Monday, January 4, 2016

The Trouble with Greed - Chapters 1-3

1

“How was the vacation?”
              Amy Wells and I left Texas Roadhouse and walked over to the Cinemark movie theatre. It was August, and evening temperatures weren’t dropping off yet. It was still close to seventy degrees.
              Amy and I have known each other since we both wore diapers. At this point, she’s more like a sister than a friend.
              “Fun,” I said. “It was a lot of fun.”
              She eyed me as we walked, her caramel brown eyes seeing right through me, as they usually did. “I sense a but coming. Did something happen at the wedding?”
              My boyfriend, Alex Ellmann, and I had been in Malibu for his father’s wedding. We’d stayed several days after the wedding, and spent the time playing on the beach. Our relationship had started under stressful circumstances, and we’d had more than our fair share of stress since. It had been really nice to spend the time together doing nothing more serious than guarding against sunburns.
              “No, the wedding went fine. Vince actually looked happy.”
              She tucked a strand of light brown hair behind her ear. She’d chopped it to shoulder length for summer, but I’d always liked it longer. I didn’t tell her this, though, because she wouldn’t have cared.
              “Then what gives?”
              I sighed. “It’s Ellmann. He . . .”
              She nodded. “He’s perfect, I know. How troubling.”
              I glared at her. “Ha ha. This is serious, Amy.”
              “I don’t know what this is.”
              “He told me . . . he said . . . he loves me.”
              She blinked at me. “And?”
              “And? Amy, come on! What am I supposed to do?” Even now, just thinking about it, I could feel the knots in my stomach.
              She laughed. “You say it back, and you enjoy it. He’s a great guy. By the way, what did you say?”
              I squirmed a little and fussed with my shirt, straightening it unnecessarily. “Uh, I didn’t really say . . . anything.”
              “How many days has it been?”
              “Four.”
              “Zoe. He’s not going to wait forever.”
              “I know. And he shouldn’t have to. I just . . .”
              She nodded. “You’re in love. And it scares the shit out of you.”
              I sighed and looked at her. “Yeah.”
              I shouldn’t have been surprised anymore that Amy could practically read my mind. Maybe I was just surprised by what she’d read there.
              “Congratulations,” she said with a smirk.
              “You’re enjoying this just a little too much.”
              She wrapped her arm through mine. “My life is small and boring. I have to take amusement wherever I might find it.”
              “Hilarious.”
              It was a short walk to the movie theatre. At eight o’clock on a Wednesday, the parking lot was mostly full. The glassed-in lobby was crowded, though the line wasn’t spilling out the door.
              A Fort Collins Police Department patrol car was parked out front, and a uniformed patrol officer was lingering on the sidewalk. Since there had been a few incidents of people with firearms at public places like movie theaters, the police department had taken to posting an officer on site during the busier hours of the day. The officer was likely meant to serve as a deterrent, but it would also mean help was a hell of a lot closer should anything actually happen.
              I knew this officer. He was a younger, blonde-haired guy named Brooks. He was still new to the force, but he’d already had the pleasure of arresting me. Even before that, I couldn’t say I’d been very fond of him.
              As Amy and I neared the door, a giant man with a long beard and sagging gut crossed the street and stepped onto the sidewalk ahead of us. A tall woman with short brown hair walked beside him, her arm in his. They were both freshly groomed and dressed a little too well for a Wednesday night movie. I guessed they were on a date.
              Almost immediately, I noticed the bulge in the man’s pants at the small of his back. It was an unholstered pistol. I couldn’t think of many good reasons for a guy to carry a gun around, especially one just shoved into his waistband. I mean, that’s how the bad guys do it.
              I glanced at Amy, but she didn’t seem to have noticed the gun. And Brooks was now facing the other direction, talking to a group of college-aged girls who’d just come out of the theatre. My instinct told me the big guy was on a date, and didn’t harbor malicious intentions. But people didn’t carry guns around on dates for no reason.
              Before I could decide what to do, a tiny, rough-looking, fifty-something blonde woman in jeans and leather jacket hurried onto the sidewalk, her hand under her jacket, and her eyes locked on the big guy. She blew past Brooks and the college girls without drawing their attention. She waited for a group of people to pass then planted herself on the sidewalk and drew a .38 special from under her jacket, aiming straight at the big guy.
              “Freeze, James!”
              Several things happened at the same time. Her shouting drew the attention of everyone in the nearby area, including Brooks. A woman screamed at the sight of the gun. And James immediately reached for his own gun.
              “Shit,” I hissed under my breath as I charged forward.
              James had gotten the gun out of his pants. I jumped and collided with him from behind. Catching him by surprise, he stumbled forward and went down. He landed hard on his knee, and I pushed him over, landing with my knee between his shoulder blades. The impact with the pavement knocked the wind out of him, and he dropped the gun.
              James’s date screamed in surprise when I tackled James, and she lunged at me, swinging with her purse and shouting. But then Amy was beside us, and the woman was on her knees and immobile with her arm locked behind her back.
              “That’s enough of that,” Amy said.
              Amy’s been practicing martial arts since she was in grade school. She’s taught me most of what I know, and knows more still.
              I pushed my hazelnut-colored hair out of my face and took a breath.
              Brooks ran over, gun drawn, the equipment on his belt jingling. He stepped on the gun James had dropped and addressed the blonde.
              “Drop it!”
              The tiny blonde barely glanced at Brooks, and she didn’t seem to notice the gun he held on her. Or maybe she just didn’t care about it.
              “Don’t let him up,” she said to me as she reached into her back pocket with her left hand, gun still steady on James.
              “Hands!” Brooks cried.
              The blonde rolled her eyes. “What am I gonna do, pull another gun?” She shook her head in annoyance and held up a pair of handcuffs. “Put those on him,” she said, tossing me the cuffs.
              “Wait a minute!” Brooks said. “You can’t just run around pointing guns and handcuffing people.”
              The woman reached into her jacket, this time pulling out a piece of paper. It was one I recognized. I clamped the cuffs on James and stood.
              “Actually, I can,” she said. Now that James was secured, she holstered her weapon. “Bond enforcement.” She smiled at Brooks and walked over to James.
              “Bond enforcement?” James’s date said, staring at the blonde. Then she glared at James. “You said that was taken care of!” She struggled against Amy’s hold, trying to kick him. “You lied to me!”
              “It’s a mistake, buttercup!” James said. “Don’t be mad!”
              Brooks had holstered his weapon and picked up the one James dropped. He ejected the magazine and the round from the chamber. Then he eyed me.
              “One of yours?”
              I shook my head. “No.”
              “Then why the tackle?”
              This time I rolled my eyes. “He had a gun, Brooks. I thought it best if only one person was waving a gun around out here.”
              “Hey,” the tiny blonde said, reaching into her jacket again. This time she brought out a pack of cigarettes and shook one out. “I wasn’t waving anything.”
              I had to give her that. Her hold had been pretty steady.
              She put the cigarette in her mouth and fished a lighter out of her pants pocket. Then she looked from me to James and back again.
              “Well, get him up already.”
              I just looked at her as she lit the cigarette.
              “What’s he worth?” I asked.
              She shrugged. “What’s it to you?”
              “Twenty-five percent, I’d say.”
              She scoffed, exhaling a puff of smoke. “You hit your head or something there, princess? He’s mine. I tracked him down, I’m bringing him in.”
              The blonde was five-two and weighed a hundred and twenty pounds, maybe—including the gun on her belt. James was six feet tall, and weighed two hundred and eighty pounds, easy.
              “You’re right,” I said. “He’s all yours.”
              I nodded to Amy then stepped over James and started for the theatre.
              “Brooks,” I called over my shoulder. “Next time, less flirting, more surveilling.”
              “Always a pleasure, Zoe!” Brooks called.
              “Geez,” Amy said. “Can’t even take you to a movie.”

2

After the movie, I went home to an empty, quiet, clean house. Until shortly before leaving for California, Ellmann had been more or less living in my house. His family had been visiting from out of town, and they’d more than made themselves at home in his house.
I’d arranged for Amy’s girls to scrub down both my house and Ellmann’s while we were out of town. Amy is co-owner of a commercial and residential cleaning company called Clean Sweep, which I take advantage of often. It was nice to come home to a clean house. And an empty one. I don’t mind having Ellmann over, but I don’t always want company. Like tonight.
I shuffled through the stack of mail I’d picked up from the neighbor as I crossed into the kitchen. Most of it was bills and advertisements, none of it pressing, but I spotted the beige envelopes easily. There were four of them, the orange trim making them easy to identify. They were addressed to me, the word screened stamped on the front as familiar now as the handwriting beside it.
I left the rest of the mail on the table and carried the beige envelopes to the last drawer in the kitchen counter. I stuffed them inside with the others and left, flipping out the light.
I went upstairs to my bedroom. My suitcase was sitting at the end of the bed where I’d dumped it earlier. I switched on the local news and listened while I unpacked.
The main story was about a woman named Maria Rodriguez. The broadcast flipped to a live feed of a young, male reporter standing in front of one of the more impressive buildings on Colorado State University’s campus.
“Maria Rodriguez, eighteen years old, is originally from New Mexico, and hers is a tale of triumph over tragedy. Her parents emigrated here from Mexico in 1991, settling in Las Cruces and working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Maria, an only child, earned a place in an International Baccalaureate high school and then a full scholarship to Colorado State University here in Fort Collins. She’s a freshman, preparing to begin her second semester studying veterinary medicine, and will no doubt make the Dean’s list again this term . . .”
While the reporter talked, photos played on the screen. Some of Maria as a child with her parents, a good one of her high school graduation where she stood in a cap and gown proudly holding a diploma, then to more recent photos of her with her friends around campus.
“Maria was reported missing to campus police this morning by her roommate. She was last seen Saturday morning when she returned to her dorm room after a visit to the local emergency room. Apparently suffering from food poisoning, Maria was instructed to rest and stay well hydrated. When her roommate returned to the dorm later Saturday afternoon, Maria was gone. She left no note and was not reachable by cell phone. She has not been seen or heard from since.
“Anyone with information about this young woman is encouraged to contact either the Fort Collins Police Department or the Colorado State University Police Department at the numbers below. Reporting live from CSU in Fort Collins, Colorado, . . .”
I wondered how the joint investigation was going. The law enforcement agencies in this area are like rival high schools. There is a lot of competition, and cooperation is difficult.
I also wondered why they were investigating jointly at all. The fact that they were indicated to me the police had more information than was being shared through the media. Either Maria was known to have gone missing somewhere besides CSU campus, or her case was connected to something else the FCPD were working on.
Of course, this was just idle speculation on my part, and my attention quickly shifted with the news, which jumped to weather. A woman came on and gave a mostly useless report from outside the studio, forecasting that the weather would be hot for the next seven days. That was about as specific as she could be, weather in Colorado being what it is.
I scooped up a pile of dirty laundry from the floor and went downstairs to the kitchen. As I dumped the clothes into the washer, I heard a car stop outside. Out of habit, I glanced at my watch. It was nearly ten thirty.
I switched off the light in the kitchen and started for the stairs when someone knocked on the front door. I altered my course, wondering who was visiting at this time of night.
Rather than use the peephole in the door, I went to the window and peeked around the blinds. Had I been smarter, I would have been terrified rather than relieved to find my late-night visitor was Mercedes Salois.
I pulled the door open, and Sadie stood staring in at me, one hand on her perfect hip, one perfectly waxed eyebrow raised.
“Hi,” I said, knowing exactly why she was standing on my porch, and why she was irritated with me. “Want to come in?”
Without one word, she stepped into the house, her heels clicking sharply against the tile of the entryway. Her subtle and expensive perfume gently wafted past me.
I closed the door and turned to face her. She stood in the darkened living room with her arms crossed over her chest.
“I was planning to come see you first thing tomorrow morning,” I told her.
Sadie is gorgeous. Tall and thin with blue eyes and long legs. Her blonde hair, double-Ds, and full lips are all natural. I always feel like a slob standing anywhere near her. She always looks polished and perfect; I usually don’t. I smoothed an unconscious hand over my unruly hair.
Sadie is three years older than me, and we’d met eight years ago when we’d both been working as CNAs in a nursing home. Sadie had been on a nursing career path, and she’d stuck to it, now working in the emergency department of Poudre Valley Hospital. For a brief time, I’d been on the same path, but a bad relationship set me on a new one. Sadie and I had remained friends anyway.
Tonight, she wore jeans and a lacy top, carrying a designer handbag on her shoulder. Her hair was curled, and she had on extra jewelry and makeup; I guessed she’d been out.
“So you haven’t forgotten I need to speak with you?” Her southern drawl was heavier now than usual, like it always was when she was angry.
Shortly before I’d gone out of town, I’d been treated in the emergency room for a half dozen minor injuries inflicted upon me by a mentally unstable woman with a penchant for kitchen utensils and duct tape. Sadie had taken care of me that night, telling me she needed to talk to me about something important.
After I was discharged, there was a whirlwind of legal activity between the police, the attorneys, and the courts. There just hadn’t been time to get back to her before I’d gone to California. Then, once I was in California, whatever Sadie had wanted to tell me, along with all the rest of my problems, were the furthest things from my mind.
Sadie had told me it was important, but I had a hard time believing it was so important that all this anger was directed at me. So I took a wild guess.
“How’d the date go?” I moved over and flipped on the lamp near the sofa.
Even before the light came on, I saw my question hit home.
It always surprised me to hear Sadie talk about bad dates. If she were so inclined, she could have more than one date a night, every night of the week. Men practically fell all over themselves in order to ask her out. But by and large, she just wasn’t interested. While Sadie had gotten in line twice when they’d handed out good looks, she’d gone back a third time for smarts. It took a very intelligent and interesting man to keep her attention. And as every woman on the planet knows, intelligent and interesting men are hard to find.
She heaved an enormous, irritated sigh and flung her arms. “He wanted me to pay for dinner! Can you believe that?” Her accent was really coming out now. “What kind of man asks a woman on a date, takes her to an expensive restaurant, orders the most expensive items on the menu and a bottle of wine, then asks her to get the check? And he’s supposedly some kind of mechanical engineer! Engineers make money. And I know he has money somewhere—the car, the clothes, the watch. Plus, he paid for all our drinks the night I met him.” She scoffed again in complete confusion.
Of course, this wasn’t an issue of money for Sadie. Sadie has money, more than I probably know about. Born and raised in New Orleans, her family is in the oil business. When she was seventeen, her grandmother died and left her a small fortune. She’d taken a hefty chunk of the inheritance and bought herself a portion of the family business. And business is good.
This was an issue of pride, and, more importantly, manners, which, Sadie often tells me, Colorado men don’t have.
“You met this guy in a bar?” I couldn’t keep the disbelief out of my voice. Sadie has a strict policy to never date anyone she meets in a bar.
“I know,” she said, flipping her hair back over her shoulder absently and readjusting her purse on her shoulder. “But he was so charming and funny and sweet. And persistent. And funny.” She looked at me, her blue eyes pleading with me to understand.
And I did. Humor was probably the most important quality to Sadie. If a man could make her laugh, it would make up for almost any other shortcoming, and she’d be genuinely interested.
“I get it,” I said.
She sighed, and a lot of the energy fizzled out of her.
“What a prick,” I said. “You didn’t pay for dinner did you?”
She scoffed. “Of course not. I gave the waiter enough cash to cover my meal, and I left. And I told the guy to lose my number.”
“Good for you. Did you throw a drink in his face?”
She chuckled. “No. But I seriously thought about it. And I kind of wish I had. But I enjoy that restaurant; I wanted to be able to go back without too much embarrassment.”
“Well, that makes sense.”
Sadie seemed to be aware of her surroundings for the first time. She quickly took in the darkened lower levels and the light and TV on upstairs.
“Is Ellmann here?”
“No. He caught a case about nine minutes after we deplaned. He called me a while ago and said he’d probably be tied up for the next day or so. I was just unpacking.”
I indicated she should follow me, and we went upstairs into my room. I switched off the TV as Sadie dropped her expensive bag to the floor and sat on the bed, propping a pillow up behind her and leaning back against the headboard.
“How was the trip?” she asked. “Any juicy wedding drama?”
I laughed as I pulled my toiletry bag out of the suitcase and went to the en-suite bathroom. “No drama,” I said. “Hard to believe, but even Vince seemed to have a good time.” I set the bag on the counter and went back into the room. “It was really nice to have some time with Ellmann away from both of our jobs.”
“You guys have been through some crazy shit, that’s for sure. Speaking of, any word on Humpty Dumpty?”
That was Sadie’s nickname for the woman who had duct taped me to a kitchen chair and tortured me a couple weeks ago. Desirae Dillon’s fractured mind had finally broken that night, and while I don’t excuse what she’d done to me, or any of the other people she’d hurt and killed, I did understand her better than most. Her history hadn’t been so different from mine. But her righteous anger and frustrated hurt had morphed into something dangerous and deadly.
“She’s still in the psychiatric prison awaiting trial,” I said. “Of course, with the evidence against her, she’ll live out her days in that prison. Dani says there hasn’t been any change to her mental state.”
Danielle Dillon, Desirae’s twin sister, had been the woman I’d actually been trying to track down when my path crossed Desirae’s. That night, Danielle had saved my life, and since then, we’d sort of become friends.
“At least she’s getting the help she needs now,” Sadie said. “Even if it is much too late.”
“Yes, indeed.”
We were both quiet for a moment, and I zipped the empty suitcase and lifted it off the bed. I carried it across the room and left it by the door to be carried to the basement later. Then I sat on the end of the bed and looked at Sadie.
“What did you need to speak to me about?”
Sadie’s flawless face suddenly turned serious, determined. She’d obviously reached a decision.
“I want to hire you.”
I stared at Sadie. “Hire me to do what?”
“Investigate,” she said. “Privately.”
“I’m not a private investigator.”
She waved a hand—a typical Sadie gesture. “What’s the difference? You basically do the same thing.”
I am a bond enforcement agent. In the movies, we’re called bounty hunters. I work for bond companies tracking down people out on bail who fail to appear for their court dates. In exchange for locating the skip and dragging his butt back to the pokey, I’m paid a percentage of the bond. Bonds vary, but the recovery fees can be in the high six figures. The most I’d ever made was eight hundred, but I’d only been doing it six weeks. I aspired to break the thousand-dollar mark in the near future.
“Do you want me to find someone?” I asked. “Because that’s what I do; I find people.”
A lot of it is luck, even dumb luck, but I get results either way. And I have the record to prove it. So far, I’d never failed to track down a skip. Of course, a good part of the time that’s because the skip walks right by me, but it’s a record all the same.
“Not exactly,” Sadie said. “Look, there’s this woman I work with. Something’s off with her, I know it. I need you to help me look into it.”
“What do you mean ‘off’?”
She shrugged. “I don’t know. I just get this . . . vibe from her. She’s . . . not right. I think she might be dangerous.”
“Dangerous? What makes you think that?”
“This woman, Karen, she just moved here about six months ago. I just recently found out her neighbor went missing shortly before she moved. Karen’s been posting all over Facebook about this missing woman, asking for people with information to come forward, demanding the police do something, and pointing the finger pretty strongly at the husband. Something about the whole thing is . . . weird.”
“With Karen, you mean.”
“Yeah. Listen, I know it sounds crazy, but I’m telling you something’s going on with her.”
Sadie did have a flare for the dramatic, but it was never this kind of drama. And her instincts about people were pretty good.
“Is Karen a nurse?”
“Yes.”
“And where did she move from?”
“Boulder. In February.”
“What else do you know about her?”
“She’s about thirty, maybe thirty-five. She’s not a very good nurse, and she’s weird.”
“Okay.” I got up and went across the hall to my office. I picked up a notepad and pen and went back into the bedroom. “I need some details about this Karen person—name, address, phone number, birthday, anything you might know.”
“So you’ll help me?”
“I’ll look into a few things. We’ll go from there.”
She reached down and pulled her designer bag onto her lap. She pulled something from an outer pocket and handed it to me. “A thousand to get you started. We’ll square up at the end.”
I took the check. “Something tells me you’ve hired private investigators before.”
She just smiled. “You’re going to love this. No one to chase, no one to tackle and haul off to jail. This will be a walk in the park.”
It was such a happy thought. Could I actually be that lucky?

3

The following morning I sat in my 1978 International Scout II sipping a perfect mocha and waiting. It was an act of charity, really, that my favorite coffee shop opened at five a.m. on weekdays. And I was grateful for it.
I was dressed in my usual jeans, t-shirt, and running shoes, and I also wore a sweatshirt, because though the sun was now beginning to rise to my left, and would undoubtedly bring another hot day with it, it was almost chilly.
Stakeouts are one of my least favorite pastimes. And while this wasn’t, strictly speaking, a traditional stakeout, I was bored all the same. I would have preferred to sleep in, done some preliminary work on Sadie’s case, and then headed into the bonds office for some new cases. But I knew I would need help with Sadie’s case, so my timetable for this particular errand had been pushed up, and here I was.
I knew I’d gotten here way too early, but I found it preferable to be early. I wanted to ensure I saw the occupant of the house and his guest leave.
The neighborhood was beginning to wake now; lights were coming on in windows as people began to move through their morning routines. By six thirty, the first of them began to leave, headed for work and their desks and important meetings and whatever else they had waiting for them. By seven thirty, the kids were pouring out. Some of them walked down the street to meet the bus while others climbed into cars with their parents.
I had never had occasion to spend much time in this neighborhood near Rossborough Park. This was my second visit, and I decided it was a pleasant place. It was all single-family homes with detached garages built in the fifties, and they were all filled with hard working, middleclass families. These weren’t the homes of first-time buyers, so the kids were all a little older and the cars all a little nicer.
I was playing Words With Friends, trying to decide the best place to play my X, when my phone rang.
“Good morning,” I said.
“You’re up early,” Ellmann said.
“Yeah, I had a couple things I needed to do.”
“Are you working a case already? You’re barely unpacked.”
“Something like that.”
Ellmann groaned softly, but he took my response like a champ. He didn’t ask any more questions; he didn’t try to tell me I ought not be doing whatever I was doing, even though he knew it.
“I took some time for a shower and some clean clothes,” he said. “I stopped by your place, hoping I’d find you in bed.”
He said that with just the right amount of suggestion, and I wished to hell I’d been in bed for him to find.
“Boy, that sucks,” I said.
“Tell me about it. I’m not sure when I’ll be free again. Will you be home tonight?”
“I think so. Your case turning out to be bigger than you thought?”
“Not necessarily big, just messy.” He sighed, and I easily imagined him dragging his hand back through his hair like he does when he’s stressed. “Very messy. I can’t make any promises about tonight. Maybe we can grab dinner.”
“Sounds good to me. Now go kick some bad guy butt.”
I heard him smile. “Will do. Whatever you’re doing, just be careful, okay?”
“I always am.”
“Uh-huh. I’ll call you later. Love you.”
In another point-scoring move, Ellmann simply hung up; he didn’t wait for me to say anything in response. Which saved us both from an indeterminate amount of time during which a long and awkward silence would have stretched between us while I failed to give him the customary reply.
Ever since Ellmann had first said those three ridiculous little words . . . Who would have thought such small words, on their own innocuous, together would cause such enormous upheaval?
Amy had hit it on the head: I was in love with Ellmann, and it did scare the shit out of me.
My relationship history was, well, it wasn’t pretty. I’d had a lot of bad experiences, and I’d made a lot of mistakes. I knew more about dysfunction and leaving than I did about happiness and longevity. Ever since Ellmann had told me he loved me, I’d wanted to run. But I found I couldn’t; I couldn’t leave him. I knew my only option was to stay and see this whole love thing through. I just couldn’t seem to take the first step in that direction.
To his credit, I think Ellmann understood this on some level, because he hadn’t pushed or pestered me. And he didn’t seem hurt that I hadn’t returned the sentiment. I wondered how long he’d wait.
I was saved from any further emotional exploration when finally, at nearly eight a.m., the first person left the house. At eight thirty, the homeowner himself finally emerged, climbed into his car, and motored away.
To be on the safe side, I waited a few minutes longer before I grabbed my bag and climbed out of the truck. I didn’t think there was anyone else in the house; I was worried the guy might turn around and return for something forgotten. But he never did, so I got down to business.
I’d been here once before, a couple of weeks ago, on a reconnaissance mission. I knew the layout. As I neared the house, I did a quick scan for neighbors, but I didn’t see anyone. Everyone was off to work by now. I walked up the driveway, went to the fence, and let myself in like I had every right to be there.
The fenced area between the detached garage and the house had been paved and served as a sort of courtyard where the owner had patio furniture and a grill. There was also a small, built-in water fountain that trickled peacefully. It appeared the occupant spent a fair amount of time out here, and I had to admit, while unusual, the space was nice.
I pulled a pair of latex gloves out of my pocket and put them on as I crossed to the front door. Then I retrieved my keys from my pocket and selected the one I wanted. Next, I slipped off my shoe. I inserted the key into the lock, gave it a small but firm tap with the heel of my shoe, and twisted. The lock popped open.
I put my shoe back on and went inside.
I hadn’t always been on the right side of the law. I’d been a bad kid, and I’d picked up a few tricks over the years. Since starting this whole bounty hunter gig, I’d been dusting off a lot of those old skills. Which just goes to show it’s funny how things work out sometimes.
Lock picking was one of those skills, and bump keys one of the tricks. Bump keys are extremely easy to make, and I always carry at least one. They open most locks and leave the least evidence. I also carry lock pick tools, which I know well how to use, but those always leave marks that betray their use.
Not that I planned on today’s activities being investigated by police, but you never knew what might happen or when it would be most inconvenient to leave evidence behind. Experience had taught me that when it came to extralegal activities, it was best to plan ahead, and plan for the worst.
The house was cool and dark, the windows covered against the sun that would soon beat against them. The place was a two-story affair, with a living room, kitchen and dining room, master bed and bath on the main level. Upstairs there was another bathroom, a guestroom, and an office.
The whole house was tidy, but lived in, and pleasantly decorated. It was nothing showy or overwhelming, but rather simple colors, matching or complimenting furniture sets, and nice, subtle decorative items like vases, pictures, and mirrors, done by someone who took time enough to care. Actually, I liked most of the furniture.
I paused in the living room and listened hard. There were no sounds in the house, and I knew I was alone.
The first time I’d been in this house, I’d done a thorough search of the place. I hadn’t been looking for anything specific anywhere apart from the bedroom, but I’d found nothing of interest. Everything was fairly straightforward and expected.
Today, I knew right where I was going. I cut through the living room and made my way down the hall to the right. The door at the end was open, and I went into the master bedroom.
This room was as neat and well decorated as the rest of the house, and the faint scent of cologne clung to the air. The furniture was a matching set that had caught my eye immediately. I wondered again where it had been purchased. Maybe I’d ask someday.
For now, I turned my attention to the task at hand. The first time I’d been here, I’d been scoping things out, checking out angles and lines of sight, and comparing the various objects around the room to those contained within a box that Dean Amerson had entrusted to me a short time ago. Now, I reached into my bag and retrieved a screwdriver.
Electronics are smaller and more sophisticated than ever. They make cameras so tiny they fit in everything—teddy bears, alarm clocks, water bottles, smoke detectors, iPod docks, Kleenex box covers, picture frames, lamps, air fresheners that you plug into the wall. Some of these devices are wireless, and automatically relay live feeds or download files to specified destinations via wireless internet. Others have DVRs that simply record everything for playback and review later.
From being in this room previously and reviewing the contents of Amerson’s box, I knew most of what he had given me would not work here. Fortunately, there was a smoke detector in every room. The smoke detector in this room wouldn’t give me the best angle, but I was sure it would serve my needs.
I kicked off my shoes and climbed onto the bed, which someone had taken the time to make. I used the screwdriver to remove the existing smoke detector. Then I pulled a second smoke detector from my bag and worked to install it.
Of course, this wasn’t any regular smoke detector. This one contained a night-vision camera with a heat-activated sensor. This particular camera operated a DVR, which I’d outfitted with a 32GB SD card, which I hoped proved to be far more than I’d need.
I just had to cross my fingers that I’d get lucky on the first try.
When the camera was in place, I cleaned up and made my way back out of the house.

Continue Reading: Chapters 4-5

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