Stella & Julian
Julian pulled himself out of his Excel files the moment he heard assistant Vern’s voice on the intercom.
“Mr. Marcus,” Vern said, “Ms. Moore is here to see you. I believe you had an appointment today.”
“Send her in. Thank you.” Julian lifted his finger from the intercom and grabbed a stack of files from the corner of his desk. The door to his office opened as soon as he X’d out of his documents on his monitor. The last thing he needed was a private investigator peering at sensitive information about his corporation.
Vern showed the guest into his boss’s office. Along with the blonde in a leather jacket and distressed jeans came the foul, unmistakable scent of…
Julian narrowed his eyes. That was not pot he detected.
Stella Moore, the investigator he hired last summer to conduct a long, ongoing investigation into who was skimming money from employees’ paychecks every pay period, walked as if it were a normal day, but her bloodshot eyes and slightly unkempt hair made Julian wonder if he had made a terrible mistake hiring the former FBI agent who had come so highly recommended from one of his business associates. I do not need to funnel money into half-baked enterprises. That was one of his mantras when he set up business in Portland, home of half-baked everything.
“Morning, Mr. Marcus.” Her voice was peppy, but her actions languid as she pulled out a chair in front of his desk and sank into its depths. One leg crossed over the other, fingers flipping through a folder full of print-outs and handwritten notes. “You’re looking very… corporate, today. Did you change up your tie? Always nice to do new things.”
He ignored that. While on one hand he appreciated a freelancer who wasn’t afraid of him, on the other, he wouldn’t reward it. “You say you’ve figured out who is responsible for the theft in my company?”
“Mmhmm.” Stella slapped a paper on the desk. Julian snatched it before the cosmos had the chance to take it away again. “I’m like… ninety-nine percent sure, and that’s up from ninety percent earlier this month. Having access to his business email put the nail in his coff… uh… coughing. Coffin.” She cleared her throat. Her eyes were still bloodshot, and she still smelled faintly of marijuana. “My assistant had a blast reading the emails he was sending his mistress. Through his business account. Can you believe it?”
“I can.” Especially when Julian beheld the employee in question. Dean McCoy had been on thin ice ever since tech support reported constant issues with his machines and only his machines. Initially, Julian suspected that Mr. McCoy had anger management issues he took out on his company-supplied machines, but now realized that the problems were more… internal. According to Stella’s report, Dean was skimming ten cents off every employee’s paycheck. This had totaled to a little over $9000 over the past year. Chump change compared to the billions Bradley & Marcus pocketed at tax time. Probably just low enough that Mr. McCoy hoped nobody would ever notice.
Julian had. About six months after this bullshit would have begun, he noticed that there were discrepancies in the company’s bottom line, and he couldn’t tell from where. But that’s why he was the brain behind Bradley & Marcus. His partner, Preston Bradley, wouldn’t have recognized a million dollars missing from his own paycheck. Julian stared at spreadsheets and numbers all the live long day. He noticed, even if he thought he was going crazy at first.
“You’re absolutely sure it’s him?” Julian held up the company profile of Dean McCoy.
“I have a whole stack of proof I’ve collected over the months in there.” Stella sank deeper into her chair. She almost looked like she was about to fall asleep. I don’t believe for two seconds that she was up all night working on my case. Oh, Stella looked like she had been up all night, but not for work. Julian was quite aware of her type. “Didn’t leave anything unturned or upside down. That is your guy.” She shrugged. “Whatever you do with the info is up to you. I’m just the messenger.”
Julian flipped through her stack of thorough proof, accumulated over the months he had kept her on retainer to do this job. I have spent more money than McCoy has stolen from me. Didn’t matter. The point was to catch him before he could keep getting away with more money. In a perfect world, Julian would take this to the police and have justice served on a cold platter. He’d have to start with settling for a firing. Publicly, if possible.
“Thank you, Ms. Moore.” He ignored the yawn on her face. “I know that you have worked quite hard on my case.”
“It was the very first one I got when I opened up shop, so I should be thanking you. Uh… I think.” Her eyes glazed over. “You know what? I think you were my first client. I’ve just had a lot in between picking this one up and finishing it. But when I had to sift through copies of all your payroll documents every month… eh, takes a while. Soooo much math.”
Does she know she’s not helping her case here? She was lucky she was so good at her business that Julian didn’t doubt the evidence in front of him. It helped that it lent itself to confirmation bias. There were only three people it could have possible been, and McCoy was one of them. Julian just needed the proof. He could’ve fired McCoy at any time, but he wanted him prosecuted on top of it. He also didn’t want to fire two innocent people who did fine enough work for Bradley & Marcus. Hiring new personnel was always a gamut he’d rather avoid.
“Thank you,” he said again, flipping the folders shut. “I will take a closer look at this later and make my personal decisions then. As of now, I believe our arrangement is finished, and I can pay you what you’re owed.”
“Yeah, about that…” Stella scratched the back of her head. “I still gotta figure that out, so I’ll bill you.”
The corner of Julian’s mouth twitched. “Is that so?” How unprofessional. Why wasn’t he surprised?
“I was gonna do it last night, buuuuut…”
The office door opened. In stepped Preston Bradley, who had a terrible habit of not knocking whenever Julian was in meetings. He took one look at Stella and winked at Julian for being a horny, sly devil who was obviously cheating on his girlfriend, but Preston wouldn’t tell!
“What do you want?” Julian slammed his elbows on his desk with an exasperated sigh. “I’m in the middle of an important meeting here.”
“Ooooh, right.” Preston, who couldn’t be assed to wear a jacket or a tie that day, leaned in the doorway and wagged a finger toward the top of Stella’s blond head. “You’re the private investigator looking up who’s stealing money or something from us.”
“Or something?” Julian couldn’t believe it. Yes, I can. Preston is useless outside of a boardroom or business dinner. The only reason Julian put up with his partner half the time was because Preston Bradley already had a shitton of money to invest and the charm to make other men take off their pants and dance the samba. “It’s over nine thousand dollars.”
“Wow. That much?”
“He literally stole ten cents off every paycheck this past year.”
“That’s a whole nine thousand dollars?”
“We have hundreds of employees across the region.” When Preston still wasn’t getting it, Julian added. “We have two-week pay periods. Ten cents per paycheck twice a month.”
“That’s wild. Well!” Preston clapped Stella on the shoulder. She jerked up, bloodshot eyes wide and a giant hiss exploding through her teeth. “Thanks for all the help.”
“Oh my God.” Stella shoved Preston off her and leaped out of her seat. Her arm was limp beside her, and the expression on her scrunching, reddening visage almost felled Julian, and he was a man who meditated his way through a kick to the groin. “Don’t touch my shoulder, dude!”
Preston jumped back. The terrible atmosphere gradually dissipated when Stella pulled out a tiny brownie from her pocket and popped it into her mouth.
“Jesus,” Julian muttered. “I knew you were high.”
“Fuck yeah I’m high.” Stella munched on her pot brownie while pushing herself through a slew of painful exercises. “You’d be high too right now if your old gunshot wound was flaring up.”
“I’m so sorry.” Preston took another step back. “I had no idea.”
“Whatever.” Stella leaned forward.
“About what you’re owed…”
She shot Julian an exasperated look. “As soon as I get it figured out, I’ll bill you, Mr. Marcus.” Slowly, she stood, grabbing her folder off the chair. “I’m taking the rest of the day off. Farewell.”
Stella did not part with a smile as she dragged herself out of the room, arm limp at her side. Preston watched after her while Julian opened his email to tell head of staffing that Mr. McCoy’s employment would soon be terminated. Not only was he glad to have this conundrum cleared up, but knowing Stella would take her stink of pot with her helped him get back to work.
Preston approached the desk. “Do you know if she’s single?”
Julian lifted his brows with disdain. “No.”
“No, you don’t know, or no, she’s not single?”
“You’re not helping, Julian.”
“Help me and go grab Dean McCoy from the personnel office. The three of us – including you, yes – are having a nice, long chat about what’s been going on here.”
“What’s been going on, again?”
“Go get him, Preston.”
Julian was officially surrounded by incompetent, untrustworthy losers. The fact the only person he could trust in his whole building was a high-as-a-kite former FBI agent told him everything he needed to know about Portland.
SEE THEIR STORIES HERE
|Stella & Jade|
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