Your soul is oftentimes a battlefield, upon
which your reason and your judgment wage
war against your passion and your appetite.
The outer door to her office swung open and Natasha’s eyes widened when Danny DeVito crossed the threshold. Yanking her feet off her desk, she came close to overbalancing and toppling over backward. Dangit! Squaring her shoulders and trying to look professional, she squinted against the bright light flooding the room, watching as he closed the door, a large briefcase in hand. As he drew near, she studied the prancing gait, wondering if Danny, who happened to be one of her favorite actors, was gay. Oops. She hoped that didn’t fall into the category of a homophobic thought.
The man stopped on the other side of her desk and regarded her for a moment. Natasha stared back, disappointed to see a younger version of Danny, sharing the same dark hair, dark eyes, and short, stocky body.
He extended his hand, saying, “Ms. Chamberlain,” as if he knew her.
“Tommy James, Esquire.”
Natasha raised her eyebrows. “As in attorney at law?”
He gave her an insipid smile. “If you insist.”
Natasha waved toward the chair in front of her desk. “Please.”
With great deliberation, Tommy set his briefcase down next to the chair. He took care to remove a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and dust off the seat.
Natasha mentally sighed. That’s what she got for buying second-hand office furniture. No matter how much she cleaned, everything appeared tattered and grimy. Even her wooden desk looked like someone had taken a heavy chain to it at one point. She rubbed her hand over the pitted surface, skimming the rough surface of the well-used emery board she had been using on her fingernails when the door opened. Well, that didn’t look professional. Placing her palm over the file, she eased her desk drawer open and slid the emery board inside.
Tommy tucked his hanky away and seated himself in the chair.
Natasha tried not to stare at his feet, dangling several inches above the floor. “How can I help you, Mr. James?”
“I need your services as a bodyguard.”
A sense of relief washed over Natasha. This would be a nice diversion from her troubles with Striker; a reason not to see him as much. That thought overwhelmed her for a moment. Surely things weren’t that bad.
“I’m sorry. Please call me Natasha.” She fished a contract out of her desk drawer and placed it on the desk. Tore the doodle page off her legal tab, wadded it up, and flipped it over her shoulder. Smirked when she heard it thump against the inside of the trashcan.
“Very good,” Tommy said.
Natasha gave him a perfunctory smile. “I do that a lot.” She uncapped her pen and hunched over the pad. “Why don’t you tell me what’s going on, Mr. James, why you need my services.”
Tommy settled his butt firmly in place, folded his hands on his lap, and crossed his feet. “Well, I’ve got myself into a bit of a jam.”
Natasha wrote on her legal pad: Tommy James, attorney, in jam. “Go on.”
“I’m afraid someone is trying to kill me.”
Natasha looked up. “You’re sure?”
Tommy shrugged. “Call it an occupational hazard.”
“What kind of attorney are you, Mr. Jam—Tommy?
“I practice all aspects but specialize in criminal defense.”
“Do you have any idea who might want to kill you?”
Tommy leaned over, flipped open the top of his briefcase, and pulled out a typewritten sheet. He slid it onto Natasha’s desk.
She picked it up, her forehead furrowing. “There are at least fifty people on here.”
Tommy shrugged. “What can I say?”
“What, you lost all these cases and these guys want to kill you for it?”
Tommy’s eyebrows collided. “For your information, Ms. Chamberlain, I’m a very successful defense attorney. Those names are family members of victims who harbor ill-feelings toward me because I’ve gotten the defendant off.”
“No offense, but I don’t know if I want to protect you. I kind of have a problem with people in our society who protect criminals’ rights over victims’ rights.”
Tommy shook his head. “Should have known you’d be a Republican.”
Natasha glared at him. “Those are fighting words. I am not, never have been, nor never will be a member of any party and am proud to call myself an Independent.” She waved her arms around. “Does this look like money to you?”
“My point exactly. It’s the money, sweetie-pie, the money. I’m a millionaire because of what I do.”
“Please don’t call me sweetie-pie. You understand I’m not licensed to be an investigator. I can’t legally investigate these people.”
“I don’t recall asking you to.”
Natasha tried not to let her disappointment show. Things were more interesting when she got to do some independent sleuthing, which is what she had been fishing for in a backhanded way. She briefly wondered if she shouldn’t look into getting an investigator’s license, combine the two careers.
Tommy cleared his throat. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t, let’s say, check them out behind the scenes?”
Natasha tamped down her growing excitement as she wrote below Tommy’s name: Defense attorney – claims someone wants to kill him. She raised her eyes to his. “What exactly makes you think someone is trying to kill you?”
Tommy fished in his briefcase once more and pulled out a lined sheet of white paper, the type school kids use. Holding it up by the edge, he placed it on Natasha’s desk.
Natasha used the capped end of her pen to slide it toward her. She leaned over and studied the words pasted on the paper which looked like they had been cut out of magazines, each a different size, different color. “Your dead.” She looked up at Tommy. “Not a very smart killer wannabe, huh?”
Tommy frowned. “I’m sorry?”
“Y-o-u-r, not the contraction y-o-u-apostrophe-r-e, for you are.”
Tommy struggled to his feet and peered at the paper. He sat back down, a flustered look on his face. “I’m sure a lot of people make that mistake. That shouldn’t tell you one way or the other whether the sender is intelligent or not.”
Natasha considered this for a moment, thinking he seemed awful defensive. “Do you have the envelope in which this letter was mailed?”
Tommy shook his head. “Wasn’t. Someone put it in my firm’s mailbox, folded and stapled.”
Holding it by one edge, Natasha flipped the paper over, noted letters forming the words Tommy James pasted on the outside. She examined the staple marks, creases in the paper. “Did you give this to the police, have them dust it for prints?”
“What’s the point? At least five other people handled it before me.”
“Has anything else happened to cause you to think someone wants to kill you?”
“Yeah. I’ve gotten a couple of phone calls, a man’s voice, saying I’m going to be a dead lawyer. Also, I’m pretty sure someone’s following me.”
“Have you gotten death threats before?”
“I’m a defense attorney, it goes with the territory. But the person always made it clear who was threatening me.” He waved his hand at the paper. “This is creepy.”
Natasha eased back in her seat, careful not to lean too far back or over she’d go, vaguely wondering why in the world she continued to hold on to a cast-off piece of furniture that belonged in the dump. “And when exactly do you want me to protect you, Tommy?”
“What do you mean?”
“While you’re at your office, your home, when you’re out and about?”
“Oh, I need you 24/7. Just like you did with Roger Valentine.”
“You know Roger?”
“I know of Roger. I followed his mother’s trial. That’s how I learned about you. I was in court the day you testified.” He crossed his legs. “FYI, she would have walked if I defended her.”
“Well, thank the good Lord you didn’t.” Cassandra Valentine was a scary person. Natasha still had nightmares about the time she and Roger were held at gunpoint by Cassandra. If Natasha’s mom, Stevie, hadn’t interfered, Natasha and Roger would, in all probability, have ended up six feet under while Cassandra lived the lifestyle of the rich and infamous. Natasha still couldn’t understand how a mother could love money more than her own son, especially if that son was Roger. With a sigh, she shook her head. “I’m sorry, I don’t have the staff to protect you twenty-four hours a day. Maybe you should hire a larger firm with more members. I can recommend Investigative Services, Inc. I personally know the owner, and they’re a very good service.”
Tommy shook his head. “I want you and no one else.” He hesitated. “Well, I realize you can’t guard me round-the-clock without sleep, so maybe those two Samoan bodyguards who helped guard Roger could help out. I like their looks.”
I’ll just bet you do, Natasha thought.
“And I’d like you to be my pretend girlfriend, like you did with Roger.”
Natasha’s eyes widened. “Sorry, no can do. I’m in a committed relationship and my fiancé wouldn’t appreciate that.” Neither would she but she decided not to voice that thought.
“You mean Striker?”
Her gaze met his. “You know Striker?”
“I’ve met him a time or two.”
Natasha’s lips twitched, imagining Tommy looking like a little kid standing next to Striker’s 6’2”, muscular frame.
Tommy leaned forward. “Look, I’ll pay you twice your hourly fee. And maybe girlfriend isn’t the right word. How about companion?”
“That sounds worse than girlfriend, and I’m not going to be anything to you other than your bodyguard if I take the case.”
His eyes gleamed. “So you’ll do it?”
“Before I even consider it, I’d advise you to think about having more than one bodyguard protect you at any given time.”
“Nah, you and those two big Samoans should be enough. Besides, I’ve got a security guard covering the grounds at my office, so that’s taken care of. All I need is you inside, with me.” He raised his eyebrows. “What do you say?”
“Give me a minute.” With great care, Natasha turned her chair around and stared at the wall. Twice her hourly fee was enticing. Thanks to the generous bonus Giki awarded her at the end of the tour, her savings account had grown from two zeroes to three hovering on four. Thoughts of expanding her business once she got busy with it had become a real goal, along with luring Pit and Bigun away from Striker if she could talk them into it and Striker agreed. And how dangerous could it be, guarding an attorney? Of course, a lot of people looked upon them with disdain, but it was rare to see a news flash about a lawyer murdered by a client or someone seeking vengeance.
She swiveled back around. “Okay, we’ll do it this way. I’ll guard you during the day, and if Pit and Bigun are free, they can take you at night. You understand, that means they’ll be living with you.”
Tommy put one finger to his chin and contemplated. He opened his mouth at one point as if to say something but then closed it. After a few minutes, he said, “Deal.”
Using her pen, Natasha slid the letter into a file folder. “I’ll have this checked for fingerprints, see if anything shows up.”
Tommy reached forward, pulled the contract to his side of the desk. “Where do I sign?”
Natasha picked up the phone. “Just a minute. First I need to verify Pit and Bigun can do it, then I need to revise the contract.”
She called Striker and asked him if he could subcontract Pit and Bigun out to her for awhile.
“You got a case?” Striker didn’t sound too happy about it.
“Yes, I do.”
“Look, he’s in my office now, so let’s talk about that later. Are Pit and Bigun available and can I have them?”
“They’re on a case, but I can pull them off if you need them.”
“Yes, I do, and I appreciate that, Striker.” She caught sight of Tommy frantically waving his hand at her. “Hold on.” She put her hand over the mouthpiece. “Yes?”
“Tell Striker Tommy says hello.”
“Striker, Tommy James says hello.”
She pulled the phone away from her ear at his reaction, scowling at Tommy. “Thanks, Striker, I appreciate it,” she shouted into the phone and hung up.
Tommy shrugged, a grin on his face. “I tend to do that to Striker.”
“Sheesh. Whatever you did to him, it must be bad.”
Tommy made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “Oh, you know Striker, he’ll get over it.” He rubbed his palms together. “Okay, sweetie-pie, let’s do this thing.”
“Don’t call me sweetie-pie,” Natasha said, turning to her computer.
Christy’s Amazon home page: http://tinyurl.com/8n2qgth