Lightning Bonus Scene

Paxton

I return to the tailor the next morning and the same woman from yesterday smiles.

“Good morning! I just finished your order. Let me grab it from the back.”

I check my phone. Less than two hours to meet the plane.

“Here we are,” she says, walking out, carrying something that doesn’t appear to be a suit.

It’s in plastic wrap, and I can’t quite make it out. She hangs it on a clothing rod near me and then pulls the bag up, revealing, well, I’m not sure what the hell it is, but it most definitely is not a suit.

“Excuse me. I thought I was being measured for suits.”

“This is what Mr. Wilder requested. He had detailed instructions to embroider the letter F onto the front of each fox costume. See?” She points to a large, yellow F on the chest. “He explained it’s all part of his branding.”

“Fox costume?” I ask, hoping Thunder pops out any second and yells just kidding. But I don’t see him anywhere. I’d researched Mr. Wilder, the name of the man I’m supposed to protect. But nothing came up foxes. I mean, seriously, these damn costumes have tails.

No, this has to be some joke by Thunder. He knows how much his teasing me about the furries at the convention we accidentally came across on one of our assignments pissed me off. I grab my phone and call the office.

“Reed Hawthorne Security,” Piper answers.

“Piper, it’s Lightning. Is Reed in?”

“Oh, hi! Yes, he is. I’ll connect you.”

Thankfully, she connects me right away. I’m a little too pissed for chit-chat.

“Lightning, have you picked up the suits?”

I rub my temple with my free hand. “About those. They aren’t suits. They’re costumes.”

Reed inhales, and that’s when I know.

“You knew?”

“Look, I just found out an hour ago. I’m sorry. I really thought he was buying you some sort of nice Italian wool suit.”

I stare at a stack of her cards on the counter and realize, no, she did not misspell tailer; it’s a play on words. “Why does he want me to dress up like a fox?”

Reed sighs. “Apparently, the reason he’s here in New York is to promote a new product. He’s doing an entire press release debuting it. And somehow, a fox is involved.”

This would have been great to know prior to today. As would the product. “What product?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know. He’s going to request you to sign an NDA before he tells you. Good luck.”

Reed ends the call before I can complain more. I don’t like walking into a situation where I don’t have all the facts. And I’m really surprised Reed doesn’t know more. It isn’t like him to send his guys in blind. But then, even I have to admit he hasn’t fully been himself since Hawthorne’s death.

How the hell am I supposed to protect somebody dressed like a fox? I mean, seriously, it has a fucking tail. Hell, maybe he doesn’t even need protection. Although our rate is awfully high to pay for someone to simply dress up. Maybe no one else was willing to dress up for him. Shit, that means I won’t like what this is about.

I take the damn costumes home and pace around them for an hour, debating what to do. Why are there two of them? In the end, I put on a suit and shove the costumes into a bag. Mr. Wilder has some explaining to do. Because I’m not some puppet he can hire.

Before I head to the airport, I run another search on this man. All I could find is that he’s some eclectic CEO who is about to unleash something new and exciting. Apparently, he’s popular enough that there will be a lot of press at his release party tonight. But the release of what? No one seems to know.

I drive to the airport and make my way to the hangar as the private jet taxis in. Airport personnel pushes a staircase over as the door opens. The jet is large, and instead of having his company name on it, it simply has his signature written across the entire length of the plane. Bracing myself for an egomaniac, I stand tall and wait for my assignment.

He emerges wearing a fedora and fur coat. I squint, trying to determine if it’s real. He walks down the steps and glances around.

“Where is the man I hired for protection?” he asks a man standing near the stairs.

I step forward. “I’m here.” I hold out my hand. “My name is Lightning.”

The man’s eyes skim over me and then look past me. “No, I was very specific about the dress code.”

I hold up the bag. “I have the costume here. I wasn’t clear what it was for.”

The man glares at me. “It’s for identification. How do I know you are who you say you are if you are not wearing the suit?”

I take a breath, forcing myself not to correct him and tell him it’s a damn costume. “I have it right here. You can see I picked it up. And why are there two of them?”

The man’s eyes flick to the bag. “First of all, anyone could be carrying those. I need to see it on you to ensure that it was fitted for you. Second, you need two because you need to wear them at all times. If one gets soiled, you have a backup.”

I open my mouth and close it. I’m truly at a loss for words.

He motions to the plane. “There’s a bedroom in the back. Go in and change.”

I don’t move.

“Now.” His nostrils flare.

“And how am I supposed to protect you wearing this?” I push the bag at him.

He steps past me. “I was told you were an expert. I expect you to figure that out.”

He continues to the car and leaves me no choice. I storm up the stairs and into the back. The plane is quite nice, with a few couches and what appears to be a bar. After changing, I fold up my actual suit and place it into the bag.

When I step out, most of the airport employees have left. Mr. Wilder is leaning against the car. When he glances up, he smiles. “That looks fantastic on you.”

“Can you tell me why I need to wear this?”

“Come, get in,” he says as he slides into the backseat without so much as checking who is driving. Either this man doesn’t need any security, or he is a danger to himself.

The door is open, and I’m able to see the driver. “What is your name?” I ask.

He must have some credentials to get past airport security to get out to this private hangar. He smiles and hands his identification to Mr. Wilder, who hands it to me.

“I use him every time I’m in New York. We can trust him,” Wilder says, dismissing my concerns.

Fortunately, I recognize the company he works for, and it’s one we’ve vetted for use at important events before.

I bend to get into the car and find I’m not as flexible as I am without the costume on. Instead, I lean in and end up falling face-first into the seat, and then the fur of my costume slides against the smooth leather seat until my head is in Mr. Wilder’s lap. A few curse words may have left my mouth. Then I attempt to sit up, but the damn tail won’t let me.

“Here,” Wilder says as he pulls hard on the rear of my costume. “The tail is removable.” He hands me the thing like I know what to do with it.

“Now that you’re settled, we have a few things to discuss. But first, the NDA,” Wilder pulls out some papers from the briefcase now sitting on the floor beside him. He hands them to me, along with a pen.

I skim the document, and it’s a standard agreement. I sign it and give it back.

“Thank you. Now, about your language, since you are wearing our brand, you will need to conduct yourself appropriately. That means no swearing, no inappropriate jokes, no fondling of yourself or others, and no public nudity of any kind.”

I arch a brow. While I may have momentarily lost it while trying to get into the car, the circumstances were unusual. He ignores my reaction and continues.

“Also, it would be great if you could be clean-shaven.”

I laugh. I can’t help it. I’m in a furry costume, and he’s worried about my facial hair? “No.” That’s not even up for argument. I spent enough time on my last assignment shaving daily, and I’m done. “No shaving,” I clarify.

“Well, I guess I’ll have to make this work.” He turns and stares out the window, not saying another word as we drive into the city.

Finally, I realize he isn’t going to say anything, and I need to know what the hell is going on. “What am I protecting you from? Or am I just here to wear this costume?”

Wilder whips his head around, glaring again. I’m starting to think that’s the only expression the man has. “First, it’s a suit. Got it? Second, I do need protection. I have competitors who would love to see me fail.”

“Fail? That’s hardly a threat.”

Without looking at me, he reaches into his briefcase and pulls out an envelope. He tosses it at me. “I received this Friday at my home.”

I open the envelope and inside is a notecard. The words are handwritten. If you go forward with next week’s reveal, I will have no choice but to end you.

“How was this delivered?” I turn the envelope and see no postage.

“I found it on my doorstep.”

“Did you call the police?”

He shakes his head. “I’m afraid I’ve called them a few too many times in the past, and let’s just say they are done with me.”

Called them too many times? “Do you have security at your home? Maybe a camera picked up whoever left this?”

He sighs. “No cameras. I know who threatened me.”

Well, this is good. I go to pull out my phone but am blocked by the damn costume. I unzip it and grab my phone from my pants pocket. “Who?”

“My brother.”

I set my phone down. “Your brother threatened to kill you?”

The man frowns. “No, that’s not what he means. He has some confidential information about me that I’d rather not have go public.”

I turn to face him better. “Information? Then why do you need a bodyguard?”

“Because his wife is going to try to kill me.”

Biting my lip not to spit out the first words that come to my mouth, I take a moment. “I feel like we’re going in circles. Can you please explain what’s going on? From the beginning?”

Wilder sighs impatiently, and I’ve decided I hate this assignment, but thankfully, it’s short.

“I’m releasing a new product today that I’m very excited about. My brother doesn’t want this product tied to the company name, which is why I needed you in that costume. Today I’m announcing a new subsidiary and the direction we will be taking.” He flicks some lint off his pants. “In order to create the subsidiary, I needed my brother to sign off on it. He did but not under circumstances his wife is happy about. She now blames me for destroying their marriage which is a joke because it’s a sham of a marriage anyway.”

What in the actual hell did I walk into?

Wilder turns to me. “Beth, my sister-in-law, is mad that I coerced my brother to sign on after he’d had a few drinks and was distracted with a woman who wasn’t her.”

“Let me see if I got this. Beth wants to kill you for getting her husband to sign something?”

He laughs. “No, she wants to kill me for giving him the alcohol and prostitute.”

Yeah, I don’t like this guy. And I don’t like this assignment.

“But the note is from your brother?”

He nods. “He’s threatened to reveal some information about me in the past but never does. It would ruin not just me but the company as well.”

“Do you want to tell me what information he has?”

Wilder shakes his head. “No, it’s not important. What’s important is that you watch out for Beth. Here’s a photo.” He holds up his phone to reveal a young, dark-haired woman.

The car stops in front of an office building. Wilder turns to me. “It’s showtime!”

Yeah, the show will be me trying to get out of this car in this damn costume.

“Let me get out first,” I say.

“Don’t forget your tail,” he says as he holds it out for me.

This is going to be a long few days.

Thank you for reading Lightning. Coff’s story is next. After being forced to give up the woman he loves years ago, they come together again under odd circumstances. Click here to find out more.

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