Friday, October 16, 2020








Myrna Mittleson, all five foot nine of her, charged out of my mother’s house and nearly bumped into me on the walkway. “Oops! Sorry Phee! I’m in a rush to get to the beauty parlor. God bless the state of Iowa!” It was a Saturday morning in late January and I was returning a large salad bowl I had borrowed for a neighborhood dish-to-pass party. Before I could utter a word, Myrna blew past me and raced to her car, a non-descript beige sedan. “God bless the state of Iowa?” I knew my mother’s Booked 4 Murder book club friends leaned toward the eccentric side, but for the life of me, I had no idea what Myrna was talking about.


The door to the house was still ajar and my mother stepped outside. 


“Did you hear that?”  I asked. “Iowa? I thought she was from Brooklyn.”


My mother ushered me inside. “She is. But right now we’re enamored with the state of Iowa.”


“Huh? Why? I don’t get it.”


“Quick! Come in. Close the door behind you before Streetman runs out. I think I heard a bird chirping and he’s likely to run after it.”


I looked around the room and spied the little Chiweenie sitting on the couch trying to tear off what looked like a Christmas tree plastered to his back.


“Um, I don’t think so. And what’s he wearing? Is that supposed to be a Christmas tree with a hoop skirt under it?”


“It’s one of Shirley’s designs. We’re getting an early start for the Christmas in July program.”


“Good grief! The holiday event was just a few weeks ago.”


“You have to plan early in these retirement communities.”


“Your dog is planning early. Look! He pulled off one of those dangling ornaments.”


My mother groaned, walked over to Streetman and removed the costume. “We’ll try later,” she said to the dog.


I shuddered. “Anyway, here’s your salad bowl and for heaven’s sake, please tell me what’s this business with Iowa. Not another retirement community you’re looking into.”


“Good grief no! I’m not leaving Arizona. I love Sun City West. Best thing I did was get out of those Minnesota winters. Same deal with Myrna, only she’s from New York.”


I tried not to roll my eyes and nodded as my mother continued. 


“Last night Myrna and I got the most wonderful news about Vernadeen Stibbens. Sit down and I’ll tell you all about it. I was going to call you but I knew you’d be stopping by on your way to work.”


I was totally lost but used to the way my mother’s conversations circumvented the main idea until boomeranging back to the point. I plopped myself down on a floral chair so as not to disturb the dog’s position on the couch. God forbid I upset that neurotic little ball of fur. My mother put the salad bowl on the coffee table, grabbed the chair next to mine, and leaned toward me. 


“Vernadeen Stibbens was asked to be one of the judges for the sewing contest for the Iowa State Fair, and she’ll be on the homemaking committee as well.  She still has her condo in Davenport so technically she’s a resident there. She was one of the judges for that contest back in nineteen ninety-five. Can you imagine? She’ll be reprising her role once again.”


“And you and Myrna are doing cartwheels because someone you know is going to be on a committee? Or worse yet, judging someone’s stitching? I don’t get it.”


“If you’d let me finish, Phee, I’d explain. Vernadeen Stibbens has her own live radio show on KSCW, the voice of Sun City West, every Tuesday morning. “Sewing Chats with Vernadeen.”  Of course, they tape it and run it over and over again during the week.”


“I’m still—” 


“Shh! I’m not done. Anyway, Vernadeen will be gone most of the spring and summer because of her role at the state fair. That means “Sewing Chats” will no longer be on the local airwaves.”


“And that’s a cause for celebration?” 


My mother shuffled in her chair and the dog immediately jumped down from the couch. “Isn’t that adorable? He thinks Mommy is going to give him a treat. I can’t disappoint him. Hold on a second.”


My mother walked to the kitchen and returned with a dog biscuit. The dog immediately devoured it. “Now,” she said. “Where was I? Oh yes, Vernadeen’s show. It was deadly. Topics like ‘Nuances of double stitching,’ and ‘Harmonious hemming with cross stitches.’ Herb Garrett from across the street said he recorded it for nights when he had insomnia. When he found out she had been one of the state fair judges, he asked how many people she put to sleep with her commentary.”


“I’m still not sure why you and Myrna are so overjoyed.”


My mother patted the dog’s head as she grinned from ear to ear. “Myrna and I are rejoicing because we’ve been asked to take over Vernadeen’s slot on the radio with our own show.”


My jaw dropped and I had to remind myself to breathe. Heaven help us. “Ah-hah! And now the real reason! But what show? What are you and Myrna going to talk about? You don’t sew and Myrna wouldn’t know a cross-stitch from a straight stitch. Now if you said Shirley Johnson, I could understand. She’s a talented milliner and teddy bear maker, but you and Myrna? Seriously?” 


“Oh for goodness sake, Phee. We’re not going to have a sewing program. We’re going to have our own murder mystery show! No one knows more about mysteries than our Booked 4 Murder book club. Cozies, forensic, hardboiled… You name it, we’ll talk about it. Myrna even has her own little segment planned for elements of suspense.”


“The only element of suspense I can think of is when Aunt Ina finds out.”


“Oy! Don’t remind me. I’d better give my sister a call before she hears about it from the grapevine. You know how people around here can gossip.”


“Intimately. I know this intimately.”


“Um, when do you and Myrna get started?”


“Tuesday morning we’re going over to the radio station to meet with the station manager and find out what’s involved. It can’t be all that hard. If I have any questions, I can always ask Herb.”


“Herb Garrett?”


“Of course Herb Garrett. How many Herbs do I know? He and his pinochle buddies have their own show on Thursday nights – ‘Pinochle Pointers.’ Once our show gets underway, Myrna and I will have guest speakers from our club. Cecilia and Shirley are already chomping at the bit to do a program about household poisonings as they relate to murder mysteries.”


“Gee, I’m surprised Louise Munson doesn’t have one planned about parrots that kill. Especially given the one she owns.”


“Don’t give her any ideas. Those things bite. I suppose Ina will want her own segment, too. I can just see it now. She’ll be rattling off about obscure authors from countries none of us have heard of.” 


“Er, um, yeah. I suppose. Look, Mom, I’ve got to get going. I’m working from ten to noon this morning and it’s already nine twenty. I’ll talk to you later. Thanks for the salad bowl.”


I made a beeline for the door before she insisted I pet Streetman or worse yet, give him some “kissies.” Besides, he seemed perfectly content back on the couch. 


“I’ll call you later. On your real phone. I hate when that cell phone of yours goes to voice mail. It always cuts me off.”


“Okay, fine. Later. Love you!”


I was out the door and buckled up in my car just as Cecilia Flanagan pulled up. Her old black Buick was unmistakable. Yep, word did travel fast, especially with my mother at the other end of the phone line. I imagined Cecilia stopped by to get all the juicy gossip about Sun City West’s latest radio show. I beeped the horn and waved as I pulled away from the curb and headed to Williams Investigations in Glendale where I worked. 


I’m the bookkeeper/accountant for Nate Williams, the owner of the detective agency, and a longtime friend of mine. Nate and I both worked for the Mankato Police Department in Minnesota. When he retired as an investigator, he moved out west and convinced me to take a leave of absence from my job in accounts receivable and do his accounting. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse and one that got better the following year when another detective from the Mankato Police Department, Marshall Gregory, also retired and joined the business. 


I had had a crush on Marshall for years and unbeknownst to me, he felt the same way. Maybe Nate figured that out all along and pulled the right strings. Now, almost two years later, Marshall and I are sharing a house together and slowly broaching the subject of marriage. Slowly, because I’m still in shock following my Aunt Ina’s nearly catastrophic wedding ceremony to three-time divorcee Louis Melinsky. Besides, as my friend Lyndy put it, “You’re both in your forties and consenting adults. What else do you need?” Even my daughter Kalese, a teacher in St. Cloud, agreed when I called to tell her about my living arrangements. I figured it was because she wanted me to be as relaxed about her living arrangements if and when the time came for her to drop a bombshell like that. 


I chuckled as I watched Cecilia exit from her car. Still the same black skirt and white blouse. Uh-huh. I know a former nun when I see one. Even if my mother says it’s not so.  I figured that by five this evening the Greater Phoenix community would know that my mother and her book club would be hosting “Murder Mysteries To Die For,” or whatever title they decided to give the show. As long as she didn’t invite me to be a guest, I would be in the clear. 


Augusta, our secretary, was at her desk, coffee cup in one hand and fingers furiously hitting her computer keyboard with the other when I breezed into the office.  


“I don’t know how you can type with one hand,” I said. 


“Hey, good morning to you, too, Phee. I learned how to do that when I had carpal tunnel surgery a few years ago. I take it Marshall’s still on that case in Florence, huh?”


“Oh yeah. He left at an ungodly hour. He got a new lead on the whereabouts of that not so deadbeat dad. Can you imagine? The guy absconded with their four year old in the middle of the night. The wife thinks they may be with friends of his somewhere near Apache Junction.”


“Why didn’t she just go to the sheriff’s department and have an Amber alert issued?”


“According to Marshall, the woman’s madly in love with the guy and thinks he’ll eventually return. She didn’t want to sully his name. Can you believe it? Still, she wanted him found. That’s why she hired us.”


Augusta groaned and took a sip of her coffee. “Nate’s downtown, by the way, with the office manager at Home Products Plus. I don’t expect him to come up for air any time soon.”


“Yeesh. That’s a snarly case for sure. The manager’s convinced someone’s got a rouge operation going since their inventory dwindled without explanation.”


Just then the phone rang and Augusta picked up, but not before adjusting her tightly sprayed bouffant hairdo. 


“I’ll catch up later,” I said and walked to my office. At least my work was clear cut and reasonable – invoices to send and a few bills to reconcile. Since Marshall was out on a case, I decided to stick around and grab lunch with Augusta, something I did once in a while since our office closes at noon on Saturdays. When I told her about my mother’s latest endeavor as we munched on baked subs from the deli around the corner, Augusta grimaced. “A radio show? A murder mystery radio show? Let’s hope it turns out better than her last theatrical performance. Last thing you need is another murder.”


I let my fork slip back on the plate. “Bite your tongue. I’m sure they’ll just be talking about murders.” Too bad I was wrong.



Sunday, August 30, 2020

Shh! It's super secret! DEATH, DISMAY AND ROSE' is set for release on September 29, 2020, but we can't wait! So, we are sneaking in a special preview of chapter one for you! Once the buy links are in place with Amazon and B &N, we will post them. Meantime, sit back and enjoy this crazy romp in the Fingers Lakes of New York.





I flipped the kitchen wall calendar from May to June and shouted to Charlie, “Only thirty more days till my sentence is over.” The big, brindle Plott hound barely cast me a glance and continued to guzzle his kibble. My sentence referred to the year that I bestowed upon my sister, Francine, and her entomologist husband, Jason, to oversee the family winery while they traipsed through the Costa Rican rain forests in search of some elusive insect. All part of a grant Jason got from the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station at Cornell University.


Hooray for Jason. He got a grant and I got stuck dealing with more murders on the Seneca Lake Wine Trail than I could ever imagine in my real occupation as a romance and mystery screenwriter for a Canadian film company. I sublet my cozy apartment near Little Italy   in exchange for returning to our family farmhouse on Two Witches Hill in Penn Yan, New York, adjacent to our winery that bore the same name.


For years, Francine and I begged our parents to change the name of the winery but our parents, who are now comfortably enjoying retirement in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, adamantly refused. Needless to say, Francine and I were teased relentlessly with all sorts of witch references. Of course the fact that I just had to dye my hair orange and purple for Halloween in my sophomore year didn’t help.


Now, with a Sharpie marker in one hand and my cup of morning coffee in the other, I reached over to circle June thirtieth. That’s when I spied the small moon images on the calendar pages and froze. I put the coffee cup down for fear of spilling it and took a closer look. Sure enough, under June twenty-first, beneath the words “summer begins” was a full moon.


Wonderful. As if I don’t have enough to deal with. Now the curse of the full moon on the summer solstice.


It was a ridiculous Penn Yan legend that probably got started two centuries ago when someone tried to cover up a murder. The curse was right up there with the “kiss of death” gravestone curse that still lingers over the Penn Yan Cemetery on Lake Road. That curse, I think, was meant to keep kids away from the grave markers but all it did was encourage them to dare each other to place a kiss on Elinor McLandon’s grave, circa 1802, and see if she would materialize and take them with her to the netherworld.


The solstice legend wasn’t all that different. Apparently, if a full moon occurred the same date as the summer solstice, the two witches, who once lived on our hill, would return from the dead and snuff the life out of someone in their sleep. The legend even specified the location – a five mile radius from the top of Two Witches Hill. A lot of lakefront in that area, including a popular vacation spot – Kashong Point. Idiotic nonsense, but still somewhat chilling in a bizarre sort of way.


I snatched my iPhone off the table and googled the last date of a summer solstice that coincided with the full moon. It was on a Monday in 1948. Rosalee Marbelton from Terrace Wineries was old enough to remember that date but she wasn’t living here back then. I groaned and tried to think. That’s when it dawned on me. Gladys Pipp might be able to help. Gladys was the secretary for the Yates County Sheriff’s Office and knew more about the goings on in the county than the deputies who were paid to deal with them.


Maybe I was being silly but if no one was smothered in their sleep back in 1948, I could poo-poo the whole thing and tell everyone else to do the same. I looked at the clock and it was a little after eight. Gladys was bound to be at work, especially on a Monday morning, so I phoned her.


“Norrie! I haven’t heard from you in a while. Is everything all right at the winery?” she asked once she finished with the usual spiel of “if this is an emergency, hang up and dial…”


“Great! Everything’s great. Thirty days and Francine will be taking over the helm. She needs to make more jellies and jams.”


Gladys was a regular fan of my sister’s assorted berry jams and, much as I hate to admit it, I used lots of those jars to eke information out of her when I needed it. Besides, she was the only friendly face in that entire office.


“So, what’s up?” she asked.


“I know this is a longshot, but you wouldn’t happen to know of anyone who was smothered to death in their sleep back in nineteen forty-eight, do you?”


“Oh no. Not you, too.”


“What do you mean?”


“I need to keep my voice low. Listen, Deputy Hickman was in here a few minutes ago asking the same question. Said he wanted to be prepared in case the summer solstice curse reappears. Thinks someone might use it as a cover-up for them to commit murder. Had me pull up the obits from Google but it was worthless. Now he’s sending me to the Yates County Historical Society to go through their records. He even got a deputy to cover my desk while I’m gone. Can you believe it?”


“Yeah, I can. That curse originated with the two witches who lived on our hill centuries ago. Those kinds of tales can really scare the tourists right out of here or bring in throngs of loonies. Hmm, that gives me an idea. I’m meeting a friend of mine in Geneva for lunch today. I’ll drop by the Geneva Historical Society on my way home and see what their archives say. We can touch base later, okay?”


“Sounds good to me. Listen, I wouldn’t put a whole lot of credence into those things. They’re only good for one thing – late night ghost stories around the campfire.”


“I hope you’re right.”


When I got off the phone with Gladys, I took a quick shower and got down to my real job. I had a screenplay due to my producer in two weeks. Actually, to the screenplay analyst who worked for my producer. Then, it would be bounced back to me for revisions and his little “just a thought” notes that were more annoying than anything else. I never knew if he wanted me to change anything or if he merely wanted to point things out.


At a little before eleven, I closed my laptop and headed to the tasting room before taking off to meet Godfrey Klein for lunch at Tim Horton’s. Godfrey was an entomologist who worked alongside my brother-in-law at the Experiment Station. He was also the only person who kept in touch with Jason and Francine via a satellite phone from Cornell. He was also the only person I ever kissed on the lips for no apparent reason other than a spur of the moment impulse. And while nothing like that happened again, mainly because I was, and still am, dating a lawyer who works in Geneva, I still have mixed feelings about Godfrey. Good thing I’ll be back in Manhattan in July. I like writing drama, not living it.


It felt wonderful to walk down the hill to our winery building in comfortable sandals instead of the heavy boots that seemed to be glued to my feet all winter long. Living in Penn Yan meant dealing with three seasons – snow, mud, and humidity. With mud season out of way, I could look forward to pesky mosquitos, no-see-ums, and frizzy hair. No wonder I moved to the city.


Surprisingly, the tasting room was busier than usual for a midmorning Monday on the first of June. Lizzie, our bookkeeper and cashier, lifted her wire-rimmed glasses from her nose and called out, “Good Morning, Norrie. Did you happen to notice the June calendar?”


“Thirty fun-filled days?”


“Shh! I’m referring to the summer solstice. It falls on a full moon. Not that I believe in all that mumbo-jumbo but—”


Just then, Glenda emerged from the kitchen with a full rack of wine glasses. She immediately put them on the nearest tasting room table and rushed over to me. “The full moon falls on the summer solstice. It’s not too late, Norrie,” she said as she brushed a long strand of pink and silver hair from her face. “Zenora and I can smudge this place in less than an hour. It’s wide open so we can move clockwise while we gently wave the sage stick smoke around the room. The winery can’t afford to take any chances. Especially since it sits right on the same property where those two witches lived.”


“That was centuries ago and none of us really know if they were witches in the actual sense of the word or maybe two hormonal sisters with bad attitudes.”  Like the one I’m about to have if this keeps up.


Glenda clasped her hands so tight I swore her knuckles were going to turn white. “If you must know, I have an awful premonition about this. And I’m not the only one. Zenora dreamt she saw a dead body floating on the lake.”


“Good. At least it wasn’t on our property. Tell your friend Zenora we can’t risk setting the place on fire with her ritual sage sticks. The séance last summer and the ear piercing chants around my house were bad enough. We’ll be fine. It’s only a ghostly legend meant to give little kids goosebumps.”


“I’m not so sure,” she replied. “Promise me you’ll think about it.”


“Oh, I’ll think about it. I have no choice. By the way, has anyone seen Cammy?” I stretched my neck and looked around the tasting room. Roger was at his table with four customers and Sam was chatting with a full crew at his table.


“In the kitchen,” Glenda said. “Loading the dishwasher. It’s been a busy morning. Glad she’s the tasting room manager and not me. Nonstop customers. Fred and Emma can deal with them at the bistro. Whoa, I’d better get a move on. A few more just came in the door.”


With that, Glenda grabbed the glass rack from the vacant table and proceeded to unload the glasses at her spot while motioning for the new arrivals to join her for a tasting.


“You know,” Lizzie said, “It might not hurt to appease her. Glenda’s a gentle soul and she really believes in all that new age stuff.”


“My sister and I believed in Santa Claus but my father didn’t go running out there to build a shed for the reindeer.”


“No, but your brother-in-law built one for that Nigerian dwarf goat of his.”


“Ugh. Alvin. Don’t remind me. Hmm, come to think of it, if those ghostly witches do appear on the solstice, one look at Alvin and they’ll be hightailing it off this hill like nobody’s business. Especially if he starts spiting.”


Lizzie laughed. “I tend to agree.”

                                         Hope you enjoyed the preview!