Don't miss out on all the fall fun! We're giving you a sneak peek at Chapter One from Dressed Up 4 Murder. Hope it puts a smile on your face today, or gives you a good belly laugh!
CHAPTER 1, HARRIET PLUNKETT’S HOUSE, SUN CITY WEST, ARIZONA
“Doesn’t he look like the most adorable little dog you’ve ever seen?” my mother asked when I walked into her house on a late Wednesday afternoon in October. Signs of autumn were everywhere in Sun City West, including pumpkins on front patios, leaf wreaths on doorways, and someone’s large ceramic pig dressed like a witch. Of course, it was still over ninety degrees, but that wasn’t stopping anyone from welcoming the fall and winter holidays.
My mother had begged me to stop by on my way home from work to look at Streetman’s costume for the “Precious Pooches Holiday Extravaganza” for dogs of all ages and breeds. And since her dog was a Chiweenie, part Chihuahua part Dachshund, he certainly qualified. The contest made no mention of neuroses.
I tried to be objective, but it was impossible. “He looks like an overstuffed grape or something, if you ask me. And what’s he doing? He’s scratching at your patio door. Does he need to go out?”
“He’s not a grape. He’s going as an acorn. He’ll look better once I get the hat on him. When he stops biting. And no, he doesn’t need to go out. We were just out a half hour ago.”
“Maybe he’s trying to escape because you’re about to put the hat on him.”
“Very funny. It’s not easy, you know. There are three separate category contests, and I’ve registered him for all of them–Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Hanukkah/Christmas. And just wait until it comes time for the St. Patrick’s Day Doggie Contest in March. The prize for that one is almost as good as a pot of gold.”
St. Patrick’s Day? That’s months away. And what’s next, dressing him up as “Yankee Doodle Dandy” for the Fourth of July?
“Like I was saying, Phee, Shirley Johnson is making the costumes. You’re looking at the Thanksgiving one. I can’t make up my mind if I want Streetman to go as a pumpkin for Halloween or a ghost. Goodness. I haven’t even given any thought to the winter costume. Maybe a snowflake…”
“Right now, I think he wants to go. Period. Look. He’s frantically pawing at your patio door.”
“He only wants to sniff around the Galbraith’s grill. A coyote or something must’ve marked the tarp because, ever since yesterday, the dog has been beside himself to check it out. I certainly don’t need him peeing on their grill. They won’t be back until early November. I spoke to Janet a few days ago. She really appreciates Streetman and me checking out her place while they’re up in Alberta. You know how it is with the Canadian snowbirds. They can only stay here for five months or they lose their health insurance. Something like that.”
“Anyway, how are you and Marshall managing with your move? That’s coming up sometime soon, isn’t it?”
“Not soon enough. I feel as if I’m living out of cardboard boxes, and Marshall’s place is no different. We won’t be able to get in to the new rental until November first. That’s three weeks away and three weeks too long.”
Marshall and I had worked for the same Mankato, Minnesota, police department for years before I moved out west to become the bookkeeper for retired Mankato detective, Nate Williams. Nate opened his own investigation firm and insisted I join him. A year later, and in dire need of a good investigator, he talked Marshall into making the move as well. I was ecstatic, considering I’d had a crush on the guy for years. Turned out it was reciprocal.
“Do you need any help with the move?” my mother asked. “Lucinda and Shirley offered to help you pack.”
Oh dear God. We’d never finish. They’d be arguing over everything.
Shirley Johnson and Lucinda Espinoza were two of my mother’s book club friends and as opposite as any two people could possibly be. Shirley was an elegant black woman and a former milliner while Lucinda, a retired housewife, looked as if she had recently escaped a windstorm.
“No, I’ll be fine. The hard part’s done. I can’t believe I actually sold my house in Mankato. Other than autumn strolls around Sibley Park, I really won’t miss Minnesota.”
“What about my granddaughter? Did she get all nostalgic?”
“Um, not really. In fact, she had me donate most of the stuff she had in storage to charity. She’s sharing a small apartment in St. Cloud with another teacher and they don’t have much room. Besides, Kalese was never the packrat type.”
My mother had turned away for a second and walked to the patio door. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe he does need to go out again. Hold on. I’ll grab his leash. We can both go out back.” With the exception of the people living next door to my mother and busybody Herb Garrett across the street, the other neighbors were all snowbirds. Michigan. South Dakota. Canada.
“Dear God. You’re not going to take him outside in that outfit, are you?” I asked.
“Fine. I’ll unsnap the Velcro. Shirley’s using Velcro for everything.”
At the instant in which the sliding glass door opened, Streetman yanked my mother across the patio and straight toward the Galbraith’s backyard barbeque grill.
“I should never have taken the retractable leash,” she shouted. “He’s already yards ahead of me.”
“Can’t you push a button or something on that leash?”
“I haven’t learned how to use it yet. It’s new.”
I was a few feet behind her, running as fast as I could in wedge heels.
Her voice bellowed across the adjoining yards as she approached the Galbraith’s grill. “Streetman, stop that! Stop that this instant!”
The dog zeroed in on the tarp and had gripped the edge of it with his teeth. My mother stood directly behind him and fiddled with the retractable leash.
“Now see what you’ve done,” she said to the dog. “You’ve gone ahead and uncovered the bottom of the grill. I’ll just shove those black boxes back a bit and put the tarp back down.”
“Don’t move, Mom!” I screamed. “Take a good look. They’re not boxes. They’re shoes.”
“What?” My mother flashed me a look. “Who puts shoes under a grill where snakes and scorpions can climb in them?”
I bent down to take a closer look and froze. Streetman was still tugging to get under the tarp and my mother seemed oblivious to what was really there.
“Um, it’s not shoes. I mean, yeah, those are shoes, all right, but they’re kind of attached to someone’s legs.”
If I thought my mother’s voice was loud when she was yelling at the dog, it was a veritable explosion at that point. “A body? There’s a body under there? You’re telling me there’s a body under that tarp? Oh my God. Poor Streetman. This could really set him back.”
Yes, above all, the dog’s emotional state was the first thing that came to my mind, too. “Mom, step back.”
At that moment, she scooped Streetman into her arms and ran for the house. “I’m calling the sheriff. No! Wait. We have to find out who it is first. Once those deputy sheriffs get here, they’ll never let us near the body.”
“Good. I don’t want to be near a dead body. Do you?”
“Of course not. But I need to know who it is. My God, Phee, it could be one of the neighbors. Can’t you just pull the tarp back and take a look?”
Streetman was putting up a major fuss, squirming in my mother’s arms and trying to get down.
“Okay, Mom. Go back to the house. Put the dog inside and come back here. I won’t move until you do. Oh, and bring your cell phone.”
My mother didn’t say a word. She walked as quickly as she could and returned a few minutes later, cell phone in hand. “Here. Take this plastic doggie bag and use it as you pull the tarp away. Don’t get your fingerprints on the tarp.”
“I’ll pull the tarp back and take a look, but I won’t have the slightest idea if it’s one of your neighbors. I don’t know all of them.”
“Fine. Fine. Oh, and look for cause of death while you’re at it.”
“Cause of death? I’m not a medical examiner.” I bent down, put my hand in the plastic bag and gingerly lifted the tarp. I tried not to look at what, or in this case, who, was underneath it, but it was useless. I got a bird’s eye view. Male. Fully clothed, thank God, and face up. Middle aged. Dark hair. Jaundice coloring. Small trickle of blood from his nose to shirt. No puddles of blood behind the head or around the body.
My mother let out a piercing scream. “Oh my God. Oh my God in heaven!”
“Who? Who is it? Is it someone you know?”
I immediately let go of the tarp and let it drape over the body.
“No, no one I know.”
“Then why were you screaming bloody murder?”
“Because there’s a dead man directly across from my patio. A well-dressed dead man. Here, you call the sheriff’s office. I’m too upset. And when you’re done, give me the phone. I need to call Herb Garrett.”
“Herb Garrett? Why on earth would you need to call Herb?”
“Once those emergency vehicles show up, he’ll be pounding at my door. Might as well save us some time.”
I started to dial 9-1-1 when my mother grabbed my arm and stopped me. “Whatever you do, don’t tell them it was Streetman who discovered the body.”
“Why? What difference does that make?”
“Next thing you know, they’ll want to use him for one of those cadaver dogs. He’s got an excellent sense of smell. Don’t say a word.”
“You’re kidding, right? First of all, the law enforcement agencies have their own trained dogs. Trained being the key word. No one’s going to put up with all his shenanigans. And second of all, how else are you and I going to explain how we happened to come across a dead body under the neighbors’ tarp?”
My mother pursed her lips and stood still for a second. “Okay. Fine. Go ahead and call.”
The dispatch operator asked me three times if I was positively certain we had uncovered a dead body. I had reached my apex the third time.
“Unless they’re starting to make store mannequins in various stages of decomposition, then what we’ve discovered is indeed a dead body. Not a doll. Not a lifelike toy. And certainly not someone’s Halloween decoration!”
Finally, I gave her my mother’s address and told her we were behind the house. Then I handed my mother the phone. “Go ahead. Make Herb’s day. Sorry, Mom, I couldn’t resist the Clint Eastwood reference.”
My mother took the phone and pushed a button. “I have him on speed dial in case of an emergency.”
All I could hear was her end of the conversation, but it was enough.
“I’m telling you, I had no idea there’d be a body under that tarp. Sure, it was a huge tarp, but I thought it was covering up one of those gigantic grills. Uh-huh. Really? A griddle feature? No, all I have is a small Webber. Uh-huh. Behind the house. Fine. See you in a minute.”
“I take it Herb is on his way.”
My mother nodded. “Do you think I should call Shirley and Lucinda?”
“This isn’t an afternoon social, for crying out loud, it’s a crime scene. No, don’t call them. It’s bad enough Herb’s going to be here any second. Maybe we should go wait on your patio. We can see everything from there.”
Just then I heard the distant sound of sirens. “Never mind. We might as well stay put.”
My mother thrust the phone at me. “Quick. While there’s time, call your office. Get Nate or Marshall over here.”
“Much as I’d like to accommodate you by having my boss and my boyfriend show up, I can’t. Marshall’s on a case up in Payson and won’t be back until the weekend. I think he took the case so he wouldn’t have to be stepping over cartons. And as for my boss, Nate’s so tied up with his other cases, he certainly doesn’t have time to interfere with a Maricopa County Sheriffs’ Department investigation.”
“Humph. You know as well as I do those deputies will be bumbling around until they finally cave and bring in Williams Investigations to consult.”
Much as I hated to admit it, my mother was right. Not because the sheriff deputies were “nincompoops” as she liked to put it, but the department was so inundated with drug-related crimes, kidnappings, and now a highway serial killer in the valley, that they relied on my boss’s office to assist.”
“Look, if and when that happens, I’ll let you know.”
The sirens were getting louder and I turned to face my mother’s patio.
From the left of the garage, Herb Garrett stormed across the gravel yard. “Where’s the stiff? I want to take a look before the place is plastered in yellow crime tape.”
“Under the tarp.” I failed to mention the need for a plastic bag.
Herb made a beeline for the Galbraiths’ grill and lifted the tarp. “Nope. Don’t know him. Damn it. I forgot my phone.”
“Don’t tell me you were going to snap a photo. And do what? Post it on the internet?”
Herb let the tarp drop and positioned himself next to my mother. “How else is poor Harriet going to sleep at night knowing some depraved killer is depositing bodies in the neighborhood? If I post it, maybe someone will know something.”
My mother gasped. “Depraved killer? Bodies?”
“Herb’s exaggerating,” I said. “Aren’t you?”
Suddenly it seemed as if the sirens were inches away from us. Then they stopped completely.
“Oh no,” I said. “This can’t be happening. Not again.”
My mother grabbed my wrist. “What? What’s happening?”
I took a deep breath. “Remember the two deputy sheriffs who were called in to investigate the murder at the Stardust Theater?”
“Looks like they’re back for a repeat performance. Deputies Ranston and Bowman. I don’t know which one dislikes me more.”
Well, maybe dislike wasn’t quite the word to describe how they felt about me. Annoyed might have summed it up better. Over a year ago, when my mother and her book club ladies were taking part in Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap at the Stardust Theater, someone was found dead on the catwalk. And even though I wasn’t a detective, only the accountant at Williams Investigations, I sort of did a bit of sleuthing on my own and might have stepped on their toes. What the hell. They’re big men. They needed to get over it.
“Miss Kimball.” Deputy Ranston’s feet crunched on the yard gravel as he approached us from the side of my mother’s house. “I should have taken a closer look at the name when I read the nine-one-one report. Seems you’re the one who placed the call.”
“Nice seeing you again, Deputy Ranston.” I turned to his counterpart and mumbled something similar before re-introducing my mother and Herb.
“So, was it you who found the body?” Ranston asked.
I honestly don’t know why but, for some reason, the man reminded me of a Sonoran Desert Toad. I kept expecting his tongue to roll out a full foot as he spoke.
“Um, actually it was my mother’s dog. Streetman. He found the body.”
Deputy Bowman cut in. “Just like that? Out of the blue?”
My mother took a few steps forward until she was almost nose to nose with Bowman. “For your information, Streetman and I cut across the Galbraith’s yard every day while they’re still in Canada. We keep an eye on the house for them. Usually the dog is more concerned with the quail and the rabbits that hide under the bushes. He never as much as made a move toward the grill. Until yesterday afternoon. That’s when he started whining to go over there. I thought a coyote might have marked it or left a deposit there.”
“So you lifted the tarp up to check?” Bowman asked.
“Of course not. The dog was on a retractable leash and got to the grill before I did. He nuzzled the tarp aside, and that’s when we saw the body.”
Bowman gave his partner a sideways glance. “How big a dog is this Streetman that he could lift an entire tarp off of a body?”
“He’s less than ten pounds,” I said, “but very strong.”
Bowman wasn’t buying it. “Look, Miss Kimball, I know you have a penchant for unsolved crimes and I’m more likely to believe it was you who lifted the tarp.”
My mother responded before I could utter a word. “Only for a split second and only because she happened to see someone’s legs attached to the shoes that were beneath it. And she used a plastic bag so she wouldn’t get fingerprints on the material.”
Then the deputies turned to Herb and Ranston spoke. “Were you here as well when the ladies discovered the body, Mr. Garrett?”
“No. Harriet called me after dialing nine-one-one.”
Ranston wrote something on a small notepad and looked up. “The nine-one-one dispatcher gave us the Plunkett address. Would any of you happen to know the Galbraiths’ address?”
“Of course,” my mother said. “Something West Sentinel Drive. It’s the small cul-de-sac behind us.”
I could hear both deputies groan as Bowman placed a call.
“In a few minutes,” he said, “a forensic team will be arriving as well as the coroner. I suggest you all return to your houses and stay clear of this property until further notice.”
“Will you at least tell us who it is?” Herb asked. “For all we know, it could be one of our neighbors. Or a cartel drug lord who was dropped off here.”
“Here? In Sun City West? That’s what we have the desert for,” my mother said.
Deputy Bowman forced a smile and repeated what he had told us a second ago. “Please go back to your houses. This is an official investigation.”
“Will you be contacting the Galbraiths?” I asked.
Bowman gave a nod. “Yes.”
I tapped my mother on the elbow and pointed to her house. “He’s right.” Then I whispered, “If you hurry, you can call the Galbraiths first.”