i'm about rollin' a seven when i toss up the dice Who: Chris & Nish. What: Chris gets Nish to repay him a favor. Where: Pax, then...? When: Middle of the workday on a Wednesday. After this thread
Chris had never had such vivid dreams in his life. First the strange one allegedly shared with Daniel, and now this? Something about him being a coyote -- again -- pretending to the be goddamn moon and helping out a bird. For some reason, the bird reminded him of Nish, but he couldn't have said why if his life depended on it. But the fact that the bird owed him, or rather, the coyote, a favor stuck in his head for days afterward. Finally he got up the nerve to text Nish while at work, wondering if she'd be able to help him out. To his somewhat surprise, she said yes.
And now he found himself outside her office, ringing the buzzer until Jessica answered. What he had to say was too sensitive for a phone conversation, much less texting. He hit the buzzer for the third time, probably irritating Nish's secretary, but he couldn't have cared less. Remembering their quick stint in the local county jail, Chris was far too excited to finally have this particular problem off his plate.
Jessica hung up the phone, finally finished the conversation, and hurriedly answered the buzzer. “Barris law,” she said, but she was sure she already knew who it was.
Chris let his smile leak into his voice, leaning in close to the voicebox. "Gonna make me stick by the rules, huh?"
Jessica laughed, recognising the voice. “Come on up, sweetie, she's expecting you.” Unprofessional? Sure, but she'd never been shy about flirting with her favourite of Nish’s clients. Chris didn't linger outside; once the buzzer came through, he pulled the door open and made his way up the short steps to the first office. He offered Jess a hello in person, followed with a wink which she enthusiastically returned, but didn't dally; he continued on into Nish's personal space, knocking somewhat politely on the door before opening it and inviting himself in.
"Hope your day's going better than mine," he started with a sigh, closing the door quietly and carefully behind him before moving to flop down in one of the guest chairs before her desk.
Nish didn't look up from what she was writing. “Jess give you a hard time?” she asked with a smirk. “She'll give you a lot more than that if you let her.” She finished what she was doing and then closed the file and put down her pen. “ So what's up?” she asked, eyeing him as if trying to judge that for herself.
Chris didn't give the barb the time of day. Instead, his hands rubbed palms on the edges of the armrests.
"I've got a favor to ask," he said, blunt. "After seeing your, uh, skill with the county court system, courtesy of Badger's problems, I think you're the solution I've been looking for."
She looked up sharply, meeting his eyes and holding them, full of meaning. The door was closed, they were alone, but still she glanced around as if they'd be overheard. “You've got a lot of nerve,” she said carefully. After a moment, she sat back in her chair, meeting his eyes. “Solution to what?”
"Believe me, I know, but..." Chris met her gaze with equal confidence, his expression thoughtful for a moment. "I wouldn't really talk about this with an outsider, excuse the term, but what you can do is just too perfect of a solution to pass up.
"Besides, I'll owe you one." Except he felt like it was the other way around, despite the fact that she'd already provided one very useful service in the past. He thought of the dream again, the image in his mind strange and obscure, and couldn't help but let a detail slip. "You'd be pretty much pulling the moon out of the sky for me on this, OK? And if you don't want to, once I tell you what it is, that's fine. But if you decide not to, you cannot tell anyone what's been said, all right?"
She'd been looking away as he spoke, promising to keep her...whatever it was...quiet. but then something he said pulled her attention back to him sharply. Or rather, not hers, but the thing inside her.
’Help him,’ it said, leaving no room for argument.
’Do it. I owe him.’
’Trust me.’ She swallowed and looked down at her hand, toying with a piece of paper on her desk.
“What do you need?”
Chris straightened in his chair, sliding forward enough to suddenly be sitting on the seat's edge. His hands came together in front of him, elbows resting on his knees.
"There's no need to beat around the bush. You know what I do, or rather, what I used to do. I'm not as involved in that...business anymore, but I've got...partners, acquaintances who expect me to keep up appearances, right?" He swallowed, fighting to keep his gaze pointed straight to avoid looking even more like he was lying, which he was not. He needed to look confident here, not like he was leaping from the frying pan into the fire. "There's a guy who's been lifting product, and I think he's making waves to start his own business in the middle of what I built. As I'm sure you can surmise, that's not gonna fly. And I'd rather not make a mess of this, at least, not a bigger one than it already is."
He leaned back, arms going to rest on the armrests once more. His pant leg stretched over his brace, but Chris paid it no mind. "I want you, in layman's terms, to tell him to stop."
She listened patiently as he laid it out for her, shifting her eyes away from his at times to think. The voice inside her was alert, listening, plotting, while she became increasingly nervous about what he was suggesting.
“You need to understand,” she began softly, sitting forward with her hands clasped on her desk, “I've never.. used it in this way before. It's always...subtle suggestions, hints. Nudging them in a slightly different direction. Giving someone a direct order...that's different.” The security guard at the courthouse...she had seen how bored he was with his job. She'd gambled, and it had paid off, but those stakes had been low. This could backfire on her in a big way.
’We can do this…’
‘But If it doesn't work…’
“Do you have a plan?” she asked, not saying yes, but not saying no either.
"I have a meeting set up with him later tonight, and I was hoping you could tag along for some conversation." Chris's brows furrowed as he considered what she'd offered. "If I told you more about him, would that help? If it's all in the, ah, phrasing."
She chewed on her lip for a minute, thinking. “It might,” she said, sounding unsure. Then she let out a slight nervous laugh. “I've never actually...planned this in advance before. It was always...unscripted.” Another pause, another grin. “I've never actually talked about this before either. With anyone.” It wasn't until recently that she'd even acknowledged to herself that it was something only she could do. Since she'd moved to California, in fact.
Chris shook his head, the negative motion tempered by the slight smile at the edge of his mouth. "Color me shocked. I guess you should be glad I'm giving you the opportunity?" She smiled softly and tipped her head in a slight nod, although she was still slightly uncomfortable talking about it in the open. He moved again in his seat, resituating himself for the umpteenth time as his gaze fell to her desk, thoughts swirling in his mind.
"Alright, the guy's name is Rodrigo. He's kind of an ass... Supremely overconfident, and I'm fairly certain the idea to start his own thing wasn't his idea. He's just not that smart. He's sarcastic, overly concerned with his appearance... You know, now that I'm saying this out loud, it really makes it look like I don't like him, but that is not what you should be taking away from this conversation." He chewed his bottom lip for a moment. "Does any of that sound like a good place to start?"
She thought for a moment, mulling over the details, and realising she really didn’t need much of it. “You just want me to...suggest it would be better if he kept his hands to himself. But not to leave the business?” She thought it might be better for Chris if she had the guy quit his job and go elsewhere, easier, but this was about what he wanted, not her.
“I’ll need to get him alone,” she added as an afterthought, “other people...might pick up that something’s not right.” She quirked an eyebrow at him in a slight smile. That was, after all, how she’d gotten into this in the first place.
Chris nodded. "Yeah. I don't need him gone, I just...need him quiet. He needs to stop getting ideas, whoever's feeding them to him, and frankly this is just neater than getting rid of him permanently." He was fairly sure he didn't need to describe what that meant to Nish. "I don't know how many he's got on his side, and I'd rather avoid a bloodbath if I can. I'll see what I can do about getting you two alone; that part won't be easy, but it depends on how many people he brings with him. If I can't leave you with him alone, does that make this a moot proposition?"
She frowned, “I’ll just have to get creative.” She may need to lure him away if he brings others. She hated that idea, but…
’But you’ll do it anyway,’ it said.
’I’m not a whore,’ she protested angrily. The voice laughed.
’You don’t need to be...you don’t have to actually do anything, but there’s no reason for you not to make him think you did…’ Her eyebrows rose at that...the thought hadn’t actually occurred to her.
“Does he have a wife? Girlfriend?” she asked, trying not to give away what she was thinking with her expression.
Chris side-eyed her for a moment, then shrugged. "Not that I know of, no. Why, is that... Oh." Realization dawned on him, albeit a moment too late. She raised her eyebrows, daring him to say something derogatory about her intentions. "If that helps, I mean..." He shrugged. "We'll figure this out. So I take it that you're available tonight, then? Pencil me in around 6. We can meet back at Pax, and I'll drive."
“Yeah,” she said, maybe a touch of bitterness in her voice. ’No, I don’t have any plans tonight, which happens to be one of the nights I usually have dinner with Rafe, thank you for pointing that out.’
’That’s not his fault,’ the voice said, actually trying to soothe her for once.
’Doesn’t make it hurt any less.’
She sighed, nodded. “I’ll be there.”
* * *
Chris was waiting in the lobby at approximately the time he'd described, swiping through his phone as he waited for Nish to appear. Stephan was lingering behind his desk, same as ever, and leaned onto his elbows as he watched Chris kill time.
"Plans for this evening?"
Chris looked up, warily watching the man before finally nodding. He crossed the lobby and came to lean against the concierge desk. "A friend. You?"
Stephan waved his hands above the desk, smiling dryly. "Mine is but to do and die, Mr. Rodriguez. You all keep me very busy."
"That's disappointing." He fell quiet for a moment. "You know, I think I've got a book you'd be interested in..."
Nish had debated for about an hour on what to wear. Jeans and a t-shirt seemed too casual, a dress seemed too classy, another dress seemed too trashy. She finally went with dressy jeans and a light flowy top that she hoped made her look the part of a friend just out for a few drinks and not at all a lawyer and some sort of secret weapon.
’Admit it, it’s kind of fun to think of yourself that way,” the voice joked as she rode down in the elevator. She rolled her eyes but didn’t reply, because she kind of had to admit to herself that it was.
Stepping out, she spotted Chris and smiled, though there was a hint of nervousness behind it. She nodded to Stephan as she approached, looking down at herself again and back up to Chris. “Is this alright?” she asked. She wasn’t exactly sure what kind of meeting this was going to be, but didn’t want to be too much one way or the other. She just didn’t want to stick out as a professional anything.
Chris took careful and clinical account of Nish's dress, his look over her body anything but sexual. He nodded.
"Yeah, that'll work just fine. Let's go." He nodded a farewell to Stephan, minimizing his limp as much as possible as they walked toward Pax's singular entrance and exit. He held the door open for her; once they were outside, he started to detail the outline of a plan. "OK, so, here's the setup. You're a potential customer, looking for snow. I'm connecting you with Rodrigo, and I think two of his boys might be there. I think this'll give you enough of an opportunity to be alone with him, but no promises. He's gotten... He's a little more paranoid as of late. Not entirely sure why, but what I told you earlier in your offices is probably one big reason."
She listened carefully, nodding a few times to show she understood. A drug deal. Great. She’d been in more than a few of them in her time, though she doubted he had any idea of that. “Alright...he already knows I’m coming?” she asked, following him to his car and getting in the passenger side. She felt naked, not having brought her purse or her wallet or anything with her name on it, in case she was searched. She had a wad of cash in her pocket, which would be expected, but that was it. Not even her cellphone. She was nervous, but not for what she was about to do, just for being so uncharacteristically vulnerable. She was, quite plainly, completely at Chris’ mercy.
’He won’t let us down, you can trust him.’
‘How do you know that?’ she finally asked, having enough with the cryptic orders. There was a pause.
‘I just do.’
“Where are we meeting him?” she asked, looking out the window and clasping her hands between her thighs to hide her nerves. She was clean, she had been for years. She was now about to participate in a drug deal. This did not sit well with her.
"Huntington," he replied, starting the car and pulling out of the parking lot. "It'll be a quick drive. We're going to the pier, near Ruby's Diner. It'll be dark by then. They've got a small surf shop there, they do deals out of the back." He glanced at her, noting the rigid posture of her back, arms, and legs. They came to a stoplight.
"It'll be quick, I mean, as long as you make it quick. You do this kind of thing all the time in a courtroom. Just think of it like that, right?" His hands sat in a relaxed posture at six and four, gaze moving from the stoplights to her face. In opposition to her stiffness, he looked as though they were going out for ice cream, or maybe even a new couple out on an early date. "You can handle this, right? Because now is the time to change your mind, Nish."
She pulled her eyes away from the traffic, looking at him instead. She forced a smile, forced her body to relax into the seat. “Yeah,” she said, and it sounded fake even to her. “Yeah, it’s fine,” she tried again, sounding a little more confident, thinking fast to come up with something to say. “Just...if something goes wrong I could lose my licence over this,” she lied.
’It’s not a lie…’
’It’s not the truth, either.’
“It’s fine,” she repeated, “in and out.” She looked back out the window, watching the pier coming closer.
Chris's head bobbed in agreement. "Yeah, focus on that. And we can get some In 'n Out afterward," he grinned, though the smile didn't fully reach his eyes. She chuckled, and it might have sounded nervous. They drove in silence for fifteen minutes, the CA-1 clear of late night commuter traffic. Chris turned off at the right exit, pulling the car to a stop in a parking lot just outside the marina slash boardwalk where Main St. extended right off the turf and into the surf, propelled forward for nearly a half mile before ending abruptly at the popular diner.
Climbing out of the car, he waited until Nish had exited and closed the door before locking it with a chipper beep from his key fob. He slid both hands into his pants pockets, rounding around the vehicle to walk with Nish up the street and to the sidewalk. Nish crossed her arms over her chest, the wind coming off the ocean fluttering her shirt around her a little.
"You ever been out here before?" She shook her head.
“No, not until now,” she said, looking around herself and following him towards the diner.
’And you never will again, right?’ the voice warned, though she ignored it and looked out towards the beach.
“Do you ever want to just...be done with all of this?” she asked casually, not intending to, but now not able to take it back. She glanced at him, but her eyes shifted away from him towards their destination just as casually, trying not to make him feel put on the spot.
He didn't answer immediately, instead glancing down at the concrete. His voice was quiet when he finally did.
"I am," he said. "I'm trying to. It's not something you can just submit a resignation letter for." He stopped himself there, his face impassive but clearly either not ready or too scared to say more, as though he might jinx whatever he was doing to remove himself from the problem. "Are you happy, with the law work?"
She smiled bitterly. “If you’d asked me that a week ago, I would have said yes,” she confessed. She paused, wondering how much she should share, and then kept walking. “The State has me defending a case that...well, let’s just say that’s not why I chose to practice law.” She looked up, away. “Some people are just evil.”
"The whole point is guilty until proven otherwise, in a court of law, isn't it?" Chris looked over at her, as they crested a hill that led onto the boardwalk proper. She nodded, looking down at her feet as they walked. The ground under their feet changed from stone to thick, wooden slabs, the sound of water sloshing between them as the ocean slowly chipped away at wide pillars. "Evil is a point of view. I'm not defending whoever you're talking about, I'm just saying we have the system for a reason. Otherwise, we'd all be in a steaming pile of shit as everyone took what they could for themselves. It takes a certain kind of person to stand up for the one being accused. In a way, it's brave." She took a deep breath and sighed it out slowly, the revulsion and nausea from what was in her file back at her office rising again.
“Not from where I’m standing,” she said. “I hear what you’re saying, but…” she chewed her lip, looking up at the stars on the horizon. “The evidence is there. He didn’t even try to deny it to me. I’m defending a monster.” It was too much. She shouldn’t be saying any of this to anyone. It was a serious breach of confidentiality. And she didn’t give a shit. “I’m done. After this case...I’m done with public defender work. I can’t do it anymore.”
Chris nodded. "It's definitely not a line of work people often dedicate their lives to. You've done what you could, and you're seeing him through due process. No-one expects more of you than that." The words were spoken with an honest earnestness that he wanted to believe it was true. He didn't know her background, if there was family or some other higher purpose behind her work. She nodded, but turned her face away, swallowing back the bile rising in her throat
They were reaching the halfway mark on the pier, only a few handful of steps away from their goal. He nodded toward one dimly-lit shop, titled Rip Surf Shop. "That's the place. You ready for this?"
She looked ahead to the shop they now stood in front of and nodded. “Yeah,” she said, actually meaning it this time. After what they'd just been talking about, this seemed ridiculously easy now. She dug her hands onto her pockets, one wrapping around the wad of bills she'd brought with her. “Lead the way.”
Chris did not dally. He led them both toward the surf shack, holding the door open for Nish to enter first, before following and taking the lead himself. The shop looked mostly empty, as though closed for the night, but Chris moved through the space like he was familiar with it. As they got to the back, a dark haired, tawny-skinned man intercepted them.
"It's just me, Lewis," Chris said, smiling broadly at the newcomer.
"Chris! Who's this cute little thing?" Lewis gave Nish a once-over, his brows and wide eyes indicating his favor.
"The client I brought to see Rodrigo. Are you gonna be rude and keep us waiting, or what?"
Lewis shook his head. "Naw, I can be polite. But you and I," he said, speaking directly to Nish, "should exchange digits. I think we could have a real good party." Nish’s eyebrows rose, looking over Lewis like he was completely out of her league. And not in a good way.
Chris rolled his eyes. "Just take us to the back, Lewis. Think you could keep it in your pants for one night."
Lewis chuckled, and then waved the pair to follow him into the back. Two men were sitting around a table, on which rested a briefcase and a game of cards. The two men rose, one smiling and holding his arms out wide to greet Chris in Spanish. The two exchanged pleasantries, the stranger gesturing at Nish in inquiry. Chris nodded, then quickly changed back to English.
"Yeah, this is her. Nish, this is Rodrigo, Rodrigo, this is Nish." He kept to her nickname only, and did not supply full names for either. Rodrigo was an easy looking sort, dark hair and skin telling his Latin heritage like a neon billboard. He smiled wide, extending a hand in Nish's direction. Just as Chris had said, his hair was neatly slicked back, only a few strands falling boyishly into his face. His skin was smooth, his clothes neat and well tailored to his athletic physique. Chris looked pale and small standing next to him, his face smiling and yet looking grim.
"Nice to meet you," he said, his voice husky as his Spanish accent flavored his words. "I understand we're going to do some business?"
’Gods, he's hot…’
’Then this shouldn't be too hard…’
“Hi,” she said, smiling sweetly and attempting to appear shy and vulnerable. She glanced at the other guy and then back at Rodrigo. “Could we..maybe go somewhere...more private?” she asked, adding a subtle push into her words. He blinked, and then leered at her in a way that made her skin crawl a little, and he led her away just out of sight.
Once there he pushed her against the wall, taking her lips with his and invading her mouth with his tongue. She allowed it, even enjoyed it a little, but just long enough for him to smudge her makeup.
She pushed him away from her, but just far enough so she could speak. “What do you have?” she asked breathlessly. He pulled out a bag of powder to show her, and it was much more than she was expecting. She stared at it for just a second too long.
’Nish...in and out…’
She reached down for it, but he pulled it just out of reach. “Now what do you have for me?” he asked, leaning in to her. She turned her head, pressing her cheek to his so she could whisper in his ear.
“You are going to give me that bag of blow in your hand,” she said with steady confidence, “and you're going to tell your friend out there that I gave you the best blowjob you've ever had.” There was a pause, and then his hand released the bag into her hand. Test successful. “Good boy,” she grinned, slipping the bag deep into her pocket.
“Now you're going to chicken out of your plans to undermine Chris and suddenly decide it's too risky to keep skimming product.” A pause, a slight confused nod. “You’re going to tell your friends who are in on it with you that it was a stupid idea, because Chris has eyes everywhere, and you will suddenly lose all ambition for advancement because you're afraid of getting caught.” She stepped back and looked into his glazed eyes, and suddenly some of the pride melted from his features.
’Good girl,’ she heard, filling her with sudden pride and confidence. ’And?’
She held Rodrigo’s eyes a second longer, and then dug in her pocket for the cash and handed it to him. It would be too suspicious if he had nothing to show for at least part of what she took from him. “Forget my face,” she commanded finally, and then turned and left him there.
She came around the corner, smiled at Chris and then at the other guy, Rodrigo following her a pace behind and stumbling slightly with a grin on his face. “Let's go,” she said. She didn't look back.
Chris glanced from her to Rodrigo and back again, his face asking the question he could not speak aloud. He glanced at Lewis and the other, nameless man who'd been left waiting.
"It's all good, Rod?" Lewis asked, and Rodrigo answered with a half-hearted nod. He seemed to try to puff himself up, slapping half of a smirk on his face.
"Yeah, man, it's all fine. This chick has an amazing mouth, if you know what I mean." Lewis returned the grin, looking to Chris and the other man. Nish smirked to herself and looked away from them, hoping they wouldn’t catch it. Chris rolled his eyes, taking a step away from the men crowding around each other to congratulate Rodrigo on his score.
"If our business is concluded, I have to get this one home before she turns into a pumpkin."
"Aw, c'mon, Chris. You never play cards anymore," Lewis responded, motioning at the table. Chris merely shrugged.
"That's because some of us actually have shit to do, Lewis. I'll see you guys this weekend."
Rodrigo provided no obstacle, obviously folding in on himself as depressed thoughts trod through his head. Chris moved closer to Nish's side, encouraging her toward the door they'd come through. "We'll show ourselves out. Don't enjoy yourselves too much, now. You know what Mr. Duncan will say."
A chorus of laughter met Chris's chiding. "Yeah, we know what your padre would say, Cristobal. Don't get high and mighty on us, now. And don't forget to bring the beer this weekend!"
Chris winced, hoping Nish wouldn't connect any dots, and did not reply as they exited out of the surf shop store room into the shop proper. He focused solely on getting through the racks of clothing and out into the night air, putting enough distance between them and the man they'd just attempted to brainwash.
Nish was smirking in a self-satisfied way, still high on her success with Rodrigo, while Chris chatted with the other guy...Lewis? She hadn’t actually thought it would work, and now all sorts of possibilities were presenting themselves to her. She could use it for so many other things, make life so much easier -
’Don’t get cocky,’ the voice warned her.
’Why the hell not? That was amazing…’
’There are limits. You need to control yourself.’
’But why? Why should I ever do anything I don’t want to do if I can make people do what I tell them?’
’Don’t. Push it,’ it warned, a hint of worry tainting its commanding tone.
“What’s this weekend?” she asked Chris as they exited the shop. She hadn’t been paying much attention to what they were saying, but that seemed to stick out to her.
"Nothing," Chris replied quickly, his hands in his pockets as his limp was exacerbated by his attempted quick step. Once they were outside the building, he slowed, the echoing steps against the boardwalk wood lost amid the sound of surf hitting sand.
"So it worked? You're sure it worked?" He didn't stop, but his gaze bore into Nish's face with a harsh intensity that looked for any trace of a lie. She smirked again, looking ahead of them, but not at him.
“Trust me, he’s been neutered,” she smirked, “he’s kind of afraid of you now,” she added with a chuckle. Her fingers wrapped around the bag in her pocket, a slight stab of fear filling her at the possibilities. She was about to say something else, a casual quip about Rodrigo and what the poor guy was sure had just happened, when she heard other words coming out of her mouth that weren’t hers. “We’re even now, moon boy,” the voice said with her mouth. She blinked, surprised, not understanding what exactly that meant. She finally met his eyes, confusion plain in hers.
Chris stopped dead, his face paling even further beyond his natural coloring.
"What did you say?" She stopped too, looking at him, her brows drawing together.
“I said it’s been taken care of,” she said carefully, hoping he’d drop it, but sure he wouldn’t. Inside, the voice was silent, but it was watchful. Almost like it wanted him to figure it out.
Some realization drew itself across Chris's face, but he let the topic drop. He started forward, his pace slow both because of his disability and because he was waiting for Nish to follow.
"So what really happened back there?" He arched a brow in her direction as they moved toward the parking lot and the car. "I assume you didn't really go down on him." She grinned, somewhat relieved that he didn’t push his earlier line of questioning, though another part of her was disappointed.
“He certainly thinks I did,” she said, crossing her arms as they walked. She tilted her head back a little with a satisfied smile. “I’ve never done that before, it’s...well, kind of a rush. I can’t believe that worked.” She looked at him, eyes full of mirth, and something...else. Something dangerous.
Chris shook his head, relief flooding his features. "I don't know if I should be glad or worried that you haven't used your powers for evil, yet. I don't want to be the one to turn you to a life of crime, so be sure to keep my name out of the papers, OK?" He chuckled softly, honestly believing that one less weight was hanging off of him now. She laughed too, but it was a little more guarded; she wasn’t quite sure she was ready to make that kind of promise.
They crossed the boardwalk, moving a little faster than they had when arriving. "Seriously, though, you're not gonna start running amuck with this, right?" He leveled a more serious look at her, trying to gauge her reaction. She looked back at him, her smile fading slightly.
“You really think I would do that?” she asked him, though she herself was in doubt. It had been...too much fun. And she was a dangerous person when she was having fun, she always had been. A sudden wave of fear caught her attention.
’Careful, Nish,’ she heard, ’don’t be stupid.’
"No," he offered. "But I've been wrong about people before." He fell quiet, their path finally reaching the pavement of the parking lot. "So are you still up for In 'n Out? I could go for a chocolate milkshake right now."
“Sure,” she said, opening the passenger door when they reached the car. Then she paused, grinning at him. “Want me to see if I can get it for free?” she asked with a wicked little grin. “Kidding,” she added, then got in and buckled up.