"Why did you think I would never find out?" he asked, his voice deceptively calm.
I wasn't fooled.
"Well, it all happened so fast." I hedged and glanced around me for inspiration. The small, gloriously beige lobby of J.J.'s Private Investigations refused to provide any help at all.
"You mean one second you were content to chase your dream of lighting up the big screen and the next you suddenly found yourself pretending to be an experienced ex-FBI agent willing to run my agency while I recuperated?" He asked and truth be told, I was slightly worried about the way his hands gripped his crutches. Either he was having trouble maintaining his balance, a valid option considering the size of his cast, or he was entertaining the idea of bludgeoning me.
I smiled brightly to show that I was far too pretty to be a candidate for bludgeoning.
"That's it exactly." I patted his shoulder but snatched my hand back as he snarled. Honestly, the man was cranky. Okay, so maybe I wasn't technically an ex-FBI agent but this was Kingsborough, Tennessee, a one-horse town if ever there was one. How hard could impersonating a private eye be?
"Please tell me you have actual law enforcement experience." He said.
"Well, I mean, I was an extra on Law and Order that one time and I was Agent 3 and I was really, really convincing." A loud bump from behind J.J.'s office door punctuated my remark.
"What was that?" He looked suspiciously at the closed door.
"Probably that owl that lives in your rafters." I said.
"Um, oh, you never noticed the owl before?" I asked with as much innocence as I could muster.
"No, I can't say that I did." He whipped his dark eyes toward me again and I squirmed just a little.
"Lilly, do you know anything at all about being a private investigator?" He held up a hand as I began to speak. "And playing one on tv doesn't count."
"I'll have you know I researched that role thoroughly." I said, on firmer ground now that my artistic integrity was in question.
"How much research does it take to put on a blue suit and stand in the background of a fake FBI office?"
"How much research does it take to figure out if the girl you're hiring to run your office has any law enforcement experience?" I shot back which, given the proximity of handy murder weapons and J.J.'s current frame of mind, wasn't my wisest choice but the man was hitting below the belt now.
A loud crash came from the office and I winced. J.J. swung his crutches forward and rattled the doorknob. Locked, of course. I wasn't a complete idiot.
"Open the door, Lilly."
"J.J., maybe you should just sit down and rest. You don't look well." A blatant lie on my part since J.J. was currently number one on Kingsborough's list of Tall, Handsome, Has A Job bachelors.
"Open. The. Door."
"Well, yes, I will but first I should just tell you that I've successfully solved two cases since I took over." I made a big show of searching my handbag for the office keys and frantically tried to think of a reasonable explanation a man like J.J., recently relocated from New York City, would accept for what waited behind his door.
Nothing workable came to mind but I'm an actress. I live to improvise.
"Two cases, huh?" J.J. eyed me and I felt a little like a deer facing a very hungry lion. I made a note to remember the emotion for my next Methods class.
"Yes. Well. Yes."
He raised one dark brow and I hurried to explain, speaking loudly to cover the obvious sounds of papers being chewed to bits behind the door.
"I mean one is definitely solved and the other one is as good as. Really. And Mr. Mitchells, the one with the definitely solved case, was very grateful but as you know, we had a drought this summer."
"Yes." I produced the keys with a flourish. "So the farmers are struggling with their crops and money is tight everywhere."
"So Mr. Mitchell couldn't pay his bill in the traditional way."
A soft snort echoed from beyond the closed door as I fitted the key into the lock.
"You'd better not be telling me -"
"Just stay calm." I said and pushed the door open.
A black and white spotted goat stood beside the upended trash can, the rope used to secure him to the office ficus tree chewed to bits, along with several papers and what looked like the remains of one book. A mangled spiral notebook dangled from the goat's lips and he stared at us with mild interest.
"J.J., meet Earl." I said and edged into the room, trying to block most of the carnage with my body.
"HE PAID US WITH A GOAT?" J.J. yelled.