The little fella (or gal) has loved the wet weather. This one is bigger than most slugs in my garden, so I suppose he ate more of everything.
A last shasta daisy
The little fella (or gal) has loved the wet weather. This one is bigger than most slugs in my garden, so I suppose he ate more of everything.
A last shasta daisy
This weekend I was on a panel of mystery writers (Glenn Nilson, Libby Cudmore and myself) moderated by the police chief (Chief Douglas Brenner) of Oneonta, NY. Since all of us were cozy writers, it was interesting to talk about the differences between police work and the fictionalized work of amateur sleuths found in cozy mysteries. Chief Brenner is newly appointed to his position, and I’m eager to get to know him better and use him as a resource for crime information.
In the course of talking about writing a mystery, I spoke about my first manuscript which I called a “revenge manuscript” written just after I retired as a professor. I had a few axes to grind so I included characters that were based heavily upon people I knew and disliked. Having gotten all that out of my system, I went on to revise the work, removing the people I knew from it and creating characters needed for the story. I’ll bet some of you can relate to this process where we write so close to home that we’re not really writing a mystery, but actually cleaning house in our own lives. After this initial purge, we can begin the process of writing fiction, not simply engaging in emotional catharsis. Eventually that work became the first book in the Laura Murphy mysteries.
I thought we might have some fun today with Laura, so I had her devise a quiz for you. She is, after all, a college professor so testing her students is something that comes naturally to her. Below is what she came up with. To make it inviting for you, she says you can win a free eBook of either Murder is Academic or Failure is Fatal.
The individual with the highest score and who enters the responses earliest is the winner. Laura says have fun!
Record your answers in the comments section.
Well, you won’t really be touring the swamps, but my new book blog tour will introduce or reintroduce you to Emily Rhodes, another country gal who not only finds a home in rural Florida, but stumbles over dead bodies too frequently.
The tour will feature two Big Lake murder mysteries: Dumpster Dying and Grilled, Chilled and Killed.
Ah, the golden years of retirement in the sunshine state. They’re more like pot metal to Emily Rhodes, who discovers the body of the county’s wealthiest rancher in the Big Lake Country Club dumpster. With her close friend accused of the murder, Emily sets aside her grief at her life partner’s death to find the real killer. She underestimates the obstacles rural Florida can set up for a winter visitor and runs afoul of a local judge with his own version of justice, hires a lawyer who works out of a retirement home, and flees wild fires hand-in-hand with the man she believes to be the killer.
“…a snappy plot with humor and a feel for old Florida…an entertaining story set among ranches instead of beaches…With a colorful cast of family and friends, (Emily Rhodes) solves both murders and gains two admirers. Emily learns to love the wilds of Florida. The reader will too.
–Jan Day, author of The Pirate Pink series and The Kissimmee Pete series
“It’s a contest of “wills”… Retirement in sunny Florida heats up when Emily Rhodes finds a body tossed in the trash. Things are never dull with a senior sleuth on the case. Deadly and delightful!:
–Sunny Frazier, author of the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries
Grilled, Chilled and Killed
In the second Big Lake Mystery, Emily Rhodes, retired preschool teacher and bartender turned amateur snoop, wonders if she is destined to discover dead bodies. This time she finds one of the contestants at the local barbecue cook-off dead and covered in barbecue sauce in a beer cooler. She should be used to stumbling onto corpses by now and the question of who killed the guy should pique her curiosity, but Emily decides to let Detective Lewis handle this one, at least until she figures his theory of who did the deed is wrong, wrong, wrong. Emily’s pursuit of the killer could end in a steamy shower with her favorite detective or land her in a sinkhole with a dirty cop and an angry mama pig.
“…a wonderful combination of mystery, murder and mirth. The most recent novel in her Big Lake mystery series has it all: an intriguing plot, a cast of colorful characters, a vivid rural Florida setting and a dash of romance intertwined with humor every step of the way.” –Patricia Gligor, author of The Malone Mystery Series
“Lesley Diehl’s new southern mystery has it all, suspense, intrigue, romance and a killer title, Grilled, Chilled and Killed.” –Michael Murphy, author of Goodbye Emily
“…Lesley Diehl has done it again with a story too good to put down. Emily Rhodes works part-time at a country club cocktail lounge, but Diehl is the one mixing the best cocktail whose ingredients consist of mystery, humor and romance, and of course, murder. Slip in a crooked cop, a barbeque cook-off, a shady character in the background and a feral pig, and you’ll have a delightful day of reading. Trust me on this one.” –Marja McGraw, author of the Sandi Webster and Bogey Man Mysteries
Here’s the schedule for the tour. Be sure to visit each stop and enter for a free book and the and the opportunity for me to name a character after you in the next adventure with Emily Rhodes. You could be famous!
May 15 – The Ninja Librarian – REVIEW – Book 1, CHARACTER GUEST POST
May 15 – My Journey Back –My Reading Journeys – REVIEW – Both Books, INTERVIEW*
May 16 – Queen of All She Reads – REVIEW – Both Books
May 16 – Dee-Scoveries – SPOTLIGHT
May 17 – Valerie’s Musings – REVIEW – Both Books, INTERVIEW
May 17 – Babs Book Bistro – SPOTLIGHT
May 18 – A Blue Million Books – GUEST POST
May 18 – Book Babble – REVIEW – Both Books
May 19 – Sleuth Cafe – SPOTLIGHT
May 19 – Bookworm Mom – GUEST POST
May 20 – Texas Book-aholic – REVIEW – Book 1
May 20 – 3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, & Sissy, Too! – REVIEW – Both Books *
May 21 – Books,Dreams,Life – SPOTLIGHT
May 21 – Island Confidential – CHARACTER INTERVIEW
May 22 – Laura’s Interests – REVIEW – Both Books, CHARACTER GUEST POST
May 23 – FUONLYKNEW – REVIEW – Both Books*
May 24 – StoreyBook Reviews – REVIEW – Both Books
May 24 – T’s Stuff – REVIEW – Book 1
May 25 – Bibliophile Reviews – REVIEW – Both Books
May 25 – Celticlady’s Reviews – SPOTLIGHT
May 26 – Rainy Day Reviews – REVIEW – Both Books*
May 26 – Socrates’ Book Reviews – REVIEW Book 1
May 27 – Varietats2010 – REVIEW – Book 2
May 27 – Brooke Blogs – REVIEW Book 1, GUEST POST*
May 28 – Brooke Blogs – REVIEW Book 2*
May 28 – Cassidy’s Bookshelves – CHARACTER GUEST POST
Today author Fran Stewart is visiting us to talk about her new book, A WEE MURDER IN THE HOTEL and her use of minor characters in her work.
“Minor Keys, Minor Characters” by Fran Stewart
My son, now in his forties, has recently taken up the piano. And the accordion, too, but that’s another story altogether.
He’s turned out to be as intrigued as I have always been with minor keys. In fact, as I write this, I’m listening to Tchaikovsky’s magnificent First Piano Concerto in B-flat minor.
Years ago I remember hearing someone say that minor keys always made her so sad. I countered with Ella Fitzgerald’s comment (or was it Etta James? or someone else altogether different? If you know who it was, please inform me!) that happy songs needed to be composed in a minor key and sad songs in a major key.
Whoever said it, I find that minor keys and minor characters can be fascinating, whether the subject matter is uplifting or depressing. When most people think of the ScotShop stories, they call to mind Peggy Winn, the owner of the ScotShop, and Dirk, the 14th-century Scottish ghost who aids and abets Peggy’s amateur sleuthing. Now, Dirk is a delightful man and a major character. It’s really too bad he’s dead (minor note). Peggy and Dirk would be the major keys in this series. But the minors?
Take, for instance, Moira Pettis, the police dispatcher in Hamelin, Vermont. She’s a transplant from South Georgia, who’s lived in Hamelin for 25 years and practically run the police department for that entire time. She has a truly minor, minor role in the first two books, but in A WEE HOMICIDE IN THE HOTEL, the president and his Secret Service contingent will be in town for the opening of the annual Hamelin Highland Games, a possible assassin has eluded capture, the police chief is being a twit, as usual, and Moira is feeling nostalgic. Here’s a scene to illustrate what fun a writer can have with such a minor character.
Moira Pettis kept an eye on the front door, the phone, the computer, the officers, the chief, everything that moved and a lot that didn’t. She couldn’t blame the chief for being nervous. It wasn’t every day the feds moved in on a small town. Wasn’t every day the president came to visit, either.
If anybody from Washington came for a visit, though, she’d rather have it be her nephew Russell Fenton. He’d left Cuthbert, their small hometown in southern Georgia, twenty-five years ago, about the same time she had, and all she’d known of him since then was from his chatty letters about the quiet life he lived in the nation’s capitol. He worked in a bank or something—he’d never been too specific, but then Moira hadn’t been too specific about what sort of job she’d gotten. Her bootlegger relatives wouldn’t appreciate her working with the enemy. Better they thought she owned a fabric store.
She pulled open her top right-hand drawer, careful not to nick her red polish, and removed a framed photo. She balanced it on the clutter of notepads, pencils, call sheets, phone directories, paper clips, and maps that constituted her daily work environment. Ignoring the mess, she studied her family. Her whole family. Her parents, grandparents, all the siblings, nieces and nephews, everybody lined up in front of the high school on Russell’s graduation day. He sure did look like his daddy. She compared that picture to the latest one he’d sent her last Christmas; she’d stuck it in the corner of the frame. Russell, two and a half decades older, in front of a Christmas tree. No wife, no kids, not even a dog. She sure did hope he liked the bank, since he didn’t seem to have too much else going on. Of course, who was she to talk? No husband, no kids, and no dog, either.
She still had the picture in her hand when the front door opened and the photo came to life.
What happened to his southern accent? “Russell?”
“What are you doing,” he looked around him, “here?”
“I could ask you the same thing.” Only she didn’t have to ask. The careful dark blue suit, the subdued tie, the hint of a wire dropping from his ear and disappearing into his collar. She unhooked her headset and stood to embrace him. “So this is your bank job, huh?”
He hugged her back and swept his gaze around the station again. “Nice sewing shop you’ve got here.”
“There’s usually a lot of dark blue fabric around this place.” She smiled when he chuckled.
Over his shoulder she saw the blinds on Mac’s office door part. “Uh-oh. We’ve been discovered.”
“We could always keep people guessing, don’t you think?”
“Moira!” Mac’s voice boomed across the open space. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Why,” she increased her drawl to maximum ooziness, “ah’m jest makin’ shore this little ole agent feels raht welcome hyeah.”
Mac scowled, and Moira felt her nephew’s shoulder shake with suppressed laughter as he turned to meet the Hamelin police chief.
Who are your favorite minor characters?
Who are your favorite minor characters?
This past summer I wrote a series of blogs about growing up on a farm. The series was entitled “Tales from the Hayloft.” Many of you commented on the ways in which your childhood influenced your writing or your reading choices as an adult. One of my internet writing buddies did more than that. She sent me a story from her own childhood. I’m delighted to share it with you.
from Elaine Faber, author of the Black Cat series and Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot:
In 1950, I was a first grader in a small rural school. Twice a month, the County Bookmobile visited and children could select a library book! Without today’s modern technology, a book was the doorway to a world of fantasy, imagination and excitement.
The children lined up at the bookmobile door, barely able to contain our excitement until, finally, it was my turn. I looked in awe at the two shelves dedicated to beginning readers and made my selection.
The County Librarian challenged me with the responsibility of caring for library property and tucked a card into the back cover. It was mine for two whole weeks! Triumphantly, I carried my book down the steps and into the shade of a nearby tree.
It was a treasure, sent to me personally by the President of the United States, who owned the County Public Library System and personally sent the red, white, and blue bookmobiles to rural schools, as symbols of truth, justice and the American Way.
I walked home from school carrying my lunch pail, sweater and my precious library book under my arm. One of my companions suggested we take a different way home. The chanting of “chicken” cinched my decision to agree to “our adventure.” Several blocks from home, we came to a PG&E workman’s hole, loosely covered by boards. Our leader pranced across the boards and “double-dog dared” us to follow. I was afraid but I couldn’t defy a “double-dog dare,” could I? I had no choice but to follow him across the wobbling boards.
Fighting back tears, I clutched my lunch pail, sweater and library book, closed my eyes and took a step onto the wobbly boards. Flailing my hands to keep my balance, my precious book tumbled into the darkness and surely, into the pits of hell. Horrified, we peered into the darkness. I could barely see its pages flipping gently back and forth. The hole was too deep, and rescue too challenging for our small minds to comprehend.
I contemplated the outcome of this catastrophe. The President of the United States had personally commissioned the book into my hands and I had failed him…. miserably. Someone was going to jail. I felt sure they wouldn’t put a 7 year old in jail, but, who…? Suddenly it became all too clear. They would put Daddy in jail because I was his kid and somebody had to pay.
At home, I hid in the closet, despite my mother’s pleas. I sat in the dark, crying, imagining the worst. Mama would have to go to work. Everybody would know I was the reason Daddy was in jail.
When Daddy came home, he grabbed me by the collar, stood me up and whacked my bottom, “What the heck is going on?” Daddy always could get to the seat of the problem in about 4 seconds.
I confessed to losing my library book on the way home. (I decided not to mention the part about him going to jail. He would find out soon enough when the library police arrested him.)
Daddy drove me back to the gigantic, monstrous hole that yawned beneath the boards at least 100 feet deep, the hole that had swallowed my precious book, the hole that was the cause of his impending incarceration, and my everlasting shame. He leaned over the yawning cavern, reached his long arm down and…retrieved the book.
Things were easier back then. Daddy could solve life-shattering problems with one sweep of his big hand, or so it seemed, as we drove home, my library book clutched tightly in my hands.
Now, I write the books I hope others will read. Black Cat’s Legacy, Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer, Black Cat and the Accidental Angel, and Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot are all available at Amazon in print and e-book.
Black Cat’s Legacy http://tinyurl.com/lrvevgm
Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer http://tinyurl.com/q3qrgyu
Black Cat and the Accidental Angel http://tinyurl.com/07zcsm2
Mrs. Odboddy – Hometown Patriot http://tinyurl.com/hdbvzsv
Thanks so much, Elaine, for your delightful story.
Now. blog visitor, it’s your turn. Share something from your childhood in the comments section below, or if you have a longer story that has influenced your reading or writing, let me know and I’ll feature you on my blog.
This Friday, the last Friday of the month, is the day the Morris Writers’ Group meets, and, as they usually do, the members invited my husband and me to join them. While Glenn and I don’t belong to a writers’ group anymore, we have been members of many. I met my one time critique partner and now good friend, Jan Day Fehrman, when she and I got together to form the Okeechobee Writers’ League, a group which continues to this day. At one point in my writing I found the writers’ group in Okeechobee useful. I think many beginning writers do like being part of a group and using others’ input to help develop their own writing. Sometimes it’s just a comforting feeling to know other people who are struggling with the craft and being able to share frustrations. And I think it’s important to identify as a writer and get to know others who write.
Some writers love writing groups; others hate them. I thought I’d share some of my experience on Friday to give you insight into how one writing group operates.
Sometimes the amount of food brought to the group is a bit like attending a church buffet. They’ve tried to cut down on the eating, but struggle with this because they, like me, like to eat. Food at a writing group is not something I recommend, but if it’s there, eat it!
The group is a motley crew of folks. Several are published, but most are not. The goal each has set varies from one to the other as do the genres represented. One writer has published a book for the young audience, but he chose to read from his adult novel prefacing his selection by saying it might be too gross for some of us. It was pretty gross and surprising for someone who writes so well for youngsters.
A published writer, new to the group, read from one of his books, while several others chose selections from stories or novel length books they were writing. To give you an idea of the breadth of the group, one is working on a cozy mystery, another writes amusing travel anecdotes from her past, and a third is presently taking an online course from the University of Iowa to help her complete her novel in mainstream literature. The individual who seems to serve as group coordinator/manager read another excerpt from his droll detective piece. Another newer member who recently moved to the area and who has completed a YA novel read a story he wrote the night before. The story with its focus on a Christmas party took the group back to food and the possibility of a holiday get together. I confess I raised the possibility even though my husband and I will not be here for the holidays (I hadn’t eaten lunch, so I was hungry!) Glenn and I shared some of our works in progress.
While this group has its own dynamic and its own loosely organized set of guidelines, it obviously works for its members. It has existed for years, and the members attend faithfully. The feedback is respectful and can be critical as well as encouraging.
As I’ve said, I’ve been in a number of writing groups, and all were unique. While I have my own preferences, group members should decide for themselves what they want and need and how they will go about it.
At Sleuthfest last year, Glenn and I organized a workshop on writing groups and collected materials which we put into a handout. If you wonder what you should look for in a writing group and where, you will find this handout useful. Contact me via my contact button on this website and I’ll send you a copy.
This story continues my Tales from the Hayloft, but it’s really a tale about the “big city.” My mother’s parents lived in Rockford, Illinois when I was a kid living on the farm. Visiting them was exciting. It meant getting the Sunday paper with the comics section, which included the Brenda Starr comic strip with paper dolls to cut out. I loved paper dolls, especially the Brenda Doll dresses. They were so elegant, like nothing I’d ever seen anyone wear. Remember, this was a time when television wasn’t yet a part of our lives, so a ball gown was only seen in a newspaper or in one of the Hollywood magazines.
The other excitement when in the city was taking the bus downtown to shop with my grandmother. For a kid growing up on a farm at the edge of a Midwest village of less than 3000 people, a city like Rockford, the second largest in the state, meant stepping into a world of people, noises and shopping choices not available at home. We shopped by catalogue, at that time a slow process.
But it wasn’t a shopping trip with my grandmother that I best remember. Instead, it was attending a funeral. She read in the newspaper of the death of someone she knew from years aback and decided to attend the funeral. The services were scheduled on a Saturday, one of the days my parents had dropped me to stay with my grandparents for the weekend. A funeral didn’t sound to exciting to me, a kid of around six at the time, but I think Grandma promised me some treat, Or I could stay home with my grandfather who was a person totally lacking in humor and not fun to be around. The treat wasn’t necessary. I’d go anywhere with my grandmother. I loved her better than any of my relatives because she was infinitely patient with me, warm, loving and affectionate, and demonstrations of affection were rare in my family.
So away we went on the city bus , so exciting. We arrived at the funeral home in time to, as my grandmother said, “view the body.” I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to look at a dead body. I figured the practice must have been something only adults could understand. The room was filled with mourners. Grandma took my hand and led me to the casket. I don’t remember if I “viewed the body” but my grandmother did. And gasped. She grabbed my hand more tightly and dragged me quickly out of the room. Once back in front of the funeral home, she caught her breath and recovered herself.
“That wasn’t my friend,” she said. “I must have gotten the date wrong.”
I don’t remember if there was a treat before we headed back to her house or not, but I’m certain the same mistake had to have been made by others. I think that’s why funeral homes now post the name of the deceased outside the room. Still, the city always offered something out of the ordinary to a farm kid. I would have been just as thrilled to have paper dolls as a visit to the funeral home.
Don’t forget that the tractor make quiz is ongoing: How many different makes of tractors can you name made in the United States between 1940 and 1970? A free copy of Mud Bog Murder to the winner.
Our Guest this month is Steve Shrott. His mystery short stories have been published in numerous print magazines and e-zines. His work has appeared in ten anthologies—two from Sisters-in-Crime (The Whole She-Bang, and Fishnets.) “Lucky Man,” his newest story, will be in Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine #18. He has had two humorous novels published, Audition For Death, and Dead Men Don’t Get Married, as well as a book on how to create humor. (Steve Shrott’s Comedy Course.) Steve’s comedy material has been used by well-known performers of stage and screen and some of his jokes are in The Smithsonian Institute. He has taught numerous courses on writing for various schools and organizations such as Savvy Authors, and The Romance Writers of America.
Dead Men Don’t Get Married is about Arnie Katz, a dentist and part-time PI. Arnie is still in love with his ex-girlfriend Debbie, so when her fiancé is murdered right before the wedding, Arnie has to help.
But as he investigates he soon discovers things are not as they seem.
Here’s a scene from Steve’s Book:
I opened the door to find Gino Samatini. How to describe him? The word “ginormous” comes to mind. He looked like he spent eighty hours a week in the gym, bench-pressing Toyotas, and the rest of the time eating fried chicken by the bucket. He had black stringy hair that fell onto his shoulders. He seldom blinked, making it look like he always had his eye on you. He probably did. “Arnie, Mr. Rodrico wants to see you.”
“That would be better left for Mr. Rodrico to explain. Get your clothes on and let’s go.”
I nodded and got dressed. You didn’t argue with Gino or Rodrico and live to tell about it. I slid into Gino’s limo and, a few moments later, we were on the road.
As he drove, we exchanged small talk about his car, the weather, some of his business associates who seemed to have died in strange accidents lately, and, of course, his hobby of collecting doilies, some of which he crocheted himself. He apparently had about 300 in his collection––all colors, shapes and designs. The other mob members must be so jealous.
After a few minutes, he changed the subject
“Listen, doc, I got a tooth in the back that’s killing me. Can you take a look at it?”
“Sure, Gino. Call my office and we’ll set something up.”
“I meant now.”
“Now, while the car is moving?”
“I’m trying to make good time. You know how Mr. Rodrico hates tardiness.”
“How about we pull over for a minute? I’ll take a quick peek.”
“Yeah, I guess.” He parked on the side of the road and I examined his chipped, yellowed teeth. “I think I see the problem, Gino.” I reached into my pocket and pulled out my dental tweezers. I slid them into his mouth and removed a large popcorn kernel that had been stuck between his teeth. “How’s that feel?”
“Much better. Thanks a lot, doc. You’re a genius.”
“Listen, Gino, why don’t you make an appointment sometime at my office? I spotted a few cavities.”
His expression suddenly changed, and I swear I saw his bottom lip tremble.
“Is it gonna hurt?”
I managed to calm him down and gave him my office number.
You may wonder why I would actually solicit business from a mobster. It’s funny, but I can’t stop myself. Whenever I see someone with dental problems, I just have to fix them. No matter who it is.
We arrived at Rodrico’s house, just as I finally convinced Gino that his trip to my office wouldn’t hurt and he might even get a free sucker out of it. That seemed to make him happy.
The house, an older brownstone in a suburban neighborhood, looked quaint, but not the type of dwelling you’d think the head of a mob family would inhabit. And they had really kept it up. It had been repainted in the spring after a revenge bombing by Jimmy the Fruit, (he liked killing by putting explosives in bananas,) and the hole in the roof repaired last Christmas when Larry the Ferret, (he was a master at hiding in small spaces,) slid down the chimney dressed as Santa, only with an Uzi.
I walked inside. Lisa, the maid, said hello, and told me I should go down the hall into the study.
The study resembled a library with its tall bookcases and tables piled high with magazines. The big man sat at his mahogany desk reading a book on nuclear physics. Most people might be surprised that a man in Rodrico’s position would be a reader. But he was very knowledgeable about many things other than whacking people.
His coal black hair and dimples made him look much younger than his sixty-odd years. Today, as usual, he dressed in a black suit and black tie.
He stood up from his desk, came over and shook my hand. “Great to see you, Arnie.” “Thanks, Mr. Rodrico.” I suppose when he discussed mob business with his associates he had a dour expression, but with me, he usually smiled.
“How’s the teeth business going?”
“As I’ve told you before, we could put you under contract and make you mob dentist. Pay you really well. You could take care of all the guys. Of course, you’d have to give up your other clients.”
“I appreciate it.” And I did. But my mind already whirled with newspaper headlines––‘Arnie Katz, mob dentist, murdered today over a root canal that went bad.’ Somehow, I didn’t see my future that way. “Still thinking about it, Mr. Rodrico.”
“Have a seat,” he said, pointing toward a red velvet chair in front of his desk. I sat as he walked behind the desk, and paced back and forth. And I have to tell you when a member of a major criminal organization paces, it puts you on edge.
“The assignment I have for you today is more of a personal matter, rather than business. I wouldn’t trust this with too many people, Arnie, but––you––you’re like family.”
“Thank you,” I said, not sure I wanted to be part of ‘the family.’
He paced again. No wonder he was in such great shape, what with all the pacing.”
Suddenly, he stopped and pursed his lips. “It’s my wife, you know, Judy.”
He sat down, picked up a file and rifled through the papers inside like it was a marked deck of cards and he wanted to find an ace. “See, lately I’ve received reports that she’s been seen in the company of a young man. As yet, we haven’t identified him. But if she’s having an affair, I want to know.” He banged his fist hard on the desk.
Rodrico loved Judy. But I wondered what would happen if he found out she’d been having an affair. I really didn’t want to be responsible for any bad things that happened. So I did the manly thing and tried to weasel out of this assignment.
I stood up as if I were about to go. “You know, Mr. Rodrico, I’m not sure if I’d be very helpful. I’m not a specialist in this kind of work.”
He stared at me, his eyes intense, then moved his face close to mine. I’m sure it was the same way he approached someone right before he gave them the kiss of death.
I moved out of smooch range.
“Arnie, I want you to do this for me as a favor.”
“I would love to but the thing is…”
He stared some more. Sweat poured out of places on my body I didn’t know you could sweat from. “Okay, fine. I’ll do it.
Buy Links for Steve’s books:
Some of you may remember Dr. Laura Murphy, the protagonist in my book Murder is Academic.
Laura will soon appear in the sequel, Failure is Fatal, which I intend to release sometime this summer. I’m editing the manuscript now and, as I was reading it, I thought I’d like to share an episode from it. I think it’s a funny scene, and who of us can’t use a laugh?
Here’s Laura as she once again gets involved in solving a murder by snooping where she shouldn’t. This time it’s a frat house, which she’s chosen to enter at night when the guys are out on the town. The reader may worry she’ll run into one of the frat brothers, but she encounters something else, something not at all human:
As I stood just within the door, my eyes took in the chaos of the room, and my nose confirmed what I saw: the sweet-bitter odor of flat beer in near-empty bottles and the distinctive smell of tomato sauce, cheese and pepperoni from half-eaten slices of pizza. I chuckled at the guys’ attempt at order—empty pizza boxes stacked at least three feet high sat in the far corner of the room. Nothing less than a backhoe could clear this area to yield anything of value to me. I was more curious about the door on the far side of the room near the pizza boxes. I moved toward the stack of boxes, noting with a smile that neatness was accompanied by function. On top of the pizza boxes sat a phone and, of course, an ashtray. I could almost see the gray haze of cigarette smoke hanging in mid-air. I pressed my hand against my nose to ward off the smoky odor. The smell of wet wool left on my hands from the red mittens was preferable to the cigarette-infused odor that emanated from the over-filled ashtrays and the upholstery of the chairs and sofa.
I turned toward the front windows. Maybe if I cracked one of the windows, a bit… Then I realized how easily someone from the street could see into the lighted living area. Oops, better move on. As I quickly continued across the room and into the shadows on the far side, my eye caught a bowl of blackish-green something on the coffee table. Extracting my flashlight from my pocket, I shined it on the object. Ah, a concession to another food group. The brighter light revealed several slices of cantaloupe underneath the mold on top. Funny, it looked very much like what was growing in my own refrigerator. I made a mental note to clean out the crisper soon. I snapped off the flashlight. I was treating this as if it were a scavenger hunt; find one bowl of mold, three hundred stubbed out cigarettes, and five clues to a murder. I mentally shook myself. Get focused. This is serious business.
I felt more comfortable in the shadows, but uncertain where I might be stepping without my flashlight to guide me. My foot touched something soft. Yikes! Oh, it was only a pile of clothing, dirty probably. Oh, ugh. This is silly, getting worked up over a pile of clothes. Calm down. Get out of there, whispered the Der voice in my ear. I was tempted to pick up the clothing and put it somewhere. I stopped myself. Now was not the time to be tidy and certainly not in a house I was burglarizing. I sidestepped the clothing, steadying myself with a hand on what I thought was a bureau. Funny, it felt like glass, not wood. I removed my mittens and slid my hand up the side of the smooth object until I felt wire mesh. Oh no, it can’t be. Probably just a terrarium with a few turtles in it or frogs. Frogs were okay. I needed to check to be certain. I turned on the flashlight. Yup. My worst nightmare. The beam reflected back the cold, unblinking reptilian eyes of a snake! Why did I have to look? I hate snakes, hate them, hate them, hate them. Why is this one smiling at me? In the light I could see feeding instructions printed in large letters on a card taped to the front of the glass cage: “Do not let Harry out. His next scheduled feeding isn’t until Sunday. He’s kind of grumpy.” Another card held the dates of previous feeds; the last one listed as three weeks ago.
I grabbed for the handle of the door behind me, and turned it. It opened into a dark room. I slammed the door behind me, waving my flashlight frantically around the room. No more glass cages sprang into view. I leaned backward into the door and felt my heart thumping heavily in my chest. Why was it frat guys always preferred scales to fur in their choice of pets? I shone the flashlight at my feet and toward the bottom of the door to assure myself that snakey hadn’t followed me into the room. Don’t be silly, the top was on the cage. But how securely? I hadn’t checked all the sides, and I wasn’t about to go back there and look now. I told myself to take deep breaths. God, I wish I had gotten beyond page ten in that book on relaxation. In, out. Too deep. I was getting light-headed. That’s all I needed now, to hyperventilate, pass out and be discovered later by drunken frat guys. I could imagine myself trying to explain that one to Der. Or to Guy.
Calmer now, I directed the flashlight at the bottom of the door again. Nope, nothing. Moving the light around the room, I was astonished at how neat and orderly the room appeared. It contained an over-sized desk and a large, comfortable looking desk chair. Several other chairs were placed around the room with a floor lamp to the right of one of them. I cautiously made my way to the lamp and switched it on. I could see that the windows behind the desk overlooked the backyard of the house. Little chance anyone would be back there in this weather or at this time of night. I felt more secure in this lighted room than I felt since entering the house. Taking a backward look at the bottom of the door again to assure myself that nothing was slithering its way underneath, I walked over to the desk. I pulled on one of the drawers, but it was locked. Drat! This place looked like the frat house’s office, just the place I might find something incriminating. I tried every drawer without luck. File cabinets lined the room to the left of the desk. I tried each one of their drawers to find them locked also. Keys, where would I find keys? I scanned the room. How about under the blotter on the desk? I flipped up a corner of the blotter. Nothing under there with the exception of a phone bill, unpaid for several months, I noted.
I sat down in the desk chair to think. The room held nothing else of interest. The only other object on the desk was an ashtray holding paper clips. I shifted through them with my fingers and found….nothing. Time to tackle the upstairs. But that meant I had to leave this nice, clean, well-illuminated room and cross in front of the snake cage to get to the stairs. Even if I decided not to search the rooms upstairs—quite a cowardly thing to do—I’d have to pass the cage to get through the living room and to the front door. I swung around in the chair to face the windows. Could I climb out a window and into the back yard? Maybe, but that meant I had to give up my plan to search the bedrooms. Get a grip, Laura. That snake is not interested in you. It eats mice, a much smaller mammal.
I got up out of the chair, reluctantly, because it was a great seat, not because I was afraid of a little ole snake, not me, oh no, and walked over to the floor lamp. I held my breath and counted to three. This had to be fast. In one movement, I checked the bottom of the door, made sure my flashlight was on, and turned off the floor lamp with my right hand while I pulled open the door with my left. Feet barely touching the floor in my flight, I waved at the snake (just to be friendly), avoided the pile of clothing on the floor by a fraction of an inch, and hit the corner of the pizza box telephone stand, causing the stack to tilt to one side and sending several cockroaches scurrying across the room for shelter. Out of the corner of my eye I was certain I saw the snake show some interest in the roaches. I continued fleeing across the room, and sprinted for the stairs, taking them by twos. I worried that the stairs might creak and wake up… Who? The snake? He was already setting the table for dinner. The roaches? Awake also and about to be fricasseed into a reptilian entree.
I hope you enjoyed that preview of Failure is Fatal.
I know many of you like to write humorous cozy mysteries. Once each month, I’d like to feature an excerpt from one of your works on my blog. It doesn’t have to be a long passage, and it can be from an unpublished or published work. This is an opportunity to share your humor with others. You can email me through this blog to schedule a time for you to visit with your scene. I look forward to hearing from you so I can help promote funny stuff in cozy mysteries.
Today we were digging up some bricks and stone pavers to put in new pavers. Glenn was creating an area for me so I could have a potting table and some shelves. A table is handy for transplanting so I don’t have to bend over as much (yes, I am getting to be that age). We’d removed a number of bricks and were about to begin on some old square slabs of stone. When we turned over the first slab, we found it wasn’t a stone paver at all, but a grave marker.
It reads, “Joseph Johnson. Died Dec 27, 1852.”
It is clearly a grave marker and not a grave stone. It is not broken, only a bit weathered, but probably less than it would have been if it was facing upward.
As you can guess, a number of possibilities crosssed our minds.
Did it mark a grave in our yard? Maybe. The death predates by twenty-two years the year our cottage was built . It is located very close to the house, but face down and clearly used as a stepping stone. The builder in 1874 would have noticed the paver. Or maybe he put it there? Or turned the marker over so he wouldn’t have to be bothered with what it implied?
Did someone steal this marker from a cemetery to use as a stepping stone? If so, when? And from what cemetery? Most of the villages around here have cemeteries that go back to the late 1700s. There’s our village cemetery across the creek from our house. It is old enough that the stone could have come from there, but it certainly didn’t swim or float across the water. Regardless of when it was taken, isn’t that disrespectful? And who was this thief?
Was this a disgarded or lost marker that has been replaced by another one? Why would someone toss out a grave marker?
I know some of the people here in the village, but we have lived here only a few years, so I don’t know many family histories. I do know that the funeral home is run by the Johnson family. Oh, oh.
The other stone slabs we turned over were not grave markers. Before I panic and assume the worst, i.e, there is a body buried in my yard, I’m going to talk with my neighbor across the street who is a member of the cemetery board. I’m just glad I didn’t find this on Halloween.
I welcome your speculations. I’ll bet you have some good ones.
And don’t forget. My cottage is inhabited by a ghost, Fred, my literary muse. So far he’s been silent about this. There sure is a lot of WooWoo stuff associated with this find.
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