After Cole had left, Bella took a phone out of her pocket and started to scroll through it with a satisfied smile on her face. “That was fun.”
She nodded, still that smile on her face. “See, I don’t keep anything on my phone. I jailbroke my phone, and there’s an app on there that resets my phone to factory settings after every time I make a phone call. I take pictures of marks on another phone with no card in it or other information.”
“Yep, you’re paranoid.”
She glanced over to Neal then. “I have good reasons to be, and I’m not going to explain myself again,” Bella replied before pointing at the phone she was holding. “Cole isn’t that careful and I cloned his phone, so I can see all the images, all his contacts… He likely cloned mine too, but he’ll have nothing.”
“Oh, yeah, I did that a few times,” Neal replied as he took a sip of his drink. “Did you get anything?”
“Yeah,” she grinned as she grabbed a special cord to hook the phone up to the tablet and loaded it up so Neal could see as well. There were some pictures on there of the whole Michaels family and the texts between him and the rest of his family were quite eye opening to read; they were absolutely normal.
“They’re really really normal,” Neal was surprised to see that. “Groceries and stuff like that.”
Bella nodded and blinked when a message came in.
Well played, Izzy Sheppard, well played. Now, add our numbers into your own phone and message me back so I have yours. – Cole ps: get a life, your phone is suspiciously empty!
She pouted as she looked at Neal. “But I like my phone suspiciously empty.”
“Buy a phone just for them?”
“Oh, I like that idea,” Bella laughed. “But you know, not even you have my phone number, so maybe I should start using it properly. Phones are useless when I use my software anyway.”
“Then don’t,” Neal shrugged. “Send him a message back on his phone.”
What a shame that I hate phones – Bella
WTF. How do you make your phone calls? – Cole
Wouldn‘t you like to know? – Bella
Bella disconnected the phone from her tablet, turned off the phone and moved so that she was sitting in Neal’s lap. “What’s your take on them?”
“I think that behind all the normalcy hide very smart minds, and they sort of remind me of you,” Neal replied as he tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear and looked at her with a smile on his face. “I’d never do business with people like them, or used to not do business with people like them because they are far different from what I know. I’m used to the backstabbers, it comes with the territory.”
“But you know I don’t work that way.”
“And neither do they. At least not from what I can tell,” Neal shrugged. “Who knows? They could become friends or at least very good allies to have.”
Bella sighed and nodded. Neal was right. Maybe she was too closed off for normal contact with others in her personal life and maybe she should take more of her grifting courage to connect with people and make that her own. “Do you think that maybe I’m a little… I dunno… anti-social?”
“Yes,” Neal said wholeheartedly. “But, that’s alright, you’re really cautious, and it takes you a while to fully trust people. I don’t trust the Michaels either, but I do believe they’re good people and like I said, they could become friends or very good allies.”
Bella softly kissed him. “You’re right, it takes me too long to trust people and I might push them away in the process. I need to show you something,” she got off his lap and kissed him again as she ruffled his hair. “Stay there, I’ll be back.”
Bella went inside and retrieved her most priced possession that she always had on her in her bag before returning to Neal and sat back down in her lap with the item in her hands. “Not a lot of people have seen this, and this is the only thing I have left of him,” Bella continued as she held the photo to her chest. “This was taken a week before I fucked up, causing him to be taken by the cops and then die in foster care.”
She turned the picture around so Neal could see. The photo was worn, the image had somewhat faded and he could tell that it had had a life, just like her. Bella looked unhappy in the picture but her brother had a million watt smile on his face. “Lock picking competition while balancing on a giant circus ball, he won.”
“Yeah, like the size of those balls elephants play with. It was all about balance. I don’t do balance very well. I always failed those kinds of tests, I could pick locks and lift things out of pockets just fine with both my feet on the ground. I’m not a gymnast,” Bella deadpanned, wrinkling her nose in disgust.
Neal let out a snort. “That does sound a bit too…”
“Over the top?”
“Yeah,” he laughed. “This is a great photo, why not buy a frame for it and put it down somewhere in the house?”
“Because, if for some reason or another, we have to evacuate, I won’t be able to have it with me. It’s the only thing of him that I have left,” Bella replied and sighed. “And it sucks.”
“I don’t have anything to remember lost loved ones by. Either I never had anything or left it all behind. Or used it,” he shrugged. “And you know what? That’s okay. I’ve had my answers, didn’t like them, and it would be stupid to get stuck in the past.”
“I’m not stuck. Losing Grant was one hell of a lesson for me.”
“You said it yourself, you were nine or ten.”
“You should have been a normal kid.”
“Ah, but what is normal?” Bella said as she pushed the photo in her back pocket. “Are we normal? I think we define our normal ourselves. It gets boring to see everyone else’s normal and try to fit the mould, doesn’t it? Best to be just ourselves.”
“Sounds great,” he brushed her lips with his. “What are we going to do with the rest of our day?”
A corny smile appeared on her face. “Paint me like one of your French girls?”
Neal barked out a laugh. “Fine, but then you’re going to paint me like one of them too.”
Wait, no, that’d be disastrous. She’d have to be naked. “Or I could just paint you, literally on you,” she said thoughtfully. “But we’d need to get edible paint.”
“Bella,” Neal playfully warned her.
“Definitely going to have to pick that up next time we’re out in town,” she mused as she looked at Neal, who had a strained look on his face. “Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes,” he nodded as he got to his feet with her in his arms. “But first, I’m going to paint you like you ask. I’m going to take my time undressing you and…” Neal paused as he felt her stiffen in his arms. “What’s wrong?”
“I might not have the best body to be put onto canvas.”
“Oh fuck that, Bella,” Neal said as he continued to walk inside. “You’re absolutely beautiful.”
“I feel fine the way that I am but… you take such good care of your body and I’m just…”
“You,” he kissed the top of her head and smiled at her as he continued to walk towards the art room. “And I don’t take that much care of my body, not anymore. It just never bounced back.”
“You and your body are perfect.”
“And so are you.”
“I was thinking to acquire some gym things, maybe we could work out a little together.”
“If you want to, but don’t think that your body isn’t perfect as it is. It is, deal?”
She nodded. “Sorry.”
“I’m still going to take my time undressing you,” he said as he gently put her down on the couch. “And maybe we’ll have a little fun on this couch… followed by me painting you while you’re so gorgeously blissed out… best idea ever.”
The next day was spent inside as well, with Bella painting Neal and then them both admiring each other’s work. Hilariously, they both decided to paint each other while heavily influenced by impressionism. They were going to discuss where to hang the partings later.
The following day, Neal took her out on a riverboat cruise with some good music and food, followed by a visit to the Burlesque theater before they realized they were being followed. Laughing, they tried getting rid of their follower and after an hour or two managed just that. Whoever had followed them was good. However, Bella and Neal were better. Especially seeing as Bella knew that there were old tunnels underneath New Orleans and one of them lead to her home. She had made sure that the entrance was well protected, with a keypad, normal keys, CCTV and an extra security door before opening it and coming into the courtyard.
As the adrenaline was pumping, they didn’t think too hard about it and had fun for the rest of the night.
On the third day, she had messages from Tr0uble in her inbox. She had given him her new handle in case he needed to get a hold of her on the list she’d given him earlier that week.
Tr0uble: You pissed off our giant. Did you forget that we wanted someone to shadow you at all times to protect you seeing as you‘re our boss for this job?
5w4n: Would have been nice if he‘d said hi.
Bella and Neal had completely forgotten about that, but that’s what made last night so incredibly funny.
5w4n: Hope his feelings aren‘t too hurt.
Tr0uble: Oh, no, he‘s impressed. Anyway, word is that there’s two Suits in town looking for a dark haired, blue eyed, 5’11-ish guy. Not sure if they’re looking for your friend, but it’s a bit suspicious. They’re staying at a hotel in the Warehouse District. The Marriott on St. Joseph.
5w4n: Thanks, we‘ll handle it.
Bella pushed purge on the chat and headed to her computer to check CCTV. One Suit would have been fine, it would likely have been Peter, but two? Maybe they weren’t looking for Neal. The Marriott security was easy enough and she had found Peter easily. But who was the other agent with him? “Neal!”
“Could you come here for a second?”
“Several seconds, I just loaded up the washing machine.” Neal laughed as he walked into the room. “What’s wrong?”
“Yeah I’m going to clean the kitchen in a bit but I received a message from Cole that two Suits were in town looking for a man with your description,” Bella replied and pointed at the screen. “I recognize Peter from the photos I found online, but who’s that other one? Is that Mozzie?”
“No, that’s not Mozzie,” Neal replied thoughtfully as he ran his hand through his hair, not knowing whether he should be excited or disappointed that Peter had come to New Orleans, but he was curious who the other guy was. “Forget cleaning the kitchen,” he eventually said as he’d come up with something. “Time to stretch your game muscles. You’re going to find out for yourself.”
“Well, Peter knows my face, but if you’re right, nobody knows who you are. You’re the perfect person for this,” he kissed the side of her head. “All we need is to get our hands on an NCIS badge…”
“NCIS? Navy Cops?”
“Yeah. Their New Orleans office is close by, and you’re going to get us a badge to use.”
“Because you’re rusty and I’m not,” Neal stuck out his tongue to her. “Don’t worry, I’ll be close by. For backup and just to see you work.”
Bella sighed and nodded. “You know, it’s entirely different to do things with preparation.”
“Yes, but this is fun,” Neal grinned as he followed her out. “It’s harmless fun. You get the badge, we’ll put your picture on it and then you’ll go and find Peter and his friend and find out what they’re doing here. NCIS doesn’t like the FBI pissing in their jurisdiction.”
“Okay, now I’m liking it. I can play bad cop.”
They didn’t have to look long for an NCIS agent to go out for lunch, and Bella stepped out with a map after taking a few sips of alcohol. Bella had always liked lifting things from people, it was the one time where her clumsiness was an asset and not a risk. Giggling, she stumbled into the NCIS agent and dropped her map. “Oh, sorry!” she apologized with another giggle. “Ik kan mijn hotel niet vinden!”
“English,” the agent replied as he grabbed the map from the ground and handed it back to Bella, but by that time she’d already located and lifted his badge.
“English very hard,” Bella slurred her words as she pointed at the map, making sure she had the Dutch accent down. “I might have had a little too much uhh… lol… eh… fun and my friends left without me.”
“That’s all right ma’am, what’s the name of the hotel?”
Bella nodded and bit her lip as she looked up at the agent with an innocent look on her face.
“Yeah, c’mon, I’ll take ya, it’s not far,” he replied as he looped her arm through hers. “My name is Christopher.”
“I’m Joke,” she replied as she stumbled back into him. “Oh, you have muscles. Are you a model? Someone famous?”
Chris barked out a laugh. “No ma’am, I’m just your regular kinda guy.”
“You look famous.”
Chris just laughed. “Are you enjoying yourself in New Orleans, ma’am?”
Bella nodded. “It’s my uhm… party, I’m getting wed next week.”
“Oh, congrats!” Chris exclaimed as he turned a corner with her, taking her straight to the hotel. “Who’s the lucky guy?”
“Siebren. He’s the son of a very wealthy farmer. He’s perfect, everything you want in a guy.”
“Nooooo,” she shook her head. “Siebren’s kind, warm, cute, smart and attentive. Butttt… I may have been lead astray last night…”
“Dontcha worry, ma’am, whatever happens in New Orleans, stays in New Orleans,” he winked at her as he pointed at the hotel. “We’re nearly there.”
“Thank you soooo much, I could do with a good sleep.”
“Yes you could.”
“Want to join me?”
“Nah, I have to get some lunch before going back to work.”
“You can eat me?”
“Good night, Miss,” Chris laughed as they arrived at the hotel.
“Good night, hottie,” Bella giggled and watched the NCIS agent leave and smiled widely when Neal came up to her with two coffees in his hand. “That was fun.”
Neal handed her the coffee as they started to walk back to the apartment. “I bet! You were enjoying yourself, weren’t you?”
“Maybe just a little,” Bella admitted as she took a sip of the coffee. “For an NCIS agent in a town like New Orleans he’s really not paying much attention, is he?”
Neal shrugged. “So what language was that?”
“That you spoke to him? I mean, your accent sounded German but you didn’t say that in German.”
“Why on Earth would you learn how to speak Dutch?” Neal laughed. “Out of all the languages, you learn a pretty useless one!”
She looked at him for a moment and shrugged. “It’s not useless when you can just walk into the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, convince the curator that you work for the Queen herself and that you want a tour of the paintings and behind the scenes area where you can then plant bugs, skimmers, use an USB drive to gain access to their systems and come out of the experience with a small portrait.”
Bella nodded. “Of course, I didn’t keep it, I didn’t really know a good fence.”
“What did you do?”
“Found a sleazebag, discovered he was a salesman on the Waterlooplein Market and put the painting in the middle of his stuff. Then made an anonymous tip to the police,” she said innocently. “And do I need to remind you that some of the best painters come from The Netherlands?”
“And I love history. The Dutch history, aside from all the art, is quite interesting. Like, The Netherlands is a monarchy and basically all the royals in the world are related, even to the Queen of England,” she replied excitedly as she opened the door to her home. “You never know when you may have to use a language only maybe 30 million people in the world speak.”
“One of the languages I speak is Swahili, so… you don’t hear me knock it.”
“Yeah, I got bored,” Neal shrugged.