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Authors: Juli Alexander

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BOOK: The Karma Beat
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“Maybe. Or maybe she just wants to keep you out of trouble.” He kept focused on the road ahead as he said it, not looking my way at all.

Surely my mother had more faith in me than that.

“Bob Selby’s the first on the list. He lives in a subdivision near here.” Leo handed me a notebook full of MapQuest searches. They were organized geographically.

“Wow,” I said, glad for the distraction. “You did all this last night?”

He nodded. “I would have started the drive-bys, but Katie wanted to cook me dinner.”

I held up the thick notebook. “This must have taken forever.”

With a shrug, he said, “It wouldn’t have taken as long but I had to run out for a second ink cartridge.”

I didn’t doubt it.

“Can you tell me where I turn? I think it’s Dawson’s Bridge.”

I checked the paper. “Right. It should be the next red light.”

“I see it,” Leo said.

Minutes later, we passed the house. “It’s for sale,” I said, pointing to the sign in the yard.

“Maybe he’s moving up in the world?” Leo pulled into the next street and parked at the curb. “I’ll run back and see if he still lives there. Sit tight.”

I turned the page to identify our next target. Anslee Ellison. She lived only a mile away. Leo had generated the directions from one house to another. I was impressed. He was way more organized than my brothers. I lifted the heavy notebook again. Okay, he was way more organized than me, too. I couldn’t imagine doing this. I turned to the “Vinings” tab to see how many senior staffers lived there. Five.

Leo opened the door and hopped back in to the driver’s seat. “The place is empty.” He handed me a flyer from the real estate sign. “No Lexus in the garage.”

“You really think this means something? Our first try? It’s not likely.”

“You’re right, but I definitely need to check this guy out.” He moved the gearshift into drive. “Which way?”

I told him, and we headed for the Ellison house.

“I found some information on some of them online. I Googled everybody.”

“Anything suspicious?”

“Check the last tab in the notebook. I made a list.”

I flipped to the end to see a list of names and notes.

“One of them moved to Atlanta this month. I thought that was strange.”

I glanced down the list. “And this guy has been sued four times?”

“Yeah. I thought he looked suspicious. As far as I can tell, he’s a slum lord.”

“Really?” I wouldn’t have thought the U.N.I.V.E.R.S.E. would put up with staffers mistreating people. “Did he lose the lawsuits?”

“No. He won all four.”

“So he didn’t pay out any damages.”

“No, but he had to pay to defend himself. So money may still be a motivating factor.”

Five billion dollars would buy a lot of slums. I nodded. “And this woman. You wrote that her daughter has been kicked out of four private schools.”

“It might be nothing, or she might need money. It’s worth checking out.”

“So you’re sending the PI to check into these people?”

“I can’t do it all. I have to go to school. My father made me promise.”

He kept his promises? Good to know.

I wanted to ask him how he was paying for this investigator. Weren’t those guys expensive? But I couldn’t make myself. He’d think I suspected him of taking all the money.

“I’ve got a trust fund from my grandmother,” Leo said. “I’ve been using that, but it won’t last forever.”

“Your dad’s letting you spend your college money?”

“No. My college money is in a separate account.”

I guess his dad was more responsible than I thought.

“Turn up here,” I said as we neared the road.


At eleven, we pulled into the Emory campus and found a parking spot near the University Center.

We’d done drive-bys on eight homes. The list would take us forever.

“This might be boring,” Leo said with an adorably sheepish wince. “But I promised.”

He was such a virile force; I had stopped thinking about him as a teenager. He obviously cared about Katie a lot. “I’m sure it will great.”

He gave me a half smile, and we walked into the Dobbs University Center. The place held hundreds of tables next to the cafeteria, but it was almost deserted. A few stray students were studying, ear buds in place.

“Leo,” someone yelled from across the building.

I turned to see a tall woman with dark hair. From forty feet away, I could tell she had an exquisitely beautiful face.

She smiled and waved, and then turned to leave through another door.

“Who was that?” I asked.

“Katie’s neighbor Serena. She usually stays for the meetings.”

I glanced over at the door. “Not this time, I guess.”

Leo motioned to a hallway on the right and I followed him to the doorway of a small auditorium. A scruffy-looking guy with a beard was standing in the front of the room talking.

“We’re just in time,” Leo said, and slipped into the room to some seats in the back. I followed, and he waited for me to take my seat first. I thumped down in the wooden seat, and Leo sat beside me. Right beside me. The seats were way closer than the seats in the car. The guy stopped speaking to say, “Leo, Dude. Welcome.”

“You know these Habitat guys?” I whispered after Leo greeted him.

“I work on a lot of houses. Sometimes I run into the guys from Emory.”

He volunteered his time to build homes for the poor? Leo wasn’t what I expected at all.

A forty-something woman who was just standing up to approach the podium turned and waved at us.

Cleary this was Katie, and she wasn’t what I’d expected. Male genies dated supermodels and breast-enhancement marvels. I’d seen the pictures in the tabloids and heard my mother sighing over the bad behavior of male genies. The rock star trashing his hotel room was almost always a genie. The athletes who reveal that they’ve slept with thousands of women. Usually genies. After thirty years, genies could retire. They turned over their powers after making a wish. They could either give themselves some amazing talent or give it to their spouse or children. Some even chose to be teenagers again and start their stellar careers in high school.

I knew Katie was a professor, but I was expecting her to be one of those unusually hot women. You know, like anybody on television. They all look like supermodels whether they’re playing a lawyer, doctor, or computer genius. Katie wasn’t unattractive. She was just normal. Like my mom. No one was going to cast her to play herself in a TV movie.

She’d started talking, but I hadn’t been listening. I realized that Leo had to be right. His father had changed.

When I finally managed to wrap my brain around Katie’s lecture, I realized that she wasn’t talking about nutrition at all. She was describing various methods of going green in home building and remodeling without going broke. I opened my notebook and jotted down a few notes in case my parents decided to take on any more projects. Last I’d heard, Mom had laid down the law and they were “done, done, done” with projects. I’d been relieved since they usually made us help and seeing dad walking around in cargo shorts with a hammer through one of the loops just reminded me of my nerd origins.

Ian always said Dad looked like a tool. I don’t think Dad has figured out what he means.

I scribbled down some of Katie’s tips, and then glanced up to find Leo watching me with a grin. He put his hand against mine, sending heat rushing through me, and wiggled the pen out of my hand. He wrote, “We are not going to be tested on this material.”

I just shook my head as I grabbed the pen. “It’s interesting,” I wrote.

He moved to steal the pen again and I held it away from him.

“Fine,” he whispered. “I’ll stop. You’re going to get me in trouble with Katie.”

I thought this was pretty sweet. The people sitting right around us hadn’t noticed us, so I doubted Katie had. He didn’t want to hurt her feelings.

When she finished speaking, several students approached her with questions or comments.

Leo and I stood up where we were to wait. My rear end was numb from the hard wooden seat.

“If one of them asks her questions about being a vegetarian, we’re doomed,” he said. “She can give a month long sermon on avoiding meat products.”

“So you’re saying I shouldn’t bring it up?”

He shook his head furiously. “I’m starving. Once we get our lunch, you can ask whatever you want.”

Katie finally finished with her fans and shook hands with the guy who’d been speaking when we arrived. “Thank you for having me.” She pointed our way. “My friends are waiting for me to take them to lunch.”

She grinned as she walked over to us. “You must be Jen.” She shook my hand. “I’m so glad to meet you. Leo was telling me about your newly forged friendship last night.”

“Nice to meet you,” I said automatically.

She smiled, and I realized I actually was glad to meet her. She had been smart and impressive when she addressed the group. One on one, she was warm and friendly.

“I’m sure Leo has told you I’m a vegetarian. I hope you don’t mind going to Birk’s for lunch.”

“Sounds good. I’ve never been, but I’m sure it’s fine.”

“Leo’s been several times,” she said with a smile for him.

She started to reach for him, and for a moment I thought she was going to reach out and tousle his hair. She let her hand dangle in the air for a moment and then turned back to me. “Do you mind if I ride with you two?”

“You’re actually volunteering to ride with me.”

Katie grinned. “You’re actually a much better driver than Joe.”

“That’s not saying much,” Leo grumbled.

She looked over at me, “Wonderful man, terrible driver.”

“When dad’s around, Katie insists that she drive. When he’s not, she usually lets me do the driving.”

I guess Leo had been doing a lot of driving lately.

The restaurant was only a mile away.

Katie held the door open for me and I climbed out of the car.

Leo and I followed her through the door to the restaurant. The place was small and busy.

Katie walked up to the hostess and said, “Table for three, Leanne, and we’d like to sit in Nate’s section please.”

The hostess smiled, eying Leo over her funky glasses. “Yes, ma’am. Follow me, please.”

“Who’s Nate?” I asked Leo.

“He’s the only guy who works here. He won’t flirt with me and irritate you.”

After the waitresses at Chili’s, I guessed I should be grateful. “She’s doing it just for me?” I wasn’t his girlfriend after all. I shouldn’t be getting jealous.

“Oh no. She always asks for a guy. It drives her nuts otherwise.”

We squeezed into a corner booth, Leo sat by Katie and I sat on the end next to him. The hostess handed us our menus.

“What would you like to drink?”

“Water with lemon,” Katie said. “You, Jen?”

“Unsweet tea please.”

“And you,” the hostess said with suggestive emphasis on the you.

“Lemonade please,” Leo said, not looking up from his menu.

The hostess hesitated as if trying to find a way not to leave, until Katie finally said, “Thank you, Leanne. That will be all.”

She walked away, and Katie said. “Leanne’s such a sweet girl when I come without Leo.”

“You’re lucky she likes Leanne,” Leo said. “Otherwise you’d hear her rant about the incessant gawking I’m subjected to.”

Katie smiled. “I may have mentioned once or twice that he shouldn’t have to go through life being ogled like breasts at a wet t-shirt contest.”

Leo blushed.

I couldn’t help thinking that I would so not mind Leo ogling my breasts.

Okay, so now I was blushing too.

“She doesn’t feel sorry for Dad when it happens to him.”

“You’re constantly harassed by hormone-crazed older women, and you’re practically a child.”

“Ka-tie,” Leo said in the voice I used with my mother. He elbowed her and squirmed in his chair.

I couldn’t help laughing at the tough guy behaving like a little boy.

“Huh,” I said. “Leanne should have left you a kids menu.”

Katie grinned.

“Just for that I’m not sharing my crayons.”

The waiter came over with our drinks.

“Hi, Nate,” Katie said.

I ordered a salad, and Katie and Leo ordered their usuals.

After the waiter left, Katie asked me about the band. “Is it really called the Armpit Hostages?”

“Yes,” I said with a wince.

“It really is nice of you to help us when Leo messed up your chances with the band.”

I shrugged. “I want to help.”

“You know,” she said with a smile, “I’m not sure what an Armpit Hostage looks like, but I’m envisioning something much hairier than you.”

Leo and I laughed.

“My brother just wishes he were hairy,” I told her. “He’s as repulsive as an armpit though, so maybe the name fits.”

Katie giggled. Then she turned to Leo. “Before I forget. I checked that antique answering machine at your dad’s place this morning. Someone called. David Laverdiere. He said something about being in town.”

Leo leaned forward. “David Laverdiere?”

Katie nodded. “Am I remembering right? He was one of your father’s old partners in crime?”

“He and my dad got into lots of trouble together. Even though David wasn’t” —he looked around—“a genie.”

“Is he a possibility?” I asked. “Could he have set up your dad if he isn’t one?”

“It certainly doesn’t seem likely,” Katie said. “I don’t think we can leave any stone unturned though.”

“I’ll check it out,” Leo said.



Chapter Seven



I let Leo enter the garage before I snuck in the front. Horrid sounds were already coming from the garage when I went in the front door.

I checked to be sure that Mom, Dad, and Sean had cleared out. No sign of anybody.

Since I was feeling a little too healthy from the tea and veggie lunch, I grabbed a soft drink from the fridge. I popped the top and chugged some of the fizzy beverage. My body had certain standards and didn’t perform well without some pollution.

Here was my perfect opportunity to sneak back into Mom’s office and try to get the dirt on Leo’s dad. The more time I spent with Leo, the more involved I was. I’d spent the day with him, and the U.N.I.V.E.R.S.E. wasn’t likely to let me talk my way out of that one. Of course, getting to know Leo more and more just made me hope his father really had been framed. Leo was a good guy. And I liked Katie. The fact that he’d fathered Leo and obviously liked Katie a lot too made me think Joe wasn’t such a bad guy.

BOOK: The Karma Beat
13.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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