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.