Read The Hinky Bearskin Rug Online

Authors: Jennifer Stevenson

Tags: #humor, #hinky, #Jennifer Stevenson, #romance

The Hinky Bearskin Rug (8 page)

“Yeah, yeah.
What makes you think I’m, uh—”

Sharisse
rolled her eyes. “Oh, please,” she said, lowering her voice. “We all know
you’re from the EEOC, investigating what happens to Steven’s girls. Believe me,
we’re rooting for you.”

What happens to Steven’s girls?
That was a whole new wrinkle. Jewel
frowned. “I’m not—”

“Shh, here
comes my boss. I’m being Maida today. Let’s talk at lunch.”

“Sure.”

Jewel’s
morning passed frustratingly slowly. She typed stuff into spreadsheets. She
answered Steven’s phone. Girls walked by and smiled at her, or looked curiously
at her, but nobody stopped to talk.
Dammit
to hell, I’ve been made. Nobody wants to be seen with me.
She was ready to
give up the whole undercover thing as a waste of time and go back to the pocket
zone crisis, when Sharisse collected her and took her downstairs to the noisy
grillroom for lunch. They were joined by two other BB office girls.

The Bennigan’s
was jammed. Daringly, Jewel ordered a pitcher of sangria. The girls giggled,
but they filled their glasses.

Geri, a
striking brunette with a street-smart air, reported all the current rumors
about Jewel. “One, they think you’re a cop, cracking down on harassment on the
job. Two, you came in after the orgy as an excuse to catch Steven in the act.”

“Three,” Tonia
said, brushing her straight black hair away from her face with long,
elaborately-painted fingernails, “you came in because of what happened to
Maida’s daughter.”

“What?”
Interesting that Maida hadn’t
mentioned that.

“You didn’t
know?” Geri leaned forward. “It happened almost two years ago. Maida’s daughter
worked for Steven for maybe a month, and they did
not
get along.”

“She didn’t
understand the deal,” Sharisse said.

“Who didn’t
understand what deal?” Jewel said. She slurped some sangria and the other girls
drank, too. Tongue loosener did not seem all that necessary. They were dying to
dish.

Sharisse said,
“Lena, Maida’s daughter? Apparently she didn’t know that old John Baysdorter
was sleeping with Maida.”

Jewel’s jaw
dropped. “Our Maida? See-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil Maida?”

“Yeah,” Tonia
said. “For, like, twenty-plus years. Maida could have been a partner herself if
she’d of had cojones. But she didn’t have the education, so she’s stuck at
office manager level.”

Geri said
drily, “Worked fine until he ups and dies on her. She thought she had til he
retired, but he died at sixty-three.”

“What,”
Jewel demanded, “happened to Lena
Sacker?”

“Well.”
Sharisse leaned forward. “We kind of hoped you knew. It was Steven, for sure.
Lena hated Steven. They had a screaming fight the day she left, and then she
had one with Maida, and then she walked out at one-thirty in the afternoon and
never came back. As far as we know, she still isn’t speaking to Maida, or Maida
to her. Steven must have pulled
something.”

“I
think she found out about old John Baysdorter and her
mother, and blew her stack,” Geri said.

“Lena was no
prude,” Tonia countered scornfully.

“No lie.” Geri
snorted, and Jewel thought she was about to say more, but Sharisse interrupted.

“I think Lena
knew about old John being her dad.”

Shock plus
shock! Jewel would have liked to probe further, but she’d better stay on task. “I
can’t believe this still goes on. God knows I can’t afford to be a prude
either. But I had no idea.”

“Oh, Steven is
the only real offender,” Sharisse said. “Until he started bucking for partner
after John Baysdorter died, it was all pretty consensual. Old John put Lena
through private school, finishing school, and college. I couldn’t make ends
meet without Hugh’s help. Precious, of course, is playing Mike Redpune for what
she can get, but she’s also playing Steven, which will get her canned someday.”

“Precious is
spying on Steven for Mike,” Tonia said positively.

“Precious
could be spying on Mike for Steven, and Mike would never know. Mike’s too
butt-dumb arrogant,” Geri said.

Jewel waved a
hand. “I don’t care about the white-guy politics. I want to know who put the
Viagra in the coffee at that staff meeting.”
And I want to talk to this Lena.
Anyone who had dirt on Steven
should be interesting.

The girls
looked at one another. “You first,” Sharisse said to Geri.

“Okay.” Geri
said, “I have zero proof, but
I
think
Steven doped the coffee to discredit Mike.”

“That’s dumb,”
Tonia stated. “Nobody could have imagined what would happen.”

“What happened?”
Jewel burst out. “Were any of you
there?”

Sharisse
looked at Tonia. Geri raised her hand, looking from Tonia to Sharisse with her
chin in the air. The other two hunkered down on their swivelly bar stools to
listen.

Geri said, “The
thing is, we’ve all been on edge for months. As in, horny. Even Precious didn’t
take up with Mike until this spring.” The subtext, audible to Jewel, read,
Precious is a total skank.
“It was like
the air conditioning stopped working. Know what I mean?” She looked Jewel in
the eye.

Jewel said, “Girl,
there’s whole weeks go by and I just need it all the time.”
Years.

Geri put up a
palm and Jewel high-fived her. “I can’t speak for anyone else, but I was
ripe.
I could blame Precious, I guess.
She always makes such a production out of these rollout meetings. Coffee and
pastry, low light, a music track on her Powerpoint. She does it to impress
Mike, and boy, did it work this time. He was dancing around with his
laser-pointer like a monkey on crack. He got
all
worked up.”

Geri sipped
her sangria. “And the funny thing was, we were all getting worked up, too. I
mean, we’re talking condos going into a downtown Omaha landmark bank building
with a strip mall rehab on the side,” she said drily. “When Mike put his
pointer down we actually clapped, and he turned to Precious and said something
like, ‘Great job!’ and gave her a big wet one, and she threw her arms around
his neck and gave it right back, and the next thing I know, I’m hugging Anna
from Accounting, and Hugh Boncil jumps on Diane from Marketing and two other
girls are rolling under the conference table.” Geri shrugged. “It just
snowballed. I can’t explain it.”

Jewel hated to
interrupt. “Steven wasn’t there?”

“Nope,” Geri
said.

“It must be
killing him he missed it,” Sharisse said.

“Huh,” Tonia
said. “I think he did it. Whatever it was. Viagra, Ecstasy, Spanish Fly,
whatever.”

“Oh, I do,
too,” Geri said. “It was Steven. He’s been smug ever since, which just shows
you. Zip-lipped, but smug.”

“Then what
happened?” Jewel said.

“I walked in,”
Sharisse said, “late, because I’d been notarizing and filing some stuff at
court for Mr. Boncil, and when I saw all the bare skin I just shut the door and
walked back to my desk and sat there, shaking.”

“I heard there
was something hinky about the whole scene,” Jewel said.
Here we go.
Mentally she crossed her fingers.

“Other than
Mike Redpune banging Precious against the ceiling like it was a king-size bed?”
Geri said tartly. “And bringing the ceiling tiles down? And Mike chanting, ‘Bitch,
bitch, fuck me, bitch,’ revolting pig that he is? And two of the girls turning
into dogs and humping?” She looked at her fingernails. “Anna sprouted two extra
tongues.”

Jewel realized
her mouth was hanging open. She shut it.

“Then Maida
walked in and gasped, and it felt like she sucked all the air out of the room
at once. Mike and Precious fell off the ceiling. Maida almost passed out. She,
like, staggered and leaned on the table and one of the girls who was an actual
real bitch bit her on the hand. Hugh Boncil looked up from sitting on
Diane-from-Marketing’s face—I’m sorry, Sharisse, but that’s what he was doing —
and he said, ‘Close the door, Maida,’ and Maida screamed, and the bitches
turned back to normal. And Maida left.”

“Good grief,”
Sharisse said faintly.

“What about
you and Anna?” Tonia said, her nose shiny with sweat.

Geri fluttered
a hand. “Oh, that. That was days ago. I think it was just the heat of the
moment, know what I mean?”

“So who called
it in?” Jewel said.
See who knows.

“Maida, of
course,” Sharisse said. “Everybody knows that. Steven’s hit on every girl she
hires for him, and when he has no girl of his own he hits on the rest of us.
He’s gotten, like, totally out of control. She wants you to scare him straight.”

“Fat chance,”
Tonia said.

“Bloated,”
Geri agreed.

“Shit,” Tonia
said, and Sharisse looked at her in shock. “It’s twelve-thirty.”

That broke up
the sangria party.

Chapter Nine

Jewel bailed
on BB for the afternoon to pursue the clue Clay had found in O’Connor’s
apartment. The boys brought her Tercel to the curb on Michigan Avenue. Jewel
moved Randy to the back seat so she could sit in front. “Clay, you drive. I’m
still high from lunch.”

“You smell
like a party,” Clay remarked.

“Sangria with
the girls. I was pumping informants.” She rubbed her head against the head
rest, yawning. “I didn’t tell you to bring him,” she muttered.

“He wouldn’t
stay home,” Clay muttered back.

Jewel groaned
aloud. “You two clowns behave, hear?”

“Naturally,”
Randy said from the back seat.

“Naturally,”
Clay said.

“Where’s our
paperwork?”

Randy handed a
file over the seat back.

Clay said, “Ed
says the majority stockholder died about two years ago, and the new owner
hasn’t re-registered the place as Adult Use.”

“What does
adult use signify?” Randy said.

“It means,”
Jewel said, “that unless they’re grandfathered in, they have to go through
Revenue and Zoning to register as an Adult Use business. And even if they’re
grandfathered in, we have to establish that they haven’t been out of business
for any interval since the original registration. Plus, if they’ve diversified,
i.e., if they have any dependent divisions, those have to register separately.”

“Gibberish,”
Clay said.

“It’s
perfectly clear to me,” Randy said. “Even in this republican state, one’s
grandfather is important.”

“Right. Except
Cook County is solid Democrat,” Jewel said.

“So they
register and then they kick us out,” Clay said.

“No, no,” she
said. “You don’t know the game. It’s an excuse to get us in the door. Once
we’re in, they’re wide open.”

They found the
address soon enough, but parking sucked, and they had to weave through the meat
packing district looking for a spot.

“This area is
one of my favorites,” she said as they crawled through a neighborhood of low
brick warehouses and about a million trucks. The sidewalks and streets here
were used as extensions of the loading docks. Burly guys carried whole dead
pigs on their shoulders. Lidless boxes of dead fish gaped open on the
sidewalks. People in rubber waders hosed down the pavement with hot water, and
blood literally ran in the gutter, along with lettuce leaves, oranges, and
discarded plastic gloves. Jewel sniffed the air and smiled.

“You have
strange tastes,” Clay said.

“It’s all
real. Stuff is being bought and sold. Food is being prepared and put in trucks
and taken someplace where somebody will eat it. It’s not pork futures, it’s
real pork. It’s not a law office, it’s actual sharks getting skinned and
sliced. Wow, you ever seen so much zucchini in one place?”

She maneuvered
them through a steaming maze of trucks, loaded pallets, and workers in
gore-stained white aprons.

“Strange place
for a porn company,” Clay said.

“Good place
for one,” she said. “You won’t find a bunch of soccer moms protesting in the
meat packing district. Although condo creep is moving closer every day.”

They parked
illegally in half a space by a locked-off lot that hadn’t seen traffic in
years. Jewel put her
official business
tag on the dash, and they picked their way through the detritus of the City of
Big Shoulders.

The Artistic
Publishing Company was a five-story red brick building occupying half a city
block. The name was carved into limestone over the front door, and it rang a
bell for Jewel. Who had mentioned this company to her recently?

“What’s that
aroma?” Randy said. “Cinnamon?”

Clay pointed
to the corner of the Artistic Building.

Jewel gave a
heart-cry.

“Hoby’s!” Her
stomach rumbled. “I need pastry! I need it
now.”
Leaving the boys on the street, she ran into the bakery.

Hoby’s
Bäckerei was a room-size pastry bong smelling of melted chocolate, browning
butter, cinnamon, toasting pecans, and fresh coffee. A guy in white rolled in a
big rack of hot cow plops. Jewel bought three and ran back to her team with her
white bag.

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