There was something about the way she sat in the shop’s waiting room. Corey liked working on her car, too. It wasn’t fancy – your basic Toyota – but she took care of it. He never flirted with her or touched her. But there was just something about her.
Today she wanted the air conditioning serviced. ‘Would you like to wait or have us call you when it’s ready, Ms. Craft?’ Corey asked.
‘It’s Natalie,’ she smiled at him. ‘And I’ll wait.’
For the next forty minutes, she sat quietly. When Corey came back to tell her the car was ready, Natalie straightened up and went to the counter to pay. As she handed Corey her credit card, she commented, ‘This is a nice waiting area. Coffee, snacks, the whole thing.’
Corey shrugged. ‘It’s not bad.’ Then he quickly added, ‘I’m glad you’re comfortable.’
‘It’s almost luxurious. And I’m no mechanic, but it looks like you’ve got state-of-the-art machinery here.’
‘We do OK.’
‘Shop must be doing well.’
Corey looked up quickly. That was one thing he’d been specifically warned about. Steve had made it clear that profits and losses were none of the customers’ business. ‘I got enough trouble without having customers yelling that my prices are too high.’
‘Yeah, well, we do our best,’ Corey finally told Natalie.
The next time Natalie came in, it was for an alignment. When it was done, Corey started to remove the paper floor matting they put down to keep the oil from their work boots off the car’s carpets. He reached down to pull it off when he noticed that the seat was a little jammed. He ought to say something to her.
After Natalie paid for the work, Corey walked her out to the car. ‘I noticed that your driver’s seat is a little jammed. If you want, we can take a look at it.’
‘Not today, thanks. But I like it that you’re trying to help.’ Then, after a pause, ‘Would you like to be really helpful?’ One look at Corey’s expression and she added, ‘I’m not coming on to you if that’s what you’re thinking.’
‘OK, then how can I help you?’
‘Meet me at the taco place on the corner in an hour.’
Corey nodded. This was getting weird. Whatever it was, he wasn’t sure he wanted to get involved. But there was something about her that made it hard to refuse.
‘OK,’ he finally agreed.
Corey saw Natalie as soon as he went into the restaurant. She saw him, too, and gestured him over. There was already a basket of tortilla chips and a dish of salsa on the table.
‘Glad you’re here,’ Natalie started. ‘What I’m about to tell you is a secret. You don’t tell anyone, not even your wife if you have one.’
‘I can keep my mouth shut,’ Corey reassured her.
Natalie nodded. ‘Good. I haven’t said anything before, but I’m a cop. I’m part of an undercover operation to go after businesses that launder money.’ She pulled out a police ID card and showed it to Corey.
Corey wasn’t stupid. ‘And you think the repair shop is one of those businesses.’
‘We think so, yes. And I need you to start looking for paperwork or anything else you can find that shows where your boss gets his money. Can you do that?’
Corey thought about it. Did he really want to get involved in this? She watched him, waiting to see what he’d do. Finally, he nodded.
‘Alright. Here’s the sort of thing we need…’
Corey couldn’t sleep that night. Steve was a good boss, and he knew the business. Plus, he and Steve got along well. Corey didn’t want to think a guy like that was running a money laundering operation. But he’d agreed to help.
The next morning, Corey got to the repair shop at six. It didn’t open until seven, so Corey’d have almost an hour to see what he could find. He got out of his car and glanced around as he locked it. The place was dark and full of shadows, but he didn’t see anyone. He quickly walked to the door and used his key to get in. Still no-one. Once inside, he went straight to the office and tried to open the top desk drawer. He didn’t want to risk turning the computer on, and anyway, Steve wouldn’t keep anything questionable on the office hard drive. If there was anything, it’d be in the desk.
The drawer was locked. Corey pulled it once or twice in frustration.
‘What the hell are you doing?’ The light switched on and the voice made Corey jump. He turned around to see Steve right behind him.
‘I – I – just thought I’d get rid of some old papers we don’t need any more.’
‘With the office light off? Bullshit! What are you really doing?’
Corey swallowed a few times. ‘I thought – I wondered – I don’t know – that something’s going on with the money. Some things just don’t add up.’
Steve sat down at the desk and waved Corey to a seat. His next words almost made Corey jump again. ‘Natalie Craft.’
One look at Corey’s face and Steve nodded. ‘It was Natalie. She got you to look for papers to prove we’re a front.’
‘How – how did you know?’
Steve pulled out his wallet and showed Corey identification. ‘I never told you,’ he explained, ‘but I’m with the state police. We’re investigating a blackmail operation that a few local police are running. They find evidence, then use that to extort money from shady companies. We set this business up as part of the operation.’
‘So it’s all…’
‘All of the stuff you’d find is faked. It’s a setup. And you can help us get those dirty cops.’
‘Give Natalie Craft what she wants. We’ll do the rest. Now that she thinks she has a little inside help, you could be really useful. What do you say?’
Corey thought about it. He looked at Steve, and down at the ID Steve had shown him. Then he thought about Natalie’s ID card. He wished he’d taken the job he’d been offered across town a few years ago.