Unbreakable Bond - Chapter 2
The Beverly Hilton was located on Wilshire in the part of Los Angeles where Mercedes outnumber homeless people fifty to one. An iconic piece of Hollywood history, the hotel had played host to countless stars, dignitaries, and legends, and held over one hundred red carpet events each year.
And that night's affair lived up to the legacy.
A plush banquet room was decorated in tasteful hues of red and gold, accentuated by floral arrangements at every column. A jazz group played in the corner, creating mellow mood music for the hundred-some guests in suits and subdued cocktail dresses, nibbling at their caviar laced hors d'oeuvres.
Caleigh stood to the right of the band, wearing a strapless emerald green number. In the center of her bodice sat a jade colored brooch, pointed straight at me. Sam was directly across the room from her, wearing a tight red minidress with a silver brooch of her own attached to her right shoulder strap. She held a glass of chardonnay in one hand and swayed slightly to the rhythm of the upright bass.
I leaned against the bar, ignoring the jab of my Glock strapped to my thigh, and lifted a single olive martini to my lips to disguise their movement. "Tell Sam I'll be intercepting the target to her right, near the front entrance," I murmured into my décolletage.
"You got it," a voice sounded in my earpiece.
I waited two beats, then Sam changed her position ever so slightly, shifting to face the entrance.
"She's got a clear shot," piped my earpiece.
"Anytime, boss," he replied. Then, "Uh-oh. Incoming at two o'clock, Jamie."
I turned to my left…
But was too late to avoid the guy in the Brooks Brothers suit with hookup written all over his tanned face.
"Hi there," he said, suddenly well inside my personal space.
I took an instinctive step back, giving him a quick once over.
His hair was cropped close in a conservative style, blond, gelled into place. Green eyes, creased just a little at the corners. Broad shoulders that spoke of either high school football or a dedicated personal trainer. Not bad looking. Polished to a high sheen. In fact, if my name were Barbie, I'd say he was the perfect catch.
I gave him a semi-polite "kiss off" smile.
"Nice party, huh?" he persisted.
"I just moved here recently. I tell you, they don't have parties like this where I'm from."
I nodded. Sipped my drink. Prayed he'd go away.
"You from around here?" he asked.
Again, I gave the noncommittal nod.
"Well, I gotta say, the weather out here is fantastic. Sunny and seventy year round. Paradise."
Was this guy seriously trying to pick me up with talk about the weather? I'd seen better game from a ten-year-old.
Danny piped up in my ear. "Detach the suit, Jamie. Our mark just walked in."
I whipped my head around to the entrance. A balding, sixty-ish man stood in the doorway. Dark suit, navy tie, sharp eyes. Almost immediately a young guy with future politician stamped all over his pinstriped jacket was on the judge like pumps on a prostitute, jiggling his hand up and down.
"Excuse me," I said, setting my martini on the bar and turning to go.
"Aiden Prince." Brooks Brothers stuck a hand out to bar my way.
I paused. Then quickly shook it.
"What?" I glanced over his shoulder. The judge had detached the eager beaver. He was alone. Perfect.
"Oh. Uh, Jamie. Jamie Smith." At least tonight.
He smiled, showing off a row of perfectly bleached teeth. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Jamie Smith. Can I buy you a drink?"
I pointed to the martini, still virtually untouched. "Got one, thanks. Now if you'll excuse me—"
"Here." He shoved a cocktail napkin at me, a phone number hastily scrawled on it beneath the name Aiden.
"My number. You know, just in case you feel like playing tour guide for the new guy some evening." He grinned.
I'll admit, the "new kid in town" thing was kinda cute.
Unfortunately, I didn't have time for cute. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the judge moving toward a group of men smoking cigars on the balcony. It was now or never.
"Thanks," I mumbled and shoved the napkin into my cleavage.
Danny piped up in my ear again as I threaded my way through the growing crowd. "I thought that guy would never give up."
"You and me both," I mumbled.
"There he is," Danny directed. "Near the French doors."
"I'm on it. Sam's in position?" I asked.
"She's right behind you."
I quickly glanced over my shoulder to see the brunette keeping pace three feet behind.
"Then it's show time."
* * *
I stared at the voicemail alert on my phone, trying to ignore it.
Last night had gone off without a hitch. So well, in fact, that after reviewing the footage with Danny, he'd taken off for an early morning shoot in Malibu, and the girls and I had gone out for mojitos to celebrate. Until two a.m. The resulting headache this morning was a cruel reminder that I was no longer twenty-one. And the last thing that mixed well with a killer hangover was an early morning chat with him.
I shoved my phone into my bag.
Maya popped her head into my office. "You want to go over your schedule for the day?"
I grunted in the negative.
She set a large Starbucks cup down on my desk. "How about now?"
"I love you." I grabbed the cup, gratefully taking a sip. It was so hot it burned my tongue. Perfect. "Okay, hit me."
Maya recited the appointment book from memory. "You've got an eleven-thirty phone conference with Mrs. Chen's lawyer—they're withholding payment. Mr. Chen's lawyer said the footage was too blurry to clearly make out Mr. Chen's face."
I rubbed my temples. "Fabulous."
"You have Maguire this afternoon, and the landlord called about the rent check. Apparently"—Maya averted her eyes—"it bounced."
I cringed, trying not to picture Levine's pinched face as he wagged his proverbial finger at me. "I'll take care of it. Anything else?"
"Mrs. Waterston is waiting in reception."
I nodded. "Give me two minutes, then show her in."
"Okay. Oh, and, uh"—she bit her lip—"Derek left two messages here last night."
"I figured. He left one on my phone, too."
"Do you want me to call him back?" Maya asked, even though I could tell she dreaded it as much as I did.
"No, I'll call him later," I said. At least halfway meaning it. "But thanks."
Maya's face brightened, visibly relieved. "Okay. Two minutes then," she said, then left.
I drank the rest of my coffee as I pulled Mrs. Waterston's file from my bottom drawer. It was, admittedly, slim. My typed report on the evening, a couple of blown up stills—eight-by-tens always added more drama when it came time to negotiate settlement terms—and the copy of the footage Danny had shot last night on a flash drive. Then I opened a fresh box of tissues and set it on the corner of my desk.
Just in case.
I plugged Danny's drive into my computer and pulled up the media player just as Mrs. Waterston came into the room.
"Good morning, Miss Bond." Her voice was soft and evenly modulated, hinting just the slightest of an indefinable upper-crust accent. It reminded me of an old Hepburn movie, and I wondered if it was natural or carefully cultivated.
She was young and slim—the obvious trophy wife. While her husband had spent one too many nights in the pursuit of cigars, scotch, and blondes, his wife looked to prefer spending her time at the spa, the salon, and cruising Rodeo. Her dark hair was artfully twisted into a tortoise shell clip, and she wore an off the shoulder silk blouse and dark slacks. She nervously twisted manicured hands together in front of her.
"Mrs. Waterston, please have a seat," I said, gesturing to the chair opposite my desk.
"Thank you. You have something I can take to my lawyers?" she asked, the tension in her stiff posture almost palpable.
I put on my best sympathetic voice. Which wasn't very hard. After one evening with Judge Grabby Hands, I had enormous sympathy for anyone who'd had to endure him for years. "Yes, I'm afraid we do."
She nodded. "Alright, let's have it."
I nodded, hitting Play.
As the video began, she sat silently, both hands clasped in her lap. Behind her poker face I had no idea what she was thinking, but she didn't move a muscle.
I watched myself sidle up to Judge Waterston on the screen. I giggled. Touched his arm. He offered to buy me a drink. Leaned in just a little too close. It didn't take long before his hand found its way to my thigh and he was propositioning me for a private evening of hide the gavel.
"I've got a room upstairs," I heard myself respond. "318. Don't disappoint me." I slid off my stool with practiced seductiveness, and Sam got the perfect shot of the judge grabbing my rear as I walked away.
Then the screen went blank.
I cleared my throat, trying to clear the awkward silence from the room with it.
"I'm sorry. I know this must be hard to watch."
"Yes, it is," she agreed. She looked down, picking at invisible lint on the arm of her chair. Her face was pale and placid, but I was glad that at least there weren't any tears. I hated tears.
"If there's anything I can do?" I said, leaving the vague offer hanging.
"No, thank you, Miss Bond. You've done enough." She opened her clutch and slipped on a pair of small, calfskin driving gloves, before pulling out a matching wallet. "What do I owe you for your services?"
"We'll send you a bill later. You don't have to worry about that now."
"No, I'd prefer to pay now, if you don't mind."
I nodded. Hey, if writing a check helped her work out her grief, who was I to argue? "Then Maya will give you a balance."
"Thank you." Mrs. Waterston stood up and stuck out one small hand. I shook it, her gloves soft and cool against my palm.
"The footage." She gestured to my computer. "May I have a copy of that?"
"Of course. Take this one." I pulled the flash drive out and handed it over to her. "Again, I'm sorry."
Mrs. Waterston slipped it into her clutch and stood up. "No need to be. I've known he was a cheating bastard for years. I thank you for finally giving me the proof I need to bury the man." She paused and smiled at me. "In court, that is. Thank you again, Miss Bond. It's been a pleasure doing business with you."
With that, she turned and strode into the reception area, where she paused only briefly to speak with Maya, then handed over her balance in cash. Which was no big surprise. Most of the women who came in here didn't want their husband finding a charge to a PI firm on their monthly credit card or bank statements. Cash was the common payment. Don't worry, I reported every cent to the IRS.
I watched as Mrs. Waterston took her receipt then walked out the frosted front doors painted with the single word Bond in bold black letters.