Cameo Fox was attractive by anyone’s definition. A woman didn’t get to be a movie starlet without something giving her an edge, what people referred to as the “awe” factor, and she had it in spades, or hearts if I used a more accurate turn of phrase.
But her looks and celebrity had apparently attracted the unwanted attention of a stalker. Her agent wanted her away from the people crush in California and some place where the paparazzi would have a harder time finding her. Per the agent, Ms. Fox needed a change of scenery and protection.
I stepped out of the Tahoe and studied the sky for any hint of the plane, like I was Ricardo Montalbán, except far more irritated than the mysterious overseer of Fantasy Island. Since a young and beautiful movie starlet had my life on hold, it was easy to be impatient. Most days I would have felt as warm and pleasant as Ricardo waiting to greet his guests, but the Marcello kidnapping now weighed on my mind, and I wanted the freedom to jump back into the investigation.
I suppose I could have backed out of the job. There were plenty of capable personal protection services, which is what I told Fox’s agent over the phone. But it turned out to be the wrong thing to say to a man who usually gets his way. Her agent, Marty Bank, told me he didn’t want someone who was just “adequate,” he wanted the best in the business.
I listened to the anxious voice, the concern the man had for his client’s safety, and I told him he was talking to the best. I rarely talk myself up, but his whining had annoyed me.
“Then you’re hired, Mr. Rampone.” I had to give Marty credit for knowing what he wanted and having the resources to get it.
“Why not hire someone in LA?” I asked. “Two of us will have to fly out there. There will be extra expenses since we’re from out of the area.”
“If you haven’t figured it out by now, Mr. Rampone, I don’t care about the expense.”
I expected more dickering, or at least some. “Okay,” I said.
“And for now, Ms. Fox will not be staying in Los Angeles. She bought a home in Sun Valley and has a month before production begins on her next film, so she’ll be staying right where you are.” Marty sounded more like an overbearing father than an agent. “Take the job and I’ll double your regular pay if Cameo is happy with your work.”
The pay explained why I was waiting on the tarmac for a plane arriving with a celebrity.
After I hung up with Marty, I called my friend and partner, Jamie Kelly.
Jamie has made talking into a minimalist art.
She can also be annoyingly obtuse.
“I’ll jump to the point. Be at the airport tomorrow morning, 1000 hours.”
I hadn’t heard from Jamie since yesterday, which meant she was at the airport waiting but concealed and covering the tarmac with a sniper rifle. She is a low maintenance employee slash partner.
Twelve years my junior, I met Jamie on the streets when I was a rookie patrol officer. She helped me with a burglary investigation and then got mixed up with a gang that called itself the Violent Human Predators while trying to help a friend of hers. The whole mess was a complicated affair and ended tragically for all concerned. Jamie later pursued her dream of becoming an Army Ranger like her father had been, and now that she was out of the military, we had teamed up to run a personal protection service.
Jamie spent time in Afghanistan, and after shattering her ankle in a jump, was shuttled back to the States as a training officer, an assignment she told me she wasn’t ready for.
She was sharp with any firearm and even more impressive in hand-to-hand combat. After she left the Army, she almost killed a man by accident while training at a gym that groomed MMA fighters. When I met with her to discuss her business proposal, she told me fighting had become a matter of life or death, not sport. She said she didn’t think she could ever separate the two. Her brown eyes turned darker and more distant, and she sat emotionless, lost somewhere in the past.
Jamie is a lethal weapon, but she has a good heart. Either of those assessments she’d balk at, but they’re true. She’s an excellent partner for this work.
My cell phone chirped and I brought it to my ear without looking to see the caller.
“Our plane is close.” Jamie’s voice, smooth as a midnight disc jockey.
“About time,” I said, though I hadn’t heard a thing yet.
“Perimeter is secure.”
The line went dead and I put away my phone wondering if my hearing had ever been as good as hers.
The plane we were waiting for was a Gulfstream II-B, like Travolta owned. Once it landed and Ms. Fox and her mother disembarked, it was to immediately return to Los Angeles.
I put the files I kept from the Marcello case back into their folder, wishing once again I hadn’t taken the bodyguard job. There were plenty of other qualified people who could do it, and now that I had new information on Jenny Marcello’s kidnapping, I wanted to devote myself to it full time. Not a day went by I didn’t think about Jenny and her family. I often thought about the case at night, not knowing for sure if it caused my sleeplessness or if my mind simply had no other place to go. I remembered meeting with the parents, viewing videos and photos of Jenny. She had grown up in a good home, I remembered thinking as I spent time with the family. They narrated videos, told me about the family photos, and cried. So did I.