Author Susanna Shore
Paranormal and contemporary romances, light mysteries

 

Tracy Hayes, P.I. on the Scent

 

Chapter One          Chapter Two

Chapter One

I’ve faced some stubborn people as an apprentice to a private investigator, Jackson Dean, a great boss and my boyfriend—yay! The criminal element weren’t exactly forthcoming with information when faced with a non-threatening five-foot-six who has more soft parts than muscle—mostly around her bottom—and I’d had nice old ladies throw a door at my face more than once when I tried to interview them.

But it all paled in comparison with the resistance I faced now.

“Why would I want to improve my backyard?” Jackson asked in response to my sensible suggestion that he do something about the waste of space behind his house. He leaned back in his chair and crossed arms over his chest, rejecting my suggestion with his entire body.

“I only use it for barbecuing anyway.”

We were having breakfast in his kitchen—which could also use some improvements, but one battle at a time—with windows to said backyard, currently waking up after winter. Not that there was anything waking up there. It was a little over two hundred square feet of dead lawn and weeds. But it was the first thing we saw every morning and I wanted it to look pretty.

The interest in gardening was out of character for me, so I could understand why Jackson was taken aback by my suggestion. But I’d woken up with an unprecedented urge to plant something that morning, to sink my hands into the soil and toil until my back ached, to have the satisfaction of watching things grow.

Weird, I know. Maybe it was the spring sun. Maybe I should have my head checked.

“It’s the esthetics of it,” I tried, and he cocked a dark brown brow.

“You can always look at me if the view isn’t to your liking,” he teased me, warming my whole body up. He didn’t usually mention his looks—the opposite in fact, as it suited him to be unmemorable—so he managed to briefly distract me from my mission.

Fine, I found his clean-lined face, dark eyes, and killer smile distracting all the time. I could’ve stared at him the whole day. And his body was even better. Five foot eleven of lean, tight muscles that would be perfect for heavy garden labor. I could picture him without a shirt, the muscles flexing as he sank a shovel into dirt, sweat running down his skin…

My mouth went dry and his lips quirked, as if he’d read my mind.

I cleared my throat. “What about when you’re not home?”

The question was out before I thought of how it sounded: that I believed I lived here. We’d only been dating for a few weeks. It was a bit early to assume that Jackson’s two-story semi was my home too. Never mind that I’d spent most nights here since Valentine’s.

But Jackson’s smile only deepened. “I could frame a picture of me to keep on the kitchen table.”

I actually gave it a thought, making him laugh.

“What’s with the gardening enthusiasm all of a sudden? Have you been watching shows you shouldn’t?”

I had, actually. “I find British gardening shows soothing…”

His happy look vanished and he took my hand. “The work has been a bit stressful lately. I’m sorry.”

I hadn’t meant to make him feel bad. “It’s not your fault and you know it.” I squeezed his hand back. “But I think we could both use something completely different to take our minds off work.”

He gave the backyard a dubious look. “I guess we could paint the fence…”

It was a start. “We could expand the deck too,” I suggested, and he perked.

“The old porch is too small for a proper barbecue. I could tear it down and make a completely new one, maybe get a new garden set too…”

His eyes narrowed as he started making plans in his mind. I recognized the look from work, although it was usually associated with figuring out how to catch bad guys. A moment later he shook himself and rose from the table.

“I guess we could pop into the gardening center today.”

Yes!

There was a Lowe’s only a half a mile from Jackson’s house in Marine Park, Southeast Brooklyn, so we headed there after breakfast. We’d enjoyed a sunshiny and warm March week that had made nature bloom. It was also Sunday, so we weren’t the only people there, even though we arrived fairly early—for a Sunday.

Jackson’s eyes began to glaze in horror as we crossed the full parking lot. He already looked ready to bolt, so I wrapped my arm around his and half dragged him into the store. There I began to have second thoughts myself. The place was huge and I had no idea what we were looking for.

Maybe we should’ve planned this better.

“There’s bound to be a lumber department where we can get the materials for the deck,” I suggested hesitantly.

“Or we could just leave.”

That wasn’t an option, because I’d never get him back here, so I pulled him down the closest aisle. “Come on. It can’t be that bad.”

Naturally, the lumberyard turned out to be at the farthest end of the huge store. We strolled aimlessly around the shelves for half an hour without purchasing anything. There were so many options to choose from—real wood or composite, aluminum posts or tile, not to mention the colors—that Jackson decided he needed to do more research before he committed himself to the project. But at least he didn’t look like he was about to abandon it completely.

“So what did you have in mind for the rest?” he asked when we neared the plant section.

I eyed the rows and rows of metal tables and shelves full of flowers and tomatoes and what have you in growing trepidation. I knew absolutely nothing about gardening.

“Ummm…”

He grinned and wrapped an arm around my shoulders. “Why don’t we take a look at what’s on offer since we’re here.”

It was his turn to lead me around the shelves, but it didn’t bring any clarity. All I could see was green. Endless walls of it.

“How am I supposed to know what all these even are?” I asked, exasperated.

“There are these tags,” Jackson pointed out.

“Yeah, but—”

“May I help you?” a perky voice interrupted us. I turned to the forty-something woman in the Lowe’s uniform gratefully.

“Yes. Give us all the help you can muster.”

Jackson stifled a laugh and the woman’s face lit up. “Absolutely. What’s the project?”

“We need something easy to maintain for a small backyard,” I stated, feeling more confident now that there was professional help available.

“What sort of soil does it have?”

And there went that confidence.

I glanced at Jackson, who shrugged. “Dead?”

The woman was unfazed. “In that case, I suggest you start with that.”

She turned around and headed briskly toward the back of the warehouse and out to a gated yard filled with even more plants. She ignored the cherry trees and cypresses, and led us to the gate to the parking lot. I was certain she was showing us the door for wasting her time, but she paused right inside and gestured at the ziggurat of plastic sacks stacked on wooden pallets.

“Here we have the basic garden loam soil that’s perfect for your needs. You should replace the existing topsoil with it before you start planting anything else. Remove three or so inches of the old soil and fill it with this. A good five-inch layer should do.”

I eyed the sacks in horror, trying to calculate in my head how many of them we would need to fill two hundred square feet five inches up. Math had never been my strong suit, but even I could figure out we’d need quite a few.

Jackson placed a hand on my shoulder, either to support me or to steady himself. “Thank you. I think we’d best start with the removal of the old, then.”

I shot him a dismayed look. “By hand?”

Did he even own a shovel?

The woman smiled. “There are machines available for such small-scale gardening work. The closest rental service is right across our parking lot. You should inquire there.”

Jackson nodded. “Excellent. We will.”

The hand on my shoulder guided me firmly out of the gate. I was too stunned to function properly. I had envisaged a couple of small shrubs that didn’t need more than small holes dug for them, and now we were talking about removing the entire yard.

To my amazement, Jackson headed in the direction the woman had pointed.

“You’re not seriously considering doing what she said?”

But he looked very determined for a man who hadn’t even wanted to renew the backyard. “Why not? We’re already here. We might as well ask the rental prices.”

Well, as long as I didn’t have to do the digging by hand…

On the other side of the parking lot was a small park with some hedges and benches on which to admire the waterfront view over the Mill Basin, a horseshoe-shaped waterway off Jamaica Bay. A quay for small—and not so small—boats lined the park, presumably for people from the wealthy Mill Basin neighborhood across the basin who wanted to drop by the gardening center by boat. An impressive sixty-foot yacht was docked there, but mostly the boats I could see were headed out to Jamaica Bay.

Right before the park, by the parking lot, stood all manner of garden-sized earthmovers in neat rows. They were painted in cheerful pinks and light greens and blues, and had the logo of Zyma Rental on them. Customers were circling them, accompanied by young men in cargo shorts and T-shirts with the same logo.

We’d barely stepped past the first digger when we were approached by an employee too. And to my amazement, I recognized him.

“Oleg?”

Oleg Pasternak lived in the apartment next door from me with his mother. He was a couple of years younger and only a little taller than me, with a round face, pale blue eyes, and mud-blond hair that was probably cut by his mother with scissors meant for shearing sheep. I didn’t know him that well, despite having been neighbors for several years, but his mother was a formidable personality in our building.

“Tracy? What are you doing here?”

“I could ask you the same. The last I heard, you were working in the baggage handling at the JFK.”

He smiled. “I’ve been here about a month now. My cousin’s father-in-law, Mr. Zyma, owns the place. Much better than the airport. No night shifts, for one, and the workload is easier.”

I could imagine.

“How can I help you?”

He addressed Jackson, but since I was just the hanger-on here, I didn’t mind that he assumed Jackson was in charge. Besides, he knew I didn’t have a garden.

“I need to remove a few cubic feet of soil from a small garden and I’m looking for quotes for diggers,” Jackson said firmly, sounding like he hadn’t come up with the plan five minutes ago.

“You’ve come to the right place. Do you intend to do the digging yourself, or employ our services? The latter includes the removal of the old soil too.”

I hadn’t even come to think that the old soil needed to be dumped somewhere. The notion that he didn’t have to do it himself clearly delighted Jackson too.

“How about you give the quote for the latter and I’ll think about it. It’s about fifty-five cubic feet that needs removing.”

Apparently he was better at calculating these things in his head than I was.

Oleg launched into his sales spiel and I tuned out. My attention was claimed by the yacht anyway, so I wandered closer. I wasn’t into boats, but I wouldn’t have minded cruising in that one.

I rounded the hedge that separated the rental from the quay and paused. Two men in light Panama suits were confronting a man in a burgundy tracksuit. I recognized the two men immediately and my gut tightened.

The shorter of them was Craig Douglas, the biggest drug lord in Brooklyn. And the other one, currently wrapping his hands in the tracksuit jacket and lifting its wearer up, his heavy muscles bulging, was his right-hand man and—what I’d believed to be former—enforcer.

Jonny Moreira.

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Chapter Two

I jumped back and hid myself behind the hedge. I don’t even know why. I had the right to be there and I was fairly sure the men weren’t paying attention to their surroundings. But nothing good ever came from witnessing Craig Douglas’s business, so it was best not to risk it.

We’d had dealings before, and although they hadn’t been related to his drug businesses—most of the time—I was sure he didn’t regard me favorably. And even if he didn’t remember who I was, he wouldn’t want witnesses when he was acting like the mafia boss he was.

But I had begun to consider Moreira a friend. Not a friend I wholeheartedly trusted or approved of, but who could be helpful when it suited him. Watching him do what I’d never actually witnessed before, strong-arming a defenseless man, made my stomach roil. I felt betrayed, which was utterly silly. He’d never pretended he was anything else than this.

He was a tall, powerfully built, harshly handsome man in his early thirties; Italian by way of Jersey, with glossy black hair combed backwards and easily tanning olive skin. For the past several months he had been running a five-star hotel and casino for Douglas, and while I was certain it was a front for money laundering, I’d also believed that Moreira’s career of beating people up was in the past.

Apparently not. And he was terrifyingly convincing, his dark eyes cold and his face unmoving. The man in the tracksuit was definitely ready to grovel and do whatever Douglas wanted as it became difficult for him to breathe. His entire body language screamed of subservience. Moreira put him down, Douglas issued what looked like the last warning, and the men climbed on board the yacht.

Figured a luxury boat like that belonged to Douglas.

The man on the quay didn’t wait to see it disembark but headed towards me, tugging his clothes to their places with jerky moves. He was in his late fifties, with a potbelly and thinning hair, and the look in his small eyes was both frightened and angry.

I pretended to be interested in the nearest digging machine, but he didn’t as much as glance at me as he stormed past. But he didn’t head to the parking lot and a car there like I’d assumed. He entered a large trailer that served as the office for Zyma Rental.

He wasn’t the owner, was he? That wasn’t good. Because whatever the scene had been about, he wasn’t an innocent victim. Douglas wouldn’t have bothered with him personally, with his best enforcer, if he were.

The notion that Oleg would be working for a criminal made me feel uneasy. I’d have to tell his mother if he was, and I was terrified of her.

Maybe I could pretend I hadn’t seen anything?

“There you are.” Jackson’s voice behind me made me jump, and he gave me a searching look. “Is something the matter?”

“Deep in my thoughts,” I hedged.

I definitely couldn’t talk about what I’d seen with him. He disliked Moreira as it was, and not solely because he was a criminal. Moreira had a habit of flirting with me, and while I wasn’t seriously interested in him, Jackson was a bit jealous.

“Where’s Oleg?”

He nodded toward the rows of machinery. “With the next customer. He made me such a good offer that I took it. Someone’s coming first thing tomorrow to dig up the backyard.”

The uneasy sensation in my gut intensified. Now I definitely couldn’t tell him, because his morals would make him break the contract, and I didn’t want to dig up the backyard by hand.

“That’s fast.”

He smiled. “They had an opening and it’s a small yard. Come, let’s go. We promised your mom we’d be there for a lunch.”

It hadn’t been so much an invitation as a reminder, as if we needed it. We were there practically every Sunday, along with whichever of my three siblings were able to make it too. Usually it was Trevor, the younger of my two older brothers, mostly because he lived with my parents. Often though, his work as a homicide detective kept him busy on weekends too.

My eight-years-older brother, Travis, seldom attended. A defense lawyer for Brooklyn Defender Services, it wasn’t his work that kept him from attending. But he lived in Douglaston in Northern Queens with his wife, Melissa, and they had four-year-old twins that weren’t fun to travel with. I presumed. And my six-years-older sister Theresa, or Tessa, was an ER doctor who was always working, as was her fiancée Angela, also a doctor, so they weren’t there often either.

Well, Tessa had been an ER doctor. She had recently quit her job to study forensic medicine. Maybe we would see more of her from now on.

I was the youngest by four years, the least successful—I was a college dropout turned waitress turned P.I. in making—and until recently the poorest too. Waitressing for minimum wage had barely left me with enough for food, so I was always happy to mooch a meal from my parents.

I wasn’t terribly poor anymore, because our latest big case of catching diamond thieves had come with an insanely huge reward. It went mostly to the agency, with fair portions to Trevor and another detective in form of trust funds, as it wasn’t legal for them to receive such rewards, but we’d kept some for ourselves too.

But just because I could finally afford to pay for my own meals was no reason to shun my family. And my parents were always happy to see Jackson, who’d been Travis’s best friend when they were growing up and had practically lived in our house. Not that I remembered him at all from that time. Eight years was a large age difference when you were a child, and teenage boys weren’t inclined to play with little girls anyway.

My parents lived in Kensington, a former blue-collar neighborhood in the middle of Brooklyn that was fast gentrifying. The small single-family homes were constantly being sold with prices undreamed of when Mom and Dad bought the house over thirty years ago. They were regularly made offers for their house too, but so far they hadn’t felt the need to sell. It wasn’t as if they could buy a new place in Brooklyn even with the best offers, and they didn’t want to live elsewhere.

Who would?

Mom was in the kitchen, busy putting finishing touches to the meal. Dad handled the everyday cooking these days—he was a retired cop and bored out of his mind, while Mother still worked as a nurse in a nearby maternity clinic—but Sunday lunch was Mom’s.

I took after her with my feminine frame and looks, though her hair—frizzled by steam from the kettles—was blond, whereas my natural color was mousy brown. It was currently that color too, as my scalp hadn’t healed well enough yet for me to dye it after I’d burned it. There were a couple of bald batches too. I hoped it would grow back eventually, but I was considering a pixie cut like Tessa’s. If it became her, it might become me too.

Then again, she was a former supermodel with looks to match where as I … wasn’t.

A happy smile spread on Mom’s face when she spotted me. “You’re a bit early, but I could use help. Could you mash the potatoes? Where’s Jackson?”

“In the garage with Dad,” I told her as I began to work on the potatoes. There was enough to feed an army. “Are others coming?”

Mom always presumed we would all attend and cooked accordingly. They probably ate leftovers till Thursday most weeks.

“Trevor’s taking Mason to his mother’s, but he’ll return for lunch. Others probably can’t make it.”

I was a little sad to hear that I’d missed Trevor’s three-year-old son, the cutest little copy of my brother with orange hair, but once Trevor and Emma had the custody figured out, I’d see more of him. With his share of the reward from the diamond case, he’d been able to convince the judge he was capable of providing for Mason just as well as wealthy Emma.

“What are they doing in the garage?” Mom asked, curious.

I grimaced, although I felt a little pleased too. “I kind of convinced Jackson to do something about his backyard, and now he needs to tear down the old porch so that he can build a new deck. He’s borrowing the tools from Dad.”

Mom smiled. “If he plays his cards well, Colm will come and do it for him.”

Tempting. I had great faith in Jackson’s abilities, but a handyman he wasn’t.

“It has to be done today. Some people will come and dig up the old lawn tomorrow.”

“Well, your father isn’t busy today. What will you do with the rest of the yard?”

“I have no idea,” I admitted. “Could you help?”

Mom loved gardening, and her face lit up. “Absolutely.”

“But nothing complicated,” I instantly backtracked. I would not spend my summer digging up weeds from flowerbeds. I’d had enough of that when I still lived at home.

She smiled. “Of course not. But let’s see how much room there’s left after the deck is built before we plan anything.”

For all that I’d wanted to grow something, the notion that the entire backyard would be covered with a deck started to sound appealing.

And Mom was right. Dad was thrilled for the chance to help, so after lunch we filed into two cars with Dad and Trevor and a bunch of tools. The work kind.

Dad was in his mid-sixties, with some gray in his Irish black hair, but still tall and fairly fit despite having been retired for a couple of years already. He was perfectly capable of tearing down the old porch, in addition to knowing how it was best done. Trevor—definitely in the prime of his life at thirty-one, with a tall, muscled body—and Jackson, insisted on handling the heaviest tasks, but the happy gleam in Dad’s blue eyes told me he was enjoying himself immensely.

Dad even helped Jackson to plan and measure the new deck, and I half expected them to head back to the garden center to start building it immediately. Only the fact that we had to wait until the old lawn had been peeled away halted them.

It was the most domestic afternoon I’d enjoyed in ages, and the first one with Jackson, and I found myself smiling happily as I listened to my family banter and occasionally curse as they dismantled the porch bit by bit. My role was to remove nails from the old planks, which suited both my skillset and mood. It was exactly the kind of meditative task that went a long way to restoring me for the coming week.

And then it was all wiped away by a call from Cheryl, the agency secretary.

“Can you come and bail me out? I’ve been arrested for breaking and entering.”

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You can preorder P.I. on the Scent on Amazon, Smashwords, iBooks, B&N and Kobo. The book comes out on April 4th.