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Authors: Linda Joffe Hull

Tags: #mystery, #mystery fiction, #cozy, #shopping, #coupon, #couponing, #extreme couponing, #fashion, #woman sleuth, #amateur sleuth, #thanksgiving, #black friday

Black Thursday

BOOK: Black Thursday
10.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Copyright Information

Black Thursday
© 2014
Linda Joffe Hull

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any matter whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Midnight Ink, except in the form of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

As the purchaser of this ebook, you are granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this ebook on screen. The text may not be otherwise reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, or recorded on any other storage device in any form or by any means.

Any unauthorized usage of the text without express written permission of the publisher is a violation of the author's copyright and is illegal and punishable by law.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

First e-book edition © 2014

E-book ISBN:

Book design by Donna Burch-Brown

Cover design by Lisa Novak

Cover Illustration: Bunky Hurter

Midnight Ink is an imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.

Midnight Ink does not participate in, endorse, or have any authority or responsibility concerning private business arrangements between our authors and the public.

Any Internet references contained in this work are current at publication time, but the publisher cannot guarantee that a specific reference will continue or be maintained. Please refer to the publisher's website for links to current author websites.

Midnight Ink

Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.

2143 Wooddale Drive

Woodbury, MN 55125

Manufactured in the United States of America


For Becky, who wrote the book on strength and
grace while I wrote this book.


I, Maddie Michaels—AKA
estranged Mrs. Frank
Michaels, AKA Mrs. Frugalicious—should, by all rights, love
Thanksgiving. I mean, what other holiday celebrates the bounty of fall and all there is to be thankful for
downright sanctions two of my favorite blessings—eating and bargain shopping?

Looking at the thirteen relatives seated at the dining room table I'd had to lengthen with both leaves and a card table, I reminded myself that Thanksgiving was, indeed, one of my favorite holidays.

Better, in less than four hours, I'd be setting out for an extra-special midnight savings expedition along with my Frugarmy (AKA fans of my website, to brave the late hour, low temperatures, and long lines for a local news segment on Black-Friday-on-Thursday-night

“What a blessing to be here together.” Joyce, my soon-to-be-ex-mother-in-law clasped her hands, drew them to her heart, and settled her gaze on me. “Amongst family.”

My estranged husband, Frank; his father, Gerald; one of the nieces; and, if I wasn't mistaken, Spots, the runt-of-the-litter kitten Frank befriended when I moved him down to the basement after news of his infidelity surfaced, all nodded in a recalcitrant sort of agreement.

I took a deep silent breath.

This Thanksgiving was certain to be one of the most memorable ever—assuming I survived the actual feast itself …

“Eat up.” Craig, my ex-brother-in-law-to-be, plopped a marshmallow-coated blob of sweet potato casserole onto my Wedgwood wedding china plate—part of a service for eighteen that was soon to be split into nine his and nine hers. “You could stand to gain a pound or two.”

I'd have beamed at being called underweight for the first time in maybe ever, even by Craig (an enthusiastic chubby chaser), had the weight loss not been so hard won. After all, last year at this time, I was a happy, well-heeled housewife on the hunt for figure-flattering holiday wear to hide the extra ten extra pounds (okay, thirteen) I rationalized as part and parcel of the joys of motherhood and encroaching middle age.

I put on another five (okay, eight) during the dark days after Frank lost all of our money in a Ponzi scheme—a fact no one could know at risk of Frank also losing his job as Channel Three's on-air financial guru. When I finally stabilized at an all-time high weight, Mrs. Frugalicious began to take off.

Then all hell broke loose.

Nothing could have amped up my diet and exercise program more than finding out my husband lost not only the nest egg but his
over the most unexpected of beautiful blondes.

And things only degenerated from there …

I picked at a bright red indiscernible something mixed in with the sweet potato, butter, and pineapple chunks.

“I think Maddie looks great.” Frank smiled and took a heaping bite of the sweet potato surprise. “And so is this, Mom.”

Gerald nodded in agreement. “You've still got it, Joyce.”

Joyce, whose eyelids had been
so many times I wasn't sure they could close all the way, somehow winked in my direction. “Secret is the Red Hots.”

Red Hots?

How, one might ask, had I ended up surrounded by my estranged husband's entire family, pretending to enjoy my soon-to-be-ex-mother-in-law's culinary concoctions?

I'd been asking myself the same question all day.

I'd agreed to one last simple Thanksgiving for the sake of our children. After all, our twin teenage sons, Frank Jr. (FJ) and Trent, had suffered enough upheaval over the last few months, and my stepdaughter, Eloise, was coming back for the weekend from college to yet another broken home.

A broken home we needed to be moving out of sooner rather than later.

I'd also planned on a delicious but economical
menu, including a small
bird suitable for five, when the boys asked if their cousins could join us for dessert. What that really meant was my brother-in-law and his daughters were somehow at loose ends and he was finagling a dinner invitation via the kids. It felt punitive for all concerned to say no. Instead, and to balance out the family equation, I called my sister in Fort Collins and talked her into making the drive for a second dinner with her husband and their kids.

With a new total of thirteen guests, I still planned to keep it simple,
as I advised my Mrs. Frugalicious readers. But as I looked around the table at the objectively attractive, dark-haired, blue-eyed Michaels clan, it was clear
simply wasn't in the cards.

First, Frank's parents' annual Thanksgiving cruise was abruptly cancelled en route to Ft. Lauderdale due to some unexpected civil unrest along the Panama Canal.
A cruise they were to be joined on by Frank's sister and her children.

Before I knew it, the whole gang had somehow been rerouted to Los Angeles via Denver and, due to overbooking, had been awarded travel vouchers for the inconvenience of a flight back on Monday night.

Needless to say, they all turned up on the doorstep Wednesday evening.

They were barely inside when my sister called with word her whole crew had come down with food poisoning and were too sick to drive anywhere on Thursday, much less eat when they arrived.

As Frank's family settled in all over the house, I'd shut myself in my office, sat down at the computer, and prayed for a message from a long-lost, faraway friend in dire need of my immediate presence.

As soon as I could force my head off the desk and actually check, I discovered there really was an urgent email in my inbox after all. Anastasia Chastain, the field reporter from Channel Three, was planning an evening news piece on Black Friday bargain hunting. She wanted to know when and where I'd be shopping Thursday evening so she could talk local deals while Mrs. Frugalicious, AKA me, scored said deals on camera for the viewers at home.

Despite a house full of estranged relatives, disappearing was suddenly off the table—a table now covered with my mother-in-law's questionable holiday fare.

“A toast.” Barb, Frank's sister, held up her wineglass. “To making the very best of a bad situation.”

Over the
here here
s and the clink of glasses, I began to silently list the reasons why breaking bread with Frank and his family
making the best of it and not the worst
joke the universe had ever played on me.

Since Frank's major lapse of judgment, that was.

“Love these rolls, Joyce!” my son FJ said, adhering to his grandmother's insistence she was far too youthful to be called a grandma. Ever the diplomat, he slathered butter on a hockey puck roll and filled his water glass to prepare for the swallowing process.

Trent, FJ's identical twin, down to the Michaels blue eyes but with the lighter hair and stockier build of the men on my side of the family, stifled a laugh and followed suit.

With their bright, mischievous smiles—a far too uncommon sight these past few months—I had the first reason on my list:

1. Despite a genetic predisposition from my side, the kids needed and were reveling in the unexpected family togetherness.

“Maddie, these table centerpieces are as charming as they are clever.” Barb looked admiringly at my admittedly fetching gourd, pinecone, leaf, and twig centerpiece.

Joyce, who was equal parts feminist and pampered princess, and thus always leery of all things
, nodded. “So creative.”

Heads bobbed in agreement.

2. The Michaels clan, known for speaking their minds, were clearly on their very best behavior.

“Green bean casserole?” Craig offered from beside me.

I took a grayish, crispy-topped spoonful, concealed it with my roll, and passed the dish along.

3. Since my meal would likely consist of a few slices of the twenty-six-pound tom turkey (for which I'd traded in my party-of-five bird) and the cranberry sauce I'd prepared earlier in the week, I wasn't going to put any weight on like I normally did every Thanksgiving.

“Good thing we had extra hands in the kitchen,” Frank said, helping himself to a spoonful of gummy-looking mashed potatoes. “I can't imagine how Maddie could have pulled off a meal like this in midst of getting ready for her first TV appearance tonight.”

He made an interesting point.

4. Other than something of a sticky marshmallow disaster in the kitchen and a pungent, lingering cooking aroma I'd have to Febreze away, my soon-to-be-ex-mother- and sister-in-law couldn't have shown up at a more opportune time to take over the kitchen and insist they whip up the Thanksgiving meal despite a shared lack of kitchen prowess.

“Speaking of TV,” Craig said. “Is it really possible to get one of those forty-two-inch flat screens for two-fifty tonight?”

“First twenty people in line at Bargain Barn definitely will.” The second I'd read Anastasia's email, I was on the phone with “Awesome” Alan Bader, local bargain outlet mogul and my first big advertiser. Always at risk of being forced out of business by the box chains, he'd already placed an ad on my blog offering an extra 10% off the competition's pricing. When I let him know that I'd have a camera crew trailing me instead of live-tweeting like I'd planned, he upped the ante by opening at ten p.m. He also added a half-price sound system exclusively for Frugarmy members. “If everything goes well, people will be stuffing their cars full of incredible deals.”

“Stuffing's just like I remember.” Gerald helped himself to a second serving.

“It has to have been twenty years since you've made it, Mom,” Craig said.

“Twenty-one,” Joyce said. “Wasn't sure I'd get all the ingredients right from memory, but it all came back to me as soon as the popcorn started popping.”

“It looks incredible,” I said, marveling at a soggy, deflated kernel of bona fide Orville Redenbacher's mixed in with the breadcrumbs, onions, and celery.

“Try it, Maddie,” Barb said.

Suddenly, all eyes were on me.

“Mom's popcorn stuffing is legendary,” Frank said.

“You'll die when you taste it,” one of the nieces said.

That's what I'm afraid of
, I didn't say as I scooped up a small bite and checked to make sure my napkin was at the ready for a polite cough/spit. I took a silent deep breath, closed my nose in anticipation, brought the fork toward my mouth, and was about to bite the proverbial bullet when my text alert pinged.

Specifically, the alert the boys had set up for me to let me know when anyone commented on any of my blog posts at

Thanking the culinary gods for the last-minute reprieve, I put down my fork, grabbed my smartphone from my pocket, and read the title of the comment:

Thanks, But No Thanks!

The author, to my nonsurprise, was a certain CC, whom I'd taken to calling Contrary Claire due to her frequent negative remarks.

“Everything okay?” Joyce asked.

I wasn't exactly thrilled to have a gripe from my cyber naysayer on the one day of the year devoted to giving thanks. I was, however, grateful she'd given me a reason to locate my reading glasses and thereby avoid choking down Joyce's stuffing. “Contrary Claire is up to her usual nonsense.”

“Ignore her,” FJ said. “It's Thanksgiving.”

“Totally,” Trent, the other half of my teen tech support staff,

“I would if I could,” I said, already halfway across the room and headed for my office on the other side of the front hall. “But I can't risk her disrupting anything more than a few minutes of dinner tonight.”

5. Given my on-camera midnight shopping expedition, I had an excuse for my work issues to trump my personal ones.


I closed the French doors behind me, located my computer glasses, jiggled the mouse, and waited for the Mrs. Frugalicious home page to fill the screen.

Contrary Claire's comments were unnerving at first, but the boys argued I couldn't let them get to me because hadn't arrived as a website until it had a dedicated stalker. It also helped that a flood of positive remarks always came in from my regular followers, burying whatever gripe she had that day.

Girding myself, I scrolled down past Bargain Barn's ad, below
Black Friday Frugasm
the post I'd written with tips and extra bargains for Frugarmy members who joined me to shop on camera, and read the sole entry in the comments section:

Dear Mrs. Frugalicious,

I, for one, plan to take a pass on tonight. For one thing, I already followed your advice and got two items on my list at Black Friday prices by going into Bargain Barn yesterday to pre-shop.
For another, the sound system is the only special addition that seems all that special. To be honest, this whole event smells of a scheme cooked up by you, your TV reporter husband, and Bargain Barn to line pockets with kickback dollars. Namely, yours. Thanks for offering me fifteen minutes of background fame, but I think I'll just stay home and cyber shop. Everyone knows the deals are way better online these days, anyway.

Break a leg,


I put my head in my hands.

Had she really just accused Bargain Barn and Mrs. Frugalicious of being in cahoots, not only with each other but Frank?

How was it that CC, of all people, didn't seem to know we were in the middle of a divorce? Even if things were still hunky-dory marriage wise, Frank was too busy trying to keep his gig as Channel Three's financial guru in the wake of his professional pratfalls to ever think of suggesting me for a segment on his own station.

BOOK: Black Thursday
10.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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