Nannette Chan had a bad feeling about the attorney, Malbourne, even his name was a premonition of something bad. What kind of ancestry was Malbourne? It almost sounded like it was made up for the villain of a cheap, uninspired, straight-to-bargain-bin novel.
She could really use the money though. It wasn’t easy putting yourself through UCLA with minimal support from your parents, some scholarships, but not enough for smooth sailing all the way through, a few small loans, and two part time jobs.
Her astrophysics professor had asked her if she wanted a little extra work, to consult with an attorney and his client that had some basic questions. When she asked Professor Kilmie, she had assured her that the guy was legitimate, as she had looked him up and wouldn’t send her students off with strange people who may have ill intentions. Malbourne had specifically requested a bright student, and Kilmie had asked her first. Why not a graduate student? The attorney had specifically requested an undergraduate student. Kilmie assumed the attorney or client might have thought a professor or graduate student might require more money, out of a lack of resources or sense of thriftiness.
Nannette was happy with her $250 per hour, even if it might just be one hour it was worth the drive from UCLA out to Santa Clarita, only about forty-five minutes according to her GPS. Malbourne had contacted her and requested to pick her up and drive her as it would make his client feel better. That was odd, and she declined. She was happy to drive herself, particularly after Malbourne made it clear that the drive wouldn’t be included in the pay, and was merely a generous offer on the part of himself.
When she arrived at the location, she realized that it was quite a large, extravagant, and nice house. So, it was frugality and not a lack of funds that prompted the attorney and his client to ask someone who had not yet even acquired a bachelor’s degree. She called Professor Kilmie, to let her know that she had arrived and was fine. While a hard-ass in the classroom, Kilmie still had maternal instincts about her students and wanted her to check in, on the off chance that Malbourne was not as above board as he seemed. You just never know sometimes, right? After agreeing to call her again after the meeting, Nannette exited her vehicle.
It was so hot out. She usually loved warm weather and much preferred it over the cold, but still, lately the temperature was extremely uncomfortable. “Hello?” came a voice from across the street, at the address her GPS had informed her was the place she needed to be.
There was a man in a very nice suit standing outside on the sidewalk near the house, a big man, with what would have been referred to as a large beer belly in the past, but was now considered obese with folks getting very picky with definitions of how describe people who were overweight these days. Being probably about thirty pounds overweight, still was not necessarily what she considered to be obese.
As she got closer to the house, the man approached her and extended his hand, “Miss Chan, I presume?”
“Yes,” she replied, also extending her hand.
“I’m Blake Leonard Malbourne, attorney at law. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” He had a rough voice, and chiseled facial features. His jet black hair was showing some streaks of grey, that if anything, made him look more distinguished. Even with the belly, he was a handsome man. In some bizarre way the belly actually seemed to accentuate his good looks, something she never thought possible until seeing this man. He gave off an air of confidence, almost arrogance.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir,” was all that she could think to say. It was dark out, but in the limited light given off by a nearby streetlamp, his eyes looked black and dark, unnaturally so. His initial grip was powerfully strong, but then he seemed to adjust to her petite hand and almost non-existent strength, before he shook it.
“Now look,” he said as he walked slightly behind her and put his right hand on her right shoulder while taking his left hand in hers and guiding her to the front door of the house, “my client, Mr. Phileus, is quite distraught. We’re going to try to only answer his direct questions, okay?”
“Sure, that’s fine,” she said, shrugging out from beneath his right hand while removing her hand from his. That was uncomfortable. She wasn’t very touch-feely with her friends, let alone strangers. Most men found her attractive and when they opted to touch her without her permission, it was often for sexual or romantic advancements toward her. She didn’t feel that the man was interested in her that way. She felt something far worse existed beneath that thin smile.
Malbourne seemed like a man used to getting his way. He didn’t say anything about her removing his hands, but his rigid body language spoke volumes. “My client is under a tremendous amount of stress. His wife is missing. What I’m trying to say is that it is not necessary to bring up financial matters or other extraneous information.”
“Okay, sure.” She then figured that this guy was skimming money from his client. She felt that on one hand that wasn’t really her business, yet on the other, it interfered with her integrity to let something like that slide. She decided to see how the situation played out, if the client was likable, and also just try to figure out what she was doing here before she reacted to that information. She also realized it was the lawyer, not the client, who had requested a student and not a more qualified-on-paper individual for answering questions.
“He also has some other people over, none of them professional, like ourselves. You are the last to arrive. Are you ready to go inside?”
“I don’t really know why I’m here.”
“He has questions, about many things. Look, I’m trying to help him deal with his wife’s disappearance. He has some...fanciful thoughts on the matter. You don’t need to tell him that he is being unrealistic. We figured we would entertain his ideas for now, maybe allow him to grieve more before he comes to terms with things. It’s unconventional, but we all care about his well-being.”
“And getting paid, huh?”
“Ms. Chan,” said Malbourne, impatience creeping into his voice, “you are being well compensated, and that’s all you need to worry about.” He put his hand on the doorknob, then paused. “Oh, and Ms. Chan?”
“It might be Mr. Phileus’s money that ends up in your account, but don’t forget for a second who hired you and who can fire you. It’s his money, but I’m paying you. I’m in charge here. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
This guy, he certainly had bravado. “I understand,” she said.
“Good,” said Malbourne, then he opened the door.