*I will be doing a post — maybe — this afternoon.When I’m this far in a novel (Noah’s Boy) I have trouble functioning in blog-mode. So, for today, to amuse you here’s the beginning of my mystery A Fatal Stain by Elise Hyatt, which came out yesterday. Better late than never, right? (Yes, it also applies to Noah’s Boy) For those of you who haven’t read the series, it’s a cozy mystery, light on plot and big on characters and laugh. Though I’ve parted company with the house, I intend to continue it, probably early next year, as well as its twin series “orphan kittens.” starting with A Deadly Paws soon.*
A Fatal Stain
Another Fine Mess
The first time I tried to run away from home I was three. I’d packed all my comic books and a box of cookies in a book bag emblazoned with Remembered Murder, the name of my parents’ bookstore in Goldport Colorado, and I’d made it all the way down to the bus station, where I realized I didn’t have the money for a ticket. I’d sat quietly in a corner bench and eaten my cookies and read my comics until my grandmother noticed I was missing and came to find me.
It never occurred to me that a three year old with a mystery bookstore shopping bag would be sort of noticeable. And it was several years before I realized that, even if I had the money to buy a ticket somewhere, I wouldn’t have known where to go. My knowledge of geography at the time was limited to my street, the road leading to the kindergarten, and the diner where grandma took me for kids eat free Monday dinner. The only reason I’d found the bus station was that you could see it from the diner.
And I was married before I realized that, even had someone let me buy a ticket and run away by bus somewhere, no one would have given me a job when I got there.
The saddest thing of all was that at thirty one this was still about my level of planning. And that I was, once more, contemplating running away from home. Or at least running away from my parents’ store, where I sat by the fireplace, in one of the sofas provided for the comfort and convenience of customers wishing to browse mystery books, and listened as my mother and my best friend planned my second wedding.
Ben, aka Benedict Colm, has been my best friend since middle school. He is tall and rugged looking, with a face that’s more interesting than handsome and the sort of body that makes one think of Viking ships. He tones down the feeling that he should sport a horned helmet by wearing a selection of impeccably color-coordinated and blandly conservative suits during the week. On the weekend, he dresses down by wearing slacks, no coat, and sometimes shirts with an almost imperceptible pattern, which he convinces himself are garish. Today he was practically slumming, as he wasn’t wearing a tie and had unbuttoned the first three buttons in his subtly-striped shirt.
I suppose the attire goes well in his job as a financial planner. Unfortunately I suspect it was one of the things that had kept my mom – a porcelain doll-like woman who could have played a more true-to-life Miss Marple than the rather butch TV series actress – from believing me when I told her Ben was gay. Though if she still didn’t believe it as he leaned forward and said, “I’m wondering if perhaps we could find someone to make a tuxedo for Pythagoras, so he can be best-cat?” I washed my hands of her.
No, in any case, I washed my hands of my mother, whose response was, “So, your pet rats, are we putting them in the specially designed harnesses, so they can be used as boutonnières?”
It was at this moment I realized my hands had come up of their own accord and clasped the sides of my head, in horror. Cats and rats? Did they hear themselves? And while Pythagoras, who is not so much my cat as a cat I allow to crash at my home, might be nominally my pet, the rats weren’t even mine at all. Okay, so I’d rescued them from inside a piano I’d bought to refinish for my fiancé Cas Wolfe. I’d only nursed them and looked after them because otherwise they’d be snake food. Besides, they were Ben’s problem now. Ben had adopted them. I didn’t want them in my wedding.
“I don’t want anyone in my wedding,” I heard myself say. I sounded surly and unaccountably like a teenager. My hand moved, all on its own, making a horizontal slash from side to side to indicate how much I didn’t want anyone at my wedding. “At least no one besides me and Cas. No cats. No rats. No tea roses. No boutonnieres and NO book distributors. Also, no, mom, my wedding is not the ideal venue to display the covers of upcoming mysteries that can be bought at the store for a discount of twenty percent. And paperback books do not make tasteful wedding party favors.”
The two of them stopped talking for a moment and looked at me, for all the world as though they’d completely forgotten I existed. Which, to be frank, they probably had. Then mom reached over and patted my hand, absently, more like she was fluffing a cushion or something. “There, there,” she said. “Brides always get nervous.”
“I’m not nervous,” I said. I realized my voice was louder than it should be. “This is not my first time getting married. I don’t want a dress. It’s not a church wedding. I don’t want a guest list. I don’t want a reception. I don’t want–”
Mom and Ben traded a look that implied they were the adults in the room and that I must be humored and cajoled into playing my part. Ben tapped the pen he was holding against his teeth. It was one of the most annoying habits in the world, and I’d told him so several times since sixth grade. “To be honest,” he said. “Perhaps the mystery books as favors are a bit over the top. They’re damn hard to wrap in a tasteful way. Besides, we can’t know for sure what the guests will like to read or even if all of them read mystery.”
Mom narrowed her eyes at the unlikelihood of someone not reading mystery, then wavered. “Well,” she said. “My husband has said that perhaps tasteful bottles of fingerprint powder…”
And like some slumbering warrior awakened from long sleep, my father perked up behind the register ten feet away, and beamed at us. “It would be handy, you know. Funerals and weddings often result in murder, and when someone kills Sherlockia on her wedding day, we’ll be all ready to take fingerprints.”
My name is not Sherlockia. Had my name been Sherlockia, I would have run away from home well before the age of three. In fact, probably before I’d learned to walk. Mom and dad had almost divorced over what to name me, with my dad wanting Sherlockia and my mom holding out for Agatha. They’d met to discuss reconciliation in the local candy shop and mom had gone into labor over the parfaits. Which might explain – but did not excuse – saddling me with the names of Candyce Chocolat. Dad had dealt with the defeat as he always dealt with such things: by pretending it had never happened.
Which meant the only way I could deal with this was by running away. I’d take my on-the-verge of dying third hand Volvo station wagon, kosh my fiancé, police officer Cas Wolfe, stuff him in the passenger seat, then wait until my ex husband – All-ex, couldn’t be more ex if I’d killed him, something I often contemplated doing – returned my son E whose real name is Enoch, I’m trying to save on therapy bills by calling him E. I’d strap E in his car seat in the back, and we’d drive like bats out of hell to… Maybe as far as Denver before my car died.
I revised my plan. I’d kosh Cas FIRST and steal the keys to his white Honda SUV. Then drag him to the passenger seat, move the car seat over and…
I paused. I could see E sitting in the back seat, screaming all the way to Las Vegas because we’d left Pythagoras – whom he called Peesgrass – at home in Goldport.
Right. I’d throw Pythagoras – a mangy and extremely neurotic black cat – in his cat carrier and strap him in next to E’s child seat. And then…
In my mind’s eye, I saw Ben – as opposed to the real Ben who was sketching something on a paper pad and showing it to my mother – crossing his arms and giving me his more in sorrow than in anger look at being left out of my elopement. After all, he’d been left out of my first wedding, mostly because All-ex was jealous of him, which ranked up there as extreme stupidity even for All-ex. It probably wasn’t fair to leave him out of my second wedding as well. Besides, I’m superstitious. The first wedding had been Ben-less and the marriage had ended up on the rocks. What if the lack of Ben also blighted the second marriage?
My mental self koshed the image of Ben over the head, dragged him to the car – a monumental feat of strength since he probably weighs double what I do – and strapped him in next to E and Pythagoras. Only in time for me to realize that Ben’s significant other, Nick, would probably be very upset if I took his boyfriend away for a few days. And probably even more upset to miss Cas’ wedding. Nick and Cas were not only best friends and colleagues in the Goldport Police Department but also cousins who had been raised almost as brothers. It would be unforgivable not to take Nick along to Las Vegas to see us married by an Elvis impersonator at the Little Chapel of Quick And Regrettable Unions.
Sighing, I koshed my mental image of Nick, too, and stuffed him in the car under Pythagoras’ carrier, which probably would keep Pythagoras calmer for the trip, too.
Then, just as I was about to get behind the wheel of my imaginary get-away car, I realized that though my parents had never exactly approved of me since I’d disappointed them by not becoming a private eye, I was still their only daughter and they – alas – my only parents. They might be – and often were – the world’s most annoying people, but they probably deserved to be there when we told Elvis that we did…
I’d just done strapping my mental image of mom to the roof rack and dad to the front bumper, like a very befuddled looking deer, when I realized this wouldn’t do. I mentally untied dad’s hands and put a mystery book in them. He wouldn’t even notice he was strapped to the front of the car, provided that the book was interesting enough.
And then I realized that Fluffy, mom and dad’s cat, would be left alone for the whole time. But I had to draw the line somewhere. And Fluffy hated me and had – twice – tried to eat Pythagoras.
“No,” I said. “I’m NOT taking Fluffy.” And as mom and Ben turned to look at me, I realized that eloping while taking all your nearest and dearest was probably not practical and got up. “I have had enough of this,” I said. “I’m going to work.”
As I rushed out of the store, I heard Mom ask Ben “What was that all about?” And Ben answer, “She just realized that she couldn’t take us all along if she eloped with Cas.”
You should be able to buy this book in your local bookstore, if you patronize it. If not, here is the link for Amazon. A Fatal Stain by Elise Hyatt. (I apologize for the high price of the ebook and for the DRM. I have no control over it, but it is in part why the next book will be indie.)