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"Christ," Bobby groaned as the bell tinkled. He sank into his seat without looking up. "We're busier than Krispy damn Kreme. It's too cold for this shit. I'm ordering me some hot wings from Domino's to warm up."
I didn't answer. I was too busy staring. The woman shocked me as much as Jeff. From behind, she'd looked like a Playboy bunny waiting on the steps of an Aspen ski lodge. From the front, she looked like the lead in a driver's ed film the morning after the prom. Ugly bruises crept over her cheeks beneath her right eye and a huge scab ran off the end of her chin. Her left arm was in a sling tucked beneath her coat. Metal splints bound two fingers together. I'd have guessed she'd been boxing Mike Tyson, except both of her cars were intact and her honey-streaked hair was tucked behind them to prove it.
"Can I help you?" I asked calmly, though the sight of a battered woman always sent a vague fear skittering through the deeper recesses of my brain.
"Are you Casey Jones?" she asked in a cultivated drawl. An old money try, but not quite there.
"Yes," I admitted. "In the flesh." All 170 pounds of it, at the moment, though I was not about to tell this 105-pound beauty what I weighed.
The mention of flesh caused her to unconsciously caress the bruise on one of her cheeks. "My name is Tawny Bledsoe. My husband did this to me. I want you to find him."
"And do what to him?" I asked, imagining the cornucopia of violence I would visit on a wife-beater if I had the chance.
"Get my child back from him," she said. "He's got my little girl. The courts say she's supposed to be with me."
Bobby D. cleared his throat nervously and pretended to rummage in one of his junk food drawers for a snack. We both hated domestic cases involving children. Parents will do things to each other in front of kids they claim to love that will make your faith in mankind shrivel up and die.
"Your husband beat the shit out of you, kidnapped your kid and you just want me to find him?" I asked, to be sure I understood. "That's all? You don't want me to snatch the kid back or anything?"
"That's right," she said, and her accent made it sound more like "That's rat"--which was probably closer to the truth. "Just find him."
"I assume you're separated?" I asked. "You mentioned the courts?"
She nodded, waiting for my answer. Her left eye twitched. Probably permanent muscle damage.
"Come back to my office and we'll talk about it there," I said, aware that Bobby was starting to sweat like a hog roasting over an open fire. Bobby hates crying women, and the fact that this one had yet to turn on the faucets was a minor miracle. Tawny Bledsoe must be one tough cookie, even if she had lost her last bout by a knockout.
She followed me without a word and took a seat in the visitor's chair after lining it with her fur coat. I'm not on a first-name basis with domestic pelts, so I had no idea what kind of critters died to make her fashionable. But I could tell that her coat had wiped out a generation's worth of some poor species. Underneath it, she wore a pink cashmere sweater and black designer jeans. This was no thrift shop junkie sitting before me, the lady invested in her wardrobe big time.
She sat with perfect posture and daintily crossed her legs. It was impossible not to stare. She was built like a five-foot Barbie doll, with perky breasts jutting out above a waistline so narrow I fought the urge to ask her to lift her sweater so I could count her ribs. Surely a few had been sacrificed for size.
"Tell me about yourself," I said.
'What do you want to know?" Her plucked eyebrows arched. It was difficult to tell, given the current state of her face, but I was pretty sure she was a stunner beneath the bruises and makeup. Her facial proportions were perfect and her eyes were almond-shaped pools of pale blue. Some people have all the luck.
Not that she looked too lucky at the moment.
"General stuff, like where you come from. That sort of thing," I explained. "I like to know who I'm representing."
"Oh." She stared at the wall. "I was born in Kannopolis, that's near Charlotte. My daddy worked for Canon Mills. In upper management. I went to UNC-Wilmington for a while, but I dropped out to get married."
I examined her more closely. Minute lines were starting to form around her eyes and mouth. The lady was well over thirty, though she wore it well.
"How long ago was that?" I asked. I was being about as subtle as her perfume, which was starting to make me sneeze.
"A lady never tells her age," she said, holding her chin high. "But that was another husband."
"I see." I was starting to sound like a shrink. "Any kids with the first hubby?"
"No." Her lower lip trembled. "That's one reason my first husband left me. The doctors told me I couldn't have c
"I'm sorry, but I haven't decided whether or not to take on your case." Especially if she had a daughter named Tiffany. Despite her claims about Daddy being in upper management, I'd already gotten. . .
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