Finder’s Keeper – Part Two
by D. G. Speirs
Copyright (c) 2017
I kept my gaze locked on the Boss’ face. “‘Oh’ is right. As in, we have guests coming shortly. Perhaps getting dressed for them might be a better choice? Not to mention for Vee? She is a bit of a delicate soul.”
“Yes, of course.” He handed me his mug and headed for the spiral staircase at the end of the corridor. “Go ahead and finish that for me, I’ll whip up new ones for our guests.”
I looked with suspicion at the pulpy green liquid. “What is it?”
“Kale, carrots, almonds, nonfat Greek yogurt, wheatgrass, papaya, banana and apple juice. Try it.”
“I don’t know, Tomas.”
“Louis, have I ever steered you wrong?”
“I’ll take the fifth on that.”
“If it’s an excellent muscatel, I’ll match you.” He barked a laugh as he climbed the steps to the upper level where he lived. I took a sip of the smoothie. He was right, it was good.
I walked back into the office. Vee turned and let out her breath. “It’s like walking a tightrope.”
“It’s no big deal.”
“Not that bad? He is completely certifiable, you know that, right?”
“Of course. You knew that when you signed on. But you can’t deny he’s brilliant at what he does.”
“He still creeps me out at times.”
“Yeah, well, so do some of your boyfriends, but I don’t pass judgment on them.” I finished the green goop and grabbed an orange from a basket on top of one of Vee’s file cabinets. Boss loved having fresh fruit on hand everywhere. Vee tolerated it. I started to peel the orange and dropped rinds into her wastebasket. She stopped what she was typing – financial reports, from the look – and set eyeballs to stun. I backed up a couple of steps.
“One of us is working here.”
“Vee, relax. He’ll get dressed-”
I ignored that and started over. “The boss will be dressed and meet us downstairs in the conference room. In the meantime, you can do me a favor.”
She barked a laugh. “You?”
“Hear me out. I’d like you to search for that term that got his attention.”
“Marwan? What do you think it is? A name?”
“Not sure. But if we’ve got something, it’ll be easier to have his back.”
“Any limits on what to check?”
I thought that over for a moment. “Deep search. Go all the way into his past. Before he met either of us. Before he even came into the light.”
She nodded at me. “Fair enough, Louis. On it.”
“How long before our guests get here?”
She checked her monitor. “If they’re on time, thirty minutes. I’m betting they’ll be early.”
I trust Vee’s instincts too much to ever bet against them when it comes to client stupidity. “Fair enough. I’ll be downstairs, setting up. As soon as you’re ready, come join me.” I tossed the last rind of my orange into the trash. “And I’ll make sure the Boss is presentable, too.”
I slid down the rail of the spiral stairs to the first floor of the tower and walked out onto the exterior deck where it faced the ocean. The surf rolled onto the beach three blocks away to the west, as locals and tourists played and laid about under the sun. A light breeze ruffled my hair. I broke apart the orange into sections. I leaned against the railing and began to eat it, one piece at a time, a little California sunshine in my mouth. Of course, the orange was from Chile, but being picky wasn’t on the agenda right then.
I was about halfway through the orange when Tomas joined me, now in jeans and a tight white t-shirt, still barefoot. No surprise. Business attire was only field camouflage for him. He would never wear it at home.
“I freaked her out again, didn’t I?”
“Yep.” I handed him a section of orange. He looked it over carefully.
“That wasn’t my intention.”
“Tomas, we’ve talked about this for years. Intent isn’t the issue, it’s action.”
“But I wasn’t trying to–”
“Shock her. I know that. And on some level, I’m sure Vee knows it, too.”
“I had finished my workout, just poured my smoothie and was headed for my rooms when I heard you two talking.” He sighed and glanced over at me. “I honestly forgot I wasn’t wearing anything.”
“So, we work on it some more.”
He stared at the orange. “I can tell you all sorts of things about this fruit just by looking at it.”
“I know you can, Tomas.”
“But people. People elude me. Dangerously so.”
“One of the reasons I’m here. To keep them from taking advantage of you, from hurting you-”
“Or me hurting them?”
I hesitated a moment. “There is that. Although after all the time I’ve spent with you, Tomas, I’d be hard-pressed to imagine you doing that.”
He turned the orange over in his hand once more. Suddenly, it wasn’t there. “Careful, Louis. You should never underestimate me.” He grabbed the last of the orange as if reclaiming some prize, then went inside.
I stared after him. My thoughts drifted to the hidden Taser on my belt and the backup revolver in my ankle holster. Tomas, I don’t for a minute.
Twenty minutes later, the three of us waited in the conference room for our visitors to arrive. Tomas idly flipped a silver dollar back and forth across the fingers of one hand while Vee sat a computer workstation, answering some correspondence for the business. Me, I watched for our guests out the window.
Tomas did a slight of hand move, and the coin disappeared. He looked over at Vee. “Anything else pressing in the case files?”
“The missing granite sculpture on the private estate in the San Juan Islands in Washington.”
“Who is the client?”
“Dwayne Johnson, the actor?”
“And wrestler,” I added. “I’ve seen the case file, Boss. Basically, we’re looking for a rock on a rock for The Rock.”
Tomas stared at me for a moment. “Remind me to dock your pay for that one.”
“Oh, like you don’t make outrageous puns?” The sound of screeching brakes down below caught my attention. Tomas had given me a brief rundown on what to expect when our guests arrived. They didn’t disappoint.
The Water Tower is anything but inconspicuous – being ten stories tall and standing alongside a major thoroughfare will do that for you. However, the building’s footprint is surprisingly small – basically, only the land for the footings for the tower and street access. We have a couple of hidden assets, but I’d prefer they stay hidden. So, to the public and our clients, we have two parking spaces on the street with no additional parking. Showing up with an entourage is sure to garner attention.
So much for a low profile. I counted four SUVs and a limo. “Uh, Boss. Did you warn them about the— “
“I did. Some people never learn.”
I watched a dozen people get out of the vehicles and approach our gate below. Behind me, Tomas walked over to the wet bar, picked up the phone handset, and pressed a control. Down below, his voice came from a set of hidden speakers surrounding the gate.
“Gentlemen, that will be quite enough.” The group froze in place. “I agreed you could come and bring one associate. Obviously, you have a math issue. You have until the count of five for the remainder of your security team to pile back into their vehicles and drive away. Otherwise, find someone else to assist you.”
I watched as the team below huddled. I looked back at the Boss and shrugged. “Could be he’s under a bunch of stress, Boss. Maybe we should throw him a small bone.”
Tomas considered this for a moment and picked up the handset. “One of my colleagues suggests you send your teams to the Harbor House Cafe around the corner. The pancakes are exquisite. So are the waitresses.” Tomas winked at me. “Now where were we? Ah, yes. One. Two.”
One of the figures below gestured sharply. Various black suits ran back to their SUVs and piled in. As they did, one looked up at the tower, and I caught a glimpse of her face. My breath caught. Lonnie? Since when did she start working private sec?
Lonnie Rourke had been my partner for some half-dozen years with the Bureau, as good as they came with a shield. When my world shattered, she tried to keep me from spiraling down the rabbit hole. That didn’t cost her much, just her career. I hadn’t realized she was working private security. If she was working for our potential client, our paths were going to cross. I made a note to contact her for some information – carefully. If I could prevent things from getting too complicated…
The SUVs cleared out by ‘Four.’ When they were gone, Tomas nodded to Vee, who buzzed in the remaining visitors. The video projector threw the elevator security cam image of them in the elevator onto the large screen. As I watched them ascend the Boss nodded toward me. “Assessment?”
“Two males, both in their late 40s to early 50s. One on the left is Caucasian. He’s carrying, by the way, concealed, right under quick draw. Not a full body image on the camera, but my professional guesstimate says he has a backup piece as well on his ankle. Curl of the lip indicates contempt – he’s not impressed by what he sees. Military bearing, so he’s trained, but he’s definitely private.”
“What about on the right?”
“Arabic based on features, but no headdress. I’d have to hear his voice to get more of a sense of where he’s from-”
I looked at Tomas, an eyebrow raised. “You know him?”
“It doesn’t matter. Go on.”
It sure as hell does, Tomas, I thought, but I kept that to myself. “Ah. He’s a moderate as far as Islamists go, more about wealth and status than politics. Nervous, from the way he keeps glancing in an orbit from his handler to the controls to the camera. Those extra guys in the SUVs were for his protection. He feels naked without them.”
Tomas looked at Vee and smiled. “I know something about naked, don’t I, Miss Davis? Please escort our guests in from the elevator.” He cut the security cam feed and switched to an image of the sun setting as seen from our deck.
Vee smiled and stood up. And up. I grinned, thinking about the reaction of our two guests when the elevator doors opened.
I mentioned this before, but Veronica Davis (aka Vee) had grown up on the tall side. It made her an all-star basketball player in high school, which translated into a four-year scholarship to USC, then a professional career in the WNBA for two years and overseas for another six. But Vee was no mere jock. While abroad, she learned to speak four languages fluently and get along in about a dozen more. In school, she used her scholarship toward, well, scholarship-ish stuff, walking out of USC with a degree in Communication, then grabbing an MBA through Stanford. Last I checked the Boss was footing the bill for her studies toward a JD, the idea being it would be nice to have someone around the house who spoke fluent lawyer.
As I said, Vee is one of those women who intimidates me a bit but don’t tell her I said that. Then again, there aren’t going to be many she doesn’t. Especially when she stands next to them, all six-foot-four of her. Many will just want to take a step back in awe. But, of course, there are guys who see her and start to think just like Sir George Mallory and see Vee as something to be conquered. Guys like that usually forget Mallory died. Vee can take care of herself.
And if need be, I can take care of Vee.
A few moments later, she escorted our guests in. The American reacted as expected. But the Arab was all squirrely. He kept looking up sideways at Vee, his expression curious. He kept staring at her face with an intense scrutiny I found disconcerting. It put me on alert to keep track of him.
Tomas sprung up to greet our two visitors. As he spoke, his voice switched from his native Castellan accent to a perfect Midwestern-accented English. “Good morning, gents. I apologize for the inconvenience, but as you can see, it is rather cramped up here. We keep our meetings small.” The Boss waved them over to the conference table. “Can I get you anything? Coffee perhaps, or tea? Maybe a pastry?”
The American in the suit shook his head. “Nothing, thank you.”
The Boss looked at the Arab “And what about you?”
The second man just shook his head as he glanced around the room, surveying it. Thorough. I considered how I’d neutralize him if need be.
“Very well.” Tomas indicated for the gentlemen to sit down at the conference table as he sat across from them. He took a sip of his green smoothie and smiled. “How exactly can I assist you?”
The suit began to speak. “My client is-”
“An adult and perfectly capable of speaking in four different languages fluently, including English if I remember correctly.” Boss turned toward the Arab. “Or have your standards slipped since I last checked?”
The suit sputtered in outrage. “My client is not to be talked to-”
I stepped around behind him and placed a hand on the man’s shoulder. “Easy, Sparky. Your client is just fine. Calm down, and while you’re at it, keep both hands outside your jacket.”
Tomas looked up at me. “Louis, it’s all right, Mr. Miller here simply unfamiliar with our modus operandi. It can make someone a bit unsettled at first.”
I watched as the suit stared at the Boss, eyes wide in surprise. “But, how? I never-“
“Gave me your name? True. But that doesn’t change the fact that you are Remington Miller of Watkins, Glenn, and Miller, or that your client is the honorable Marwan al Mansouri, chairman of EETL – Emirates Executive Transport and Logistics.” Tomas leaned across the table. “I’m not a big fan of suits, even ones that double as bodyguards. So let’s cut through the fog and get to why you’re here.”
The Arab glanced at Miller, a slight smile forming. “Mr. Miller was unconvinced your skills would be of use in my case.”
The Boss turned and looked at The Suit. His grin was shark-like. “Was he now?”
I glanced at Vee in the corner at her laptop. We shared a look. Bad idea. I took a step back from The Suit as the Boss focused on him.
Miller wasn’t going to concede any ground. “Mr. del Mundo, the security company my firm has on retainer is quite adept, and has several qualified private investigators-”
Boss held up a hand to silence the man. “Please, Tomas. We’re not formal here. But I’m surprised, Remington – may I call you Remington? After all, you were shocked to find out I knew exactly who you were, despite never having spoken to you or your firm before, receiving a call from a burner phone, meeting at your requested time on short notice, and with only a single word as a bona fide – Nawfar. Still, this seems to have made no impression on you.”
Miller glanced at his client. “Parlor tricks. You could have a contact within my firm as an inside source, leaking your information.”
“Interesting. But how could I have known to cultivate such a source in four hours? That was just the beginning, Remington. Vee, are you ready?”
The Boss waved a hand, and the contents of Miller’s investment portfolio was projected onto the screen behind me, updating in real time as market prices changed. “Let’s see. From the looks of your holdings, Remington, you have substantial positions in two direct competitors of EETL. A wee conflict of interest there. But after all, you are a lawyer. It’s what you do.” He waved again, and the screen switched to a credit report. “Your FICO score is excellent, though.”
Miller was grinding his jaw by this point. “Enough! What sort of stunt is this?”
Tomas waved once more, and the screen went dark. “No stunt, I assure you. This is simply me showing you what we do.”
“What, act like some second-rate private investigator?”
I started toward the man, but Tomas signaled me discretely to step back. He stood and walked around the table until he was directly across from the lawyer, his expression blank. His smile returned, slowly. “I am not a private investigator, Mr. Miller. I am something much rarer. I am a Finder. If someone loses something, I find it. If someone hides it, I uncover it. It’s a talent.”
“Sounds more like a parlor trick.”
“Perhaps, but not a second-rate one.” Tomas dropped Miller’s wallet onto the table. He held up Miller’s gun and pressed the release. The ammunition clip popped out and clattered to the table as Tomas cleared the chamber and spun the pistol across the table.
I couldn’t help but grin. A famous magician once said even if you know how the trick is done, it can still be magic. This was. I knew the Boss had never been anywhere within an arm’s length of the suit for more than two seconds since they’d arrived. I hadn’t seen the lift. I still don’t know how he did it.
Miller stared in shock. Tomas held up a hand. “Oh, right, I almost forgot.” He reached behind and pulled from his waistband in back a snub-nosed revolver. The Boss flipped ped open the barrel and dropped out all six rounds into his free hand, then set the ammo and the Suit’s backup piece on the table in front of Miller.
“Your move, Counselor.”