Authors: Camilla Chafer
Laugh Or Death
Lexi Graves Mysteries, Book 6
Copyright: Camilla Chafer
Published: September 2014
The right of Camilla Chafer to be identified as author of this Work has been asserted by her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
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Lexi Graves Mysteries:
Armed & Fabulous
Who Glares Wins
Shock and Awesome
Weapons of Mass Distraction
Laugh or Death
Stella Mayweather Series (Urban Fantasy):
When a broken man arrives in town, desperate to locate his missing girlfriend, loved-up PI Lexi Graves can hardly wait to reunite the lost lovers. However, the further Lexi delves into the case, the more she begins to sense the missing woman doesn’t want to be found.
To make matters worse, just as Lexi and her boss slash boyfriend are enjoying a romantic date, their restaurant is
robbed by a pair of thieves. Her best friend, Lily, owns a bar that also falls prey to the gang. Following Lily’s hunch about who’s behind it, Lexi eagerly rushes to help her friend solve the case.
, shootouts, and the determination to prove true love wins all, Lexi redoubles her efforts. She enlists her friends and family network to bring the lost lovers together once more, while doling out to the thieves their rightful comeuppance. But just as Lexi begins closing in on her quarry, a frightening twist plunges her into the most dangerous situation she has ever encountered.
"Lexi Graves, if you don’t stop checking your ass out in that mirror, I'm going to insist that you write yourself up for sexual harassment!" yelled my boss slash boyfriend. The two roles he filled were currently in that same order since we were hard at work in the Solomon Detective Agency. I say "we," but Solomon had the paperwork for our forthcoming meeting while I preferred to eye my very cute derriere in the agency bathroom's half-length mirror. With one final nod of approval, I concluded I'd be happy to write my ass up for looking so damn hot in my brand new sky-blue pants.
"I'll be right there," I yelled back, not that I needed to be so loud
. Solomon lingered in the doorway, his arms folded across his broad, muscular chest, doing his best to appear stern. The occasional dip of his chin, and the cloudy look in his dark brown eyes told me he was taking his time with the view. "You're such a taskmaster," I complained. "I just wanted to make sure I don't have a coffee stain on my butt when we meet our new client. Don't you have professional standards?"
At that moment, my colleague
, Lucas, strolled past. His shirt was untucked and his blond, surfer hair was standing on end and clearly, unbrushed. I decided that maybe, no, we did not have professional standards, but Lucas's role was the tech wizard, usually found behind a desk; and my face was at the front of the house. Just like my butt.
"It takes thirty seconds to check out your butt." Solomon slowly raised his arm and tipped his wrist, making it obvious that he
was checking the time. "I left you alone five minutes before I looked for you and we've been standing here another five minutes."
"Very. Now get your ass in gear, or I'll have you on the coffee run for all of next week."
"Fine," I muttered, reaching for my lip
gloss. Until recently, I was the only woman at the agency, so I turned the bathroom into my own personal vanity. It was complete with spare perfume, spare lip gloss and spare mascara. Who knew when I would need freshening up? Recently, however, another woman joined the risk management team upstairs, but she left my things alone, which I interpreted as a tacit agreement that they could stay. Just as I finished swiping on the gloss and puckering my lips at my reflection, an audible sound came from the doorway. I took that as a sign Solomon was about to get mad, really mad, and he might have possibly even reassigned my case. I returned the lip gloss to its little caddy; and with one last, approving look in the mirror, I left the bathroom. "At least I didn't stay to fix my hair," I chastised him.
Solomon frowned. "Do you need to fix your hair?"
I ran a self-conscious hand over my brunette locks and pulled a face. "Oh my gosh, do I? I should..."
Solomon grabbed my upper arm and propelled me forwards. "No, you do not. Meeting
Room One. We're going to be late."
"Why are you joining me anyway?" I asked. "I can
handle this. It's just a simple client meeting."
"I'm assessing it
to decide which division should take it."
"It's a straightforward PI case. I read the request."
"It's a missing woman. It might come under risk management."
"She's an amnesiac."
"She's still missing."
"It's not like she remembers that," I pointed out. "She probably doesn't know she's missing at all."
"All the more reason why she might be an at-risk case."
"I could tell you after I meet the client."
"You don't know what I'm looking for."
"You haven't told me!" I sighed and stuck my tongue out at Solomon's back
. It was childish, yet deeply satisfying as we turned the corner into our small suite of meeting rooms. It was all part of the newly remodeled work area in the agency's recent expansion. Instead of sharing one large room with three other private investigators, along with Lucas, and Solomon, we now had two entire floors. The bathroom was still poky and basic, but according to Solomon, the money was better spent on the new array of technical hardware, rather than on window treatments and a floor-to-ceiling mirror. I kind of saw his point, but I didn't want him to know that.
"What are you looking for?" I asked as we paused outside the meeting room. Through the small window in the door, I saw the back of man
with a full head of dark hair. At least someone else in the building had nice hair besides me.
"I'll know when I see it," said Solomon
. He pushed the door open before I could ask what that was supposed to mean. I could only wonder when, exactly, he decided I needed a babysitter for a simple interview. Despite the urge to stick my tongue out at him one more time, I plastered a smile onto my freshly glossed lips and stuck my hand out as our prospective client stood and turned. He flashed me a charming smile and the most perfect set of pearly whites.
"Leo Chandler," he said, giving my hand a firm shake. "Thank you so much for seeing me. You have no idea how much I appreciate it."
"No problem at all, Mr.," I started, already assessing him. He was a good-looking man, dressed on the smarter side of casual in tan chinos and an open-necked white shirt.
"Leo," I corrected myself, indicating for him to sit as I took the chair opposite. Leo Chandler shook Solomon's hand, then sat down, looking from my boss to me expectantly. It was the same expectant look I had only recently gotten used to. Clients often came to us as a last resort; we were virtually the end of the road after they realized all other actions were fruitless. Far too many thought we could work wonders, or uncover the truth, at last. Quite often, we did, and I managed to slip several successful cases under my belt since Solomon first offered me, an unqualified rookie, the job. In his words, I was the last person anyone would suspect of following them or attempting to unearth their secrets. I supposed my ass-checking and lip gloss routine probably proved his point. It didn't escape my notice that Solomon had a really good look at me during his few minutes of waiting. I had to resist smiling as I returned my attention to Leo Chandler. "What can we do for you? I've read your request, but I'd like to hear it in your own words."
"Well... okay." Leo cleared his throat and settled in his chair, relaxing. "I need you to find someone for me. This is her." He stuck his hand inside the jacket slung over the back of his chair
, and a moment later, slid a four-by-six photo across the table. I picked it up, looking at the pretty woman smiling at the camera, whom I pegged as being in her mid-twenties, or at least, that age when the photo was taken. She wore a denim jacket and a floral t-shirt with minimal makeup. Her dark brown hair contrasted nicely with her creamy white complexion. "That's my fiancée, Nancy. Nancy Grant. She went missing six months ago."
"How?" asked Solomon.
Leo glanced towards my boss and paused for a moment before shrugging. "I don't know."
"What makes you think she's missing?" I asked
he wouldn't answer with the obvious, “because I haven't seen her in six months.”
for a save, I continued, "I mean, how do you know she hasn't just moved away? Or broken up with you without telling you? It's harsh, but it does happen."
"No, Nancy wouldn't do that. I think something
terrible must’ve happened to her. She had a really bad fall so I went back home to get my car to take her to the hospital, but when I returned, she was gone. It was like she vanished into thin air. She hasn't been home since."
"What about her job? Where was she employed?"
"She was unemployed at the time," Leo replied.
"And her family? Did
anyone report her missing?"
"No family. I don't know what happened to them, except that when I met
her, she was on her own."
"How did you meet?"
"Through work. I'm a photographer. I travel around a lot and meet all kinds of people, but I met Nancy in Greenacre, right outside my studio. So lucky!"
"What about her friends?"
"Honestly, she was kind of a loner, and didn't make friends easily. We were just together, you know. Me and Nancy against the world." Leo gave a weak smile as he looked down at the table. Shaking his head sadly, he seemed to lose himself in what I imagined were happier memories. "She was really shy and quiet."
"Did you report her missing?" asked Solomon.
"Uh... no, I didn't."
"No one took me seriously at the police department. They insisted she just took off and advised me to get over her and move on."
"Do you think you should do that?" I asked. "It's not unheard of."
"No, absolutely not!" Leo shook his head vehemently. "Nancy wouldn't just abandon me. We meant everything to each other. No, I think when she hurt her head, something must’ve happened, and she took off because she was disorientated."
Solomon raised his eyebrows. "Amnesia?"
"Yeah, that's what I thought... I checked every hospital, but found no signs of her. We were out at my cabin and there are several highways in that area. She could have gotten on a bus, or hitchhiked and gotten all confused."
"Says you're from Greenacre,"
replied Solomon, looking down at the file he laid on the table. "What brings your search here to Montgomery? We're at least a hundred miles from her home."
"I've been searching for Nancy ever since she went missing
. Every so often, I get a sighting to check out and, just like you would, I guess, I pursue it for a few days. I get a motel room and I go around the town with Nancy's photo, but... so far, nothing. I got an email a week ago from someone who thought they saw Nancy, and they even had a photo. I'll show you." Leo patted his pockets, finally producing the photo. Instead of the glossy shot he showed us before, this one was a grainy print of a woman, snapped as she sat in the window seat of a diner. The sign above the window read, “West Street Diner.” I knew it well. It wasn't far from the agency.
"I know this is her
,” Leo continued. “It's my big break. I've been here three days and I've waited all that time outside this diner, but I haven't seen her. Montgomery is a big town. I can't check out everywhere, or all at the same time. I don't even know this town well enough to know where to look. I need experts. I need you guys."
"You want us to find out if this is
really Nancy and then find out what happened to her?" I asked.
"I just need you to find her,
and confirm it's her. I don't want to spook her, but I... I..." A tear seeped from Leo's eye. He brushed the back of his hand across his cheek as his jaw set in a firm, determined line. "I can't risk losing her again. Can you find Nancy for me?" He glanced at me, his eyes pleading. "Can you find the love of my life?"
"It's so romantic," I sighed fifteen minutes later as I sat down in the chair opposite Solomon's desk. "A gorgeous, missing woman, suffering from amnesia. Her equally gorgeous, but devastated boyfriend searching for her to the ends of the earth..."
"Montgomery," interrupted Solomon.
"Shh. He might venture further."
"Still in Montgomery."
"Shh! He said he’s already searched hundreds of miles..."
"What is with you? If we take this case, we could reunite two people who are meant to be together. Two people, wrenched apart by devastating amnesia..."
"You thought he was gorgeous?"
"You just said he was gorgeous."
"He is, in the upcoming Lifetime film that they'll make after we reunite them." I sighed, imagining the glamorous young actress who would play me.
"So you don't think he's gorgeous now?" Solomon persisted, not sounding exactly pleased about it.
I rose, leaning forwards, and extended my leg slightly. Catching the door with my toe, I kicked it shut. I used the momentum to lean forward and kiss my boyfriend firmly on the lips. "I think you're gorgeous."
"I think if you
were going to kick the door shut, you might have also thought about the blinds," Solomon murmured against my lips. I giggled and rocked back into my chair.
"Where's your romantic side?" I asked. "Did you see Leo
"For one, I used up my romantic side on you last night
, and I'm beat." Solomon winked and my cheeks reddened. Last night was awesome and I'd already replayed it seventeen times in my head. "And two, I did see him crying, and he's a fake."
"What? Solomon! C'mon!"
"He's a liar."
"What makes you think he isn't?"
"Uh..." That had me stumped
. For a moment, all I could do was wrinkle my nose and ignore my eighteenth daydream. "Well, why would he come to us for help if he were a liar? And which bit did he lie about?"
"I don't know which bit," Solomon admitted