Authors: Jessica Gadziala
Curious, I reached for the closest stack and picked it up to read. It was some kind of mathematical papers and while there were words, they weren't in English. "Is this... Russian?"
"Polish," he said, taking them back from me. "They're also in code."
Quite fastidious," I nodded, feeling a bit more secure in my choice, and also making a mental note to start storing my laptop in my safe when I wasn't in the house.
"What do you need help with, Miss..."
"Elsie is fine. And I guess, for right now, I need help figuring out what is going on at the warehouse on Kennedy."
"The warehouse on Kennedy," he repeated, brows drawing together.
"That's all you're gonna give me."
"Does knowing my motivations somehow change the information of what is going on inside the warehouse?"
"See your point," he said, reaching for a drawer and pulling out a fresh piece of loose leaf paper, scribbling notes in, I imagined, coded Polish. "So you want information of the people coming and going, items being brought in or out," he kept babbling as he grabbed his coffee with his left hand, brought it to his lips, took a long sip, then settled it back down. "Do you want full workups on every person?"
"Jobs, past jobs, habits, financial records..." he trailed off, looking up at me from behind his glasses, the expression there very much intimating that he thought I was an idiot for making him explain.
"Ah, sure," I said, shrugging. "Whatever you can find."
I pressed my lips together to keep them from twitching. I'd been on more than my share of consultations with various professionals over the years: attorneys, accountants, doctors, etc. Never had I been in a meeting as clipped as this one with the strange, sloppy, hungry-looking Barrett Anderson.
"A word of advice?" I offered and his head snapped up, one brow raised. "I think whatever is going on at that warehouse involves the Third Street gang. So you might want to be... careful."
"Right," he said in a rough voice, the way his lips had thinned out implying he was angry or insulted. "Is that all?"
"Do we need to fill out any paperwork?"
"What for, Miss. Bay? If I need you, I know right where to find you. Word of advice?" he threw my own words back at me. "Stop checking in on social media every time you go somewhere. From your Facebook alone, I know: you go to Shane Mallick's gym over on Willow; you have dinner at your father's every Sunday; you get to work early and stay late; you go to Chaz's with your girlfriends; you go out to eat way too often with Roman Matthewson; you get your hair done over at that expensive salon on Monroe; you..."
"Okay. I get it. I am making myself a perfect target for a stalker," I bristled, annoyed. I mean, I had privacy settings for God's sake. I wasn't an idiot. Only friends were supposed to see things like that. But apparently, Barrett had found a way around all that. "Sorry I bruised your pride with the warning. Excuse the heck out of me for thinking you look more like a future college professor than some badass who can take on a street gang. No need to be an ass."
I stood abruptly, slinging my purse back up on my shoulder.
"I'm good at my job, Miss. Bay," he said, standing as well, but fisting his hands onto the surface of his desk, hunching slightly forward.
"Good. Then prove it," I demanded, turning and walking out of his office.
Sometimes leaving on a bitch-note was the best bet. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it was one of the few things my father taught me that I felt actually did have practical applications in daily life. Yes, sometimes it was good to kill people with kindness, but something was telling me that Barrett Anderson was too smart to fall for the honey trap.
I didn't hear from Barrett for two days. I had six un-returned phone calls and emails out to him. Now, I can be patient in the way of- I put the work in and I am willing to wait for the results to come in. However, when all control is taken out of my hands and I have nothing to do but think and stress about said situation that I have no control over, well, I get decidedly less patient.
I tried taking a couple extra nights at the gym, thinking to sweat out the anxiety. I went out with Roman and one of my girlfriends for dinners, I stayed late at work to keep myself busy.
But, well, I was done just waiting.
So, on my way home from work around seven-thirty, I detoured back into the industrial part of town and parked out front of the police station for added security. What can I say? It was dark; I loved my car; I didn't want to come out to find parts of it missing.
There was no way to tell if Barrett was in his office given that there were no windows to see if the lights were on or not through them. I clutched my keys a little tighter as I ran across the street toward his door.
My feet faltered right outside, hearing shuffling and feeling a tiny bit of anger rise up. So he was in his office. He was just ignoring my calls. That ass...
But then the shuffling sounded decidedly unlike actual shuffling and a lot more like an altercation.
Okay, so I'm no hero. When it came to fight or flight instincts, mine leaned quite heavily toward flight. Whenever danger seemed evident, I got that weird swirly feeling in my belly and instinctively shrank away from whatever the perceived danger was. Personally. But when there seemed like something bad was happening to someone else, like the time I had been walking out of Chaz's bar to get some air and I had seen some musclebound jerk grab his girlfriend's face and shove her back against a wall, something protective in me welled up and I flew at him, screaming like a banshee loud enough to draw a crowd that ensured that I wasn't going to get my ass handed to me too.
So as I stood outside Barrett's office and heard what was undoubtedly the sounds of someone getting hurt, and that person very likely being skinny, underfed, nerdy Barrett Anderson, well, I didn't think. I didn't run back across the street and get a cop. I just did what my gut told me to do. I grabbed the handle and threw the door open.
Barrett was already on the floor, the front of one of his old man sweaters held in the giant fist of the man towering over him, his other arm cocked back. I couldn't even draw a breath to yell before he swung forward toward Barrett's face, a face that was already so bloodied and swollen that if it weren't for the shaggy hair, I wouldn't have recognized him, and smashed into some sweet spot that made Barrett's skinny body go boneless, suspended in air by the front of his shirt only.
"No!" I gasped, my heart slamming in my chest as I watched Barrett's, looking for the telltale rising and falling. It took a long second before I saw him draw breath.
But by that point, I was already screwed.
I knew this because suddenly Barrett was no longer suspended, but crashed down to the floor in a weighted way that made me cringe. I also knew this because suddenly the back of Barrett's attacker wasn't toward me anymore. He had stood fully and swiveled, a small smirk toying at his lips.
All I could think at that point was: run.
See, my good old flight instinct kicked in.
I turned back toward the door and was all of one foot outside before I was tagged from behind, one strong arm going around my throat, pulling me up and off my feet, the other going tight around my middle, anchoring me back against him. With his forearm pressing into my throat, I couldn't even draw a breath to scream. I was pulled back a few feet, the door slamming behind me, cutting off the chance of someone seeing in. Seconds. It was just seconds, but I was starting to feel light-headed from the pressure on my neck and had the horrifying realization that I was going to pass out. God only knew what kind of things could be done to me while unconscious. My nails clawed at his arm as I tried to wrench my body out of his hold.
Then I was dropped.
Surprised, my legs didn't react fast enough to lock and hold my weight and I went down on my knees, sucking in a greedy breath. My hair was grabbed from the crown of my head and yanked viciously back. "What do we have here? You his girlfriend?" he asked, jerking his chin toward Barrett's awkwardly twisted body. "Came in at the wrong time, bitch," he said, yanking my hair back harder. His other hand snaked out and grabbed me at the throat hard, using it to haul me back up on my feet. "Ain't gonna kill you. Stop giving me the big eyes," he said, rolling his eyes as he slammed me back against a wall.
Of course the dying thing crossed my mind, but it was more the before-dying thing I was worried about. You know... the likely beating, the possible rape, the definite strangulation. Yeah, that stuff was what was giving me the so-called big-eyes.
That and the fact that it felt like my esophagus was being crushed.
"I need you alive to give your boyfriend a message," he said, leaning in close and, even with most my air supply being cut off, the scent of stale cigarettes on his breath made my nose crinkle up. "You tell him to keep his fucking..."
The rest of his sentence got cut off when he was suddenly grabbed from the back of his neck and hauled backward, thrown so hard he crashed to the floor and slid several feet across it. My hand rose to my throat, holding there loosely, as I watched another man reach down to my attacker, grab his shirt, and pull him back onto his feet where he proceeded to beat the ever loving hell out of him, his hands moving faster than my eyes could follow.
The new guy's back was to me and all I could see was dark brown hair, a tall, lean, strong body clad in dark wash jeans and a somewhat tight dark blue tee.
I watched, horrified and fascinated, as the new guy decimated the guy who had choked me and knocked Barrett unconscious.
I flew toward his body, dropping down on my knees, and reaching my hands out toward his neck and chest simultaneously, feeling for how strong his breath was and his pulse. His face was hard to even look at, swollen and bloodied to nonrecognition. His breathing was shallow, but steady. I reached down for his sweater, hauling it upward to expose his chest and stomach. There were huge pools of red and purple bruises at his ribs. While I was no expert, I was pretty sure that meant they were broken.
"Oh God. Shit. Okay," I mumbled to myself, frantically patting at my pockets, looking for my cell.
"Relax," A deep voice said from behind me, making me yelp and fall back onto my ass. My head tilted up to find the random good (or very, very bad) guy towering over me, looking down at me with deep green eyes that were eerily familiar. It was in the bone structure too: the strong jaw, the straight, almost perfect nose, the brow ridge. Whatever his name might be, there was no mistaking it. Random hot good or bad guy was Barrett Anderson's brother.
"Relax?" I ground out, cringing at the razor blade sensation in my throat. "He's unconscious," I objected, noting that the office was empty save for the splatters of blood all over the floor. Whoever the other guy was, he was bleeding and long gone.
To this, I got a tight nod as he took a step to the side and crouched down next to me, doing a similar, but faster, check of his breathing and pulse. "It looks worse than it is."
"It looks like he was attacked by an entire gang."
"You his?" the guy asked, turning his head to look down at me and there was such an intensity in his gaze that I almost shrank away. I was pretty sure right then that he was very likely a bad, bad guy.
"His?" I repeated, not understanding.
"His. Girlfriend, side piece, fuck buddy..."
"What? No!" I exploded, cringing as my throat did the razor blade thing again.
"Yeah you're too rich-bitch for his taste."
Okay. I was getting pretty freaking sick of people commenting on me being well off. And, well, whoever this guy was, he was obviously bad. And an asshole. Completely.
"Are you planning on sitting here insulting me or getting your brother some help?" I asked with a haughty chin lift that totally screamed 'rich bitch', but I didn't care.
"He never should have gone off on his own," he said, reaching into his pocket for his phone. "Tig, it's Sawyer. Need help getting Barrett to the hospital. Right. His office. Thanks."
I was only half-listening after I heard his name.
His name was Sawyer.
No way was it some kind of coincidence that the other PI that I had looked into and contacted, then ultimately decided against because I thought he was intimidating, was also named Sawyer. Looking at him now, 'intimidating' was definitely the right word to describe him. There had been no last name on Sawyer's website, just the name Sawyer Investigations. There was no way I could have known.
"Sawyer Investigations!" I blurted as I watched his profile, a muscle ticking in his jaw which I found almost sexy.
His head jerked, his eyes pinning me. "Yeah, babe."
"You're brothers and you're both PIs?"
"He used to work for me," he confided.
"Used to?" I prompted when the silence drug on and he just kept staring at me, like he was seeing something, like he knew my secrets.
Sawyer's lips tipped up then, but it wasn't a smile. I was pretty sure he wasn't the kind of man capable of smiling. It was more like a sneer. "He's a smart kid. Great with digging up leads. Fucking fantastic with computers. Can find shit that none of my other guys can. But he's a
He's soft. No training. He belongs in the guts of the office, not on the streets getting his fucking ass handed to him. He didn't like that. He split. Got his own game. And..." he waved his hand to Barrett's body in a way that would have seemed callous and unfeeling if there hadn't been pain in his eyes.
"And got his ass handed to him," I finished for him, feeling the guilt settle in low in my belly. While there was certainly a chance that Barrett was handling other cases while working on mine, cases that might have been dangerous, my instinct was telling me that whoever the guy was before, he belonged to Third Street. So if he belonged to Third Street, it was my fault that he got his ass handed to him. It was my fault, and Sawyer was sitting there looking like he felt the guilt. "You couldn't have prevented this. He's not a kid. He's a grown man."