Jamie Rush understands what it takes to disappear because her parents taught her that long ago. Leveraging her knowledge of why and how people run from their own lives, Jamie has built a business based on bringing those in hiding back to answer for their actions. She takes pride in using her somewhat shady skills to work both inside and outside the law.
When her estranged brother, Brian, calls and says his daughter is missing, Jaime initially turns down the case. Kristen has always been a bit wild, frequently dropping off the grid then showing up a few days later. But Brian swears this time is different, and even though Jamie vowed years ago to keep her conniving sibling at arm’s length, she can’t walk away if Kristen could be in real trouble.
As Jamie begins digging into Kristen’s life, she uncovers her niece’s most guarded secrets. Uncovering the truth will put a target on Jamie’s back and endanger the lives of those she loves.
|Publisher:||Red Adept Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.50(d)|
Read an Excerpt
"Do you think you can get my money back?"
Jamie Rush was used to that question, just as she was accustomed to tempering her answers with hope while still remaining honest about the realities of such cases. As a skip tracer in the small town of Port Alene, Texas, Jamie had built a somewhat steady clientele of women just like Sarah Mathers.
Sarah, a single mother of two little boys, sat across from Jamie, her small frame almost folded in on itself. The weight of being in such a situation showed itself in her posture and in her eyes. It was as if she wore the shame of her circumstances like a blanket.
"I'm going to do everything I can," Jamie said. "Start from the beginning. Tell me about him."
Sarah avoided direct eye contact, glancing at the table, the ground, and her lap. "My mom warned me about him. Said he wasn't good for me, which was all I needed to stick with him long after I knew he was a loser."
"Don't beat yourself up too much," Jamie said. "I think we all have boyfriends in our past who we chose because our parents disapproved. It's like an aphrodisiac for teenage girls." Jamie pulled a chair next to Sarah and sat down. She didn't touch or hug the woman. She just sat close.
This was uncomfortable territory for Jamie, showing her softer side. Her closest friends joked that being close to her was like trying to hug a porcupine. But with these cases, Jamie was willing to dig a bit deeper, to let her compassion show.
"You going to be okay?" Jamie asked.
Sarah gave a slight nod, still avoiding eye contact. "I'll figure something out. Anything but going to my family. They won't lend me another cent." She reached to the corner of her eye to wipe away a forming tear. "And I can't blame them. I need to handle this on my own now."
Cookie Hinojosa, Jamie's partner and best friend, appeared, carrying three glasses of iced tea on a tray. He held out the tray with some fanfare, lowering it to eye level for Sarah and Jamie to see. He balanced the drinks on the tray like a pro. "Don't forget to tip your hot waitress," he joked as he placed the drinks on a nearby table. Cookie sported his daily uniform of Hawaiian shirt, cargo shorts with who-knows-what stashed in the pockets, and tan leather boat shoes. "I just told Marty to put it on your tab, okay?"
Jamie nodded. Their referral-only investigation business was run out of the studio loft atop Hemingway's Pier, a local restaurant and pub run by their friend and personal bartender Marty Scout. He'd named the place after Ernest Hemingway because he liked the way Hemingway lived his life. Jamie was pretty sure Marty hadn't read A Moveable Feast, although she had bought him a copy years ago for his birthday.
The term "studio loft" was a gracious term, although it was technically correct. The area was small, clean, and neat, but the furniture left much to be desired. An old black leatherette couch, non-matching recliner, and a weathered wood coffee table faced a small kitchenette on the opposite side of the room. In most situations, Jamie held her client meetings downstairs at Hemingway's at a table Marty kept reserved for her, but certain cases — more delicate cases — were better handled away from the ears of boisterous patrons.
Jamie gestured to the tea glass on the table, and Sarah reached for it. It was time to get back to business. "Let's go over what you know that can help me find Ricky."
Ricky, a.k.a. Ricky Finch, was a deadbeat father and a lousy boyfriend. In addition to owing money to care for his children, Ricky Finch also owed his bookie, Erin Clay, over ten thousand dollars. Erin had hired Jamie to track him down, but this time, she wanted the money he owed to go to Sarah, and she was willing to write off the debt if that happened.
"He mostly works off the books, doing construction, so he doesn't have a regular job that he shows up for. I know he does some work for a guy named Lenny, but I think it's been a few months since that job ended."
Jamie retrieved her small notebook and wrote down Lenny's name. "Okay, what else? Do you have photos of him so I know what he looks like? Does he do any social media?"
Social media had been a boon for skip tracers and investigators. Countless cases had been closed because the debtor in question couldn't help but brag about something online or comment on a hot girl's photo. Yes, criminals were actually that stupid. In those instances, catching them was like fishing in a barrel.
Sarah scrolled through the camera app on her phone and pulled up an image. She handed the phone to Jamie, who studied the photo. Ricky didn't look like anything special. Shorter than average, he had the beginnings of a beer gut and was balding in the front. Next to him in the photo was Sarah, her arms around his waist, smiling for the camera. Clearly she saw something in the guy that compelled her to have two kids with him. The couple was resting on the front of a tangerine Dodge Charger, complete with racing stripe — an indicator that the man had not mentally left high school.
"Is this his car?" Jamie asked.
"Yes," Sarah said. "He didn't have money for rent, but he could make the payment on the car. He'd pay that bill first before anything else."
Jamie zoomed in on the photo, using her thumb and forefinger, so she could see the license plate number. She jotted down the number on her notepad.
Returning the phone to Sarah, she asked, "Anything else? Where does he like to hang out? Does he have a regular place?" Guys like Ricky always had a regular place.
"The Tarpon Taproom."
Jamie nodded. The Tarpon Taproom was a run-down bar and grill that would fail the scrutiny of even the laziest health inspector. No one much cared about the food. The draft specials, the opportunity to pick up work of a dubious nature, and the general sense of anonymity made the Tarpon Taproom an underground hit.
Sarah tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "I know he's there a lot, but I also know he owes money on a tab, so he may not go back until he can pay. The owner doesn't like deadbeats. I know that because he's asked me to cover Ricky's tab."
Cookie interjected, "Well, he likes them, but they still have to pay up."
Sarah smiled for the first time since she had walked through their office door. Cookie had a way of making people feel comfortable.
As Sarah sipped from her tea glass, condensation ran down the side and dripped onto her leg. She wiped the water on her jean shorts and placed the glass down. "I know I shouldn't have, but I gave Ricky my paychecks because he's supposed to handle the bills, and now we're about to be evicted. And I'm close to having my own car repoed." Hints of tears started to form, but she wiped them away with the palm of her hand, sniffing as she turned her head to the side. She then looked at Jamie and shrugged. "I'm an idiot, I know."
"You're not an idiot." Jamie meant it. "And don't worry. You've given us a lot to work with here. Cookie and I are going to do our best to find Ricky and get things settled for you. You deserve a fresh start."
Cookie turned on his signature charm. "We'll hang him upside down and shake out every penny. Don't worry."
After Cookie escorted Sarah to the door, he closed it and sighed. He plopped down on the couch, the leatherette material rustling under his weight, and propped his feet up on the armrest. For a man pushing 270, his feet weren't proportional, maybe no more than a size ten. Jamie had landed far more jokes about that than he deserved.
He caught her staring at his shoes. "Not one word, Jamie."
She laughed. "We've been together too long if you're reading my mind now." She remained sitting in her chair but had pulled her laptop from her bag and waited for the operating system to load. "I'm going to run his license plate and see what I can find. Sounds like the address he uses is bogus, anyway, so we're going to need to catch him when he's out somewhere."
Cookie smiled. "Sounds like Danny's Den is our best bet. Guess we'll be doing some surveillance."
"With any luck, we'll tie this up in the next day or two and move on to some other cases."
"Hopefully cases that pay," Cookie added. "I'm happy to do freebie jobs too, but we need some money coming in. Our operating account has almost enough money to cover lunch at Taqueria San Juan."
Jamie cringed at the comment. "That's no bueno."
"No bueno, mija," he agreed. "As the company finance manager, I'm ordering you not to take any more free cases until we book some divorce cases or surveillance or something else that pays solid."
Jamie knew her friend was right. Compassion was good for the soul but bad for business. She typed in Ricky Finch's license plate number and waited for the Investig8 database to load. Databases often helped put together the beginning pieces of a puzzle, but data had to be accurate and actionable. Turning facts into information required legwork. Lots of data wouldn't solve a case. Knowing how to use the tools and understanding how to take the data and make connections were the keys to finding Finch and his money.
The hunt had begun.
Jamie Rush focused her attention on the man walking alone through the parking lot. Ricky Finch was smiling and comfortable. She peered above her tinted driver's side window — raised enough to shield most of her face — and watched him fumble in his pants pocket for his keys. He did not act like a man on the run.
He acted free.
She would fix that.
Cookie shifted his substantial weight in the passenger's seat. He filled the available space in the black Tahoe, leaving no room for so much as a stray thought. "I hate surveillance. My butt always falls asleep."
Jamie kept her attention on Ricky as he walked across the parking lot. "Thanks for canceling your evening with Netflix so you could keep me company by complaining," she joked.
Finch slipped into the driver's seat of the flashy tangerine Dodge Charger, which he had parked at the Tarpon Taproom.
Jamie handed her cell to Cookie. "Send Erin a text and let her know that we've got him at the cash-out location and we're following him. I'm expecting his payout was over 8K. He wouldn't be in there if he couldn't pay his tab."
Cookie placed his thumb on Jamie's phone, unlocking it with his fingerprint. His phone had the same function for her. She trusted only a few people, and Cookie was at the top of the list. Plus, if she were ever kidnapped and left her phone behind, Cookie wouldn't waste time hacking when he should be trying to rescue her.
Ricky started his engine, and Jamie did the same. "Okay, let's get this done. And I hope he's not a fighter."
"That's what I'm here for, remember?" Cookie's large thumbs navigated the text app on Jamie's phone. "Erin's good. We'll update her after we clear his take."
This was the best part of her job — the feeling that the mark was close and unaware of her presence. It brought her a sense of satisfaction she'd never experienced when she'd been on the other side of the law. But this guy didn't behave like a man on the run. He must have thought he'd slipped off the radar. He'd gotten sloppy and let his guard down.
Finch pulled out and turned right onto Island Main, the primary drag through the coastal town of Port Alene, Texas. The street was lined with countless seafood restaurants, souvenir shops offering shark necklaces for a dollar, and enough liquor stores to keep college students on a two-week bender. The lure of island luxury on a limited budget also attracted tourists and snowbirds in search of a charming island community.
Jamie remained fascinated by the secret side of Port Alene, known only to locals and people with colorful backgrounds. Just off Island Main existed a parallel universe of people her mother had warned her about — individuals with small-time rap sheets, bad daddy stories, and worse boyfriend stories. Those people lived from job to job — and not the kind they would put on a résumé. Some folks were damaged, some wanted to make a clean break, and others wanted only to fade into the background and simply get by.
Once Ricky turned his Charger off Island Main, Jamie dropped back a bit farther behind him. She didn't want to be too close on his tail, although Ricky didn't appear to be the overly observant type. Still, she didn't want to get sloppy. She had learned that it was always better to give a mark more credit than he deserved because underestimating anyone in her business could lead to things going bad in a hurry.
Jamie followed at a safe clip. She spent so much time in her car, she wondered why she paid rent to live above Hemingway's. Surveillance paid well, but it required patience and focus. Jamie tended to have more of the latter than the former, but she knew the ability to wait until the right time was pivotal in closing cases. Still, her last name was Rush. Cookie had a good time with that one.
Her Tahoe continued en route to Danny's Den, just as they had anticipated. Most people, even people in hiding, couldn't help but visit their regular favorite hangouts.
Cookie pointed out his side window. "There he goes."
Finch pulled into the parking lot, choosing a dark space that was close to the adjacent road.
He surveyed the lot then made his way to the side door of the bar. Jamie turned in to the same lot, positioning the Tahoe a few rows behind Finch's Charger. He was on her radar, and she wanted to stay off his.
She considered following him inside and handling the confrontation in the bar, but she knew that was risky and stupid. She had often flirted with risky and stupid but knew never to pass second base with either one. Plus, her intel was solid that Ricky would receive the payout inside the bar. The last thing she needed were patrons — and she used that term loosely — recognizing her if she made a scene. Another unknown to consider was the possibility that Ricky's friends may have been hanging out by the bar, itching to jump in the middle of something.
She would wait. She hoped it would pay off.
She sent Erin another text:
He's at Danny's. Just went inside.
Cookie rolled down his window, and Jamie did the same before cutting the engine. The island breeze provided welcome relief from the oppressive humidity.
Ten minutes later, the bar's side door opened, and Finch tumbled to the pavement, thrown out by one of Danny's henchmen. Cookie moved to open his passenger's side door, but Jamie put her hand on his forearm. "Wait a minute. We don't need this other guy in the mix too."
Finch yelled at the bouncer, "I didn't know she was married! It was an honest mistake!"
The bouncer turned his back and went inside.
Finch got up and thrust his right hand in his pants pocket as he neared his midlife-crisis car.
Jamie gave Cookie the signal. "Now."
The pair quickly exited the Tahoe and positioned themselves on either side of Finch, blocking him from reaching his vehicle.
He stared at Jamie. "You look familiar."
Jamie closed the space between them. Her physical stature was smaller than his, but her stance was far bolder, letting Ricky know who was in charge. Dressed in a gray T-shirt and jeans, she could have been mistaken for a weekend tourist ... except for her expression, which warned of the storm to come. Her eyes narrowed. "I'm a friend of Sarah's — you know, the mother of the children you never bother to see?"
Finch's grimace told her he'd connected the dots.
He turned to Cookie, who smiled. "I'm here for moral support."
Jamie kept her eyes on Finch. He shifted his weight from side to side, his hands fidgeting with his car keys. His body was rigid and on guard.
"I heard you hit it big tonight on the Packers game," Jamie said.
His eyes widened in surprise. "Where'd you hear that?"
"You've been dodging some serious child support, and your ex is working two jobs to pay for those kids you left behind. Seems to me she's got some money coming to her now that your luck has changed."
Ricky shrugged his shoulders, seemingly unconcerned with the fact that he had left his dependents ... dependent. "Look, that whole family thing just wasn't for me."
"Maybe you should have thought about that before making those Irish twins with her."
"She'll find a new guy," Ricky replied. "He can cover it."
Jamie knew taking deadbeat-dad cases were her personal challenge, given her background with her own father. The reality of standing in front of Ricky with his flippant attitude about the chaotic wake he'd left behind was more than she could manage at that moment. Her anger blinded her more sensible side, and Jamie sucker-punched him with a left cross. Clutching his nose, he watched the blood drip between his fingers. He looked at her not with anger, but with surprise. She tried not to show her own surprise that she'd landed such a clean shot.
Ricky sniffed, using the front of his shirt to wipe the blood from his nose. His hand shook just enough to alert Jamie that the man might actually be scared.
Excerpted from "Daughters of Bad Men"
Copyright © 2017 Laura Oles.
Excerpted by permission of Red Adept Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.