The sequel to TRUST ME, I’M LYING
“An irresistible mix of intrigue, high stakes, and self-discovery.” —Lee Kelly, author of City of Savages
Staying out of trouble isn’t possible for Julep Dupree. She has managed not to get kicked out of her private school, even though everyone knows she’s responsible for taking down a human-trafficking mob boss—and getting St. Agatha’s golden-boy Tyler killed in the process. Running cons holds her guilty conscience at bay, but unfortunately, someone wants Julep to pay for her mistakes . . . with her life.
Against her better judgment, Julep takes a shady case that requires her to infiltrate a secretive organization that her long-gone mother and the enigmatic blue fairy may be connected to. Her best friend, Sam, isn’t around to stop her, and Dani, her one true confidante, happens to be a nineteen-year-old mob enforcer whose moral compass is as questionable as Julep’s. But there’s not much time to worry about right and wrong—or to save your falling heart—when there’s a contract on your head.
Murders, heists, secrets and lies, hit men and hidden identities . . . If Julep doesn’t watch her back, it’s her funeral. No lie.
“I would trust Julep Dupree with my life, Dani Ivanov with my heart—and Mary Elizabeth Summer with my every late-night can’t-stop-reading session. An intelligent, fierce heroine of strength and loyal heart who refuses to suffer fools lightly? Yes, please.” —Jennifer Longo, author of Six Feet Over It and Up to This Pointe
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Mary Elizabeth Summer, author of the TRUST ME series, contributes to the delinquency of minors by writing books about unruly teenagers with criminal leanings, and has a BA in creative writing from Wells College. Her philosophy on life is “You can never go wrong with sriracha sauce.” She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her wife, their daughter, and their evil overlor—er, cat.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Embezzler's Wife
If I could give fledgling con artists one piece of advice, it would be this: tacos.
Specifically, Cemitas Puebla tacos.
There might be a mark somewhere out there impervious to the fresh Oaxaca cheese and garden-grown papalo, but if there is, I have yet to meet him. The spit-roasted pork, the chorizo and carne asada, the chile guajillo . . . No one says no to tacos. At least, not these tacos. Which is why they are my secret weapon on my toughest cases.
Holding a bag of taco heaven, I knock on the back door of our very own windowless 1996 Chevy van and wait for Murphy to let me in. Murphy opens the door, the cord of his headphones stretched to its limit. He doesn’t bother looking at me until he smells the tacos.
“You brought me dinner?” he says, eyes lighting up.
“Mitts off, Murph. These are for the mark.”
Murphy grumbles something under his breath.
“Well, if you’d get out of the van and actually, you know, work, the tacos could have been for you.”
“The van is an extension of me. I do not leave the van. The van does not leave me.”
J.D. Investigations, which is the name Murphy and I finally settled on for our PI firm, purchased the van in March for all of the company’s creeper spying needs. Murphy practically drooled on the bumper when he saw the extended wheelbase. I liked the monstrosity for its diesel engine, the price of gas being what it is. But what sealed it for us was the 1-800-TAXDRMY hand-painted on the side. I’d like to see the curious bystander brave enough to peek in that windshield.
“How does Bryn feel about that?” I can already tell you how Bryn, Murphy’s girlfriend for the past seven months, feels about that. Her queen-bee social status tanks any time she gets within a five-foot radius of the van. A type A personality, she is constantly appalled at the grease spots the van leaves wherever Murphy parks it. And her nerd-limit is obliterated every time he brags about the latest gizmo he’s added to it. Or maybe that’s just me.
“Bryn loves Bessie almost as much as I do.” Murphy pets the periscope controls on the surveillance dash he spent six weeks installing. It drove me crazy that it took him that long to get the van operational, but he insisted. His love of geek gadgetry is even deeper than Sam’s is. Was. Is.
Anyway, tomorrow is the start of the last week of the school year and the van’s been used on only one other job. Which means we’re still working out the kinks.
I hop into the back of the van, setting the tacos down on the dash. “A, I seriously doubt that. B, for the last time, we’re not calling it Bessie.”
Murphy opens his mouth to argue, but I redirect the conversation before we can go down that road. Again.
“Any movement?” I whip off my frayed hoodie and slip a brick-colored polo shirt over my black tank.
“Not a blip.” Murphy adjusts a knob. “Maybe this guy’s legit.”
“Maybe. But we’ll find out soon enough.”
“What are you going to do?”
Murphy snorts. “An insurance scammer pretending to be paralyzed is not going to get out of bed for tacos.”
“Well, it’s either that or set his house on fire.”
Murphy ponders this. “We could set his house on fire.”
“We are not setting his house on fire, Murphy.”
I miss Sam. He was more than just my hacker. More than just my partner, even. He was my best friend--the person I relied on to keep me from going off the rails. He should be the one arguing that we’re not setting anyone’s house on fire. It shouldn’t be my job to reel myself in.
“Besides.” I slide the temples of my fake glasses over my ears and don a Cemitas Puebla visor I conned the cashier out of. “Tacos always work.”
“If you say so,” Murphy says, tapping something on the tablet he’d had custom-built into the dash. “Camera’s aimed at the front door in case you’re right.”
“I’m always right.” Well, almost always.
I slip out into the dying light, goose bumps prickling my arms in the slight chill of a Windy City evening. Even in May the wind finds a way to make its presence felt. Live here long enough and you start taking the wind for granted. That’s what Tyler used to say. And if anyone had known what the wind was capable of, Tyler had. I shiver thinking of him, of the night he died in front of me. Ghosts don’t haunt people. Guilt does. And on Thursday, I’ll turn all pruny marinating in my guilt when St. Agatha’s hosts a memorial vigil for him.
I stuff thoughts of Tyler into the box in my brain marked Do Not Open and walk up to the one-story bungalow with drooping carport where the alleged insurance scammer lives. If I can prove he’s faking, I get a nice, fat check from the insurance investigator who contracted me.
I ring the bell.
The intercom speaker above the doorbell crackles. “Hello?”
“Taco delivery!” I say brightly, smiling for the tiny camera that the mark had installed with the intercom.
I have to hand it to the guy. He’s not taking any chances with his potential six-figure insurance payout. I’d feel bad about calling out another con, but this guy’s just a dabbler. He’s not really my people. He is thorough, though. Installing the intercom was a nice touch. Most insurance scammers fake their injuries for their doctor’s visits and court appearances and then resume waterskiing the next weekend. This guy is maintaining character even when he thinks nobody’s looking, which makes him a tough nut to crack.
Or he could be legitimately injured, I suppose. The tacos will tell us for sure.
“I didn’t order anything,” he says.
“Really?” I pause, pretending to check an address on my phone. “The order says 675 North Hamlin Avenue.”
“Must have been a typo,” he says, sounding grumpy.
“Man, my boss is going to kill me,” I say, scrolling through my phone with my thumb. “This is the second time this week. And it’s a prepay.”
I pretend to fret, weighing my options. “I don’t suppose you want these tacos? I can’t take them back. Cemitas Puebla has a strict policy about taco delivery time.”
“Cemitas Puebla?” the mark says.
I can almost hear the pros-and-cons debate going on in his head. Risk detection. But tacos . . . I’ve got him interested. Time for the shutout.
“I’ve got to get back. Thanks anyway, mister.”
“Wait!” he says. “Is it the Orientales?”
“Yes, and the Gov. Precioso.”
A few seconds of silence follow, and then the door opens. The mark--a skinny man in his midforties with a receding hairline and an honest face--stands in the doorway, fully erect and lacking any mechanical aid. Bessie’s camera had better be getting this, or Murphy will be on paperwork duty for the next three months.
“Extra cheese?” he says.
“Salsa on the side,” I say, and hand him the bag.
I could have kept the tacos, I guess, but the man is about to lose a five-hundred-thousand-dollar insurance settlement. He deserves a consolation prize.
“Thanks,” he says, smiling, as he shuts the door.
“No sweat,” I say, more to myself than to him.
Five minutes later, I’m climbing into the van’s passenger seat. I toss the visor into the back for Bryn to pick up later and stow in the disguises compartment. She likes to feel useful.
“You couldn’t have kept the tacos?” Murphy asks when I fasten my seat belt.
“Home, Jeeves,” I say, taking off the glasses.
“That’s not as funny as you think it is.”
I smile around the pang in my chest. God, I miss Sam.
At 10:28 p.m., I stretch back in my office chair, yawning and rubbing my eyes. Murphy left Cafe Ballou with Bryn at eight, but I’d wanted to finish the report to the insurance company investigator before calling it a night.
The footage Murphy captured seems clear enough evidence to me, but I learned early on that if I don’t write out my own observations in agonizing detail for the lawyers, I’ll end up on the stand giving testimony. And I seriously never want to see the inside of a courtroom ever again.
Julep Dupree, you are under arrest. . . .
I’d never seen the inside of the juvenile detention center, thanks to Mike Ramirez, the FBI agent who arrested me. Why he stuck his neck out for me I’ll never know, but he did. And because he and his wife, Angela, took me in, I’ve mostly evaded the travesty that is the foster care system. I have a social worker, Mrs. Fairchild, who I see on a semiregular basis as part of my punishment for getting Tyler killed. That’s not how the judge put it, of course, but that’s how it feels, since Mrs. Fairchild asks me about him all the time. She’s totally missing the point, though. I’m not supposed to forgive myself for what happened to him.
My phone buzzes and lights up. Mike.
I tap out my standard apology:
At work. Sorry.
There are few things worse than going from running the streets at will to a ten p.m. curfew. Ten p.m. On a weekend, even.
My phone buzzes again:
This is a game we play.
You rly want me stuck in your house with nothing to do?
I’d nearly typed at home because it’s shorter, but, well, no. It’s not my home.
Serious this time.
1 week. No phone.
Good lord. That’s like saying “No coffee.”
Ha. I’d like to see him try to stop her. For real, I’d probably pay admission. Dani is a nineteen-year-old mob enforcer. She does exactly what she wants, and no FBI agent, let alone Mike, is going to get in her way. I’m not even sure she would listen to me. In fact, I know she wouldn’t.
Good luck with that.
Now he’s calling me. I sigh and tap the Answer button. “Who is this and why do you keep stalking me?”
“Funny,” he says. “I could consider this a violation of your probation, you know.”
“Blowing curfew by accident is not grounds for probation violation.”
“Blowing curfew repeatedly is good enough grounds to try.”
“If you wouldn’t insist on instituting these silly rules, I wouldn’t be forced to break them.”
“The point of these ‘silly rules’ is to keep you safe. You know, from vengeance-seeking Ukrainian mobsters.”
“Spending years up to your neck in a covert government agency has skyrocketed your paranoia. No one’s conspiring to kill me.”
“Yet,” Mike growls. He’s probably referring to himself rather than Petrov, the mob boss I took down last October.
“Seriously, Mike, if it were two in the morning, I’d understand. But ten o’clock? Middle schoolers are still out peddling Girl Scout cookies.”
Mike echoes my earlier sigh. I can see him in my mind’s eye rubbing his bald boulder of a head in agitation. “I don’t want to babysit you. Believe me, I have better things to do with my time. But I can’t follow you around to keep you out of the crosshairs either. I’m responsible for your safety. The ten o’clock curfew is the best compromise I can make.”
None of this is new territory. Since I moved in with him and Angela, we’ve had multiple arguments about my safety. But if Petrov had wanted to make a move to hurt me, he’d have done it by now. I remind Mike of this, but he shrugs it off.
“Whether Petrov is out to get you or not, you’d better get your butt back home in the next half hour or I really am grounding you this time.”
“All right, all right. I’m leaving now,” I say.
“One more thing,” he says. “I’m leaving town for a couple of weeks. I have a bank robbery assignment in New York.”
“Bank robbery? Aren’t you in the organized crime division? And anyway, doesn’t New York have its own FBI agents?”
He pauses. Just a tiny fraction of a pause no one else would notice. But I notice. “It potentially relates to one of my cases here in Chicago, so I’m going to check it out.”
My gut says he’s holding back. “Anything having to do with me?”
He chuckles. “It was the pause, wasn’t it? Look, kid, not everything is about you. I’m just worried about leaving you here without somebody to hassle you when you don’t make curfew. I don’t want you to feel alone. I am coming back.”
Ugh. I hate it when I’m blindsided by sappy crap. Especially when it’s tough-as-a-tire-iron Mike trying to be sensitive to my abandonment issues. Yes, my mom left me when I was eight. Yes, my dad’s now in prison for the remainder of my high school years. That doesn’t mean I’m going to break down when the closest thing I have to a parental unit is going on a business trip.
“Don’t worry about me, G-man. I’ve got this.”
“I know,” he says. “Just make sure you keep Angela up to date on where you are.”
I hang up and quickly email the insurance scammer report and video to the insurance investigator. I’m pulling on my jacket when the tarnished bell hanging over the door rings.
“We’re closed,” I say as a joke, because I assume it’s Dani checking up on me.
When there’s no acerbic comment in return, I look up. But it’s not Dani’s black-clad, steel-sharp form standing in the doorway. It’s a woman in her early fifties with chestnut hair and a haggard expression.
“Can I help you?” I ask.
Instead of answering, she ducks past me to my desk and collapses into the beat-up chair I keep for clients. I sigh and shrug out of my jacket. I’m going to be late, which means I’m going to get another Mike safety lecture. And he might actually ground me this time. Awesome.
“Mrs. . . . ?” I say, having noticed the plain gold band on her left ring finger.
“Antolini,” she says.
The name sounds vaguely familiar, but not enough to raise red flags. “How can I help you, Mrs. Antolini?”
She takes a tissue from her floral purse. I wait as patiently as possible while she dabs at her eyes and blows her nose. I never try to comfort weeping clients. For one thing, it drags out the crying. For another, it’s just as likely to cause awkwardness as it is to cure it. Most people prefer I just wait it out.
“My husband was arrested a month ago for misappropriation of government funds. He worked for Lodestar. They do informational architecture for several government programs. If he’s convicted, he’ll remain in the maximum-security prison they’re holding him in for the next eighteen years. I can’t find the money he supposedly stole, so I can’t even get him out on bail.”
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