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.

Tips and Tricks, writing

How To Write a Relationship Your Reader Will Love

You may have heard that the golden rule for writing a relationship is that if they have to kiss for your reader to know they’re in love, you haven’t written a real relationship. But what does that actually look like? How do you write something that your readers will ship? Here are my top five steps to create a love story that your readers will fall in love with.

man and woman holding hands walking on seashore during sunrise
Photo by Ibrahim Asad on Pexels.com

 

  1. Opposites attract but they must have something in common

A really common problem of book relationships is that the two characters are exact opposites. One is quiet, the other is loud. One likes rap, the other likes classical. One likes small towns, the other likes cities. Every single thing (or pretty close to it) is opposite. And while that can cause a spark of attraction initially, that’s it. Now they can have differences, in fact, they should. Just remember that being opposites and having differences are not the same thing. Differences are good and allow them to create a partnership where one is sometimes weak and the other strong and vice versa. But, when they are polar opposites, they are in constant opposition with each other and this is unsustainable for a relationship. Either it will feel completely forced and unrealistic or very toxic where one is constantly sacrificing who they are. Instead, allow them to have commonalities. Create situations where the characters can bond over things they have in common. Let them share a cup of coffee and talk about their love of travel. Have them bump into each other at a local spot that both of them love.

  1. Let them love the same things

Want to build some chemistry fast? Let your character and their love interest love the same things and realize this. My favorite way to do this is to let your protagonist describe something meaningful to them. A book that changed them, a song they listen to on repeat, a spot in town, etc. Then let them explain why they love this thing to someone besides the love interest. Then at some point, let the love interest explain why and how they love this same thing or place to the protagonist (though make sure the reasons aren’t identical. That feels forced.)

  1. Absence makes the heart grow fonder

When the love interest isn’t around, let the protagonist’s thoughts wander. This doesn’t always have to be romantic. “Ben would have already gotten us lost if he were here.” If you aren’t in a perspective that allows thoughts, let us see them talk aloud to someone else about them, especially if the other person isn’t the one who brings them up. “We need some computer expertise.” “Oh, I know someone who would be terrible. Sherry can barely email.” This works very well when the person talking about them either denies or hasn’t yet realized their feelings. It allows the reader to feel like they have figured something out and are knowledgeable about the character. This creates a great connection to the character and adds complexity to their emotions and actions.

  1. Action, actions, actions

Unless you are portraying a toxic relationship, words don’t mean anything if they aren’t backed up. Show your characters doing things for each other, helping with the dishes, braving the parent meetings, shoveling their drive, making them dinner. If the only time we see them acting loving towards each other is when they say I love you or have an intimate scene, you have a bad relationship on your hands.

  1. Don’t make it simple

Readers love a love story that doesn’t come easily. And one person being hesitant isn’t usually enough. Raise the stakes. Is there someone standing between them? An arranged marriage, a parent, etc. Is there a rule? Can’t date a boss or coworker, can’t date a client. Is there a personal issue? Health is taking them away, their families hate each other, they vowed to be single for x years. Make them overcome these challenges. This will have your reader rooting for the relationship. You want your reader to be emotionally invested in these characters. When things do work out, your reader will get a sense of victory, for themselves as the reader and for the characters.

Sunday Story Segment, writing

Asena: Chapter Three

Curious to learn more about Asena’s backstory? Meet Danny, a friend with insight into her family! Remember to comment to add your own ideas, character names, and thoughts to the story! You might just see them pop up in the next chapter!

girl staring at the sky
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

 

I stared at Danny as he turned away and started to bark out orders to the onlookers. People started to dwindle out the door or sit back down, laughing at all the ruckus. Peter came out from around the bar and walked over to Bruce, who waved a hand at him, saying he was fine. He had a split lip, but besides that seemed unhurt.

Danny looked good in his police uniform. He had loved being in a uniform ever since his boy scout days when he used to show off his wilderness skills to my mom in our large backyard. His chestnut colored hair was no longer greasy and lanky, but instead was short and styled nicely. His nose was slightly crooked from the time he had run into a tree playing cops and robbers. He had decided that he needed to be blindfolded to make the game harder. The stupid boy had always loved a challenge.

I stepped away from Berny, who was struggling to get to his feet , and sat back down on a stool. My drink surprisingly hadn’t spilled  so I reached down the bar and pulled it close. I sipped it as I watched Peter tell Berny that he wasn’t welcome anymore and that next time he would press charges. He pointed at the door and Danny marched him out with a hand on his shoulder. Berny glanced back at me and I stared him down, my mouth a firm line.

Danny came back in and his eyes fell on me. He walked over, his grin growing with each step he took.

“Asena,” he said as he took a seat next to me.

Peter walked around the bar and leaned towards us.

“Thanks for coming in Danny,” he said. “Next drink is on the house.”

“You already owe me for last time. Bruce is your bouncer, don’t forget that,” Danny said. He couldn’t hold a straight face for long though and Peter just laughed at him.

“Kid, you’re lucky I even let you in here.That uniform is bad for my business.”

I shook my glass, the ice tinkling loudly. “Peter,” I said, happy that I now had his attention. “You were talking about that guy, remember?”

“I don’t know much,” he answered. “Danny is the one who walked him out. He’d probably know better than I do.” He walked away as another customer flagged him down at the the other end of the bar.

“So you’re searching for a guy?” Danny asked. “You know, there’s these things called dating apps now. Way simpler than asking the local barkeep.” He grinned as if he had said something hilarious and I rolled my eyes.

“It’s work,” I replied. I took a deep breath, loathe to ask his help after not speaking in so long. “His name is Francis. You apparently kicked him out last week.”

“Yup, the really drunk one, right?” He pulled a bowl of peanuts closer and popped a few in his mouth. “What about him?”

“Any idea where he might be?” I tried to keep a straight face, but even though he was smiling, I could feel the elephant in the room and it was killing me.

“How about you answer some of my questions and I’ll give you some answers,” he countered. He ran his fingers through his hair.

“Don’t you need to go back on duty?” I asked, squirming in my chair.

“Nope, it’s the end of my shift. I was headed home when Peter called,” he answered. He leaned on his palm and squinted as if trying to figure me out.

“Where have you been?”

“Right here in Silver City,” I answered and took another drink. I knew that wasn’t the real question.

“No, where have you been? I haven’t heard from you in months.” The joking tone was gone, replaced with undisguised pain.

I squeezed my glass tightly, the cold helping center my thoughts. “I just needed some space. After the Lowell case…,” I trailed off. I had followed a wife who was cheating, a pretty routine case. After I showed the photos to the husband, she ended up at the hospital the next night, a broken arm and bruises everywhere else, having barely escaped her house with her life.

I was always careful on accepting cases like those to avoid anything like that. Danny had done his best to persuade me against it, sure that the husband was bad news. But I trusted my gut feeling that he was a good guy and I still had a hard time sleeping over it. After I testified in court to put the husband away, I had avoided Danny like the plague. He had never said I told you so, but every time I saw him, I felt that guilt all over again. And then at some point, I just didn’t know how I could call up after all that time had gone by.

“I don’t hold that against you. Everyone makes mistakes,” he said softly. He put a hand on my arm, but I shook it off.

“I hold it against me. I should have known better. A woman ended up in the hospital thanks to me. I’m not just gonna let that go.”

“But you’re willing to let a life-long friend go?” His words stung and I bit my lip.

“I didn’t let you go,” I answered slowly. “I just couldn’t…,” I didn’t know how to finish so I just let the words dangle. I couldn’t deny it and I hated that.

There was a beat while neither of us said anything and the noises of the bar washed over us. Glasses clinked together, people laughed loudly, the jukebox played an old rock song, and the billiard balls kept thwaping each other.

“I’m sorry,” I said quietly. Danny swallowed and nodded and I knew he was forgiving me. I wished I could wipe away the hurt still on his face.

“Well what was that about?” Danny said, forcing a smile. “He looked furious.”

“Oh, that one wasn’t actually my fault.” He raised his eyebrow at me in disbelief. Usually it was my fault. “Seriously.” I smiled and felt the tension ease.

“Well what did he do to get tased?”

“He thought I was my mom,” I said. My smile slipped a little.

“You do look a lot like her,” he said. “So he knew her back then. And he got tased for that?”

“Not surprisingly, it was thanks to my dad. He apparently was in Silver City a few years ago and pulled a job. Berny got cut out, I think, and just wanted to get even. His wife, or rather his daughter, seemed like a good place to start.”

“Hmm, I might be on Berny’s side a bit,” Danny teased. “Your dad conned me out of my Halloween candy five years in a row.”

“He was always good at spotting an easy mark,” I joked back. I took another sip and swirled my ice cubes. It was almost gone and I debated on ordering another one. I bit my lip, enjoying the familiar banter.

“So you’re looking for the drunk from last week? Why?” he asked. He put a few more peanuts in his mouth and frowned. He stuck his tongue out and pulled a shell off from it.

“Gross,” I said. “Francis is for a case I’m working on. He didn’t tell you where he was going, did he?” I asked.

“Yes, the drunk guy I was kicking out of the bar told me his life story and exactly where he was going.” He stared at me for a beat and then rolled his eyes dramatically.

“C’mon, he didn’t spew out anything useful?” I said doubtfully..

“Not really,” he shrugged. “He seemed like he had some money to burn. I think he had tried to buy a lap dance from Hannah. And he offered me a couple hundred not to arrest him.”

“Which of course you didn’t take, you boy scout,” I answered.

“I could lose my badge over that,” he retorted.

“You were going to let him go anyways.”

“Not the point,” he said, laughing. “But I dropped him off at a hotel. The Carson, I think? It was down on Williams Street somewhere.”

“You couldn’t have led with that?” I asked.

“No way! You would have disappeared in a hurry.” I rolled my eyes at him. “This time when you pull your Cinderella act, can you leave a shoe? Or just call me back?” His voice was teasing, but mouth was in a tight line and I knew he was serious. I hated the pain I saw in his eyes and silently promised to be a better friend.

“I’ll call, I promise,” I swore to him. I had lived next to Danny for ten years and been friends with him even after I had moved with my dad when I was fourteen. I had never seen him this hurt before though and my stomach rolled at the thought.

Danny was one of the only people still in my life who had known my mom and knew my dad before he relapsed into his old criminal ways. He loved to joke that his best friend was a con man’s daughter and despite the uniform, I had told him about every con my dad and I had pulled together during those three years on the road. Danny had been the first contact on every burner phone I bought and the first person I called when I got back to Silver City. He had helped me finish my GED and then helped with my college essays.

There were times where we hadn’t talked for three months before this, especially when I was on the road. But, since I had gotten my PI license, he had been my best police contact and we talked a few times a week. This silent streak had been sudden and, I could see now, painful for both of us.

“I’m sorry,” I said again. “I know you must have been worried about me.”

“Well,” he started with a sheepish smile. “I did check up on you.”

“What?” I asked sharply.

“I had Jeggerson knock on your door,” he answered and leaned back in case I tried to swat him.

“The stupid noise complaint cop? He woke me up in the middle of the night. I had spent the whole night before tailing a guy and the rest of the day helping the wife file a restraining order and move. That was sleep of the dead he woke me from,” I said and huffed as I crossed my arms. I wasn’t really upset, though. I had missed him and his meddling ways.

“Oh, c’mon, I needed to know you were okay. And I wasn’t sure you’d answer the door for me.”

I shrugged, not sure if I would have. He just shook his head at me.

“So,” I said with a smile, “Ellison told me you were on the Burgens case. How did you get caught up in all that mess?” He laughed and asked Peter to refill the peanuts.

I ordered another drink, slumping my shoulders, and leaned forward as he began his retelling of the last front page case.