"Derek called this morning."
Danny looked across the table at me. "And?"
"Five times. He called five times. Somehow I get the feeling he doesn't trust me." I paused. "He thinks I'm too girly to do this job."
Danny grinned, a crooked thing that made the corners of his eyes crinkle, then let his gaze slowly rove my person, taking in my silk tank, my dark short-ish skirt, and pink high heeled pumps. "Newsflash. You are girly."
I threw a tortilla chip across the table at him.
We were at Bosco's Cantina, a hole-in-the wall place near the beach, munching on chips and salsa while waiting for Maguire to make his appearance. According to the man's wife, he was always "at the gym" lately. According to his credit card statement, a dozen roses had been delivered to the pink apartment building across the street last month. To a Miss Lula LaRue. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what kind of "workouts" Maguire had been engaging in.
"So, how was the Malibu shoot this morning?" I asked Danny, loading a chip with chunky salsa.
"Hot." He leaned back in his chair, clasping his hands behind his head, a gesture that stretched out all 6'2" of him.
I'd met Danny on my first professional photo shoot when I was fifteen—all gangly legs and scared out of my mind at the thought of standing in front of all those cameras in nothing but my itty bitty bikini. He'd immediately stepped into the role of big brother, putting me at ease and showing me the poses that made my ugly ducking shape instantly resemble a swan. The pictures had been good enough to get me a three page layout in Seventeen, and we'd been friends ever since.
Though I’d never actually asked his age, I figured Danny was somewhere in his early forties. Old enough that fine laugh lines creased his eyes but still young enough to pull off that rugged California guy thing. Natural outdoor tan, light brown sun-streaked hair, just a little too shaggy to be fashionable, if, in fact, too-shaggy weren't the current fashion. And exotic pale eyes, sort of an indistinguishable color somewhere between blue and green depending on the light. He'd once told me he got into photography to meet chicks, and I can't remember a time when Danny didn't have a bulging little black book.
"Malibu was hot," he repeated. "The sun was shinning, the water was clear, and the bikinis were tiny. Heaven."
I rolled my eyes. "It's all about the bikinis for you men, isn't it?"
"That's what keeps you in business, babe." Danny popped a chip into his mouth. "Speaking of which, how'd the footage from last night work?"
"Perfect. The judge is toast."
"It was the dress. You were smokin' in the dress."
"Thank you. I thought so, too."
"You give it to the wife?"
He lifted his beer into the air. "Then cheers to a job well done."
I lifted my water glass and clanked against the side of his bottle.
"So," Danny said, eyeing me as he took a slow, deliberate sip. "Last night. What did you do with the number?"
"The one Ken Doll slipped you. Got the feeling he thought you were pretty smokin' too."
"Seriously?" I pinned him with a look. "I tossed it. The guy was hitting on girls at a charity event. How hard up is he?"
"Huh." Danny picked his camera up off the table and lifted it to his eye, shooting off a couple pictures of the peeling pink paint across the street.
I hated it when he did that. Masking his expression with photographic equipment was conversation-cheating as far as I was concerned.
I nudged him with my foot. "'Huh' what? What's the 'huh' supposed to mean?"
He kept shooting as he answered. "Nothing. I just thought he looked like your type."
Oh, this was going to be good. "And exactly what type would that be?"
He shrugged, setting the camera down on the table between us. "Polished, GQ, hair sprayed into place with lacquer."
"Hey, it moved when he nodded."
"And, I'll have you know, that is so not my type."
"Oh yeah?" He leaned both elbows on the table and trained his eyes—green now in the bright afternoon sun—on me. "What is your type then, Bond?"
Luckily, I've known Danny long enough that I didn't take the bait. "I'll let you know when I see it," I mumbled instead, lifting my drink to my lips.
"Good." Danny leaned back in his seat. "Then I still have a chance."
I threw another tortilla chip at him.
"Soooo," I said, drawing out the word, "tell me more about your bikini shoot. Did you get a phone number?" For those of you paying attention, yes, that was my attempt at a clever conversation change.
Danny got a wicked look in his eyes. "Numbers. Plural." He held up two fingers, his grin stretching.
"Never mind. You've told me enough."
"I think they were twins. And, man, were they a flexible pair. The one could wrap both legs around her—"
"You are such a pig."
Danny grinned. "Can’t help it. You girly types are way too easy to rile up."
A glimpse of blue metal flashed over Danny's shoulder, and I sat up in my chair as Maguire's vintage Mustang pulled up in front of the apartment building.
"Oh yeah? Well, watch and learn, Porky. This is how Girly gets her mark."
Danny swiveled in his seat just in time to see Maguire—tall, wide, and all veiny muscles—slip into the third unit on the bottom row. I threw a twenty on the table, Danny grabbed his camera, and we sprinted across the street.
"I'll take the back," I called over my shoulder as Danny made his way toward the third door. He nodded once, then aimed his camera at the front window.
Trying to do a mix of nonchalance and speed, I rounded the corner of the building, counting the tiny, fenced-in patios until I found Maguire's gal's. With a quick look over my shoulder, I hiked up my skirt and hoisted myself up and over the fence, landing on a cracked cement patio that looked into the back rooms of the apartment. A sliding glass door with a ripped screen led into the living room. Next to it was a high window emitting telltale moaning sounds.
"Right there, baby," a woman's voice encouraged.
Maguire grunted in response.
I slipped a slim digital camera from my pocket and stepped on tiptoe, lifting my lens just above the window sill.
Maguire was naked, his steroid pumped body mashed against a dark haired woman in a pink negligee.
I popped off a series of shots in rapid succession. This was almost too easy. I shifted under the window, getting three more incriminating photos of full frontal Maguire, and was just about to slink away and do a victory dance when a car horn sounded somewhere behind me.
And Maguire looked up.
Our eyes locked for a full two seconds before the lightbulb moment hit him and his face contorted with rage.
I shoved the camera into my pocket and ran for the fence, hoisting myself up as adrenaline surged from my belly. I had one leg over before Maguire's naked form burst through the back door.
"Give me that camera!"
I quickly pulled the other leg up, dropping with a thud on the other side, and took off running.
But unfortunately, since I wasn't hopped up on muscle juice, Maguire was a whole lot faster. Three strides into it, he caught me, pouncing from behind.
"Unh!" I fell forward from the force, scraping my hands as I hit the pavement.
"My wife send you?" he spat out as he flipped me over. He straddled me, his beefy hands pinning my wrists to the ground.
I pushed against his weight, but there was no way I was winning this wrestling match. I wriggled underneath his bulk, twisting my head to the side to avoid his hot breath on my face. I pushed up against his hands, causing him to shift his weight forward as he continued to pin me. I pushed up again. Once more…then quickly slid both arms straight down to my sides. Predictably, his body pitched forward, face first. I lifted my forehead with a jerk and head-butted him in the nose.
He grunted and blood oozed from his nostrils, stunning him, his hands immediately flying to his face. I took the opportunity to kick my right leg upward and over his, flipping him onto his back. Then sent a swift blow to his thick neck, hitting his windpipe.
I stood up and quickly backed away as he gasped for breath, wheezing like a sick animal.
As I labored to get my own panic-fueled breathing back under control, Danny jogged around the side of the building.
Gotta love the man's timing.
"Hey, you okay?" he asked.
"Yeah." I glanced down at my silk blouse. An ugly red stain was spreading down the front. "But he ruined my shirt."
Danny looked from me to Maguire, concern quickly melting into a smile as he shook his head. "I can't take you anywhere, Bond."
* * *
After an afternoon with Maguire I needed a long, hot shower and a drink. Not necessarily in that order.
Unfortunately, as soon as I got home I realized I had racked up two more voicemails from Derek.
I dropped onto my sofa with a sigh. I thought about ignoring them, but sadly, knowing Derek, that wouldn't make him go away. Instead, I reluctantly hit Play.
"Hey, it's me," came the first one, dated last night. "Just checking in. How'd things go with the judge? Call me."
I hit delete.
Even though Derek had officially retired to his houseboat last year after being shot in the shoulder by a married father of three caught with a Russian hooker in North Hollywood, he still wanted a report on every mark. I'd like to think it was because fishing in Marina Del Rey wasn't enough to occupy the mind of a twenty-seven-year veteran of the PI business and not because he thought I needed checking up on.
That's what I'd like to think.
"Me again." Derek's voice filled my apartment as I played the second message. "Aren't you back yet? What the heck is taking so long? This was an in-and-out case, James. Don't tell me you're still working him? It's nine-fifteen for Christ's sakes. I'd have had him in twenty minutes. Call me."
I gave my phone the finger.
The next few messages followed in similar fashion, growing increasingly angry.
I deleted them all and crossed to the kitchen, pulling out a white egg timer.
When I was seventeen and doing a shoot for French Vogue in Cannes, I'd been stupid enough to try a line of coke that an over-friendly photographer had offered. I'd ended up in the emergency room, not because of the coke, but because my high alter ego had suddenly thought herself invincible and dove off the top tier of a yacht into the Mediterranean in the middle of the night. I'd broken two ribs and smashed my face into the rotor, which left me bruised beyond the help of airbrushing for a month. My agent had been furious. He'd sent me to therapy to make sure this kind of "self destructive behavior" never dented his bank account again.
The therapy, honestly, hadn't been all that bad. Having someone actually look at me for me and not as a clothes hanger was a novelty, and it had been nice to talk to someone who was required to at least pretend to listen to me. Unlike Derek.
The best advice I'd taken away from the therapy was to set limits when I talked to Derek. Take him in small doses. Hence, the egg timer.
I wound the timer up for five minutes, took a deep breath, and dialed his number.
It rang six times, and I was just about to give up when a woman's voice answered.
"Yell-o?" she called. Followed by a cigarette stained giggle.
"Is Derek in?"
"Who's askin'?" Her accent was part Valley Girl and part trailer park, and I could hear a muffled male voice in the background.
"Well, Jamie, Derek is otherwise occ-u-pied," she drew out the word. Then there was more muffled noise, followed by a swatting sound and a high pitched, "Oh, you naughty boy."
I took another deep breath, inhaling patience. As much as I wanted to hang up now, I knew it would only mean three more messages by tomorrow.
"Would you please tell Derek that his daughter is on the line?"
The giggling stopped. "He didn't tell me about no daughter."
"He never does," I murmured, more to myself than Derek's shocked flavor of the month.
I heard the phone being handed off, then Derek's voice. "James, is that you?"
"Unless you have another daughter."
"Nothing's been proven yet."
"Ha, ha. Very funny."
"Hey, cut the old man some slack, huh?"
"You left me six messages?" I prompted, hoping to get this over with.
"Is that all it takes to get my daughter to call me back these days? Just six."
"I was feeling generous."
"So, how did the judge thing go?" I could hear him popping something into his mouth. Probably Cap'n Crunch, knowing Derek. "Got anything yet? You know, James, you gotta move fast with these high profile clients. They expect instant gratification, if you know what I mean."
"Things went fine with the judge. We nailed him last night."
"Hey, good for you, pal. So, which one of the Bond Girls did you end up taking with you? That hot blonde one?"
I tilted my head to the side, and checked my timer. Three minutes left.
Don't get me wrong, I love my dad. Honest. In fact I'd venture to say there wasn't a woman in all of LA County that hadn't at one time or another fallen in love with Derek Bond. Think LA's answer to Magnum PI. Laid back, charming, and a real man's man. Unfortunately I'm a girl's girl, so you can see where we butted heads.
Plus there was the fact that, hoping I'd come out a bouncing baby boy, Derek had named me James. James Bond. Yeah, I know. How do you forgive a guy for something like that?
"She has a name, Derek. It's Caleigh. And, yes, I took both her and Sam."
"Which one's Sam? The one with the legs?"
"They all have legs."
"Yeah, but not like hers, honey."
I looked at the timer. Two-thirty. "Don't you have company to entertain, Derek?"
"You wouldn't be trying to get rid of your dear old dad, would you?"
"Alright, alright, I'll let you go, James. Just tell me who you're working tomorrow?"
"Shankmann. Married seven years. Doing the nanny. We're sitting on the place during his lunch break."
"I'm taking Danny."
Derek paused, silence overtaking the other end of the line. "I don't trust him, James."
"His photos are excellent, and you know it."
"I didn't say his pictures were bad. I said I didn't trust the man. He's a player."
"Takes one to know one," I mumbled.
"What was that?"
"Nothing. Listen, Derek, I can handle Danny. I'm a big girl. I'm a trained professional, remember?"
"I'll go with you."
"No!" I jumped up from the sofa, banging my shin on the coffee table. "Ow! Sonofa—"
"What was that?"
"Nothing," I mumbled rubbing my leg. I could feel an unattractive lump growing there already. "Look, I'm doing Shankmann at noon. I'm taking Danny. You are staying home with Miss Tricks there, and if you don't, so help me God, I'll call Dr. Pederson and remind him you haven't had your annual rectal exam yet."
Derek chomped down hard on a Cap'n Crunch nugget. "Oh that was a low blow, James."
"Hey, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do."
"Fine. But call me when you nail him. And I mean it this time!" he shouted, then hung up on me.
Just as the egg timer buzzed.
That was it. I really needed a drink.
* * *
After I'd counted to ten, done a couple calming yoga breaths, and popped the top on a Corona, I flipped the TV on and walked over to the windows, staring out at the valley below me.
When I'd moved from New York three years ago, I'd instantly fallen in love with this apartment, not because of its size—the twelfth floor loft was one step up from a shoe box—but because of the windows. They spanned the entire back side of the open room, laying all of Hollywood sprawled out in front of me. On particularly clear days, of which I admit there are few below the smog level, I could see all the way from my point in Studio City almost to the ocean.
As I drank in the view, I vaguely heard the newscaster ramble on from the TV about two shootings in Compton and the fact it was going to be another scorching July day in the triple digits tomorrow, but I tuned it all out. Instead, I watched as the last remnants of day disappeared behind the horizon, painting the sky a pale, dusky blue. One by one, twinkling lights began dotting the landscape, anonymous beacons replacing the fading shadows of palm trees and billboards. I closed my eyes, letting the day melt away.
Until I heard the television spit out a familiar name.
"…breaking news about Judge Thomas Waterston."
I turned just in time to see the judge's picture flash across the screen. In two quick strides I was across the room, grabbing the remote and upping the volume.
"I repeat, this is breaking news, Tom," the young, Hispanic newscaster said into her microphone.
"Do the police have any idea how long ago this may have happened?" a male voice, presumably Tom, responded off camera.
The reporter shook her head. "No. The police are being very cautious at this point about what information they release as this is breaking news."
"What is breaking news?" I demanded of the screen.
"Do they have any leads so far?"
Again she shook her bobbed head. "They are talking to witnesses who saw the judge at a charity fundraiser last night, but beyond that, we really don't have much information at this point, Tom."
The fundraiser? I felt the Corona burning in my empty stomach. Mixing with a sensation that felt a lot like dread.
The screen switched back to the newsroom, training on a man sitting behind the anchor desk in a dark suit.
"Thank you, Soledad," he said with a practiced look of concern. "Once again, for those of you just tuning in…"
I leaned forward and turned the volume up again.
"…the body of Judge Thomas Waterston has just been found at the Beverly Hilton hotel. Police confirm that he died from a gunshot wound to the head."
I stared openmouthed at the screen. Oh no.
The wife killed him.