Chasing daybreak, p.22
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       Chasing Daybreak, p.22

           Ranae Glass


  The law office was nearly empty when we arrived. The foyer looked more like a Gothic library than any office I’d ever seen. Ceiling to floor bookshelves lined the walls, with thick volumes of modern and ancient-looking texts in a multitude of languages. Some shelves held knickknacks or photos in frames, but not many. At a round desk in the center of the room sat a beautiful black woman, her hair long, straight, and shining like silk.

  Her smile was bright as she welcomed us. “How can I help you today?”

  “Is Curtis Welch in?”

  “No, I’m afraid he’s gone home for the weekend.”

  I put on a brisk tone. “Well, we need to see someone about a woman who used to work here. Marissa Duchamp.”

  Her smile faltered, but only for a minute before she motioned for us to wait as she picked up the phone and hit a button. “Hold on, please.”

  I turned my back to her and whispered to Shane, “You getting any familiar smells from this place?”

  He took a discreet but deep breath and shook his head. “Humans here. All of them. Some faint older vamp scent, but nothing recent.”

  I nodded.

  “If you’ll have a seat, someone will be with you shortly,” the secretary informed us.

  With mumbled thanks, we took seats in a pair of brown leather chairs near the bathrooms. We hadn’t been waiting five minutes when a tall, elderly man dressed like a butler came out to greet us.

  “I’m Leonard Deford. Pleased to meet you.”

  He shook my hand, and then Shane’s before motioning for us to follow him down the long, narrow hallway to the office at the end. The room was large, done in various kinds of wood, from the desk and chairs to the floor to the lamps, and it reeked of pine cleaner, reminding me of the aerosol spray my mother used on her artificial Christmas tree every year.

  “Thank you for meeting with us,” I said politely as we took seats in the hard-back chairs. They were surprisingly comfortable for having no cushion.

  “Of course. What can I help you with?”

  “We’re investigating the disappearance of Lisa Welch. I was told she was employed by Ms. Duchamp.”

  Deford sat back, folding his hands over his belly. “Mrs. Welch wasn’t employed here, though her husband works in our accounting pool.”

  “Do you know if Marissa was doing any work, off the books?”

  “Marissa was our liaison to the Conclave.” Deford leaned toward me across the desk. “About twenty years ago, the firm fell on hard times. The Conclave, through one of their subsidiaries, invested heavily and brought the firm back from the brink of foreclosure. Of course, if we’d known then what they were, well, we may have looked for help elsewhere.”

  “You have a grudge against the vampires?” Shane asked gently.

  “Oh, no, nothing like that,” Leonard replied with a smile. Genuine? “But since then, we have had to keep a liaison on staff here. We’ve taken cases that were sent directly to us through the Conclave. Made deals on cases I’d have liked to see go to trial, that sort of thing. It’s like having someone constantly looking over your shoulder and telling you what to do.”

  “I can understand how frustrating that must be,” I offered.

  He glanced at Shane. “Still, we are in business when many are not, so I have no place to complain.”

  He’d pegged Shane for a vamp and didn’t want it getting out that he was disgruntled with the status quo.

  I cleared my throat to get his attention back to me. “About Marissa, did you know her well?”

  “Not at all.” He snickered. “Other than her exotic taste in office furniture, that is. Everything was imported from Bavaria, you see. I think that’s where she was from. She didn’t associate with anyone here except on the occasional business matter, but even then, she mostly kept to herself. Just locked away in her office…” He trailed off.

  “Can you tell me, Mr. Deford, does your office hold any company poker games, after hours?”

  He shrugged. “We occasionally get together for a brandy after work, but that’s about it. Though I did hear that some staff do a weekly card game. All harmless fun, I assure you.”

  “Could we see her office?” Shane asked abruptly, his tone edging from kindly to bossy. He was playing the Undead card.

  “Of course.” Deford stood. “I have a meeting in five minutes. Would it be terribly rude to ask you to show yourselves out when you’re finished? Oh, and please don’t remove anything. Her replacement will be here Monday and has left specific instructions that nothing is to be taken from the office until he arrives.”

  “Of course. And thank you so much for your time, Mr. Deford.” I smiled and shook his hand again.

  As we exited, he pointed down a different hallway to another office door.

  Compared to Xavier’s sparse, impeccably clean desk, Marissa’s office was a pigsty. There was a sleek laptop on the desk, half covered in sticky notes. Papers overflowed from In and Out boxes, and shelves were filled with notebooks, files, and the random empty blood bag. Marissa, for her impeccable taste in furniture, was a slob.

  “Great,” I mumbled, not looking forward to digging through the mess, “So, at least we know the first link in the chain. Robert owed Marissa from these office card games. She offers to let Lisa work off the debts. Lisa agrees and ends up dead. We know the vamps killed Marissa, so who killed Lisa? Maybe one of her clients?”

  The vamps were the obvious suspects, but if Xavier had admitted to taking out Marissa, why would he lie about killing Lisa?

  “Dibs on the computer.” Shane smiled, leaving me alone to fend for myself.

  “Loser. So, if you were a file on a secret prostitution ring, where would you be?” I asked more to myself than Shane.

  “Hidden?” he answered absently as he turned on the computer and started opening files.

  “Thank you, Captain Obvious.” I reached for the pile nearest to me. Case notes and copies of police files, but nothing to do with our case.

  This was going to take forever, I whined internally.

  “Okay, so nothing out in the open.” I worked through the problem aloud as I moved around the office.

  “Where do you hide stuff?”

  I snorted. “Like I’m gonna tell you. Wait, the desk. All the way from Bavaria, right?”

  I moved behind where Shane sat in a rolling chair and pushed him aside. Kneeling down, I crawled under the desk and lay down. Taped to the underside of the center drawer was a small, brass key.

  “Bingo!” I pulled it from its hiding spot and. After I crawled out, I held it up to Shane.

  “So cliché,” he tisked.

  “Right? Haven’t they ever seen a James Bond movie, or at least an episode of Law & Order?”

  “So what does it open?”

  “I’m not sure.” Looking around, I spotted a bookshelf in the far back corner of the room. There, half-hidden under a stack of papers, sat a small, black-and-gold box. I snatched it. Sure enough, there was a small lock in the front.

  “You get so lucky sometimes,” Shane groused, shutting off the computer.

  “It’s not my fault vampires are so obvious and uncreative.”

  “There’s nothing on the computer. Just a few case files. No e-mail, nothing.”

  “Figures.” I stuck the key in the box and turned it. The lock popped open immediately, revealing a tiny, red book nestled within in the gold lining.

  “Little black book?”

  I held it up. “Nope. Looks like red is the new black.”

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