Finding Elvis Ch. 02byWine_Maker©
Chapter Two: Family Counseling
I shook myself out of my stupor and grabbed Kat, yanking her back. She fought and screamed imprecations at Gretchen. Ted and Lisa held Gretchen back after she took another swing at her step-mother. It looked like they had their work cut out for them. Gretchen was really straining hard.
"Enough! Ladies!" I shouted, to no avail as they both continued to struggle against our restraint. Gretchen was finally pulled back by Ted and Lisa's combined strength.
Kat turned to me and hissed, "Let me go right now or I'll see you broken so badly you won't be able to get a job waiting tables! Take your hands off of me!"
"No," I said firmly. Kat looked shocked, so I explained the word to her. She probably didn't hear it much, after all. "That means I'm not going to do it until you behave in a civil manner. I don't care who you're married to. You don't get a free pass to brawl in public. Calm down or walk it off. I don't care. But, if you keep fighting, I'll have to make you stop. Do you understand that?"
"You low-life peon!" she snarled. "I'll crush you and your piss-ant friends like an egg! You release me this very instant!" She began struggling again so I turned and gave her a light shove into the ring of spectators watching us in horrified delight. A curl of dark amusement touched my lips. Amazing how alike crowds were, no matter their social standing. They wanted blood. It must be the human condition.
"This fight is over," I said loudly enough to cut through the chatter. "Anyone else disturbing the peace will find their well-financed asses hauled off to the lockup and I assure you that the cuisine is less than one star. Move on."
The crowd came to its senses and began moving off, but Kat wasn't done. She started back toward me, murder in her eyes, but was yanked up short by her husband stepping through the thinning crowd and confronting her.
"What in blue blazes is going on here?" he demanded of Kat. "I won't have this! These are my guests restraining you from fighting and screaming. I wouldn't expect that kind of behavior from a common showgirl. Both of you. Stop it this instant!"
Kat turned bone white, her eyes almost bulging from their sockets, and her mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water. Then she turned bright red, sending a scorching glare at Gretchen and myself before turning and stalking off in a snit. The remaining spectators pulled back from her like she had the plague.
Hans turned his back on Kat and went to his daughter. "Gretchen, are you all right?"
She shook off his hands. "I haven't been all right since you married that bitch, Daddy. Can't you see that she's using you? She doesn't love you! She only loves your money! She couldn't give a crap about anyone besides herself! How can you love her?" she asked with a bite of anguish.
I caught the unspoken part of that. How can you love her more than me would be more what Gretchen was thinking. I stepped back beside Ted and Lisa.
Hans wrung his hands. "It's complicated, Baby. I know she's abrupt, but underneath that she's a good person. I love her and you."
"She drove a wedge between us, Daddy." Gretchen stepped back. "I should have known better than to come here. She still has you wrapped around her little finger. You won't ever understand why I left or why I do what I do. Let me go, Daddy. Go back to your wife."
Her eyes glistened with unshed tears and she half turned before her father shouted, "Wait!"
He moved between her and the door. "I may never understand, you're right, but I still love you and I don't want to lose you again." He looked back at me and his eyes lit up in a way that filled me with foreboding. "I know what we need," he told her, his eyes lingering on me for a second more. Turning back to Gretchen he said, "We need someone to help us from outside the box. Hawk can do this for us."
My eyes bulged. "I can do what? Now, hold on..."
He rode right over my mounting objections. "Yes," he said with a headshake. "Perfect! She's a skilled negotiator and I think you'll find her more interesting than the last counselor."
Gretchen looked as astounded and just about as happy as I felt. "Daddy, I don't have the time to waste on working this out. I have a living to earn. Just mark it down that you tried and go back to her."
"No! I'll pay for your time. Your highest rate for the next seven days." His eyes glittered.
"I have clients already booked..." she started before he cut her off.
"This is business, I know. I'll pay the penalty of your choosing for you to re-schedule those commitments. I want you to spend all the time you can with Hawk. It can't make things any worse, and perhaps it might help. I'll listen to everything she has to say. You do the same." He looked up at her. "You have nothing to lose. Please try this for us?"
I tried to form words of protest. "Hold on a minute there, Buddy! I already have a job and a life of my own. I can't just drop everything I'm doing when it suits someone else and I am not some kind of family therapist!"
Hans looked surprised. "One call and your employer will be happy to allow you the time, I'm sure. As for the rest, I will pay very well for your..."
I cut him off, trying hard to remain polite and not lose my temper any further. I was still blunt, though. "Look, Mister Werner, I'm not for sale to the highest bidder. You can't just wave a wad of cash under my nose and have me trot off to do your bidding. I told your wife I wouldn't bow and scrape to her and I won't do it for you, either." I waved my finger under his nose. "I do what I want, not what someone else wants me to do. You got that?"
Over his shoulder I saw a spark of intrigue slide across Gretchen's face. I suppose nobody ever talked to Daddy Warbucks like that before. Tough shit.
Hans held up his hands. "You're right. I wasn't thinking. You don't work for me, but I still think we can make this right and both get something we desire. What if I find mutually beneficial ways to work with your friends and I pay you the same as I pay my daughter?" He looked at Ted. "I know that I can help Mister Stansbury expand his business and I'll wager that Miss Davis would do much better in a partnership than working for the government."
Now I saw both of my friends startle and open their mouths to protest, but I cut them off. While I wouldn't let some rich guy push me around, I also knew my price when it was met. My friends would never ask for something for themselves and if a week of my time helped them, I'd do it. "That's between you and them, but since you'll do that for them, I'll agree. But I do have some business of my own to pursue. She can go with me while I take care of that, too. That's the deal. Take it or leave it."
As Ted and Lisa gaped, Hans smiled. "Excellent. Gretchen? Will you try?"
Gretchen looked at him and then back at me. She smiled. "For you, Detective Hawkins, I think I will." She looked back at her father. "I'll send the bill tonight. Payment in advance for all parties. I know you negotiate in good faith, but it's all off if they decline, so I suggest you convince these two nice people to take you up on your offer," she said, gesturing to Ted and Lisa. "And I'll get to know my new companion for the week. When the week has passed, I'll come and tell you where we sit. Deal?"
"Deal." Then Hans turned and took Ted and Lisa by the arms, dragging them back toward the table. "Come, we have much to discuss."
I chuckled at their discomfort and amazement before Gretchen held out her arm to me.
"Shall we go get something to eat and talk about this, Detective?"
I took her arm and nodded. Perhaps a little time away from Ted and Lisa would be helpful. We all needed time to think. The possible marriage, the anxiety the threesome seemed to be feeling, and this family counseling thing had happened so fast. "Let's go." The touch of her skin felt hot under my fingers and my stomach lurched. This could be a very interesting week.
The hotel doorman called for her car and we waited in silence, eyeing one another, no doubt wondering what we had let ourselves in for. When the car came around, it was a sleek black Ferrari of some kind. It looked pricey. The leather interior smelled new. Like any other red-blooded American, I had to fill my lungs and sigh. The seat was warm and seemed to fit my butt like a glove.
I buckled in as she started it up. The engine sounded powerful. This car could probably take my bike any day of the week. "Nice car," I said. "Looks fast and expensive."
She laughed and slid out into traffic. Even with her dress mussed and her hair a disaster, she still seemed almost unearthly in the effect she had on me. I firmly told myself that this was not the time to fall for someone.
"It's a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti. Just on the market." She looked over when she stopped at the light, the engine growling powerfully under the hood. "Well, maybe not quite on the market just yet. Soon, though. I have a friend in the business and he got me one of the first ones. It is fast and worth every penny."
I rubbed the console. "You must do well, then. I know I couldn't afford something like this car. We were never properly introduced. My name is Shauna Hawkins, but I'd rather be called Hawk. I'm a homicide detective from Houston."
She reached out and took my hand over the stick shift for a moment that almost made my heart stop. "Gretchen Werner, black sheep. As you could no doubt tell." She looked over at me. "You do know that this whole arrangement has less than a snowball's chance in hell of working, right? That bitch has ruined my family and my father let her do it."
"I don't know anything yet," I responded. "So, where would you like to eat? Someplace quiet so we can talk." I looked over her figure as she drove the car. She was even hotter up close. "What do you do that has an income to pick up one of these?"
She glanced over at me, her eyes light blue under her lashes. "I'm an escort. Companion, and more if I choose. It pays the bills. You can't imagine what people will pay to spend some time with the daughter of one of the wealthiest men on the planet." A hint of bitterness crept into her voice. "Not that it would do them any good. I ran off to do this and he disowned me. Pleased the hell out of that hag he's married to. Without me in the way, she gets the cash in spite of the prenup. She got the only thing that meant anything to me. She got him. I'd rather let her have the money and me have him, but he won't let her go. I wish she'd just drop dead." Her voice had trailed off to a cold whisper.
"I don't think that you should say something like that. Karma is nothing to tempt. We should probably save talking about them until we get to know each other a little bit better," I added quietly. "And to answer your earlier question, I don't expect to make much of an impact, really. I can't imagine what he was thinking. I am not trained for this." Interesting. Mommy Dearest had been insulting and accurate when she called Gretchen a whore. A rare combination in a bitch like Kat.
Her cold face lightened a little. "Well, neither can I, really. Neither one of us is willing to compromise on the one issue separating us. Kat. We've had counseling. The best money can buy in fact, but you have to be willing to compromise to make it work."
As she took a corner just a bit fast, I held onto the seat.
"Changing the subject again, isn't it a bit illegal to be more than just a companion?" I asked with a smile. "I'm not vice, but even I know sex for money is frowned upon. Not that I plan on turning you in, mind you," I added.
That elicited a laugh. "Actually, it's not illegal in some counties in the State of Nevada. I made an arrangement with one of the brothels that works for both of us. Las Vegas has a city ordinance covering solicitation, though. If there is going to be more than dancing and dining, I close the deal at my place. All legal."
I pursed my lips. "I didn't know that. Why the hell aren't there hundreds of bordellos out there, then?"
"Economics and political pressure brought to bear on the ones that do open. It's always cheaper to peddle less expensive nookie when you don't have the overhead of a real business. Add in the politicians and religious right and you have powerful people that can make doing business difficult." She looked over and smiled. "At least for the organized places. Most that have tried went under within a few years. People like me, well, I'm just too small to hit their radar. And, for a classy date, some people are willing to shell out serious money."
"Does it bother you sometimes? Selling yourself?" I asked.
If she was offended by my question, it didn't show. "Actually, it's more like renting myself. Surprisingly, the sex is not as big a part of my business as you might think. I'd say that less than a third of my companions ask to have sex with me, and I decide if that happens." She shrugged. "Some take it badly, but then I never see them again and they get blacklisted by the all the high-end places. With the class of men we're talking about, it's not as much trouble as it may sound." She pointed to a Denny's on the corner. "Denny's coffee isn't bad and there's less chance of someone I know overhearing us. Here we'll just blend in."
I laughed. "Like we'll blend in anywhere dressed like this."
She smiled back at me and climbed out of the low-slung car, gathering the stares of several men. I almost laughed out loud when one man's obviously peeved wife smacked him in the back of the head. Gretchen used her keys to lock the door and set the alarm.
As we headed in I looked back. "Is it safe out there? For that kind of car? Someone could take it in plain sight."
She nodded her head and smiled. "It's possible, but if they do it's fully insured. It's a nice car but it's still only a car. If they want it, they can have it. With the tracking system in it, though, it's a good bet the cops will have them inside half an hour. Or so the salesman said."
I shook my head and smiled. "How can a woman in the world's oldest profession be so naïve? Anything man can devise, man can defeat."
The server seated us and took our drink orders. Shortly, we were sipping our coffee and picking at nachos. I had used the last few minutes to try and get myself into some semblance of control.
"So, Gretchen, if you don't think this has a chance of working, why even try?" I asked. "Why not just turn up your nose and walk out? Hell, why go to that little soiree in the first place?"
She bit into a nacho chip and crunched thoughtfully. "I went to annoy Kat. I hoped for a big fight, but you spoiled my fun," she pouted before grinning. "When you put her in her place, I thought she'd swallow her teeth. She hasn't been talked to like that since she was a showgirl, I bet." Her face darkened. "Since my idiot father married her money-grubbing, power-hungry ass."
She sipped her coffee and looked at me with some consideration in her eyes. "And that is why I agreed. I've never seen anyone else willing to stand up to her or my father. You seem mighty impervious to being bullied. Is that because you're a cop or are you a cop because you're that way?"
I shrugged. "I've always been stubborn, so I'll have to go with door number two. My family despaired of me before I took off. Now, both my parents are gone, and I wish I could have made things better before the end." I waved my coffee cup. "That wasn't some slick sell job, by the way. This situation just brought it back into mind."
"What was the wedge in your life?" she asked quietly. "If you don't mind my asking." She had the kind of voice that inspired trust and confidence. I guess that wasn't so surprising, really, given her choice of professions.
I spent a moment gauging her before I spoke. "I came out of the closet and my parents freaked. Started thumping their bibles and even called the minister over to try and cast out the demon inside me. It was like a circus with bad clowns."
Gretchen arched an eyebrow. "Ahhh! So you play for the other team. Very interesting. I've only dated men, but I was rented to you for the week so we'll have to see what happens."
I fixed her with a stern look. "I haven't ever paid for sex before and I don't intend to start now. I think you're gorgeous and I wouldn't kick you out of bed even for eating crackers, but I refuse to pay for sex."
"So, what you're saying is that you think I'm hot, but sex is out while I'm on retainer?" she asked archly. "Interesting. I like a challenge, but don't mistake me," her expression hardened a touch, "Daddy paid for companionship, not sex. If I choose to do more, that's my decision and it won't have a damn thing to do with money."
She sipped her coffee, her expression changing yet again, this time showing just a hint of shyness and making her look younger, even more angelic. "I horsed around a little, back when I was in high school, but nothing serious. Kissing practice and such with a close friend, but never anything more than a mild grope. Not that some men haven't encouraged me to do more with a woman of their choice, but none of them ever approached it in a way to make me want to try it."
I was about to speak when her bare foot rubbed my leg, sending shivers up my spine and making my stomach do a little dance. "That's not playing nice," I grumbled. And doesn't indicate a shred of timidity, I added to myself with a suppressed grin.
She pulled her foot back with a laugh. "Why? Are you in a committed relationship?" How did she look so angelic even with her hair looking like she'd just been in a WWE match?
I shook my head. "No, not committed. You met my friends before your father dragged them off. I've been..."
Gretchen arched her eyebrow again. "You've been what? With her? She's really good looking," she admitted, "but he was very easy on the eyes, too."
I cleared my throat. "Well, not exactly." I felt a little heat reach my face. God! I do not blush! What the hell was wrong with me?
Her other eyebrow joined the first. "Him, too? I thought you played for the other team?" A hint of a wicked smile crossed her lips. "Or is it both of them together?"
I sighed, and matched her infectious smile. "How do I get myself into these messes?" I asked rhetorically. "Yes, I was seduced by the Dark Side, but only because he's such a sweet guy. It's okay, but not like making love to a woman."
Gretchen smiled past my shoulder and I felt my eye twitch.
"The waitress is standing right behind me, isn't she?" I asked, already knowing the answer. I turned in my seat and the waitress was blushing right behind me. Jeeze, this was Vegas. How could everyone here be so naïve?
"Um... Can I, like, get you some more coffee or something?" she asked nervously. She was young and I swear young people were getting more and more incomprehensible every year. What the hell ever happened to proper grammar?
Before I could answer her, Gretchen cut in. "Some more coffee would be good, Sweetie. I'm getting real thirsty trying to talk this pretty woman into getting sweaty between the sheets with me."
The young woman (girl, really) blushed and bolted with a jerky nod as Gretchen started laughing. I kicked at her under the table. "That was so bad," I told her, "getting that poor girl all flustered like that! It'll serve you right if you end up getting decaf." I shuddered. "No, on second thought, I take it back. No one deserves decaf."
She laughed unrestrainedly for the first time since I'd met her. "I can't help teasing the lab rats. Couldn't you tell? I always have to push and poke, to get a reaction."
I was afraid the girl would spill coffee all over the table when she came back. Gretchen was no help either, smiling seductively at her. "What time do you get off tonight, Sweetie? Want to go dancing with us?" I thought the waitress would vapor-lock. There was no shame in Gretchen.