This is another story from the “Jett universe.” It’s a short story from the perspective of the character of “Ashley Garcia,” who plays a huge roll in Jett’s life.
Ashley Garcia – A Jett Story
It was a typical day at the office. It was summer, and it was hot. My partner was in the field and his teenage daughter, Jett, who worked at the office when she was out of school, was at the front desk. I was in my office reviewing camera footage from a case on my laptop.
I heard the phone ring, followed by Jett’s voice saying, “Investigative Associates, how may I help you? Yes Sir. Yes Sir. He is not in the office, but I can take a mess. . .okay, I can transfer you to his voice mail. Yes sir. Yes, it’s confidential. Thank you, sir, please hold.” Then I heard the sound of her pressing buttons on the phone, hard, and then “Gawwwwd. . People. . .So pushy.”
“Were they being rude, Little Chica?” I asked. Chica means “girl” in Spanish, and since she first came here, at ten years old, that’s been her nickname for me. My mom called me “Little Chica” when I was a girl too. Jett and I share a biracial heritage but ours are different from each other’s. My mother is from Puerta Rico, my father is African American. Jett’s mother is African American, and her father is a white guy. Her father is also my business partner, mentor, and friend. Jett is 15 years old, and had a particular rough end to her school year. Jett is a shy, sensitive girl who tends to get bullied by some of the older boys in her school. Jett also knows how to fight and kicks some serious ass, but for some reason the boys just keep up the bullying, while she keeps kicking their asses. I swear she could be my daughter if she weren’t. This year, though, the boys that bully her went too far and she is still recovering, at least mentally.
“Yes,” she said emphatically, “They were all worked up about something. Kept asking if I really worked here over and over and asking for dad. They need to chill.”
“You want to do some field work with me tonight?” I asked, “After your karate class? Or workout, whichever one you do tonight?”
“Yes!” Jett said, “What do I need to do?”
“Come with me to a coffee shop, pretend to be my daughter, and be a typical teenager taking selfies, so I can get pics of someone who may be up to trouble. Just to make it fun I’ll fuss at you for taking selfies the whole time and you can pretend to have attitude.”
“Easy. Yes. What time?”
“We need to be there at 9:00pm.”
I was working a divorce case. The wife knows her husband is cheating, and she wants some leverage in case they can’t come to a settlement with the divorce; as he is trying to leave her with nothing. He and the other lady meet at a particular coffee shop on a regular basis, often with other friends, never with the wife. We’re hoping for an opportunity to get some pics that indicate something is going on. Sleazy, sure, but it’s work, and we got bills to pay.
Jett enjoys working in the field and it gives her a chance to pretend to be a normal teenager, which she is not. I had reservations about letting work at such a young age, but her dad said she needs to learn about the world sooner or later. But it’s a job. Jett’s dad, my partner, pays her cash for helping out and she gets to learn the family business.
“No problem. I have karate until 7:00pm. If you can pick me up and bring me back I can run up and get a shower real quick.”
“No problem Little Chica. We’ll make it happen. We’ll kill two birds with one stone and drop off some missing persons flyers with the manager before we leave.” We’re also currently contracting, through the lawyer who keeps us on retainer, with the local police on missing person cases; mainly kids that have run away or are missing. It’s been an increasing problem here locally as well as across the state. Often times we are able to go places where the police don’t have jurisdiction to get information to help them put their cases together. We had a harrowing one a few months ago when we busted a prostitution/trafficking racket run out of a bar north of here, outside of city limits. My partner managed to get to the missing girl, as well as another young lady looking to escape, who were essentially being kept prisoner via drug addiction, get them out of the bar by creating a series of distractions (something he’s really good at in a loud, chaotic and clumsy way), so I could receive them off the fire escape behind the building and drive them back to town where we met the local police, who had an open case on her. I got to admit, it was harrowing and scary and I loved every second of it.
I heard the sound of the door open. I got up and went out of the office as Jett looked up at the visitor and said, “May I help you?”
“Yea. Tell Garcia that Frankie is here and needs to talk to her.”
“Ok. Ashley!! Mr Frankie wants to talk to you. Are you here?” Jett yelled, and then, to Frankie, “Where did you park today? Not in the handicapped spot again I hope.” She laughed as she said this. I arranged to have his car towed last time he came here and parked in the handicapped spot in front of the building.
“Subtle Jett, yes, I’m here. I’m right behind you.”
“Hey Kid, Jett, right? I heard you’ve been collecting a few trophies at some kind of kung fu contests or something. That’s righteous. Congratulations.”
“It’s karate tournaments and thanks. I’m going for my black belt this summer.”
“I bet your old man is proud. I would be too. Good job kid. And no, I didn’t park in the handicapped spot again. I’m sure Garcia in there already checked the cameras and would have called the police if I had. Fool me once.”
Jett rolled her eyes at the man. He was a jerk, a douche-bag, an asshole. He knew it and everyone else knew it too. He was also a fellow private eye who tended to work for all the wrong people. Lately, though, he’d been spending more time chasing bounties and doing security work for the local elite.
“Stalking the kid Frankie? Classy. How would you know about her karate tournaments?”
“I thought they were kung fu or some shit like that. Whatever, I’ll explain in your office.”
“Well, you got no more than 30 minutes, and you will be billed for this time. Do you agree with that?”
“Sure, my boss will pick up the tab. I miss the days we’d meet your partner in the bar and work out deals over cheap scotch and cigarettes.”
“What are you here for Frankie?”
“Okay Garcia. Business. Got it. Time is money.”
“What are you here for Frankie?”
“I’m here to broker a deal for my client. Consider me a mediator.”
“Here we go,” I said and rolled my eyes at Frankie, “this again.”
“Yea. This. Last time I blindsided you. This time I’m gonna give you an opportunity to know all the variables. See, you’ve been following my client around all over town, collecting evidence of perceived improprieties so his soon to be ex wife can take him to the cleaners. Now, my client is a pillar of the community; a real stand up guy. Respected religious man. If these pictures make it to court then his reputation may suffer; and that’s on you.”
“Maybe he oughta stop cheating on his wife, Frankie,” I said.
“Perceived improprieties, like I said earlier. But that’s not the point. I’m appealing to your sense of empathy. I’m sure you’re more sympathetic to the wife in this case. I know you women like to stick together. But I’m here to broker a deal.”
“You know we don’t make deals regarding active cases. That would be unethical.”
“But not illegal. I’m here to offer you a lot of money, at least triple what you’re already being paid, to work for my client instead. And all he’s asking you to do is nothing. He doesn’t want his wife investigated. He’s got that covered. He just wants to put you on retainer, so you can recuse yourself from this case with his wife. Triple is the starting point, by the way.”
The husband in question is a local pastor who heads up a huge mega church and preaches on the sins of fornication, adultery, homosexuality; all of which we think he practices on a regular basis. At least the first two.
“Alright Frankie. You knew the answer before you even walked in the door. So, we’re good here. Have a day.” I got up to escort Frankie out the door, but he just sat there and smiled.
“What, there’s more? You can’t possibly think you can get anywhere with this.”
“That brings us to the other side of the deal. See, my client commissioned me to do some research on you guys too. Of course, there isn’t much about you guys we don’t already know, but the kid… That’s a different story.”
This got my hackles up. Dragging Jett into this was going too far. “Frankie,” I started to say, sternly, “If yo..”
“Save it Garcia. See, I found out that the kid has people South of here. Her mom got herself into some trouble with the Family while she was here, went to your esteemed partner, in a bar, for help, and he swindled the Family out of some money to send the woman out of town. Ten years later, this kid shows up. Cute kid, she looks like her mom, but has your partner’s blue eyes. Her dad is the same guy who got her mom out of town. Now, here we are, five years later, and I find out, while doing some research for my client, that she has her mother’s people that don’t know a thing about her that live just south of here.”
“Frankie,” I said angrily, but he cut me off again. The Family, he referred to, was a local crime syndicate that ran downtown. They ran legal strip clubs and peep shows, but behind the scenes they ran gambling, prostitution and other assorted prohibited ventures. These days, the current generation still runs downtown, but makes more money on legal endeavors than they ever did in crime. Real estate was making millions, as well as contracting out labor and construction. Seems like half this town is tearing itself down while the half is perpetually rebuilding and spreading. They got in early with real estate, construction and labor and made a fortune without the headache of avoiding jail.
“How do you think they would feel if they found out that the daughter of their deceased sister, daughter, whatever, has been living here for the last five years without them knowing it? I bet they would love to come up here and meet her, spend some time with her. For some reason, they don’t seem to even know she exists. Why is that? Wait. . don’t answer. I know why. It’s because of their lifestyle. Drugs, gambling, drama. The kid’s mom did good to get out of that lifestyle and kept her daughter from them, right? So her dad continues to honor her wish to protect her only child from the very thing that put her mom on the wrong path. She probably told him that they messed up her life and she doesn’t want them messing up their kid’s life. So, he keeps this big secret from them.”
“If you harm this child for. .”
“No no no no no. . You’re reading too much into this. I wouldn’t do that to the kid. She’s doing good. She’s winning karate tournaments, works in the office. I bet she makes good grades too. Nah. I’m not a monster, in spite of what you think. I’m an asshole, sure, but not a monster. I was never asked to talk to the family and tell them about the kid and I wouldn’t do that myself.”
I knew there was another shoe about to drop here so I just waited to see what he would say next.
“But, I was asked to do research on you guys and, if things go bad for my client, I imagine that he’ll want to see my research. Once I turn those files over to him, I can’t control what happens next. And I’m sure you’d agree it would be unethical, using your words, to censor my research and leave out the stuff about the kid. It would just be out of my control. So, I’m being a stand-up guy here and warning you, as a professional courtesy, of the hazards apparent in this particular situation.”
“Thanks Frankie,” I said sarcastically, “You’re a real fucking humanitarian here.”
“Pretty face, trashy mouth,” he replied, “You should clean that mouth out doll.”
“Fuck off. Here’s the deal. This started out professional, but you just made it personal by involving my partner’s daughter in your bribery/extortion scheme. Anything happens that causes any harm to her and I will personally kick your ass, and I can’t even imagine what her dad would do. You know we can’t bail on a case and expect to have credibility moving forward. Your client wants to play games though? See, his wife wasn’t going to release those pictures publicly. She only wants to use them as leverage to get a better settlement. If that works, out, then there is no need for anyone to get embarrassed. If he decides he’s not going to give her that settlement, then she can do what she wants with the pictures. That’s out of our control. So, tell your client to keep it in his pants and work out a good deal with his wife and no one has to have any problems. But, I’d hate for these pictures we already have to end up on social media somehow.”
“If those pictures end up on social media and ruin my client, then he would have no choice but to let the cat out of the bag about the kid.”
“You know I’m not going to draw first blood on this. But we have a fail-safe. Don’t make me use it.”
Frankie was talking about incriminating pictures as if they actually exist, I noticed. His mistake, we were still collecting information. He’s a dumbass as much as he’s an asshole.
“So, what do you want to do?” I asked.
“It’s all up to you. I’d drop your client and take the first deal and leave the unpleasantness aside.”
“It must be hard for your client to pretend to be so high and mighty, but to be up to all kinds of sleazy shenanigans in secret. It would be easier for him to actually live the life he pretends to live. And to involve an innocent child in an extortion scheme. That’s shameful. This would make a great news story, you know. How many investigative journalists would love to get their hands on this story?”
“Perceived improprieties,” Frankie said carefully.
“You sure about that?” I asked, doubling down on the bluff.
“My client is just eager to get this behind him, so he can get back to tending his flock.”
“Not sure what his definition of ‘tending the flock’ is though.” I leaned back without breaking eye contact.
Frankie eyed me nervously. I pressed further.
“You can’t win this Frankie. We both have information the other doesn’t want anyone to see. It doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game though. Just tell your guy that if anything happens with the kid, then something happens with our info. Simple as that. Keep the kid out of it, and we get back to business as usual.”
Frankie eyed me further, not saying a word. He was stuck.
“Better yet, tell your client he can make this all go away by simply working out a fair deal with his wife. That’s all she’s asking. She only wants leverage in case she doesn’t get a fair deal, and this goes to litigation. She’s not unreasonable.”
“What if I just turn over what I have to him now and let him decide?”
“We’ll hold you both responsible if any harm comes to the child as a result. Otherwise, he’d be stupid to pull the trigger on this. There is no way he maintains his reputation when it’s all over.”
Frankie stared at me some more and finally said “I fucking hate you guys.”
“I’d feel worse if you liked me.”
“What do I tell my client?”
“Tell him the truth. I’m sure he’s a pragmatic man and will see the utility in not risking his reputation and career. Advise him to work out a fair settlement with his wife.”
“What if she extorts him with the info you collected?”
“That’s not our problem Frankie. He probably should have kept it in his pants in the first place.”
The truth is that we didn’t have anything yet, but apparently his client was worried about what we may have found, and Frankie thinks we found it. The wife has nothing to extort him with. If we’re lucky, we can ride this bluff out to the end as long as no one gets too greedy.
Frankie stood up and said, “Well, it’s a lot to think about,” and turned towards the door.
“Then get to thinking Frankie,” I replied, “And don’t say a word of this in front of the kid, got it?”
Franked nodded and opened the door to walk out. Jett checked the clock and then typed one more entry into the laptop in front of her, moments later paper came sliding out of the printer.
“Your invoice. We expect payment within ten days,” Jett said.
“How come you guys never pay me?”
“Because we don’t ever come to you for anything Frankie,” I said.
By the time our meeting was over it was time for Jett’s karate class. She grabbed her backpack and went to the bathroom to change clothes and came out in her karate outfit.
“Can I drive you to karate today Little Chica?” I asked.
“Sure. I do running and weights tomorrow, so I don’t have to ride my bike,” Jett replied, “Are we still going to the coffee shop tonight?”
I thought about it for a moment. There was no reason to follow the good reverend around tonight, as he already thinks that I have something on him. So, I can cancel that.
“Yes, we are,” I told Jett, “and can I watch you do karate practice with the moms again?”
“Okay, that’s fine,” she replied, a little embarrassed.
I put my arm around the girl’s shoulder and gave her a little hug from beside her as she walked out the door. “Don’t be so embarrassed Little Chica,” I said, “I love to sit and watch and be proud of you just like all the other moms. Next year you will have your driver’s license and you can drive yourself, so let me enjoy spending time with you before you grow up on me.”
Jett didn’t notice my Freudian slip.