Sorry for the lateness. I mixed up my weeks and thought it was this week. It was last week. Shame on me! Still, it’s nearly two weeks until the next one, so it works out. THIS TIME. *bangs head on desk*
Whew. Lots happening this month. I feel like we have more suspects than ever! Who is doing this? Do you know?
If you’re just starting our craziness, here are the first installments of the interactive short story inspired by Chantel Reads All Day’s “Read Your Bookshelf Challenge” for 2022.
To find out what books I’m reading (and a hint of the upcoming prompts), you can find my list on Chantel’s (from Chantel Reads All Day) Hey Reader Website. In June, I read The Words Between Us when I finished Janice L. Dick’s Happenstance series (you want to read that series).
I figured I’d read five chapters a day on this one until I finished. Yeah. Not hardly. So what did I think about it all? Well… all I have to say is:
Oh, my word. Guys. GET THIS BOOK. Here’s my REVIEW of it.
Cast of Characters
Bill Olemann- Rich dead uncle
Wes Olemann- Bookstore owner
Tom Olemann- Wes’ brother
Sadie McGee- Music store owner
Elton Sadler- Mary Margaret Montmorency’s sorta grandson
Detective Grosser- not to put too fine a point on it but…
Book club members:
- Allison Petty- pediatric nurse
- Jonas West- truck driver
- Mary Margaret Montmorency- old lady from England
- Arlette Hoskins- homemaker (and husband Darrel)
- Gavin Underwood- businessman
- Corey Gray- florist
- Simon Lesourd- printer
- Bernice Boyles- postal worker
- Piper Etherbridge- retail clerk
- Julia Chen- lawyer
- Xander Meers- student
- Carrie Dermott- homeschool mom
Note: links may be affiliate ilnks that provide me with a small commission at no extra expense to you
June Part 2
With school out, Xander had two things going for him. One, more time to read. Two, time to figure out who was playing games with his book club.
His friends back home wouldn’t recognize him. His Abercrombie jeans didn’t fit anymore. No black skinny jeans or graphic tees. Walmart Levi’s and black t-shirts from the underwear section replaced them. He’d even considered cargo shorts until his sense returned to him. Cargo shorts. Might as well add a plaid shirt and a bit of straw in my teeth.
His mother came in from a morning shift looking haggard. He really ought to get a job himself—at least over the summer. To his dismay and disgust, he’d never even thought of it. Just as he’d started to tell her his plan, Mom dropped all the other mail—junk most likely—and stared at the remaining envelope in her hand.
“What is it?”
“We have to move.”
That got his attention. Xander flipped his copy of Murder at the Vicarage over and went to see what had her hackling or whatever it was about getting hackles up. What were hackles anyway?
Standing behind her, he saw it. Plain white envelope with a stamp, a return address, and a postmark. All very familiar. All very Dad. “What does he want?”
“Who cares? He found us!”
Okay, it was time to burst his mother’s bubble. “Mom, he has probably known where we are since we left. It’s not hard to find people these days.”
“But I didn’t use the credit card—not even once! Not even when it would have saved money! I went back to my maiden name!”
What did you do when your mother’s idea of being traced was limited to what they did in eighties movies? He poked that bubble again. “You had to give your social to get this apartment. That means you’re on a record somewhere. We got cellphone plans. Insurance on the car. A driver’s license. And Dad knows your maiden name. He can track us with any of that.”
Despite the nonchalance Xander infused in every word, his own hackles—he really had to figure out what those were—had… hackled. What if Dad wanted him back? No way was he going. He’d pretend to runaway first. Maybe Jonas would let him ride around in that truck for the summer until Dad gave up.
Mom’s hands started to tremble, so Xander took the envelope. “It has my name on it, too. Can I open it?”
With a wave he took to mean, “sure go for it,” Mom made for the couch and plopped down. Half a second later, she plopped over too. “What does it say?”
When he unfolded the letter, a check started to slide out. Ignoring that for a moment, he read the short—almost telegram-short missive.
Lisa and Xander,
Saw your place when I was in Rockland last week. Unacceptable. I’ve decided to send child support for Xander until he’s twenty-one. Two thousand a month. Get a decent place with it, or I’ll get a lawyer and bring Xan home. No judge would give you the kid in that rat hole. Keep your mouth shut and we’re good.
Two thousand. What did he think the prices—? Xander stared at the check. Was Dad dyslex—no. Dysgraphic? A five and three zeros. If he’d have let them, his hands would have shaken at that.
“Well? What is it? Do we leave now? Can we pack first?”
“He’s letting us stay.” Xander passed her the letter and the check. “And he’s sending child support. He just wants us to move.”
But did he? Could they trust it? Or was this one of those old-school mobster moves where someone shows up later and demands a “favor” since they did one for you? Xander could almost see the scene play out as he had to decide between letting his mom live or knifing some guy in the rough area of Rockland otherwise known as “The Crypt.”
A glance at his mother solidified a suspicion he’d had for weeks. Something had happened to prompt their escape—something bad. Really bad. His mother’s whitish-gray face proved it.
“Okay, Mom. Time to fess up. What happened?”
“Don’t lie to me. I’ll know.” Xander made each word as harsh and hard as he could. It wouldn’t work, otherwise.
After the longest pause in the history of pauses, his mother covered her face with her hands and said, “Aunt Chrissy.”
Bile rose in his throat. Of all the straws that could have finally pushed her to run, that one hadn’t hit his radar at all. Something deep inside informed him he’d mixed a metaphor. Xander told that something what it could do with its smug corrections.
“Does Uncle Dom know?”
She shook her head. “If he could risk that with her, what might he do the next time one of us—?”
Xander snatched up the letter and check. Stuffing it back in the envelope, he bolted for the door. “Go over to your new friend’s house, okay? I’ll call you.”
But he left before she could get enough energy to drag herself off the couch in a futile attempt at pursuit. After working since five that morning, it definitely would be futile. Meanwhile, he had a cop to question.
Carrie watched the next video, all eyes and ears on every book Arlette shared. She’d already watched every video that even hinted of “my most anticipated” anythings. Nothing there.
“It’s got to be Middlemarch. Wrong time of month and wrong month—totally that. Well, it was when we got the clue. And it’ll be early July before we start reading, so still the wrong month.”
“What, Mom?” Carrie’s daughter lay on the opposite couch, her nose buried in Sara Barratt’s Stand Up, Stand Strong.
“Just trying to figure out if there’s another book that could fit this clue.”
“From your creep at book club?”
How’d she learn about that?
“Come on, Mom. You and Dad still think we don’t understand you guys or that if you just talk lower, we won’t hear.”
She sat up, tossing the yellow book aside. “What do you tell moms with toddlers? Huh? ‘Lower your voice to a whisper and they have to stop screaming to hear you.’ Works the same with teens, too.”
Teens. When had she gotten old enough to have one… no, last month she’d her firstborn son had entered that last stage before adulthood. Teens. And they’re not nearly as awful as everyone tried to convince me they were.
She kept that one to herself. The last time she’d voiced it aloud, a friend had said, “Wait’ll after they drive.”
Well, Bethany would take her test in two weeks. Maybe then she’d turn into a monster. A glance at her daughter’s concerned face stopped that nonsense. It’s just wrong to doom a kid to being a jerk because there are other jerk kids out there. I won’t do it.
So, taking a chance on her girl being able to handle it, Carrie nodded. “Yeah. This month’s feels like Middlemarch, but Arlette swears she doesn’t want to read that book so it can’t be.”
“Maybe it’s the creep’s ‘want to.’ I wonder how many people have it on GoodReads? Could you find it that way? Look up all the people who have it on their ‘Want to Read’ list, then see if any of them are located around here?”
Far-fetched? Definitely. But it was worth a shot. “I’ll ask Detective Grosser. Meanwhile, I’ll keep watching these videos.”
Without hesitating, the girl pulled out her phone and said, “What’s her username, and how far are you? I’ll work from the other way.”
Xander sat across from him in the same coffee shop, but the kid’s cocky attitude had disappeared. Andrew Grosser leaned forward on his elbows and searched the kid’s features for something that would explain why before asking, “What happened?”
“How do you—?” Xander shrugged off the question. “You’re a cop. That’s how.” The kid fidgeted. Without meeting Andrew’s gaze, he shoved an envelope across the table. “I knew he could find us, but I wasn’t sure he would.”
That twisted Andrew’s gut a bit. No need to ask who “he” was. “When did this come?” The postmark was only a few days old—Los Angeles. Not some suburb you only heard mentioned in movies, but Los Angeles itself. Probably the distribution center.
He reached in and pulled out the contents. Holding it up, he asked, “May I?”
Xander nodded. “That’s why I brought it.”
What the letter didn’t say gave the note—it really wasn’t a letter, come to think of it—an ominous tone. The five-thousand-dollar check twisted another knot into Andrew’s gut. This wouldn’t be good.
“Mom wants to run. She really thinks we can hide from him. I know better, but what I don’t know is what to do about that check.”
“Give me your thoughts.” When the kid started to protest, Andrew explained—partially. “Look, I’ll get a better picture of him if you just tell me what you’re thinking, okay?”
That calmed Xander down. A smidgen. “Well, the problem I see is that if we cash it, we’re… ugh. What’s the word when you owe someone? Mind is blanking.”
“Right.” Xander shook his head. “I’ve been reading too many old books. Whatever.” The kid took a slurp of what had to be lukewarm coffee by now. “But if we don’t, it could tick him off even more. Dad’s always been crazy about safe neighborhoods. Gangs get too close to us or target someone anywhere near us, he’d move. I moved three times within a ten-mile radius of the hospital where I was born before I was ten.”
A nod to keep the boy talking failed, so Andrew asked, “And after that?”
“The last time he moved us to a nice neighborhood in West Hills. Still there as far as I know, but he’s probably moved his latest girlfriend in.”
The words cut a slash through that knot in his gut. Great. Didn’t parents realize their kids paid for these kinds of things? “Why’d you move here?”
“Dad went after my aunt. She must have threatened to tell my uncle because he beat her badly enough to convince her not to tell her it was him—probably threatened to kill her.” The kid looked ready to cry. “Mom just told me today. Uncle Dom thinks it was a warning to him from some cop he couldn’t turn. Things were getting ugly, but when Mom found out, she bolted. Today she said if Dad could do that to Aunt Chrissy, it was only a matter of time before…”
Lisa “Meers” wasn’t wrong. How many homes had he been sent out to during his patrol years where a wife convinced herself it wouldn’t happen again? He couldn’t hope to count. Didn’t want to.
A new thought occurred to him. “How likely is it that your father already thinks you owe him?”
That’s all Xander needed to know. He rose, gathered everything up, and stuffed it all in his pocket. “Thanks. See you Thursday.”
After a moment’s thought, Andrew put in a call to the Rockland mission. “Hey, Barney. Got anyone with properties on the south side? Dana Park area. We need something nice—oxymoron for the area, I know—and with a management company that will let The Mission hold the lease.”
Andrew Grosser pushed open the door to Quivering Bloomers and left heat and humidity for cool and still humid. Plants—silk and real—peppered the floor space, gift items nestled around each. Large cold cases lined the walls and made up the countertop where an iPad and register sat.
Corey called out from the back. “Be right there!”
Mesmerized by the roundest, most multi-petaled… was it a rose? It looked like one, but it didn’t as well. Regardless, mesmerized as he was, Andrew didn’t respond.
“Sorry about—oh! Detective.”
He looked up and smiled at the picture she posed. A piece of greenery dangled from her red apron, a broken bit of baby’s breath—he knew that one—had attached itself to her hair, and what looked like a smudge of chocolate lingered at the corner of her mouth. “Hard at work?”
“Yeah. Rough day, actually. I’ve got a rash of orders, my driver disappeared yesterday and hasn’t been seen since—not answering her phone but she’s been seen around town, so she’s fine—and my shop assistant called in with food poisoning.” Corey made a face at that one.
“Don’t believe her?”
“Oh, I do. She sent a picture of herself and a full toilet to prove it. Seriously, I didn’t question it!”
Cameras on phones—a policeman’s curse and blessing at the same time. But a woman who worked with flowers all day shouldn’t have to have the curse for sure. “Sorry about that. Gross.”
“What can I do for you?”
He pointed at the flowers. “What kind of rose is that?”
She smiled and stepped forward to open the case and adjust something about the arrangement—one that looked perfect to him. “It’s not. It’s a peony. Not even related.”
She’d anticipated his question. “Wow. Looks like those paintings of roses from the Victorian times.”
“You mean the paintings of roses and peonies?” Corey grinned and a sparkle he hadn’t seen in her before appeared. “Sorry. Couldn’t resist.” The sparkle dimmed. “Wait. What are you doing here? Did someone—but we—” She swallowed. “Who was it?”
In that moment, Andrew realized two things. One, she’d have let him comfort her if he offered. Two, if she hadn’t been connected to a case, he might have offered. Better keep your head on straight. “Nothing happened. I just got an idea and decided to ask about it.”
“Yeah…?” She turned away and tried to wipe at her eyes without him noticing. “So what is that?”
After a few questions about her computer system, he didn’t even have to ask. She went down the list. “Nothing from Allison… or Xander, probably. I’ve sent them, obviously.” Corey gave him a small smile before looking up Bernice. “She did. She sent flowers to…” There Corey stopped. “Is it a breach of trust to just hand this information over?”
“I suppose I can get a warrant, but it would take a while to find a judge that would agree.”
“You said warrant.” She scribbled down an address. “If I misunderstood you to mean you had one, that’s on me. “Let’s see… Mary Margaret Mont… nope. None for her. Jonas—none.” She looked up. “But he did come in last week. He asked what a nice bouquet of cut flowers in a box would be.”
That was news to him. Girlfriend? Mother? “Did he give any indication who they’d be for?”
“I asked about special ladies, and he said, ‘Very special.’” Corey hesitated before turning back to the computer. “I wondered about Allison. If he orders them for her, do you want to know?”
That earned him a nod and news that Arlette had not ordered. “Oh, but Julia…” She fumbled for Julia’s surname before Andrew gave it. “Right. She came in after that time we all said why we came. She figured out that part of my reason was to expand my business. She sent flowers to her mother for her birthday.”
He wrote that down, despite knowing it meant nothing. “What about Gavin?”
She typed it in twice, hen-pecking her way through the last one. “I need to clean out my keyboard. The O keeps sticking. I never get double Os these days.” She shook her head as the screen changed. “Nope.”
The rest of the club ended with decided noes. “Sorry…”
The thought galled him, but he asked, “What about Wes Olemann?”
“Let me see… I don’t—oh, yes! He sent some in November to Sadie McGee.”
She nodded and typed again. “Sadie has sent to several people—a lot, actually. I think she must be a secretary for some organization or something. I mean… it’s like every other week.” With that, she turned the screen around. “Should I print it out?”
Since he doubted it meant anything, Andrew shook his head. “Not now. I’ll come back if I need it.”
Again, Corey’s fingers flew over a keyboard. “Looks like Tom Olemann has ordered a few as well.”
Oh, really… “Better let me have those.”
“I can’t help but think he’s gotta be guilty of something, and then I remember him getting stabbed and I think I’m horrible.”
Tom had been Andrew’s number one suspect until the stabbing as well. He wouldn’t admit it, but that stabbing had been a convenient way to push suspicion off him. Too much to be a coincidence… unless it was. And it totally could be. That was the real problem.
Corey’s gaze penetrated his thoughts and he brought himself back to the task at hand. “What about Wes’ assistants. Does he have any?”
He had three, but Andrew wasn’t going to tell her that. Seeing what she knew wouldn’t hurt.
“I know of two, neither of whom are the flower buying sorts. And I only have first names. The other gal—comes in now and then to rearrange displays. She’s not an employee, actually. He finds rare books she’s been looking for and trades the work from what she told me one day.”
That’s what Wes had told him as well. Good. The idea of it being Wes or anyone associated with the store galled. Tom didn’t count. There was still something fishy about the guy, but what?
Once more, Corey’s fingers skittered across keys, and the tension around her eyes and lips erased as the screen flickered to a new page. “Who was that one?”
“You. You’ve never ordered. So why do we care about this again?”
“I didn’t say.” Andrew smiled back at her. “But nice try. See you tomorrow night?”
Corey’s smile faltered. “Do I have a choice?”
His own teasing fizzled as well. “Guess not.”
With arms full of a large platter of homemade donuts, Arlette backed her way into Olemann’s Books that Thursday night. Maybe it was futile, but if she could keep the others from stringing her up from the library ladder—metaphorically speaking, of course—she would.
The problem was that the only book she could fit to the clues was Middlemarch, and there wasn’t a tome in classic literature she wanted to read less unless it was one of those Tolstoy of Dostoevsky ones. Even Vanity Fair had the lure of an evil Becky Sharp that one could love to hate.
Which meant either they would get it right, or the clue was even more ambiguous than the one about the book on the cover or the one missing a line. This puppet master is either more evil than we think or completely inept. A smile formed despite herself. He’s got his strings crossed for sure.
Jonas stepped forward to take the platter from her. “Here… I’ve got it.”
As he removed the platter from her already aching arms, he murmured, “Heads up… Carrie’s convinced them it’s Middlemarch. So if you’ve got another suggestion, better give it to me now.”
Suspicious or thoughtful? Arlette couldn’t decide. “I can’t think of anything, but I have never wanted to read that book. It’s got to be the puppet master’s ‘want to read but keep avoiding’ pick.”
“That’s not true.” Carrie stood close, unseen behind Jonas’s broad shoulders and elbows sticking out holding the tray. “January third. You posted in a comment on your ‘Reading Goals for This Year’ video. And I quote, ‘I’ve always wanted to read Middlemarch, but I never seem to get around to it.’”
Every head in the room swiveled in their direction. Arlette felt the color drain from her face as she recalled the comment stating that Middlemarch was number one on finally reading this year. She’d been unwilling to admit that she had no desire to read the book everyone seemed to be reading right then, so she’d… Arlette took a deep breath. “It’s a lie, okay? I wanted to sound like I was as intellectual as all the other nut jobs. Just forgot about it.”
“Well, let’s just go talk about Miss Buncle’s Book, and we can deal with the clue after that’s over, okay?” Jonas gave her a weak smile and carried off the donuts.
Maybe it was petty of her, but seeing him a few minutes later with one wrapped in a napkin soothed her pride. That soothing lasted only a few minutes. The moment she spoke up and gave her two cents on the book of the month—and two cents was all that book was worth in her opinion—Arlette got flattened by the opposition.
Mary Margaret Montmorency, right flanked by the “Elton” who wasn’t a grandson, admitted she’d read the whole series—four books and her favorite being the last. The Four Graces. “It sounds so much like the England my parents talked about when I was a girl.”
To Arlette’s surprise, Julia, Simon, and Gavin all raved about the book. Only Bernice and Piper agreed that it was a silly story for simple-minded idiots. Not that Arlette had put it quite like that. Instead, she’d said, “It is told from an idealistic and simplistic point of view, and that ending is so ridiculously neat and tidy. What woman would—?”
That’s as far as she’d gotten. Allison had cut her off so forcefully that Arlette still felt the sting. “Many of us would. Many of us would love to know that someone admired us enough—just as we are, flaws and all—to take a chance on it being some that would last. It’s easy to sit there, married and needing something to do to occupy your time so your husband sends you off to a book club and judge the rest of us working to be able to have a hint of a life when we’re not.” No one would call Allison’s look a glare, but it was probably as close to one as the girl could manufacture. “But when you rip apart a book that validated our feelings, you rip us apart too.”
From there, Arlette decided to keep her mouth shut. She was used to being complimented on her keen literary insights. Choking down a rebuke proved nearly impossible.
The discussion continued until Wes stepped in. “It’s after nine o’clock. Perhaps you can continue the discussion some at the next meeting. You won’t have much to discuss if the vote goes to Middlemarch.”
That sent the arguments flying. Could it be anything else? Arlette said she didn’t want to read it. Her comment said she did. Did the puppet master know her well enough to know the truth?
Bernice spoke up on that one. “Unless she is the puppet master. After all, she looked so shocked when Carrie found that comment.”
“Or maybe it’s Carrie,” Arlette spat back. “I mean, who goes and reads every comment on every video to find out if someone else is lying?”
Carrie had looked amused up until that point. If claws and fangs could have emerged from the woman, Arlette would have sworn they had. “Watch it. My daughter found that, and it wasn’t from scouring every comment. For the record, she said you have a really interesting channel with lots of engaged subscribers. I thought maybe it was one of them until you lied about things. But say one word against my kid, and you’ll discover I can be pretty nasty.”
There the detective—whatshisname, she couldn’t remember for reasons she didn’t understand—stepped in. “All right. Tensions are high with this. I get that. But turning on each other isn’t going to do any good. Does everyone agree it’s Middlemarch?” All heads nodded. “Great. Put your orders in and go home.”
“And Mrs. Hoskins, I’d like to talk to you. At Denny’s or would you prefer to go to your home?”
Her heart sank to her toes and splattered everywhere.
Well, don’t forget to give us your guess to the clue.
I think I’ve figured it out, though why Arlette would want to read that book I have no idea. *yawn*
Here are the rest of the episodes again in case you missed one.