This is the second Fifi story, which again may look familiar to some, but I'm just getting everybody here caught up while I start work on a new story in the series. The humor here is a little bit more situational compared to the first story (which a good friend of mine once jokingly referred to as the "three yards and a cloud of dust" style of comedy), but is no less relentless. :) I also wanted to try stepping things up a notch by having a few narrative threads going rather than just following Terry everywhere, until everything finally comes together at an incredibly awkward dinner party.
And no worries if you haven't read the first story...like all good sitcoms, this is accessible to new viewers! Enjoy!
My Uncle Fifi: My Beautiful Laundrette
Story by Jenny North
Artwork by Fraylim
Terry Riley leaned back on his bed with his arms crossed behind his head, feeling like the king of the world. He gave a contented sigh as he felt his partner's manicured fingers run sensuously over his hairy and toned pectoral muscles and he rolled lazily onto his side to face her with a knowing little smirk.
"Penny for your thoughts?" Krystal said playfully. Her long dark hair cascaded over her shoulder in a sexy fall and teasingly obscured her bare bosom as she snuggled closer to Terry underneath the bed sheets.
"Just thinking what your father would do to me if he caught us like this," Terry said. "Between this and the money I owe him, I feel like I should be putting my affairs in order."
Krystal gave him a sly grin. "Oh, I think this affair is ordered just fine," she purred as she traced her fingers down his muscular chest and abs. "And I like a guy who lives dangerously."
"Is that right."
"Mmm hmm. I also like guys who are adventurous," she said. "So I hope you don't mind if I invited a friend."
Behind him, Terry felt movement in the bed as someone else slithered under the covers, and from the scent of her perfume he could tell immediately that it was a woman. It was a very familiar and enticing scent but before he could place it he felt her snuggle up behind him, her lithe form spooning against his body as she draped an arm around him. He smiled as he felt her soft breasts pressed up against his back and figured she must be pretty well endowed based on the feel of those big fleshy mounds pressed against him. He reached his hand back behind him and caressed her soft body, excited as he felt the sharp curve of her nipped-in waist which gave way to her wide jutting hips and a surprisingly round and full ass. He turned to look at her over his shoulder, but all he saw was a cascade of her long chestnut brown hair that tickled him as she nuzzled against his neck.
"Do I mind?" Terry said, incredulous. "I've dreamed about something like this my entire life," he murmured as the sexy stranger gave him a gentle kiss on the neck, and then another, slowly working up to his ear.
"Would that be 'dreamed,' or 'dreamt'?" Krystal wondered with amusement. "I'm never sure which way is right."
The other woman softly cooed to Terry, "I like it both ways."
"Oh, I was really hoping you were going to say that," he gasped. "What—w-whoa," he said with a shiver as she teased a sensitive spot. "W-what was your name again, babe?"
The woman gave a throaty giggle in response and continued her sensuous ministrations. Terry found himself becoming lost in the feelings but opened his eyes and looked at Krystal, who had propped herself up on one arm and watched the pair with an amused twinkle in her eyes. "Terry, you remember Angelique."
Recognizing the name, Terry blinked in confusion and turned to face the woman. She tossed her hair back from her face and he froze as he looked at her startlingly familiar features. Her face was a mirror of his own, but with subtle feminine differences—slightly fuller cheeks, poutier lips—that was beautifully made up and very desirable. And she was giving him the exact same smirk that he'd been giving Krystal just moments before.
Which made sense, considering Terry and Angelique were the same person.
"You don't mind if I join you, do you, handsome?" she said teasingly.
"Oh, shit, I'm dreaming," Terry realized.
Krystal shook her head. "No, 'dreaming' would be the present continuous tense. I think maybe I was thinking about the past perfect progressive tense. You know, 'you had been dreaming about this moment.'"
Angelique popped up her head to face her. "Shouldn't it really be the present perfect tense? After all, he has been dreaming about this."
"Is it? I always get those mixed up."
"Unbelievable," Terry muttered. "Armed with the ability to dream up absolutely any fantasy I can imagine, my subconscious chooses to debate itself on grammar." He looked askance at his sexy female doppelganger and had to admit he was feeling rather conflicted. Dream or no dream, he didn't want to cut short this encounter with Krystal, but "Angelique" was a different story entirely. After all, the thought of a ménage à trois with two beautiful women lost some of its appeal when he realized that he would be two of the participants. Still, if it meant getting close to Krystal, this might not be so bad—
"Or maybe this is just a dream come true?'" a man's deep voice came. Terry bolted upright to peek over Angelique's shoulder and discovered Lucius Delgado stretched out in bed behind her, with his salt-and-pepper hair looking disturbingly tousled and his big hairy barrel chest bared on prominent display. "Room for one more?" he asked.
"Ugh," Terry grimaced.
"Yeah, well, imagine how I feel," Krystal sniffed. "Hi, Daddy."
Angelique gave the gangster a teasing glance over her shoulder. "I thought I was your angel," she pouted.
"Mmm, you are, my dear," he said as he draped his arm around her. His big meaty hand fell across her full breasts and he groped one of them possessively.
Terry became disoriented as he felt his perspective shift and suddenly realized that in the dream he was now Angelique, and he squirmed in displeasure as he felt the burly man's hand squeeze and fondle his breast. He managed to twist around in the embrace to confront the amorous mobster just in time to meet Delgado as he moved in for a passionate kiss.
"Mmmph!" Terry's muffled objection against the fervent kiss did nothing to dampen Delgado's enthusaism as he struggled madly to wriggle out of the man's unyielding grasp. But then, in the middle of his exertions, Terry suddenly froze in place as he felt some part of Delgado brush up against his soft feminine leg. Something fleshy, he realized. And firm. And growing.
"AAAHH!" Terry cried as he started awake and sat bolt upright in the dim light of his bedroom. His hand flew desperately to his chest and he freaked out even further when he encountered his soft womanly bosom rather than the flat male chest he was hoping to find. But as he grabbed at his feminine curves in a panic and tried to shake off his dream, he suddenly remembered that thanks to his recent medical misadventure, he was now every bit the woman that "Angelique" had been in his dream.
Terry felt a stirring down in his crotch from his manhood, feeling mortified that within his dream, he'd become aroused by his voluptuous new body. But worse still was having to admit that he'd been getting turned on by the feel of Delgado's hands on his big rounded breasts. Which he suddenly noticed he was still absently fondling.
Embarrassed, he jerked his hands away from his chest and paused to catch his breath as he looked down in displeasure at his generous cleavage on display in the nightie he was wearing.
"Okay, this would be a really awesome time for one of those 'dream within a dream' deals where I wake up as a guy," he said to the empty room.
He waited a few more seconds and looked around the room expectantly. Then he poked at his bosom again before throwing himself back on the pillow in disgust. "Stupid Inception movie always getting my hopes up," he grumbled.
The next morning Terry trudged downstairs to face what had become his new morning routine. Just a couple short weeks ago he would have slept in late, tossed on some jeans, and possibly traded quips and barbs with his brother Dave and sister-in-law Bonnie, assuming they hadn't left for work already. He'd practically been a ghost to his nieces Claire and Madison, as they'd be off to school before he awoke and by the time they returned home he was often headed out the door to hit the bars and/or hook up with the latest piece of ass.
He paused briefly on the stairs to tug at his ruffled panties that were stretched uncomfortably across what was now his latest piece of ass.
Terry sighed despondently as he felt his big round bubble butt. His only consolation—such as it was—was that it was somewhat hidden under the frilly petticoats of his French maid's uniform he wore, unlike his equally prodigious bosom that was on prominent display in the low-cut dress.
His feminized body had been the result of some ill-considered medical experiments he'd volunteered for, and his plan had been to storm back to the clinic accompanied by an appropriately ruthless and bloodthirsty personal injury lawyer and demand that they put everything back the way it was. Unfortunately, he quickly realized that there were a number of people now keeping a watchful eye over his activities who were well-motivated to keep him just as he was. Lucius Delgado would of course be sorry to lose his new girlfriend Angelique, even if he didn't realize "she" was really the guy who owed him a ton of money. And the FBI agents engaged in constant surveillance of Delgado certainly enjoyed how "Angelique" had such intimate access to the gangster. And then of course there was Bonnie, who made no secret of how much she loved watching her deadbeat brother-in-law mince around in his frillies and wait on the family with manicured hand and high-heeled foot.
So, unable to return to the clinic without arousing suspicion, Terry had sent his trusted friend Ray on his behalf.
"So, what did you find out?" Terry had asked him breathlessly.
"Okay, that's sort of a funny story."
"Would that be 'funny' as in, 'funny, we'll look back on this and laugh' or 'funny, I should slit my wrists now because I'm going to be wearing bras for the rest of my life'?"
"So, I went to that address you gave me, and...there was nothing there."
"Yeah. No clinic, no building, just a big hole in the ground. It was like there used to be a building there, but...poof. Gone."
"Y-you—they—" Terry started to hyperventilate.
"That's when I realized I had the wrong address," Ray said. "Your handwriting is terrible. Your sevens look just like ones, did you know that?" He flinched as Terry smacked him repeatedly. "Ow! Hey! What'd I say?"
Terry gave him a warning look. "Fine. So when you got to the right place, what happened?"
"Well, I got to the address and found a strip mall. Your note said the clinic was between the Dress Barn and the Bath and Body Works."
"Well, it wasn't there, either. Those two stores were right next to each other. There was no place for the clinic to be. If there used to be a clinic there, it must have disappeared like magic."
Terry's eyes grew wide. "But—but—that's impossible!"
"See, that's what I thought, too. So then I thought, 'I wonder if he means Bed, Bath and Beyond and not Bath and Body Works,' because the mall had one of those, too. So I looked on the other side of the Dress Barn, and there was the clinic, over on that side," he explained. Terry attacked him again. "Ow! Ow! Hey, knock it off!"
"So you found the clinic?" Terry growled through gritted teeth.
Ray cleared his throat uncertainly. "You said you went to the clinic on Friday the 21st, right? Saw a doctor there?"
"Yes, like I told you. I don't remember his name. He was an old guy with curly hair and glasses. Thick glasses, like Mr. Magoo. I made a joke about it."
"And you're sure about the date?"
Terry nodded. "Positive. I remember it clearly because the next day my niece Claire had her school dance."
"Oh. Makes sense."
"Also, that was the day I woke up looking like Kim motherfucking Kardashian!"
"Is that her full name?"
"Okay! Okay!" he said. "I just wanted to be sure." His brow furrowed as he looked at Terry.
"Sure about what?"
Ray took a breath. "Terry, that clinic wasn't open that day. Their doctors on call caught a bug and they were closed through the weekend."
Terry had a sinking feeling. "What?"
"Dude, I showed them the newspaper ad that you answered, and they'd never heard of it. And it's a women's clinic. They don't even have any male doctors working there."
Terry stared at Ray with a growing sense of unease. "What are you telling me?"
"This Dr. Magoo character must have just been pretending to work there. I guess he broke in and set up shop for the day without them knowing. They don't have any idea who he is," Ray said as Terry got a faraway look in his eyes. "You don't remember anything else? Was there anybody else there? Doctors? Patients?"
Terry shook his head. "There were one or two other male doctors. I didn't get a good look. They had masks and glasses on." Finally he looked at Ray and took a deep calming breath as he gave his friend a contented little smile and nodded.
Ray returned the look dubiously. "You seem to be taking this really well."
"Well, this all seems really awful. But I figure that you're just going to jump in here one more time and explain how it was all just another misunderstanding, and they're going to fix me up." His lip twitched in a nervous smile as he looked at Ray hopefully. "Right?"
Ray shifted uncertainly and reached out to put a supportive hand on his friend's shoulder. "Don't worry, Terry, we'll figure something out," he said. He tried to sound confident and reassuring, but Terry's stupefied expression told him he may have missed the mark.
The two stood there silently for a long moment as a rattled Terry tried to come to grips with what his friend just told him.
"Do you want a hug?" Ray offered.
Terry gave Ray a warning glare in response. "Don't you dare."
Now, a week later, Terry plucked at his French maid's uniform as he trudged down the stairs. "Figuring something out" had quickly given way to adjusting to his new circumstances, and now that he was caught between Delgado and the FBI, his safest move had him working in his brother's house as a maid, at least for the time being. He fussed at the frilly white trim that framed his cleavage and sighed again.
"Oh, Angelique!" Bonnie said in mock sympathy as she crossed the foyer and paused to smirk at her crossdressed brother-in-law. "You seem so unhappy! I thought you'd be delighted to get your new uniforms."
Terry gritted his teeth and forced a smile. "Oh, gosh, no, I just love them, Ms. Bonnie," he lied, using the title that she had instructed him to use. Now that Terry had reluctantly been forced to pretend to be a transsexual—to say nothing of 'insisting' on wearing these ridiculous French maid outfits—Bonnie had been watching him like a hawk to try and trap him in his web of lies. She had taken particular delight in explaining to her freeloading brother-in-law his new duties and rules of behavior to be followed now that "Angelique" was their new live-in maid. Having Terry refer to her and her husband as 'Ms. Bonnie' and 'Mr. Dave' was one of her favorites.
She seemed to be in an unusually good mood as she looked him over in his frilly outfit, so Terry decided to try his luck one more time on a sensitive topic. He'd already tried to prevail on his brother, but Dave had been adamant that Bonnie was the only one to address his concerns.
"Ms. Bonnie," Terry said deferentially, "Mr. Dave said that I should talk to you about my salary..."
Her smile disappeared. "I'm not having this conversation again, Angelique."
"Oh, c'mon! I could be flipping burgers for what you're paying me!"
"Oh, but then you wouldn't get to wear those pretty little outfits you love so much," she retorted as she watched him squirm in his dress. "We're paying you the going rate for a live-in maid, which is quite generous considering you don't have any experience. You get room and board, plus we're even paying for your 'uniforms.' You're just lucky that Jasper was so quick to volunteer to order such an exciting variety of those French maid costumes you love to wear so much."
Terry tugged at his short little skirt. "Yes, I'll be sure to thank him for that," he muttered, annoyed at the thought of the horny teenager having chosen the outfits he was now forced to debase himself with every day.
"And besides, have you even considered how embarrassing it is for us to have a French maid for a housekeeper? It's a bit undignified."
Terry forced another smile. "Gosh, I hadn't thought of that, Ms. Bonnie. It must be difficult, seeing me like this."
"Well, not for me, certainly! I'm delighted that you've decided to spend the rest of your life as a woman," she said with a smug little grin. "I just worry about the girls. It's hard enough trying to set a good example for them without their uncle prancing shamelessly around in front of them in those tawdry male fantasy outfits."
Just then, Terry's ten-year-old niece Madison entered the room, already dressed her school uniform and carrying a folder under her arm. Her eyes scanned around the room, obviously searching for something.
"Miss Madison, your mom is worried I might be a bad influence on you."
"Uh huh. Scarred for life," she said absently as she looked around the room and then checked something inside the folder.
Bonnie looked surprised. "Really?"
Madison shrugged. "Well, yeah. I mean, for months you and Dad just let Uncle Terry mooch off the family like a freeloading slacker. He slept all day and goofed off and you guys just let him get away with it, even though you'd never let me or Claire do anything like that. So I guess the lesson is that guys are just allowed to get away with more?" She sniffed. "Years of therapy, right there. Way to jack up my formative years."
"I think your mom was more worried about you seeing me like this," Terry said, plucking at his skirt.
"Oh. How come?"
"I—you know, I'm not quite sure. Why was that, again, Ms. Bonnie?"
Bonnie was thrown by the direction the conversation had taken. "This is—inappropriate!" she hissed.
Madison shrugged again. "I dunno. Angelique's being true to herself, she's working, she's helping the family. And I see her a lot more than when she was out partying. Plus, I think it's kinda cool how you and Dad are being so supportive and open-minded. Family is important, isn't it?"
Bonnie's jaw dropped slightly. "Oh, well, yes, that's a good lesson..." she said, not quite sure what just happened. "I have to go check on those reports before we meet the new investor," she said, shaking her head as she exited the room.
Watching her befuddled retreat with some small satisfaction, Terry waited until she was out of earshot. "Thanks," he said.
"Don't mention it," Madison replied as she walked over to a bookshelf and grabbed a couple of family photos that were on display.
"'Freeloading slacker,' though? That hurts."
"Uh huh, I was gonna say 'money-sucking leech,' but it seemed kinda rude with you were standing right there," she replied as she started to remove the backs from the picture frames.
"Yowch," he said, wincing slightly. Then, recognizing his own particular brand of snark in her sass, he wondered, "Wow, maybe I have been a bad influence."
"How's that?" Madison asked as she removed the photos from the frames.
He thought for a moment. "Eh, I guess it doesn't matter. Nothing I can do about it now, anyway. What are you doing?" he asked as he watched her take different photos out of her folder and put them in the frames.
"Well, you said that Mr. Delgado and his people are still looking for you as Uncle Terry, right? So I Photoshopped all the family photos with you in them in case they come over to the house. That way people won't notice how much Terry and Angelique look alike."
"Hey, that's actually a really good idea," he admitted, impressed. "Very devious and underhanded," he said as she smiled at the compliment. "Huh. Maybe my bad influence is a good influence, after all."
"Here, check it out," she said as she handed him one of the photos.
"Madison!" he exclaimed, aghast. "Ugh, I look like I lost a bar fight with evolution."
"You want it to look different from how you look as Angelique."
"Well, yeah, but there's no reason to be mean about it," he complained. He touched his nose and forehead self-consciously as he examined the photo.
"So I guess that's another reason for you to get back to being Uncle Terry."
He handed her the photo and sighed as he headed for the kitchen. Halfway there, he stumbled on his high heels and frowned as he felt his breasts jiggle in response to the sudden motion even as his petticoats brushed against his thighs. "Right. Because what I was missing up until now was motivation," he muttered.
As he entered the kitchen, he found his teenage niece Claire putting her lunch into her school bag. Like Madison, she was already dressed in her school uniform and ready for the day.
"Morning, Angelique," she said.
Terry smiled broadly and musically replied, "Good morning, Miss Claire!"
She gave him an odd look. "Well, you're in a good mood today."
"Really? You don't think I seemed a bit... flat?" he said teasingly, sidling up next to her so his very pronounced bosom was more evident next to her still-developing chest.
Claire thumped her book bag onto the counter in disgust. "I can't believe I walked into that one," she muttered. She then cast an eye over at her grinning uncle who had moved to straighten up the kitchen table. "And don't you think those jokes are getting kind of old?"
Terry looked repentant. "I'm sorry, Miss Claire," he apologized. "That was incredibly—-forward—of me," he teased, arching his back.
She shook her head and started to leave, but he said "Oh, wait!" and hurried up to her. Puzzled, she stopped as he pulled up the zipper on her skirt all the way. "There we are!" he declared.
"I want my girls to look their best," he said. "Besides, I wouldn't want you to... stick out."
"Mmm hmm," she nodded. "This isn't over, Angelique," she declared, heading out the door.
"Have a good day at school!" he called after her. "Learning about the Great Plains, studying two-dimensional planar geometry, dissecting flatworms..."
"Not! Over!" she called back as he grinned.
After he finished tidying up the kitchen, Terry paused to check the refrigerator where Bonnie had posted his color-coded spreadsheet of chores, with tasks broken down by day and week. He had to admit that he'd had worse jobs in his life, but none quite as humiliating as having to mince around the house in front of the family in this preposterous costume, to say nothing of how well his new body filled it out. And being on his feet all day was bad enough without having to deal with the stupid high heeled shoes. In a million years he never would have imagined that he'd be working as a sexy French maid, and even at that he never imagined it would be this much actual work. His visions of what a maid did involved flitting around with a feather duster, not—he checked the schedule—having to wash all the bed linens and scrub the bathrooms. He groaned.
As he turned away, he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the oven door and pouted at his made-up face and glumly realized that even he had to admit he looked good. Very fuckable. Not that he was likely to be getting much action from now on with this body, of course. At least nothing that he'd want to be on the receiving end of.
Terry sighed and stared at his reflection with his big boobs on display surrounded by the lace trim of his dress, and for the thousandth time tried to figure out how he'd gotten himself into this situation. At this point he just wanted to avoid making any more of a spectacle of himself and try and figure some way out of this—
"Angelique!" Bonnie said reproachfully as she entered the kitchen. "You can admire yourself in the mirror on your own time," she said with a smirk as she saw Terry's face flush with embarrassment.
"I, uh, I was just about to get started on the laundry," Terry said.
"I'm sure. But that can wait. Here," she said, handing him a small sheet of paper.
"That would be a grocery list."
Terry looked down at himself, then back at her. "You don't seriously expect me to go to the supermarket like this?"
"That's a good point," she agreed. She retrieved a bag and handed it to him. "You should drop this off at the dry cleaners and save yourself a trip." He was about to object again, but she cut him off. "You're the one that wanted this, Angelique," she said, placing emphasis on the feminine name. "Unless of course there's anything else about your sudden transformation that you feel like sharing?"
Terry locked eyes with her for a long moment. "Light starch on the shirts, then?" he asked finally.
"That'll be fine," she said. "And once you're done with the marketing, you can just charge it to our account and tell them to deliver the groceries here."
"I can't just put them in the trunk?"
"You can try," she said with a mischievous gleam in her eye as she held up the car key.
Terry noticed the key chain with the stylized "V" logo and looked at her in disbelief. "You're not serious."
"Dave's already at the office and I need my car. And I haven't seen your car lately so I assume it's either in the shop again, in the impound lot, or up on cinder blocks somewhere." She jangled the key from the end of her finger.
"Fine," he said as he grabbed the key. She raised her eyebrows expectantly, and he grumbled, "Thank you, Ms. Bonnie," while dropping into what he hoped was a sarcastic little curtsy.
"Have fun, Angelique!" she called after him as he grabbed his purse and trudged out to the garage.
Terry's car, as Bonnie had guessed, was indeed in the shop again, and this time the engine repairs had well eclipsed his ability to pay for the parts and labor. It bummed him out since he'd owned the convertible for much of his adult life, and he had a lot of good memories of that car. Also in the front seat of the car, and the back seat. And that one time on the hood when Danielle Grenada had done her Tawny Kitaen impression and things had gotten out of hand. Good times.
Before that, he'd owned a motorcycle which at the time he'd claimed was for convenience, although Bonnie had been quick to decry it as just another obvious and feeble attempt on Terry's part to look cool. She and Terry's brother Dave had still been dating at the time and she and Terry had taken an instant dislike to each other. Dave observed that it was probably because the two of them were so alike, both choosing to project their insecurities by attacking each other's shortcomings.
Bonnie, after due consideration, proposed that it was far more likely that Terry's sloth, chauvinism, and general asshattery was to blame.
Terry, for his part, suggested that the problem likely lie in Bonnie's unrelenting fault-finding, smugness, and her uncanny ability to suck the joy out of a room.
"Well, I'm glad that's all out in the open," Dave sighed.
Of course what really managed to get under Terry's skin was that Bonnie was often right. So, after her skewering denouncement of his motorcycle, he'd upgraded to the used convertible a few weeks later, the minimum necessary time to do so without looking like he was doing it because of her. However, he quickly became fond of the car and nicknamed it "Rosita" after a girl he used to date who had also looked good with her top down.
And so, today, with his beloved convertible not available, he trudged into the garage as the echoing report of his high heels on the concrete floor provided a teasing reminder of how he was dressed. Terry despondently made his way to the far corner of the garage and hesitated in front of the tarp that was there, knowing only too well what lay hidden beneath. He grit his teeth and yanked the tarp away to reveal the hated item: a bright pink Vespa motor scooter.
It was even worse than he remembered. Bonnie had won it in a contest a few years ago, and Terry had been quick to laughingly deride it as not a real bike and more akin to something that Barbie might drive as a teenager before Ken bought her the pink Corvette. Now those words had come back to haunt him as he found himself dressed more femininely than many of the Barbie dolls that Claire used to play with when she was little.
For some random reason as he strapped on the matching pink helmet, Terry's mind flashed to an old adage: "Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day." But as he climbed onto the bike and adjusted his skirts and petticoats, Terry muttered, "Good thing I didn't take that advice. That would've been a waste of a perfectly good frog."
Since Terry used to ride a motorcycle he figured that riding the scooter wouldn't be particularly difficult, but what he failed to take into consideration was that this was his first time riding in a dress, which proved to be a very different experience. So as he pulled out of the garage he very nearly lost control of the bike when the wind blew his skirts up and exposed his frilly panties, causing him to frantically slam his legs together. As he pulled over to the side of the road to organize his skirts and try and get them under control, he glanced around nervously and felt his cheeks flush in embarrassment as he wondered if he'd given the neighbors a show. After an awkward and mortifying minute of fussing with his soft frilly petticoats he soon realized that they were going to blow around somewhat no matter what he did, but at least he seemed to have managed to arrange himself to avoid flashing his undergarments to passersby.
For not the first time, he was immensely grateful that the crew he used to hang out with couldn't see him now.
He didn't relish the idea of riding around town as he was, but fortunately his first stop was there in the neighborhood, at a rental house that was currently being used by FBI Agents Samm and Adams (Terry rolled his eyes again at that pairing) who were monitoring Delgado. After pulling into the driveway he got off the bike and walked up to the front door and rang the doorbell.
Almost immediately, the door opened and Agent Samm ushered him inside.
"Riley, do you know the single most important thing in successfully running an extended surveillance operation?" she asked.
He shrugged. "Deodorant?"
"He's not wrong," Adams interjected as he carted some equipment to the kitchen table.
"Remaining undetected," she said, ignoring them both. "Covert. Unobtrusive."
"And do you see how a French maid—Delgado's new girlfriend, I might add—riding up to our operation on her cute little scooter and sashaying up to the front door might not be entirely conducive to our remaining undetected?"
Terry held a hand over his heart. "Aww, you liked my sashay? You're so sweet to notice," he said mockingly. "Besides, what the heck am I supposed to do? Put on my maid's outfit with the all-black ruffles and sneak over here in the middle of the night ninja-style?"
Adams looked up from the equipment he was working on and raised a finger. "If we're voting...?"
"We're not voting," Samm snapped, then turned to Terry. "Or," she said, "you could text me and we could meet at some discreet location."
Terry crossed his arms under his bosom. "Discreet," he echoed. "I can't wait to see how discreet it is once I ride up to it in this outfit on a scooter that looks like a refugee from a Hello Kitty factory. I'm about as subtle as a gay pride parade."
"Yeah, what's with the scooter?" Adams asked.
"My sister-in-law's idea of funny. She's loving seeing me like this," he griped. "Your message said you had something for me?"
"A few things, actually," she said as she retrieved a small envelope and handed it to him. Terry opened it up and looked at the ID cards inside. "New driver's license and Social Security card," she explained. "Congratulations, you are now officially Angelique Isabeaux."
"Oh, rapture," Terry said as he examined the cards in dismay. "With an 'F' under Sex, too. You really know how to hurt a guy."
"It's your cover identity. And trust me, if you ever got carded and Delgado noticed an 'M' there, he'd be happy to introduce you to lots of people who really do know how to hurt a guy."
Terry inspected the card and wrinkled his nose. "The sad thing is, this is probably the best driver's license picture I've ever had," he said. He then made a puzzled expression as he read the information. "Huh. Is that how you spell Isabeaux?"
"We guessed," Adams cut in.
Terry flashed the Social Security card. "And am I to infer from this that Uncle Sam will be taking deductions from my already hilariously meager maid's salary?"
"Tax fraud is still a crime, Riley," Samm said. "It's how they got Capone, after all. Although with that bod, I imagine you'd have a much more interesting time in prison than he did."
"Once they figured out where to put you," Adams said.
"Well never let it be said that I ever had to suffer from penal dysfunction," Terry quipped as he reached to fish his wallet out of his purse to put the ID cards away.
Samm held her hand out expectantly.
Terry looked at her in dismay. "Oh, come on."
"Hand it over, Riley. All of it," she said as he grudgingly slapped his wallet into her waiting palm. "Or did you want to risk Delgado seeing all of Terry Riley's cards when you opened your wallet?"
"C'mon, I don't even have a credit card as Angelique!" he protested.
"You can apply for one. Look on the bright side, becoming a barely-employed maid with no credit history probably triples your credit rating."
"Well, what about all my savings? I had quite a bit stashed away!"
Samm held up a bank card. "We thought of that, too. We transferred your 'stash' into an account in Angelique's name," she said as she handed him the card. "The bank didn't like having to open a new account below the minimum balance, but we put in a good word for you."
"You're the wind beneath my petticoats."
"Ah, which reminds me, we have something else for you," she added. She gave a nod to Adams, who retrieved a small box and handed it to Terry.
Terry made a face. "This had better be that gun I asked for," he said. "I need to protect myself. If Delgado figures out who I am, my life expectancy will be shorter than—"
"Than your skirts?" Adams offered with a smile.
Terry gave him a dirty look as he opened the box, which was filled with lacy hair bands and frilly maids' caps. "Wow, just what I always wanted."
"Adams modified each one of your little tiaras there—"
"They're not tiaras," Terry said defensively.
"Whatever. Anyway, he wired them with hidden cameras and microphones. There's a little button where you can turn them on. Anytime Delgado or his people drop by, be sure to record everything they say."
"Fantastic. I still need a gun."
"Riley, I don't trust you with the feather duster."
He sighed with resignation and removed the lacy hair band he was wearing to replace it with one from the box. "Wow, I feel just like James Bond," he said, fussing with his hair. "If James Bond wore a frilly French maid's dress."
"Nah, he'd probably be an English maid," Adams said. The two of them turned to look at him and he added, "You know, like 'Upstairs, Downstairs?' Or 'Downton Abbey?' C'mon, don't you guys watch PBS?"
"Anyway..." Samm said, blinking once slowly. "Just tell him about the other stuff."
Adams nodded and looked to Terry. "If you remember, we had some trouble hiding the wire under your dress last time since it was so... um... You know, with your..." he said as he made an appraising look at Terry's body and made vague curving motions with his hands. Terry, meanwhile, just crossed his arms and fixed Adams with a glare. "Ahem. Well, anyway, Samm bought a couple dresses that you can wear when you're out with Delgado, and I hid the wires so they wouldn't be noticed without a more, ah, vigorous pat-down."
"I hope you marked them 'hand wash separately' or that's going to be an awkward conversation at the dry cleaners," Terry said as he peered over at Samm. "And I trust these new outfits will be suitably modest for a demure flower such as myself that doesn't want to get—"
"Deflowered?" Adams offered.
Terry shot him a withering glance.
"Delgado likes his women to show some skin," Samm responded. "And given the kinds of women you used to date, I think we'll chalk that up to poetic justice. I just hope that they fit," she said as she eyed his bosom. "God, have they gotten bigger?"
"No!" Terry objected, a bit too loudly. "I mean, no. This dress is just really tight."
"If you say so. I just don't want to waste money buying outfits for our demure flower if you're still—"
"Blossoming?" Adams interjected as Terry glared at him again. "Sorry. David Attenborough was narrating a nature program last night." He straightened up and gestured with his thumb towards the door. "The dresses are out in the van. You want me to grab them for you?"
"Later," Terry sighed. "I have to go run errands on my scooter. I wouldn't want to look ridiculous," he said flatly. He then turned to inspect the equipment that Adams had been fooling with when he came in. "What's all that for?"
"Nothing you need concern yourself with," Samm responded.
"It's surveillance equipment," Adams explained, oblivious to the annoyed look that his partner was giving him. "One of Delgado's lieutenants is coming in from out of town."
"Who is it? Maybe if I see Delgado I can get you some information on the guy."
Samm pursed her lips and gave him a disapproving look. "You know, Riley, we in the FBI have been running surveillance just fine for years without enlisting the aid of men dressed as French maids."
"J. Edgar Hoover notwithstanding," he shot back. "But hey, I was just thinking that the next time that Delgado is trying to feel me up and happens to mention someone he's going to meet, it might the tiniest bit useful to know what the hell is going on. But maybe that's just me."
"Fine," Samm conceded. "We got a tip that one of Delgado's people, Nina Fontaine, is coming into town. She runs some of his operations back East and clawed her way up through the ranks some years ago. We don't know why she's in town, but we know she's involved in his money laundering operations."
Terry nodded. "Right. Well, I'll let you know if I hear anything."
Samm raised an eyebrow and pointed a finger to the top of her head.
Terry cocked his head in confusion before he realized she was referring to the frilly headband on his head with the hidden recording device.
"Oh! Well, yeah, of course I'll record it, too. I figured that went without saying."
Samm nodded and looked at him expectantly, like she was waiting for something.
After a moment, he cleared his throat. "So, uh, how do I turn this on, again?" he asked.
"I hear clown music," she muttered.
Across town, Bonnie arrived at the office thirty minutes early for the meeting, as was her custom. As she entered the building she was vaguely aware of a strange mood among the employees but just chalked it up to the usual Friday morning chitchat. As she approached the office that she shared with Dave, she smiled as she made eye contact with her assistant Violet, who was looking a little agitated.
"Morning, Vi," she said as she breezed her way into her office. "We all set for the investor this morning? Don't forget to double-check with the department heads that they'll make themselves available this afternoon, I'm sure they'll want to meet—"
Violet hurried in after her. "Bonnie, I'm sorry, I tried to call you—"
"Why, what's wrong? Was the investor delayed? Honestly, I told people to check on that airline schedule—"
"No, the meeting's started already!"
Bonnie headed for the conference room as Violet hurried alongside and got her up to speed, explaining that the investor had arrived early and insisted on getting started right away. As Bonnie approached the conference room she could see that Dave and the department heads were already in there and seated as a woman she didn't recognize stood at the front of the room to address the group. Bonnie gave her husband a "What the hell?" look, and he raised his eyebrows and shrugged helplessly.
"Which is why we're interested in a long-term partnership that—oh, hello," the woman said as Bonnie entered. "Thank you for joining us." The woman was a few years older than Bonnie, apparently in her mid-forties and dressed professionally in a tailored outfit that Bonnie could tell was very expensive. Her dark brown hair was pulled back in a sophisticated style and she had an authoritative take-charge air about her that ordinarily Bonnie might have admired.
Under different circumstances.
"Please sit down," the woman said bluntly.
So much for becoming friends, Bonnie thought. She cleared her throat and smiled as pleasantly as she could manage. "I'm sorry, I don't believe we've been introduced. I'm Bonnie Riley, the co-CEO of the company—"
"I know who you are," the woman said. "I make a point of researching any potential company we work with. Your husband was just explaining this 'co-CEO' business. It seems needlessly cumbersome."
Bonnie regarded the woman in disbelief. "We find it makes for better communications and division of labor. And I'm sorry, I didn't get your name, Ms...?"
"Fontaine. Nina Fontaine."
Bonnie and Dave spent the rest of the day in quiet agony as Nina—or "Ms. Fontaine" as she preferred to be called—grilled them on all aspects of their business. What the two of them had initially assumed to be an initial soft-touch introductory meeting soon turned into an inquisition that Senator Joe McCarthy would have decried as excessive. Dave, upon seeing which way the wind was blowing, quickly suggested that the department heads had other duties to attend to, and excused them so that the acerbic businesswoman would have fewer targets to focus on. He tried with varying degrees of success to keep things pleasant and respectful, and went to lengths to keep Nina happy. Bonnie, for her part, admired the woman's directness, but rapidly became annoyed with her snide little remarks and innuendo about the nature of their company.
"A greeting card business," Nina sniffed indignantly as she watched Violet place the cup of coffee in front of her. She regarded it suspiciously and as the smell hit her, she made a disgusted face and pushed it away. "I hardly see the growth potential in that market. Print is dead."
"Sending Ovations is not just a greeting card company," Bonnie declared haughtily. "And print is not dead."
"The Internet notwithstanding."
"Yes, well, clicking 'Like' on a Facebook post may be good enough for the birthday of a guy on your intramural softball team, but our customers want to put a bit more effort into recognizing the important people in their lives."
Dave jumped in, his eyes darting between the two women as they glowered at each other. "It's true that we started off as a boutique greeting card company with unique and handmade stationery, but we quickly grew from there into custom gift packaging. We've expanded our services so that we've got a deal where you can purchase items from a third-party retailer like Amazon and have it shipped to one of our processing centers where we'll wrap it up for you."
"A service that Amazon already offers."
"Sure, but the person you're giving it to can tell it came from Amazon from their gift wrap. When they get it they know you were too lazy to do it yourself and just clicked the button to have them wrap it. When it comes from us, it'll be in a unique packaging that makes it look hand-wrapped. Plus, if people upload a handwriting sample, we can even write a custom greeting card that looks like they signed it. And if they're stuck on what to say, our writers will come up with something and upload it to the processing center to include on a personalized greeting card."
"And people pay for this?"
"You'd be surprised. Like Bonnie says, a Facebook post may be good enough for some people in your life, but when it comes time for their five-year wedding anniversary, a lot of guys panic. They want something heartfelt—"
"You mean heartfelt-seeming."
Bonnie leaned forward. "In fact, since the cards are pretty and contain a personal message, oftentimes the card can be the gift itself. People complain about buying a mass-produced card with Snoopy on it for five dollars, but for twenty dollars we can give them a beautiful card on special paper with an impassioned and personalized message inside, and since it looks homemade, they don't feel as obligated to buy a gift. Customers are often skeptical at first, but they soon realize that a gift often cheapens it. It's like, 'Here's a romantic love letter, and that Blu-Ray movie you wanted.' They usually just go for the message that comes from the heart."
"From the heart," Nina echoed skeptically. "Personalized messages written by someone else." She thought for a moment. "Why does all this sound so familiar?"
Violet perked up from where she was taking notes. "Did you ever see the movie, Her?"
"It won an Academy Award. It was up for best picture."
Nina's eyes narrowed into a predatory gaze, now fixed on the young assistant.
"Um, w-well, this is, uh, pretty much exactly what the guy in the movie does for a living."
Nina turned slowly to Dave and Bonnie, who suddenly had guilty expressions. "So, you stole the idea. From a movie."
Dave cleared his throat nervously. "We'd had it in the development stages for some time—"
Nina cut him off. "And you manufacture fabricated sentiment for people and then package it so that they can pass it off as their own work."
Bonnie stammered, "Well, I wouldn't—"
"And this doesn't seem the least bit dishonest to you?"
The pronouncement hovered in the silent conference room.
"Not really," Bonnie admitted.
"Yeah," Dave agreed. "What people do with the cards is up to them. They can be honest and say what they did."
Nina considered that. "So, greeting cards don't lie. It's the people that tell the lies."
"Sure, I guess," Dave said. "And there have been some times we don't always enjoy what we do—like the time a guy asked us to help write a sympathy card for his sick great-aunt so that she'd write him back into her will—but it's not our place to judge."
"Hmm," Nina said appraisingly. She reached for the coffee cup and took a sip.
Bonnie and Dave looked at each other, trying to get a read on her. "Is that a problem?" Dave asked.
"No, no problem at all," Nina replied. "In fact, the investors I represent appreciate a certain...moral elasticity," she said with a smile. As she laughed, Bonnie and Dave laughed along, casting uncertain glances at each other.
Nina gave them a level look. "Now, in addition to expansion there was also something about a merger? The documents were unclear."
Dave and Bonnie brightened up at the question and Dave gave a nod to Violet, who got up and hurriedly left the room. "We're actually pretty excited about this," Dave said.
"It's more of a joint business venture than an actual merger," Bonnie explained. "We've been in talks with another company to develop another venue to sell our greeting cards. Or sell kits for making your own custom greeting cards and messages."
"Interesting," Nina said, taking another sip of her coffee. "Which company?"
Dave and Bonnie looked at each other excitedly. She nodded to him, and he said, "Steak Your Claim."
Nina stopped and slowly—very slowly—put her cup down as her eyes narrowed. "The restaurant chain? The steak house?"
They nodded, smiling.
"It's perfect," Bonnie said. "Steaks take a while to prepare, so their customers have time on their hands. They can browse through cards at the table, or we can sell little pre-made kits for crafting handmade—"
Nina raised a finger to make a clarification. "You want to sell greeting cards at steak houses. Nationwide."
Dave was grinning like a kid. "We're going to call it—" He turned to Bonnie. "Can I tell her? Yeah? We're going to call it, 'Meat 'n' Greet.' Isn't that perfect?"
Nina stared at their eager faces as her own countenance became an unreadable mask. After several quiet seconds she blinked once and said, "That's the stupidest idea I've ever heard."
Their faces fell.
"W-we're not wedded to the name," Bonnie said.
"We're not?" Dave whispered to her. Then, reading her face, he turned to Nina and added, "Of course not. We're open to other ideas."
Just then, through the glass door behind Nina the two of them spotted Violet as she started to re-enter the conference room. She had a huge smile on her face and was carrying a large poster board sign with a "Meat 'n' Greet" display that featured smiling cartoon cows exchanging brightly-wrapped gifts and greeting cards.
Dave and Bonnie made insistent eye contact with Violet as they urgently waved her off as discreetly as possible. Violet looked befuddled but quickly retreated as Nina glanced over her shoulder to find out what was going on behind her. Fortunately, the fleet-footed assistant was back out the door before she could get a look, and Dave and Bonnie smiled nervously as Nina turned back to face them.
"Well," she said briskly. "I hope the rest of your creative ventures are somewhat less creative."
Outside it was a pleasant sunny day, and while he rode along on the vibrant pink Vespa scooter with his skirts and petticoats blowing in the breeze, Terry found that he had plenty of time to think, apart from the occasional interruptions from fellow drivers as they tooted their horns, called out to him, laughed, and generally enjoyed the spectacle he presented as he rode along in his sexy French maid's costume. Which is to say that he actually had no time to think at all, because people were constantly doing exactly that. By the time he arrived at the supermarket and parked, his face was burning so red in embarrassment and frustration that he thought he might need to add aloe to the grocery list.
After he parked, Terry started to hurry inside but found that his quick pace across the parking lot was somewhat restrained by his high heels, which had also created a rather distracting bouncing counter-movement in his chest. With an annoyed grumble, he slowed his walk and caught sight of a young couple just leaving the store who did a double-take as they spotted him. The woman smiled, but that quickly faded as she realized that her husband was gawking at Terry with more than just a passing interest. She smacked him on the shoulder as they passed, and Terry could hear as she started to chew him out.
"I saw the way you were looking at that bimbo!" she snapped. "Jesus, were you not breast fed enough as a child?"
"Don't you dare make this about my mother again!"
Terry rolled his eyes.
As he entered the store, he tossed his purse into one of the shopping carts and tried to pull it loose from the row of nested carts. It was stuck.
He took a calming breath and pulled harder. Nothing.
"Rrrrhhaaagg!" he growled in frustration as he yanked fiercely on the implacable buggy.
"Miss?" a voice came. Terry ignored it, still engaged in what was quickly becoming a life-or-death struggle with the unyielding shopping cart. It was like the object had become the focus of his impotent rage, a singular iconic representation of how he'd lost control of his life.
"Excuse me, miss?" the man repeated as he touched Terry gently on the arm.
"What?!" Terry snarled as he spun to face the guy, looking like a crazy woman with his hair falling in his face.
Shocked, the man yanked his hand back and took a step back apprehensively. "Um, you can have mine, if you like," he said, gesturing to his empty cart.
"Oh," Terry said, straightening up. "Well, thanks," he said pleasantly as he transferred his purse to the other cart and brushed his hair back into place with his fingers.
"That's a great costume," the guy offered. "Are you going to a party?"
"No need. In this outfit, the party always comes to me," Terry sighed.
Gliding through the market, Terry continued to draw a number of stares and giggles, which he tried to ignore. For the most part, most people just ignored him, and he didn't particularly mind the ones that just smiled since they at least seemed to have a sense of humor. But he definitely could have done without the disapproving glares he got from some the women, to say nothing of the lascivious once-overs from some of the men that made him feel like nothing more than a piece of meat.
"Oh, right, meat," he said absently as he examined at the grocery list and headed to the butcher counter. He bent over to look at some of the items on the lower shelf when he heard a guy's voice come from behind him.
"Ooh la la!"
Suddenly aware that he'd probably just presented the guy with an eye-catching view of his frilly petticoats—and quite possibly his big round butt in his ruffled panties—Terry grit his teeth as he straightened up and snarled at the guy as he turned around.
"Wow, I've never heard that one bef—Ray?!" He froze in shock as he saw his friend standing there with a huge grin on his face. "C'mere!" Terry whispered as he pulled him off to the side.
Ray smiled broadly as he looked Terry up and down. "This is outstanding," he said as he leered at Terry's cleavage. "I'll say this for 'em, those Frenchies really know how to objectify a woman."
"You're hilarious," Terry said as he brushed at his skirts and then watched as Ray fished his phone out of his pocket to take a picture. "Put that away!" Terry admonished him, swatting at it more girlishly than he intended.
"Because there's only two reasons you'd want a picture of me like this. The first is if you intend to share it, and I can't risk any connections between Angelique and any of Terry's old friends while Delgado's goons are still looking for me."
"Fair enough. What's the other reason?"
"That you want a picture of me in this getup and you don't intend to share it. And I do not want to imagine what you'd be doing with it then."
"Ugh, you are such a buzz kill. It's a good thing you're so beautiful when you're angry," Ray teased. "And tell me again why we're meeting at a grocery store?"
"I can't be away for too long or everyone will get suspicious. And besides, it's safer for us to meet at a neutral location rather than at your place."
"Wow, Terry, get a load of you, thinking like a secret agent. You're a regular Mata Hari."
"Yeah, she was really something right up until the part with the firing squad," he retorted. "And don't use my name in public. Someone might overhear."
"Well, I'm not calling you Angelique. That's stupid."
"Not as stupid as being called Angelique."
Ray gave him a once over and studied Terry's feminized features. "I'm gonna call you Angie for short. You look like an Angie to me."
"Oh, good, a nickname. Yet another reminder that I'm in this for the long haul," Terry complained. "Oh, and now Delgado is doing it, too! He's started calling me by these cutesy little lovey-dovey nicknames. I always hated it when girls did that shit to me, but I think he wants me to join in."
"Just call him the name of an animal, like a bear. I used to love it when my girlfriend did that."
"Hey, it works! If you want to mix it up, just toss in something at the beginning like 'honey bear' or 'snuggle bear.' Guys eat it up."
"I never did."
"Maybe it's just guys who don't wear ruffled panties."
Terry crossed his arms defensively. "You don't know they're ruffled."
"Dude, everybody knows. You were showin' 'em off to the world when you bent over in your sexy little dress a minute ago."
Ray turned to get the attention of guy who was standing nearby. "Hey, pal. Her panties—ruffled or non-ruffled?" he said, pointing at Terry.
The guy looked startled as he looked between the two of them, but Ray just stared at him, waiting for an answer. "O-oh, um, ruffled," the guy stammered. He then looked at Terry, who was blushing beet red. "They looked really nice. If you don't mind my asking, where did you get them? I might get some for my wife."
Ray regarded the guy skeptically. "Uh huh. Your 'wife' know you're not wearing a wedding ring?"
The guy froze, his eyes wide in alarm. "Oh, my gosh, are those muffins on sale?" he said as he hurried off.
Terry's cheeks burned in embarrassment as he glared silently at Ray for a long moment. "For all I know, you're wearing ruffled panties, too," he contended.
Ray chuckled and flashed a grin. "I'm sure you're wearing them better."
Terry sighed in resignation and then bit his lip and looked anxiously at his friend. "What happened with Rosita? Did you do it?"
Ray nodded. "I still can't believe you wanted to sell that car. I figured I'd be burying you in it someday."
"I need the money! And if Delgado's people see Angelique driving around in Terry's ride, then you will be burying me in it. How much did you get?"
Ray handed over an envelope which Terry opened to reveal a few bills inside.
"Where's the rest?"
"What?!" Terry cried, drawing even more attention from the other nearby shoppers. He grabbed Ray by the arm and pulled him close. "That car was worth way more than that!" he hissed.
"Yeah, Zane deducted the cost of all the work that needed to be done, plus all the work from the last time that you never paid him for. He said it was that or no deal."
"That lousy fink! Taking the money that I owed him!" Terry complained. "I mean... I'm good for it! I'd have paid him. Eventually." He crossed his arms and pressed his lips into a petulant and rather sexy pout, which Ray took notice of but wisely decided not to comment on. Fortunately Terry was still stewing and hadn't noticed his friend's stare.
"And it's still a lousy deal! That car was a classic! Did you tell him that?"
"He said you'd say that."
Ray reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a pair of fuzzy dice that Terry recognized from his car as Ray handed them over. "He said these were classic. The car was junk."
Terry stood there in shock for a moment and stared wordlessly down at the fuzzy dice and then back up at Ray.
Ray regarded his friend uncertainly. "You gonna be okay?"
Ray nodded as Terry stared off into space and absently ran his fingers over the fuzzy dice. "You, uh, you want a hug?"
Terry looked Ray in the face to see if his friend was making fun of him. "No," he said quietly.
"Okay," Ray said.
They stood there in silence and after an awkward moment he put his arms around Terry, who just sighed and rested his head on his friend's shoulder.
"It's been a tough couple of weeks," Terry said.
"And I really loved that car."
"I loved in that car, on that car, and all over that car."
"I didn't need to know that."
Terry sighed again and broke from the hug, sniffling once as he looked down at the dice.
Ray gave him a little grin. "Don't worry, you'll get another ride soon enough."
Terry regarded the dice ruefully. "Oh," he scoffed, "I've already got a new ride."
The next morning was a Saturday and the family had gotten off a late start. They were all still seated around the kitchen table while Terry cleaned up the breakfast dishes.
"I'm just saying that if you're going to send me out on errands, I think that implies that you have to provide me transportation," Terry protested.
"I did," Bonnie replied with a smug expression. "Though I suppose I'd be willing to give you gas money if you want to drive your own car."
Terry just grumbled incoherently as he was still smarting over the loss of his convertible. "No, that's fine," he grumbled.
Claire hadn't been particularly sympathetic to his plight. "Aww, poor baby, has to ride a scooter," she said. "I don't even have a scooter! I don't have wheels of any kind!"
Madison gave her sister a puzzled look. "What are you talking about? That scooter's been in the garage for years. I bet Mom and Dad would have let you drive that whenever you wanted."
"Are you kidding? I wouldn't be caught dead on that thing. I mean, really," she said with a little shudder. She then looked to her parents hopefully. "But maybe we could go over to a used car dealer today and I could look at cars?"
Dave set down his cup of coffee and gave her an appraising look. "I thought you said you hadn't saved up enough money for a car?"
She shrugged noncommittally. "I was kind of hoping you might loan me the difference?"
Dave and Bonnie exchanged a knowing look. "Uh huh. And that would be on the zero percent interest, indefinite payment plan, I'm assuming?" he said as he raised an eyebrow.
"Sweetheart, this isn't a good time. We've got a lot of money tied up in the business right now—"
"Mom—!" Claire implored, looking to appeal the decision.
Dave tried to assuage her. "Honey, maybe in a few weeks once we've got this new investment capital in place to shore up some of the new initiatives—"
"Assuming we get it," Bonnie muttered. "I can't believe that woman wants to meet us this afternoon to go over the numbers again."
"You're going in to work on a Saturday? Both of you?" Madison asked.
"Yes, so—and I absolutely cannot believe these words are even passing my lips—be sure to listen to Angelique while we're gone."
"But I was going to go over to a friend's."
Bonnie and Dave breathed a collective sigh of relief. "Oh, good. That's much better. Yes, do that."
"Hey, I'm plenty responsible," Terry objected as he dropped one of the dishes. "Ah, crap."
Bonnie shot him a skeptical glance as she turned to her husband. "And speaking of people I don't trust..."
Dave put down the financial papers he'd been reviewing. "Honey, we've been over this. She's just abrupt."
"Abruptness I can handle. But there's something not right about her. She was evasive when I asked about some of the finances, and she made me uncomfortable with those weird jokes."
"We need the money, and it checks out," he said as he gestured to the stack of papers. "And it's her job to dig into what we do. So what if she has a weird sense of humor?"
Bonnie turned to look at him. "Something to add, Angelique?" she challenged.
"I'm just saying you can hardly blame people for being skeptical. I mean, you two running a greeting card business? Successfully? I'd have lost money on that bet."
"You've lost money on every bet you ever made," Bonnie retorted. "Just in case you're ever wondering why your career involves carrying a feather duster."
"Hey, that's not—!" he began, and then stopped as he considered it for a moment. "Okay, that may be a fair observation," he conceded. "Still hurts, though."
"And remind me why Bonnie and I shouldn't have a successful greeting card business?" Dave asked.
Terry gave his brother a sideways grin. "Well, c'mon, you have to admit it's pretty unlikely. I mean what with it having all the funny and jokey little greetings, and you two being so—" He hesitated, now confronted their skeptical looks. "I mean, neither one of you are particularly—" He turned helplessly to his nieces. "C'mon, girls, help me out."
Both of them shook their heads. "Forget it, Angelique, you're on your own," Claire laughed.
"Yeah, have fun digging that hole."
Terry looked back at Dave and Bonnie, who were still waiting for an answer. "I—I just—" he stammered. "I'm just saying that there's a lot of different types of humor, but you're not really what I'd call—"
Just then, the doorbell rang.
"Oh, praise Jeebus," Terry whispered as he turned and started to leave the room.
"Another stunning French retreat," Madison joked.
Terry spun around and pointed at her emphatically. "There! You see? Now she has a—" He stopped as he saw Bonnie's glare. "Maybe it skips a generation," he muttered as he started to leave the room.
"Remember to curtsy!" Bonnie called after him.
"Oh, heavens, Ms. Bonnie, I wouldn't want to forget that."
"Sarcasm is the refuge of a shallow mind, Angelique!"
"Sarcasm is the nyah-nyah of a nyah-nyah-nyah, Angelique," he mimicked mockingly under his breath as he walked up to the front door.
Curtsying had been another stipulation of Bonnie's, a "concession" on her part if she was to permit Terry to wear the French maid dresses. "Normally I wouldn't make a housekeeper do anything so demeaning, but since you insist on being allowed to wear your froufrou little outfits, it seems only appropriate that you get the get the full experience, don't you think?" Terry, unwilling to provide a better explanation for his sudden and odd behavior as "Angelique," merely forced a smile and thanked his smirking sister-in-law for her thoughtfulness. Then, to add proper insult to injury, she insisted that he do it again "properly" and watched in delight as he thanked her again, plucked girlishly at his skirts and gave her a demure little curtsy. "I don't think that's going to get old any time soon," Bonnie declared, beaming at her simpering brother-in-law.
Now, answering the doorbell, Terry opened the front door with eyes downcast and executed a perfect curtsy as he fanned out his skirt and petticoats. The "eyes downcast" part suited him just fine since at least it spared him from the embarrassment of having to witness the shocked expressions and/or lascivious leers of the delivery people he'd had to greet.
"Welcome to Chez Riley," he said sarcastically. "How can I—"
He looked up fully expecting to see a UPS driver or maybe Krystal Delgado from next door. If he was particularly unlucky, it would be some friends of Claire or Madison, who had all taken great pleasure as they giggled and made snippy little remarks about how their new housekeeper was dressed in her ridiculously sexy and frilly costumes. But even though Terry had steeled himself for the worst possible outcome, even he wasn't quite prepared for the surprised-looking middle-aged couple standing on the doorstep.
"Mom?!" he gasped. "Dad?"
Predictably, his parents seemed taken aback by such a pronouncement coming from a French maid greeting them at their son's door, but after a quick and enigmatic glance at each other, they recovered quickly.
"Well, Terry, don't you look lovely!" his mother enthused as she leaned in to kiss him on the cheek. "But aren't you going to invite us in?"
Flabbergasted by both their presence and their apparent lack of response at his appearance, Terry suddenly realized he was still daintily holding out his skirts as he never completed the curtsy. "Um, sure," he said as he let go of his skirts and straightened up as they entered. His mother seemed completely unperturbed by the sight of her son all prettied up in his sexy dress, but his father just grumbled and shook his head as he entered the foyer, turning for just a moment to gawk in disbelief at Terry's impressive cleavage before quickly averting his eyes.
Terry closed the door and regarded them nervously. "Mom... Dad... I—I guess this must come as quite a shock," he said as he tried to get his lies straight. He'd told so many versions of his story to so many people that he thought he might need index cards. But in this case, he realized he just needed to tell them the same story he'd made up for Dave and Bonnie. "But... I—I've decided to become a woman," he said with a small wince as he noticed his father bristle. "I'm working here as a maid for Dave and Bonnie."
His mother had a beatific little smile as she nodded supportively. "Terry, if this is what you want to make you happy, then of course your father and I support your decision. Isn't that right, Lawrence?"
Terry's father grumbled something inaudible.
His mother gave a little tsk of disapproval as she ran her fingers along his hair that was almost long enough to frame his cleavage. "Oh, sweetie, you really need to get these ends evened out. I know a girl, I'll give you her number."
Terry gaped at the two of them, incredulous as to their lack of response. "Mom, I said I'm a woman, now. And I'm working here as a maid," he said slowly. He plucked at his skirts as if holding them out for inspection. "In a French maid's outfit."
She nodded. "Yes, I see that."
He shook his head in bewilderment. "I have boobs," he said, grabbing at his big soft breasts.
His father turned away and displayed a sudden fascination with the nearest piece of artwork in the foyer, but his mother remained unperturbed. "Yes, dear, and they're lovely. But you shouldn't be so boastful. Men find that unattractive in a woman."
Terry was speechless, but as he fumbled for what to say Dave and Bonnie entered the foyer. "Mom! Dad!" Dave said as they exchanged hugs. "What are you doing here? We weren't expecting you!"
"Obviously," his father said, glowering at Terry.
"Lawrence, Sharon! How—unexpected—to see you," Bonnie said. "What brings you to town?"
"Your father and I had some business to attend to, so we thought we'd surprise you," Sharon said to Dave. "We'll be in town for a few days."
"What hotel are you staying at?" Bonnie asked pointedly.
"Well, I hope you'll stay here," Dave offered. "We've got plenty of room."
"Oh, we wouldn't want to be any trouble."
"You hear that, Dave?" Bonnie said. "They don't want to be any trouble."
"Oh, it's no trouble at all!" he enthused. "You can stay in the guest room."
"Yes. What a delight," Bonnie said through gritted teeth. "Angelique can show you to your room."
Lawrence looked confused. "Who's Angelique?"
"Yo," Terry said, holding up his hand.
Sharon leaned over and in a loud whisper said, "It's her drag name, honey."
Terry's shoulders slumped. "Mom, I don't—"
"Grandma! Grandpa!" the girls chorused as they ran up to them. They each gave their grandmother a hug and a kiss hello and Claire did the same for her grandfather. However, Madison instead stopped short and stood in front of him with an expectant look on her face.
Lawrence eyed her carefully and then pulled out his wallet. He handed her a couple bills and she enthusiastically gave him a big hug and then ran upstairs.
He then raised an eyebrow to Claire, who just smiled and rolled her eyes. "Kids," she said with a shrug.
They locked eyes and Lawrence wordlessly maintained his gaze. Without even looking down, he pulled out a couple more bills and handed them to Claire.
"Yay!" she squealed. She quickly planted a kiss on his cheek and ran upstairs after her sister.
Just as Lawrence was about to put his wallet away, Sharon cleared her throat conspicuously, and her eyes cut over to Terry and then down to the open wallet. He grumbled in disgust and pulled out several more bills, which she accepted with great satisfaction.
"What's that all about?" Terry asked.
"It's nothing," his mother replied. "Just a little bet your father and I had."
"A bet?" Terry echoed as he looked between them and then down at himself in his little dress. "A bet about what?" he asked defensively. "A bet about me? What about me?"
"It's nothing," she assured him. "We're just happy you finally found some contentment, Terr—oops! I mean, Angelique."
Terry folded his arms defensively, momentarily flustered as his breasts pressed against them. He wanted to defend his manhood, but he noticed that Dave and Bonnie were looking right at him, and as far as they were concerned, he was a willing transsexual. "I—I've always been content!" he asserted. "I was content way before this!"
"Of course you were, sweetheart."
"Not just content, either! I was like, blissful! Serene, even! I was freaking dripping with serenity!"
"Maybe that should be your drag name," Bonnie deadpanned.
Terry shot her a look but remained silent.
"Well," Bonnie decided. "I suppose we'll just make up the guest bedroom for you, then."
They all stood there quietly and Terry silently nodded agreement until he suddenly realized they were all looking at him. "Oh, right," he muttered. "C'mon."
Bonnie cleared her throat and gave him an impatient look.
"Sorry, Ms. Bonnie," he corrected. "Right this way, Mr. and Mrs. Riley!" he chirped in a fake cheerful voice, and then dipped into an obedient curtsy and led them upstairs.
Dave watched them leave, still thrown by the sight of his brother mincing along in his sexy uniform. He was completely unprepared when Bonnie elbowed him in the ribs.
"Ow!" he cried. "What was that for?"
"'Oh, it's no trouble at all!'" she said mockingly.
"Sorry, I forgot what happened last time," he said as he winced at the memory. "But I'm sure this time Mom will be on her best behavior," he added, not at all convincingly. Then he looked at her more critically. "And what happened to sarcasm being the refuge of a shallow mind?"
"Oh, shut up," she said as they headed back towards the kitchen.
The rest of the morning Terry took to his new list of chores under the watchful eyes of both Bonnie and his mother. The two women had never gotten along in the past, but Terry noted that they seemed to find a new common interest in finding fault with his work. Bonnie was critical of his slapdash efforts at cleaning and frequently wondered aloud if he might not be happier as a maidservant in the home of a man who would appreciate the titillating view he provided more than the actual cleaning he seemed to find so difficult. His mother, for her part, seemed content to sit around and needle Bonnie while she occasionally interjected little criticisms regarding her new "daughter's" feminine presentation. ("Posture, dear!" "Walk heel-to-toe on those pretty heels!" "A pretty smile is your best makeup!")
Terry groaned inwardly. It was bad enough having to debase himself like this, but his mom's newfound enthusiasm at having a daughter to smother was quickly getting on his nerves. The only bright spot was that his dad, faced with his apparently transgender son swishing around in his sexy little maid's outfit, had quickly made himself scarce and headed to the den to plop himself in front of the television. That worked until Terry came in to polish the woodwork in the room and sheepishly made eye contact with his father before bending over in his skimpy outfit to vigorously rub at the wooden table. His face burned in embarrassment as he felt his pendulous breasts heaving in response to his exertions, a bawdy display that did not go unnoticed by his father. After a few short minutes of this, Lawrence jumped out of his chair and announced that he was going out, pausing only long enough to ask Dave where the nearest sports bar was. When Dave suggested that Angelique might know better, Lawrence left in a huff.
"So, are you still writing those funny little cards?" Sharon asked Bonnie. As he busied himself with cleaning the windows, Terry took some delight in their snipes at each other. The enemy of my enemy is less likely to keep commenting how short my skirts are, he figured.
"Dave and I are still running the greeting card business, yes," Bonnie said tightly as she glanced up from her laptop. "And it's very successful. We're actually meeting some new investors."
"Mmm," Sharon said neutrally. She was seated on the couch and picked up one of the family photos with Terry that Madison had doctored. She looked at it strangely, cleaned her glasses, and then peered at it again more closely before shrugging and putting it back. "It's a shame you don't have enough money to do it on your own."
"We're expanding," Bonnie shot back. "I'd be happy to explain the financing, but it's all very technical."
"What's to understand? You don't have enough money. That's why you need investors."
Bonnie grit her teeth, but rather than having it out with her mother-in-law she decided to vent at a more convenient target. "Angelique! Be more careful, you're leaving streaks."
"Sorry," he sighed, "...Ms. Bonnie."
Sharon's eyes turned towards Terry. "Well, of course I'm grateful for everything you've done for my daughter," she said followed by a significant pause to make sure she got credit for using the feminine identifier. "It's good to know that she's with family during her transition."
Bonnie waved her hand dismissively. "Shush, Angelique. It's inappropriate while you're working to be so familiar with the company."
"But, Bonnie—I mean, Ms. Bonnie—"
"She's right, Angelique," his mother cut in. "I wasn't talking to you. You need to learn to keep your professional life separate from your personal life," she said with a pointed glance at Bonnie, "and not bring it home."
"Mom—shit, I mean, Mrs. Riley—this isn't really my profession—"
Bonnie looked down to her laptop and then over at Sharon's smug expression. "Well, part of being a modern woman is finding new ways to balance work and home," she retorted.
"As long as there's something to balance."
"Meaning what, exactly?"
"I'm just delighted that you can still afford to pay my daughter to keep her around, that's all."
"And remind me why we wouldn't be able to afford a maid?"
"Seriously, it's not that much money, believe me," Terry interjected.
"I would just want my daughter to know that if something should happen to you financially—"
"Which it won't."
"—that if something should happen, she's more than welcome to move home and we'll be happy to support her new lifestyle choices there."
"Well, maybe she should do that!"
"Yes, maybe she should!"
They both turned to look at Terry.
Terry, faced with the two angry women, stared at them uncertainly. "Sorry, am I allowed to talk now?"
He gulped. "Look, Mrs. Riley, I—"
Bonnie and Sharon looked at each other. "Which one?" Bonnie asked.
"You mean me, or her?"
"I thought you were 'Ms. Bonnie,'" he said helplessly.
"Angelique!" his mother admonished him. Although she'd never scolded him with that name before, her tone was unmistakable. He suddenly felt like a naughty five-year-old girl being reprimanded by her mother, and for a crazy moment he found himself wondering what it might have been like to have grown up as a girl in his parents' household. He paused for a moment to consider where that bizarre notion had come from, but figured that standing there in front of his mother while wearing a short little dress and petticoats probably had something to do with it.
"Okay," Terry nodded before hesitating. "I'm sorry, what was the question, again?"
Both women looked like they were about to explode when he waved his hands frantically. "Wait! Wait! I remember! Mom—I mean, Mrs. Riley—"
"Get on with it," Bonnie growled.
Terry's mind raced. His problems with Delgado and the FBI notwithstanding, he'd frequently tried to imagine how his life could possibly be worse than it was, being a straight man in his early thirties who was trapped in this bombshell body and being forced to dress and act as a French maid with his family thinking he was an eager transsexual.
Then he imagined having to do all that and moving back in with his parents.
"Yeah, I'm good here," he decided.
"Mom! Really. The girls have been really accepting, and Dave and Bonnie have been very good to me," he said as he cast an eye over at his sister-in-law. "Going through a change like this is really difficult, and I don't think I could manage it without them. All of them," he admitted honestly. "So while I appreciate your offer, this is home." He glanced over to Bonnie again. "This is home," he repeated gently, suddenly feeling the weight of those words. As they made eye contact, Bonnie's lip twitched and she looked slightly chagrined. He thought he heard his mother sniffle.
Terry shifted uncomfortably. "Why don't I make some tea," he offered.
"Sure," Bonnie agreed.
"That sounds lovely."
He hadn't taken five steps before Bonnie said, "Don't use the teapot that's on the stove, that one's just for decoration. And don't overfill it. And be sure to use the right china."
Terry slumped his shoulders.
"You're slouching again!" his mother chided. "Stand up straight, dear. And don't bend your knees like that, it makes you look like a lumberjack in those heels."
As Terry entered the kitchen, he saw Claire getting a bottle of water from the fridge.
"How's it going in there?" she asked as she closed the door.
"I'm a uniter, not a divider."
She glanced down at the plunging neckline of his dress with his ample cleavage on display. "That's another boob joke, isn't it?"
Terry snapped his fingers. "Rats, you're getting good at spotting them," he said as he grabbed the teapot off the stove and started to fill it with water. "You're pretty sharp. Seriously, you're no small potatoes."
Claire folded her arms self-consciously under her own developing bosom. "I was hoping you'd have gotten tired of all this teasing by now. It's getting a little repetitive."
"Really? I consider myself to be remarkably well-rounded."
Claire smiled in spite of herself. "Yeah. All right. Okay," she said, nodding gamely. "Laugh it up. You're gonna get yours eventually, Angelique," she warned as she left the kitchen.
"Oh, Miss Claire, that's exactly what I was about to say to you!" he called after her with a grin. When she didn't respond he leaned over the sink to try and catch a glimpse of her reaction to his teasing. But as he craned his neck forward he suddenly felt a dampness spreading on his chest and realized that he'd stuck his jutting breasts into the path of the running water and soaked the front of his dress.
"Oh, what a pretty new dress," Sharon complimented Terry as he served the tea. "The black and white was classic, but this pink one is so pretty and feminine. And such a fetching decolletage," she said as she admiring his figure when he bent over to pour from the teapot. "I hope you didn't change just for my benefit?"
"I had a little spill," Terry explained simply, desperately wanting to avoid a conversation with his mother about the relative merits of his various maid's outfits for showcasing his womanly attributes.
"Angelique has the most wonderful variety of uniforms," Bonnie said with a smug little grin. "We offered to let her wear something more drab, but she wouldn't hear of it! Angelique, your closet must just be filled with satin and lace," she teased.
"It's really something, all right."
"I noticed you had a light blue one, too. I can't wait to see you wear it. We should get you a blonde wig, you'll look just like Alice in Wonderland."
His mother made a little face as Terry bent over to serve Bonnie, which put his frilly skirts and ruffled backside on display. "Well, I suppose every girl goes through her princess phase with the flouncy pink dresses and tiaras."
"It's not a tiara," Terry grumbled.
"Claire was the same way when she was a little girl," Bonnie said. "Everything had to be pink, pink, pink, with oodles of ruffles and lace. Nothing as girly as this, though." Terry's cheeks burned as he served them, and he tried not to rise to her taunts. "Ooh," she said as something occurred to her, "maybe I should send you back to the grocery store! I'm sure you'd look adorable riding your little pink scooter in your cute matching outfit."
"Scooter?" Sharon asked.
"It's just temporary until Angelique's boyfriend buys her a pink Corvette, isn't that right, Angelique?" Bonnie teased.
Sharon's face lit up. "Oh, honey, are you seeing someone?"
"Ms. Bonnie is just being funny. I don't have a boyfriend," Terry said quietly, embarrassed for either woman to learn of his budding relationship with Lucius Delgado.
"Well, I'm sure the right man for you is out there somewhere," she said confidently. Then she regarded him for a moment and tilted her head questioningly. "So, what kinds of clothes do you like to wear when you're not—" she gestured at his outfit and struggled to find a word, "—working?"
Terry shrugged a little. The truth was that he didn't have much in the way of women's clothes beyond the uniforms Bonnie had provided. After his sudden transformation he'd been more focused on finding a way back to normal than to buy a new wardrobe which he couldn't afford, anyway. But now that it looked like he was going to be stuck as Angelique for the foreseeable future, he figured he couldn't put it off anymore.
"I don't really have casual clothes..."
Sharon put her teacup down. "Angelique! You can't be serious! How can you have decided to be a woman full-time without even considering—" She shook her head and turned to Bonnie. "Even when she was little, she was always like this, leaping before she looked."
Bonnie nodded knowingly and Terry looked at them in bewilderment. It was strangely unnerving to see his mother and sister-and-law getting along for once, and the idea that they might be bonding over his failings at his so-called "transition" kind of pissed him off for some reason.
"I just—haven't had a lot of money lately," Terry explained. "I was getting around to it."
His mother shook her head in disapproval and gave Bonnie a "see what I'm talking about" look, and then turned back to him. "What could you possibly have been spending your money on that was more important than having clothes to wear?"
Bonnie cleared her throat gently and her eyes cut over to Terry's exposed cleavage and back to her mother-in-law. Sharon gaped at Bonnie in disbelief, who just nodded solemnly.
Sharon turned to Terry reprovingly. "Oh, Angelique, really."
"It wasn't like that!" Terry objected. Without thinking, he crossed his arms defensively and as he did so he realized he was practically cradling the current topics of conversation. He quickly unfolded his arms and tried to think how best to explain how it did go down. Though it would have to be a lie, of course... he couldn't very well explain about how this had been done to him without his permission or it would contradict the story he'd already told them about wanting to become a woman. And since Bonnie knew that he basically grew them overnight, that meant—
"Just a second."
Terry's mind raced through plausible options. Getting breast implants was the most plausible story, he realized, and they'd be expensive. And since he'd already admitted that he didn't have clothes but obviously did have the boobs, that meant—
Ah, crap, he thought.
"Okay, it was like that," Terry admitted reluctantly. In the awkward silence of the room and faced with his mother's incredulous gaze, he felt obligated to say something more. "I just—really wanted big boobs," he said weakly.
He felt his face flush with embarrassment and his mother gave him the same disappointed look that she'd given him on the day when he was twelve and announced that he wanted to be a pet psychiatrist. Meanwhile, Bonnie looked like she'd died and gone to heaven, with a totally self-satisfied grin plastered on her face.
That was when Terry spotted Claire, who was seated nearby on the main staircase that came down to the foyer.
The two women hadn't noticed her yet, but she'd obviously heard everything he'd said. She had her hand over her mouth and as she struggled not to laugh out loud and looked to be in danger of damaging her internal organs from the effort. She made eye contact with Terry and plucked at the front of her shirt with her fingers, tenting it out in a mimicry of having a big bosom before she fell back on the stairs as she tried to suppress her giggling.
"Yeeaah," Terry sighed.
"Well, no daughter of mine is going to go around with nothing to wear but those ridiculous outfits," she said simply. "I'm sorry, dear, but they are. I'm taking you shopping this afternoon for a more appropriate wardrobe."
She had a determined tone to her voice, and Terry had to admit he was a bit conflicted at the idea. On the one hand, he did need clothes to wear apart from his maid's outfits, and he knew his mother would likely volunteer to pay, which considering he was nearly broke definitely had its charms. On the other hand, to spend the day shopping for a feminine wardrobe as he tried on women's clothes in front of his mom would pretty much obliterate his last remaining shred of male dignity. Uncertain, he looked to Bonnie for a possible reprieve. He knew that she wasn't eager to do him any favors, but also knew that she wouldn't relish the idea of him taking the day off work to go shopping.
Fortunately, his mother pressed the issue before he could speak up. "Bonnie, dear, would you mind terribly if we borrowed your car? Lawrence took ours when he went out."
Terry could practically see the wheels turning in Bonnie's mind, as she obviously debated how embarrassing he would find such an outing. He fought to keep his expression as neutral as possible, but eventually he cracked and gulped nervously.
Gotcha! her expression read. "Of course, Sharon! You girls go have fun. I'll ride with Dave to our meeting at the office. You and Angelique deserve some mother/daughter time."
There was the sound of fleet feet down the staircase, and Claire popped into the room. "Are you guys going shopping? Can I come?"
"Amazing. It's like radar," Bonnie said.
"All right, but we're not just going for you dear," Sharon replied, and Terry noted how Claire's face lit up at the word, "just." Clearly she knew she might prevail on her grandmother's generosity to score a couple new outfits. "We're mostly going to get some outfits for Angelique."
"Perfect!" Claire beamed. "Angelique has been telling me for last few weeks about the kinds of outfits she's been interested in, and I know just the stores to check out!" She gave Terry a sly little smile. "You know, something to show off your curves?"
Terry's jaw dropped slightly as he stared at her, and his eyes narrowed to slits. "You wouldn't dare," he silently mouthed.
"That's fine, Claire. Just so you understand we're not only shopping for you."
Claire's eyes were still fixed on Terry. "Oh, trust me Grandma, I want to make sure Angelique 'gets hers,' too," she said with a smile.
Lawrence Riley sat nursing the last of his drink at the bar as he stared vacantly at the TV screen. The game was on but he wasn't really paying attention, just like he wasn't paying attention to the music that blared on the speakers, or to the other patrons, or the barely-clothed girl on stage who twirled energetically around the pole.
He couldn't even remember the last time he'd been in a strip club, and when he'd left he figured he'd just retreat to a sports bar or something, but when he spotted this place he had a sudden urge to validate his manhood. Though so far it hadn't worked out quite like he'd planned.
One of the waitresses sidled up to the bar next to him to give a drink order to the bartender. She was young and cute with her tits on shameless display in a scant bikini top that left little to the imagination and she gave him a friendly smile as he looked down at her chest, not even bothering to be discreet about it.
All he could think was that Terry's tits were bigger.
He grumbled and looked away, back towards the TV screen.
"Aren't you the charmer," the girl muttered sarcastically as she picked up her tray and started to move away. It was quickly followed by a very nervous, "Oh! I'm sorry sir. It—it won't happen again."
"See that it doesn't," the other man growled.
Lawrence didn't even turn to look, but out of the corner of his eye he saw that the guy had moved up next to him at the bar and nodded to the bartender. He was about Lawrence's age and cut a better image than most of the clientele in the tailored suit he wore.
"Sorry about that," the guy said. "She's new. They're not supposed to smart mouth the customers like that."
"Kids," Lawrence muttered. "Y'never know what's going through their heads."
The guy chuckled. "Tell me twice. I've got a daughter who wants to save the world, but every time I come in this place I half expect to see her up on stage. You got kids?"
"Boys or girls?"
Lawrence laughed once. "Apparently."
"Yeah, well, don't let 'em get to you. You lost control of them the second they came crying out of their mama."
Lawrence turned to look at the man. "How do you know it's my kids? Maybe it's my wife, or my job."
The guy shook his head. "You're not drinking enough for it to be about your job, and you've barely looked at the girls, so I know it's not your wife."
Lawrence flashed a lopsided grin and held out his hand. "Lawrence Riley."
The man shook his hand firmly and looked him straight in the eye. "Lucius Delgado."
Hidden in the nearby FBI surveillance van, the conversation played on the two agents' headphones.
"Lucius Delgado," Delgado's voice sounded.
Adams gave a worried and confused look over to Samm. "Did he say Riley? You don't think—?"
A moment later, they heard Delgado again. "Riley. You wouldn't by any chance be related to Terry Riley, would you? Has a brother, Dave?"
"Fruit of my loins," Lawrence responded dryly. "Though apparently some's fruitier than others."
Samm slumped forward and buried her face in her hands. "God, I hate that family."
"You're Terry Riley's dad," Delgado said as he sat down and signaled the bartender to bring Lawrence another drink. "Small world! I've been looking forward to catching up with him."
Lawrence peered over at the man. "How much does he owe you?"
Delgado managed to hide his surprise and laughed in response. "Nah, it's not like that," the gangster lied. "Terry and me, we go way back."
Lawrence sniffed. "Then he must owe you money," he said, taking another drink. Then, he looked over at Delgado. "So I take it you know about all that stuff he's been up to?"
"I know enough. It's a tough situation." Delgado gripped a tight fist at the thought of that smart-mouth punk owing him all that money and then taking off.
"That's an understatement!" Lawrence exclaimed, the image of his son's breasts jiggling around in a French maid's outfit still burned into his brain. "How the hell does a man do something like that to himself?"
"Guys like that, they get desperate. They make dumb decisions."
"Yeah, I guess so," Lawrence said. He gestured at Delgado. "With guys like us, it was simpler, yeah? Men were men. I just don't get it. You think you raise 'em right, and the next thing you know..."
"You can't blame yourself for something like this, Larry. He made his own decisions."
Lawrence shook his head and took a drink from his glass. "I don't want to blame anybody, y'know? But I can't help thinking that it was his mother's influence."
Delgado nodded. "Let me guess. Permissive? Maybe a little light on the discipline?"
"Yeah!" Lawrence agreed, getting a faraway look on his face. "There was this one time when Terry went out trick-or-treating dressed in his cousin's Girl Scout uniform. I told him he was too old for that, but he wouldn't listen. He said it was all about the candy, but... now I don't know."
Delgado put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "That's how it starts. Candy, and then later money, maybe drugs. Once they get a taste, there's no telling how far they'll go."
Lawrence looked stricken. "You're not surprised by any of this? Something this big? How could a man choose—that?"
"I see it all the time, Larry."
Lawrence looked past the man, out at the strippers on stage and the scantily-clad waitresses, trying to imagine Terry being driven to do something so desperate. His son. His...child.
No, he reminded himself. Not Terry anymore.
"Angelique," he said to himself. Bad enough to be a woman—and dressed like that!—but how in the hell could Terry choose to call himself—
"Angelique?" Delgado asked, tilting his head. "How do you know Angelique?"
Back in the FBI van, Samm and Adams listened in breathlessly, their eyes wide with panic.
"My heart literally cannot take this stress," Adams said. "You know it's only a matter of time before he says something and Delgado figures out that Terry and Angelique are the same—" He looked at Samm, who had frantically removed off her suit jacket and was unbuttoning her blouse. "What are you doing?"
"Turn around!" she snapped as she yanked off her blouse and skirt. She found the bag with the dresses she'd bought for Terry that Adams had wired and made a face as she picked one out and started to put it on. "His cover's about to be blown and somebody has to get in there to distract them!"
"I'll go! I can distract them!" Adams insisted as he turned to look at her. She loosed her honey blonde hair and gave it a sexy shake as she tugged at the hem of the incredibly revealing Lycra minidress she was now wearing. He stared at her in awe. "Actually, you might be better at distracting them," he admitted.
"I'm on channel two!" she yelled over her shoulder as she activated the microphone control in her dress that was obscured under her cascade of hair and slammed the door shut behind her.
"And Mom wanted me to be an accountant," Adams said to himself as he adjusted the controls.
"Well, of course I know her," Larry responded, shaking his head at the feminine pronoun. "I mean, Angelique, or Te—well, you know what I mean."
"Oh, that's right, she's working as a housekeeper for your son Dave, right?" Delgado said carefully. He didn't want to tip their father that Angelique was secretly working for him and on the lookout for Terry. "I live next door."
Lawrence tried to process this new information. "You do."
"Yeah, we just moved in about the same time she started working there. She even helped out with the serving at my niece's wedding. Those caterers were useless."
"You let her work at your niece's wedding? Dressed like that?"
Delgado started to get a little defensive. "Hey, how she dresses is her business."
"Well, you have to admit it is kind of weird."
"C'mon, Larry, you're a red-blooded man. You tellin' me the sight of that little filly running around in that outfit didn't grab your eye?"
"W-well, not me personally, but I suppose—"
"What's to suppose? Look me in the eye and tell me she isn't every bit as hot as any of these girls here."
Lawrence gaped at Delgado, aghast. Worse, he surveyed the room and caught himself comparing his son—favorably—to many of the girls there. He shook his head. "She is my—" he hesitated, suddenly unsure what term to use. Daughter? Son?
"She's your what?"
Getting caught up on the pronouns, he decided to turn it around. "I am Angelique's fa—"
"Oh, my God, you know Angelique?" a young woman's voice cut in right next to them, bright and cheerful and saccharine. The two men turned to face the girl, who had a big smile and a vacant expression. Her blonde hair was tousled and she was wearing a slutty red stretch fabric dress that made it look like she was all set to hit the clubs and troll for guys.
Delgado gave her a dark look. "Honey, we were having a private conv—"
"She is such the best, don't you think?" Samm enthused. "And I just L.O.V.E. her frilly little maid's dresses! So cute!"
Delgado stopped and regarded her more closely. "You know Angelique?" he asked.
"Only like forever! We're complete BFFs," she replied as she twirled a lock of hair around her finger. She then stopped as she glanced between the two men and her eyes grew wide as if something seemed to occur to her. "Oh. Oh, wow," she said, raising her hands. "Oh, you guys were having a moment, and I just completely barged in like I do. I am so rude. Stupid! I should—I should go. Just ignore me. I'm so sorry."
"Not so fast," Delgado said with a leer as he grabbed her by the arm. "Let's grab a table. I'd love to hear more about Angelique from a friend of hers. Larry?"
"Sure," he said carefully, looking her over. "Obviously I've got a lot to learn, myself."
"Well, yay! It's so cool making new friends!" Agent Samm said with a bright smile frozen on her face as she tried to hide her rising panic.
Back in the van, Agent Adams listened in to the conversation intently, not sure what he could do to help. Samm was a long way from having things under control, but at least her presence would help distract the two men while—
He put down the headset. What was that noise?
At first he thought there might be someone outside the van fooling with it, but he traced the sound to a small storage compartment in back. Was that an animal? Slowly and quietly, he unholstered his gun and reached for the latch, stepping back quickly as he flung the door open.
"Aaaa-huuuuh!" Madison wheezed as she tumbled onto the floor in a heap. "Don't you... ever clean... in there...?"
Adams stared at her in in disbelief as he holstered his gun. "Madison, what the hell! You can't be here!"
She nodded as she stood up and caught her breath. "I thought I could help."
"Madison, you're ten years old! How on earth did you think you were going to help?"
She paused to consider that. "I dunno," she said with a shrug.
"We have to get you home," Adams said. He ran his fingers through his hair as his mind raced and he examined the surveillance equipment, knowing that he couldn't just leave Samm. "Maybe I can call a cab," he said to himself.
"What?" Madison said, alarmed. "Are you nuts? You're just gonna send me off by myself with some strange cab driver? They'd never find my body!" She turned to look at the equipment and made a face as she heard a familiar voice. "Hey, is that my grandpa? Why are you spying on my grandparents? Are they spies?"
"It's not like that," Adams sighed. "And don't change the subject! You're in a lot of trouble."
She gave a dismissive little shrug and scoffed in an obviously practiced gesture that he knew would probably serve her well throughout her teenage years, assuming she managed to live that long. "Whatever. But can the lecture wait until after I go to the bathroom?"
He shook his head. "Where exactly do you think you're going to go?"
"Don't you have a toilet in here?"
"This is a surveillance van, not a recreational vehicle!"
"So where do you go?"
"We go before we leave!"
"Ugh, my dad is always saying that," Madison complained. Then her eyes grew wide. "Oh my gosh! Maybe all these years he's been training me to be an undercover operative! My parents and grandparents could be Russian sleeper agents! Hey, hey, look at me, look at me—do I look Russian to you?"
"Your parents aren't Russian sleeper agents."
"No, it all fits! That's why they would never let me watch The Americans! And you should see my mom's eyebrows before she gets them waxed, they look like caterpillars! Oh, God, I'm a traitor! My whole life is a lie!"
"Madison, you're only ten."
"Oh, sure, ten in American years, but how old am I in Mother Russia?" She started to break down sobbing.
Adams sat there awkwardly and watched her cry, not sure what to do.
"I don't... want... to be... a Russian spy...!" she wept.
Adams rolled his eyes and knelt down by her and she threw her arms around him desperately and continued crying into his shoulder. Awkwardly, he patted her on the back a couple times. "Um, there, there," he said hesitantly. Eventually she quieted down and he handed her a paper napkin which she used to blow her nose.
He nodded slowly and held out his hand. "I'm gonna need my credentials back," he told her.
Madison looked at him perplexed and sniffled once as she dried her eyes. She seemed about to protest when she paused and read his expression.
"Crud," she said as she slapped the black folding badge holder into his hand. "I felt like I overdid it. Did I overdo it?" she asked critically.
"Da, comrade," Adams replied, tucking the credentials back into his jacket pocket.
"Yeah, well, I still gotta pee."
Adams groaned and climbed into the driver's seat to get a look around. They weren't in a particularly great part of town and there was no way he was sending a ten-year-old girl out on her own in this neighborhood.
Madison climbed into the passenger seat. "Are they in there?" she said, pointing at the strip club. "I could go in there. I bet they have bathrooms. I could even help case the place for you. Seriously, I can be like ninja quiet when I want."
Adams rubbed the bridge of his nose and started the engine. "Okay, buckle up."
"Where are we going?"
"Not far, I hope. I'm going to circle the block and try and find you a bathroom," he said as he cast a nervous glance over at the club, quietly hoping that Samm could hold out for a few minutes on her own.
"Any chance we could get a snack on the way? I get low blood sugar in the afternoon."
"Jeez! Fine! Okay, Agent Grumpypants," she said, buckling her seat belt.
That afternoon at the shopping mall, Terry was experiencing an emotion somewhere between frustration, humiliation, disgust, and exhaustion. He considered naming it, maybe something with a long and complicated German name that really emphasized the unpleasantness. Because while he'd originally hoped to at least score a few casual outfits—jeans and loose tops, maybe some comfortable sandals—thanks to Claire's relentless "suggestions," the outfits they'd purchased so far were all snug, revealing, and provocative, and the only sandals he'd gotten were sexy, strappy, and with at least a four-inch heel.
As his mother looked through a rack of clothes, Terry pulled Claire over by some dresses. "Knock it off, will you?" he hissed. "I don't have any other clothes apart from those stupid maid's outfits. It'd be nice if I got something that didn't totally show off my—"
"—best assets?" Claire smirked. "Oh, I'm sorry. I guess I'm just not used to shopping for someone so—generously—endowed."
Terry's eyes narrowed. "So this is payback."
"Oh, baby, is it ever," she said with a satisfied little grin.
Terry looked wounded. "Claire, I can't believe you'd do this to me! We're family! You know how difficult this is for me. I never asked to be a woman, but dressing up in these provocative outfits and showing off this sex bomb body, it's almost more than I can bear!" He sniffled and blinked dewy eyes as he looked at her piteously.
Claire locked eyes with him as he returned the glance beseechingly and gave her a hopeful little smile. Then she poked him in the bosom. "Nice try, balloon bod."
"Dammit!" he swore, dropping the act. "I overshot the mark, didn't I? Was it too much? It was too much."
"You're unbelievable," she said as she skimmed through the rack of dresses. Then she paused and shot him a look. "Sex bomb body?" she said dubiously.
"I was going to say 'slut's carcass' but that sounded weird. I need to get a thesaurus or something."
"Yeah, well, after a few months strutting around town in these outfits, I bet you'll learn all sorts of fun terms for a woman like you," she teased.
"C'mon, give me a break."
At first he ignored him, but paused as she pulled a dress off the rack and turned to face him with a Cheshire Cat grin. "Okay. Just one more," she said, handing him the dress.
He looked down at it. "No. No chance. Absolutely not."
Sharon walked over to them and Terry frantically hid the dress behind him so she wouldn't see it. "I'm going to go use the ladies' room, and maybe get a small cup of coffee on the way back," she said. "You girls want anything?"
"Nope!" Terry replied as he angled his body so his mother wouldn't see the dress.
Claire gave him a sly look. "Actually, Angelique was still hoping to try on one or two more outfits she found," she said. "Or... are we done here? 'Cause if we are, I know a couple other stores with things that would really show off your figure."
Terry grit his teeth and forced a smile. "Maybe just one more dress."
"Well, you certainly inherited the shopping gene of the Riley women!" Sharon enthused. "You girls have fun!" she said, heading out into the mall.
Claire grinned and looked at Terry. "You're gonna need a different bra for that," she told him.
Soon, Claire stood waiting outside the dressing rooms with a huge smile on her face, looking like a kid on Christmas morning. "C'mon, let's see it!"
"You could just come in here," he replied.
"Aww, but the lighting in there is so unflattering!" she teased.
A moment later the door opened and Terry stepped out wearing a shiny purple lame minidress that looked like clubwear from the "nymphomaniac street hooker" line of clothes. It had a strappy halter top that was cut low and pressed his breasts into a truly stupendous cleavage and left his midriff bare to show off his slender feminine waist. Just above the navel there was a metallic O-ring that connected the halter top to the incredibly short and tight-fitting skirt that was stretched provocatively across his broad hips and ass, but best of all was the gold snakeskin print that covered the cups of his bra top and ran down the front of his skirt in a wide stripe, as though the designer had been worried that the dress might not be eye-catching enough.
He tossed his long brown hair, and the big heavy chandelier earrings that Claire had picked out swung back and forth gaily. "Okay, c'mon. Live it up," he said, striking a little pose.
Claire looked like she might hurt herself trying not to laugh. She took a shaky breath and nodded. "Wow. Very nice," she offered. "Classy."
"Mmm hmm," she whimpered.
"Really? I wasn't so sure," Terry said. "Especially how it shows the tops of my butt cheeks." He turned around and revealed how the dress clung to his big round buttocks, but also had an oval keyhole opening in back for absolutely no reason than to expose the top of his bare butt.
"HA ha ha ha ha!" Claire burst out as she pointed and laughed.
Terry just pursed his lips and nodded gamely. "Happy?"
"Uh huh," Claire whimpered, sniffling as she caught her breath. "Oh, my God. That is genius," she said as she stepped closer to get a better look. "Hmm. Probably should have gone with gold earrings to match the snakeskin print on the dress," she commented.
"Good thinking. I wouldn't want to look tacky."
"And you're also looking quite full of yourself," she teased, admiring his big breasts on display in the scandalously low neckline of his dress.
"You know that's not funny when you do it," he said as he squirmed in discomfort.
"I'll get better with practice. How you enjoying that pushup bra, by the way?"
"I'm gonna hurt somebody with these things," Terry complained with a frown as he looked down at his chest. He wriggled his shoulders and flinched as he saw his voluptuous profile in the mirror. "If I were you, I wouldn't want that on my conscience."
"If you were me, that bra wouldn't be in danger of flying apart and killing somebody."
Terry laughed. "Okay, that was a good one," he said as he gave her a little fist bump. He turned again to admire his dress. "God, this thing is awful. Though you have to admire how deftly it manages to communicate the wearer's rampant exhibitionism without ever undercutting the message of desperate promiscuity. It's just screams, 'I Have Daddy Issues.'"
"I thought you'd appreciate that," Claire grinned. "After all, I've seen the girls you date. Or were they hired?"
"And now prostitute jokes. They grow up so fast."
"You would know!" she teased, pointing at his chest.
"Okay, really? C'mon, that one was beneath you."
"Yeah, well, with those things you wouldn't even be able to see if anything was beneath y—" She stopped and looked at him. "Wow, these boob jokes are really easy, aren't they?"
"I never said I was above a cheap laugh." He sighed and gestured down at himself. "And speaking of cheap and easy, have you had your fun, yet? I'd like to get out of this getup before your grandmother gets back and I give her a heart attack."
"Uh huh," Claire agreed. "Just let me get a picture. Pose pretty!" she said, holding up her phone.
Terry rolled his eyes but struck a sexy pose for her benefit and put one hand on an outthrust hip and the other hand behind his head as he made an exaggerated duck-faced pout.
"Priceless!" Claire giggled, taking the picture. "Okay, why don't you go—"
"Angelique!" a woman's voice came, and Terry looked to see Krystal Delgado standing there next to Claire. She'd apparently just come out of the dressing rooms and was wearing an incredibly scant and revealing bikini that showed off her stunning figure. "It is you! I thought I recognized your voice! Hi, Claire. What are you gals doing here?"
Terry gaped in amazement at her in her skimpy swimsuit, and it took him a moment to realize that she was also giving him a once-over in his own ridiculously oversexed outfit. Suddenly he became aware that he was still frozen in his silly exaggerated pose, and he blushed in embarrassment as she ran her eyes over his body. As he lowered his hands his first instinct was to try and cover himself up, but he quickly realized that might only draw more attention. So, not having any idea what to do with his hands, he flopped them around in awkward little limp-wristed gestures. "I... um..."
"We're just shopping for outfits for Angelique," Claire interjected, shooting a look at Terry to pull himself together.
Krystal smiled. "Can't wear French maid uniforms all the time, right?"
"Uh huh," Terry said, unable to tear his eyes away from her body.
Krystal looked him over and shook her head. "Damn, girl, you are my idol. Seriously, there's no way could I wear an outfit like that. That's what I love about you, you're just totally out there."
"I'm about to be," Terry muttered. He pressed his thighs together tightly as he felt his manhood reacting to the sight of Krystal in her bikini. "Y-you're buying that?" he asked hopefully.
"Maybe. I hate buying swimsuits," Krystal grumped as she moved alongside Terry to check out her swimsuit in the mirror. "Ugh."
Even Claire was impressed. "Oh, my God, there isn't an ounce of fat on you, is there?" she said.
"Oh, you're sweet. But believe me, I've got plenty of fat."
"But in all the right places," Terry sighed as he admired her curves. Claire cleared her throat and shot him another warning look.
Krystal turned and looked at herself critically in the mirror as she tugged at the bikini strap. "I think I like the little one better," she decided. "I'm going to try it on again. You girls gonna be here for a little while? I'd love another opinion."
"Yep, here all day!" Terry said excitedly as she returned to the changing rooms. He watched as she left and made a contented sigh as her backside swayed back and forth.
Claire grabbed him and was just about to scold him for ogling Krystal when she noticed a familiar figure approaching. "Oh, crap, here comes Grandma," she said as she quickly yanked the tags off of his outfit. "Here, you go to the checkout counter with her and I'll distract Krystal."
"Um, maybe I should go in there," Terry offered, looking longingly towards the changing rooms. "You can distract Grandma."
"Uh huh. And then when you come out with Krystal, how are you going to introduce them to each other? If Krystal learns that Angelique is Grandma Riley's daughter, how quick do you think Mr. Delgado will figure out who you really are?"
Terry stared off into space and wrung his hands as his mind raced. "I—I don't—" he stammered. Then he glanced desperately towards the changing rooms and back to Claire. "But, the little one!" he pleaded.
Claire pursed her lips in disapproval. "Well, if you feel like objectifying someone, why don't you start with her," she said, gesturing towards his reflection in the mirror.
"Now, that—that isn't—!" he sputtered. He then glanced towards his mother who was getting close, and then back to his determined niece. "I have to go in there anyway. I have to change out of this outfit."
"You can wear what you've got on."
"I'm not going anywhere like this!"
"You need to pay for it anyway, I already took the tags off," Claire maintained. "I'll go get your clothes and give your regrets to Krystal." Her eyes cut over to her grandmother, now just feet away.
Terry gaped at her incredulously. "You're cock blocking me!"
"No, because that would imply that you have a chance with her, Angelique. You're a woman, remember?"
"Not...everywhere! And I will have you know that Krystal is very progressive."
Suddenly, he heard his mother gasp, "Terry, what on earth are you wearing?"
Claire jumped in. "Grandma, she likes to be called Angelique now, remember?" she said with an 'I told you this was a bad idea' look at Terry. "And Angelique just absolutely fell in love with this outfit. She's going to wear it out and was just on her way to the register. Here are the tags."
Terry glared at Claire. "I'll need my purse," he growled.
"Oh, I'll get it!" she replied helpfully. "You run on ahead and I'll be right there."
Before he could object, Claire hurried into the changing rooms. He was acutely aware of his mother's look of dubious disapproval at his ridiculous outfit, but he just made a little grumble and headed for the register.
"Well, it certainly shows off your curves," Sharon observed. Terry said nothing but heard her gasp as she spotted the wide oval peep-hole that shamelessly displayed the bare top of his big round bubble butt. "Oh, my. All of your curves," she said.
Once they got to the register his mother offered to pay for his outfit and the chatty salesgirl suggested two other stores that had hip dresses and clubwear that had similar styles. Terry was about to make a snide remark when Claire showed up and enthusiastically agreed with the salesgirl. "Good idea! Angelique was just saying how she just can't tear her eyes away from those sexy little outfits, isn't that right?" she said, still irritated with him for the way he was ogling Krystal.
"That's not exactly what I meant," Terry grumbled.
"There's nothing wrong with showin' off what your mama gave you!" the salesgirl joked.
"Yes, well, in this case I don't think I can take too much credit," Sharon said as she gazed at Terry's curvaceous figure. "But I can see why you'd be eager to 'show off the goods,' so to speak."
She shrugged as they started to leave the store. "You should have seen the things I wore when your father and I were dating," she said, casting a glance at Terry's footwear. "Hmm. You're going to need some better heels for that outfit. Do you girls still call them 'fuck-me pumps?' That's what we used to call them," she continued, ignoring Terry and Claire's shocked expressions. "Your father used to love it when I wore those. Come to think of it, he still does..."
"This is all your fault," Terry hissed to a dumbstruck Claire.
Tucked away at a table in a quiet corner of the strip club, Delgado eyed Samm carefully as she anxiously fiddled with the straw in her glass. She'd managed to stall for time by chatting the two men up and ordering a drink, but Delgado in particular was getting more pointed in his questions.
"You know—Cynthia, was it?—I swear I've seen you before."
"Oh, I can't imagine," she said with a nervous smile. "I'm visiting from—" She hesitated, trying to think of someplace. Anyplace. "Sac—er, Sauc—uh, Sausalito?"
"Hmm. And how did you say you knew Angelique?" he asked suspiciously.
"Is that right."
"Well, you know. Work colleagues."
Delgado laughed uproariously. "Ha! 'Work colleagues!' That's a good one!"
Lawrence looked puzzled and turned to Samm. "You're a housekeeper?"
Delgado clapped him on the back. "Nah, Larry. They're strippers."
"They?" Lawrence gaped.
Samm kicked herself mentally for forgetting that Delgado had previously mistaken Terry for a stripper, but it was too late. And now thanks to her slip, Terry's father thought his son—his transsexual son—was also moonlighting as a stripper. Suddenly she had more sympathy for Terry trying to keep all the lies straight.
Delgado scrutinized her more closely, then snapped his fingers. "You're Sleazy Cindy!"
Samm's eyes went wide. At first she started to deny it, but quickly realized that Delgado would then start trying to think of other places where he'd seen her from, which might include one of her stakeouts if she'd been careless.
"Well..." she said noncommittally.
"Larry, we are in the presence of greatness. Sleazy Cindy here—well, you should be the one to tell it."
"Oh, well, I don't like to brag..."
"What's not to be proud of?" Delgado objected. Turning to Lawrence, he wagged a finger at Samm. "You're looking at a two-time winner of the 'Stiffy' awards out in Vegas for excellence in exotic dancing. Cindy here practically pioneered this thing where—" He hesitated and looked at Samm. "Hey, what do you call that move when you're doing that thing upside down on the pole?" he asked as he twisted his finger around in a complicated corkscrew motion.
"Twirling?" Samm offered.
Delgado waved his hand dismissively and turned back to Lawrence. "Seriously, Larry, you wouldn't believe your eyes." Then his face lit up as he got an idea and pointed at Samm. "Hey, you should do a set! One of the girls called in sick so they've got an opening. C'mon, give the guys a show!"
"Wow, uh, that's really flattering, and you know I would, but I really hate bringing work with me when I'm on vacation..."
"Nonsense," Delgado said in a tone that was decidedly no-nonsense. "It's just one set. I'm happy to pay, and I'd consider it a personal favor," he told her as he regarded her intently. Very intently.
Samm licked her lips nervously and forced a smile. "Gosh, that sounds...great. Just? Excuse me just a sec, I have to use the ladies' room," she said as she grabbed her purse and hurried towards the restrooms.
Delgado turned to Lawrence and shrugged. "Performers. They're all like that."
Samm burst into the mercifully vacant ladies room and hid in one of the stalls as she grabbed her phone and called Adams. "Were you listening?" she asked. "Well, yes, I'm delighted the wire is working, don't break your arm patting yourself on the back! No, I'm not hysterical. I am calm!" she cried, hearing her shout echo in the bathroom. She lowered her voice. "Well, I don't know. I can't leave, or Riley's cover is gonna be blown. Well, obviously I can't stay! God, just add a flying squirrel, two bananas, and a gorilla costume, and this is exactly how they nabbed Manfredi and Johnson!" she snapped. "Wait, what's that noise in the background? What do you mean, you had to move the van? Why would you move the—look, it doesn't matter. Just figure out a way to get me out of here!"
She hung up the phone in disgust and was about to put it back in her purse when she decided to run an Internet search for "Sleazy Cindy," and quickly found an amateur video of one of her performances. Ugh, Delgado thought she looked like that? She vowed to make an appointment with her hair stylist that week. She watched the video for a minute, becoming progressively more agitated as she saw the stripper's routine... there was no way she could do all those moves! Nervously, she watched further as the woman—oh, my God, how is she—? And then with the—? She squinted as she peered closely at the small screen. Was that a pineapple? What on earth would she be—
Suddenly Samm's eyes went wide in shock and her hand leapt to cover her mouth as she felt her face flush. She quickly jammed the phone into her purse and sat there anxiously on the toilet as she wondered what to do next, all the while thinking that she would never look at a fruit salad the same way ever again.
Back in the surveillance van, Madison listened to Adams on the phone with Agent Samm and munched away on a bag of chips they'd bought at the Chinese grocery they'd found nearby. Adams hadn't wanted to get distracted with buying snacks, but the excitable old woman behind the counter had been adamant about not letting them use the bathroom unless they purchased something first. Considering that she didn't seem to speak a word of English, she'd nonetheless demonstrated an impressive ability to communicate the concept, "Restrooms are for paying customers only."
Now, Adams hung up the phone as he desperately tried to think of some way to help his partner.
Madison ate another chip and examined the bag, which had no English words on it apart from the product name: Cuttlefish Chips.
"You know, at first I thought the cuttlefish was just their mascot, like Chester Cheetah, but I'm starting to think that might be what I'm eating."
"Not now, Madison."
"Though if you think about it, if someone from China comes over here and buys a bag of Cheetos, does that mean they think they're eating cheetah-flavored chips? That's just weird."
She put the bag down and licked her fingers. "C'mon, give me the details, I can help! At the last parent-teacher conference my teacher praised me for being 'exceedingly devious and conniving.'"
"That's not praise, Madison."
She perched on the edge of her seat, looking at him eagerly.
Adams rubbed his eyes. "Later, when I'm getting debriefed and they ask me when it all went wrong, I'm going to look back to exactly this moment," he muttered to himself as he looked down into Madison's earnest face and gave a tired groan. "But I want it understood, I'm not asking for advice! I'm just talking out loud."
"You're the boss."
"I have to figure out a way to get Samm out of there without drawing attention, and also figure out some way to get your grandfather to stop talking to Delgado about Angelique so he doesn't blow your uncle's cover."
Madison's eyes lit up and she sprung from her seat. "Ooh! Ooh! Send me in! I could be like, a stripper! Like a midget stripper!"
"No!" he said. "And don't call them midgets, it's offensive."
"Well, what do you call them?"
"A little person. Or a dwarf."
"A Dwarvish stripper?" she wondered, stroking her chin absently.
"It's not like Lord of the Rings!"
"Yeah, I'd be more of a Hobbit stripper," she decided. "Though the hairy barefoot thing is kind of a deal-breaker for me. That's just gross."
"You're not going to be any kind of a stripper!"
"Yeah, well, one of us better suit up and get in there or your girlfriend's toast."
"She's not my—!" he started to protest, then stopped short as he closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. "Look, just shut up for a minute, I need to think."
The inside of the van fell quiet for several long seconds.
"It's ssstuck," Madison hissed. "Bagginses is ssstuck."
"Will you just—!" He stopped as he saw her pull out her phone and began to type a message. "What are you doing?"
"I'm calling a guy. He doesn't have money, but he has a very particular set of skills. Skills that make him a nightmare for people like Delgado," she said as she sent the message. Then she held out the bag of chips. "Cuttlefish?"
Having returned home from their marathon shopping expedition, Terry stumbled in the front door of the house, his arms filled with his new purchases. Meanwhile, Claire paused to wave goodbye to her grandmother as she drove off.
"Where did she say she was going?" Claire asked as she closed the front door.
"Something about meeting a friend," Terry said as he nearly tripped over his pile of bags. "Though I think she may have just been ditching us before you dragged us to another shoe store." He gave her a testy look. "And by the way, congratulations on so deftly coaching your grandmother through today's purchases. Even after all that, I think I managed to walk away without any casual clothes at all."
"Payback's a bitch, 'Angelique,'" Claire grinned. "Since you enjoy teasing me about that bod of yours, I figured you should show it off! Besides, at least you got that one pair of jeans."
"Yeah, I didn't know body paint came in denim," he groused as he looked down in disgust at the skanky clubbing dress he was still wearing. "Still better than this getup, though. I can't believe I'm saying this, but for once I'm actually looking forward to changing into one of those stupid French maid outfits."
Claire laughed. "Aww, but you wear it so well!" she teased as she bent down to grab a couple bags. "C'mon, I'll help you get these upstairs."
As he reached down for the bags, Terry's cell phone beeped and he fished it out of his purse. "Oh, what fresh hell is this?" he moaned as he read the message. He closed his eyes and shook his head. "Just on the off chance I might be experiencing a shopping-induced psychotic break, when was the last time you saw Madison?"
Claire shrugged. "Not since this morning. Why, what's—" Her face fell. "Oh, God. What's she done now?"
"Nothing I can't handle," Terry sighed as he headed towards the garage. "Just dump that junk in my room, okay?"
"Aren't you going to change first?"
He shook his head. "Oh, no. Where I'm going, I'm dressed to kill. Which I may do when I get my hands on your sister."
Twenty minutes later, Terry stood outside the surveillance van as the door opened. Adams had a rather sheepish look, but Madison's eyes sparkled when she saw his outfit.
"Wow, Uncle Terry! Way to sell the look!" She nudged Adams. "Didn't I tell you he'd come through?"
Terry climbed into the van and shut the door. "Care to explain this?" he asked Adams, holding up his phone. On the screen was a text message from Madison that read, "NEED UR HELP. AT UNTOUCHABLES STRIP CLUB. WEAR SOMETHING SKANKY PLZ."
Adams was about to say something when Terry heard Samm's voice on the speaker, followed by Delgado's.
"She's in trouble," Adams said.
Terry sighed. "Fine, I'll go play nice with lover boy and get her out of there," he said. But as he reached for the door, he hesitated when he saw Adams and Madison share a nervous glance.
"Grandpa is with them," Madison said with a wince.
"And he knows that Angelique is a stripper," Adams added.
"Oh, yeah. That, too."
Terry took his hand off the door handle and looked at both of them seriously. "Tell me everything."
Samm laughed nervously and took another sip of her drink as the two men watched her. Sitting on the table directly in front of her was a ripe pineapple.
"...and that's when I said—I said to her—hey, if we're going to do this, we should both get paid, right?" She laughed again, but Lawrence was looking at her strangely, and Delgado was stone-faced.
Delgado gave a low grumble. "Maybe you should go get ready for your set."
"But I haven't gotten to the best part of the—"
"I think we've got the gist of it," he snapped.
Samm cleared her throat and hesitantly put her drink on the table and collected her purse, flashing a nervous smile to the two men.
As she was about to stand up, Delgado said, "Aren't you forgetting something?"
"Hmm?" Samm squeaked before looking down at the pineapple. "Oh. Thanks." She started to reach for it and then paused and said, "You know, I should warn you, I'm a little rusty. And I've got this lower back spasm, so I may not be as flexible as—"
"Oh, my God!" a woman's voice came. They all turned to look as Terry came strutting up to the table with a big smile on his face. "It's all my favorite people! And if it isn't Scuzzy Cindy!"
"Sleazy," Samm corrected.
"Whatever. Ooh, love the dress, girlfriend! That looks like something I might wear," he said, his accusatory glance going unnoticed by the two men. "It's so awesome that you took the time to get dolled up for a change. Normally you're dressed to blend in so well," he said pointedly. "You know. Unobtrusive?"
Samm's eyes narrowed to slits. "Sometimes you have to make a statement."
Delgado wrapped an arm around Terry's waist possessively and admired his curvy figure that was packed tightly into the skimpy little dress. "Hello, angel face," he said.
"Hey, uh, cuddle...fox," Terry replied, trying to remember Ray's advice about sexy animal nicknames. The burly gangster pulled him close into a brief but amorous kiss.
Terry cast his eyes over at his father and felt his stomach churn as he saw his dad's look of disdain. Lawrence gaped at Terry in the ridiculously skimpy purple lame dress that was scandalously showing off his son's curvy figure, and as Terry and Delgado broke from their kiss, it looked like he was in complete shock. However, that suited Terry just fine. He figured if he could manage to keep his father stunned speechless there was less chance that he would accidentally spill the beans in front of the gangster.
"Your timing is perfect, Angelique," Delgado said as he admired Terry in his skimpy little dress. He then ran his hand across Terry's ample bottom and gave it a possessive pat. "Your friend Cindy here was just about to give us a show."
"I would pay real money to see that," Terry smiled as Samm flashed him a dirty look.
Suddenly Delgado pounded his fist on the table. "Hey!" he said brightly, "Why don't you girls both go up there!" He made eye contact with the club manager and held up two fingers and pointed at Terry, and the guy shrugged and nodded in response. Delgado then leered up at Terry and said, "It's been way too long since I've seen you dance, angel."
Lawrence looked like he was about to make a comment so Terry quickly bent over and gave Delgado a kiss on the cheek and waggled his ample backside in his father's direction. He felt mortified as he imagined his dad's reaction at seeing his son's big round butt squeezed into the skintight dress and with his bare cheeks on display in the "ass window" on top, but it definitely shut his father up.
"I don't know, Lucius," Terry purred seductively. He glanced slyly to the side and noted that his father's head looked like it was about to explode. Then he turned to Samm. "What do you think, Cindy?"
Samm's face was deathly pale. She didn't say anything, but she was quivering and shaking her head almost imperceptibly.
Terry smiled confidently. "Yeah, that's what I thought." He turned to Delgado and gave him another little kiss. "We'd love to... um, smoochy bunny."
"Wait. We what?" Samm said. Still in a daze she hardly registered as Terry took her by the hand and pulled her up out of her seat. He then took the pineapple and jammed it into her hands as she looked around in a panic. "I—I have a tropical fruit allergy..."
Terry ignored her and leaned over to face his dad, flashing a prodigious amount of cleavage in the process. "And you are in for quite a show," he promised with a wink. He then quickly turned and walked away so he didn't have to witness his father's reaction. He had no idea how he was going to explain all this later, but he figured this little display should keep his dad off-balance for at least a few more minutes. One crisis at a time.
Terry strutted his way towards the backstage area, careful to put a little extra wiggle in his walk for the benefit of the two men, and Samm scurried along behind him, clutching the pineapple in a death grip as they headed back towards the changing area. When they reached a quiet corridor with nobody else around, she grabbed his arm in a panic.
"Riley, what are we going to do? I can't go through with this! I don't know how to dance like... like that," she complained. "Two seconds after we get on stage they're going to know we're not who we're supposed to be, and then Delgado's going to kill us! And even if he doesn't kill us, I'm finished. Oh, God, I'm so fired. And then it's back to being an au pair for whiny self-indulgent brats who'll never have to work a day in their privileged little lives. And you! I can't believe you volunteered us for this insanity, and now you're just standing there not doing a blessed thing while we—"
Terry nodded along calmly as she continued her tirade. Then, without breaking eye contact with her, he casually raised his hand, reached over, and pulled the fire alarm.
As the alarm started wailing, Samm stopped short as she heard the sounds of people swearing and rushing around, trying to figure out what was going on.
Terry tilted his head slightly and regarded her like he was seeing her for the first time. "You've never broken a rule in your life, have you?" he said with a cocky little smile.
"That—that is not the point," she said as she hugged the pineapple uncertainly and followed him towards the exit.
By the time they filed out onto the sidewalk with everyone else, Delgado and Lawrence were already there. "Aww," Terry pouted to the gangster. "Sorry, uh... snuggle... lemur! I guess next time I'll just have to give you a private show," he teased as he ran his manicured fingers across Delgado's muscular chest. Then he cast his eyes over at his father, who stared in disbelief at Terry's shameless display. "Unless you wanted to stick around to watch?" he teased suggestively.
"I should be going," Lawrence said hurriedly. He looked at Delgado in bewilderment. "It was... good... meeting you," he said. He then looked to Terry and seemed about to say something, so Terry quickly blew his father a very seductive kiss, winked, and waggled his fingers girlishly. Lawrence, mortified and speechless, just shook his head and walked away.
Terry felt awful for doing that to his father, but forced a smile for Delgado's benefit. "Well, poop," he pouted. "I guess we should be going, too, hey, Cindy?"
Terry testily shot Samm a significant look. "You did need a ride, didn't you?"
"Oh! Right, sure. Thanks."
Terry gave Delgado a quick kiss goodbye and the gangster watched as he mounted the Vespa scooter that was parked by the curb. As Terry put the matching pink helmet on, Delgado looked at him strangely.
"It's my ride," Terry explained, giving a poke at the fuzzy dice that were hanging off the handlebars. "It's a long story."
Samm started to climb on the scooter behind Terry but then stopped and turned to face Delgado.
"Oh, um, here," she said, handing him the pineapple. She then moved up to the scooter, turned back to the gangster and added, "It was lovely meeting you." Then, she awkwardly climbed onto the back of the Vespa and Terry shook his head and sped into traffic.
Delgado watched them drive off and stood there for a long moment before noticing that the club's manager was standing next to him along with various patrons and strippers who had evacuated from the club into the street, and several of them were looking at him strangely. Suddenly realizing that he was still holding the pineapple, the gangster threw it to the ground and stalked off towards his car as he pulled out his phone.
"How many more times are we going to through this?" Bonnie sighed. There was a stack of binders and papers on the conference table and enough spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides to support the bureaucracy of a medium-sized European country. Even the normally upbeat Violet was looking pretty haggard after trying to take notes in a meeting that madly hopped from topic to topic.
"We'll go through it until I'm satisfied with the answer," Nina responded. "This projected growth model is complete fiction."
"No, it isn't," Bonnie growled, easing up slightly when Dave put a supportive hand on her shoulder as he sat back down next to her. "In fact, I'd be much more interested in discussing my questions about your investment group."
Nina ignored her and flipped her binder open to a different page. "I'm still not entirely convinced about this business of relying on print," she said. "I'd be more comfortable if you diversified into electronic markets."
"What about the app?" Violet offered.
Dave immediately stiffened up and Bonnie shot Violet a testy look. Unfortunately for them, Nina noticed their reactions and stared at them keenly and her piercing gaze bored into them like hot daggers.
"It's still in the early stages," Dave told her.
"Really more of a marketing tool," added Bonnie.
Nina said nothing and just maintained her gaze.
Dave shrugged. "We developed this app to drive interest in the company. It's a free service for people who just need a few words."
"Here, we made it about the message, not the medium," Bonnie explained. "It's like when you have to sign the retirement card for someone you don't really know, and five people have already written, 'Congratulations!' The app lets you pick an event and tone of your message—like, 'Birthday, Humorous'—and it'll suggest some things to say. People have even started using it on their social media feeds."
Dave pulled out his phone. "Here, you want to try? Give me an event where you were stuck on how to express yourself."
"All right," Nina said thoughtfully. "How about something to say to a wife whose husband was gunned down while trying to elude the police."
They both blinked in surprise. "Um," Dave said, "that one hasn't come up very often."
"Not exactly our core user group," Bonnie admitted. Nina stared at them impassively, and Bonnie turned to Dave. "Maybe, 'Condolences?'" she suggested.
Dave nodded vigorously as he typed. "Okay. And for the tone, I'm guessing 'Supportive?'"
"Mmm," Nina murmured, unsatisfied. "Do you have anything like 'Ominous,' or perhaps 'Cautionary?'"
Dave cleared his throat. "It isn't quite that nuanced," he said hesitantly.
"It's new," Bonnie added.
You could have heard a pin drop as Nina maintained her emotionless expression and silently regarded the pair. Finally after several tense seconds, she gave a hint of a smile. "Well. I suppose there are always untapped markets, aren't there?"
"Haha!" Dave laughed in relief as Bonnie smiled anxiously. "Yeah, that's a good one. We'll definitely have to keep that on our radar."
"It's a growth market," Nina said with a wry smile. Then she returned her attention back to the binders on the table. "Now then. Where are the numbers for the projected Southeast expansion?"
"That's at least five years out. I hardly think we need to—"
Just then, Nina's cell phone rang and she excused herself to take the call.
Once she was gone, Bonnie slumped over onto the papers in front of her. "Kill me. Kill me now."
"Honey, it's not that bad," Dave said. "This is actually going pretty well. And we need this."
"The woman is a viper. I don't like her, and I don't trust her."
"You just need to get to know her," he said. "She's not some heartless shrew."
"I never said she was. Shrews are warm-blooded. She probably eats shrews."
"Honey—" he began, but cut himself short as Nina re-entered the conference room, all business again. As she sat down, Dave cast an uncertain eye over to Bonnie and then said, "Ms. Fontaine, as I was about to say, we don't have the numbers for the Southeast expansion—"
"Well, if you're not going to take this seriously—"
Dave raised his hand. "I have the numbers in my office at home. So maybe we could adjourn back to our place, have some dinner, and review the numbers there."
"Tonight isn't convenient. I have obligations."
"Tomorrow evening, then." Bonnie stiffened up as he said it, but he put his hand on her arm. "We're having a little get-together... very small, just a few friends, and we'd be delighted if you could join us."
Bonnie stared at him in disbelief, but Nina just stood up and gathered up her bag and said, "Fine. But I'd better like what I see or the deal is off." With that, she exited the room, leaving Bonnie, Dave, and Violet sitting there.
"Violet, would you mind if I had a moment alone with my husband?" Bonnie asked tightly. She'd barely gotten the words out of her mouth before Violet had vacated the room, her chair still spinning.
Dave sighed. "I know you're angry, and I shouldn't have done that without checking with you—"
"Car keys," Bonnie said as she quickly stood up and retrieved her bag.
She snapped her fingers impatiently and he handed her the keys.
"Am I sleeping on the couch tonight?"
"We'll discuss it later. You can take a cab home. But right now, I need the car."
She pointed in the direction that Nina had just left. "I don't trust her. She's up to something, and I want to know where she's off to in such a hurry. Maybe I can find out what these so-called 'investors' are all about," she said before she hurried for the door.
Dave started to say something, but she was already gone. He sat there alone in the conference room and leaned back in his chair and looked at the ceiling as he let out a long, slow breath. "When exactly did life become a situation comedy?" he wondered.
As they rode along on the scooter, Samm leaned against Terry with relief. "Oh, my God. Oh, my God," she sighed. "That was too close. That was way too close. What the hell was I thinking?"
Terry didn't say anything, but as she calmed down, she started to pay attention to the streets they were on. "Wait. Where are we going? We're supposed to go back—"
"For once in your life, would you quit worrying about what you're supposed to do?" he said. "We're going to a place I know. You need to unwind, and after the day I've had, I definitely need a drink."
"Riley, are you nuts? In case you hadn't noticed, we're dressed like hookers. I am not going out—"
"Calm down, will you? I've got it covered."
She sat back slightly and sighed in resignation as she knew there was no arguing with him. "Whenever you say 'I've got it covered,' I always get queasy."
"Yeah, you get used to that," he said.
In their tight skimpy dresses the two of them made quite a sight as they drove along on the scooter, and many guys on the sidewalk and in other cars made catcalls and rude come-ons, especially when they stopped for traffic lights. While they were stopped at one intersection, Samm glanced to the side and saw the guy in the car next to them made a lewd gesture with his tongue.
"Ugh," she said in disgust. She then looked at Terry, who'd also seen the guy's crude come-on but hadn't reacted. "Doesn't that piss you off?" she asked.
"You'd be surprised the crap you can get used to," he said as the light turned green.
Samm got more and more anxious as the scene repeated itself, and to make matters worse the streets seemed to be getting even sketchier the farther they drove, so by the time they finally arrived at their destination and Terry parked the scooter in a small downtown parking lot, she was visibly shaken.
"You're not going to lock it up?" she asked nervously, trying to sound casual.
"You really think someone's gonna steal this thing? There's no way my luck is that good," Terry retorted as he headed out onto the sidewalk.
Samm hurried along behind him, and while it turned out to be only a short walk to the club, she still found it completely nerve-wracking. Dressed as they were they found themselves on the receiving end of several appreciative glances from the guys, as well as a couple indecent propositions. But the women were worse. Even the ones dressed for clubbing sneered at the two of them in their skanky outfits, obviously making assumptions about their profession. In fact, there appeared to be a few genuine hookers hanging out and working not far away, and when they made warning and territorial glares at the two of them, Samm was just about at her wit's end. She looked desperately to Terry, but if any of this bothered him, he didn't give any outward sign. But she knew it had to be getting to him... how could it not?
As they entered the club Samm expected to get more of the same, but despite how busy it was she was surprised that the two of them barely registered a second glance by any of the patrons. A DJ was playing music and though she couldn't see the dance floor it actually seemed like a pretty fun crowd.
Terry read the change on her face. "See? I told you it'd be fine."
Samm relaxed slightly as she followed him towards the bar. "So, is this like a hangout of yours?"
"I've never been here before. I was always curious, and this seemed like a good opportunity."
Samm nodded as they maneuvered through the crowd and approached the bar. They ordered their drinks and as she sipped at her margarita Terry gave her a grin and she felt herself starting to relax a little. It was a busy night, and absently her eyes scanned around the club, taking in the clientele. There were a lot of couples, she noticed. But not a lot of men.
She grabbed Terry by the arm and yanked him close as she hissed in his ear, "Riley, this is a lesbian club!"
"Yeah, I know!" he said brightly as he took another drink and looked appreciatively at a woman who walked by in a low-cut dress.
"We can't be here!"
"I'm not—!" she started, flummoxed. "And—and you're definitely not—!"
"Will you relax? It's not an orgy, for Christ's sake. And they aren't contagious."
"I know that," Samm muttered. She took a nervous gulp of her drink.
"So, what's the problem? We're here, you enjoying a refreshing adult beverage, and we're as unobtrusive as we're gonna get in these outfits. Live a little."
She looked at him uncertainly and her eyes darted nervously around the club. "Well... maybe just for one drink. I wouldn't want—"
Before she could say anything further, he grabbed her by the hand. "Hey, c'mon, a table over there just opened up, and these stupid heels are killing me," he said as he pulled her deeper into the club.
"Okay, but just the one drink," she repeated uncertainly.
A few hours later, Samm came hurrying back to the table and bumped into it as she sat down, almost knocking over their drinks.
"Oops!" she cried as she grabbed at her glass and took a drink. "I danced!" she announced.
"I saw that."
"I really love that song," she said. "And some girl grabbed my butt," she giggled.
Terry gave her a small smile. "I'm glad you're having fun."
"I am having fun!" she agreed. "Though I think I might be a little bit inebri—inubr—um, under the influence."
He laughed. "Yeah, I noticed."
Samm looked at him and furrowed her brow. "Aren't you having fun?" she asked, worried. "Riley, you're totally woman enough for most of the chicks here. You should go for it."
"Yeah, that's kind of the problem," he muttered as his eyes followed one of the clubgoers as she walked past. "Anyway, one of us still has to drive home."
Samm winced. "Ugh, the scooter. Yeah. But maybe—hey, are you listening to me?"
Terry was looking past her, not paying attention. Instead, his eyes were fixed on another woman who was standing close to their table. She seemed totally out of place among the other patrons, looking very conservative and uptight in her business clothes and had stopped to scan the crowd, obviously searching for someone.
"Bonnie?" Terry said, incredulous.
Bonnie practically jumped at being recognized and then did a hilarious double-take as she turned to look at Terry. At first not she didn't even recognize him, but then glowered at him in his skimpy and clingy outfit.
"Terry?! What are you doing here?" she challenged.
"Her name's Angelique," Samm volunteered. "An-gel-iiiique," she sounded out. "That's a silly name."
Terry ignored her. "At least I'm dressed for it," he shot back. "You here for the lesbian librarian conference?"
"I'm looking for someone."
"Yeah, that's kind of how these places work."
Annoyed, Bonnie sat down at their table. "I followed someone here." When Terry gave her a more insistent look, she added, "It's that investor. There was something fishy about her, so I followed her here to see what she was hiding."
"Um, do you think maybe she was hiding that she was gay? Because..." He held up his hands to gesture all around them.
"It's not that!" Bonnie insisted. "Well, it's not just that. She—wait! There she is!" She stood up to get a better look.
Terry rolled his eyes and followed her line of vision towards the woman Bonnie had spotted. She was on the youthful side of middle-aged but still very attractive, especially in her fitted designer outfit that walked the fine line between being sexy for the club without being age-inappropriate. And she obviously took very good care of herself, he noted appreciatively as he admired her toned physique. She was older than the women he usually went out with, but he thought she looked like a cougar who could definitely still—
"Ow!" he cried as Samm grabbed his wrist and squeezed it tightly. "Hey, what's the big—?"
"Holy shit," Samm said, her eyes riveted on the woman. "It's her."
Samm's eyes flashed up to Bonnie, who was still standing and trying to get a better look, so she leaned close and whispered so Bonnie couldn't overhear. "It's Delgado's lieutenant. That's Nina Fontaine!"
"Well, what the hell is she—"
Terry stopped as they all watched as Nina moved up to another woman who was sitting at the bar. They couldn't get a good look at her, but she seemed to be older than Nina and not exactly dressed for the club, wearing more causal street clothes. As they watched, Nina moved up to the woman and smoothly put her arms around her in a lover's embrace and then pulled her into a very passionate kiss. Terry was just about to make a smart aleck remark about pussy-loving cougars when the women broke from their embrace and Bonnie turned to him in shock.
"Who the heck is that?" Samm asked.
Terry stared in bewilderment at the two women who were still fawning over each other. "That—that's my mom."
Dumbfounded, Bonnie sat down at the table, her mouth and eyes so wide that she looked like a trout. "W-what do we do?" she asked.
"I have no idea," Samm said, her face frozen in an almost identical expression.
Terry watched as Nina and his mother moved away from the bar, farther into the club. Then, confidently, he stood up.
Bonnie and Samm stared up at him. "What are you doing?"
"I'm gonna get another drink. You want anything?"
"This is no time to go drinking!" Bonnie cried, pulling him back down into his seat.
"I disagree. I think situations like this are exactly why alcohol was invented. Thousands of years of human achievement to laboriously perfect the fermentation process has led us to this very moment, so that I might choose exactly the right beverage to accompany the news that my mother is a lesbian who is cheating on my father."
"Maybe your mom is just bisexual," Samm offered.
"I don't see how the word 'just' is doing anything to help that sentence."
"Terry, what the hell!" Bonnie cried.
"Her name is Angelique," Samm corrected.
Bonnie spun on Samm. "I'm sorry, and you are—?"
Terry held out his hand by way of introduction. "Bonnie, this is Sloppy Cindy—"
"—Sleazy Cindy, a stripper from Sausalito."
"I don't care if she sells sea shells by the seashore!" Bonnie spat. She got a determined look in her eyes. "I'm gonna go talk to them."
"No, you can't!" Samm cried. "Um, I mean, the first rule of surveillance is to remain unobtrusive." She looked over at Terry and then down at herself. "Well, usually."
"So what do we do?"
"I don't know! Not that!"
Terry sat there as the two women started talking over each other, neither of them listening to the other as they vented their frustrations. It all just ran together in one big rolling hamster ball of worry. "Can't believe... Ruined... Caught in the act... Never have another chance... Investors... Criminal conspiracy..."
"Quiet!" Terry shouted. He looked at them both incredulously. "Okay! First of all, when the hell did I become the levelheaded one?" he snapped, causing both women to glance at each other, chagrined. "And second, we're not going to do anything."
"I don't like it, either! But whoever they are, or were, or we want them to be, this doesn't change any of that. They're still the same people. And even if we do need to confront them, this isn't the time or place."
The two women were quiet for a long moment. "You're right," Bonnie sighed. She made eye contact with Terry as she said it, both of them appreciating that was probably the first time she'd ever said those words to him. Normally he would have marked the occasion with a snarky comment or a ticker tape parade, but he let it pass.
Bonnie then looked at him uncertainly. "What about your father?"
Terry sighed heavily. "Well, he just found out today that his youngest son is living as a woman. I say let's give him at least until tomorrow to let him know that his wife is a lesbian."
During the ride home on the scooter Samm was mostly quiet, owing largely due to the queasiness she was fighting to get under control. However, the wind did help to clear her head a bit, so by the time they were close to home she was feeling a bit more talkative.
"Riley, I'm sorry you had to find out about your mom like that. But you know we can't just drop it. Nina Fontaine, she's dangerous. And if your mom is somehow wrapped up in whatever she has going on—"
"She's not," he said unequivocally. "They might be—together—but she's not involved in that."
"I'm just saying we don't know. And now your brother and sister-in-law are courting her as an investor? I can't even get my head around that."
"Is it Delgado?" Terry asked.
"Maybe? Fontaine usually doesn't make a move without—"
"No. I mean, is that Delgado?" he repeated. Terry had been driving to drop Samm off at the rental house that she and Adams were using, and they were just about to drive past Dave and Bonnie's house on the way. But there in the driveway was a car he didn't recognize and standing right next to it was a man that appeared to be Lucius Delgado. He spotted them on the scooter and waved.
"Shit," Terry muttered. Admittedly it was late and dark, but it wasn't like he could drive past and pretend that Delgado had spotted two other strippers driving through the neighborhood on a pink Vespa scooter. Reluctantly he slowed and turned into the driveway as Samm tensed up behind him. "It's okay, we belong here, just relax."
As they pulled up, Terry gave Delgado a little wave as they stopped and dismounted. But as he got close, he saw that the older man looked guilty, like a little kid with his hand caught in the cookie jar.
"Evening, angel eyes," Delgado said.
"Hey, there... hunky... aardvark," Terry said, trying to hide his wince as he walked up to the man. Delgado looked at him strangely and he fumbled for an explanation. "Um, it's—it's a new thing. You know, calling everyone 'aardvark.' You know, like, 'Yo, wassup, my aardvark?' Or, 'Crazy aardvark ain't down wit' dat.'" He shrugged and looked over at Samm, who was staring at him like he was insane. "Right, Cindy?"
She blinked once, slowly. "Um, word to your aardvark?" she said uncertainly.
Terry rolled his eyes and flashed Delgado a smile. "But, hey! Didn't expect to see you here this late!"
"I actually thought you'd be home already. I should have known you girls would be out making a night out of it," he said as he cast an eye over at Samm. "I'd hoped to surprise you in the morning."
"Surprise me with what?" Terry asked. Delgado didn't answer right away, but Terry heard Samm give a small gasp and turned to see what had grabbed her attention. She was gazing at the car that was parked in the driveway, which Terry assumed belonged to Delgado. He had to admit it was quite a car. It was a burgundy red Jaguar convertible that was looking very sexy with the top down.
And it had a giant red gift bow on the hood.
Terry was perplexed for a moment before his eyes snapped wide in realization. Uncertainly he looked to Samm for confirmation, but she looked equally shocked and just shook her head. Slowly, Terry turned to face Delgado, who had a little smile on his face.
"I saw you riding around on that scooter and you looked very cute, but I thought this was more your style."
Terry turned back to look at the car, still stunned. It was beautiful. He'd still been mourning the loss of his old beat up convertible and had barely had a chance to contemplate getting any kind of replacement, not that he had any kind of money to do so.
"Do you like it?"
Terry turned to face Delgado, and without even thinking about it, threw his arms around the man and squealed girlishly. A second later he realized what he'd done and for the briefest instant made eye contact with the gangster, but it was too late. Before Terry had a chance to break away, Delgado had locked him into an impassioned embrace and kissed him fervently on the lips. Terry squirmed in displeasure—although fortunately Delgado didn't seem to read it that way—and disengaged as quickly as possible, but he had the presence of mind to quickly plant another kiss on the gangster's cheek when Delgado seemed slightly dissatisfied with his would-be girlfriend's modest level of appreciation.
Time for the ego stroke, Terry thought hurriedly.
"Oh, Lucius!" he bubbled as he hurried over to the car to put a little extra space between them. "I—I don't know what to say!" He ran his hands along the car's sleek lines and genuinely started to tear up a little. "It's so pretty! I love it! Thank you!" He tilted his chin down and gave a simpering little smile as he fluttered his eyes, hoping that would be enough that he wouldn't have to—
Delgado moved close in a forceful move and backed Terry up against the car. "You're very welcome, angel." Then he put his arms around Terry and kissed him again.
Shit, Terry thought as their lips pressed against each other. Unable to break free of the man's embrace, he wrapped one arm around Delgado and with the other he reached behind himself to surreptitiously run his fingers along the soft, sexy lines of the car and sighed contentedly.
After they parted, Delgado soon took his leave and wished them a good night as Terry turned back to admire the convertible. "And I will call you Rosita," he whispered.
Samm glanced to make sure that Delgado was gone and then took a step closer to Terry. She had a nervous smile and cleared her throat gently.
He raised a finger in warning. "Oh, no! No, no, no! I don't want to hear any of your FBI crap about accepting gifts from crooks or anything like that!"
"It's not that."
"It's because this makes me Barbie, isn't it? Well, I don't care if this makes me Barbie! Because I'm not Barbie! And he's not Ken, and this is isn't a pink Corvette!"
"No! Not one word! Not about ethics, or integrity, or—or good judgment, or common sense, or—"
"Terry, it's not that."
He stopped in his tracks. "You never call me Terry. Hell, I wasn't even sure you remembered my first name."
"Look," she said tentatively, "I want to nail Delgado worse than you'll ever know. I will be the first to take advantage of how close you're able to get to him, and I won't hesitate to dress you up and parade you around like a show poodle if I think it gives us an edge."
"My point being, all appearances to the contrary, you're a man. I know that. But what I'm about to say, I need you to listen to me as a woman." She glanced over at the car and then back at him. "Delgado is very rich, and very powerful. And when he gives a favor, he expects a favor in return. So you need to ask yourself what he's going to expect from you in return for this."
Terry blanched. "Are you saying—?"
"Look, it's no secret what Delgado wants from Angelique. And you've gone further—way, way further—than any man in your position should have to go. But we both know you won't be able to put him off indefinitely. And..." She shrugged.
"You're saying I shouldn't take the car."
"I'm saying you haven't been Angelique for very long. But you know Delgado. Think about him, and then try just for a minute to think like a woman, and ask yourself if you'd be accepting a gift, or if you're selling something."
Terry looked at the car longingly. "Shit," he muttered finally.
She put a hand on his shoulder. "Yeah. I know."
"The thing is, it's not just about the car," Terry said.
Samm nodded. "It's also about the scooter."
"I fucking hate that scooter."
She patted him gently on the shoulder and nodded sympathetically. "Look, I know this is probably just the margaritas talking, so don't make a big deal out of this, but... you're a good man, Riley."
She started to walk away and then paused to look back at him. "And a fair to middling woman."
The next morning Terry got up early before anyone was up and dressed in one of his maid's uniforms. Gripping the car keys tightly, he stepped out the front door and gazed longingly at the beautiful convertible still sitting there. It looked all the more glorious in the morning sun, silhouetted by the retreating shadows and seemed like something from a car brochure...one which he probably couldn't afford either. He sighed deeply and slowly opened the door and climbed into the soft, plush driver's seat and as he turned the ignition the engine purred to life with a sexy little growl that he'd never heard from any car he'd ever owned before.
"Could you at least try to make this less painful?" Terry said to the car.
He drove the short distance next door and pulled into Delgado's driveway, and parked the car right in front of the mobster's house. He couldn't see them, but he knew that a number of guards were no doubt hidden nearby and watching him closely, so he made sure to put a little extra wiggle in his walk. He figured they may have already alerted Delgado to his presence, and his suspicions were confirmed when the gangster opened the door before he even reached the doorbell. Delgado was wearing an expensive-looking robe that showed off his muscular physique but he was wide-awake and perfectly groomed with nary a hair out of place. He smiled at Terry and leaned over to give him a quick kiss, which Terry accepted neutrally.
"Well, this is a pleasant surprise," Delgado said.
"You're up early for a Sunday," Terry commented as they entered the house. "Busy day planned?"
"Business, mostly, I'm afraid. Some new acquisitions need my attention," he replied as he led them into the kitchen. "Would you like some juice? Coffee?"
"That's usually my line," Terry quipped, plucking at his apron. "So, this new acquisition... something for the burgeoning pizza barony? Or something a little different?" he asked as casually as he could. As Angelique he couldn't afford to seem too curious, but if Delgado really was behind this business with Dave and Bonnie, he needed to know.
"Oh, I wouldn't want to bore you with the details," he said evenly. "But I'm guessing that's not what you came here to discuss."
In truth, Terry was more than a little interested in knowing more, but it was obvious the man wasn't going to be forthcoming so instead he sighed deeply and decided to just get it over with.
"Lucius..." Terry said, "the car. What you did, that was beyond generous. And you've absolutely no idea what it meant to me. But—"
Terry held up his hand. "I—I can't accept it." He fought down the urge to wince. Giving up that car was causing him physical and emotional discomfort at a level that was usually reserved for spending a day cleaning the house in a bra and high heels. Before he could think better of it, he took the keys and put them in Delgado's hand.
The older man accepted the keys, but continued to hold onto Terry's hand. "Angelique, I really want you to have—"
Even Terry was surprised how firmly he said it, and if he'd been thinking about it logically he probably would have wet his panties out of fear of addressing the gangster in such an uncomprimising tone of voice. He gave Delgado a level glance and thought about all the coy little lies he'd prepared for this moment, but now as he faced the man he decided to go with something more ruthless: the truth.
"I know what you really want from me," Terry said, yanking his hand back.
"Angelique—!" Delgado began in a forceful tone that almost made Terry jump.
"No!" Terry insisted, taking the offensive. "I'm a big girl, Lucius. I know how things work in your world, and for me to take that car—that beautiful, beautiful car—would put me in your debt. And we both know it."
"Would that be so terrible?"
"Lucius, let me say this as plainly as I know how: I never want to owe you anything," he said honestly. "Not ever."
Delgado's face darkened as he seemed to take offense at that remark, so Terry pressed on. "But," he added, "I want things for you. I want to give things to you. To do things for you," he added with a hint of seduction. "But if I'm going to do that, I need it to be on my terms. Not because I'm trying to balance the books."
Delgado considered that. "So you won't use sex against me if I don't use money against you?"
The fish is hooked, Terry thought to himself, now to reel him in slowly.
"Lucius, compared to you, I'm a nobody. I get that. I don't have any illusions that I can or even should take you on. That's something a guy would do, just trying to measure his dick against yours. But spare me the bullshit."
"Meaning, you gave me a $70,000 car. I'm not an idiot. You either want to use it as leverage over me or it's a test of my loyalty to see if I'm enough of a gold digger to snap it up."
"So now that you've turned it down, you think you've passed the test, is that it?"
Terry sighed. "No, because now you're wondering if I'm working a longer con where I'm only turning this gift down in the hopes of gaining your trust and cashing in big later." Terry shook his head. "See, this would be the aforementioned bullshit I was referring to, with all these stupid moves and counter-moves."
"What do you propose?"
Terry took the man's hands in his own. "Can we please, please just slow the fuck down? Trust comes with time, Lucius. We'll get there, just... small moves, okay? I'm not going anywhere."
Terry held his breath as he tried to read the man's face, which was maddeningly inscrutable. He was taking a hell of a chance. If Delgado decided that Angelique wasn't worth all this hassle, this whole caper would crumble like a house of cards and Terry would be back to being on the run, but this time he'd be doing it in high heels.
"Fucking women with their mind games and their little power plays," Delgado said with a sneer as he glowered down at Terry. "There are few things on this earth that I hate more than that. My wife, God rest her... we had an understanding, but even she played these games that always got under my skin," he growled. "But you," he said, holding Terry's hands tight, "you're not like that at all, are you, Angelique?"
Terry tried to hide his relief. "It is true, I'm not like most women."
Delgado chuckled at that. "A woman who thinks like a man. A real straight shooter," he marveled. "You are truly one of a kind, my dear. I don't even think they have a name for the kind of woman you are."
"There are names," Terry muttered under his breath. Then, seeing the dubious look on Delgado's face, he knew he had to seal the deal. He took a deep breath, leaned in and closed his eyes as he pressed his lips against Delgado's and kissed the mobster as amorously as he knew how. He wrapped his arms slowly and sensuously around the man and pressed his body closer, feeling his soft breasts and supple curves squeeze against the mobster's toned physique and practically trembled as he felt Delgado's muscular arms encircle him in a lover's embrace. Terry counted the seconds in his head to avoid breaking away too quickly, knowing that he was so nervous he couldn't trust his instincts. Assuming he even had instincts for this kind of seduction.
As they parted, Delgado gave him a strange smile. "What was that for?"
Terry gave him a coy little shrug. "You can have that one on credit. Not that I'm keeping score or anything," he said with a smile.
He started to pull away but was prevented when Delgado grabbed him firmly by the wrist.
Terry tensed up thinking that the gangster might be keen to continue their little makeout session, and was puzzled when he felt Delgado put the car keys back in his hand.
"No," he said firmly. "Angelique, I respect what you said. I do. But this was a gift. Do what you want with it. Use it, sell it, give it to charity, I don't care. I won't hold it against you."
Terry's lip twitched as he glanced down at the keys. "This is your idea of slowing down?"
Delgado chuckled. "No, this is my idea of standing by my promises. We'll work on slowing down tomorrow."
Terry gave a little nod and was just turning to leave when Delgado moved close. Very close.
"Yes, uh, kissy mink?"
Delgado furrowed his brow. "What is it?"
Terry shrugged. "I dunno. It's like a ferret, I guess."
Delgado shook his head. "I mean, what's bothering you? I can tell there's something."
As the gangster touched him, Terry felt a nervous sweat break across his brow. Every time Delgado got this close he felt like the man was a hair's breadth from figuring out who he really was, and it made him edgy. But he knew he had to try and ply Delgado for incriminating evidence if he ever wanted a life that didn't involve flitting around in high heels every day.
"Lucius, I just feel like there's this wall between us," Terry sighed. "I don't expect you to trust me, but I just wish I knew more of what's going on."
"I understand," Delgado said, nodding slowly. "So as long as we're being honest with each other, there's something I need to tell you."
"Oh?" Terry asked. He suddenly realized that he'd neglected to turn on the FBI's recorder in his maid's cap, and tried to discreetly tried reach for the switch under the pretext of adjusting the cap in his hair. "Sorry, this thing pinches like you wouldn't be—"
"It's about Terry Riley."
Terry slowly moved his hand away from the recorder without turning it on. Not entirely sure how to react, he scoffed and gave Delgado a dismissive shrug. "What's to know? He's just some loser who owes you money."
"Don't underestimate him, angel. And make no mistake, when I get my hands on him I'm gonna get what's owed to me, with interest. I'll get my pound of flesh," he said darkly. "But it's not just about the money."
"He has something that belongs to me."
"He does?" Terry's mind raced as he looked at Delgado in bewilderment. If he had anything of Delgado's besides money, this was the first he'd heard of it. "Are—are you sure? 'Cause I've been in his bedroom lots of times—"
Delgado glowered menacingly.
"Cleaning! To clean!" Terry hurriedly amended. "And I turned it upside down and never found anything."
"He probably keeps it with him," Delgado said, mostly to himself.
Terry glanced down at himself in his sexy French maid's costume. The only thing he could hide in this outfit was a tube of lipstick, and he doubted that it was Delgado's color.
"W-what is it? It would help if I knew what I was looking for..."
"Better you don't know the details, my sweet," Delgado said patronizingly. "You just bring me Terry Riley and leave the rest to me."
"I'm getting close," Terry assured him. "I know how he thinks."
"Good girl. Because while I may be willing to wait for you a little bit longer—though the anticipation may kill me—I can't afford to wait much longer for Riley. And once I get what he has of mine, it won't be anticipation that kills him."
Terry's mind was a whirlwind as he left Delgado's, wondering what on earth the gangster thought he had that could be so valuable. Before getting turned into Angelique he'd only met the man a couple times, and the only thing the gangster had shared with him was a deeply abiding sense of dread at the notion of defaulting on his very significant loan.
He headed over to the rental house where Samm and Adams were set up, not sure what to do. If he had something important of Delgado's, the FBI agents might be able to help figure out what and where it was, but without knowing details he was reluctant to trust them with this information. But in any case it would have to wait... he had more pressing matters to worry about.
As Agent Samm opened the door for him, she shot him an annoyed look as she held an ice pack to her head, obviously still feeling the effects of the night before.
Terry gave her a smirk. "What? I parked in back this time. Should I have worn the pink maid's uniform?"
"Riley, I'm surprisingly not in the mood for your bullshit this morning."
"Yeah, well, unless Nina Fontaine is dating your mother, I think I've already cornered the market on unpleasant surprises."
As they moved over to the kitchen table, Agent Adams joined them and handed his partner a coffee mug emblazoned with the text, "World's Greatest Boss." Her eyes cut over at him as she adjusted the ice pack. "Is this sarcasm?"
"It was next on the shelf."
"Mmm," she intoned skeptically, taking a sip of coffee and wincing in discomfort before casting an uncertain eye over at Terry. "Riley, I don't suppose you're Catholic, by any chance?"
"I prefer to think of myself as 'Protestant alumni.' Dare I ask why?"
"It's nothing," she said dismissively. When Terry maintained his stare, she reluctantly conceded, "I may have let it slip to Delgado that Angelique went to an all-girls Catholic high school."
"Brilliant. I can count the hours before I find myself modeling a naughty schoolgirl outfit," he groused. "And why did you feel the need to plant that idea in his head?"
"Hey, he was grilling me for a while! There was a lot of dead air that I needed to fill," she contended.
"Anything else I should be aware of that you 'let slip?' My phobias, favorite bands, jealous ex-boyfriends?"
Samm glanced over at Adams. "It's kind of a blur. We're still reviewing the tape."
"She did tell him that you're allergic to shellfish," Adams offered.
"So I can expect him to wonder why I didn't collapse face-down in my shrimp vermicelli on our last date."
"Well, shrimp are crustaceans, like crabs and lobsters," Adams said. "Tell him you're only allergic to mollusks like mussels, clams, and oysters."
"Huh. Thank you, David Attenborough. Score one for public broadcasting," Terry said, nodding appreciatively. "Darn it, though, I love oysters."
"I guess you'll have to make some sacrifices," Samm sniped.
"Sure, that's fair, because everything else about this situation has been a magical wonderland of shameless self-indulgence," he shot back. "Oh, and why am I even listening to you, anyway? You conveniently forgot to mention that the woman working for Delgado is dating my mother?"
"We didn't know," Adams said, eliciting a dubious look from Terry. "Hey, it surprised us, too! There was nothing in her file about being in a relationship with anybody, and before last night we didn't even know she dated women. The last guy we know she had a relationship with was another one of Delgado's people." He glanced over at Samm. "It ended... abruptly."
"The torrid liaisons of the black widow spider often do. And now she just happens to be going out with my mother?"
Samm tilted her head slightly. "It could be a coincidence..."
"And she's also helping Delgado to invest in Dave and Bonnie's business?"
"Seemingly less coincidental," she admitted. "Look, Riley, we know she's involved in money laundering, and if she's approaching your brother and his wife, it's probably not for anything good."
Terry threw up his hands. "But that doesn't make any sense! Sure, they're making a go of it with the company, but how much money could Delgado possibly launder with wrapping paper and greeting cards? It's barely worth his time! He'd be better off just using them for—"
He froze and turned to them in shock. Both of the FBI agents looked at him sympathetically.
"It's me, isn't it? He's looking for me."
Samm nodded. "He probably realizes they're either sheltering you or providing you money to hide out somewhere. It makes sense he'd look for some way to put pressure on them."
"But they don't know that I'm hiding from him! God, they've got no idea what they're walking into. We have to stop them!"
Samm and Adams shared an uneasy glance before she turned back to Terry. "Riley, you can't get involved."
"The hell I can't. The only reason Delgado is interested in them is because of me! It's my fault they're mixed up in this!"
"You can't help them without blowing your cover. And even if you managed to pull it off without Delgado realizing you're really Terry Riley, he's still going to wonder why Angelique has gotten so protective of the Rileys, especially when he believes that you're working over there as his eyes and ears."
"Oh, sure. Mustn't risk that when I'm really your eyes and ears, can I?"
"Such is the life of a double agent," she said as he gave her a cheerless look. "Look, Riley, I'm sympathetic. But if your brother and sister-in-law willingly choose to do business with Delgado, that's their decision. If you use inside information to wave them off, you're not only putting your life at risk, you're endangering their lives, too."
"As well as your precious surveillance operation," he sniffed. "And the alternative is that they become entangled in a criminal conspiracy and Claire and Madison will be only be able to see their parents during visiting hours at the prison." He smiled ruefully. "Fabulous," he sighed, staring into space for a moment as his eyes darted around.
"No." Samm's tone was unequivocal.
"You don't even know what I was thinking."
"I know exactly what you were thinking. You were thinking about telling Delgado who you really are and turning yourself over to him."
Terry blinked in surprise. "Okay, that was a pretty good guess," he admitted. "But why not? If I do that, he has no reason to entrap Dave and Bonnie or hurt them. Delgado doesn't know I'm working with you, so your operation will be safe. And I've just been putting off the inevitable, anyway. I knew what I was doing when I got into bed with him."
He thought about what he just said. "That was a poor choice of words."
"Man, you know what he'd do to you," Adams said.
Terry looked down at the table and gave a little shrug.
Samm pulled her chair up next to him, her voice low. "Riley, this is exactly what Delgado wants. Being able to launder money through their company is just pocket change to him. He's engineering this situation to draw you out."
"He's doing a hell of a good job of it."
Samm reached out and squeezed his hand. "Look, give us 24 hours, okay? We'll figure it out. Just don't do anything stupid before then."
Terry gave a heavy sigh and nodded dejectedly as she gave him a supportive smile. Then, she frowned slightly as she peered up at his frilly maid's cap and then down to the lacy fringe that framed his cleavage.
"Stupid by your standards, I mean."
"Yeah, I got that, thanks."
Terry returned home just in time to witness the tail end of a particularly awkward family breakfast. Based on his brother's inability to even make eye contact with their folks, Bonnie had obviously told Dave what she'd seen at the club the night before, and as soon as Terry entered the room his father obviously become uncomfortable after having witnessed his younger son's bawdy display with Delgado at the strip club. Meanwhile, Claire and Madison quickly sized up the situation and skillfully adopted the demeanor of a sullen teen and tween, affecting an impenetrable veil of indifference that no adult line of questioning could hope to pierce. The only person who seemed to be in a good mood was Sharon, and her efforts at engaging the family in conversation were doomed from the start.
"So did anyone do anything fun last night?" she asked.
"I bet you had more fun," Dave sniped, wincing as Bonnie gave him a swift kick under the table.
"Oh, that's right, you were scrounging for more money for your company," Sharon said, casting an eye over at Bonnie, who looked like she was ready to jump out of her seat, fists flying. "How's that going?"
"Fine," Dave and Bonnie grumbled in unison.
"Hmm," she said, casting her eyes over at her granddaughters. "And what about you girls? Any plans for today?"
The two sisters didn't even look up from their plates. "No," they chorused.
"Uh huh," Sharon said slowly. She turned to look at her husband. "And I suppose you're just going to lock yourself in the den and watch SportsCenter?"
Lawrence gave a disapproving look at Terry in his flouncy maid's dress. "Yeah."
"Well," she said, dabbing her napkin to her mouth and standing up, "it's always a shame to have to break away from such a scintillating conversation, but if you'll excuse me..." She stood up from the table and collected her purse.
"Where are you going?" Dave asked, worried.
"Out. I'll be back later this afternoon." Then, noticing how Claire's face lit up, she added, "No, I'm not going shopping."
"Oh," Claire said as she slumped back in her seat.
Terry stiffened up as she started to leave the room. "Are you... meeting someone?" he asked casually, drawing a reproachful look from Bonnie.
"I'm going to get my nails done and then to the spa," she said, exiting the room. "Ta for now!"
Terry and Bonnie looked at each other anxiously, not sure what to do. Terry then suggested to his father, "Hey, Dad, why don't you go with her? You know, spend some quality time together?"
Lawrence glared at Terry like he'd dropped a dead squirrel on the table. "The men in this family don't go to get their nails done," he declared as he stood up and grabbed the paper. "I'll be in the den," he announced, storming out of the room.
The room fell quiet as an awkward silence descended.
"We should go over those numbers before we meet with Nina this evening," Dave said briskly as he got up and left the table, with Bonnie following closely behind.
Terry watched them leave and then turned back to the table. "Well, I guess it's just—" he began, but both Claire and Madison were already making themselves scarce.
Standing there in the suddenly empty room, Terry scowled at the messy dishes scattered over the kitchen table and over the countertop.
"Would it kill you people to toss a dish in the dishwasher?" he muttered as he started cleaning up.
Not quite sure what to do with himself while he tried to figure out a way out of this mess, Terry reluctantly started cleaning the house and doing the vacuuming and laundry. He would never have admitted it to anybody, but while flitting around in his provocative outfit was demeaning and uncomfortable, the work was pretty mindless and he found himself able to do some of his best thinking. Until recently his best thinking had been done in the shower, but ever since the morning he woke up in this bombshell body, showering had become... distracting. In the back of his mind he wondered if he would ever become so accustomed to this body that showering would once again become a mindless and automatic task, and he shuddered at the thought.
After putting it off as long as he could, Terry headed into the den where his father had holed up and was currently channel surfing through the sports stations. He intended to talk to his dad about what he'd seen his mom doing the night before, but once faced with his father's disapproving glare he chickened out and spent several minutes pretending to straighten up the bookcase. He retreated and tried again later, this time having rehearsed what he would say. But instead of saying, "Dad, last night I saw mom kissing another woman at a lesbian bar," it came out as, "Dad, can I get you another beer, or maybe make you a sandwich?"
Lawrence, obviously annoyed at the thought of his son waiting on him hand and foot in his frilly little French maid outfit, growled something unintelligible and Terry once again quickly scampered out of the room.
Dejected at his failure and still having no idea how to prevent Dave and Bonnie from unknowingly getting involved with Delgado's criminal enterprise, Terry found himself plodding through the foyer when the doorbell rang. He rolled his eyes, sighed and opened the door as he plucked at his skirt in an annoyed half-curtsy.
"Welcome to the Riley residen—oh, it's you."
Claire's teenage friend Jasper was standing there wtih some school books clutched against his chest.
"Oh, hi, Angelique," he said nervously as his eyes fixed on Terry's cleavage. "I, uh, I'm here to see Claire."
Terry didn't move and just glared at the teen.
"We have a project? That we're working on? For school?" he explained. When Terry still didn't respond, he meekly added, "Can I, uh, come in?"
Terry wordlessly stepped to the side and Jasper sneaked past.
"That's a nice outfit," he observed.
"You would know," Terry growled in a register that was decidedly more Terry than Angelique. He took a threatening step towards Jasper as he closed the door, and backed the young man up against the wall. It was meant to be a gesture of intimidation, but Terry quickly realized that the move was having an entirely different effect as his protruding breasts encroached on the teen's personal space. Jasper peered down at them, not quite sure how to react.
"I'm sorry, Angelique! I mean, Ms. Riley! I—I mean, Ms. Isabeaux! I mean—"
Terry took a half step back and hissed, "So help me, Jasper, I could strangle you. I would, if I didn't know I'd end up as the belle of the cell block. I can't believe you volunteered to Bonnie to pick out these costumes, even after I went out of my way to help you! My wardrobe looks like a French bordello's play closet because of you!"
"Y-you don't like them?"
Terry glared at him again.
"But, I—I thought you liked those outfits!"
Terry shook his head in bewilderment. "Because why?"
"I don't know! It's just, Claire asked me to bring that first costume over and never said why, and then you wore it that day, and then when Claire and her mom were saying how you'd be wearing them all the time, I just assumed you wanted to. So when Claire's mom said you needed a bunch more for your job..."
Terry looked at him uncertainly. "Yeah?"
Jasper shrugged. "I just thought she might not know the kind that you like. So I said I'd suggest some."
Terry stood back, his head swimming. "Wait a minute. You thought you were doing me a favor?"
"Well, yeah," the teen responded. "I mean, I figured you'd want sexy ones like the one you had on, but some of the French maid costumes out there—well, they're pretty skanky."
Terry shook his head in disbelief. Along with his two nieces, Jasper had been one of the few that knew Terry's real story, but as he thought back on how it had all gone down, he had to admit that he hadn't really bothered to fill the teen in on all the details. And as he looked down at his impressive cleavage on display in the frilly little dress, he also had to admit that if it had been Bonnie to be the one choosing his outfits, it's entirely possible she would have chosen worse. Maybe.
Perplexed, he turned back to face the nervous teen and sighed. "Thank you, Jasper? I guess."
Jasper visibly relaxed. "Really?"
Terry took another step back, rubbing his brow as he nodded uncertainly.
"Oh, that's such a relief," Jasper sighed. "You know, I really wasn't so sure about that one with the V-neck. Or the pink one? I figured you'd want different colors, but you had to order the petticoats separately, and—"
"Don't push it, kid," Terry warned. "As far as I'm concerned, you still owe me one." He then knitted his brow as he looked down at himself and plucked disconsolately at the frilly edging that framed his decolletage. "At least one," he muttered. But as Terry looked back up, he saw that Jasper's attention was still fixed on his bosom. Jasper's eyes cut upwards and he blushed as he realized that he'd been caught staring.
Terry arched an eyebrow. "Claire is upstairs," he declared flatly, watching the teen's rapid retreat up the stairs. He shook his head and started to head back towards the kitchen, but as he turned he caught sight of his reflection in a nearby mirror and paused to ruefully examine the sexy outfit that showcased his feminine charms so brazenly.
"Some 'help,'" Terry griped, giving his petticoats a little fluff. "With friends like that, who needs enem—"
He stared off into space for a moment and got a funny look on his face, which soon spread into a slow smile.
Bonnie and Dave were busy at work in their home office, which at the moment resembled a recycling dump with all the papers and binders that were haphazardly scattered about the room. The two of them were huddled around the computer screen arguing about the spreadsheet in front of them when there was a knock at the door.
Bonnie sighed in resignation while Dave turned to the door. "Girls, whatever it is, now's not a good time. Your mom and I are really busy—"
The door opened, and Terry backed his way into the office pulling a wheeled cart that had a couple serving trays filled with food.
"I'm so sorry to interrupt!" he said cheerfully. "But I thought you might like it if I brought you some lunch."
The two shared a glance, both obviously wondering what had prompted this sudden consideration. "Well, that's very thoughtful," Dave said, giving his wife a little shrug.
"Yes, it is," Bonnie agreed slowly.
With a big smile on his face, Terry picked one of the big serving trays off the cart and turned around to face them. The desk was covered with binders and papers so there wasn't room to put it down, but he wasn't deterred. "Oh, here, I can just perch it on top of these—whoops!" he cried, stumbling forward suddenly and causing the contents of the tray to go flying. Dave and Bonnie jumped back so the food didn't land on them, but a big glass of orange juice landed smack on the keyboard, soaking it.
"Oh, my goodness! Darn these heels!" Terry cried, dabbing ineffectually at the sopping mess with a small napkin. "And I got it all over the computer, I'm so sorry! And around electronics? I'm such a goose!"
Bonnie and Dave scrambled to pick up their papers. "It's okay, Angelique," Dave grumbled, annoyed.
"I suppose you'll have to reschedule your meeting now that the computer is ruined?"
"No, it's okay. You didn't get the computer."
"No that's just the keyboard. I've got an extra one downstairs."
"Oh. Well, which one is the computer?"
Dave pointed at the monitor. "That's it. It's built into the screen," he said, mopping up the liquid.
"Ohh," Terry said, examining the objects on and near the desk like he was lining up a combo shot in pool. He spun around fast enough to give his petticoats a little flare and gave the floor lamp next to the desk a sound bump with his rump.
"Oopsie!" he cried, listening for the triple crash. Floor lamp into desk lamp, check. Desk lamp into computer, check. And finally, computer onto the floor with a very satisfying crunch. Minnesota Fats, eat your heart out.
"I'm so sorry!"
"Well, thank God we saved the files onto the network," Bonnie said. "We can work from my laptop."
Terry spun around. "Where's your laptop?" he asked, brandishing another big glass of orange juice.
Bonnie took a couple steps back from him, clutching her laptop to her chest, which Terry noted was still in its case. Tricky.
"Here, let me see that," Terry said. "I'll keep it safe."
Dave bent over to check underneath the desk. "Oh, good, the orange juice didn't get on the wireless router," he said. "That would have been a disast—what the—!!"
He reeled as Terry tripped again and plowed smack into him. They went down in a tangle of legs and petticoats, and against all odds the orange juice Terry was carrying managed to avoid the desk on the way down and instead splashed very precisely onto the router. It gave a sad little electronic chirp before the lights went out.
"Dammit, Angelique!" Dave said, clambering to his feet and helping Terry up. He brushed his hands off. "Well, I suppose I can set up my phone as a wireless hot spot."
"Your phone?" Terry asked. "Are you sure it's not wet? Maybe you should get it out and check it," he said as his eyes scanned around for something he could use to smash it with. Discreetly, of course.
"You've done plenty, thanks!" he snapped.
"Dave, it's not her fault," Bonnie sighed. Both Terry and his brother looked over at her in surprise, not expecting Bonnie to jump to Terry's defense. Like, ever.
"It isn't?" Terry asked.
"You're obviously distracted and worried about your parents," she said. "Have you said anything to your father yet about what we saw?"
Terry shook his head. "I tried, but I just couldn't go through with it. It's going to kill him."
Dave patted him gently on the shoulder as he walked over to the serving cart. "I can't believe it, either," he said. "Don't worry, once we get through all this, we'll figure it out." He picked up a sandwich and took a big bite.
Bonnie looked at him in disbelief. "How can you eat at a time like this?"
"What? I eat when I'm nerv—ugh," he said, making a disgusted face and spitting the contents of his mouth into a napkin. He examined the sandwich and then looked accusingly at Terry.
"Angelique, this meat is spoiled! What, are you trying to give us food poisoning, or something?"
"Oh, no, Mr. Dave, of course not," Terry said innocently. "I guess I'm just distracted, like Ms. Bonnie said. Here, try the chicken salad," he offered quickly, picking another sandwich off the tray and holding it out insistently, hoping they didn't notice the rancid odor.
Dave's eyes narrowed slightly. "I think maybe I'll just order out for something."
A few hours later in the kitchen, Madison was rummaging around in the pantry while Terry was tidying up and tried to think of new ways to sabotage the meeting. Meanwhile, Claire and Jasper were seated at the kitchen table at work on their school project and were presently engaged in a spirited debate over the merits of including a more in-depth sociological analysis into the genesis of the Napoleonic Wars. Jasper—who was clearly enjoying spending the afternoon with Claire—argued that the additional effort would be worth an additional letter grade. Claire—oblivious to Jasper's attentions, as always—eloquently countered with, "Screw it, this is good enough."
They turned to Terry to break the tie. Jasper looked at him pleadingly.
"You do know that just because I'm dressed this way doesn't actually make me an expert in 19th century France," Terry shot back. "My ruffled bloomers were my Waterloo."
From inside the walk-in pantry, Madison interjected, "Now you make French history jokes. But I ask you to remember one lousy thing about Quebec..." This was followed by more rustling as she continued her search.
Just then, Bonnie walked in the kitchen, looking rather haggard. Claire was about to ask how it was going, but decided to hold her tongue after seeing the look on her mother's face and watched as Bonnie retrieved an open bottle of wine from the refrigerator, poured the remainder into a glass, and took a long drink.
"That bad, huh?" Claire asked.
Bonnie shook her head. "Actually, we're all ready. And I'm happy to report that your father and I will not in fact be getting a divorce due to anything that might have been said in the heat of the moment."
"So still just the one Christmas, then?" Madison's voice came from inside the pantry, followed by more rustling. She emerged into the kitchen and stood next to her sister. "Hey, has anybody seen the box of—"
Bonnie cut her off as she glanced around the kitchen and then turned in alarm to Terry. "Where's all the food?" she asked.
"What, you mean breakfast? I cleaned it all up. Looks pretty good, yeah?"
"I mean dinner, Angelique. The food I sent you to the grocery store to get yesterday?"
"Oh, that. They charged extra for weekend delivery, so I told them it could wait until tomorrow. Saved you a few bucks."
"C'mon, you can't wait for your snickerdoodle-flavored breakfast cereal until Monday?" Terry joked.
Madison looked at him in a panic. "Wait, wait. Are you saying that we're out of SnickerDoos? We don't have any in the house? None at all?"
Claire put a supportive arm around her sister. "Be strong."
Bonnie looked like she was about to explode. "We needed that food for the dinner party tonight!"
"What dinner party? You didn't say anything to me about a dinner party."
"First of all, Angelique, I'm not in the habit of asking my housekeeper if it would be acceptable to invite company over—"
"—and second, I wrote it on the grocery list I gave you!"
Terry gave a nervous laugh. "No, you didn't," he said with an uncertain smile.
"It was at the bottom of the list!" Bonnie insisted. When Terry continued to look at her in confusion, she added, "On the back!"
His smile faded. "There was more written on the back?"
"Y'know, I thought I tore through that list kind of quickly."
Madison grabbed his arm. "I need you to think very carefully. Were the SnickerDoos written on the front or the back?"
"I got them."
"Oh, thank God."
"This is a disaster. An absolute disaster," Bonnie said.
"No, no...I think I've got some left in a plastic baggie upstairs. If I ration them, I should be able to make it."
"Well, who's coming to this thing tonight?" Terry asked.
"The Delgados from next door."
Terry perked up at that. "Krystal's coming? Here?"
"And our new investor."
Terry stiffened up as he realized that Delgado and his lieutenant Nina would be sitting across the table from each other at dinner. "Awkward," he whispered to himself.
"And Grandma and Grandpa, of course," Claire offered.
"Oh, fudge," said Bonnie.
Terry's face fell as he and Bonnie made eye contact with each other. "Very awkward," he said, as they both realized that Nina would also be sitting across from her lesbian lover. And her husband. And their entire family.
"Maybe you should cancel."
"We can't cancel!" Bonnie insisted. "We need that investment capital!"
"I really don't think you do."
"What would you know about it?" Bonnie snapped. "Did they offer many business courses at the French maid academy?"
Terry blinked in surprise. "There's a French maid academy?"
"Oh, for the love of God."
"Do they have like an adult continuing education program?" he wondered. "'Cause I think sending me there would be a very wise investm—"
"There's no French maid academy!"
"Are you sure? I mean, do you know that, or are you just assuming?"
Claire cleared her throat and warily stood up and edged close to Terry. "Um, Angelique? Do you think Mr. Delgado will be looking forward to seeing you?"
Terry sighed in resignation, "Probably," he groaned, realizing he'd have to dodge the mobster's groping hands all evening. In front of his parents, no less. But when he saw that Claire was still giving him an intent look, he puzzled for a moment before his eyes grew wide.
"Terry," he whispered, suddenly realizing that Delgado may have arranged this dinner as an excuse to case the house and look for Terry.
"Say, Ms. Bonnie," he began deferentially, "did Lucius—that is, Mr. Delgado—happen to say if he was hoping I'd be there?"
"Angelique, this is not all about you!"
"The gunfire might be," Terry muttered under his breath.
Claire tried probing further. "Mom? Did Mr. Delgado say who he was hoping would be at dinner?"
Bonnie sighed. "Yes, you and Madison have to come, too. He was really anxious to see 'the whole Riley clan all in one place,' as he put it."
"Oh, joy," Terry said, trading worried glances with his nieces. Then he turned back to Bonnie, who was rubbing her temples. "Anyway, I don't get it. Even if I had gotten the food, when were you going to have time to make dinner if you're meeting with your investor?"
"You were going to cook dinner!"
Terry laughed once, but when Bonnie continued to glare at him, his smile faded. "What, are you serious?"
"Of course I'm serious, Angelique! That's part of your job!"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. I thought you meant cooking like making peanut butter sandwiches and opening canned vegetables, and stuff. I can't cook."
"Don't you know anything about cooking?" she asked in disbelief. "What did you eat when you were living on your own?"
"Mostly SpaghettiOs," he admitted. "I like the kind with the little hot dog slices in it. I suck balls at cooking."
She shot him a withering glance.
"Oh, sorry. I mean, 'I suck balls at cooking, Ms. Bonnie.'"
"God, what am I going to do? Nina is going to be here any minute and I still have to get dressed and finish that presentation," Bonnie said, mostly to herself. Then she spun and pointed at Terry. "And you! Just—fix this! Get dinner on the table, even if you have to order it! Just make it look like you made it." Then she turned to the two girls. "And you two, get dressed for dinner!" she ordered, leaving in a tizzy.
Silence filled the room as the four of them stared quietly at each other. "Maybe I should go," Jasper said.
"Park it, buster," Terry said. "I've got plans for you."
"Uncle Terry, what's going on?" Claire asked.
He sighed. "Yeah, you'd better have a seat."
The two girls sat down and looked at him expectantly, and Terry looked to his younger niece. "Madison, you're a little young for this."
"What?" she demanded. "C'mon, I want in on this! I knew to bring you over to that strip club, didn't I?"
"Say what?" Claire said, looking at her sister in shock, and then casting an accusing eye over at Terry.
"Madison, you're only ten."
"I'm smarter than you are."
"Ha! That should be 'are so.'"
"Girls!" Claire exclaimed. "Focus, please?"
Madison crossed her arms defiantly. "If you're so smart, Uncle Terry, explain to me why of the three of us that you were the first one to get your ta-tas?"
"Hey!" Claire objected.
Madison grinned. "Wow, you're right, she falls for it every time."
Terry sighed in resignation. "Fine, you can stay. So, it's like this..."
A few minutes later, the two girls and Jasper were sitting at the table all slumped back in their chairswith stunned expressions on their faces. "What do those FBI agents think?" asked Claire.
"What, Pinky and the Brain? They want us to stay out of it."
"What do you think we should do?"
"Look, you two keep a safe distance, but just be ready to run interference. We need to keep Nina away from Grandma so that Grandpa doesn't find out about the two of them. And we probably don't want her talking too much to Delgado."
Claire nodded again. "So, we need to muck up the business deal without letting Mom and Dad know why it needs to be mucked up—"
"And Delgado and Nina can't find out that we're working against them. Oh, and they can't find out that Terry and Angelique are the same person, despite the rest of the family thinking that's public knowledge."
"Right, less shooting that way," Claire agreed. "So we need to do all of that, but without inadvertently wrecking Grandma and Grandpa's marriage, who'll be standing ten feet away from all of this."
Madison cocked her head to one side. "Hey, when Mom said, 'get dressed for dinner,' do you think she meant for us to wear dresses?" she asked, wrinkling her nose as Terry and Claire turned to stare at her.
"What? You guys are on like step twenty of the plan. I'm just trying to figure out what to wear."
"Fair enough," Terry said. "Okay, you two go get changed, and then, I dunno, mingle. Just keep your ears open."
"What are you going to do?"
He fluffed out the apron on his dress and gave a simpering little smile. "I have to go make dinner."
Claire gave him a worried look as they left, leaving Jasper sitting at the table, looking bewildered. "So what is it do you need me to do?"
"You know what a sous chef is?"
"You ever watch any of those cooking shows on cable?"
"Then it means you do everything I tell you to do while I scream obscenities."
Terry rummaged through the refrigerator and started pulling items out. "Good, I think there's makings of a salad here. Which means I need you to run an errand for me..."
Terry hustled to start getting the meal prepared, and when the girls returned he enlisted them to help set the dining room table. "Set it for ten people," he told Claire.
"Wait, that's too many," she said, counting off on her fingers. "Mom and Dad, me and Madison, Grandma and Grandpa, Mr. Delgado and Krystal, and Ms. Fontaine. That's nine, and you're serving, right? Is Jasper eating here, too?"
"No, but I think Mr. Delgado might appreciate it if he thinks your uncle Terry is coming."
"Ohhh, right," she said with a smile.
Their preparations were soon disrupted by the doorbell, which Terry hurried to answer. He swept into a formal curtsy and looked up to see Nina Fontaine standing there, eyeing him with the intensity of a cobra watching a field mouse.
"You must be Ms. Fontaine. May I get you a drink?" he asked pleasantly. Hemlock, maybe? he thought to himself.
"I don't drink," Nina said archly, inspecting his outfit. "And I wasn't aware this would be a costume party."
"It isn't!" Bonnie cut in as she entered the foyer, having changed into a dressier outfit for dinner. "Angelique here is something of a Francophile."
"It's true, I do eat a lot of SpaghettiOs," Terry volunteered. When Nina looked at him strangely, he turned to Bonnie. "Oh, wait, that was Franco-American. What did you call it, again?"
Bonnie turned to Nina. "We took pity on her because she's insane. Just ignore her," she said, glaring at Terry over her shoulder as she escorted Nina down the hall.
An hour later there was another ring at the doorbell, and Terry plastered a smile on his face and curtsied again to greet the guests.
"Oh, Ms. Delgado! Mr. Delgado, lovely to see you," he said, greeting Krystal and her father as the mobster eyed him hungrily in his skimpy maid's uniform and started to move in for a kiss. However, Terry pulled back and gave a warning look towards Krystal who had momentarily glanced away, and Delgado, reading Terry's face, stepped back and nodded, not wanting Krystal to know how involved he had become with Angelique.
"Always a pleasure, my dear," he said.
"And there's no need to be so formal!" Krystal admonished Terry.
"Of course, Ms. Krystal," Terry blushed.
"That's not really what I—"
"What's all this, then?" Terry's mother said, descending the stairs along with his father.
"Oh, Mr. and Mrs. Riley!" Terry said. "I wasn't sure if you were home! Mr. Dave and Ms. Bonnie are having dinner tonight with some friends and hope that you'll join them."
Sharon made a face and quickly gave a wry little smile. "Well, of course, we'd be delighted." After she introduced herself and Lawrence got reacquainted with Delgado, she leaned over to Terry and whispered, "I see you're taking my advice about maintaining your professionalism to heart, aren't you?"
"Yes, thank you, Mrs. Riley," he responded with a little curtsy, as his eyes glanced nervously over to Delgado standing only a few feet away. His pulse was racing. If Delgado heard him accidentally refer to his parents as "Mom" or "Dad," his next pair of pumps would be made of concrete.
As the group adjourned to the living room and got settled in with drinks, they started to make small talk and Claire and Madison joined the group. Madison squirmed uncomfortably in her dress like it was made of sandpaper and in her hand she was carrying a small resealable plastic bag filled with SnickerDoos cereal. They mingled for a while and eventually met with Terry over by the dining room table.
Madison tugged at the collar of her dress. "Ugh, I hate this. It's not fair I have to wear a dress," she complained.
"Wow, that must really be embarrassing and uncomfortable," Terry deadpanned, watching as she popped another SnickerDoo in her mouth.
"What? I eat when I'm nervous," she said defensively.
"I think I know where you get that from. How's it going in there?" he asked Claire as he put the serving tray down.
"It's okay. It's a little bit awkward."
Madison looked at her sister. "You told me you were ready to set yourself on fire to get out of here."
"It's really awkward," Claire admitted. "Mr. Delgado keeps chatting with Grandpa, but Grandpa keeps acting really funny, especially when you're in the room. But Grandma and Krystal seemed to be getting on okay."
"It was going okay until Mom and Dad showed up with Ms. Fontaine."
Madison grinned. "That was awesome. You should have seen the looks on everyone's faces," she said, munching on a SnickerDoo. "Freaking classic."
"You could have heard a pin drop," Claire told him. "But then everyone tried to make like it was no big deal. We tried to get close to Ms. Fontaine and listen in a little, but I don't think she likes kids."
"I don't think she likes mammals," Terry said as he glanced over at the group. "Crap, here comes your mom. You two better get back in there."
Claire made a pained expression but the two girls hurried off just as Bonnie arrived. "Angelique, dinner had better be on the table soon!"
Terry checked the time. "It should be soon...ish. I've got it covered."
"Whenever you say, 'I've got it covered,' I always get a headache."
"I'm told nausea is another common reaction."
"And you've got too many place settings out!" she scolded after inspecting the table. "You're the help, you don't join us for dinner!"
"Oh, no, Ms. Bonnie, I wouldn't dream of it!" he said, thinking quickly. "That extra place setting is for... the prophet Elijah."
Bonnie blinked slowly. "Angelique, that's only for Passover."
"And we're not Jewish."
"Well, huh," he said, putting his hands on his hips. "You don't say."
"Yes! Now get rid of it!" she hissed.
"Oy vey, don't be such a shiksa," he said, throwing up his hands. "I just thought you'd want to make my mother happy."
"Oh, sure, she always used to do that when Dave and I were growing up. 'Set an extra place just in case company shows up,' she'd say. But hey, if you don't want it..."
"Fine, whatever! Just get dinner on the table!" she commanded. "And hurry!"
The guests had broken up into two smaller groups along gender lines, so Claire and Madison split up to do a divide-and-conquer with Claire joining the women and Madison sidling up to the men. Madison gave her dad a warm smile and edged up against him and he put his arm around her as the men continued talking.
"So you two met each other at the bar yesterday?" Dave asked. "Talk about a small world. Was it a sports bar?"
Madison realized that any mention of the strip club might lead to an uncomfortable line of conversation about Terry's involvement, so thinking quickly she affected as innocent a face as she could muster and batted her eyes as she looked at the men inquisitively.
"Something like that," Lawrence said as he cast a wary eye down at his granddaughter.
"Yes," Delgado agreed. Changing the subject, he nodded over towards the dining room table. "Looks like there's an extra place set. Will your brother Terry be joining us? It'd be good to see him."
Madison noticed that her father and grandfather both looked vaguely uncomfortable at Delgado's use of the masculine pronouns with regards to Terry, and her grandfather in particular seemed to bristle at the mention of Delgado and Terry "seeing" each other.
Dave cleared his throat. "Well, Terry actually prefers to be called—"
"Probably too busy working to join us at dinner, right, Dad?" Madison volunteered helpfully.
"Working?" Delgado echoed. "Well, it's always good to be close to family, isn't it? Too bad, though, I was hoping to get a few minutes alone."
"I bet you were," Lawrence said darkly. "You and Angelique seemed very friendly earlier."
"Yeah, we are," Delgado agreed, puzzled by the sudden apparent change in subject.
Dave looked surprised. "You and Angelique?" he said, shaking his head. "You mean like, you? And Angelique?"
Delgado bristled slightly. "You see something wrong with that?"
"No, not at all," Dave quickly responded. He was still trying to come to terms with his brother's sudden decision to start living as a woman, much less having a relationship with someone like Lucius Delgado.
"Good for her, I guess. We only want what's best for her."
Delgado shook his head in admiration. "Incredible. You only just met her and you're treating her like one of the family."
Dave furrowed his brow slightly. "Well, it's been a surprise, but I'd hardly say that we just—"
"And she's so pretty!" Madison enthused. "I just love her dresses!" she said, plucking at the skirt of her dress girlishly.
"Yes, that's right, honey," Dave said patronizingly as he gave her a little hug around the shoulders. "I guess we'll have to buy you some pretty dresses too, huh?"
"Super," Madison said through gritted teeth.
Delgado leaned in to the two men and lowered his voice to a conspiratorial tone. "Yeah, but don't tell Krystal, all right? Ever since her mother passed away she gets funny about the women I go out with. She's so concerned with appearances, but I gotta tell you, being with a different kind of woman doesn't bother me at all. And Angelique... well, I don't have to tell you fellas that Angelique has something extra special."
Dave almost choked on his drink and Lawrence's face went deathly pale. They made eye contact with each other, downed their drinks, and headed to the bar for refills.
Madison looked up at Delgado and grinned as she happily munched away on a SnickerDoo. "Dinner parties are freaking awesome," she said.
Bonnie had been trying her best to keep Nina and Sharon apart for fear of the two lesbian lovers making of a scene, so when Claire joined the group of women Bonnie made some half-assed excuse to pull her mother-in-law to the side, and gave Claire a subtle little nod to keep Nina and Krystal chatting. Of course, what Claire knew and her mother didn't realize was that Nina worked for Krystal's father.
Krystal looked at Nina knowingly. "It's Nina, isn't it? I think we met last year."
Nina nodded. "Your cousin's wedding in Chicago. I'm often there on business," she said, discreetly checking to make sure Bonnie was out of earshot. But she peered suspiciously at Claire, who was doing her best to seem politely disinterested. "But I'm sure you don't want to hear about that."
In fact, it looked to Claire like Krystal was about to probe further, but she realized that things might unravel if Krystal started to pick too much at Nina's business interests with her father.
"So, Krystal!" she said brightly. "Are you seeing anybody?"
Krystal smiled. "Not at the moment. It's hard to find the right person, y'know?"
"I know exactly what you mean," Nina said.
"Still, lots of single people out there and available," Claire said in an accusatory tone, directed at Nina. "Unwed single people. Who aren't married."
"Hey, there!" Terry interjected suddenly, sweeping through with a serving tray to pick up empty glasses before Nina could respond. He smiled and looked at Krystal. "Or how about Dave's brother, Terry? He was pretty cute, right?" He and Claire exchanged dirty looks with each other, with him glaring at her reprovingly for antagonizing Nina so blatantly, and her returning the scowl for using the opportunity to put in a good word for himself with Krystal.
"I only met him that one time, but he seemed pretty funny," Krystal agreed.
Terry edged closer. "And cute, right? I think he's cute. Don't you think he's cute?"
Claire looked daggers at Terry as Krystal equivocated, "Sure, I guess so."
While they were talking, Nina picked up a family photograph that was sitting on a nearby table, which Terry recognized as one of the pictures that Madison had doctored.
"Is this him?" she asked, indicating Terry. She wrinkled her nose and flipped the photo around to show Krystal. "Honestly? You could do a lot better."
"Wow, I guess I saw him in good light," Krystal said before she checked herself in front of Claire. "Sorry, I didn't mean that, I know he's your uncle."
"Oh, it's okay. Uncle Terry may not look like much, but if you dress him up in the right outfit you'd be surprised how well he cleans up."
"I'm gonna go check on dinner," Terry grumbled as Claire tried to suppress a smile.
Terry entered the kitchen where a flustered-looking Jasper was surrounded by a number of pots and pans that he'd pulled out of the cabinets. "Jasper, what the hell?" Terry sighed. He grabbed a large pot seemingly at random from the mess. "Just use this one. Don't overcomplicate things. My life is sufficiently complicated already."
"I'm doing my best, Ms. Riley."
Terry stepped closer and lowered his voice. "Jasper, of the myriad combinations of names available to me, that is one of my least favorites. But while other people are around, you need to call me Angelique, get it?"
"But it's just the two of us back here! I mean, it's not like Mr. Delgado is going to come bursting through that door any second."
Just that second, Delgado came bursting through the door. "Where is he?" he demanded, looking around the room angrily.
"W-who?" Terry quavered.
"Terry Riley! I just asked his brother, and he said that Terry was in the kitchen!"
Terry stood there wide-eyed. "Nobody here but me, honey badger." Then Delgado's eyes cut over to Jasper, who was frozen in a panic. "And also him," Terry added.
Delgado fixed his eyes on Jasper. "Who the hell are you?"
"I'm the sous chef," Jasper said proudly. "It's like an assistant—"
"Shut up. Did you see Terry Riley come through here?"
Jasper furrowed his brow. "You mean like, recently?"
Delgado's face darkened and he glowered at the teen menacingly.
"W-well, I-I've been here the whole time," Jasper stammered.
"So you didn't see Terry Riley leave this room."
Jasper's eyes darted over to Terry. "I am totally certain that Terry Riley never left this room."
Delgado's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Never left the room, huh?" he said, circling the kitchen. Then, he quickly turned and yanked open the door to the walk-in pantry, obviously disappointed to find nobody hiding inside. He frowned and continued circling the room, scrutinizing the two of them closely.
Terry flashed him a grin and leaned against the counter, trying to seem casual. "You see, fondle ferret? Nobody here but us. He must have made a mistake."
"Go wash your hands or something, kid," Delgado growled to Jasper.
"Wow, look at all these germs. I should not be preparing food!" Jasper declared as he tore out of the kitchen.
Terry held his breath as Delgado slowly prowled up to him like a lion stalking its prey. He carefully took a step backwards, which Delgado matched. Then another step. Then another. But before he could attempt to back away any further from the gangster's advances, Delgado grabbed him firmly around the waist and pulled Terry into a long, passionate kiss.
"God, I've missed you," Delgado whispered. "The feel of you, the smell of you, the taste of you..."
"I'm a feast for the senses, all right," Terry said, squirming as Delgado kissed his cheeks and neck. "And speaking of feasts, I really need to get dinner on the table."
"The only dinner I need is right here, sugar lips," Delgado said as he pressed closer, causing Terry to grimace as the gangster manhandled his big sensitive breasts.
"Whoa, hey... gropey monkey!" Terry stammered. He stumbled backwards again, and they found themselves standing inside the walk-in pantry.
Delgado ran his meaty hands down Terry's arms, pinning them to his sides. "You ever make love in a pantry before?" he said with a leer as the door swung shut behind them.
"Once, but they were crotchless," Terry admitted nervously. "Oh, pantry. No, never. Though there was this one time in an abandoned refrigerator. Funny story, that. But, look, uh, canoodle poodle, I—"
Suddenly they heard footsteps and the pantry door swung open. "I think I saw an extra corkscrew in here the last time I was—Daddy?!" Krystal exclaimed.
Terry and Delgado turned to face the open doorway where Krystal stared at them in open-mouthed shock. Standing next to her was Nina, who did a better job at hiding her surprise but studied the amorous pair with interest. Behind them, Terry could see a flustered Claire come rushing up, and he shot her an annoyed glance for letting the two women escape her attention.
"And Angelique?" Krystal gasped in betrayal. "You and my father? How long has this been going on?"
"Sweetheart, it's not what it looks like," Delgado said in a soothing tone that didn't seem to have any soothing effect at all on Krystal's disposition. Terry gently cleared his throat to get Delgado's attention, at which point the gangster realized he still had his hands on Terry's breasts. Yanking them quickly away, he attempted to recover the situation.
"Krystal, this isn't the time to have this conversation."
"When is it ever?"
From behind Krystal, Madison's head poked up inquisitively. "Whatcha guys doing?" she asked. Then, catching sight of Terry and Delgado in the pantry, she said, "If you're looking for SnickerDoos, don't bother. I already checked in there."
Terry let out a small giggle and Krystal gave him an icy stare. "Something funny, Angelique?"
Terry tried to suppress his smile and gave a little shrug as he pointed back and forth at all if them. "It's just... it's a visible pantry line."
"Ooh!" Krystal cried, storming off.
"Not. Helping." Delgado muttered as he hurried after his daughter.
Terry stood there for a moment as Nina and his two nieces continued to stare at him. "C'mon, that was funny."
"Inappropriate timing, Angelique," Claire admonished him.
"Yeah, show a little sensitivity," said Madison. "What are we talking about, again?"
Terry sniffed and exited out into the kitchen. "You're just jealous you didn't think of it," he grumped. "Here," he said, indicating a large serving tray, "you two make yourselves useful and put these salads out on the table."
As the girls exited with the food, Nina stayed behind and regarded Terry with interest. "You're more than you appear to be, aren't you?"
Terry casually pretended to look for something in the cabinets, not wanting to give her any reason to scrutinize him any further. "Have you seen what I'm wearing? I'd have to be."
Nina leaned up against the counter and regarded Terry carefully. "You know who I am, right?"
Terry glanced over at the doorway to make sure they were alone. "You work for Lucius." The recording device hidden in his maid's cap had been active all evening, but he adjusted it slightly under the pretext of fussing with his hair.
"So do you," Nina said. "And apparently you're on more than just a first-name basis, 'sugar lips.'"
"That isn't any of your business," Terry countered primly as he busied himself by putting some dirty dishes in the sink.
Nina smiled. It wasn't with a cold and calculating air like Terry would have expected, but more of a cocky little grin. It made him vaguely uncomfortable to see her show him anything resembling an expression of warmth. For a moment he wondered if that was the same kind of look she gave his mother when the two of them—
He tried to shove the image out of his mind.
Just then, Jasper came walking back into the kitchen, rubbing his hands dry.
"Get lost, kid," Nina said, not even bothering to look at him.
Jasper spun on his heel. "Hey, wow, I need to wash my hands for at least several more minutes," he declared, exiting in a hurry. "This is probably how people get OCD..."
Nina tilted her head as she studied Terry. "You know, Krystal told me why you dress that way."
"Oh?" he responded. He tried to sound disinterested, but he was racking his mind to remember what story he'd told her.
"She said that your ex-fiance used to make you dress that way. She said you like to wear those dresses as a symbol to empower yourself and not feel like a victim."
"Yes, that's right," Terry said. While his back was turned, he made a face. That was some serious bullshit, he thought.
"That is some serious bullshit," Nina said.
Terry turned and faced her, folding his arms. "Excuse me?" he challenged. It may have been a crap explanation, but it was still his crap explanation.
"Wear what you like, God knows you're filling it out well enough. But don't let some asshole dictate how you live your life. Dressing like that just to spite some guy means you're still living by his rules. You should be your own woman."
Terry shifted uncertainly, not quite sure how to take that. "Thank you," he said. He thought there might have been a compliment in there, somewhere. "But I'm not dressing like this to spite anybody."
"Oh, well, this should be entertaining," she said. "Do tell, Angelique, why are you dressed up in your subservient little fetish costume?"
Truth be told, Terry wasn't entirely sure why he was dressed this way. He'd gotten so tangled up in his web of lies that even he wasn't sure which end was up, anymore. He'd lied to Krystal that it was a self-empowerment kick. And he'd lied to Dave and Bonnie that a therapist was making him do it to better understand women on his road to getting his equally fictional sex change. But the truth was...
"That's nobody's business but mine," Terry proclaimed.
Nina laughed once. "That's the first thing you've said that makes any sense," she said as Terry nodded in satisfaction. "It's still a pussy answer, but I guess that fits with your prissy little dress."
"Hey! This is not easy!" he snapped. "Every day I have to get up and have people leering at me or laughing at me, or judging me and feeling superior just because of some stupid, fucking—clothes. 'Cause that's all these are. Clothes."
"So why do it?"
Terry's face contorted as he felt all of his pent-up frustrations welling up. "Because—because—screw all of them for judging me! I didn't ask to be a woman or have this body, so where does everybody get off ogling me and making assumptions about who I am? It's just—ridiculous bullshit, is what it is. So you know what? If they're gonna gawk at me then they're gonna do it on my terms. So, yes, this is a stupid little fetish outfit—and sister, I am rocking it with this body!—but hell if I'm going to let anybody take my dignity. 'Cause if I can dress like this in front of everybody and still keep my dignity, then—"
Nina blinked at him expectantly. "Then what?"
"Then...I'm awesome," he said with a little smirk.
"Well," she said, impressed. "Hear you roar." She gave him an appraising look. "I can see what she sees in you."
"Yeah," Terry agreed. "Wait, who?"
"Of course, I have another theory," she said, moving close. "I asked myself what kind of woman would willingly choose to debase herself in that ridiculous outfit. And you know what I decided?"
"To—have another drink?" Terry said, grabbing the serving tray and holding it between them.
"I don't drink," she said as she lifted the tray out of his hands and placed it on the counter.
"Good time to start."
"You see, what I decided was that anybody doing something this asinine has to be hiding one hell of secret."
"Fine, you got me. It's true, I've vowed to keep Bastille Day in my heart every day of the year. I'm like a reformed Ebenezer Scrooge in fishnets."
"You do make a charming coquette," Nina admitted. "But I saw how you looked at Krystal Delgado. And me, for that matter. Hell, you were even checking yourself out in the mirror."
"I was just sizing up the competition. Also, I'm incredibly vain."
"Mmm. I saw the look in your eyes when you looked at us—hungry, possessive. The look of someone used to going after what she wants. You know who else has a look like that?"
Terry shrugged. "Narwhals?"
"Me." She moved in suddenly for a kiss, forcefully pressing her body against his as she traced her other hand slowly up from his hip, following the supple curve of his waist, up his midriff, and cupping his soft bosom. At first Terry started to object, but despite the circumstances he found himself submitting to her aggressive moves. It had been too long since he'd been with a woman, and Nina was a beautiful woman. Even if it was crazy and insanely risky, he wanted this.
Nina was vigorous in her ministrations and as she kissed him Terry stumbled backwards on his high heels as he tried to get his bearings. As they came up for air he suddenly realized that he'd once again ended up back in the pantry, barely having time to register it before Nina was on top of him and the door swung shut behind them. She again kissed him passionately and when she finally broke from the kiss, he gawked at her, short of breath.
"What, do you people have a pantry fetish or something?" he gasped. Not having anywhere else to retreat to, Terry coyly looked down. "Anyway, I thought you and Mrs. Riley were... together."
Nina pulled back just slightly in surprise as she tried to read his face. "How do you know about that?" she wondered before giving him a sly smile. "Well, well, you are full of surprises, aren't you?"
A shiver ran down his body as she snuggled closer against him and his face flushed as he felt his sensitive breasts press against hers. She turned her hip and sensuously brushed her soft smooth legs against his own, and he quickly locked his thighs together to prevent her from getting too close to his crotch and discovering what was there.
"Maybe one or two," he croaked.
Nina wrinkled her nose. "Sharon is a little old for me, but you? You're perfect," she purred, stroking his hair gently. "You know, you remind me of her a little."
"Can't imagine why!" he blurted out.
Her hands slowly traced down his soft, curvy body. "Confident... feminine... sensuous..." she whispered. He trembled as he felt her fingers teasingly work their way between his legs to stroke the inside of his thigh and start to track upwards. "Sexually adventurous..."
"Yow!" Terry yelped as he jumped away from her touch. "Okay, really did not need to know all that. But, hey, flattering." Terry cast an eye at her uncertainly, trying to balance his desire for her against his very healthy self-preservation instinct that was reminding him what Delgado would do if he caught them like this.
She looked at him and arched an eyebrow expectantly. "Is that all you have to say to me?"
He pointed at her lips. "You know, I was just wondering what shade of lipstick that was," he said. "It's seems versatile. You know, flattering but not too bold."
"Hmm," she smiled. "Funny. But I know you're attracted to women—attracted to me."
Terry was about to object, but the look on her face said she'd already made up her mind so he realized it was pointless to deny it. "How could you tell?"
"Takes one to know one," she responded coyly. "I could tell we have a lot in common."
"Less than you might imagine," he muttered. He tried to wriggle back out of her grasp but she moved to close the gap, and then some. "Does Delgado know that you—um—"
"Share his taste in women?" Nina smirked, nuzzling against him and teasing one of his sensitive breasts. "Of course not. It's bad enough I've managed to insinuate myself into their boys' club without that. It's so frustrating. I can't behave like a woman without seeming weak, but if I play the game like a man, I come across as butch and threatening." She ran her fingers along his hair and smiled at his lacy headband. "You're not the least bit butch, are you?"
"Maybe a little."
"I envy your sexuality. It's so—raw," she whispered, moving in for another kiss. "I can't express my desires or I look like a slut dyke and lose their respect. So instead they think that I'm a frigid ice queen. I even dated another one of Delgado's lieutenants just to keep up appearances."
"How'd that work out?"
She shrugged and caressed his cheek lovingly, tracing her fingers down his neck to his bosom. "A deal went bad and he was gunned down by a rival organization."
"Workplace relationships can be tricky."
"God, I want you, Angelique. I want to ravish you," she said, kissing him down his neck. "And if you're nice to me, I might be more inclined to help you with your little problem."
"W-what problem is that?" he stammered, pressing his thighs together.
"Me," she whispered, giving him another kiss. "We both know that if I help Delgado get leverage over these people, he won't need you anymore. You'll be out on your pretty ass in a week, back to working a stripper pole." She reached behind him, moving her hand under his petticoats around to his big round bottom and deftly slipped her hand inside his ruffled panties to give his bare buttock a grope. "It is a nice ass, though."
Terry became distracted as her hands explored his body, slowly and sensuously. "Meaning, i-if you and I have sex—ooooh, th-that's nice, right there—y-you'll be willing to drop this thing with the Rileys?"
"Mmmm," she purred in agreement as her hands moved forward to gently outline the soft curve of his breasts. "Oh! Well, I see my proposal... intrigues you," she smiled as she teased his big protruding nipples. "Tell me what you're thinking," she whispered.
At that exact moment, although he didn't fully realize it, Terry was thinking about evolution, and how over the span of countless eons it has enabled us to progress from a single-celled organism into the dominant species on the planet. He knew this because he remembered it from a voice-over by Sir Patrick Stewart in one of the X-Men movies. And the pinnacle of that evolutionary process, the crown jewel as it were, was the masterpiece that is the human brain. This was the tool that allowed us to become self-aware and to question our place in the universe, to develop language, art, philosophy, and some fairly watchable X-Men movies. If Evolution was a three-piece rock band, it was as though Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, and the monkey from that Scopes trial had picked up their instruments, rocked an 18-minute power ballad called "The Human Brain," and then dropped the microphone and walked off the stage.
Admittedly, Terry wasn't entirely clear on all the details.
For that, he blamed Becky Caldwell. She used to sit across from him in high school biology, and the pinnacles of her evolutionary development looked very good in the tight sweaters she liked to wear. But there in those humble and horny beginnings, Terry had discovered his gift. For while his fellow Homo Sapiens brethren had become distracted by their cognitive abilities, choosing to focus on things like literature, the betterment of mankind, or figuring out how to make aerosol cheese, Terry had retained a singularity of purpose. Indeed, although he had never stopped to appreciate it, he had managed to focus his mental faculties on the one question that had been the driving force behind all those billions of years of evolution. Namely, "How do I get this very attractive member of my species to fuck me?"
Terry's mind was the perfectly-tuned instrument for divining the answer to this question. He had cultivated his gift, practiced it at every opportunity, and honed his skills to a razor sharp edge.
Balanced against those considerable skills was of course the fact that his burgeoning manhood notwithstanding, he currently appeared to be a sexy French maid with a big round butt and an impressive set of cans. Still, Terry remained undeterred. If you'd explained to him what the word indefatigable meant, he would have agreed that was exactly what he was when it came to getting laid by a smoking hot woman.
Now, faced with Nina's fervent and vigorous offer, he fed the data into his brain, being very careful to note that for once, his mostly-female body didn't appear to be an impediment. In fact, based on her skilled ministrations of his sensitive breasts, it would probably be considered a plus. And because having sex with her would actually help Dave and Bonnie, it could be considered an incredibly selfless and generous act on his part. A charitable donation, really.
He considered his options and after a moment the finely-tuned and perfectly evolved instrument between his ears came back with its determination: DO NOT HAVE SEX WITH THIS WOMAN.
Desperate—especially as Nina began licking and nibbling at him even as she—holy cow, what was she doing with her tongue?—he ran through the analysis again.
Point #1. Odds that Nina would discover his manhood in a romantic encounter: High. (And growing higher every second...)
Point #2. Odds that Nina would tell Delgado that Angelique was a man and/or otherwise use the information against him: High.
Point #3. Odds that Delgado's learning the truth would end in Terry experiencing excruciating pain, suffering, and probably death: Pretty much certain.
Final Judgment: Sex with this woman will inevitably lead to agonizing pain and almost certain death.
Having lost his case in his cerebral appellate court, Terry tried to ignore Nina's increasingly distracting ministrations to think of some sort of loophole. Figuring that Delgado's wrath and Nina's opportunism were probably givens, he focused his energy on circumventing Point #1 to come up with a way for the two of them to have sex without running the risk of her discovering his manhood. He wracked his brain and considered an impressive variety of scenarios and sexual positions as she tickled and teased his body.
"So, what do you think?" Nina asked in a husky whisper.
"I'm thinking I should have paid more attention in Geometry class," he said, mentally running through more esoteric coupling possibilities and wondering how flexible his new body was. "Nina," he sighed finally, "I can't."
She stopped and pulled away. "I'm not used to taking no for an answer, Angelique."
"I would do it," he told her. "Repeatedly and often, believe me. But," he sighed, "I'm with Lucius."
"Well," she said briskly. "I suppose loyalty counts for something. As does gold digging," she sniped as she straightened up her dress.
"What he and I have is complicated—"
"No, I'd say that a middle-aged man having a fling with a big-titted bimbo in a French maid costume is about as uncomplicated as it gets," Nina taunted as she turned and left.
Hurrying after her, Terry scurried after her out of the pantry, through the kitchen, and into the adjacent dining room. He grabbed her by the wrist and she shot him a glare that would frost over a campfire.
"Nina, look, I'm sorry! Just—" He hesitated, glancing nervously over at the adjacent living room where everyone was still gathered. He was about to ask her not to take her anger out on the Rileys, but he knew that would only raise her suspicions, and she didn't give a damn about them, anyway.
Nina curled her lip as she regarded him, obviously assuming he was just trying to save his own skin. "Have fun working that stripper pole, Angelique," she sneered. "Maybe you can give me a dance the next time I'm in town."
She yanked her hand back and spun on him. "You know, I wasn't asking for your hand in marriage. It's just sex. Good old-fashioned fun and guilt-free sex with no strings attached. But you're the one who wants to make it all about commitment." She looked at him in disgust and shook her head. "Fucking chicks," she muttered as she stormed out.
Terry stood there in shock for a moment as he tried to process what just happened. Sullenly he turned and saw his reflection in a mirror on the opposite wall of the dining room, and was faced once again with the feminine body that tormented him. The body that this time ironically wasn't quite feminine enough to afford him the opportunity to enjoy an unlimited amount of guilt-free sex with a gorgeous woman.
He was about to look away when he noticed the lacy headband perched in his hair, the one that was hiding the camera that had just recorded the entire encounter. He looked directly in the mirror and said, "Adams, so help me, if any of this ends up on some kind of blooper reel at the next FBI Christmas party, you're a dead man."
By the time everyone was seated for dinner, it was really more of a desperation move on Bonnie's part since tensions were running high. Krystal was still fuming at her father and had been ready to leave, but after the two had a short and heated conversation, she reluctantly decided to stay for dinner. To the untrained eye one might have assumed that she was merely capitulating to her father's desire to not create a spectacle, but in fact she was using the opportunity to make a principled stand. That principle being one of, "No, I Am Not Angry, You're An Adult So Feel Free To Date Whomever You Wish, And Why Don't You Freaking Marry Her For All I Care Because It'd Be So Much Fun To Tell Everyone I Know That I Have A Stepmother My Own Age, Thankyouverymuch."
It was not the first time they'd had this conversation.
So, by the time everyone was seated around the table and was picking at their salads, the room had fallen deathly silent.
Krystal wasn't speaking to her father because she was angry about him dating Angelique. Terry's father didn't seem particularly thrilled about it, either.
By a fluke of seating arrangements, Nina and Sharon were seated across from each other and were doing everything in their power to avoid making guilty eye contact, which of course only served to make them look even more guilty.
Nina glanced uncertainly at Delgado, who in turn was wondered what his trusted lieutenant was up to that would give her cause to look guilty.
Dave and Bonnie, after two days of putting up with Nina, knew better to engage her in any kind of chitchat.
That left Claire and Madison, who were of course the only two in the room who knew about every single one of these conversational tripwires, which had left them pretty much paralyzed with fear.
Lawrence, sensing the tension, turned to Dave. "Wow, it got quiet all of a sudden! Hey, son, all those greeting cards you sell have witty little things in them, right? Got anything clever to start a conversation?"
Dave froze up and glanced over at Bonnie, who seemed equally at a loss. "So, um, how about that local sports team?" he ventured weakly.
His dad stared at him for a moment. "Huh," he said as he returned his attention back to his salad.
"So," Sharon said to Bonnie. It always amazed Bonnie how much condescension her mother-in-law was able to wring from one single syllable. "Did you get the money to save your business?"
The dining room resonated with the sharp metallic sound of Bonnie's fork hitting her plate as she forced a tight smile. "It wasn't to save—"
"Yes, I think we worked it out," Dave jumped in. His eyes darted between both Bonnie and Nina, and he hoped that the suddenly stern-faced woman wouldn't say anything to contradict that assessment. "We're very excited to be able to have new opportunities to expand the business."
Sharon leaned over towards Claire and Madison. "You know, if anything ever happened and your parents lose the house, you're always welcome to stay with Grandpa and me."
Bonnie turned to the girls. "Grandma's just joking," she said, glaring at Sharon. "You know we're not going to lose the house, right?"
The girls nodded.
"Dibs on the bedroom facing the lake," Madison whispered to her sister.
"No way! That one's got the biggest closet!"
The awkward silence quickly returned, punctuated by the intermittent staccato clicking of forks against the plates as the group finished their salads.
"Krystal," Claire tried, "how'd your art exhibition go? My parents seemed pretty excited about being able to help find you a place to show your stuff."
"Fine," Krystal said, using her fork to shove a crouton to the side of her plate.
Claire waited a moment in hopes of more of an answer, but none was forthcoming. Suddenly she felt more sympathy for her parents when they asked her how school was, and she would give them the same monosyllabic response. "It, uh, ran for a few weeks, didn't it?"
"It was supposed to," she responded, casting an accusing eye at Dave and Bonnie, who visibly stiffened up.
Bonnie cleared her throat gently. "There was a conflict with the space we reserved," she explained. "They had to close the exhibition early."
"Oh, my. You ran out of money that fast?" Sharon asked.
"It wasn't about money!" Bonnie snapped, as Dave hurried to grab her arm.
"Scheduling issue," he whispered with an apologetic shrug, although Krystal didn't seem particularly mollified by that explanation.
Into the quiet room, the kitchen door suddenly burst open and Terry entered, all smiles. "So, how we getting along in here? Great salads, right? Cherry tomatoes for the win!" When nobody responded, he made a petulant little "Hm," and started to collect their salad plates. As he gathered them up one by one, the clattering of the silverware on the plates resonated loudly, and Bonnie glowered at him.
Delgado, who was sitting next to his daughter, reached his arm around the back of her chair to touch her shoulder. "Well, we're very proud of the work she's doing. She's immensely talented."
Krystal pulled away from his touch and shot him an angry look. "So that'd be the royal 'we,' then?" she accused. "And how would you know, anyway? You weren't even there!"
"Honey, I told you, I was out of town for business," he said, glancing carefully over at Nina. "I was going to see it when I got back, but I didn't know it would only be open for three days."
"Oh, that's right," Krystal said. "Of course, when you got back you found time to have 'dinner with a friend,' I wonder who that could have been with?" she said, giving a withering glance to Terry, who was creeping up behind Delgado to reach for his plate.
Terry froze in place, uncomfortable with suddenly being the center of attention. As he did so, Delgado pulled back from Krystal defensively, blocking access to the plate.
"Uh, are you finished with that?" Terry squeaked.
"Krystal, you know I would have gone to the exhibition if I'd known—"
"Oh, it's my fault, really. I should have known you'd prefer to dabble in French Romanticism instead," as her eyes fell accusingly on Terry's frilly little uniform.
"So we'll call that a 'no' on the plate."
"I thought you said you didn't care who I dated."
Terry stepped back and moved down to retrieve the next salad plate off the table. Krystal's.
"When I said I was seeing someone, you said you were happy for me."
"Umm..." Terry murmured as he made a faint gesture at the plate.
"But not when it's Angelique."
Bonnie glanced between Delgado and Terry in shock. "Your father and Angelique?" she said, incredulous.
"I knew I forgot to mention something," Dave muttered. Although he noticed that his mother's face had practically lit up at the pronouncement.
"See?" Krystal said to her father. "It's not just me! You don't think she's a little young for you?"
"A little something," Bonnie muttered.
"It looks like you're still working on that," Terry decided, pointing at the solitary crouton on Krystal's plate.
"Sweetheart, try to be objective."
"It's even awful objectively!" Krystal maintained. "Ooh, what's that formula for telling if the age difference is creepy?" she wondered aloud.
"Age divided by two, plus seven years," Madison offered. When her mother raised an eyebrow at her, she shrugged. "What? I read it online."
The room fell quiet as everyone started looking at their partners and doing the math in their heads.
"Does that mean I can date college sophomores?" wondered Claire.
"No!" Dave and Bonnie declared in unison.
Delgado did the math and eyed Terry lasciviously. "Eh, close enough," he decided.
"Daddy!" Krystal said.
"Well, they are within one standard deviation," Nina offered.
"I'd say it's way more deviant than that," Terry muttered under his breath before flashing Delgado a bright smile.
Sharon shook her head knowingly and smiled at Krystal. "Age doesn't always matter, dear. Take Lawrence and me," she said, taking his hand lovingly. "We've been happily married forty years, and he was ten years older than me when he got me pregnant with Dave. I was only eighteen at the time."
"Your eighteenth birthday," Lawrence said with a smile.
"Thank goodness we filmed ourselves!" She turned to Dave, who was gaping at her in disbelief. "My parents wanted to press charges since they thought I was underage when we had sex, but that film exonerated your father."
"Mother!" Dave said aghast as he glanced towards the two shocked girls.
Sharon rolled her eyes. "Oh, honestly," she said reprovingly. "You act like it's a big secret. They're smart girls. They know how old we are and how old you are, they're capable of doing simple arithmetic."
"Ewwww," Terry shuddered, doing the math in his head for the first time.
"A little May-December romance never hurt anybody," she said as she cast her eyes between Terry and Delgado approvingly, although Terry observed that his father didn't seem to be quite so supportive at the assertion. "And after forty years, do you know what our secret is for staying together?"
"Fidelity?" Dave said accusingly, staring icily at Nina.
"Honesty?" suggested Bonnie.
"I'm also going to guess fidelity," Terry offered.
Sharon smiled and turned to Lawrence who returned her loving gaze. "A really wonderful sex life," she said, giving him a kiss.
"Aaaand, I'm going to go check on dinner," Terry said in alarm as he rushed off to the kitchen.
Silence returned to the room and everyone's eyes darted around, worried about who would be the next to speak. After a moment, Dave's hand made a deliberate jerk which knocked his wine glass into his lap.
"Oops!" he declared. "I should go put some club soda on this. Back in a tick," he announced as he jumped up from the table. As he got up, Bonnie gave him a mortified and accusatory look for abandoning her, but he avoided making eye contact as he swiftly made his exit.
Sitting there at the table Bonnie's expression froze as she obviously tried to think of some excuse to leave. But after a few moments she apparently decided to not even bother trying bolted from her seat. As she did so she nodded to Claire as though handing her the reins, and quickly hurried out of the room after her husband.
Claire, wide-eyed, turned to face the rest of the table.
"Soooo..." she slowly intoned as her mind raced for something to say. "I, uh, hear Aurora March is getting her own reality TV show. Big news there, yeah? Anybody a fan? She puts on a really fun concert. And her 'Rhinestone Glitter Princess' song is pretty catchy, right? That's getting some good air play. Fun video, too. With the glitter. Very...sparkly. Sure wish I had stock in that glitter company, am I right?" She nodded. "Yep, big star, that Aurora. Big star."
Madison leaned over to her sister. "Tell them about her Labradoodles."
A few minutes later, Bonnie burst into the kitchen to find both Terry and Jasper scurrying about, preparing the meal. Terry had a very self-satisfied look on his face, which she knew from experience meant trouble.
She sniffed the air. "What's that smell?" she wondered. The aroma was very familiar.
There was a large metal pot on the stove, and Terry dramatically removed the lid. "Ta-daaa!" he proclaimed musically. It was full of SpaghettiOs.
All the color drained out of Bonnie's face.
"I know, right?" Terry said. "Jasper brought home a mix of the ones with franks and the plain kind, but then I remembered that we had some hot dogs in the fridge, so we just fired 'em up in the microwave and sliced them into little pieces and mixed 'em in," he said proudly.
"It was a team effort," Jasper interjected as he grabbed another can and placed it in the can opener.
"Wait, wait, whoa," Terry told him. "Here, let me show you a trick." He held the can upside down and cut open the bottom lid, and then flipped it over and held it over the pot on the stove. For a few seconds, the noodles hung in defiance of gravity as they clung to the inside of the can, but then there was a *shlorrrk* sound as they slipped out and plopped into the pot.
Terry turned to Jasper. "See, they put the franks in last, so they're on the top of the can. But if you open it from the bottom, it comes out clean and you don't need to scoop it out with a spoon," he explained. "That also works with the kind with meatballs."
"You are so wise," Jasper marveled.
Terry nodded sagely. "When the student is ready, the master will appear."
Bonnie looked at them in horror. "Are you insane? We can't serve—"
Dave entered the kitchen as he blotted at his pants with a towel. "Hey, whatever we're gonna do, we need to do it fast. Things are getting ugly out there." He looked at the pot. "Oh, hey, SpaghettiOs. Franks or meatballs?"
Dave nodded agreeably.
"I can't serve Chef Boyardee at a dinner party!" Bonnie cried.
Terry and Dave made eye contact with each other and shook their heads remorsefully.
"SpaghettiOs are made by Campbell's," Terry explained.
"Yeah, honey, that's a different brand entirely."
"Rookie mistake, Ms. Bonnie."
Bonnie moved to attack Terry before Dave restrained her. "I'll 'Ms. Bonnie' you, you miserable little—"
"Oh, here you guys are," Claire said as she entered the kitchen. "So, how are things coming in here?" She sniffed the air and then peered at the pot on the stove. "Hey, are those—?"
Jasper waved his hands frantically to cut her off.
"Oookay. Um, yeah, I think you guys need to get back in there. They're getting tired of my stories."
Dave glanced at the door to the dining room. "What are they doing in there now?"
She shrugged. "I dunno. I left Madison in there to talk to them."
Silence fell across the room while everybody paused to consider that.
"Oh, crap," Claire said.
A mad rush of movement ensued as everyone hurried out the door to head out to the dining room.
"Really?" Madison said. "Wow, that's surprising, Ms. Fontaine. Okay, here's another one: would you rather puke slugs for an hour, or have constant diarrhea for a week?"
"Okay!" Bonnie cut in as she, Dave, and Claire took their seats. "Well, I'm delighted to see you're all getting along so well," she said as Nina gave her an evil look.
"Any chance there's food coming?" Lawrence asked.
"Ah, the food, yes," Bonnie said. "About that—"
Just then, Terry entered pushing a small serving cart that had a large ceramic serving tureen. Bonnie, wide-eyed, made eye contact with Terry and looked at him pleadingly, but Terry was all smiles as he started serving into bowls and putting them on everyone's plates. "I'm so sorry about the wait, everyone! But culinary masterpieces like this take time."
"That's not what it says on the can," Madison muttered as she looked into her bowl, getting a sharp jab from her sister's elbow.
"It smells...good," Krystal said uncertainly. "What is this dish, again?"
"Oh," Bonnie said, "this is, uh—"
"Anelletti con salsiccia!" Delgado exclaimed as Terry served him. "My mother used to make this!"
Bonnie was dumbfounded. "She did. Really."
Excited, he grabbed a spoon and took a bite, savoring the taste. "Ooh, this takes me back to when I was a boy."
The girls' eyes cut over at each other.
Delgado wagged his finger. "This sausage is so familiar. What is it?"
Terry cleared his throat uncertainly. "Oh, yeah, that's a crowd pleaser, all right. To be frank, it's a modern take on an old favorite. You might even call it a haute do—"
"It's a family recipe," Bonnie interjected, cutting him off.
"Not from our side of the family," Sharon said as she experimentally poked at it with her spoon.
Bonnie grabbed Terry by the arm and pulled him close. "Hide the cans," she whispered.
He nodded and hurried off to the kitchen.
The awkward silence soon returned, this time punctuated by the sounds of spoons against china as everyone poked listlessly at their SpaghettiOs. The only exception to this was Lucius Delgado, who enthusiastically helped himself to seconds. Madison looked like she was about to volunteer something, but Claire discreetly darted her hand over to grab at her sister and give her a panicked look, shaking her head almost imperceptibly to be quiet.
Then, sounding like a clarion call amid the silence came the sound of the doorbell.
Everybody looked at each other as they tried to figure out who it might be.
Terry was the first to speak. "Oh, good, that'll be those prostitutes I ordered."
"Angelique!" Bonnie exclaimed.
"Oh, relax," he said as he headed to get the door. "With any luck it'll just be a crazed killer at the door, here to put us out of our misery. I call first dibs."
He made his way to the front door, the clicking of his heels resounding on the hard tile floor as he crossed the foyer. He put his hand on the door handle and at the last second remembered to lower his eyes and dip into a little half-curtsy while he plucked at his skirt.
"Welcome to the eighth circle of hell, how can I—"
"Angelique!" a woman's voice shrilled excitedly. Terry looked up in confusion to see that Agent Samm was standing in front of him with a huge smile on her face. She was heavily made up and wearing another scandalously sexy and clingy dress that showed that she was dressed to party.
Flummoxed, Terry shook his head. "What the...?"
"EEEE!" she squealed excitedly, looking around the foyer in wide-eyed amazement. "Oh, wow," she enthused. "Is this where you're living, now? And I just love that sexy little dress—you're just so spicy, girl!" To his horror, Terry noted that she was slurring her words just slightly.
"Oh, God, have you been drinking?" he whispered, but she'd already moved deeper into the house like she was giving herself a little self-tour, so he hurried along after the FBI agent. "Oh, good, all nine circles in one evening. I wonder if there's a bumper sticker for the achievement."
Samm then rounded the corner and walked right into the dining room where nine sets of eyes silently stared at the two of them as they entered. She froze in her tracks and her jaw dropped in shock. "Whoops!" she exclaimed, stumbling in drunkenly. "Well, nobody said it was a party!" she said with a big smile.
Sharon was the first to find her voice. "So you did order a prostitute?"
Before Terry could respond, Samm gave her a dismissive little wave. "Oh, I'm not a pro, I'm a stripper!" she said proudly.
"There are children present!" Bonnie said, aghast.
"Oh, it's cool, Mom," Madison responded. "That's just one of Angelique's friends, Slimy Cindy."
"Sleazy," Samm corrected.
Dave and Bonnie's mouths dropped open in shock, and everybody else seemed completely at a loss as to what the hell was going on. Samm just smiled and plopped herself down at the vacant seat at the table as she grabbed the wine bottle and an empty glass.
From her seat, Bonnie darted her hand out and grabbed Terry firmly about the wrist, yanking him close. "We are never putting out an extra place setting for 'unexpected company' ever again," she hissed in his ear.
"Oh, I'm not here to work, y'all," Samm said as she filled her glass and polished off the bottle. "I was just going to go out partying with my girl, Angelique!" she said, taking a drink. "Ooh, that's nice. And I am so sorry to interrupt you nice folks, but this time it was not my fault! This one," she said, wagging an accusatory finger at Terry, "said we should get together. So here I am!"
"I guess I did say that," Terry volunteered uncertainly.
Bonnie recognized Samm from the night before at the club, but clearly wasn't willing to put up with any more shenanigans at this dinner. "Well—Cindy—as you can see, this isn't a good time—"
"Heeeyyy!" Samm exclaimed in recognition as she pointed at Nina and Sharon. "It's you two!" she said brightly. "Oh, my God, I just have to say, you make such a cute couple! You were making me blush last night!"
The two women nervously exchanged guilty glances but quickly recovered. "I beg your pardon?" Sharon challenged.
Nina's eyes quickly cut over to gauge Delgado's reaction before giving Samm an accusatory look. "You've clearly mistaken us for someone else."
"What? Nuh-uh!" Samm said. "C'mon, at Pandora's Box last night? You two were going at it like teenagers!" she declared. "I almost came over to give you gals a high five, but it looks like your hands were already occupied, am I right? Here, c'mon, up high!" she said, holding her hand up to Nina.
"That—that's a lie," Nina said weakly. Her eyes were now locked with Delgado's, and he tilted his head slightly as he was obviously starting to put things together, recollecting other clues he'd overlooked over the years regarding his lieutenant's proclivities.
Samm gave a frustrated little sigh and looked to Bonnie and Terry for support. "Well, c'mon! You girls were there, too!" she said. "Back me up, here!"
Bonnie turned to the two women. "W-we didn't want to say anything," she said weakly. Then, reluctantly looking to her father-in-law, she said, "I—I'm so sorry—"
Samm snorted. "What's he got to be sorry about? He was there, too!"
Now it was Terry's turn to be thrown. "Who with the what now?"
"Well, he wasn't in the club," Samm said, rolling her eyes, "but he picked the gals up afterward out in front of the club. Guessin' you three kids found someplace more private to have some fun, huh?" She nudged Nina suggestively and took another drink. After a moment she glanced around the table at everyone. "I mean sex."
Terry's jaw dropped slightly as he made eye contact with Samm, trying to figure out what her game was. He didn't remember seeing his father out in front of the club when they left the club, and she'd been so drunk he couldn't believe that she would have noticed him, either. But as he turned to look to his parents, he saw that they both had guilty expressions on their faces, like a couple of wayward teens.
Dave noticed it, too. "Dad—?" he asked.
Lawrence cleared his throat as he looked furtively over at Sharon. She sighed and waved her hands in little circles, saying, "We like to take these little 'vacations' to spice things up from time to time."
"You mean road trips?" Dave asked hopefully. "Please mean road trips."
Sharon looked to her husband and gave his hand a loving squeeze as he smiled and kissed her wrist. "Your father and I have a wonderful marriage, and an amazing sex life!" she professed, a proud declaration that caused the rest of the Rileys to grimace. "But I'm a very sexual person, and your father has been wonderfully accommodating about trying new things," she said. "We started by posting some pictures online and started messaging other couples who were interested in... experimentation."
"Though it's easier with singles," Lawrence offered.
"Yes, that's true, dear," Sharon agreed, nodding. "So we meet people online—sometimes a man, sometimes a woman—and then spend the weekend with them."
"She means sex," Lawrence added helpfully, looking at Samm.
Dave was reeling from the news, but managed to maintain the presence of mind to blurt out, "Madison, you're excused."
"But this is just getting good!"
"Oh, come on! They're just like those people on that Real Housewives show!"
Bonnie leaned forward and glowered at Madison. "We will be reviewing your television habits, young lady!"
Delgado stood up slowly. "I think we should be leaving," he said. Believing the comment was directed at her, Krystal quickly stood and grabbed her purse, chafing at his direction but knowing better than to pass up an excuse to get out of there. However, as he said it, Delgado's eyes were riveted on Nina, and the normally unflappable woman was suddenly looking very flustered. He added, "You all obviously need some time. The awkward thing about learning secrets is that it makes you wonder what else you might not know about the person."
"I think I should go, too," Nina said. She looked at Delgado imploringly, but he was obviously having nothing to do with it.
"Wait!" Bonnie said to her. "We haven't finished reviewing the numbers yet! I'm sure you'll find—"
"This isn't a good time for my investors," Nina said. "I just got notice from them that they need time to review all my projects."
"When did that happen?" Bonnie asked, puzzled. "I didn't hear your phone ring?"
"Oh, I think that message came through pretty clearly," Delgado added darkly. He reached out a hand to guide Krystal out, but she yanked her arm back away from him and gave him a warning glare.
Krystal then turned to Dave and Bonnie. "Thanks for dinner," she said dubiously. She then turned and walked out, staring daggers at Terry as she left. Delgado just nodded his thanks, shrugged helplessly, and hurried after her.
Nina, who hadn't been drinking all evening, reached over and grabbed Bonnie's full wine glass from in front of her and started taking a long, slow drink. Bonnie started to beseech her again, but Nina silenced her by holding up her hand while she downed the rest of the glass, put it on the table, and burped. She turned to head for the door and as she paused to grab her purse she made eye contact with Lawrence and Sharon who gave her sheepish grins.
Sharon waggled her fingers at her girlishly and silently mouthed the words, "Call me."
"God, I hate this family," Nina muttered.
"Cheers to that," Samm whispered to herself, taking another long drink from her glass.
As she headed for the door Nina paused for a moment in front of Terry and fished something out of her purse, looking for just a moment again like the overconfident woman who had cornered him in the pantry earlier.
"Oh, Angelique, here's that lipstick that you liked so much," she said with a smirk as she retrieved it from her purse and handed it to Terry. "I thought it looked really good on you," she said with a discreet pucker of her lips and a sly wink before leaving.
Still sitting at the table, Sharon and Lawrence glanced at each other, shrugged, and stood up. "We're going to go pack our things and go," Sharon volunteered. "I think maybe you kids need some quiet time."
"We want to get a jump on traffic," Lawrence offered.
Dave looked at them sympathetically. "Mom, Dad, you don't have to go—" he began before turning to look at Bonnie, who was giving him a glare that would melt stainless steel. "Good idea," he agreed. "Drive safe."
As they nodded and left, the room fell quiet again. Into this uneasy silence Samm then interjected, "So, Angie, we goin' drinking tonight, or what?"
"Out!" Bonnie screeched.
Samm was up out of her seat like a shot, but paused for several interminable seconds as she finished her glass of wine. She then headed towards the exit and turned her head towards Terry so that the others couldn't see her grinning face.
"I'll walk you out," Terry offered as he led her out of the room to the front door. Once they were out of earshot, he checked over his shoulder and gave her a wry grin. "Not very unobtrusive, Agent Samm."
"By your standards, it was. Sorry about outing your folks like that."
"For a minute I thought you were trying to break up their marriage. But how'd you know my dad was in on it? He wasn't outside the club last night."
"He was," she corrected. "He showed up after we left. Today I went back to the club and questioned some people who saw them. Once I realized his car had been there I put two and two together."
"Huh," Terry said, impressed. "Not bad."
"Yeah, Riley, notice how they actually put the word 'investigation' in the name of my agency. I'm actually pretty good at my job."
"When you're not impersonating strippers in front of the guy you're supposedly watching covertly."
"Touché. Although I've recently been told that I might do well to bend some rules from time to time."
"That's good advice! The guy who said that must be pretty smart."
"Yeah, if he was all that smart I don't think he'd be stuffing his knockers into a nympho maidservant costume every day."
"I prefer to think of this as a historical reenactment of a French soubrette mixed with a dash of burlesque couture."
"How terribly avant-garde."
She looked him over in his skimpy little outfit. "Well, better you than me. Credit where it's due, though... you've got crazy sexy legs, Riley."
"Well, you know what they say. Give a man a fish and you'll feed him for a day. Put a man in fishnets and he'll serve you for a lifetime."
That evening, Terry sat on the front stoop of the house with a stunned look on his face as he tried to process everything he'd learned about his parents while his two nieces sat next to him supportively. Madison was holding up her plastic bag of SnickerDoos and counting how many were left.
"Well that was all kinds of awkward," Claire said. When Terry didn't respond, she added, "I'm sorry about Grandma and Grandpa."
"And Mom and Dad didn't get the money they needed for the business, so I guess that kind of sucks."
Madison looked puzzled. "Yeah, what was that for, anyway?"
Claire, not knowing the details, looked to Terry, who just sighed and shrugged. "Your parents wanted to team up with a chain of steak houses to sell greeting cards to customers while they waited for their food."
The two girls glanced at each other in confusion. "Come again?"
"They were going to call it 'Meat 'n' Greet.'"
Madison squinted her eyes as she tried to form a mental picture. "That's the dumbest thing I ever heard."
"Wow, dodged a bullet, there," Claire agreed.
"But now your parents won't be involved in a criminal conspiracy to launder money for the mob. So, you know, there's that."
"I'm sure they'd appreciate it if they knew." Then she made a little face. "And I'm sorry Krystal found out about you and her dad," she added.
"Yeah, that pretty much sucked," Terry sighed. He winced at the memory as they all sat there quietly for a minute.
There was a rustling sound, and Madison took Terry's hand and put something in it. A SnickerDoo.
"Madison, I appreciate the gesture, but I just found out my parents are bisexual swingers in an open marriage and now they think that I'm a transsexual with a French maid fetish who's moonlighting as a stripper and is dating someone old enough to be my father."
"Yeah," she said solemnly. She then put a second SnickerDoo in his hand. "But that's all you're getting," she warned. "Nobody died, for crying out loud."
"They look like dog food."
"Give 'em back if you don't want 'em!"
"Ugh," Terry said as he tossed them in his mouth. The three of them sat there in silence, with the only noise that of Terry crunching on the cereal. "These would be good with milk," he said with his mouth full.
"They're freaking magical with milk," Madison declared.
Claire stood up and patted Terry on the shoulder. "Okay, I'm going inside."
"Me, too," Madison said, following her sister.
As the door closed behind them, Terry sighed and started to stand up, pausing to brush the crumbs from his hands on his apron, and as he did so, he felt something in the pocket there and paused. He thought for a moment and then stood up confidently. "Screw this," he said to himself.
Dave and Bonnie were sitting sullenly and having a drink in the living room and talking when Terry came breezing in with a puzzled-looking Claire and Madison already in tow.
"Ms. Bonnie? Mr. Dave?" he said pleasantly. "Do you have a moment?"
Bonnie threw her head back onto the couch. "Angelique, I'm really not in the mood for your snark this evening. Can it wait until never?" she sighed. Dave said nothing but just flashed his eyebrows in agreement.
"Please? It will only take a minute?"
Bonnie groaned at the thought of getting off the couch, but Dave gave her a shrug of encouragement and stood up and offered her his hand.
As Terry led them into the foyer, he said, "I know that today wasn't exactly how any of us hoped it would go. But I figure if at least one good thing comes out of it, we can call it a win." With that, he opened the front door and they filed outside to see the Jaguar convertible sitting there in the driveway with the giant bow still on the hood.
"Wow," Bonnie deadpanned. "You got a new car. You're right, that makes everything better."
"Not exactly," Terry said. "Miss Claire got a new car," he said, handing her the keys.
Claire looked at him in confusion as she turned to look at the car, then at the keys in her hand, then at Terry, then back at the car.
"EEEEEEE!!!" she squealed, pouncing on him and hugging him so tightly she practically squeezed the air out of his lungs. "Oh, my God!" she cried as she released him, running over to the car and touching it like she was trying to make sure it was real.
"If it's okay with your parents, of course."
Claire froze and looked pleadingly at Dave and Bonnie, both of whom were still trying to shake off their surprise.
"Is it stolen?" Bonnie asked.
"No!" Terry said, sounding offended. "Although, y'know, fair question," he admitted. "No, you might say this was a—very generous endowment," he said, giving Claire a sly wink and shaking his shoulders subtly as she rolled her eyes.
Dave and Bonnie looked at each other uncertainly and just shrugged. "Sure... okay," Bonnie said with a little grin, both of them enjoying seeing Claire so happy.
Claire squealed again in delight and she rushed back to the car. She opened the door and jumped into the driver's seat and ran her hands lovingly across the steering wheel.
"You understand, I might need to borrow that from time to time," Terry called out to her.
"Sure!" she agreed distractedly as she fiddled with the console.
Madison stepped up to Terry and gave him a little nudge and whispered, "You know, I've sort of had my eye on one of those remote-controlled hover drones? So, if Mr. Delgado should ever happen to give one of those to Angelique..."
"I'll keep you in mind," Terry promised, smiling as he beheld the look of sheer joy on Claire's face. "Maybe not such a bad day, after all," he said to himself.
The next morning Terry overslept and he swore to himself since he knew that Bonnie was going to give him grief over it. As quickly as possible he got cleaned up and ready, feeling a strange mixture of both discomfiture and pride that he was able to do his hair and makeup so efficiently. As he scurried into the kitchen while tying his apron he noted that everybody had left already except for Bonnie, who was sitting and reading some papers at the breakfast table. She hardly acknowledged him as he entered.
"I'm sorry I'm late, Ms. Bonnie," he said, hoping that his correct and non-sarcastic use of the title might score some points. She didn't respond, so he quickly began cleaning up the remaining plates and silverware off the table. As he did so, he caught a glimpse of the dining room through the open door and saw that all of the dirty dishes were still on the table from last night. The scene of the crime.
"I promise I'll clean up the dining room first thing—"
"Angelique." Her tone wasn't angry like Terry had feared, but more resigned, like she'd made up her mind about something. He would have preferred angry.
Terry felt a flash of panic run through him. He knew she'd be well within her rights to fire him after the debacle his "friend" had seemingly caused the night before, and he couldn't bear for that to happen. The realization surprised him. Even a few short weeks ago before all this French maid business he figured they'd be kicking him out soon enough... in fact, he'd been somewhat shocked that they hadn't kicked him out already. But ever since his transformation he'd felt more like he was part of the family, more connected to the girls, to Dave... even Bonnie.
Well, not really Bonnie so much, but still.
As he steeled himself for the bad news, he felt a lump form in his throat. The old Terry would be worried that getting fired would up-end his deals with both Delgado and the FBI, stranding him in this woman's body and putting him back on the run from the gangster without any support. But as he wrung his hands, it surprised him that he was more worried about not seeing them anymore. Not being part of the family. Even as part of him wondered if they might be safer without him around.
He took a deep tremulous breath and nodded. It was for the best, he decided. It was better for them. "Look, before you say anything, I just want to apologize—"
"I know I messed things up, so you don't have to—"
"Angelique!" Bonnie snapped, stunning Terry into silence. "Would you please just shut up for once? Can you?"
Terry shifted nervously. "Sure, no problem," he said.
She gave him an exasperated look.
Bonnie shook her head and silently looked him over. She had a strange expression on her face, like she was scrutinizing him not to help her make a decision, but maybe to justify a decision she'd already made.
"What?" Terry asked, worried.
"That was a very nice thing you did for Claire," she told him.
"Oh. Well, tha—"
"And I don't know what kind of game you're playing, but so help me, if you end up hurting her in any way, I'll give you a sex change myself with rusty garden shears."
Terry was shocked. "Hey! Can't I just do something nice?" he shot back. "Something thoughtful and selfless that costs me tens of thousands of dolla—" he stopped suddenly and thought about what he was saying, even as Bonnie continued to glare at him mistrustfully. "Wow. Coming from me, even I think that sounds like bullshit," he conceded. Then he gave her a conciliatory look. "It's not, though."
"Mmm," she said, unconvinced. "Well, the dishes can wait. Here's the shopping list, and a few other errands I need you to run," she said as she handed him a piece of paper.
He took it and read down at the list, then after a moment he flipped it over to see if there was anything written on the back. "Just making sure."
"Uh huh," Bonnie said. She hesitated a moment and added, "I need to take my car for a meeting, and I saw that Claire took her car to school to show it off to her friends. So, that leaves..." She gestured to the key rack where the key for the scooter was hanging.
He started to reach for it and she gave a little shrug. "You know, I suppose I could drop you off at the market on my way to work and give you cab fare back."
Terry raised his eyebrows and flashed her a little grin. "Why, Ms. Bonnie! Are you and I in danger of becoming friends?"
"I think that frilly headband is squeezing your brain."
"That would actually explain a lot," Terry admitted, taking the key from the rack. Bonnie looked surprised at his decision and he said, "What the hell, it's a nice day. I'll just pretend like I'm driving with the convertible top down. There's something exhilarating about the wind in your petticoats, y'know?"
"I'll take your word for it."
As Terry rode downtown on his scooter, skirts and petticoats blowing in the breeze, he smiled. Things weren't so bad, he thought. And what he'd said to Nina was still tumbling around his brain, the idea that even though he hadn't chosen this life, if other people had a problem with how he looked then it was their problem, not his. And he was rocking this outfit and if he could wear it without shame, then he really was awesome.
He pulled to a stop at a red light with a satisfied little smile on his face when a beat up car with a few college-aged guys pulled up alongside.
"Oooh, vive la France!"
"Baby, you are rocking that costume! You wanna rock my bedposts?"
"Hey, sweet cheeks, you got a sister? 'Cause I don't know much French, but I'm up for a ménage à trois!"
Terry turned to look at them. They were hardly more than kids, barely worth his notice. Certainly nothing worth getting bent out of shape over. He took a deep breath and looked straight ahead while they continued their whistling and cat-calls.
Oh, fuck it, he thought.
He spun on them, flipped them the bird, and in his male voice screamed, "Fuck off, assholes!"
The guys were stunned into silence and as the light turned green Terry continued on his way with a satisfied smile on his face.
Well, maybe he could aspire to awesomeness, he figured. It was really more of a journey than a destination, after all.
Author's Postscript: The views expressed by the characters in this story are not necessarily shared by the author herself. The SpaghettiOs with meatballs are much better than the kind with the sliced franks.
Word to your aardvark!
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