***Tyson, Turner & Tyson LLP, Los Angeles***
Mercy blew out a long whistle as she pulled off her helmet. The gleaming edifice in front of her might be even fancier than McBride Industries office in Houston had been. But she wasn’t that naïve teen anymore. Fancy buildings didn’t impress her much. But since Laura’s emails to her friend had gone unanswered, they had decided this was the easiest place to begin.
Will took off his helmet, and they stored them in Duchess’s saddlebags. Maybe they should have checked into a motel and cleaned up a bit first? But it was too late for that now. They were here.
Will frowned at something and walked away. Mercy couldn’t see what had caught his eye. It looked like any other concrete piling to her. Until she walked closer to her husband. She had seen enough signs and targets to know a bullet hole when she saw it. “Looks like Javier was right. Firecrackers don’t make those.”
“I’d feel better if we got a hotel room. You could shower and rest while I….”
“Ain’t happening, City Boy. I’m the link here, remember? Laura told me to look Jolene up while we’re here. Besides, how dangerous can it be? Did you see this place?”
He sighed and nodded, but she felt his reluctance all the same as they walked to the bank of elevators. Without a keycard, the visitor elevator to the lobby was their only option. She really regretted not cleaning up as they approached the shiny wooden desk with gold lettering.
The guard, an older black man, wrinkled his nose at them. But Mercy knew they did not smell. They’d showered yesterday before leaving the hotel. This trip was so different from their last. Will was babying her. She wasn’t sure whether to find it sweet or hit him upside the head.
“May I help you?”
She smiled at the man, “I hope so. My sister asked me to lookup an old friend of hers while we’re in town. Jolene Monroe. She works for Tyson, Turner & Tyson LLP.”
“Do you have an appointment?” The man spoke to her, but his eyes were on Will, studying him from head to toe and back again.
“No, I didn’t think we’d need one just to say hi to an old friend.”
“Perhaps you should try contacting Ms. Monroe at home then if the matter is personal?”
Mercy felt her anger and frustration rising. But she wasn’t certain exactly what to say to the man. She turned to look at Will when she noticed a stunning black woman about their age. She would be hard not to miss with her shaved head, gold hoop earrings, and brightly colored dress. She looked almost as at odds with suit and tie establishment as they were, but in a different way.
“I’m sorry, but did I overhear you asking for Jolene Monroe?”
The woman looked friendlier and potentially more forthcoming than the man. Mercy turned on her smile and that Texas accent, “Sure did. I’m Mercy Reynolds. Well, Mercy Reynolds-Williams, now. This is my husband, Will.”
She held out her hand to the woman. “We’re in LA on our honeymoon. And my sister, Laura, told me to look up her old friend, Jo, while we were in town.”
“Hi, I’m Gena Bankole. I’m…. I was Ms. Monroe’s personal assistant.”
Mercy frowned, but it was Will who had the presence of mind to ask, “Was? Ms. Monroe doesn’t work here anymore?”
She shook her head, “No, it’s just that she’s on leave for a bit. Family business of some sort.”
“Family business? Are you sure about that?” Mercy was finding her voice again.
“That’s what she said.” Gena looked more uncomfortable as she shifted from foot to foot, glancing over their shoulders at the elderly guard. Mercy followed her gaze. The man seemed to be focused on the monitors.
“It’s just that Sebida is a small place. And if Jo was back in town, that would be big news.”
“I only know what she said in the email. I’m sorry. I need to be getting to my desk.”
“Do you know when she’s expected back?” Will stepped to block the woman’s way to the elevator. The guard looked up and started to rise from his chair. Mercy’s hand gripped Will’s arm.
The woman shook her head, “I’m sorry. I can’t help you.”
Mercy smiled as she stepped in front of Will, holding out a card. “We understand. If you hear anything, we’ll be in town for a few days. Here’s my card. It would be nice to see someone from back home. I’m sure you understand?”
The woman nodded silently, but her dark eyes said volumes as her trembling fingers wrapped around the card. She glanced at the guard again as she rushed past them.
Mercy watched her pile into an elevator with half a dozen others. Was that fear she saw in the woman’s eyes? She turned back towards the desk and the guard. “Well, thank you for your help.”
He did not even speak. His head barely inclined at her words. She felt a hand on her lower back, “Come on, sweetheart. Let’s find a hotel and get some sleep.”
They didn’t speak again as they walked back to the other bank of elevators that serviced the garage. In fact, they didn’t speak again at all until they had checked into a modest hotel a few blocks from the beach.
“That was weird,” she pinned him with a stare the moment the door was closed.
He laid the saddlebags on the floor by the small table. “Just more questions than answers. Maybe the woman is telling the truth? Perhaps your sister’s friend is on family leave?”
“Do you honestly believe that, Will? There was something not right there, and you know it.”
“Knowing it and proving it are two different things, Mercy. I don’t have to tell you that. Why don’t you get a shower? I’ll go see what I can find for us to eat?”
She stepped forward and ran her hand down his chest to the front of his jeans, “Or we could shower together?”
He laughed, and for a moment, the mood lightened as he leaned in to capture her lips. But before their lips met, the phone in her back pocket dinged and vibrated. Something told her this was important. And it was. “Raincheck on that shower, City Boy. We’ll go with your plan. We have a meeting with Gena at noon.”
“Where?” There was no missing the frown that creased his handsome face.
“A city park. Not far from her building.”
“I’m not sure I like this. It could be….”
“A set-up. I know. But this is the best place to start. It just seems odd that two women go missing at just about the same time. And that bullet hole doesn’t bode well.”
He leaned his forehead against hers, “Is there any chance I can convince you to stay here? Let me meet with the woman alone?”
She shook her head, and this time she did kiss those sweet lips. “You know better, City Boy. I am the one that she built a rapport with.”
He growled, sighed, his shoulders slumped, then he swatted her butt. “Get your shower. I’ll find us some food.”
“Bacon! Lots and lots of bacon.”
He just shook his head and smiled as he backed out of the room. Mercy tossed her clothes as she undressed on the way to the shower. The water was warm, and the spray strong enough to release some of the tension in her body as she pumped shower gel into her palms.
She tried to put the pieces together as the warm water slushed down her. Two women. Both missing from the same place. But when had Jolene Monroe disappeared? And she was confident that the woman was not handling ‘family matters.’ The Sebida gossip mill might be working overtime with all that was happening, but that woman coming back would be at the top of the list. “Where are you, Jo? And what do you know about our missing girl?”