A One Shot
VFFC10: My Funny Valentine by Frank Sinatra
Elizabeth Webber and vacations did not mix.
First, there had been the trip where she went out west, intending to view as many of the important national landmarks as she could before capping the week off with a two-day stay in Vegas to relax, splurge, and rejuvenate herself before heading back to work. She had planned to see Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, The Grand Canyon, and anything else that appealed while driving through the great plain states. However, before she could even gaze upon the faces of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, tornadoes had struck, and she had been stuck in her South Dakota hotel room for a solid week – no cable, no electricity, no hot water.
The next year she had foregone any impulse to visit the middle of the country. She wanted sun, surf, and lazy days on the beach. Knowing better than to tempt the fate of a hurricane after her previous year's vacation, Elizabeth, instead, headed towards the Texas coast, Galveston to be exact, and, if she managed to swing by The Southfork Ranch on her way back to Dallas to catch her flight out of the Lonestar state, she wouldn't have argued such an impulse. However, during that particular week of that particular year, the usually predictable hurricanes bypassed Florida and headed directly towards Elizabeth. Seven days later, she left Texas with hair so big and frizzy, thanks to the humidity and high winds, beauty pageant contestants looked at her strangely.
Her third solo vacation as an adult saw Elizabeth heading towards Los Angeles. She had wanted to shop, go dancing, gaze for stars... of the Hollywood variety not of the celestial, because everybody, including Colorado born, D.C. immigrant Elizabeth Webber, knows that all a person can see when they look towards the sky in L.A. is smog. California wasn't known for its tornadoes or its hurricanes, but she felt relatively safe. Sure, there were earthquakes and mudslides, but she felt secure that celebrities simply wouldn't allow Beverly Hills to be bothered by such things. Unfortunately, though, she forgot about forest fires and spent her entire vacation being evacuated from one hotel into another and fearing she'd wake up a piece of fried tourist the next morning when she went to sleep at night.
Needless to say, she was done with exotic or even mildly interesting getaways. Instead, she was focusing on survival. With that thought in mind, she scheduled her vacation for the middle of February, took off for upstate New York, and decided to crash with her Grams for a week. Sure, such a trip wasn't grand or even very exciting, but the weather was too cold that winter for even snow to fly, and, if nothing else, if disaster somehow managed to strike Elizabeth's plans once again, Audrey Hardy was as cool as a cucumber under pressure. Hell, her grandmother was a nurse, and she had more canned good provisions than all of the Pennsylvania Dutch country combined.
However, she was also notoriously staid and boring. True, Elizabeth went to her in an attempt to make sure that she returned to her home and work in one piece at the end of her seven day vacation, but that didn't mean that she wanted to spend all her time emulating the social calendar at the local geriatric facility. For three days, Audrey had been attempting to teach her how to cook, how to crochet, showing her all the family photo albums and scrap books to the point where Elizabeth had ruined four casserole dishes, burning them beyond repair or recognition, ended up needing three stitches in her left hand, and thought for a moment, when she groggily looked in the mirror that morning, that she had suddenly turned into her Grandpa Steve. Her eyes were that used to seeing his face now instead of her own.
So, before Audrey could rise and shine at a chipper six a.m. like always, Elizabeth had slipped out of the house and ran away into downtown Port Charles. She had breakfast in the park – a cranberry and orange muffin with a cup of hot chocolate, staying there and relishing the peace and quiet until she could no longer feel her keister. She window shopped, really shopped, and then window shopped some more when it became apparent that her cost-effective vacation had, in an afternoon, been transformed into anything but. She visited all the local galleries, took in a movie, and felt like an urchin while she had dinner by herself at the nicest restaurant in town. Finally, after making sure that she consumed every last scrumptious crumb of chocolate cake on her dessert plate, Elizabeth, bags of purchases weighing her down, hailed a cab and requested to be taken to the most happening, trendiest hot spot Port Charles had to offer.
She was dropped off at a ratty dive bar.
Oh, Jake's wasn't that bad. In fact, it was the kind of beer joint Elizabeth often went to with her co-workers Friday night after they all left the office, but it was not what she had in mind. She wanted fancy, over-priced drinks, swirling, twirling lights, and a dance floor big enough to get lost in; what she got was a jukebox, pool tables and darts, and a dance floor no one would be caught dead on. The place was crowded, though, that much she had to hand to the cabbie, and, by the looks of the crowd, people from all walks of life frequented the establishment – doctors, lawyers, cops, teachers, low life scumbags. Hell, she'd even seen her Gram's mailman sitting at the bar when she first walked in.
That had been over and hour before, though, and, now, with her bags of clothes, shoes, and home accessories littering the otherwise empty opposite seat of her dark and shadowed booth, Elizabeth simply sipped her cherry coke. It wasn't the dance club she was imagining, but it also wasn't her grandmother's living room and the scheduled diet of crappy game shows followed by nightly news programs that Audrey seemed to subscribe to on a daily basis. Plus, she had always enjoyed people watching – studying strangers and creating a story for them in her mind. It was just one of the reasons Elizabeth believed herself to be good at her job.
There had been one man in particular that she had been following with her intense yet discreet... she hoped... gaze all night. He was relatively tall, especially when compared to her less than Guinness Book of World Records height, well built, and good looking, but she had seen cute guys before; that wasn't what attracted her attention. Rather, it was his self-assurance, the way he carried himself and the way that everyone in the bar made way for him whenever he moved. The bartender regularly brought him a new beer, making sure that his drink was constantly refreshed without having to be asked to do so, the other patrons immediately vacated the pool table so the confident man could claim it, and even the conversations surrounding the guy seemed to dim and quiet in deference to his obvious lack of interest in socializing himself.
So, when he abandoned his game of pool and started walking her way, Elizabeth froze in her assessment, pretending to rummage through her purse, and waited to see if he would confront her about her voyeuristic ways. But he didn't. Instead, he settled into the booth situated behind her own and, mere seconds later, placed a call. Wrong or not, she listened in to his side of the conversation. Though the secure stranger said little, what he said was enlightening.
"Did everything arrive?" Pause. "What do you mean the shipment was incomplete? We're on a time crunch here. It all has to arrive at its destination no later than the 13th. If our clients do not have their product by Valentine's Day..." The threat was left open ended, but Elizabeth had no problem filling in the blanks. Heads will roll. Your ass will be grass. It'll make 1929 Chicago look like a fucking friendship bracelet party. "No, that's fine. I'll go down myself. I'll have a look, make some calls... This is one of the most important shipments we send out all year. Nothing can mess this up."
She wasn't sure what it was about the man's words, his voice, his aura that screamed gangster, but Elizabeth knew she was dealing with a mafioso. Maybe it was some form of innate instincts, or, perhaps, her coworker's abilities were finally starting to rub off on her. Whatever the reason, though, she knew that Mr. I'm-the-Shit-of-Jake's-Bar, Bow-Before-Me was up to no good. Glancing around the dark, dank interior of the tavern, she tried to locate one of the cops she had seen earlier, but they all seemed to have left. Only non-judicial innocent citizens remained.
She had two options. One, she could make a discreet phone call, tip off the cops or call her office and ask for them to send one of their locally placed guys over, but, by the time somebody actually arrived to help her, to listen to her knowledge, and follow up on her lead, the guy behind her would be gone, off to do who knows what and to cause who knew how much destruction and mayhem. She couldn't allow that to happen, so that left Elizabeth with her second option. She would tail him herself.
Surprisingly, it wasn't as hard as she thought it would be. After gathering her bags, she went outside, hailed a cab, and simply remained sitting in it, racking up a charge while she waited for the stranger to vacate the bar. He did so after only ten minutes. Once he flew out of the parking lot, actually driving a motorcycle in February, meaning he was either very dumb or very hairy underneath his leather and jeans, she instructed her driver to discreetly follow the bike. Their trip was short, the man only drove a few blocks, and, by the time he parked his ride and entered a surprisingly large and legitimate looking warehouse, she had asked the cabbie to wait for her to either return or call out for help, in which case he was to dial 911 and get the hell out of dodge, taking her packages for payment.
Elizabeth nearly gasped out loud when she slipped inside the humongous structure. It was chock full of wooden crates, all of them stamped and headed for Saudi Arabia. Back at the bar, she thought she was dealing with drugs, but now she wondered if she had accidentally (sort of on purpose) stumbled upon one of the biggest illegal weapons deals the FBI had ever seen. The only thing that saved her from revealing her presence was the fact that, when she opened her mouth, the cold air and wind snapped her voice up, eroding and sucking it away.
Licking her dry hips, her lungs felt cool and brittle, making it difficult to breathe, and Elizabeth struggled with what she should do next. If there had been any sign that the warehouse had more than the one man inside of it, she told herself that, as she ran past crate after crate of munition contraband, she would have called for back up, but the stranger was alone, the same pressure of time hung over her head, and just once she wanted to be the visible hero. It was vain and selfish, but Elizabeth could only imagine the coup of returning to work after nailing such a scumbag criminal while staying with her elderly grandmother on vacation.
Suddenly, the self-assured man from the bar loomed ahead, bent over a crate, inspecting the goods within, and Elizabeth stropped her forward progress, reached inside her duffel of a purse, and removed the only weapon she carried. Positioning it smoothly in front of her, arms out stretched, she braced her feet, rolled back her shoulders, and tipped her chin up to a haughty, poised level before yelling, "turn around, put your hands in the air, and don't try any funny stuff, buster."
Astonishing, the stranger did as he was told, but all of Elizabeth's bravado vanished when she noticed he was snickering. "Buster," he questioned, zeroing his intense, electric gaze upon her. "Really?"
"Hey, a woman doesn't make an arrest everyday, you know. Criticize my vocabulary again, and I'll spray you without just cause." To solidify her threat, she menacingly shook her can of yellow jacket spray in the guy's direction.
"What's with the weapon of choice?"
"It's cost effective, more so than pepper spray," Elizabeth answered, surprised that she was actually volunteering information. After all, he was the perp, not her; he should be talking while she did the questioning.
"They don't give them to agents who aren't in the field."
Her response obviously shocked him. She watched as his gaze widened, and his fine, sandy brows lifted before he shuttered the emotion, once again becoming expressionless. "You're a Fed?"
"Well, if you're not a field agent, what do you do, E?"
"'E,'" she asked nervously. Did he know who she was? Had he actually been following her, the gangster setting her up after discovering an FBI employee was in his town, luring her into a trap to do who knows what to her in order make a statement against law enforcement even thinking about taking him down?
Responding to her question, he nodded and said, "your necklace."
"Hey, eyes on the face, buckaroo!"
Again, he chuckled, and, before she could stop herself, Elizabeth grimaced at her choice of words. "Your neck's close to your face."
"It's also close to another part of my anatomy you have no business looking at." When he didn't respond, she replied, "ever seen Alias?"
"Alias... the television show. Jennifer Garner, Michael Vartan, Victor..."
"I don't watch TV."
"Oh." Rolling her eyes, because it would just figure that a gangster wouldn't have good taste when it came to his pop culture obsessions, Elizabeth explained. "Well, anyway, Alias was CIA, but what I do for the FBI is design costumes. I arrange for new hair, make up, clothes in order to give undercover agents entirely new looks for their, well, aliases. I also reconstruct scenes, research furniture, paint schemes, knickknacks. Basically, if it's anything cosmetic, that's my department." It had been a strange road, one she, looking back, certainly couldn't have predicted or really have even fathomed for herself, from waitressing, to art school, to studying interior design, to dropping out and going back to waitressing, and then finally to the FBI thanks to a helpful recommendation from her brother, but Elizabeth liked her job, she was good at it, and, more importantly, it wasn't boring and had absolutely nothing to do with the medical field.
Interrupting her thoughts, the man adjacent from her crossed his arms over his chest, the leather of his jacket creaking because of the cold, and narrowed his bright, inspective eyes as he asked, changing the subject, "under what grounds are you arresting me?"
"You name it, you're going down for it. Smuggling. Illegal arms dealing. Racketeering. Bad fashion sense. Oh, and the rear left turn signal light is out on your bike, too."
When he took a step towards her, she waved her can of yellow jacket spray in his direction, but he never wavered. Finally, when they were standing less than a foot apart, the stranger stopped, looked down upon her upraised face, and inquired, "just what exactly do you think I have in these crates, E?"
"I already told you... sort of. Illegal weapons that you're planning to smuggle out of the country and sell to the highest bidder, which, in this case, I already know is Saudi Arabia."
When he smirked, her own confidence started to lessen, but then he said, "go ahead. Take a look," and she, once more, was back to knowing without a doubt that the stranger was up to no good.
"Ha! You'd like that, wouldn't you? What, do you have these crates wired to explode if anyone approaches them besides you?"
"If I did, I wouldn't be a very good weapons smuggler, because burn to death. This many crates containing that many weapons in such a small space? This whole building would go up." He had a good point, but she knew, whatever he was up, it had to be a trick. So, instead of doing as he suggested, Elizabeth held her ground... and her can of yellow jacket spray. "Fine, if you won't look for yourself, I'll show you what I'm smuggling to Saudi Arabia."
Elizabeth was so caught up in the fact that he admitted to wrong doing that she barely noticed him leave his spot, return to the crate he had been previously rummaging through, and come back with what appeared to be a card in his hand. He held it out to her, and she begrudgingly accepted it, opening the Hallmark missive without tearing her gaze away from his grinning, smug countenance. The sound of Frank Sinatra's "My Funny Valentine" greeted her in the otherwise still and silent warehouse.
"What the..." Lowering her eyes from the stranger's face, Elizabeth dropped them to her own hand and found that her previous guess had not been wrong. He had handed her a card. Once the recorded portion of the song came to a stop, she looked back up, only to stumble and stutter over her words. "You... But I don't... I... What the hell is going on here?"
"Religious police in Saudi Arabia ban the sale of all Valentine's Day items, because they view the holiday as being Christian."
"It's Hallmark and Hersey's," she countered.
"Yeah, tell that to the Saudi police. Anyway," the still gratingly confident man continued, "of course, the ban made things like cards, roses, and chocolate sold in red, heart shaped boxes even more popular, so there's a black market there for the items."
"So, you're not smuggling weapons?"
"Only those against teeth."
"And you're actually kind of doing a good thing?"
"For a really impressive profit."
"And you're not a gangster," Elizabeth asked, needing to clarify just one more last point.
The stranger didn't answer her, though. Instead, he simply said, "keep the card. I have plenty, and, if you want, I'll even agree to a trade: that can of yellow jacket spray for a box of imported Belgian chocolates. As you already know from my phone call that you eavesdropped on earlier, the red roses haven't come in yet, so..."
Frank was singing again, a box of candy was being shoved into her hand, and the man from the bar was ushering her quickly out of the warehouse doors. "Wait," Elizabeth protested, yelling over her shoulder as her boot clad feet hustled across the building's concrete floors. "You avoided my last question. You didn't say whether or not you were a..."
Suddenly, there were outside, the door was shut and locked behind them, she could see her cab driver still sitting anxiously and waiting for her to return, and she was pressed up against the warehouse, the stranger leaning towards but not directly on top of her. "What's the E stand for," he queried, interrupting her rapidly flowing words.
She immediately gulped, licked her bottom lip, and felt the pace of her breathing hitch up several notches. Without thought, she answered, "Elizabeth."
"Hm... I like it. I'm Jason, by the way. You're not from here, are you, Elizabeth?"
Did she really stick out so much like a sore thumb? Did she have tourist stamped across her forehead? She didn't have an accent, did she? Or maybe... Maybe the Harley driving, leather weather Cupid before her was notorious in Port Charles and everybody knew who he was unless they weren't from that part of the state... or even that part of the country. This time biting her lip, she replied, "D.C.."
Astonishing her even further, Jason reached out and twisted a lock of her hair around his right index finger, allowing it to curl naturally around his joint. Whispering softly, he murmured, his gaze fixated on her mouth, "funny valentine, sweet comic valentine, you make me smile with my heart."
Elizabeth was in trouble while on vacation... again.
It wasn't a tornado.
It wasn't a hurricane.
And it wasn't a forest fire.
Rather, she was pretty sure she was falling in love, and love was the most destructive natural phenomena known to man.
Even while she leaned in closer towards the handsome, smug, self-assured, important question dodging stranger, towards Jason, Elizabeth silently cursed another man in her head.
To her dying day, she'd blame the legendary singer for the trouble she found herself in that night.
And then Jason kissed her, and, suddenly, she only had room in her mind, in her heart, in her soul for one pair of blue eyes... and they definitely weren't Mr. Sinatra's.