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This house is so filthy! Ugh, I can’t wait to makeover this place. Everyone here is such a slob. They always leave dishes all over the place and puddles of water on the bathroom floor after showering. Why can’t they simply partially dry off before stepping out of the shower like normal people? It just amazes me. Everyone complains about me being a neat freak, but I can’t help it if I like things a certain way unlike the rest of them who prefer if this house looks like a dump.

1021

I liked the weekends because I didn’t have to go to the office which gave me free time to not only clean and reorganise things, but to also work on some of my hobbies. I loved painting. In no way was I master or a natural born artist like my great-grandmother but painting relaxed me whenever I was having one of those stressful days at work. The art/activity room Mother built was actually a nice space where I could go to be alone and enjoy the nice view of the canyons behind our house. This was one of the rooms I’d want to keep the same when I start remodelling.

1022

After my meeting with Dad, I got in touch with a real estate agent and began looking at stores I could purchase for my business. None of the stores for sale were appealing to me plus they were overpriced so the agent showed me a vacant lot, reasoning that I could always build the store according to my vision. I went out to take a look at it and I actually liked it a lot.

1023

It was a 30×20 lot in the area of Parched Prospect. It was generally a residential area but seeing as how the Commercial District was already fully occupied it left very little space for new business owners like myself. At least I would have no competition. I knew I had to place my bid before someone else saw the same possibilities that I saw.

1024

First things first, I needed Dad’s blessing before I went ahead with an offer so I called him up and gave him the address asking him to meet me there. He was already in the neighbourhood so he came in no time.

“What do you think Dad? Is this it?”

“You tell me. This is going to be your business after all. I think it’s a great spot. It’s not too far from the commercial district yet just far enough that you won’t have any competition. At the end of the day, the decision is all yours Gem.”

1025

“I know Dad. I just wanted your blessing.”

“Ok. I give my blessing. You just need to get your mother’s now. We don’t want her to think you’re doing anything underhanded. Let her know you want to start a business.”

1026

He was right about talking to Mother as I would need her blessing too. Even though I was the heiress, she would still have some control over the estate as long as she was alive. One day, I came home from work and found her in the kitchen by herself so I figured it was the right time to talk to her without anyone else hovering.

“Can I talk to you for a minute?”

1027

“Sure honey, I’m just baking a cake for Leni’s birthday. What’s up?”

I forgot about Leni’s birthday, not that I made it a point to remember those things. “Well, you know how much I despise my job.”

“I know. You talk about how much you hate it there every day. But Gemma, every job is like that when you have to start at the bottom. All you have to do is work hard and you’ll move up the ranks in no time.” She said.

1028

“But what if I could move up the ranks a lot sooner and become the owner of a business?”

“I don’t understand. I know you’re brilliant Gemma but I don’t think you can become the owner of Dewey, Cheatem and Howe Incorporated unless you manage to buy out the company, and we don’t have that kind of money.”

“No, no. I mean I can become the owner of my own business. I can be my own boss, hire my own employees, and run my own business the way I see fit. I’m thinking of opening a boutique. Clothing, shoes, accessories, cosmetics… what do you think?”

1029

“I think that’s a great idea. It sounds perfect for you. You’ve always been into fashion and you’re great with numbers so I’m sure you’ll be successful. If you need my help…”

“No, I don’t need your help. I have everything covered. I only need your blessing to use money from the estate to invest in my business. So do I have it?”

“Of course you do. I’m so proud of you sweetie and I’m happy that you came and talked to me about this first. You have my approval, you always will.”

“Thanks, Mum.” That was too easy. Perhaps Mother is not as smart as I thought she was. I seriously thought I would have to present her with an official business plan before she’d say yes. I even prepared a whole long speech to go with it. If I knew it would be so easy to pull the wool over her eyes then I would have come to her sooner.

1030

She finished baking Leni’s cake while I grabbed dinner. Everyone gathered into the dining room to celebrate Leni’s birthday with her. Even Uncle Ethan joined in the festivities. He looked really old! Too old to still be wearing t-shirts and loafers. When I open my boutique I’ll definitely need to make over his wardrobe to more acceptable clothing for a man his age.

1031

The candles on Leni’s cake didn’t even get cold before Ayden showed up at the door and Leni went to greet him. He celebrated his birthday around the same time as me, forcing their romance to be put on pause until she became legal. They wasted no time in heading upstairs to cement their new adult relationship. Gross.

1032

I’m glad Ayden showed his true colours before I developed deep feelings for him. He was like a dog in heat and so was Leni so they were practically made for each other. I need a man who’s a gentleman, who’ll be willing to wait until marriage for me. I’m no prude by any means, but I’m also not keen on giving it away to any man who hasn’t made a true commitment to me. Leni and Ayden’s relationship is a ticking time bomb. The novelty of their romance will wear off once her crazy starts to show and then he’ll drop her and move on to someone else. Leni’s stupid for not realising that by now.

Construction on the store was almost complete. It would take one more day before I could start moving in goods for sale and I was excited. Dad thought it best that I meet his employees especially since a couple of them would be working for me. He took me to the house where they all lived which on the outside looked like a luxurious family mansion, but the inside looked and smelled like a bachelor pad.

“So… these are your accomplices?” I asked as I looked at the group of them gathered around the living room.

1033

“Yes. They’re good at what they do.” Dad said but by the looks of them, they all seemed a bit careless to me.

“Dad, they have bags full of cash and a stolen ATM in the middle of the living room. What if a nosy neighbour peeks through those unblocked windows, sees all of this, and calls the cops?”

Dad didn’t say anything to me, but I could tell he wasn’t pleased when he looked around and saw how careless his gang of thieves had been.

1034

“Are you all out of your minds?” He asked sternly, but it wasn’t a question that required an answer, just to get their silent attention. “Clean this room up and secure the cash and valuables. What if the cops come? Aubree you already went and got busted. You just got released which means the cops might be tailing you, you idiot. You shouldn’t even be here at this hideout. Get out of my sight now before I get rid of you myself!”

The lone woman in the group, Aubree, high-tailed it out of there mumbling apologies before she disappeared down the hall. Dad began introducing me to the rest of them. One of them was Braylon, whose day job was a pizza delivery guy. There was also another man in a black shirt named Gunnar who worked as an accountant and he would be the one helping me on the laundering part of the business. It seemed as though every member of Dad’s gang had a legitimate job. It was very smart. This way, no one would suspect that they were secretly criminals.

There was one guy who showed up later wearing a brown jacket and fedora but didn’t stay for an introduction because his phone rang. I asked Dad about him and he said he was Zachary and that I would formally meet him later.

1035

Later came the following evening when Dad brought him by the store to meet me.

“Gemma, this is Zachary Chin. I was friends with his parents and I’ve known him since he was a little boy. He’ll be your business advisor and he can help you with advertising and marketing.”

1036

“Hey there, it’s nice to meet you, Gemma. Your father talks the world about you.”

“Thanks.” I responded. He was cute – in a rugged, older man kind of way. He wasn’t that old, still young looking, but I could tell he had a few years on me.

“I’ve got to go now. I have a meeting to get to, but maybe you two could talk some more about what your roles would be in this operation.”

“That sounds great. Maybe you’d like to head over to the park? Clean air makes it easier to talk, you know.” Zachary suggested.

1037

“Sure.” I was glad he suggested going somewhere else. I hated being at this place with all of the cement dust and wood fragments in the air. The mess made me feel so uncomfortable.

Zachary and I traveled separately to the park. I got there before him and while I was waiting for him to arrive some guy approached me. “Hey, um, I think I know you.”

1038

He was so rude. Why would any man approach a woman like that? Hey, um, I think I know you. What a lame pick up line! “Excuse me?”

“Yeah, I’ve seen your picture on your Mum’s desk. You’re Chief Sloane’s daughter, aren’t you? Um…Leni?”

“No, my name is Gemma.”

1039

“Oh right Gemma, of course. You certainly are a gem.” He said flirtatiously.

“Thank you for the compliment and you are?”

“I’m Jeff Primley. I’m an officer down at the station. Your mother’s my mentor. She talks about her family a lot, especially her daughters though she never mentioned their beauty. Would you like to grab a drink with me and the Rattlesnake?”

1040

He was an attractive and stylish man despite his lack of manners so his offer to go for coffee was quite tempting, but aside from having to meet with Zachary, I couldn’t accept it simply because he was a police officer who worked with my mother and given the type of business I was going into, getting involved with a cop would be a huge mistake. If I learned anything from my father, it was never get involved with a cop.

“No thanks. I have to meet with someone. It was nice meeting you, Josh.”

1041

“It’s Jeff, actually…”

“Sure, whatever. Goodbye.”

It wasn’t long before Zachary finally showed up. “What took you so long?” I asked as we took a seat on a bench.

“Sorry I ran into someone I know from the office and they’re kind of chatty if you know what I mean.”

1042

“What’s your day job?”

“I’m an investigative reporter for The Daily Tribunal.”

“Impressive. So, why is someone as accomplished as you working with a bunch of criminals? Let me guess, you have a lot of debts or do you just simply like the thrill?”

1043

He chuckled. “No, no. Actually, I’ve known your Dad since I was little. He and my parents worked together. When they were…killed, he saved my life. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for him, so when he called and asked for my expertise I couldn’t say no.”

“So how exactly are you an expert in the field of money laundering? You’re a journalist!”

“Investigative reporter,” he corrected, “who also has a degree in accounting and who investigates hedge fund companies and Ponzi schemes when they go under. I know the weaknesses of operations such as these and the measures to prevent them from occurring.”

1044

“Hmm. I didn’t think there was much to it other than don’t be stupid enough to get caught.”

“Heh, if only it was so simple. Laundering is easy only if you can create the proper paper trail, that’s the tough part. That’s how a lot of businesses like this get busted by the feds. People think it’s enough to pad the register but what happens when you get audited? And timing is important as well. You can’t open a new business and start making tens of thousands of dollars in profit after the first couple of days. You have to appear to struggle for a bit, ease in the dirty money, and also take out loans for business expenses such as advertising so when the business starts showing increasing profits no one will suspect anything other than you having a good business plan and being savvy enough to run it.”

1045

I was impressed by his ideas and his meticulousness. It was refreshing to talk to a man who was as smart and articulate as Zachary. I liked him, and I hardly like anyone so this was a big deal for me.

“I have to go now. An article of mine is approaching its deadline and I need to complete it before I get an irate call from my editor. It was nice meeting you, Gemma.”

“It was nice meeting you too Zachary.”

I was surprised when he moved in to hug me. I thought it was presumptuous for him to think he could interact with me like that so soon after we met and yet I did nothing to stop him. I even hugged him back! What was happening to me?

1046

After we said our goodbyes I went home hoping to take a nice warm shower and cook myself a nice gourmet dinner before going to bed early. I was in the mood for pasta so it was a toss up between garlic noodles and pasta primavera, but when I walked through the front door and saw this happening, I suddenly lost my appetite.

1047

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