By Cory!! Strode

Rick had finally found a place to park after driving around the lake for a good 15 minutes. He was always nervous about meeting someone, even if it was the only way he got to meet new people anymore. He got out of the car and scanned the park benches for a woman with short red hair wearing a black skirt and a gray sweater. That's what Ellen said she would be wearing, even though she wasn't to meet him here for another 15 minutes. He needed to arrive early to settle his stomach and get ready.

He hated meeting people through personals, but his work made it so he had to travel a lot. He worked as a computer consultant, bringing new systems on line for big corporations. It wasn't as exciting as he would have liked, but it allowed him to move around a lot. He didn't like staying in one place for too long. It made him get lazy, and lazy people don't do important things.

The only problem with moving so much was that he didn't make a lot of friends the way most people do. First, by meeting neighbors and co-workers, then meeting their friends and building relationships from there. It just wasn't a good idea, since he would normally stay for only 6 to 8 months in a place and then have to move on, either because he finished a job or was tired of it. So, he'd turned to personals to meet women. He always made sure never to tease them or say that he was looking for a long term relationship, just some companionship while he lived in town. That way it was easier to end things when the time came.

He noticed a girl with long, straight blonde hair sitting on a bench and reading. The park was around one of the city's many lakes. There weren't gates around it, like a lot of places, but was more like they had decided just to build the city around it and let everyone use the lake as their back yard. On this side, it was only a few hundred yards from the street, which made him uncomfortable. Too many cars and people going by. He saw that if you were to follow the paved path for a while, it would lead to a part that seemed more like a real park and less like a suburban block without houses. He made a mental note to convince Ellen to walk with him while they chatted. It shouldn't be too hard, since there's nothing strange about it. Nothing strange at all.

He didn't want to seem weird, since first impressions are easily the most important.

He'd answered her ad about three weeks ago, and she had been very coy about actually meeting him. She would talk on the phone for hours at a time to him, asking questions about him, wondering what he did for a living, why he answered her ad, as well as more personal questions he thought were odd.

She asked a lot of sexual questions after they'd been chatting for a couple of weeks. Mostly about his history, and when he'd been slow to answer, she started asking about what sort of things he liked. That was the call where he almost called it all off, since he thought it was disturbing that she would try and get him into a conversation like that when they hadn’t met face to face yet, let alone have any sort of emotional connection.

He'd told her goodbye, taken her phone number out of his Day Planner and was planning on answering a different ad, but she called again a couple of days later. That was the conversation when he'd been convinced to meet her.

They had talked from a little after when he got home from work to around 3 in the morning. She'd talked about how she didn't know many people here, she was new in town as well, and how she really didn't meet people well since had a lot of trouble understanding other people's boundaries. He felt sorry for her, which wasn't the best way for things to start, but maybe once she got past that, he'd find a nice enough person under all the loneliness. They'd set up meeting in the park on Tuesday, since it was a day that neither of them had anything going on, and it would be a quiet weekday with very few people around.

Fall was starting to put a bit of a chill in the air. He almost wished he'd brought his black windbreaker, but he'd told her that he would be wearing a black button up shirt with jeans. He didn't want to miss her because he was wearing something over his shirt. Besides, the chill only bothered him when he was sitting. Once they were up and moving, that wouldn't be a problem.

He nervously looked at his watch and waited. Ten more minutes until the time when they were supposed to meet. He hoped she wouldn't be late, but knew that she would be. They always were.

* * *

Twenty minutes ago Ellen was still trying to get ready, but now she was telling Trey to give her at least two hours once she met up with the guy from the ad before he showed up to bring her home. And she told him that he was not to hover either, but to go to a bar or something. If she saw him hanging around, she’d go home with the guy, and he’d have to deal with that. It was an empty threat, but Trey needed to be kept in line.

She'd chosen the park where she did this sort of thing all the time, her and Trey had been running the scam for a good year now and they knew the area almost as well as their apartment. She got out of the car and told Trey that she'd meet him in the usual place.

It was a chilly day, and she was glad she'd chosen the sweater to meet him in. She watched to make sure that Trey did leave, he was getting so possessive lately, and then started walking toward the meeting place. She wanted to make sure that she was dropped off far enough away that there was no way this Rick guy would have any clue of where she came from or that she even had a car.

The wind whipped her thick, short hair around her face, and she thought that she needed to get it cut again, since strands of it got stuck in her lipstick. She pulled her hair behind her ear for the millionth time and started walking. It was early evening, but the sun was already setting, and most people were getting into their cars to go home. A few rollerbladers whizzed by her, but for the most part, the people who came to see the lake, or get in their walking exercise were finishing up. She didn't pay much attention to them. They were just people, and didn't deserve her notice.

Twenty minutes ago she was looking at herself in the mirror, making sure her makeup was absolutely perfect. She knew how pretty she had become (since those bastards called her fat back in high school) and she wanted to knock Rick out with her looks. He'd feel lucky to be talking to her. That way he wouldn’t question anything she did. It was all how the scam worked. Get him to let his defenses down, then come on to him as if he was the most desirable person on the planet. After that, the guys were usually mush in her hands.

She made sure to pick the right bra before putting on the sweater, one that when she whipped the sweater off would fulfill most men's fantasies. All part of the game. In the other room, Trey had been smoking the last of their pot, maintaining the high he'd been working on for the last month. She didn't smoke much anymore. It just didn't hold the thrill for her that having a guy fall deeply in love with her without him knowing a damn thing about her. That was her drug.

It had started a year ago, when her and Trey got into a rough patch. She didn't know anyone who wanted her, due to her being so into Trey for six months thatshe’d dropped all of her friends out of her life. She placed a personal ad to find someone to be with. Just someone so she wasn't alone, and someone who could help her with her rent and bills if she needed that.

A very sweet, dumb guy answered her ad, and by the time she planned to meet him, Trey had moved back in. She was just going to stand the guy up, but Trey said that she should meet him, mess with his head a bit and get a couple of free meals out of the whole thing.

On the third meal, she was preoccupied with their rent, since she wouldn't work and Trey had been fired. Again. When the guy (Tommy? Was that his name? It was so hard to remember that sort of unimportant crap anymore) asked her what was wrong, she dumped her rent problems on him, leaving out the fact that Trey lived there. He loaned her enough for rent later that week saying that things would turn around soon enough.

That was when Trey came up with the idea of them pulling the scam on someone else when the guy got wise to her. She crafted the ad, she met the guys, she got them to fall for her and start wanting to take care of her, and Trey guided her in how much to ask for and when. However, in the last few months, he didn't trust her as much as he used to, and wanted to listen in to the phone calls. Or worse.

In the last few months, she’d thought a lot about how she didn't need Trey around so much. All he did was smoke pot, spend money and hint that she was a slut. She knew better than to tell him how she was able to get the guys to fall in love with her so quickly. He'd probably go nuts over it, and she had to make sure that he never saw the bottle of mouthwash she always kept in her backpack.

She looked around at the park the same way an office worker looks at their cubicle and sighed. Time to get to work.

* * *

Fifteen minutes late. He glanced at his watch again and watched as people got into their cars. He didn't want to look at the lake or the view, since they weren't as interesting as the people. He paid most of his attention to the women, being who he was and all. He always noticed the hair first. One woman with a baby carriage had long chestnut hair that looked as if it had been brushed for hours and hours. It flowed in the wind like water, and he could imagine his hands going through it and just how soft it would be to his touch.

However, she had a baby, and therefor probably had a significant other in her life. Best not to go any further with that train of thought.

He thought he saw Ellen about five minutes after he sat down, but the woman was wearing a pair of black pants instead of a skirt. He hair was short, bright red and in a tight bob with the ends curled under. A perfect hair cut for her face, and he almost got up and told her so, but decided against it. Instead he sat, waited, and watched.

He thought about how odd it was to meet people through ads in the newspaper. When he was in college in New York City and had just started, he met women in bars and clubs. It was a much larger city, and as such, easier to stay under the radar. He enjoyed his life then, he was learning all about computers in college during the day, and about women at night. He didn't just talk to them, but interviewed them. Learning how they thought, how they reacted to things, what attracted them to a man.

When he got out of school he thought about staying in New York, but decided he didn't like being in one place too long. He'd lived in about 10 different cities since then, and in each one, he'd gotten involved with at least two women. Houston was the longest he stayed anywhere. The city was so big and sprawling he stayed there for almost two years before moving on, and he actually felt bad about leaving. He finished his assignment, ended his last relationship there, and moved on to the next. Every once in a while he missed the women he'd known. He always would ask them for a lock of their hair, which he kept in a scrap book, along with their ad and maybe a picture if he'd known them long enough to take one.

The scrapbook was kept in a lockbox that he'd bought before going to college, and he would only go through it when he felt alone. It reminded him that he was very good at what he did, and maybe even the best in his profession. Of course, being a contract worker, he never got written up, never got awards. Just a quick recommendation and another contract.

A shapely woman with long black hair walked by him, noticed that he was looking at her and smiled at him. He smiled back and watched as she kept going on her way. He invented a nice little back story for her, where she was going and how she came to be here, looking at him at this precise moment. Again he felt like walking up to her and starting a conversation, but Ellen would be by at any time. Unless it was all a game.

He'd dealt with that a few times too. Luckily, he never got mad at them, just made a note not to bother with ads that read like theirs in the future.

* * *

She saw him sitting at the park bench and relaxed a little bit. He was at least attractive. The last guy she'd met was chubby and always sounded like he had a cold when she talked to him. She had learned to focus on the good things about a person for the first few weeks so that she could compliment them. That way they would believe that she felt the way she said she did. Rick looked to be about six foot tall, which was good. She liked taller men, since she thought that shorter ones had a bit more temper. Taller men were secure in themselves, so they were easier to manipulate. He had a full head of hair (another plus, bald guys creeped her out) and was dressed in clothes that looked good but weren't natty. His face was lean, and if he didn't work out, he at least kept in decent shape.

It would make it all a bit easier.

She'd already felt him out on the phone. She'd just talked small talk and went through a bunch of questions on the first call. Mostly to see if he had enough money to make it worth her while. Then, after she found out that he responded to her tale about abuse (which was key...if the guy wanted to protect her and help her, it was easier to get into his wallet), she wanted to see just what kind of sexual things he'd respond to.

Normally, that's when guys kind of go nuts, and she gets them into having phone sex with her. By then she knows she has them hooked, but this guy didn't respond to it well. She wanted to just let him go at that point, but Trey, in his infinite drug-induced wisdom, told her to call with a sob story about how she was so alone she didn't know what she was doing. The guy they had been working on was just about tapped dry, and she was going to be "dumping" him in the next week or so. She had a couple thousand in the bank, but he wanted more.

And again she wondered why Trey should get any of the money she earned with her hard work.

When they set up the meet, he wanted to meet in a park (a little odd, since most guys preferred coffee houses to try and look sensitive) which suited her fine. She usually took guys there the first time she got physical with them. That way she would have something to blackmail them with if the pity stories didn't work. At least that was the plan. They'd only had to do it once, and it was an ugly, ugly mess.

She took a deep breath when she saw that he noticed her and began to work through what she would say in her mind. He stood up and looked like a gentleman in the old sense of the word, the way her grandmother had used it. She got that familiar tingle in the pit of her stomach that let her know that she had to play her part. In a way it was too bad that she had to play the game with this guy, he seemed nice. But a girl's got to pay rent, right?

* * *

He finally saw her and smiled. She was very pretty, even if she did overdo the makeup. There was so much black around her eyes she looked like a raccoon, but her face was softly round and she broke into a huge smile when she saw him. It was such a devastating smile that he almost felt his head swim. It was as if no matter how lonely she’d sounded on the phone, everything was solved by seeing him. He knew he was projecting, but the smile was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Part of him wanted to make sure that her smile never ever left her face.

Her hair was in a red bob that kind of puffed out as bit, almost as if it was trying to curl. She was wearing a nice baggy sweater and her black skirt was long, to the tops of her shoes. Her clothes didn't hug her body, but he could tell that she had the kind of body he liked, petite and curvy.

He stood up and grabbed his soft-sided briefcase he took with him everywhere and slung the strap over his shoulder. The books and tools he had inside shifted ever-so slightly and he started walking toward her. Inside was a letter from his agency that his assignment had finished the pervious week and that his next assignment was set to begin in a week in Los Angeles. All the way across the country. Sadly, this relationship was going to be a bit rushed, but it would still meet his needs.

When they said hello, the only thing that he could think about was how nice her hair would look in his scrapbook.

* * *

He waited for an hour in the car, and when she didn't show up, Trey had reached his level of patience. He got out of the car, grabbed his flashlight and video camera and headed toward the clearing that Ellen always used for the blackmail set up. She never did it on the first meeting, but she was never this late either.

The park was deserted, and it was cold enough that he had thrown on the jacket he kept in the back seat with the video camera before going. The city lights gave the park a strange feeling of unreality, as if he was walking on a movie set, but he knew that she had found one of the places where the city lights just gave the ground a low, blue glow. Good enough for video taping, but not good enough that you could really see what was going on.

Which was good. He was tired of her going down on guys to get their money. It was better when they just wanted to help her, but she started to say that she needed the men to think it was a real relationship. He thought it was bullshit. He thought that she liked doing it with guys, and the only concession he'd been able to get out of her on it was that they wouldn't sleep together.

He winced when he remembered that he suggested it first for the guy they found out was married. He got the idea of video taping her going down on him, but thought that she'd just make it look she was doing it for the video tape. The only reason he hadn't left her when he realized that she hadn’t faked it was because they got over $10,000 for that video tape. It sure beat working.

He walked quickly by where Ellen and Rick had met, and he'd talked her into going for a walk, not knowing anything about it. As he kept going he walked past where she'd grabbed his arm so that they were actually walking arm in arm,. She'd heard the clank of metal on metal as his briefcase shifted but didn't think anything of it. After a little over a mile, he was on a part of the path where you couldn't see any houses. If not for the empty parking lot a few yards away, it could very well be a dimly lighted path in a country park.

It was here that she'd talked him into walking into the woods to get away from the people on the path, as well as to sit down and get to know each other better. Rick agreed, since he had been looking at the park for a place to do that too. Trey knew about the clearing and even knew where he could sit and hide with a full view of where Ellen would have taken him. He walked to when he normally hid, and he saw her lying on the ground alone.

It took a minute to sink in. As it did, he wondered why she would be lying there in such an odd way in the middle of a clearing, along. Then, as he moved a bit closer he knew.

* * *

The cell phone he'd used to talk to Ellen was found a few days later, and it was traced to a person who'd reported it stolen from his gym two weeks before. They tried to do a search for a Rick, but Ellen hadn't told Trey his last name or his job because she was tired of his jealousy. It wouldn’t have mattered if she had, since nothing he'd told her was true except for the fact that he really wanted a relationship with her.

That, and the fact that he collected locks of hair. Which is exactly what he told her when he'd gotten out the knife.

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