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Happenstance
Author: Tessa Bailey


Chapter One

 

 

Roosevelt Island is a weird-ass place.

Being that my life is in a weird-ass place at the moment, I seem to be in the right spot.

I shift in my stool near the window of the pizzeria, careful to keep most of my body partially hidden behind the cinderblock pillar in the center of the dining room. I’m the only one in here, even though it’s dinnertime, making it pretty difficult to blend in. When I lean back slightly, I can see the group of men across the street, although they’re obscured by foliage and a strategically parked van.

Definitely up to no good.

There’s a tingle at the center of my spine and I twist in my seat to find the pizzeria owner glaring at the half-eaten slice of pepperoni sitting in front of me.

“Something wrong with the pizza?”

“No, it’s great.” I take an exaggerated bite to prove I’m telling the truth, even though it’s thoroughly mediocre. “I’m just a slow eater.”

“Hmm.”

He goes back to filling the red pepper flake shakers.

Truth is, I’m on my first stakeout and my stomach isn’t what you’d call settled. And speaking of stakeouts, picking this sparsely populated island to surveil New York City’s deputy mayor was a rookie move. Accessible only by ferry or tram, Roosevelt Island is a random strip of land in the middle of the East River, in between Manhattan’s east side and Queens. The main attraction—besides the view of the city skyline—are the ruins of a smallpox hospital, so, you know. There aren’t crowds of people flocking to see the sights. Not the best place to be inconspicuous.

Why am I here?

Good question.

I certainly wasn’t assigned this mission by anyone in a position of authority.

I guess you could say I’m a rogue sandwich girl.

I’m using my illustrious position as deliverer of deli meats to get my foot in the door at the Gotham Times, New York City’s most respected newspaper. I couldn’t just start off with a smaller paper, like the Village Voice or the Brooklyn Eagle. Not me.

Elise Brandeis aims right for the top—and she never quite makes it.

That doesn’t stop me from trying, though. Especially not now when my tank of ambition has dwindled down to a measly few drops.

The bite of pizza gets stuck halfway down my throat and I gulp hard to swallow it. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and focus on the task at hand. I’m in the middle of rousing my motivation when the deputy mayor steps into view—and I see them.

I see both of them together for the first time.

Deputy Mayor Alexander and Jameson Crouch, union boss of Local 401.

Two men who really, really don’t want to be seen together, especially by me—a wanna-be reporter. Which is obviously why they chose to meet on Roosevelt Island, home to a bunch of empty parks and eerie sculptures. The two men cast wary glances over their shoulders and I duck behind the cinderblock pillar before they spot me watching them. When I venture another peek, they’re shaking hands. Holding my breath, I swipe open my phone to snap a picture, but the pizzeria owner blocks my view, slinging a white towel over his shoulder and planting his hands on his hips.

“You don’t like the pizza. You want something else?”

“It’s honestly great pizza. I’m just…” I get my camera app open and raise it above the man’s shoulder. “Look at this amazing sunset. I need to get a picture.”

Eyebrow raised, the pizzeria owner turns slowly, looking out at the street. “You can’t see the sky from here. I have cannoli. You want to try some cannoli?”

Oh boy. Definitely no time for dessert. Alexander and Crouch have apparently concluded their undercover meeting. The whole pack of men seem to break at once, like a business casual football huddle. Are they coming this way? Maybe grabbing a slice before boarding the tram back to the less haunted island across the river? Some of them appear to be, yes.

Meaning, I need to get out of here. Fast.

“Is there a back exit?”

“Through the kitchen,” says the owner without missing a beat. He’s done this before.

See what I mean? Roosevelt Island. It’s a weird-ass place.

I’m off the stool like a shot, jogging through the kitchen and out the wrought-iron storm door. The street is mostly empty, apart from a few regretful tourists hoofing it to the tramway. I shoot a backward glance toward the rear of the pizzeria on the off chance I’ve been followed, scanning the sidewalk for anyone that might be termed a goon. When I don’t spot any suits and ties among the casually dressed pedestrians, I turn the corner at the end of the street and pick up my pace toward the tram entrance. I think I got away with it.

Didn’t get the picture, but there’s always next time.

A gust of cold November wind blows my long hair into multiple directions, a shiver coursing through my limbs and raising goosebumps on my bare skin. Wait…bare?

Damn. I forgot my jacket.

“Oh, come on.”

Pausing mid-stride, I consider returning to the scene of my two-hour stakeout. Not a good idea. I already left my departure to the very last second. If I double back to Carmine’s, I’ll be spotted for sure. I will also have to deal with another round of questioning about my half-eaten pizza. Unfortunately, it’s not exactly unusual for me to leave something unfinished.

I do everything halfway. Leaving a project done somewhere in the middle is my specialty. In the closet of my apartment, one would find a half-knitted sweater, an application for culinary school completed to page five out of ten, and a crate full of arrowroot starch and essential oils leftover from the natural deodorant business I semi-started—and by semi started, I mean I bought the ingredients and thought of a clever name.

Pit-ter Patter.

Okay, it’s sort of clever.

At least I will make it all the way home tonight where I will face plant in some tequila.

That I can do without stalling out somewhere in the middle.

There’s no line for the tram, thankfully and when the attendant waves me forward, I jog closer in my thrifted heels, praying the cable car is heated. I step inside a moment later and sigh, finding it slightly warmer than the outside temperature—

It’s also occupied. By three men.

“Oh. Nope.” I briefly register that all of them appear to be south of thirty-five, before I turn around with the intention of getting out and waiting for the next empty car, because frankly, I’d rather swim home in a hurricane than have a conversation with strangers. But as soon as I set foot back on the sidewalk, I see Deputy Mayor Alexander turn the corner with his black ball cap pulled down low on his forehead. He’s surrounded by suited individuals, one of whom appears to be communicating via an earpiece. If I wait for the next car, there is every chance I’m going to end up on the same one as these dudes.

And that cannot happen.

If the deputy mayor and his security team register my face, there’s a good chance they’ll recognize me the next time I follow them. In the spirit of anonymity, I reverse into the cable car holding the three men, exhaling in relief when the door closes and the tram begins to move, carrying us upward and toward the East River.

“What changed your mind, love?” one of the men asks, his accent upper crust British. Deep and polished. “Was it my sheer animal magnetism that drew you back in?”

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