AJ was being stood up.
It was half past noon and Sasha wasn’t there.
The Brandenburg Gate was one of the busiest tourist attractions in Berlin. The square was filled with families and walking tours led by someone holding a colored flag on a stick and talking into a microphone while a line of dazed, zombie-like visitors followed behind. Aside from those in the square learning about the history of the place, there were a dozen police officers and security guards moving around. Considering the American, British, and French embassies were all within a stone’s throw of each other, AJ was surprised there wasn’t a stronger military presence.
AJ kept scanning the crowd in search of Sex on a Stick in black leather pants and a bad attitude.
Left without options, AJ dialed his phone number on her phone and waited. It rang twice.
Behind him, the riff of “Bad to the Bone,” his ringtone, shot through him. He dropped his hand from his ear and saw a blonde standing three feet away, her back to him.
Slowly she turned.
Sasha stared back at him, wearing white capri pants and a bright floral top. The blonde wig overdid it but completely camouflaged her in broad daylight. She took a step closer, reached out her hand holding his cell. “Hello, AJ.”
They switched phones. “How long have you been standing there?”
“Half an hour, give or take.”
He looked her up and down. She looked like a typical American housewife, minus the kid in the stroller. “Impressive.”
“I wanted to make sure you were alone.”
AJ glanced around at the passing tourists. “Is there a reason behind the cloak-and-dagger?”
She moved closer, lowered her voice. “You’ve come here to look for your sister’s killer. You think there is some connection to Richter. Went so far as to go there asking questions. You’re stalking the local pub and hitting on, not to mention stealing from, the patrons.” Sasha waved her phone in the air before tucking it into her back pocket.
“I’m calling pot to kettle on that last accusation.” Although all the rest she pointed out was spot-on.
“I like to go unnoticed. If someone followed me here, they lost me the second I made the city limits and went clothes shopping.”
“What if someone followed me?”
“Then I would have seen them watching in the thirty minutes you’ve been standing around looking like a lost child without a parent.” She turned and started walking toward the gate.
AJ had no choice but to follow.
“What makes you think anyone is following either of us?”
She smiled, didn’t answer his question. “I used to help your sister on her agility training,” she told him.
The mention of his sister brought his attention back to what he should be focused on. “She wasn’t the most athletic woman.” Amelia took after their mother, who didn’t grow more than five feet five inches tall and had a sweet tooth that always kept her rounder than she’d liked. At least that’s what she’d blame when she went on one of her many diets.
“No. But she held her own most of the time. Everyone at Richter was pushed to do at least that.”
“Her coworkers said she had recently started taking morning walks before work,” AJ said.
“Which explains the police report about her being murdered in the park and tossed in the river.”
AJ stopped walking. “You looked her up.”
“Only because I knew her.”
He jumped in front of her, stopped her from moving. “Then you’ll help me.”
“There is nothing to suggest that Amelia’s death is at all linked to Richter.”
AJ looked over Sasha’s shoulder and noticed a man eating an ice cream cone and staring at Sasha. The middle-aged guy turned his attention away and took a few steps in the opposite direction.
AJ felt eyes, turned to his left.
“What is it?” Sasha asked
“The guy with the ice cream, over your left shoulder.”
She grinned, cocked her head to the side. “We did this last night.”
“Yeah, only I’m not asking you to lay a lip lock on me. Tempting as that might be.” Truth was, he’d thought about that kiss more times than he wanted to admit. “If how you’re dressed is any indication, you’re the expert on all things undercover. You tell me if you feel the weight of someone’s stare.”
Sasha paused, then looked over her shoulder. “That him?” she asked, thumbing toward the guy with the ice cream.
She grabbed AJ’s hand and walked directly toward the guy he thought for sure was watching them.
“What are you doing?”
She didn’t answer. “Excuse me?” Her voice rose a full octave, her smile was sickeningly sweet. Any accent he’d detected from her voice was gone…or changed.
The man with the cone turned toward them. “Yes?”
“Are you American? You look American.”
“I’m, ah, yeah.” The guy looked directly at AJ.
Sasha kept going. “Good. Would you mind taking our picture? I can’t get the gate behind us with a selfie.”
Again the guy offered AJ unblinking eyes. “Ah, sure.” He reached for the phone Sasha was handing him.
Next thing AJ realized, he was standing beside Sasha, her arm slipped around his waist, and he was smiling like all of the other tourists surrounding them while the man he thought was spying on them took their picture.
The stranger holding Sasha’s phone, while trying to balance his ice cream cone, looked completely out of place.
“Take a second one, just in case.” Sasha giggled.
The sound of her voice didn’t suit her. The hand on his waist, however, suited him just fine. The feel of her there, the warmth, the softness he knew she would hate if he pointed it out, felt a little too right.
“Thank you so much.”
The stranger handed her phone back with a nod. “Have fun.”
She waved. “We will, thanks.”
And he was gone.
AJ watched the man slip away as Sasha removed herself from AJ’s side.
He missed her warmth, instantly.
“Any self-preserving spy wouldn’t have made contact,” Sasha told him.
The two of them walked toward the center of the square. “Okay,” AJ started. “Maybe I’m a little paranoid.”
“You’re a lot paranoid.”
AJ paused in the middle of the plaza and stared at the massive horses that sat atop the gate. The image of his sister at Christmas the previous year surfaced. It was the last time he’d seen her alive. “I know Amelia’s death wasn’t random, Sasha. I feel it with every breath I take.”
She sighed. “I know you do.”
He looked at her. “You don’t believe me.”
“I believe you believe.”
He lowered his head, studied the salt-and-pepper colored stones
beneath his feet. “You’re not going to help.” Damn it…he was back to ground zero.
Another heavy sigh from the woman at his side. “I will help you.”
AJ snapped his head up. “What?”
She placed a hand in the air as in warning. “Not because I think you have anything other than grief inside you. The not knowing, or never accepting the facts, can eat you alive.”
Not ground zero. He wanted to kiss her. Not that she would be receptive to that kind of thing. “Why are you doing this?” There wasn’t anything in it for her. Sasha turned away from him and focused her attention on the Brandenburg Gate.
“Because I’m not bored.”