Damn. Damn. Damn.
He hated starting a day with James' voice shrieking at him over the recorder, strident and bitchy.
''Jefferson Austin Bonham! You have a 10 o'clock client. You get your butt out of bed and get in this office!''
Ty shook his head, hurrying down Sixth Street, the cars whizzing by. He'd make it with fifteen minutes to spare -- check his email, check his messages, drink a decent cup of coffee and get his notes together.
Not optimal, but not bad.
He turned and headed up the steps of the little, pseudo-renovated Victorian house his company shared with three others -- a painter, a counselor, an animal psychic and an image consultant/advertising designer/book illustrator/please give me more work my rent is due. He nodded at Shelly and the... fuzzy beast she was carrying and took the stairs to the third floor.
''Hey, James. I made it.''
James looked up, bleached blond spikes standing in wild patterns, shocking pink tie screaming and ugly and somehow working. Shit, the man was brilliant. An utter flake, but brilliant. ''You did, Jefferson, darling. I'm so proud.''
''Bitch.'' He grinned and winked, heading into his office and opening a window. ''Coffee?''
''Of course, darling. Your mother called. She is an unpleasant woman in the mornings.''
He snorted. ''She's an unpleasant woman, period, and she hates you. What did she say?''
''That your name is Austin. That your sister is pregnant. That she was considering coming for a visit.'' James leaned in the doorway, freakishly long and lean, eyes rolling. ''Tell me it's a lie.''
''That my name's Austin? She just regrets naming me after Daddy. That Dawn is knocked up? Probably. That she's coming to visit?'' He shuddered, reached for the coffee. ''I'll have her stay with you.''
''Excuse me? Am I early?'' The voice came from the outer office, but James blocked his view. It had a distinct drawl, though.
''Go. Caffeinate and muffin him. I'll be five minutes, tops.'' He shooed James out, whispering the orders. He gulped down the coffee, made sure the black shirt was tucked into the black pants that fell on the perfectly shined black shoes. He was so avant-garde he made his own butt itch.
A quick clean of his glasses and he was ready, opening the office door and nodding, hand held out. ''Good morning. Sorry, I had a bit of business to complete. I'm Jefferson Bonham.''
''Well, I'll be damned. So you are.'' Warm and callused, the man's hand closed over his, shaking firmly. ''Had no idea this was what you'd be doing.''
He tilted his head, looked up into a vaguely familiar face and blinked. It took him a second to recognize one of the guys he'd gone to school with, back home. Well, gone to school with was a bit of an exaggeration, but they were both theoretically enrolled at the same time. Damn. ''No? Most people tell me they can't imagine me doing anything else.''
It was the smile that made the name pop into his head. Abraham Lyons. That smile hadn't changed one bit. The hair might be shaggier, more blonde, the face more mature and the body a heck of a lot more filled out, but the smile was the same.
Wicked. Rotten to the core.
''Yeah? Even your momma? I tell you what, you done well for yourself.''
''Oh, my! It's like old home week without the old or the home! Jefferson, darling, you didn't tell me you knew our newest client! I'd have given him the decent coffee.''
Ty shot James a look. ''Go pick swatches for the photo shoot this afternoon, please.''
James fluttered, the pout obvious and meant to make him smile.
''Come into my office and we can chat about what you need.'' And maybe he could suggest a barber while he was at it. His own hair was probably back to about what it had been in high school -- cut close to the scalp, just the barest fuzz to make sure people understand it wasn't bald, it was fashion.
Abraham followed him in, waiting for the door to click shut before he spoke again. ''That's some assistant you got there, Tiny.''
His hackles rose up and he forced himself not to snarl. Twenty years and a hundred miles and his sister's stupid nickname for Austin still haunted him. ''I go by Jefferson these days, Abraham, and James is energetic, but a fabulous administrator.''
Jefferson or Jeff or Austin or Ty -- pick one. Not Tiny. Not.
''How is Dawn these days, anyway?'' Abraham had dated Dawn for a bit, for as long as Dawn had dated anyone back then. Damn the man, he was laughing, those greeny-gray eyes dancing. He had to remind himself that it probably wasn't mean spirited.
The boy Abraham had been had laughed at everyone. Including himself.
He waved Abraham into a chair, found his own, set just a little taller than the others because being a short guy sucked. ''She's married, has two little ones. They own a floral shop back home. Your family is all well?''
Okay, let's see. Open the laptop, take notes.
''Momma's fine. She got married again, popped out four more kids. Daddy? Who know. Junior's in jail.''
''Oh.'' Figured. That son of a bitch was born nasty. ''I'm sorry to hear that.''
God knew his image consulting wasn't good enough to get a man out of the pen. Well...
Maybe with the right PR person and a decent suit...
''Why? If I had my way that son-of-a-bitch would be in the chair, not pissing in the paint they put on license plates.''
Abraham shrugged. ''Well, so much for catching up, yeah? Guess you ought to know what I want.''
''Well, the psychic works downstairs and she only works with dogs, cats and the occasional houseplant, so yes. Please. How can I help you?''
''I own my own business. I do renovation work. So far I've done mostly private residences, but I'd like to get into historical business buildings and such, and I need...'' Here Abraham blushed. ''I kinda need an image re-do.''
''Hmm... so you do the Bob Villa thing? Okay. Okay, I can work with that. Who sent you to me and what do you want to become? I mean, are you going for wealthy, sophisticated?'' Well, a haircut and a new suit would dehickify the man in short order. Hell, if that was what Abraham was here for? He had years of experience.
Snorting, Abraham crossed one booted foot over one knee. ''Tiny, I ain't ever gonna be that. I'd just settle for trustworthy with things rich folks own.''
''Jefferson.'' He looked over the top of his glasses. ''Honestly, I'm far from little anymore.''
Hell, five nights a week at the gym minimum? He was short, but built like a brick shit house. Not Tiny. Damn it. Irritating redneck. ''Is there a specific building you've got your sights set on?''
''Well, bids are about to come due on the old courthouse complex. They're turning it into a museum. I'd love to get my hands on that. I'm not looking to become an overnight suit, like you are. But my firm's never done a project of that size, and we've never had to work so closely with the old ladies' aid societies.'' Abraham looked him over, the appraisal frank. ''And yeah, Tiny doesn't suit like it used to.''
''Well, we all grow up, don't we? The suit is part of that, and, I guarantee, it takes more than overnight.'' He pondered, jotting down notes. ''Well, honestly, I think the first thing we need is a plan – a little time with a stylist, a little time with a few reporters and speaking for a few important groups, then we'll work the whole package -- I'll need business cards, letterhead, that sort of thing. Who's your backing?''
''John Hymon. What do you mean, stylist?''
''Oh, John's a good man. I've done a lot of work for him.'' He typed up a couple more notes. Maybe Bev Shire would be available to meet with them, get Abraham into some decent clothes and... ''Hmm... what's your schedule like? The Grand Republic Ladies are looking for a speaker on architecture two weeks from yesterday and if we can, I'd love you to take it on.''
Haircut, too. Maybe... no, definitely a manicure and a facial.
When all he got was silence as an answer, he looked up to see Abraham staring at him.
''Well, you do work fast. I'd be glad to. I do have a degree in it. But if you think for one minute I'll let someone make up my face and ‘do’ my hair, you got a problem.''
''I don't think you'll require makeup, although a facial wouldn't hurt.'' He rolled his eyes at the look on Abraham's face. ''Trust me, you'll still be a boy afterwards.''
''Well, why a facial? I mean, I work. Shouldn't I look like it?'' Abraham sat up, foot thumping on the floor. He started playing with Ty's paperclip holder.
''You need to split the difference. These people are vaguely terrified of blue-collar people. Besides, it's good for your skin.'' He almost chuckled. Nervous much? Christ.
He got a dark look. ''I won't give up my boots.''
He did laugh then. ''Christ, man. I swear you don't have to stop being a redneck. Chill out.''
''A leopard doesn't change his spots, Tiny. I may have gotten an education, but I'm still a redneck, no shit.'' Abraham sighed. ''This was a bad idea, yeah?''
Oh, now, he didn't figure the man'd give up that easy. ''Well, if you're already giving up? Then, yeah. It was a bad idea and you should tell John you aren't up to it. And my name isn't Tiny.''
''Aren't you supposed to be working for me, if I pay you? Aren't I a client? I think maybe you should be willing to meet me halfway, too. No facial. I'll go to a real barber and get a real shave if that makes you happy.''
''You'll go to the salon I send you to and they can do the happy shave and a haircut thing.'' Hard-headed son of a bitch. ''And yeah, I'll be working for you. I'm the best at what I do and John knows it. Be grateful I'm not charging you a hundred bucks everytime you get my name wrong.''
This? Was almost fun.
''Haircut?'' Brows snapping together, Abe stood, leaning on his desk. ''What's wrong with my hair?''
''Well, nothing if you're a twenty year old surfer or an underwear model, but unless you're suddenly changing careers? You need to deshag a little.'' He tapped his pencil against his bottom lip, fighting his smile with everything in him. ''You might consider an eyebrow wax too.''
''You want me to trim my pubes too, Tiny? Maybe wax my ass?'' The man just kept pushing...
''That would be up to you and your personal stash of sex toys, Abie. I personally don't give a shit whether you do or not, unless you reckon you'll yank 'em out at the ladies' luncheon.''
Oh, Christ. Take a fucking breath, man. He's a client.
Abraham hooted, sitting back and looking triumphant as hell. ''I knew you still had it in you somewhere, Tiny.''
''It's Jefferson, jackass. And you owe me $100. Now, can you manage a fitting for real clothes in the next few days.'' Bastard. Ty was going to kick his ass.
''And I'm Abe, buddy. Not Abie, Redneck, or Jackass. When you get it right, I will. You schedule all your claptrap and have sissy boy out there give me a call. But be prepared to meet me over supper.''
Abe got up and pulled out his wallet, flinging two hundred dollar bills down on the top of his desk. ''There. Now I'm ahead of the game for the next time. You've got my number.''
He took the bills and pocketed them. Stubborn motherfucker. Damn. ''I'll have James call you, Abraham.''
Grinning back over his shoulder, Abe sauntered out, ass just swinging. ''You just do that, Jefferson. See you then.''
The urge to throw a pencil at the door when it closed was completely and totally undeniable.
Not near as satisfying as whapping Abe a good one, but it would work.
After about ten minutes of sitting and blinking and fuming, Ty stood, went to the door. ''James? You want steak for lunch? We? Have a client to makeover.''