THE HOUSEWIFE ASSASSIN'S FOURTH ESTATE SALE (Book 17)
Launches April 2018!
eBook: 9780974021492 ($4.99 US)
Trade Paperback: 9781942052841 ($16.99 US)
In newspaper parlance, to “bury the lede,” (pronounced leed) means the article doesn’t start with the most salient point of the story. Instead, it is buried behind secondary and less important facts.
Even off the written page, when it comes to life events, some of us conveniently quote-unquote bury the lede:
Example #1: Your husband tells you, “I saved forty dollars on our new big screen TV!” Then, when the credit card bill arrives, you find out that he paid twice the price he’d promised to spend.
Example #2: Your husband tells you, “I watched the ballgame with some pals.” But he doesn’t mention that the gathering took place at the local Hooters.
Gentle Reader, feel free to insist that, in future declarations, he states upfront and unequivocally the who, what, where, when and how of the whole story.
However, should your mandate somehow slip his mind, feel free to bury some lead (pronounced led) in his backside!
* * *
Just as it’s about to close, I leap into the Wilshire Grand Center’s only high-speed elevator catering to its VIP guests.
Doing so in a short tight skirt and four-inch heels make it a grand feat indeed: one that’s not lost on the two others along on this ride: a large blond man in a bespoke double-breasted suit, mid-forties; and a plump bespeckled woman ten years his senior.
As I nod primly, the man smothers a smirk but continues to gaze appreciatively at me. The woman’s cheeks flush. She feels my shame.
Until we reach our floor, I’ll ignore her. At the same time, I do my best to hold his attention.
I’m proven successful when his head tilts slightly as he catches the faint scent of Clive Christian No. 1, released when I pull off the silk scarf tied loosely around my neck. He is tall enough to get a peek-a-boo view beneath the plunging neckline of my cream-toned silk blouse, where my black lace demi-bra does much more than lift and separate. My breasts are thrust forward like zeppelins heading into combat. With my left hand, I pull back an errant tendril of my long now-flaxen locks, allowing him to take note of my singleton status.
It works. Through the elevator’s mirrored door I watch as his grin widens.
The woman sees it too. But when our eyes meet her glare proves that she’s on to my little act.
A soft chime indicates we’ve reached our floor.
“Good day,” I say with a smile, and then I lick my lips slowly.
He murmurs, “Good day, indeed.”
The woman rolls her eyes. As she stalks down the hall to her room, she mutters, “Ich habe sowas von die Nase voll!” Whipping out her keycard, she opens the door and slams it behind her.
I don’t know if she meant to address him or me. From his sly wink, I realize that he couldn’t care less, so I guess I should feel the same way.
Ever the gentleman, he let me exit first.
Ever the lecher, his eyes stay on my bum while I stroll down the hall toward my room.
Just as my hotel keycard penetrates its near-field zone, I hear him pass me on his way to his room next door. I look up, feigning surprise. “Good night, neighbor,” I tease.
He nods and smiles as I enter my room.
Because my contact lenses also give eyes to Acme tech-op, my boss, Ryan Clancy, had a front-row seat to my little meet-and-greet. After I shut the door, he mutters in my earbuds, “Perfect. Within the hour Ernst will be knocking on your door for a cup of sugar.”
“He’ll get more than he bargained for,” I promise.
Ernst’s last name is Bakker. He’s a partner in Wagner Klein, a German law firm that has a small Los Angeles office on the twenty-ninth floor of this mixed-use office and hotel tower. Its clients include Russian oligarchs and ministry officials, many who use shell companies set up by the firm to launder dirty money through real estate investments in our country’s poshest communities: Beverly Hills, Manhattan, and Boca Raton, to name a few.
A month ago the CIA assigned my covert ops organization, Acme Industries, the mission of infiltrating the Wagner Klein and stealing its clients’ digital files. Once the Russians’ U.S. assets are identified, the American government will then confiscate the properties as part of our Russian sanctions initiative.
Easier said than done. Whereas the firm’s general correspondence takes place through a cloud-based provider with a formidable firewall, Wagner Klein keeps its client files in an onsite Apache server that has no network connection that is protected by a Faraday shield and enough static content to make it impenetrable thus far. And even within the law firm, only one administrator has internal: Ernst. The formal verification needed to open this Pandora’s box is literally in his hands. Well, more accurately, just one finger: his right thumb.
Acme would have had greater success by now if it could infiltrate the offices. But unfortunately, this satellite office of three lawyers considers itself fully staffed with one receptionist, three assistants, and a paralegal: the woman who was in the elevator. Her name is Wera Schäfer.
As for an after-hours break-in, The firm’s thick steel exterior door can only be opened with a digital scan of its employee’s thumbprints.
Since Plan A—planting an operative inside the firm—is impossible, it’s time for Plan B:
Ernst must fall in lust with me.
It helps that he has only recently moved to Los Angeles and spends many a lonely night in the building’s rooftop bar, whiling away his sorrows with expensive Scotch and whatever women he can coerce to return to his suite.
From what our Acme mission team has seen and heard, he likes them friskier than the wife he left behind in Munich. My husband, Jack Craig, isn’t thrilled that Ernst has a rough bedside manner.
And since Jack is also my team’s leader, he’s here in my hotel room.
He lies on the king-sized bed, staring intently at the television screen, which is tuned to one of the several closed-circuit channels set up within the building. Our mission’s tech-op, Arnie Locklear, hacked the security cams. Then, dressed as a cable repairman, Arnie was able to get miniature surveillance cameras in Wagner Klein’s offices as well as Ernst’s hotel room.
I can tell by Jack’s scowl that he’s witnessed my not-so-subtle elevator foreplay and then switched to the hall feed in time to catch my sotto voce salutation to Ernst. Now he watches as my target restlessly paces his hotel suite.
Jack attempts a smile as he waves me over.
No need to give Acme tech-ops a cheap thrill. I close my eyes before accommodating him. No need to get the rest of our team hot and bothered as I greet Jack with the slow searing kiss.
One mission accomplished: when I open my eyes, Jack is smiling.
I now turn toward the TV. Ernst now has his on too: a porn channel—some naughty history lesson in which a naked guy in a horned helmet is ravishing a woman who wears even less: a dog collar attached to a chain. Right now the dude is jerking it.
“Is he supposed to be a Viking?” Arnie asks.
Jack snickers. “Your guess is as good as mine.”
Ernst is jerking something too, and quite vigorously.
Ryan must also be watching because he chuckles. “As I said, he’s primed.”
“I’ll say,” Jack mutters. “Maybe it would have been easier to arrange a temporary illness for one of the office staff. That Wera woman looks as if she could use a vacation.”
“My German is rusty so there was no guarantee he'd have hired me,” I remind him.
“Oh, I’m sure Ernst would have figured out a way to get you on his ‘staff,'” Jack retorts. “Maybe he’d have offered to give you private German lesson—and a dog collar.”
“Now, now, children,” Ryan chides us. “Donna has certainly piqued his interest, so let’s wrap this up tonight.” He and Arnie sign off.
Jack still looks worried. Time to change the subject. “ what did Wera say when she stalked off?”
“She told Ernst that she was fed up with him,” Jack explains.
Speaking of the devil, we’re interrupted by Ernst’s ecstatic groan.
“That certainly took long enough,” I mutter.
After taking a moment to catch his breath, Ernst snatches the kerchief out of the jacket’s breast pocket and wipes himself off.
I shudder. “I don’t blame Wera in the least for being disgusted with him.”
“What we saw was just the entr'acte.” Jack rolls his eyes. “From what he emails prospective dates on Tinder, he’s under the assumption a couple of tugs a day strengthens his staying power.”
“Not if he’s drugged,” I counter.
“Good point.” Jack reaches for his tux jacket. “And off to work I go.”
I pick up his bowtie from the dresser. Placing it around his neck, I vow, “Everything will go as planned.”
“Famous last words,” he mutters.
This time, when he pulls me in for a kiss, my eyes are wide open and so are his.
Seduction is a part of our job. Still, that doesn’t mean we like it.
* * *
From seventy-three stories above street level in the rooftop bar of the Wilshire Grand Center, on a cloudless indigo night, you feel as if you can reach up and touch the stars.
Ernst is more interested in groping my breasts through the plunging neckline of my lace mini sheath.
Because we’re in public and I’m a lady, I giggle as I slap away his hands—a clear hint that he hasn’t earned that honor just because he bought me a couple of mojitos.
Sure, I’m playing hard to get now. But eventually, I’ll allow Ernst to sweet-talk me into his room where, sometime during the inevitable love tussle, he’ll pass out cold, thanks to a roofie that will be soon be slipped into his drink.
As Ernst snores like a babe, I’ll take his security card along with a replica of his thumbprint and enter Wagner Klein’s offices. With the help of Arnie, I’ll infiltrate the firm’s data files.
Despite the slight smirk on the bartender’s face, he is not amused by Ernst’s public pawing. That’s to be expected since he’s Jack.
My husband’s way of showing his displeasure is to pulverize a lemon with an ice pick. No doubt he wishes he was slicing the grin off Ernst’s face.
Ernst signals Jack for another round. Jack is more than happy to accommodate him. With some sleight-of-hand, he’s made sure that Ernst’s Old Fashioned will knock him out within fifteen minutes.
Time for me to make my move. After Ernst takes a swig of his drink, I lean in and put a lip lock on his neck. He doesn’t mind at all. As I come up for air, I purr, “Oops! I just gave you a hickey!”
“Hee-kee? Vhat ees that?” His tongue is already fuzzy.
“You know—a bit stronger than a kiss. A really hard suck.” To make my point, I demonstrate on my thumb. “How ’bout I do it to you again—only somewhere less, er… public?”
Ernst must get the point because he laughs hysterically. But this time when he gropes me, he knocks his glass to the floor. As the glass shatters, Ernsts chortles even louder.
Jack’s eye catches mine. I know what he’s thinking: did Ernst finish enough of his drink for it to take effect?
I shrug as if to say, hard to tell. In any event, time to go before whatever amount that made it into Ernst's system wears off.
Those around us crane their necks, curious to see what all the fuss is about.
Wera is there too, at the far end of the bar. Despite her attempts to ignore us, her disapproval of her boss’s behavior is etched in her deepening scowl.
As Ernst stumbles to his feet, Jack growls, “Should I put this on your room’s tab, Sir?”
Ernst nods slowly and fumbles in his pocket for his hotel keycard. When he finally finds it, he tosses it down on the bar’s marble counter.
While Jack charges his room, I keep Ernst occupied by nuzzling his neck. Finally, Jack hands me the card. “Time to get sleeping beauty home,” he mutters.
Ernst staggers to his feet. So that he doesn’t do a swan dive off the roof, I prop him up by placing his arm around my shoulder.
He takes that as permission to pat my ass.
I tamp down the urge to grab his errant arm and jerk it out of its socket by wrenching it straight out to the side and then behind him. Instead, I pull Ernst even closer and tweak his nipple through his shirt.
The things I do for flag and country.
* * *
By the time we reach Ernst’s hotel room, he’s too crosseyed to find the near-field lock. Instead, he waves it toward the wall.
“Here, let me help you,” I coo.
Ernst nods. He may be having a hard time focusing, but that doesn’t stop him from gagging me with his tongue. I guess I should be happy that he only licked one of my cheeks before finding my mouth.
“Yuck!” Arnie whispers through my earbud. “Well, at least he’s having a great time. The minute you enter his room, I’ll switch the feeds in both the hallway and the elevator to show them as empty. That way, you can slip out undetected.”
“Marvelous,” I whisper as I shove Ernst through the door.
He lands face down.
On the bright side, it’ll be easy enough for me to take a putty imprint of his right thumbprint, from which I’ll create a fake skin. I’ll use it to enter Wagner Klein.
Once inside, I’ll go to Ernst’s office, where I’ll use that print once more to access his computer and the necessary files.
All in a night’s work.
Too bad Jack and I have to skedaddle the moment we have the goods. Our room’s tub is to die for—figuratively, that is.
* * *
I take the elevator down to Wagner Klein’s offices.
“The hall’s feed shows that it’s empty,” Arnie assures me.
My thumb is sheathed in the fake skin. When I get to the the door, I place it on the security screen—
And a red warning sign blinks:
PLACE FULL HAND—ALL FINGERS, AND PALM FLATLY ON THE SCREEN, AND LOOK STRAIGHT AHEAD.
I mutter, “Arnie, what the hell?”
Through my lenses, he too sees my dilemma.
“Um…sorry, Donna!” he responds. “It seems they installed a different security system since I planted the webcams. This one calls for full palm and a retinal scans.”
“Tell me something I don’t know” I grumble. “Maybe Jack can fling Ernst over his shoulder and we can prop him up somehow.”
“Jack has his hands full,” Ryan interjects.
“Oh yeah? What’s more important than helping me get inside Wagner Klein?”
“Oh? And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“When Wera let it slip that she was going back down to the office to finish some filing, he felt it was time to turn on the charm.”
In other words, I’m on my own.
I never knew Jack’s German went beyond a few phrases. Apparently, they’re the right ones to keep the lonely spinster occupied.
I hop back into the elevator. The sooner I grab Ernst, the quicker we can get out of there.
* * *
Ernst is heavier than he looks. It takes all my might to lug him halfway down the hall—
When I hear the ping of the elevator and then laughter.
Afraid of what some hotel guests will think when they see us, I hoist Ernst against the wall. But the only way to keep him there is to flatten myself against him. As he begins to topple over, I raise a knee to anchor us. So that it looks as if we’re in an embrace, I fling his arms over my shoulders and grind my mouth into his.
When the couple sees us, their giggles stop. Still, they snicker as they walk to their room.
In German, I hear my husband whisper, “Sie sollten ein Zimmer bekommen!”
“Er ist ein schwein,” Wera scoffs. “Es scheint, er hat sein Speil gefunden.”
Jack roars with laughter.
Out of the corner of my eye, I watch as he follows Wera into her suite.
One way or another, I’ll make Jack come clean with what they said.
Ernst stirs—at least part of him. Ewww!
I leap away, cursing under my breath as he crumples to the floor.
No time to lose. I grab him by the legs and drag him into the elevator.
* * *
The palm scan is easy. However, getting Ernst’s head propped up level with the retinal scanner is a more laborious task. I do it by grabbing his hair —
Only to have it come off in my hand.
So, all those thick luscious curls were a toupée?
If I weren’t so tired, I'd laugh.
Thankfully, the door opens with a click. Once again, I drag Ernst, this time down the long polished hall to his office.
It is a minimalist’s dream.
A phone is the only thing on his large post-modern mahogany desk. No pen, no paper—nothing else.
Except for a good-sized chunk of stone, his credenza is just as empty. The rock boasts a plaque declaring it a piece of the fallen Berlin Wall.
Other than two post-modern chairs, the room holds nothing else—
Except for a closet.
“The computer is in there,” Arnie insists.
I use the finger skin to access the door. I do the same with the computer’s thumb scanner.
Yes, it clicks into operating mode.
“Where to from here?” I ask Arnie.
After an endless series of commands, Arnie finally declares, “Now, put in your thumb drive, hit download, and we’re golden!”
I slip the thumb drive into a hidden pocket on my dress—
And not a moment too soon, since Ernst is moaning.
Damn it! Ernst’s drug dosage is wearing off already?
By the time I turn around, he has risen on his feet. Seeing me, he smiles—
Until he realizes where we are.
Before he can get on his feet I run out of the closet toward the hall.
Angered, Ernst charges at me, but before he can catch his breath, I pick up one of the chairs and fling it at him. He grunts when it wings his shoulder, but it barely slows him down. A high sidekick catches him in the gut and he doubles over. Once again I high-tail it for the door—
But he lunges at me, toppling me to the ground.
Ernst grabs me around my waist and then slams me against the floor-to-ceiling window. “Even at twenty-nine stories up, the architect thought a bit of fresh air would be appreciated.” Ernst flips a lever. The large window flings open—
And I find myself leaning out over six lanes of Wilshire Boulevard traffic. From this height, even the slightest breeze sounds as if you’re in a wind tunnel.
I struggle, but Ernst has his full weight against me. “Beg for your life,” he hisses in my ear, “or, with one shove, you’re gone—whoosh! Just like that!”
“Go to hell,” I mutter.
He hoists me higher through the window—
(c) 2018 Josie Brown. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the publisher, Signal Press (firstname.lastname@example.org)