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When Jesse Morgan’s boss and best friend died, she inherited Private Spies, a private investigation firm that specializes in missing persons. Unfortunately, she knew little about the business aside from her intensive work on the computer. But if Joey thought she could handle it, she felt obligated to at least give it a try. How hard could it be, right?
So Jesse took on her first case. Very straightforward. This guy is missing, find him. Oh but wait, he also kidnapped his own daughter. Find her too. Still not that hard. Except when she ran his report, the picture she found on his drivers license is of another guy. And when she found a guy who matched the first picture, he had another name. And when she found a girl that looked like the daughter, she didn’t match anything. Not good.
Enter a retired police officer named Byron (really?) who says before Joey died, he hired him to work for them. Ok. This might be helpful. But then came a stalker, and a dead guy, a dead duck and an increasing list of incidents that all seem confusing to Jesse. Up to her eyeballs in threats and questions, Jesse’s outraged when the woman who hired her decides to fire her. Unbelievable! Unable to stop at that point, Jesse is determined to find the guy and solve the case. If only it was as easy as it sounded.
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Did you ever walk into the bathroom late at night and have a sudden urge to jerk back the shower curtain? Don’t do it. Run. Giving in to those sudden urges can be a real mistake. Trust me.
Wait. You don’t know me yet. Let me start at the beginning. Ever have one of those days where nothing goes the way it should and you spend more time explaining and apologizing than you do getting things right? I’ve been having one of those years. Mom says I’m having a mid-life crisis. I say thirty-four is way too young for that but according to Mom I did everything early. Never mind that she was referring to things like dropping out of college, getting married, getting divorced. Those kinds of things. I’ll never admit it out loud, but I’m beginning to wonder if maybe she’s right.
In the last month, I’ve buried my partner and best friend, inherited the business from him (much to Mom’s dismay), and figured out that I don’t know beans about running a private investigation agency. See, I’ve been different from birth. My older sister Caroline was Mom’s little princess. Dad figured the next delivery would be his bouncing baby boy but he got me instead. Mom let him know there’d be no baby number three, so he did the only thing he could do. He passed his wealth of male knowledge on to me. While my sister took ballet lessons, I was down the street at the karate school. When Caroline and Mom hit the malls, Dad and I hit the baseball, football and basketball games. Mom drew the line at the World Wrestling Federation. We had to watch that on television at home.
So it really shouldn’t have surprised anybody that Caroline grew up with a circle of frilly friends who practiced makeup and hairstyle techniques at sleepovers while I caught crawdads in the creek with Joey Catronio. Seemed perfectly natural to me. But all good things come to an end and Joey and I had to grow up. At least in theory.
Being the obedient children that we were, we headed off to college. I think that’s where our parents’ plans really started to go awry. Joey figured out he’d never make it into medical school if he couldn’t pass chemistry and I figured out I didn’t like college at all. So Joey changed his major to computer science and I quit and did the next expected thing. I got my MRS degree. I figured I’d already disappointed both of my parents. Mom wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer or at least something important. Dad kept hoping I’d buy a ranch and revive the old West. I didn’t think I was likely to do either, but maybe marriage was something I could do right. At least it was respectable and my husband was a banker. That’s good, right?
Unfortunately, he wasn’t all that respectable after all. Two years after the wedding at the ripe old age of twenty-two, I decided to surprise him at the office and take him to lunch. I surprised him all right. His secretary, too. Silly me. When she wasn’t at her desk, I just barged right in to his office. He was all comfortable, rocked back in that big leather chair. Too bad he hit her in the face with his knee when the chair hit the floor. Talk about being caught with your pants down. Probably dropped something under his desk and, like a dutiful secretary, she was picking it up. Right.
Always ready to do the wifely thing, I hurried over to help him zip his pants. He probably didn’t realize his fly was open. Damned if I didn’t screw up again, though. How was I supposed to know you have to tuck Mr. Wiggly back in the jockeys before you zip up? I can still hear that strange yowling noise he made almost fourteen years later. Still see Lucy’s face, too. Man, was she surprised. Or maybe she was just annoyed about the huge hole in her pantyhose when she got up off the floor. I swear I don’t know how that letter opener got close enough to do that much damage. Maybe if she wore dresses long enough to cover her ass that sort of thing wouldn’t happen.
In the meantime, Joey graduated from college and started his own business. Private Spies. Catchy name, huh? A classic computer geek, he’d found his niche. Amazingly enough, he did pretty good business. With a huge web site he updated almost every day, he advertised world wide that he could find anybody, anywhere, if the price was right. And most of the time, he could. Some people, my mother included, thought it was a shady business, but it was legal. Mostly.
When Joey invited me to join him, I knew I’d found my dream job. I could sit in front of my computer all day. I could wear jeans and cowboy boots. I could set my own hours. Besides all that, I got business cards with my name on them. Never got those working at Wal-Mart. That was five years ago, and I’ve been there ever since. I even have my own parking space at the office. How cool is that? It has my name on it. Jesse Morgan. It’s really Jesse Morgan Jackson, but I don’t talk about that last part much. My parents are strange, naming me Jesse when they knew what their last name was.
Now that Joey has passed, parking in the space beside his every day was still unsettling, even though the building super removed his name for me. I’d offered the space to Bernice, our secretary, receptionist and jack-of-all-trades but she wouldn’t have it. Honestly, after Joey died, I’d thought about selling out. Thought about it hard. Then I figured, it’s all I have left of Joey and he loved it. Besides, what was I supposed to do? Go back to work at Wal-Mart? I inherited my dad’s poker face. What I didn’t know, I could bluff my way out of.
Determined to make it work, I crossed the room to flip on my computer. It seemed odd in there with no lights and no Bernice. Her desk sits right in front of the door with an assortment of chairs scattered around a big coffee table. Not that we had many walk in clients, but you never know. Mine and Joey’s occupied opposite corners in the back.
I settled into the chair behind my desk and started sorting and stacking piles, making a clear space to work, then picked the stacks off Joey’s desk and spent the rest of the afternoon making new ones. Things for Bernice to file, people to call, cases to close, bills to pay, invoices to send. When the phone rang, interrupting my intense concentration, I nearly jumped out of my skin.