With exactly ONE WEEK before we launch Finders, Inc., the start to a new mystery series, we wanted to share with you the second excerpt from the opening of the novel. (Here’s a link to the first excerpt.)
We continue with Shelby Jamiston, the newest member of the Finder Team, on her second day on the job…
As an added bonus, jump over to the UnWrecked Press Facebook page to see the “Location Scouting” photos of the actual place in Boone, NC, upon which the Finders, Inc. headquarters was based!
And be sure to mark your calendars so you can get your own copy (ebook or paper) of Finders, Inc. on December 9th, 2014!
Enjoy the following excerpt!
She’d stayed around the office for another hour or so yesterday, chatting with Marly and listening to Juan work (and swear in English and Spanish) in his office and the other three offices, where he was trying to set up the computer network, as well as update the software on the various servers, and run cables from one office to another. The guy liked to multi-task.
As it turned out, Juan and Marly were married to one other, and they’d been a part of Finders, Inc. for the past decade or so. They’d been working out of their home up until last week, and they’d been excited to get out (and away from Marly’s mother and their kids for a while) so they could actually focus on their work.
Shelby had picked up on Marly’s restlessness after the tour of the rundown hotel and her second cup of coffee. She’d seen the stack of about three dozen folders on Marly’s otherwise spotless desk, each one flagged with multiple sticky notes. So she’d excused herself, said goodbye to Mr. and Mrs. Hernandez, and attempted to make the half-hour drive back to Mountain City, Tennessee, where she was storing all her stuff and living with Mom. For now. Temporarily.
Of course, her twelve-year-old Highlander had thrown its timing belt on the way back, right before she got to the turn for Skateworld on 421. So she got to spend the rest of her day getting it towed and sitting at Friendship Honda drinking bad coffee and watching daytime TV while they tore apart the engine to her car. Her rebooted life was looking a lot like a blue screen of death.
So today couldn’t be much worse, Shelby figured as she threw Mom’s huge sedan into Park and let it idle a bit outside the hotel.
She checked out the other cars in the parking lot. Yesterday only one car—a road-salted maroon Subaru SUV—had sat off to the side in front of the right-hand wing of rooms. Juan and Marly’s car, no doubt.
Today, three more vehicles had joined the Subaru, all in a line: a white BMW that had somehow managed to stay impeccably clean despite the road grime and snow, a tan-and-brown Ford Bronco that may have been new when Clinton was in his first term, with a faded yellow logo on it, and a dented and dirty green Ford Escort about the same age as the Bronco. The Escort seemed to sag toward the ground on the passenger side.
Interesting, Shelby thought as she warmed her hands in front of the vents one last time. Wonder which car is Hank Johnson’s? Bet it’s the Beemer. That seems like his style—little man, big-dollar car.
She killed the engine at last and got out. The late-winter wind smacked her in the face, taking her breath away for a moment. She still hadn’t gotten used to the cold, even though she’d grown up in this area. In Charlotte, far down the mountain and two hours south, it never got this frigid. She’d forgotten how harsh it could be up here, but Mother Nature was reminding her, that icy witch.
Pulling her coat tight around her, Shelby walked carefully in her new black heels through the snow, wishing she’d pulled on her knee-high boots instead. She had on a variation of what she thought of as her serious work outfit: a dark green sweater that set off her blue eyes and auburn hair—and hid the extra fifteen pounds she’d put on in this stressful past year—and her knee-length black skirt with black tights under the skirt. Despite the winter-weight tights, her toes were wet and freezing from the snow.
I’m not in the big city anymore, she reminded herself as she slipped on the snow of the unshoveled sidewalk. No need to try to play high fashion up here in Boone, in the boonies.
But wearing her best clothes made her feel professional and sharp, and she’d take all the help she could today with her new company. If she stayed on here, that was.
When she finally made it out of the cold and walked into the headquarters of Finders, Inc., utter chaos greeted her.
A small black man with chunky black glasses and a perfectly trimmed goatee stood next to the dusty arm chairs under the chandelier, arms crossed and almost bouncing on the balls of his feet as he talked to a pretty black woman about the same age as him. Shelby didn’t recognize the woman, but she did remember Hank Johnson. He was so intent on talking to the woman that he never looked up at the entrance.
Off to their left, a huge white guy with wild dark hair and a scruffy beard, wearing what appeared to be pajamas and stained green flip-flops, was pacing around that half of the lobby. He talked loudly into a cell phone that looked like a child’s toy in his huge hand. Shelby swore she could feel each of his footsteps.
Near the back of the lobby, by what was once the check-in area, three men in work boots, jeans, and matching dark blue sweatshirts with a yellow lightning logo were following along after Juan as he shouted directions and complaints at them about the wiring and what needed to be done to fix it to his liking. The men had to hurry to keep up with Juan’s speeding chair.
And to Shelby’s right, her new friend Marly walked out of her office, took one look at the ruckus in the lobby and promptly stepped back into her office. Her door closed with a slam that Shelby couldn’t even hear over all the voices bouncing around the tall ceilings and the chandelier high above it all.
Shelby waved and tried to catch Hank’s attention, but the guy remained utterly focused on the woman he was talking to. Probably a customer, or maybe a reporter. Shelby could’ve turned cartwheels there in the entrance and Hank wouldn’t have so much as glanced in her direction.
As the big guy kept on pacing across the carpet to her left, his flip-flops flapping and his huge belly jiggling, Shelby stepped forward and entered the fray. The big guy looked up at her from his intense contemplation of the floor in front of him. His brown eyes went wide for a second, and he froze in mid-pace.
Shelby caught his look and started to say something, but just as quickly as he’d stopped, the big guy did a one-eighty with surprising agility for someone his size. He resumed pacing, still talking into his tiny cell. As if Shelby never existed at all.
She glared at the big guy’s back and then checked Marly’s door. It remained closed. Just as her gaze was returning to Hank in the middle of the lobby, she noticed a elderly white man sitting calmly on a chair near the reception desk. His gray coat rested on his lap, his white hair perfectly combed. He was an island of calm in the busy lobby. Calm except for the tight fists resting on his bony knees.
Shelby fought the urge to go over and talk to him, reminding herself that she didn’t work here, yet. Not in any kind of official capacity.
She dodged a worker unspooling a line of thick blue wire onto the floor and crossed under the chandelier to stand right in Hank Johnson’s line of sight. He was talking a mile a minute to the pretty woman across from him, and she held a small recorder in her hand. A reporter.
“The whole team pulled together for this one, really,” he was saying. “I can’t reveal all the details of our data-gathering, but let’s just say the research was substantial.”
Shelby caught the quick smirk on the woman’s face as Hank rambled on, and then she stepped closer and cleared her throat.
“Hank Johnson,” Shelby said. “I’d like a word with you, please.”
Hank’s head popped up to look at her like it was caught on the end of a fishing line. His mouth dropped open, ending his monologue.
“Ms. Jamiston,” he said, popping to his feet from his chair in half a second. Behind his spectacles, his brown eyes were wide with surprise. “I am so sorry. You were supposed to start today, and I completely forgot it. I knew I was forgetting something,” he added quietly, as if to himself.
Shelby glanced at the reporter, who was still smirking, and then she took a calming breath.
“Actually, yesterday was the agreed-upon start date, Mr. Johnson. Marly and Juan helped with my, ah, orientation. While you were out.”
“Miranda,” Hank said to the reporter. “Could I trouble you to wait right here for a few minutes?”
“No problem,” Miranda said, turning off her recorder. “I need to talk to Mr. Mayer over there, anyway.”
A look of concern passed over Hank’s face, just for an instant. Shelby caught it and filed that away for later.
“Oh,” Hank said. “Bim? You wanted to talk to him? Okay. That’s… fine.”
Hank looked at all the various people scurrying around the lobby as if for the first time. He raised himself up on the balls of his feet a couple times, rubbing his chin beard. Then he gave Shelby another apologetic look.
“It’s not normally like this,” he began, pointing at the office back to the left of the main entrance, directly across from Marly’s. “Let’s head over to my office, and I’ll get things fixed up for you.”
Shelby had to stretch her long legs to keep up with Hank’s short but speedy legs as he hurried across the lobby to his office. He’d just got her set up in a chair in his immaculate but crowded office before he jumped up out of his seat once more.
“One second,” the little guy said, and then he disappeared, closing the door behind him.
Shelby sat in stunned silence for a moment. She stared at the eight black filing cabinets that lined two of the walls around Hank’s leather chair and his four-foot-wide wooden desk. The top of the desk was cleared off except for a yellow legal pad, a pen, and a tiny blue laptop, closed. No clutter, no framed degrees, no wall of fame. Just right angles and hidden data.
Through the pair of windows overlooking the frozen pool and the town below, snow had started to fall again. And Shelby was still waiting.
“Unbelievable,” Shelby said. She stood up and was in the process of reaching for the pad of paper on top of Hank’s desk to scribble out her resignation letter when the door opened behind her. She quickly dropped back down into the chair.
Instead of Hank, though, the big guy with the flip-flops trudged into the office. The room suddenly felt much smaller. Shelby got a whiff of potato chips and Head and Shoulders.
“Hullo,” the guy said, out of breath from where he stood next to the desk. “I’m Bim Mayer. Hanky J asked me to talk to you about the company for a few minutes. He apologizes, but he’s got a couple fires to put out. I guess.”
He held out a big hand for Shelby to shake, and she got up out of her chair to complete the transaction. His hand was warm and his grip was firm, but not crushing.
“Shelby Jamiston,” she said. Did he say his name was Bim? Really? “I guess Hanky J didn’t tell anyone else about me starting, did he?”
Bim clumped over to Hank’s leather chair and lowered himself into it very carefully. The chair gave one squeak, then surrendered. Bim sighed and shook his head, his long hair flopping from side to side like a wet curtain.
“Nope. Not to me, at least. Don’t take it personally. We’ve—he’s—been covered up. You know, really busy. This move here took way more effort than any of us ever expected. Plus the cases keep rolling in, and after yesterday, well, you don’t even wanna know. But anyway,” he added, waving his hand in the air, “that’s no matter. Let’s talk Finders, Inc.”
Shelby didn’t say anything for a few long seconds. She was contemplating just walking out, but then she thought about her car in the shop and how badly she needed to get her own place. And she thought about her ex, Wallace, back in Charlotte, who was still trying to find her. How she’d had to leave town in a hurry, with only what she could fit into her Highlander.
“Shelby?” Bim said, scratching his belly through his blue flannel shirt. “You okay?”
Good question, she thought.
“Just wondering,” she said instead, giving him a half-smile, “what it takes to get your boss’s attention, that’s all. This is the second day in a row I’ve been twiddling my thumbs.”
Bim stared at her for a long moment, and Shelby met his gaze. She did her best to give him a poker face, not wanting to reveal that she’d spoken out of turn.
Instead of taking umbrage at her comments, however, Bim let out a loud laugh. Shelby felt the tension in her shoulders disappear at the sound.
“Now that’s the million dollar question,” he said, belly still quivering like Santa’s. “That just comes with the territory. Hanky J’s got a ton of different things going on, and he’s always like that. Totally ADD, but with a good bit of OCD thrown in for good measure. I’ve known him pretty much all my life, and I don’t think he’s gonna change now.” Bim’s smile went away, and he leaned in closer. “But this is a good company, and we need some help. Bear with us, huh?”
Shelby nodded, feeling a crooked grin try to sneak onto her face as Bim launched into his spiel about Finders, Incorporated. How they’d started out twenty years ago, just Bim and Hank, doing odd-job private investigations that nobody else in the area would dream of taking on. The first five years had been rough, and they’d nearly given up a dozen times. But each time, right before the money completely dried up, they’d crack open a case, and they’d earn just enough to keep on keeping on. Pretty soon they hit their stride when they focused on missing persons, then they were able to hire Juan and Marly, and things really started to pop.
“Nowadays,” Bim finished, “we’ve got so much friggin’ work that we can’t keep up. Old Hanky J’s been working about eighty hours a week lately.”
“Does the guy sleep?” Shelby said.
“He aims for four hours a night. Seriously. He read how to do it in a book. But he’s not quite there yet. I, um, wouldn’t bring that up with him right now. He’s a little touchy about it. Sleep dep will do that to ya.”
Shelby nodded in agreement at that.
“So that’s our sordid little history,” Bim said, stifling a yawn. “Sorry. I didn’t get my eight hours of sleep last night myself.”
“So I heard. You two were out finding April Mae Honeycutt last night. Nice work. The media went nuts with her story. Though I only saw Hank—” she couldn’t bring herself to call him Hanky J “—on camera.”
Bim nodded, but a troubled look flashed over his face. He touched his round belly, just for a second, and then dropped his hand to the desk top.
“Yeah. That girl was a badass. Nearly killed her kidnapper. With a rock. Good thing we got there when we did. Hanky J got the situation under control pretty dang fast.”
Shelby waited for the rest of the story, including why Hank got to take all the credit for finding the lost girl. But Bim had leaned back in the big leather chair dangerously far. He was now staring up at the ceiling, eyes going glossy.
Shelby wanted to look up at the ceiling to see what he was looking at, but she cleared her throat instead. A few seconds later, Bim lowered his gaze and sat up straight again. He didn’t glance over at Shelby, nor did he apologize for spacing off.
An awkward silence followed for five seconds, then ten. Gazing down at his hands on his lap, Bim let out a long, slow exhalation.
“So. Who were you talking to earlier, on your cell phone?” Shelby said, uttering the thought an instant after it popped into her head. “Seemed like a pretty intense conversation.”
“Oh,” Bim said, scratching at the stubble on his cheek. “That was, um, actually, it was my mom. My dad’s been kinda sick, and she wanted me to drop by and—well, never mind. Boring personal stuff. You know how it is with parents.”
Shelby nodded and gave him a smile, and the worry lines around his blue eyes faded a bit.
“I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me,” she said, putting her hands on the arms of her chair, making like she was getting up, hoping Bim would follow her lead. Instead, he just leaned back in Hank’s chair, which gave out an ominous creak. “I know you’ve got a ton of work to do, and I should probably get started on my—”
“Nah,” Bim said. “I’m in no rush.”
Shelby sank back in the chair, intrigued.
“But everyone else looks slam-busy out there.”
Bim shrugged. “I’m pretty much just hanging out here in the new digs. Waiting for the next case. My specialty is missing persons. Far as I know, Hanky J doesn’t have anyone we need to find right now, so I’ve got some downtime coming to me. I was thinking about braving the snow and getting a latte and a cinnamon roll, actually, if you care to join me.”
As soon as he finished his sentence, Bim’s face went bright red.
The big guy was hitting on me, Shelby thought with a shiver of delight mixed with dread. She hadn’t dated in years. Not since she and Wallace had broken it off for good.
But then an instant later her possibly suitor was smacking himself in the forehead, which didn’t do much for her self-esteem.
“Ah man,” he said. “I friggin’ forgot. My new stupid diet. No more trips to Stick Boy Bakery for scones or sticky buns. Or lattes, for that matter. Ugh. This is gonna suck.”
This time, Shelby did get up. The roller-coaster conversation with Bim was making her irritable, and she could use some coffee herself. Or bourbon. Definitely bourbon.
“So does ‘Hanky J'”—she gave his name air quotes, which made Bim snort laughter—”have a place set up for me? Marly mentioned yesterday that the office across the way from this one was open.”
“Go ahead and claim it,” Bim said. “That’s the big thing to remember here. You have to just take the initiative on stuff like that. Hanky J doesn’t sweat the small stuff. He’s a good boss, though, and he helps a crapload of people.” He finally got the hint and, with some groaning effort, he stood up as well. “Let’s go get you set up over there. Hopefully Hanky J and Miranda from the high-and-mighty Charlotte Observer have finished their pissing contest by now.”
Shelby followed Bim out of the office, feeling a bit taken aback by the immensity of the guy. He was like a boulder with legs. The sides of both his upper arms brushed against the door frame, making Shelby less concerned about her own curves as she walked through the doorway with plenty of clearance on either side of her.
The lobby had quieted down quite a bit in the past half hour, but Hank and the reporter named Miranda were still deep in conversation under the chandelier. Juan had made sure the electricians were set up and working in the space behind the black reception desk, while he was typing furiously on his laptop outside the door to his office. She could just catch a glimpse of Marly, bent over a pile of paperwork in her own office and talking into a phone at the same time.
Shelby saw the old white man still sitting in the hall outside Marly’s office, and she was about to point him out to Bim, when a bothersome thought hit her.
“Bim,” she called out before he could start crossing the lobby to the fourth office. He stopped and turned, rubbing his belly absently as if it had been growling. “I’m not taking this office from you, am I?”
He let out another snorting laugh. Shelby kind of liked the sound of that laugh, as potentially obnoxious as it might be at times.
“Hell no. I don’t need an office for what I do. I mostly hang out at home, get caught up on movies and video games, and wait for Hank to pick me up and go find someone. I’m not really a paperwork-and-phone-call kinda person, y’know?”
Shelby nodded, not understanding at all what Bim’s job description was beyond simply finding people. She was intrigued now.
As she and Bim passed by Hank and Miranda on their way to her new office, Shelby’s new boss looked her way at last.
“Five more minutes,” he said to Shelby, giving her a quick thumbs-up. “We’re almost done here.”
Shelby nodded, wishing for an apology in there somewhere, but then her wishes were interrupted by the sounds of sparks and swearing.
The commotion came from one of the construction workers behind the reception desk. Juan sped in to pull the guy away from the explosion of electricity pouring from the bad wiring spilling out of an outlet, just as the other two electrical workers came running up from down the hall. Soon all three workers and Juan were cussing and yelling, in English and Spanish.
Meanwhile, the old man in the light blue suit who’d been sitting outside Marly’s office stood up and began clapping his hands as loud as he could.
“Excuse me,” the old man called out, not looking at anyone in particular. He stopped clapping in the sudden silence he’d created in the office.
Everyone had turned his way, including Juan and the electricians. Even Marly had stepped away from her desk to peek out of her office.
“Excuse me,” he said again in his shaky old man’s voice. As he spoke, his voice increased in confidence and volume. “I came here for some help, and I cannot wait any longer!”
He cleared his throat and looked directly at Shelby. He gave a dramatic pause, convincing Shelby that he had to be a professor, most likely liberal arts.
The blown electrical outlet behind Reception gave one final, sizzling pop, as if trying to get in the last word.
Shelby caught herself trying again to grin despite all the frustrations of the past day and a half. In that moment, she was glad that she was here today to be a part of this barely controlled chaos.
“I am missing,” the old man said, enunciating carefully, “my car, my dog, and my wife, and I need you people to find them all!”