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.

prompts, writing

Story Prompt #6

You are the first person to travel to the moon in fifty years. You arrive and all forms of communication with Earth drop. You step out and you’re greeted by a large group in spacesuits. One steps forward and looks at you curiously. “You escaped, too?”

 

Any stories from this prompt submitted using my contacts page have a chance to be published on my site with a link to your page. Have fun writing!

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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.”