_Suspicions_ short synopsis:
A.J. Chaney is a female private investigator operating in the greater Oklahoma City area. A.J. knew that when she left the police department and went out on her own, most of her work would be the dreaded divorce cases. But, when a woman named Rebecca Smith hires A.J. to see if her husband is having an affair, the woman's vulnerability touches A.J., and she willingly takes the case.
A.J. becomes embroiled in a melee of chaos, and nothing is as it seems. The case becomes unstable, and then outright crazy, with multiple players, hidden agendas, and dangerous shootouts.
A.J. is never sure of anything in this mess. She doesn't know who to believe, who is right, what is at stake, or even who the good guys are.
_Suspicions_ is a wild and crazy romp of a mystery novel. It's full of twists, turns, loyal friends, outrageous situations, bullets and bodies, and tender, hidden moments of stolen love.
Suspicions by Amanda Ball
Suspicions is the first mystery novel in a new series featuring female PI protagonist, A.J. Chaney.
When Rebecca Smith hires A.J. to see if her husband, Daniel Smith, is having an affair, A.J. gets involved in what she feels is a routine divorce case. She tails Mr. Smith for a few days, but she never sees him with another woman. A.J. does see some odd occurrences in Mr. Smith's life, such as the time his car window was shot out. Unflustered, Mr. Smith waits in a bar while his car is repaired, acting as if nothing is out of the ordinary.
A.J.'s curiosity is piqued. A former cop with the Oklahoma City Police Department, she still has many friends and contacts at the PD. She has an antagonistic relationship with the captain of the division, Frank Robinson.
While A.J. is tailing Mr. Smith, someone starts tailing her. Calling on her former police partner, Bobby, to tail the tail, they are led to a business called Sheetrock Holding company, LLC.
A.J. realizes that this is not a simple divorce case. She infiltrates Sheetrock, posing as one of the cleaning crew, and she uncovers data that says that Mr. Smith is in danger. She rushes to his home to tell him the back guys are onto him. He has never seen A.J. before, but his reaction isn't that of a mild-mannered accountant. It's the reaction of a professional agent. Mrs. Smith is flustered and needs mental time to process this development, but there is no time. Mr. Smith arranges for extraction. A.J. drives the Smiths to the airpark.
When they are safely away, she drives to two other airports in town, trying to create diversion plots, then she buys herself a ticket to Dallas; destroys her cell phone; then takes public transpiration away from the Oklahoma City airport.
Believing that her home and office are being watched, A.J. traverses a hiking trail behind her housing development. There, she enters a WWII era Quonset hut, that was once part of a large armory. She accesses a hidden panel, which leads to a hidden tunnel. At the other end of the tunnel, she enters a garage of a private home. The man there cries out an exclaimed, "What are you doing?" Then he kisses her. She spends the night, then in the next morning, she refers to him by name: Frank.
Captain Frank Robinson's wife had been killed in a retaliation crime many years ago. Since then, Frank has been married to his work as a peace officer. The criminal was never caught. He is afraid to have any relationship in public, for fear that the criminal will strike again. Frank and A.J. have been involved in a secret relationship for two years, never appearing in public together, never publicly acknowledging their feelings.
A.J. knows that the Smith case isn't over. She follows the few clues she has left. When she is kidnapped on her own street, in broad daylight, she knows that she has stumbled onto something big. The kidnappers say they are a deep-cover government agency, trying to stem the flow of money to terrorism. They let A.J. go, but they want to hire her. The next day, she is on a surveillance job at Sheetrock, and the real bad guys kidnap her in broad daylight. This time, the kidnappers aren't so nice. The supposed government agents rescue her, but now she does not trust them, and she questions if they are who they say they are.
Every player in the game wants "it", but A.J. doesn't know what "it" is. She realizes there is one player in the game who is missing: Mr. Smith. She infiltrates his office and steals a briefcase. She doesn't have time to open it, before Mr. Smith, who has come back to Oklahoma City in stealth, steals the briefcase from her office. She gives chase, along with all the other players in the situation.
There is a standoff at a filling station at night. Still unaware of the contents of the briefcase, A.J. fires on it. Gasoline starts splashing down. Someone else's bullet ignites the gas, causing a small explosion. The case is destroyed. The government agents pile bodies in a vehicle, clean up the scene, and make their escape, before local authorities can arrive.
A.J. tries to get her life back to normal, still wondering if the bad guys are after her. She receives a package. Inside is $50,000 and a note that says, "Thank you for services rendered."
Suspicions - First Five Pages
The knock at the door was timid. I thought about hollering, "Come on in," but the timidity of the knock stopped me. I stood up from my desk and walked to the door.
I opened the door. "Come in." The woman on the other side didn't crackle with harnessed charisma. She wasn't an in-your-face so-there! type of person. Instead, she was softer, round, probably shy, and even without the benefit of untrained eyes, I could see that she was trembling.
"Are you A.J. Chaney?" she asked.
Instinct told me to go easy with this woman. Whatever had caused her to seek out the office of a private investigator, I could see that she was still prone to bolt.
"Yes, I'm A.J. Chaney," I answered. "Won't you come in?"
She still had not moved. It was as if her feet were rooted to the floor. "But you're a woman!"
I nodded, unsure of how to respond. It wasn't like I used my initials to pretend I was a man, in order to get clients in the door. I had been called A.J. since childhood.
I was still holding the door. So far, my attempts to coax her in weren't having any luck.
"Ms..." I held out the sound, hoping she'd chime in with her name.
"It's Mrs.," she said, and for the first time, I saw a glint of starch in her spine. She seemed to come to a decision, unrooting her feet from the sidewalk and crossing my threshold. She walked in my office and sat in the straight backed chair at my desk, her feet resting side by side on the floor and her purse held primly in her lap. I walked to my desk chair and sat down, hearing the door as it slid shut.
"Mrs...?" I tried again.
She fixed me with a look. I could see that she was in pain, but not physical pain.
"Mrs. Chaney," she said, "I, uh, wasn't expecting a woman to be the detective."
I gulped. "Actually, it's Ms. Chaney, if you want to get technical. But most people call me A.J."
I waited for the inevitable question that everyone asked: what does the A.J. stand for? But she didn't ask it.
I could see the misery well up in her eyes. Something in my heart wanted to reach out and help this woman. I could see the words working their way to the surface. When they finally got there, I wasn't surprised.
"I think my husband is having an affair."
For the most part, the life of a private investigator is not exciting. Contrary to television, there aren't a lot of car chases or murder cases or gun shootouts. Instead it's mostly paperwork and sitting in a car and unbelievable boredom. I'd recently heard a statistic that 98% of jobs for private investigators were to investigate a cheating spouse. Then the interviewer asked in how many of those cases was the spouse actually cheating. The answer was 97%.
I'd left the metro police department two years ago, gotten my PI license, and hung out my shingle, as the phrase goes. I had figured that it would take quite a while to build up the business. That assumption was wrong. I'd had more business than I could manage alone and was turning down jobs by the third month. I guess I'd become a private detective at the time when there weren't enough private detectives in the greater Oklahoma City metropolitan area. That was a lot of ground to cover. Or maybe more people than usual were having affairs at that time. I don't know. I'd worked enough divorce cases to sour me on the prospects of working on another one. But something about this woman made me want to help her. She still hadn't told me her name.
She didn't seem to be any older than her early thirties. But her manner and demeanor seemed to be that of a woman in her fifties. She still sat in my client chair without fidgeting. She was wearing a summer weight cotton dress. It was a pretty dress, but it would have been much more suitable on a grandmother. In a day and age when most people wore jeans and shorts as the norm, it seemed odd to see a woman dressed in such a proper manner. I studied her again. Her makeup was perfect and understated. Her hair was perfect. There weren't any wrinkles in her cotton dress. Her shoes and purse didn't have any scuff marks. What did this add up to? I didn't know her well enough yet to make assumptions, but I was beginning to wonder if she was trying to be the perfect wife, so that her husband wouldn't stray?
It didn't even occur to me to mind that this was another divorce case. I'd been known my whole life for being a hard-nosed loner. But I knew, even this early in the case, that I'd help this woman any way I could.
"Mrs...?" I tried again.
Something in my manner seemed to amuse her, and I could see it creep around her hesitation. It was possible that I saw the slightest glint of a smile, but then it was gone.
"That's really my name. Rebecca Smith. My husband is Daniel Smith."
Part of my job is knowing when to mask what I'm really feeling. Or maybe I should say that most of my job is to mask what I'm really feeling. It's quite difficult to research someone with such a common name. How many of the several hundred thousand people in Oklahoma City and its suburbs possessed the name Daniel Smith? Oh, it's easy enough to tail someone when you know his car and tag number. But to do an electronic search on the internet for Daniel Smith? It was probably the most effective way to hide.
I did feel compassion for this woman, and I let some of it leak through so that it would show.
"Mrs. Smith, this must be horribly difficult for you. I'm willing to help, but are you certain you really want to know?"
"I have to know." She didn't waste words, and I knew she spoke the truth.
"I feel the need to warn you, this may get ugly."
Something flittered across her face, but it was gone too quickly for me to recognize it. I had the feeling that this woman had spent a lifetime hiding herself behind a bland smile. I wondered what the real Rebecca Smith was like? It wasn't my job to probe and find out. If I wanted to earn my money, then I had to work with what she gave me.
"Ugly doesn't scare me."
I spent a few moments explaining about my fees and procedures. She told me not to contact her at home or on her cell phone. She said that she would contact me every couple of days for updates. She opened the purse that was still sitting on her lap. It hadn't moved, nor had she. What kind of discipline did it take for her to hold herself that rigid? She removed a solitary sheet of paper. She held it close to her stomach for a moment before handing it over to me. I took the paper and glanced at it.
It was filled with factsnames and addresses and social security numbers and car tag numbers and insurance numbers. Never had a potential client come to my office so well prepared.
"Um, wow!" I struggled for something to say. "This will help a lot!"
In my personal life I'd have probably made a crack about how she'd already done half of my job for me. But in my professional life, I'd learned to bite back the sarcasm.