It began with a woman. Doesn’t it always? I was sitting in my office on a balmy Wednesday morning when the angel walked in. Apparently, angels don’t have to knock.
The angel was, well, angelic is a word for a reason, right? Maybe five ten, in the heels I assumed she wore. She sported a lush figure, well rounded but not too much of a good thing in both hips and bust. Ash blond hair fell in a long cascade over her broad strong shoulders, framing her face. And oh, what a face! The forehead was a little too prominent, the jaw might have been so triangular as to suggest an insectile aspect, but her eyes and mouth were enough to quickly distract from any imperfection.
The lips were full and plump, the kind of lips that made words like “kissable” and “sensuous”, and “bee stung” bubble to the top of your mind. They were lacquered blood red. Not the brassy color cosmetic makers think it is, but the bright yet subtly brown color of actual flowing blood. It gave those lips a feral quality. Which only made them more appealing, hinting that to kiss them would lead to danger and pain, the kind of pain you bragged about later.
But it was the eyes that made the angel the vision she was; gray-green like the sky before a bad storm. Almond shaped, with a slight tilt upwards at the corner suggesting they might show all emotions, but tending towards the fiery ones most often.
She was dressed in the latest fashion, a business suit of Royal blue with holographic fibers woven in to project a wire frame image of the wearer in emerald green, seeming to hover a quarter inch above the material. At her wrist was a bracelet of what looked like hammered gold. It matched the three rings, ear-clip and glowing dots at the inner corner of each eye. They were a coordinated communication and data rig, top of the range kit, very next week. The Angel was high-tech and wealthy with it.
Then the angel spoke.
“Jesus Christ, Eamon, couldn’t you find an uglier shirt?”
I looked down at my shirt. Aloha shirts have a bad and undeserved rap. Green with bright orange rockets connected to silvery waving space walkers might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but ugly? That was just unfair.
“I keep the really ugly ones for dates.”
“Then we should all thank the good Lord those only happen every other leap year.”
I had to smile. I should have known better than to try to banter with the Angel, I always lost. “Hi, Belinda,” I said in defeat. The Angel was Belinda Morris, one of the ones that got away. Hell, the one that got away. Given our past, I was more than a little surprised to see her again. “What brings you by?” I asked. It’s odd, but asking people questions is still the best way to find things out, go figure.
“I need a private detective, so here I am,” she said, pulling out my guest chair and sitting down without being asked. I wanted to be annoyed, but since I hadn’t stood when she barged in, I figured it made us even.
“And you came to me?” It’s not the kind of thing the Fifteen Steps to a Private Investigation recommends with a potential new client, but the book is also strangely silent on the topic of long-estranged college girlfriends walking in and wanting to hire you.
“Oh, don’t worry; you’re not my first choice.” It reminded me of why we broke up in the first place. But things do change. “But I need someone good, who is up on science and who I can trust to keep his mouth shut.”
Huh. That last bit wasn’t banter; Belinda really was here to hire me for a job. Now that I was getting used to her gob-smacking beauty again, I could see signs of stress. The suit might be perfect and the make-up so good as to be invisible, but there was tension in her shoulders and the corners of her eyes were bunched, just a little, like she was fighting off a headache. It was a look I’d seen on many of the folks who sat in that chair. It was the look of someone needing help. That’s the look that always leads me into trouble. But like a junkie staring at a fix, I just can’t seem to look away.
“So, why don’t you tell me about the problem and I’ll see what I can do to help?”
Instead of answering she dug into her hand bag and pulled out an envelope. Setting it on my desk she slid it over in front of me.
“That’s a ten-thousand-dollar retainer. It’s yours to keep, even if you don’t take the job. That way you can claim client privilege if the police come asking.”
She had definitely been talking to PI’s. Almost all of them had a background in law enforcement, but couldn’t or wouldn’t stay inside the boundaries of the rules and the law. It was a common trait that made them useful, but not above scamming some money from a client who didn’t know the law like they did.
“Belinda, I hate to tell you, but ten K isn’t enough to go to jail over. If you admit to a crime, or want me to do something illegal, I’ll try to keep it away from the cops, but a subpoena is a bridge too far. Any PI who tells you different just wants your retainer and nothing to do with your problem.”
It nearly killed me to tell her that. Completely aside from the fact that telling beautiful women bad news is a poor dating strategy, I, like the other PI’s she’d been talking to, could really use the money. Ten grand was five weeks of steady work. The last time I’d had that was helping a bearded guy round up two of every kind of animal for his riverboat zoo. At least I hope that’s what he needed them for.
Belinda opened and closed her mouth a couple of times, working through the implications of what I had told her. In all likelihood, she’d flushed fifty thousand dollars down the drain before getting to me. Like the fool I am, I plunged back in to help.
“That said, if I promise not to talk, then you know I won’t. Money doesn’t enter into it with you. So, why don’t you just tell me what you need?”
She looked down, then back up, in that second pushing away any regret or shame she might have felt about the mistakes she’d made and composing herself completely. This was new, something she must have learned in the past ten years.
“I need you to find out who murdered a top Gen-Tech scientist, and I need it done in the next 72 hours,” Belinda told me flatly.
Yep, trouble always starts with a woman.