Dirty Deeds, A Likely Story by A.J. Nuest
An Eye for an Eye
As owner of Dirty Deeds, a tech-savvy company specializing in the age-old art of revenge, Eden Smith knows first-hand that secrecy is critical. But when a dead body washes up on the shores of Lake Michigan clutching her business card, Eden’s well-constructed world begins to fall apart. Apparently, she’s not the only one with a passion for payback, and staying alive to outsmart a killer has become her most important job of all.
A Game for a Game
Hardened homicide detective Kelly Riordan is convinced Eden Smith is hiding more than she’s willing to admit. Years on the force have taught him that nothing is what it seems, and that couldn’t be truer than when it comes to investigating the alluring owner of a revenge-for-hire business. But revealing her past could put everything Eden has worked for in jeopardy. And trusting a man like Riordan goes against the very instincts that have kept her alive this long.
EXCERPT – CHAPTER FOUR
Entering the antiseptic catacombs of DeFranco’s stomping grounds never came easy. At least, not to Kelly. And after beating his head against that brick wall of a meeting with Howard Weaver, the last thing he needed was another pile of unanswered questions and loose ends. The medical examiner better have found something for them to run with, or Kelly and Archer would be riding their desks for the next twenty-four to forty-eight, rehashing the case while they waited for Molly’s algorithm to hit.
Straight-arming the stainless steel door, Kelly strode into DeFranco’s lab and nodded at Archer, standing near the end of an autopsy table, Ruby’s prone body covered with an opaque plastic sheet. Based on the heavy suitcases under his eyes, Archer hadn’t slept for shit the past couple of days. The lingering anger was also still there, and the sadness.
Kelly ran his hand down his face. This case had hit Archer hard. Harder than either of them would be smart to let on. Doing so would only get Archer removed from the investigation, and Kelly wasn’t about to let that happen. His best friend deserved to be first in line for some serious payback once they’d collared an arrest.
DeFranco pivoted away from his computer and hopped off his stool, lifting a clipboard from the counter. It was anyone’s guess the last time the medical examiner had seen a bed. His pasty complexion remained the same no matter what the day or hour.
“Cause of death was multiple stabs wounds to the chest and torso. Eleven to be exact, with the killing blow aimed directly at the victim’s heart.” DeFranco launched into his report without preamble, walking toward the table. He set his clipboard beside Ruby’s shoulder and plucked a pair of rubber gloves from the pocket of his lab coat, snapped them onto his hands and tore the clear plastic sheet back from her head.
Christ Almighty. Kelly gritted his teeth. Even though the wounds had been cleaned and the body washed, the flaccid flesh of a floater always made his stomach roll.
“The points of entry are jagged, which means your murder weapon has a serrated blade. Penetration is angled downward thirty degrees and slightly to the left, so the killer was taller than the victim’s five-foot four. I’m guessing a right-handed male, due to the depth and blunt force trauma needed to inflict the contusions surrounding each of the injuries.” DeFranco peered at Archer and Kelly over the top of his glasses. “He stabbed her, and he stabbed her hard, gentlemen. Whoever did this was highly motivated.”
Jesus, what a mess. Kelly widened his stance to brace his legs. Maybe it would’ve been smarter to come alone and relate the details to Archer second-hand, even though he probably would’ve insisted on being present regardless. Ruby had been important to him, and the guy was loyal to a fault.
“She was bound prior to death.” DeFranco picked up one of her hands and pointed to the dark bruises circling her wrists. “Which means your perp tortured her before she died, most likely stabbing her in an effort to extract some sort of information.”
A visual of that rotating business card appeared, and Kelly crossed his arms. “Like maybe the location to Dirty Deeds?”
Archer grunted and DeFranco angled his head as if that were a plausible scenario, lowering Ruby’s arm back under the tarp.
“Based on the small amount of bacterial activity, your vic wasn’t in the water very long.” He retrieved his clipboard and lifted the top sheet. “Stomach contents were only partially digested, so I would estimate time of death sometime shortly after dinner Friday evening.”
“What about the tox screen?” Archer mirrored Kelly’s crossed arms, a muscle ticking in his jaw.
Kelly slid his attention to DeFranco. The answer was more important than the medical examiner probably realized. Archer had worked hard to help Ruby get and stay clean. To find out she’d somehow pulled the wool over his eyes and fallen back on her habit would be hard for Archer to swallow.
A huff lodged in Kelly’s throat. As if anything about this case was easy.
“It was clean.” DeFranco resettled the page and Archer’s shoulders fell a solid inch. He nodded, the tension bracketing his mouth slacking off.
“CSI is still working on her clothes to see if they can pull any fibers, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. The water did a good job of washing away most of the evidence.” DeFranco turned and waved for them to follow as he strolled toward the high counter running the length of the room. “I did scrape a few epithelial cells from under the nails of her right hand.” He slid onto a stool and spun toward a microscope, peered into the lens and adjusted the focus before tapping a key on a nearby keyboard.
The cells under the scope appeared on the computer screen like overlapping, pink fried eggs. “I’m running them through the database to see if I can get a hit on the DNA, but it could take a while. Good news is, the striated composition means they’re surface cells. Your vic went down fighting, and whoever she fought is bound to have a few scratches. My guess would be most likely on the arms or face.”
It was a small clue, one that rested on a wing and a prayer, but at least they had something to go on. Kelly dipped his head toward the clipboard. “Any idea what she had for her last meal? That would give us a place to start tracking her activity. Maybe somebody saw who she was fighting with that night.”
“Italian.” DeFranco leaned forward and ran his finger down the top sheet. “Sausage and mushroom pizza based on the cheese and high fat content.”
Archer nodded. “I bet I know the place. Marco’s on 85th. Ruby and I met there a couple times for dinner.”
Kelly’s phone chirped, and he frowned, slipping it from the pocket of his jeans. A glance at the caller ID, and he jerked to attention. “Holy shit.”
He knew that number. It’d been the bane of existence for the past forty-eight hours.
Archer lifted his brows. “Problem?”
Holding up his hand, Kelly thumbed the screen. Whether or not this call qualified as a problem was still up for grabs. “Riordan.”
“I heard you’ve been looking for me, Detective.” The voice was female, soft, held a slight hint of humor. Yep. He raked his hand through his hair. This was gonna be a problem, all right. “I hope you don’t mind that I called.”
His brows jacked toward his hairline. Mind that she called? What the hell was she trying to pull? For Christ’s sake, the woman had not only located his private number, she’d dialed it and then acted like calling him was no big deal. Meanwhile, he’d only spent the last two days driving himself nuts trying to figure out her loca—
His eyes slammed shut. But, of course, she already knew that. Which could only mean she also knew his efforts at trying to find her had resulted in a dead end. So she’d called him. A power play to establish right from the get-go exactly who was in charge.
Nice move, Dirty Deeds. Bitchy, but nice.
“Are you there? Maybe I’ve called at a bad time. If you want, I can always—”
“No, no, I’m here.” He locked onto Archer and wrote an invisible line through the air, signaling for him to get some paper and a pen. Kelly cleared his throat. “How can I help you, Miss…?”
She laughed. Smooth, low. Like a shot of barrel-aged whiskey had just slid down her throat. “I think the question you meant to ask is how can I help you.”
Dammit. Huge problem. Huge, huge problem. Not to mention, she seemed to be enjoying this game she’d cooked up. A game she played without giving him the parameters. “Had I known it would be this easy to get your assistance, I would’ve started asking questions about you a long time ago.”
It was a stupid thing to say since he hadn’t even known she existed until Monday night, but based on the way her husky laugh brushed his ear like a feather, she got the point.
“Very good, Detective. At ten o’clock tonight, I’ll be at 17 South State Street on the twenty-first floor, room 4-B. I’ll give you ten minutes.” She paused. “Funny, I was about to say come alone, but I know you won’t. Besides, that sounds corny. Even for me.”
The line disconnected.
Kelly lowered the phone and stared at the screen. On impulse, he hit *69 to dial back the number, but a weird busy signal repeatedly beeped in his ear. Yep. He’d just been spanked and, at the same time, something about her…
Damn, the woman had him intrigued.
He jammed his phone back in his pocket, grabbed the paper and pen from Archer and jotted down the address.
“Who was that?” Archer leaned over Kelly’s shoulder to get a clear shot at the information.
Folding the sheet once, then twice, Kelly held it between two fingers and tipped the corner against his forehead. “That, my friend, was the owner of Dirty Deeds. For what it’s worth, she just made it crystal clear who’s running the show.”
Kelly checked the time before dropping his cell into the breast pocket of his leather jacket. “Three minutes and counting. I’m heading in.”
“Roger, that.” Archer’s voice echoed through the wireless com link Kelly had plugged into his ear, and he glanced first at his friend, disguised as a vagrant hanging near the head of the alley, then toward the unmarked van parked half a block down the street.
The backup he’d requested was only in place as a secondary precaution. He’d not merely planned to go in alone, he preferred it. Besides, there was no way was he heading into an ambush. Not with the way this meeting had been set up. If that short phone call in the morgue had taught him anything, the woman behind Dirty Deeds was as smart as a whip. She’d never call a cop and ask to see him just so she could shoot him on the spot.
That being the case, his head wasn’t filled with rocks, either. Kelly scanned the building’s brick façade. Occasional office lights illuminated the interior, blending perfectly with the other downtown monoliths lining the street.
This wasn’t Dirty Deeds’s base of operations. No more than he worked out of a Seven-Eleven. She’d purposely picked this nondescript location to throw him off track.
Lucky for him, her con also worked in his favor. He’d already wasted enough time looking for her, and he wasn’t about to let her slip through his fingers. With Archer watching the alley and Ramirez out front, if an arrest needed to be made or Kelly wanted the woman back at the precinct for further questioning, there’d be no place for little Miss Dirty Deeds to run and hide.
Checking both ways for traffic, Kelly jogged across the street and pushed through the revolving door. The ground floor was vacant. No surprise, considering the late hour. He approached the elevator and hit the call button, then stood back and examined the interior as the doors opened with a bing. “Elevator looks secure. Moving in.”
“Ten-four. Going radio silent.”
He stepped inside and jabbed the button for the twenty-first floor. The doors inched closed and the car ascended. A piercing shriek tore through his head, and he snatched the wireless remote from his ear. “Dammit.”
Holding the earpiece near his cheek, he listened for the feed, but the only thing that came through was a steady stream of static. Goddamn it, she’d fried his device. And more than likely the equipment in the van.
Bouncing the useless mic in his hand, Kelly shook his head. He should’ve known better. From the start, he should’ve guessed the woman would never let their conversation be bugged, much less recorded. Hell, he wouldn’t either if their positions had been reversed, but she’d also just handed him another piece of the puzzle.
The untraceable phone line, scrambling his signal… Dirty Deeds wasn’t simply smart, she was also incredibly tech savvy, and from this point forward, he was done underestimating her.
He crammed the earpiece in his pocket, popped the snap on his holster and pulled out his sidearm. Let’s see how she neutralized a loaded weapon. Nothing initiated immediate cooperation like staring down the barrel of a Glock.
The bell pinged and the elevator opened to a long deserted hallway. Exactly like the building’s exterior, the inside was commonplace, dotted by wooden doors, the walls a soft taupe and the carpet an unexceptional gray. Just a regular, old office building in the downtown Chicago loop.
Kelly grunted. The woman gave a whole new meaning to the phrase “hide in plain sight.”
He worked slowly down the corridor, arm bent at ninety degrees and gun aimed at the ceiling. Office 4-B was located in the middle of the hall on the north side of the building. He paused outside the door and lifted his hand to knock, then hesitated as a loud buzz echoed inside the wall and the handle slid ajar.
What the hell? He glanced left then right, but there didn’t seem to be any cameras monitoring his activity. He slumped. Maybe she had him on thermal imaging.
Pressing his palm against the center, he eased the door open and stepped over the threshold. At the far end of the room, a young woman sat behind a card table, head lowered, a wild mass of auburn coils obstructing her face. A white, turtleneck sweater was molded to her curves, legs crossed inside her white slacks—he frowned—red toenails on her bare feet. Bare feet? A white envelope lay centered on the table in front of her and single folding chair had been placed a few feet away but, other than that, the room appeared empty.
She lifted her head and smiled, lacing her fingers over the envelope. And damned if the spark of interest in her penetrating green gaze didn’t freeze his fucking feet to the floor.
Hands down, the owner of Dirty Deeds was the most beautiful woman God had ever put on this planet.
She skimmed his body and her smile faltered before she snapped her focus back up to his face. “Are you planning to shoot me, Detective?”
He scowled. “What?”
“The gun.” She bumped her chin toward the Glock he’d forgotten the second he’d looked at her face. “I’m unarmed.” Lifting her hands to either side of her head, she wiggled her fingers. “Promise.”
He nodded once, holstering his weapon, and then took another survey of the room.
“I’m sorry about the…” She grimaced and pointed at her ear. “As I’m sure you’ve already guessed, privacy is pretty important to me. I wanted to make sure we weren’t disturbed.” Leaning back from the table, she crossed her arms and inclined her head toward the chair. “Why don’t you come in and have a seat?”
He cocked a brow. For someone in her position, she sure acted flip. “I could haul you in for questioning right now, you know.”
Her brows shot up toward those shiny coils, and she blinked. “On what grounds?”
“Obstruction of justice, for starters.” He crossed the room, glancing back and forth between the drawn drapes and the blank beige wall. “Impeding a police investigation, tampering with the phone lines. And those are just off the top of my head.” Grabbing the chair, he spun it around and straddled the seat. “All federal charges, not to mention what else I’ll find once I start digging.”
“Oh, right.” She rolled her eyes as if they’d already worn out the subject. “The long arm of the law and all that jazz.” Sitting forward, she balanced her crossed arms on the table, and the combination of fresh-baked vanilla and those frilly pink flowers his mother grew outside her kitchen window tickled his nose.
Shit, the woman smelled like a sun beam streaking straight down from Heaven.
“There’s only one thing you’ve forgotten, Detective. You’d need proof to back up your claims.” She smirked and his focus dropped to her plump lips. No doubt they’d be soft under his, slightly moist. And for all he knew, held the promise of full-blown paradise. “That’s the thing about law enforcement, and exactly how you and I differ. Between all the back-handed deals and dirty politics, the legal system doesn’t know the first thing about handing out justice.”
Meaning what? She was some sort of mercenary? “And you do, I suppose.”
The tips of her hair skimmed her shoulders as she shook her head. “You see? That’s exactly what I’m talking about. You get so tangled up in following procedure and what you think you know, you completely miss the point.” Her gaze narrowed and lingered over his mouth before she quickly refocused on his eyes. “Tell me something, Detective. How far has your investigation come in tracking down Ruby’s killer?”
He froze, searching her face, and found nothing but honest-to-God integrity staring back at him. But what really twisted his nuts is how her steady determination circled him right back home.
“How did you find out my victim’s name?” Dammit, if he had a mole at the precinct, he was gonna raise holy hell.
Unlocking one of her arms, she used two fingers to slide the envelope across the table. “The last known whereabouts of Ruby Slipper, along with a description of the man she was seen with, the date and time.” One of her eyebrows rose. “See what a person can accomplish when they don’t have to navigate a bunch of bureaucratic red tape?”
So that was it. He stared down at the envelope. The sole reason she’d called him here. God knew, from her evasive answers, it hadn’t been to tell him her life story.
He pursed his lips, studying her from under his brows. There could be several reasons she would offer him this information. Either she hoped to take his focus off of her and whatever criminal activities she was involved in, this was her attempt at some sort of good faith gesture to win him over or… He snapped his chin up.
There. For a flash of an instant, he’d caught her off guard, and fear had flickered in her amazing green eyes. Eyes he fantasized would grow hazy with lust if he nibbled on that soft stretch of skin under her ear.
Uh-uh. Nope. He balanced his elbow on the back of the chair and clamped his hand over his mouth. He couldn’t get sidetracked, no matter how good she smelled. There was more going on here than she was willing to admit, and instinct told him it had everything to do with how her business card had been found in Ruby’s hand.
Good news was, he knew exactly how to test his theory. To find out, for sure, what this meeting was about. “Okay, let’s say I take that envelope and walk outta here. What’s in it for you?” He held out his hand. “I’m not gonna just forget what I learned about Dirty Deeds. Whether or not this information helps my investigation, it won’t change the fact that you refuse to answer my questions.”
She laughed, that same husky chuckle she’d sent through the phone, and the hair on his scalp tingled in anticipation. “Of course not, but I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves, don’t you? How about if you worry about catching the bad guy, and I’ll worry about staying one step ahead of the law.”
Right. He crossed his arms along the back of the chair, knee bouncing. She’d just confirmed exactly what he’d suspected. She’d been willing to risk exposing herself by coming here. In fact, she would’ve rather met with a cop face to face than let Ruby’s killer get away scot-free. In his experience, that meant her fear was based on something personal, something closer to home.
Yep. He nodded. That was it, all right. “I’m not the one you’re trying to outrun, am I?”
She sprang to her feet. Yanked down the hem of her white sweater. “I promised you ten minutes. I’m afraid our time has run out.”
Oh, she was definitely afraid. No question about it, and for some stupid reason the idea she feared for her safety really pissed him off. Mercenary or not, murder was a whole different ballgame, and after learning the sickening details surrounding Ruby’s death, no way in hell was he about to let Miss Dirty Deeds skip off into the night. For Christ’s sake, if he did, tomorrow morning, he could be fishing her dead body out of the water.
Shoving to his feet, he dragged the chair aside. “How long has the asshole been threatening you?”
“Get out.” She jerked her head toward the door. “I don’t need you messing in my business.” Slapping her palm to the table, she picked up the envelope and thrust it in his direction. “Go do your job and let me do mine.”
He glanced between the envelope and her trembling hand. “I can’t do that. You know it and so do I. For your protection, you need to come with me.”
A sigh heaved her shoulders, and she pinched the bridge of her nose. “Stupid, stubborn man.” She lifted her head, jaw clenched tight. “I was really hoping we could help each other out, but I see that’s no longer an option. Just remember, Detective, you brought this on yourself.”
Turning her head, she spoke to the side. “Time’s up.”
The lights flicked out and a pitch black wall slammed down around his eyes. Shit. Kelly scrambled for his cell phone and tapped the screen, hit the LED app and used the beam of light to scan the room. Empty. Except for the chairs, the card table and the stupid white envelope.
Growling, he snatched the letter off the table, crammed it in his pocket and sprinted for the door.
You can purchase Dirty Deeds A Likely Story at:
About The Author:
Multi-published, award-winning author and editor AJ Nuest resides in Northwest Indiana with her loving husband, two beautiful children, and a bevy of spoiled pets. Her four-part serial fantasy romance, The Golden Key Chronicles, was recently named the RONE Time Travel Romance of 2015 by InD’tale Magazine, and her contemporary romantic comedy, She’s Got Dibs, won First Place in the Heartland Romance Author’s Show Me the Spark! Contest, 2013. For more please visit her at ajnuest.com.