Authors: Ayden K. Morgen
Copyright © 2016 by Ayden K. Morgen
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Editing and Formatting by: Serapis Publishing Services
Cover Photo by: Sorali
Jada D'Lee Designs
To My Blue Family ― Spending twelve hours a day watching over you made writing this all kinds of awkward for me. I hope it makes you squirm and we never speak of it again.
I glance up from the file in my hands to find Scott Dennison motioning to me from the front desk of San Francisco's Northern precinct office where I'm assigned, a dopey grin stretched across his face.
"Son of a bitch," I groan, frustration seething through me. My partner, Thomas Jacoby, and I just walked in the door with an armed robbery suspect we've been chasing for the last three days straight. I don't have the time or patience for whatever inane bullshit Dennison has for me, and the man lives for fucking me over since I got his ass pulled from the streets a month ago for kicking the shit out of a low-level dealer.
"Los Angeles is on the phone for you," he yells before I can tell him to fuck off.
Our robbery suspect, a twenty-year-old with big ears and fucked up teeth, whistles like he's impressed. "Better get that, man. You know LAPD is O.G."
"Shut the fuck up," Jacoby and I mutter at the same time. The kid is pissing us both off with his mouth. He's hopped up on meth and God only knows what else, and he thinks he's funny. He's made a point to talk non-fucking-stop since we picked him up from East Palo Alto an hour and a half ago.
"Take him back and get him set up, yeah?" I say to Jacoby.
"Yeah, on it," he mutters, steering the kid toward the interview rooms at the back of the station with the kid mouthing off the entire way.
I stride toward the desk, motioning for Dennison to hand me the phone. He does so with another big, shit-eating grin. I turn my back on him, not interested in getting into a pissing match with him here and now.
"This is Detective Cameron Lewis," I snap into the receiver, impatiently tapping the file in my hands against the dull gray countertop.
"Lewis. Just the guy I wanted to talk to," Octavio Hernandez says.
I bite back a sigh at the deep sound of his voice. Hernandez works Missing Persons for Los Angeles, and he never drops anything easy in my lap.
"What's up, O?" I ask anyway, knowing damn well I owe him one for helping me locate a kidnapping suspect who fled to L.A. with a thirteen-year-old a little over two months ago.
"Got something for you," he says, getting straight to the point. "Twenty-one-year-old kid, Rory Clark, went missing from the UCLA campus late last week after making threats to take a leap from Bay Bridge."
"Shit." I snap my fingers at Dennison, mouthing for a paper and pen.
He hands them over, still grinning at me like he just won the fucking lottery.
"I'm guessing you already got a ping on his phone?" I ask Hernandez.
"Yep. Last activity was in your city at 1134 hours yesterday morning. Phone hasn't been used since," Hernandez says as I jot notes. "But get this…from what we've been able to find, the kid was mixed up in an online relationship with a model. Real name of Ivy Kendall, alias of Ivy Wade. She lives in your city." He quickly rattles off her birthdate and last known address, less than a fifteen minute walk from the precinct office. "She took him for almost fifteen grand before she dropped his ass. He sent her a slew of messages when he arrived in San Francisco, and she told him to get lost. Actually told him not to chicken out when he threatened to jump. We're looking at her for manslaughter if this kid doesn't show up soon."
"How'd you get this?" I ask. UCLA has its own police department. They're fully equipped to handle everything from lost property to homicides. If they called in LAPD, the situation is serious.
"Apparently the kid's daddy works for the mayor."
Great. That's just what I need.
"You need me to pick her up?" I ask anyway, circling her name on my notepad.
Hernandez hesitates. "Look, as far as anyone here is concerned, she's our girl, but something isn't adding up."
My curiosity is officially piqued. "What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking there's something else going on," he says. "From what I've been able to dig up, this girl stopped modeling three years ago, and is now employed as a kindergarten teacher. She moonlights as a singer, volunteers on the weekends, and has never been in any trouble. What the hell is she doing messing around with a kid on the internet?"
"Good question," I mumble, rubbing my jaw thoughtfully. "Financial issues?"
"Possibly. I was hoping you could take a look for me off-the-books and see what you can shake loose about her. I don't want to arrest a kindergarten teacher for manslaughter if she isn't our girl, but this kid's parents are flipping shit. With that new zero tolerance cyberbullying campaign, the mayor has already been on the phone this morning, making it clear he's watching this one closely."
I hesitate for a long moment, thinking about everything already piling up on my desk. The last thing I need is to get my ass involved with a case that could quickly turn into a media shit-storm, and this has the potential of doing exactly that if the mayor of L.A. is showing an interest. And then I sigh. I've known Hernandez for years, and he is rarely wrong. If he's questioning whether they have the right woman, something is definitely up. Letting an innocent woman go to prison because the mayor has an agenda isn't an option.
"Send over what you have," I tell him, hoping like hell I don't live to regret the decision.
"You could have been a rich and famous model, you know that, right?" Erin Bradford, my best friend, says, blowing her bangs out of her face as she stacks a chair toppled into the middle of the floor in my classroom. Sweat dampens her hair, causing long blonde strands to stick to her forehead. Her cheeks are flushed, and she's panting for breath. Her blue eyes still gleam with mischievousness as she glares at me, her ample chest heaving in her low-cut top.
"And miss all of this?" I ask, throwing my hands wide to indicate my classroom. We've been at work for fifteen minutes now, and the place is still wrecked. Chairs are overturned. Pieces of paper, felt, and fabric litter the floor. There's a blob that looks suspiciously like glitter and Elmer's glue congealing on top of one of the worktables. And I'm pretty sure the strange odor emanating from the back corner is urine. It looks like a bomb went off…or thirty of them.
So maybe arts and crafts hour with a room of restless five-year-olds on a Friday wasn't my best idea ever, but I needed something to keep them occupied. The air conditioner in this wing of the building is on the fritz and it's abnormally hot out for April in San Francisco. It's also been sprinkling outside since noon, which means afternoon recess was cancelled. Plus, it's so hard to say no to the little terrors when they bat their lashes and plead with me with those cute little faces and wide, hopeful eyes.
"Yes, all of this," Erin says, dropping down onto the pillows and beanbags piled in the reading corner. She grunts and reaches behind her, pulling out a toy dinosaur tied to what looks like an apple core with a glittery Popsicle stick jabbed through it. "What
this?" she asks, turning it around in her hands before she shakes her head and tosses it toward the trashcan. "Never mind," she mumbles, flopping backward onto the pile of pillows. "I don't even want to know. My point is that you could be in some exotic location, surrounded by half naked men right now. And as your best friend, so could I. Instead, you've got my ass in here, cleaning up after the world's most insane five-year-olds."
"They aren't that bad," I laugh, retrieving a scouring pad to scrub at what is definitely a pile of congealing glitter and glue.
Several of my kids have rough home lives and tend to need a lot of time and attention, but they are nothing if not resourceful and inventive. A little overeager and a bit like an energetic hurricane, certainly, but they are cute. It gets me every time. I am an unashamed pushover when it comes to them.
"Teaching kindergarten is cruel and unusual punishment, Ivy!" Erin says dramatically. "It's too fucking hot in here. Freaking, I mean freaking!" she says when I shoot her a death glare. "And I'm like thirty pounds too big to make sweating look cute."
"Whatever," I say, rolling my eyes. Erin may be a little overweight, but she's smoking hot, with curves a lot of women would kill for. Trying to convince her of that is all but impossible, though. Ever since our freshman year in college, she's insisted she needs to lose about thirty pounds to be attractive. It's a serious hang-up with her.
"You are beautiful," I tell her, wiping my arm across my forehead, being careful to avoid smearing the glitter-glue across my face. "It is hot in here, though. Thank God it's Friday."
"Holla!" she says, making me laugh. "What are we doing tonight?"
"I'm covering for Joni at
," I remind her.
"Oh, Mitch!" She wriggles around, doing a little dance. "I love that man."
"You love the free drinks that man plies you with."
"Tomato, to-mah-to," she says, waving her hand in a dismissive gesture. "What time are you on?"
"I go on at ten."
"Are you playing tonight or just singing?"
"Nice." She pauses. "Please no mopey love shit."
"Mopey love shit? Are you and Todd fighting?"
"Meh." She shrugs, her brows drawing together. "I broke it off with him. He's too far away, and my life is depressing enough without getting serious about someone I'll never see. It's not like I can fly off to New York every time I need to get laid."
I shake my head, bemused. Erin's life is anything but depressing. She's young, gorgeous, and she's got a dream job as a Junior Agent for an up-and-coming literary agency in the city. She can pretty much work from anywhere, at any time. Which is why she's in my classroom at three o'clock on a Friday afternoon instead of slowly dying in a cubicle somewhere.
I'd love the freedom she has. Don't get me wrong, I adore my kids. But teaching isn't exactly a lucrative position. Since I'm still paying off my dad's medical bills and my student loans, and I live in one of the most expensive cities ever, moonlighting in bars around town helps keep me afloat. And I don't have to deal with assholes in expensive suits telling me what to eat and when, which is all kinds of nice.
miss modeling, though the paychecks were nice.
"I'm sorry about you and Todd," I murmur.
When she doesn't say anything, I glance up to find her staring at me, an odd look on her face.
"You okay?" she asks me.
"Yeah, fine. I was just thinking."
"Great," she says with a sigh. "Now I've got you thinking about all the mopey love songs you can sing to torture me, don't I?"
"Maybe." I crack a smile. "I'm thinking Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday. Maybe a little Otis Redding." Erin is strictly a hip-hop and Top 40s kind of girl. She has no appreciation for the Golden Oldies. We're complete opposites in so many ways, but our friendship just works. It's effortless. I love that about her.
"Fu–freak my life," she groans.
"Miss Kendall, you're needed to the principal's office," our secretary, Eloise Brunson, announces over the intercom. "Miss Kendall, you're needed to the principal's office."
"Oh, someone's in trouble," Erin teases, dragging herself to her feet. "Or else Gleeson wants to bang you on top of his desk. I read a book like that the other day. The librarian and principal got it on. It was crazy hot."
"I'm not a librarian, and Bryan is ten years older than me." With a bald head and muscles for days, Bryan Gleeson does not fit the elementary school principal image, though. He is F-I-N-E fine, like a young Denzel. Not that I plan to have sex with him on his desk or anything. I actually want to keep my job and his friendship.
I throw away the S.O.S. pad and quickly clean up the soap smears left behind. The glue is gone, thank God, but the rest of the room still looks like my class rioted. I pick my way around the mess to the sink at the back of the room to wash up. Usually if Bryan wants to chat, he shows up at my classroom door. If he's calling me to the office, it's serious. Cleaning can wait.
"I bet he fantasizes about you all the time," Erin, says, following me out of my classroom. "He's probably into whips and chains and all that kinky shit. Men in their thirties and forties are great in bed, you know. They have all that experience." She waggles her brows suggestively.
I choose to ignore her as we stop outside the office. "I'll see you at
"Dam-darn straight," she says, shooting Eloise an apologetic smile when the woman glances up, her hazel eyes widening. "And I'm wearing my good bra, so be ready to party, sister."
"See you there," I say, shaking my head and trying not to laugh. It only encourages her, and she does not need any more of that.
"Love ya!" She blows me a kiss and disappears out the front doors of the school.
"Sorry," I mumble, turning back to Eloise. "You know how she is."
"Indeed," Eloise says, waving her hand.
I've been at Trenton P. Hall Elementary since the beginning of the school year. Eloise has had ample time to get used to Erin and her mouth. And in this part of San Francisco, Erin at her worst is actually pretty tame. Our school is a little over a mile from the Tenderloin District, with half of our kids being bussed in from the crime-riddled area. In her thirty years in education, Eloise has undoubtedly seen, and heard, a lot worse than Erin Bradford's mouth.
"Mr. Gleeson's waiting for you," she says, nodding toward his closed door.
"Any idea what's up?" I ask.
She leans in like she's telling me a secret. "There was a police officer here a couple hours ago."
My eyes widen. It's not exactly uncommon for the police to show up at the school, especially given the home lives of a lot of our kids, but it is worrisome.
"Thanks," I tell her and then hurry across the office to knock on Bryan's door.
"Come on in," he shouts.
I adjust my blouse and then step into his office. He's sitting behind his desk, his reading glasses in one hand while he pinches the bridge of his nose with the other. He's one of the most laidback men I've ever met, able to go with the flow and adapt to whatever is thrown at him, but he looks weary. His brows are drawn together, and he's frowning. His bald head shines beneath the overhead lights. Papers litter his usually tidy desk, his tie is undone, and he's got his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, showing off his dark forearms.
"Rough day?" I ask, closing the door behind me.
"You know it." He motions toward one of the chairs across from his desk. "Have a seat."
I slip into it, folding my hands in my lap.
"How are things going?" he asks, setting his glasses on the desk and leaning back in his chair.
"Things are good. The kids were a little restless today, but they usually are when they're cooped up inside," I say, shifting in my seat, not sure why he sounds so formal.
He offers me a small grin. "I saw a few of their masks. Superheroes, huh?"
"Well," I hedge, hoping I'm not busted for letting the kids make masks for a movie way beyond appropriate for five and six-year-olds. "They've been talking nonstop about the new Marvel movie, so I thought they'd have fun making masks to wear. We've been talking about myths and stories lately, so it was a good tie-in." My explanation is completely true, albeit by a stretch. "Plus, it'll give them something to show their parents besides more worksheets."
Bryan's lips twitch and then he chuckles. "That bad, huh?"
"Oh my god, you have no idea," I admit with a rueful laugh. "I was desperate."
He shakes his head, still chuckling. "It certainly made their day."
"So I'm not in trouble?"
"No. Well, not with me. But I did want to give you a heads up."
"A detective stopped by a bit ago," he says, leaning forward in his chair again. "He was asking about you."
"Me?" I blink.
Why in the world are the police asking about me?
"Mmhmm." He reaches out and snags a business card from his desk before holding it out for me.
I take the card, my eyebrows climbing as I read. "I don't know a Detective Lewis. Was he here about one of my students?" I ask, my mind grasping onto the only thing I can think of that might have one of San Francisco's finest looking for me.
"I don't think so," Bryan says. "He asked a few questions about how long you've worked here, if we've ever had any concerns about you, that type of thing." He pins me with a serious gaze. "Is there anything I should know, Ivy? And I'm asking as your friend, not your boss."
"No," I say, as perplexed as he is. "There's nothing. You know me, Bryan. I come to work. I sing around town whenever I can. I volunteer at the nursing home. I go out for drinks with Erin or some of the other teachers occasionally, but I've never been in any sort of trouble."
"I know," he reassures me. "But you know I have to ask."
"What did he say?" I glance from Bryan to the card in my hand and then back. "Did he mention what he was looking for or why he was asking about me?"
"He said your name came up in relation to an investigation. Something about a missing college student. More than likely, the kid was at one of your shows before vanishing." He nods at the card. "He wanted to talk to you, but I requested that he wait until after school hours. There's no sense upsetting the kids with this."
"Thank you." I curl my hand around the card. The last thing I want to do is cause my kids unnecessary stress.
"He wants you to give him a call tomorrow," Bryan says. "Said he'll be in his office most of the day."
"Okay. I'll do that."
"Let me know how it goes," he advises, and then his phone rings.
"See you Monday," I mumble as he reaches for it. My mind is spinning as I make my way out of his office and past Eloise's empty desk. When I reach my classroom, I snag my purse out of my desk and grab my cellphone. Sinking into my chair, I dial the number on the business card, only to reach a generic voicemail message.
"Hi, Detective Lewis. This is Ivy Kendall. Um, Bryan Gleeson from Trenton P. Hall Elementary said you need to speak with me." I give him my number and then drop my phone and his card into my purse.
I sit there for a few minutes, trying to figure out how my name came up in an investigation, and then decide not to stress myself out over it. Like Bryan said, the kid was probably at one of the bars I played at and they want to know if I saw him. I'll talk to the detective when he calls, and that will be that.