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Jul 24

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No Dogs Allowed

Summary: Ari makes a promise to Dale, and receives a lead that could potentially close an ongoing case.

Dale startled awake, grasping at the blankets that were twisted around her waist. A word died on her tongue before she spoke it and the memory of what it was died as the dream faded. She grunted and sighed as she relaxed her limbs, pushing her hair up out of her face as she looked to her right. The bed beside her was empty but obviously had been slept in, however briefly. She checked her phone to see if there were any new messages – one text from Ari that simply read “Went out, 12:39” – and then sat up to put her feet on the floor. She coughed and then stumbled into the bathroom.

It had been two hours since Ari went for her run. There was no real way to estimate how long she needed; the wolf dictated the length and distance until it decided it had gone far enough and gave control back to Ari. Still, two hours was a good length for a run. The wolf usually knew to stay away from the morning rush.

Dale poured herself a glass of water from the kitchen sink and carried it to the bedroom window. She drank it as she looked out over the city, wetting her lips as she tried to imagine where Ari would have gone. It was the third night that week she’d been for a run. Monday she called for a ride from Denny Park, and on Wednesday she ended up on the far side of Seward Park. She squinted toward Downtown. Ari usually stayed away from the more urban areas of town, but there was always the chance the wolf was looking to rout through some garbage bins at the big restaurants.

She was still playing the guessing game when her cell phone rang. She glanced at the display, hardly necessary at this hour, as she swept her thumb across the screen to answer.

“Are you near Downtown?”

There was a pause. “Uh. No. Volunteer Park, by the water tower.”

Dale instantly pictured the spot. “Okay. I can be there in ten minutes. Are you safe?”

“I am. I’ll be on the south steps.”

“Okay. Do you need anything?”

Ari said, “No. I’m just tired.”

“I’ll be there soon.”

“Thank you, baby.”

“I’m happy to do it. See you soon.” She hung up and threw a button-down shirt on over her nightshirt. She stepped into a pair of shorts, grabbed her billfold and keys, and headed out. She wore her glasses instead of her contacts when she went out at night, putting her hair into a ponytail as she went downstairs.

The streets were only mostly deserted, still occupied by late-night souls on their way to or from some appointment or another. People cheating on their people, late-night workers going to begin their shifts, police on official business… and Dale Frye, assistant to a werewolf private investigator, on her way to retrieve her friend and lover after she had run too far to walk back home in the middle of the night.

The park was a straight shot from Dale’s apartment, and she managed to drive the route on autopilot. She saw the brick building rising over the thick foliage like a watchtower in a fairy tale, dark and foreboding in its isolation. Dale arrived from the south and, as she followed the curve of the road, her headlights swept across the foot of the steps to reveal Ari sitting on them. Dale’s heart swelled briefly at the sight of her, as it always did.

Ari wore a white T-shirt and baggy shorts that she’d gotten out of the stash Dale remembered was buried on the opposite side of the water tower. Ari waved as she passed through the headlight beams, then walked behind the car to climb into the passenger seat with a grunt of relief.

“Thanks.”

“Of course.” Dale leaned in and kissed her. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” She put her foot on the seat and massaged her thighs. “The wolf just put me through my paces tonight.”

And the transformation had hurt, Dale knew. It went unspoken, but she could tell from the way Ari was rubbing her leg that she wasn’t just exhausted from a long-distance run. She reached over and stroked Ari from the base of her skull, down her neck, and down under the collar of her shirt. Ari rolled her head forward and arched her back into the touch as Dale applied pressure with her middle two fingers.

“God, that feels good…

Dale smiled and increased the pressure. “I’ll give you a real rubdown when we get home. We’re going to my place?”

“Yeah, if that’s okay.”

Dale dropped her hand to focus on her driving. “Why wouldn’t be okay?”

Ari sighed and put her foot down, stretching as best she could in the seat. “Third night this week you’ve gotten woken up in the middle of the night because of the wolf.”

“Yeah, but I don’t mind that. You need me, and I’m happy to be here for you.”

“I can still feel bad about it, right?”

Dale smiled. “Sure. I can use your guilt to get you to do things I want.”

Ari chuckled. “God help me.”

They rode the rest of the short distance back home in comfortable silence, with Ari humming along when the song on the radio changed to one she liked. Dale parked and led Ari upstairs, unlocking the apartment to let Ari inside. They left the lights off as they walked to the bedroom, and Dale stripped down to her pajamas as Ari undressed.

“Stretch out.”

Ari started to complain but decided it was pointless. She crawled onto the bed and folded her hands under her cheek as Dale climbed up to straddle her. She reached for the oils they started incorporating into the massages when they became romantically involved. Ari grunted as soon as she started rubbing, the tension in her body revealing that she was in more pain than she’d admitted. Switching from human to the wolf and back again occasionally left her stiff as a board, but Dale was able to get her relaxed enough to sleep.

“Wolf is kind of needy this week, huh?”

“Mm.”

Dale playfully swatted Ari’s shoulder. “Hey. If I have to be up, so do you.”

“Sorry. Yes.” She cleared her throat. “It can be a little obnoxious…” Dale worked her hands lower and Ari made a quiet grunt of approval. “Stay there for a minute.”

“Right here?”

“Oh… yeah.”

Dale focused on that spot until the tension faded under her thumb.

“Thank you.”

“Mm-hmm. Any other spots?”

Ari pushed herself up on her elbows and looked over her shoulder. “I didn’t mean thank you for this, I meant for every time like this. Every time you dragged yourself out of bed to give me a ride home even when we weren’t coming back to the same bed. For the rubdowns, for being there. You know how many nights there were when I’d be half-panicked because I wasn’t sure how I’d get home after a run?” She stretched back and brushed her lips across Dale’s in a quick kiss. “I owe you more than I can ever repay.”

Dale pushed her back down and continued the massage. “You don’t owe me anything. You just pay me back in more subtle ways.” She moved her hands up along Ari’s spine and Ari writhed under the touch. “There’s no debt.”

“I still want to show you my appreciation.”

“I’ll think of a way you can repay me.” She moved her hands back down and bit her bottom lip as she shifted position. She cupped Ari’s buttocks and squeezed, and Ari chuckled against the pillow. “For now, just relax. The wolf’s put a lot of strain on you lately.”

“But you’ve taken it off every time.”

“Aw, smooth talker.” She walked her fingers around Ari’s waist, bending down to press against Ari’s back. Ari lifted her rear end, forming a space between her body and the mattress. Dale settled on top of her and rested her head on Ari’s shoulder as her hands explored. She spread her fingers and stroked, and Ari sighed and wriggled under her.

“Our massages have had more happy endings lately…”

Dale grinned. “I used to have so many fantasies about this.”

Ari chuckled. “You’ve mentioned. I’m honored to be your fantasy girl.”

Dale kissed Ari’s shoulder and then slid down. Ari bent her knees and moved them apart as Dale knelt behind her. “If you’re going to wake me up in the middle of the night,” Dale whispered, kissing the curve of Ari’s ass before slapping it, “I’m going to make it work my while.”

Ari pulled the pillow out from beneath her head and moved it down to her stomach, propping herself up further so Dale didn’t have to lie flat. She hissed through her teeth as Dale went to work with two fingers and her tongue. She stopped just long enough to sit up and take off her glasses. She placed them in Ari’s hand, and Ari stretched out to put them on the nightstand before lowering herself again.

When Ari came, she moaned Dale’s name into the pillow before turning her head and biting her arm. She growled and squirmed as Dale sat up and kissed Ari’s thighs before stroking her back. She brushed her cheek over Ari’s smooth skin. “How do you feel?”

“Better… much better.” She twisted around and pulled Dale to her. They kissed and readjusted themselves, with Ari loosely gripping Dale’s ankle to move her into the proper position. Dale fell back and then nodded toward the nightstand. “Toy.”

“Yeah?”

Dale nodded, flushing as she ran her eyes over Ari’s naked body. Ari crawled closer to the nightstand and withdrew the toy from the top drawer. Dale pushed her pants down while Ari wet the tip with her tongue. Watching her slide her lips around the head of their toy was enough to make her wet, but Dale still swept her tongue over three fingers and put them between her legs. She rubbed herself, whimpering and spreading herself as Ari got into position. The dildo had a special bulb on the end that saved them the trouble of dealing with straps and harnesses, and Ari gasped as she pushed it inside and tightened her muscles to hold it in place. With one hand between them to guide the toy, and the other on Dale’s shoulder, Ari probed with the toy. Dale scissored it between her fingers, and together they pushed it inside.

“Ha,” Dale gasped, her eyes widening as she looked up at Ari.

“Good?”

“Yeah…”

Ari began to move her hips, and Dale closed her eyes to focus on the rhythm. She put her free hand on Ari’s back, just above her ass, in order to guide her. Ari, no longer concerned with maintaining eye contact, lowered her head and began to kiss and lick Dale’s neck. Dale knew how keen Ari’s sense of smell was, but sometimes she still wondered just how intense it was at moments like this. What did she smell, what stood out? She hoped the strongest smells were good, at least.

She could smell Ari. She smelled of dirt and earth, a hint of wet fur clinging to her skin even after the change.

“Faster,” she whispered in Ari’s ear, and Ari obeyed. Dale held on tightly, moving her hand so that it was wrapped around the shaft of Ari’s toy. “Ariadne, baby…”

Ari pulled back and ran her tongue along Dale’s neck, up to her cheek, and Dale turned her head to take it into her mouth. She moaned and angled her hips, letting Ari drive the toy deeper. Dale broke the kiss and said, “Beast it, puppy…”

“Yeah?”

Dale’s response was a desperate whimper, so Ari pulled back just enough that Dale could roll onto her stomach. When she was in position, Ari put her hands on Dale’s hips for leverage, dug her knees into the bed, and began to thrust wildly. Dale held tight to the blankets with both hands, rocking with every thrust, gasping as Ari grunted into her ear. Each exhale blew Dale’s hair forward, but she was too focused on what was happening behind her to notice.

She loved it when Ari went a little wild but she hated to just flat out ask for it, so they figured out a shorthand for it. Whenever Dale asked to “beast it,” Ari knew that she had permission to be a little rougher than normal, a little more brazen and unrestrained. Dale turned her head and bit down on the sheet as Ari’s hips slapped against her ass. Ari’s hands tightened on her hips, and Dale moved a hand underneath herself to stroke her clit, gasping as Ari kissed her shoulder and rolled her hips.

“Ariadne.” She slowed her movements until they were both almost completely still, Ari’s weight resting between Dale’s legs. Their eyes met and held, trembling as they struggled to hold themselves still. Ari bent down and softly brushed her lips over Dale’s lips as she exhaled, trembling through the last remnants of her orgasm. She moved her lips to Dale’s fevered cheek, her temple, and then sank down on top of her. “Puppy, my baby, so good.”

“Worth getting up for?”

Dale grinned and closed her eyes. “Always.”

Ari brushed Dale’s hair away from her face and kissed her softly. “I’ll make it up to you. I don’t know how, but I will. You have my word.”

“Mmm.”

“Are you asleep?”

“Fucked insensate.”

Ari laughed. “I love you, Dale.”

Dale moved her lips to respond in kind, but she feared she only managed a slur of nonsense syllables. Whatever she said, she was sure Ari understood the sentiment.

 #

 When Dale woke the next morning, Ari was already up and in the shower. She drained the glass of water on the nightstand, smacked her lips, and got out of bed to join her. Ari’s head was bowed forward to wash the shampoo from her hair as Dale slipped around the curtain and picked up the loofah from the side of the tub. She ran the rough end over Ari’s shoulders and she straightened, turning with strands of soapy hair sticking to her face.

“Morning.”

“Hi.”

Ari turned and leaned back so the spray would hit Dale, while Dale ran her hands through Ari’s hair to wash the suds out. Ari closed her eyes and enjoyed the feel of Dale’s hands in her hair. “I was thinking about what I promised you last night.”

“What was that?”

“How I’d make it up to you. All this wolf stuff.”

Dale guided Ari’s head forward. “I’m all ears.”

Ari rested her cheek against Dale’s and let her hair be washed. “I was thinking that starting now, or at breakfast, today will be forty-eight hours without the wolf. You won’t have to worry about watching me change or giving me a rubdown or if you’ll wake up and have to drag yourself out of bed to come pick me up. Just your girlfriend. One hundred percent.”

Dale smiled and lifted Ari’s head to look at her. “Really?”

“Sure. All other assistants get a weekend off. Why should you be any different? So for this weekend, no dogs allowed.”

“What if you need the wolf for a case?”

“I’ll figure something out.” She pushed Dale’s hair out of her face. “You deserve a normal girlfriend for a few days.”

Dale kissed the tip of Ari’s nose. “I have a normal girlfriend. Normal for me, anyway. But I appreciate you making the sacrifice.”

“It’ll be fun. Turn around and I’ll do your back.”

#

They decided to go out for breakfast at an all-breakfast, all-day place that recently opened just down the street. They were seated quickly since they had slept through the rush and arrived before the lunch crowd arrived. While they waited for the food, Dale watched Ari and then leaned forward to whisper conspiratorially.

“Can I ask you something wolf-related?”

“Sure.”

“I know that you retain some of the… wolfiness when you’re in human form, but how much stays? I mean… okay, for instance, what do you smell right now?”

Ari thought for a moment and then shrugged. “What do you smell?”

Dale considered the question. “Nothing, really. I smell food. Bacon is really strong.”

Ari nodded slowly. “I smell bacon. And I smell you.” She smiled. “Between work and home, I smell you a lot.”

“Hope it’s a good smell.”

“It’s my favorite.” Ari breathed deeply again and looked over one shoulder, then the other. “Okay. I smell you, and I smell bacon and grease. I smell eggs and fresh sausage, and perfumes and deodorants and the body odor that those things don’t quite succeed in covering up. I smell smoke from the kitchen. I smell carpet cleaner and about six of those shoe deodorizer things that smell worse than food odor.”

“Wow. You smell that all the time?”

Ari fiddled with her napkin. “Sort of. When I asked you what you smelled, you said nothing at first. But then you smelled bacon. I’m not constantly aware of everything I’m smelling or hearing. It’s just how I’ve always experienced smelling. It’s not that I shut it off, I’ve just learned how to ignore it.”

Dale nodded. “Makes sense. Thanks for humoring me.”

Ari shrugged. “You’re curious. I get that. Not many people get a chance to have a real-live werewolf to answer their questions.”

Dale chuckled and they leaned back as their waitress delivered their food. Dale watched and noticed that Ari held her breath as the plates were deposited. When the steam had dissipated slightly she took a breath and then thanked the waitress as she walked away. Ari’s breakfast came with sausage links and bacon, and she went for them first. In addition to the sausage, she also had ham steak, a thick slab of pink meat with the grill marks standing out like tattoos.

“Second question.” Ari raised an eyebrow and nodded for her to go ahead. “How much of your appetite does the wolf dictate? Like… if you chose to become vegan, would the wolf veto it and make you eat meat?”

Ari swallowed before she answered. “I think we’ve both seen that the wolf eats what she wants and I have no say in it.”

Dale cringed, remembering a particularly vivid night when Ari had gotten violently sick following a transformation. The end result was something neither of them were particularly eager to think about.

“But I’m having sausage because I love it. The wolf doesn’t get to decide what I eat in this form, although my personal tastes may have been affected by the fact I’m canidae. That’s kind of getting into chicken-egg territory. Like if I was straight, would I still like guys who have red hair? Would I be a Conan O’Brien groupie?”

Dale laughed and took a bite of her eggs. “Okay. And turnabout is fair play. If there’s anything you want to ask me about myself, I’m an open book.”

Ari leaned back and drummed her fingers on the edge of the table. “Ooh. Lots of possibilities there. Who was your first crush?”

Dale laughed. “First crush… okay. I was eleven, and there was a college girl who came to our class to work as a teacher’s assistant. I was in the sixth grade, and she was this mature, older woman, but I was in love with her. I would hug my pillow at night and imagine how we were going to run away together and raise alpacas. I was in a big alpaca phase when I was a kid.” She shrugged. “I used to humiliate myself trying to talk to her, trying to help her with whatever she needed. I never even considered the fact that she was a woman or what that meant for who I was. I just knew I wanted her.”

“Did you end up together?”

“Right,” Dale said. “I was probably eleven, and she was twenty. Eventually her class ended and she stopped coming. I remember we had a going-away party for her in the classroom and I hid underneath one of those big folding tables with all the punch and cookies on it. I guess I thought if I didn’t say goodbye to her she wasn’t really gone.”

“So you didn’t get to say goodbye to her? That’s rough.”

Dale shrugged. “It was just a kid crush.”

“Still, you’re twenty-nine now, so she’d only be about thirty-eight. Not as big a difference. If you wanted to look her up, we could have a threesome or something.” A woman who had just been seated at the next table glanced at Ari, her expression scandalized, so Ari winked and blew the eavesdropper a kiss. “What was her name?”

“I am not telling you her name.”

“You have access to the best private investigator in Seattle! Use me. Let me track her down. You two might be soul mates.”

Dale reached across the table and covered Ari’s hand. “I don’t need a private eye to find my soul mate, Ariadne.”

Ari turned her hand over and stroked Dale’s palm with two fingers. “Good to know. So since we can’t go back to our earlier topic…” She glanced at the lady who seemed to still be eavesdropping. “…why don’t we finish our breakfast and talk more at the office?”

“Sounds good.”

Ari glanced at the back of the woman’s head. “I wonder what she objected to, though. The lesbianism or the threesome.”

The woman sighed heavily and Ari chuckled. Dale mouthed, “Bad puppy,” and Ari shrugged. Talking about threesomes and sexuality in public was no more distasteful than eavesdropping on a stranger’s conversation. And since they weren’t actually having sex on the table, Ari knew which of the two she considered ruder.

#

Friday was payday for most people, so Ari frequently received checks from clients on Saturday or Monday. When they got to the office the mail had been delivered, and three checks were waiting in their mailbox. They could also receive direct deposits, so Dale checked the account and discovered two other clients had also paid up. Ari looked at the final balance and pumped her fist. “I can actually pay you this week.”

Dale laughed. When she first started working for Ari, there were a handful of weeks that Dale had gone without a paycheck. The money always came in eventually, and Dale always got her cut, so it wasn’t as dire as it could have been. She built up her savings to cover for the slow weeks, but the past year they’d been so busy that Ari had been talking about giving her a raise. Considering her rent, she would definitely welcome a few extra Ben Franklins in her pocket at the end of the week.

She entered the earnings in their ledger and confirmed they were doing better than they had the year before. She didn’t exactly need the math to tell her that. Katherine Gavin had given them a large payday, even if they didn’t get to keep the majority of her payment for themselves, and the media notoriety gave them a multitude of free advertising. They were to the point where they occasionally had to refer potential clients to other agencies because they just didn’t have the resources to cover all the jobs coming their way.

The phone rang and Dale answered. “Bitches Investigations, how may I help you?”

“Hi… this is William Shapiro, I live in Sunset Hill. I believe your agency is on retainer in regards to a series of thefts in our neighborhood.”

“That’s correct,” Dale said. She used her free hand to open the relevant file on her computer so it would be available during the conversation. They’d been hired after a series of thefts hit the neighborhood. Several families were footing the bill, but the main client was a couple named Kent and Emily Pell. After the first three or four burglaries the police had been called, but they simply made a report and promised they’d follow up if they received any leads. They apologetically said that they couldn’t afford to beef up patrols or provide overnight security, so someone suggested a private investigator. Ari had spent a few nights staking out the neighborhood, but it was too large for one person to cover on her own. The thefts had tapered off in the past week, implying whoever was responsible knew Ari was on the case and was lying low.

The Shapiros were on the list of families in the neighborhood their client had provided, so Dale was free to discuss the case with him. “Would you like an update on our progress?”

“No, uh, actually, I may have an update for you, in fact.”

“Oh, okay. Let me put you through to Ariadne. Just a moment.” She put him on hold and went to Ari’s office door. She knocked and stuck her head inside. “William Shapiro on the phone, about the Sunset Hill burglaries. I think he might have information.”

Ari raised her eyebrows. “Information is good.” She picked up the phone and pressed a button. “This is Ariadne Willow. Yes…”

Dale left her to the call. A few minutes later Ari came out of the office and paused in front of Dale’s desk on her way to the door. “He thinks he may have caught our guy on security footage. I’m going over to take a look.”

“Good luck,” Dale said.

Ari kissed two fingers and held them out in lieu of an actual kiss goodbye.

“Ari… just in case. If you have to change into the wolf during the case, we can count it as a timeout for the whole forty-eight hour promise. I don’t want you to sacrifice a case just because of a spur of the moment promise you made to me. I’ll understand if you have to change.”

“Thanks, Dale. I’ll try to be good, though.”

Dale nodded. “But in case of emergency.”

“I appreciate it. I’ll call you when I’m on the way back.”

“Okay. Be careful.”

“Always.”

Dale silently wished Ari well on the wolf front, hoping she would be able to catch the thief without reneging on her promise. She knew it was unfeasible that Ari would go forty-eight hours without the wolf just to prove a point, but she also knew Ari would be upset if she had to back down so early. For Ari’s sake rather than her own, Dale hoped it worked out.

#

The Shapiros lived next door to the couple who had finally decided to hire a private investigator to protect the neighborhood. Ari hadn’t met them yet, so she introduced herself as Wayne Shapiro let her into his house. He was tall and lean, with dark hair that had receded to leave a bare crown at the top of his head. He introduced Ari to his daughter, Sally, and then escorted her into the den where a desktop computer had been configured into an observation point for the security cameras.

“We just had them installed Tuesday. We kept it quiet, didn’t tell anyone since you told Henry and Monica that someone in the neighborhood might be responsible. Dave and Michelle down the street said that someone broke into their backyard and took their kids’ bikes, so I thought I’d check the footage to see what we have.” He pulled out the chair for Ari and gestured for her to have a seat as he worked the mouse. “It’s cued up to the right time. Watch the left-hand side of the screen, on the street.”

He hit play and almost instantly someone appeared on a bicycle. Mr. Shapiro paused the image and then tapped a key so it would continue frame-by-frame. “Dave couldn’t confirm that was his son’s bike, but why else would someone be riding a bicycle down the middle of the street at half-past one in the morning?”

Ari realized that the theft had happened while she was out as the wolf. She cursed herself for not swinging by the neighborhood and taking a look around.

She leaned closer to the screen and tried to pick out any details that would reveal the thief’s identity. He wore all black, including what looked like a knit cap pulled low over his brow, and he was moving too quickly for his features to be anything other than a blur. Still, any little clue could point her in the right direction. His shoulders were hunched over the handlebars but she could see he was slender. He was almost too tall for the bicycle, which meant one knee was almost up under his armpit.

Ari brushed her thumb over her bottom lip as she stared at her quarry. She and Dale had called all pawn shops in the area, and they were all on the lookout for the stolen items. Dale scanned Craigslist on a daily basis but nothing from the targeted houses had shown up for sale anywhere on the site. Whoever was robbing the houses either kept what they stole or they had an illegal method of disposing their bounty.

“Two kids’ bikes,” she muttered. “Where’s the other one?”

Mr. Shapiro shook his head. “There’s no one else on the tape. We watched until dawn, and the other bike never showed up.”

“Hm. Does anyone else in the neighborhood have a camera set-up like yours?”

“Not that I know of. But no one knows about ours, so it’s possible.”

Ari stood up and looked down at the monitor. “Okay. This is helpful. I may not know how exactly, but it’s helpful. Thank you for letting me see it.”

Mr. Shapiro shook her hand. “I hope you catch this bastard. Or bastards, as the case may be. I didn’t even think about the second bike, I was so excited about catching him on tape. I just wish it wasn’t so blurry.”

“It could still be the lead we’ve been looking for. The family the bikes were stolen from, the… uh…”

“The Deckers.”

“Right. How far away do they live?”

“They’re about three blocks north of here. 8174 Grey Street.”

Ari nodded. “Okay. I’ll go check them out and see what I can find.”

Sally Shapiro escorted Ari back to the door. Ari waited until they were out of earshot of her father before she spoke.

“You guys have been pretty lucky so far, looks like.”

“Yeah. That’s one reason Dad got the security system. He wants to make sure we stay lucky.”

“Do you know the Deckers?”

“Not really. I think Dad knows them from the neighborhood, but…” She shrugged.

“Who was the guy on the tape?”

Sally looked at her. “Huh? I don’t know.”

“You sure about that?” Ari stopped next to the door. “He was tall and lanky, like a teenager who had just gone through a growth spurt. I was thinking about all the stuff that’s been stolen, trying to think of where it went after it was taken. Then I realized they had taken mostly taken things like tablet computers, DVD players, TVs, laptops. Not too damning, since most thieves go after electronics like that. You can get nice resale on most of them. But the bikes were kids’ bikes.

“After that I started to think about the second bike. We didn’t see it, which means whoever stole it didn’t come by your house afterward. That kid was speeding down the middle of the street in the middle of the night. This kid who, to this point, has been so careful that no one’s seen him, and he rides past your security camera within a week of installing it. That’s pretty lucky. Or pretty ballsy.”

Sally looked toward the living room, arms crossed over her chest as she shrunk into herself. She pressed her lips together and hung her head to look at her shoes.

“I think you told him that your father put in the security system and he decided to show off. He pulled his hat down and made sure he had good speed so the camera wouldn’t get a good look at his face. I figure you guys steal stuff and then sell it out of your lockers or the backseat of someone’s car in the school parking lot. That’s why it hasn’t shown up in the usual places. I think that school is also where you find your targets. Someone brags about getting some new toy and you figure out where they live and then break in later that week. I don’t think you guys have gotten lucky, you were just refusing to rob your own house.”

Mr. Shapiro came into the hallway. “Oh… was there something else, Ms. Willow?”

“Your daughter and I were just talking about one of her friends. What was his name, Sally?” The girl stared daggers at her. “I just need the name and I’ll head out.”

Mr. Shapiro put his hands on his hips and looked at Sally. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing, Dad. You want to talk to Robert Henderson. He lives on Webster Street, six-five-four.”

“Excellent. I’ll check him out. And don’t call to let him know I’m coming… I want it to be a surprise.”

Mr. Shapiro was obviously confused by the exchange, but he said nothing as Ari left the house. She checked her phone to find Webster Street and drove to the address in under five minutes. The driveway sloped down to an underground garage tucked under the house, and Ari took a moment to peek over the side fence to see if there was any evidence lying out in plain sight, but the backyard was clean.

Someone came outside as she approached the porch. He was tall and lean enough to be the guy on the video, but it wasn’t enough to be damning.

“Hi, Robert Henderson? I’m Ariadne Willow. Do you have a minute?”

“Sure.” His gaze slipped down her body before he forced them back up to her face. Ari smiled indulgently and stood on the bottom step, letting him tower over her as she rested a hand on the rail. He tugged on the front of his shirt and rolled his shoulders so the collar was straightened. “What, uh… are you selling something or something?”

Ari widened her smile. “No, actually, I just wanted to talk to you about the thefts that have been happening lately. I just moved in down the street and I was… gosh.” She looked to the east and squinted. “I hope I didn’t move into a bad neighborhood.”

“No! Uh, no, the neighborhood is great. It’s really safe.”

“Really? Will Shapiro told me that there were a lot of thefts recently. Can’t imagine why the realtor didn’t mention that to me.”

Robert smiled. “Yeah. Uh… so you live nearby?” His eyes dropped to her chest again.

“Yep. I think I can still get out of it, though. Maybe I can back out of the deal and find somewhere safer.”

“No, hey. You shouldn’t do that. You’ll be safe in the neighborhood.”

Ari moved up a step, looking up at him. There was only a single step between them, and Ari leaned slightly forward and raised an eyebrow. “Oh? How can you promise me that, Mr. Henderson?”

He smiled. “I’ll watch out for you.”

“Big strong man, huh? I don’t know. You look kind of young and scrawny. No offense.”

“I got it where it counts. Maybe you just need someone there to watch over you.”

She pursed her lips. “Hm. I don’t know. I think I’d feel better if I had some kind of guarantee. Could you guarantee my home is safe, Robert?” She tapped a finger in the middle of his chest and tilted her head to the side.

“I think I could do that.”

“Big words.”

“I can back them up. I can personally guarantee your home won’t be hit.”

Ari widened her eyes. “Ooh. I get it. You’re a bad boy, huh?”

“Maybe. You like bad boys?”

“The badder the better.” She couldn’t believe how easy it was, but the kid wasn’t thinking with the right brain at the moment. “How bad are you, Robert?”

He leaned closer. “My brother and I are the ones robbing these places. You don’t have anything to worry about because I’ll say you’re off-limits.”

“Ooh. So you’re not just a bad boy, you’re the leader. You’re in charge, huh? That is really sexy, Robbie.”

“You think so?”

“Oh yeah. Maybe I could use a hand. You wanna be my partner?”

Ari pretended to ponder it. “Hm. I do have a big ol’ house that’s still mostly empty. I guess if you needed a place to stash some stuff you could bring some things over. Say… tonight? Around eight o’clock? Maybe we can grab a bite to eat, see where the night goes.”

His breath hitched. “Yeah. Maybe we can.”

“Excellent.” She kept her voice low and mimicked the once-over he had given to her. “Mm. Yeah. Eight o’clock tonight. Bring over some of the stuff and I’ll find a place for it. I have room for all sorts of things in that house.”

“Hah,” Robert said. There was a fine film of sweat on his upper lip and he smiled nervously. “Cool. Uh. Where do you live?”

Shit. So much for ad-libbing. “I just moved in, so I’m not entirely sure of the number. Why don’t you give me your number and I’ll text it to you. I really don’t want to miss out on tonight just because I was one digit off.”

He chuckled nervously and rattled off his phone number. Ari entered it into her phone and winked. “All right. Got it, good-looking. Can’t wait to see you tonight.”

“Cool. Uh… wow. Yeah. Cool.”

She wet her lips and gave him what she hoped was a seductive look as she backed away, walking across the lawn back to her car. She glanced back and saw Robert watching her intently and she waved her fingers over her shoulder as she walked around the front of her car. She got behind the wheel and pulled away, instantly scanning the neighborhood for realtor signs. She found one a few blocks away from Robert’s house and pulled over to dial the realtor’s number.

“Hello! You’ve reached the offices of Linda Tate Realty. How may I direct your call?”

“I’m looking for the agent selling 3454 NW 32nd Street.”

“You’re speaking to her! This is Wendy Hart. How can I help you?”

“My name is Ariadne Willow. I’m a private investigator, and I was hired to look into a series of burglaries taking place in the neighborhood. I’d like to use this house to help trap the people responsible.” There was silence on the other end of the line. “If we take care of this now, it might make it easier for you to find a buyer.”

“True… how long will you need it?”

“Just tonight, from about seven to nine. Hopefully we’ll be finished well before that.”

“I’ll have to be there.”

“Wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ll also have a few of my friends in blue waiting. It’s going to be a real surprise party.”

#

Ari went home to change clothes and arrived at the vacant house just before seven. The realtor had agreed to take down the For Sale sign in the front yard for the duration of their scheme. Two uniformed police officers were also present to make the arrest. Ari waited in the front room, drumming her fingers on the arm of the couch as she looked out the window. Dale was seated across from her, offering up moral support and a friendly face amid all the strangers.

When Ari checked her watch for the fifth time, Dale said, “You know, this plot relies on you being irresistible to men.”

“What’s your point?”

“In my experience, you’re not exactly…”

Ari raised an eyebrow. “I could get men if I wanted.”

Dale looked skeptical.

“What about Jordan? Jordan was happy to go to bed with me.”

“Jordan is a woman half the time. She doesn’t count.”

Ari rolled her eyes. “Whatever. The point is moot because we’re not talking about men, we’re talking about a teenage boy who thinks he has a chance to hook up with a hot young woman. He’ll show up, trust me.”

“Hm. All I know is, I would have been early.”

Ari swung her foot out and kicked Dale’s foot. Dale twisted her ankle and pinned Ari’s foot to the floor. They played footsie for a moment until a pair of headlights swept across the front window to announce Robert Henderson’s arrival. One of the officers appeared in the doorway and Ari stood up. She smoothed down the front of her blouse and held her hands out.

“How do I look?”

“Fantastic, ma’am.”

Dale winked at her, and Ari blew her a kiss as she went to await the doorbell. When Robert rang, she took a steadying breath and then pulled the door open. The kid was standing on the porch practically trembling with anticipation, his hair slicked back and wearing what was most likely his nicest outfit. He smiled when he saw Ari, eyes wide and lips pulled back in a nearly-manic smile.

“Well, hey there, big talker. You bring proof that you can back up your claims?”

He nodded. “Yeah. I got a lot of shit out in the car. I thought I’d give you one as a present.”

“For me? Well, my laptop’s screen was broken in the move. I don’t suppose you have one of those, do you?”

His smile widened. “Hell yeah. What kind you want, HP, Apple, Macbook, Dell…”

“Oo, look who is a regular Best Buy. I’ll take the one with the biggest screen.”

“Sure. Uh, come on…” They stepped off the porch and Ari followed him over to his car. He leaned through the passenger-side window, searched for a minute, and then withdrew a large Apple computer. He patted the lid and held it out to her like it was a holy relic. “Ask and ye shall receive, right? I got the charger and stuff, too. Consider it a housewarming gift.”

“Wow!” Ari examined the lid and saw sticky residue where several stickers had been peeled away. She recalled one of the stolen laptops was described as an Apple with three stickers on top, but she didn’t know if that was enough to be considered damning evidence. “You know, back where I used to live, I had a pretty lucrative sideline with stuff like this. Who do you use to unload the stuff?”

“That’s the beauty of it. Cops check pawn shops and shit like that, right? You can’t even sell online without them jumping down your throat. So I sell at school. Rob’s General Store. I mean, that’s the unofficial title. Can’t exactly advertise in this line of work, right?”

“Very true. And very clever, I might add. I never considered selling at a school. I didn’t have the in, of course. But I think you and I could be a very good team.” She held the door open for him and he went inside. “So where do you get your merchandise?”

“Everywhere, man. All through this neighborhood. People put up security signs, but then they don’t bother to set the system because they figure any thieves are gonna be scared off. Other kids scope around too, and I give them a discount if they help me out, you know? All’s they got to do is tell me if their friends don’t lock their doors or set their alarms and I vault it away, you know? Just gotta keep your ears open.”

“Yeah. Were your ears open, guys?”

One of the uniformed cops came through the kitchen doorway. “Yep. Heard every word, Miss Willow. Well done.”

She tapped her shirt over the hidden microphone. “I’m shocked you make them this small these days.”

Robert was frozen in place. “What… what’s…”

“You’re busted, Bobby,” Ari said. “A cruiser was watching your house when you left. They’re taking your brother into custody as we speak. Officers?

He hurled the laptop at the cops, releasing a cry mixed with anguish and rage as he spun on his heel and ran for the front door. Dale came out of the front room and grabbed for him, but he grabbed her wrist and pulled her roughly against him. The officer drew his gun as Robert spun around to use Dale as a shield, and Ari froze. Dale’s eyes were wide, terrified, and locked on Ari as her captor closed his hand around her throat.

“Don’t be stupid, son,” the officer said. “My partner is outside. You’ll never get away, and you’re only making things worse by threatening that young woman. Let her go.”

Ari could only think of Dale being in danger, her mind’s eye flooded with images of the scar on Dale’s head. It was a scar caused by her friendship with Ari, their business relationship, and it wouldn’t exist if Dale wasn’t part of her life. She wouldn’t have any other scars added to her tally.

“Let her go this instant. If you don’t, I swear I will end you. I’ll let these officers arrest me for your murder, but so help me if she is hurt you will stop breathing. Let. Her. Go.”

Robert was apparently smart enough to know a bluff, and he saw no sign that she was lying. He swallowed the lump in his throat and spread his fingers out, relaxing his grip on Dale’s throat as he lunged for the door. Dale tripped forward and Ari reached out to catch her as the cop sidestepped them both. He grabbed Robert before he got off the porch and tackled him to the ground.

“I’m okay,” Dale said before Ari even had the chance to ask. “I’m fine. I’m just embarrassed, but I’m fine.”

Ari stroked her hair and kissed her forehead. “I’m sorry I broke the promise.”

“When?”

“The wolf came out a little bit there.”

Dale smiled. “I won’t tell if you don’t.”

Ari kissed Dale’s lips and then hugged her tightly. Outside she could hear the officers reading Robert his rights and sighed with relief. Robert’s brother was already under arrest, and the Shapiros were being informed about their daughter’s involvement with the crime ring. Dale stroked Ari’s back through her shirt. The realtor finally reappeared and looked around.

“What happened? Is everyone okay?”

“Everyone’s fine. And you can tell any prospective buyers that the neighborhood is not only safe, you helped bring down the bad guys.”

The realtor sighed. “I’ll settle for saying the neighborhood is safe, thank you very much.” She stepped around them and went outside to watch the officers load Robert into the back of the squad car.

#

Dale turned off the bathroom light, casting the room in the flickering blue-gray glow from the television. The color was faded from Ari’s green T-shirt and bicycle shorts, her feet tangled underneath the blankets. Dale crawled over her and settled in on her side of the bed, cuddling against Ari’s side as she looked at the TV. It was on a commercial so Dale closed her eyes and listened to Ari breathe for a moment. “What are we watching?”

“Letterman.”

“Mm. Cool.” She stroked Ari’s stomach through her shirt. “Sure you’re okay? Don’t need a quick run…?”

“Nope. I’m a-okay.” She kissed the top of Dale’s head. “I promised you I’d hold off.”

“Yes, you did. But I’m not going to be cruel about it. The fact that you made the promise means the world to me, and the fact you’ve gone all day without the wolf shows you’re dedicated to sticking to the promise. But I understand if you want to stretch a little. You closed the case. You deserve to celebrate.”

Ari put an arm around Dale and squeezed. “I am celebrating. And after the Top Ten list, we’re going to celebrate the right way.”

Dale smiled. “Mm. Looking forward to that.”

“Dale, if I have to choose between spending time with you and being the wolf, I’m going to choose you every time.”

“Good to know.”

They settled in to watch the rest of the show, although they were both asleep by the time the host got around to his famous list. Neither of them cared too much about missing it, and they took care of their celebrating when they woke up in the morning.

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