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Blood red lipstick, a hot pair of heels and a sweet little .38 Specialthese were Ellie Jameson's favorite weapons.
She strode down the long corridor, metal briefcase in hand, her black skirt swishing at her knees over a pair of stiletto boots. Up ahead, through the door, she could hear the voices of the students waiting for her. Waiting to learn the wisdom she had to impart.
She liked to think of herself as a modern girl Sun Tzu, teaching The Art of War as it applied to women in the twenty-first century. Waging War, Offensive Strategies, Weaknesses and Strengths these would not have been inappropriate names for her courses. But the powers that be at Vegas Top Models and Talent lacked vision when it came to course titles. So as much as it annoyed her to admit it, Ellie was about to act the fearless leader of the mundanely named Makeup 101.
Other people probably didn't see her makeup artist and instructor position at the second-rate modeling school as a chance to teach young women about the art of modern warfare. But those same people weren't the ones who had to endure talking a bunch of self-centered girls through proper application of lip liner, bronzer and an array of other baffling but necessary beauty products. Those same people also weren't the ones who had to pretend they took seriously their students' modeling dreams, when really, Ellie couldn't think of a more senseless career.
So she did what she could with the resources she had. She believed in the power of transformation having been forced to transform herself more than a few times in her life. And she believed that a woman's most useful skills were her ability to think and her ability to wield her sex appeal like a machete.
These were the most valuable lessons she'd learned from her mother, and she could, at least, teach a little of that to her starry-eyed students. Whether they wanted to listen or not.
Still, she harbored the urge to put her more lethal training to good use.
As she switched hands on her makeup case, she secretly loved the way the shiny silver number looked as if it might contain more conventional weapons than a full array of MAC cosmetics.
Sometimes she liked to imagine herself as an undercover agent, disguised as an everyday working girl, on her way to extract information from some gorgeous but despicable criminal by whatever means necessary.
Ellie, admittedly, had an overactive imagination. Of course, thanks to her unconventional up-bringing, she actually had the necessary skills to bring down those despicable criminals should the need arise. Her skill with a semiautomatic rifle was at least as impressive as her skill at eliminating under-eye circles with concealer.
Sadly, the corridors that housed Vegas Top Models and Talent provided little opportunity to use her more lethal skills. No, the white office buildinga boxy thing with big square windows tinted metallic brownlocated five blocks off the strip, was void of threat or peril. Unless one considered dodging wannabe models toppling from stilettos or ducking brandished mascara wands particularly treacherous. Ellie did not.
So her .38 Special stayed tucked away in her nightstand, under an issue of Cosmo, brought out only for an occasional pose in front of the mirror Charlie's Angels style. And her Remington assault riflea graduation gift from her fatherhadn't seen the inside of a gun range for target practice in over a year.
When had her life become so, well, boring? When had she given up on becoming the kick-ass superheroine she often fantasized about being? For all her attempts to inject strategy and thrills into her job, it was still a dull position. Somewhere along the way, she'd chosen the safe paththe apartment-dwelling, bill-paying, lousy-job-having path. Her mother, an enemy of the word boring, would have been ashamed. Ellie was halfway there herself.
Just as she reached the classroom, her cell phone rang and she paused to answer it. The LCD displayed her home phone number, which instantly gave Ellie an uneasy feeling. It meant her cousin and not-so-welcome roommate, Destiny, was calling.
She never called to chat. Instead her conversations usually started with statements such as, "Please tell me you still have car insurance," or "Don't be mad at me, but " At the rate she was going, all of Ellie's stuff would be destroyed before Destiny decided to move on to greener housing pastures.
"What is it?" Ellie answered.
"God, you're suspicious. Why do you automatically assume something's wrong?"
"I'm late for work," Ellie said as she glanced at her watch, a sweet little black Gucci she'd bought on eBay from a seller who'd promised it was authentic. She'd chosen to believe him mainly because the price was right and her dangerous alter ego would not be caught dead wearing a Timex.
"Did you see the news?"
"CNN did a story about domestic terrorism threats, and they talked about your dad and his friend Ray like they were some kind of lunatics."
Ellie didn't hear what Destiny said next. Later she'd overcome the shock that her cousin was watching something besides an E! True Hollywood Story. For now Ellie was occupied calculating how long she had before the FBI showed up to question her about dear old Dad. They'd want to know where her father was. Want to know what his connection to Raymond Riddell was. As if she knew anything helpful. It had been years since she'd seen her father. But despite the distance she'd put between herself and her not-so-squeaky-clean past, there was no way to erase the fact that she was Harlan Jameson's daughter.
Her stomach churned and a film of sweat formed on her upper lip. Suddenly her boring life seemed infinitely preferable to going another round with the Feds. No matter how much proof that she no longer communicated with Harlan she gave them, they always took their sweet-ass time determining the truth of her statements. And the investigations they conducted inevitably tore her life apart.
"I've got to go," Ellie said. God, she hoped they waited until she finished teaching this class. She could only imagine how her boss would react if she got dragged out of the room in the midst of foundation-application basics by a bunch of G-man thugs. If the Feds didn't destroy her career, her boss would.
Surely there were things that sucked more than being Harlan's daughter, but Ellie would have been hard-pressed to name them at the moment.
What would have become of her if she'd joined the Western Alliance instead of getting the hell away from home as soon as she'd turned eighteen? She would have gotten married young, popped out a platoon's worth of kids by now, and found herself living a fulfilling life of lunacy and paranoid radicalism. Oh, and the Feds would harass her much more frequently.
Yep, boring was looking better and better by the second.
"Wait, Ellie! Ellie? Are you still there?" Destiny was saying. "Listen, I know this is a shock and all, but I've got some good news, too."
Ellie mentally kicked her own butt for not having hung up the phone yet. You'd think she would have learned to cut short calls from Destiny by now. "What?"
"If the Thong Fits is in town for a casting call!" Ellie blinked, her brain scrambling for the significance of her cousin's excitement. Why were they talking about underwear when there was an appointment with an interrogator in her near future?
"If the thong fits?"
"This is my big chance! Don't you get it?"
"Is this that new lingerie-model reality show?" This was the latest scheme in Destiny's big dream to take the porn industry by storm. Since she'd gotten fired from her stripping job, she'd spent her days planning her careerto the casual observer it looked a lot like freeloading. Destiny figured that winning a spot on TV would put her in front of the key players in the business. On the outside chance she didn't win, the exposure she'd get participating would net her enough money to pay for acting lessons. And a reliable means of transportation to L.A.
"Yes! And I need you to do my makeup."
"As soon as I can drive down there."
Ellie resisted the urge to flush her cell phone down the nearest toilet. If she had to endure another conversation with Destiny about her future as America's next top porn star
"I'm supposed to be working here, not doing your makeup. You remember work, right? It's that thing you do for a paycheck?"
"So take a break to do me this one favor. Pleeaase? I just need ten minutes, fifteen tops."
Destiny, at twenty-two, was gorgeous and really didn't need more than fifteen minutes of makeup on even the most special occasions. And maybe if she landed a part on the thong show, she'd move out of Ellie's house for good. Maybe even pay back some of the money she owed her.
No, that was hoping for too much. "Okay, I'll do it, but don't make a scene when you get here. And no trying to get the attention of the owner." In typical Destiny fashion she'd already managed to rub Ellie's boss the wrong way on previous visits to the school. He'd warned Ellie that if he caught Destiny on the premises again, she could kiss her job goodbye. Ellie knew he was serious and ordinarily she wouldn't let Destiny within fifty feet of the place. But, frankly, with the possibility of federal agents making an imminent appearance, her job didn't seem that secure. And the promise of getting Destiny to move out was too tempting.
"I'll be good, I swear. See you in a few!" And with that, Destiny hung up, leaving Ellie to attend to the other shallow, self-centered girls who occupied her life. How was she supposed to teach when thoughts of her father being labeled a domestic terrorist threat on national TV crowded her brain? She'd carefully constructed her current life around the premise that Harlan simply did not exist. Apparently her efforts were for naught because his craziness was about to take center stage.
She pushed open the door of classroom 2A and she had to will herself to unclench her teeth. Having her messy, crazy, volatile former family life polluting her neat, sane, stable present life made her ill. The reality was that even with all her daydreaming about undercover life, her turbulent growing-up years had fostered in her a deep longing for security and normalcy. For all its lack of excitement and overabundance of shallow vanity, she actually liked things the way they were. She didn't even mind the girls so much, obnoxious as they could be at times.
Ellie took a deep breath and summoned her most genuine smile. This was her life, flawed and fragmented as it was. And she'd live it to the utmost until they pried it from her fingers.