Bitter Bite(Elemental Assassin #14)(33) by Jennifer Estep
Too bad I had absolutely nothing to help me do that.
I didn’t have Santos, much less a confession about whom, if anyone, he might be working for. I didn’t have anything, not so much as a single scrap of proof linking him to Deirdre. All I had were smashed picture frames littering the floor, muddy boot prints from where Santos had stepped on the coffee table, and a ceiling fan drooping down at a sad angle from where his weight had pulled it loose.
I waded through the shards of glass and melting bits of elemental Ice and picked up one of the rune drawings—a pig holding a platter of food. The same sign hung over the front door of the Pork Pit, and the sketch was my way of memorializing Fletcher and everything that the old man and his restaurant had meant to me.
I picked the rest of the broken glass out of the frame and tossed it aside, then ran my fingers over the paper.
“I’m going to get to the bottom of this, Fletcher,” I whispered. “I promise you that.”
As soon as I finished speaking, a gust of winter wind howled around the house, hard enough to rattle the windows in their frames. Just as quickly as it started, the wind died down, and a still, heavy silence settled over the house again. I didn’t much believe in omens, but I was going to take that as a sign of Fletcher’s approval.
But there was nothing else I could do tonight, so I placed the rune drawings back on the mantel, snapped off the lights, and went to bed.
The next morning, I cleaned up the mess in the den and went to work at the Pork Pit as usual. All the while, I kept stewing about Santos and how he’d escaped. If only I’d been quicker, faster, stronger, I could have nabbed him and cut him open for answers about the bank robbery and why he’d tried to kill me in my own home. Instead, I was back to square one, with no clue to what was really going on.
At least, until Deirdre showed up this afternoon.
I got started on the day’s cooking by whipping up a batch of Fletcher’s secret barbecue sauce. Smelling its rich blend of cumin, black pepper, and other spices bubbling away was my own sort of aromatherapy, and it soothed me, the way it always did. While I stirred the sauce, I thought about all the angles I could work and how I could get to the bottom of things.
Silvio came in early, an hour before the restaurant was set to open, knowing that I would want to have a private chat with him. A great assistant in addition to being a good friend.
I gave him a few minutes to fire up his phone and tablet, then finished wiping down the counter, put my elbows on top of the shiny surface, and stared at him. “Tell me what you found out. I want to hear everything, no matter how small the detail.”
Silvio blinked, not used to me being so interested in our morning briefings. He pulled his tablet a little closer and began swiping through screens. I grabbed a knife and started slicing tomatoes while he filled me in.
“By all accounts, Deirdre Shaw is a wealthy Ice elemental who hails from a prestigious Ashland family,” he began. “We’re talking old, old money and a lot of it. She’s the last of the Shaws, although she hasn’t lived in Ashland in years. She has a number of homes around the country where she divides her time, including a summer cabin in Cloudburst Falls, a town house in Cypress Mountain, and a penthouse in Bigtime.”
“Let me guess. Deirdre spends her days flitting around the country on her private jet, staying in her swanky pads, guzzling champagne, and spending all of that old, old money.”
“Naturally,” he replied. “But she also spends quite a bit of time raising money for charity. Supposedly, one of the causes near and dear to her heart is an after-school art program for kids from broken homes.”
I snorted. “I just bet it is.”
Silvio arched his eyebrows at the sarcasm in my voice. “Actually, her charity work is where it gets interesting. Ms. Shaw is involved with numerous charities, but they all fall under one corporate umbrella, Shaw Good Works, which she heads up. Other people actually run the charities so that Ms. Shaw can spend her time fund-raising and then deciding where to put all that capital. So, really, she’s an investment banker, just like Finn.”
I’d always thought that Finn must take after his mom, since he wasn’t all that much like Fletcher. The old man had been perfectly happy to bury his money in tin cans in the backyard, instead of buying and selling stocks, investing in bonds, and all the other financial shenanigans that Finn engaged in. Finding out that Deirdre was in the same business as her son was a bit disconcerting.
I didn’t want to think that Finn was anything like her. But at the party last night, Deirdre had basically been an older, female version of Finn—suave, flirty, boisterous. It had been a little jarring just how much the two of them were alike. I supposed that nature had won out over nurture in this case.
“Now, before you go and start thinking too highly of Ms. Shaw, you should know that not all the money she raises and then recoups from her investments goes into her charity foundation,” Silvio said. “In fact, a great deal of it—tens of millions a year—goes down the rabbit hole for expenses, operating costs, and the like.”
I realized what he was getting at. “You think her charity, Good Works, is a front for something.”
“Absolutely. There’s no way those charities have that much overhead. But she’s clever, and she moves the money around faster than a street hustler doing a card game. I’m still researching, but I’ll figure out where all that money is going and exactly who’s getting it.” His gray eyes gleamed with excitement. There was nothing Silvio loved better than untangling puzzles. I supposed it fit in with his detail-oriented personality.
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