Maid By Mistake by Miley Maine

 

Chapter One

Ava

Asecret underground group that controlled the elite society in Chicago?

It sounded crazy right? It should have been laughable, because it sure sounded like a tabloid headline.

But nobody was laughing.

Mostly the citizens of Chicago just went for extreme denial.

For most of my life, I’d heard the rumor that a good portion of the money in upper-crust Chicago was gained through illegal means. The rumors were whispers, first at school, then online. I’d learned early on that no one in my world wanted to believe it.

I’d asked my mother when she was still alive. She’d smiled at me, and said, “Honey. That’s silly.”

I’d tried my dad next. “People are jealous. They can’t handle their own lack of success, so they have to disparage others,” he’d said.

It wasn’t the mafia, although it sure sounded close enough.

Now I was twenty-four, and the rumors had not been put to rest. In fact, they had only gained more attention.

This group didn’t specialize in prostitution or drugs, like other criminals. People claimed that all the illegal business was mainly conducted through a gambling ring.

But no matter what I Googled, or who I asked, I just couldn’t get any clear answers.

A chime sounded down the hallway, and I brought my focus back to my current reality.

My job.

The smell of burned coffee wafted by and I wrinkled my nose. It was so bad I was tempted to cover my face with my shirt. Mixed with the scent of my coworkers’ overpowering perfume, the smell was positively acrid.

I leaned over, trying to see the source of the problem. It was rare for anyone to make coffee in my office; most people ordered it and had it delivered from upscale cafes.

I pressed my fingers to my eyes. I should be concentrating on my work, but as usual, my heart wasn’t in it. I dropped my head back to rest against my stiff office chair. I blinked at my surroundings. White walls. White rug. White desk, all in a shiny highrise building. I was a junior staff writer at one of the most prestigious fashion magazines in America, headquarters in Chicago.

Great job? Right?

No. Not really. It fucking sucked.

After an hour of writing about the newest floral prints from a hot new designer, boredom had sunk in. I should be thrilled, I was well-aware. I’d gotten to interview that hot new celebrity designer, in person, in a swanky rooftop bar.

Against my better judgment, I got up from my desk and went to my friend's desk. I leaned over and whispered, “I wish I were writing about something interesting.”

Her eyes widened. “They’ll fire you if they hear you say that. I don’t care who your father is.” She bit her lip. “They’re probably recording you right now.”

“I know. I’m ungrateful.” The sad thing was, I didn’t care if they heard me. I didn’t care if I got fired. I also didn’t care if my father got mad that I lost the job he’d handed to me on a silver platter.

“You may not need the paycheck, but I do,” she hissed.

Fair enough. I hadn’t wanted this job. My goal from day one of college was to be an investigative reporter. Actually, my desire started before that. I’d gone on many fact-finding missions in high school, and even gotten myself into trouble with the administration at my private school.

I wanted to tell the truth.

A lot of people didn’t like that, especially not in the gilded world I came from.

I sighed. “I thought I’d be doing real reporting by now.”

She rolled her eyes at me and went back to her keyboard. “That’s what we all thought we’d be doing.”

I got closer to her ear. “You know there’s a gambling ring in Chicago.”

She snapped her gum. “People have been saying that for decades. I think it’s an urban legend.”

“I doubt it. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

“It sounds really boring,” she said.

Boring? How was writing about a crime ring boring?

I couldn't take much more of the monotony. I knew I was being obnoxious, and taking my lifestyle for granted, but I didn’t care anymore. I wanted more. I wanted to write about something that mattered. And fashion did matter -- but not to me.

I pulled open the link on my phone. I’d been looking for other jobs. And tomorrow I had an interview with an online publication that only printed news-worthy stories.

* * *

On the last day of June, I found out I got the job.

I stared at the phone. My new boss had called me.

Fucking finally. I was going to have the chance to do something interesting, something that might make a difference.

But I had to keep it to myself. My dad finding out about my new job was the last thing I needed. Yes, I was twenty-four, but I still lived with my parents. They had convinced me to stay through college, arguing that I’d have a much easier time studying in my comfortable space. Dorm rooms were gross, they’d claimed.

They’d been right about that, but the University of Chicago was strict, and I had to live on campus for the first two years.

Then when I was a junior in college, my mother passed away from a sudden illness. After her death, I’d felt too guilty to leave my father living alone.

So I was now an adult, sneaking around and concealing what I was about to do.

For the new job, I’d had to interview using my real name, but my boss had agreed to let me use a fake name with the rest of the staff. And assuming I ever got a story published, my pseudonym would be the one used in print.

I had pitched my new boss the idea of writing a story about the gambling ring.

He peered at me over his glasses. “You think you can actually get some details.”

“I do.”

“You’re not the first person to pitch this story. Or even the twentieth. It never goes anywhere,” he said. “Never.”

Shit. I had to think quickly. “What if I work on the gambling ring in my free time? And work on another story during work hours?”

“What story?”

“I want to cover the challenge of finding housing for recovering drug addicts.”

It was an issue I had no personal experience with, but my college roommate had. She’d busted her ass to make it to college on a full scholarship.

But she spent half her time trying to manage her family back home in Kentucky. Her mother and two brothers were addicted to opioids. One brother had been injured working as a diesel mechanic, and that was where it started. I’d spent two years watching her try to help them from afar. They’d get arrested for using drugs, spend time in jail, and then be released. But no one would hire them, and no one would let them rent property. Most of the time, the landlords wouldn’t let them even apply.

Then they ended up right where they started -- going back to their previous habits.

“It’s a serious problem!” I insisted.

He flattened his lips. “Fine. Go for it.”

Finally.

“Thank you. I won’t let you down.”

In the weeks after I promised my boss that I wouldn't let him down, I found that was much easier said than done.

I got plenty of content for my housing story. I got interviews with social workers, nurses, doctors, community leaders, teachers and even the mayor.

But no one would talk to me about organized crime, or the gambling ring.

Which wasn’t surprising. I should have been well-aware that no one was going to tell Ava Ackland anything remotely useful. They’d all recognize my dad’s name.

My father owned half of Chicago. He owned a tax advisory and auditing firm called Ackland Financial Group, and he owned a large portion of an airline, as well as various hotels. He was known as a philanthropist, and contributed to several well-known charities. He was always in the papers and being talked up by the media.

While trying to gather sources for my story, I soon realized that my fake name of Amy Smith wasn’t enough to make people trust me. Maybe it was my refined accent? My polished BMW? My thousand dollar suits and five-hundred dollar shoes probably weren’t doing me any favors either.

If I wanted any information, I was going to have to get my hands dirty, that much was obvious.

I liked looking nice in my free time, and I wanted to look professional at work, but I had never really paid much attention to how that happened. I paid for someone to help me shop, and someone to style my hair and choose the makeup that worked best for me.

So it wasn’t enough for me to pull on a brand new pair of cheap jeans and t-shirt. I’d still have clear skin and white teeth and perfectly manicured nails. I was going to have to stop going to the stylist and stop wearing my expensive makeup.

On a Friday night, I went to a thrift store. I’d never been inside a thrift shop before, but I had been to an antique store. The experience was not even remotely the same. The smell was not pleasant. I would have thought they’d require everything to be washed before it was donated, but I’d thought wrong. There was a strong musty smell. And every now and then I caught a whiff of cigarette smoke or pet hair.

I picked through the racks, looking for something that wouldn’t make me look like I was trying too hard. Eventually I found a few pairs of old, washed out jeans and threadbare shirts. I had to be careful -- I knew enough to know I didn’t want to be mistaken for a prostitute.

On Saturday night, I walked the streets.

Pretending to be a drug addict was my best option. A dealer was too dangerous. If I was arrested, any blood tests would come back clean, because I didn’t intend to actually do any drugs, and hopefully I wouldn’t have to buy any either. I just needed to get to know people.

I’d have liked to go to the casinos, but I only knew about the legal ones. And all of those would have dozens of security cameras, ready to record my face. I had to be more discreet than that, at least at first.

If I was arrested, I could probably have my father’s lawyer have the arrest erased from my record. But that was a last resort. I wouldn’t have an arrest for possession of a controlled substance on my permanent record, but my father would be so pissed off. And it would be all over the headlines. I could picture them now:

Multi-millionaire Preston Ackland’s daughter was said to be an up and coming journalist, but her recent arrest shows the truth of where her true interests lie -- heroin.

That would be a fucking nightmare. But the risks were worth it.

The cashier at the store eyed my Louis Vuitton purse.

“That’s a good replica,” she said.

“Thanks.” Her comment was a good reminder that I needed a new purse too. I went back to the racks of clothing and spotted a dingy backpack. I cringed when I picked it up. It was going to be soaking in hot water as soon as I got home.

At least with this disguise, I’d have a chance of finding people who had information on the crime ring. They might not agree to an official interview, but if I got to know them, maybe they’d let something slip.

Fully disguised, I was ready to hit the streets.