The faux gold tinted doors of Gimperton Athletic Club parted and the clerk behind the desk smiled at the glamorous blond woman who walked in with her usual confident poise. "Good afternoon, Miss Ambersteen," the clerk greeted her.
"Good afternoon Zach," Ginger replied as she sifted through the deck of ten or fifty plastic cards stuffing her wallet and placed her retrieved membership card onto the counter.
Taking a meaningful look at her membership card, Zach the clerk told her, "Until the eighteenth, it's only fifty nine forty five to go gold."
Ginger replied, "I don't care to enter the Olympics."
"No the Gold Card for Premium Members," Zach continued his pitch, "it's just for your health isn't it, and at that rate it's a great promotion."
"Um no I just meant that I don't need the gold um, features," Ginger replied.
"No need to use features you don't need," Zach carried on, "And if you sign for the Ambassador package, you can help your friends on the path to fitness and enjoy one hundred dollars referral yourself and they'd enjoy a savings of a hundred dollars, so you see that's a deal that would pay for itself for your friends and yourself." Ginger placed her hand on the table and he offered a pen for her hand adding, "We can say you saw it advertised on the last episode of Hot Criminals Gang Squad SMV."
Still smiling, Ginger opened her hand and asked, "Actually could you get my locker keys?"
"Of course," Zach said but gestured to a display of pamphlets beside them and continued, "oh did you see we have a great special for members at Scandals Hair Salon. Twenty five percent appreciation for short notice opportunities at Cadmus and I think fifteen percent off at Duffy's Grill and Riverside Golf. Try the duck at Duffy's, really. Just another example of the value of service for our members."
"In addition to bringing me my keys from the wall behind you," Ginger said with her smile in place, a stare and the slightest knit of her brows that together placed him under an odd look, "marvelous." Once Zach finally fetched the key to her locker, she left and cast an odd look or two back for good measure.
Entering the locker room adjoining the showers and restroom, Ginger removed her fancy chocolate brown leather jacket as she reached her locker but timorously looking around before disrobing further. Finding herself alone in the area she hazarded to disrobe to her tiny black lace underwear and hurry over to check some charts on the wall. Most people logged their hours and possibly other notes on the charts. Ginger wanted to be sure that Amelia hadn't made an unexpected entry, so she found the last entry from Amelia. Sure enough it was Wednesday, which was as expected.
Another woman entered the room, working her towel to dab her sweaty, pasty face. She looked Ginger over on her way past and scornfully told the skinny blond, "Did you forget your water and cracker meal today?"
Ginger watched the woman enter a shower then sneered and asked herself, "What is with people these days? You're too fat, you're too skinny, you look too bad, you look too good, you look too old, you look too young, you look too rich, you look too poor. Gawd I'd better have myself evaluated by the thought police or I won't know what I am."
After changing into her workout clothes she strode off to start warm-ups. The following effort at a treadmill was abbreviated when she saw Payne Adams turn up as expected, if a bit late. Due to its proximity to the IASA, the exclusive club was frequented by a number of people who worked at IASA. Ginger had a good hunch that Payne would turn up around this time to kibitz with his personal trainer and whatever attractive ladies might turn up. Ginger considered it her misfortune that they'd met many times, although she'd managed to avoid his advances and it remained possible that Payne didn't know her from anywhere else let alone that she was an IASA special investigations operative.
It took some effort but she managed to avoid being seen by him on her way to the weights room. Not that she could get far with the weights, but it happened that the weights room afforded a perfect view of the men's locker room and adjoining corridors.
Although she was rubbing a sprained arm muscle by the time a chance eventually presented itself, she was eventually able to sneak up to the unoccupied men's locker area unobserved. A security camera was monitoring the area, but she knew from observing their monitors near the reception area that it was very poorly if ever screened and that by staying around a corner and behind the end of the lockers she could jimmy open Payne's end locker and just barely open it, all likely unnoticed.
Her groping hand produced a bunch of condoms. "Yuck?" she groused, shaking her head to herself and sticking them back into the locker. After more fumbling she produced the keys to a Porsche.
The golf cart cut to an unexpected stop near the golf shop. Its driver, General Morrison, turned to the young lady ensconced between himself and Jack at the front of the cart and said, "Pardon me, but I should pick up a few spares and drain the lizard."
"What? Is that some sort of a sacrifice?" Bob asked.
Jack chuckled and Jim explained, "No Miss, use the dunny." He nearly slipped on the little step on the cart's side. "Now how did it get all wet and sandy?" he asked, just now noticing that there was wet sand all over the sides and wheels of the cart, "We're nowhere near the beach. Damn but that cramps my style. I'm not supposed to fall off the bloody cart, I'm supposed to alight."
"You always do," Jack assured him, "it's a privilege of rank." Meanwhile he looked the cart over in confusion and then looked at Bob.
"Ah," asked Bob as she scratched the back of her head, "what's this 'dunny' you're gonna use?"
"Go to the restroom," Jack translated. "It's all the Aussie speak," Jack explained away Bob's unfamiliarity to Jim. "She's only used to North American."
"Sorry Miss," Jim said amiably, "but I'll be back shortly." Roberta folded her arms and slumped on the bench in a near pout to be left waiting. Jim had to stifle a smile to himself at the girl.
"Cute," Ginger said of the little menagerie of stuffed animals stuffing the back seat area of Payne's Porsche, "I wonder if these ever won him any points with his conquests." Her keen eyes caught on a manila envelope that had been folded in between a few stuffed animals. Often containing papers of some importance, such envelopes had a tendency to be interesting to investigators like herself and if one was anywhere in view it wouldn't likely have escaped her notice. This envelope didn't escape her inspection either.
After opening the unsealed manila envelope, Ginger poured over the bank account documents it contained until a name jumped out at her: John Crichton. A slight gasp escaped her and she quickly spread them out along the curb behind the Porsche. "Promotion, pro-motion," Ginger cooed to herself as she took some pictures of them. After stashing the papers back into their envelope and carefully replacing the envelope between the stuffed animals in the back of Payne's Porsche, Ginger wiped any fingerprints of hers and closed and locked the door.
Returning the keys to the locker went smoothly, but she hadn't returned to the weights room when Payne emerged from the nearby pool area and spotted her. "Miss Ambersteen!" Payne called and approached. "A Ginger haired woman," he said in what she guessed his ego sold to himself as being wit. The woman was glamorous in any setting and incidentally even taller than himself, but he wasn't one to be intimated by either fact. As his eyes took a bold tour of her beautifully coiffed wavy blond hair and then the rest of her, he claimed, "What luck, I was just about to leave. What do you say to tennis?"
"It's fun to play."
"Yes." Payne smacked his hands together, rubbed them and suggested, "Shall we play?"
Ginger seldom if ever wore much expression beyond what was becoming on a beautiful face, but there was a little wince to be seen in her forced smile as she declined, "No, thank you. I was....just going to swim, in fact."
"Oh," Payne said as he resumed drying his hair with a towel he had slung over his shoulders, "but I only just finished."
"Oh," Ginger said with phony regret that still seemed polite and sweet, "I am sorry."
"No need," Payne assured her, "say, if you like the swimming, you could get advanced instruction as a gold member. I think I can arrange a discount for you."
"You could?" Ginger asked nearly barring her teeth but smiling anyway. "Well that, I will have to think that over, and let you know."
"It'd be no problem," Payne assured her then boldly suggested, "we could meet later on at say....Duffy's?"
"Duffy's Grill?" she asked, barely veiling a smile.
"Yes," Payne assured her, "the food is great. You should try the duck."
"Oh," Ginger politely feigned regret for spoiling the offer again, "I'm allergic to duck. Most fowl, actually."
"Then I know the place," the undaunted Payne suggested, "Cadmus has pasta ga-lor-e and that view you'll love with a-mor-e. There's always the chance we could score a reservation for tonight."
"We could," Ginger agreed, still polite smiles, "except I can't. I'm expecting a call from my mother in Ontario, I'm so sorry." She looked down at him on her way by.
Payne sneered to himself. "Who wants a high-maintenance dumb blond like that anyway," he told himself and walked away.
After climbing back into her Hummer, Ginger dialed General Morrison on her cell phone.
No sooner did Jim emerge from the restroom but his cell phone struck up the old Star Trek theme. "Crap on man," he griped and returned into the restroom. "Yes?!"
"Agent Honey," Ginger's delighted voice announced.
"Ah Agent Honey," Jim was immediately relieved to hear. "Any luck?"
"Not so much pure luck," Ginger related, "it's just that I happen to know where he has every probability of being every Sunday afternoon," she said, "as unfortunately I see him there every time."
"Oh? Where?" Jim asked.
"Gimperton athletic club," she explained.
"Well no wonder you're tired," Jim kidded her, "and it's not as though you need it. If you're well done there you're in a good area. Duffy's Grill is right up the street. Treat yourself to a bite."
"Yes," Ginger said a little wryly, "the duck is good."
"That's just what I heard!" Jim marveled. "Can't myself though, allergy I guess."
"Oh. That's unfortunate," Ginger said through a smile and shake of her head.
"Not as unfortunate as seeing Payne on your days off," Jim sympathized with her. "But from the way you sounded, that misfortune might have a silver lining," Jim guessed.
"Yes I believe it has," Ginger agreed, smiling at the thought that the countless attempts at flirts she'd weathered from Payne might be worth while. "Our anonymous tip was oh, so right."
The General drove them to the next tee and asked, "Here we are, hole fifteen. Who has the score card?"
"I'm too ashamed to hold it Jim," Jack said.
While Jim alighted from the cart and turned around to help Bob down, he discovered the score card in his pocket and hummed a shoulder shaking chortle to himself. He was in very good humor and amused at the moment by Jack's characteristic modesty and his own delight that he was winning.
Bob rolled her eyes a little and secretly wished she could have played so that she could kick both of their eemas at this primitive game. Nice planet, nice setting, nice day though. Nothing seemed likely to kill her. Plus she was getting away with both big schemes and little mischief. An unprecedented combination in her life. Everything had her on a natural high. Very high. So with everything so nice, she felt like being nice and any annoyance quickly faded away.
Jim asked, "Would you practice your Feng Shui again?" of Bob as he took her hand and helped her alight, which she amusingly overplayed.
"My what?" the amused Bob asked as she walked around the cart to Jack.
"Show us where to tee off again," Jack explained.
"Strange," Bob told Jack, "you know John, he's always telling me not to tee him off."
"Tee or tick?" Jack asked and chuckled a little.
"That'ssss an insect," Bob said but she was gaping and uncertain.
"Tea is a drink," Jack said.
"Shut up," Bob told him, not too seriously. "It'sss, confusing enough." Through barred teeth she grumbled, "Human."
"Well, we're asking for your help getting us tee'd off," Jack seemed to enjoy telling her.
Bob shrugged and agreed, leading them to the tee, where as before she suggested a good spot to the poor humans. Then she stood against the side of Jack's upright golf bag, leaning on a forearm over the top of the bag and inspecting the glittery nail polished nails of her other hand.
"Your turn, go ahead," Jim generously prompted Jack. Given the lack of anything else to do while Jack readied, Jim discretely took a glance or three at Bob where she stood and pondered things more important to his sex drive than his golf drive. "So how has your son explained it to you?" Jim asked an instant before Jack was ready to swing.
Jack's brow furrowed slightly but he quickly made his shot and watched it, thinking as he did that the best idea might be to wait for the General to explain a little more, if he would. A gull made a chortled squawk when Jack's ball struck it. Both men and Bob watched the gull and ball fall to the ground.
"Got a birdie!" Bob excitedly said, blinking in amazement and swallowing in something like disgust. Both men turned and looked at Bob. "Right," Bob suddenly busied herself with rearranging the clubs in Jack's golf bag.
"It's a wonder anyone misses hitting a gull with their overpopulation these days," Jim remarked and looked around as they walked toward where Jack's ball had fallen. "That and there's so much water along this hole it's attracting them. Do you know what kind of damage those things do to a plane? Bloody things cost more to the fighter fleet than a hello from Cameron Diaz."
"That was a surprise," Jack said as they looked over the dead gull and nearby ball.
"It can be," Jim said, tapped the dead bird with his club and sighed. "But it's not our life to control. Sometimes they'll go off and do something utterly foolhardy and it doesn't take a birdbrain to do it. But at least you didn't have to find out the way we did. I'm not pressing for sympathy Jack, I know you couldn't help things. But if you think there's anything else you need to say, well I've known you for years, Jack. You know you'll get my utmost discretion."
Behind them, Bob gaped at Jim as if he were nuts. Jack scratched his forehead then gestured at the dead bird, peeking an odd look at Jim. "I wouldn't think it'd shock me that it's dead," Jack said. Bob then gaped at Jack as if he were nuts too.
"We didn't know," Jim continued, picking up the dead bird and tossing it over his shoulder to let Jack pick up playing where the ball and bird fell. Bob leaned sideways, dodging the identified flying object. "But we should have suspected someone else was setting up your son. In fact I did, but they wouldn't listen to me. At least we know about Payne now. I can understand why you all waited for us to get the good guts on him first. With Payne being in on this, it's better you didn't tell us to suspect things were crook in Muswellbrook."
"Jim," Jack said as he scratched his forehead with the handle of his club. "I'm not sure what all Payne did, I was talking about that dead bird," Jack half laughed, puzzled. Jack tried to focus on taking his swing. It was a terrible shot, but his mind was confused.
"Crap on Jack, why would I tell Payne Adams you hit a bird in a golf course? You're getting old, Jack. Gotta work on that swing too," Jim said while he picked a club out. "Heck with it, I'll take my shot now and pick up over there. We'll have someone follow that bloody Payne Adams to New Zealand and see if he tries to access the account."
"All I knew was that I never liked that Payne Adams, or his father when it came to that," Jack said, more for a lack of thinking of anything else possibly related to say.
"You don't make a good hard-arse, Jack," Jim half laughed. "I knew you wouldn't hold a grudge against Payne because of ol' Ben. I figured there must be a good reason you didn't like that guy and weren't so rattled about John."
"Maybe not but ol' Ben sure tried making it sound like a blood feud," Jack remarked. While Jim was busy picking a club, Jack took a few steps back and leaned close to Bob's ear without taking his eyes off Jim. "Did something happen that I'd better know about, or am I just crazy?"
Bob looked at Jack as if she really didn't want to answer that at the moment. She plastered on a strange smile. "Crazy? No....no, who said that?" Jack did a double take at her and she sneered back at him and said, "Look, I didn't think he'd blabber all that to you right away, he'd make a very dead Peacekeeper."
"Bob," Jack warned.
Bob's big black eyes widened seeing that Jack was clearly getting annoyed. "Relax," she told him while her own voice and manners became more uptight, "It's ah, going perfectly. For....what's going. For what it is."
"What the hell is going on?" Jack flatly demanded to know.