Dave and Moreen checked in at the long-term hotel using fake identities. When they finished, Dave asked the front desk to call room 231 and tell them Mr. and Mrs. Martinez had arrived, so they wouldn’t spook anybody when they unlocked the door. Agent Chung, Agent Attwater, and the witness had been holed up here for three weeks since the last attempt on the witness’s life. They’d be a little jumpy, to say the least.
After getting their keycards, Dave and Moreen went back outside to grab their suitcases and bags of groceries. The hotel was made up of two long buildings three stories high, and Dave had memorized the floor plan before coming. The gated pool by the parking lot hadn’t been covered yet, despite that autumn in Illinois wasn’t exactly outdoor swimming weather. Red, orange, and brown leaves floated across the water’s surface, fallen from the row of trees planted along the sidewalk. The parking lot was maybe half full, and a man dragged his suitcase towards the lobby, the sound of its wheels bumping across the asphalt echoing off the buildings. Dave kept one eye on him. Pudgy and balding, he didn’t look like the stereotypical image of a hitman, but real hitmen rarely did.
Moreen knocked loudly on the door of room 230 before swiping the keycard and pushing open the door. Dave edged past her to go in first, standard procedure since he was the bulletproof one. But it was an unnecessary precaution, because the only person inside was Agent Chung.
“Glad you guys could make it,” he greeted.
They shook hands and exchanged updates, and Agent Chung went back to the other room to give them a moment to unpack. Rooms 230 and 231 were both two-bedroom suites, joined together by a lockable door in the shared wall between them. They both came with kitchenettes, a desk, and a small living room with a sofabed in front of a decent-sized TV. There were definitely worse places a person could stay, but Dave imagined being confined here for three weeks would make anyone want to tear down the walls.
Dave changed into his costume in the bathroom. He was here for two reasons. First, to protect the witness at all costs. Second, to reassure the witness that he’d be safe and try to calm his shattered nerves. The trial was in a little over a week, and a sleep-deprived, stuttering witness who trailed off mid-sentence and kept glancing at the exits wasn’t going to make the impression they needed to put Mr. Lucifer away. And that kind of inspiration was going to take more than David Del Toro in a business suit. It called for White Knight, complete with the sword and shield symbol on his chest.
But when Dave walked into room 231, the witness didn’t even glance at his costume. His gaze went straight to the grocery bags in Dave’s hands.
“Oh, dear God, please tell me there are vegetables in there.”
He rushed up to Dave and took the bags from him, peering at their contents.
Agent Chung cleared his throat. “White Knight, Agent Lee, this is—”
“David Puebla.” The witness looked up. “Yes. Hi. Sorry. We’ve been living off of pizza, Chinese takeout, and frozen dinners. The closest I’ve gotten to anything fresh are those bruised bananas at the complimentary breakfast bar.”
Another good reason to be in costume was that it would hopefully reduce confusion between Dave and the witness having the same first name. David Puebla was a lanky man in his forties who was surprisingly well-groomed. Agents Chung and Attwater were showing the effects of their three-week isolation: both had five o’clock shadows and wore rumpled suits. In contrast, Puebla’s goatee was neatly trimmed, and he wore crisp tweed pants, a wrinkle-free cardigan, and an honest-to-goodness bow tie.
“Chung, Attwater, I’m cooking dinner,” Puebla announced like he was bestowing a grand gift upon them. “Agent Lee, uh, White Knight, any dietary restrictions? Either of you vegetarian? No? How do you feel about stuffed peppers for your welcoming feast?”
Moreen gave the slightest of smiles. “That sounds fine.”
Puebla busied himself in the kitchenette, and Dave and the agents moved to the living room for a hushed conference.
“He seems to be holding up okay,” Moreen commented in a low voice.
“That’s because you gave him something to occupy himself with,” Attwater replied. “It’s when he has nothing to do that he starts imagining all the ways the Belmontes could kill him.”
“He read through all the books he brought in the first week,” Chung added. “I don’t suppose either of you brought reading material?”
“I’ve got an Agatha Christie novel in my suitcase,” Dave said.
“Loan it to him. Please.”
Chung and Attwater briefed them on housekeeping’s schedule and the other guests on their floor. They’d seen nothing and no one suspicious so far, but the DSA still hadn’t figured out how the Belmontes had learned where they’d stashed Puebla last time, so there was definitely a chance they’d find him again. Dave took the news with inexcusably mixed feelings.
The moment Walter had first said the name “Belmonte” when he’d given Dave and Moreen this assignment, Dave’s thoughts had gone straight to Val. And that was after he’d spent the past four months trying not to think about her (and failing miserably, if he was being honest with himself). The Black Valentine hadn’t come after Puebla last time. Mr. Lucifer had sent armed men, but now that they’d failed, would he send his oldest daughter?
Dave should definitely be hoping he sent someone else. The Black Valentine would be an exceptional threat. She’d just need to get close to Puebla for a few minutes, and she could wipe his memory of ever seeing Mr. Lucifer in the car as his men burned down Puebla’s store. It was much better than the alternative of a bullet through Puebla’s head, but with their prime witness unable to testify, the case against Mr. Lucifer would crumble.
That was definitely in the “bad thing” category, and yet…and yet Dave couldn’t help but want to see her again. He’d been thinking of her constantly: her teasing smile, her clever mind. Then his thoughts would turn from reality to fantasy and picture her slowly unlacing her bulletproof corset, of soft, creamy skin over taut muscle. The first time he’d caught himself doing this, he’d blushed so hard that Walter had asked him if he’d caught a fever. Anyway, it was an awful idea to fantasize about a telepath. It would probably be the first thing that popped into his head the next time he saw her, and if he didn’t bring up his mental shields fast enough, she’d know. He wondered if she’d be angry or amused.
No. He had no right to be thinking like that. He’d turned her down. It was over. He’d done the right thing—the painful, difficult right thing, and it was no use looking back and regretting it. Did he regret it? He shouldn’t. And he definitely shouldn’t hope Val came to the hotel.
Because if she came, it would be to harm an innocent man, and Dave would do everything in his power to stop her.
So now you’ve met David Puebla. Hopefully, you don’t want him to die. 😉
And I just remembered that I wanted to tally the property damage for each episode, so “Dave and Val Watch Soap Operas” ended with one house boat destroyed. That still doesn’t beat blowing up an entire 10-story building in episode one, but I’m sure I can top that before the series is over.
Btw, we’re past the halfway point of the series. Can you believe that? I started Fight Crime! (A Love Story) in June 2016. It doesn’t seem like that long ago.