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.

Sunday Story Segment, writing

Asena Ch. 8: Harold’s Daughter

“She’s gonna be great.” He took a long drag on his cigarette and looked over at Harold. The wind had tousled his black hair and the smoke from his cigarette was snatched away almost immediately.

Harold smiled, flicking an ash off the end of his cigarette into an ornate ashtray. He stared at  his little girl as her nimble fingers picked an assortment of locks he had set in front of her. Some had gotten dirt in them as she tossed them around before setting to work with the small case of tools he had given her a few weeks before. She enjoyed the extra challenge.

“She’s gonna be the best,” he replied. He leaned back in his chair and stuck his feet up on the patio table. Moira would chew him out if she saw this, but she was out for the afternoon, running errands.

“When do you think she’ll be ready to go on jobs? Completely safe, I promise,” he said, crossing his heart with his finger.

“Asena is never going on jobs. I’m not teaching her to take my spot, I’m just making sure she can take care of herself. It’s the only thing I can teach her after all my experience.”

“We could use some of that experience tonight,” the man suggested, flicking his own cigarette ash off into a flower pot.

“Hey, watch it,” Harold snapped. “Moira loves those.” The whole back porch was covered in flower pots. Some had herbs while others had tomato plants and a few sprouted bright, beautiful flowers.

“Sorry,” he said with an annoyed sigh. “C’mon, Jonny isn’t nearly as quick as you are. Last time, he nearly tripped the alarm before he got that thing open.”

“That’s because Jonny is a moron,” Harold answered. “You know I’m out, man. Advice, that’s all I’m gonna do. I’m not going to get them in trouble. Not again.”

“Moira would get over it,” he said but it was obvious he had no fight left in him. This was an old conversation. “She can’t stay mad forever.”

“You’ve met Moira. Yes, she could.” That made both of them chuckle and the sound made Asena look up.

“Daddy, look!” She grabbed a handful of the locks, all popped open, and thrust them up in the air, grinning.

“Great job, sweetheart. Now, put them in the gardening shed before mommy gets home,” he said, blowing a kiss to his daughter.

“Okay,” she said, bounding off towards the white and blue shed in the back corner of their yard.

“Hey, honey,” Moira’s voice floated in from the open patio door and the front door closed behind her. Harold let out a sigh of relief on Asena’s timing and slipped his feet off the table before his wife noticed.

Asena ran up to the deck, empty-handed, as Moira stepped outside. She was a gorgeous woman, strong and proud with golden hair and startling blue eyes. She scooped her daughter up easily and smiled at her husband.

“What have you guys been up to? What were you doing in the shed?” she asked Asena, tickling her chin.

The cigarettes both disappeared as well and Harold tried to think of something his wife would believe.

“I wanted to dig in the yard,” Asena said, “but daddy said I had to put your gardening tools back.” The lie was smooth and Moira accepted it without hesitation, playfully chiding her daughter for trying to dig up the yard.

Harold stared at them both, a twinge of guilt settling in his stomach like soured milk. He knew that as a con man, he should be very proud of his protege. But as a father and husband, he felt terrible that his daughter was willing and completely able to treat her mom like that. He knew that was definitely his fault.

Moira looked up and caught the slight frown. She was one of the few people that seemed to read him well and she raised an eyebrow.

He smiled, trying to reassure her. Her returning smile was enough to strengthen his resolve. When the girls had walked back inside to wash Asena’s hands, he looked over.

“You guys be safe, but there’s no way I’m going back out there.”

“Just you wait. There’s going to be a day you call me up, asking to get back in. And if you bring the girl, I might just let you.” Harold shook his head and hoped fervently that that would never happen.

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.”