Promise Not to Tell(3)

By: Jayne Ann Krentz

A mid-February rain beat steadily, lightly, against the windows. He had lived in Seattle for several months now, but this was his first full winter in the city. He was starting to think of it as the Season of the Deep Gray. The skies were overcast most of the time, and when the sun did make short, fitful appearances, it was low on the horizon. The weak, slanting light was often blocked by the gleaming new office towers. The boom in high-rise construction in recent years had created dark canyons in much of downtown.

It should have been depressing, he reflected. Instead, there was a sense of energy about the city. He had been surprised to discover that something in him responded to the vibe. He wasn’t the only one. The region was home to innumerable start-ups. The new gig economy was going full blast. Businesses of all kinds were enthusiastic about setting up shop in the city. New restaurants and coffeehouses opened every week.

Seattle was infused with a frontier spirit. That was as true now as it had been in the gold rush and big timber eras. But these days there was a hell of a lot more money around. That, he told himself, ought to be good for the investigation business—the business in which he and two of his foster sons, Cabot and Max, were engaged.

His job was to ensure that Cutler, Sutter & Salinas prospered. When the door had opened a short time ago, he’d hoped that the representative of a corporation or maybe a lawyer needing discreet services for a wealthy client would walk into the office.

Instead, Virginia Troy had entered the small reception lobby, bringing with her the long shadows of the past.

He hadn’t recognized her, of course. She had been one of the youngest kids he brought out of the burning barn all those years ago—a wide-eyed little girl so traumatized by the events that she had not even been able to tell him her name for several hours. Cabot, who had been orphaned that night, had supplied him with Virginia’s name.

Virginia was thirty-one now. No wedding ring, Anson noted. That did not surprise him. There was a cool reserve about her. She wasn’t exactly a loner, he concluded, rather someone who was accustomed to being alone. He knew the difference.

She was the kind of woman who caught a man’s eye, but not because she was a stunner. Attractive, yes, but not in a standard-issue way. She wasn’t one of those too-beautiful-to-be-real women like you saw on TV. Instead there was something compelling about her, an edge that was hard to define. Probably had something to do with the bold, black-framed glasses and the high-heeled boots, he decided.

Most men wouldn’t know how to handle a woman like Virginia Troy. Sure, some would be damned interested at first, maybe even see her as a challenge. But he figured that, in the end, the average guy would run for the hills.

A short time ago, when she had walked into the room, she had taken a moment to size up everything in sight, including him. He had been relieved when he and the expensive new furniture appeared to have passed inspection.

Although his name was on the door, technically speaking he was the office manager, receptionist, researcher and general gofer. Max and Cabot were the licensed investigators in the firm. Both had complained mightily about the stiff rent on the newly leased office space, as well as the money spent on furnishing the place, but Anson had refused to lower his newfound standards of interior design.

Before embarking on his career in office management, he had never paid any attention to the art of interior design. But after hiring a decorator and immersing himself in the finer points of the field, he had become convinced that the premises of the firm had to send the right message to potential clients. That meant leasing space in an upscale building and investing in quality furniture.

The result, however, was that Cutler, Sutter & Salinas now had to start making some serious money.

Virginia crossed her legs and gripped the arms of the chair. Anson knew that she was ready to tell him why she had come looking for him.

“I own a gallery in Pioneer Square,” she said. “One of the artists who occasionally exhibits her work with me died a few days ago. The authorities have ruled the death a suicide.”

“But you don’t believe it,” Anson said.

“I’m not sure what to believe. That’s why I’d like to hire you to investigate the circumstances.”

The door opened before Anson could ask any more questions. Cabot walked into the room carrying two cups of coffee—one balanced on top of the other—and a small paper sack emblazoned with the logo of a nearby bakery. He was slightly turned away from the desk because he was using the toe of his low boot to close the door. He did not immediately notice Virginia.

“The Coffee Goddess said to tell you she’s got a new tattoo that she might be willing to show you if you’ll let her surprise you with one of her own custom lattes,” he said. “Evidently she’s tired of you ordering regular coffee instead of one of her specialties. Says you need to be more adventurous.”

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