Title: Kissing in Action
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When Lexi gets the gig to find the blackmailer extorting thousands of dollars from the country’s hottest girl band, it’s a dream come true. However, rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous isn’t as much fun as she hoped. Instead of four cool young women with a squeaky clean image eager to aid her investigation, Lexi is faced with squabbling and fighting and a band who will do just about anything to hinder her search for the truth. Before she even gets started, disaster strikes and one of the band is found dead, a knife in her back. Has the blackmailer graduated to murder?
With one of the band dead, and another the chief suspect, Lexi must unveil the secrets the band are hiding from their adoring public. As their secrets slowly come out, and the press descend on Montgomery, Lexi must find the culprit and fast, before disaster strikes again.
While the band have serious problems to contend with, Lexi’s personal life takes a puzzling turn as her boyfriend-slash-boss, and best friend, start behaving very strangely. Lexi must find out what’s going on with the two most important people in life and hold down the trickiest investigation of her career.
I was sitting in my car, my camera in my lap, on a cold and gray morning when two strange women caught my eye. Both wore panama hats and trench coats that were buttoned to the neck with their collars turned up. One wore unfeasibly large sunglasses. The other had a mustache. The mustache was fake, and really didn't suit my mother. The Panama hat, however, did look good on my best friend-slash-sister-in-law, Lily.
Since I had no idea what the two of them might have been doing, I decided my best option was to call Lily.
"Hey," I said, when Lily answered. Through my zoom lens, I watched her lift the phone to her ear while she pressed her back against the wall. My mother leaned against the wall too, then opened her purse and retrieved a newspaper, which she held to her face. I repressed a sigh. Fortunately, she didn't cut eyeholes in it.
"Hey, you," I cooed, "Whatcha doin'?"
"Who? Me?" asked Lily.
"Um, yes." I frowned, zooming into the panicked look on Lily's face. She mouthed my name to my mother, now headless behind the newspaper. If she mouthed anything back, however, it was lost on me.
"Nothing. Absolutely nothing."
"Where are you?"
"Oh, just hanging out. Downtown."
I narrowed my eyes at her through the lens at her blatant lie. "I might just meet you. Do you want to get a coffee?"
"Me? No. No, definitely not."
"You don't have time for coffee?"
"I'm doing—" There was a long pause, during which, I watched Lily whip out a pair of binoculars from her trench coat and focus on something further down the street. I followed her line of sight with my camera. There was only one man on the street. He wore blue jeans, a black, zip-up hoodie, and a blue ball cap and carried a small, canvas gym bag. He didn't look familiar. "—Something really important," Lily finished.
"Just bar stuff. Um, new cocktail recipes. I'm also thinking of jazzing up the cocktail menu. Maybe even adding some snacks."
"I'd love to help!"
"No can do. This is highly specialized work."
"Okay. Well, maybe I'll call my mom and see if she wants to go out for brunch."
"Your mom's busy."
"How do you know?"
"I just saw her!" Lily shrugged and mouthed something incomprehensible at my newspaper-masked mother. "What is this, Lexi? Twenty questions? You private investigators! Always on the job!"
"Great to chat! Gotta go!" Lily hung up.
"Weirdos," I said to my cell phone as I tossed it onto the passenger seat and took another look at the man in the ball cap. He scanned the area around him before entering the public library. I lost him for a moment, but saw him again through the long picture window over the main entrance. He took the stairs to the second floor and retreated into the non-fiction section, only to be lost from view. I refocused my camera onto my mom and Lily just in time to see them exiting the alley and hurrying along the street. They stopped outside the pharmacy, looking around, and appearing confused. There were some hand gestures and both held binoculars over their eyes as they scanned the street.
I grabbed my phone and called Lily again.
"Yeah?" she said when she answered.
"How's the cocktail menu going?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Your new cocktail menu."
"Oh yeah! That! Great! Just great! Listen, we'll have to catch up..."
"Are you following a guy in a blue ball cap?"
"No! No! Where did you get that idea? What a bizarre thing to ask! Crazy! But just out of interest, did you see where he went?"
"The public library. He's on the second floor and just disappeared into the non-fiction section."
"Awesome, thanks, but no, I'm not following him. Crazy. Bizarre."
"I'm not going to ask, but that guy in the ball cap is now on his way out. Say hi to my mom," I replied before hanging up, and smiling.
I watched Lily and my mom speak briefly as they flapped around in a moment of heightened panic. Both of them collided, then darted to opposite sides of the library doors, concealing themselves just as the man exited. I noticed he no longer carried his bag. Apparently, Lily and my mom noticed it also because they both dashed inside. Through the viewfinder, I followed them upstairs and continued watching as they rushed around the library. After a couple of minutes, my mom reappeared, holding the bag aloft and they high-fived.
"It just gets weirder and weirder," I said out loud. Part of me wanted to call and demand to know what crazy thing they were involved in, but a bigger part of me didn't want to get roped into any of that lunacy. I’d had enough crazy in my life recently. After just completing a simple surveillance case: two full weeks of sitting on my ass in my VW while a shady employee stole and sold his employer's electronic products to pawn shops, I was looking forward to a nice little commission for the simple job and help put a bad guy in jail. Truth was, while some cases were complicated, and fully worthy of snatching every waking moment of my attention, I enjoyed doing the smaller jobs. They were safer. They didn't risk getting me kidnapped, or shot at, or anything else that might turn me into a nervous wreck, or force me to wear flats everyday in order to sprint faster if the situation turned scary.
Now, with my camera full of evidence on the seat next to me, and my mom and Lily out of view, I gunned the engine and headed back to the Solomon Detective Agency, ready to close another case.
"Sweetheart, I've got the best job in the world for you! It's not even dangerous!"
Considering some of the jobs I completed during my employ at the private detective agency I worked for, somehow, I doubted it. Nevertheless, I liked the enthusiasm of my boss-slash-boyfriend, Solomon. He was a terrific-looking man. Tall, handsome, closely-shaven black hair, skin like melted chocolate — and every bit as lickable — and eyes that sparkled when he was happy. He also gave me my first lucky break when I was at a crossroads in my life. Our current relationship developed later, but both facets of it were just as important to him. To some, working for your boyfriend might be a turnoff. To me, it was a bonus.
"No, really," Solomon continued when I merely raised my eyebrows before returning my attention to the online sale I currently browsed. "It's a dream job. Something you'd kill for."
"Is it posing as a mystery shopper with an unlimited credit card that never needs paying back?" I asked hopefully. At least seventeen pairs of heels had my name on them; and a job like that would have come in very useful right about now. I pushed my file towards him. "I closed the case and I'm ready for something juicy like that."
"No, but close. Quite close. Okay, nowhere near close," he admitted, taking the file and tucking it under his arm.
"Ugh!" I said, removing fifteen pairs from my basket.
I looked up again. "What?"
"Where's your enthusiasm?"
"I left it at home."
"You are going to love this case."
I had to wonder at Solomon's enthusiasm. He didn't usually get so excited about our steady influx of surveillance jobs, or crimes that the police couldn't solve. Whatever it was had to be juicy. That, if nothing else, now captured my attention. "Does it involve serial killers?" I asked, suspicion tingeing my voice. Three months ago, we solved a missing persons case that turned out to be a ruse by a prolific serial killer. He attempted to dupe us into seeking a victim who escaped, while he turned his attentions on me. I escaped too, and his prior victim got a book deal out of it. He got a jail deal: life. The case managed to earn the detective agency a lot of attention, as well as several new cases.
"Will I get shot, stabbed, or kidnapped?"
I sighed. "On a scale of one to ten, how likely are any of those things to happen?"
The corners of his lips twitched. "Between one and three."
I sighed again.
"Those are good odds!"
"Does it involve dressing up?"
"Oh, thank heavens." I breathed a sigh of relief. I was thinking back to an ill-advised decision a couple of years ago when my best friend, Lily, and I masqueraded as both ends of a plush pony in order to catch a bad guy. Since then, Lily married my brother and bought several other disguises, while I got duped by a master criminal, but managed to escape a serial killer. At least, I could never again say my life was boring. I couldn't say Lily's was either, not when I remembered what I caught her doing earlier.
"Unless you want to wear really nice clothes. We may have a budget."
My attention was all his. "Okay, what is it?"
"We're going to be working with the risk management team on our highest profile case yet."
I had yet to work with the risk management team, so that was very interesting news... and high profile? I folded the lid of my laptop, offering Solomon my undivided attention. "Go on."
"We've been called in by B4U to provide security and help with a..."
"B4U? As in, the hot, sensational girl band, B4U?"
"As in the megabucks-loaded, after a super-famous meteoric ride to the top, platinum-selling B4U?"
"If that's what it says on Wikipedia, then yes."
B4U were the hot young sensation sweeping the country. Their uplifting beats and catchy lyrics, combined with gorgeous looks and all the latest fashions guaranteed them a skyrocket ride to success. They were assembled six years ago for a role on a kids' TV channel. It soon became a huge sensation, spawning two TV movies, one sellout tour, and three albums with several number one hits. My niece, Chloe, loved them. I tried but failed to get Chloe tickets to their concert for her birthday. Now I was about to become the best aunt in the history of the universe thanks to an all-access pass to the band. Screw serial killers, this was one hot gig!
"Why don't they already have a security team?" I asked. Actually, I knew very well they did after seeing a photo online of two of the band divas recently. They were on a shopping trip and surrounded by giants clad in black B4U t-shirts.
"They do. They need something else from us."
"It's not just a simple security job, although we'll be providing those services too."
"Alongside their security?"
"Possibly, in place of," Solomon replied.
"Sounds fishy. What's up with their people?"
"I'm getting to that!"
I paused, almost impatient for Solomon to begin speaking again. "Please continue," I said just as he opened his mouth. He gave me a look. I gave him one back. He probably liked it, but he didn't say.
"They are currently experiencing some problems and need an outside agency to help out. They don't trust their own team; so we're going to aid them while they're in town. Apparently, they're filming a new video here, as well as performing in a concert. They got here four days ago and will be on a layover for two weeks."
"Montgomery is going to be a heaving mass of teens screaming for the next two weeks," I sighed. "I'll probably be late for work every day. I think it's reasonable to let you know that in advance."
"Get up earlier," was Solomon's response. "And it won't be that bad."
"Have you seen their fans? They could break glass with their shrill screaming. I heard their fans blew out some windows at the last book-signing for their latest biography."
"I'm glad you know all this stuff because you'll be working directly with them."
"I've never been a security guard before. Will I have to wear flats? Also, I'll need a B4U t-shirt in a size small, along with four tickets to their concert."
"You won't be a security guard now either, and you can wear whatever you like. Why do you need tickets to their concert?" He paused, smiling, with a glint in his eye that he never showed my male colleagues. I was pretty happy about that. It would have raised some interesting questions if he did. "I'm very happy to supply you with a small t-shirt. I won't even ask why you need it for the job. I'm hoping you're just trying to blend in."
"The shirt is for my niece and it's a deal breaker if I don't get it. If my family should happen to find out I'm working with B4U, and I fail to use my powers to gain access to their exclusive merchandise, my niece will be devastated! I'll probably have to tell my mother and she might mention it to you..."
"Consider it done," Solomon said quickly. "I'll get you whatever you need."
"Four tickets and some signed CDs," I added quickly. "Perhaps a brief cameo in their video..."
"Don't push it."
"Okay. What will I be doing?"
"It's a simple investigation. All you need to do is find out who is blackmailing the band."
"Tell me everything!"