A Briana Kaleigh Mystery Novel by Nicola Trwst
© 2012 – Nicola Trwst
All rights reserved
You can read a summary of this novel Here
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I hadn’t had sex in two years. But the winds of change were whipping around like a tornado on roller skates. I called him Jamie for the James P. Quinn printed on his business card. As I fumbled for my keys, his warm breath on my neck kicked my libido from recharge mode to fully operational. Now, if I could only get the blessed door open.
We both toiled for a daily out of Washington D.C., the District Dispatch. For the last year I had worked as a photojournalist for the Dispatch and before that as a crime reporter for the Metro Desk, but that’s another story for another time.
I jangled the key ring. “Found them.” It wouldn’t be long now.
Jamie, the new Sports Desk editor, had bought me coffee twice within the last month. This generosity, I figured, was his way of guaranteeing an extra photographer whenever he needed one. Haylee Macklin, my best friend, colleague, and partner in numerous unmentionable crimes saw the situation differently. She thought Jamie’s sandy hair, blue eyes, and soft jaw would mix well with my classic Celtic genes, creating highly photogenic offspring.
Jamie squeezed between me and the door, and then closer. His spicy smell, an enticing blend of nectars, drew me in. His embrace was sure. His lips, curious and playful, shattered any doubt about what was to come. I had never swooned, but two years was an awful long time.
When the second lock gave way, we stumbled over each other into the apartment, lip suction holding us together like Chinese handcuffs. My handbag crashed to the floor. I flung off my overcoat. We broke apart for Jamie to rip off his parka, and we were back in each other’s arms, groping and breathing heavily.
“What’s that noise?” he asked between nibbles.
All I heard was the snare drum beating of my heart, but I pushed back from his chest to see if I was missing something important. A low pulsing sound cut the room’s darkness. A soft red light flashed. My answering machine. I had turned off my cell phone during the concert and had forgotten to turn it back on.
“Oh, I better check.” I dropped my arms. “It might be the paper.”
“They can wait,” he said, pulling me back against him.
He tasted like the cigarette and coffee we’d shared at the concert hall. His lips tugged at me, but the beckoning machine held my concentration at bay. “Sorry.” I broke away. “Let me get this. Afterwards, I’m all yours. Promise.”
My fingers found a wall switch. Glaring light flooded the bare walls and Salvation Army sofa and ottoman. Jamie headed back to the door, and after withdrawing my keys and tossing them on the empty bookcase, he closed it and threw the top bolt. Oh, yeah.
A red number three lit the LED readout on the machine. Haylee’s voice fired fast. “Briana, call me.” Messages two and three were the same but with an added four-letter exclamation. I hit “Erase,” and sauntered to the worn sofa where Jamie slouched, one foot slung across his knee.
“She probably wants me to research something. She can wait. How about you? Can I get you a drink? Coffee? Water? I don’t have any alcohol.” I wished I did. I really, really, wished I did. I wasn’t sure that I’d ever had sex without floating on an alcoholic life preserver.
Two years. You can do this…sober.
Jamie crooked his index finger, summoning me. For an instant, I thought of playing coy. Yeah, right. Who was I fooling?
The phone rang.
“No,” Jamie said, giving my hand a gentle tug as my brain took over and I turned toward the sound.
Nice to be wanted. “No one but Haylee or the paper would call this late. Let me take care of her, then we can have some peace.”
I grabbed the handset ready with a clever remark, but Haylee never gave me the chance.
“I need you out here now.” Her voice squeezed passion into each monosyllable.
“Jamie’s here and we were about to test your theory. When can I call you back?”
“Get rid of him. This can’t wait.”
“Let me repeat myself or is this a bad connection?” I hung up.
Before my hand left the phone, the second ring came. Love that speed dial.
“Hang up on me again and I’ll have your cable cancelled.”
I shuffled to where my back faced Jamie. “If you call back in another hour, I might not need cable anymore.”
A burst of static came across the line, and then Haylee. “Hey sweetheart, I’m glad the glacier is thawing, but now is not the time. I need you out here, pronto.”
I glanced over my shoulder at Jamie. I lowered my voice. “Okay, I’ll forgo quality. Call back in thirty…no, twenty-five minutes.”
“No can do, Madame de Pompadour.”
Always with the comebacks. “Compassion, please. Back here, it’s after eleven.” Haylee was on the other side of the country where the sun still shone.
But curiosity pricked the base of my brain; I’d be lying to say otherwise. I was familiar with the series she was working, had read her opening piece and some of the material she’d sent back to have fact checked. When it came to the old joke that said the world was tilted and all the fruits and nuts rolled to California, Marin County was the pine nut, the most expensive.
Ten days ago, Haylee had flown to Marin to write a series on the Belvedere Club and its affluent membership. She’d balked at the assignment, thought of it as a fluff piece, until now.
“Bring plenty of film. We’ll need visuals, proof. No one’s going to believe this without pictures,” she said before another blast of static came through the line.
Haylee was a scroll in an electronic-reader world. A Luddite in a business that was becoming more and more computer-centric.
I didn’t use film. I had a digital Nikon, a detail I kept to myself because Haylee was too idea-centric to care about the technical process. “Hey ace, can you hear me? Check the clock. I can’t get a flight before morning. Besides, I have to clear it with Terrance.”
Terrance was our editor and my current nemesis. He’d prefer to fire me, but I had too many contacts in too many places so the best he’d managed was to demote me.
Jamie had uncrossed his legs and was sitting up, listening like a pit bull on the offensive. Rebellion wrinkled his forehead, but his bravado was looking a bit shaky. I half hoped he would leap off the sofa, rip the phone away from me, and toss it out the window. Afterwards we’d ride into the moonlight, hand-in-hand.
“Terrance is a go and there’s a redeye from National leaving at twelve-ten with your name on the passenger list. Get moving. I can hear you, you’re not moving,” Haylee said.
I slumped against the side table. “The last time you did this to me, I spent the night in lockup.”
“We’ve never done a story like this. Trust me Briana, it’s big. It’s…Pulitzer.”
Pulitzer? That was our code word. It didn’t actually refer to winning the coveted prize (although one can hope). More likely, it was a story that would raise questions and cause chaos within the status quo. My favorite kind, and oddly, as rare as an honest newscaster.
Cradling the handset between my chin and shoulder, I unplugged my laptop and grabbed my camera bag all while jotting Haylee’s instructions on an electric bill envelope. My flight would arrive at San Francisco Airport around three something in the morning. I was to take a taxi directly to the Belvedere Club in Marin County where she would meet me. She said I should bring a flash. Ooooh, Haylee.
I hung up and turned to Jamie, who was on his feet and headed towards me. Palms out, I threw my hands up in surrender. “Sorry. The job. You know how it is.”
He wrapped his arms around my shoulders and the zipper of my dress started a cold path down my back. I ducked under his embrace and twisted away. “Now Ja—”
He slapped the top of his thighs, hard and loudly. A mixture of anger and frustration washed over his face. He was going to blow or pout, but I hadn’t the time to talk him out of either.
“There’s a plane at National. It’s not the end of the… We’ll hook up next week,” I said, my eyes on him, but my thoughts already shifting through clothes in my closet. Skirt set, pant set, what kind of weather?
Reminding me of my four-year-old nephew throwing a tantrum, Jamie stomped across the room, his dull rubber heels thumping the worn hardwood. “Next week my wif—” He plucked his parka from the floor.
Electricity singed my veins. Now, he had my attention. “You’re married?”
He glanced down, fingering the collar of the coat. He pulled a thread and let it drift to the floor. “I, uh, I told you.”
“Really? When exactly? Was it that time you joined me in the cafeteria and told me how you loved red-heads, or perhaps, when you asked me to go hear the jazz ensemble tonight? No, maybe you told Haylee, when you asked her if I was involved with anyone.”
“Come on, I’m not married, married. I’m here, she’s there. We have an understanding.” He took a few steps in my direction, the parka’s zipper dragging the floor. His pearly whites flashed through a killer smile and his lids drew down giving him that lazy, easy-going look that was hard to resist. Apparently, he thought that was all it took.
I clutched the answering machine, lifting it in the air. “Understand this, in about three seconds you’re going to be picking this out of your teeth. One…two…”
The door slammed shut.
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