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The Agency

By Edward Kendrick


Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashwords

Visit jms-books.com for more information.


Copyright 2018 Edward Kendrick

ISBN 9781634867061

* * * *

Cover Design: Written Ink Designs | written-ink.com

Image(s) used under a Standard Royalty-Free License.

All rights reserved.


WARNING: This book is not transferable. It is for your own personal use. If it is sold, shared, or given away, it is an infringement of the copyright of this work and violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

No portion of this book may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the publisher, with the exception of brief excerpts used for the purposes of review.

This book is for ADULT AUDIENCES ONLY. It may contain sexually explicit scenes and graphic language which might be considered offensive by some readers. Please store your files where they cannot be accessed by minors.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published in the United States of America.

* * * *

The Agency

By Edward Kendrick

Chapter 1

Kip grabbed his backpack and ran. He kept running even though his lungs burned and his legs ached, until his body rebelled and he collapsed. Even fear and adrenaline couldn’t make him take one step more. He could crawl, however, and he did, into the underbrush.

He buried his face in the crook of his arm to cover his gasps for breath. He saw me. If he finds me, he’ll kill me, too.

It had all started when Kip was awakened by the sound of a car coming to a stop on the road not too far from where he was camping for the night. Camping was probably a misnomer. Homeless, and tired of trying to survive on the streets in a city where there were tons of kids like him, he’d decided he couldn’t do any worse if he took off for the mountains. He’d figured, since it was late summer, at least he wouldn’t freeze to death. He’d deal with winter when the time came.

There were small towns where, if he got lucky and was careful to avoid the local police, he could beg from tourists heading to or from Grand Junction. He’d tell them he was broke and his car had run out of gas or had blown a tire, or whatever. Some of them commiserated with him, giving him enough spare change so that he could buy food or a cheap meal at a diner. Just like in the city, but without the danger of a punk or the cops trying to hassle me.

He’d also found out that some small town people were very trusting. They didn’t lock their doors, or their garages, during the day. That was how he’d ended up with a decent waterproof sleeping bag to replace the old raggedy one he’d had, as well as two blankets. He’d crept into a couple of homes when he saw the owners leave and gotten lucky, finding some clothes and a worn winter jacket that didn’t look as if he’d scrounged them out of a dumpster—which was where most of what he’d brought with him had come from.

When he wasn’t begging, or what he told himself was ‘borrowing’ what he needed, he was living rough in the forest, staying close enough to one or another of the roads so that he wouldn’t get lost—but far enough away that no one would know he was around.

That had worked out fine—until tonight.

He’d listened to the car doors open and figured, prayed actually, that whoever was getting out was making a pit stop before moving on. In case that wasn’t what was happening, he’d slithered silently out of the sleeping bag, grabbed his backpack, and crawled under the low-hanging branches of a tall pine.

Moments later he’d heard footsteps and someone said, “This should work.”

Then a second man was begging, “Don’t kill me. I swear I’ll give you every cent of it. Let me go and I’ll vanish where no one can find me.”

A third man said, “That’s the plan. Your body won’t be found until…well, probably never. Not out here.”

Kip peeped out from his hiding place. In the dim moonlight he saw two men, big and burly, holding guns. There was a third man wearing nice slacks and a dress shirt. He looked like he’d just come from the office—except for the fact that his hands were tied behind his back.

They’re going to kill him and there’s nothing I can do.

One of the bruisers put his hand on the victim’s shoulder, forcing him to his knees.

“No. Noooooooooo,” the man screamed seconds before the other bruiser put his gun to the back of the man’s head and fired twice.

Kip couldn’t help it. He let out a gasp of horror as the man fell face-forward, the back of his head leaking blood and brains. Both killers turned to look his way.

“We’ve got a witness,” one of them said, striding toward the pine—and Kip. “Show yourself,” he ordered.

Like hell. Kip backed away until he was on the other side of the tree. Then he jumped to his feet at the same moment the second bruiser, the one who had killed the man, came into view a few feet away. They looked at each other for what seemed to Kip like an eternity—and then he ran. A shot rang out and he could have sworn he felt the breeze from the bullet as it barely missed him. He darted through the trees, hearing the men coming after him.

He had one advantage. He knew the area and was used to moving through the trees, although not while running for his life. Still, he managed to elude them, not stopping until he couldn’t take another step. Dropping, he crawled deep into the underbrush.

Now what do I do? Go to the cops? Like they’d believe me. By now those bastards have probably picked that poor guy up and are dumping his body somewhere else. It’s what I’d do if it was me. And then they’ll come back looking for me. Lots of luck. There’s no way I’m sticking around.

For a second he considered going back to get his sleeping bag. Then common sense took hold. One of them could be waiting there, hoping I will. My life isn’t worth a damned sleeping bag.

He’d kept going—once he’d rested for a while and changed into a pair of black jeans, a different T-shirt, and his dark blue hoodie—moving farther and farther from the where the murder had happened. He’d stayed well back from the road, afraid the men might be driving up and down looking for him. He figured he’d see their headlights if they were, but wasn’t counting on it.

It was close to noon when Kip finally took a chance and snuck into the small town of Elderon, which he knew was at least ten miles from where he’d bedded down the previous night.

Cautiously, he made his way to the local diner. He was starving but more importantly he wanted to see if there was a TV there, and turned on. Maybe there will be a news story about the guy being kidnapped, or at least missing. If there was, he’d seen enough of the man’s face he knew he’d recognize him if they showed a photo.

He peered out between two buildings, looking for the killers, wishing he’d seen their car. After several minutes he felt safe enough to walk quickly to the diner. There were several customers, some of whom cast leery glances at him as he found a vacant stool at the end of the counter.

“You want coffee, honey?” the waitress asked, coming over to him.

Kip nodded, taking the menu she handed him. She poured it then went to wait on someone else, giving him a chance to see how much money he had. Not a lot, but enough for a burger, which he ordered when she came back. At that point he turned his attention to the TV set on the wall in the corner of the room. He was in luck. The news was on, starting with a story about something the president had done. He waited through it and several other stories, none of them about a missing man, or someone finding a body in the mountains.

He jumped when the waitress put the plate with his burger down on the counter, thanked her, and began eating, his gaze still glued to the TV until the sports came on.

“News freak?” he heard someone ask. Turning, he saw a man smiling at him from the next stool. He was maybe in his early forties with piercing blue eyes and a slight bend to his nose as if it had been broken sometime in the past. “You’ve barely taken your eyes off the TV since you sat down.”

Kip lifted one shoulder. “I was waiting for the weather,” he replied. “I’m going, umm, hiking, if it doesn’t rain.”

“That explains the backpack. You come up from the city?”

Nodding, Kip took a bite of his burger, hoping it would keep the man from asking more questions. It didn’t.

“You hitched up here? I didn’t see a strange car outside.”

“Yeah.”

“Okay.” The man stopped bothering him to order his lunch. When he had, he returned his attention to Kip. “Running from family troubles?”

“What?” Kip tried for innocence. “No! Like I said, I’m going hiking, I hope.”

Resting one elbow on the counter, the man shook his head. “I was watching you, before you came in here. No one dropped you off. You were looking around, from across the street, like you were making sure no one you knew was here. My bet, from the shape your clothes are in, is that you packed up and took off, or were kicked out of your parents’ house. Not yesterday. A while ago. You’ve been living rough, maybe down in Grand Junction, first. Or some other city.”

“You’re crazy.” Kip purposely turned to the TV again, just in time to see a ‘Breaking News’ bulletin about a man thought to have been responsible for the disappearance of the payroll from the company where he was employed as a bookkeeper.

“Mr. Constantine was last seen leaving work two nights ago,” the reporter said. “He didn’t go home, and didn’t show up for work the next day. If you have any information on his whereabouts, the police request you to call them. Anything you say will be kept confidential.” Then a picture appeared on the screen. Kip sucked in a breath.

“You’ve seen him?” the man asked.

Kip shook his head hard. “No. He…he reminded me of someone. It’s not him, though.”

“Becky,” the man said to the waitress when she arrived with his food. “Can you make that to go instead?”

“Sure, sheriff.”

Kip tensed, when she called the man ‘sheriff,’ ready to bolt if it seemed like he was going to…To arrest me? For what? He can’t know I saw that Constantine guy being killed.

“Kid,” the sheriff said, putting his hand on Kip’s arm. “I have the feeling you and I should have a talk.”

“You can’t make me go back home,” Kip replied defiantly. “I’m seventeen. Old enough to be on my own.”

“Yeah, maybe, though you look all of fifteen. Anyway, why don’t you come with me?” He smiled. “I’m not going to make you do anything you don’t want to, as long as you can prove who you are and how old you are.”

Kip’s shoulders sank in resignation. “Can I at least finish this?” He held up what remained of his burger. When the sheriff nodded, he did, hoping the man would take his eyes off him long enough for him to get a head start on running from the diner. He glanced at the doorway, gauging his chances.

“Don’t even think it,” the sheriff said, chuckling. “I may not look it, but I run pretty damned fast when motivated.”

With a sigh, Kip finished the burger and paid for it. Then he picked up his backpack and followed the sheriff from the diner, down the street to a building with a sign on the door saying ‘Sheriff’s Department.’

“Have a seat,” the sheriff said when they were in his office with the door closed. “I’m Mitch Long. You are?”

“Kip.”

“Okay, Kip. Show me some ID, if you have it.”

Kip dug his wallet out of the backpack, handing it to Sheriff Long. After comparing the picture on his driver’s license to Kip, and reading the information, he handed the wallet back.

“Yep, you’re over the age of consent, as they say. Are you really afraid your folks might be looking to find you and bring you home?”

Kip snorted. “Chances are they threw a party when I left.”

“Which was how long ago?”

“Almost a year.” Kip began to relax, as much as he could.

“So if you’re not worried they might be hunting for you, how come you snuck into town and then the diner? And don’t deny it. I’m not stupid.”

“Habit,” Kip replied quickly. “You live on the streets long enough you don’t go anywhere without checking to be sure it’s safe.”

“Uh-huh. Want to try again.” Sheriff Long gave him a long, hard look. “My guess is it has something to do with that guy in the news story. The one who ran off with the payroll. Did you see him somewhere around here while you were hiking?” From the tone of his voice, the sheriff had already figured out Kip had been lying about that.

Kip stared down at his hands. Do I tell him? If I do, those guys will find me. If I say I didn’t, he’s not going to believe me. Kip took a deep breath. “Okay, yeah, I did see him, or I think it was him. I was camped out about, maybe ten miles from here? Off the road that heads north out of town. I was asleep. I woke up when I heard a car door slam. I kept real quiet, figuring it was someone who needed to take a leak, you know. He did, and I could see his face because of the moon. Not clearly, but enough to say it could have been him.”

The sheriff nodded. “Which way did he go when he finished?”

“North. He sped out of there like he expected someone, maybe cops, were right on his tail.”

“What did the car look like?”

“I really didn’t see it. Just him, taking a piss.”

“Okay. At least that’s something. I’ll let the Grand Junction police know which way he might be headed.” The sheriff studied him again. “You’re sure that’s it?”

“Yes. Honest.” Kip resisted crossing his heart.

“Okay. There’s no reason to hold you, since you can’t swear it was him.” Sheriff Long smiled, then. “If you don’t mind a piece of advice, go home. Your folks might have been glad you left when it happened, but I’m still betting if you show up again they’ll be relieved and take you back.”

“Yeah, right. Not happening.”

The sheriff sighed. “I’ll take your word for it. You’re old enough you could get off the streets, if you really want to. And I don’t mean by hiding out in the mountains. It’s going to start getting a lot colder real soon. You won’t survive up here when it does. If you don’t want to go back home, at least find a city where you can get a job, even if it’s slinging burgers. It’ll take time, but if you put your mind to it you can save and rent a small apartment, go back to school since I figure you didn’t finish high school. Or get your GED instead.” He gripped Kip’s arm. “Make something of yourself, Kip. I think you have what it takes.”

“Why?”

“You took a chance and got away from how you were living—from home, which I suspect wasn’t a good life or you wouldn’t have run. And from your life on the streets by coming up here. That takes some kind of courage, in my opinion.”

“Or stupidity,” Kip replied sourly.

“Nope. Courage.” The sheriff smiled. “Don’t argue with me. I’m bigger and older and I’ve been around the block a few times. Here.” He took a card from a holder on his desk. “This has my office phone number and my cell phone. If you need someone to talk to, once you find a place to settle, give me a call. Do you have a phone?”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t have any minutes left. It hasn’t for a while.”

The sheriff took out his wallet and handed Kip some cash. “Buy some minutes and use the rest for food until you get wherever you decide to go.”

“This is too much,” Kip said, when he saw it was three twenties, trying to hand them back.

“Keep it. Consider it my attempt to save at least one kid from ending up in jail, or worse.”

Kip thanked him profusely. “I will call, I promise.”

“See that you do.” Sheriff Long grinned. “I don’t want to put out a BOLO on you. Oh, by the way, stop down the street at Joe’s Barber Shop. It’ll be easier to get a job, wherever you end up, if you don’t look like a wild man.”

Kip knew what he meant. At that point, his hair was long enough to touch his shoulder blades. He usually kept it tied back, but…Yeah, wild man is a good description.

“Good luck,” the sheriff said, patting him on the back. “I have the feeling you’re going to make something of yourself, once you get settled somewhere.”

“Thanks. I’m going to try.”

* * * *

Chapter 2

Kip had taken Sheriff Long’s words to heart.

He’d hiked down to Grand Junction where he managed to catch a ride with a long-haul semi driver leaving late that afternoon. In return, he did what he had to, to repay the man, meaning giving him a couple of blowjobs. It was worth it, though, as the man had driven him all the way to Denver. Kip succeeded in getting a job as a dishwasher at a small diner a couple of days later. Within six months he’d worked his way up to being a waiter, making enough to get off the street, find a tiny furnished apartment, and buy necessities.

Tom, his boss, had taken a liking to him—because Kip was industrious, he’d said. At his suggestion, Kip had checked out places where he could study for and then earn his GED. One of the shelters had free prep classes, which he signed up for.

Two months later he took the tests, passing with flying colors.

“Now it’s on to college,” Tom said when Kip showed him the certificate.

“Right. Not in my budget.”

“Kipling…” Tom always used Kip’s full name when he was being serious. “You have what it takes up here.” Tom tapped his forehead. “Figure out what you want to study and we’ll make it happen.”

Emily, Tom’s wife and co-owner of the diner, nodded. “You’re like our third son. Anything we can do to help, we will.”

Kip knew what he wanted to study—criminal justice. He admired Sheriff Long and had kept in touch with him, talking with him at least once a week. That was how he’d learned that the body of the man he’d seen being murdered by the two thugs had been located, three weeks after it happened. A hunter’s dog had found the grave, the sheriff said. Unfortunately, there were no clues to who had killed him.

Kip knew. Well, not who, but I know what they look like. Several times he’d been tempted to let the sheriff know, only to change his mind. The men had seen him and would know he was the one who had turned them in. He felt guilty about staying silent, but not enough to take a chance the killers would find him, since he wasn’t willing to trust the police could protect him. He finally convinced himself that even if he had, it wouldn’t have stopped their boss from using other men to kill for him.

He had no desire to become a police officer, despite his admiration for the sheriff. A private investigator however…I could help people like me who might be in danger.

When he told Tom and Emily—although not the real reason behind it—they were all for his idea. Tom was friends with a man who owned an upscale restaurant in Cherry Creek and made it a point to convince the man to hire Kip, which he did. From there, it had been a case of finding a school he could afford, with Tom and Emily helping him pay for it, then spending the next two years earning his degree. That happened soon after he turned twenty-one.

Degree in hand, figuratively, he started job hunting and found an agency that was willing to hire him. He stayed with them for almost four years before deciding, soon after his twenty-fifth birthday, to strike out on his own. He rented office space in a building close to downtown Denver in the Baker District, bought the furniture he needed, and had the name painted on the door—’Faulkner Private Investigation Agency.’ His last step was to hire Nina Cox.

“Now I’m official. All one man plus Nina as my secretary slash receptionist,” he’d told both Tom and Sheriff Long. Neither of them seemed to have any doubts that he’d make a go of it.

During the time between when he’d witnessed the murder of Mr. Constantine and when he’d opened his agency, Kip had kept track of any news about the man. In the beginning, after his body had been found, reporters speculated that he had been involved with someone else in the theft of the payroll and his accomplice had killed him. Or, he had been working for the mob and had stolen the money in an attempt to break free and go into hiding. Or…there were various other theories for his unsolved murder, some of them possible, others way off in left field as far as Kip was concerned. Given what he’d overheard and having seen the two men who had committed the murder, he tended to believe it was a mob hit.

Not that I’ll ever know for certain. At least I hope I won’t, because if I do find out it was, it will probably be when one of the guys sees me somewhere and decides to take me out. That idea had given him many sleepless nights for the first couple of years after he’d come to Denver. When it hadn’t happened, he finally relaxed, putting the episode in the back of his mind, although he never forgot what he’d witnessed. He never would. But he did stop worrying that the killers would find him.

* * * *

“You need to hire someone new,” Nina said, resting one hip on the edge of Kip’s desk.

“That better not be your way of telling me you’re quitting,” Kip grumbled.

“Come on, would I do that? I love it here. The thing of it is, you’re so busy we have to turn away people because you can’t fit them into your schedule.”

Kip knew she had a point. In the last three years his reputation for being a good and trustworthy private investigator had brought him enough clients he was beginning to feel overworked. Not that he was complaining but some days, and nights, it seemed as if he didn’t have time for a real life.

“First,” he replied, “we’ll have to find a larger office space.”

Nina grinned. “On it. In fact…” She handed him a sheet of paper. It was a print-out from a realty company that handled business properties. She had already circled several possibilities.

“Now I know why I keep you around,” he said, getting an eye roll from her.

It took two weeks, during what he laughingly called his lunch hour, for Kip to find a place he liked with a rent he could afford—and an option to buy if he wanted to in the future. It was east of downtown, a stand-alone building on the corner of Twelfth and Colorado. There were two floors, the first floor broken into office space on one end and a room for the furnace, water heater, and air conditioning unit at the other end. The second floor, accessed by outside steps to a small front porch, took the full length of the building and would be for the agency.

“What are you going to do with the first floor?” Nina asked when Kip took her through the building.

“Turn it into my apartment.”

“Seriously? Are you crazy? You’ll never get away from work if you do.”

Kip laughed. “Like I do, anyway? This way it’ll only take a minute to walk downstairs, not a ten minute or more to drive, and I’ll be home.”

She ceded the point and once the contract was signed, Kip hired a contractor to repaint and carpet the office space and turn the downstairs into a one bedroom apartment. While all that was being done, Kip continued to take care of his clients at the old place and Nina started the process of letting everyone know they would be moving, and where.

A month later, over the long Memorial Day weekend, Kip supervised the movers as they took everything from the old office and his apartment to the new agency.

“It’s done,” he said with relief when he and Nina arrived at work Tuesday morning.

“And it’s beautiful,” she replied, surveying the large waiting room. Her desk was at the back of it, next to the door opening onto the rest of the agency. There were three rooms on one side of the hallway, plus the washroom. Kip’s office was on the other side, as well as a second room, and a small kitchen area with the stairs next to the back door leading down to his apartment. “Now you need to get off your ass and hire someone to help you,” she said.

“I thought you were my help,” Kip replied with a straight face.

“I meant…” She smacked his arm.

“I know, and I will. It’s just where to find someone who knows what they’re doing.”

Nina went to her desk, booted up her computer and went on line. “You start here.”

He took a look, nodding. “Okay. Let me work up…”

With one click, she brought up a document. “Like this?”

“You’re two steps ahead of me, as always. Thank you!”

She sent the employment ad to the website, saying a few minutes later when it was up, “Now we wait.”

“And hope someone responds.”

* * * *

A week later, Kip was beginning to wonder how many unemployed private investigators lived in the city. He had already interviewed five men and one woman for the job, eliminating all of them.

“It’s not that I’m picky,” he said to Nina after the most recent one had left. “I just want someone who has a résumé to back up their assertions that they know more than how to run background checks and stake out roaming spouses.”

“It’ll happen. Maybe the man you’re talking to tomorrow morning will be perfect. Right now, though, Mr. Collins is expecting you to be at his main store at six.”

Mr. Collins was regular client who owned three clothing stores. He’d called earlier in the day, saying he wanted to upgrade his security on one of them as there had been a rash of either shoplifting or employee thefts. That meant Kip needed to install more cameras—but not until after the store closed as they needed to be hidden so that whoever was committing the thefts wouldn’t know they were there.

“Another late night,” he said under his breath.

“So hire the guy tomorrow, even if all he knows is how to run background checks. That would still ease up your schedule.”

“I might do that.” Not that he would. He wanted a competent investigator. One who knew the ropes, from serving subpoenas to setting up and running surveillance to finding missing persons—especially kids.

He went into the storeroom to get what he needed for Mr. Collins, then headed out, leaving Nina to lock up.

* * * *

It was well after nine when Kip finished installing the security cameras. It would have taken half the time if Mr. Collins hadn’t insisted on talking to him while he worked, asking why he put each camera where he had. Halfway through Collins left, returning with take-out dinners and coffee for both of them. That required Kip’s sitting in Collins’s office while they ate. He appreciated the man’s kindness. He would have appreciated it more if he’d been able to get out of the store an hour earlier.

When Kip got home, he flicked on the TV, settling down to watch the end of a show he liked. He was half asleep, the result of his long day, when he realized the news was on. He reached for the remote, stopping when the news anchor began reporting that the body of a missing man had been found in the mountains. Kip instantly flashed back to the murder he’d witnessed eleven years before.

“Mr. Alexander,” the anchor said, obviously recapping previous stories, “was the business banking manager for South Market Credit Union in Denver. The day after his disappearance three weeks ago it was discovered that a large amount of cash was missing from the bank’s vault. The police were unable to locate him until his body was discovered in a shallow grave five miles outside of Silver Plume early this morning. He’d been shot twice in the back of the head. The only clue to his killer is a photo of a man discovered on Alexander’s cell phone. From the time stamp, and the background, it was taken right before his murder.” A picture appeared on the screen, with a request for anyone to call if they knew or had seen the man. He had been caught in profile, obviously moving when the victim had shot the photo, so his face was blurry. Nonetheless, Kip recognized him.

He shuddered, his thoughts going back to the last time he’d seen him. He had been pointing a gun at Kip, seconds before Kip took off running. The man looked older than he remembered, but that wasn’t surprising. It was eleven years ago. Who is he? Why did he kill Mr. Alexander the same way Mr. Constantine was murdered? Constantine stole payroll money, Alexander walked away with money from the bank where he worked. Both of them disappeared right after. There has to be a connection because the same thug was involved in both killings. But eleven years apart?

Kip promised himself he’d start searching in the morning for similar murders. He had the resources upstairs in his office which would allow him to go deeper than just looking for news stories. If he wasn’t so tired, he’d have gone up right then and there. “But a working mind is a necessity,” he grumbled.

Shutting off the TV, he went to bed, his thoughts whirling. His sleep was plagued with nightmares about the murder he’d witnessed. By the time morning arrived, he felt as if he’d barely slept at all—and looked as if he hadn’t if his reflection in the mirror was any indication. A hot shower, followed by a cold one, helped some and by the time he went upstairs to the agency he felt and looked almost normal.

* * * *

“Mr. Rigby is here for his interview,” Nina said, coming into Kip’s office ten minutes after they opened. “He’s kind of cute.”

“Nina. Honestly.” He shook his head.

“Yep, honestly,” she replied with a grin, handing Kip the man’s résumé.

“Give me five minutes to look at this again then bring him in, please.”

She did, and then ushered Mr. Rigby into Kip’s office. Kip’s first impression of the man was that he wasn’t at all cute, or even terribly good looking. Rugged would have been a better description. It took him a moment to realize part of the look came from the tattoo he could see covering Mr. Rigby’s neck, as well as the fact that he sported a mustache and needed a shave.

If nothing else, he could intimidate someone we were after—or a client, which might not be good.

“Please have a seat, Mr. Rigby.”

“Thank you,” he replied, although he didn’t move. “And call me John, if you don’t mind. It’s less formal. Yes, I know this is an interview, but still…”

Kip found it interesting that John’s voice belied his appearance. It was quiet and slightly husky. “John it is,” he replied. “I’m Kip. Kip Faulkner.” He held out his hand, they shook, and then he beckoned to the chair beside his desk. When John sat, Kip did as well, pressing his fingertips together as he studied the man. “Tell me about yourself.”

John smiled. “There’s not much to say that isn’t in my résumé. I’m thirty. I’ve been doing investigative work since I graduated college with a bachelor’s in criminal justice. I’m duly licensed, like you.” He glanced at Kip’s license hanging on the wall behind him.

“Why did you decide to become a private investigator?”

“To help people who were in trouble. When I was in high school, my older sister was being stalked by an ex-boyfriend. The police couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do anything about it so my dad hired a PI. He obtained proof of what the guy was doing and gave it to my sister to take to the police. They charged the guy with trespassing, which only pissed him off, so the detective had a long talk with him.” John smiled wryly. “I don’t know if threats were involved. He didn’t tell her or my dad one way or the other. But her ex stopped bothering her. That made an impression on me on two levels. I decided I didn’t want to become a cop, which I’d been considering, but I, excuse the banal expression, wanted to serve and protect. So here I am. End of story.”

Kip nodded. “I can understand that. You’ve worked for several agencies in the past eight years. Is there a reason you’ve moved around so often?”

John nodded. “Trying to find the right niche. To be honest, I get bored easily. Sitting on my duff doing background checks, or parked in a car watching some poor schmuck who’s tired of his wife and wants to have fun with his girlfriend, makes me jumpy as hell.”

“Well, that’s definitely honest,” Kip replied, chuckling. “I avoid straying spouse cases, so you’re safe on that. Background checks are part of the territory. If I decide to hire you, I promise I won’t throw all of them at you. I presume you own a car.”

“Never presume,” John replied. “I have a 2013 Harley Softail.”

Kip eyed him then shook his head. “Why doesn’t that really surprise me?”

“You mean because of the tat?” John laughed. “I could say it, and the rest of them, are relics of my misspent youth, but they aren’t. I’ve been adding to them since I got the first one when I was in college.” He pulled up his sleeve to show Kip the one on his right forearm.

“Nice artwork,” Kip commented before moving on to tell John what would be expected of him, if he was hired.

* * * *

If asked, John would have admitted he was impressed by the younger man. Kip knew what he wanted in an employee. He also had an excellent reputation as an honest and competent private investigator. John knew because he’d checked him and his agency out before submitting his résumé.

He wasn’t half bad looking either, with his dark hair and open smile. Not that that was a selling point, but it didn’t hurt to be able to work for a man who didn’t look like he’d been on the losing end of more than one fight, like the last guy who had hired him.

“Do you have a license to carry?” Kip asked.

“Yes, and I’m a good shot.” John smiled. “Although I’ve never had to prove it, other than at the firing range.” He cocked his head in question. “Do you do bodyguard work where it might be necessary to carry one?”

“Occasionally,” Kip replied. For a second his expression darkened and John wondered what that was about. Not that he’d ask—yet. Not until he’d been hired and gotten to know Kip better.

“Well, if you need me for that, it’s okay. I’m also decent with a knife, for what that’s worth.”

Kip nodded. “At times, a lot. It’s quieter if you can get close enough to the perp.”

“Do you have, well, I won’t call it a forensics lab, but what you need to deal with fingerprints and what have you?”

“Yep. I call it the research room. Come on, I’ll show you around.”

“More rooms than people?” John commented when they were in the hallway.

“Right now, yes. At the moment, the one next to mine is set up as a conference room for meetings with clients when I’m dealing with more than one at a time.”

“Like a family or partners in a business?”

Kip nodded. “That one,” he pointed directly across the hallway, “will be yours, if I hire you. The storage room is next to the kitchen and the final one is where I’ve got a research library of sorts, as well as setups for fingerprint, handwriting, and document analysis. If we run into anything beyond that, I’ll send the information to a forensics lab.”

“Smart.”

Kip chuckled. “I think so.” He opened the kitchen door.

“Where do the stairs go?” John asked.

“Downstairs,” Kip replied with a grin. “Seriously, though, I have an apartment down there, at this end of the building. The furnace and utility room is at the far end.”

“That makes it convenient for you. You don’t have to commute.”

“Exactly.”

John was impressed when Kip showed him what was in the storage room. “You’ve got every toy imaginable for surveillance.”

“Not everything, but a lot. It’s taken time to amass, but if we’re going to give our clients the best services possible, we need it.”

With the tour complete, Kip took John back to the waiting room, thanked him for coming in, and told him he’d let him know the following morning if he was hired.

As soon as Kip returned to his office, Nina winked at John, saying, “Don’t worry about it. You’re hired. He didn’t give any of the other applicants the grand tour and…you’re the last interviewee.”

“I hope you’re right. It would be good to work with someone I think I’ll respect for his know-how and his interest in doing right by his clients.” Okay, a leap in logic at this point, but I have the feeling the client is all important, not the money.

“And he’s easy to get along with.”

“Are you and he…?”

“He’s the boss and we’re friends. That’s it.” It looked as if she was going to say something more and decided against it. Give what he’d asked her, John had a feeling he knew what it was. Whether he was right or not, it was none of his business.

* * * *

As soon as he was back in his office, Kip got online. He had two things he needed to do. One was for a client who wanted background checks on a couple of potential employees. He took care of that first, typed up his report when he finished, and emailed it to the client.

With that completed, he began his search for any killings which were comparable to Constantine’s and Alexander’s—as well as anything about missing persons that fit the parameters.

He started with a major search engine, inputting his inquiry about bodies found in the mountains. That brought up more than he’d expected. He narrowed the search to possible murder victims which eliminated missing hikers and supposed suicides. Way too many of those, which is sad.

Constantine’s and Alexander’s were listed. Then there was body of a woman who had worked for an escort service, and had been shot execution-style. It was found buried not far off the highway between Denver and Blackhawk. Kip added her to the list. A young man who was last seen leaving a bar in Denver with two men who one witness described as ‘older and violent looking’ also made the list, as did a man who was on the way to a bank with the previous night’s proceeds from the club where he worked. He never arrived, his car was missing, and his wife told the police he had packed a bag for what he told her was a business trip. That had happened six years ago. A body identified as his had been discovered the following spring in a mine shaft near Long’s Peak. He had been shot in the back. Not in the head, but the basic details were close enough to fit the parameters, Kip figured.

He found a few more possibilities, although the information on the news sites was slim. He went to the site he used when he was doing background checks and needed to do a criminal records search, and then into the NCIC database. That eliminated all but three, including the young man from the bar who had turned up six months later working for a club in New York as a bouncer. Those that were left, although spread far apart, fit what Kip was searching for.

So I have five persons who disappeared and then ended up in graves in the mountains between Denver and Grand Junction. There’s no proof the two men I saw killed all of them, but I don’t believe in coincidences.

He created a well secured hidden file on his computer for all the information he’d gathered. With that done he leaned back, considering John Rigby and whether he wanted to hire him. He’s got the qualifications. The problem is, he doesn’t seem to be able to settle down and stay with one agency. I get the whole boredom thing. If I didn’t have to do background checks I’d be a happy camper, but they are my bread and butter when things are slow. He chuckled. Not that they have been recently. I think today’s the first one in forever when I haven’t been trying to do three things at the same time. God only knows I could use him.

He took out John’s résumé and called his past employers. To a man they said he was a hard worker and very knowledgeable when it came to security and working on missing persons cases. Kip was well aware it was against the law for them to state anything negative about past employees, but there were ways around that in how things were worded. None of John’s ex bosses did that. In fact, they all said they had been sorry to see him leave.

Picking up the phone, Kip called John. After identifying himself, he said, “Can you start tomorrow?”

“I can. What time?” John replied.

Kip told him, John thanked him, and they hung up. Kip went out to tell Nina, getting a grin and a thumbs-up from her, followed by, “I’ll have him fill out the paperwork as soon as he gets here.”

“Afraid he might change his mind?”

“Nope. Afraid you might. I know you. You hate delegating.”

“Hated. Past tense. I’m ready to have some time for myself.”

She clapped her hand to her chest. “You mean you might finally get a life?”

“You never know,” he replied. “It could happen.”

* * * *

Chapter 3

John laughed when Nina said “Quick, before he changes his mind,” as she handed him a sheaf of papers to fill out.

“Is he likely to?” he asked.

“Not really, but I’m not taking any chances. It took forever to convince him to even consider hiring another investigator.”

“It did not,” Kip protested from the doorway. “Good morning, John. Why don’t you fill those out in your office? Then we can go over what’s on the schedule for today.”

For John, that turned out to be serving summons for two of Kip’s legal clients. The first recipient sighed while admitting she was the person he was looking for. The second one, a man, was not happy when he opened his door and John asked if he was Mr. Thorne while holding out the summons. The man said he wasn’t, so John asked to see his ID. Instead, the man slammed the door closed. John knew the man was Thorne as Kip had given him a copy of his driver’s license for identification purposes. The problem was, he had to give the summons to him in person, not leave it in the mailbox, so he went back to his bike to wait it out, figuring Thorne would either try to leave or hole up until he thought John was gone.

Half an hour later, he saw Thorne cross his backyard to the garage. Before he could get into his car, John was there. “I’m not giving up until you take this,” he said. “Might as well make it easy on yourself and do it now.” Thorn glared at him, getting into the car. John smiled, tossing the summons on the dashboard. “Consider yourself served, Mr. Thorne.”

“I’m not…”

“Yeah, you are.” John showed him the copy of the driver’s license.

Thorne’s hands fisted, until he took a real look at John. It must have been the tats, John figured. He’d loosened his tie, opened his shirt collar, and rolled up his sleeves while waiting for Thorne to show his face. Whether it was that, or just resignation, Thorne did nothing more than swear vehemently as he finally looked at the summons.

Without another word, because saying “Have a good day” would only have been rubbing salt in Thorne’s wounds, John left.

When he got back to the agency, Nina told him Kip had left to set up security for a client. “One of our regulars emailed a list of people he wants background checks on,” she told him, smiling sweetly. “I sent the email to your computer.”


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