Salt Island E&A Investigations Thriller Series Book 2
by Lisa Towles Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense
At the request of an old college chum, former CIA operative and private investigator Mari Ellwyn investigates the blackmailing of a CEO amid a high-profile IPO deal and a motivated witness determined to expose him for corruption and fraud. Mari’s new partner, Derek Abernathy tries to help uncover the truth behind the accidental death of two farm workers in the Central Valley, only to discover that they weren’t accidental and they’re connected to a seamy underworld of illegal drug manufacturing and toxic chemical dumping. Lured by compassion and ties to their former lives, Ellwyn and Abernathy leverage their collective experience in the biggest challenge of their lives – bringing justice and staying alive in the process.
What readers are saying:
“ An intricate, gorgeously written, character-driven page-turner with some shocking twists” - Prairies Book Reviews
"An Intoxicating read, hugely entertaining" - The Book Commentary
“An exceptional thriller and a riveting work of espionage, wrongdoing, and discovery” - Midwest Book Review
“Towles is a master when it comes to parallel storylines. Readers will love the quick pace and snappy dialogue of this thriller, and Mari is a character who jumps off the page and into your heart." - Literary Titan
"Likeable, interesting characters and a confident narrative keep the pages turning of this crime thriller, in a series that harkens Evanovich, Grafton, and Millhone." - RECOMMENDED, The US Review of Books
“Highly recommended for fans of intricately plotted mystery tales, high-stakes action, and dynamic detectives” – Reader’s Favorite
“Powerful and entertaining, a harrowing journey into the heart of corporate greed” – Book Viral Reviews
Imagine hearing nothing but seagulls and rolling surf for hours at a time. No talking, dogs barking, TVs, cars, empty enough to hold a thought in your head, idle enough to inspire daydreams. And when the shudder of fear shakes you back to earth, you’re still in your proverbial hammock drinking in the countenance of paradise with the same hungry, cynical eyes. Could it be real, this place? Was it as safe as it appeared? Yes but for the ephemeral shadow in my heart, warning me that nothing was as it seemed, asking what the hell I was doing here.
I’d been half asleep, lulled by the seesaw movement of the ferry and unfazed by a sudden rocking from another vessel. Quality sleep had become a rarity these days, like a shooting star or the aurora borealis over North America. My slitted eyes glazed over the blue expanse leaving everything, everyone, behind. Time, when slowed, allows new things to slip into your awareness. The low drone of the motor under my feet. Squawking seagulls. Coconut sunscreen. And then sometimes the human body prepares you for things, alerts like a buzzing in the hands, stomach clenching, the shadow of a migraine. Uncertain which came first, I spotted a ghoulish shape in the water at the same time an anguished howl sounded behind me at the stern. The first scream was higher in pitch, probably the little girl I noticed earlier, clasping hands with her father beside her; the second a moment later, an older woman, scream muffled by clammy palms, then the sobbing of utter shock.
Both its color and shape seemed unnatural, not white enough to be the feathers of a gull, too large and round to be the head of any marine animal, its pallor unmistakable. I’d seen enough of death certainly. It’s the stories that always got me.
The jarring interruption, mouths left open as if caught mid-conversation, the dark specter appearing unannounced in its languid cloak. How old had this person been?
Married, single, lawyer, lobster fisherman? The body drifted close enough at one point that I caught sight of a wound on the forehead, likely pecked by sea birds leaving a red/brown indentation centered between the already hollowed-out eyes. I wondered if the bottom half of him had been eaten by sharks.
Fully awake now and unmoved from my position on the bench seat along the starboard side, I did what I’d been trained to do all those years: watch and listen, observe without reacting, gather scraps of usable intel. I’d learned that from him, my father. The spy. Truth be told, I couldn’t see a corpse without thinking of him. Even now, though he was only technically missing and never actually pronounced dead.
This floating cadaver still felt emblematic of that loss and its resulting wound.
Whether dead by accident, natural causes, or specific intent, someone would miss this man. Who was he and how did he end up here?
The Tortola Fast Ferry crewmembers patrolled both decks gathering passengers to the front of the vessel, evading direct questions, reassuring them we’d be on our
way again shortly. We’d been stopped for thirty minutes awaiting a rendezvous with a U.S. Coast Guard vessel. I debated whether to identify myself as former law enforcement to the crew. The risk, of course, was that I wasn’t supposed to be here in the first place, and what could I do, really? One crewmember had already started interviewing the little girl who’d first seen the body. They seemed to have the unexpected crisis well in hand.
One crewmember with a short, blonde ponytail was interviewing a man two rows behind me. She introduced herself as the First Mate, asked him if he needed anything, and waited. Tricky, wasn’t it, finding out who knew about the dead body jouncing to the surface without specifically asking. Whether the twenty-something crew had been trained in this type of emergency response, they weaved calmly with discretion through rows of antsy passengers. Listening and attending.
“Miss, is there anything you need?” the young woman asked gently from behind my left ear. She stepped around me to the left, crouching in front of my bare, crossed legs.
I stared, unblinking.
“Did you see—” she began, to which I nodded. There was a tacit moment of understanding between us. “Could you come with me please?”
I followed her to the bow, where we met with a tanned, wiry man about her age, another crewmember, both clocking in around five foot seven. Me at six feet in flats, I sighed at the familiarity of another awkward moment.
“I saw the body in the water,” I said to them, saving time. “I know several other passengers did as well.”
“We’re asking that you not share what you saw with anyone else. We don’t want to upset anyone. Are you alright? Can we bring you anything?”
“I’d be happy to provide a statement,” I said. “Are we still in US waters?”
The two crewmembers exchanged nervous looks. The guy glanced behind me at the other passengers, probably wondering if anyone else heard my question.
“I’m guessing that’s the million-dollar question right now?” I asked. “I’m not a maritime lawyer but I imagine this presents an interesting tangle of jurisdictions.”
“The Coast Guard’s en route and will be taking statements from any passengers who saw anything,” the second mate said.
I knew I was right. We were going to be here a long time.
My seat was the perfect vantage point for observation. Unusual that the young girl who first noticed the body was the only child on board; the rest of the ferry’s complement looked like mostly older tourists in baggy clothing and straw hats. I craned my neck to the right but couldn’t see the body anymore. I suspected the crew had corralled it off the port bow somehow.
I watched the small Coast Guard RIB, their fleet of rigid, inflatable boats, approach at high speed, slow, then dock beside us. Two officers, armed, boarded the ferry in about ten seconds, reminiscent of the five seasons of Sea Patrol I’d binge-watched. Interviews started with the young girl. I could hear everything, especially the officers’ request to speak to the girl without her father. No deal, apparently, as he
remained crouched beside her, hand on her shoulder. Next was the gray-haired woman whose muted scream I’d heard after catching sight of the victim. Ten minutes later, I was summoned to the huddle, where I stood with the two officers.
Phones out, ready to type their interview notes, I offered my business card to start the conversation.
“E&A Investigations,” one said. “Private investigator?”
The other officer leaned in to look at the card. “And…Abernathy? Is he here as well?”
“Derek Abernathy, my partner. No,” I answered, smiling to myself, remembering our first case together and now two years later we were officially partners. Enough to warrant business cards anyway. That felt good.
“Are you on a case right now?” one of them asked.
I laughed with a flourish. “Oh no, just a short vacation. Amazing what a few days in paradise can do for the soul, you know? Minus the body of course.”
Neither so much as cracked a smile.
“So how does maritime law come into play here?” I asked.
One officer looked down at the card and peered closely. “Is this your mobile number or your office number?”
Evading my question. That said something right there. “They’re both listed.”
“Can you describe what you saw in the water and when exactly that was?”
I checked the old, scratched watch on my right wrist. “About forty minutes ago now, I saw something white bobbing up from under the water. I assumed it was a seagull feasting on some fish, but the object looked round and bulbous. I saw the forehead, then the shoulders, and then I heard that little girl scream.”
Both men were scribbling. “How about before that? Any disturbances on board, loud noises, any commotion?”
“I was asleep. It was very quiet.”
They were pretending to write but stalling to see if I’d blurt something out in my apparent nervousness from talking to law enforcement. It was a well-used tactic. I kept my eyes fixed on the ocean current and couldn’t help but notice dark clouds gathering overhead.
“What will you be doing in Tortola?” the one asked me, eyes on his notebook.
“You don’t swim in southern California?” the other officer asked, eyes wide and mocking.
“I’m too warm-blooded for those waters. Besides, who has time to swim when you’re working, right?”
They left me alone after that, but I was sure I hadn’t heard the last of the U.S.
Coast Guard. It was another twenty minutes before we started moving again, during which time I pretended to read, viewing a man over the tops of my sunglasses. They all looked the same – balding, edgy – this one met that description, and he had a sidekick seated near him, a younger, darker-skinned version. It didn’t look like either
of them knew I was watching them watch me. Maybe they didn’t. Not everyone’s a spy, right? Then again, the older one kept finding things to do that kept his view in my direction rather than looking out into the water. It’s the ocean. Why was I more interesting than that? Okay sure, I was six feet tall with long red hair. But this didn’t feel like a pickup. They seemed like operatives here to observe a potential asset.
Maybe that asset was me, and some things never changed.
St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
There’s something inherently naughty about hiding out from the world, solo travel, pursuing a secret mission. Despite its provocative appeal, I couldn’t help admitting to the obvious avoidance in my actions. Family matters I didn’t want to deal with, a case I didn’t want to investigate. And now a body floating in the water begging for my attention.
It had been eight months since my kidnapping and, sure, I was running away from my life, searching for the father who didn’t want to be found – by me or anyone else. My partner Derek and Ivan, LAPD Chief of Detectives, clicked into red alert every time I went off somewhere alone now. It’s okay, guys, I thought, replaying the conversations, while my eyes drank in the immutable aqua sea, Tortola rising ahead of me like a bright promise.
My father, from whom I learned how to vanish, loved it here. He thought the British Virgin Islands possessed a power unique from any other Caribbean Island.
My mother, in her taciturn way, loathed the times he escaped here alone, without her, without me or my brother, thinking all the while he’d shacked up with an island princess free of our sophisticated worries. But I understood him. I still do, and I refuse to talk about him in the past tense because we’ve not received a scrap of evidence to support the idea of his death. Except for the postcards, which I was sure no one knew about but me, Richard Ellwyn had been missing for over two years.
When I was little, my father traveled for work, gone for months at a time. To let me know he was safe, he’d send postcards with nothing on them but three little lollipops in the bottom left corner each time, which I came to recognize as his secret signature just for me. Only later, when I learned of the Ellwyn legacy and the family’s Coat of Arms, did I understand the significance of the lollipops: a succession of three open chalices with long, thin stems supported by three horseshoes beneath them. Two months ago, I received a postcard from Magens Bay Beach on St.
Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. Unlike the armchair travel inspiration of those postcards, this one had another intent—blank with three lollipops and one word carefully penned on the bottom edge: Tete.
The peril of close relationships, though, is that it’s not so easy to disappear.
Duga, my friend and associate, had learned my vanishing acts by now and understood, implicitly, that they were vital to my survival and a way to unify the fragmented strands of my work and life. That is, my double life.
Derek. I’d tell him eventually, maybe tomorrow morning when I was tucked in my hotel four thousand miles away, obviously omitting the new developments. And Ivan, well, that required more strategy. For him, the lie included down with the flu, so when he inevitably trolled past my Santa Monica house in a squad car, he’d see my car in the driveway and be partially certain of my safety.
I’d spent last night at Picara Pearl Villas in St. Thomas where, upon check-in, I received another postcard sealed in a letter-sized envelope with my name written on it. I recognized the terrible penmanship and tore it open to find a picture of Tortola.
Was he here, observing me? I looked down at my favorite watch to see that we’d arrive in Road Town in ten minutes.
The water here, my God. I could lean over the edge of the ferry, cup it in my hands, and swallow it like a restorative tonic. Tortola, up close, resembled the shape of opened arms. One place in the world still pristine, unsullied by the profane, modern world. Well, partially sullied by a body in the water. I remembered, only now, the other ferry that passed us just before I caught sight of the corpse. It looked about the same size as our ferry, but I couldn’t recall any other details. Could that craft have dumped the man’s body? Maybe it was a fishing boat. And maybe I’d imagined it altogether.
I was gathering my two bags when my phone buzzed in my pocket with a text.
One of the perks of the Road Town Fast Ferry was an offshore mobile phone network with cell boosters to help connectivity while on board. I pulled out my iPhone and glanced at the message – Derek Abernathy, partner, friend, and the last person I wanted to talk to.
Sorry yr sick, I made you some soup. About to bring it over. You awake?
Shit. Shit, shit. I sent an SOS text to Duga, who could get to my house in five minutes.
Dude, Derek’s on his way over…to my house!! Are you nearby??
Duga replied with a rolling eyes emoji.
Come on Duga, my good friend, I’l be back in 2 days. Cover for me? Name your price.
Health insurance? 401k matching?
Real y? This again?
Meanwhile, I ignored Derek. I had the flu. Right?
Just tell him where you are, no? Duga wrote.
This is personal, and not something I want to share. With you, yes. No one else.
It was a dirty trick and I didn’t care. I knew Duga would like hearing the singularity of our long friendship and, for that reason alone, he might drive to my house and tell Derek that I was curled up in the recumbent spoils of a sickbed: chicken soup, a box of tissues, and analgesics, hopefully preventing him from getting Ivan involved. Ivan had seen this routine before, and would no doubt realize what I was doing…and who I was looking for. In all honesty, Derek would, too.
We came to BVI when I was five, and again when I was ten. Back then, it held a mystique I didn’t find anywhere in Middle-of-Nowhere, Minnesota, or later in LA.
Tortola measured up in all the usual ways to an island retreat – warm, welcoming, slow, and colorful. They even used US dollars. I’d always sensed something forbidden, though, about its beaches, its streets, and inhabitants. I could never put my finger on it, but I always had my father to lean on for reassurance.
With no sign now of the man who’d been watching me, I disembarked and waited in a short queue.
“Name, Miss?” an official-looking man asked.
I leaned forward two inches. “Marissa Ellwyn.”
“Welcome to Tortola,” he said with a wide smile. I was sure he’d said those words a hundred times already today, but the smile looked genuine.
I still clutched the postcard, a little girl clinging to the father from her childhood.
Was that quaint, or desperate? Of course, he could have gotten someone else to write my name simulating his physician’s penmanship. Why though, and who? It had to be him.
I walked along the concrete ferry dock, scanning for a bench to set down my bags and suck the warm, sweet air deep in my lungs. My father loved it here, so different from our life in LA and the earlier years in Minnesota. I could see here, on the water’s edge, what he had been running to. But I might never know what, or who, he was running from. My mother, or me? Come on Mari, don’t go there.
I had to admit to the spark in my heart at seeing the postcard under my door in St. Thomas. Another part of me, though, the wiser part, wondered. Was he watching me right now, or paying someone else to report back on my movements? If he was here on Tortola, it seemed only logical that he lived here. Another thing he’d taught me – start with the most logical explanation first.
“Thank you so much,” I said to a bellman near the ferry dock who carried my two bags to the front of a taxi line. No Uber in BVI yet. I stood back to assess him: tall, white shirt with black pants, 200 pounds, sixty years old. At the hotel in St. Thomas, I’d printed a photo of my father from my iPhone in a 4 x 6-inch size. I slid it out of my handbag and studied the man’s face, then slowly held it in front of him.
The face expanded into a wide smile. There were lots of flavors of smiles.
“You are looking for someone, no?”
“That could be said of anyone. Right?” I countered.
The man’s smile vanished as he took the page from my hand, then examined the photo and my face back and forth. “Yes, I see the resemblance.”
“Does he look familiar at all?” I asked, realizing that I would likely be asking this question over and over.
The man shook his head. “Don’t worry.” He handed the page back to me and held it as I tried to grab it from him. “This is an island. No one can hide here forever.”
I booked one night at Sebastian’s on the Beach because it was close to the ferry dock, food, bars, and stores in case I needed any supplies right away. I travel light so
I knew I’d be needing something. I checked into my second-floor room in a well-maintained colonial structure and, naturally, ended up on the balcony gazing at the landscape of Cappoon’s Bay. What was wrong with me? How could anyone look at this water and feel dark inside? I couldn’t help but feel eyes on me, lurking cowardly behind binoculars, shielded by diaphanous curtains, or maybe on a balcony just like this cloaked behind a spray of bougainvillea. Was it my father, or maybe the staring man from the ferry? Were they wondering why I’d come, wondering if my heart would welcome him, or curse him for running? I looked out and shook my head.
“You summoned me,” I said into the warm air. “Now tell me what you want.”
**Don't miss Book 1!**
Hot House E&A Investigations Book 1
Who killed Sophie Michaud? Stay up all night reading this award-winning psychological thriller that has readers obsessed.Shot in the line of duty, ex CIA operative Mari Ellwyn is again chasing adrenaline, when she reinvents herself as a private investigator on a quest to find the killer of college student Sophie Michaud. Every door Mari opens proves to be more perilous than the last, but she’s hell bent on bringing the killer to justice—for Sophie, students, and all women.
Teaming up with seasoned investigator and former detective, Derek Abernathy, the crime-savvy pair discover Sophie’s journal, which is filled with names and controversial secrets—listed among them is Mari’s own father. What secrets was Sophie hiding?
As they connect the dots leading to Sophie’s death, the blackmailing of a federal judge, and Mari’s own family, Sophie’s murderer is closing in for the next kill. Facing an adversary like none she’s ever experienced before, Mari must find her missing father and reconcile her broken past before she becomes the killer’s next victim.
A multiple award-winning novel, Hot House is a page-turning psychological thriller packed with tension, secrets, suspense, and surprises. If you like Blake Crouch, Harlan Coben, and Lisa Gardner, discover Lisa Towles’ E&A Series today.
First Place Winner of The Book Fest 2022 Literary Award, Mystery & Crime category
Literary Titan Gold Award for Fiction
Escape into this devious mind mystery by getting your copy of Hot House now, so you can solve the puzzle of who killed Sophie Michaud.
What readers are saying:
“A dark, edge-of-the-seat thriller. Highly recommended!”Chanticleer Reviews
“Memorable characters make for a winsome, absorbing detective tale.” - Kirkus Reviews
“Towles does a fantastic job of pacing the storyline so that the reader hangs on to every clue... I recommend this for fans of crime fiction writers Baldacci, Slaughter, and Gardner.” San Francisco Book Review
“Award-winning author Lisa Towles delivers again and again with her gripping thrillers…” Sarah Lovett, Bestselling author
“The plot is propelled forward by the clever use of suspense, measured action, and ingeniously written conflict. It is a moving and delightful read with cinematic scenes and characters that will stick with readers for a long after they turn the last page.” - The Book Commentary
“Hot House is an intricate maze of blackmail, surprise and suspense delivered by quirky characters, pithy dialog and LOL humor. Another hit by my favorite thriller writer, Lisa Towles.” - Ana Manwaring
“Fans of investigative thrillers and mysteries will be the audience for Hot House, but its ability to craft a sassy, fun series of dialogues and inspections... creates an exceptional read with a powerfully unexpected conclusion... This will attract audiences both within and beyond the thriller and mystery genres." - Midwest Book Review
“Towles has produced a knockout novel with Hot House. Towles’s plot is as twisted and unpredictable... Nowhere will thriller fans find a more engaging keep-you-on-your-toes read.” - Literary Titan
“This meticulously constructed, remarkable mystery deftly explores people’s darkest flaws while revealing hard truths about the hidden workings of the world. A fast-paced and psychologically astute thriller.” Prairies Book Review
“Hot House is one of those books that pries your eyelids open and doesn't relent until you've reached the end. Good luck getting Mari out of your head!” - Benjamin Bradley
Nothing good ever happened on a day you spilled black coffee on a white silk shirt. I jerked upright at 7:55 a.m. having missed a seven o’clock meeting with a prospective buyer, still plagued with the thought of the dark gray van tailing me again last night. Sure, I could tell myself fairy tales about how prosaic gray was for an automobile color, or how Ocean Park was a suburban neighborhood with lots of kids that required transport. But that was no soccer mom in the van.
The first note arrived with uncanny speed, almost too soon when you consider how many steps are involved in investigating a murder. I mean, I’d barely scratched the surface when I came home and found an index card in my mailbox. Handwritten in tall thin letters with a fine, red Sharpie, “STOP”. And back then, I’d barely started. I thought it was some kind of joke instigated by my senile neighbor who digs up objects from her front yard and delivers them to our front porches.
By the time I’d taken the judge’s first two blackmail notes to the forensics team I contract work out to, a second card arrived—this time in a plain, white business envelope, no return address, same message. This told me two things: whomever was threatening Appellate Court Judge Conrad McClaren was somehow threatened by my investigating the matter, and that finding the “who” and “why” now held more significance than I thought. But there was a third reason, one I’d barely even acknowledged to myself, about why I had to find these answers. The fate of my family and my heart depended on it.
A classy, dark green Land Rover, maybe ten years old, the kind you’d see in an REI magazine ad, pulled into the dirt lot, out of place in this part of LA’s Fashion District. I squinted and rolled in the binoculars a quarter slide and lingered behind the dusty blinds of the tiny window knowing the neighborhood would (or should, I hoped) raise questions.
A man climbed down from the awkward height of the car and stretched his sixfoot-three, maybe four, frame and took in the questionable surroundings. It’s not much, buddy, I know. I have my reasons. I stirred three sugars into a clean mug of fresh coffee while I watched him approach the unsightly door of my work-trailer. I could see the wheels turning. I pre-empted our first encounter and jerked open the door with a thrust that activated the almost daily pain in my shoulder.
“Of course this is it, it’s the only door in the building.” I smiled at the wise, untrusting face and well-tailored suit jacket. A nice surprise.
A perfunctory glance at my chest, then the coffee, and his hand extended like a lever. “Derek Abernathy.”
Unmistakable Beantown accent. Light hair, gap-toothed smile—I always liked that—bad skin, and earnest green eyes. My mother would say drug use from the bad skin, and she thought gap-teeth were indicators of a big heart. I’m usually wrong about first impressions. We’ll see.
“Come in.” I moved to the dingy, fake leather sofa, passed him the cup, and motioned him to one of the almost-matching chairs. He sipped, I saw a half-smile, but he caught it quick enough, then another sip. “Nice place you got here.” He looked around. A smart ass, good. A useful trait.
“Let’s say the location is…advantageous,” I said of my dingy work-office on East 8th between Downtown LA and the Fashion District. It was the hood, if there ever was one.
The eyes widened and glanced left and right. “For what exactly?”
Really? He didn’t get it? I know, I dragged him out to this forsaken place through my cryptic Craigslist ad that read, “Business Partner needed for human behavior research.”
I pointed east. “Next door is an importer/exporter specializing in Asian swords; down the hall they make fake IDs, passports, driver’s licenses; and on the north side’s a travel agent that books Hawaiian Zodiac trips.”
“Oceanfront property in Arizona?”
I tried not to, but I let a crack of a smile slip through. I liked him. “Something like that.”
“Couple meth dealers and you got yourself a party.”
Derek Abernathy, I said his name to myself over and over.
“You haven’t told me your name yet, Miss…Ms…Mrs…”
He nodded, like he’d categorized me into a certain something. “Mari-what?”
“E. Mari E. That’s my name.”
“Are you, like, a rapper?”
Now I was the coy one, folding my arms, sliding deeper into the couch, which pinched something in my shoulder.
“All right, fine. How’d you know I like Sweet’n Low?” he asked with an attitude now that wasn’t there a minute ago. “And not only that but three. Where do you even buy that shit nowadays?”
“I’m a private investigator, Mr. Abernathy. It’s my job to know stuff about the people I work with.”
“Oh, is that what we’re doing? Working?” He didn’t hide that he was both amused and flattered.
“This is a conversation,” I clarified.
“What do you need me for?” he asked, emphasis on the me. “You seem to know about me already.”
I watched him squirm in the chair fumbling with a part of his sport coat he’d accidentally sat on. “Some,” I admitted, “but not all salient facts can be found on the internet. Some are found when looking through... your garbage…”
“Talking to your landlady.” I cracked up now, couldn’t help it. “Your paper boy.”
“As in newspaper? What century are you from? And I own my home, for like two decades.”
“I know, and in a much nicer neighborhood than this.”
He wriggled out of the jacket now, folded it, and laid it neatly on his lap, then his elbow nearly tanked the coffee on the side table, catching it just in time. I stifled a laugh.
“Silver Lake’s okay, a little too hipster for me. Too many funky coffeeshops with bad art on the walls.”
“Are you an art aficionado?”
A sardonic snort and his eyes widened. “Let’s say I know what’s good and what’s not.”
Omigod, I thought, but held my reaction in check. “Look, we’re both private investigators. What’s wrong with a little collaboration?”
He sat back and crossed his arms, waiting. Now it was my turn to perform, and I knew after one second’s meeting him that tight pants and a pushup bra wouldn’t get me far in this case.
“Mr. Abernathy,” I said pouring myself coffee, unsweetened, “you’re good at something I’m not. There’s a difference between locating someone who doesn’t want to be found and pulling them out. I’m good at research, damn good in fact. I’m a blood hound. What you’re good at, or so your reputation suggests, is the completion tactic. Drawing someone out, or ‘collecting’ as I call it, is one thing, but getting them to stay in one place long enough to identify them and make an arrest is another thing altogether, and with this clientele,” I looked around the room, “you better move fast.”
The man crossed his legs, pulled a pair of chic glasses from his front jacket pocket, and slid them on.
“That’s a nice look for you,” I said in earnest.
“I’m sensing the pitch is coming and I want to see your face clearly.”
He was funny, and that alone was worth ignoring any less desirable traits. “I’m looking for a guy,” I said, and the face changed from one that frequently smiles to a worn-down groove of mistrust. “What?” I asked.
He rose, showing me again that he was taller than me. Damn. I’m a six-foot-tall woman so that’s significant. “Get yourself a bounty hunter then.”
“I need a partner, all right?” I replied, one click too loud. I drew in a breath and remembered the goal. “I need backup,” I revealed more gently, strategically unmoved from the couch and staring at the floor. “I’ve been watching you for weeks. I needed to be sure.”
“Of what?” Annoyed now. “And watching what specifically?”
“Just tailing you driving around town, down to Encinitas to a bar next to that hookah lounge. No serious breach of privacy occurred, I assure you.”
He slowly sat back down, shaking his head.
“All right, a blackmailer,” I admitted, purposely giving him the impression that he’d gotten something out of me.
“You’re the victim?” he asked.
“No, a federal judge.”
“Really.” Raised brow. “They hired you?”
“Sort of. It’s a family friend.”
“Well Miss E, by the looks of your trailer, I wouldn’t picture you having family friends in high places but I’ll take your word for it. So, the blackmailer witnessed a crime that this federal judge, your family friend, allegedly committed, and the judge wants you to find the blackmailer so we can…what exactly?”
I stood, grabbed my purse, my keys, turned off the coffee maker, and stood at the door.
“Wait. We’re done?” he asked.
“I’ll pay you five hundred dollars a day for every day that I need you,” I said and pulled out my iPhone. “I’m texting you now so you’ll have my mobile and I’ll message you tomorrow. Venmo okay? Or if you’re a dinosaur and prefer PayPal or cash, that can be arranged.”
“You’ve been following me for weeks, you’ve got my mobile number, my Gmail…what’s my mother’s name?”
“Doreen. Deceased. Sorry.” I made a lemon face.
“Don’t I need to, like, sign an employment contract, read your business conduct guidelines for proper office behavior, read your EEOC statement?”
I waved my hand and nudged him out the door while I locked it.
“Who’s your Human Resources Director?” he said, walking down the stairs.
“Oh, you’ll be meeting him tomorrow.”
He stopped and turned. “Really?”
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Abernathy, I’ll be in touch again shortly,” I replied and held out my hand. He was reading my face the way you read a legal document. “What?”
“My mother always warned me about tall women.”
“Always listen to your mother.”
Lisa Towles is an award-winning, Amazon bestselling crime novelist and a passionate speaker on the topics of fiction writing, creativity, and Strategic Self Care. Lisa has nine crime novels in print with a new title, Salt Island, forthcoming in June of 2023. Her latest thriller, The Ridders, was an Amazon #2 Kindle Bestseller and won an American Fiction Award. Her psychological thriller, Hot House (June, 2022) was an Amazon #1 Bestseller (Kindle version) the first place Winner of the 2022 Book Fest Literary Award in Mystery & Crime. Her thriller Ninety-Five was released in November 2021 and won a Literary Titan Award for Fiction. Her 2019 thriller, The Unseen, was the Winner of the 2020 NYC Big Book Award in Crime Fiction, and a Finalist in the Thriller category of the Best Book Awards by American Book Fest. Her 2017 thriller, Choke, won a 2017 IPPY and a 2018 NYC Big Book Award for Thriller. Lisa is an active member and frequent panelist/speaker of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She has an MBA in IT Management and works full-time in the tech industry.