It was almost ten o'clock when Jeff Spencer strolled into his partner's office. "Everything's all set up," he told Stu as he passed over the folder he'd brought in with him.
Bailey took the folder and opened it. "Just like we discussed?"
Jeff nodded as he sat on the edge of Stu's desk. "Just like we discussed. It just needs to be signed."
Stu glanced over the papers in the folder and found Jeff was right. Everything they'd talked about was laid out it in a straight forward manner with no unnecessary legal chatter making it more complicated than it needed to be. A few signatures would complete it.
"It looks good." He gave the folder back to Jeff. "As soon as Kookie gets here we'll work on those signatures."
"You know," Jeff said. "If you're having any doubts . . . speak now or forever hold your peace."
Stu raised an eyebrow and gave Jeff a quizzical look. "Doubts? I've never been surer of anything. And you?"
Jeff grinned. "The last time I was this sure of something was when you asked me to go into business with you."
Stu chuckled. "Then we wait for Kookie."
"He's not here yet?"
"I told him I didn't want to see him here before eleven today. He's been putting in a lot of extra hours this past week. That Hendrick case has taken a lot out of him."
"But those hours paid off," Jeff said. "Pacific Mutual couldn't have been happier with the report I gave them yesterday."
"I imagine so as it kept them from having to cover over two hundred thousand in not so stolen jewels."
The insurance company had contacted Bailey and Spencer a couple of weeks back about a claim they suspected wasn't legitimate. Jeff had a penchant for insurance cases and normally handled them, but he'd been otherwise engaged at the time so the investigation fell to Kookie. The young man had approached the case with all the tenacity of a bulldog and yesterday, after two long grueling weeks, recovered almost a quarter of a million dollars in gems and proved the claim was indeed fraudulent. His hard work might have paid off but it had taken a toll on him too. Stu knew Kookie was worn out.
"I don't know what time he finally went home last night," Stu told his partner. "but he was still here when I left at seven. I would have told him to stay home altogether but I didn't think he'd do it."
"Probably not," Jeff said. "A few years ago I never would have guessed he'd take to this work so well."
"That makes two of us," Stu replied.
"Our little Kookie's all grown up," Jeff said with mock sentimentality.
Stu laughed. He knew Jeff was making a joke but there was a great deal of truth to the words. Had anyone told him back when he'd first met Gerald Lloyd Kookson III that the kid parking cars at Dino's would end up being an invaluable part of his agency, Stu would have thought they were crazy. And yet here they were.
Stu had always liked Kookie, it was hard to dislike him, but when Kookie first said he was interested in the private investigator business, Stu had been dubious. He was just cynical enough to assume Kookie thought it was a life filled with excitement, danger, and romance, and once he found out that, by and large, the business was just as mundane as any other type of work, he'd lose interest. Only that hadn't been the case. Stu quickly learned Kookie was dead serious about the matter and he was always ready and willing to do whatever he or Jeff needed to be done, no matter how boring it was. As time went by, Stu found out there was much more to Kookie than met the eye and he'd gone from liking the boy to counting him as a genuine friend.
"Stu, are you with me?"
Stu shook off his musings when he realized Jeff was talking to him. "Sorry, I was thinking."
"Obviously. Deep thoughts by the look of it."
"Not really. What were you saying?"
"I said I'm going back to my office. Let me know when Kookie gets here."
Jeff slid off the desk and went back to his office, leaving the door between them open, and Stu tried to get back to work. He'd been sentimental enough for one day.
It was almost an hour later that Suzanne buzzed Stu to let him know Kookie had arrived. Jeff was back in his office almost immediately.
"I heard her," he explained sitting on the edge of Stu's desk.
"You wouldn't be excited about this would you?"
Jeff's only answer was a grin.
Stu reached over to his intercom and buzzed the newest investigator at Bailey and Spencer. "Kookie, could you come in here, please?"
There was a longer than normal pause before Kookie answered. "I'll be right there."
"He still sounds tired," Jeff commented.
"I'm sure he is."
About that time Kookie came into the office, coffee in hand, looking every bit as tired as he sounded earlier. "What's up, dad?"
Stu smiled. Maybe Kookie was a licensed private investigator now. Maybe he regularly wore ties and maybe he'd given up his hotrod, but he was still Kookie. Stu was glad.
He nodded toward the couch. "Have a seat. There's something Jeff and I want to discuss with you."
Stu watched as Kookie made his way across the room and sat down. Once again, Jeff's words about Kookie being grown-up came back to him. Yes, Kookie had grown up over the years, but it was more than just the clothes or the car or even his lack of slang, although Stu did enjoy the fact he only very rarely needed Kookie to translate his words into plain English now. There was a maturity about Kookie that only came with age.
Stu wouldn't deny the affection he had for the young man, but he'd hesitate to call it the brotherly kind of relationship he had with Jeff. It was different. He felt a deeper sense of protectiveness towards Kookie. More like . . . like an uncle. Maybe there was no need for it but Stu did feel a certain responsibility for Kookie. He was proud of the man Kookie had become and honored to know he had played some small role in helping Kookie become that man.
He shared a look with Jeff and if the slight smile his partner was wearing was any indication, Jeff had similar feelings.
Jeff passed the folder over and Stu cleared his throat and walked around his desk. "When Jeff and I were going over the books for this past quarter he brought something to my attention."
A look of mild panic flashed in Kookie's eyes. Since the agency belonged to Stu and Jeff, Kookie had little to do with the bookkeeping but occasionally he was involved and Stu knew Kookie was thinking he'd made some kind of mistake. "Oh, yeah?"
"Yes. We wanted you to look something over." He gave the folder to Kookie and then crossed his arms and leaned back against his desk.
Stu knew Kookie was thinking the worst and that his and Jeff's theatrics weren't necessary, but they couldn't resist having a little fun with Kookie first. Besides, it wasn't a lie. They had been going over the books when Jeff first mentioned giving a percentage of Bailey and Spencer to Kookie. And while Jeff might have been the one to officially broach the subject, it was something Stu had been thinking about for some time. It hadn't taken them long to agree on specific numbers and within a matter of days, they had a lawyer working on getting all the necessary papers drawn up; the papers Jeff picked up this morning and Kookie was currently holding.
Neither Jeff nor Stu said anything as Kookie read the papers but they both saw the exact moment Kookie found what they'd had spent the last several days getting drawn up. Confusion crossed the young man's face first, then disbelief.
Kookie finally looked up. "What is this?"
"It's all written out in black and white," Jeff replied casually.
Kookie looked between the two of them. "Are you guys puttin' me on?"
"Well, when I checked the calendar this morning it wasn't April Fools," Stu said.
Kookie read the papers again then looked back up at Stu. "You're kidding."
"I'm not kidding."
Kookie's gaze went to Jeff. "We're not kidding," Jeff said.
"Twenty percent. You guys want to give me twenty percent of Bailey and Spencer."
Jeff shrugged. "We thought it was time to make your partnership a little more official. You don't just work for the agency, Kookie. You're very much a part of it."
"But you're just giving me part of your business?"
"Oh, I wouldn't say that," Stu cut in. "That we're just giving it to you that is. You've been a part of us since we started. You even had a hand in getting us these offices. You've played many roles over the years and you've helped us more than either Jeff or I can say. We aren't giving you anything, Kookie. You've earned this."
For a long minute, Kookie stared at him. He then glanced at Jeff before he dropped his eyes back to the papers in his hand. "I . . . I don't know what to say."
"Something like 'thanks, this really means a lot' might be appropriate," suggested Jeff.
Kookie breathed a laugh then shook his head. "That's not enough. I mean . . . ."
Stu and Jeff were both smiling as they watched Kookie's look go between the two of them as he struggled to find the words. He finally gave up and sighed. "Thanks. This really means . . . it means a lot."
Stu stepped forward and offered Kookie his hand. "You're welcome. As I said, you've earned it."
Jeff was next in line for a handshake. "Welcome aboard, partner. Now, hurry up and sign that thing so we can make it legal."
Kookie blew out a breath before he got to his feet and walked over to the desk where Stu handed him a pen. Kookie took another deep breath before he signed his name underneath where Stu and Jeff had already signed theirs. Once he was done he passed both pen and paper back to Stu who looked it over and then gave it to Jeff.
"And just like that, Mister Kookson," Jeff said as he tucked the sheet away in a folder. "You are stuck with us forever."
"I can think of worse things," Kookie said. He was now grinning and looking much livelier than he had when he'd come in.
"You say that now. Remember, now that you're officially part owner in all this, you'll be expected to assist with those quarterly bookkeeping sessions." He pointed to Stu. "And that one can be a real slavedriver."
Stu raised an eyebrow. "Don't believe him, Kookie. Our Jefferson is more of a perfectionist than you realize. He leaves no stone unturned when it comes to bookkeeping."
Jeff scoffed. "Kookie, you haven't seen true perfectionism at work until you've had to balance a book with Stuart Bailey."
"Is it too late to change my mind about this?" Kookie asked.
"Yes," Jeff and Stu answered in unison.
"I told you," Jeff reminded him. "You're stuck with us."
"A situation which, I believe, calls for a celebration," Stu said. "How about lunch at Dino's? My treat."
No one was inclined to turn the offer down and within minutes the three men along with Suzanne were seated at a booth in Dino's. Lunch was ordered and they all decided that despite the early hour, a round of drinks was in order.
Once their drinks were delivered, Stu raised his glass. "To the expansion of Bailey and Spencer."
Jeff also raised his glass. "To our new partner."
"To Kookie," Suzanne added.
Not to be outdone, Kookie joined in. "To the best private investigative firm in California."
Today, that was a point Stu wouldn't argue, and the future of Bailey and Spencer had never looked brighter.