After a week of pounding the pavement with an updated resume that netted me nothing but "Sorry, we're not hiring"s, my check account dwindled to the point, my next meal might be my last. I didn't want to call the temp agency. The bad blood seemed thin compared to starvation. I wondered if they'd just deleted my file.|
"This is Trace Walker. Got anything?" Wordlessly, my call was forwarded.
"Mr. Walker," a voice answered, "we don't normally give work to temps who walk out on assignments." She spoke with the authority of a high-level boss.
"I don't normally get offered jobs that have me stumbling around blindly like a fool."
"Considering your current situation, do you really care what you're hired to do?"
She had a point.
"You’re not a fool, Mr. Walker. You're a tool, a resource. You're smart enough to know if you could get work elsewhere, you would. Your return to us clearly states you're willing to do whatever we ask. Am I wrong?"
Her tone didn't degrade me, though the words could have. She wanted it all on the table. I needed work. The agency would give me work that made use of my talents.
"I flirt with lock-up every time I take one of your jobs, you know."
"Let us worry about that. As an agent in our employ, you'll have full legal representation, should that ever arise. The trick, however, Mr. Walker, is not to be caught doing anything that risks the agency's reputation. Have I made myself clear?"
"The agency's going to give you a chance to redeem yourself, Mr. Walker. I have a landscaping job available. You'll be given a set of instructions upon arrival. Don't deviate from these instructions and don't be seen enacting them."
I didn't have to be a P.I. to deduce whose property I'd be servicing.
Cyrus Foster's estate sprawled over forty acres. The crew was headed by Martin, a former con like me who'd I'd worked with occasionally. The young man from the mock trial was also on the team. The agency put people around me I could trust, which gave me confidence. I informed Martin I wasn't there to trim bushes.
"Oh. It's like that again. What can I do to help?"
Martin covered for me last time I'd needed to do something not covered in the agency's employee manual.
"I need in the house with time alone."
Under the pretense of going over fall plant hibernation plans, we entered the house. Foster agreed to meet with Martin while I sought out a bathroom.
At the mock trial, a lawyer had revealed that the Feds failed in their attempts to get surveillance on Foster. When I'd arrived on site, Martin handed me a package containing one state-of-the-art listening device. I'd seen bugs before, but nothing like this. It laid smooth as paper and peeled off its card like a sticker. I could place it anywhere and it'd be unobtrusive, nearly undiscoverable.
Unless I'm seen leaving Foster’s office. Then, security might tear the place apart until they found it.
As I descended the marble stairs, I met Jaeger Harris ascending them. He didn't like the direction I'd come from. He was everything that had been described so far: muscular, dressed to the nines, and sporting a Marine tattoo on the back of his hand.
He grabbed me by my coveralls. "Where were you just now?"
"De Baño, señior."
He looked me up and down. "Funny. You don't look like no wetback to me."
And you don't look smart enough to pull off three murders, I thought.
Harris pushed me away and continued up the stairs. If I didn't do something, he'd search for, and find, the bug in Foster's study.
"Nancy Grubinger says hi."
He whirled, and lunged at me from three stairs above. I couldn't win a fight with a government-trained killer, so I didn't try. I used his momentum against him by stepping sideways and directing his body past me. Harris must not have expected people to fight back. He didn't compensate fast enough and propelled forward. He landed hard halfway down the flight of stairs on his chin, smashing teeth and biting off part of his tongue. I moved quickly to the spot in front of him, ready to finish the job. He lifted his head and for the briefest of moments, as blood poured from his mouth, he reminded me of a fountain cherub billowing water into an Italian pool.
He gurgled something meant to be a cry for help. I grabbed the top of his head and slammed it down on the marble step, breaking his nose. He stopped moving. I had work gloves on, so no worry about DNA.
I was the one who cried out in alarm. When others came, I told them I'd seen Harris turn suddenly and fall down the stairs. Arriving EMTs confirmed I'd broken his neck. He'd live, but would be sucking life through tube from then on.
That night, the Feds listened in as Foster ranted, worried what Jaeger Harris might say under medication. He planned to hire someone to pull Harris's plug before the bodyguard squealed. The Feds formally charged Cyrus Foster with conspiracy to commit murder.
The charges brought Basile Andreadis, the falafel vendor who was surprisingly not dead, out of hiding. A paralyzed Harris spilled on his boss through a series of blinks and nods when the Feds offered him a reduced sentence and the same mobile rig Stephen Hawkings uses.
For me, though, when all was said and done, nothing much changed. I still called in for work every morning.
"This is Trace Walker. Got anything?"
My normal rep, with subtle smirk in her voice, offered me a bonus assignment.
"We need you to bar back at a gentleman's club tonight. Triple your normal rate, plus nice tips."
And for the record, she did say "tips".