Overnight HeiressBy: Modean Moon
Two plainclothes policemen stood at the end of the bar.
Meg stopped just inside the door and looked warily at the two strangers, knowing they were cops without ever having seen them before. Then, with her heart beating a heavy cadence to the beat of her footsteps on the hardwood floor, she made her way through the scrubbed-clean tables and upended chairs.
They’re not here for me. They can’t be here for me, she told herself as she schooled her features into an expression of concerned curiosity.
“Good morning,” she said pleasantly. “Is Patrick—” As she glanced around the brightly lighted room, her concern became real. “Patrick McBean is here, isn’t he?”
The younger of the two men flashed a smile and just as easily flashed his ID at her. “Yes. He’s in the back.”
Meg let an eyebrow climb a fraction of an inch. “Is there a problem?” she asked.
The older cop, a stereotype of her worst nightmares, raked a glance over the black tailored slacks and white pin-tucked shirt she wore on her angular body. “You a waitress here?”
“Day bartender,” Meg told him, and started to pass him to go behind the bar.
“Don’t touch anything.”
“What?” Meg stopped in her reach for her apron.
“Not until the print crew gets here. And we’re going to need your prints, too. For comparison.”
Oh, hell. Oh, God. Oh, no.
The detective’s eyes narrowed. “You got a problem with being printed, Miss—?”
Meg sighed. “Wilson. Meg Wilson. And yes, I have a problem in principle with workplace fingerprinting, workplace polygraph testing and random drug tests. But since my objections are based on my interpretation of constitutional rights, I don’t suppose those objections will carry any weight with you, will they?”
Shut your mouth, Meg. Shut it now. This isn’t the time to bait a bear. Too much is at risk.
“Isn’t she something?” Patrick asked, coming in from the back room and draping his arm affectionately over Meg’s shoulder.
“Night school. I swear, she can hold her own with anybody who comes in this joint. And they love it.” The bar’s owner squeezed her shoulder with a little more force than necessary. A warning? “Now tell these fine gentlemen you were only staying in practice, Meg, me darlin’.”
Back off. Meg’s silent warning to herself echoed Patrick’s. Your prints aren’t on file. They can’t learn anything. Don’t antagonize them. Don’t make them want to look past the obvious.
Meg had a wide and generous smile. She knew: she’d had to work at it. “I’m sorry,” she said, using that smile. “Wisecracks have gotten to be such a part of the job, I sometimes think I put on the personality when I put on the rest of the uniform.”
Meg turned toward her boss, but now her smile was genuine and concerned. “What happened this time, Patrick?”
Meg paced her minuscule living room, stopping sporadically in her marching to look out through the sliding patio door at the vibrant colors on the surviving trees in this older neighborhood—looking for peace in the panorama of changing seasons, finding none. Tulsa was big enough to get lost in, big enough to escape from, but not big enough to hide two persons from a concentrated search.
Three days had passed since the latest theft from Patrick’s upscale bar and grill, three days since her fingerprints had been sent to the FBI wonderland that cops worshiped. She’d never been printed before, but... but, but, but. There were too many unknowns in this equation, and Meg was so tired—tired of running, tired of hiding—exhausted from the effort of making a home that didn’t feel like they were running or hiding.
She glanced at her watch, as utilitarian as everything she wore, and grimaced. Twenty minutes; that’s all she had until the neighborhood filled with the laughter and noise of home-bound school children. Twenty minutes to pace, to wrestle with her conscience, to decide. She wouldn’t be able to use Patrick as a reference if she left—she’d probably never be able to contact him again.
That was what hurt: losing the friend, not the reference. But if she left without notice, would she become a suspect in this string of thefts from Patrick? Would the police look for her for that reason when they might otherwise overlook her if she stayed quietly where she was?