Authors: Duffy Brown
Praise for Duffy Brown’s Consignment Shop Mysteries
PEARLS AND POISON
“A rip-roaring, hijinks-filled cozy mystery . . . likely to appeal to fans of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series.”
The Poisoned Martini
“Southern sass and eccentric characters populate this fun, fast-paced mystery, which has plenty of twists and turns. Sexy attorney Walker Boone ramps up the sexual tension and leaves Reagan and readers breathless.”
RT Book Reviews
“This third in the series continues to highlight sharp dialogue [and] eccentric characters.”
Kings River Life
“Another winner from Duffy Brown! . . . Great characters, wonderful setting, a believable plot, Southern charm, sassy dialogue and humor all add up to make this one fine cozy.”
Escape With Dollycas
KILLER IN CRINOLINES
“Brown deftly spins the tale of Reagan’s many misadventures while sleuthing, fills her story with Southern eccentrics and offers up a magnolia-laced munificence of Savannah color.”
Killer in Crinolines
is a fast-paced cozy with lots of twists and turns. Brown has a knack for writing dialogue, and readers will find themselves so engrossed in the story, it’s hard to concentrate on anything else.”
Debbie’s Book Bag
“Great characters, funny dialogue, twists and turns and a little romance. What more could you want in a cozy mystery? If Agatha Christie lived in Savannah, she would have written this novel. Charming, clever and sometimes creepy, a really good read.”
Sweet Mystery Books
“Click martini glasses or frosty bottles or iced tea cups, and swig back the high times as Reagan and her Auntie TCB in one of the most fun and Southern-flavorful mystery series on the market.”
by David Marshall James
“Southern coziness at its finest! A most enjoyable read—mystery fans will love this one. It’s the kind of book that makes a bad day good!”
Socrates’ Book Reviews
“Its compelling mystery and engaging plot will have you staying up countless hours into the night . . . If you’re a fan of Southern mysteries and just cozy mysteries in general, I HIGHLY recommend checking out this new series by Duffy Brown!”
Dreamworld Book Reviews
“A Southern comfort cozy with Yankee tension . . . A treat. Not to be missed.”
New York Times
bestselling author of
Tulle Death Do Us Part
“An amazing mystery debut . . . Riveting.”
—Mary Kennedy, author of the Talk Radio Mysteries
“A hilarious romp through a consignment shop where customers may end up with more than they bargained for.”
—Janet Bolin, author of the Threadville Mysteries
“A delightful world filled with charm and humor.”
New York Journal of Books
“This amusing, thoroughly entertaining mystery . . . has perfect accomplices, plenty of suspects and humorous situations.”
RT Book Reviews
“Besides a fabulous look at Savannah, especially the haunts of high society, Duffy Brown provides a lighthearted, jocular amateur sleuth.”
“Delightful . . . If I could give it six stars, I would.”
“A pleasant beginning to a new series . . . A light tone, a quick pace [and] good old Southern hospitality . . . all come together for a charming read.”
The Mystery Reader
“A strong story, fantastic, well-developed characters and a great mystery . . .
was a stellar read and I can’t wait to see where Duffy Brown takes these characters next.”
Cozy Mystery Book Reviews
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Duffy Brown
LLER IN CRINOLINES
EARLS AND POISON
RED FOR THE GRAVE
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) LLC
375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014
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GEARED FOR THE GRAVE
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright © 2014 by Duffy Brown.
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eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-63153-9
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / December 2014
Cover illustration by Ben Perini; cover images: Logo: Bike + Vector; Gear: Gabor Palkovics; Tire Track: Hugo Lacasse; logo art all from Shutterstock.
Cover design by Diana Kolsky.
Map by Ann Kruetzkamp.
Interior text design by Kelly Lipovich.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
To the great folks on Mackinac Island . . . a little taste of heaven. To Pam and Kristen at the Market Street Inn where I stayed. Thanks for the great island stories and a glimpse of how the island operates. Thanks to Jared and Dave at the Mustang Lounge, the Stang. Your fried green beans are the best. Thanks to Neil at the Woods for the drinks; thanks to Mary Patay and Neeko, the island cruise directors. Thanks to Tamera and Mary Jane at the Island Bookstore for the warm welcome.
Thanks to daughter Ann Marie Kruetzkamp for going with me to discover Mackinac Island. Mother-daughter memories are the best.
hile cowering in the back of a ferryboat, head over railing and losing my lunch in Lake Huron, it occurred to me that no matter how old I am, I want to impress my parents. Deep inside I’m just a kid yelling,
Mom, look at me! No hands!
Granted, this wasn’t exactly a
look at me
moment, but it’s what got me into this mess.
“Hey, lady. Where should I put these paint cans?” a man in a neon yellow vest asked as I staggered off the last ferry of the day. After a ten-hour drive plastered with orange construction barrels followed by the boat trip from hell, I so wanted to tell this guy where to put those cans. Instead I handed him a twenty and said, “Get a taxi and put them in the trunk.”
I was thirty-four, had been around the Chicago block a few times and ten months ago got left standing at the altar thanks to a sports-aholic fiancé and the seduction of last-minute game three World Series tickets. I wasn’t a
“Yeah, good luck with that trunk.”
And for that smart-ass crack I’d forked over twenty bucks. I zipped my fleece against the lake chill, grabbed a paint can and my duffel and trudged up the dock with the rest of the tourists to Main Street, lined with twinkle-lights and cute shops shutting down for the night, the whole place smelling kind of . . . earthy?
“Can you get me a taxi to Rudy’s Rides?” I asked a college kid as he tossed luggage onto a horse cart. He nodded to a two-horse-power red and yellow wagon with people merrily climbing on board.
I dangled the can. “A car taxi, like as in fast transportation weaving in and out of traffic scaring everyone. It’s been a long day.”
“Lady, this is as fast as we get around here.” College guy added another bag to the cart, and people and luggage carts clip-clopped off past meandering pedestrians and bikes, with no traffic lights or roar of internal combustion engines anywhere. A poster in the window of Fred’s Deli announced a Dirty Pony Wash. Not a car wash? Where the heck was I?
I yanked out Sheldon, my BFF iPhone.
he had bars. I hadn’t slipped into some time-warp thing, and there on the screen right below the Mackinac Island ferry schedule was the no-car statement.
You got to be kidding.
This was Michigan; Motown; the birthplace of hydrocarbons and gas-guzzling engines and ozone central.
I followed Sheldon’s directions past the Lilac Hotel, Doud’s Market and one, two, make that seven fudge shops just within the two blocks I could see. My guess was that fudgies were tourists, and dentists and Weight Watchers owned the biggest houses on the island. Rudy’s Rides sat next to Irma’s Fudge Emporium. Why couldn’t it be the broccoli emporium? I could resist broccoli ten feet from where I’d spend the next week.
Propped-open, weathered double doors marked the entrance to Rudy’s, where a shiny new yellow three-wheeler sat at the curb next to a horse and buggy. I stepped inside the shop only to find rental bikes from the Ronald Reagan years. Dusty handlebars and pedals lined the wall next to a spotless trophy shelf, and tools littered the workbench. A pool table sat in back with a stained-glass light suspended overhead. Mark Twain said,
Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated
and here he was in a white crumpled suit, wild gray hair, cigar balanced across a whiskey glass and his left leg in a cast.
The Twain look-alike, whom I took to be Rudy, aimed at the nine ball as a girl about my age in a purple sequined paperboy hat with a pencil stuck in the band hustled inside scribbling in a notebook. A knobby-kneed granny in electric pink biker shorts brought up the rear.
“I took a good look around this place,” Knees huffed at Rudy. “It’s a dump, just like I thought. Town council meets tomorrow night, and I’m getting on the agenda and recommending they shut you down.”
Knees turned to the sequined-hat girl. “But whatever you do, Fiona, don’t put that in the
. You’re just getting the hang of being the editor now that your mom and dad headed off for Arizona and the sun and left us in the lurch. This isn’t that
rag where we tell all. You need to say something like
Rudy’s Rides is closing for remodeling
. Fudgies pay for Norman Rockwell around here, so we give them Norman Rockwell.” She swiped her finger across a dusty bike fender. “This is
Fiona scribbled more notes. “It’s late and I’m tired and cranky and getting a lot crankier the longer this takes. I’m doing an article on bicycle shops like you want, Bunny, and right now Rudy’s Rides is open for business, period, end of discussion.”
Rudy sent the nine ball across the green felt, missing the left pocket by a mile. “Geeze Louise.” He jabbed his cigar at Bunny. “I know what you’re trying to pull, and it’s not going to work. That snotty historical committee of yours up there on the bluffs has three votes on the council—just three. The business owners down here in town trying to make a buck got the other three, and I’m one of ’em. Our shops would go belly-up with rules about original windows, pine floors and the other half-baked ideas that pop into your little pea-brain ’cause you got nothing else to do. You wanna shut me down to get me out of your hair.”
Bunny stuck her prune face inches from Rudy’s. “The only thing up to snuff in this joint are your euchre trophies and that pool table. Start packing, Rudy boy, you’re history.”
Bunny tromped through the bike maze and climbed on her three-wheeler as Rudy raised his whiskey glass. “Here’s to the old bat going, and that’s a heck of a lot better than the old bat coming.”
Fiona closed her notebook. “Bunny thinks she’s hot stuff around here because her family’s been on the island longer than dirt and she lives in a big house. Rudy’s Rides is staying in my article.” Fiona gave Rudy a kiss on the cheek, then hurried out, her departure followed by the sound of horse hooves on pavement fading down the street.
“Take any bike that suits you,” Rudy said to me as he lined up his next shot. “I keep them all running good even if they are a little rough around the edges. Put the money in the coffee can on the workbench—no charge for local drama. It’s free, and there’s a lot of it these days.”
“I’m Evie Bloomfield from Chicago. I’m here to help you.”
“The only help I need is with sinking the dang nine ball. Haven’t made a decent shot all day.”
I dropped my duffel and purse, snagged a cue, aimed for the far pocket and sent the yellow-striped ball sailing across the felt, till Rudy plucked it right off the table. “Hey, why’d you do that? I nailed it.”
Rudy scooped his hand into the pocket, dragging out a sleepy black-and-white kitten. “Bambino hangs out there; left pocket’s off-limits.” Rudy balanced on one crutch—he was a one-crutch kind of guy. “So, Chicago, what brings a pool shark to my doorstep this time of night? From the way things are going, it can’t be anything good.”
I did the innocent look and got the
don’t mess with me
look in reply. “Pool’s the only thing I could do better than my brother, and the doorstep part is that I work for your daughter.” Though one look at Rudy’s Rides and it was hard to see any connection to a daughter with dollar signs on her license plate. “Abigail’s tied up with a business deal at the ad agency, so I’m here in her place to lend you a hand.”
“Or a leg.” Rudy took a piece of kibble from his pocket for Bambino. “What juicy carrot did my daughter dangle to get you out of Chicagoland to an eight-mile island without a shopping mall or car in sight?”
“Just trying to be useful.” I plastered my best perky
please the nice client
smile on my face.
Don’t tell fish stories where they know the fish
. I know my daughter. There’s a carrot.”
My perky died. It was late; I was tired. Rudy had me, and he knew it. I plopped down on my gallon can of beach-baby blue paint. “Bloomfields are lawyers—really successful lawyers except for me—and my apartment’s the size of your pool table, except the table’s nicer. I’m thirty-four, Thanksgiving’s the next great family gathering and I need a promotion—some bragging rights for a change.” I tapped the can I was sitting on. “Hauled nine of these all the way out here so I could spruce up the place. So, what do you think?”
“I think you’re kissing up to the boss.”
“Being of assistance sounds better. Abigail sort of takes me for granted.”
“Abigail takes everyone for granted unless they’re a client.” Rudy sipped the whiskey. “I’ll get caught up around here once the cast comes off.” He rapped his knuckles against the white plaster. “Planned on making repairs this spring till I got busy with this town council feud and maybe a euchre tournament or two. How’d Abigail find out that I broke my dang leg in the first place? I sure didn’t tell her.”
“That would be my doing,” a man said, making his way through the shop. He was about the same age as Rudy and balding, and had the words
embroidered across his shirt pocket.
“You’d think your only offspring would show up,” the guy said, giving me the head-to-toe disapproving glare. “I came to check on the bikes I ordered last week and I heard you had a visitor from Chicago. Never thought Abigail would send in a pinch hitter who—”
“Look,” I interrupted, acing out another
speech. “There aren’t any ferries till morning, so unless you want me to doggie paddle it back to Mackinaw City with paint cans strapped to my ankles . . .”
Rudy took a sip of whiskey. “Guess there’s no harm in you waiting around for my last rentals while Ed and I play a few hands of euchre down at the Stang.” Rudy brightened. “Sounds pretty good, actually. The tournament’s on, and I got room for a new trophy up there on the shelf.”
“I can do whatever,” I said in a rush. I had no idea how to play euchre or what the Stang was, but I could park a bike and I’d have time to figure out how to make Operation Brownnose a potential success instead of a looming failure.
Ed snuffed the cigar in a crackled flowerpot. “Don’t know why anyone smokes these things. I’ll get our lucky deck from my place. Can’t believe Abigail isn’t here. Kids—they grow up and only come around when they’re the ones needing something.”
Ed sauntered off, and Rudy tucked Bambino back in the left pocket on the pool table. He pointed his crutch at the front door. “All you gotta do is pull it shut. It sticks, so you gotta give it a tug. Then turn off the lights. There’s one little lock that don’t ’mount to much, but it keeps the drunks at the Pink Pony from taking my bikes and pedaling themselves straight off a dang cliff and into the lake. This isn’t the big city; nothing happens around here. Kitchen’s in the back, cold pizza in the fridge, extra bedrooms upstairs, make yourself at home for the night. Just one night.”
Rudy thump-stepped his way down Main Street, and I saw my promotion thump-stepping into oblivion. Bunny was dead-on about the place being a dump, and if I didn’t think of something fast, I’d be on the first ferry back to the real world by morning and eating turkey at the little kids’ table by Thanksgiving.
I parked the late rentals inside as the phone on the workbench rang—a customer needing two bikes delivered to a house called RestMore by morning to get an early start and catch the sunrise at six. Must be one heck of a sunrise.
The phone went dead before I got an address, and I had no idea where or how to deliver bikes around here. I found a pencil on the workbench and scribbled RestMore on a can of red primer as the words “Yoo-hoo, Rudy, me darling man, how ye be doing this fine night?” singsonged through front door.
“But you not be Rudy, now are ye, dearie,” the woman said, an Irish lilt in her voice. “I suspect ye be that Chicago fudgie girl with a bunch of paint cans we’ve been hearing about all night long. You kind of stand out, ye do.”
Before I could answer, two handlebars fell off the wall, crashing to the ground, an owl hooted three times, the lights blinked on and off, and a rooster crowed somewhere in the distance. The woman clutched the gold shamrock around her neck, her eyes big as goose eggs. “Great day in the morning and blessed be Saint Patrick!” She kissed the shamrock. “How can it be you’re still alive?”
“Hey, Chicago isn’t
“’Tis not the geography that’s the worry, me dear, but a big black cloud that’s hanging right over ye.” She gazed around me. “Bad signs these are,” she said in a low voice. “Bad indeed, and all happening at once! Saints preserve us. I be Irish Donna and I know these things. I got the gift, I do.” She lowered her voice even more. “Ye should be making up a will; the sooner the better, if you be asking me.”
Irish Donna was on the upward side of sixty, with curly red hair, and she scared the heck out of me, but the dark cloud theory explained a lot about my life lately. I said to Donna, “Rudy and Ed are at the Stang, and a customer needs bikes delivered. Got any ideas where RestMore is? And just how big is this cloud anyway?”
Ten minutes later Irish Donna and I did the slow . . . really, really slow . . . clip-clop up a steep hill in her one-horse carriage. We’d wedged two bikes in the back, and after Donna patted the Saint Christopher medal where a cup-holder should be, we took off.