wildly in time to music. Ben, for his part, kept his moves simple. Ione easily kept pace with him through several songs with driving beats. The crowd pressed in around Ione and Ben, pushing them closer together. Ben kept a pleasant expression on his face. Ione, though, felt trapped. She tried to keep her body language positive, but as she drew closer to Ben, the façade faded. "Really, Ben, are you following me?" Ione had to shout to get her question heard over the music and the crowd.
"Following you? Why would you say that?"
"I've never seen you before this week. Now, I can't seem to not find you. A little odd, don't you think?"
"You said you've never been here before. How would I know you'd come here tonight?"
"I don't know. Ben, be honest here. Are you investigating me?"
"Am I what?"
Ione raised her voice again. "Are you investigating me? I mean, for my work? Be honest."
Ben shook his head. "I am not investigating you. Not for your work, not for any other reason. I'm just what you see."
"A good dancer and a barista?"
"We should get back to Karen." He offered his hand to Ione.
Ione stared at the hand for a moment. She banished several thoughts that flooded her mind, dismissing them as paranoia. "We should." She took his hand to be led out of the dancing crowd and back to the table.
"Wasn't that fun?" Karen asked as the two returned. "Your white wine came. Take it easy on them. I can't lift you out of the car like last time."
Ione sat down. "Last time, you were as blitzed as I was. We were also in Amy's boyfriend's, wait, no, fiancé's suburban assault vehicle."
"Your mother wasn't happy to see us."
"That's because we almost destroyed her rose bushes."
"Matt parked too close to them."
Ione laughed. "He did." She turned to Ben. "We're not normally like that. Karen, definitely not."
"We usually manage to avoid rose bushes." Karen nodded.
The music faded. The stage lights came up, letting the featured band walk out into public view. The lead singer, a young man, Ione figured early twenties, with black hair wearing just jeans, grabbed the microphone. "Good evening, Ottawa!" The crowd erupted in a cheer. "Let's get ready to dance!"
The drummer, a woman about the same age, her blonde hair wild, shouted, "We are Assassin Kittens!" She counted off, hitting her drumsticks together. "One, two, three, four!" The band launched into a song Ione didn't recognize. The crowd paused for a moment, taking in the number, before streaming on to the dance floor.
Karen sipped at her diet cola. "Not bad." She pointed at the stage. "The band, I mean. Enthusiastic."
"And loud," Ben added.
"Best way to disguise problems." Ione sipped her white wine. "And I doubt the crowd will notice any problems."
"You play music, too?" Ben picked up another nearly bare chip.
"Used to, in university. A group of us mathies came together as a garage band. Avogadro's Dance Number."
"I fronted a band in Kingston," Karen added. "We almost got noticed once."
"Neither of you kept it up?"
"Graduation and reality intruded." Ione swirled her wine glass. "I moved back to Ottawa with a job and couldn't really rehearse much when I lived in an apartment."
Karen leaned forward in her chair. "I suppose now that we have the house, we could try something."
"It's hard to have a garage band when we don't have a garage."
"It's worth a shot. We can practice and if we don't like how we sound, we just don't perform in public."
Ione mused over the idea. "Maybe. I'll have to get my guitar from my parents' place. I hope they haven't stored it in their garage."
"Great!" Karen sipped her drink. "So, what sort of guitar?"
"Bass. I was the only one who could read the bass clef. Still, it was a lot better than going back to the baritone."
"Baritone sax?" Ben asked.
"Nope. The baritone, as in the baby tuba. Because that made me a cool person in high school." Ione giggled. "Of course, enjoying math cemented my geek status, so why not fulfill the full outsider stereotype. That was hard to do when my best friend at the time was a cheerleader. Frankie – Francesca, but only the teachers called her that – she and I started together in kindergarten."
"What happened to her?"
"This is good," Karen said. She smirked.
Ione nodded. "Frankie got a sports scholarship at Lakehead. She travelled there, realized that there was something missing in her life, and switched degrees to Religious Studies before becoming Sister Maria Francesca. Frankie was the girl who introduced me to vodka and erotic fanfiction."
Ben's jaw dropped. "Wow. You just never know with some people."
"She may have been rebelling against her parents a bit. We still keep in touch. Last I heard, she was in Alberta, teaching in a Catholic school in Calgary. She doesn't seem to regret her choice." Ione took a sip of her wine.
"It takes all kinds, right, Ben?" Karen lightly touched the man's arm.
Ione got up from the table. "I just need some fresh air. I'll be on the patio." She walked behind her housemate. Leaning down, she Ione whispered, "Let me know if you need privacy tonight." Patting Karen's shoulder, she made her way through the crowd and out on the patio.
The crisp October air kept most people inside. The few people who were on the patio had jackets either on or draped over their shoulders. Ione shivered as a gust blew through. She regretted leaving her jacket inside, but kept walking to the railing. Leaning agaisnt it, she watched the traffic on St. Laurent as the traffic lights cycled green, amber, red. The fresh air cleared her head. Ben seemed like a nice guy to her, and definitely to Karen. The big issue remained; could she trust him. Dancing with him made time fly, but Ione wondered if that was just her having a moment where she didn't have to think or plan or question. She could live in the moment.
The moment, though, was fleeting. Time still passed, and Ione had a decision to make. The easiest thing to do was to just ignore Jack's invitation. Ione could just sleep late and miss him leaving. End the mystery there, leaving it unsolved. Her curiosity would nag at her for not going, but she'd still have a job. If she went, she'd have to tell Karen she was going, tell her parents, tell Amy, even tell at least Olivier so that alarms wouldn't sound. There was no guarantee that whoever was investigating her reports would ever believe why she went back to France. She might not be able to return home without being arrested.
Ione sighed. One little extracurricular investigation, that's all it was supposed to be. Get the BitCoins she had bought in her second year at the University of Waterloo circulating so she could trace how it was used. Lawrence even thought it was a good idea at the time; the tracking would give the analysts extra information to use. That the BitCoin would lead to one of Britain's most wanted black market weapons dealer was unexpected and a bonus. Ione snorted in disgust. Some bonus. Here she was, back in Ottawa, on sick leave to recover from what had happened, being followed by she didn't know how many people, but including who ever was in that silver sedan. Ione stopped the train of thought.
The silver sedan was in the parking lot below her. She tried to look inside the car, but between the tinting on the side windows and the lack of light, there was nothing she could see. Ione conceded that it was possible that whoever was in the car earlier was now in the nightclub. Restraining the urge to just run, Ione pushed herself away from the railing and strolled back inside.
The wall of music at the door caused Ione to stumble, but she pushed through and returned to the table. Karen and Ben looked up from their conversation. "Hi. Sorry, Ben, I need to borrow Karen for a moment." Ione grabbed her housemate's arm and pulled her away.
"Ione, what? Wait!"
Finding a relatively quiet part of the nightclub, Ione turned to face her friend. "Sorry. I need to go."
"What? You're leaving? Now?"
"Yes, now. Something came up."
"You're not taking my car. You've had three glasses of wine."
"Two and a half. And, no, I don't want your car. I'll get someone to call me a cab."
"You're a cab." Karen reached up to feel Ione's forehead with the back of her hand. "You are a little warm."
"It's warm in here."
"Why do you have to leave now?"
Ione grimaced. "I can't explain now. I will when you get home."
"I could get home late. Or tomorrow morning." Karen waved at Ben. "I think we're getting along."
"Good for you. You might have a date for Amy's wedding."
"Promise you'll tell me everything."
"I promise." Ione hugged the tiny brunette. "I need to get going, though. Have fun with Ben!" She disengaged from the hug, then snaked through the crowd towards the exit. Walking back downstairs, she stopped at the front door. The bouncer looked her over. "Sorry. Can you call me a cab? I'm not feeling so hot."
"Sure. Your name, for the cab?"
"No problem. And, you're a cab."
Ione laughed. "Thanks." She slipped the bouncer a twenty dollar bill.
"Thank you." The bouncer picked up the phone and punched in the number for the cab company.
Ione stepped outside, and realized she left her leather jacket up stairs. She thanked her earlier self for choosing to wear nylons as the October chill started to settled into her. Ione paced a bit to warm her legs up while rubbing her bare arms to keep them from freezing.
After ten minutes, a dark blue, almost black, taxi arrived, its light going out as it stopped. Ione walked up to it and asked, "Here for Mackenzie?" The cabbie nodded. Ione slipped into the back and quickly closed the door. She told the cabbie her address, asking him to use Smythe and Carling to get to Preston instead of using the Queensway. As the cab pulled out of the nightclub's parking lot, Ione kept an eye on the silver sedan. A woman wearing a dark grey hoodie dashed out from the club and ran towards the car. Ione watched behind as the cab pulled on to St. Laurent. The silver car never moved. The last thing Ione saw before her cab cleared the bridge over the railway tracks was the driver getting back out and slamming her fist on the car's roof.
"I hate it when people verb nouns."
"Things are getting weird around here."
"Something is going on around me, and this is my best chance at finding out what it is."
"It sounds dangerous. Really dangerous."