Sunday Story Segment, writing

Asena 10: Plans

Rejoin Asena as she scrambles to save both Emmett and Marlene from a possibly lethal plan to uncover the truth about Francis’ murder. Comment below to add your thoughts and ideas! Thanks!

 

This was a terrible plan. I wasn’t usually the type of person to get swept up in a grand idea without weighing the options. I had learned the hard way that that was the quickest path to destruction. Harold had been a great at selling the idea but the follow-through had always been terrible.

I prayed that Emmett was able to see this through and not get caught. Marlene had promised up and down that she would trash whatever she bought the moment she got it. I still hated the idea that either of them would spend time with an illegal substance in their possession. I shivered despite the heat in my apartment.  

But I hadn’t come up with a better idea. After another half hour in the cafe and my entire walk home, I was still blank. I had no idea who might be able to sell something like that and I didn’t have any contacts who might know. I knew Danny, but I wasn’t sure how happy he’d be if I came asking for a list of anyone who could possibly be selling cocaine.

I groaned inwardly again. Danny had called me back an hour ago but I had let the call go to voicemail. I needed a few more hours to figure out how to explain this whole situation to him and maybe to find a way around our crazy plan.

Emmett had promised he would do nothing for a few days, giving the killer time to cool down. If the very next day someone started asking questions about the uncommon type of cocaine that killed Francis, Emmett would be dead before he got out of whatever sleazy place he was in.

I racked my brain. I had thought about posing as the person searching for drugs, as either a buyer or the middle man. But I didn’t know the business well enough to fake being the middle man and I couldn’t let anyone dig up info on me to make sure I was a legit buyer. Marlene was in the clear, as both rich and spoiled. No one would question that.

I yanked my laptop on to my lap. My apartment was cozy, though I hated whenever Danny used that word. It had a big poofy couch and a recliner all facing the TV hanging on the wall. On the far side of the living room was a large floor to ceiling window with reflective glass. The kitchen wasn’t huge but I kept my mom’s old canister set on the counter and a few of her pie plates that some of her friends had gifted me when they learned I was back in town.

The kitchen counter was a brown marble top that had a cutting board built in next to the sink. I had convinced my maintenance super to replace my tiny faucet with a long goose neck that made cooking so much easier. I thought about heading over there and losing myself for an hour trying out a new recipe.

Instead, I buried myself deeper in the couch and clicked on to Marlene’s Facebook. Research had become so much easier with social media. I scrolled through her most recent photos. I was happy to see there were no selfies from any of our time together, the last one from a party about a week ago. She looked happy, smiling at the camera while dancing in a flouncy red dress. She looked the like the perfect crazy heiress, with her hair curly and messy, dark eyeliner rimming her eyes, and other brightly clad twenty-somethings dancing around her with neon cocktails in hand.

I sighed. She looked like she was having fun. Why did she feel the need to butt into my investigation and to get my approval on her actions?

I moved on, scrolling past pictures of her posing with a cup of hot chocolate, flinging a snowball at some guy, catching snowflakes till I hit fall photos with flannels and pumpkin patches. I shook my head. This girl was my opposite in so many ways.

I frowned at a photo of her family at some gala, dressed in long evening gowns and a tux. Her hair was tamed for once, slicked so it gently curled and the emerald dress popped against the bright red. And while she easily stole the attention, I stared at her parents.

Her father’s face was familiar. I had seen him in the newspaper periodically, either because of his business or his charitable work. His bushy beard always surprised me as a business man but his beefy build pulled it off. He stood a few inches over his daughter and wife, smiling over their heads at the camera.

His wife had red hair as well, though it was chopped into a short straight bob. She had a strong face, with sharp cheekbones and large eyes. Her blue dress offset her coloring well and she was smiling but looking off in another direction. I wondered why Marlene posted that one, with her mother gazing off into space.

I sucked in a breath, jealousy biting at me. What I wouldn’t give for that to be me, for that woman to be my mother, smiling and laughing and hugging me close. Moira was so full of life and so strong. I wished sometimes I was more like her or even more like Marlene. Too often, I could see Harold reflecting back out of my eyes and it terrified me.

I shuddered and clicked away.

My phone buzzed and I looked down. A message from Danny had popped up. “Pizza later? Working late.”

It had been a while since we had gotten pizza together, but it used to be common for both of us to grab a few slices at a local place down the road whenever we worked late. I smiled, glad to see the tradition would survive my freeze out.

I sent back a thumbs up and drug my hand through my hair. I could always ask Danny and get his advice without explaining the drug deal. I knew I had to tell him later tonight that I was still investigating but I couldn’t tell him everything. I was sure he could get me the info I needed but if I brought him in, he could easily be implicated if we got caught.

I needed him to have plausible deniability.

I sat up straight. My fingers flew over the keyboard as I cursed my slow brain. I hated to use the password twice in a week in case it red flagged it in a system and I lost access, but if I could figure out what the police knew, I could maybe convince Marlene and Emmett that there was another way.

It didn’t take long before I was scrolling past mugshots of anyone arrested for dealing highgrade. Most of them were still in prison and I could feel my frustration growing. If I couldn’t figure it out this way, I wasn’t sure my next step. Let Emmett go through with it. Disguise myself as an heiress and go with him despite the risk?

I stopped at a mugshot, blinking in surprise. I recognized that face. I scanned his information and smiled. He had been released for a lack of evidence on the drug charge but I had a feeling he would have my information.

I clicked on him and found the most recent arrest. I minimized that box, happy to see he was still in lock-up for another two nights. Next I pulled up the case file from a few years ago, hoping my suspicion was correct.

I stopped, rereading the sentence I was hoping would be there. “Suspects were in a public library when they made the phone call that led to Linda wiring them $10,000 but the surveillance tape was stolen.”

Harold was sly. He had this whole explanation of using a public place because it’s harder to trace, but it’s so much more than that. He had done this to every partner he’d ever had, usually without them knowing. He would find a place that had easy security, used an older system, and steal the tape as an insurance policy. If his partner tried to screw him over, he had a tape that would put them both in jail. Mutual destruction.

Now I simply had to convince Danny to let me see the man who attempted to attack me at a bar without explaining exactly why. I shut my laptop, happy to know that Bernie’s drunkenness was going to help me make sure my friends didn’t get themselves killed or arrested.

Tips and Tricks, writing

Guest Post: An Edit Vs a Re-Write: My First Draft Problem

By: Jeremy C Kester

In the spaces where I’ve done my research, I’ve found quite a number of other writers who would argue that in every story I do, once I complete my first draft I should crumple it up, throw it out, and start fresh. The idea is predicated on advice to ignore quality (or rather, not to let it get in the way of progress) when attempting to complete the first draft.

I can’t say that I am a fan of that method. It would be a waste to just re-do it all, similar to throwing all that work away.

Though I won’t dare say that the first draft of any of my stories is a work of pristine art, I was more in favor of strategic editing, lopping off chunks or adding where needed to bolster the weak parts of the story. I would argue that there are great stretches in what I write that is worth keeping. Basically, I believe that the above advice to completely re-write the book from scratch \ was more for when one’s first draft was really bad. Like really bad— like where a surgery is more likely to kill the patient than the disease itself.

Still, I never considered it. Even when my first drafts were terrible, I stuck with the strategic editing concept… that is until I have a book with over 170,000 words staring at me with a plot that indeed went awry somewhere in there. It would take so much work that I realized something: they were right the whole time.

There’re a few projects of mine, particularly in the last year, that I plowed through the writing to get the draft done. When I was struggling with plot, I simply ran through. Eventually, when I finished these stories, I found that they were a teeny-bit away from the intentions I had put forward initially. My inadequate planning bit me in the ass. There was too much wrong to fix with simple editing. Yet, I became determined to try.

Gravity 3 was like that. As is Gravity 4, Gravity 5 (note that I am revamping that saga anyway, but this only reinforces that), Of Earth and Ice (a sci-fi epic I am working on), Antlers (a novella that I am not fully ready to say much about yet), and a few others. I learned to write a lot, and write a lot I did; although, I ended up failing at achieving the real goals I wanted to get to with those stories.

Without my planning, without the skills I’ve been working on to better the prep work before I start a project, I would have to become comfortable with the understanding that a crappy first draft would act as a substitute. It would install a rough skeletal structure to hang a re-draft onto, allowing me to take on re-writing I said project with more confidence. The first draft is the rough outline I needed to begin with.

I am throwing a lot of these projects away now (metaphorically speaking). Committing to a re-write just seems… right. Sure, it would be a lot of extra work, but wouldn’t the degree of editing I would have to do to bring a bad manuscript back in line be even more?

 

Today’s guest author is the talented Jeremy C Kester. To read more of his works and support a great writer, check out his site jeremyckester.com.

Jeremy C Kester is an independent writer living with his family in DuPage County, Illinois. He works as an engineer with a polyurethane chemical company while he obsesses about writing. Petting cats is another hobby he would love to have more time for if he wasn’t writing, spending time with family, reading, and drinking coffee.

Sunday Story Segment, writing

Asena Ch. 9: A Coffee Shop Deal

Join Asena and Marlene as they dive deeper into their case with a familiar face making an appearance. If you think you know what might happen next or want to make a suggestion, comment below and you may just see your suggestion show up in the next installment! As always, thanks for reading and feel free to check out the rest of Asena’s story.

 

“Is that him?” Marlene asked, pointing at the snow-covered man who had just walked in.

“If you ask that one more time, I’m sending you to the car,” I grumbled. Emmett was unsurprisingly late and I hadn’t slept much last night. Danny had called and I couldn’t bring myself to tell him we were still investigating. The guilt had kept me tossing and turning all night. I had texted him this morning to see if we could grab dinner tonight but he had been busy. I frowned, hating the idea that he might find out through someone else.

“Wasn’t he supposed to be here at one?” Marlene sighed. We had sequestered ourselves in the corner of a coffee shop. It was quiet, there were no cameras, and we were far enough from campus that no students were camped out in nearby tables.

“Yup,” I snapped.

“Hey,” she whipped her head over at me. Her hat was still on, red hair sticking up with static. “If you don’t want to do this, then don’t. I’m sick and tired of you acting like I’m a whiny child. I’ve helped you a ton already and I feel like you’re not appreciating me at all.”

My eyes widened. Her outburst had been quiet enough that no one was looking at us, but thoroughly shocking to me. I knew I was on edge, but Marlene always seemed happy and bubbly and I never thought twice that she might be upset with me.

I wasn’t sure if I should apologize or defend myself and before I could decide, Emmett walked up.

“Asena,” he said, unraveling a knit brown scarf from around his face. “Who’s this?” He looked Marlene up and down, mostly checking to make sure she wasn’t armed, but the small smile told me he thought she was cute too.

“An associate of mine. Nothing to worry about,” I promised as he sat down at the rickety table across from us.

“An associate? With a wire?” He frowned at her and her scowl didn’t help soothe his nerves.

“Really?” I asked, annoyed that he would even think that. “She’s not a cop.”.

“I’m actually her partner on this case,” she said, glancing at me with a raised eyebrow as if daring me to challenge.

“She has some insight to the case and has been helping me follow some leads,” I answered and I felt her relax beside me.

“Is this still the Pembrook case?” he asked and shrugged his coat off. He was wearing a nice blue sweater and his hair was mussed from the wind.

“Kinda,” I said and I felt Marlene inhale.

“I thought the jewels had been found?” he asked. “Also, I think I was promised coffee.”

“What can I get you?” Marlene asked sweetly. I was surprised at the gesture but controlled my expression. Emmett didn’t need to know we were arguing.

He smiled at her and ordered a caramel latte. She took her hat off and set it next to her cup. “Be back in a jiff,” she said and walked over to the counter, leaning heavily against it and chatting up the barista.

“What’s going on, Asena?” Emmett whispered, leaning in close. “No games.” His brow was scrunched and I could see the worry oozing out of him.

“That’s Marlene Pembrook,” I said, deciding honesty was probably the best bet. “We’re following up on her case. The jewels were recovered but it’s looking like Francis was a patsy. She’s hired me to figure out who murdered him and the condition is that she joins in.”

“Isn’t that dangerous?

“Of course it is,” I answered, rolling my eyes. “But she’s pretty smart, she’s the one who caught our lead. And she threatened to go snooping around on her own if I didn’t help her.”

He grinned at me, the tension leaving his face. “And you couldn’t let someone get hurt when you know you can help them.”

“Hey, if I wouldn’t let you get hurt, do you really think I’m going to let a rich, young client?” I responded, taking a sip of my coffee.

I nodded slightly to let Emmet know Marlene was walking back up, a coffee mug in her hand. It was smart, not getting him a to-go mug because it gave us a better chance of keeping him here longer and getting more information. I smiled at her, not sure if she had done it on purpose, but after the past twenty-four hours, I wouldn’t put it past her. She smiled back and her happiness was easy to spot. Another wave of guilt hit me. I couldn’t believe how much my actions seemed to influence her emotions.

“Here’s your cup of sugar and coffee,” she said, setting it in front of him.

He laughed as she sat back down and took a sip of her own plain latte.

“What did I miss?” she asked, glancing between us.

“I was just filling Emmet in on the case a bit. I explained that you had found our lead,” I answered her and she beamed at the praise. I turned back to Emmett, trying not to roll my eyes. “We think Francis’ overdose was caused on purpose. Until we can somehow get the toxicology report, we aren’t sure if he really did intake too many narcotics or if someone gave him something that was too pure. Either way, we figured you might be able to help.”

“Asena, you know I don’t deal the hard stuff,” he answered, leaning back as he sipped slowly, blowing on the steaming milk.

“I know,” I retorted. “But I also know that you know most of the guys who do deal the harder stuff. Could you poke around a bit, find out if anyone was looking for some purer coke or recently bought a large quantity?”

“Asena, asking those kinds of questions could get me killed,” he answered, no longer smiling as he set his cup down.

“C’mon, you can sweet talk anyone. Are you really telling me you can’t casually drop that into conversation with a someone whose life revolves around it?”

“No, I can’t,” he answered, glancing around the cafe. “They know I don’t sell that stuff. Worst case scenario, they’ll think I’m a snitch for the cops and I’ll be found in some back alley. Best case scenario, I have a bunch of dealers curious as to why I’m asking questions. Sooner or later, they’ll start talking and realize I’ve been asking around. No matter what they think my reasoning might be, I’ll still be a dead man.”

“What if you were acquiring it for someone else?” Marlene broke in.

“I mean, maybe. Most know I’m not interested in getting into that so it’d be a hard sell. And I would need to have a real client. If my story didn’t come with a lot of cash to back it up, it would never fly.”

“Then this is me, wild heiress to a billionaire, asking if you can find me someone who is selling a pure form of cocaine,” she said in a whisper, her eyebrow raised and a smile playing around the corner of her mouth.

I bit my lip, unsure whether or not to oppose. This suddenly stuck both Marlene and Emmett in a possible line of fire. No longer was this an innocent question or two, this was a drug deal. If they didn’t get hurt from the dealer, there was altogether too much of a chance the police would find out. And there would go her PI days and mine.

“I’d need a lot of cash,” he repeated, frowning. He definitely hadn’t expected the offer. He already was halfway out the door in his head and the furrowed brow told me that he had no idea what to think,

“I have the cash, trust me,” she answered, leaning her chin on her hand. “I’ll give you ten percent of whatever it’s worth as a finder’s fee as well.”

“Twenty,” he replied leaning forward.

“Fifteen,” she answered firmly. I had a feeling she had haggled before.

“Deal,” he said and grinned. I wasn’t sure the street value but I had a feeling Marlene was handing over a lot of cash.

“Guys,” I started, not sure where my sentence would end.

“Asena, this is a good plan. And one of the only ways to keep Emmett safe. And I don’t mind giving up the money. Trust me, my family won’t notice the difference.”

I sighed deeply.

“Emmett, this is the only time I will be okay with you dealing anything hard.”

“Deal,” he replied. “I couldn’t get a deal like this again anyways, with a PI watching my back and that much cash to go with it.”

Marlene sat back, a small smile on her face. She was proud of herself and for a moment, I let myself be impressed by her plan. This girl might be valuable after all.

Sunday Story Segment, writing

Asena Ch 7: Partners

“Tell me again why she’s here?” Danny asked me. He was in his uniform and was taking notes in a tiny notebook. Similarly dressed cops were swirling around the hotel room. Forensics techs were dusting for fingerprints and detectives were theorizing with each other.

“I didn’t expect there to be a body,” I snapped. “I figured it might shock him to see her, or at the least, she’s got some great observational skills. Plus, she begged and since she’s the one paying me, I couldn’t exactly say no.”

I crossed my arms and leaned on the couch. Marlene was sitting in an easy chair near the fireplace, a shock blanket around her shoulder. She had only said a few words to the cops and I jumped every time her hand went near her pocket. Tampering with a crime scene was a serious offense.

She stared intently at the fireplace but I was pretty sure her mind was far away. I had tried to convince her to at least let me hold on to the ruby, but she wouldn’t part with it. She had barely wanted to call the cops, but I think some of the shock was truly starting to set in.

“And you didn’t see anyone? Nothing suspicious?” Danny pressed. I had already given my statement to a different cop, but Danny had demanded to be allowed to question me again.

“Besides the fact that your apparent overdose victim felt the need to tape his door handle open?”

“Asena, all signs point to an overdose. He probably invited people over, maybe a drug dealer or someone else celebrating, and just left the door open for them so he wouldn’t have to stop midway. Stupid, yes, but not that strange. He made a large score, spent the money on drugs, and overdid it, simple as that.” Danny seemed to think I was under some delusion after I had scoffed loudly at the overdose diagnosis the coroner had given. The coroner had shot white-hot glares at me after the officer in charge wouldn’t allow him to throw me out.

It just wasn’t sitting right, even if Danny made good points. “He hadn’t sold the jewels yet, though. Where’d he get the money?” I gestured to the guy bagging all the jewelry who was standing partially in the doorway.

“He probably spent every penny he already had, plus cash he lifted from the Pembrooks, expecting a big payday the moment he sold those.”

It wasn’t a terrible idea, but I wasn’t buying it. I rolled my eyes and took a deep breath.

“I don’t care. The Pembrooks hired me, the jewels are there. This whole dead body business is for you guys. If you don’t think there was any foul play, I’ll leave it be.”

“Seriously?” Danny asked and his voice was hopeful.

“In my books, this case is closed for me. I have no reason to poke around.” I wasn’t getting paid, I was just getting back into Danny’s good graces, and last thing I needed was to get involved in a homicide, if that was even what had happened. At the very least, I wasn’t going to do anything while Marlene was still here, with a stolen ruby hidden in her pocket. My best option was to let it rest, see if the cops came up with anything more after their investigation and go from there.

“I cannot tell you what a relief that is,” Danny said and his shoulders sagged as he closed his notebook. “I’ll admit, I was a bit freaked when I was told Asena Patterson phoned in a dead body. I know,” he said, raising his hands defensively as I frowned, “you can take care of yourself. But if someone was killing over this, it’s nice knowing you’re not about to go piss them off.”

“Ha-ha,” I said dryly. “Your worrying is all over, I’m just fine. But do you have any more questions? I need to get Ms. Princess back soon before her bodyguard does kill me.”

Danny laughed and waved me off. Marlene’s bodyguard had been steps behind the police when they arrived and it took two officers to convince him to wait outside, and that was only after Marlene had assured him she was fine. The police weren’t going to have us standing around uselessly when both her guard and the Pembrooks were anxious to see their daughter. And I was anxious to have that stolen jewel a little further from prying police eyes. I could see the bulge in her pocket and despite lying flawlessly that she touched nothing, I was still wound tight.

I walked up to Marlene and stood, clutching the blanket tightly around her shoulders. It made her hair stand up, static flinging it every which way. She turned big, wide eyes on me.

“Asena,” she whispered, looking around to see if anyone was close enough to hear. We had been all but forgotten at this point. “What’s our next step?” I blinked at her. I had been expecting shock but this looked a lot more like an adrenaline high.

“Our next step,” I replied, mocking her whisper, “is to get out of here, get you home, and spend the rest of the night faxing over your invoice.”

“C’mon,” she whined. “What are we going to do about the murder?”

“One,” I stuck one finger up.  “We don’t even know if there was a murder. The police are calling it an overdose.” I lifted another finger. “Two. You’ve got your job completed. We have no reason to investigate.”

She flung the blanket on the chair and glared at me. “One. It was a murder. Two. I want to know who stole it, not just get it returned.”

“I believe the man in the body bag stole it,” I snapped. I really just wanted to go home and wash off the smell of this room.

“You know as well as I do that he wasn’t the mastermind behind all of this.”

“Mastermind?” I scoffed. “Marlene, this isn’t some spy movie. You aren’t a Bond girl who helps save the day and everything turns out alright. This is dangerous and not something you can just play around with.”

“Don’t patronize me,” she snarled and it was the first time I had seen her truly angry. Her face was flushed and her teeth bared. “Someone targeted my family, and it wasn’t this idiot. There was a smear from another line of coke on the dresser but it was wiped off, not snorted. Somebody else was here who decided not to join in on the fun. Almost like that someone knew the coke was messed up.  Plus, Francis already had money to pay for this hotel, but didn’t sell a single jewel. And his door was left open so someone would find him quickly. None of this screams accidental OD.”

Her voice had steadily gotten louder and I glanced around. Danny was in the other room, but was staring with an eyebrow raised. I was pretty sure he hadn’t heard, but Marlene’s face was giving him pause.

“Quiet,” I hissed, turning back to her. “I don’t disagree with you.” I hated admitting it, but I had just been saying the same things to Danny. “But you’re sitting there with a hot piece of jewelry, you have no training in this type of thing, and if you’re right, we’re facing someone dangerous who doesn’t hesitate to get rid of pawns.”

“So you’re telling me this isn’t over?” she pushed. “You’ll keep investigating? And you’ll take me with you?” She stressed the last question, folding her arms.

“Marlene,” I started and my tone must have tipped her off.

“I’ll do it myself. If you think I’m so inexperienced, will you really let me run off by myself? How much more dangerous is that?”

I frowned. She would get herself killed in minutes if she poked the wrong person the wrong way. I couldn’t just let that happen.

“You’re going to pay a fortune for sidekick privilege. I’m gonna bill you for all of this,” I grumbled. Danny was going to kill me when he found out.

“Yay,” she squeaked. I could see her straining not to jump up in glee but thankfully she realized a crime scene was not the place for happy outbursts. “But, we’re partners in this, I’m not a sidekick.”

I frowned. Partner was way beyond her role but it wasn’t worth an argument now. “How sure are you that was coke on the desk?”

“I’ve seen it before. The one line was definitely snorted. It had to be pretty concentrated or else he already had a ton of other stuff in him,” she answered, rocking on her heels as she thought.

“Well, it sounds like we need someone who knows how to get a hold of something like that,” I answered, crossing my arms.

“Hey, don’t look at me. I never used it, I’ve just been at parties. What about you?” she asked.

“I might know someone. Be prepared to buy some expensive, hot coffee, he hates meeting in the cold.”

Sunday Story Segment, writing

Asena Chapter 6: The Pembrook Ruby

I wasn’t sure if I had seen a grown man throw a bigger fit than the one Marlene’s security guard threw, but I was definitely happy to be inside The Carson and away from his white-hot glare. Marlene seemed absolutely thrilled and I felt the eyes drawn to us as she flounced through the ornate lobby. The carpet was a deep red with a black criss-cross pattern. Numerous couches were scattered throughout, paired with mahogany tables. On the far side of the room was a large fireplace with a crackling fire that sent a gorgeous glow into the room. The elevators were to the right of the long, dark front desk with engraved gold plaques marking each person. I walked up to the one marked ‘Current Guests’.

“Hi,” I said, smiling at the young, slightly pimply man. His hair was greasy and slicked backed but his black coat and red button up made him look a little more professional.

“Hello,” he responded, his eyes flicking toward Marlene.

“James,” I said and his eyes focused back to me. His name badge stuck out on his chest but people always tended to be surprised when you used their name. “I really need your help. My cousin and I think my brother is in some trouble. He took some money from her dad and disappeared. We really don’t want to get the police involved so is there any way you could just tell us what room he’s in so we can just talk to him?”

He looked skeptical, though the mention of police had wrinkled his forehead.

Marlene leaned forward.

“I would be really grateful,” she said, batting her eyelashes. She put her hand over his and he glanced down and then around the area. No one else was paying us much attention except for a few college aged guys staring at Marlene near the check-in desk.

She pulled her hand back to her side of the counter, and I saw a green bill sticking up between his clenched fingers. He quickly slipped his hand off the counter and into his pocket, his eyes darting to every other employee and then up towards a security camera by the elevator.

“What’s his name?” he asked in a hurried whisper, leaning over his keyboard.

“Francis,” I said. I hoped he hadn’t been smart enough to give a fake name.

“His last name?” he asked, annoyed.

“His last name is Matthews but I think he’s using something else. I called earlier and no one is going by that,” I lied smoothly. Marlene glanced at me, her mouth quirked to the side. She probably thought I was holding out information on her rather than making it up on the fly and I tried to smile encouragingly at her.

“There’s two Francis’s here,” he said and scrawled the names and room numbers onto a sheet of paper that he slid over to us as if this was a high stakes deal.

“Thanks, James,” I said and pocketed it casually as if all he did was give us a restaurant recommendation. Marlene was bouncing again, rocking on the balls of her feet with a big smile.

“You wouldn’t happen to want to give us the keys, would you?” she asked, a green bill poking between her fingers again.

His eyes widened and I recognized the deer in headlights look.

“Nevermind,” I said sweetly and looped my arm through Marlene’s, yanking her away.

“Hey,” she said, stumbling over her own feet. “He might have caved.”

“He might have called security. You’ve got to learn how to push people. Money can only get you so far before self-preservation kicks in.” I steered her to the elevator and pressed the up button. She wasn’t content waiting though and strained against my arm, leaning over to look at the other people in the area. She smiled and gave a small wave to the boys still watching us.

“Lighten up, Asena,” she said as the elevator doors opened and an older man squeezed past us into the lobby.

I dropped her arm as the doors closed and pressed the button for the fourth floor.

“I’m plenty light. You need to get a bit more serious.” I had been impressed by the show in my office, but as the elevator rose so did my feeling that bringing her was a terrible idea.

“I know being a private investigator is this big serious job and all, but c’mon, when’s the last time you let loose?” I stared at the numbers as they counted up, ignoring her.

“When’s the last time you had a day off?”

I bit my lip and groaned as her eyes widened.

“You’re a workaholic,” she said matter-of-factly.

“No,” I retorted as the elevator dinged and the doors opened. “I own a new business, it takes a lot of time and effort.” I stepped out on the landing and glanced down the hallway both ways. I was looking for Room 401 and the sign to my left listed it.

I took long strides down the richly carpeted hallway, happy to put even a small bit of distance between us. This place was nice, with dark trim and honey gold walls. I couldn’t afford a night in this place, let alone a week, which was about how long Francis had been hiding out here.

“Workaholic,” she said in a sing-song voice, following after me.

“Quiet,” I snapped as we loomed in front of Francis’ door. I wasn’t sure exactly of my plan. Danny had told me he was short, skinny, and had a bunch of messy black hair. I was hoping that the wrong Francis was built like a wrestler, with bright blonde hair, and someone I could make giraffe jokes about. Otherwise this could be awkward.

I knocked, listening for movement within. Marlene was back to bouncing on the balls of her feet and I wanted to make her sit still, but I was too jittery myself. I had done this kind of thing before. In fact, it was pretty commonplace. But I didn’t usually have a jumping bean civilian next to me, in the possible line of fire, who also happened to be my client.

This was a terrible idea.

“Why isn’t he answering?” Marlene whispered. “Should we say housekeeping or something?”

“We’re not in some bad cop film,” I retorted, knocking again. I was hoping he would be home at midday, since he seemed to like to frequent the bars at night.

“Maybe we should go check the other guy out?” she suggested.

“Maybe,” I answered with a frown. My gut was telling me to stay here, but I had no clue how to get in. I glared at the card reader. Fifteen years ago, my nimble little child’s fingers could have picked this lock in seconds but everything was electronic now. It made my line of work so much more difficult.

“Asena, do you know something I don’t? You obviously held out on his last name, is there something else you’re not telling me?” She leaned against the door, a pout on her lips, and it swung forward. She barreled into the room, catching herself on the edge of the hallway table.

I followed her in quickly, noting the tape that was over the handle, allowing it to be opened and shut without the key. The door was heavy enough not to open easily, but Marlene’s bony frame had enough weight apparently.

“Get back here,” I said, trying to steady her. She was still tripping over her own feet with red hair spilling everywhere while I scanned the room to make sure we were safe.

It was a gorgeous room, with modern furniture, a whole wall of windows looking out on the city, and even a fireplace, though no fire was lit. It’s beauty made the fact that it was completely trashed even more jarring. It was littered with old take out containers, dirty clothes, and garbage everywhere.

“What a pig,” Marlene said, straightening up and looking around. I motioned frantically for her to be quiet. We certainly didn’t want our thief finding us in the middle of his room.

I dug my toes into the carpet, taking a few steps forward with my ears strained. Marlene was right behind me. I swiveled around, my head whipping back and forth. No way was she coming into the lion’s den.

Her mouth was set in a firm line as she stared me down. I pointed out the open door and she crossed her arms, shaking her head. I whipped back around, making sure nothing had moved and no one had popped out of any of the closed doors before turning back.

Wait for me, I mouthed, trying to scooch her out the door. She dug her heels in and I raised my eyebrows.

The click of a door opening down the hall made my mind up though and I let her step past me and silently closed the door. I couldn’t afford to have neighbors questioning what we were doing or worse, raising an alarm. I stuck a finger to my lips and tried once more to tell her to stay put in the front entry.

She strode forward and I groaned inwardly. I jumped in front of her, watching my step and landing on the balls of my feet. Thankfully the carpet was thick and Marlene walked with a grace I hadn’t yet seen before.

I scanned the living room, peeking behind the couch and doing my best to not step on any of the garbage strewn everywhere. When I was sure no one was there, I tiptoed over to what I guessed was the bathroom door.

I twisted the handle slowly and silently. Marlene mimed checking her watch and rolled her eyes at me. I ducked down. A lesson I had learned when I first started breaking into places was that you should always peek around a corner or door from a lower vantage point. Most people expect someone coming from higher above.

It might be the bathroom, but I was pretty sure it was the same size as my apartment. A large Jacuzzi tub took up a whole section in the back. A walk-in waterfall shower stood next to it, red tiles encasing the whole thing except for a ring of Caribbean blue ones near the top.

Towels and dirty clothes were heaped in a pile next to the counter. The hotel-provided shampoo bottles were oozing onto the floor. I couldn’t believe someone this sloppy had pulled off a job like the Pembrook jewel heist.

Marlene sniffed in disgust and I clamped my hands together so I didn’t stick one over her mouth. She shrugged in apology and backed out.

I shut the door, taking care not to make any noise. It seemed I was too slow for Marlene though and before I had a chance to even put a hand out, she had pushed open the bedroom door and strode in. I lunged towards her, hoping to put myself between her and anyone inside. She gasped and I searched for the threat, hands up.

No one was charging me, no one was standing surprised, and no one was in the bed. I calmed a bit, lowering my hands now that I was sure there was no immediate danger.

I looked back at Marlene, who was looking a bit pale and still had her hand clamped over her mouth. I followed her panic-stricken eyes and saw him. Francis was laying on the ground next to the four poster bed, only his shoulders and head visible. His eyes were wide-open, glazed over. He was pale, which made the spittle coming from the side of his mouth almost impossible to see. But he was unmistakably dead.

Marlene didn’t seem to be able to tear her eyes away from the body but she had lowered her hand a bit. She took a hesitant step forward and I snagged her forearm, stopping her. Something seemed to snap when I touched her and she tore her gaze from the gruesome sight. Her eyes began to rove around the room. She took in the large bed, wardrobe, and dresser, but landed on the desk only feet from her. Everything was a mess in here as well, trash and dirty clothes mixed together. But this desk was a different kind of mess. The Pembrook family jewels were scattered on the table, along with a bit of cash and a black bag I was guessing it had all been shoved in at one point.

“We should call the police,” I said, letting go of her arm.

Feeling the freedom, she darted forward, snagging the ruby locket in the middle of the pile. “Marlene,” I hissed. Her fingerprints would already be on all those jewels, but she was interfering with a crime scene. Not that I had too many qualms about it except that if anyone should interfere, it should be me. I was a professional.

She swung the locket on her pointer finger, scrutinizing at it as if verifying it was real.

“Now we can call the police,” she said, slipping it into her pocket.

Sunday Story Segment, writing

Asena Chapter 5: Marlene

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.”

Sunday Story Segment, writing

Asena Ch. 4: The Office

hourglass in close up photography
Photo by Mike on Pexels.com

I knew that I had to find Francis. I laughed inwardly, enjoying my own Marvel reference. So far, I had caught a few lucky breaks. Emmett had heard of him at one of my favorite bars and Danny had been the cop to throw him out. I was feeling good about myself though I didn’t want to jinx it. Emmett had said there was another player involved. But, if this Francis was as stupid as he sounded, I wouldn’t be surprised if I had this case wrapped up before the end of the week. I could hand him over to Danny and maybe ease a bit of my guilt.

I had let myself enjoy last night, catching up with Danny and mending the damage from the past few months. It had been so easy to focus on cases and just ignore my cell phone every time his name popped up. Part of me was surprised he hadn’t broken down my door sooner. I had admitted that if the situation was reversed, I would have camped out on his doorstep until he had no choice but to talk with me.

My smile disappeared as I looked at the screen in front of me. My fingers hovered over my keyboard for the fourth time that morning and once again, I snatched them back. I stared at the fading letters painted on my door, ‘Asena Patterson; Private Investigator’. The ‘r’ at the end was almost completely scraped off and I wondered if I should repaint. I looked around the whole place, trying to direct my mind anywhere else than the screen and its temptation.

I liked my office. It was on the third floor in a building a few blocks from Main Street. It was small, that was for sure, but I preferred the term cozy. It had a tiny front reception area where a secretary could sit if I ever had the money to hire one. The floor was hardwood, though it had its fair share of nick marks. The walls had a wood paneling that felt like we were still living in the seventies but I kind of loved. It reminded me of all the old detective sitcoms from back then and made me feel like I belonged to a different era.

I had gotten a couch for clients when they were waiting and for me to crash on occasionally. I placed it where a reception desk would normally sit, across from the door. The couch was more modern than anything else I owned, a simple black fabric and all ninety degree angles. I had to lint roll every day but I had picked it up at a thrift shop for only thirty bucks so I deemed it worthwhile. Two doors branched off from my lobby. One went to a kitchen, the walls painted an obnoxious shade of yellow that made me think of egg yolks. It contained a grey counter with cabinets underneath. My coffee maker, a small toaster, and a microwave lived on top with not much else besides a bottle of Lysol underneath. The fridge stood at the end of the narrow space, blocking one of my cabinets. It was old, but worked just fine. I had a stash of leftovers in there from the past few nights.

While everything else in the office space felt sparse, my actual office was cluttered. I knew where almost everything was, but I had stacks of papers on every corner of my old wooden desk and on top of most of the file cabinets which lined the walls. I didn’t have many picture frames, but I did have my degrees and my PI license in frames on one of the filing cabinets. There were nearly dead tulips sitting on one corner of the desk, a gift from a client a few weeks back. A black desk lamp was nearly hidden by the stack of books I had to read but it shed some light in the room. The large overhead light always seemed too bright and fluorescent so I tended to just keep the window shade open and use natural light paired with the small lamp.

A small wooden hourglass sat near the books. The sand inside was electric blue and always made me think of some tropical beach. It had been a gift from my mother on my tenth birthday and it was one thing I had never left behind no matter where I had moved.

There was a small safe in the corner behind my desk and an assortment of coats and sweaters piled on top.  The walls were a soft sky blue and had come with a few pictures of serene mountains hanging on them.

The blue walls had actually been my deciding factor. The price had been the thing to catch my interest and the location made it a steal. But, I had walked in and felt a sense of calm, which I knew was so unbelievably necessary in my line of work. I was glad that the previous renters had only painted the kitchen yolk yellow because there was no way I could have spent all day staring at that.

My computer faded, going to sleep, and I shook the mouse to wake it up. I wasn’t sure how long I had been staring at it, but my eyes were dry and I blinked a few times to clear them.

“Screw it,” I said and broke my own policy, typing ‘Harold Patterson’ and his social security into Danny’s police database. Danny didn’t know I had his password but it had been invaluable over the past year. I flipped the hourglass over and watched it as I waited for the new page to load.

The first result was an arrest in New Hampshire four months ago. He had been released the next day on a technicality. He’d always been good with technicalities. I scrolled down. He was a person of interest in quite a few cases. I finally stopped when I saw an entry for Silver City.

Bernard Palmer had been the main suspect and under surveillance for months following the incident. Harold and him had conned an old woman out of nearly ten grand, claiming to be IRS agents. They hadn’t been able to get Berny on anything, since they never found the money. Shoot, he’d never even acted like he had ten grand. He’d been conned too, which explained his actions at the bar. Harold disappeared before they could question him. That had been five years and three months ago. I had started college just around the same time.

I bit my lip hard. I couldn’t believe he had been here. Only a year after I’d left my dad and his constant cons, he had been in the same city and not said a word. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised.

I stood up and walked to the only window, which faced the parking lot. I could see my old CRV in the parking lot, rust creeping up the left side. Snow was pushed into piles in the corner and more was starting to drift down, making the whole world look gray.

I pressed my forehead against the cool glass.

A black SUV pulled into the parking lot, leaving twin lines of black in the fresh snow. I straightened as a tall woman stepped out of the passenger side and a large burly man in a peacoat and hat stepped out of the driver’s side. I recognized the woman. She wasn’t much older than me and she had flaming red hair, which I could see even though it was partially covered by her hat. I turned from the window and started straightening up my desk with a sigh. It had barely been four days. I was ahead of schedule but I had a feeling that might not matter. Marlene Pembrook was here for her stolen ruby and I was empty-handed.