“Roll up your window.”
“It’s 100 degrees outside.”
“They’re tinted. Less chance of someone seeing you.”
I shot Derek a dirty look but complied, rolling up the window. Then I took off my jacket in an attempt to feel less like a roast pig as I shifted in my seat, peeling my thighs off the hot vinyl.
“That’s better.” Derek leaned back and put a pair of binoculars back up to his eyes, training them on the pink, stucco covered motel across the street again.
“I don’t think he’s coming,” I said, fanning myself with an AARP brochure I’d found stuck between the seats of Derek’s Bonneville.
“Oh, he’s coming. You just gotta be patient, kid.”
Patience was something I was woefully short on today. Usually I did stakeouts on my own. Or with one of my associates from the Bond Agency. But today Derek had insisted on riding along. I’d like to think it was just boredom and the restless heat wave that had recently hit Los Angeles and not that he didn’t trust me to do the job right.
I’d like to think that, but I didn’t really.
Derek Bond was a licensed PI, sixty-three years old—though his libido was perpetually stuck at sixteen—and feared by cheating husbands everywhere. Not because Derek was apt to sleep with their distraught wives, though I couldn’t promise that hadn’t happened on occasion, but because no matter who they were, how careful they were, or how slick they thought they were being, Derek would always catch them in the act—pants around the ankles, prostitute half naked, pre-nup busted to pieces. The Bond Agency had been synonymous with a quick and easy divorce for women all over L.A. for years.
That is until one of those cheating husbands had been upset enough to shoot Derek while on a stakeout at a seedy motel in a North Hollywood neighborhood not a whole lot unlike the one we were in now. After the shooting, Derek had been forced into early retirement, prescribed to take it easy on his weakened heart. That’s when he’d reluctantly handed the reins of the Bond Agency over to his only child.
Me, Jamie Bond. Or as my father, ever hopeful that I’d come out a bouncing baby boy and a chip off the old block, had legally named me: James Bond. I’d spent the last twenty-nine years of my life trying to forgive him for that.
I’d honestly never wanted to be a PI myself. I’d grown up doing my homework in the back of this very same Bonneville on stake-outs very much like this one, which had given me more than enough of a taste of the domestic espionage game. Me—I’d dreamed of being a runway model. Which, at age fifteen, is exactly what I’d done, spending my late-teens and early-twenties strutting down the catwalks of Milan, Paris, and New York. A far cry from the faded sweatbox I was now seated in. But the truth was that when Derek got shot, my world changed forever. Suddenly, he needed me in a way I never thought possible. Besides, I wasn’t getting any younger at the time (At twenty-six I’d been a dinosaur in model years.), and I did know the PI business inside and out. So, I’d taken over the reins and been the “Bond” in the agency ever since.
Not that it kept Derek from still sticking his nose into every aspect of it.
“How old did you say this guy was?” Derek asked from behind his binoculars.
“Forty-seven,” I answered.
“And the chick he’s banging?”
I winced at his less than PC choice of words. “The woman he’s been seeing is twenty-one. But,” I added, “I don’t think they’re showing today. It’s too hot for adultery.”
Derek shook his head. “Trust me. He’s showing. A young piece of tail like that…”
Thankfully he trailed off and I didn’t have to hear his thoughts on twenty-something “tail.”
“I’ve got about ten more minutes in me,” I warned him, feeling sweat trickle down my back, soaking the pink, silk tank I’d thrown on this morning. “Then I’m gonna start melting from the inside out.”
Derek grunted in response.
“I’m serious, old man.”
He ignored me. “How much is his wife paying you?” he asked instead, reaching into the center console and popping a piece of gum into his mouth. Watermelon flavored, if the scent hitting my nostrils was any indication.
“None of your business.”
Derek pulled the binoculars away from his eyes just long enough to shoot me a dirty look. “You’re a tough one, Bond.” Then he blew a big pink bubble my way.
I resisted the urge to pop it. Mostly because I didn’t want to ruin my manicure.
“If you must know, I gave her a discount.”
“On contingency,” I muttered under my breath.
“Jesus, James. A charity case? Really?” He didn’t look amused.
“Look, she was desperate. He’s got all their money tied up. The only way she could afford to pay us was if we could get the goods on her ex-husband-to-be.”
Derek shook his head at me. “I thought I trained you better than that, kid. Payment up front.”
“We’re fine. She’ll pay. As soon as we catch the bastard.”
“Speaking of whom…” Derek grinned, pointing out his smudged windshield.
Across the street, a BMW pulled up to the motel’s parking lot. A guy with salt-and-pepper hair wearing a pressed pair of slacks got out, walked around to the passenger side, then opened the door for a brunette in Daisy-dukes who looked young enough to be his daughter.
“What did I tell you?” Derek asked, turning to me with a satisfied grin.
I shook my head. “I hate it when you’re right.” I grabbed my camera and popped off a couple of shots of the happy couple entering a room on the ground floor.
“Yeah, but you love catching your mark,” Derek said.
Dammit, the old man was right again.
* * *
“Hit me with new business,” I said the following morning, walking through the doors to the Bond Agency conference room. My three faithful employees greeted me: a “Morning, boss,” from the first two and a Starbucks Caramel Macchiato from the third. I loved my girls.
After a very successful afternoon in No Ho catching our sunny day adulterer, I’d celebrated by first dropping Derek back at his boat, which served as his permanent residence these days, then treating myself to a steak dinner, a glass of 1994 merlot, and a hot bubble bath. All of which had put me in an excellent mood this morning as I held my coffee in one hand and my cell in the other, pulling up my schedule for the day.
“Three messages,” Maya, my receptionist, told me, sliding three pieces of pink notepaper across the polished wood table at me. “One from Mrs. Mueller, wondering how it went with Mr. Mueller yesterday.”
“Fabulously,” I answered, picturing the eight-by-tens we’d taken of him and the leggy brunette.
“The second was Aiden.” Maya paused, sending me a meaningful glance. “Wanting to know if you are free this evening.”
I raised an eyebrow. Aiden Prince was the new L.A. County Assistant District Attorney: charming, smart, and blessed with classic good looks that had my friends dubbing him ADA Ken Doll. His suits were Brook Brothers, his aftershave was subtle, and his morals were unshakable. His wife had died of cancer a year ago, prompting him to leave his native Kansas City and start over on the west coast. I’d met Aiden a few months ago on a case, and our relationship was currently in that indefinable grey area. To call him a boyfriend would be seriously jumping the gun. To say he was just a friend was understating it a bit. But at the sound of his name, I couldn’t help a fluttery feeling in the pit of my stomach.
“I hope you told him I had to check my schedule?” I said. Hey, I had to play just a little hard-to-get.
Maya nodded. “I told him I wasn’t sure you were free and that you’d call him back.”
“Perfect.” I nodded, sitting down in a leather chair at the end of the table. “And the third call?”
“New case,” Sam jumped in.
Samantha Cross was my right hand woman when it came to undercover work. She had honey mocha skin, legs that went on forever, and was a former winner of America’s New Hot Model. She was also an expert with firearms, thanks to a military brat upbringing, and a struggling single mom who never balked at working overtime to bust a guy who really deserved it.
“Music to my ears,” I responded. “Who?”
“Danielle Martin,” Sam said, reading from a printout in her hand. “She owns an antique shop and thinks her husband is playing around on her. She wants proof before filing divorce papers.”
I nodded. Standard issue.
“But there’s a twist,” the girl seated next to Sam added. Caleigh Presley, the complete polar opposite of Sam. Sweet as thick molasses, she was the quintessential southern girl next door. Blonde, blue-eyed, and bubblier than a Coke, Caleigh claimed she was a distant cousin to the one and only Elvis. She was also an excellent computer hacker, thanks to spending all of her childhood’s sultry southern summers in the air conditioned bliss of her parents’ library. Skills that had come in handy on more than one occasion.
“I love a twist,” I told her, leaning back in my chair. “Hit me.”
“He’s a nudist.”
I blinked at her, not sure I’d heard right. “Excuse me?”
“Mr. Martin…” Caleigh looked down to check her notes. “…David Martin, that is, is a nudist.”
“As in, he doesn’t wear any clothes,” Sam hammered home.
“Ever?” I asked, picturing the guy walking down Hollywood Boulevard au naturel.
Sam shook her head. “No, he wears clothes in public. But he spends a few days a month at a nudist colony in Big Bear. That’s where the wife thinks the husband is stepping out on her.”
“He claims,” Caleigh jumped in, “that being a nudist is about being—and I quote from the wife—’unencumbered by the societal judgments and confines of our outer shells to be one with nature.’”
“And the wife buys this?” I asked.
Sam shook her head. “She thinks it’s about being one with naked women.”
I was inclined to agree with the wife.
“She wants us to tail him this week and see what he’s really up to,” Sam added.
“Wait.” I held up a hand. “Tail him at the nudist colony?”
Caleigh nodded, her eyes twinkling with something akin to glee. “Uh-huh.”
“Which means we’re going to have to go undercover…”
“Naked,” Caleigh finished for me, grinning from ear to ear. “Imagine all the hot naked guys we’re going to see on this one. I can’t wait.” She was fairly bouncing in her seat with excitement.
Oh, boy. This was going to be interesting.
* * *
Aiden looked across the table at me and almost choked on his sip of chardonnay. “You’re going to a nudist colony?”
I shot him a look. “Don’t do that.”
“Look at me like that. Like you’re imagining me naked right now.”
Aiden grinned, setting his glass down. “You know, it’s kind of impossible not to.”
I sighed. “Would I be wrong to send Sam and Caleigh on their own with this one?”
“Come on. Don’t tell me you’re a prude, Jamie,” Aiden teased.
I snorted. “Hardly. I did four Victoria’s Secret catalogues.”
“Okay, now I’m really imagining you naked.”
I swatted his arm from across the table.
We were at Chianti’s Italian Restaurant off Melrose, sharing a bottle of very nice wine, ordering very small appetizers, and enjoying the very dim lighting and romantic atmosphere. I was starting to mellow from the wine, and certain parts of my body were starting to get keyed up from the flirtatious tone in Aiden’s voice. It wasn’t an altogether unpleasant combo.
“So, what did you want to talk to me about tonight?” I asked, doing an obvious subject change. When I’d called Aiden back that morning, he’d said there was something he wanted to discuss with me at dinner. I’d been just the slightest bit disappointed that he’d had an agenda other than wooing me into bed, but I’d agreed to meet anyway, hoping maybe an agenda and wooing were on his mind.
“Right.” Aiden shifted in his seat, his demeanor going from flirtatious to the official business mode I’d seen him adopt in the courtroom. “It’s about a case I’m trying.”
I cocked an eyebrow his way. “Oh?”
“It involves a former police officer. Jack Brady. You may have heard of the case?”
I nodded. I was no CNN devotee, but it was hard not to hear about the Brady case. Jack Brady had been a career officer of the LAPD until he’d allegedly killed a man in cold blood three years ago. He was currently being tried for the murder, which had all of L.A. on riot alert due to the tenuous relationship between the LAPD and the people of Los Angeles.
“He killed an attorney, right?” I asked, picking up my own glass and taking a sip.
“Correct. Edward Bernstein. Brady tried to pass it off as a routine shooting, saying the attorney pulled a weapon on him.”
“I’m guessing he didn’t?”
“We have no evidence to support Brady’s claim,” Aiden said, using the typically vague lawyer speak I’d come to expect from him.
“The case sounds pretty cut and dried,” I observed.
Aiden nodded. “It is. We have ample evidence of corruption on Brady’s part. I’m confident we’ll get a conviction on this one.” He picked up a breadstick from the basket in the center of the table, absently pulling off a crusty end. “But there was something that came up in the discovery process.”
“Oh?” I asked again, swirling my wine.
“The gun Brady used to shoot his victim.” Aiden paused, still focusing on his bread, not looking up, his jaw visibly tense.
I set the wine glass down. “What is it?”
He cleared his throat, eyes avoiding mine. “As we were preparing the forensic evidence for the trial, we ran the gun through the system again, just to be thorough.”
“And?” I asked, a niggle of dread starting to form in my stomach. He still wouldn’t look at me.
“And we found a match to the bullet striations. Turns out the same gun was used in a previous crime.”
“You’re killing me here, Aiden. Spit it out. What does this have to do with me?”
Aiden blew out a breath, finally looking up, and sent a weak smile my way. “I should have known I couldn’t dance around it with you.”
“Dance around what? What crime was the gun used in?” I asked, even though that dread, growing into a hard ball now, gave me a sneaking feeling I already knew.
“A shooting. Three years ago.” Aiden leaned in. “Your dad, Jamie. Brady’s gun was the same weapon that was used to shoot Derek.”