First Chapter: Stay (WAGs #2)

CHAPTER ONE

Hailey

It’s a busy day in the offices of Fetch, Inc., but I finally manage to duck out of the office for an espresso around two. And when I return, carrying my cup toward my private office, I spot Tad the Techie knocking on my door.

“I’m right here,” I call out.

The tall, baseball-cap-wearing tech whirls around. Every time I see him he's wearing that Toronto hockey hat. I wholly approve, since I'm the team’s number one fan.

“There you are,” he says, looking a little startled. His eyes come to rest on my espresso cup. “I was just going to ask if you wanted to take a coffee break before I have to leave.”

“Oh, sorry!” I scan my overworked brain, trying to recall a meeting I might have scheduled with him. I come up blank. “Got my cup already. Is there anything you needed to tell me about the servers?”

He blinks. “Servers are fine.”

“Phew.” I open my office door and walk past him. “So, I’ll, uh. See you next week?” He’s a contractor and not our employee, so I only see Tad on a semi-regular basis. Nice guy, though.

“Sure thing! Have a good one.”

I don’t even make it to my desk before I’m interrupted by another voice, this one belonging to my friend and employee, Jenny Dawes. “Hailey!” she cries from the doorway. “There’s two new action items in your queue.”

That was fast. My coffee jaunt took less than ten minutes. “Can I assume they’re interesting if you’re here to tell me about them?”

“Check your screen!” she says with obvious glee. 

I nudge my computer mouse to bring the monitor to life. There are two new items in my queue, and they’re both interesting. In fact, one of them gives me an inappropriate thrill.

That’s exactly how glamorous my life is these days—a potential complaint is the highlight of my day.

Since I’m the co-owner of Fetch, Toronto’s premier virtual assistant company, only the most critical client requests cross my desk. These fall into two categories: clients who are naturally problematic, and clients who spend a lot of money on our services. The two newest action items contain one of each.

“Well?” Jenny prods. The smile on her face is downright giddy.

I sip my coffee. “I haven’t clicked on either of them yet. Come over here if you’re so curious.”

She very wisely closes my office door. Gossip isn’t the sort of thing we want my co-owner Jackson to overhear. Working with my ex-husband is already complicated enough—I don’t need Jackson thinking that I’m a bit too focused on one of our clients.

Jenny practically skips around my desk so she can see the screen. “Who are we going to open first? Mr. Dick or the one from your future husband?”

“You’re hysterical.” I take another sip and stall for a moment. It’s really not okay that I have an active fantasy life involving one particular client. And it’s worse that I’m so transparent. “I’m opening Mr. Dick first. His came through two minutes earlier than the other one. Company policy.”

Jenny sighs. “It’s high time we got someone to remove that stick from your ass. And then spank you with it. I wonder if your favorite client is naughty in bed?”

My traitorous brain has all kinds of dreamy questions about that client.

Focus, Hailey! Thou shalt not perv on clients.

As a point of discipline, I click on the other request first—the one from a client who’s given himself the unfortunate username of MrEightInches.

His username isn’t even the reason we call him Mr. Dick. This dude earned his nickname by managing to include his crotch in every photo he sends over. A month ago, our employees began flagging his requests as not-safe-for-work, which is why they now come directly to me or Jackson. Or Jenny if the two of us are unavailable. We don’t want to make any of our Fetchers uncomfortable.

Jenny and I think Mr. Dick is most likely harmless and definitely hilarious. So we often snicker together over his rather blatant attempts at getting our attention. Today’s request is titled: guitar tuner battery

Sounds boring enough. But we know better.

When the photograph he’s sent resolves on the screen, Jenny snorts loudly in my ear. “Wow. This one might make the top ten list. It’s all in the grip, right?”

Sure enough, the photo is a prizewinner. The guitar tuning device has a rounded...head. There is really no other word for it. Mr. Dick has positioned his hand in his lap, palm up, his fingers gripping the tuner suggestively.

As if that isn’t enough, his actual, er, member is clad only in a thin pair of nylon track pants. As always, it looks really happy to see us.

“Good articulation of the glans today,” Jenny observes. “Our man is an excellent photographer. He really uses the sheen of that fabric to maximum effect.”

“He’s a savant, truly,” I agree. “Can you read the product number off that battery?”

“Oh, the battery.” Jenny sighs. “Right. Zoom in.”

I center the photo on his other thigh, where a disc-shaped battery is positioned, the numbers glinting. CR2032.

With a few taps on my keyboard I learn that CR2032 is a common lithium ion battery model used in watches, calculators, and other small electronics.

“Got it,” Jenny says, making a note about the battery in her phone. “Forward this request to my queue. I’ll run over to Bloor Street. Either the camera shop or that bigger jewelry store will have what he needs.”

With one more click, I do just that. Mr. Dick will get his batteries delivered to the front desk of his apartment building, probably within the hour. He’ll pay for the purchase, plus a twenty-five percent surcharge, as well as thirty-five dollars an hour for our time. All for something he could have done himself.

Rich people. They love good service, and they’re willing to pay for it.

“Now hurry up and see what the future Mr. Hailey needs. I’m dying here,” Jenny complains.

“Simmer down. I really hope it’s not another dog-walking issue,” I say, clicking back to the dashboard to find the request from Sniper87. “The last one was a disaster. I still feel bad about it.”

Indeed, the subject of his request is: Strike 2! Third time’s a charm?

“Uh-oh.” Jenny bites her lip. “What happened now?” She leans in and we read the message together.

Hey HTE! Thanks for sending my mom her birthday gift. You said you knew your chocolates, and it’s not like I didn’t believe you. But Mom just won’t shut up about the “single origin cocoa truffles” or whatever they were. My place as Favorite Child is secure for another year.

“Aw!” Jenny sighs. “You made his mom happy. When she becomes your mother-in-law, it will be that much easier.”

I don’t dignify her joke with a response, because I’ve heard it from her before. And I have a bad feeling about the rest of this message.

Now I hate to be a PITA, but unfortunately the new dog-walker was actually worse than the one who let Rufus eat my leather suitcase. That security camera you found for me shows the dog-walker spending a lot of time snooping around my apartment. Here’s a sample of his activities.

“Whoa!” Jenny squeals. “Are we going to see his apartment?” 

“Jen!” I yelp. “We sent a stalker to his place, and you’re curious about his bachelor pad?”

Any other day, I’d be dying to see it, though. In fact, I’ve tried to picture it many times. When he got divorced last summer, Sniper87 used Fetch to quickly purchase an apartment’s worth of furniture. Over the course of two months, I’d lovingly chosen each piece myself.

And here’s the coincidence that set my curiosity aflame: as I scoured Toronto for “a big-ass sofa with a footstool thing” (his words) and “a TV so large I’ll be able to see the nose hairs of the sports commentators for the games I’m watching,” the gossip blogs were busy clucking over the breakup of Toronto veteran player Matt Eriksson’s marriage.

That’s when I’d taken a closer look at Sniper87’s username. A “sniper” is what you call a skilled forward shooter in hockey. And my favorite player was born in 1987.

Still. It might be a coincidence.

One of the things that sets Fetch apart from our competitors is that we offer our clients the option to remain anonymous to the Fetchers who serve them. We had celebrities in mind when we offered that choice. Sniper87 has the privacy box ticked on his account. Hence the mystery. But every day my curiosity burns brighter.

My hand shakes on the mouse as I click the video link. The screen now shows a soundless, low-resolution video clip. In the background, someone moves through a spacious, open-plan apartment. 

And there’s the sectional I’d chosen and the throw pillows! They’re centered in a beautiful, sweeping room.

“Omigod, he has a terrace!” Jenny gasps. “And that kitchen! Wow. He could put you right up on that island countertop and do you.”

“Jenny! Focus.” The guy on the screen is walking slowly around the room, like a police inspector on a case. The jerk slowly greets every object in his path, handling and studying each of Sniper’s possessions. And as he fondles a book, a photo frame, and a stack of envelopes he’s found on a table, a black dog trails behind him, leash in his mouth, looking forlorn.

“Aw!” I cry. “Poor doggy has his legs crossed, and this asswipe is reading our client’s mail.” My stomach clenches. “This is all my fault.”

And then it actually gets worse. I drop my head into my hands as the creep pulls out his phone and begins taking pictures of Sniper87’s apartment.

“This is not your fault,” Jenny argues, patting my back. “You found him a dog-walking service. It just wasn’t a good one. It happens. Now...” She takes my computer mouse and clicks back to an earlier frame in the video. “Watch this bit again. I think that’s a signed jersey hanging on the wall.”

I raise my head. “Really?” My heart spasms.

“Really.” She points. “There. The glare on the frame makes it a little hard to see. But that’s a sleeve right there. It’s...a Rangers jersey?” 

If anyone could spot that detail—even in black and white—it’s Jenny. She has eyes like a hawk’s. “Wow. Yeah! But that doesn’t prove our theory about him. He might just be a hockey fan. And why would a player hang a signed jersey on his wall?”

“Players are fans, too. That’s probably a Gretzky jersey. Your man Eriksson would have been a kid when Gretzky was at the height of his fame.” 

“You have an answer for everything,” I grumble.

Jenny sniffs. “It would be awfully easy to shut me up, you know. Open his freaking customer file and look already. You’re just torturing both of us.”

“All clients who check the privacy box are entitled to remain that way.”

She rolls her eyes. “Bet you’re sorry you thought of that privacy option when you started the company.”

“It has crossed my mind.”

“Look. It’s honorable that you don’t allow all three dozen Fetchers to know certain clients’ names. But you’re the owner, and he’s trusted you with his name, his address, his Amex black card and his underwear size. The terms of service state that you and Jackson have access to this information. So put yourself out of your misery and look at his file.”

“Another day, maybe,” I say to change the subject. “Right now I need to fix this problem.”

Jenny actually lets out a little growl. “I swear sometimes that you’ve been snatched by aliens. The Hailey I know isn’t a skitternatter.”

“A what?”

“A coward.” I flinch, but she keeps talking. “The Hailey I met a few years ago is a fearless entrepreneur and a go-getter. What happened, honey?”

My divorce, that’s what.

She’s not finished with me, either. “You could meet the man of your dreams, you know. Just call him up and thank him for being such a great client. Introduce yourself and make sure he knows how much you value his big”—she winks—“business.”

“I’m not doing that,” I sputter.

“Why not? You need to get out there again and start meeting men. Techie Tad wants to date you, too. But do you give him the time of day? No.”

“No, he doesn’t.” That’s a ridiculous idea.

Jenny gives me a giant eye roll. “I just watched him invite you out for coffee.

You blew him off.”

“He didn’t mean it like that.”

She puts a hand on my shoulder. “Hailey, he did.”

“No way,” I insist.

“He wears a Toronto cap every time he knows he’ll see you, and I know for a fact he's not a Toronto fan! I heard him tell Dion that he was a Bruins fan.”

“Oh.”

“Now she gets it.”

“I’m kind of slow sometimes.” Techie Tad is a Bruins fan? Even if I were interested in him, it would never work, not with our split loyalties. When it comes to my team, I'm ride or die.

“But you’re only slow about a few things,” she says. “Though I can’t harass you about it anymore right now because I’m off to buy batteries for a man obsessed with his penis. Later.”

“TTFN.”

She leaves, and I turn back to Sniper87’s message. From my terminal, a few keystrokes would reveal his identity. And I’m tempted. But there are two problems with learning the truth.

In the first place, if Sniper87 really isn’t Matthew Eriksson, the hottest, most rugged forward on Toronto’s well-endowed team, I’ll be crushed. The fact that I spend part of each day assisting someone who might be my long-time celebrity crush is easily the most romantic thing in my life right now.

If it isn’t him, I really don’t want to know.

And secondly, if I look up his account, that makes me a creepy stalker, just like the intrusive dog-walker in the video. At the moment I’m just guessing at my client’s identity. It’s a game I invented to amuse myself. But if I actually verified that Sniper87 is truly Matt Eriksson, that crosses a line that shouldn’t be crossed. He’s using Fetch because it promises anonymity. And keeping that promise is a bedrock principle of our business.

Enough with the speculation, anyway. There’s a problem that needs solving. I open up a chat window in our Fetch app.

HTE: Hey, Sniper. I’m SO SORRY about the dog-walker! I will let the service know right away that their employee behaved inappropriately. And obviously Fetch won’t ever hire them again. Watching that video made me ill, and I feel terrible about this.

We only hire services that have four stars or higher, blah blah blah, but it’s really no excuse.

Immediately, telltale dots appear below my message, indicating that he’s typing a reply. And just as immediately I feel an inappropriate tingle in my nether regions. 

Since I’ve done so much work for this client, we chat pretty often. And I enjoy it much more than I should.

Sniper87: Hey, deep breaths! I know Fetch is awesome. Specifically you! That’s why you hear from me so often. And this shit happens to me sometimes. 

I already wrote Wag Walkers a scathing note, firing them. And it’s not your fault, H! I trust you completely. But what are we going to do now? I’m on the road and Rufus needs a walk tonight and tomorrow morning.

HTE: I’m looking for another service as we speak.

Sniper87: Is there any way you could walk him yourself? I know it’s against company policy to enter clients’ homes (learned that when I wanted you guys to put together my kids’ beds) but I’m in a bind here. Heck, you don’t even need to go inside. Open the door with my security code and whistle. Rufus will bring his leash if you use the word “walk.”

I hesitate. And then I hesitate some more.

He’s right about the policy. Our employees do three things: 1) make reservations and other online plans 2) purchase and deliver goods, and 3) hire neighborhood services. That’s what our workers’ comp insurance covers. So we always hire out other tasks. No exceptions.

Yet I’d sent a creeper to this man’s home. If photos of his apartment end up on the internet, I will die of shame.

HTE: All right. How about if I send a trusted employee to walk Rufus. Someone who loves animals.

Sniper87: You are the best ever. Thank you, H.

His words give me a warm, gooey feeling inside. But if Jackson finds out what I’m going to do, he’ll freak.

This will be a stealth mission. Not even Jenny can know.


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