Authors: Ava Mallory
Along Came A Needle
A Mercy Mares Cozy Mystery
By Ava Mallory
Copyright @2015 Ava Mallory. All Rights Reserved
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer's imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.
Cover Design & Image Credits: Danger Zone;
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Table of Contents
“Is it too much to ask that no one dies in the middle of dinner during my birthday getaway weekend?”
“Mom, that's a terrible thing to say! This weekend is supposed to be your weekend. No work. No stress. Why would you invite bad omens into your life?” Diana took her eyes off the road long enough to scold me and give me a minor heart attack, while Ruby tried frantically to control the wheel.
Whose idea was it to let the most inexperienced driver drive in the first place? Between Ruby and me, we had close to fifty years of driving experience, while little Miss New York City had only been driving for a mere five years.
“Keep your eyes on the road, Diana. I may not be in a real hurry to turn forty-five-years-old, but I am interested enough to want to at least say that I lived long enough to see it.” I teased.
“Do you want to drive,” Diana turned her head again to look at me.
“Eyes in front!” I screamed.
Ruby reached over and grabbed the wheel, screaming, “Will you two stop it right now? We've only been in the car for three hours. At this rate, we'll never get there. Pull this car over right now. I'm getting out!”
Diana snapped, “You're not leaving me alone with old grouchy pants! If you get out, I get out. Let her go alone. I don't know what we were thinking. I swear, every year, we say that we won't plan anything for the next birthday and every single year, we talk ourselves back into doing it again.”
She was right. Every year, my birthday forced me to remember things I didn't want to remember and I became irritable. Just like Diana said, I vowed to never let it happen again and every single year, I ended up feeling worse than I did the year before. I should have been ashamed of myself. I suppose I was in a way, but even more than that, I harbored some anger at myself for doing it again and again.
“Alright, alright, alright, I get it. I'm driving both of you nuts, but just so you know, you two are no barrel of fun either. All I've heard from the moment we pulled out of my driveway was you two reminiscing about all of the other miserable attempts at rest and relaxation we tried to get in who knows how many crazy places. If I never see another spa again, it will be too soon.” I'd had enough of going to new age retreats in search of nirvana – whatever that was. I don't think my chakras were meant to be aligned or my aura was supposed to be any color other than red.
Diana pulled the car off the highway and into a scenic area rest stop.
“This is what we're going to do,” Ruby started. “Everyone get out, but only one of us at a time, so no one has to deal with the other. Take a few minutes to walk around, get some fresh air, and just get away from each other.”
My daughter and I groaned simultaneously. Like mother, like daughter, I suppose.
Ruby's patience, had grown thin. She didn't waste any more time arguing with us. Instead, she stepped out of the car, slammed the door, and walked away from us.
“She's mad,” Diana mumbled.
“So am I,” I said.
Diana looked like she wanted to say something, but she thought better of it and chose to get out of the car instead.
“You are impossible, Mom,” She walked in the opposite direction of Ruby.
I stepped out, took a couple of deep breaths, and stretched. Within a couple of minutes, I felt human again. I don't know what had gotten into me lately. Over the years, I'd heard plenty of rhetoric about aging and behavioral changes, but in the back of my mind, I just convinced myself that neither of those things would ever be a viable issue in my life.
“Long trip?” The man parked beside us asked.
“It feels like it, but we've only been in the car for three hours,” I answered.
“Getting grumpy,” he asked.
“Something like that,” I answered, wishing he'd get the hint and not speak to me right now.
“Where are you heading?” He asked.
I don't know whether it was my already present agitation or new found mistrust in strangers that did it, but the hairs on the back of my neck stood up when he asked me.
“To a biker convention,” I answered, thinking that would make us sound tough.
He looked at my car and the fluids that trickled from the engine and laughed. “Okay. Fine, don't tell me. Just trying to make small talk, lady.” He stepped out of his car and walked away from me just like the others. My people skills were at an all-time high. I might have to market them soon.
“Way to go, sunshine,” Ruby walked up behind me, startling me. “You know you are making this trip a real chore. What is going on with you? I thought this trip would be good for you.”
I sighed. “It will be. I'm sorry. I honestly don't know why I'm so cranky.”
She looked over my shoulder at my daughter. “Whatever it is, you know I'll do what I can to help, but for now you need to concentrate on the guy you just rejected because he's over there talking to Diana.”
Sure enough, I turned around and there he was, completely engaged in a friendly conversation with my daughter. Now, don't get me wrong, Diana is almost twenty-three-years-old, so we were way past the 'don't talk to boys' stage of life. My concern fell more on the side of 'never talk to a stranger on the highway'. Again, I have no idea if that came from experience or was yet another result of my bad mood.
“Oh, Diana, send that creep away,” I muttered under my breath.
“She's a grown woman, Mercy. You have to learn to let her go,” Ruby scolded me.
“That's not what the problem is, Ruby. That guy is a weirdo. I can feel it. What if he is some kind of highway robber or something? We're three women alone on the highway and some stranger starts a conversation? I don't know about you, but to me, that sounds like a recipe for disaster.” I told her before rushing to Diana's side with a made up an excuse to pull her away from the potential bad boy.
“Honey, your dad is ready to go. He's waiting in the car for you and says if you don't hurry it up, he's going to come and get you.” I said that more for the stranger, but the biggest reaction came from my daughter.
“Dad? What are you talking about? Where is he?” Diana looked around for any sign of her father, who last time I checked, was enjoying a honeymoon for one in Deadwood, South Dakota after a rather upsetting break up with a woman none of us mentioned by name anymore.
“He's right over there,” I said through clenched teeth, pulling her arm.
Diana must have been more exhausted than I thought she was because she didn't catch what I was trying to say to her. “Mom, this kind gentleman tells me that we're about halfway to our destination.”
I gasped. “You told him where we're headed?” I would have to teach her to be more discreet, especially when it came to strangers. I figured that living in New York City, she would have been far more street savvy than this. Apparently, I figured wrong.
“You told him where we're going, honey?” I used my body to create distance between her and the man. Then, she understood what I was attempting to do.
“Oh, well, he's on his way to visit his father not too far from where we're going.” She swallowed hard as she absorbed the weight of the potentially dangerous situation she was inadvertently putting us in with her charming personality that I'm fully convinced she inherited from me.
“If you three are done chitchatting, let's get a move on it. My trigger finger is beginning to twitch,” Ruby warned us.
“Trigger finger,” I whispered as I whisked Diana past her and toward the car.
“It worked, didn't it?” She asked.
When we were safely locked in the car and merging back into traffic, we all breathed a sigh of relief. The man didn't jump into his vehicle and follow us.
I was glad Ruby took the wheel. She could maneuver a car with the precision of a Nascar driver. My twenty-year-old Honda didn't protest. Thank goodness.
“Are we done squabbling now? Did potentially putting us in harm's way scare the nonsense out of us or is this just the lull between debates?” I asked both Ruby and Diana.
“I'm calling a truce,” Diana said. “I understand that you're exhausted and forget your people skills when you're cranky.”
“I'm not cranky,” I mumbled under my breath.
“Oh, yes you are,” Ruby said.
“Truce. I'm waving the white flag, girls.” I pretended to hold up a flag, begging for peace.
“Good. Now, we can put that nonsense to bed and get to the business of what we're supposed to be doing? Need I remind you, I left my handsome husband at home alone with your dog so we could celebrate your birthday, so you kind of owe me a peaceful vacation.” Ruby wasn't kidding. She had left her psychiatrist husband at home, dog sitting my Pug, Barney. If she hadn't thrown in that part about me owing her rest and relaxation, I would avoid arguing, but what can I say, she started it.
“This is supposed to be a trip about me, to celebrate my birthday. It's not about you, dear, and it isn't about Diana. You two are just perks, not the party. I am the party.” I reminded both of them.
“Oh, here we go again,” Diana groaned from the back seat. “Can I veto this conversation now and start a whole new topic?”
Ruby and I exchanged glances, stifling a giggle that we both knew, given our history, had no hope of ending any time soon.
“Agreed. You choose a new topic and I will stop arguing.” I said as Diana breathed a sigh of relief. “But,” I added. “Ruby has to agree to it too.”
“I swear sometimes I forget that you're my mother and not my child,” Diana complained. “New topic – how are things going with Tina at work?”
Tina was my friend and new roommate. She and her three-year-old son had come to live with me while they got settled in California. Ruby had just hired her at Nightingale Nurses, the traveling nurses agency that both Ruby and I worked for.
Ruby answered, “She's doing great. I have her answering the phones and doing intake interviews because she hasn't been a nurse long enough to be able to care for patients on her own yet, but she's really doing a great job.”
“Who is watching Noah for her while she works?” Diana asked.
“Margie is and she's loving it.” I answered, referring to my next door neighbor.
“Margie? Really? That's great. I can't wait to see what kind of naughty stuff Margie has taught him. You know how riled up she can get, but I bet he's having tons of fun with her.”
“Enough talk about what's going on at home. This is supposed to be a vacation. No talking about home or work allowed. Got it?” Ruby reminded us.
“Okay, so what are we supposed to talk about then?” I asked.
“For starters, let's talk about this amazing place we'll be spending the next few days exploring.” Ruby suggested.
“If exploring means spending this long weekend sleeping, then I'm all for it,” I may have sounded like I was joking, but I really wasn't. I'd begun to feel like I hadn't truly slept in months.
While I loved being a traveling nurse, I had grown tired of never sleeping in my own bed. The last few placements proved to only add to my sleep deprivation. This weekend getaway would be my chance to unplug and unwind before I went on to my next assignment.
“Besides sleeping, Mom, you can enjoy shopping nearby in the antique shops and we could go on nature hikes or we could take horseback riding lessons.” Diana informed me, forgetting that this was my weekend and the idea of climbing hills or getting trampled by a horse wasn't something I'd ever be inclined to want to partake in. Had this child never met me?
Diana caught on right away. Before I had a chance to voice my complaint, she stopped me. “Don't do it, Mom. This is your birthday weekend, so it's the perfect excuse to move outside of your comfort zone and expand your horizons.”