Marlene had a boyfriend who had liked to spoil her a few years ago. Fancy dinner dates, trips to exotic locations, purses more expensive than my college tuition, and, of course, flashy jewelry. Marlene loved the attention and didn’t care at all that most of it was stolen or paid for with stolen credit cards. It wasn’t out of desperation, either. She had the money to buy pretty much whatever she wanted since her father owned a large tech company in Silver City. She would take over the business someday probably, but at twenty two, she was having much more fun being one of Silver City’s only trust fund babies. And of course that meant dating the bad boys.
I wasn’t sure what her ex’s name was, but Marlene had come to me on his recommendation. Apparently if the cops found the ruby, they would be able to trace it pretty easily to a robbery a few years ago and that might put both of them in some hot water.
She was definitely paying me well, but I was not looking forward to the whirlwind I was about to get. My plan had been to see her once more, when I dropped the ruby off and picked up my hefty check. I didn’t like to chat with clients before a case was over because they always had a suggestion or a critique. Marlene seemed way too much like an airhead for our conversation to be remotely productive. Our first meeting she had given me the bare details, spent most of the time texting, and rushed out the door for a nail appointment.
The knock was heavy when it finally came and I figured it was the bodyguard. Without waiting for an answer, they entered and walked through my open inner door. I quickly dropped a pile of files on top of my notebook with all my scribbled information on the case.
Marlene was beautiful, though it wasn’t all because of her fiery hair and brilliant smile. She had a splattering of freckles that made her look young despite the dark eyeliner rimming her emerald green eyes. Her lanky limbs tended to feel less than graceful but she managed to make the awkwardness seem cute. Her smile was vivacious and she seemed to glow with energy and spirit. Despite my hesitation, I smiled at her.
“Asena,” she said, bouncing into the room.
“Hi Marlene,” I said, gesturing to the two tan chairs in front of my desk. Her security goon hovered near the door, content to stand. He looked to be somewhere in his forties, extremely fit, which his tailored suit showed. His cropped graying hair and tactical stance made me think he was former military. I watched as he scanned the room for signs of danger and rolled my eyes.
Marlene took off her coat and draped it over the left chair while she plopped into the right. Her jeans had pre-made, ragged holes with bleach stains and her black sweatshirt had a band name I’d never heard of whose logo was a lightning bolt hitting a tree. She yanked her hat off and tossed it on the chair. Her hair was full of static, but she didn’t even try to smooth it.
“So, do you have my ruby?”
“Not quite yet. It’s only been a few days, give it time. I’ve got a name though and a possible location. As long as everything goes according to plan, I should have it in a week or two.”
“I thought you were really good and, like, had an underworld connection.” She frowned at me and I tried to keep a straight face.
“It sounds like you’ve got one too,” I retorted. “Does your thief have any idea who did it?”
She smiled and I crossed my arms.
“He’s heard that it’s a big mob boss who did it,” she said, squirming in delight.
“A mob boss?” I repeated. I tried to hide my laughter. “Silver City doesn’t have a mob to be a boss of.”
“I don’t know, I’ve seen a dark side of Silver City,” she said, sticking her lip out a little.
“Marlene,” I said, glancing at her security guard to see if he found it amusing still. Like a good hired hand, he remained emotionless. “What darkness have you seen?”
She bit her lip and I couldn’t tell if she didn’t have an answer or if she just wasn’t willing to share it. She started to fiddle with the edge of a file on my desk, avoiding my gaze.
“Can I come with you?”
I leaned back in my chair and ran my hand through my hair, yanking at the snarls.
“Marlene, I know you’re anxious to get this back,” I started, trying to figure out a way to let her down without telling her she’d just be in my way.
“If the police find that ruby, Terry is going to go to jail,” she said flatly. Her voice had some steel in it this time.
“Yes, I know. Which is why I think it’s best if you left it to a professional.”
“C’mon,” she said and rolled her eyes. “You’re barely older than me.”
“Age doesn’t matter,” I said and breathed deeply through my nose, trying to calm down. I had heard the argument that I was too young to do this line of work a million times before. “I have a degree in Criminal Justice, I have field experience, and I have a track record of numerous solved cases. This business requires finesse. You need to know what you’re doing, who you’re talking to, and how to get them to do what you want.”
“You might be right,” she said. She stood up and her security tensed. I had a feeling he must have a hard life. “But I think I’d be an asset. And I can prove it. I’ve done some digging into you.” Her smile suddenly felt wolfish as she came and perched on the side of my desk, pushing papers and books out of the way, glancing down to make sure she didn’t sit on a stapler.
“What did you find out?” I asked with a smile. I had had clients come in trying to leverage my dad, his arrest record, and dozens of past cases, but none of them had ruffled my feathers yet. Marlene certainly didn’t scare me.
“I know that you look like your mom,” she stated. I frowned as she continued. “I know that Moira was an antiquities dealer. I know that you’ll let a criminal go if you think he’s a good person and isn’t hurting anyone. And I know that Francis is at The Carson and if you don’t let me come with you, I’ll go on my own. And then I’ll probably really mess up your plans.”
I stared at her, wide-eyed. She may have come in looking like a naive, young, silly girl, but I couldn’t believe it. My past was a hard thing to find info about, especially my mom. My personal ethics weren’t that unknown, any criminal that had tangled with me knew I drew a line. But I couldn’t figure out how she’d gotten the information about Francis.
“How do you know all that?” I leaned towards her, placing my hands under my chin.
She smiled, kicking her legs out for a moment and leaning back like she was basking in the glow of victory.
“Easy.” She laughed and I stared her down. Apparently deep pockets could get her places. That was the only way I could think of that could get her so much info in such little time.
“Who did you pay off?”
“You.” She hopped off the desk and stared at the window, drawing a small heart with her initials in the condensation building on the glass.
“I’m pretty sure I didn’t tell you any of that,” I retorted. I clenched my fists. Who was out there willing to sell that much information about me?
She turned back towards me. “If I can prove to you that I got that all from you, will you let me come with you? I want to help.” Her smile was gone and she looked at me with big doe eyes.
“Fine, if you can prove without a shadow of a doubt, that you didn’t get that from some low life or something, you can come.” I leaned back and crossed my arms. Marlene may be more clever than I had expected but there was no way she was going to be able to lie to me convincingly enough. I had learned all the signs. Being a con-man’s daughter taught you how to spot a liar and how to wipe all signs of guilt away yourself.
“You look like your mom was a bit of a guess but I know you didn’t look like your dad. His arrest record is still on your computer and his description is black hair, fair skin, and dark eyes. So I figured that golden brown hair and baby blues of yours came from your mother,” she said and sat back down on the corner of my desk. I flicked the screen off, realizing she had a straight shot from that vantage point.
“Your mom dealt antiques because that little hourglass has a plaque that says ‘Moira’s Antiques’ and since it’s the only decoration on your desk, I figured it was important. Plus, Moira is listed as your dad’s spouse on that little sheet thing.” She stood up and started pacing, her smile growing as I clenched my hands together, my frown growing. The security guy watched her, frowning too. I bet he didn’t want her to win this either because that would definitely make his life harder.
“Terry filled me in on the criminal ethics,” she said shrugging, “You let a friend of his slide. He stole some guy’s husky.”
“The one with the thousand dollar reward?”
“Yup and apparently you found him but somehow he stayed out of jail and the guy stopped the search.”
“Well, the owner had been abusing the dog whenever he got angry. He had some high stress job. I just told him if the dog was found, the cops might look into pressing charges for animal cruelty.” I remembered that case fondly. I occasionally still saw them out walking and the husky was healthy and happier than it ever had been with that creep.
“Hmm, I figured it was something like that.”
“And Francis? How did you get that lead? I got that last night.” She kept pacing and when she turned away, I quickly tucked the hourglass behind the stack of books to keep it out of her sights.
“I know you did,” she said. She turned back towards me and smiled brightly. “You wrote it down there.” I followed her finger to my notebook. The entire bottom half was sticking out and all of my notes from my conversation with Pete and Danny about the case could be clearly seen. Both ‘Francis’ and ‘The Carson’ were underlined.
“So you’re telling me that you got all that information from walking around the room?” I wouldn’t have believed she was capable of such spying if I hadn’t been here.
“Yup! I know people think I’m some shallow, stupid, rich girl. But I see things. I pay attention to people. And because they don’t expect me to be smart, they’re not on their guard around me either.”
I knew from experience how annoying but ultimately helpful it could be when people tended to underestimate you. I looked her up and down. She would fit in better at a place like The Carson than I would, even in her grunge look.
“Okay, but you’re driving and he’s staying in the car,” I said, standing up and pointing at her security.
She grinned. “Deal.”