Grave Misgivings by Kristen Houghton is the second book in the Cate Harlow Private Investigation series (Available July 20, 2016).
Private InvestigatorCate Harlow has a terrified new client. A woman named Jennifer Brooks-Warren has come to Catherine Harlow, Private Investigations in desperate need of help; a contract has been put out on her life. Her request is for Cate Harlow to find the professional assassin who has been hired to kill her before he fulfills his contract, something he seems more than able to do considering that he is “a ghost,” the best and most elusive professional eliminator in the world and is off the radar as far as contact goes. Making it all the harder for the intrepid Cate is the name of the person responsible for taking out the contract killing in the first place. It's none other than Jennifer Brooks-Warren herself!
“CATHERINE, YOU’RE LATE for your nine-thirty appointment,” says the prim and proper voice of my part-time secretary Myrtle Goldberg Tuttle. “Your client, a Ms. Jennifer Brooks-Warren, has been waiting here in the office for twenty minutes. Where are you?”
“On my way, Myrtle. There’s a garbage truck with a blown-out tire that’s holding up traffic. Can you believe this? What a hot mess! Anyway, tell her I’ll be there as soon as I can. Get her coffee or tea or whatever and tell her the truth about why I’m late. Give her one of Harry’s pastries. They always make waiting easier.”
“All right, tea or coffee, but I don’t think the young woman wants one of Harry’s double-stuffed cupcakes. She doesn’t seem like the type who eats those. The older man with her might take one, though. By the way, you didn’t tell me we had a modeling agency as part of our clientele.”
“We don’t. Why do you say that?”
“You’ll see what I mean when you get here.” Pause. “How are you dressed this morning?”
“The same as usual, jeans, sneakers; you know what I wear.”
“Pity you didn’t dress up. Are you wearing makeup at the very least?”
“A little. Why the sudden questions about my appearance, Myrtle? What’s up?”
“Never mind. Just make sure your hair is neatly brushed before you come upstairs.”
She is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. There is no way to describe her other than breathtakingly beautiful or drop-dead gorgeous. Next to this incredible porcelain doll I feel like Raggedy Ann. I completely understand why Myrtle had thought this woman was a model. But as beautiful as she is, I am certain that her beauty isn’t the reason she has come to Catherine Harlow, Private Investigations. I am right. The lady needs help of a protective kind. Someone has hired a professional hit man to kill her.
A well-dressed, distinguished-looking man with a meticulously trimmed beard sits next to her on my couch and a brief introduction lets me know that his name is Edward Penn, and that he is her fiancé. He is pleasant enough but he lets her do all the talking.
“This was me before the cosmetic surgery, Ms. Harlow,” says my prospective client.
I tell her to call me Cate then look at the several photos she hands to me. They’re the kind of “before” pictures plastic surgeons take of their prospective patients. I try not to change expression as I look at them but I do glance from the beauty in front of me to the beast in the pictures with surprise. Jennifer Brooks-Warren smiles at me and shakes her head.
“Unbelievable, right? But that really was me two years ago.”
She’s obviously waiting for me to say something so I do. “It is an incredible change, Ms. Brooks-Warren, um, Jennifer. May I ask what you had done?”
“Yes, of course. I had a brow lift, cheek implants, nose remodeling, jaw shaping, ear pinning, liposuction, extensive dental work and caps, and breast augmentation. I also lost forty pounds and regularly worked out with a trainer. I still try to work out every day even now. I’ve made myself into a completely different person.” Her eyes hold a small glint of triumph.
“Quite a metamorphosis. You don’t look like the same woman at all. And you say you think someone has put a contract out on your life?”
“Not think, I know.”
“It’s obvious that you wanted to put your past behind you so I have to assume that the person who wants you killed is someone from your past. Do you have the name of that someone?”
I am poised with a pen and small notebook.
“Y—y—yes, I do. But, you see, that’s the problem. The person’s name.”
“I don’t follow. You’re hiring me to help you. If you do know who wants you dead it’s in your best interest to tell me. Can you do that?” I pause. Something’s not quite right. “You do know the person’s name, right?” She nods her head yes.
“Okay, then tell me. It helps to spell it so I have the correct name to research.”
She sits up straighter and holds her head up. I wait for a few moments. She sighs, looks at me and says, “Brooks-Warren, B-r-o-o-k-s-W-a-r-r-e-n.”
I look up. “A relative? Can you give me the first name?”
“I can give you the whole name. Jennifer Brooks-Warren.”
I put my pen down and look at my prospective client before speaking.
“Let me get this straight, Jennifer. Either you put a contract out on yourself or the person who wants you killed is a relative with the same name. Or, and I certainly hope this is not the case, you’re some new celebrity with a reality show due to air soon, looking to pull some type of stupid scam for publicity’s sake. If the last one’s the reason that you’re here, I have to tell you that you came to the wrong place. I don’t do scams.”
“No, no, it’s me all right. I hired the hit, isn’t that what’s it’s called? Anyway I put the hit out on myself.”
“May I ask why? But before you answer, let me give you some advice. If you are indeed the one who hired the killer, you should be able to cancel the contract, minus a retainer fee of course. I mean, I don’t condone hiring assassins and such, but if you pay a fee to this person to cancel out the hit then everyone’s happy. Get in touch with him or her.”
“Him. And I can’t; I can’t get in touch with him. The number I have for him is no longer in service. He seems to be unreachable and I’m scared.”
“What about the police? Have you contacted them? Maybe they can protect you.”
“Edward filed a report with them, he spoke with them several times; I was too upset to talk to them so he did so on my behalf. But I don’t think they fully believed him. Edward felt that I should get private protection.”
“All right, let’s get some information about this hit you ordered. When was the last time you spoke to this man?”
“Over two years ago when I needed his services.”
I look up from writing her info on my notepad and sigh deeply. Shit! “I’m sorry, but did you just say that you ordered the hit over two years ago, Ms. Brooks-Warren?” She nods. I’m getting a little annoyed. “Well, as far as I can see you’re still alive. Again, I have to tell you that if this is some type of publicity scam, I absolutely do not…”
The man who was sitting so quietly on my couch that I had almost forgotten he was there suddenly speaks. “My fiancée, Jennifer, made the deal to have this professional hit man
eliminate her on her twenty-fifth birthday.” He pauses and rises slowly. “Her birthday is two months from today, Ms. Harlow.”
My client-to-be looks out the window of my office, staring for a while at the flower-pot-cum-doves’-nest on my fire escape. The doves have been gone since last year; babies grown and all. The parents will be back in a week or two to begin nesting again and make new babies or so I’ve read. I hope so; they’re family.
“Ms. Harlow, have you ever been ugly?”
Her question surprises me. I don’t know how to respond but my curiosity is piqued. Certainly at certain points in our lives, everyone feels ugly; that’s usually just because we’re going through a bad time. It’s temporary until we feel good about ourselves again. Looking at Jennifer Brooks-Warren, I get the feeling that the before pictures of my new client tell more of a story than I had realized. When I don’t answer, she continues.
“I mean truly ugly? Oh I know we women have a way of saying we look horrible or are having a bad hair day and silly things like that but that’s not being ugly. I know what ugly really is and how cruel people can be about it. I was ugly all my life. Look at the pictures of me back then and look at me now.”
I do as she says, glancing from the beautiful woman in front of me to the pictures taken of her a few years ago. Genetics had not been kind to this woman and so she had taken it into her own hands, or in this case, the expert hands of a top-notch plastic surgeon and become the woman she wanted to be. Nothing wrong with that. Whatever makes you happy is my personal motto on that score. I let her talk. Listening is a key component for being a good private investigator.
“My parents and I lived on a farm in Culpepper, Virginia about seventy miles from Washington, DC . I have no siblings but that’s only because my mother had three miscarriages; one before and two after I was born. She was not a well woman and the miscarriages took a real toll on whatever health she had. Even though I know they loved me, there wasn’t a whole lot of attention expended on me and there was very, very little money. My mother was always sick and depressed; she died when I was ten. All my father did was work that farm morning to night and save every dime, every penny, he could.
“He wasn’t cruel or indifferent to my unhappiness; he was a farmer used to hard work and the misery that life can dole out. He’d had a hard life as a child. His family had lost their own farm to foreclosure. My dad felt that you had to suck up the bad things that happened in life and tough it out. Dad wasn’t the type to show emotions; he was just distant because he was exhausted all the time, poor man. He worked himself to death.”
She sighs and stops for a few minutes. Patience is a skill; I wait, allowing her to collect her thoughts.
“My school years were pure torture. You’ve seen in the news how some bullied children choose suicide over living in fear and torment? I understand that feeling all too well. I thought about it, believe me, but naively I continued to hope that maybe things would change. I was really naïve and possibly a fool to think that way, because the cruelties continued all through elementary and middle schools. I never had friends. I was always the target of bullies. But in high school I found a way to be…popular.”
She walks toward the window.
“In high school I became something of a, I guess the only word to describe it is, a slut.” Her fiancé, who has resumed sitting on the couch, gives her a sad smile.
“I thought that having sex with boys would bring me some type of acceptance, that someone would like me. Oh, believe me, they all wanted it and I gave it to them, whatever way they wanted it.” She laughs bitterly. “An older girl, who I guess felt sorry for me, took me aside one day and told me I should stop what I was doing. It wasn’t making me popular, she said, the boys were using me. Then she reluctantly repeated what the boys were saying about me. She told me that they said, ‘If you put a bag over Jenny’s head and close your eyes, fucking her isn’t so bad.’”
I wince at the cruelty of teenage boys. In my freshman year of high school I punched a guy in the stomach hard enough to make him vomit. This was after he unexpectedly grabbed my breast in a dark corner at a homecoming dance and remarked loudly, “Wow! Harlow’s got melons! Anything more than a handful is a waste.” High school can be tough.
“I wanted to die after she told me that. I prayed to die. I didn’t want to live anymore but I just kept on going.” She stops and I hand her a box of tissues.
“I had worked all through my school years as the clean-up girl in a bar called the K & K. The owner, Kevin, didn’t say it but I knew he didn’t think I was attractive enough to be a waitress. The pretty girls who served the customers were good for business and he knew it.
“After graduation, I continued working there because it was a place to hide. At the bar, we had a lot of just regular folk come in, but occasionally there’d be some stranger who got lost or someone just traveling through who wanted a quick beer and burger. One night we were short-handed and Kevin actually asked me to be a waitress. And that was the night this man sat down at one of my tables. He was a hit man except I didn’t know it then. You could see that he was someone who exuded power. I mean he was polite to Kevin and very well-spoken but he had the kind of bearing that made other people steer clear of him. Usually the people in the bar are friendly and talk to strangers and all but no one spoke to this man. His eyes were hard, almost cruel. He sat in a booth in my section of the bar near the back door and ordered beer and a burger just like anyone else. He didn’t bother anyone.”
I interrupt her to ask her to describe this man.
“Tall, definitely over six feet, very short blond hair, and he looked like an athlete.”
“What color eyes?“
“Oh, cold, so cold, blue.” She shivers.
This Jennifer Brooks-Warren seems to be reliving that night in her mind; it is almost as if she is talking to herself and has forgotten that I am sitting there. The man on my couch simply sits there with his eyes on Jennifer and says nothing.
“How did you find out that he did murder for hire, Jennifer?” I asked. “Certainly he didn’t just mention it in polite conversation.”
She smiles and shakes her head. “I found out about his…line of work accidentally. He got a call on his cell phone.”
“Do you remember his part of the conversation?”
“I only heard a little of what he said to whoever called him. He said, ‘You wanted it, you got it, it’s done. I have the evidence you requested.’ Even though his voice was low and polite, his words were frightening. But he was nice to me and gave me a twenty dollar tip for a twelve dollar bill.”
“Can you tell me how you found out he was a killer for hire?” I press.
“From a business card.”
“He gave you his business card?”
“Not exactly.” Jennifer Brooks-Warren paces back and forth in front of the windows then comes to a stop in front of my desk.
“A woman came in shortly after his phone call and sat at his table. She ordered two drinks in a row, then a third one. It was as if she wanted to get drunk really fast. We had a lot of people do that on Fridays; you know, bad week; get drunk as fast as you can to forget it.”
“Describe the woman if you can,” I tell her. “Age, hair color, weight, and height; every detail helps me.”
“She was maybe in her late thirties. I think her hair was a dark brown or black and very short. She was wearing some sort of exercise clothes, as if she’d just come from a gym. I guess she was about my height, five foot three, and she was very skinny. She was wearing glasses with black frames. That’s all I can remember.”
“You’re doing fine, Jennifer. Go on. Tell me what happened next.”
“After she finished her third drink the man motioned to her and then both of them got up from the table and stood talking. It got real loud suddenly because someone started up the old jukebox we had in the bar. The man looked annoyed.
“I had to take out the empty bottles for the recycle bins and that’s when I saw both the man and the woman come outside. I kind of hid when the man looked around to see if anyone was nearby because he scared me. I heard them talking, though. She said, ‘It’s really over then? You did it? I’m free?’ The man nodded and said to her really low, ‘You’re free. I get paid to do a job, it gets done, one way or another. You paid for this. Here it is.’ I saw him take something out of his jacket that was wrapped in some type of foil. He unwrapped it and it was a, it was a… finger with a fancy ring still attached to it. He handed it to the woman. She took it and gasped then quickly handed it back to the man. I heard her say, ‘Yes, this is proof, all right. That’s his. Did he…suffer?’ The man put the ringed finger back inside his jacket pocket and smiled coldly.‘That’s what you paid for, isn’t it? That’s what you got. The elimination is complete.’ Thenhe walked away toward the parking lot. The woman went back inside.
“I was afraid but I was also intrigued. The realization hit me that the woman had had this man kill someone. Why would he use the word eliminated? How else would he have a finger? I waited outside for a good twenty minutes after the man left and then went back through the kitchen.
“An hour later, when I went to clean up my tables I asked the woman if she wanted anything else, maybe a cab to drive her home; she was pretty drunk by then. She had had quite a few more drinks. ‘No,’ she said,‘There’s nothing else I want.’ She laughed a little crazily and whispered ‘Especially not my father back from the dead. I’m finally, finally, finally free.’
“As I said she was pretty drunk but she looked at me and laughed again; she was giddy. I must’ve looked upset or something. I was thinking about how someone could have their own father killed. I mean your own father; he must have done something terrible to her.
“Anyway she misunderstood the look on my face because she said, ‘Honey, you look like someone has screwed you over royally—some prick of a guy? Married or something?’I just
stood there and looked at her. ‘Hey!’ she said to me in a confidential whisper. ‘Cheer up! Listen to me; no one deserves to be treated like shit. My father was a monster, a monster! And I finally did something about it. If you ever want to…dispose of someone, I know just the man you need.’
“She began laughing again and I saw her take out a business card from her wallet. She scratched out the name and address of the business on the front, and wrote something on the back. ‘Here, this is for you. Call this number and do it soon. The man who was in here before with me? He is the devil himself when it comes to eliminating people but he gets the job done.’”
Jennifer hands me a card with some writing scrawled on it in an unsteady hand. Professional Eliminator followed by a phone number.The information on the front of the card has been scratched out heavily with pen but I should be able to get some details from it.
“Three days later I called the number and ordered the hit. I figured it was the best thing I could do. I was so depressed and sad. If anything happened to me, my father would get a small payout on a life insurance policy I had.” She laughs bitterly. “I was worth more dead than alive.”
“Jennifer, I need you to tell me a few things about that call you made to the hit man. How was the phone answered? What was said and how long were you on the phone?”
“I guess the hit man answered; it was a man’s voice but I don’t know if it was the same voice as the one in the bar. There was no hello or any other greeting. All he said when he answered was, ‘The price of a standard elimination is ten thousand dollars. You have twenty-four hours to think it over.’
“Then he told me to call him back with details of the subject to be eliminated, he said those exact words, I remember, and where to bring the money. He wanted cash, nothing larger than hundreds. He said that if I wanted proof of the elimination or anything extra, it would cost an additional five thousand dollars. I thought of that horrible cut-off finger. I told him no proof was necessary and I told him I wanted the death to be quick, no suffering. The whole conversation lasted less than two minutes.”
Two minutes—most criminals are careful to keep their phone time short. Even though a trace does take time, police don’t need a person to be on the phone for three minutes or more any longer.Computers can trace much more quickly today. Then there are burner phones that are hard to trace. But old criminal habits die hard. The rule that criminals go by is two minutes or less, phone time.
“The next day I called him back and said that I needed a week to get the money but that I was sure that I wanted to hire him. I wanted to work a little longer and save as much money as possible for my father so I asked the man if he would wait two years until the person he was to …eliminate… turned twenty-five. I never told him I was taking the hit out on myself. He laughed and said, ‘Giving this person a birthday present, huh? Sure, no problem.’ Then he said that he would call me when the week was up to confirm the deal. I gave him my cell number.
“When he called back he told me to include a picture of who I wanted eliminated in the envelope along with the money and any instructions. I was to come alone and leave everything in the town park under a mailbox.” She stops and looks at her hands. “He said he would be watching me. He…told me…he told me something else too, Ms.…Cate.”
“Yes? Go on.”
“He said once the money had been paid, the contract was set. When he said that I knew there was no going back for me but I didn’t care.”
“You never met him personally to give him the money?” She shook her head no. Asking her if I can keep the card, I also ask Ms. Brooks-Warren how she managed to come up with the ten grand.
“I stole it from Kevin, the owner of the bar. I knew where he kept the cash in a hidden safe in the cellar of the bar. Like a lot of people in farming communities, he didn’t trust banks. I’m not proud of it, Cate, but I was desperate. I didn’t want to live anymore and I saw no other way out. Before the week was out, I followed the hit man’s instructions and left the money with a picture of me in an envelope. That picture you’re holding is the one I left for him.”
I look from the picture to her. “You’ve had extensive cosmetic surgery, Ms. Warren. Was the money for that stolen also?”
Suddenly my new client begins to cry and the cries turn into hysterical sobs. I get her a bottle of water from the small fridge and Myrtle comes over with a box of tissues. Her body shakes with her emotions as her fiancé holds her in his arms. She controls herself in a few minutes and looks down at her hands. “That’s the cruelest part of this whole thing! When my father died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack two weeks later, I found out why he was so frugal. He had saved almost every cent he could in case of crop failure or if he wasn’t able to work anymore.” She pauses and takes a shaky breath. “My father left me nearly twenty-five thousand dollars and a life insurance policy worth over a million dollars. More than enough to start a new life and return the money to Kevin.”
“And you tried to contact the hit man with no success?”
“I tried desperately to find him but I had no idea who he was or where he was! He never returned to Kevin’s bar. I drove around for weeks to out-of-the-way bars and burger places praying that I might see him. I put ads in several major papers and on the internet via social media, along with pictures of me back then. I put up a description of that man who was in the K & K in Culpepper, Virginia stating the date and the time he was there and begging for information to find him. I said that I was desperate for him to contact me immediately. But nothing worked; it was as if he simply vanished into thin air. I’ve never heard from him again.
“You know, Cate, two years ago I thought that if I ran away from my small town and began a new life, I wouldn’t have to worry about anything. I used the money to remake myself and for a while I felt safe. I met Edward,” she gestures to the man she had introduced as her fiancé, “a year ago, and truly felt as if I could bury the past. But now…”
“What about the woman in the bar? Ever see her again or know where she might live or work?”
She shakes her head. “I never saw her again. From the way she spoke, I don’t think she was from around Culpepper. I mean, even with the cursing and her being drunk, I could tell her speech was very proper.”
“Jennifer, you paid this man his money, right? Maybe he took it and has forgotten about you. Two years is a long time to wait and you do not look anything like the woman in the pictures you showed to me.”
Jennifer Brooks-Warren sat down next to her fiancé and took his hand. He turned to me and spoke again in a clear and concise voice. His eyes focused on me alone as he spoke.
“He hasn’t forgotten, Ms. Harlow.” He hands me the type of card you’d find in a gift box. “Ten days ago someone sent two pictures to our condo. One was the picture of Jennifer as she looked two years ago and the other was one of her walking with me in Central Park. That was bad enough but last night Jennifer received a bouquet of flowers with that note that says, ‘Can’t wait until your birthday. Twenty-five is special.’
He pauses then says, “And, as I told you, my fiancée Jennifer will be twenty-five in two months’ time.”
The flowers Jennifer received were an order that was placed by phone; it had to be a burner one since I can’t trace it. The dictated note was written by a clerk who works in a local florist shop and the credit card used to place the order was a pre-paid, untraceable Visa. All I can find out is that the card was purchased in Arizona but when I call there with the number, no one seems to remember who purchased it. “We get a lot of people, miss. Bad credit and such, that’s why they get pre-paid credit cards. Most only go up to $200. Hard to remember who bought what.” Obviously this hit man knows how to cover his tracks really well.
For the rest of the morning Myrtle and I work quietly together; me reviewing previous cases and updating my website and Myrtle fending off telemarketers and making an appointment for me to meet with the CEO of a limo service. She puts the company’s owner on speaker so I can hear him say that he wants to hire ‘a female dick, you know, one of those woman detectives to surveille our drivers. Ya got one who can look like a hooker so the guys don’t get suspicious?’ Myrtle assures him that something can be arranged and takes down his information. She looks over at me and says, “Still got those hooker heels from that pole dancing case last year?”
“Back of my closet just waiting for a chance to emerge.”
At one o’clock I decide to leave my office with the express purpose of getting something to eat at Enzo’s Trattoria. I haven’t eaten anything since six a.m. and I am starving. Having spoken with Jennifer and her fiancé Edward for almost three hours has added to my hunger; I think better on a full stomach.
I ask Myrtle to come with me but she says she’s too busy and then adds that she’s not hungry. “Got to watch my weight,” is what she says. I raise my eyebrows. Myrtle is a nicely built older woman who does ballroom dancing twice a week and plays golf in the warmer weather.
There’s nothing wrong with her weight but I don’t say anything.
Before they left, Ms. Brooks-Warren and her fiancé had signed the necessary papers that hired me as their investigator then wrote a nice check for my retainer fee. I gave those, and Jennifer and her fiancé, to Myrtle to handle while I made a phone call to a trusted and discreet security company and hired professionals to keep surveillance on Jennifer. The security
company’s owner has top-notch people working for him so I feel we’re pretty well covered. I also make a mental note to do a background check on her fiancé Edward Penn. He’s probably innocent but I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t have him checked out.
I promised Jennifer that tonight I would introduce her personally to the woman from the security team who will shadow her every move whenever she leaves her condo. Finally I sent
Ms. Brooks-Warren and Co. to a sketch artist I know so I can have a reasonable idea of what the hit man looks like. The hit man case is officially a go and I go out the door.
Outside my office building I see Bo the homeless man who washes car windows whenever someone stops at a light. He knows that I’m good for a twenty each Friday night when I tell him to get some food and not spend my hard-earned money on booze. Most times he does get food to go along with his beer. I live on hope with him.
Today he’s accompanied by his buddy who inadvertently helped me on my last case concerning the priests’ murders. He still seems to have no name other than “Bo’s friend” or “Hey” as Bo calls him. I walk over and surprise Bo by handing him a twenty. Today’s Tuesday but I’m feeling generous.
“Get lunch for both of you, okay? But no beer.” I look at his friend. “Hi Bo’s friend.”
Bo smiles a lopsided grin and says he’ll get them pizza. Bo’s friend hunches deeper into the oversized sweater he’s wearing and doesn’t look at me. I experience a twinge of guilt. I once broke his ribs and bloodied his nose when I thought he was a mugger or rapist trying to get into my car. Sighing I pull a ten out of my pocket. “This is only for you, Bo’s friend. Get some ice cream from that woman over there,” I say pointing to an ice cream vendor. He quickly grabs the ten and nods at me without looking up. I sigh again and continue on my way. Another Cate Harlow attack victim.
The walk to Enzo’s always makes for an interesting insight into the differences in people. At this time of day I see moms in yoga pants running, holding on to special jogger-strollers, babies inside them either lulled to sleep by the rhythm of the run or wide awake looking ahead at the view in front of them. There are business people, men and women, both in suits and carrying attaché cases, cell phones glued to their ears deep in conversations, presenting a danger to themselves as they navigate crossing the busy streets. I watch construction workers, laughing, sitting on beams opening their lunches and coffee containers, relaxing for a while. And then I see the street people every city has, the ones who are homeless and sad depending on the rest of humanity for life’s very basics, like food. I think of Bo.
My cell buzzes as I’m entering the small outdoor courtyard of the trattoria. It’s from my ex-husband and sometime sex partner Will Benigni.
“Hi Will. What’s up?” I laugh at the innuendo of my innocent greeting.
“Oh you‘d like what‘s up, baby.” God! The man never misses a beat. “Where are you?”
“Going into Enzo‘s for some much-needed nourishment. What are you doing?”
“Just finished taking a statement from some punk we busted on cocaine possession. We think he’s a witness to a murder.” He says this so matter-of-factly. “Anyway I‘m going over to the law library later. You going to be home tonight? I need you to help quiz me on some questions.”
Will’s studying for the New York State Bar exam once again. The exam is in a few months and he’s been driving me crazy about taking it. I hesitate.
“Listen, I really do need you to quiz me. What, did you think it’s an excuse for me to come jump your bones? I don’t need an excuse for that do I?”
“No, you don’t. That‘s not it though. I was figuring on doing research for a new case and I don’t know what time I’ll get back to my brownstone. What time were you thinking of coming over?”
“Not ’til around eight or so. I’ve got paperwork up my ass here.”
“Okay. I should be home by eight. Pick up Chinese food from P.F. Chang’s and you’ve got a date and a meal.”
“Right. Gotta go.” His call abruptly ends but I’m used to that if he’s at the precinct. I pocket my phone and enter my favorite Italian trattoria. Ordering a large antipasto salad with dressing on the side, I sit at a table by the window and wait, letting my mind wander.
By all accounts I consider myself a lucky woman. I have my own fairly successful business, Catherine Harlow, Private Investigations, am healthy, have some good friends, and have survived having my head bashed in during my missing person case last year. I put a pedophile priest in prison and reunited a sister and a brother. It was a satisfying ending to a convoluted case.
My ex, Will, and I have a kind of friends-with-benefits relationship meaning that we probably could not ever live together again as husband and wife but we can still enjoy the highly charged sex part of it. Then there’s Giles Barrett, ME. We had a nice thing going for awhile and I still see him but we’ve decided to cool any intimacy between us for now. I think that Giles is waiting for the “Will rush” to run its course and feels that after that, we, Giles and I, will get back together. Who knows really? Will is like a drug but, as any addict will tell you, no matter how addicted you are you still know what you’re doing is not good for you.
In my life, Will, my drug of choice, can be wonderful as well as dangerous. I know he’s not really good for me but I love the rush I get from how expert he is at pushing my erotic buttons. I know the risks but I am with him Will-ingly, so to speak.
My lunch is brought to the table and I forget about the people in my life for awhile and concentrate only on the pleasure of eating.
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Huffington Post writer Kristen Houghton is hard at work on the third book in the Cate Harlow Private Investigation series to be published summer, 2016. She is a linguist and the author of nine top-selling books. Before pursuing writing full-time she was an educator who taught the languages and cultures of Italy and Spain.