“So would you put idiot or moron?”
Jerry Newton looked up at me from behind his gold-colored PC. “Ustick, neither is quite up to our professional standards.”
The boss and I were seated in the office of Newton Investigations. We had eight peeling, artificial wood desks and eight mismatched office chairs in need of yet another reupholstering. My other six colleagues had all either gone home for the weekend or were out on assignment.
The sterile white walls bore only our business license and the first dollar the business ever collected. Both framed items hung behind the boss near the window. It gave a nice view of the traffic headed down River Street toward the library, which was cleverly named “Library!”
I swished around in my mouth my flavorless Juicy Fruit gum. “This has got to be the dumbest guy I’ve run into yet. I go to his house, and he’s got a stack of these stolen computers—with the company lease numbers facing the windows, mind you. He copped out to the whole thing. And I got on to him just because of his shoes.”
“How?” Newton asked as he picked lint off his navy sweater vest. He was chubby, but his afternoon snack was plain celery sticks, in a plastic baggie. They were on his desk beside his Idaho Medal of Honor for Law Enforcement certificate. He straightened it. “They were just a pair of tennis shoes.”
“To the untrained eye, but I saw their label. Those shoes retail for $300 on Amazon. They’re not available locally. Thirty bucks would be pricey for a pair of shoes on his pay.”
Newton typed on his computer’s keyboard. “You have too much faith in your own instincts, Ustick. If they’d been a gift from a rich friend, you would have cost the client two billable hours plus and ninety-six miles of gasoline.”
“He lives in Homedale.” I snorted. “If the people there had friends that gave them $300 shoes, they wouldn’t live in Homedale.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. Some of us don’t want to spend our whole lives like rats trapped on a wheel.”
I smirked. “Did we get transported to New York or Philly? Boise is only what? The 120th largest city in America?”
The boss stopped typing and glared at me. “104th, Ustick.”
“Sorry, I didn’t get the latest circular from the Chamber of Commerce.”
He pointed a celery stick at me. “You can be wrong.”
“Sure, I’m wrong twenty-five percent of the time. That’s built into my salary. Otherwise, I’d be Sherlock Holmes, and you couldn’t afford me. I’d be living the good life in Homedale.”
The boss leaned forward. “You’re playing with people’s money and lives. Sometimes, it’s like you’re living out a boyhood fantasy.”
“Nah. It was simply easier to get on here than to join the Power Rangers, and becoming a cowboy was impractical.”
The boss sighed. “Never mind. Do you have anything else to do other than distract me?”
“I have to hit the save button on my Word document.”
“Do Control S. It’ll give me more time to work without you chattering.”
A bald man in his thirties blustered through our door. The stranger wore a pin-striped suit, a red tie, wingtips, and the ghost of a permanent smirk, from the wrinkles around his mouth.
Time to live up to Newton’s definition of professionalism. I turned my head away from the visitor, spit my used-up gum in a wrapper, and dropped it in the trash can under my desk.
The stranger was swaggering past me, smelling like a fifty-dollar bottle of Gucci cologne. He stopped by Newton’s desk. “Hey, Fig.”
The boss shuddered but shoved the celery in his desk and looked up with a standard issue, professional smile. “Are you talking to me, sir?”
“Sir?” Laughing, our guest slapped his leg. “That’s no way to talk to the best power forward ever in the history of Mount Tacoma High. I certainly remember our respectable point guard.”
Newton scrunched his eyebrows together and stood. “I’m sorry, I don’t remember you. High school was more years ago than I’d like to admit.”
“Fig, I’m surprised. You’re a detective.”
I rolled my eyes. Not another joker who thinks detectives have Jedi powers.
The smirk grew wider. “Okay, the old powers of deduction are allowed to be a little off at the end of a hard week. I’m Bart Bradley.”
Newton eyed Bradley’s chrome dome and inhaled, leaning away from him. “You’ve changed a lot.”
“You haven’t—aside from too many donuts.” The jerk’s smirk stretched into the proportions of a cheeky grin.
Gritting his teeth, Newton shook his hand and waved at the chair across from his desk. “Have a seat. What can I do for you?”
The chair creaked as Bradley lowered himself into it. “Fig, I need you to help with a background check on a job candidate.”
I sighed. Great. I’m the only operative available, so this will delay my weekend.
Newton sat and pulled a yellow notepad from his desk drawer. “Who is the candidate?”
Bradley reached into his jacket’s inside pocket, pulled a photo out, and slid it across Newton’s desk.
The boss glanced at it, snarled, and flicked the photo back at Bradley like he’d wanted to stab him with it. “Go to the devil!”
I gaped at him. What had gotten into him?
Bradley raised a hand. “Fig—”
“And another thing.” Newton jumped up and got in Bradley’s face, his eyes blazing. “I hated that nickname in high school. If you use it again, I’ll lay you out. You lied right off and said this was an employer background check. You want a smear job? Find yourself another boy, pally.”
Bradley stood. “Opposition research is a legit field of investigation.”
“Nice Orwellian euphemism.”
“A lot of men look good until you find out who they really are.”
“You can hire every bottom feeder in Boise, but they won’t find anything on Ignacio Hernandez.” Newton stabbed at finger at Bradley. “Get your rear out of my office before Mr. Ustick and I toss you out on it.”
I stood. And here I’d thought I wouldn’t have any fun at work before I went home.
Bradley shook his head and chuckled. “Too bad, Newton. Just wanted to send an old pal some business.” He glanced around at our office. “Looks like you could use it.”
With that, he strode out the door without closing it.
Party pooper. I flopped at my desk.
Newton strode to the door and slammed it.
The frame rattled.
He kicked over the empty trash can by his desk, straightened the can, and sat. “Ustick, get me that report, now!”
I bit back a comeback and emailed Newton the report. I poked my head out from behind my computer. “That was disappointing. It’s been years since I’ve gotten to toss someone out on their rear.”
Newton sighed. “I’m sorry. That was unprofessional.”
I rolled my chair out into the aisle, so I was facing his desk. “Oh, I found it entertaining. You were so upset, I thought you might say fanny.”
“But I did curse out a potential client.”
In a way I consider worthy of being made fun of. “Two questions, boss.”
Newton glowered. “What?”
“What kind of nickname is Fig?”
“Put the nickname and my last name together.”
“Fig Newt—” I chuckled. “That’s a good one. I’ll have to remember it.”
He grimaced. “Just don’t repeat it.”
“Second question. Why did you go nuts over exposing a politician?”
“Don’t you have work to do?”
“Other than shutting down my computer? Nope. I’m ready to go home. So again, what set you off?”
Newton turned his chair towards me. “When I was in college, I worked part-time at Hernandez’s corporate office. During my sophomore year, my dad died while stopping an armed robbery. I left school and sought a full-time job that could support my family. Hernandez found out. He helped my mom find work and took care of my undergraduate tuition as well as my brother’s.”
“And there’s never been any publicity about it. He really took an interest in me, and I’m not the only one. He and his wife are good people. It boils my blood to think, because he wants to make the state better, they’re going to be put through the ringer by the likes of Bart Bradley.”
I leaned back. “Hernandez sounds like the type of guy I might vote for—if I voted.”
Newton lifted his chin. “I never you took you for an idiot.”
My cheeks grew hot. “What do you mean by that?”
Smiling, the boss leaned in. “In Ancient Greece, the word idiot referred to people who didn’t vote.”
I waved it aside. “In modern America, idiot means the guy who sits on pins and needles for two weeks on call waiting to see if our beloved county will summon him to jury duty. That won’t happen to me.”
“You’d be surprised. The registered voters list doesn’t double as a jurors list in Idaho. You can still be called.”
“I won’t get called. Anyway, are you going to tell your kindly benefactor to watch his back?”
Newton shook his head. “Hernandez has been around long enough to know a gubernatorial campaign isn’t going to be a breezy picnic. Even scum like Bradley deserve what happens in this office to be confidential.”
I looked at my watch. “Now that my curiosity is satisfied, mind if I leave? I’ve already put in forty-four hours this week, and you have no client to bill for my overtime pay.”
The boss waved me away. “Sure, see you on Monday.”
I shut down my computer. I pulled my fine black hair out of its ponytail, retied it, and let it fall just below my shoulder blade to the middle of my back. I put on my scarlet fedora, and walked to the coat rack. I pulled my tan overcoat on over my scarlet suit, worn with a pair of red leather wingtips. Under my jacket, I carried a 9mm Glock in a shoulder holster.
After ambling out of the building, I walked down the stairs and onto the sidewalk. A little uneven pile of slush remained on a shadowed portion of the grass. The rest of the grass was wet with no slush. The sun was shining bright while a cold wind was blowing, as if nature wasn’t quite sure what season it was. Typical for February in Boise.
I hopped into my pink 2005 Jaguar.
Across the parking lot, Newton’s pal Bradley sat at the wheel of a late model silver Impala with rental car plates, hunched over a smartphone.
On second thought, my curiosity hasn’t quite been satisfied. Where would you go to find a bottom-feeding private detective in Boise? I plugged my iPhone into the car’s docking station and turned on my tunes. Beyonce’s voice filled the cabin.
Three songs in, Bradley finished with the phone and started the Impala.
I waited for him to pull out before following him and merged into traffic two car lengths back. We drove down River Street, across 9th, past the library, and turned left onto Capitol.
Near the end of the boulevard, Bradley turned right onto Bannock and pulled into a parking lot of a two-story building. The wooden sign listed only one private investigator firm, Sheryl Thompson and Associates. Bradley parked and stomped to Thompson’s office.
Well, that figured. I drove around the block three times before finding a metered parking space in front of a dentist’s office half a block away, in sight of Bradley’s car.
Time for the most exciting part of my job: waiting.
I fed the meter for half an hour’s worth of parking and popped in a fresh stick of Juicy Fruit. I leaned back in my seat, savored the orange cream pop flavor and hunkered down with the Angry Birds on my iPhone.
After twenty minutes, Bradley came downstairs, got in the car, fiddled with his smartphone a bit, and drove away.
I followed him over to 9th and to Vista Avenue. About two miles down, he hung a left into the lot of the Holiday Inn Express.
Most likely, he was simply returning to his hotel room after having found his bottom feeder. Sheryl Thompson would turn down a paying job the day Donald Trump refused publicity.
Either way, it wasn’t my case. I yawned. Time to head home.
A few minutes later, I parked outside my duplex’s garage, picked up a stack of mail I’d grabbed from my box, and went inside the house.
The kitchen’s gray tile stretched into the entryway. I headed to the left, onto the slate blue living room carpet.
Against one wall was a baby blue leather couch with matching recliner. I laid the mail on the end table by my recliner. To the right of it was my purple keyboard on a music stand with a brown chair borrowed from the dinette set. On the wall across from the couch was a stone shelf. There, I kept three food-flavored candles in jars and one lighter. I lit the butterscotch blondies candle and breathed in the “fresh out of the oven” smell without the fuss.
I slipped my phone into the high-end docking station and turned on the radio app. The Hip Hop station’s tunes poured out of the station’s speakers. I switched it to a reggae station, perfect for chilling on a Friday afternoon.
I settled into my recliner and smiled at my mural of the Vermillion rocks at Pariah Canyon. The ruddy, spiraled formations looked like they were from another world.
After a minute, I yawned and sorted the mail. Junk, circular, junk, junk.
Letter from Ada County.
Huh? What would the county want with me? Assessments shouldn’t be out for a couple months.
I opened the letter and cursed.
A summons for jury duty.