Authors: Austin S. Camacho
Copyright Â© November 2015 Intrigue Publishing, LLC
All rights reserved. No part of this book shall be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, magnetic, photographic including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher. No patent liability is assumed with respect to the use of the information contained herein. Although every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this book, the publisher and author assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. Neither is any liability assumed for damages resulting from the use of the information contained herein.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover Design by instinctive
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Also by Austin S. Camacho
The Hannibal Jones Mysteries
Blood and Bone
The Stark and O'Brien Adventures
The Payback Assignment
The Orion Assignment
The Piranha Assignment
The Ice Woman Assignment
Stand Alone Thriller
Was the woman he loved really trying to kill herself?
Hannibal had to consider the possibility. Cindy Santiago had apologized for taking the phone call in the middle of their rare mid-week lunch together. At first she tried to make the news seem unimportant, but he was, after all, a detective. He had seen the breath catch in her throat. He had watched her smooth, Latin face segue from stunned to angry to lost during the short conversation. He noted her careful choice of words, as if trying to conceal the topic of their meaning. And afterward, she was looking across the table toward him, but he doubted she was seeing him.
Her hand appeared to go numb, her phone slipping from her fingers. The phone made a cold, plastic noise as it bounced off the table. Her lips quivered without sound. She stood up, letting her napkin tumble silently to the floor. Her blank eyes moved side to side, searching.
She stepped toward the door and he rose to follow, grabbing his Oakleys but ignoring her phone and purse. Their things were safe in Rockland's, although he hated to abandon his barbecue. But DC lawyers never abandon their IPhones. For them it was like pulling a scuba diver's air hose loose. His girl looked dazed or in shock and he wasn't about to let her just wander away.
Outside, the sun burned through the thin strands of cotton candy clouds and Hannibal's eyes needed a second to adjust before he slid his sunglasses into place. When he pulled the
world into focus, he saw Cindy standing between two parked cars about to step into the midday traffic pouring down Wisconsin Avenue.
A black Cadillac Escalade was bearing down on the spot she would step into. The driver was chatting on her phone, maintaining a paper-thin margin between her vehicle and the parked cars, trying to beat the light about to turn red on the corner. Cindy would be invisible to her until too late. A strangled cry jammed in Hannibal's throat. His right arm shot forward. He made eye contact with the driver, even as he clamped onto a handful of Cindy's shoulder-length hair and yanked back hard. A few auburn strands popped. Tires squealed just as the spiked heel of her left pump was about to touch asphalt. Then her back arched and her left foot flew upward. The Escalade jerked to a halt before she fell back into Hannibal's arms.
Before falling backward onto the sidewalk Hannibal saw her right shoe bounce off the Cadillac's grille. Had he pulled her so hard it flew off? Or had the Escalade really knocked the shoe off her foot? He would never know how close she came to death, and it was not the most important question of the day, anyway. He twisted her in his arms so he could see her face.
“What the hell is the matter with you? You could have been killed.”
“Hannibal, it's all gone,” Cindy said, her eyes welling up. “A fortune, all the money I had made, my entire savings, everything I've worked so hard for, it's all evaporated in a day.”
Hannibal handed Cindy her missing shoe and shoved her into his Volvo before running back to the restaurant for her phone and purse. The drive was not pleasant.
“Have you lost your mind?” Hannibal snapped as he pulled into traffic. “Were you trying to get yourself killed? And what the hell does that mean, it's all gone?”
Cindy seemed to be on the verge of hyperventilating during the drive. Hannibal thought back to their lunch, when they were planning a vacation on the Riviera to celebrate her recent good fortune. She had been able to cash in on a business offering she set up, and become an instant millionaire three times over thanks to the value of her stock options. Even after taxes that left a handsome sum. He was of course very proud of her because she earned her fortune through her own business and legal expertise, but he could not deny a certain discomfort in having his woman pay for their vacation.
Hannibal's modest flat wasn't exactly nearby but it was easier to drive to than Cindy's townhouse in Alexandria.
By the time he had her seated in his living room she was calmâor numb. She still sat with her single shoe in her lap, where she had carried it during the ride down to Southeast DC. Now she lifted it and waved it at him.
“This was a $300 dollar pair of Via Spiga pumps,” she said, dropping the shoe on the floor.
Hannibal used his French press to brew two quick cups of coffee and set them on the coffee table as he settled on the sofa beside her. She showed her first smile since the phone call when she lifted her cup to her mouth.
“That smells so good. Thank you, lover.”
Hannibal tasted his own coffee and waited. In a lifetime as a police detective, secret service agent and now a private detective he had learned that victims are more likely to tell you what you needed to know if you leave them some silence to fill. He savored the rich, hearty flavor of the exotic Costa Rican beans and watched her fawn colored eyes. After a moment, Cindy looked over as if a surprising thought had wandered into her mind.
“You're waiting for me, aren't you?” she asked. “You're sitting there, waiting for me to tell you why I'm so upset. You want to help me. I'm a client now, aren't I?”
“Is that the only way I can help you?” Hannibal asked, leaning toward her. “Can't I just be worried about my woman and want to help her?”
“But you're the world famous Troubleshooter,” she said, moving from a defensive stance to offense. “This is what you do. You bail out losers.”
Hannibal let the better part of a minute pass before he spoke again, and did so in a very soft tone. Her left foot was curled under her. He rested a hand on her left knee.
“Losers? Baby, you're a successful attorney at ground zero of lawyer central, earning a fat salary. Then you get a phone call and life suddenly seems to lose its meaning. What do I have to do to find out why?”
“It won't matter much,” she said, turning away. “Even you can't fix this. It's my own fault, and there's nothing anybody can do about it. I'm afraid our vacation is off, Hannibal. I've lost the house, I've lost my savings, and I'm back to square one. Overnight I've lost everything.”
As eager as Hannibal was to hold Cindy, he knew this was not the right time. In some ways this was not the woman who had come to his home so many times before. He was seeing things he had never seen in her before. Hopelessness. Depression. And now bitterness. In some ways, he would have to treat her like a client to help, but one way or another he had to take care of the woman he loved.
“All right, you're talking about the money you made off that big offering for a client, right?”
“I know it was a big chunk of change, and I know you committed to a million-plus dollar house on the edge of Georgetown just a couple of days ago.” The house that would redefine her success, he thought. The money that placed her suddenly so far above his modest income as an inner-city private investigator.
“Hannibal I fell in love with that house, and now I don't even have the down payment.”
“Cindy, I know you loved the house. What I don't know is how you lost the money or why you think it was your fault.”
“Because I invested it all in one place, looking for one big score to double my money. And it turned out to be a big scam.” Her fists were clenched tight, and the edge on her voice was meant to cut her, not him. Behind the self-loathing Hannibal realized for the first time how much of his girl's self-esteem was tied up in her net worth. As much as he loved her, as well as he knew her, he wondered why he had never seen that before.
“Okay, it sounds like you went for an investment scheme of some kind,” Hannibal said, keeping his voice gentle. “Some of the sharpest businessmen alive have made that kind of mistake. Was that your accountant who called you at lunch?”
Cindy's face clenched as if he had hit her in the gut. “No, that wasn't my accountant. This was all against his advice. That was Jason.”
“Jason Moore?” Hannibal asked. “The other lawyer they hired when they got you? Drank a little too much at your birthday bash? You've always talked about him like a friend.”
“He is,” Cindy said. “Jason is my best friend in the world. Well, best male friend. You know how hard it is for a woman to be just friends with a man.”
Hannibal didn't believe that, but knew a lot of women who did. Seeing them together, he knew for sure that their
relationship was just that: close, solid friends. “You've known him longer than you've known me, right?”
“We've been back to back since I got to the firm, him doing tax law while I focused on the business law side. He's a good man and he knows his stuff. That's why I trusted him when he brought me this opportunity. It just seemed too good to pass up.”
“So, he called to tell you he suspected a problem?” Hannibal stood and began pacing across his small living room.
Cindy rolled her eyes. “If that was the case you might be able to do something. No, Jason called to tell me it had all collapsed. He checked his account on line this morning and found it empty. There was nothing there. Further online investigation told him that Weston-Wellesley Investment Services had folded. There was no trail to follow, no contact information, nothing. It's justâ¦gone. Maybe I just didn't deserve to have all that money.”
She was staring at a point a thousand miles away again. How could the woman he loved be so tied up with money? There was so much more to life, yet she was acting like her life was over. He had a prepared speech for people like that who came to him for help, all about how they had their health and were loved and anybody who could build one fortune could build another and he would find the person who had stolen from them and make them pay. Looking at the pain in Cindy's eyes he couldn't bring himself to go there.