Grumpy Fries and Crazy Lies, Part 6

Holy cow!  How had Delicious Detective Sinful guessed?  Little innocent me, in the wrong place at the right time?  No way.

Okay, maybe I lied.

It would serve him right.  Him and Merry, huh?  Turning my back on that pair, I let my sweatshirt slip a fraction more off my shoulder as I sashayed back down the sidewalk.  I wiggled with each step and fluttered my hand close to the neighbor’s picket fence.  In case I lost my balance.  You never know what a klutz like me will do.

It wasn’t far to my bungalow, where I lived all alone now that my parents had passed after that freak accident at the Brickyard.  Darn it, why was Sinful deliberately tormenting me with that reference?  He knew what happened.


“Are you okay, dear?” said a tiny woman’s voice from under a Texas-sized straw hat.  Widow Winnie Wilton rose from her gardening stool on the other side of the picket fence and steadied my arm through her work gloves.

“Thanks, Mrs. Wilton,” I said, leaning against the little spears of her fence.  I glanced over my bare shoulder to make sure Sinful hadn’t seen my klutz moment, but luckily, he’d disappeared inside Grumpy’s house.  “I’m fine.  Guess I’m not so good at walking in these things yet.”

“I’ll never understand why you young folks even try.”  Winnie laughed good-naturedly.

I laughed too.  “I wouldn’t do it, except for…”

If I didn’t get more practice walking in these four-inchers, I’d fall flat on my face tonight.  That nerdy Fred Boschman would probably never even notice, but still.

“Except for what, dear?” Widow Winnie said.

“There’s a party tonight,” I said.  I don’t usually do blind dates, but a girl living on her own has got to party sometimes, right?  And besides, the retro disco ball was going to be a charity fundraiser for the police department, so maybe Sinful would be there.  A girl could hope.  That’s the only reason why I’d agreed to go with Fred.  Really.

“I’d break my neck for sure.”  Winnie’s tittering laughter died, along with the reminder of death in the neighborhood.  We both turned to observe the scene of flashing blue and red lights.

“Tsk, tsk,” Winnie said.  “Such a shame.  And his boy, Elton, just come to town for a visit.  First time in a long time.  He works down on an oil rig in the gulf, did you know?  They say that ever since that shark attack took Mr. Fries’s leg, he and his boy never saw eye to eye.  It was something to do with politics and the environment, they say.”

“Who says, Mrs. Wilton?” I asked.  She’d been the neighborhood gossip for as long as I remembered, and I’d grown up on this street.

“The spirits, dear.”  She winked.

Oh boy.

I couldn’t waste anymore time prattling with my crazy neighbor, because I had plenty of work to do, if I was going to be ready for tonight.  I waved goodbye, pulled off my sandals, and hurried on down the street, barefoot.

The sunlight glared, and something sparkled, blinding me as I turned up the sidewalk to my front door.  Owww!  I stubbed my toe against a crack, and my four-inch sandals fell from my arms one at a time, plunking into my weed-infested lawn.  Darn crack!  Home repairs never seemed to end, even though the bank balance kept sinking.

What had blinded me was something glittery, half sticking out of my mail slot, although it wasn’t time yet for the mail to arrive.  Which reminded me of that other delivery I’d received, well past mail time.  “Dear Duncan,” my ex boyfriend, Aloysius Everslam, had written, although the envelope had been addressed to me.  The creep.  Luckily, I’d broken it off with Alo before things had gone too far.  It had been just like him to make sure I knew he was in a new relationship.  Like I cared.  Him and Duncan Meadows, so what?

I shivered at the memory of my close call, and ran up onto the porch, reaching to yank the paper from the slot.  Glitter dripped across the plain white sheet of typing paper, forming words.

“I see you,” it read.

I sucked in my breath and glanced over my shoulder.

A dirty white van with a Saints bumper sticker parked across the street.  Had its driver seen me over at Grumpy’s place earlier this morning?

Interview: Victoria Houston

Today we welcome Victoria Houston, author of the Loon Lake Mysteries

dead spiderNEW.inddWhat’s your idea of a perfect day?

Early morning coffee at my cottage by the lake followed by two hours of work on my book; then two sets of doubles tennis, an early lunch and a short nap. That afternoon I’ll check mail, do research for the current book and follow that with a glass of wine (or two) sitting down by the lake and watching fishermen go by. Then dinner with friends – outside on the picnic table as the sun is setting – and finish with an evening of reading in bed with all the cottage windows wide open so I can hear the loons calling.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?

Every Christmas Eve I make a wonderful Julia Child recipe, Crepes a la Florentine. Twenty-four crepes layered with three sauces (mushroom, spinach and béchamel) and baked until lightly browned. Then sliced like a cake! It takes me two days to make and tastes “out of this world.”

And my signature expression is: Holy Cow!

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

Every few years I re-read Willa Cather’s My Antonia and O! Pioneers, which I consider my textbooks on how to write in a contemporary and specific voice. I also re-read early Hemingway and early Updike for the same reason. My favorites in the mystery field are everything written by Ross Thomas; Henning Mankell’s first six books in his Wallander series and every mystery written by the outstanding Sjowall & Wahloo.

Do you listen to music when you write?

No. I have to have quiet. Later I’ll listen while cooking or reading and my list of favorites is long but mellow and includes a wide range of music from jazz to rock to classical.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

Dark chocolate with a bitter edge. Because life has edges to it. My characters try to survive living with the bitter as well as the sweet.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?

A remark I heard during dinner with friends one New Year’s Eve. The friend had been cheated by a business associate and mentioned the revenge he would take if ever given the opportunity. That got me thinking….

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?

The dangerous thirsts for money or power or revenge – and how those play out against the stunning beauty of the Northwoods’ lakes and rivers and forests. Given that fishing, with a fly rod or a spinning rod, backgrounds my stories – it is often water, placid or turbulent, that can change lives as goodhearted, wise people struggle to survive and help one another in a landscape where nature takes no sides.

Tell us about your main character.

I have three:

1) “Doc” Osborne is a recently widowed, retired dentist who is learning to fly fish from…

2) Lewellyn “Lew” Ferris, the Loon Lake Chief of Police, who before being promoted to chief had been teaching fly fishing part-time. Now that she has met Doc Osborne, she finds his skills in forensic dentistry very helpful in identifying dead bodies and otherwise helping with murder investigations as the local coroner is a drunk and unreliable.
Note: Doc and Lew soon find they have more in common than just fishing. Enough said on those two.

3) Ray Pradt is a handsome and very tall 32-year-old fishing guide who lives in a house trailer next to Doc Osborne’s property. A skilled fisherman and tracker, he also tells really bad jokes. And because of his predilection for a little weed from time to time, he knows people who live down roads with no fire numbers; i.e. off the grid.

These three people know one another well and often work together to help Chief Ferris in her investigations.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters

Doc Osborne: Cary Grant, Rhett Butler, Mathew Rhys

Lewellyn Ferris: Calamity Jane, the British actress Olivia Colman and a touch of Frances McDermond

Ray Pradt: early Keanu Reeves leavened with the charm of a young Clint Eastwood and the “innocence” of a young Brad Pitt

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

Sjowall & Wahloo (2)
Ross Thomas
Henning Mankell
Raymond Chandler
Daphne du Maurier

What’s next for you?

My latest installment of the Loon Lake mysteries, Dead Spider, publishes May 23rd with Simon & Schuster. I plan to stay close to home and work on my next book, which is Dead Big Dawg — a Big Dawg is a fishing lure. I’m working on it currently and I’m just back from a month in New Zealand where fly fishing is very popular. Yep, I saw a few fish during my travels.

Grumpy Fries and Crazy Lies, Part 5

Thinking of Persephone MacGillivray and her sexy Jennifer Beals sweatshirt, I cursed under my breath. Either she was lying about killing Mr. Fries, or perhaps, she’d sneaked a peek at the body before my cops arrived. Damn, dame. She might’ve compromised my crime scene. I imagined her horrified look when I demanded she take off the sweatshirt, so I could submit it into evidence. Unfortunately, I’d need a warrant first. But all I had was a circumstantial glitter. I couldn’t see pretty Persephone murdering her amputee neighbor. But then again, as I learned often, anyone can be motivated to kill.

Officer Poundacre jerked her chin at me. “Where’s Puente?”

Iggy Puente, my partner. “In Rahway. His old man died unexpectedly.” She cocked a brow. “Heart attack,” I added. “I’m taking this solo until he comes back. Shouldn’t be more than a few days.” I cleared my throat. “Did you get a next of kin?”

She nodded. “Has a daughter, Ms. Fries, on Clifton Avenue, and a son who works on some oil rig in the Gulf.”

I sucked on my teeth and glanced at a busybody neighbor peeking through the hole in the fence. “Make sure you secure the area. I don’t want any onlookers leaking info to the press.”

“You got it, Detective.” She motioned for her belt, but I stopped her.

“Who’s processing today?”

“I think it’s Boschman,” she said, before unclipping her radio and mumbling directives.

I smiled. Fred Boschman owed me a favor, which meant I could pressure him for a rush job on forensics. I knew I couldn’t get far without the toxicology report.

I crouched down near the body and examined the man’s swollen lips, now a ghastly shade of purple. His tongue, fat with white dots, lolled to one side. A line of creamy, white applesauce had dried on his chin and neck. Mr. Fries’s eyes were wide open with cataracts coating the light blue irises. My guess was Mr. Fries was shocked in his final moments, which only pointed to one thing — he knew his attacker.

I rose from my crouch. I’d have to interview Persephone again, no question. But first, I needed to meet Mr. Fries’s daughter and deliver the bad news.

“Tell Boschman, I’ll meet him in the morgue later for his prelim observations,” I told Poundacre before leaving the yard through the gate and jumping into my Maserati.


Clifton Avenue was only a seven minute drive from the victim’s house, but my car could make it in four. I parked in front of a blue Cape Cod style house with an overgrown lawn. A child’s bicycle leaned against the bark of a leafy fruit tree in the side yard.

I always hated this part. The department used to have a squad who were trained in comforting the victims, but budget cuts relegated them to volunteer work. And very few people wanted to donate their free time by telling family members their loved ones were murdered. Best left to the detectives anyway.

I knocked on the door, my fist deliberate and forceful. Time was a commodity I couldn’t afford to waste. I heard steps approach and a woman opened the storm door, but stood behind a dusty screen. She appeared to be in her early to mid 40s. She had dark hair with thick blonde highlights, reminding me of zebra stripes. Her face was lined and tired, which made sense seeing the toddler on her hip.

She eyed me suspiciously. “Can I help you?”

I held up my badge. “I’m Detective Spreadbury. May I come in?”

She nodded and wordlessly opened the screen door. I followed her through the foyer and into a small living room. She set her toddler down onto the stained carpet and handed him an electronic tablet. Then she plucked toys from a worn, floral couch and gestured for me to sit. I did so, whipping out a small notebook and pen. I breathed in a sweet, heady smell, like the pipe odor from Mr. Fries’s place.

“Ms. Fries,” I began.

“Claudia,” she corrected. “Please tell me what’s going on. You’re making me nervous.”

I cleared my throat. “I’m sorry to tell you this but your father was murdered in his backyard today.”

She gasped, covered her mouth with her hand, and wept. I gave her a few moments to register the shock, to mourn, to grieve. I never wanted to rush a witness into speaking before they were ready.

Claudia wiped the tears from her cheeks, smearing her dark makeup. “I know who did this,” she said. She then stared at me with cold, blue eyes — clearly inherited from her father, “My rotten ex-husband. Duncan Meadows.”

Interview: Leslie Budewitz

Please welcome Leslie Budewitz, author of the Food Lovers Village Mysteries and the Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries!

TrebleWhat’s your idea of a perfect day?

One in which I laugh a lot, eat great food, hang out with my hunny (aka Mr. Right), and the words flow on the page. Fresh flowers from the garden would be a plus.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?

I always wear a bracelet, and for fun occasions, including book events, I often wear a scarf. Scarves make me feel happy and sparkly, and as one of my favorite authors, Margaret Maron, says, an author’s job at a book event is to sparkle!

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been influenced, in one way or another, by everything I’ve read. I attended a Jesuit liberal arts college, Seattle University, and though my degree is in English Literature with a minor in Philosophy, the program I was in included courses in theology, history, music, art, and science. Basically, I got a college degree for reading books, many of them novels. So I learned to analyze literature at the same time as I learned to love it. But of course, the love goes way back – to the Happy Hollisters, Calico Bush, and the shelf in the local bookstore that I called “good books” and later learned, when I became a teenage bookseller, were actually called “the classics.” < smile >

As a teenager and young adult, I adored poetry, and I think the Elizabethan poets, e e cummings, Richard Hugo, Mary Oliver, Ted Kooser, and others influenced my sense of internal rhythm and language. I have long said Phyllis Whitney, Mary Stewart, and especially Victoria Holt got me through law school, because a few minutes of gothic suspense before bed was enough to wipe all thought of torts and taxes from my brain. (Some of it permanently, alas.) They taught me the importance of story and mood. That lead to more mystery and crime fiction.

In my mid thirties, I was working at a job that put me on the road a lot, and I listened to a lot of books on tape – and they were on tape, back then. The nearest library’s audio collection was high on mystery – Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Elizabeth Peters, Ellis Peters, Tony Hillerman. So I suspect that’s why, when I started to write fiction, it came out as mystery. From Hillerman, I discovered that the small towns of the West, off and on the reservations, could be great settings. I still adore all those writers, and modern mystery writers like Louise Penny, Deborah Crombie, Margaret Maron, Laura Lippman, and Catriona McPherson. I adore Toni Morrison and Sue Miller. (Oh, dear. Perhaps I should try reading a book or two by a man. I hear some of them write nicely, too.)

Do you listen to music when you write?

No, not even while working on Treble at the Jam Fest, involving murder at a jazz festival! Though I did listen to a lot of jazz faves between writing sessions. Music is a big part of my life, but I find it too distracting while I write – I get too caught up in the music, especially if it’s got lyrics, to attend to the voices in my head and on the page.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

A huckleberry truffle, the signature chocolate of the Merc, the shop at the heart of the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?

Every book in this series involves a festival or holiday, some made up and others inspired by celebrations in my village. The Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival and Workshop, held every year the week before Labor Day, inspired me to create a jazz festival. And of course, while most of the musicians who have visited our fair community have been lovely, egos do sometimes clash. With a small-town cozy, your conflicts have to arise within the locals, come with the visitors, or arise between locals and visitors, which is where this story falls. I was also interested in the subplot involving Erin and Adam. The “retail ladies” are key to the economy of a tourist town, and I wanted to play with them, as well.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?

In all my books, identity is a huge issue. In fact, while the hero’s journey seems to be a good model for stories with male leads, I think that the search for identity may be the heroine’s journey. In my Spice Shop series, the metaphor becomes literal, as many characters are not who they appear to be. In the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, that search for identity is shaped by Erin’s return to her home town, where she works to shape her own identity in a community where everyone thinks they know her; she takes over the family business from her mother, so the mother-daughter relationship influences that search for identity as well, and is a huge part of each story. And always, I find myself writing about art, whether it’s musicians as in Treble at the Jam Fest, the potter in Killing Thyme, and painters and collectors in Butter Off Dead. Insider-outsider tensions drive a lot of mystery, and they flare up occasionally in both my series. I’m also always looking at how a small town recreates and revitalizes itself.

Tell us about your main character.

I write two series, and it turns out that Erin Murphy in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries and Pepper Reece in the Seattle Spice Shop Mysteries are quite different, though each is passionate about food and retail. Erin, the driving force behind Treble at the Jam Fest, is a driving force. She grew up in Jewel Bay, although she left for ten years after college, and in the first book, Death Al Dente, she’s just returned. She’s convinced she knows all about her home town, but darn it, the place went and changed while she was away. She changed, too, and it sometimes frustrates her that people don’t always realize that. (Yes, those expectations are a bit contradictory, but humans are sometimes, aren’t we?) She’s 32 and single when the series opens and looking to settle down, so romantic relationships are much on her mind. She works with her mother, she’s opinionated. She’s passionate about community and cooperation, and impatient with what she and her mother call the againsters. You know them—whatever suggestion you have, they’re against it. Both Erin and Pepper are passionate about justice, and believe that individuals play a huge role in solving both criminal and social injustices around us.

What’s next for you?

The fourth Food Lovers’ Village Mystery, Treble at the Jam Fest, is just out, and I’ve just turned in the fifth. My hometown, the model for Jewel Bay, calls itself Montana’s Christmas Village, and I’ve been eager to write a Christmas mystery since I first started the series. Still untitled, alas. My titles all refer to the holiday or festival, include a hint of mystery, and suggest a food—in this book, cookies. Suggestions most welcome!
And I’m working on something completely different, a stand-alone set in Billings, Montana, from 1981 to the present. Two women whose paths crossed briefly 35 years ago meet again, while chasing down the same mystery from different directions.


Leslie Budewitz blends her passion for food, great mysteries, and the Northwest in two national best-selling series, the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in Jewel Bay, Montana, and the Spice Shop Mystery, set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. DEATH AL DENTE, first in the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in Jewel Bay, Montana, won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. The immediate past president of Sisters in Crime, she lives and cooks in NW Montana.

Find me online at and on Facebook at More about Treble at the Jam Fest, including an excerpt here:

I blog with the Killer Characters, where the characters do the talking,, on the 27th of each month, and at Mystery Lovers Kitchen, cooking up crimes and recipes,, every other Tuesday.

Grumpy Fries and Crazy Lies – Part 4

Nobody was running from the house and the smoke was wrong for a fire. I inhaled. Pipe smoke. Deep, welcoming, with a hint of sweetness. Took me back to sitting with Grandpa Spreadbury listening to him tell tales of growing up in the mountains where he chopped wood, hauled water, and occasionally wrestled a bear.

Of course it was all BS, but hey. When I was a kid it was good stuff.

A female officer came out of the kitchen. “Is that you, Detective Spreadbury?”

Officer Patty Poundacre. Finally, someone competent. The woman was as plain as a bowl of oatmeal, but she knew her job. “In the flesh. What’ve we got, Officer?”

She fixed me with a stare worthy of my third-grade teacher. “Have you turned in that Maserati yet?”

“Uh, not yet. Eventually.” My gut squirmed. Hey, what red-blooded American male wouldn’t want to keep a car like that? Screaming down the highway, wind in my hair, arm around a woman, maybe Persephone…

“Detective, are you listening?” Poundacre snapped her fingers.

“What? Yes, sorry.” Stop fantasizing, Spreadbury. You haven’t had that shield so long they wouldn’t yank it back and you’d be back to pounding pavement on the night shift.

“Okay, here’s the deal.” Poundacre consulted her notes. “First, the right shoe.”

“The canvas one?”

“Yes. That’s a problem.”


“Because the victim doesn’t have a right leg, that’s why.”

I blinked. Okay, so two people had been at the Fries residence. “What else?”

“The left shoe. Not the victim’s.”

This was ridiculous. “How do you know? I mean, look at this place. Décor from the 70s, sure, but he might like to dress up on the weekend. He might have a lady he takes dancing.”

Poundacre’s gaze was steely. “It’s the wrong size. Shoes in the closet upstairs are a men’s 10. The Brooks Brothers loafer is an 11.”

Damn it all. “Okay, so victim lived alone. This place is neat as a pin. You think he–”

“I’m not done.” Her voice was prim. The woman was competent, but she was rubbing me the wrong way. My pants definitely did not react to Officer Poundacre. “Where’s the pipe?”


“The pipe. I’m sure you smelled the smoke. So why didn’t we find a pipe?”

What the…three people? This was out of hand. “Okay, Officer Poundacre. So you’re telling me that three people, including the victim, were in this house?”

She closed her notebook. “Yes, sir. Would seem to be that way.”

Visions of me, Persephone, and the Maserati vanished. It was going to be a long, damn night. “Where’s the victim?”

“This way.” Poundacre led me to the backyard. Freshly mown, by the scent of it. A small, concrete patio with those woven strap aluminum chairs was directly behind the house. Aluminum chairs in a hideous color of orange plaid and silver threads that were definitely disco era.

“Someone needed to bring this guy into the current century,” I muttered.

The body was on the grass. Mr. Fries was on his back, arms spread out. No right leg. A look of shock on his weathered face. More glitter and applesauce down his front.

“Okay, so our killer surprises him at lunch, shoots him, leaves him here and runs, leaving a shoe. Someone else comes in, sees the body, panics and flees, thus the second shoe.”

“Two problems with that.”

Did Poundacre have any solutions or just problems? “Such as?”

“He wasn’t shot. Or stabbed—or strangled, or bashed over the head. There are no marks on the body except an old bruise on his left arm.” She paused. “And there’s no applesauce.”

I looked around. She was right. No bowl of anything. I returned to the kitchen. No applesauce there, either. A few plates were in the sink drainer, standing like soldiers at attention. One coffee mug, a knife and fork, but no bowls and no damn applesauce.

“In fact, I’ve checked and there isn’t any applesauce in the house. In fact, it looks like Mr. Fries is allergic to apples, sir. I found a sheet of emergency medical information in his bedroom.” She paused again.

“Spit it out, Officer Poundacre. What else?”

“That glitter? On the shoe and the victim? It’s not craft glitter, like kids use, sir.” She arched an eyebrow. “It’s glitter they put on clothing. Like a sweatshirt.”

Grumpy Fries and Crazy Lies, part 3

Trying to keep my cool, I turned from Persephone toward the crime scene. A tickly trickle of sweat slid straight down my spine. Odd how her ugly sweatshirt reacted with my trousers. Keep walking, man. Left foot, right foot. You remember. Don’t think about that naked shoulder.

“Hey, Detective.”

I pivoted, disappointed to see it was Merry who beckoned. She leaned languidly against my car, as if getting ready to pole dance with it. The blue rotating light only enhanced the image. Her lips parted and she flicked her tongue, wetting them slowly. She arched her back, spreading her arms wide across the hood. She stroked the red paint in small, intimate circles. She performed a slo-mo twerk, perching ever so lightly when she finished. I wrinkled my nose, but didn’t scold her. It was a red Masarati, after all. And she was only human.

“Take me for a ride later?” If salacious vibes were people, she’d be China.

I willed them not to, but my eyes cut to Persephone. Dammit, eyes. Focus! She tugged at her sweatshirt, concentrating on pulling it up over her lovely shoulder then plucking off some lint. She ignored Merry, but I suspected she awaited my answer. I turned toward the crime scene, but waved back at Merry. “Not this time, darlin’. I’ll be busy here for a while.”

Kicking myself for leaving Persephone with the idea that there had been a previous jaunt with Merry in the Masarati, I shook loose of all lusty thoughts, past and present. And I hoped she wouldn’t get fingerprints — or any other kind — on my car.

The officers on scene stared at Merry and/or the Masarati as I made my way toward the investigation. I twinged at the memory of how I came into possession of my sweet, red ride. Was it my fault those keys were just laying around after that mess I cleaned up for the Senator? The fact nobody questioned me about it later said more about them than it did me. Clearly, everyone assumed it was payment for a job well done. And if not, it should have been. That job was so well done it could have been a forgotten porterhouse.

But here was another job. No clean up necessary. Just investigation. A patrol officer stood guard over a right shoe on the walkway. I squatted down on the walkway to inspect it.

“We think it’s the victim’s,” he said.

“You think it is? Shouldn’t you know?” He began to answer me, but I cut him off with an impatient wave. A cheap K-Mart hunter green canvas slip-on. No blood. No unusual scuffs. In fact, it looked brand new, like it had never been walked in. The officer pointed toward another shoe on the porch. We moved toward it. He stood while I again squatted. I frowned and twitched my chin up at the officer but he simply shrugged. The shoe didn’t respond either, despite my questions.

Why was this left shoe a Brooks Brothers patent leather lace-up? And why was it covered in applesauce and silver glitter?

I stared at it until my legs cramped. Then I stood. “Where’s the victim?” The officer pointed toward the back yard and I started for it.

“Detective? You’ll want to see this first.”

I followed him across the porch. He waved an arm at the door then took a giant step to the right, clearly not wanting to go inside again. I caught his eye, but he immediately glanced away. I paused, took a deep breath, and readied myself for what I might find in Mr Fries’ charming Victorian bungalow.

The door was ajar and a whiff of smoke curled around my nose.

Grumpy Fries and Crazy Lies Part Deux

“Maybe I’ve been hitting the bricks myself.” He paused long enough to crook his index finger under my chin.

While I struggled to get my blood pressure out of the stratosphere he continued in a voice so soft I nearly missed his words over the pounding in my ears, “You’ve heard of the Brickyard?”

“But that’s, but, that in…” I sputtered like a cold engine on a frigid morning. “Indianapolis.”

He tapped the tip of my nose with his finger, winked, and said, “Smart girl. Tell me if you think of anything else.” Then he turned and walked toward Grumpy’s house.

Taking my life, and maybe my liberty, in my hands again, I leaned as far over the dratted tape as I dared. He’d touched me. Twice. And I swore never to wash that particular spot on my nose or chin again.

A shiver coursed through me and I remembered the first and last time I’d met the stellar Sterling Spreadbury. It was the night I’d gotten the strange letter from my ex Aloysius Everslam. I’d just sat at my computer, promised myself I’d dump the jerk via the Bill Gates express when the letter slot in the door jangled. I mean, it was ten at night. Who gets mail at ten at night? Well, there it was, a letter in his bold, upright, thrusting, handwriting. I slit the thing open with a steak knife. The words that met my eyes meant for someone else. The salutation read Dear…

“You okay, Persephone? You shivered?”

Pulled from the swirl of my memories I recognized my neighbor standing next to me, the one who made the late delivery. I hadn’t heard her approach. What else had I missed? “Sorry, I…”

“That cop will do it to you. What a hunk.” Merry Goosebury sighed. “Remember how he got to the bottom of that horrible letter? The one in the envelope addressed to you?” At my nod, she gave me a knowing look, poked my shoulder, and said, “Yummy.”

Merry’s poke nearly toppled me from the perch atop my shoes. “You coulda had him then. Don’t miss out this time.” She jerked her chin over her shoulder. “Check out the great car. Bet he catches all the speeders. Think they give him a cut of the ticket fees?”

That was a road I didn’t want to travel. I drew myself up to my full height, plus four inches, and said, “Poor Mr. Fries. Did you hear anything suspicious? I can’t believe this could happen in our neighborhood. And two shoes? What a mystery.”

The look in her eyes tipped me off. Something was going on. Something important. Had I missed something slaving away over my deadline while my neighbor died? Did I deserve to be the last one to know?

“There was an odd sound last night, and a roar. It woke me. Like a rocket ship landing or something.” Merry gave a dismissive wave and wiped a trickle of perspiration from her face with a tissue she pulled from her sleeve. “It was probably nothing. Since they changed the flight path for the Snodgrass International Airport. We’ve even had sonic booms.”

The roar, that was Merry’s rocket ship landing. It was so hot last night I had the window open. I’d heard it too. It pulled me out of my deadline-induced semi-coma. It annoyed me. Here I was trying to get my words right and some idiot with a glasspack muffler was turning my street into a race course… my head slewed around so fast I nearly got whiplash and my sweatshirt slid the full way down to my elbow revealing more of Persephone than I felt comfortable with.

What did that hot red Maserati sound like on acceleration?