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.



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