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Authors: Rhonda Pollero

Knock 'em Dead (19 page)

BOOK: Knock 'em Dead
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“Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Just a little out of breath from the stairs.”

Stairs? Who took stairs when a perfectly good elevator was a button poke away? Energetic twenty-two-year-olds still blissfully operating under the assumption that their thighs would forever be cellulite-free. “Did the report come back?”

“Kind of.”

“Meaning?”

“That social number does belong to a Paolo Diego Martinez, DOB March 31, 1978.”

“But?”

“But he isn’t an immigrant from Cuba.”

“From where?”

“Dayton.”

“Ohio?”

“Yes. There’s more.”

I ran my fingernail along my bottom lip, my interest piqued. “Go ahead.”

“I thought you said this was some rich guy.”

“He isn’t?”

“There’s got to be at least fifty creditors listed here. Visa, MasterCard, Discover, American Express, they all want a piece of this guy. Plus, he’s defaulted on three car loans. Has a pending foreclosure
and
a criminal record.”

“For what?”

“Doesn’t say on here. Just that from 1998 to 2001, several creditors listed his residence as…House of Corrections in Jessup, Maryland.”

“Thanks,” I said, still scribbling notes on my pad as I closed the phone. So, either there were two Paolos with the same middle name and date of birth, or I had uncovered my very first tangible clue as to why someone would want to kill him.

Frustrated, I went to the kitchen and heated my now-cold coffee in the microwave. I was running out of ideas but not suspicions. Armed with caffeine, I went back to my computer.

Taking the Paolo CD and slipping it in the slot on my laptop, I quickly went to the criminal background page. According to the records, Fantasy Dates had requested and received the document nearly a year ago. No arrests, no convictions. “No way.”

That left me three options. A—They’d never run a background check. B—The company they used dropped the ball, honestly or otherwise. Or C—Shaylyn and/or Zack and/or someone else had doctored the records.

My computer skills aren’t great, but I’m not a total lost cause either. Closing out the file, I ran a directory check on the CD. There weren’t any hidden files, no backups, nothing that inspired any new theories. It stood to reason that I wasn’t finding anything because there wasn’t anything to find. If the information wasn’t on the CD, maybe I needed to try a back door.

I Googled Paolo again, this time using his full name and narrowing the search to the state of Maryland. I found a two-inch police blotter mention from the
Evening Capital
. In early ’98, Paolo Diego Martinez was arrested on grand larceny charges. Not a lot of help. Just that grand larceny was a felony and usually applied to theft of property over a state-defined limit. Registering for access to the archives, I searched for anything else. No luck. Now I needed a side door.

I went to Westlaw and attempted to log in.

“User name and password invalid. What?” I retyped the information. Same error screen. “Margaret,” I sighed, knowing with absolute certainty that she’d been the one to gleefully take the steps necessary to revoke my privileges.

I called Becky. “I’m locked out of—”

“Dane-Lieberman accounts. Yeah, me too. I’ve already called and was told that my remote access would be restored after my suspension period.”

I told her about Paolo’s sordid past. “So how do we get stuff?”

“How much money is left in the Jane fund?”

“Almost all of it. I used most of Sam’s five hundred on the Charleston trip. We still have Patrick’s four thousand and the cashier’s check from my mother, why?”

“We need a professional. I’m cut off, you’re cut off, Paolo’s cut off. Sorry, not funny. Point being, we need someone who knows how to dig up the dirt.”

Only one name came to mind. “Liam?”

“Do I call him, or do you want to do it?”

I definitely wanted to do it with him, but I knew we were talking about two different things. My cell call waiting beeped. “I’ve got incoming, you’ll have to do it.”

“Chickenshit.”

“Bye.” I clicked over to the waiting call. “Hello?”

No response. I held the phone out and read the display. Fantasy Dates. “Damn.” I pressed the microphone part close to my mouth. “If you can hear me, your freaking line is screwed up! Hello? Hello? Okay, I’ll just pretend you can hear me. This whole phone situation is messed up. I’m leaving in a few minutes, so I’ll swing by your office. I hope that’s not a problem.”

“No. You’re the problem.”

The tiny hairs on my arms stood on end at the barely-above-a-whisper, gender-neutral voice. “I can hardly hear you. Is this Zack or Shaylyn? Who am I talking to?”

“Me. I’m the person who’ll kill you if you don’t back off.”

 
 

It’s hard to stare down fear with your eyes closed.

 
 
Fifteen
 

D
riving over to Fantasy Dates after the chilling phone call wasn’t my brightest idea ever. Sharing my plan with Liv resulted in a stern lecture about recklessness and sage advice regarding the police. “Let them handle it,” she’d pleaded.

Yeah, right. Like that was an option. Detectives Graves and Steadman were already convinced I was a conspirator, so they’d blow me off and/or haul me in to give yet another statement they didn’t even pretend to believe. I’d spent enough time this week at the police station, so pass, thanks.

Becky was more adamant than Liv; she just shared her opinion in more colorful terms. Well, term, actually. Starting with “asshole”; then as the conversation progressed, adjectives were added—moronic asshole, incredible asshole, blah, blah, blah. She kept insisting I wait until she could track down Liam.

Not a great alternative. It was tantamount to admitting I needed a man to protect me.

Nor a practical one, as it turned out. While I’d been telling her my reasons for not wanting him there, she’d used her house phone to dial him up, listening to me vent through her cell. He was in the middle of doing one of his famous “things,” and he’d “call her back when he was finished.” I wasn’t going to wait around for him, not when Jane was in jail and Taggert wasn’t doing much to change that fact.

How could Liam have my back if he was busy giving Ashley his front? It wasn’t like I needed him. After all, it was broad daylight. Fantasy Dates was open to the public, right on South Ocean, so what could go wrong?

Yes, Zack and Shaylyn gave me the willies, but so long as I was careful, I would be fine. I wouldn’t go inside, just talk to them from the entrance, so I remained in full view of all passersby.

As I was reaching for the doorknob, my laptop dinged, alerting me of a new message. Going back to the computer, I discovered an e-mail from PilotWife.

 

Hi WantItNow (my lacking in creativity but dead honest screen name): Happy to do business with you again. Have an event Saturday night. Willing to sell worn-once shoes and possibly dress as well. I’ll get you a photo ASAP.

 

“Excellent,” I said, then typed a quick Looking forward to it! reply.

Summoning as much nerve as possible, given the situation, I headed out the door armed with addresses for the Special Assessment clients and my only weapon—a cell phone. As an added safety measure, I went upstairs and knocked on Sam’s door. Just my luck, he wasn’t home. I could hear Butch and Sundance meowing inside. Sam worshipped his cats to the point of obsession, so I knew he wouldn’t be gone long. Rummaging in my Betseyville hobo bag—the one with the slight tear on the front pocket I’d snagged for a cool sixty bucks—I got a pen and a receipt from my last trip to Publix. It was dated nearly two weeks ago. No wonder all I had in my fridge was coffee cream and a jar of mustard on the verge of making a suicide pack from the loneliness of it all. I scribbled him a quick list of places I planned to be and people I planned to see. Just in case.

No, I couldn’t think like that. Item number one on my list when I confronted Zack and Shaylyn was to inform them that I’d made a point of letting three people—four if you counted Liam, and I wasn’t—privy to my agenda. If they so much as pondered doing me physical harm, they’d be instant suspects.

I dismissed all the rest of my misgivings—basically being tortured, stabbed, and/or mutilated—by plastering the mental image of Jane in her orange jumpsuit in my brain. Freeing her was my only concern. I could take care of myself.

In no time, I’d negotiated my way down to Okeechobee, turned left, then headed over to the bridge. As soon as I reached the valet stand on Worth Avenue, the air temperature fell. The mean personal net worth skyrocketed. And the valet attendant was sporting a five-hundred-dollar stainless steel Seiko watch on his tanned wrist. Maybe I should add parking attendant to my list of new career possibilities.

Walking down the swankiest street in Palm Beach, one eye automatically peeled for celebrities, I admired some of the latest fashion trends. Actually, I ogled. I couldn’t help it. Self-consciously, I held the damaged part of my purse against my body. These people were experts. They’d spot damaged goods in a heartbeat.

The Fantasy Dates files were inside a crisp new accordion file. I checked my reflection in the plate-glass window of Angela Moore, needing affirmation to build my confidence before I made the turn onto South Ocean. My stomach was clenched, and smelling the heavy vapor trails, no matter how expensive, left in the wakes of the passing idle rich wasn’t helping.

I was maybe a half block from my target when I looked to the right and checked out Exquisitely Yours. It was almost enough to make me want to drool. In the real world, Exquisitely Yours would have been a hair and nail salon. Here on the island, it was home to colorists, aestheticians, hair extension specialists, makeup artists, and massage therapists. Their select clientele was treated to relaxing reflexology while another attendant used the magic of restorative Restelyne to lift even the most miniscule wrinkle. Pampering didn’t come cheap. Even if I saved for a year—like that was going to happen—I’d never be able to swing the fifteen hundred it cost just to add a half dozen sun-kissed highlights. But going there was on my to-do list. I just hoped if/when I made it I wasn’t too freaking old to give a damn what I looked like.

Hearing my cell ring, I politely stepped to the right of the sidewalk, next to one of the tiled, elegant ground-level minifountains. On my first trip to Worth Avenue, the tiled fountains had left me puzzled. The water barely trickled from antique faucets, collecting in small, inset basins at select intervals along the walkway. Too low for drinking, and I just couldn’t picture the crème de la crème stopping for impromptu foot baths. It wasn’t until I’d stepped out of my window-shopping-only visit to Cartier that their purpose became clear. They weren’t human fountains, they were upscale doggie dishes—a gift/service provided by the town for those who simply couldn’t shop without Fifi in tow.

I knew the drill. My mother had recently acquired that particular affectation when she’d bought a teacup Yorkie from a breeder in Chicago. She’s called it Diva, much more practical than the yappy little dog’s overly long, pretentious title. It’s something like Dame Maria Anna Sophia Cecelia Kalogeropoulos, Duchess of Singer Island. My mother found the name incredibly clever and befitting the prestigious lineage of the three-pound dog. I was pretty sure only elitist opera junkies would recognize the full birth name of opera great Maria Callas and get it—an opinion I didn’t share with my mother. It would only have annoyed her and God knew I could do that simply by taking a breath. My only choice? Try not to cringe when my mother thinks nothing of dragging the dog along to anywhere, anytime. I had no doubt that Diva was with my mother now. More than I knew, my mother hadn’t disclosed the exact location of her getaway from Finley’s latest escapade retreat.

Hopefully, the flowers I’d ordered for our brunch tomorrow would buy me some forgiveness. “Hope” being the operative word.

Flipping open my phone, I read the text message. It was odd. Not the words themselves:

 

Fin: Heard you were having troubles.

Cutting trip short. See you Sunday.

Patrick.

 

My first thought was it was sweet, and I started to reply. Then I got to wondering…if he could get a text message out of the wilderness, why not just call me? And where was he getting his information? I was positive the
Palm Beach Post
didn’t deliver to the Grand Canyon. My arrest and the subsequent dismissal of the charges were hardly national news. Jane’s arrest had been mentioned once on the networks, or rather, the crime itself. Okay, one part of the crime. The part that got cut off.

As I was putting my phone away, I heard a familiar voice behind me. Turning, I saw young, giggly Kresley Pierpont stepping out of Exquisitely Yours. I’d giggle too if I had her money and her body. Oh, and her hair. The woman had great hair. It was long, thick, and so shiny it practically glowed in the midday sunshine.

Taking a fortifying breath, I took the two steps necessary to reach her. Almost instantly, a gigantic man in khaki slacks and a Ralph Lauren shirt cut me off. Even in heels, my blue eyes fell roughly at the base of his sternum. Tilting my head back, I offered him my brightest smile. Private Security Guy was totally unimpressed by me.

“Kresley?” I called around him. Not that I had a choice—the size 0 heiress was completely obscured by her paid protector. “I’m Finley Tanner from…” Now was not the time to admit I was unemployed. “Dane-Lieberman.”

“Move along, ma’am,” the guard warned as he lifted his sunglasses, silently emphasizing his suggestion with slitted eyes.

Jane in a jumpsuit.
Time to play hardball. “It’s in reference to Jane Spencer?”

The guard stood his post.

“And your, um, connection to Fantasy Dates?”

A dainty hand sporting a blinding diamond closed around a portion of Private Security Guy’s solid bicep. “Give us a minute, will you, George?”

Kresley Pierpont looked much younger than her twenty-seven years. She was tall, a leggy, narrow-shouldered, trim kind of tall that made her little more than a walking hanger for the Versace turquoise-white-and-black sleeveless dress she wore. The front closure was laced, trussing her—there is no way those puppies are real—breasts in a deep, cleavage-revealing V.

When the guard stepped away, I noted she was wearing the tangerine, cyclamen, mimosa, vanilla, and sandalwood with just a hint of vanilla signature blend of
D&G Feminine
. The perfume cost like a gazillion dollars an ounce.

She gave me a once-over and though she didn’t say as much, I got the feeling I’d ended up on the short end of her assessment. She did smile, even if it was one of those “I’ve got a Harry Winston diamond and you don’t” smiles.

“Yes?”

I extended my hand as she removed her Gucci sunglasses. In the process of the handshake, she maneuvered me around so that I was facing into the sun.

It took me a few seconds to process the flash of apprehension and annoyance in her bright blue eyes. No doubt she wasn’t thrilled that I’d ambushed her in the middle of the sidewalk, calling out the name of her dating service.

“I’m sorry to bother you,” I said. It wasn’t an exaggeration. I read the papers. This woman had enough stalker problems that she sure didn’t need me adding to the litany of her troubles. My eyes started to tear from the harsh sun, so I was happy to lower my gaze to pull her file from my folder. In a very soft voice, I asked, “Can you tell me why you’re still using the services of Fantasy Dates, considering you’re about to marry Matthew Gibson?”

The glasses dropped, as did any pretense of a smile. Kresley donned the pissy-pouty look often plastered on glossy magazines and/or trashy tabloids.

“Am I?” she asked, voice flat.

Taking the invoice out, I passed it to her. “According to the records my firm received, you—”

“I thought Clark Taggert was representing the woman who killed what’s-his-name.”

Small alarm bells sounded in my head. I knew from the files that Kresley knew exactly who Paolo was. “He is, but Ms. Jameson from Dane-Lieberman is also active in the case.” Nice evasive answer if I did say so myself. “If we could get back to you for a moment?” Why did I think everything in Kresley’s world was about her?

“Sure,” she said, testing her freshly painted, bright red nail polish in the sunlight.

“Why is your membership still active?”

She shrugged. “An oversight. I’ll mention it to my business manager.”

My business manager was whoever was standing at the teller’s window when I went to the bank. “What about this charge?” I pointed to the Special Assessment column on her invoice.

“Oh, that?”

For the first time I heard a hitch in Kresley’s voice. Panic? Irritation? Not sure.

“Yes. Would you mind telling me what it’s for?”

She gave a dismissive little wave with her hands. Her emerald-cut engagement ring weighed down the motion of her left hand. “Some sort of charity fund thing. Zack and Shaylyn are very philanthropic. I think any donations go to one of those help-dying-kids foundations.”

Her compassion for her fellow child fell decidedly short of sincere. I’m guessing she and Matthew won’t be starting a family any time soon.

Kresley gave a subtle nod to her security guy. Promptly, he opened the back passenger’s door to a late-model, blue Mercedes sedan. The color was almost a perfect match to the pale blonde’s eyes.

“If there’s nothing else?” she asked.

My theory is she didn’t give a flying fig if I still had more questions. She was done with me. In a flash, she slipped inside the car, then disappeared behind the tinted privacy windows.

I watched as she was driven away, knowing full well I was just dragging my heels. I’m not a complete wuss, but I wasn’t exactly relishing the idea of confronting Zack and Shaylyn. Though Kresley had adequately explained away the Special Assessment and it was completely plausible that maintaining her membership was nothing more than a clerical error on the part of her manager, there was still the matter of the threatening call.

It wasn’t like they could deny it. I had the caller ID log to prove the creepy, genderless call had come from their office. What I didn’t get was why they’d be threatening me. I hadn’t had a lot of successes uncovering who was framing Jane. Nor did I have anything more than a gut feeling that there was something hinky about the introduction service.

All I’d really accomplished was to incur the wrath of the police department; lose my job; accept money from my mother; oh, and get arrested. Not exactly a stellar track record.

Knowing that didn’t seem to ease the swelling knot of apprehension in the pit of my belly as I strode toward the office of Fantasy Dates.

BOOK: Knock 'em Dead
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