The woman nodded. But you don't think so? She was a foster kid so she doesn't have any family, and her job wasn't an exciting, high-flying one. It was kinda dull. They think maybe she got bored, and she met some guy and took off. But I know her. She's my best friend. Marissa wouldn't go anywhere without telling me first. There's no chance she met a guy? Decided to take off and do something different with her life?
People changed their lives on a whim sometimes. She broke up with her last boyfriend two years ago and she wasn't into dating. Said she was fed up with losers. I pondered that. Worst-case scenario? She was dead already. Okay, there's a form I need you to fill out, I told her. I need to review the case with the agency before I can tell you if we'll take it.
Agency policy, I told her, trying to be gentle. How would I feel if my best friend, Lily, disappeared? I walked over to the cabinet, unlocked it with the small key on my key chain and extracted the missing persons form, with the Solomon Agency logo printed in the top right corner. It was four sheets long and asked for a litany of information, anything from the basics of name, date of birth, and address, to work history, friends, known disagreements, passport and bank details. I handed it to the woman and she flipped through it quickly.
I don't know the answers to some of these, but I can get them.
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Fill in what you know now, I said, and bring in the rest whenever you can. As soon as possible. We talk over potential cases every day. It went like this. Sometimes it took more effort, like in a custody case; and sometimes it was something we didn't want to touch, like a stalker who wanted more information about the person he was obsessing over. I sat in on a meeting like that with Solomon and it still gave me the heebie-jeebies.
If we got a bad feeling, or suspected something of a serious criminal nature, we'd pass it on to the police. This was probably the only area where I trumped my colleagues; although each one of us had contacts with the local police. I had nineteen serving family members in the Montgomery Police Department. The retired ones pushed the count even higher. I don't have a lot of money, Elisabeth said, once she finished filling in all the details she knew and passed the form back to me.
I scanned her neat writing. But I need to know Marissa's okay. Understood, I said, passing her the client request sheet. Write your details down here and someone will give you a call.
Who Glares Wins (Lexi Graves Mystery, book 2) by Camilla Chafer
I opened the door for Elisabeth, and she paused, her eyes suddenly frightened. Please take the case, she said, reaching for my hand. Waves of worry poured from her. I don't have anywhere else to turn. Do you have a best friend? Elisabeth asked me, stopping in the doorway. I only had a moment to steady myself to avoid crashing into her.
If she disappeared and everyone told you not to bother looking, would you? Especially if you thought something bad might have happened to her? The pain on her face, combined with the slight pressure of her hand on my arm, implored me to say no. I spent the next hour at my desk, studying the forms Elisabeth Fong filled out. She knew most of the basics. Marissa Widmore was a twenty-eight-year-old college drop out.
Series: Lexi Graves Mysteries
She didn't stay at any job longer than a year, according to Elisabeth, who had filled out six years of work history. It was mostly blue collar: waitressing, shop work, some office temping. Nothing that would say, this salary is too big to turn my back on. Marissa didn't have any next of kin listed; instead, Elisabeth had added her own details. Marissa lived in Frederickstown, a poor, but nice neighborhood. You could leave your car parked on the street and come back to find it still had all its wheels, although you might think twice about walking around after dark.
The population was predominantly lower-income families, young couples just starting out, singles who couldn't afford anywhere better, and retirees who'd never made much progress up the salary scale. The deal was simple. You started out in Frederickstown, but you didn't want to end up in it for life. If you aimed really high, you'd choose a house in Bedford Hills, a neighborhood of large homes on spacious lots, with their own indoor gyms, pools and often, staff; or Chilton, if you preferred the old brownstone buildings. Mostly, families and couples moved to places like West Montgomery, where I lived , a nice area made up of small, converted apartment buildings and single-family dwellings.
Singles usually moved to Montgomery Central and bought neat, boxy apartments close to the restaurants, coffee shops and buildings where they worked. By the time they addressed it, the area had already ghettoized and was poor. It might be hard to abandon a really nice home that you'd made your own, but most people didn't have much of a problem leaving Frederickstown behind.
No boyfriend listed, but there was a name and address for the guy Marissa had been seeing up until a couple of years ago. Three friends were listed and Elisabeth included their phone numbers and addresses. There was no current employment, which I found odd, because already, I got the impression that Marissa was a grafter. She might not stay in a job long, but she always had one.
She couldn't afford not to. Plus, judging by her eclectic work history, she had a lot of transferable skills. I peeled off a bright yellow, sticky note, wrote job? I could see why the police hadn't looked any further. Other than Elisabeth, Marissa didn't have any strong ties to Montgomery. No important job, no nice apartment, no boyfriend. No future to look forward to. Except that last bit was only an assumption.
Who knew what hopes and dreams Marissa had? Mid-afternoon, just when I was getting bored and half of my colleagues had disappeared, I got a call from Jim, telling me Elisabeth had dropped off an envelope.
Get A Copy
I collected it, and waited until I was back in my chair before I slid my thumb under the flap and tore it open. The second form was completely filled out, including bank information, the type of car Marissa drove, and the plates. Entering the password into my laptop, I called up a couple of programs Solomon installed. One was a credit check agency and I ran background checks on Marissa, first, then on Elisabeth.
I knew Elisabeth didn't have a lot of money because she said so, but it never hurt to know what her financial patterns were, especially if we took the case. The search for Marissa now moved to whether there was anything unusual to flag. Had she taken out a loan? Or gotten a new credit card? Did her spending exceed her income? Was she making payments for anything unusual?
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Or had she withdrawn all her money recently? Those sorts of things. Next, I placed a call to Maddox, my number one police contact, and the man voted most likely—in my head, anyway—to turn my insides mushy. He answered after a couple of rings. This is a nice surprise, he said, in a warm voice. I heard a loud creak and imagined him leaning back in his chair, amidst paperwork that had already passed from one detective to another strewn across an ancient desk, its wood scored over many decades.
The steady hum of background chatter filtered down the line. Hi, Adam, I said, my stomach doing a little flop at the sound of his voice. It's a work call, sorry. You're going to ask me to check on something or do something. I want to trade. I imagined the smile in his eyes. You're a terrible snitch. What do you want? I smiled to myself. No matter how often I bugged Maddox over the past couple of months, he always helped out.
Usually with a suggestion, like how to tail someone without being seen, or easy tells for liars. Sometimes, however, I called him just because I liked hearing his voice. After all, there were plenty of other people I could call at MPD, and we both knew it. Sure, he agreed, not bothering to lecture me on the legality, or lack thereof, for a PI to request confidential information from a cop. I gave him the plate and hung up when he said he would call me back on my cell phone.
Talking to Maddox was pleasurable and I suspected he knew it. Elisabeth and Marissa's financial reports wouldn't be back for a while, so I powered down my laptop and locked it in my desk drawer. I'm out of here, I said, waving to Lucas, computer wonderboy, and Tony Delgado, an ex-military man built like a linebacker, before leaving. I preferred taking the back stairs to walk down to the underground parking lot we shared with the other occupants of the building.
Solomon was on his way up. I spotted his ultra-short, black hair bobbing up the stairs as he took them two at a time. He came into view only a moment before he saw me. I'm heading out, I told him, as I paused on the small half-landing. Today, they were paired with a dark knit, v-neck sweater, its narrow incline exposing a black t-shirt with just a hint of dark skin.
Over his shoulder, he carried a backpack. I wondered where he'd been the past couple of hours, and if it had anything to do with his conversation with Fletcher. I noticed they both disappeared while I attended to Elisabeth. Solomon raised his eyebrows, eyeing me over as he climbed the last two steps, and came to a stop next to me.
He was looking down at me expectantly. I waited for him to tell me that it wasn't working out, or that Fletcher was right, and I really wasn't cut out for sleuthing, but he just nodded. The corners of his lips edged into a smile, the kind of smile to make a heart forget its job. I can see that. Solomon employed everyone on a flexible-hours basis. The idea was simple. Cases like the ones the agency took were not on a nine-to-five daily basis, so neither were we.
However, if, for instance, surveillance was needed in the evening, we had to do it, and weekends were never off limits. On the plus side, sleeping in wasn't a problem, and I could take off for a day or two, as long as nothing was happening. Despite my years of office work and keeping regular hours, I liked this new arrangement much better, regardless of the haphazard hours. Even though he was, because I had to nip the insides of my cheeks to stop the smile that nearly appeared. I shook my head. None yet. The police aren't interested apparently, but her best friend thinks there's something off.
I see no reason for the woman to vanish, and no reason for her not to. I lifted one shoulder in a shrug and let it drop. Bring it to the meeting tomorrow. Solomon's daily office meeting was the time when we talked through various cases and their merits, before deciding on our workloads. It wasn't completely obligatory, but it also wasn't ignored. I may have something for you as well. Solomon nodded and turned away to continue mounting the stairs. I breathed a sigh of relief. Still had a job. I tried not to feel guilty about stretching the truth. It was true that I was going to check on a couple of things.
For one, I wanted to run by Marissa's place and see if anything stuck out. Solomon, however, did not need to know that. Solomon and I maintain a strictly professional relationship. Not long ago, when we worked our first case together, and before Solomon started his own company, there was some kissing involved—very, very nice kissing.
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