Marlene's limousine pulled up in front of an 'in' late night club, Talon, near the Holland Tunnel. Marlene and Jim got out and started for the entrance. The long line of well-dressed, restless people, urgent to get in, murmured resentfully as she passed them. One man leaned out of the line and yelled nastily:
"Why don't you wait in line like the rest of us," then grabbed her arm.
Without looking around, Marlene grabbed his arm with her other hand and squeezed. He screamed and let go of her and she continued in past the doorman.
"Good evening, Ms. Dumont."
"Good evening, Eddie."
"Do you want me to take care of that guy?"
"That won't be necessary."
She handed him a fifty dollar bill and went inside, followed by Jim, slightly bemused by the incident.
"How did you do that?"
"I took the money from my purse and handed it to him."
"I meant what you did to that guy's arm."
Marlene paused at the headwaiter's station and handed him a fifty dollar bill, which he disappeared, then bowed, as if to royalty.
"Good evening, Ms. Dumont."
"Good evening, Tommy. This is Mr. Delaney."
"Good evening, Mr. Delaney."
Jim nodded. The headwaiter signaled a sexy waitress in a revealing black dress. She followed him as he led Marlene to a table on one side of the room on a raised platform, with no one behind them. A rock band was playing and people were dancing. Flashing laser lights, slowly rotated around the room, making the dancers seem disconnected.
"Good evening, Ms. Dumont. The usual?"
"Yes, Tina. This is Mr. Delaney."
"Hi. What'll you have?"
"Vodka on the rocks."
Tina left to get their order and Jim watched her walk away.
"Do you like that body?" Marlene asked.
"Not really. What's the usual?"
"Tomato juice with spices."
"That sounds healthy."
"I don't drink ... Alcohol."
"Do you smoke pot or snort coke?"
"Then why do you come to a place like this?"
"I like to dance. Ready?"
Jim followed Marlene to the dance floor, and they started dancing. As a waitress led two couples past the dancers to a table, one of the women stopped and confronted Marlene.
"You hurt my husband out there."
"Tell him to keep his paws to himself," Jim said.
"I wasn't talking to you."
"What do you want?" Marlene demanded warily.
"To say thank you. He's always bullying people and he deserved what he got. Have a good night."
Marlene and Jim watched the woman walk to her table. Then they laughed and resumed dancing. The music stopped and they returned to their table. They sat and sipped their drinks for a minute. It was obvious to Marlene that Jim was attracted to her and she subtly encouraged him.
"You handled that guy outside effortlessly," he remarked.
"I don't like to be manhandled."
"I'll remember that. What if he attacked you?"
"I can take care of myself. But tell me about you."
"There's not much. I grew up in Akron, Ohio, and went to Ohio State on a baseball scholarship. I tore a ligament and they cancelled my scholarship. I couldn't afford to stay in school and was about to drop out, when an army recruiter came to the campus. They offered to pay for the rest of my schooling, in exchange for three years service as an officer. I didn't know what else to do, so I enlisted. I finished my degree, went to officers candidate school and was commissioned an officer and a gentleman."
Jim bowed playfully and Marlene bowed back.
"Did you like the military?"
"The training was fun. It made me feel like all the other men who served their country. But once I was assigned to a unit, there was a lot of meaningless routine and too many people doing things by the numbers."
"There's a lot written about the rigidity of the military mind."
"It wasn't that bad, until my unit was ordered to Somalia."
"What was it like?"
"The biggest screw-up imaginable. Nobody could make up their minds, so the mission was on, then off, over and over. We actually boarded ship three times, then returned to base and stood down. When we finally sailed, we were still without most of our equipment. We sat on that ship for almost two months, going out of our minds, until we finally landed in Somalia. We went ashore and the media was there to greet us. Hundreds of them with cameras and crews. They knew our schedule better than the generals. I had fantasies of ordering my men to open fire. After that it was one foul-up after another. Everybody hated us. We didn't know what we were doing and policy changed twice a day. It was the most messed up military mission since Lebanon. I got out a little while after we returned home, moved to New York, got a graduate degree in social work and here I am ... I've been going on and on about me. What about you?"
"I grew up in New York City with private tutors. I traveled for a while, then went to work for the Foundation. I'm the special projects coordinator and I'm dedicated to our mission."
"I can tell."
"That brings me to one of the reasons for our meeting. The Foundation came up with a plan to place someone inside the Righteous Avengers. We haven't worked out all the details yet, but we're looking for someone who can pretend to be a hater. Do you know anyone at the Gay Alliance who might be suitable?"
"What does it involve?"
"Joining the Righteous Avengers and finding out their plans, so we can trap them while they're committing a crime."
"How would this person locate them?"
"That's my job. I'll find them, then I'll identify someone in the group and persuade him to sponsor our volunteer."
"It sounds pretty simple. All he'd have to do is curse gays and talk tough."
"Don't be so sure. These people already committed murder. This could be very dangerous."
"He'd get to work closely with you, right?"
"Of course. I'd be the liaison."
"Then I'll do it."
"I don't think that's a good idea."
"You might get hurt."
"I'm not a sissy boy."
"That's not what I meant."
"What did you mean?"
"I wouldn't want anything to happen to you."
"Does it matter?"
"Yes." 2They stared at each other for a minute, then Marlene said abruptly, "I have to leave soon."
"How about one last dance?"
They got up and went to the dance floor and started dancing. The man who had grabbed Marlene earlier was dancing with his wife. The other couple was not too far from them. The grabber moved closer to Jim and snarled, "Your girlfriend's a real pushy dyke."
Jim hit him in the stomach, hard. The grabber doubled over and Jim chopped the back of his neck, knocking him down. His friend came at Jim threateningly.
"You can't do that."
He tried to punch Jim, who ducked and tripped the friend. The headwaiter and two bouncers rushed over.
"Are these men bothering you, Ms. Dumont?"
"Yes, Tommy. Please have them removed."
"Certainly, Ms. Dumont."
The headwaiter signaled the bouncers who dragged the men out. Their women followed. The grabber's wife signaled well done to Marlene.
"Let's get out of here," Jim said.
They got up to go. The headwaiter appeared instantly and escorted them to the door, and Marlene gave him fifty dollars.
"Thank you, Ms. Dumont. Good night."
"Good night, Tommy."
"Good night, Mr. Delaney."
Marlene and Jim went out and walked to the limousine.
"I have to go to the Foundation," Marlene said. "Can I drop you somewhere?"
"I live nearby. I think I'll walk."
"Meet me at my apartment tomorrow night, at nine." She took out a business card and wrote her address on the back and handed it to him.
"Here. Good night."
He took the card and she leaned over and kissed him on the mouth, then bit his neck, which sent a thrill racing through his body, as she turned and got into the limo. He watched the limo drive off, looked at the card, put it in his pocket, and walked off, singing, "I think I met an angel ..."
None of the men at the headquarters of the Righteous Avengers were watching the news report on channel 1. The German marching music was so loud that it prevented any conversation among the group. Earl stood up and signaled Stan to turn the music down. Then he turned to the suddenly attentive men. "I have good news, my fellow warriors. Brother Jamel has just about finished his next bomb. We've decided to target the Gay Health Alliance."
"I thought we were targeting that foundation?" Arnold asked.
"We changed our minds," Jamel said with a nasty smile.
"But that's what Dexter suggested," Arnold protested, then stood and looked around for support, but no one would meet his eyes.
"So?" Jamel demanded menacingly.
"Then why did you kill him?" Arnold asked weakly.
"Because he opposed organization policy," Earl snapped.
Jamel glared at him. "You got any objections?"
"No. Not me," Arnold replied meekly.
"Then shut up and sit down," Jamel ordered.
Arnold sat and tried to make himself invisible.
"We need someone to deliver the letter bomb," Earl announced. "Any volunteers?" When nobody responded, he looked at Arnold. "What about you, Arnold?"
"Me?" Arnold squeaked.
"Yeah, you," Jamal said harshly.
"I don't think I can do it."
"Why not?" Earl asked, deceptively gently.
"I'd be too scared to do it alone."
"Maybe you should join the gays," Jamel sneered.
"No. I'm just not very confident doing physical things."
"Then why did you join the Avengers?" Earl demanded. "Didn't you know this was an action group?"
"I don't have any friends and I didn't think I'd have to do anything violent."
"Well, my brother," Jamel smiled, "your time has come."
"Can someone go with me?"
"Would you like to resign from the Avengers?" Earl asked softly.
His voice quavered. "Like Dexter?"
Everybody laughed and the growing tension was broken. Even Jamel laughed, then commented, "You ain't stupid."
"You can get carried out of here, or do what you're told," Earl said bluntly.
"But what if I get caught?"
"Then you'll go to prison and become someone's girlfriend," Earl replied indifferently.
"That's disgusting," Arnold said.
"You'll get used to it," Earl responded.
Arnold shook his head no and looked around the room, desperately seeking help.
Finally, Stan stood up. "I'll go with him."
"What do you think, Earl?" Jamel asked.
"Why not. When will our package be ready?"
"By tomorrow night," and he turned to Arnold. "Then you can deliver the mail."
Everybody laughed and Arnold shrugged in resignation. He tried to control his fear, so it wouldn't show, and kept repeating to himself, 'Thank you, Stan. Thank you Stan.'