A tall, lanky man sauntered into the office and flopped in a wingback chair. He wore an old fashioned, brown canvas duster. Damp leather boots with heavy heels, thunked on the counter of the faux mahogany desk. Heedless of the no smoking edict in the building, he drew a cigarette from a battered pack of Marlboro's.
"Thought you quit," the dark haired man growled.
"I did. Just like to fiddle with it. Helps me think." His broad Manchester accent made the words almost indistinguishable to the untrained ear. "So, tell me. Why are we following that bird?"
The dark haired man rose from his desk, swatting the boots off the edge so he could pass.
"Your sister? What about her?"
"Wants me to date her."
"We're following some chick your sister wants you to date? Are you completely mad?" He leaped up, standing toe to to with his friend, his face mere inches away. "You do know what Givens will do when he finds out? And he will. Temple's sure to blab. He's an idiot."
Ralan Hendrix shook his head. "There's more to it. She's involved in this case somehow."
"How do you begin to know that?"
Ralan slowly pushed his friend into his chair and sat on the desk, avoiding the damp corner.
"Romy, you've known me forever. When have I been wrong about something like this?"
"One of your famous hunches, eh? On what do you base this? Himself will want a rationalization." He flicked a finger at t heir boss' office.
"Something Karen said. Daphne's at their office to do an efficiency study, but they had one done two years ago. And the information I got on this girl says nothing about that."
"So? Unqualified bird passing herself off as an expert?"
Ralan shook his head. Picking up a soft rubber ball, he bounced it against the dark wood wall. "Aslani's not a fool. He'd check out someone like that. No, best I can ascertain—she's an accountant."
"A bean counter?"
"Yup. Some experience in forensic accounting. Minimal, but still.... Her college professors speak highly of her. One said she was somewhat of a genius with numbers. Above average in every field, but she could spot number patterns quicker than anyone he'd ever met—including himself. He'd never had another student so adept at tracking an error."
"No kidding?" Romy said, in awe. His manner changed abruptly. "What did you tell the professors when you talked to them?"
"Background check for a federal job. Can you imagine her on the scent of a crooked CEO?" His dark eyes glittered and the ball fell forgotten to the floor.
"Well, shite," Romy said as he picked up the ball. "Don't tell me Ralan Hendrix, super spy, has fallen for some bird he's never met!"
The ball hit him in the chest—hard.
"Yes, exactly! You're an idiot!"
"And who moped about for three years over some girl who was engaged to another man? A man, as it turned out, hooked up with her to watch you!"
"I got her in the end though, yeah? Shagged her good and proper too. And married her!" He grinned proudly.
Ralan punched him. "The point is, she has no idea what she's walked into."
"Do any of them? Your sister's in a pickle too. How did you cotton to all this muck?"
"Karen told me in passing they'd signed with a couple big companies to do their yearly psych evaluations. Coronado Enterprises and Toledo Exchange."
"Holy shite! Don't they know those are fronts for organized crime?"
"On the surface, both companies are legit. To the doctors, it was a good move. Guaranteed bank. Mob uses its employees to filter drug money through them. Clients pay cash up front. Everyone's happy. Until... someone in the office gets greedy and starts to make the money disappear."
"What?" Romy jumped up again, leaning close. "You're sure?"
Tossing the ball in the air, Ralan nodded. "Someone is stealing from the mob."
"Death wish, that. Think they know?"
Ralan shrugged. "But you see my interest now?"
"Oh, yeah. And the fact she's got a great arse and is fucking gorgeous don't enter in?"
The dark haired man chuckled. "Maybe a little."
"So, why didn't you meet her that night at the bar?"
Exhaling slowly, Ralan caught the ball. "Rom, you know Karen's track record fixing me up."
His friend sighed, shaking his head. "Dunno. Maybe I lost my nerve after Solange."
"Not just your nerve, mate. You almost lost your...."
The ball hit him in the chest and Ralan walked out of the room, slamming the door after him.