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At the Right Place at the Right Time

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Subject: Invitation from Justin Teng

From: Justin Teng, CEO

 I have a favor to ask you.  I'm hosting a private dinner at the Primo Club soon.  Nothing formal, just a few Havalynd corporation CEOs, representatives from the Mayor's Office and City Council, and one or two interested parties from other CSA agencies and the media.

Our regular purpose is to discuss the city's crime problem, and it occurs to me that it would be useful to have a street-side view of the issue, from someone expertly qualified in dealing with them.  Would you be interested in attending and giving the benefit of your experience to my friends and colleagues?

 In anticipation,

 Justin Teng

- - -

The ever-cautious Justin Teng would never allow himself to be seen without the company of at least one trusted Praetorian bodyguard at any given time, but when Santana arrives at his office in Havalynd, the guards are excused with the snap of his fingers.

Each and every one of them.

Once the men have filed out of the room, providing them with a rare moment to speak truths, Justin stands from behind is over-sized desk and asks, "What could possibly be so important that it brought you all the way into Havalynd, Ms. Cruz?"

"Your invitation," Santana confirms.  "Are you serious, Mr. Teng?"

"On behalf of the entire city, I extend my thanks for all you've done, Ms. Cruz."  The man adjusts his glasses at the bridge of his nose with a long, bony finger and offers her a thin smile.  "For San Paro, and for the Praetorians who work so hard to protect this city from—"

"Sir, I'm not—"

"Justin," he interrupts sharply.  He's sizing her up with dangerous, hawk-like eyes, as though she could be his next meal, and Santana realises that one wrong move will send her tumbling right back down to the bottom of the food chain.  "Call me Justin."

- - -

Standing in front of the full-length mirror, Santana doesn't know where to let her eyes rest.

She doesn't want to look at her own face because it's so foreign beneath all this makeup that she doesn't even recognize herself.  And though the weight of the badge that rests upon her breast is uncomfortable, she dares not meddle with it—she's never worn a badge before, but Justin went through such lengths to set it just right.

In preparation for their non-formal dinner party at the high-end Primo Club with everyone who is anyone in San Paro, Justin takes pride in dressing Santana up like a doll.

"I don't think this is the right environment for someone of my status, Mr. Teng."  Santana shifts a moment before straightening the fabric of her jacket sleeve.  The large, gaudy buttons are too heavy for her wrists.  "Are you sure this is... appropriate?"

"Don't be shy," Justin lectures.  "They're not expecting much; you're nothing more than a contract killer for Praetorian Security, remember?"

- - -

Dinner is hardly the worst part of the evening.

Just like Justin had said, everyone in attendance paid Santana no mind until her speech about first-hand experience with crime in San Paro.  They showed little disdain for how alienated she was at the Primo Club—after all, she's just a dolled up contract killer tonight.

Trouble doesn't really start until dinner is over, where by some miracle Santana has made it through all five courses without spilling a drop, and social hour begins.

Justin Teng leans over to whisper in her ear - his breath hot, almost sticky - and she barely catches a word he's saying among the drunken commotion of other patrons around the table.  You're my guest tonight, he purrs.  Come - let me show you off.

So, for the two hours that follow their luxurious dinner, Santana stands by Justin's side through each and every phony, one-sided conversation that he's expected to endure and fakes an enthusiastic smile.  By the end of the evening, Santana is swaying on her feet.

Justin takes her by the elbow and says, "You look tired, my dear.  Shall we take our leave?"  The gangling middle-aged man dips down to plant a kiss right on her cherry-coloured lips—

And somewhere, a camera flashes.

- - -

Once the door is closed - locked - Santana drops her heels to the floor and scurries inside like a mouse.

"What have you done?"  She demands, pacing furiously between the window overlooking the city and the dark confines of the high-rise hotel room.  "Those pictures will be everywhere by tomorrow morning!"

Justin shrugs his way out of his jacket and starts on his tie.  "Of course.  You're young and beautiful and dangerous and I'm middle-aged and successful beyond compare.  The gutter rats will eat it right up - just imagine the stories they'll tell about our escapades."

Fiercely, Santana accuses, "You've implicated me in a scandal, Mr. Teng!"

But her pacing is brought to a stop when Justin's strong, bony hand catches Santana's thin wrist like a hawk captures prey.  She staggers when he gives her a little tug, pulling her right down onto his lap on the chesterfield.  That vice-like grip keeps her pinned, betraying his frail appearance.

"You're overthinking this, Ms. Cruz.  It's only a scandal if the allegations are true."  Leaning forward, Justin places his lips to the shell of Santana's ear and whispers, "Do you want these allegations to be true?"

The ice-cold Justin Teng burns like fire through her veins.