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If Two Are Dead
Amelia Fantastica Misadventure: Book 2
“Who’d have thought it would take a murder to get your business back on track?” said my fairy godmother, tilting back in her chair and propping her size nine-and-a-half feet that she’d somehow crammed into size eight-and-a-half heels on the edge of my desk.
I frowned at her and her feet over the top of my laptop. “That’s a horrible thing to say.”
“I thought you liked honesty.”
“I like silence even better. Especially if I’m trying to work.”
The talking might not have annoyed me so much if she hadn’t been right—it really had taken a murder to get my floundering investigations business up and running again.
It’s not something I like to talk about, though I do appreciate the business. It’s nice to be back at a solid beer-and-pizza income level. There was a point where even value meals were sliding out of my reach.
And, yes, Amelia is my honest-to-gosh fairy godmother. The real deal, glittery magic wand and everything.
My name is Maxie Peterson, and I’m a private investigations agent. Amelia is Amelia Pomeroy Fitzgerald Fantastica. She swears the Fantastica is her real name, but I have my doubts.
When it comes to Amelia, doubts aren’t the only thing I struggle with. There’s also irritation, outrage, indignation and, not infrequently, sheer, head-banging frustration.
I have no idea what I did to be afflicted with Amelia, but she dropped into my life—literally—when I turned eighteen, and I haven’t been able to get rid of her since.
It wouldn’t be so bad if she came up to the standards set by Disney, but Amelia doesn’t even come close.
I mean, I wouldn’t mind a fairy godmother who took care of the housework (a la Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather) or provided a handsome prince every now and then and some elegant transportation to get me from here to there in the meantime. (A fire-engine red Mercedes SL Roadster or a Porsche 911 would work just fine, thank you very much!).
Housework, handsome princes, and luxury sports cars I could manage.
I can’t manage Amelia. In any sense of the word.
Amelia is a disaster staggering around on eight-inch platform heels, wand out and aiming for trouble.
The problem is, trouble’s the only thing she ever aims at that she actually hits one hundred percent of the time.
Of course, she calls it being helpful.
I call it ruining my life, but whenever I tell her that, she just laughs and thinks I’m kidding.
I’m not. Honest.
Okay, so right now she wasn’t actively ruining my life, but she was definitely annoying me. We were in my office on the fourth floor of the Hufflewitz Office Building, one of the seedier office buildings in the seedier end of downtown River City, and I was struggling to concentrate on work for my latest client in spite of Amelia’s interruptions.
The client had gotten my name after I ended up being front-page news for a few days.
Okay, I wasn’t the news, my former client was. Jameson John Montgomery the Third, one of River City’s richest and most influential businessmen. He’d moved from the business and society sections to front page news when he ended up dead on my office floor, stabbed through the heart with my letter opener not half an hour before I was supposed to meet him to find out why he’d hired me.
I know, I know—that sounds ridiculously convoluted. It was. For a couple days there, I’d had all I could do trying to figure out who’d killed him before I ended up in jail for his murder. Fortunately, I managed to solve the murder. Unfortunately, I still ended up in jail—for assaulting a police officer instead of murder. And all because Amelia whipped out that magic wand of hers and tried to help.
Both of us had carefully avoided discussing the whole affair ever since, which suited me just fine.
It’d suit me even better if she’d stop discussing the detective on the case, Ben Trueblood (in her words, “a real hottie’), as well as the new cases and clients that had come my way since, but that wasn’t going to happen.
“So what is this?” she asked, tilting back in my chair “Your sixth client?”
“Fifth,” I said, not taking my gaze from the computer screen in front of me.
“Fifth. And in only three weeks, too!”
“Four. That’s more than one a week. Better than none at all, like you had before, right?”
I wasn’t going to dignify that with an answer. Besides, I’m not real happy that my foundering business may have a chance of surviving because a man died in my office.
It doesn’t help that the same woman murdered another man here, as well. Right in front of me, too.
In my defense, I hadn’t been sure she was the killer until just before she shot the poor man. By accident, I might add, which didn’t make him any less dead.
The fact that I managed to incapacitate her afterward didn’t do much to assuage the guilt. By the time the cops got here, she had a broken nose, broken leg, broken ankle (other leg), dislocated shoulder, and a concussion. Not to mention miscellaneous sprains, scrapes, bumps, and bruises.
The only part for which I was directly responsible was the nose. The rest of the injuries she acquired by following my helpful suggestion that she flee down a fire stairwell our building manager, Mr. Yaguchi, had been using for storage in contravention of every fire safety code known to man and the River City Fire Department. She’d been moving too fast to notice the obstacles until it was too late.
Amelia says she came to a stop somewhere between the second and third floors (did I mention that my office is on the fourth floor?), but I didn’t bother checking. I let the cops fish her out. Any satisfaction I might have felt at catching her had vanished with the second death. It wouldn’t have happened if I’d figured everything out sooner.
Day late and a dollar short, as my mother would have said.
Did say, in fact, along with a lot more pithy comments on my failings, but that was only after the killer was in jail and I’d had a day or two to work up the nerve to answer her incessant calls. I probably wouldn’t have managed then if my brother Nic hadn’t hounded me to face up to her...and get her off his back in the process.
If only Amelia could be put off with something as simple as a couple phone calls and a few interminable lectures on knives at gun fights, appropriate backup, managing interrogations, and the host of other topics that my mother had covered, in detail, for the hundredth time each. Mom apparently got it all out of her system because she hasn’t called me in almost a week now, which has to be close to a record.
Amelia, however, has popped in uninvited every single day since I got out of jail. (I was only there overnight—they dropped the assault charges over the objections of the arresting officer, one Gracie O’Mallon, a sexy little bundle of mean who hates my guts.)
Regardless, right now I had a client—a live, paying client—and I needed to concentrate.
“You keep this up,” Amelia continued, oblivious to my cold-shouldered hostility, “you’re going to need an assistant.”
“No, I won’t.”
“Yes, you will.” She paused for effect.
My fingers froze on the keyboard. I had a horrible feeling I knew what was coming next.
“You need me,” she said.
Yup. Knew it.
“I can’t afford an assistant.”
She beamed. “That’s the beauty of having me as your fairy godmother. I won’t charge for my services.”
“Go away, Amelia.”
“You know you want me.”
“I know I don’t. Seriously.”
I was saved from further argument by a knock at the door.
“Come in,” I called, shutting my laptop. “And get your feet off the desk,” I shot at Amelia, low enough so only she could hear me.
She complied. She had to. She was twisting so far around to see who was at the door that she would have fallen out of the chair, otherwise.
The door swung open. After a moment’s hesitation, a little old lady tottered through.
No, not just old. Ancient. Large, pale blue eyes. A wrinkled old face that had never been beautiful but looked well and, I thought, happily lived in. Fine, wispy white hair that drifted about her head in a disorganized cloud, like cotton candy where someone forgot to add the coloring.
Her bones had thinned, her spine had curved, and the hand that gripped the cane she leaned on had grown gnarled with crippling arthritis. But while the years had worked their will on her body, they didn’t appear to have made much headway against her spirit.
As she tottered forward, I tried to decide if I was more impressed by the wild pink and sparkling silver boa that looped her neck; the heavily embroidered turquoise leather vest above a multi-colored Indian print dress that flared to her ankles; or the dozens and dozens of glittering bangles and beaded bracelets that laced her skinny arms all the way up to her elbows.
Or maybe it was the enormous purse that hung from her skinny shoulder. It appeared to have been fashioned from hundreds of pink and purple and turquoise dreadlocks knotted into a rug. It bulged in odd places and looked heavy enough to flatten a horse, yet the old lady carried it with the same frail but confident panache with which she wore the rest of her eye-popping ensemble.
Amelia eyed the bag disapprovingly. “That thing looks like it was scraped off a tie-dyed yak.”
Fortunately, I was the only one who could hear her, and I’d had plenty of practice ignoring her. Given Amelia’s outlandish fashion sense, I suspect it was jealousy talking, anyway.
I got to my feet. “Can I help you, ma’am?”
“Of Maxie Peterson Investigations?”
“Yes.” That came out a little more sharply.
My name is on the door in nice gold letters, though hardly anybody every notices. I had it put up when I started, while I still had money in the bank and dreams of future investigative glory and wealth.
In spite of everything, some of that original, unwarranted optimism about my career choice still lingers, so if my visitor was going to ask me to track down a lost cat named Mr. Muffins, she was destined for disappointment.
She studied me for a moment, then she studied my office. (I’m the first to admit, it’s not impressive. The gold lettering was as far as I’d managed to get in upgrading the place.) And then she looked back at me.
“Good,” she said in a firm, clear voice that had nothing of frail old lady in it. “I’d like you to investigate a murder.”