Act One, Scene One
"Frank?" Chet stood in the door of Frank's office. "You got a minute?"
Frank looked up from his spreadsheet, his brown eyes bleary, a steaming mug of coffee held firmly between his hands. "Nothing that can't wait," he replied. He took a sip of coffee and put the mug down on his desk. "I've been going over the expense reports I asked you for," he said, answering the question in Chet's eyes. "We seem to be going through a lot of pencils lately. I wonder if Joe's using them as darts again." He rubbed his eyes and sighed. "Actually, I'm grateful for the interruption; it's too early on a Monday to be doing this anyway. I'm going bug-eyed. What's up?"
Chet tilted his head to one side. "You went to Bayport this weekend, right?"
Frank nodded. "Yeah. Dad needed help cleaning out the garage, and since Joe went to Boston with Kara for some family thing, I got elected to do the heavy lifting." He drank some more of his coffee. "Funny how he always manages to be out of town on project weekends." He pursed his lips, his eyes going distant. "Maybe I should have you do a spreadsheet on how often that happens. Could be instructive. Or frustrating."
"Yeah, uh." Chet looked uncomfortable. "You didn't happen to see the Sunday paper while you were there? The weekend magazine, for instance?"
"No. Mom stopped delivery since they're heading on that cruise in a few weeks. Why?" Frank pushed his dark hair from his forehead and his eyes narrowed. "Oh no. What did he do this time? Is that why he's not in yet?"
Chet's eyes widened. "Wow, two seconds to suspicion. That's got to be a new record for you." He shook his head, bewildered. "It blows my mind that you could even think..."
"Yeah, sorry. I got side-tracked. The attention deficit of part of Joe's ADHD must be rubbing off on me." He shrugged his shoulders. "Anyway, it's not what he did, per se. More what he said..."
Frank waved a hand indicating Chet should continue, then held it still. "No, wait a sec." He took a long swallow of coffee, put the mug down, then covered his face with his hands. "Okay," he said, his voice muffled and resigned, "now I'm ready. Shoot."
"You're not the one I'm worried about shooting him," Chet muttered under his breath. "Okay, remember how I mentioned a few months ago that a reporter had been by looking to do a story on new up and coming city businesses? You were out interviewing a client, and Joe was here doing... something."
"Yeah, probably making more pencil darts," Frank answered, spreading the fingers of his hands so he could watch Chet's face. "You said she was looking for information about the agency. She never called back, and the article never appeared in the paper. I assumed the editor dropped it. So?"
"Well, and you know how Kara had been wanting to keep her and Joe's dating sort of under wraps since she was working on that money laundering case?" Frank moved his hands away from his face and placed them palms down on his desk. Chet nodded his head encouragingly. "Trust me. They connect." He paused for a moment, then let out a long, noisy breath. "There was an article in the weekend magazine about local businessmen. She called it 'New York's Top Ten Business Bachelors.' Three guesses who made the list."
Frank stared for a long moment, then burst out laughing. "Joe? Joe made the list? You're kidding, right?"
Chet looked confused. "You're not mad about this. Okay, who are you, and what have you done with Frank Hardy?" He crossed his arms over his chest. "This is not the reaction I was expecting."
Frank sniffed and wiped his eyes. "You have a copy of the article, yes? This I have to read. Tell me he made the top three?"
"Top five," Chet said. "Marisol thought he should've been number two. She said number three was boring, number two's business didn't look viable, and number one was probably gay, although to be fair the article didn't specify the bachelors had to be interested in women."
Frank took a few deep breaths and worked to get his laughter under control. "Yeah, so it'll make undercover work difficult for a while. And possibly stakeouts, but maybe the publicity will bring us in some new clients." He gestured at his computer. "With expenses like these, we could use some new business."
"If Kara kills him, you'll be stuck with taking all the cases solo," Chet warned.
An evil grin covered Frank's face. "I can just see the look on her face. Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that conversation..."
"What conversation?" Joe's face appeared suddenly behind Chet shoulder. "Sorry I'm late. We didn't get in until after midnight, and traffic this morning was terrible." He squeezed past Chet into Frank's office. "What's going on?"
Chet looked from one brother to the other. "So, I'll be leaving now. I told Marisol I'd pick up some bagels for her from that deli across the street. She'll be by on her lunch hour, and I want to have them ready for her. You guys want anything while I'm out?" He backed out without waiting for an answer, leaving the two men staring at one another.
"That was weird," Joe said, sprawling out in one the chairs near Frank's desk. "He okay?"
"Chet? He's fine." Frank moved his coffee out of the way and started tapping keys on his laptop. "You, on the other hand, may want to start planning your funeral, little brother." He moved his hands around on the keyboard for a few seconds then turned the screen around so it faced Joe. "I can't wait to hear how you explain this to Kara..."
Joe's face turned red then white as he read the words on the screen. "Oh, crap. I don't remember telling her... I didn't say... How could she..." His eyes widened as he read the article with the accompanying photo. "She never even asked if I was seeing anyone!" He started banging an open palm against his forehead. "I." Bang. "Am." Bang. "So." Bang. "Dead." Bang.
"I take it that means the weekend went well?"
Joe sighed, dropped his hand to the chair's armrest, and gently shoved the laptop back towards Frank. "I thought so. Her folks seem to like me. At least her mom did. I couldn't tell with her father. He kept making these cryptic comments about seeing what the future held." Joe shivered slightly. "They remembered me from the funeral. Asked how you were doing."
Frank nodded. It wasn't a time in his life he liked to think about very much. He quickly changed the subject. "Any chance she won't see this?" he asked as Joe's cell phone rang.
Joe's blue eyes rolled. "Pretty sure that ship has sailed." He stood and pulled the phone from his pocket and glanced at the caller ID. "Yup. I think I'd better take this in my office. If I'm not back in ten minutes, send in the bomb squad." He flipped the phone open and started towards the door. "Hey, Kara, how's your morning going?" He pulled the phone away from his ear, and Frank snickered as he heard Kara Malone's voice pour out from the tiny speaker. Joe walked faster, and a few seconds later, Frank heard the door to Joe's office slam shut.
"Looks like someone's in for an interesting morning," he said and turned back to his spreadsheet.