Sneak Preview of Old Lady Detective Agency

I wanted to give a preview of my next book that hopefully will be available by Christmas.  It's a complete departure from my last book.  I wanted to try to write something for people my age or older and something clean.  It's going great so far and I think people will really like it.  Today I'm going to share the first chapter of the rough draft.  Let me know what you think.  If you like what you read, please click on the share button at the bottom.

 

The Old Lady Detective Agency:

Case 1:  Meet the Detectives

By: Ryan Herrin

           

Chapter 1

L'Oreal Paris Colour Riche Lipcolour lipstick, Wrigley’s Extra Classic Bubble with seven of the fifteen sticks still remaining, loose picture of Smooches the Third, crumpled up tissue with brown markings on it, Betty fished the crumpled up tissue.  She examined the odd delicate brown staining and finally succumbed to smelling it.  Unable to identify it, she returned it to her Women’s Side Zipper Tote Handbag, recently purchased at Wal-Mart; she knew in her heart that one day she would figure out what that brown stain was.  One can dream.  She returned to searching through her purse.  Betty wasn’t sure what she was looking for, but when she did find it, when she would finally succeed in excavating that treasure from the bottom of her reasonably priced and fashionable purse, it would sing to her.

            “What’s so strange to me is how quick things are changing.  Isn’t that weird?”

            “Mmm-hmm”  Betty didn’t mean to ignore Pam, but she was preoccupied.  There were three different Snickers with Almonds wrappers in her purse, and she didn’t really care for nuts that much.

            “Quit digging in that purse and help me find the park!  I thought it was right here.  I was there last week, but they must have moved the park.  This is so weird.  Where would they have moved it to?” Pam squinted hard to read the traffic signs through her glasses.

            Betty looked up, “It’s right there on the right; I think.”  She had three cough drops on the bottom of her purse that were no longer in their wrapper and had a peculiar blue fuzz on them.  She hesitated throwing them out because she didn’t want to have to face the day when her throat hurt and she didn’t have any cough drops.  A thin film of fuzz was a small price to pay for a proper lozenge for Betty. 

            Pam drove on for another forty five minutes, ignoring Betty’s direction earlier, proclaiming that it ‘didn’t seem right.’  Neither woman really seemed to mind, the flea market at the park was a monthly trip for them and if they were a few minutes late, they might miss some of the best deals, but it couldn’t be helped. The park had been moved according to Pam.  After making a gigantic loop around town, with one brief stop at the Sunbeam Bakery outlet for nearly expired fried fruit pies and seven loafs of slightly stale, but who could really tell, Pepperidge Farm breads, the girls made it to the flea market. 

            “Well, we’re here.  What’s wrong?  You look down, are you thinking about all of your ex-husbands?”  Pam asked, when she had actually been thinking about how her ex-husbands were probably involved with the Kennedy assassination.  She did remember the time that Buck, her first husband, had said something negative about Catholics, despite actually being one.  She had to remember to put that in one of her casebooks when she got home.

            “No.”  Betty was actually considering cake.  “I’m just disappointed that we couldn’t go to any garage sales today.  The flea market is good, but it just isn’t the same.”

            “Well, now that we’re part of The Bama Girls, maybe we can swing the next vote at the Association to allow you back on the circuit.”  Pam felt bad for her neighbor and friend Betty, who had taken the verdict from the Condominium Owner’s Association last month pretty hard.  It was ruled that Betty’s yard sale habits were out of control and the clutter within her condo was indeed spilling out of her home into her modest fifteen by six foot front yard, thus driving condo property values down.  Pam thought it was ridiculous that someone couldn’t keep two small sofas and a broken lawn mower wherever they wanted to.  Both women knew that going to the flea market was technically a loophole that they could exploit, but they would have to keep their exploits under wraps until they could get the COA to overturn their decision.  Pam thought this likely because eventually the other members would see the ban for what it really was, a conspiracy by Linda Jean Grable to stop Betty from acquiring a larger collection of Precious Moments figurines, which were so cute.

            Betty mumbled something encouragingly supportive to Pam as she searched through her purse one last time before exiting their Buick Skylark for the flea market.  Pam was comforted to have her friend’s support.  However, she did secretly wish that Betty would stop going to so many flea markets and garage sales.  She didn’t think it was right for the COA to impose such things with their iron fist, but she wished that Betty would make that decision for herself. It was just too much of a distraction; she really should have been home keeping an eye on things better.  The neighbor on her right, Louise Wilson, was most likely running a crystal meth lab out of her reasonably priced townhouse condominium.  Louise’s lowlife son Michael, had been visiting a little too regularly and coming and going at odd times of the day.  It was just so strange to her how often her son came by.  Pam made a mental note to keep a record in her casebook when she got home.  Maybe the other Bama Girls would help her in putting a motion to the COA to do something about that lowlife Michael showing up at all hours.  They could propose a “No Loud Cars” rule for the Association to consider.  That would teach that trashy bunch a thing or two.

            The Bama Girls had not originally started as such a political force in the Condominium Owner’s Association.  It had started as a social group and for all intents and purposes it still was.  The Girls would get together usually once a week to do a social activity like going to the Chinese buffet down the street, watching Dancing With the Stars, shopping, and sometimes they would get dressed up on Sundays and put their red hats on and go to the Cracker Barrel for dumplings and cake.  The group, comprising of eight single women from the Franklin Lake Condominium Community, all in their sixties, except for Amy Rodgers, who at fifty eight was the young pup of the group, would often discuss community issues.  The Bama Girls were pretty much an unofficial official club that ran the social scene and they knew it.  This elite group of captains of social dominance was formed last Thanksgiving on an all-girls trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.  Seven of the original eight members were on that trip, the young pup, Amy Rodgers, was spending the holiday with her son, Ben, and his family.  She would receive minor hazing for a few months for missing the trip, but she was always accepted as part of the group.

            The Bama Girls were named on Black Friday of that year.  After a tough early morning of brutal Machiavellian shopping at the outlet malls, the ladies treated themselves to a show at The Memories Theater in Pigeon Forge and dinner at The Alabama Grille.  The Memories Theater was a showcase of celebrity impersonators performing different songs in the style of the artists that they were attempting to impersonate.  The Headliner was an Elvis impersonator named Rich Vuto.  Pam had her doubts about an Italian Elvis, but he had proven to be pretty genuine, for an impersonator.  Pam thought the show was okay, if a little weird, and peaked when the hilarious Don Knotts impersonator told a few jokes and read the rules to the audience.

            Pam wasn’t sure why the audience even really needed to hear a bunch of rules until Rich Vuto hit the stage and the women in the audience, who were all around her age, some even older, started to scream and rush the stage.  Most were lining up to kiss the Elvis clone and receive one of his red, white, and blue (America!) colored scarves, but a few were dancing in the aisle.  Betty, who wasn’t one to waste much time, danced the pony up the aisle to kiss the affable Elvis impersonator.  This presented a problem for her as she was too winded to ascend the four steps to the stage to make out with a man twenty years her junior impersonating a man that would have been twenty years her senior if he hadn’t died leaving his kingly remains on his royal throne. Betty had to stop and rest on the third step to the stage.  She attributed her lack of motivation up the steps to her third chocolate iced and Bavarian cream filled donut that morning.  She wanted to eat another for energy before the shopping / show / dinner extravaganza, but her killjoy doctor told her to lay off the sweets on this trip, or he would have been forced to cut off one of her toes, and she always tried to do what was right.  Once she was parked on the stairs, she was forced to ignore the pained and annoyed looks on the faces of the other women unable to fulfill their post-menopausal fantasy of lip locking the king and enjoy the sensuous gyrations from behind.  The entire room smelled like Efferdent and Vick’s Vapor Rub.

            Once Vuto finished “Love Me” and the scarves were put away.  Betty returned to her seat to receive high fives from her friends and regale her time in the spotlight on the stage.  As Betty caught a few much needed breaths, a man caught Pam’s eye.  He was a surly and suspicious biker type sitting in the third row to the right of them.  Pam studied his long, most likely greasy and dirty as well, ponytail and wondered why a man like himself would be here to enjoy the wondrous crooning of Rich Vuto.  She decided then that he probably was some kind of drug dealer looking to taint and poison this Elvis, much like some other deadbeats did so long ago to the original King.  She would be darned if she let that happen and decided she was going to keep an eye on the Man with the Ponytail and stop him from being a poor influence on the Memories Theater superstars, even though those two kids that kicked off the show as the Blues Brothers probably did imbibe.  A few songs passed, Pam wasn’t really sure which ones because she had brought a casebook with her as she was observing and writing down any notes that she had on the most likely criminal with a ponytail sitting by them. 

            In all actuality, she didn’t really have a casebook with her this time either, but she was able to improvise a notepad using the back of a napkin from the cute little sandwich shop that she and Betty had visited after breakfast that morning.  She made notes of what the man was wearing, who he was sitting with, and what he was doing.  His actions mostly involved clapping after songs and occasionally speaking to the conservatively dressed woman in her fifties sitting next to him.  Pam surmised that they were obviously discussing their drug trade, freaky sex business, or maybe both, and how they could influence poor Rich Vuto.  She thought it was so strange.  Pam looked to Betty to show her her notes.  Betty was searching through her purse, picked up a tissue paper with a brown stain on it, smelled it, and put it back in her purse.  She was busy; Pam was going to have to solve this mystery by herself. 

            The show eventually ended, and Pam had filled up four napkins worth of notes.  As her friends were lining up to get autographs and take pictures on Rich’s motorcycle, Pam kept an eye on the possibly for sure drug dealer to make sure that he stayed away from the King’s impersonator or anyone else.  Pam kept a short distance and remained incognito as the man waited for his drug dealing partner and wife to exit the restroom.  She achieved this by stealthily eating popcorn anytime he looked her way.  Pam followed him into the parking lot, expecting him to drive off in a flashy drug kingpin car, or at the very least, a loud and dangerous motorcycle, like the crazies always drive.  It was so strange when the Man with the Ponytail and his wife got into a Grand Marquis and drove away, pretending to be a normal couple on a night out. 

Pam wondered if she had perhaps read the situation wrong, maybe they were just a normal couple out enjoying the show like she and her friends did.  Then she realized that’s what he probably wanted her to think, to get her off of his trail.  Her vigilance had saved the day once again, and she had probably saved Rich Vuto and the other fantastic performers at The Memories Theater from drug addiction and the moral pitfalls that would ensue.  She had saved their lives and couldn’t wait to tell the other girls about it, but then she realized that she had, in her stealth, finished the tub of popcorn and it was time for supper.

A mile down the road from the Memories Theater was The Alabama Grille.  Betty wondered why there was a restaurant called that in the Smokey Mountains of Tennessee, and she didn’t recognize the four bearded men on the billboard.  Still, the place smelled like fried foods and wasn’t too crowded, so she was in. 

Pam stayed in the parking lot surveying the parking lot and the highway for Grand Marquis.  She was disheartened to see seven in the parking lot and another eleven pass by on the road.  The Man with the Ponytail obviously had many friends. Her greatest shock was to come when Sue Terse pulled up with two other girls that they were vacationing with in a cream colored Grand Marquis.  She hadn’t noticed the car before, which was unlike her and so strange.  Pam knew then that she would have to keep an eye on Sue. 

The seven single women, tired but in good spirits and ready to eat, looked over the menus available at the hostess station.  They joked good naturedly about skipping dinner altogether and just hitting up the desert menu.  Well, all except for Betty and Pam, they never joked about such things.

“Why is this the Alabama Grille?  Is there a Tennessee Grille in Alabama?”  Wondered Betty.

“No I don’t think so.  You know this is for the band Alabama right?”  Asked Sue Terse.  Pam studied her with one eye squinting hard.  There was just something so strange about that Sue Terse.  Betty, on the other hand, stared with a blank look of wonder as she heard the familiar country music that her third husband Lamar would listen to in his refrigeration repair truck.  Betty also saw the all too familiar portrait of the band staring back at her from the front of the restaurant.  The portrait of the band was over twenty two feet high.  She wasn’t too familiar with them though.  Betty did consider herself a definite expert on music, she had never once missed an episode of American Idol.  In fact, one year she had to halt any additions to her budding shot glasses of the world collection because she had spent her funds for that on voting for Sanjaya.  This was particularly disappointing because she had just scored a “Gettin’ Lucky in Kentucky” (probably something to do with a new casino there or something) shot glass and couldn’t wait to find an even better one, but her phone bill had topped seven hundred dollars that month from the ninety nine cents that each vote for Sanjaya accounted for.  From then on, she created a new entry in her budget by eliminating her 401K and purchasing generic cookies instead of name brands so that she would still be able to vote and continuing her life’s work of procuring shot glasses from gift shops and flea markets.

“Oh, I remember them.  So, where are they?  Are they in the back or something?”  Betty asked no one in particular, and she didn’t wait for the answer to her query and searched for it in her purse instead.

“Betty, I doubt they’re in the back cutting up onions.  They probably just sold their names or something.”  Middie Ingram tried to be helpful, but Pam just couldn’t stand how condescending she was.  Pam went back to keeping an eye on both Sue and watching for the Man with the Ponytail that she was undoubtedly having an affair with.

Sue, who Pam thought looked nervous and she knew why, fidgeted with the bracelet that her granddaughter Katie had made for her in vacation bible school as they got seated at their table in the mostly empty restaurant.  “I don’t know about you girls, but I am having a great time.”  Pam thought that was not true, and that it was so strange how she was just trying to butter them up.  “We should do things like this more often.”  Yeah right thought Pam.  She thought Sue was just trying to knock her and Betty off the scent that she was laying down a little too heavy for her taste.  Pam liked her mysteries little more challenging, more Jessica Fletcher and less Father Frank Dowling.  Pam prided herself on her relevant references and grasp of pop culture.

“We could do something once a week.”  Offered Middie.

“Oh my gosh, we should call our group the Bama Girls after the Bama Grille!”  Cackled Elle Seward, the self-anointed joker of the group.  The other girls at the table giggled and congratulated Elle on her cleverness and the group was formed that fateful Black Friday last year.  Well, all the girls laughed except for Pam, who was sure that Elle had stolen that excellent name from her because she had thought of it first, and Betty, who hadn’t really gotten the joke and decided to focus on which style of potato she was going to order with her smoked hot wings instead of trying to get it.

Ten months later, Pam and Betty made their way to the front door of the Franklin Lakes Flea Market, a twenty thousand square foot indoor shopper’s paradise full of reasonable prices and interesting vendors that you won’t find in any mall.  As the girls were waiting to cross the last aisle in the parking lot, a grey Grand Marquis passed them.  Pam stared at the car and searched for a ponytail or drug paraphernalia in the backseat.  “Hey Betty, remember when I named the Bama Girls?  I guess I’m kinda the leader huh?”

“Mmm-hmm.  What I remember was how good those hot wings were at that restaurant.  Do you think there will be anybody selling hot wings inside?”

“Well that’s a mystery worth solving isn’t it?”  The two ladies were disappointed to find that there wasn’t any hot wings to be found inside at the flea market concession stand, but their spirits were lifted somewhat when they came across the boiled peanuts and fresh fried pork skins booth next to Betty’s favorite vendor.  She always brightened when she saw the hand painted sign above the entrance that read “Preshious Porcelain.”  She wasn’t sure if the misspelling was on purpose or if it even was a misspelling, but she didn’t mind either way.  The only thing that she did mind was Pam’s inevitable comment about the place not having toilets which were a precious commodity at the flea market, Margie, the proprietor of the fine business, would good naturedly tell her that the ladies’ rooms were on the other side of the hangar sized market.  Roughly forty yards away, Pam would have to weigh how bad she really had to go at that point.  At Precious Porcelain they sold valuable collectibles at discounted prices.  In the past Betty had purchased Beanie Babies and Precious Moments figurines, which were so cute, but today she had something else in mind.  Betty’s rat like dog, Smooches the Third, was on his last legs.  Cancer had taken Smooches the Third’s back two legs and confined him to a doggy wheelchair, so he literally was on his last two legs. 

“Do you have any urns?  I’m looking for one with purple hearts or something real cute and darling?”  Betty tried her hardest to look past where Margie had displayed her collection of porcelain unicorns, her next collection for sure, to look for urns.

“Oh sweetie, I’m so sorry darling.  Did you lose somebody recently?”  Margie showed a real concern in her voice.  Over the years she had developed a relationship with Betty, who accounted for eighteen percent of all of her sales.

“Oh my God!  Who died!  Tell me now!  Was it one of your kids?”  In reality Pam had been thinking about her kids and how awful and selfish two of them had been to move out before they were thirty.

“No, it’s just Smooches is real sick, and I want to be ready when he goes.”

“Oh, okay.  Well yeah, that will definitely help with the mourning process.  I’m just glad your kids are fine.”  Pam went back to studying the three hundred and thirteen porcelain bells that she had counted the last time that she and Betty came to Precious Porcelain.  Pam coveted those bells above anything else in the flea market, but she never bought any because the place where she would display them was too close to the window, and she didn’t want to have to worry about being robbed and fighting the criminal element off, lots of crazies out there.  She was relieved that Betty’s kids were okay, even if they looked like they were probably up to something.  Pam really hadn’t cared for any of the Smooches except for the second one, which had disappeared when Mr. Chen’s new restaurant opened.  Pam wasn’t accusing the nice Asian man of using dog meat; she was just saying.  But Smooches the Third, on the other hand, got on her last nerve.

“Sweetie, darling, oh, is your little fellow sick huh?  Well, I don’t have any with purple hearts on them, but I do have one with a very tasteful precious Easter egg pattern on it.”  Margie tilted her head and nodded, showing a true sincerity that made Pam squint at her.

“Well, he did try to eat those clearance Easter chocolate eggs I got at the dollar store.  I think that would be perfect for him.”  Betty really missed those chocolate eggs.  That had been a really special day. 

“Okay sweetie, just let me wrap that up for you.”

Pam touched and rang her thirty two favorite bells, appreciating the sonic qualities of each.  She pictured all thirty-two in her empty curio cabinet and how wonderful they would look, but then she remembered the likely meth lab next door and pushed that fantasy out of her head.  “So, Margie, how has business been?”

“It’d be a lot better if you would finally buy some of those bells there, sugar.  You look at them every week.  Other than that, it could be better.”

Pam searched frantically for men with ponytails or perhaps that Wilson boy, she didn’t smell any drugs. “What’s wrong?”  Betty studied her newly purchased urn and couldn’t wait to see it filled with her companion and how cute it would look on her mantle.  She had always been bothered that the urn for Smooches II was empty, she didn’t get the closure that she needed on that one.  Plus, she was running out of flat surfaces to place her collections on and having an empty urn seemed wasteful.

“Well sweetie, it’s just that new musical instrument booth down the way.  They make too much racket, and I’m not sure any of those people that go there would even buy a precious porcelain.”

Pam squinted hard, “Yeah, probably a bunch of drug addicted crazies going there.  Reminds me of that comic book shop my son wanted to go into that time, bunch of weirdos.”  Her eyes lit up when she saw her neighbor’s son with that loud car, Michael Wilson, eyeing a drum kit at the music vendor’s booth.

Betty pushed forward, not wanting to hear about a store that Pam would not allow her adult son to go to for the millionth time.  “Music?  Do you think they have an organ there?”

Margie, who looked shocked and scared, said, “Now Betty, you’re not going to buy anything from them are you?  What about your collections?”

“Do you even play organ?”  This was a surprise to Pam.  Which really threw her for a loop because she knew in her heart that so little actually got past her.

“No, I just like the way they sound.  I think it would be fun to play one sometimes.”  Betty imagined the perfect spot for the reasonably priced organ that she had just purchased in her mind.  She would move some old boxes out of her kitchen and put the organ there.  That way she could play organ after eating her breakfast pastries.

It was then that the lights had shut off at the flea market.  Frightened screams had been followed by two gunshots.  When the lights came back on roughly a minute later, Betty had been unable to find her emergency flashlight in her purse, and Pam was in a Charlie’s Angels style karate pose. 

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