(Unedited preview – may contain errors.)
A short excerpt from Permanently Deleted. Phee has rescued a puppy named Fritz.
An hour later, I was at Paws n Claws Veterinary Clinic. My parents had been taking our Irish Setter, Hamlet, there for years and Dr. Vicki Betters had squeezed Fritz into her busy schedule.
Dr. Betters ran her hands over Fritz’s shaggy frame. She checked his ears and teeth and listened to his heart. “He appears to be about six months old. I’d guess he’s a mix between a Jack Russell and a long-haired Dachshund. He’s malnourished, but otherwise, he’s in good health. I’d definitely take him to a groomer to get these mats cut and for a good bath. Are you planning to keep him?”
“I think Ferdinand would never forgive me if I didn’t. He meowed up a storm until I went outside and found him.”
“He’s found his forever home,” Dr. Better said and smiled. “I’ll give him his first round of shots and a dewormer. You’ll need to bring him back in a few weeks for the second round of shots and a weight check, but I think he’ll be fine.”
Half an hour later, Fritz and I were back in Velma and heading downtown. He had a bone between his paws. The girls in the front office at the vet’s had insisted he needed a treat for being so brave when he got his shots. I pulled into a parking spot in front of Tinted Love Beauty Salon. Kimmie and Kristin were the owners of the beauty salon slash dog grooming salon. Since they were the only place in town that cut hair besides the barber shop, most people didn’t mind that they did dog’s hair in the back of the shop.
I opened the door of the shop and Fritz and I walked in. Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach blared in the shop. Kimmie, the older sister, sat on a salon chair reading a gossip magazine. She hopped up when she saw me. Her short hair was shaved on one side and sported a bright shade of magenta on the remaining long lock that fell over her left eye.
“What’s up, Phee? Who’s this little guy?” Kimmie asked.
“This is Fritz. I rescued him. Dr. Betters checked him over, and she suggested I have a professional cut out all these mats. Can you fit him in on your schedule today?”
“Sure can, baby doll. Come here, Fritzie Witzie. Give Auntie Kimmie some sugar.” Kimmie took Fritz’s leash and picked him up. “I’ll have him looking like a GQ dog model in about thirty minutes. You want to wait? Kristin’s finishing up a manicure, so she can do something about those caterpillars you have growing over your eyeballs.”
My hand went to my eyebrows. “What’s wrong with my eyebrows?”
“Darling, Brooke Shields is so yesterday with the brows. You need some shaping and some thinning. Kristin will hook you up.”
“Papa, don’t preach! I’m in trouble deep! Papa, don’t preach…tra la I don’t know the rest of the words…la la la la la,” Kristin caterwauled. The woman whose nails she was polishing grimaced at the off key singing.
“Who’s that?” I asked Kimmie. I hadn’t seen the woman in town before, and she didn’t look like one of the protester.
“Her name is Elizabeth Shields and she is with the feds,” Kimmie hissed. “The FBI feds. She’s here helping investigate some kinds of financial hinky dinky going on with some business. I only know this because my cousin Grace works at the hotel where she’s staying. FYI, she knows your man, Clint. Rumor has it they were eating dinner together the other night. Everything alright between you two?”
“We’re fine. It was probably business.”
Kimmie gave me a doubtful look. Heck. The words didn’t even ring true to my own ears. Clint did say he didn’t want a commitment. Guess he was making sure I believed him. Kimmie gestured for me to take a seat and carried Fritz to the back of the salon. A few minutes later, Kristin put the nail dryer over the agent’s hands and motioned me to a chair.
“What’s up, girl? Kimmie wasn’t kidding when she said those brows could use some love. Not tainted love either!” Kristin let out a loud guffaw of laughter at her own joke. Where her older sister was all eighties glam, Kristin was 1950s rockabilly. Both girls, however, loved karaoke and a good time and their vast array of song lyrics in their head never ceased to amaze me.
“I guess I haven’t been loving my brows. Who knew they were so needy?” I sat down and closed my eyes as she cleaned the area on my brow bone.
“How’s Clint? I bet he’s busy with this latest murder? I heard they were holding Nellie Jo as a suspect.” Kristin applied wax to one brow and seconds later, she ripped off the muslin causing me to jump out of my seat.
“Nellie had to be questioned since she’s his wife. Clint and I are good. Both of us have been busy with work and stuff,” I said nonchalantly.
Kristin applied wax to the other brow. A second later, I felt her arm jostle against me as she went to yank the second strip of muslin. “Oh crap! Oh crap!”
I opened my eyes. “What? What’s wrong?”
“I am so sorry,” Elizabeth Shields said. “I’m such a clumsy person.” She shrugged and gave me a sheepish smile.
“Phee, don’t look. I can fix it,” Kristin squeaked. “I can.” She pressed the muslin back against my brow and frantically patted it.
“Fix what?” I asked. I turned my chair to look into the mirror. I had a unibrow. As in, one eyebrow over one eye. No eyebrow over the other. “Oh my sweet pepper of paella! My eyebrow is gone!”
“It’s my fault. I was looking down at my nails and accidentally bumped Kristin. I really am sorry,” Elizabeth apologized again. If she was so sorry, why did she have a triumphant gleam to her eyes?
“It’s okay. I’m sure Kristin will fix it,” I said smoothly. No way was I going to let this polished, blonde federal agent know that inside my voice was screaming Eyebrow Cyclops!
“Your Clint’s friend, Phee, aren’t you? I’m Elizabeth Shields. He told me about you,” Elizabeth said. “I’ve got to run. I’ll buy you a cup of coffee next time I run into you to make up for this.” She strolled out the shop door.
“That little…!” Kristin fumed. “Phee, I swear she did it on purpose. There’s more than enough room for her to walk past me. I’ll fix it though.”
“How?” I said. “I look like a…a freak!” I wanted to cry, but I knew if I did, Kristin would fall apart. It wasn’t her fault.
“I’ll give you bangs!” Kristin said. “Yeah! That’s what I’ll do. I’ll give you long bangs that you can wear swooped down over one eye to hide the missing eyebrow until it grows back.”
“Like Veronica Lake?” I said with a small hint of hope that I wouldn’t be a social pariah for the next six weeks.
“I don’t know who that is, but sure.” Kristin pulled out her scissors and began to cut on my hair. A few minutes later, she twirled my chair around to show me my new hairdo. She had managed to get my unruly red hair to fall into a natural looking swoop over my left eye. Although it didn’t hide the missing eyebrow entirely, it did make it a little less noticeable.
“I can live with it,” I said. “Worse comes to worst, I’ll hide in a dark room for the next month.”
“I am so sorry, Phee. I swear she bumped me on purpose. You can use a pencil to try to draw an eyebrow on if you think it will help. ”
“I believe you. Somehow I think Miss Elizabeth Shields, federal agent, was trying to intimidate me. Well, Ophelia Jefferson is nobody’s doormat!”
Nicola Galliani reread the note instructing him where to go after he made it through L’Isola dell Lagrime. His orders were to meet Vanzetti in New York. The date of the revolution was set. If the people ever wanted to break the stranglehold that the crooks and hucksters of Wall Street maintained on them, he couldn’t fail. With a grim smile, he folded the paper into a small rectangle and tucked it inside the band of his hat. He slipped the hat onto his head and tilted it to hide the scarring. He needed to hurry if he wanted to make it to the ship. America waited.
Thomas Sullivan looked at the Norwegian woman in front of him. Her particulars were on a landing card pinned to her dress. He verified that the information on the manifest matched the card. After a minute inspection, he gave her a curt nod and moved on to the next immigrant. He repeated the process over a hundred times every day. It was a rare occasion for him to detain anyone. When the last person from the steamship passed his station, he tallied his marks and turned in his report to the head immigration inspector. Donning his hat, he left for home. First, he planned to stop at O’Malley’s for a pint to wash the stench of hundreds of unwashed bodies from his nostrils.
Two hours later, he climbed the stairs to the set of rooms he shared with his widowed sister, Irene. He could smell the warm, yeasty scent of his sister’s bread when he entered the flat. He hung his hat and coat on a nail by the door.
“Irene, the angels in heaven envy me,” Thomas said. He sat at the table and Irene put a bowl of stew in front of him. He grabbed a slice of the bread and dipped it into the stew.
“And why is that?” Irene asked. She blew a stray curl from her eyes.
“Because I’ve got a sister who bakes me the best bread in New York.”
“Did you kiss a piece of the Blarney Stone one of those young Irish girls brought with her?”
“This load was mostly Germans and Norwegians. Different faces and accents, but the same look of confused hope on the lot of them.” Thomas mopped up the last of the stew with his bread.
“I have news,” Irene announced. “The Granvilles invited a spiritualist to the house tomorrow evening. They’re hosting a séance.”
“A séance? Why talk to the dead? There’s enough problems with the living without inviting the dead into the mix.”
“Mr. Giles asked me to stay late and help the other girls clean up after the party. I’m going to see a spirit!” Irene said excitedly. “Maybe Daniel will send me a message if he knows I’m there. If you want to come listen, I’m sure Mrs. Hudson would let you stay in the kitchen. She’s still waiting for you to come calling on her daughter, Anne.”
Irene’s husband, Daniel, had died the previous year when he fell into machinery at the factory where he worked. They had only been married six months. Thomas worried his sister would never remarry despite her attractive face and excellent cooking skills. The last thing Irene needed was to think Daniel would come back to her as a spirit.
“I don’t believe in ghosts and such. It’s not natural. The dead go to heaven or hell. They don’t wait around for some grifter to help them speak,” Thomas said.
“Well, I’m excited,” Irene declared, “and I don’t care what you say, Thomas Sullivan. My Daniel will come. Just you wait and see!” She snatched his empty bowl from the table and stalked away.
Thomas sighed. He knew his sister. Once she had an idea in her head, nothing could shake it loose. Tired from his long day, he headed to bed.
The next evening, Thomas made his way to Banker’s Row and the Granvilles’ stately home. He knocked at the rear door by the kitchen. Mrs. Hudson’s exasperated face relaxed when she saw Thomas. “Thomas! Irene told me you might come by this evening. Anne’s in the dining room, but she’ll be done soon. Would you like a bit of supper while you wait?”
“Thank you, Mrs. Hudson. A bite to eat would be most welcome after today.” Thomas settled onto a wooden chair. “Irene said there was a séance this evening. Have they started?”
“So much foolishness. Folks with too much money and time on their hands and not enough sense. Madame Valentina, as she calls herself, is here. She’s waiting for her men to finish setting up the room.” Mrs. Hudson placed a plate with a generous slice of roast and vegetables in front of him.
“Irene believes Daniel is somehow going to speak to her tonight,” Thomas said. “I tried to tell her it’s all fakery, but she wouldn’t listen.”
“Anne tried to tell her the same thing,” Mrs. Hudson said. She pulled a pie from the cupboard and sliced a generous portion. She slid it onto his plate.
The door between the kitchen and hallway swung open. Anne and Irene rushed into the kitchen giggling. The dishes they carried threatened to topple to the ground. Thomas jumped up and relieved Anne of several plates.
“Thank you, Thomas.” Anne blushed. A plump blonde girl, Anne Hudson always had a smile on her face.
“You’re most welcome,” Thomas said and carried the plates to the sink. “Have the shenanigans started?”
“Thomas!” Irene scolded. “If you met Madame Valentina, you would be a believer, too. I can sense the spirits hovering around her.”
There was a rattle of pots and a loud harrumph from Mrs. Hudson. Thomas decided to keep his own counsel and not add his thoughts on the mysterious Madame Valentina. “I’ll wait here in the kitchen until you’re done for the night.”
Irene and Anne rushed out of the kitchen to finish their chores. Thomas sat back at the table. Mrs. Hudson poured them both a cup of coffee. She heaved a tired sigh as she settled her ample frame opposite of him. “Give her time. She’s young, and it’s only been a year since Daniel passed.”
Thomas sipped his coffee. He was opening his mouth to ask Mrs. Hudson if he could call on Anne when Irene burst into the kitchen.
“Thomas! Madame Valentina says she has a message for you! Come quick!”
“What in the world…” Thomas started to protest, but Irene had already darted back down the hall. Thomas quickly followed her down the hallway to the sitting room. A dark-haired woman with a lace shawl draped over her head sat at a round table. Anne and Irene were the only other people in the room.
“Come here, Thomas Sullivan,” the woman said in a heavy Italian accent. “I don’t have much time.”
Thomas stepped hesitantly towards her. “No disrespect, ma’am, but I don’t believe in spirits.”
“It doesn’t matter!” Madame Valentina rapped her hand down on the table. “What I have to tell you is urgent and a matter of life or death! Stop the burnt man. If you don’t, hundreds will die. Now go before they return!”
Thomas stumbled out of the room and rushed back to the kitchen. He shivered despite the warmth of the room.
The next day, Thomas yawned his way through his shift at Ellis Island. Irene and he hadn’t arrived home until close to midnight. Irene had chattered about the séance nonstop. Daniel hadn’t spoken to Irene, but she thought maybe he had sent the warning to Thomas.
“Do you know a burnt man?” Irene had asked.
“No, I don’t. Nor do I need to stop anyone based on a psychic’s warning. It’s all fakery. Madame Valentina was warming up for her upcoming performance,” Thomas had replied.
He struggled to focus on the man in front of him. Mr. Manning had warned all the inspectors of a credible threat.
“We’ve received word that a group of anarchists are making their way to America from Italy and Poland,” Mr. Manning warned the immigration inspectors earlier. “You check, then double check, every man’s credentials over the coming days and weeks. You are the first line of defense against these blasted revolutionaries.”
Thomas eyed the man in front of him. An immigrant from Greece, his information appeared to be in order. He nodded, and the man moved forward. He was the last passenger.
Thomas tallied up the day’s count and handed his sheet to his boss. “I’ll see you on Monday, Mr. Manning.”
When Thomas opened the door to his home, the familiar scents and sounds that usually greeted him were absent. He found Irene sitting at the table crying.
Alarmed, Thomas asked, “What’s wrong? What happened?”
“Madame Valentina is dead.” Irene sobbed. “Murdered last night after she left the Granvilles.”
Thomas was shocked. Madame Valentina had said she didn’t have much time. Did she have a vision that she was going to die? He shook his head. What a silly thought. She had probably meant that she had to hurry because it was time for the séance. Her murder was a coincidence.
“Who killed her?” Thomas asked his sister.
“They haven’t arrested anyone.” Irene sniffled. “The circumstances were strange. She left the Granvilles shortly after midnight. Mr. Giles said she was alive when she climbed into the carriage. By the time she arrived at her hotel, she was dead. Stabbed through the heart! The police questioned the driver. According to him, he never stopped between the Granvilles and the hotel. He had no blood on him, so the police believe him. This is awful.” She pressed a handkerchief to her mouth and tried to calm down.
Thomas gave his sister an awkward pat. Although the spiritualist’s death was shocking, the woman was a virtual stranger. “The police will figure it out. People like her often come into contact with rough characters.”
“She promised to try to channel Daniel for me. Now I’ll never have a chance to speak to him!” Irene wailed. She ran from kitchen and slammed her bedroom door shut behind her.
Thomas considered going after Irene but decided to let her be. The emotions of women baffled him at times. Clearly, dinner wouldn’t be appearing, so he put his hat back on and went in search of a corner pub and a cold pint.
On Monday, Thomas reported to work as usual. He and Irene had passed Sunday with nothing more said about the murder of Madame Valentina. They attended church a few blocks from their home and ate a cold supper before they retired to bed early.
The passengers disembarking today had left the port of Le Havre in Italy three weeks ago. All of the inspectors were alert to the possibility that one of these passengers could be planning an attack similar to the bombings throughout the city in the previous year. Ellis Island, or the Island of Tears as the immigrants called it, was the gateway, and Lady Liberty reigned as gatekeeper; however, it was the immigration inspectors who ensured those allowed through were worthy.
The majority of the passengers filing past Thomas were women and children. A few men had passed through his station earlier, but none of them had seemed suspicious. He gave the old woman in front of him a smile. Her daughter and son-in-law were already settled in Brooklyn. She was finally coming to join them and her new grandchild. He approved her entry, and she nodded her thanks. The next passenger stepped up to the station. He wore a gray cap pulled low.
“Take off your cap,” Thomas said in exasperation. Surely the translators had explained the inspection process to the man.
The man reached up and pulled off his hat. Thomas tried to hide his shock at the man’s appearance. Angry scars mottled the side of his face and twisted his mouth into a permanent grim smile.
“Fire. Burned my face,” the man said in broken English.
Thomas froze as Madame Valentina’s warning about the burnt man filled his thoughts. It had to be a coincidence. He scanned the manifest for the man’s name.
“Mi scusi. I pass?” The man gestured towards the gate.
“Um…no. Wait.” Thomas held up his hand to stop the man. He wondered if he was foolish to believe a scam artist’s warning about a burnt man. He could lose his job if he was wrong. Before he could decide, the man pushed past him and began to run.
“Stop him!” Thomas shouted. He ran after the fleeing man. The old Italian grandmother was still shuffling towards the exit. At his shout, she turned. Seeing the man running towards her, she screamed and dropped her small bag. The burnt man stumbled but quickly regained his footing. It was all Thomas needed. He leapt forward and tackled him.
Two weeks later, Thomas and Irene sat at their kitchen table. Irene listened as Thomas read the news article aloud.
“Immigration inspector, Thomas Sullivan, was instrumental in bringing Nicola Galliani to justice. A known revolutionary and avowed anarchist, Galliani refuses to speak; however, plans to bomb Wall Street were found hidden in his belongings. In a related story, Madame Valentina, spiritualist and psychic, was murdered by known associates of Galliani. The culprits worked for Mme. Valentina and used her travels throughout the city and into the many homes of our esteemed city leaders as cover for their work.” Thomas folded the paper and smiled at his sister. “The credit belongs to Madame Valentina. If not for her warning, I wouldn’t have stopped him. I have to wonder if she actually had a psychic vision or if she overheard her assistants planning an attack.”
“We’ll never know. You know what? I prefer to leave it that way,” Irene said. She stood up. “I’m off.”
“Where are you going?” Thomas asked. They usually spent their Sunday afternoons relaxing. If the weather was nice like today, they would walk to the park and feed the ducks.
“Mr. Giles asked if I would walk with him in the park today. I said yes.” Irene turned to grab her hat but not before Thomas saw the tinge of pink on her cheeks.
“I think that’s a fine idea,” Thomas said.
(Unedited preview – may contain errors.)
“Mike was found dead Monday morning,” Juliet said.
Dusty was silent for a moment. Her face crumpled and she began to cry. “I lied. I know Mike. He’s my…he was my boyfriend. I thought his wife sent you to threaten me again.” Mascara tears tracked a crooked line down her cheeks.
“I’m sorry. Did you say Mike’s wife threatened you?” Juliet asked. “When was this?”
Dusty sniffled and wiped her nose with the back of her hand. “Saturday night. She climbed up on the stage and screamed at me right in the middle of my routine. She was crazy mad.”
“Did you know he was married? I mean, you can’t blame Nellie for being angry. You were having an affair with her husband,” I said. I hope this woman didn’t expect us to feel sorry for her.
“Not at first, but I figured it out soon enough. By that time, I was in love.” She shrugged her shoulders. “A girl wants what a girl wants. Now he’s gone.” She dropped her face into her hands and sobbed.
“Waz going on here?” A large man with a dull green t-shirt that failed to cover his ample belly slurred as he stumbled his way to our table. “Why…why you crying, Dusty? These folks botherin’ you?” He swayed back and forth.
“Hey, buddy, we’re having a private conversation with Dusty,” Wade said. “You can talk to her in a few minutes.”
“Do I know you?” He squinted at Wade and tried to focus. “Ima friend of Dusty and you’re making her cry, buddy.” He poked at Wade with his sausage fingers, but somehow managed to push the wheelchair away and lost his balance. He stumbled, caught himself and fell backwards against me. He tried to steady himself by grabbing my chair but grabbed my chest instead.
“Get your grubby paws off of me!” I yelled.
He gave me a sloppy grin showing off his missing front teeth. “No need to get angry, baby doll. Why don’t you give me a lap dance and I’ll forgive you for makin’ my friend cry?” He hiccupped and squeezed.
“Why don’t you go take a flying leap off a short cliff! And get your hand off my boob!” I picked up my purse and swung it hard. It hit the drunk on the side of the head. He dropped to the ground like a sack of potatoes.
“You killed Daryl! Bruce! Call the police! She killed Daryl!” Dusty screamed. “She killed Mike and now she’s killed Daryl! Police!”
“What? No! Wait! I didn’t kill anybody!” I jumped up to leave.
“You aren’t going anywhere,” Bruce said. “Sit down. The law’s coming.”
Fifteen minutes later, Clint and Lu walked into the bar. I cringed and sunk down into my chair. Juliet, however, waved at them and motioned them over.
“Lu. Clint. What brings you to this fine establishment?” Juliet asked. She turned her big blue eyes heavenward. If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn she was as innocent as a newborn baby.
“Cut the crap, Juls,” Clint said. “We had a call that a man was assaulted by two women and a man in a wheelchair. Imagine my surprise when the description that came across the radio sounded exactly like my girlfriend.” He turned to me. “Phee, what the hell are you doing in this dive and why are you assaulting people?”
Daryl was sitting at the bar and had a grungy bar towel filled with ice on his head. When he realized the law had arrived, he stumbled his way over to us. “Occifer. I want you to arres…arrest this woman for assaultin’ me.” He hiccupped and sat down.
“It wasn’t assault!” I protested. “It was self-defense. He grabbed the girls and wouldn’t let go! I only hit him with my bag to make him go away. He was so drunk it knocked him over.”
Clint hefted my bag. He flipped it open and pulled out two books. Two thick hardcover books. Oops. He clicked the mike on his shoulder. “Tina, Officer Gifford and I are on scene. Looks like we got an armed and dangerous librarian. Her books are deadly.”
I participated in NYC Midnight’s Screenwriting challenge this past year. Never having written one, I scrambled to learn proper formatting, etc. For those of you unfamiliar with NYC Midnight’s writing contests, participants are given their genre, subject and character. In addition, there is a strict word and time limit. I was given auction, romance and hairdresser. I present to you, my entry 18_Dyeing to Meet You
This is an UNEDITED ADVANCE of Chapter One of Permanently Deleted, Book Three in the Phee Jefferson Series.
I was seated at the circulation desk in the library checking in the large cart of books next to me. I wanted to get everything done and shelved before I went home in a few minutes. The last patron was packing up to leave when Juliet burst through the front doors.
“Phee, you’ve got to come,” Juliet panted.
“I’m busy, Juliet,” I said, stifling my exasperation at the interruption. “I want to get this done.”
Juliet slammed her hand down in front of me. Startled at her sudden burst of anger, I looked up and saw Juliet was crying. “What in the world is the matter, Juls.”
“It’s Nellie Jo. They found Mike dead at the pickle factory,” Juliet sobbed, “and Clint’s arrested Nellie Jo. Phee, they’re saying she killed him. Nellie Jo killed her husband!”
I sat back and tried to process what Juliet’s news. Nellie Jo arrested for murder? There had to be a mistake. Ever since Juliet helped me solve Elody Campbell’s murder, she saw crime everywhere she looked. Poor Mr. Crum resorted to walking his dog in the predawn hours to avoid Juliet’s watchful gaze. She swore he didn’t use a pooper scooper when he walked his Schnauzer.
“You must have gotten bad information. There’s no way Nellie would kill Mike. Start at the beginning and tell me what’s going on.”
“Nobody has time for all of that!” Juliet shouted. “Nellie is in jail. Mike is dead. Grab your purse and let’s go.”
“Alright. Give me five minutes to shut everything down and lock up. We’ll head over to the sheriff’s office and talk to Lu. I’m sure it’s a misunderstanding.” I shut the computer down and grabbed my sweater and purse. Juliet paced in front of the exit as I flipped off all of the lights and locked the doors.
“Nellie won’t do well in prison. She’s too sweet and trusting,” Juliet blurted. “I’ve got about two hundred dollars in savings to help with bail money. Do you think Mom and Dad will chip in?” Juliet jogged down the sidewalk towards the sheriff’s.
“Wait until we talk to Jaime before you break open your piggy bank,” I said, huffing as my short legs struggled to catch up with Juliet’s long stride.
Juliet ignored me and burst through the glass door of the sheriff’s office. Tina looked up from where she sat flipping through a gossip magazine. “Where’s Nellie? Why was she arrested? Lu?” Juliet’s eyes darted around the small front office until they lighted on Lu who had come out of her office in the back.
“Settle down,” Lu said, holding up her hands defensively.
“Settle down? Settle down? Clint slapped cuffs on Nellie like she was a common criminal and you want me to settle down?” Juliet shouted.
The door to the sheriff’s flew open behind us. Valerie, Corinne and Charlie marched in and demanded to know where Nellie was and why she was under arrest. I couldn’t figure out who was saying what as voices rose in volume.
Lu leaped up on the Tina’s desk and pulled out her gun. “Everybody sit down and be quiet or I’m gonna start shooting!”
“No need to shoot anyone,” Clint drawled as he walked into the reception area. “Nellie is not under arrest. I didn’t cuff her. She’s here voluntarily to answer some questions about Mike. You all need to go home and let the police do their job.” He looked pointedly at Juliet and then turned his gaze towards me.
I avoided his eyes and stepped up next to Juliet and put my arm around her shoulders. “Come on, Juls. Let the professionals,” I paused on the word, “do their job. I’m sure Nellie will straighten everything out and we’ll have a big laugh with her tomorrow over coffee.”
“I don’t think Nellie will be opening up for business tomorrow. Mike Cochran was found this afternoon floating in one of the vats down at the pickle factory. He was murdered.”
Please enjoy an (unedited) excerpt from my forthcoming novel, The Romance Report. Our main character has returned from her first date with a man from the dating site, True Hearts. Let’s peek in and see how it went.
A blog dedicated to the pursuit of love and happiness.
The Romance Report
Saturday, September 14, 1:05 a.m.
Here goes nothing. Since I recounted my European travel in my previous blog, Tales of a French-fried Foodie, I decided to create this new blog, The Romance Report, to share my dating trials and tribulations.
Dating is not for the weak of heart. If I’d been a two-pack a day smoker in my fifties on her first blind date since her divorce I’d be on the next boat to Alaska where the temperatures hover below thirty degrees the majority of the year. Clothes are your friend, dear reader! Please don’t take them off in public and gyrate with others! I imagine the confused looks on your faces and promise to explain my love of parkas, long johns and lots and lots of layers.
Due to my dear, dear friend’s (or frenemy after tonight!) machinations, I went on my first date courtesy of the dating site, True Hearts. My date, who I will call Saul to protect his identity, passed the vetting process with flying colors. He’s a successful realtor, loves animals and has no criminal background. A date with Saul, sight unseen, seemed perfectly harmless. Who knew that by the end of the night I would end up chained to a dungeon wall.
Thanks to a certain writer who shall remain unnamed, bondage has become quite the craze among the bored housewives and thirty-something singles here in the city of Richmond. Unbeknownst to me, my date’s choice of club, Dark Dreams, caters to those who want a taste of the lifestyle without taking the full plunge. Imagine my surprise when my friend and I walked into Dark Dreams and our eyes were assaulted by various and a sundry clubbers in leather chaps, bustiers which failed to boost and creepy men in leather masks which will give me nightmares for the next fifty years. To my further dismay, Saul, recognized me from my profile picture and snagged me before I could turn tail and run. I assume he was as handsome in real life as he was in his photograph, but who could tell under the leather eye mask he’d chosen as the accessory to his black leather vest and skin-tight jeans with a pair of handcuffs dangling from his belt. Gulp!
Saul tried to be charming. He really did. He bought me a Bloody Mary (a portent of things to come? Maybe.) He chatted with my friend and me about the real estate market, his dog, Peeadore, and his most recent vacation to Florida. Try as he might, I failed to succumb to his charms and laugh at his witty banter. Why? Behind him was a lovely couple who were slightly chunky and liked to display their bodies like a pork chop in a butcher shop. To top it off, Mr. Pork Chop kept snapping his small whip on his beloved Mrs. Pork Loin’s derriere to which she would giggle and bray, “Oh, Marty, you bad, bad boy. I live to serve you.”
Feeling slightly nauseous from the sweaty, half-naked bodies packed like sausages into the club, I excused myself to the ladies’ room. As I fought my way past whips and chains, I made the mistake of catching some Marquis de Sade wannabe’s eye. He grabbed my arm, slapped it in a wrist iron hanging from the wall and commanded me to beg. He wanted submission, but he got a swift kick in the groin and me screaming bloody murder instead. Fearing a lawsuit, management rescued me and offered me a free drink. I graciously declined their offer, grabbed my friend and slid my buttery butt all the way home (which is a story for another post.) Needless to say, dear readers, my quest for a life partner will no longer take place online. I’m off to wash the butter and the memories of Dark Dreams off of me. For now, sweet dreams and goodnight.
Britney11: I LOVE Dark Dreams. You should give it another chance. It allows you to be you without fear.
QuinnieBee: I can be me without being naked and afraid in a club with whips and chains.
Dreambuilder: I want to know why you had butter all over you. Do tell.
QuinnieBee: One should always keep their house fully stocked with lotion when trying to wear tight leather pants. Enough said.
Dreambuilder: LOL. 🙂
This is an advanced excerpt from The Romance Report. This is not final, but does provide a glimpse into the our main character, Quinn, and her dating disasters.
Quinn struggled to buckle her 3-inch black Prada heels while holding her cell phone between her shoulder and ear. Sighing, she tossed the phone on her unmade bed and a tinny voice continued to chirp from it. She buckled the straps quickly and slipped the black dress from its hanger and over her head. Quinn picked up the phone. “Uh huh. Yes, I’m wearing the dress you bought me for my birthday.”
“Black is always slimming, dear. As I was saying, your father and I don’t understand why you insisted on taking the job with this half-baked website. We have contacts and could get you a real job.”
“It is a real job with a real magazine, Mom. The world is changing. More publishers are moving to the digital world. Heck. I read you and Dad’s articles online with my morning coffee. It’s great not traipsing out at six a.m. to get the morning edition. I boot up my laptop and there you are.”
“What’s the name of this magazine again?”
“It’s called Under the Radar. Randall Kent, the owner, wants to feature restaurants, clubs and shops that don’t get reviewed, but should. Tonight I’m checking out an Italian fusion restaurant called Marlowe’s,” Quinn said.
“Personally, I think it’s in poor taste to mix work and dating, but tonight was the only night Tad had free while he’s in the city. He’s on track to make partner at the same law firm as his father. You remember T.K., dear. Your father went on that yearly deep sea fishing trip with him and a few others. Good family.”
“I know, mother.” Quinn rolled her eyes. She wondered if her mom realized the only time Quinn called her mother was when she lectured Quinn like she was still twelve. “I promise I’ll behave and not embarrass you. I’m sure Tad mixes business with pleasure, too. After all, isn’t that what corporate lawyers do? Seal the deal over a cocktail and perhaps a pole dancer or two?”
“Don’t be crude. I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” Anne Daniels said curtly and hung up.
Quinn sighed again. Open mouth and insert a Prada heel. It seemed to happen more and more these days when she talked to her parents. Both were reporters for a national newspaper. Her dad focused on the political scene while her mother wrote of world events. Quinn knew they both expected her to follow in their footsteps, but after she finished journalism school, she felt lost. Her three months traveling abroad with Uncle John was intended to shake her out of her funk. Instead, a lingering sense of restlessness remained.
She finished applying her makeup and brushed her long, dark hair into a severe ponytail. She added a deep rouge lip stain that made her pale complexion even paler. “I might not be a fashion model, but I wouldn’t toss me out with yesterday’s fish,” Quinn told her reflection then blew herself a kiss.
Checking the clock on her cell phone, Quinn saw she was going to be late to meet Tad. She grabbed her purse and keys and headed out the door. As she clattered down the stairs from her apartment, she rounded the corner and slammed right into a solid wall. A solid wall that smelled of men’s cologne and wore a suit and tie. Looking up, Quinn saw an amused smile on the face in front of her. An attractive man with sandy brown hair and a hint of a five o’clock shadow on his chin gazed down at her. He held a leather duffel bag in one hand.
“I’m so sorry,” Quinn apologized. “I was in a hurry to meet someone and wasn’t watching where I was going.”
“I think I’ll survive the assault. I’m Zach Taylor. I just moved in last week. You must be Quinn. I meant to come introduce myself before now, but fate has intervened and saved me from bad manners.” Zach held out his hand. Quinn grasped it and was pleased that unlike some men, his handshake was firm, not crushing or clammy and limp.
“It’s nice to meet you. I hate to be rude, but I am already late for a date,” Quinn blurted out.
“Well, I’d hate to keep the lucky guy waiting. Stop by for coffee and a chat anytime. It’s been a pleasure meeting you,” Zach said.
“You, too. And again, I’m really sorry for barreling into you.” Quinn gave a quick wave with her hand and headed down the next flight of stairs.
Exiting her brownstone, she looked around for a cab. Not spotting one, she strode down the sidewalk towards downtown. After two blocks at a breakneck pace, Quinn’s feet already ached. The heels she wore might be smoking hot, but they were torture devices as far as she was concerned. She’d rather wear a pair of flip flops than heels of this height. Marlowe’s was at least ten more blocks away. Thankfully, she spotted a cab letting off a fare and hobbled her way quickly to grab it. A few blissful minutes off her feet later, she was safely delivered to the restaurant.
Quinn spotted Tad Kincaid at a table in the far corner of the restaurant, and waving away the hostess, she made her way to the table. “Sorry I’m late, Tad. I ran into my new neighbor as I headed out the door.”
“I was beginning to think I’d been stood up. There’s a first time for everything,” Tad said. He reached up a hand and smoothed his blonde hair. Quinn hadn’t seen him since he was a teenager. He hadn’t changed much in the intervening years. He still sported the same clean-cut, All-American male look of his youth.
“I’m sorry,” Quinn said again. She longed to take off the offending heels. Her feet felt like two giant sweet potatoes fresh out of a hot oven. Maybe she could loosen the straps. “It’s been a long time. You look good.”
“Thanks.” Tad preened. He leaned forward and whispered, “I don’t know about this restaurant you chose. The chef came out a little while ago and I swear he looked like he just got released from a prison chain gang. He had more tattoos and piercings than a biker. If you want to go somewhere else, we can.”
Quinn reached down and tried to unfasten the buckle on her shoes. “Todd Marlowe is supposed to be the up and coming chef in Italian fusion food. He’s edgy and modern. He went to a top cooking school in Paris, not Prison Cooking 101 class. I’m sure it’ll be fine.” She pretended to get something from her purse. Grabbing the offending buckle, she yanked it open and eased her foot out of the shoe. She glanced down and saw Tad was wearing a pair of Gucci loafers. Without socks. Not even no show socks from what she could tell. Appalled by the imagined stench of his leather bound sweaty feet, she accidentally banged her head on the table as she hurried to rid herself of the image of Tad’s toes. “Ouch!”
“Are you okay?” Tad said with what seemed more like annoyance than concern.
“I’m fine. I was trying to turn my cell phone off in my purse so it wouldn’t disturb us,” Quinn lied.
“Good. There’s nothing I hate more than someone talking nonstop on their phone during dinner. I’m an attorney and my clients need constant access to me, but I draw the line at having the phone on at dinner,” Tad said with a self-important tone. “So, Quinn, what have you been doing since the last time I saw you…what was it? Ten years ago?”
“Just about. I think it was your brother Rodney’s sixteenth birthday party. You were home from university and didn’t have time for us lowly teenagers.”
“Well,” Tad chuckled, “you know what it’s like with little brothers and sisters. They’re annoying until they finish puberty.”
“Not really,” Quinn said. She guessed Tad forgot she was an only child. The waiter arrived and handed them menus.
“My name is Jack and I’ll be your waiter this evening. Our special is a Shrimp Fra Diavolo. It’s jumbo shrimp served in a spicy marinara sauce and garnished with mussels, clams and basil. Would you like to see our wine list?”
“Yes,” Quinn started.
“No, that’s not necessary. We’d like a glass of your house red to start and I’ll take prime rib, rare, with a baked potato and green beans.”
“Sir, we don’t serve prime rib,” Jack said, slightly confused.
“You don’t serve prime rib? Really? Quinn, your mother said you reviewed high-end restaurants online. What kind of four-star restaurant doesn’t serve prime rib?”
“This is an Italian fusion restaurant. It’s Italian with a Caribbean flair, not English,” Quinn explained. “And I try not to let the restaurant know I’m writing about their food. Kind of screws the pooch, you know.”
Tad’s face twisted in consternation as he absorbed what Quinn said. “Hmmm…don’t know that I’m familiar with Italian fusion food, but what the heck, I’m nothing if not open-minded. Jack, give us a few minutes and get back to us. In the meantime, if you could bring us the house red, that’d be great.”
“Jack, hold on. Could you bring me a glass of Chardonnay, please. House is fine, but a glass of water with a twist of lemon to go with it would be outstanding.”
“Certainly. I’ll be right back.” Jack almost saluted as he turned and hurried away from what was quickly turning into a tense evening.
Quinn looked over the top of her menu at Tad. He was exactly the type of guy her mom would adore. Clean-cut, well-educated, good job. A solid middle-class male. She could even see the start of a receding hairline. Tad would be bald as his dad by forty. He was probably boring as hell, too. Mentally, Quinn shook her head. She had promised her mother she would give Tad a chance. After her last boyfriend disaster, anything would be an improvement. Thomas, the hot drummer, turned out to be a little too hot for her to handle. Actually, it was the stolen items in his apartment that were hot. Quinn considered herself lucky that he’d only “borrowed” her bedroom television and not everything she owned. She shook her head as she remembered him calling her to ask for bail money. No more artists or musicians, Quinn promised herself.
“Earth to Quinn. Hello? Is anyone home?”
Quinn realized Tad had been speaking to her. “I’m sorry,” Quinn apologized for what seemed like the hundredth time that day. “I was trying to decide what to order. Everything looks so good.”
“I’m going to stick with the seafood fettucine. I don’t know what half the stuff on the menu even is. I’m a meat and potatoes kind of guy with some pasta every now and then. I’m made in America and I like American food. Nothing weird like octopus or snails for this guy. I run and lift weights three days a week, so I like to load on the carbs every now and then, but give me a juicy rib eye and I’m fat, dumb and happy,” Tad said.
“Wow. I’m impressed. You do look like you’re in great shape.” Quinn threw the proverbial dog a bone. See, Mother, I can flirt with the best of them.
“Yep. Sitting behind a desk all day isn’t good for the old arteries even at my age. Besides, love the old man, but his spare tire is not something I plan to inherit.”
Jack returned with the glasses of wine and Quinn’s water. “I hope you’ll find our house wines to your liking. Mr. Marlowe takes particular pride in stocking the wine cellar with outstanding vintages. Our house wines come from a small winery in the Virginia Piedmont.”
Quinn sipped her wine and nodded in appreciation. “It’s wonderful. Just the right amount of oak with a hint of smokiness.”
“Not bad. Jack, I’d like the seafood fettucine. Quinn?”
“I’m going to be adventurous tonight. I’d like the wild boar asado with sour orange mojo. I love plantains and can’t wait to try this dish.”
“Excellent choice, madam. May I suggest a Grenache with your meal. It pairs well with the wild boar,” Jack said. “We have one from Pasado Vineyards that I guarantee you will love.”
“Sounds great. I’ll trust your good taste.”
“Very good.” Jack took their menus and headed towards the kitchen.
“You know they only suggest those wines to upsell you. I guarantee you the wine he suggested is one of the more expensive wines on the list,” Tad informed her.
Quinn bit back the urge to call Tad a tightwad. She picked up her glass of wine and took her time sipping it. “Don’t worry,” she said sweetly, “it’s on my expense account. After all, this is a business dinner, not a date.”
Tad let out an annoyed huff. “I can certainly afford any wine this place serves. I was trying to be helpful. I waited tables at a swanky restaurant during undergrad. Dad thought it would build character for me to earn my spending money.”
“Writing about food and wine is how I make my bread and butter,” Quinn replied, feeling guilty for thinking Tad a spoiled jerk. She blamed the sockless loafers. They screamed spoiled son of the country club set. She wondered how the leather didn’t shrink from the sweaty feet. “Plus, I spent three months touring the restaurants of Italy and Spain with my uncle whose a chef.”
“That’s right. I forgot about your uncle. Dad was telling me he owned some little diner that received some positive press.”
“It’s a restaurant, not a diner, and yes, it’s received rave reviews. Uncle Patrick is putting a new flair on Irish fare. It’s not mutton and potatoes anymore. Anyway, he and I traveled to some out of the way eateries and met some amazing chefs and home cooks. His plan is to incorporate what he learned and create something new. I’m excited.”
“At least I know you can cook. I’m all thumbs in the kitchen. You’ll have to fix me a home-cooked meal soon.”
Fortunately Quinn was saved from responding to Tad’s request by the arrival of dinner. Jack slid her plate in front of her and she nearly swooned from the intoxicating scent of oranges mixed with spices. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. When she opened them a few moments later, she saw Tad holding his fork in front of his face and peering closely at it.
“My fork isn’t clean,” he said.
“Take mine. I’ll ask for another.”
“No. If you go into an eating establishment, you expect your silverware to be spotless. This,” he shoved the offending fork at Quinn, “has something on it.”
Quinn looked at the fork, but failed to spot any offending dirt or food. “I don’t see anything. Please take my fork.”
“I don’t want your fork,” Tad said each word slowly as if she didn’t understand English. “What I want is a freakin’ prime rib and a clean fork. Instead, I get a dirty fork and crabs.” Tad slammed the fork down on the table. His hand hit the edge of his pasta plate on its downward journey. The plate flipped and the pasta flew across the table and landed all over Quinn.
All conversation in the restaurant stopped. Quinn felt a noodle slide off her head and down into her cleavage. A shrimp somersaulted off the edge of the table and into one of her Prada heels.
“What is wrong with you?” Quinn said through tightly gritted teeth. “You are a pompous, spoiled brat. I can’t believe my mother thought we’d hit it off.” She spotted Jack slowly easing his way towards their table, clearly unsure if it was a smart move or a death wish. She reached down and dumped the errant shrimp from her shoe.
“I’m a spoiled brat?” Tad squealed. “Really? I took you out as a favor to your parents. It’s not like I make a habit of dating flaky chicks in dead-end jobs. You’re lucky I even bothered to show up. I turned down a date with a gorgeous accountant to go out with you, a plain Jane who writes a blog about food.” He threw a hundred dollar bill on the table and stood up to leave.
Quinn felt the blood rushing to her face. A hot anger roiled up from her stomach. “What the hell kind of name is Tad? It’s a frog, for Pete’s sake, not a name for a grown-ass man. And it’s an online magazine, not a blog!” Quinn yelled. She picked up one of her shoes and threw it at Tad. Time slowed as it sailed through the air, toe over heel. It sailed right past Tad and hit smack dab into the head of the gentleman sitting behind him.