“Get in here, Grayson!”
I licked my lips as I stood up. “About time,” I muttered, as I shoved the Guns and Ammo magazine under my left arm. I pushed the door open to Lt. Daniel J. Eckerd’s office. He scowled at me when I came in. I gave him a small smile, he glared at me.
“What’s going on, lieutenant?”
“Explain to me why you’re snooping around in one of our cases. What business do you have to do with Jerriken Enterprises?”
“His wife thinks he’s stepping out on her. She hired me to check. That’s it.”
“Listen to me, boy. You’re a private investigator. Don’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong, you dig?”
I looked about the office. It was furnished in mid-century modern. A nice cherry desk sat in the middle of the room, a vintage metal desk lamp provided illumination for work after hours, stacks of paperwork sat on the left-hand corner of the desk, while pen holders, and a letter opener with a carved dragon head made of ivory sat in the center. Large, oversized chairs sat in front of the desk.
It was a nice-looking office, too bad it belonged to a man with rudimentary intelligence. Daniel J. was short and rail thin, his round, pale face was out of place on such a skinny frame. His eyes bugged out of his eye sockets, and his eyebrows were thick and unkempt. Eckerd had a nervous tick-he bit his bottom lip over and over- and sweated something awful. His fresh laundered shirts didn’t stay fresh or laundered for more than a singular morning.
For some reason the lieutenant insisted on trying to intimidate me. His unspoken threat didn’t phase me. I pointed at the letter opener and said, “That’s a nice item you got there. Where did you find that?”
“Don’t change the subject, Grayson. You stay away from Jerriken Enterprise, or else…”
“…You’re gonna buy me dinner?”
“What? What are you talking about?!”
“I’m trying to guess what the ‘or else’ meant.”
“Get out of my office. Don’t cross us knuckle biter. You wouldn’t do good in prison.”
I stood and gave Daniel J. a wave over my shoulder as I left. For some reason it was the same crap, but a different toilet. As usual, it started with a dame, except it wasn’t just any gal. Her name was Sara Jerriken.
The lieutenant was right. I shouldn’t have stuck my nose where it didn’t belong, but it was far too late to quit now. I had kicked over the hornet’s nest and trouble lingered in the air.
As I stepped out into the thick, humid air, I was met by a monstrous figure wearing a charcoal gray blazer.
“Mr. Jerriken requests your presence, Mr. Grayson.”
The thick muscle stacked on this goon informed me of the minute chance I had to resist. The goon opened the back door and beckoned me to climb in. Underneath the blazer, I could see the .45 Colt he had slung under his right armpit.
“Sure,” I said, as I climbed into the back seat. “Can we hit Taco Bell first?”
The goon said nothing and slammed the door shut. I waited until he started the vehicle and began driving before I gave into the dark thoughts that filled my mind. Randal Jerriken, a man who had every finger in someone else’s pies, wasn’t known for playing by the rules. Nor did he have patience for those who crossed him.
Still, I had a prime opportunity to get a firsthand impression of my opponent. I watched as the sun dipped down into its bed, long fingers of red and black painted the heavens, and the streetlamps clicked on one by one.
I watched as the goon drove us from the slums, or home as I called it, and drove us into the rich part of Derby. Houses of all types filled the area, each protected by a large, steel gate. Most had a letter associated with the family that lived there. I whistled softly. Seven miles separated the slums from the rich and influential, from the well fed and the starving, from those who sought power and those who sought peace and contentment.
We pulled up in front of a black gate with a large, golden J on it, and the driver pressed the button. I watched as a security camera turned to face us, and after a moment, the gate shook as it opened. Apparently, the gate control was housed within the residence.
Paranoia is the watchword of the wealthy, I snickered to myself. Everybody is out to get you when you have more than they do.
We drove toward the house, a massive four-story Tudor-style house, and the goon parked in front of an expansive set of brick stairs. I opened the back door and stepped out. I whistled again. The goon frowned at me as I handed him a fiver, he ignored the money and motioned for me to start up the stairs.
I climbed the stairs, each one causing my knees to ache. People claimed it was old age catching up to me, but I was only fifty. My doctor called it torn meniscus, but I called it stubbornness and an unhealthy appetite for fighting for losing causes.
Both knees were throbbing by the time I made it to the top of the stairs. A tall, leggy brunette waited for me by the door. She was a stunner. My knees ached but this Veronica Lake knock-off sent my heart racing, and my pain was forgotten.
“Hi,” I said, as I approached. “I’m Jayson Grayson.”
“I know who you are. Follow me, please.”
“Darling, I’d follow you anywhere.”
She led me into the foyer and turned to face me. I gave her a smile and raised my eyebrows. She pointed at my feet, and said, “Please remove your shoes before going any further.” I bent over and untied my steel-toed boots.
“Follow me, please.”
“What’s your name?”
“Why do you need to know my name? I’m no one important.”
“Well, you’re a beautiful woman, if I may say so, and beautiful women usually have names.”
“You may call me Ashley, if you must.”
More stairs appeared before us, and inwardly I groaned. My doctor had given me medication to ease the pain of my knees, but I took it only as needed, and I hadn’t expected to climb stairs when I started my day.
“Do you drink coffee, Ashley?”
She turned and faced me, her eyes dark and brooding. Ashley took two steps toward me, and her lips parted to say something, but she left it unsaid. Finally, she smiled and said, “Yes, Jayson. I drink coffee. Do you need help up the stairs? Or should we take the lift?”
“That’s good to know, Ashley. I’d prefer the lift if you don’t mind.”
Ashley led me to the lift, and we climbed aboard. While we waited for the doors to ding shut, I wondered how deep I had climbed into this pit of trouble, and if there was any way out of it.