Unplanned Princess Book 1: Sword Diplomacy
Everything Karl had learned as a police officer had to be worth more than just PI work. He knew he was meant for something bigger.
Karl leaned back in the seat of his Chevy Impala and let out an annoyed grunt.
He’d found himself in a good spot in the poorly lit parking lot. Fortune had smiled on him in the form of three cars of around the same height.
They provided enough of a barrier to help hide his presence if anyone in the motel room looked outside. He kept his phone in front of him, both as a camera and an excuse for what he was doing there.
“I need a partner,” he grumbled. “Then when I randomly talk about stuff to myself, I won’t look quite so crazy.” He looked around the mostly empty parking lot. “But if no one can hear me talk, then I won’t look crazy anyway.” He scratched his cheek. “Guess I don’t need a partner.”
In theory, being a private detective was supposed to include brooding and self-reflection.
He should write down his thoughts so the eventual narrator of his life could capture his sardonic tone and dry wit about all the interesting cases he’d worked.
If he ever had any.
Karl wasn’t deluded enough to think anything like that was going to happen. Life wasn’t a detective novel where the good guy always nailed the scum in the end, any more than it was a cop drama where the hardboiled detective always managed to stop the mob scum before they got the innocent witness.
He should know.
Karl’s hand curled into a fist, released, then did it again.
He glared at the motel room’s closed curtains with enough pent-up anger that his failure to set them on fire proved pyrokinesis wasn’t real.
At least the man in the room was only committing insurance fraud, not helping an organized crime outfit.
That was the other problem with his future status as a detective-novel icon. His cases were a far cry from anything involving deep political corruption, femmes fatales, or jeweled falcons.
Screw the femmes fatales. Give him a good jeweled falcon any day.
The only good thing he could say about the situation was that his surveillance target wasn’t another person cheating on their spouse.
Verifying infidelity had paid the bills since Karl left the San Francisco PD, but in a way, he found it more wearying than all the nastiness he had run into as a cop.
He’d always felt like he needed an extra shower each night. In particular, it sucked when he had to explain to his client that their spouse had been caught hiking the Appalachian trail or bone-jumping.
Every once in a while, he had to explain the euphemisms. “Look, lady, your husband isn’t cheating on you with another woman. He was bone-jumping.”
That took a few minutes extra to explain. That was okay; in the end, Karl had billed her for the time.
As a cop, he worked for people in the abstract but the department directly.
Working with a client and then seeing them break down in anger or tears when they realized someone close to them had betrayed them was different. He didn’t have the professional distance and the badge to hide behind.
“I can’t believe people watch that kind of thing on TV for fun,” Karl grumbled, looking around for a notebook. Maybe he could come up with new phrases to explain spouses on vacation.
“Maybe ‘unholy trinity?’ ‘Slutband?’ ‘Outsourcing getting their rocks off?’” He thought a bit more but looked up when a sudden flash caught his eye.
The motel room door opened, and his target, a balding, overweight middle-aged man, stepped out in a robe.
A leggy blonde with obvious surgical augmentation in a barely-there nightgown wrapped her arms around his neck before jumping up and doing the same with her legs around his waist.
His mark laughed and gave her a deep kiss.
“Oh, come on,” Karl complained, snapping some photos. “For a guy who is supposed to be in a neck brace with a bad back, you sure are holding up Mount Blondie well.” He shook his head. “Why the hell are you doing that kind of thing where anyone can see you, anyway?”
The woman slithered down the man before standing and licking her lips. She sashayed inside while the target motioned into the distance. He reached inside the door and grabbed a small ice bucket before saying something to the woman and closing the door.
So much for dignity.
“Why the motel room, pal?” Karl wondered. “You’re not even married. Are you smarter than I thought? You know I’m sniffing around?”
The man stopped and looked around.
Karl didn’t even try to sink into his driver’s seat.
His huge frame meant he couldn’t pull off that kind of stealth. He stared at his phone instead, per his original plan. The target barely glanced his way before continuing around a corner on his quest for ice.
A minute later, his surveillance target returned from his ice expedition and headed into his room. Nothing happened for a couple of minutes. Then it all hit the fan.
The door flew open. The man charged into the parking lot, running past the other cars.
“Well, damn,” Karl muttered. “He didn’t seem like the type, but whatever.”
Karl didn’t reach for the gun beneath his black leather jacket. The man wasn’t armed. He maneuvered between cars with surprising speed and skill for a man as injured as he should be.
Karl took the opportunity to record a video of the approach.
“You idiot.” He shook his head. “I’m embarrassed for you.”
The angry man arrived at the Impala and pounded on the hood with his palms. Karl frowned. It wasn’t a new or nice car anymore, but it was his, and more importantly, it was paid off.
“Get out here, you sick son of a bitch,” the man snarled. “I’m going to rearrange your face, you damned freak.”
Karl opened his door slowly, ducking his head to help get his massive frame through to the outside. He stood to his full height of six foot five and dusted off his hands on his jacket.
It’d be a lie to say he wouldn’t enjoy this part.
The other man licked his lips, the anger in his eyes morphing into obvious concern. He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders before stepping away from the front of the car toward Karl.
Stepping up to a shaven-headed bear who had good seven inches and sixty or so pounds of muscles on you took balls. Karl was well aware he’d always looked more like a biker or a professional wrestler than a typical detective.
He’d taken advantage of that and relied on it. Even this last year, while his golf clubs might have been sitting in the closet at home, his weights hadn’t.
Karl cracked the knuckles of one hand over the fist of the other. “You were saying, pal?”
“You’ve been spying on me and the girl, haven’t you?” the other man managed to spit out. “You think I was fooled by you hiding behind your phone?”
Nothing worse than a guy not smart enough to hide from a PI but smart enough to spot his tail. The man should have come up with a better fraud.
“You want to fight me?” Karl offered in a low voice. He cracked the knuckles on his other hand. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, but it’s your call.”
“Why the hell are you watching me, freak? Who are you?” He looked Karl up and down. “You after my woman?”
“Let me give this one warning, asshole.” Karl took a single heavy step forward. “You fight me, you’re going to end up in a real neck brace. Understand?”
“What are you talking about?” The man stepped back, his eyes widening. His fingers went to his neck. “Brace? Wait. You’re not a Peeping Tom? Oh, God. You work for the insurance company?”
“Let’s say I work for an interested third party who doesn’t believe you sustained the injuries you claim.” Karl inclined his head toward the Impala’s hood. “And you’re lucky you didn’t dent my car. Otherwise, this would already be a much more painful conversation. Before, the only evidence I had was you walking around without a lot of obvious pain. Now I’ve got you charging at me like the moron you are.” He nodded at the room. “Not to mention that chick hanging from you. If I were you, I’d go tell your little friend in there you’ve got to go home and make some phone calls. If you pull out of this right now, maybe you won’t end up getting nailed for fraud, too. You can tell them you made a mistake. I don’t know.” Karl shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t care. I get paid either way.”
The man stumbled back, shaking. His eyes flitted to the left, then the right before focusing on Karl. “I thought they might be watching. I watched a video on the net about it and how to avoid it. They said you had to look out for…” He gripped his head in his hands. “I’m so screwed.”
“I think that’s what was going in the room before, but what’s going to happen isn’t going to be as much fun.” Karl waved a negligent hand. “Have a good night.”
The man turned and slunk toward the motel room, head down, arms hanging loosely at his side.
Now he looked injured.
Karl waited until the man stepped back into his motel room before cramming himself back into his car. “I’m a brooding PI who’s wasting his nights going after insurance fraudsters and cheating spouses. Could I be more of a stereotype?” He set his stuff on the seat so it wouldn’t fall if he had to brake hard. “Maybe I should start wearing trench coats and fedoras and take up smoking.”
There was no reason for him to stick around, so he started the car and pulled out of the parking lot. He could send the evidence to the insurance company tomorrow, be done with this crap case, and hopefully move on to something interesting.
Karl turned on the radio. He might as well figure if the world was going to hell. Or at least more than it was on any other day.
“Police remain tight-lipped about reports of an increase in local Triad activity,” offered a reporter. “There is some concern that one of the more dangerous of the local organized crime groups, the so-called Demon Overlords, may be responsible for a string of high-profile murders described as assassinations of members of rival Triads and other local organized crime groups. Though the smaller organization was almost completely suppressed following a controversial high-profile investigation last year, the Overlords have reportedly been aggressively expanding in recent weeks after a power struggle at the top replaced the previous leader with a brash arrival from Hong Kong. The FBI and local police are offering minimal comment about the murders, noting only that they’ve focused additional resources on all Bay Area organized crime groups and don’t anticipate any major threats to the public at large.”
Karl turned off the radio and glared at it as if it had betrayed him. “You bastards think you can do whatever you want.” He squeezed his hands around the steering wheel. “I could wear a mask. Do something. I could track them down, and I wouldn’t have to play by all the old rules. I could make them afraid to show their faces in this state, let alone this city. Demon Overlords? You arrogant bastards.”
He stopped and hung his head.
A man who drove a ten-year-old Impala and scraped by as a PI filming pathetic men outside motels wasn’t going to last long as a masked vigilante. Being big and angry wasn’t enough. Bruce Wayne wouldn’t have been as impressive without his billions of dollars of tech backing him.
Karl loosened his grip. He’d figure out something. He had to.
There were no superheroes out there. No man or woman was walking around San Francisco with hidden powers and a dedication to justice. The world wasn’t that fair.
To be clear, the world wasn’t evil either, only apathetic.
“I’ll figure out a way,” he hissed. “My way. No rules. No murderers slipping through the cracks.”
Something needed to change.
He wasn’t sure how long he could go around chasing low-end cheaters and fraudsters. That wasn’t justice.
That was saving people money here and there and telling others what they already knew about their cheating spouses.
Going back to the force had popped up, but that wasn’t an option. Even if he could convince himself it was a good idea, he was too messed up.
He wasn’t going to put a partner’s life in danger because his head wasn’t screwed on tight enough.
Karl checked his rearview mirror. The fraudster hadn’t reemerged with a gun or hopped into a car to run him off the road. It didn’t happen a lot, but it did happen enough that he never went on a surveillance job without bringing a gun.
The big difference between being a PI and a cop was that he had no backup. He had to clean up his own mess if he got into trouble.
It might be nice if he had some sort of one-eight-hundred-clean-up-the-bodies phone number like John Wick.
Well, I don't know about Femme Fatal, but I know that when Karl meets Zaena it is going to be interesting. How will this charming elf get involved with this rough ex-cop? Find out on February 26th, or pre-order Unplanned Princess Book 1: Sword Diplomacy now!