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  • Writer's pictureLarissa Reinhart

#TeaserTuesday 19 CRIMINALS, a romantic comedy mystery

19 CRIMINALS, Maizie Albright Star Detective, a romantic comedy mystery

Bullmastiff cute face

Chapter 6

The purchase of the company car, a gray Chevy Impala, was a small coup for Annie. The Impala symbolized her financial success in building a successful private investigations office. The office expansion and new hires were the bigger coup. Vicki owned Albright Security Solution, but Annie was the real hard-working genius behind it. Previous to the Impala, Annie had focused on digital paper trails: background checks, skip tracing, subpoenas, and due diligence research. When I had proven myself in the field, she pushed us into the infidelity market. Because I drove the dirt bike I received as my fifteenth birthday gift (a long story involving bad credit, lack of funds, and the destruction of a Bronco), Annie had purchased a company car.

When Nash ran Nash Security Solutions, he’d focused on surveillance and security installs with a smattering of paper chase cases. Like me, he’d rather be out in the field than behind a desk. An excellent investigator with great instincts, he closed cases efficiently and quietly. The courts loved his no-nonsense style and attention to detail. For his security work, he relied on word-of-mouth testimony. Never bothered with paid advertisements.

The main difference between Annie and Nash’s business style came down to billing.

Annie focused on getting paid. She loved crunching numbers.

Nash? Not so much. He had no issue hounding debtors professionally. Personally, he’d let his accounts receivable slide. Especially if the client was female and down-on-her-luck. Facing a financial crisis after an expensive hospital stay, Nash had lost his business and now worked for DeerNose Apparel’s security department.

The financial crisis began when he’d hired a down-on-her-luck celebrity who brought enough negative attention to his company—because her ex-manager/still-mother sought to destroy her daughter’s new career in order to force the daughter to return to her old profession, acting—and gotten him blackballed in the business community. His ex-wife didn’t help when she’d opened a competing PI shop to punish him. A shop subsequently bought out by the celebrity’s ex-manager/still-mother and introduced to the burgeoning film industry in Black Pine.

And hired Annie, a.k.a. Scrooge McDuck, to run it.

In other words, I hadn’t the heart to tell Nash about the Impala. Or the expansion. He also thought Tiffany and Rhonda were just hanging out on their days off from LA HAIR.

No idea where he got that idea.

“I know,” I said to Cuddles. “I’m lying to Nash. I’ll tell him when the timing is better. He’s been heartbroken about losing his business and having to work at DeerNose. I’m sure that’s why he’s so focused on whatever case he’s investigating after hours.”

I pulled a twig out of Cuddles’ mouth and bloop-bleeped the key fob for the Impala. Opened the back door, checked the back seat for food and other items Cuddles would consume or destroy, then held my hand out. “Ride?”

The dog leapt into the backseat, sideswiping me. I rose from the sidewalk, shut the car door, and leaned against the car. Took in deep mouthfuls of non-doggy air. And readied myself to play Turner & Hooch.

First stop, the Johnson’s home. Second stop, Kristi’s weekly salon appointment. Third stop, her gym.

“I’m familiarizing myself with her surroundings,” I explained to Cuddles as I drove into the parking lot of Pets And Peeps. “Her daily routine is all over the map, so it’s going to be hard to follow her.”

I turned around in my seat. “Can I leave you alone for a minute? The errand benefits you. I can’t take you inside. This store has live chickens. I don’t have a good feeling about how you will handle that situation.”

Cuddles moaned.

“I know, but you want food, right?”

He shook his jowls.

“No chickens. I’ll be right back.” I cracked the windows and ran into the store. Ten minutes later, I ran out with a buggy full of dog accessories and a twenty-pound bag of food. After storing the food in the Impala’s trunk, I poured water into a bowl and opened the back door.

Cuddles leaped out and charged toward the store. I dropped the water bottle and took off after him. A family of four exited the store, carrying two chickens. They froze on the sidewalk. The daughters and mother screamed. Flapping and squawking, the chickens fought to escape the arms of the children holding them. The family pivoted and ran back toward the doors.

“Cuddles,” I yelled between gasps. “No. Sit. Stay. Heel.”

The doors to Pet And Peeps zipped open. The family scurried inside, losing a chicken in the process. The lone chicken flew into the landscaping next to the building. Cuddles woofed and bounded into the bushes.

Three minutes later, I emerged from the bushes covered in leaves, feathers, and dog slime. But with Cuddles in tow. He climbed into the Impala’s back seat without protest. I set his water bowl on the car mat, shut the door, and leaned against it. Pulled out my phone and called Annie.

“Rescue people?” I said.

“Not yet,” said Annie. “But I did find a dog sitter who specializes in big dogs.”

“When can she start?”

“She’s going to call me back.” Annie paused to pop her gum. “But you’re doing great, kid. Cuddles seemed to like riding in the Jeep last night. Driving him around on stakeouts is no big deal, right?”

“What’s the bad news?”

“What’d you mean?”

“Your voice got weird. You don’t do chipper, Annie. That’s my schtick.”

Annie coughed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Anyway, this shouldn’t take too long.”

“Out with it.”

“I spoke to Amanda Johnson’s lawyer. For pointing the gun at Brian, they could charge her with aggravated assault since Georgia doesn’t have attempted murder. But aggravated assault is actually a harsher penalty. And with the discharge of a weapon in a public place, even pointed at the ceiling…”

“Not good.”

“Bail is set extremely high. Brian froze their accounts. She can’t make bail.”

I glanced through the passenger window. Cuddles had tipped his bowl and was lapping water from the car mat.

“Her arraignment is Monday. Hopefully, some family members will show to help her make bail.” Annie’s voice lightened again. “But you’re doing such a great job with Cuddles. No biggie, right? Just need to get through the weekend.”

“Uh-huh. Just so you know, you’re going to find some unusual charges to the shop’s account,” I said. “We owe a family a chicken. And possibly psychological counseling.”



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