short story

The Finer Things (part one)

Another short story.

That morning, Jake hung his top coat on the bentwood stand inside the office door, paused for a moment to re-straighten his tie in the mirror right beside it, then strode silently across the oriental rug to his desk. His desk. After two weeks, he still liked the way the words tumbled over his tongue. The desk was magnificent, antique mahogany the color of aged scotch and polished until its surfaces shone like glass. He’d picked it up at an estate auction for a mere two and a half thousand dollars.

It now formed the centerpiece of his office.

Just as he’d settled into his chair, his partner—Lou Retton—stepped through the connecting door from his own office.

“Thought I heard you in here,” he said and tossed a manila envelope onto the polished surface of the desk.

Jake caught his breath and snatched up the envelope. “Please don’t do that.”

“Do what?” Lou looked at him, honestly perplexed.

“Forget it.”

He’d long ago given up trying to explain why one needed to take care around works of art. It was like trying to get a pit bull to respect a rare orchid. It simply couldn’t comprehend it.

Lou was that pit bull, personified. He was one hell of an investigator, almost as good as Jake himself, but he was a Philistine. He wore the same three polyester suits day in and day out and seemed to choose his ties at random, matching or not. His own desk was a battered gray metal affair he’d found in an army surplus store and the only thing decorating his office walls was a single framed snapshot of his wife and kids.

As different as they were, he and Lou made surprisingly effective partners.

“What’s this?” he asked now.

“A manila envelope,” Lou smiled.

Jake was about to make some remark when Lou continued.

“It contains the surveillance photos from the Willis divorce case. I figured you’d want to see them before I turned them over to her husband.”

“They good?”

“Not if you’re the soon to be ex Mrs. Willis,” Lou shook his head as he started back toward his own office. “But I have to admit she puts on one hell of a show.”

Jake slipped the contents from the envelope as Lou returned to his office and closed the connecting door.

The envelope held a dozen full color, high definition photographs. Lou might not give a damn about how he, or anything he owned looked, but he spared no expense on their equipment. The quality of the photographs reflected that, especially the long range shots.

The first six photos were taken with a telephoto lens, apparently from a sizable distance, but the focus was still sharp and clear. They showed the lovely Nicole Willis and her personal trainer/boyfriend in various locations around the area: sitting in a restaurant; together in a car; laying out on a beach; walking together up a flight of open metal stairs. A motel’s stairs.

In none of the photos, did either of the subjects show any suspicion they were being watched.

Lou was good.

The remaining photographs were all in full color and showed Mrs. Willis and her lover in various stages of sexual activity. They were good enough to make a porn director green with envy and Jake had no idea how he got them. He had to have planted a secret camera in the motel room, but how did he know which one?

Lou was very good.

He had also made copies of the sex shots, thoughtful guy.

Jake slipped all the photos, including his copies, back into the envelope and set it in the “out” tray on the edge of his desk. It would all go into the Willis file.

The intercom buzzed. His appointment was probably here.

“Yes, Marcia?”

“A Miss Cordova is here to see you.,” she told him. “Should I send her in?”

“No. I’ll be out in a moment. Thank you.”

He always thought it good business when meeting a new client to come out and meet them in the outer office first. It gave the impression that they and their problem was important to him. The little things were important.

Jake stepped around the desk and checked his appearance again in the mirror. Only when every detail was exactly as he wanted, did he open the door and step into the outer office.

Diane Cordova rose from the loveseat as he approached. She was strikingly beautiful, somewhere in her mid-twenties, with long hair the color of his desk and big black eyes. She wore a black silk miniskirt a couple of inches above her knee and a white blazer over a scarlet tee. Her skin was clear and the color of coffee with lots of cream.

“Ms. Cordova? I’m Jacob Bremer.”

She smiled and shook his offered hand. He noticed her taking in his suit, his shoes. He hoped she was duly impressed.

He stepped aside and ushered her into his office. “Could I have Marcia get you some coffee? Or maybe tea?”

The young woman smiled, but shook her head. “No, thanks. I’m fine.”

Over her shoulder, Jake saw Marcia roll her eyes.

Jake ignored his secretary’s editorial, escorted his client into his office and closed the door. He made her comfortable in the office chair, then rounded the desk to take his own seat.

“Your office is beautiful,” she said.

He smiled. “Thank you. Now tell me what I can do for you.”

Her eyes dropped.

He became aware of the floral scent of her perfume. Not too much, not too little.

“I think I’m in a great deal of trouble. I was hoping you could help me.”

“Possibly. Why don’t you tell me about it?”

She took a deep breath, let it go in a sigh. “It’s my little brother. He took something that didn’t belong to him. Now some very bad men are looking for him and he’s in hiding.”

Jake nodded. “May I ask what it was he took?”

“Drugs. Cocaine.”

Jake nodded. Yes, he certainly was in trouble. Drug dealers did not look kindly on people who ripped them off.

“How much did he take?”

“I’m not sure,” she told him. “A pound?”

He nodded. A lot of cocaine. Nice people didn’t have pound bags of cocaine lying around for thieves to steal.

“Does he still have it?”

“I think so,” she answered. “Most of it anyway.”

“That’s good.” He nodded. It was something anyway. At least there was the possibility of returning the product, begging for mercy and, just possibly, living to see another day. He wondered how much of the product had gone up her brother’s nose.

Ms. Cordova recrossed her legs, hiking her skirt up another inch. Jake made himself look away.

“Are you going to be able to help us?”

“I can talk to some people for you,” he told her. “But I’m going to need to know your brother’s name and the name of the man he ripped off.”

She nodded. “My brother’s name is Donny Cordova and the man who’s after him is Marcus Williams.”

Jake wrote the names down in his notebook.

He heard the young woman audibly sigh.

“Okay, a couple of things I’ll need you to do,” Jake told her. “First, is to sign a contract officially hiring me. I can have Marcia draw that up now. My fee is three hundred dollars a day plus expenses. I don’t expect this to take much more than a day or two.”

“That’s no problem.”

He called Marcia on the intercom and had her start drawing up a two day contract, then returned to his client. “The next thing is I need your cell phone number so I can contact you if I need to.”

“Of course.” She gave it to him. He wrote it in his notebook with the other information.

“The last thing I want you to do is check yourself into a motel until this is over.”

She frowned. “Why?”

“Because if Williams doesn’t already know you’re Donny’s sister, he will find out soon. As soon as he does, you will be in danger. He’ll either think you know where Donny is and try to torture it out of you, or he’ll think by kidnapping you, he’ll force Donny into giving himself up. Either way, it isn’t safe for you at home.”

Her face grew a shade lighter, but she nodded.

“If Donny’s hiding at your place, you should tell him to find another place.”

She shook her head. “He’s not there.”

“Very good,” he rose to his feet. Across the desk, Ms. Cordova did the same. “Let’s get that contract signed and I’ll get started.”

He ushered her out into the outer office, where Marcia had the contract waiting for them. They both signed it and his new client wrote a check for six hundred dollars.

“Should I call you when I know where I’ll be staying?” she asked.

“That would be helpful, but don’t tell anyone else,” he told her. “And it would be a good idea to call in sick at work tomorrow too.”

She nodded.

He steered her toward the door. “I’ll start making some phone calls right away. As soon as something develops, I’ll let you know.”

“Thank you.”

“And don’t let your brother put any more of that stuff up his nose.”

She nodded, thanked him again, and strode out the door.

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