Jerry Sanger is a member of M.A.L.E., an elite agency made up of ex-Army buddies bored with civilian life. But he always gets the junk assignments, and just once, he’d like a job where he doesn’t have to wear high heels or impersonate a go-go dancer at a strip club in order to take out his target. Sure, he looks good in a dress, but still.
On returning home from his latest assignment, Jerry encounters his hot teddy bear of a neighbor, Guff, fighting off four men intent on doing him serious harm. Jerry helps Guff out and then demands to know what’s going on, in between flirting and striking a pose in his spandex dress.
Guff doesn’t want his help, but Jerry gives it anyway, determined to solve Guff’s problem. And if they happen to get a lot closer as a result, he won’t complain.
I took the stairs once again and then walked down the long hallway toward my door. As I got closer, I heard loud voices and saw a guy fly backward into the corridor to land just shy of the door across the way. I heard something crack, but the guy managed to get up and limp away, disappearing quickly around a corner. It took me a second to realize the scuffle was happening in Guff’s apartment. Was no one else hearing this?
My aches and pains forgotten, I ran into the room and saw my teddy bear more than holding his own against three idiots who were trying to take him down. His room was a mess of broken furniture and a few shattered picture frames, and when I saw one of the goons reach for a knife in his boot, I rushed in and grabbed the fool, wrenching his arm so he yelped and dropped the weapon.
After punching him in the nose, he ran off like his colleague before him. I turned to see what else I could do, but the other two had left, too. I walked over to stand before Guff, who didn’t have any bruises on him that I could see except his bloody fists. He was panting, face sweaty. His short-sleeved T-shirt had blood on it, and had been ripped in places, exposing smooth skin. Would it be a bad thing if I said that hint of flesh was tantalizing? When Guff realized I was standing there, his eyes widened in shock.
“Jerry! What are you ...” He stopped and then looked around the room, heaving a deep sigh. “Why are you here?”
I shrugged. “I heard shouts and your door was open.”
“Yeah.” He walked over to an overturned armchair and righted it. “I appreciate your help, but this is none of your concern.” Are you kidding me?
“Why were four men in your living room, trying to do you some serious harm?” And now that I thought about it, they’d had the look of thugs for hire, more muscle mass than brains.
“Just leave it alone. Please. I don’t need anyone else getting involved with my problems.”
I followed Guff to a closet and watched him grab a broom and dustpan. “I just punched a guy who was about to come after you with a knife, man. You owe me.”
“No, I don’t!” he snapped, and that was the first hint of fire I’d had from Guff since I’d met him. I liked it. Or maybe I had a death wish. “I didn’t ask you to come in here, and I would have handled it just fine. I was handling it. Go home, Jerry. You don’t know what you’re messing with. These are dangerous people.”
“You don’t think I know anything about danger? Have you ever tried running in five-inch heels? I’ll have you know my ankles were in danger every damn minute.”
Guff stared at me then reluctantly cracked a tiny smile, though it didn’t last long. “I suppose that could be considered life-threatening.” And then his eyes took in my attire. “Um, why are you dressed like that? You were wearing really tight shorts the other day, and now you’re in red spandex.”
“Let’s just say my job is...complicated, sometimes,” I replied as I took the broom from him, realizing I was lucky I didn’t have any shards in the soles of my oh-so-tender feet. “I’ll do the glass while you figure out if any of your furniture is salvageable.” Realizing I wasn’t going to let it go, Guff acquiesced.
It took us an hour or so to set things to rights, and it looked like the sofa and loveseat were the only things that had survived. Everything else would have to be replaced.
“I have some stuff in storage you can use, if you want,” I said to him in the empty hallway where we now stood. “My apartment is a lot smaller than my old place and the furniture is just gathering dust, anyway.”
“You don’t have to ...”
“I want to, Guff.”
And maybe along the way, I’ll pry what the hell is going on out of you.