by Lisa Towles
Genre: Political Action Thriller
Brock “BJ” Janoff and his older brother Jonas run a private investigation firm in Venice, CA.
BJ is randomly approached by a stranger on the street with a proposition he can’t refuse – one million dollars to deliver a single envelope to a hotel lobby.
They pay him up front, which sounds good on the surface, but now BJ’s life is in danger if he doesn’t deliver the envelope in time.
Obsessed with the envelope’s contents and the “why me”, BJ follows clues to investigate the players behind what he believes is an organized crime scam.
When an act of brilliance changes the balance of power, the safety of everyone he loves is in jeopardy.
And the more he digs, the closer he gets to truths he can’t bear to face – about the elusive Bilderberg Group, his missing father, and about the fate of everyone he loves.
I woke up restless at 6 a.m. and again an hour later, remembering the sad anniversary, and checked the nanny cam feed on my phone to make sure it was working. It just didn’t make sense, other than the money guys wanting to avoid the ten suited men who kept showing up at the front desk. Three sips of weak coffee and a two-minute shower, I was out the door by 7:30. The traffic gods favored me because I hit the parking lot by 7:58. I entered in slo-mo, starting in the back of the southwest entrance, craning my neck to scan for Lacy’s notorious yellow Lotus. Can you imagine? Not just a Lotus but Solar Yellow parked in a dirt lot in this neighborhood of Venice. And it’s never been broken into, so she said. Maybe thugs felt like the obvious alarm system wasn’t worth the aggravation.
Born one month apart, Lacy and I were two years younger than Jonas, and growing up next door, we were all essentially siblings. When Jonas turned his MBA plus preoccupation with crime into an entrepreneurial venture, of course I was tapped for IT and networking support, given my degree in computer science. Lacy, being a lawyer, didn’t specifically work for Jonas but offered early morning consultations on some of our cases before she went to her real job at her daddy’s law firm. My implacable get-there-first rivalry with her was a leftover vestige from elementary school, racing down the street to see who touched the front door of the school first. So immature. But when it came to women in my life, she was the yardstick to which everyone else was compared. The Lotus wasn’t there yet, and I was delighted to pull into the space she designated as hers. Life’s a bitch, deal with it.
Only because Jonas begged me, I left my collector’s item Dodgers baseball cap on the passenger seat and instead brought my briefcase, a useful prop for billionaire meetings. Little did they know there was nothing but a paperback book in it. On second thought, I pulled out the book and tucked it under my arm. And it wasn’t till I was standing in the dirt lot gazing at the morning sky that I again remembered what day it was—the anniversary of our mother’s death.
“Good morning, Mister Jonas,” one of the cleaning crew shouted from the second floor and waved.
“I’m his brother, BJ.” I waved back, never quite sure what they did up there though Jonas seemed to think it was storage for an eBay business. Must be a very successful eBay business.
I opened the office door slowly, glad that Jonas startled easily and hoping to scare him.
“Hey,” he said, eyeing my attire and immediately clicking into the briefcase and book. He didn’t smile but I felt his soul relax a tiny bit. Shit. The Bergmans were already here. Where was their car?
“Excuse me, Mr. and Mrs. Bergman, I’m Jonas’ brother, BJ. Sorry I’m late.” I switched the briefcase to my left hand and offered my right to Mr. Bergman. A single, hard shake, watery blue eyes, ruddy face. What kind of a name was Sten anyway? At least twenty years older than I expected, same for the Mrs, who remained seated with her arms crossed and eyes squinted. I could tell she was a pistol. How could a couple in their seventies have an eighteen-year-old daughter? Adopted, maybe a granddaughter instead of a daughter? Or maybe they were just full of shit.
“Ma’am,” I said, and sat to their left. Jonas returned to the chair directly across from them.
“See, Estelle, a reader,” Mr. Bergman commented, pointing at my book. I knew that would be a good idea. “You always say young people don’t read. I told you they were good boys.”
Estelle Bergman’s hairstyle was something to behold. A teased, multicolored mass that resembled a sort of modern art storage container. She could seriously hide a ham sandwich in there and no one would ever see it. I averted my eyes and tried not to laugh. It wasn’t working. Jonas shot me a death glance. I got up to get a glass of water and used my palm to muzzle my hysteria. I knew I was punchy from not enough sleep and obsessing over that freaking envelope. Come on BJ, hold it together. Okay. Breathing. I’ll be fine.
“What are you reading?” the woman asked in a taunting whine.
I came back from the kitchen sipping the water and tried not to look at her. That was probably the most respectful thing to do given the expectations of their generation.
“Arturo Perez-Reverte,” I said. “It’s called The Club Dumas, about the Three Musketeers. Amazing story.”
Jonas stared, unblinking.
“I know, Jonas, you have the master’s degree but I’m the bibliophile. Deal with it.” I winked at Mr. Bergman and smiled at the Mrs. “Brothers, you know…” “Anyway, Mr. Bergman,” Jonas cut in. “You were about to tell me of a new
development about Anastasia. Please continue.”
“She hasn’t come home, if you were wondering,” Mrs. Bergman said with a humph.
“Have you filed a missing person’s report with the police?” I asked. Jonas expressly told me not to talk during the interview.
“Brock, can you—”
I hated that name. Jonas knew that.
“Three days ago,” Mr. Bergman answered. “Nothing happened. We don’t even think they’re looking for her.”
“Have you considered offering a reward for any information leading to her return and any media support?”
Jonas looked like he was about to explode. “Brock, please,” he whispered. “You know nothing about this case.”
“What does he mean by media support?” the woman asked her husband, who looked at Jonas, who looked at me with his palms out. “Not going on TV, I hope? All those TV execs are a bunch of rapists.”
“No, nothing like that.” Still trying not to laugh. “I just meant a strategically placed news article in a reputable newspaper for print and online coverage, with a picture of your daughter and some compelling details about her life that might make readers sympathize with her disappearance and want to help.”
“That’s not a terrible idea,” Jonas managed. “High praise,” I joked.
“Good. When can you have it done?”
“Me? I’m just the IT guy. Besides, I’ve got another case.”
“Here – the last two boyfriends Anastasia spent time with. Addresses and phone numbers. I don’t have their emails.” Mr. Bergman placed a handwritten index card on the obscenely luxurious white, marble coffee table, Jonas’ unapologetic MBA gift to himself. Admittedly it was the only piece of furniture in here that I liked. It would look great in my living room. Then again, better to wait until Ray left.
“That’s helpful, Mr. Bergman. I’ll move on this right away. Meanwhile, Brock and I will work on the article and we’ll be in touch in the next day or so.”
Mrs. Bergman spent five minutes getting up from the couch. Jonas saw them out.
“Stop calling me Brock,” I told him. “That’s Dad’s name. Not mine.” Our father’s name was George because he chose to take his middle name.
“How old do you think she is?” Jonas asked, presumably of Mrs. Bergman. “Somewhere under a hundred? How should I know? That hair, dude. I almost
had to go back out to my car.”
“I know.” Jonas took the same chair and I sat across from him on the mushy sofa. Now I felt bad for laughing at Mrs. Bergman.
“You know the daughter’s probably just bored,” I said, “bedding down some ghetto crackhead for fun.”
The office phone rang. Jonas went to the desk and answered it on speaker. “Janoff Investigations.”
“It’s Sten Bergman. Tell your brother I have a book for him since he likes to read so much. I’ll drop it off for him tomorrow.”
“Will do, thank you sir.”
Jonas came back to the couch and sat, sizing me up the same way Mrs. Bergman had. We both loved the Supernatural TV series growing up. Even now. I was only ten when it first aired, and my mother forbade Jonas from letting me watch it with him thinking it was too scary for me. The one and maybe only advantage to her long illness was that she went to bed early, usually before eight, and since our father was always traveling that meant no one was around to stop me. Jonas was too cool for school at that age, but I knew he liked our weekly ritual of watching it together, enjoying the recurring banter about who was who. Even though I was younger, I was clearly Dean Winchester, the dysfunctional risk-taker, tactical loose cannon with a bad car, while Jonas was the more stable, strategic, level-headed Sam, both of us unwittingly united in our search for our father. For us anyway, we knew where he was, or we thought we did. We just didn’t know why.
“What’s up, Sam?” I joked, knowing there was never a wrong time for
“Dean,” he replied staying in character. “Bergman’s dropping off a book for you tomorrow.”
Jonas was grinning. “What, pray tell?”
“You’re wearing a jacket. Like a suit jacket. And you walked in early, with no baseball cap, carrying a briefcase no less.”
“Who are you and what have you done with my little brother?”
“I work here, what’s the big deal? And maybe I’ve been known to adult from time to time. Look, I need to tell you about something.”
“Okay, but I don’t have time right now. I’ve got some research to do on another case and I want to try to track down one of the boyfriends on Bergman’s list. Call me while I’m driving?”
“No, I’ll go with you.”
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Lisa Towles is an award-winning crime novelist and a passionate speaker on the topics of fiction writing, creativity, and Strategic Self Care. Lisa has eight crime novels in print, including Hot House, Ninety-Five, The Unseen, Choke, and under the name Lisa Polisar Escape, The Ghost of Mary Prairie, Blackwater Tango, and Knee Deep. Her next title, Salt Island, is the second book in her E&A thriller series and will be forthcoming in late 2022. Her thriller, Ninety-Five, was released in November 2021 and won a Literary Titan Award for Fiction. Her 2019 thriller, The Unseen, was the Winner of the 2020 NYC Big Book Award in Crime Fiction, and a Finalist in the Thriller category of the Best Book Awards by American Book Fest. Her 2017 thriller, Choke, won a 2017 IPA Award and a 2018 NYC Big Book Award for Thriller. Lisa is an active member and frequent panelist/speaker of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. She has an MBA in IT Management and works fulltime in the tech industry in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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