Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Silver Shorts #31: Personal Business Chapter Five

My first PI novel continues, part of the Silver Shorts anthologies at Silver Publishing. They're available for the low, low price of... free! Just go here and download a copy!

As you'll recall from last time Holden Heidegger has just come face to face with the man who dumped him fifteen years ago. So, will Jeremy recognize him? And how does Holden feel about the situation. Let's find out!

Personal Business: Chapter Five

The years have been more than kind to Mr. Daniels in many ways. Mother Nature obviously loves him—he’s filled out in all the right places. I suspect he has a personal gym and he knows how to use it. Even underneath the expensive clothes, I can tell that is one fine-looking body. Having access to money hasn’t hurt him any, either. He always did like to dress well. It was just harder before. Neither one of us came from money. He married into it and I still don’t have it. But then I wasn’t exactly looking for it; I guess he was.

Is he happy? Stupid question. He’s cheating on his wife. That should tell me something. I know I don’t have any proof of that, not yet, but I’ve taken on enough of these kind of cases to know that when the wife gets a whiff that there’s something going on, there generally is, ‘cause they tend to be the last ones to know.  Part of that where there’s smoke, there’s fire syndrome.

I suspect Mr. Jeremy Daniels is one smoldering fire, waiting to release his flames at the first opportunity.

I catch myself staring directly into his gorgeous brown eyes. I drop my gaze to his pale pink lips, with the perfect Cupid’s bow, and I try not to remember how good those lips used to taste when they were locked with mine. So I drop my gaze even farther and fixate on his broad, smooth jaw instead, lightly stubbled and looking way more chic than any look I could hope to carry off. So much for objectivity. This isn’t working out very well for me, is it? I’m fighting every inner demon I possess, the ones with his name branded on 
them, and they’re screaming at me to do something—anything—and do it right now.

I manage to ignore them.

Has he been talking? I really should concentrate more.

Have I changed so much? Hell if I know. I’ve gotten a little taller, added a little weight; I’m not as skinny as I used to be, I guess, but who is? I can still wear most of my old jeans when I’ve a mind to. The ones that I haven’t worn clean through. I know I look older than the last time he saw me, but hell, it’s been fifteen years. And I knew him in a heartbeat. Why doesn’t he know me? Is that common sense or hurt pride speaking up?

“I asked you who you are, and why you’re carrying a gun in my hotel?”

Damn, he did ask me something.

“Just an ordinary guy doin’ my job, Mr. Daniels.” I pull off my hat, and run a hand through my hair to get it to settle down some, because common sense has just kicked in and booted my emotional side out of the way—I’ve figured it out. Why he doesn’t recognize me. Yet. I didn’t wear one of these back then, and a hat is a great way for people to not pay attention to your face. Criminals use them all the time; I remember my dad telling me that. Witnesses pick up on the fact that someone wore a hat and they can’t tell you what the face beneath it looked like. The silver hoops are new too. Part of my rehabilitation, after he left. I guess when you get down to it I have changed a bit since high school. Only natural. So has he.

I wait for his reaction, force myself to assume a calm demeanor, one that I’m far from feeling, to hide how much I’m quivering on the inside. Damned if I’m going to let him know just how badly he’s upset my equilibrium even after all this time. I watch him carefully as he does a double take. He narrows his eyes and he’s looking straight into my soul now; his expression’s impossible to read; like a poker player studying a potentially winning hand and deciding how to play it. I don’t cut him any slack, simply stare back at him. He’ll either figure it out or he won’t.

“Well I’ll be damned…” And there it is. That slow lazy smile I used to know so well, the one that lights up his eyes and used to make me tingle inside. Guess what? It still does.

And I know that he knows. And he knows I know he knows.

A polite—make that bored—cough from the doorway is a reminder that the rent-a-cops are still standing there. With my gun. 

“I’ll take that,” Jeremy holds out his hand toward them, his eyes still locked on mine.

“Mr. Daniels,” one of the witless wonders ventures, but Jeremy snaps his head toward him, and he ceases and desists whatever protest he was about to make. Quietly lays my piece in his boss’ outstretched hand.

“Thank you for your diligence in this matter. I’ll call you if I need you.” He’s gone from irate to charming in six seconds flat.

While Jeremy deals with his subordinates, I look around me at his grand and glorious office. He certainly has come up in the world.  Large, dark, expensive-looking desk that looks like it’s pure mahogany. No gunmetal grey cabinets in sight, nothing to show that this man works for a living, or does anything quite so mundane as filing. He probably has a pretty little secretary to handle that sort of thing for him; no doubt she has a desk of her own in an adjoining office. Isn’t that how it usually works? Someone to bring him his coffee and take dictation while sitting in his lap?

At least in some of the old movies I’ve seen.

The office is done up in rich, warm tones—all reds and browns—with gold trimmed everything. The art on the walls could easily rival the stuff they got hanging in the Louvre. I’m not surprised to see that he’s got his own elegant bar set against the back wall; the top’s covered with cut glass decanters and bottles of assorted liquors and mixers.

Now this is interesting. I spot two glasses sitting on the bar, looking out of place as though they’ve been hastily set out of the way, and they’re both barely touched. I don’t imagine Jeremy’s devolved into a two-fisted drinker, so I wonder if my unexpected arrival has managed interrupted something. A tryst, maybe? But with whom? Where is this mystery person, and can I be on to something? Of course, this isn’t exactly proof of any infidelity. I need to find more solid evidence than this before I can even think about going back to his wife to tell her the unpleasant news.

Jeremy closes the door, having shooed out the faux lawmen, and now we’re alone, and my stomach is tied up in knots, but I don’t let on ‘cause I sure as hell don’t intend to let him know how badly he hurt me.
Play it cool, boy… real cool.

“Holden…” His voice is whiskey soft as he crosses the room, coming straight for me. For someone who ran out on me without a word of explanation—and I don’t count his terse “We’re done”—he sure seems to have forgotten all about the past. Our past, anyway. I can’t decide if I’m more relieved, or affronted.

“Holden, it’s been so long…” He lays my gun on his desk, removes my hat from my hand and sets it on top of the gun, then reaches for my hands, takes them into his, and pulls me in for a light kiss before I realize what his intentions are. I submit with as good a grace as I can muster—not even going to go there, ‘specially not with my client’s husband. Remember her? The lady who’s paying you?  I take a step backward, but all that gets me is my ass plastered against the bar with nowhere to go.

“You’re looking good,” he says. “Come on, let’s sit down and catch up. Let me fix you a drink. What are you drinking these days? You name it, I’ve got it.”

While it’s a tempting offer, I think I’ve put enough liquor away for one evening, and I am working, so let’s be sensible here. As sensible as I can be, under the circumstances. Better to keep a clear head, all things considered.

“Nothing for me, thanks, I’m working,” I demur.

“Working?”  He arches his thick, dark eyebrows at me; on another man, they’d be considered Neanderthal, but on him, they’re just sexy.  “Sorry I don’t have any root beer. Will water do, instead?”

I’ll be damned. He remembered.

Water actually sounds real good, and I nod, not trusting my voice. He leans down and opens the door of a mini-fridge concealed in the bar, one I hadn’t noticed, and pulls out a plastic bottle, handing it to me. Our fingers touch, and I’m surprised to feel a low-grade tingle shoot through me, like I’ve just touched a live wire. I take the bottle, pull back, and step around him, mumbling, “Thanks.”

I notice he picks up one of the two drinks. I wonder what happened to his partner in crime? Did he shoo her into the next office to await our departure? Was he afraid she’d be recognized if she tried to make her escape, or is he just waiting this out to return to whatever was interrupted?

I notice there’s another door on the other side of the room. If the first one leads to his secretary’s office, I’m guessing this one’s a private washroom. Being boss certainly has its perks. In my office building, we’re stuck with communal lavatories and grateful to have them.

He waves me to the elegant oxblood Chesterfield sofa along one wall and I perch on the edge, afraid if I sink back too far I won’t want to come up for a long time. He takes a seat beside me, turned toward me, his knees touching mine.

“How do you mean, you’re working?” He takes a sip of his drink, regarding me curiously over the rim. 

“What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a private investigator.” I’m a real big believer in the truth. I think that’s part of why I do what I do. Something that was instilled in me by my old man, this love of justice. Of righting wrongs and making things better. Even when the truth is a bitter pill to swallow.

Doesn’t mean I intend to tell him that I’m investigating him, of course. My father didn’t raise any stupid sons.

Jeremy’s smile is so disarming. He’s so at ease with himself, and the situation, and being king of his own hill. Does he have no conscience? No memory of what he did to me? Or is it all part of a past he left behind with 
no regrets?

If he can do it so easily, why can’t I? I thought I had until tonight. Now I’m not so sure.

“Are you investigating one of my guests?”  His tone is even; he shows just the right amount of concern for someone with a business to run, someone who would not care for adverse publicity of any sort.

“Sorry, I’m really not at liberty to say.”

“Okay, Holden, I trust you.” He pats my knee and smiles that smile, and I have to keep reminding myself that this is strictly business. Even if it weren’t, why would I ever take him back again?

“You know, I can remember when all you wanted out of life was to be a cowboy.”

“Yeah, like when I was maybe six. I got over that a long time ago.”

“To be honest, I always figured you’d end up a cop, like Stan.  You and him were always so close. How’s the old guy doing? He ever retire from the force? Or he still making this world a safer place to live?”

I look down at the bottle of water, still unopened, and twirl it between my palms for an uncomfortable moment; I should have realized he didn’t know. “Jeremy, Dad passed on seven years ago.”

“Oh God, Holden, I’m so sorry. I had no idea.” He slides his arm about my shoulder, and the heat I feel emanating from him is echoed by my own rising temperature.

This is not good.

Thinking quickly, I let the bottle of water slip through my fingers, grateful it can’t spill. “Oops, butter fingers,” I mumble, ducking beneath his touch in order to pick it up. “ ’Sall right, I figured you didn’t know.”

I straighten up, slide myself a little farther down on the sofa and manage to put a few inches between us in the process. “What about you?” I aim the conversation in other directions. I don’t want to talk about Dad. Not here, not now, and not with him.

“Me? I run a hotel.” His laugh is a rumble, low and throaty.

“I kind of noticed that.” I force a half-way cheesey grin onto my face. “I mean, how’d you get into this?” I wave my hand, indicating the whole set-up—fabulous office and everything—pretending that I don’t know he married his way in. “Last I remember you wanted to be a drummer in a rock and roll band. What happened to that dream?”

“Reality, that’s what happened.” He shrugs. “And lack of talent. After high school, I got married. To the boss’ daughter. I guess you can say I got really lucky.”

Or she got really unlucky.

“So that’s what happened to you, is it?” Does my tone sound as bitchy as I think it does? Way to not mix in the sins of the past.

“Holden…” He reaches for my hands again, first taking the water out of my grasp, and he’s looking into my eyes most earnestly, and for just a moment I think I see something… A trace of remorse? Repentance? 
Regret for what might have been? “There’s so much I need to say to you… things I need to explain—“

“No, you don’t owe me any explanation, Jeremy. Life goes on, right? I survived… you survived… Hell, the whole world’s still turning, right? No harm done…” I reach down toward the floor to grab the wayward water—something tells me I’ll be better off with something in my hand, something that isn’t Jeremy—but he forestalls my movement, and the next thing I know, he’s pulled me into his arms, and he’s got our lips pressed so slightly together that I can’t properly breathe and my head is spinning.

He pushes me back until I’m lying flat  on that sofa with him on top, and he’s stretched out across me, just like old times, and much as I wish it wouldn’t, my second brain is rising to the occasion. Are those deep-throated moans that I hear? And are they really coming out of me?

I’m afraid so.

I should be pushing him off of me, telling him no, reminding him he’s married… but I’m worse than a teenager in heat, and it’s a bit late now to remember I haven’t had any in a while and I’m horny as hell.

Who am I kidding? I want him and I know it.

Thank heaven for divine providence in the form of a cell phone’s insistent ring. It stops him cold—something I sure wasn’t capable of doing—and he sits up, pulling it out of his pocket, glancing at it, then at me.
I’ve managed to sit up and I’m working at catching my breath, while trying to calm down my better half, who’s making my life damned miserable at the moment, not to mention  it’s making sitting mighty uncomfortable.

“Holden, I’m sorry, I have to take care of this. Hotel business… you understand?”

That’s my cue and I take it. Hightailing it to his desk, I pick up my hat and set it on my head, slide my gun back into its holster, out of sight.

“Give me your card, why don’t you? I can always use the services of a good PI.” He grins at me, not in the least bit sorry, or ashamed, or any of the other feelings I think should be coursing through him but aren’t. Without thinking, I reach for my wallet, pull out a business card, and let it flutter down to his desk. It’s only got my business number and the office address. Nothing personal.

“So we’re good, about this whole thing, right?” I’m referring to the wedding incident, whatever else he may think. Let him make of it what he will.

“I’ll call you,” he promises.

I can hardly wait.

“Keep me updated on that thing you’re investigating will you? I mean, as much as you can. For the hotel’s sake.”

Sure thing, Jeremy, let me just do that.

I give him a noncommittal and probably goofy grin as I slip out his door and close it behind me, and for just a moment I lean against it, gathering the energy to move on. It’s been one hellacious night and I just want to go home.

But something inside of me, some gut instinct, tells me not to go. Not yet. My intuition’s kicking in, and for what it’s worth, I’m going with it.

I spot a door between me and the elevator and without thinking hard about what I’m going to do, I head for it, praying it’s not locked. It’s not, and I step inside. Just me and a bunch of cleaning equipment. Makes sense. Must be one for every floor.

I close the door almost all the way, leaving it cracked just enough for me to peer through. From where I stand, I have a bird’s eye view of Jeremy’s office door. No one can go in or out without me noticing. It’s the out part I’m particularly concerned with, though, if my idea’s correct.

I have a hunch, one that I think I’m about to see proven correct, that his phone call was from his bit on the side, probably tired of having been tossed aside like yesterday’s news. Although I could be wrong, and instead of watching her come busting out with a full head of steam, maybe they’re making up and I’m going to end up standing here until my legs go numb while they party just a few feet away. An unpleasant scenario at best.

No, wait, the door’s opening now. A figure slips out, looks cautiously around, and proceeds toward the elevator. No sign of Jeremy. Lover boy must have said his good-byes already. I know how sentimental he isn’t.

The figure draws nearer, and I instinctively press closer into the shadows, keeping the door cracked the minimum I can still see through, but she never glances my way and as she passes by, I get a good hard look, and holy cow… I didn’t see this coming.

This mystery woman of Jeremy’s is actually a mystery man. Except there’s no mystery involved. I know exactly who he is—the cute blond bartender with the friendly manner and the pretty blue eyes.

Well, well, well, the plot has certainly thickened. There’s been an interesting development in a case that already began on the wrong side of strong. And now I definitely have something to go on; just a matter of following it up.

Looks like Mr. Daniels has reverted to his old ways—or perhaps he’s always had it, and his wife is the exception to that rule, instead of the other way around? That being the case, and if his preferences haven’t really changed, then his wife is in for a very rude awakening, I’m afraid.

And how hard will it be for me to be the one to rain on his parade?

to be continued

Until next time, take care!

♥ Julie

No comments:

Post a Comment