Ice Monkeys [Drunk Monkeys 7] (Siren Publishing Ménage Everlasting), page 16
“Isn’t it kind of odd how the church’s network is making massive miscellaneous payments to a single church-owned vendor every month?”
“What?” Pandora and Lima both asked. Lima leaned in so he could see the screen better.
“Here,” she said, pointing to the entry. “It’s a pattern. Every month. To another church-owned non-profit. Not to an outside entity.” She pulled up the file. “Here, see? And that money just goes overseas to an account. Always less than the treaty’s trigger amount. The IRS can’t touch it because it’s a church.”
“Son of a bitch,” Lima said. He had a second laptop in front of him and his fingers raced across the keyboard. After a few minutes, he had an answer. “Saudi-fucking-Arabia, just like the shell company that owned the LA Preachsearch lab, and those other shell companies Bubba found.” He turned his laptop so she could see the screen. “Five different accounts it’s being split into.”
Donna nodded. “I’d say that’s a shelter, right there. They’re probably dumping the money into it and then either moving it or bringing it back in some other way. If it’s disguised as an expense paid out, they can deduct it against their tax returns. But since it’s being paid into another non-profit, it doesn’t get taxed.”
* * * *
Uni and Victor sat on the other side of the table, watching and keeping their mouths shut.
For his part, Uni had completely revised his first impression of Donna. Pandora might be great at tenaciously sifting through data, but she didn’t have a business degree or banking legal knowledge.
Or, apparently, the skill at spotting patterns.
Donna had done more for them sifting through Silo’s shady business dealings in just under a couple of hours than Bubba and Pandora had managed in weeks since hacking into the church’s servers.
Yeah, she was valuable.
That gave him hope. Maybe they could talk her into coming with them. He had a great argument for Papa, that they needed a data cruncher of her obvious skills.
If she was even interested in that. Which…based on what he knew of her so far, she probably wouldn’t be. She was fiercely loyal to her friends, and dragging along two other civvies wouldn’t be possible.
When Lima’s sat-phone rang, Uni flinched. It was likely Papa, based on the timing.
Lima answered and listened for a moment. “Sure. She’s right here.” He handed the phone to Donna, who didn’t take it at first.
“Who is it?” she asked.
Okay, that was a switch.
She finally took the phone from him. “Hello?” She listened for a moment, slowly nodding. “You’re welcome.” She glanced across the table at him and Victor before her gaze returned to the laptop in front of her. “I just…saw it. I don’t know how I did it… Okay. Nice talking to you, too.” She handed the phone back to Lima. “He wants to talk to you.” Then she seemed to realize what time it was. “Crap. I need to call Lisa and Ginny. Probably Lisa. She’ll be home by now.”
When her gaze met his, Uni realized how utterly heartbroken she looked. “I can’t believe I’m going to lie to them.”
If she started crying right then, he might cry, too.
Yes, he was a battle-hardened soldier, used to difficult situations.
He did not, however, like being the reason a woman cried.
* * * *
Donna rose from the table and headed to the living room to sit for a moment. Victor and Uni followed her, Uni reaching out to her.
In his hand, her cell phone.
No missed calls.
She took it from him and stared at it. “I still don’t know exactly what to say to them,” she admitted. “As soon as they start asking me questions, I’ll freeze up.”
Other than the kidnapping, and the initial fear over losing her job…to be honest, this had been the most fun she’d had in a while.
Except for having to lie to her friends.
The men sat in two of the easy chairs and seemed to be studying her.
“I guess you think I’m pretty silly, huh?” she asked.
“No,” Victor said. “I think you’re very loyal. That’s a rare thing to see sometimes. I admire you for it.”
“And you’re pretty damned smart,” Uni said. “You earned my respect in there. Because of you, you’ve probably helped more than you’ll ever know.”
“I appreciate you trying to make me feel better, but it’s okay. I just need to…deal with this, I guess.” She took a deep breath but made no move to make the call.
An idea hit her, but it would be embarrassing as hell. “I guess you two need to sit here while I call, huh?”
“Yeah,” they said. “Sorry,” Uni added. “Procedures.”
“Sure.” She finally pulled up Lisa’s number and hit send.
Donna was almost hoping the call would go to voice mail, but her friend picked up on the first ring. “Hey, you. What’s up?”
Go for broke. “I…Something’s come up. I’m not going to be home for a couple of days.”
She met Uni’s blue gaze, dark blue eyes, darker than Ginny’s. “This is going to sound really weird.” She watched the men tense but hoped they trusted her and didn’t try to take the phone from her. “I met a guy at the coffee shop and we’ve been talking.”
“It’s…” She seized on a portion of the truth. “Weeks. Didn’t even realize I was getting to know him at first. Out of the blue today at lunch, he asked me to spend a couple of days with him.”
“So you’re going to just go spend a couple of days with this guy? What about work?” She heard the doubt creeping into her friend’s voice and was glad she wasn’t trying to tell this lie in person.
Her face felt lava-hot, boiling. “I kind of lied to work.”
“Yeah. I told them my mom was in the hospital.”
“What is up with you?”
She glanced over at Uni and Victor before her gaze dropped again. “He had a chance to house-sit for friends and they told him it’s okay if he has a…guest.”
“Why didn’t you mention this guy before now? I’m getting a seriously weird vibe here.”
Donna closed her eyes and fought the urge to cry. “I’m tired of being scared of everything,” she said. “This might not be anything, but I have a chance to spend a couple of days with this guy without it costing me anything.”
“I took some leave I have built up.” Okay, another lie. “I know this sounds crazy—”
“Uh, yeah, just a little.”
“He seems very nice. He’s been afraid to approach me before now.”
“So what’s his name, and when do we get to meet him?”
“Victor,” she said. “Victor Uni.” Both men’s eyebrows lifted at that. “And maybe tomorrow night. He’s got a car.”
“So what’s this ‘Victor Uni’ do, hmm?” She could see Lisa’s air quotes.
“He’s a security consultant.”
“What’s that mean?”
“There’s a lot of stuff he can’t tell me about his job because of the security involved.”
“Oh, that’s convenient.”
“He does what his company tells him to do. Lisa, please, I really like him.”
She let out an exasperated sigh. “Well, you are an adult. But this is really weird.” Her voice dropped. “Are you in trouble?” she whispered, almost making Donna laugh.
“No, I’m not in trouble.”
“You’d better bring him by tomorrow night, then. You don’t, I’m gonna call the cops.”
“I swear, it’s fine.” She closed her eyes again. “I’m safe, and I’ve met several of his friends already. Today. They’re nice, too.”
Another sigh. “Okay, fine. But I’m gonna keep texting you. If you don’t reply to my texts, I’m going to call the cops.”
Relief. Lisa had bought it.
“It’s really fine,” Donna assured her, then an evil thought hit. “Here, I’ll let you talk to him yourself.”
Before either of the men could refuse, she was up off the couch and had shoved the phone into Uni’s hand.
It was very satisfying to see his eyes widen in shock before he realized he still had the phone in his hand and someone waiting on the other end. “Um, hello?”
Donna crossed her arms over her chest, grinning at the smirk Victor gave her.
Hell, she shouldn’t be the only one forced to lie.
“Yeah, I work in that building and go to the coffee shop a lot,” Uni said, now glaring up at her. “I’ve been talking with Donna. She’s told me a lot about you two…”
Donna would be impressed if he didn’t fumble under Lisa’s interrogation.
“Well,” Uni said, his gaze narrowing as he straightened in his chair, never pulling his focus from Donna. “She told me about how you work for the city, and Ginny works for an insurance company. And she loves you guys like sisters because she’s known you since college. We were talking today and she mentioned how aggravated she was at her mom over that nonsense about her uncle’s cabin.”
Donna’s eyes widened as he stood and drew closer. “Yeah,” he said. “She sounds like a piece of work. I mean, seriously? You guys are like family, and they’ve uninvited you two from going to the cabin? What the hell’s up with that?”
He stepped over to her, forcing her to look up into his blue eyes as he stared down at her. “I know, right? But what else can you expect from people who couldn’t even get their act together to get their own place and made their daughter grow up all crowded together like that? I mean, really. The three of you, from what she’s told me, it sounds like you three have your acts together.”
Her breath came in gasps now as she watched him, terrified and turned on at the same time at how he was deftly handling Lisa.
“I was in the military for a while. Did some special ops stuff before I went into this private gig. I’m not trying to be a jerk, but I have confidentiality contracts I’ve signed, and I could get into real trouble if I—oh, okay. Thanks. I appreciate it.” He listened for a moment and then laughed. “I promise I’ll get her there by tomorrow after you both are home so we can meet… Yes, I’m looking forward to meeting you both, too. I’m sorry this was so sudden, but my friend at work got sent out of town this morning and he owes me a favor. He knows I’ve been in need of some downtime and an escape from my roommate, so he offered to let me stay here this week and bring a friend, if I wanted.”
Uni reached up with his spare hand and touched his index finger to the tip of Donna’s nose. “I wish I could have you guys over, but he only met Donna, and I don’t feel right having anyone else over without talking to him about it first. Okay, thanks, I appreciate you understanding. I’m looking forward to meeting you both tomorrow evening then. Okay, here she is.”
He handed the phone back to her.
And stuck his tongue out at her.
Victor clapped a hand over his mouth while trying not to laugh loudly enough to be heard over the phone.
Donna had to swallow back her nerves as she put the phone to her ear. “Hey.”
Lisa laughed. “Okay, I can be mad at you tomorrow night when you get here. He sounds okay, I guess.”
“He is.” Uni stared down at her, a triumphant grin on his face.
“Love you, kiddo. I’ll tell Ginny when she gets home. Let me know what time tomorrow.”
“I will. We’ll bring dinner. And love you, too.”
“Hey, deal. Bye. Have fun.”
Uni held out his hand for the phone when she ended the call.
“Never try to pull one over on a guy with an eidetic memory,” he said. “Especially one who’s trained to do this kind of shit for a living.”
“You’re paying for the pizza tomorrow night,” she said. That was a rare treat they allowed themselves.
“Deal.” He hooked a thumb at Victor. “How do you want to explain him?”
“Oh, we’re a team, darlin’,” Uni said. “And how’d I get to be Victor?”
“I told you I suck at lying. You said you had a roommate.”
“Hmm. True.” He turned to Victor. “Guess what, roomie? We’re having pizza tomorrow night.”
He smiled. “Cool. Haven’t had that in a while.”
The others soon joined them in the living room.
“You have no idea how helpful that was,” Lima said to Donna. “Seriously.”
Chief held up a hand as she looked from Donna to the men. “Um, oookaaay. What just happened in here?”
“What?” Donna asked.
Omega snorted. “That’s a deer in the headlights look if I ever saw one.”
Victor laughed. “She just got introduced to Uni’s special talent for remembering everything he sees and hears.”
“Ohh,” Lima and Omega said, laughing.
“What?” Chief asked. “What are you talking about?”
“There’s a reason my partner is our logistics specialist,” Victor said, pulling himself to his feet. “He has an eidetic memory.”
“Oh,” Chief said. Then she lightly backhanded Omega’s shoulder. Quite a feat, since she was a good foot shorter than the guy, at least. “Why didn’t you ever tell me that?”
“That he could do that?”
“I wasn’t thinking about that when we were worried about blowing up a highway, dear.”
Donna felt close to snapping again. “What? You told me you didn’t blow up Barstow!”
“We didn’t,” they all said.
Victor picked up the story. “We did blow a couple of Interstate overpasses to close off access to help people escape.”
Everyone else looked at him.
“Okay, so maybe that came out wr—”
Chief held up a hand again. “Stop. You’re making it worse. Let me handle this.”
Chief turned to Donna. “Santa Clarita, where my station was, sat at the north side of LA County, in a valley that I-5 funneled into. I had them blow the southern overpasses to prevent the town from being overrun from the south and give the people in the town time to get out. We routed people west instead. We were the only law enforcement left in the area, and we told everyone to evacuate.”
Donna felt herself relax. “Oh. But you didn’t kill people doing it?”
“No,” they all said. “Just the road,” Chief added.
Exhaustion hit her. Everything that had happened today, the weird and forcible removal from her usual life—she was wiped out. “I think…I think maybe I need to…I’m done for the day.”
“We do have a heated pool and a hot tub,” Chief said. “If you want to take advantage of them while you’re here.”
“I…I don’t know. Probably not tonight.”
“We’ll grab what we need for tonight out of the bedroom,” Uni said. “So we don’t have to disturb you later.”
Donna felt badly that she was evicting the men from the bedroom. “It’s okay,” she said. “I don’t mind sleeping on the couch. It’s fine. You guys keep the bedroom. The couch is comfy.”
Omega held up a hand. “Lima, I know you’re in command of this mission, but I’m pulling rank. Donna, the men are okay giving up their bedroom. Trust me, being under this roof is a huge step up from some of the accommodations that we’ve dealt with over the years. Please take the bedroom and don’t feel guilty about it. We’ve upset your life. The least you can let us all do is feel a little less bad about it by giving you their bed.”
“But they’re…” She didn’t want to say it and have it come off sounding wrong. She didn’t care what people did in the privacy of their bedrooms as long as everyone was an adult and good with it.
Omega frowned. “They’r
“Well…partners. A couple. I don’t want to split them up.”
Victor and Uni frowned before they both burst out laughing. Which she didn’t understand.
Victor got it out first around gales of laughter. “No…we’re not…gay…” He took a deep breath, smiling. “We don’t sleep ‘together’ together.” He waggled his eyebrows. “Although I will admit we’ve had a lady between us in bed before.”
“We’re straight,” Uni added.
As their meaning sank home, Donna felt her face redden and her stomach drop. The good kind of drop, though. Like the roller coaster she once rode as a kid.
“Really?” she whispered.
Chief snorted. “Really.” She hooked a thumb over her shoulder at Omega. “Our third, Echo, is back at our base.” She pointed at Lima, who waved, a smile on his face. “His two are there as well. It’s kind of become an accidental thing in the unit that no one’s complaining about.”
“You…more than one of you are…what, three of you? Together?”
“Six sets,” Chief said. “Doc and Tango with Pandora. Me, Omega, and Echo. Lima, Quack, and Ak. Annie, Roscoe, and Niner. Panda, Foxtrot, and Kilo. Clara, Yankee, and Oscar.”
Donna’s throat felt totally dry. “Is that…normal?”
“No, but once they went OTG, regulations sort of flew out the window.”
“Off the grid,” they all said. Chief continued. “It means they’re in deep cover. General Arliss hasn’t ordered them to stop yet. Until recently, Arliss wasn’t sure his food chain—command—was free of moles. It was done out of an abundance of caution. We couldn’t let the scientists fall into the wrong hands.”
Donna was still trying to process the two guys and one girl thing.
That six sets of them were in the unit.
That it was very common amongst this group. She looked at Lima. “You mean…you…share?”
He grinned. “Hey, you won’t hear Ak complaining.”
“You certainly don’t hear me complaining.” Chief grinned.
Hell, this was like a vacation, in a way. To a fancy spa, of sorts. A free vacation where she didn’t have to pay a cent.
TYMBER DALTON SERIES:
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