1 Max instructed Bane to wear dark colors; that they would meet Marcus at Robuchon au Dome at eight, and that he would make an entrance. She would let the maître d’ know that he would be arriving and to try and not panic at the sight of the mask. Max didn't think it would work, but it was worth a shot.
“I’m giving you the drugs to carry,” she said. “Just for appearances’ sake. You’ll come over to me and I’ll introduce you as Max Roth. Marcus will be impressed and hopefully scared shitless enough that he won’t try to hit on me.”
Max rolled her eyes as she fluffed her mass of hair. As usual, Bane barged right into her room just as she finished putting on her clothes, and had been watching her like a hawk since. “Marcus has been trying to fuck me for the past year. I go through all this just so I can cock-tease the shit out of him and charge him more money. He doesn’t know that he’s paid me way more than what the drugs are worth. But it costs to look this good and so he’s gotta pay. Is what it is.”
Max wore a black dress so tight that it had to have been cut to fit her. There was ass all day, cleavage for miles and legs that looked like they went all the way up, accentuated by seamed stockings. She wore a pair of five inch heels, sending her height well over six feet and making her taller than Bane. He watched her finish getting ready, harder than tensor calculus and quite beside himself. Max’s dress left nothing to the imagination and he was reminded, viscerally so, that it had been some time since he’d been with a woman. He wanted to have her, and anywhere would do. He would just as soon bend her over the counter than let her leave the house attired in such a fashion. Her outfit screamed trouble.
Then he watched in amusement as she lifted her dress and tucked a .22 on the inside of her thigh. Then, with practiced ease, she pulled out a short-handled balisong and twirled it before sticking it in her cleavage.
“Be careful with all that,” Bane warned. By no means did he want any of her goodies damaged. “Why are you arming yourself anyway?”
“A girl in my line of work has to protect herself.” She smoothed her dress and posed for him. “Do I look like I’m carrying any concealed weapons?”
Bane shook his head. “No.” Her dress was so tight that it clung to any distortion in her skin. He wondered how long they would have to remain at the restaurant.
“One of Marcus’ goons is going to try and frisk me, but a coquettish smile and a flash of the girls and he’ll forget to do it.”
“Are you sure that’s going to work?”
“They got your attention, didn’t they?”
Bane closed his eyes. She had him there.
“Marcus is going to want to buy me dinner or a drink, and I’ll let him spend his money, but I won’t do any more than take a bite. He’s going to hit on me for a few moments and then I’ll remind him why we’re there, and then I’ll call you. You come in then and we’ll wrap this up and come back home, one point two million richer. I’m due for a vacation. Maldives sounds wonderful right about now.”
Bane watched her carefully. He had no intention of waiting outside for her to call. Not while she was wearing that dress. It had not taken long for him to become protective of Max. Maybe it was a fatal flaw. He wondered how far he would go with it.
She stared at him. “Damn, I didn’t think about this part. I’ve gotten used to your size and it didn’t occur to me that you won’t fit in my car or on my bike.”
“What do you have?”
“A Ducati and a Ferrari. Both of us can’t ride the Ducati; not that I would try dressed like this, and I can’t see you in the passenger side of my Spider. Your big ass would wreck the suspension. I’d better call for a car.”
2 Max handed him her cell phone. “Okay, give me ten minutes. Come in with the briefcase, I’ll make introductions; we’ll do the deal and split. By the way, they think my name is Rocket.”
“Yeah. Just go with it. Are you ready?”
He nodded. Max smiled at him. “You look great in that mask. You’re going to scare the hell out of everybody.” She put one hand against his cheek and winked. “Game on.” She waited for the limo driver to open her door and then she carefully got out and strolled to the restaurant. Bane waited for her to enter and then followed, holding the briefcase. He figured he’d give her a two-minute head start.
When he entered, the maître d’ looked up at him, eyes wide and mouth open at first. Then he pointed at Max’s retreating form and nodded. Bane strolled in with the briefcase, ignoring the stares and whispers of the patrons, keeping his eyes on Max. She was catching as much attention as he was, at least at first. He watched her present herself to a cluster of men in the back of the restaurant. One of them had a big smile on his face and there was nothing respectable in the way he looked at her. He looked like he wanted to ravish her right there at the table. Then one of the other men, a security guard perhaps, stepped towards her with his hands out as if to pat her down. But Max smiled, laughed and turned around as if to show that she was weaponless and harmless. And just as she predicted, the goon grinned back at her and took his place behind his boss.
By then, Bane was at the table. Max looked up at him, startled. Her brow furrowed in anticipation. She should have known he wasn’t going to follow directions. Other than attiring himself in black, he never did what she asked of him. What was she thinking?
“Rocket,” he said. Then he turned to the others.
Max was furious, but she held it together. She stood up and grinned at Bane, covering his arm with her hand. “Max, good of you to join us. This is Marcus Brislin. Marcus, this is Max Roth, my boss.”
Marcus stared up at Bane, mouth open. Then he got to his feet to shake the man’s hand. Bane made sure to squeeze hard enough to make Marcus’ bones creak.
“Mr. Roth…it’s a…pleasure…to finally meet you. Rocket assured me that we would meet one day.”
Marcus’ goons gawked at Bane. He was like a small mountain. Max fidgeted as everyone took a seat.
Bane merely nodded, ignoring the stares of everyone other than Marcus, who kept sneaking looks at Max. “Did she now? She only made mention of it to me this week.”
“She’s been promising me for the past six months.” Marcus openly gazed at Max, lust in his eyes. “But you’ve always been unavailable. I thought she was lying; being deceptive. You know what they say about beautiful women, and that one right there is magnificent. She’s also a fucking tease. I don’t recall her ever looking so lovely. Perhaps it’s an attempt to get more money out of me.” The he turned his eyes back to Bane’s, grinning. It was clear he thought they were on the same level. “You’re her boss. Tell me, man to man, does she turn you on as much as she does me?” The gleam in his eyes was decidedly nasty. “Do you find yourself wondering how tight she is, or asking yourself how sweet is her sweet spot? Tell me. You’re a man just like the rest of us, and we’ve all be wondering. Tell me that Rocket doesn’t drive you crazy. Look at those legs. That’s a map to Nirvana; one I’m anxious to travel.”
Max closed her eyes and clenched her teeth. At this point, she didn’t know what was about to happen. As usual, Bane fucked everything up. Marcus was a sexist asshole, but she already knew that. But part of her wondered what Bane’s answer would be. Marcus was anything but subtle.
Bane waved a hand over his face. “I was indisposed. I hope this isn’t a problem for you. But it has been quite the inconvenience for me.”
“May I ask, sir, what you suffer from?”
“No, you may not. And let me just say that I do not care for the way you’re staring at her. Rocket.” He turned to look at Max, whose eyes pleaded for something; he couldn’t say what. Then he turned a menacing gaze on Marcus. “I also don’t care for your questions.”
“Why? Is she…is she…?”
“She is far more than just my subordinate, or did she fail to disclose that as well?”
Marcus’ face went ashen. “I was under the impression that she was…”
“Your impression is wrong.” Bane put the briefcase at his feet. “Twelve vials. Two million dollars.”
Marcus looked at Max and then back at Bane. “But Rocket said one point two…”
“That was before she insisted I come at your behest. You’ve greatly inconvenienced me and insulted her, and you will pay for the privilege. Two million dollars or I will break every bone in your body and those of your guards. I may do it anyway. I’m not pleased with your inquiries in regards to Rocket.” Bane looked at Max again. “And please tell your guards to remove their hands from their guns. We don’t want a scene, do we? I am causing enough of one just by being in this place; which is yet another reason why you have to pay more.”
“I only brought one point—"
Bane leaned forward. “Do you think me a fool, Mr. Brislin?”
“Of course not.”
“You have fifteen minutes to get me my money. All my money. Make a call. Isn’t that what men like you do?”
Marcus pulled out his cell phone. A sheet of sweat glistened over his lip and forehead. His guards took two steps away from him. Max seethed beside Bane; one leg crossed, the foot shaking in irritation. A pang of an unfamiliar emotion tugged at him as he looked at Max. There was simply too much leg on display and the men were looking, as were the women. Bane didn’t speak; he turned his eyes back on Marcus and his goons. But then, guided by that strange sentiment, he turned to Max again and put a hand on her trembling leg, stopping the movement. He ran his hand over her thigh in long, slow circles. He could feel the fury emanating off her. She was going to make it fun. Lovely. Then he turned his attention back to Marcus and his men. The look in Marcus’ eyes was equal parts rage and envy. He stared at Bane’s circulating hand.
The silence was deafening. Max made no effort to speak and Bane was fine with silence. Marcus downed his scotch and signaled for another. He was sweating.
“Look, Mr. Roth, I’m sorry about—”
“You’re not sorry. Keep your mouth closed.” He continued to rub Max’s leg. She felt so good.
Ten minutes later, a man entered with another briefcase. He sat down and handed it to Marcus. Marcus motioned to Bane, who indicated it should be given to Max.
Bane looked at her. “Count it, my dear.”
Max opened the first briefcase and quickly counted the money under the table. Then she did the second. She looked at Bane. “It’s all here.”
“You gentlemen have a pleasant evening.” Bane stood up and looked at Max. “Come along, Rocket. We have things to do in the car.”
Marcus groaned. Bane’s tone left no doubt as to what the things were. He glared at Max. She glared back. “Are you happy now, Marcus? You wanted to meet him, now you have. I hope it was worth it.”
Marcus couldn’t speak. Max continued. “Shall I see you next time?”
“Were it not for the fact that your…boss’…genius makes me a very wealthy man, I would never want to lay eyes on you again.”
Bane looked at him and clenched a fist. Marcus swallowed. “Yes, same time, same place.”
“But the new price,” Bane said. “You will pay two million dollars from now on for the inconvenience of tonight and for embarrassing her. I won’t tolerate that, and if that’s a problem, you’re welcome to take your business elsewhere. Or I can break every bone in your body. I should relish doing that.” Fighting would actually do him some good right now.
Max looked up at the ceiling, thinking that she was definitely going to replace Bane’s anesthetic with something a little more deliberate.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” Marcus said.
Bane took an ominous step towards him and the man shrieked, jumping out of his seat. Max put a hand on Bane’s arm; the muscles were taut, hard. “Max, don’t. He’ll pay. From now on, he’ll pay. Right, Marcus?” Then she looked at the cowering man.
“Don’t make him mad. The treatment…it’s still new and it…makes him…volatile.”
“Okay, okay. Two million. I got it. I got it.”
“Good,” Bane said. “Come now, Rocket. An issue has arisen and we must resolve it immediately.” He grabbed both briefcases and waited for Max to take his arm.
3 Back in the limo, she turned to face him. “Why did you do that?”
“I see no problem with what I did. You came out $800,000 ahead by my calculation. That’s just for this month. And you didn’t have to use your weapons.”
“He won’t be back,” Max said. “You’ve scared him off. This was a bad idea.”
“He will continue to be a customer,” Bane said. “For you are a genius and your work is unparalleled. My agony is controllable. I read your research. It is exceptional. You should publish it.”
“Bane, what I’m doing is illegal. Just because I know what I’m doing doesn’t make it legitimate.”
Bane waved his hand, as if dismissing that. “He will return. He would be a fool to not need your services. Do you have any other clients?”
“Do they ask about…Max?”
“They won’t once they hear.”
“When do you see them?”
“One in three weeks; the other, next week.”
“I shall plan to be here then, just to make things clear. How much do they pay?”
“They get different things, so it varies. Lydia pays $500,000 for three vials of my special version of oxycodone. But Lydia’s female, Bane. You can’t come after her like you did Marcus.”
“It matters not. She will provide the opening I need. Who is the other client?”
“Another man named Chiang. He’s a Triad, so you absolutely will not be with me on that trip. The Triads are not to be fucked with, Bane. I doll up for Chiang just the same as I do for Marcus because it benefits me. Chiang pays me $200,000 for each vial he gets, and he never gets the same amount each time. But he isn’t lewd or disrespectful. You’re not coming with me. I don’t care what you say.”
“Max, you would have been hurt tonight had I not been there.” Bane knew it with certainty. He could smell it on Marcus.
“I can take care of myself, Bane. I’ve been doing this for a couple of years. I’m a big girl. I’ll be all right. Chiang looks, but that’s all he does.” Max started removing her weapons. When she went for the balisong, Bane caught her hand.
“What are you doing?”
“Allow me.” He relished the chance to stick his hand in there.
“Are you kidding?” She shook him off and grabbed the knife. “I should stick you with it!” She flipped the balisong, but then sat back and sighed. She would wait before removing the gun. Bane wasn’t likely to behave if she lifted her skirt. He was definitely showing himself. “But you are right. I did come out ahead. Thank you, Bane.”
“You have been generous with me—a total stranger.”
“You can have the money when you’re ready to go.”
He looked at her. “Are you sure?” He wasn’t going to turn down two million dollars. Not when he was broke and had an agenda.
“Yes. I can stash it for you and give access to you; that way you don’t have to carry it around. I have plenty, and thanks to you, I’ll get plenty more.” Max placed her hand over his and massaged the back of his hand with her thumb. It was a simple gesture, but she heard his breath catch and saw his fingers curl.
She let her hand remain on top of his when he looked at her. “I have a question.”
“Are you able to have any more children?”
“There’s so much damage and scar tissue that I doubt it. I don’t want to talk about this.”
“Why did he shoot you?” He had questions and he wanted answers.
“You don’t hear so good. I’m going to have to tweak the mask when I get home.” Max turned to the driver. “Step on it!”