Private Investigator Edwina "Eddie Shoes" Schultz's most recent job has her parked outside a seedy Bellingham hotel, photographing her quarry as he kisses his mistress goodbye. This is the last anyone will see of the woman...alive. Her body is later found dumped in an abandoned building. Eddie's client, Kendra Hallings, disappears soon after. Eddie hates to be stiffed for her fee, but she has to wonder if Kendra could be in trouble too. Or is she the killer?
Eddie usually balks at matters requiring a gun, but before she knows it, she is knee-deep in dangerous company, spurred on by her card-counting adrenaline-junkie mother who has shown up on her doorstep fresh from the shenanigans that got her kicked out of Vegas. Chava is only 16 years older than Eddie and sadly lacking in parenting skills. Her unique areas of expertise, however, prove to be helpful in ways Eddie can't deny, making it hard to stop Chava from tagging along.
Also investigating the homicide is Detective Chance Parker, new to Bellingham's Major Crimes unit, but no stranger to Eddie. Their history as a couple back in Seattle is one more kink in a chain of complications, making Eddie's case more frustrating and perilous with each tick of the clock.
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About the Author
Elena Hartwell's writing career began in the theater, where she also worked as a director, designer, producer, and educator. Productions of her scripts have been performed around the U.S. and abroad, with some of her plays available through Indie Theater Now and New York Theatre Experience, Inc. She lives in North Bend, Washington, with her husband and their four-legged kids: Polar, Jackson, and Luna. When she's not writing, she loves to spend time playing with her horse, Second Chance, a twelve-year-old Arabian rescued from a kill pen. Just like Detective Parker, it has taken him time to trust again, but he's coming around. For more information, go to elenahartwell.com.
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Call me Eddie Shoes. Not a very feminine moniker, but it suits me. My father's name was Eduardo Zapata. My mother, Chava, in a fit of nostalgia, named me Edwina Zapata Schultz, even though by the time I was born she hadn't seen my father in seven months. Edwina was a mouthful to saddle any child with, and at the ripe old age of six, I announced to Chava I would only answer to Eddie. I didn't have any nostalgia for a guy I'd never met, so Zapata just seemed like a name no one ever spelled right the first time. I also didn't care much for Schultz, and Chava wasn't particularly maternal in any conventional sense, so not a lot of nostalgia there either. At eighteen I legally changed my name to Eddie Shoes.
That said a lot about my sense of humor.
Chava and I had come to an understanding. I kept her in my life as long as our contact was minimal and primarily over email. It was just enough to allay her guilt and not enough to make me crazy, so it worked out for both of us. She'd always been down on my choice of career, but what did she expect from a girl who called herself Eddie Shoes? If I hadn't become a private investigator, I probably would have been a bookie, so I figured she should have been a little more positive about the whole thing.
My career was the reason I sat hunkered in the car, in the dark, halfway down the block from a tacky hotel, clutching a digital camera and zoom lens, waiting to catch my latest client's husband with a woman not his wife. I'd already gotten a few choice shots of the guy entering the room, but he'd gone in alone and no one else had arrived, so I assumed the other woman was already waiting for him. I'd been tailing the guy for a few days, so I had a pretty good guess who the chippie would turn out to be. I didn't think he'd hired his "office manager" for her filing skills, and sleeping with the married boss was a cliché because it happened all the time. I could already prove the man a liar. He told his wife he played poker with the boys on Wednesday nights, and I didn't think he was shacked up in this dive with three of his closest buddies, unless he was kinkier than I imagined.
But then, people never ceased to amaze me.
December in Bellingham, Washington, often brought cold, clear weather and that night was no exception. Starting the engine to warm up sounded tempting, but I didn't want anyone to notice me sitting there. Nice it wasn't raining, but if the thermometer crept much over twenty, I hadn't noticed. To make matters worse, my almost six-foot frame had been scrunched down in the driver's seat for more than two hours. Even with a blanket wrapped around my shoulders, I was half frozen, and I desperately hoped my mark didn't have more stamina than I'd pegged him for. All I wanted was to go home and go to bed.
And at some point I would need to pee.
Finally, up on the second floor, the door of the hotel room I had my eye on opened. I brought my camera up, ready for the money shots. I knew from my earlier pics that the dirty white stucco on the side of the building bounced the pale glow from the minimal exterior lights enough for my pictures to be clear without a flash. Even from a distance, I had a nice, unobstructed view of the location. The only barrier between someone standing on the narrow walk and my camera lens was a flimsy, rusty-looking, wrought-iron railing. The balusters looked too thin to stop anyone from falling the height of the first floor to the asphalt parking lot below, and I wondered if anything at the tawdry place passed code.
I wasn't going to stay there, so what did I care?
The "liar" — I have always been creative with nicknames — stepped out, straightening his tie. I snapped a few pictures and held my breath, hoping the other woman would come out behind him. Even if I took pictures of her exiting a few minutes later, I needed the husband in the picture with her. Otherwise, a surprising number of wives would argue with me about what actually took place in these various, if interchangeable, hotel rooms. For some reason they would rather believe I faked the info about their husband cheating than admit he strayed, which confused me because I got paid either way. It seemed especially crazy when you considered that they must already know the truth, given they hired me in the first place. But I knew better than to look for logic in the ways of the human heart. I got the best evidence possible.
The man turned, his face silhouetted by the light coming from the room behind him. He had an exceptionally generous head of hair, which made him quite recognizable, even in bad light. Mid-forties, and mostly in good shape, he appeared athletic as long as he didn't unbutton his sports coat. I could see why women were attracted to him, though he didn't do a thing for me. I liked my men a little more honest.
But then, I'd never been married, so what did I know?
A figure moved from behind him into the shadow of the doorway.
"Come on, honey, step out into the light," I said, holding the camera up to my eye. "One more step, so I can see your face."
The woman obliged by leaning into the cold blue glow thrown by the old style, energy inefficient streetlights, her cheeks stained red in the flash of the vacancy sign. I happily clicked away as the "office manager" wrapped her arms around his neck and whispered sweet nothings in his ear. She clearly wore nothing but lingerie. I guess she assumed no one else would be out this late on such a cold weeknight. Or maybe she enjoyed having people see her, a bit of an exhibitionist of the happy home-wrecker variety. Whatever the cause, she had him in the perfect spot for the best pictures.
I loved it when guilty people made my job easy.
My photos might not be art, but they were gold in my book. No way the wife could believe this was anything but what it looked like.
I clicked away until the husband extricated himself from the mistress and she ducked back into the room and closed the door. Then he walked briskly toward a shiny red Chevy Camaro — the guy owned a GM dealership and drove a new car every day. He lit a cigarette, which he puffed on for a few drags before he tossed it into the gutter. Not just a cheater, but also a litterer, the bastard. The cigarette stench backed his poker party story and covered the smell of another woman, killing two birds with one cancer- causing stone.
As soon as he pulled out onto the street, I stretched back up to full height, relieved I could still feel my feet. I started up my ancient green Subaru Forester, cranked my heater, and headed for home, relieved I didn't have to wait around in the cold for the mistress to reappear. Whatever she did next wasn't my concern. Having the two of them in the pictures together convinced me my work was done.
The hotel was located downtown — the blue collar north end, not the high-priced, brick, historical south end, so I dropped down to Lakeway Drive, scooted under the freeway, and wound through the streets, which curved around Bayview Cemetery. Traffic at 10:00 on a midweek winter night was light, and I arrived at my little house by 10:30. I downloaded the photos from the hotel onto my computer, wrote up a final bill for my client, and went to bed content. What could possibly go wrong with such an easy case?CHAPTER 2
After my late night activities, I celebrated by sleeping in past 7:30. With no alarm clock shrieking for my attention, I enjoyed a few extra, luxurious moments in bed. I considered texting my client for a meeting, but decided to hold off until I'd gotten myself fully awake. Heading to the kitchen, I turned on my coffee pot and contemplated Kendra Hallings. Dealing with angry wives can be a lot of work, but it beat dealing with angry husbands. I don't take on angry husbands as clients. I did that once when I first started out on my own, but after receiving incontrovertible proof that his wife had cheated on him, the fathead tried to kill her.
That kind of took the fun out of things for me.
I decided right then and there to stick to female clients when it involved cheating spouses. They were less likely to go postal on their wayward hubbies. They went for the jugular, but usually not in a literal sense, more in a financial one.
After fortifying myself with coffee and cornflakes, I decided it was time to face the music. Kendra had already proven herself to be a crier — she could turn on the waterworks quicker than a soap opera diva — so I wasn't looking forward to delivering her the news her wifely instincts were correct. I stripped off my nightshirt and pulled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, layering it with a plaid, flannel shirt from the Cabela's Sporting Goods catalog and a North Face jacket. I tried to buy all my clothes online or from Costco. It cut down on trips to malls, boutique stores, and other places that gave me hives.
Sufficiently bundled for the weather, I grabbed my camera and laptop and headed over to my home away from home. My office was in a free-standing building between the historic Fairhaven neighborhood and downtown to the north. With a population of just over 80,000, Bellingham — or B'ham as we abbreviate it around here — wasn't exactly a sprawling metropolis. Driving across town didn't produce the headache it might in places like Seattle or Tokyo or Syracuse, so when I bought my house, I hadn't worried too much about the commute.
Buying a house without a view of Bellingham Bay also saved me a big chunk of change. I loved the water views much of my town afforded, but given my income, I had to settle for a view of the trees and bushes in my backyard. Lookout Mountain was visible from my driveway, so that counted for something. A tiny trickle of water also ran along the east side of my property. During spring rains and snowmelt it could probably be called a creek.
Which is almost as good as a waterfront view, right?
My office wasn't much to look at either, but it was mine, and that counted for a lot in my book. It had easy access to the freeway, Fairhaven, and downtown, complete with the waterfront and multiple tattoo parlors. I'd never had call to use the services of the latter, but you never know, it could happen. I was also very close to Rocket Donuts, with their distinctive aluminum rocket ship in the parking lot. And who doesn't love donuts and sci-fi mixed together under one roof?
One of the best things about my office was a small parking lot with a second entrance at the back of the building. My clients could come and go without being seen from the street. There was no big sign announcing my services — private investigators don't usually get work from foot traffic. My office maintained a certain anonymity. When I first started out on my own, I thought about installing an espresso machine to get people in the door, but PI and Espresso sounded a little hokey. I'm not sure anyone else would have found it strange here in the coffee capitol of the United States but "Do you want extra foam with your background check?" seemed a bit much. Luckily, I managed to stay afloat without adding barista to my résumé.
Probably a good thing, given I drank too much coffee already and I would have sucked down most of my profits.
No other cars were in the parking lot this early in the morning. The business currently sharing the building with me was questionable. Their hours were even more erratic than mine, but at least they were quiet. The sign in the window read "Tarot," but I had a feeling the young women who came and went there didn't actually read cards so much as provide happy endings. I guess good fortune was all in how you thought about it. The "employees" might not be able to predict anyone's future, but at least they provided an actual service.
The setup of the building created a lot of privacy for our respective clients. A hallway split the building in half, so we didn't share any walls. From the street, my office was on the left and the "Fortune Tellers" were on the right. Both offices had small kitchenettes and private bathrooms attached, and given the reasonable rent, I didn't care if they were making crack cocaine next door as long as they didn't burn the building down.
I unlocked both outside doors, the one to the street in front and the parking lot in back, anticipating I'd be calling my client to come down. Then I unlocked and entered my own office. Pausing momentarily, I admired the EDDIE SHOES, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR sign painted in black and gold lettering on the frosted glass of my interior office door before I slipped inside, just because it made me happy.
It was often the simple things in life that brightened my day, so I tried hard not to overlook them.
Sitting behind my desk, I pulled out a drawer, where my active files were easily accessible. They'd get archived in the locking filing cabinets behind my desk after I finished with them and stored for seven years before being converted to an ash pile. Or at least that was the plan. I hadn't actually been in business long enough to permanently dispose of anything yet. Pulling out my file on Mrs. Kendra T. Hallings, I decided to make coffee before contacting her. I hadn't had quite enough caffeine at home.
Before I could reach my coffee maker, my office phone rang. My cell could handle all my calls, but I also had a good, old-fashioned landline I couldn't quite get myself to give up. I knew I didn't have to pay for the cost of one, but something about that black, Bakelite antique perched on my desk symbolized that I had made it on my own. I had an office and a phone. Who could argue with success like that? Besides, I loved the little clicky sounds the rotary phone made when the dial spun. Sometimes, when I was bored, I practiced answering the phone in my best Humphrey Bogart imitation à la Philip Marlowe.
So far I hadn't answered an actual call that way, but maybe next year for Halloween.
It was also the only thing I'd taken with me from the office I'd shared with my mentor, Benjamin Cooper. It comforted me that my hand now rested where his had for so many years, even though he'd died the way he had.
Picking up after the second ring, I answered in my professional voice. It was my client, sounding like she might be hyperventilating.
"Eddie? It's me, Kendra. I tried your cellphone, but it went straight to voicemail, so I thought I'd try your office. I'm just wondering if you have anything for me yet."
"Hi, Kendra, I was just about to call you." Pulling out my cellphone, I realized I'd left it silenced from the night before. Clicking the button on the side, I turned my ringer back on. The little voicemail icon showed only the one call from Kendra.
"Good news or bad?" she asked.
Jeez, how should I answer that?
"Can you come over to my office?" I asked instead of answering her.
There was a pause on the other end of the line.
"Was I right?" she said, her voice small and tremulous.
"I think we should talk through things in person," I said, reminding myself she deserved sympathy for her situation, even if I did think she'd be better off dumping the lout.
"Really?" Kendra asked, or at least that's what I thought she said between sobs.
"Do you think you can pull yourself together? You sound upset."
"I'm ..." — hiccup — "I'm ..." — sob — "okay."
I waited, listening to her breathe in and out a few times. Her deep breathing sounded like the kind you might be taught to do in meditation or yoga.
"Yes," she said after much huffing and puffing, her voice stronger, "but I can't be there until later this afternoon. I have some things I need to do. Will three o'clock work for you?"
I assured her it would and she hung up before I could give her a "You go, girl," which was probably just as well. She might have heard it as sarcasm. I plugged in my computer to organize the latest photos, downloaded the night before. I'd already set up a slideshow to ease Kendra into the situation, starting with shots of her husband at the dealership with the office manager in the background. Nothing overt, but I wanted my client to have the woman's face in her mind when she saw the photos from the hotel. I had known there would be a hotel.
There was always a hotel.
I finished the slideshow by adding the pictures of her husband pulling up in front and then him leaving a few hours later along with the shots of the mistress kissing him goodbye.
The guy really did have great hair.
Voices sounded in the hallway. I thought perhaps Kendra had arrived early and brought a friend for moral support. I opened the door before they knocked, surprising a man with his arm raised. He had turned away, so I was lucky he didn't tap, tap, tap on my chest before he realized the door no longer stood in front of him. Even in profile, however, I would have recognized him. I'd last seen him almost two years ago, before I left Seattle after Coop died. In a panic, I did the only thing that made sense in the moment.
I slammed the door in his face.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "One Dead, Two to Go"
Copyright © 2016 Elena Hartwell.
Excerpted by permission of Coffeetown Enterprises, Inc.
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