Authors: Bev Pettersen
Horses and Heroin
Copyright 2012 Bev Pettersen
Digital ISBN: 978-0-9881151-1-8
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or a portion thereof, in any form. This book may not be resold or uploaded for distribution to others.
This is a work of fiction. References to real people, events, establishments, organizations, horses or locales are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity, and are used fictitiously. All other characters, and all incidents and dialogue, are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.
Editor: Patricia A. Thomas
Cover Art Design: Hot Damn Designs
Photo Credit: Horsephotos.com
In loving memory of Jan
Scott Taylor had a thriving investigative business, a medal of valor and a splitting headache. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to contain the throb. Belinda, his hovering assistant, pried a file from his hand and slapped it back onto the mahogany credenza.
“Your buddy from the jockey school left another message.” Her voice raised an octave, almost making him wince. “I told him you couldn’t talk, that you’re supposed to be on sick leave.”
“Garrett’s an old friend,” Scott said. “It’s nothing to do with work.” He rubbed the raised skin on the side of his forehead and forced a smile. Belinda had raised five boys and been a superb assistant for six years but since the shooting, her motherly instincts had taken charge.
“Hey, what’cha doing here, boss?” Snake filled the doorway, his shaved head gleaming under the fluorescent lights. “Thought you were taking time off. Did you hear what was hidden in that shipping container? Goddamn grenade launchers, some AK-47s, a Browning 50 caliber and one of the suckers even had a gold-plated skull.”
Snake’s gaze settled on Belinda’s frowning face. He flushed and backed up. Even the formidable cobra tattooed on his neck seemed to shrink. “Sorry, ma’am,” he added quickly. “I wasn’t talking work. Just thought Scott would want to hear about the Tijuana shipment, you know…since he was right here in the office.” He turned and shuffled down the hall, nearly three hundred pounds of muscle yet still muttering an apology.
“A gold skull.” Scott blew out a wistful sigh. “I’d like to see that.”
Belinda jammed her hands on her hips, her gray hair bristling. “You’re supposed to be recuperating, not dropping by the office. No wonder the boys keep running to you.”
Some of the toughest men in California, and Belinda ran them like a staff sergeant. “I am recuperating,” he said. “It’s just a little headache.”
She jabbed a finger into his chest.
He instinctively grabbed her wrist, then froze in dismay, afraid he’d hurt her.
She jabbed him again. “It’s not just a little headache.” Her voice quivered with emotion. “You were unconscious for two days.”
The last time he’d seen her so vulnerable was when her husband had been blindsided on his motorcycle. Scott rose to his feet and wrapped her in a reassuring hug. “It’ll take more than a trigger-happy punk to kill me,” he said. “And the headaches are fading.”
“But I’ve seen you...”
“What do you mean?”
“Sometimes you lose your balance,” she said. “It’s so unlike you.”
“That’s nothing.” He gave a dismissive shrug. “Just a little dizziness.”
She shot him such a skeptical look he sat back down and pretended to scribble notations on his yellow pad. “There’s some blood restriction where they extracted the bullet,” he admitted. “Nothing to worry about.”
She snorted, such an atypical noise from a proper lady, and he grinned, almost forgetting his annoying headaches.
“You’re supposed to be off work for at least a month,” she snapped. “That means no work. Not even to read cases.” She resumed her zealous sweep of his desk, removing two more files. “Those are the doctor’s orders so that’s what you’re going to do. The office won’t collapse. Snake and I can run things while you’re gone.”
“Dammit, Belinda.” He groaned as his notes disappeared.
But she continued to stack files, and it was obvious she sided with the surgeon. Damn inconvenient really, because Belinda in a snit could make things difficult. Thankfully, there was no way she could monitor him at his house, and much of the information was already stored on his phone.
It would be simple enough to call Snake and direct the business from home, yet still appease Belinda and the doctors. Perfect, because there was no way the Taylor Investigative Agency could function without Scott Taylor. The guys depended on him. Snake was good but T-Bone was still a few hours short of his license and they had that big surveillance job coming up. If the money laundering case imploded—
“So, do I have your promise?” She tilted her head, her narrow gaze locked on his face. “Promise to stay away for a month?”
“An entire month? Damn,” he said. “You’re pushing this too far.” She’d left him a perfect loophole but he made a show of protesting. Belinda was crafty. She’d be suspicious if he agreed too readily.
He waited a moment then blew out a theatrical sigh. “All right. One month max. I promise not to step foot in the office the entire time.”
She gave a triumphant nod. Then in a move he hadn’t anticipated she scooped up his cell phone and headed toward the door.
“Hey, wait!” he called. “Give that back.” And now his dismay was entirely real. He needed his phone—it contained his contacts, his files, everything.
“I’ll assign you an office phone,” she said over her shoulder, not slowing a step. “And your doctor is the only number needed.”
He half rose then dropped back into the chair. Yelling only increased his headaches, but dammit, he should fire her. If she weren’t irreplaceable—and much loved—he most definitely would. He grabbed his pad and scrawled a note in block letters, ‘Fire Belinda,’ then stared morosely at his bare desk, unable to imagine a month cut off from the office.
What the hell will I do
? He’d go nuts twiddling his thumbs, stuck at home. The desk looked pitiful, stripped of files. The liquid stains on the wood were now clearly visible—from coffee probably. He’d been drinking way too much coffee over the past several months…actually over the past several years.
He dragged a hand along the top of his head, still surprised by the unfamiliar bristle. His hair was growing back, slowly, but it hadn’t been this short since the diabetes fundraiser for Belinda’s son.
Maybe he did need time off, if only a week or two. He could fly to New York and go to Aqueduct with his dad. The track wasn’t as beautiful as Santa Anita but they definitely had nice horses. He could stay in contact with the office. Snake was smart and trustworthy, although he sometimes scared clients.
He reached for his phone then remembered the confiscation, and damn, he couldn’t remember his father’s cell number. “Belinda!”
She materialized in the doorway, waving an unfamiliar phone and not looking a bit apologetic.
“I need Dad’s number,” he said, “and a flight reservation.”
“Your father is in England. Remember? You gave him tickets to the Cheltenham Gold Cup.”
Scott dragged a hand over his jaw, vaguely remembering the gift and his father’s quiet delight. Originally he’d been hoping to go too, but the agency had been overwhelmed with work, and it had been impossible to carve out the time.
Now there was time. Hell, it might even be fun. He could call Snake just as easily from Europe as New York.
“Check Dad’s itinerary for me,” he said, feeling more energized than he had all day. “And give me the numbers to Derek Burke and that Irish accountant, Danny something. I’ll follow-up on the background checks they wanted.”
Belinda’s mouth compressed, and she remained unmoving in front of his desk.
“Maybe Danny’s last name is Wilcox,” he added, perturbed by her stillness. Though Belinda was pushing sixty, she was usually a dynamo of energy and her silent stare almost made him squirm.
“Are you an imbecile?” she finally snapped.
“Actually, I’ve rarely been called that.” He gave an amused smile. His headache had vanished now, probably because he was looking forward to the trip. Besides, he never could summon up much annoyance with Belinda. She was like a den mother and considered him her cub, a very needy cub. Still she was overstepping office bounds. An imbecile?
She stalked closer, her mouth dangerously tight. “Don’t you remember what the doctor said?”
“No stress, no diving, no…flying.” He groaned and cut off a curse.
She opened her hand and dropped a new cell phone on his desk. “Your dad’s number is programmed in, but you can’t fly anywhere. Please, Scott.” Worry lines fanned her eyes. “For once in your life, forget work. Just go somewhere and relax.”
He wasn’t sure if he remembered how to relax, but he genuinely regretted causing her any concern. She had enough to worry about with her own family. He picked up his new phone, pressed some buttons and concentrated on the screen. “Who’s Lucy?” he asked, scanning the pitifully few numbers Belinda had programmed into its memory.
“She’s the last lady you took to dinner,” Belinda said. “I thought you liked her.”
He shrugged and deleted the number. Lucy had been okay but her roommate was clearly using, and that strung-out look always made him edgy. He refused to get involved with any woman who associated with druggies, no matter how attractive.
Just thinking about it made his head hurt. He squeezed the arms of his chair, fighting a wave of dizziness. Maybe he did need time off.
“All right,” he said. “I’ll stay away four weeks but I want regular updates. And T-Bone is a pain in the ass, but he’s a genius with the computer. Make sure he doesn’t quit.” His voice softened. Belinda worked harder than any of them. “Maybe this is a good time for you to visit your son,” he offered.
“Oh, but I can’t afford—”
“Book the trip out of petty cash. And when I see you next month…” He forced a scowl so she wouldn’t argue. “You better be over this nagging. Or else.” He grabbed his pen and tapped the ‘Fire Belinda’ notation.
She paid little attention. She was blinking in gratitude and the corners of her mouth wobbled.
“And you better give me the number for Garrett,” he added, his voice gruff. “I want to call him before I go.”
She placed Garrett’s number on his desk, already written on a yellow call sheet, then turned and glided from the office. Damn efficient. Belinda was smart, opinionated and stubborn, but fiercely loyal, and without her the agency never would have grown to such a powerhouse.
He pressed Garrett’s number, trying to remember when they’d last talked. A couple months, maybe more.
“Hey, buddy,” Garrett answered. “I tried calling the hospital. Heard you were clipped saving that kid. Forget the boy’s name but glad he’s okay.”
“Robbie. His name is Robbie,” Scott said. “And a lot of people took part in the rescue.”
But it could have been a disaster. Robbie’s terrified eyes still haunted him. Not the FBI’s finest hour—or his. Robbie shouldn’t have been placed at such risk. They’d been lucky.
“But you’re the golden boy who took a bullet and received another commendation.” Garrett’s voice had a slight edge. “Always the hero.”
“The entrepreneur role was already taken by you,” Scott said evenly.
Garrett chuckled. “Remember the money we made, sneaking your pony into the track and selling rides to all the little kids?”
“Yeah, Beauty was a trooper and your idea was brilliant.” Scott leaned back in his chair, smiling at the memory. No doubt, frazzled parents had merely wanted a babysitter while they lined up at the betting wickets, but Beauty had definitely made them pocketfuls of cash, that is until an irate security guard had booted them out.
Garrett’s ideas had been daring, often illegal but always fun… And the fact Garrett was pulling stories from so far back meant he wanted a big favor.
“What do you need?” Scott propped his feet on the empty desk and made himself comfortable, deciding there were some advantages to Belinda clearing away his files.
“Just your esteemed name,” Garrett said quickly. “Our application is up for renewal but they’re threatening to ban our Mexican students. I want to list you as one of our directors and educators. Boost the school’s legitimacy.”
“I don’t think having an ex-cop on board will do much for your legitimacy. And I’ve hit a few triactors but—”
“But that’s exactly what will impress them.” Garrett’s voice rose. “We had an incident here. A drug dealer enrolled in the program. Trying to entice our students.”
Scott’s feet thudded to the floor. Like Garrett, he loved the race industry. However, there were some inherent problems, and riders—who faced danger daily—were too susceptible to drugs and alcohol. For that kind of low life to infiltrate a jockey school was despicable. “I hope you busted his balls,” he growled.