It was raining outside – the kind of cold rain that goes down the back of your neck and makes you feel you’ll never warm up. But Casey didn’t mind. Sadie’s Place was warm and dry, and he liked the way they did their burgers. They weren’t too dry, but they didn’t squirt juice all over, either.
Casey looked up from the slightly sticky menu he’d been reading. There she was. Her name was Jo – he’d read that on her name tag. And she was heading his way. That might mean he was at one of her tables. She walked a few feet closer and pulled a pad out of her pocket. He was right!
‘How are you?’ she asked, with that special smile he’d seen the last time he was in.
‘I’m good. You?’ God, that was stupid. But she smiled again. A special smile just for him.
‘I’m good, thanks. What can I get you?’
‘Um, a cheeseburger and some onion rings.’
She nodded and said, ‘How’d you like that burger?’
A few notes on the pad, and then, ‘And what can I get you to drink?’
‘Allrighty, Hon, I’ll be right back with your beer.’ She touched Casey’s shoulder as she left the table. And that was the second time she’d done it, too. Last week when he was in, she did the same thing. And now she called him Hon. Casey smiled to himself.
After a few minutes, Jo was back with Casey’s beer. She smiled as she put it down in front of him. ‘Here you go, Hon,’ she said. Hon again. Casey sipped his beer happily as watched her leave. She really had noticed him, and she liked him, too.
Casey watched a little more carefully as Jo brought him his burger and onion rings. Admittedly, she wasn’t magazine beautiful. But her light-brown ponytail was shining and neatly combed. And she didn’t overdo it on the makeup. He liked that. He could really see her blue eyes. Besides, he was no he-man, himself. Women weren’t exactly chasing after him for his slight paunch, short, straight brown hair, or ‘average guy’ wardrobe. But Jo was different. She really paid attention to him. He thanked her when she put the food on the table, and then lowered his head a little so she wouldn’t see him turn slightly pink.
When Casey was finished, Jo brought him the bill. ‘Thanks so much,’ she said with that special smile. No doubt about it: she liked him. He walked a little straighter as he left Sadie’s. Of all the people she could have noticed, she’d noticed regular, medium, nowhere-job Casey.
Casey went back to Sadie’s Place three days later (three days was the right amount of time – he didn’t want to seem desperate). There was Jo, waiting for him, it seemed. Once again, she took his order with a smile and a special touch on the shoulder as she went to get his beer. This time, he’d be bolder. When she brought him his bill, he said, ‘You do a great job.’
‘Aww, that’s sweet of you.’
Sweet! She’d said he was sweet. ‘Come back again,’ she said when he paid the bill. Oh, he would.
A week later, Casey was back at Sadie’s Place. This time, he brought his friend Ray with him. ‘Wait ‘til you meet her,’ he told Ray. ‘She’s amazing.’
‘About time you got laid,’ Ray joked. Casey didn’t think that was funny.
‘That’s not it at all,’ he insisted. ‘Well, not the whole thing,’ he admitted when Ray raised his eyebrows. ‘She’s…special.’
Just then, Jo came to their table and greeted them. Casey held his breath and watched Ray’s face as Jo took his order. When she left to get their food and drinks, Casey murmured, ‘Didn’t I tell you?’
‘She’s OK,’ Ray said.
‘OK? She’s fantastic! And she really likes me, too.’
‘Yeah? You two go out?’
‘Not – well, I mean, not yet.’
‘But you have her number, right?’
‘I’ll get it.’
‘Casey, do you even know her last name? Has she talked to you besides asking how you want your burger done?’
‘She’s shy. Besides, she’s working. She can’t goof off while she’s supposed to be at work.’
‘But you’re sure she likes you.’
‘Of course she does. Every time she comes to the table, she smiles and touches my shoulder.’
Ray shook his head a little. ‘Haven’t you noticed? She does that at all the tables. Watch.’
Casey watched Jo for a minute or two as she moved among the tables. Ray was right. And that was really smart of her, too. ‘Don’t you see?’ he said to Ray. ‘She doesn’t want to make it obvious. She’s being careful. Don’t you think that’s smart?’
‘What the hell are you talking about?’
‘She doesn’t want to act like a tramp – like she’s coming on too strong. And she doesn’t want me to feel embarrassed. So, she’s paying attention to the other tables. I think that’s great.’
Ray shook his head again. ‘Man, you need to wake up. But whatever. Here comes the food.’
Jo set their order down and Casey gave the best smile he could. He knew what she was really doing, even if Ray couldn’t see it.
A week later, Casey made his mind up. It was time for him to act. After all, what if someone else came along and caught Jo’s eye? He knew that Jo probably wouldn’t be allowed to chat a lot while she was on duty. But there’d be no harm in giving her his card, would there?
And that’s just what he did. When Jo brought him his bill, he slid one of his cards towards her. ‘You could call…if you want,’ he managed. Good God! He couldn’t even talk to her! What a loser. But she picked up the card and glanced at it.
‘Oh, wow,’ she said. ‘You do taxes?’
‘Yeah. I’m an accountant.’
She smiled again and put the card into her pocket. ‘I might give you a call.’
‘That’d be great.’
Three days later, she called. He knew that voice as soon as he said, ‘Hello.’
‘Is this Casey? It’s Jo – from Sadie’s?’
‘Sure, I know who you are.’
‘Hi. I was wondering…do you think you could help me make some sense of my taxes and bills? I’m probably paying the government way too much.’
‘Um, of course. I mean, I’d be happy to help if I can.’
‘Thanks.’ He could hear the relief in her voice – the smile, too. And it was because of him!
They met in Casey’s office a few days later. Jo had brought a box full of receipts, and he helped her sort them out. He was even able to show her a few tricks he knew for saving tax money. They spent a magical hour and a half together as he worked on her account. Then, when it was time to go, she said, ‘You know what you’re doing. You think you could actually help me file? I’d pay you.’
‘Sure, I could do that.’
‘You’re an angel,’ she said as she got up. She gave him a quick kiss – on the cheek, but still! – and left.
Filling out the tax forms was easy. And Jo was pleased with what Casey’d done. Then, she said, ‘You’re really good with taxes and money.’ She leaned back slightly in the chair she was sitting in. ‘I’ve got some other money – I mean besides what I earn.’ She waved her hand at the papers lying on Casey’s desk.
‘You have another job?’
‘Sort of, yeah.’
‘Look,’ she leaned forward. ‘Waiting tables doesn’t pay much. You have to find other ways to make ends meet, you know?’ Casey knew. He wasn’t rich, himself. ‘So, I do a few other things to bring a little in.’
‘This and that,’ she said. ‘The point is, it’s money I don’t want to put down on the forms.’ Casey understood completely. Here was his chance to show her how much he cared about her. He could be the one to protect her money. ‘I’d do anything for you,’ he said.
‘You can help me?’
‘I’m sure I can.’
And he did. He found every legal way (and some ways a little less legal) to keep Jo’s money safe. She didn’t tell him where it came from, and he didn’t care. He was doing his part. And he was always rewarded with that unbelievable smile. ‘You need to keep working for me,’ she would tease.
‘I’d do anything for you,’ he’d say.
‘You’re a sap,’ Ray said. ‘She totally owns you.’
‘I’m helping her!’
‘I’ll bet she’s not even paying you, is she?’
‘She’s taking you for a ride, Casey. Wake up!’
‘So I help her a little? What’s wrong with that?’
‘She’s using you. Can’t you see that? Let me ask you a question. Has she asked you to hide any of her money?’
‘Hide her money? What are you talking about?’ Casey swallowed hard. He didn’t know how much to tell Ray.
‘You know what I mean.’ Then Ray looked at him carefully. ‘You are, aren’t you? Do you know what kind of trouble you could get into? She’s playing you, Casey!’
What did Ray know? He’d never spent any time with Jo. He could never understand. Jo liked him. That was all that mattered.
He’d never have followed her home that night if she didn’t. But he knew she was his. It wasn’t raining that night, but it was chilly, and he wanted to be sure she got home all right. What if her car broke down? She’d be out there, freezing. He couldn’t let that happen. So, he had a later dinner at Sadie’s than he usually did, and then waited in his car until he saw her leave the restaurant.
Casey kept his car half a block behind Jo’s. He didn’t want her to think he was some kind of weirdo stalker. When they got to Jo’s apartment building, he stopped across the street and waited. She got out of her car, went up the stairs, and into the building. He decided he’d watch out for her safety, and make sure she got safely to her apartment. He didn’t know which unit was hers, but a minute later, he saw a light go on in one of the second-floor apartments. That must be her. Yes, there she was. After a second or two, she moved out of sight. He’d just wait a minute or two until he saw her again, just to be sure.
Jo came back into view about three minutes later. This time, she was holding something – was it a glass of wine? Probably. Casey would have to remember to buy her some wine. Wait a minute! There was someone else there – a man. God knows what he might do. He might be breaking in, or even – Casey didn’t want to think about it – going after Jo! It was a good thing Casey was there to help.
Casey jumped out of the car and ran to the building, hardly feeling the steps under his feet as he went. Breathing a little heavily, he got to the door and pulled at it. Thank God it wasn’t one of those buildings where you needed a key or a code. He rushed inside and took a breath. Jo’s apartment would be the first one on the left. He grabbed at the knob, hoping it would be unlocked. It was. He shoved the door open and ran in.
There was Jo, standing looking right at Casey. Next to her was the man Casey’d seen. He rushed straight at the other man, running into him as hard as he could. That was enough to push the robber, or rapist, or whoever he was, against the coffee table. He tripped over it and fell, and Casey was on him in a minute. Casey thought he could hear Jo yelling something, but he couldn’t be sure.
Casey felt the other man kicking and punching at him, but he didn’t mind. He’d do anything to keep Jo safe. He reached around to grab at something – anything – to help him. His hand swept over part of the coffee table and touched something heavy and cold. A wine bottle! He grabbed it and swung as hard as he could. His enemy slumped to the floor. Casey used the wine bottle a few more times, just to be sure.
When he straightened up, Casey finally tuned in to what he was hearing. Jo was half-crying, half-screaming. He turned around and started over towards her. ‘It’s OK, Jo,’ he said, breathing a little heavily. ‘I took care of him. You don’t have to worry. I won’t let anybody hurt you. I’d do anything for you.’
‘He wasn’t hurting me, Casey,’ Jo gasped through her sobs. ‘He was visiting me. That was my brother!’
Casey stared at her as he heard the sirens.
Bio: Margot Kinberg is a mystery novelist (she writes the Joel Williams series) and Associate Professor. She is also the editor of the charity anthology In a Word: Murder. She has also been blogging about crime fiction since 2009. Margot blogs at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist.
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