Two Birds, One Stone by Stella Marie Alden

Chapter 1

Sebastian Sutcliff

 

“Whoa.” My pal whistles through his teeth, walks across the second floor of my loft-slash-office, and stares down at the sidewalk. “Check her out.”

I join him at the pre-WWII industrial glass and follow his gaze to the blond bombshell reading the numbers etched beside my door below. Long legs show off lean calf muscles and her firm ass sticks out, emphasized by five-inch designer heels. From there, my eyes raise to her face. No doubt, a skilled surgeon sculpted those high cheekbones and straight pert nose.

A chill runs down my spine as my potential client reaches a glossy red nail to my doorbell. If this was film noir, she’d be the femme fatale asking for a favor before screwing over Sam Spade. In my case, Sam is my wife and at home with my kid.

“Fuck me.”

Grinning, Wheels punches me on the shoulder. “If you insist. First, you should let that fine specimen of a woman into your office.”

“Mmm.” When the ring app warbles, I almost don’t pick up.

Finally, I decide I’m being superstitious and answer. “Suds and Sam, Sebastian here. How can I help you?”

“I’d like to retain your services.” The sultry contralto seems contrived, one meant for lovers having a last cigarette and whiskey before screwing each other into a stupor.

Against my better judgement, I buzz her in.

The downstairs door squeaks, shuts, and her heels tap up the narrow steps. Thunder rumbles, a sudden gust of wind causes trash to fly, and freezing rain pelts the glass in front of my nose. Across the street, a train arrives.

When my building stops shaking, I turn to the bodyguard staying with me and point. “Wait upstairs in the loft. There’s a gun beside the futon.”

“Copy that.” My friend gives me a curious look before circling up the iron staircase.

Having done all I can do to mitigate risk, I stroll around the kitchen table to the foyer. After walking past four metal folding chairs, I turn the bolt, and crack open the oak door.

On the step below, the twentyish woman reaches up a gloved hand and being a gentleman, I’m obliged to take it.

“Please come in, Ms.?”

“Bright. Selena Bright.” She sashays in front of me, brushing against my thighs as she goes.

Once inside, she turns, and licks her lower lip as if I’m the hot in her chocolate. Despite the weather, her raincoat is left unfastened, revealing a clingy dress that shows off all her curves. A red-blooded male, I can’t help but notice the woman’s double-D’s popping out of her low-cut top.

Now, here’s the thing. Some men might be turned on but my cock don’t even twitch. And, if she thinks I’m interested in sampling her wares, she’s going to be sorely disappointed. Expensive Barbies aren’t my type and even if they were, I’d never mess up the good thing me and my partner got going.

In truth, if it weren’t for the fact we need the dough, I’d suggest this woman find a higher-priced outfit like Patten Securities in Manhattan. However, I got me a wife and kid. Unless it’s illegal, there’s not much I can afford to refuse.

“Can I get you anything?” Pulling out a chair, I indicate she should sit, then spin the coffee carousel on the granite countertop.

“Sure. Dark brew. Cream.” She crosses her legs and the split in her dress exposes the totality of her upper thigh.

Frowning, I focus on making our joe. When done, I place the mug in front of her, park on the far end of the table, and open my laptop. “So, what can Suds and Sam do for you?”

She opens one of them purses that cost more than I make in a month, digs for a tissue, and dabs at her eyes. “My daughter has run away, and I need you to find her.”

“How old is the girl?”

“Seventeen.” As she slides a school photo over the glass, I do the math and reevaluate the woman’s age.

“You hardly look old enough to have a teenager.”

“Thank you.” Her mouth tightens for a brief second before returning to its resting spot.

“How long has she been missing?”

“I’m not sure. A couple days, I think.”

“You think?” Damn. She is one cold bitch.

“You don’t understand. Chrissy lives with my grandmother, outside of Buffalo. She’s not answering her phone. We talk every day. This isn’t like her.” Steady blue eyes, enhanced by contacts, stare at me without blinking, an indication she’s telling the truth.

“And what does her guardian say?”

“We’re not on speaking terms. She has legal custody. Listen, I need someone to make sure my kid is alright. Do you want the job or not?” Her eyes water. She’s either a very good actress or is truly concerned.

I give her my rates and she doesn’t bat an eyelash. Instead, she hands me one of those gold-colored credit cards. “Take whatever you need and bill me what? Daily? Weekly? All I ask is you start looking immediately.”

I nod, use my phone app to collect her down payment, and turn my laptop so she can fill out her information.

After she signs our contract, I look over her info. She describes herself as self-employed. In this line of business, if the card clears, I’ve learned it’s best not to ask too many questions. As I figured, Ms. Bright got knocked up at a very young age. Her now deceased mother had custody of the child until last year. Then, Selena’s grandmother took over.

“I’m sorry to ask, but why didn’t you have Chrissy come live with you after your mother passed?”

She shrugs. “All her friends are up north. We talked about it and decided staying put would be best.”

This looks like an open and shut case. “Why not involve the police?”

“And say what? My teenager didn’t pick up her phone? I’m not even supposed to call her.”

I wonder if she means the girl harm but on closer inspection, the woman has dark circles that her makeup couldn’t cover, and her fingers turn white where she clutches her purse.

“Please.” Her voice breaks and as she blinks back tears, my spidey-senses tingle.

Something is not right. “I’ll see what we can do and call you later today.”

“Thank you.” Relief soaks her face as she stands, struts to the door, and uses both hands to shake mine. “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this.”

“Yes ma’am.” I let her out and as I watch her make her way down the stairs, Wheels circles down from the loft and waits with me at the plate glass window.

“Sweet Baby Jesus.”

“Damn straight.”

Wanting another opinion, I speed dial my wife. “Hey sugar, you got a second?”

I hear my toddler son squawkin’ in the background until she shuts off the speaker. “Wazzup?”

“I’m sending you a missing person’s case.” As I start to type, shots are fired outside, and I drop the Samsung on the sill. “Shit. Call ya back. Gotta go.”

Ms. Bright, who’d been waiting for a lift, chases a dark town car with her phone held high.

“On it!” Wheels vaults the glass table and I follow him down to the street.

“Get her upstairs.” I dash after the shooter but the car blasts through a red light and the tires squeal as it turns. When I reach the corner, the vehicle is long gone.

After trotting back to the door, I inspect the wall near where my new client was standing. There’s no bullet hole. Whoever shot, missed by a mile. This leads me to conclude calling the police would be pointless. Countless hours would be wasted and as much as I enjoy a good long ramble, best I stick to finding out who tried to kill the woman.

Remembering how I dropped my wife’s call, I jog up the stairs, and text her not to worry. Then, I grab a water and sit my ass down at my office table next to my client. I nod at my pal and indicate he should do the same. Two heads are always better than one.

Ms. Bright lifts her thick fake lashes. “Did you find him?”

“Sorry, no.” To Wheels I add, “No casings, no bullet. Black town car. The gun was maybe a foot away from her head. The shooter could’ve shut his eyes and still made the hit.”

My guest catches Selena’s gaze. “No offense, ma’am. Any reason a blind man might want to kill you?”

“Maybe they thought I was someone else.” Her eyes flicker.

Dammit. Her lies dredge up second thoughts about taking her money. “Have you had any other close calls recently?”

She bites her lower lip and shakes her head, yet another lie. “I… uh. I think, under the circumstances, I should hire you as my bodyguard. You do offer those services, right?”

Wheels grins, the bastard, because he knows this woman is serious trouble.

Smiling politely, I try to think of a nice way to turn her down. “We’re pretty booked and-”

“This should cover it, no?” She opens her purse, writes another check, and pushes a shitload of zeros across the table.

“Ms. Bright, as much as I’d like to help you out, I can’t accept your generous-”

“I’ll double it.”

Huh. Her deep pockets could pay a whole lot of bills, but easy money usually comes from doing something illegal which I’m not prepared to do.

“First, I need to know. Have there been any other attempts on your life?”

She taps those long red nails on the glass. “Someone shoved me off the sidewalk and into a busy street last week. If not for turning my ankle, I would’ve been hit. Then, in DC, I called an Uber and the wrong vehicle showed up, so I ran.”

I share a glance with my pal. Each of those instances, by themselves, would not be a cause for concern. But those, coupled with the drive by, seem suspicious. I don’t bother asking if she told the police. They’d have filed a report and that would’ve been the end of it.

“Before I take you on as a client, I need to ask. What exactly, is your occupation?”

“I’m a sex worker.” She says it like you might say day-trader or office temp.

I give Wheels credit for not dropping his jaw. Me? I clear my throat and scratch at the stubble on my face. Hell, I ain’t no prude but this is a first. Judging from her outfit, she must be pretty damn good at her profession.

Regardless, no one should be trying to take her out. Thinking, I tap the check on the table.

“I promise to make it worth your while.” She rolls her chair close, clamps my upper thigh, and leans forward.

To avoid a clear view down her shirt, I roll my eyes to the ceiling, pull her claws off my leg, and place them topside. “Sex is not included in the contract, ma’am.”

She chuckles. “It could be fun.”

“You’ll excuse me for a moment? I need to speak with my wife.” After standing, I walk into the foyer, but first call Patten Securities.

“Yeah?” Having known Slate for years, I translate this to mean, hello and what can I do for you.

“I was lookin’ for a trade.” I grin, hoping this will force him to use more words than usual.

“Trade what?” His tone indicates I captured his interest.

“Well, perhaps you have a guy who could guard my client and I take on one of yours.”

“Why?”

“Mebbe you could find a single man?”

He chuckles. “Some woman putting the moves on you?”

“She nearly punctured my balls with her nails when she grabbed my leg. I may need to file a harassment suit.”

“Sam know?”

“Not yet and I’d kindly appreciate you not sayin’ nothin’.”

He laughs out loud. “I’ll let you know but I doubt it. Most of the guys are busy in Washington. There’s a mile-long waiting list.”

“Yeah, I figured… I just thought I’d give it a try. My partner is not going to like me taking on a seductress.”

“Then don’t.”

“Money talks, my friend. I want to send Mikey to college someday.”

“What’s the real problem?” Even over the air waves, my friend’s a fucking mind reader.

“You know when you get this feelin’ somethin’s not right?”

“Talk to your wife.” As is his custom, he hangs up without a goodbye, so long, or see ya later, dude.

Taking a deep breath, I call Sam. “Hey sugar, now, before you say anythin’ let me reiterate what I texted. Everythin’ is fine, no one was hurt and yes shots were fired. Ya, see, this woman came in for us to find her daughter and well, I took that job because it was a slam dunk. I know we agreed to discuss cases before I accept them, but I figured you’d say yes and if you didn’t well, we could always give the money back, right? So, anyhoo, she left, and I guess she called for a ride because I stood at the window. The train had arrived, and people were getting off and-”

“Suds, are you rambling at me?”

“No, of course not honey. I’m explaining what happened. Where was I? Ah yes. So, this woman, Ms. Bright, and she ain’t all too bright because of what she told us later, but I’ll get to that. Wahl, she’s waitin’ right outside our front door when a car comes by. The window lowers, a gun appears, and shots are fired. Now, at close range, I…”

“Someone shot at your client? Are you at the police station?”

“No, sweetheart. Here’s the thing. I ran on down the street but couldn’t read the license. I checked our security footage and other than the make and model of the car, I got shit. Anyhow…”

“Stop.”

“Huh?”

“Is anyone hurt or dead?”

“No.”

“Good. I’m coming over.”

“But…”

“No buts. Thou shalt not ramble on the phone with your wife.”

“New commandment?”

“Yeah. I’m going to send it to the pope and get it added as an amendment. I’m on my way. Is this new client still with you?”

“Yes ma’am.” I can’t wait until Ms. Bright meets my Brooklyn babe. Fur is going to fly. Seein’ as how I was raised, I generally try to be polite but my wife, not so much. She’ll help everyone understand the rules. My body belongs to her.

I chuckle to myself. This could be fun.