BY: JAMIE TREMAIN

What do Geisha dolls, industrial espionage, and a mysterious silken fabric have in common?

Though it sounds like the lead-in to a bad joke, it’s the riddle that Portland, Oregon, private investigator Dorothy Dennehy has to solve when she’s hired by businessman Paul Webster. Paul’s company has become entangled in the rivalry between a firm he’s merging with and a no-holds-barred unsavory competitor. While Dorothy’s background as a cop—combined with her expertise in using disguises—comes into play, Paul’s skills as a former intelligence officer are also an asset as the two work together to save his company from ruin. Dodging murder and kidnapping attempts, Paul and Dorothy follow a trail of clues leading to a long-forgotten art-and-antiquities theft…and murder. But the discovery of a body, showing a lack of the expected decay, has everyone puzzled. Can Paul and Dorothy survive long enough to unravel the mystery, or will they become the devious killer’s next victims?

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In The Silk Shroud by Jamie Tremain, Paul Webster is a Portland, Oregon, entrepreneur whose company is merging with a Japanese firm that has invented a miracle fabric and is embroiled in a fierce rivalry with a Chinese company trying to create a knock-off fabric. When strange things begin to happen, including Paul’s acquisition of two geisha dolls, he hires PI Dorothy Dehenney to help him unravel the mystery. But as the two struggle to put the clues together, the stakes are upped with kidnapping and murder and the theft of priceless antiques. Now the two need answers—and fast—if they are going to survive the investigation.

Told with a unique and refreshing voice, the story is a combination of an intriguing mystery and a sweet romance, a book mystery and romance fans alike will love.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: The Silk Shroud by Jamie Tremain is the story of corporate greed, espionage, and corruption. When successful Oregon businessman, Paul Webster enters into negotiations for merging his firm with a Japanese company, weird things begin to happen. Suddenly, Paul becomes the not-so-pleased owner of two Japanese geisha dolls in silk kimonos. The dolls show up in mysterious circumstances, and then one of the dolls gets shredded while on the backseat of Paul’s car. But when a Chinese company, a fierce competitor of the Japanese firm Paul is merging with, claims to be the owner of the dolls and demands their return, Paul realizes that he’s missing something, and he hires a local private investigator to help him solve the mystery. But Paul and Dorothy soon discover that the problem is much bigger than just two strange dolls. Someone involved with one of the foreign companies is hiding a dark secret and they will stop at nothing, including murder, to keep it from being exposed.

A mystery combined with a romance, The Silk Shroud is charming, intriguing, and fast-paced. Hard to put down, once you pick it up, it’s got a little something for everyone.

Chapter 1

“Idiot!” Paul Webster swore at the speeding van that cut in front of him.

Before he had time to react, one of the rear doors opened and a garbage bag was tossed at him. He swerved his car to the side of the rain-soaked road, jamming on the brakes, as the bag bumped its way to the ditch behind him.

He glared at the disappearing van, wishing he’d noted the licence plate to report them for illegally dumping trash.

Then he took a second look at the bag and shifted into park.

He swore under his breath. “A hand? Blast it–I’m late for the meeting. I don’t have time for this.”

But he was already opening the door to step out of his car, despite the drizzling rain and his tight schedule. After all, he was only minutes away from his Portland office. More to the point, he couldn’t dismiss what he’d seen. No way would his conscience let him drive on without investigating.

Probably a load of old clothes or trash.

Reaching for his phone, Paul sent a quick text to his assistant Catherine.

~ Running late–hold the merger group till I get there.

His imagination raced ahead. Would he find a body, or worse–a dismembered one? Spending time in the military had certainly exposed him to bodies, but this wasn’t something he had expected. Today, of all days, he didn’t need to be late for a crucial meeting.

Paul eyed the green trash bag, lying so still. He surveyed his surroundings. Without thinking, he grabbed a small branch lying nearby, wishing he had a pair of disposable gloves and praying he wouldn’t find a child’s body inside.

The first gentle prod yielded to softness. A little more force and he met with resistance. He was rewarded with a small tear in the plastic, now slick with rain. Needing to see more, he enlarged the hole. Instinctively, he held his breath and prepared to start breathing through his mouth.

“What the–”

It was a body all right, but not human. Glossy jet-black hair showed through the opening, and was clearly the crowning glory of an oversized doll. Stooping down for a closer look, he marveled at the exquisite detail of the fully dressed, life-like creation. Its appearance reminded him of a geisha, with its vibrant colorful kimono and ghostly face. Tucked into the waistband of the garment lay a bamboo fan, folded at the ready, and, by her side, a proportionately sized parasol. Her tiny feet wore fitted white socks and wooden sandals.

Thinking it might make a special gift, once cleaned, Paul carefully picked up the doll. It was about three feet tall. Although the head was porcelain, the suppleness of the body felt real. The eyes spoke to him of an age-old sadness.

He thought Kimi a good name for the doll, reminding him of a girl he’d met once in Japan. This made him smile as he laid her carefully on the back seat of his car, wiping rain drops from her face. He grabbed a travel blanket and draped it over top of her.

Thankful it wasn’t a real body, his mind switched gears. His expectations for the upcoming merger were now in jeopardy. Being late was not an option for this group.

Thoughts of apology ran through his mind as he arrived at his office building. He noticed a silver sedan close behind, but didn’t pay much attention as he swiped his security pass to gain entrance to the underground parking.

Paying top dollar for rent in the building allowed for some extra perks.

He tossed his keys to the valet and exchanged the usual comments about the weather with him on his way to the elevator.

The doors slid together and he groaned as he realized he’d left his laptop and business notes in the car. He pounded the button to return to the parking level.

Could anything else work against me this morning? he wondered, urging the elevator to hurry.

His car was already parked in its designated stall. He strode toward it and stopped. Two men approached his car. Owning a late model Audi, Paul knew car theft was a possibility.

Concerns about the pending meeting were pushed to the side.

He didn’t think they’d spotted him. Curious as to their intent, he crouched behind another vehicle. He didn’t question what sixth sense made him cautious. Those instincts had saved his life on more than one occasion.

From his position, he observed the pair draw closer toward his car, and he eased out the breath he’d been holding.

The respite was brief. He watched in disbelief as they used a remote, not unlike his own, to unlock his car. Pulling out the doll, they seemed to give her a cursory look before putting her back. Outnumbered, he kept silent, containing his anger at the violation of his vehicle. His fists clenched, he wanted to confront them, but he also needed to see where this was headed. Another car approached and the two men casually walked away from his vehicle. They crossed the parking level to a silver car, got in, and headed toward the exit. The license plate was too far away to read. Once the car was out of sight, Paul straightened up.

Where the hell did they get a duplicate of my remote?

Grabbing his laptop and notes, he considered taking the doll with him, but as he slammed the door shut, he decided to leave it in the car

His eyes traveled upward, seeking security cameras. “Big help you’ve been,” he muttered, shaking his head.

Security and I’ll be talking once the meeting’s over.

Needing to calm down, he let out a huge breath and rocked back and forth on his heels–a trick he’d picked up in the service to regain control. Calmer, he turned toward the elevators. He had to focus on the meeting by putting all other distractions aside. The upcoming merger, and all its implications for his company, deserved his undivided attention. He was anxious, and excited, to present a new idea to the group.

Entering through the double glass doors to Paul J. Webster & Associates, he greeted the receptionist on duty, picked up some messages, and hurried toward his office. Plush carpeting absorbed his heavy footfalls. Catherine St. Ives’s anxious face greeted him.

“Catherine, sorry for the delay. How are our guests?”

“They left, about fifteen minutes ago, said they’d be in touch later. They refused to accept any excuses. I’m sorry. I did try to keep them here.”

He pursed his lips, “Of course–just the way this day has gone. Not your fault, I had one delay after another getting here. I’ll talk with them.”

“What on earth happened?”

His response was abrupt. “I just saw my car broken into, but I’ll have to save the details for later. Right now I need to call Yashito while you inform security I’ll be right down to see them.”

Her eyes grew wide. “Broken into? Where was security while all this was going on?”

“Good question. No alarm went off. They must have had a pass.”

Her hand went to the phone. “I’ll tell them fifteen minutes?”

“Make it ten.”

He strode into his office, left a message of apology for Akiro Yashito, and expressed a desire to meet as soon as convenient.

Then it was time to deal with security.

He’d calmed down by the time he arrived at the security office. It was not Paul’s nature to stay angry. But he made sure the man knew that he wasn’t pleased when he greeted Don Franks, the burly security chief who could easily moonlight as a nightclub bouncer.

“Mr. Webster, your office told us what happened in the garage, and I’m going to personally review the security tapes and file a report with the police. Your car appears undamaged.”

“Damn good thing it wasn’t. My car’s not the only one here that would attract thieves.” Paul’s voice rose. “How can an unauthorized vehicle get into the structure? What good is a security pass if anyone can get in?”

Franks rubbed the back of his neck. “That’s a problem we’re working on, sir.”

“For what we pay, I certainly hope the problem is corrected.”

Franks’ face tightened. “Security issues will be fixed by the end of the week, if a vehicle’s not locked–”

Paul fixed the man with an icy stare. “It was locked. That’s the problem. Somehow they had a copy of my remote.”

“Not amateurs then.” Franks turned to his desk and handed Paul some papers. “These need to be completed, even if nothing was taken. It’ll be part of the police report. You’ll get a copy.” He scratched his chin. “So they must have been after something inside. Thieves that have those gadgets usually want the car. Unless they were spooked and scared off before they could steal it.”

Paul didn’t comment about his car’s contents. If something showed up on the tape and he was questioned, he’d deal with it then. For now, he was done. “I’ll have these back to you by tomorrow so you can get your report off to the police.”

Still annoyed, he left the office and headed for his car. He gave a quick glance into the back seat, where the doll lay, covered with the blanket. A quick call to Catherine let her know he’d be at home if she needed him.

Turning onto his street, Paul felt the day’s tension leave in anticipation of arriving home. The rain had stopped, and he took time to enjoy the newly washed green leaves of trees as they contrasted with the darker tones of rain soaked trunks. Many homes on the street attested to the green thumbs of their owners. Spring flowers were blooming, just waiting for lengthening days and warmer temperatures to bring them to full maturity.

His home was his refuge, where he’d moved after the divorce from Sheila two years earlier. She’d kept the house they’d built when their marriage was in its first phase of happiness. The marriage lasted only five years, with no children. The more he worked building his business, the more estranged they became. It hadn’t helped that her patience with his past and all its baggage finally ran out. During those years it had been easier for him to build his business than deal with his history.

But he was happy now in his own space and took pride in his garden, where he liked to entertain on weekends. Mountaineering and squash kept him in shape.

In his driveway, he shut off the engine and got out. Opening the door to the back seat and pulling the blanket off the doll, he went rigid with shock. Kimi’s beautiful kimono had been slashed and the torso from neck to navel had been sliced cleanly open. Stuffing was everywhere.

***

Private Investigator Dorothy Dennehy tried to relax on the small deck of her floating office, the Private Aye. The houseboat lay sandwiched between two luxury catamarans. It was the perfect spot to conduct the less than exciting business end of Dennehy Security and Investigations. Since she generally met clients off-site, very few knew the exact location of her home office, and she liked it that way. No point bringing trouble home.

She raised her coffee cup, taking a break from dealing with accounts and balancing the books. Staring ruefully at a spreadsheet on her laptop she bemoaned the fact that income didn’t quite equal the number of completed investigations. She frowned as she scanned the numbers, reached for a bowl of chocolate covered almonds without looking, and popped a couple in her mouth.

Methinks it’s time we hired a proper bookkeeper. I’ve got better things to do than this.

She closed the laptop, stretched her arms, and rocked her head from side to side in an effort to loosen tension knots that threatened to grow into a headache. Forgetting about work, she focused on relaxing by taking in her surroundings.

The deck had recently been painted in pale blue, its woodwork trim stained teak, and the only shot of color came from pots of geraniums. A sigh of contentment escaped her lips as she stared out over the Willamette River, feeling the gentle lap of water on the hull. She turned her face toward the sun and enjoyed its early morning warmth. A peaceful moment before promised rains arrived.

Placing her empty cup back on the table, she was reminded of what else she needed to work on this morning. The Portland Tribune’s business section yesterday announced the upcoming merger of Paul J. Webster and Associates with Yashito Design and Textiles from Japan. She’d only given it a cursory glance at the time and, fortunately, hadn’t discarded the paper before her cousin’s call.

Lucas Dennehy was a coroner’s assistant. He and Dorothy were close friends as well as cousins, and he’d been instrumental in helping her establish Dennehy Security and Investigations, supplying contacts and referrals.

Last night he called with another lead. Paul Webster, a casual friend from the squash court, was apparently looking for a private investigator. Lucas hadn’t provided much detail, but said to expect a call before noon.

She glanced at her watch, still a little time to do some research before the call came. Opening up the laptop, she Googled Paul J. Webster, first gaining information on his business.

Paul J. Webster and Associates had been established for several years and was prominent in the Portland business arena. Primarily financing companies in the bio-technology field, the company also backed innovative business ventures. Progressive thinkers open to new ideas kept them fresh and a jump or two ahead of their competitors. The latest news of the merger with a textile company from Japan seemed to fit their profile. The company occupied the top floors of a downtown Portland office tower and was financially sound, according to the post. Google led to some archived news items where Paul Webster received various awards and accolades from both business and volunteer organizations.

She followed a link on his name.

He was divorced, early forties, had built his company from the ground up, and was highly respected amongst his peers. Photographs showed a tall, handsome man, graciously accepting applause in one setting and then, in complete contrast, decked out in mountaineering gear with a small group of rugged-looking men, victoriously holding fists in the air.

Another link led to a small article touching on a distinguished military career, ending with an Honorable Discharge.

She made some notes and opened a file, in case he did call and she decided to work with him.

Her phone rang.

“Dorothy Dennehy.”

“Ms. Dennehy, my name’s Paul Webster. I need some private investigation services and your name was highly recommended.”

His confident, warm voice had a rich timbre.

“Yes, Mr. Webster, I’ve been expecting your call. Lucas let me know you might be in touch. How can I help you?”

“Well it’s not the usual cheating wife or ugly disagreement with a neighbor kind of problem.”

Dorothy laughed. “I’ve had my share of those. What’ve you got? Is it personal or business related?”

“I’m not sure yet. In fact, it might concern both, and it involves geisha dolls.”

“Did you say geisha dolls?”

Now it was his turn to laugh. “Probably why the police don’t take it seriously either.”

Dorothy made notes as she spoke. “I can’t say I’ve investigated any type of doll before, so I’m more than a little curious. Can we meet to discuss this in person?”

“Perfect. Its nearly noon. Can we meet over lunch?”

Dorothy put a book over the bowl of almonds. “You name the place, I’ll be there.”

“Do you know VQ?”

“I do, it’s a favorite. They have a great Caesar salad.”

“Excellent. Shall we say twelve thirty?”

“See you.”

***

“Great job on the McCready case. It’s all yours to wrap up. Hand in your report and expenses soon as you can.” Dorothy smiled at her right hand man, Holden Bartholomew. “Thanks for the ride. I could’ve biked over, but wearing this outfit, it might’ve been tricky.”

“Must say, boss, this is a pretty fancy place you’re having lunch at. Meeting a new client? Or something more personal?”

“A potential new client, a referral from Lucas. Someone with doll troubles.”

HB raised an eyebrow. “Dolls, eh?”

“Not that kind of doll, real dolls, but not the Barbie type either. It could be interesting. I’ll give you more details if we take the case. You could be back on the clock before the end of the day.”

“Suits me. Call if you want to be picked up, especially if this rain continues.”

HB dropped her in front of the restaurant and drove off. She strode through the doors of VQ. As her eyes adjusted to the difference in lighting, she noticed the patio was closed to the elements with a sliding glass wall. At the moment, a sparkling sun shower rained on umbrellas of deserted tables and dripped onto the lush foliage of the restaurant’s patio oasis.

Glad I brought an umbrella.

The hostess greeted her, and Dorothy informed her she was meeting someone.

“Yes, he’s arrived already. This way.”

Dorothy followed the hostess and recognized Paul Webster as he sat engrossed in the menu. She wasn’t surprised to see he was impeccably groomed, not a dark hair out of place. Tall, dark, and handsome to the point of a cliché, his Armani suit completed the picture.

Paul glanced up as the hostess neared. Behind her followed a confident, tall redhead. She appeared to be in her late thirties and wore her long hair casually pulled back.

As she neared his table, he noticed the freckles scattered over her fair skin.

He rose and extended a hand in greeting. “Ms. Dennehy, thanks for coming.”

She noted he was over six foot, and his deep brown eyes were set in a face resting on a strong jaw line, already sporting a five o’clock shadow. She didn’t miss the appraising look from those eyes either.

Retracting her hand from a firm handshake, she said, “I’m always glad to follow up on a referral from Lucas, and I have to admit the geisha doll angle has intrigued me.”

He smiled. “Let’s order first, shall we? And then we can discuss my ‘girls.’ Would you care for a drink?”

“Just a Perrier, please,” she said to the server who stood nearby. “And I’ll have the Caesar salad.”

“A pale ale, and the trout for me.”

She looked around the room. “I haven’t been here for a while.” Gentle background music was piped into the dining room and tantalizing aromas drifted by as tables filled with hungry patrons.

“Hasn’t changed much. As to my situation–”

“Do you mind if I take notes?”

“Go ahead.”

Dorothy reached into her bag and laid a notepad on the table.

“You come highly recommended,” he said. “Not just from Lucas either. I made a few online enquiries.”

“Ah yes. The Internet–so much information available. The trick is discerning fact from fiction, or worse.”

He swallowed some ale. “If anyone had told me a week ago that I’d need the services of a private investigator, I’d have laughed. I’m not laughing now.” He glanced at his cell phone. “Sorry, waiting for a call.”

He was all business and Dorothy gave him marks for that. Too often, new male clients didn’t take her seriously. Maybe with him she could bypass the stage of having to prove herself. “Mr. Webster, I’ve also done a little background checking.”

He held up a hand. “Please, it’s Paul.”

She nodded. “Dorothy.” Putting her fork down, she said, “Even though you and Lucas are well acquainted, I’ve learned people don’t always give me the whole truth, so I make it a point to arrive prepared.”

“I’ll do my best to be upfront with you.”

“I read about your upcoming merger with a Japanese textile firm in the Trib. Do these dolls have any connection–you did say geisha, correct?”

He leaned back in his chair. “I don’t believe in coincidence.”

She flipped open her note pad. “All right then, I’ll listen–you talk. Tell me what’s been happening.”

Paul summarized what had happened since his drive to work on the day of the merger meeting, up to when he found the gutted doll in his car. Dorothy kept her interruptions to a minimum until he was done.

“Can you describe these two who broke into your car?”

“Asian descent, good quality suits. Not more than thirty years old. One was slightly taller, maybe five eight? Clean cut. For all appearances, they could’ve been doing business in the building. They soon made tracks when another car drove in. They were silent, but worked in unison. It was eerie. Once they were out of sight, I checked the back seat. Nothing was disturbed so I grabbed my laptop and headed back to my office.”

“Unfortunately, it’s not a lot to go on, but it’s a start. Any idea when they began tailing you?”

He frowned. “Wish I could be more specific, but I was focused on making it to the office. They could’ve been watching when I picked up the doll, or waiting for me to arrive at work. Sorry.”

“No problem. Now, you said you left that day a little earlier than usual. Went straight home?”

“That’s right. I wanted a better look at the doll. Those two must have returned. There was nothing neat about the damage. Something must have been hidden in the body, and they just tore through that outfit and slashed into the torso to find it.”

“What’d you do next?”

“Didn’t feel like carting all that loose stuffing through the house, so I locked the car and went indoors.” He paused and glanced at his watch. “Sorry, I have a meeting at two-thirty so I’ll have to try and wrap this up.”

“Not a problem. We can meet again if we don’t cover everything this time.”

“As I was saying, I went inside, thinking I’d grab a beer, and see if this doll was connected somehow to the Yashito merger. Never got to the beer. Sitting in my living room was another doll.”

Dorothy’s head snapped up. “A second doll? That’s no coincidence.”

“Agreed. At first, I thought they were identical, but compared side by side there were noticeable differences in their outfits.

“You didn’t notice any evidence of a break-in?”

“I do have a security system.” He hesitated, and a sheepish look crossed his face. “But, maybe I didn’t set it that day.”

She smiled. “They work much better activated.”

“Point taken.”

“Was anything in your home disturbed or vandalized?”

“Nothing seemed disturbed. But finding the second doll inside my house pissed me off. Breaking into my car was one thing, and now this? So I called the police. Not much help there. They suggested the whole thing might be a prank. Said car thieves can acquire universal remotes if they have the right connections. My break-in obviously wasn’t worth the time of day to them. Didn’t impress me much.”

Dorothy stopped writing. “I spent a few years on the force and have to admit a call such as yours wouldn’t rate high priority.”

Paul winced. “Sorry, no offense meant.”

She waved her hand. “None taken. I’ve certainly heard complaints worse than that. Did you notice any unusual cars on your street?”

“No.”

He fell silent and Dorothy took the time to more closely observe him. His jaw was set, and she sensed he was the type who liked to have all the answers. From what she was hearing, these recent events were probably more than just annoying to him. Her curiosity piqued, she was leaning toward taking on the investigation.

“I’d certainly like to have a look at these dolls. You still have them at your house?”

“I’ve hidden them. You’re willing to look into this?”

She smiled as she closed her note pad. “Let’s just say I’ll give you my decision once I see them, how’s that?”

“Fair enough. What time’s good for you? I’m usually home around five-thirty.”

“Five-thirty’s good. In the meantime, I’ll see what I can turn up on Yashito and make a few other enquiries.”

She reached into her bag for her wallet, but Paul stopped her. “I’ve got it.”

She handed him a business card. “My cell number is here if you need it. Otherwise we’ll continue this discussion later.”

Leaving the restaurant, she glanced at the heavy skies and was grateful to see HB parked across the street.

***

Paul returned to his office, relieved that Dorothy hadn’t outright turned him down. He knew the circumstances sounded very offbeat, and he had no real proof any of it was connected to his business. But Yashito seemed distant now, and Paul needed to coax them back on track. He’d do whatever it took to secure this deal, especially as he had new ideas to present. Pushing those thoughts aside, he prepared for his meeting and hoped it would wrap up on time. He didn’t want to be late and keep Dorothy waiting.

Catherine handed him a note as he came through the door. She was smiling from ear to ear. “Yashito’s ready to talk again.”

Paul read the message with relief. They were still interested in the merger. He had one more chance to pull this off. “This evening?” he said as he continued reading. “They’re sending a car to pick me up at seven thirty. It’s not dead yet.”

“Good luck.”

Later, as he turned into his driveway, his thoughts circled back to events of the past days. Geisha dolls and unexpected meetings had not been on his agenda at the beginning of the week. He was glad Lucas had recommended a private security firm to look into these concerns.

Unlocking the door to his house, he speculated on the meeting with Yashito. While he would have preferred to keep business at his office, he was willing to do whatever it took to keep the merger on track.

Tossing his keys on the table inside the door, he started toward the living room, but stopped dead in his tracks. In the doorway, between the living and dining rooms, stood his newly acquainted private investigator.

Leaning against the door frame, with arms crossed and a smile on her face, Dorothy nodded. “Hello again.”

Paul quickly recovered from his surprise at seeing her in his house and tried not to stare at what he saw.

She’d changed into jeans and a light green tee. Her long hair was pulled back under a ball cap. She looked like she worked out. Tucked under one arm was a file folder.

“Do you always startle your clients by breaking into their homes?” He was irked but admired her spunk.

Her smile grew wider. “As a means of proving a security system is inadequate, it’s pretty effective.”

“You’ve proved your point.”

“What you’ve got now isn’t much of a deterrent to a determined intruder. But I think we could beef up the existing system. I’ll make sure it won’t let you out of the house unless it’s set. How’s that?”

“Sold.” He eyed the folder she carried. “Contract to sign?”

“Possibly. But before we get down to that piece of business, I’d like to have a look at the dolls. You’ve hidden them well. I had a quick look around and couldn’t find them, so I’m curious–where did you hide them?”

“You’re standing pretty close to them right now.”

Paul followed her eyes as she took in the room. He refrained from saying “colder…colder,” as her gaze wandered away from the hiding spot.

“In this room?” she asked.

He nodded, pleased to be outsmarting her.

“I give up. Show me.”

He pointed to the largest segment of the sectional sofa. He moved over to it, grabbed the back rest, and pulled the sofa forward and to the floor so that its underneath was exposed. Duct tape covered a long section and Paul carefully began removing it. As the coarse frame-covering cloth was pulled back, the two dolls were revealed packed tightly together in the confined space.

“Well done, Paul. You show potential for this business.”

He gave her a mock bow. “Would you like to see them?”

“Please.”

As he reached for the first doll, he said, “I nicknamed them. This,” he said standing up straight with one of the dolls, “is Kimi. Unfortunately, she’s been damaged, and you can’t really appreciate the craftsmanship that I first saw.”

“What a shame,” Dorothy said as he laid the doll carefully on an upright portion of the sectional. She turned her attention back to the remaining doll as it was removed from its hiding place.

He held out a beautifully outfitted geisha doll, still in perfect condition. “This is her sister, Yoko.”

“It’s stunning! I’ve never seen anything like this.” She gingerly stroked a fold of the costume. “The detailing on this fabric is amazing. Must be silk, I’d think.”

As she leaned closer for a better look, Paul caught the slightest hint of a very inviting fragrance. “There has to be a story behind them, and a good reason someone would destroy one.”

As Dorothy examined Kimi, she nodded in agreement. “And in a hurry, too.”

Paul watched expectantly as Dorothy chewed on her lower lip and kept glancing between the two dolls.

She faced him. “It looks like DSI has a new client. If you still want my help, that is.”

“You bet I do. Especially since I’ve had a last minute request to meet with Yashito this evening. Looks like the interest is still there.”

“You must be relieved. Let me make a call.”

She reached for her cell phone and tapped in some numbers. “Lucas. I might have some work for you if you’re interested.”

Paul listened as Dorothy explained to her cousin that she wanted to bring some samples for him to examine.

“Great…First thing tomorrow if that’s okay…See you then.”

“So Lucas can make use of the coroner’s facilities to help you out? That’s a good set up,” Paul said as the call ended.

“It’s a long story, but let’s just say that, because of help I’ve provided in the past, the coroner owes me a few favors. I just have to be careful not to wear out my welcome. Now then, I’d like to gather some samples. Can you pass me that bag over there?”

He admired her take charge attitude and handed over the bag, watching as she took out small plastic bags, scissors, and a marking pen. She quickly took samples of the fabric, hair, and even scraped some of Kimi’s “skin.” With tweezers, she extracted a small amount of the stuffing for another bag. Marking the bags and sealing them, she tucked them away into the carrier. When she looked up from her task, Paul smiled at her.

“What?”

“Oh nothing, really. You just made me think back to my days in the military when I had to gather evidence. So much can depend on the fine details and, if evidence is mishandled, it can blow a case right out of the water.”

“No kidding. So do you approve of my methods?”

“I give you passing marks.”

“I’m much relieved,” she joked back. “This should be enough for Lucas to make a start. If you’re free, you’re more than welcome to tag along tomorrow when I drop these off.”

“I’d like that, thanks. How about a cup of coffee while we go over the contract?”

“Sounds good. What time’s your session with Yashito?”

“Seven thirty–they’re sending a car for me. Guess they want to make sure I’ll be there this time.” He inclined his head in the dolls’ direction. “Somehow these have to be connected to Yashito.”

“By the end of the meeting you should have some answers. But I agree, geisha dolls and a Japanese company? Can’t be a coincidence.”

Over coffee, Dorothy outlined details of the contract and the fees her company would charge. Paul didn’t begrudge the potential small fortune he could end up paying–he just wanted answers and the sooner the better.

“You mentioned earlier you’d do some more digging on Yashito. Is it too soon to ask if you’ve found out anything?”

“We’re working on it, and I’ll email you anything I find out. But let me guess, you’d really like this before your meeting.”

“I know, it’s very short notice, but you probably have resources not available to me, and if there’s anything not kosher, I’d sure like to know about it beforehand.”

Her smart phone at the ready, she sent a quick text message to HB. “If anyone can dig up new info, it’s my top agent. So leave it to us.”

“Excellent.”

“I’d like to drop off these samples early tomorrow. Is eight-thirty okay?” Dorothy finished the last of her coffee.

“My morning’s clear. Shall I meet you there?”

“Perfect,” she agreed as she gathered her things, “I’ll see you then. Oh, and don’t forget to set the alarm when I leave. I’ll have a new system installed within forty-eight hours.”

“I don’t suppose I need to be here to let anyone in?”

“No.” She laughed. “You don’t. I’ll be waiting to hear all about the meeting when we hook up tomorrow.”

She leaned over to pick up her car keys. Their eyes met briefly, and Paul felt a charge of excitement. He’d be glad to see her tomorrow. “Pleasure working with you. I’ll be sure to give you all the details. See you in the morning.”

As the door closed behind her, Paul reached up and set his alarm system.

© 2017 by Jamie Tremain