Two eight-by-ten glossy photos dropped onto my desk.
I looked up. “Excuse me?”
Paul Levine, my weedy looking attorney, sighed, then sank into the imitation leather chair opposite my desk. “You’ve been running in the red for the last three months. You’ve got a balloon payment on the business loan coming up, and this month you pulled in fifty percent less revenue than last. Unless you want to drown in your own debt, you need to fire someone.” He gestured again to the two photos. “Pick one.”
I glanced down at the two pictures. A leggy brunette and an all-American-girl blonde. I shoved them back across the desk.
Levine did another deep, theatrical sigh. “I had a feeling you’d say that.”
“Look, business is just a little slow.”
“It’s a tortoise, Jamie.”
“It’s been the off season.”
“There’s an ‘on’ season for infidelity?” he asked, doing air quotes with his fingers.
“We’ll take out some ads.”
“Which cost money. Something, my dear, that you don’t have.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “I’ll think of something.”
Levine leaned forward, the overhead lights shining unattractively off his bald spot. “Let’s face it, people just aren’t getting divorced these days. With the economy the way it is, women would rather turn a blind eye to their husbands’ indiscretions than try to exist on half his income. It’s cheaper to stay together and pretend to be happy.”
“No one can pretend for that long.”
“Pick. One,” Levine enunciated.
I looked down at the two photos, which incidentally consisted of 50% percent of the Bond Agency. The problem wasn’t that I’d over hired. The problem was I knew diddly about running a business.
Men. That’s what I knew.
When I was seven years old Chad Fischer’s Mom packed him a Snickers bar in his lunch. And not those fun size suckers. This was a king-sized log of nougat, caramel, and sugar induced highs that would last well past the end of afternoon cartoons. I wanted it. Every kid in second grade wanted it. But I tossed my blonde hair over one shoulder, batted my baby blues at Chad, and promised that he could stand underneath me while my little pink skirt and I did flips on the monkey bars at recess. I got the Snickers. That was my first lesson in how easy men were.
Fast forward a few years, and my fifteen-year-old self was hanging out at the Northridge mall slurping a Jamba Juice when I’d been spotted by Maurcess DeLine, owner of the world renowned DeLine Models. Suddenly I wasn’t just working the boys at my school; I was working every guy that bought a magazine with my body on the cover. And getting paid handsomely to do it. I’d been DeLine’s top model for over a decade when Maurcess had started to drop hints that my fresh innocence act wasn’t cutting it anymore. I was twenty-six. A dinosaur in runway years.
That’s when I moved back to L.A. and decided to take over the family business.
Really, there was very little difference between making love to a camera and making a married man forget his vows. In fact, this was sometimes even easier. Men with adultery already on their minds were simple targets. It was like taking Snickers from a second grader all over again.
Unfortunately, getting their wives to pay was a whole other matter.
I glanced at the two photos staring up at me. Truth was, I needed both of these women.
“Cutting back on personnel only means I can handle fewer cases. I don’t see how that’s going to help me expand the business,” I argued.
“We’re not talking expansion here, Jamie. We’re talking staying afloat. We’re talking not filing for bankruptcy.”
“I’ve got a big client tonight. Judge Thomas Waterston. Superior court. If things go well, I guarantee his wife will have her entire bridge club in here by the end of the week.”
“Well, you’d better hope that’s true,” Levine said, rising. “Because your balloon payment is due on the 1st. You’ve got two weeks, then…” He tapped the photos. “One of them’s got to go.”
* * *
“What?” She swiveled in her desk chair, turning her wide eyes my way.
“You’re on the Peters case. Care to give us an update?” I tapped open the schedule app on my phone and leaned an elbow across the conference table.
She cleared her throat and shuffled the notes in her lap. Caleigh Presley hailed from the south, claiming she was some distant cousin of Elvis’s. Blonde, blue-eyed and bubbly, she’d cornered the market on perky. I’d met Caleigh while doing a Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot in Cancun. She’d smuggled a bag of fat free Cheetos onto the set, and we’d bonded instantly. Three years later Caleigh foolishly agreed to go out on a date with Nigel Owens, the top fashion photographer in London. I say foolishly because everyone but Caleigh knew about his particular fetish for bondage and tickling. When Caleigh refused to be molested by his feather duster, Nigel had refused to work with her, calling her “difficult”. News that quickly spread to other photographers, her agent, and every high profile account in the fashion world. They’d dropped her like a skydiver without a parachute. Luckily for her, that had been just about the time I’d taken over the Bond Agency, and I’d hired her on the spot.
Not, mind you, that I’d hired her out of any sort of pity. Despite her innocent-little-thing looks, Caleigh spoke five different languages and had the computer know-how to hack into the pentagon. Dumb blonde she was not.
“Right. Peters.” Caleigh cleared her throat again. “Well, so far I’ve followed him to the Venice Boardwalk, Element, and out to dinner twice at Formaggio’s.”
She shook her head. “Nothin’. I’m beginning to wonder if his wife isn’t paranoid. So far the guy’s a straight arrow. Both the dinners were business meetings, and he didn’t so much as glance at a bikini on the boardwalk.”
I picked up my coffee cup and swished the dregs around in the bottom, trying to remember if Mrs. Peters had seemed the paranoid type when she’d come in last week. Or, more importantly, the type who would balk at the amount of billable hours we’d spent with nothing to show for it. “What about the club? Element?”
Again, Caleigh shook her head. “Sorry, boss. He ducked in for a drink with a buddy, danced a little, then ducked back out. No funny business.”
“Fine. If we don’t have anything by Monday, we’ll call it off. But take Sam with you this weekend,” I said, gesturing to the woman sitting next to her, “and tag-team him. Every man has a breaking point.”
Caleigh nodded and made a note on the yellow pad in her lap.
I turned to Sam. “Where are we with the Nortons?”
Samantha Cross had come to me from Brooklyn last year. Long legs, perfect mocha latte skin, and thick dark curls, Sam had been a finalist on the first season of the reality show America’s New Hot Model and quickly become the darling of the cover girl world. Until five years later when her boyfriend, Julio, had knocked her up. As if taking a nine month hiatus from modeling hadn’t been enough to kill her fledgling career, it turned out Sam wasn’t one of those lucky ladies whose bodies miraculously snap back after pregnancy. While she was still a knockout among normal people, the two ounces of fat hanging around her lightly stretch-marked belly put a decisive end to her bikini days. So, Sam had packed up the munchkin (Julio was long gone at that point) and headed out to California to make a career change. One I was happy to facilitate. Sam had legs long enough to make husbands forget their vows and, thanks to her military-brat upbringing, knew more about guns than the NRA. And her aim was flawless. Sam could shoot the balls off a fruit fly at fifty yards.
“Mrs. Norton’s lawyer,” Sam said, “has requested all of our notes.”
“Which we will gladly copy for him. Mrs. Norton has gone through three husbands with the agency. What Mrs. Norton wants, we give.”
“Of course.” Sam nodded. “I think Mr. Norton’s lawyers are close to a settlement.” Her brown eyes lit up, and she leaned in close. “They offered a 60/40 split plus the house in Aspen.”
“Good for her.” She deserved it. Especially after her husband had offered to pay Sam fifty dollars for a blow job in the back of his Jag. Sam had been so insulted that he’d offered less than a hundred, she’d actually hauled off and punched him. I made a note in my organizer to edit that part out before handing the footage over to Mrs. Norton’s lawyers.
“Okay, so get the Norton files to her lawyer, then work Mr. Peters with Caleigh.”
Sam nodded. “Will do.”
“So… new cases this week?” I asked, turning to the woman on my left.
Maya Alexander handled all of the admin for the agency, including scheduling appointments with prospective clients. And if her face looked a little familiar, it was because she was March’s Playmate of the month. Lucky for me, not many men recognized her with her clothes on.
“Uh-huh. Two possible new cases. Mrs. Shankmann, who claims her husband, and I quote, ‘shtupped the freakin’ au pair,’ and a Rachel Blake who wants us to test her fiancée before the wedding.”
Caleigh raised her hand and bounced in her seat. “Oh, me, me. I love doing bachelor parties.”
“Done.” I noted it down. “I’ll take Mr. Shankmann if we get the account. Right. On to tonight. Judge Waterston.”
All three girls leaned forward in their seats.
“We all know how high profile, i.e. high dollar, this account is.”
Three heads nodded.
“So, this needs to go off flawlessly. Mrs. Waterston is a big name. She has big friends, who all have big cash on the line should they decide they need our services to bust their prenups.”
“We’re hitting him at the party?” Sam asked, checking her notes.
“Black tie benefit at the Beverley Hilton. So, I want everyone to look sharp, okay?”
Again with the nods.
“I’m personally running game on this one. Sam, you’re camera one. Caleigh, I want you on two. Danny will direct from the van.” I paused. “Girls, we need this guy. We can’t mess it up.”
I didn’t add because without him, one of them was looking at unemployment.