Authors: Rosemary Harris
Also by Rosemary Harris
Pushing Up Daisies
The Big Dirt Nap
A Dirty Business Mystery
A Thomas Dunne Book
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
A THOMAS DUNNE BOOK FOR MINOTAUR BOOKS.
An imprint of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.
. Copyright © 2010 by Rosemary Harris. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Dead head : a dirty business mystery / Rosemary Harris. — 1st ed.
1. Holliday, Paula (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Women gardeners—Fiction. 3. Fugitives from justice—Fiction. 4. Connecticut—Fiction. I. Title.
First Edition: May 2010
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
To Bruce, for everything
Since my first book,
Pushing Up Daisies
, was published, I’ve had occasion to meet many wonderful and generous people in the mystery community. That community is made up of writers, retailers, librarians, conference organizers, readers, publishers, bloggers—people who just love the genre. They are a tremendous source of inspiration for any new writer, and I am grateful for the support that they’ve shown me.
In particular I would like to thank Carolyn Hart, Molly Weston, Jane Murphy, Bernadette Baldino, and my indefatigable friend and blog sister (at
) Hank Phillippi Ryan.
I’d also like to thank copy editor extraordinaire Martha Schwartz for her exhaustive research and incredible attention to detail. Any errors or omissions are mine and not hers.
dead head (also deadhead)
vt 1: to decapitate or
cut off fading flower heads to promote a second bloom
2: trucker’s slang for driving an empty vehicle
n 1: someone who travels without paying, a freeloader
2: a loyal fan of the band the Grateful Dead
So many lies.
The day you start telling them, you expect a hand on your shoulder at any moment. Every time you open your mouth and the fake history comes out—the fake family, the fake anecdotes. If not the hand, then the stony gaze, as if to say “I know that’s not true” or “like hell you are.” The challenge is anticipated. It may be delivered casually with a slightly puzzled look and a muttered “really?” Or more forcefully by a relentless questioner pressing you for names and dates, distances between the cities where you say you’ve lived, and the names
of the schools you say you’ve attended, because miraculously the
speaker has a relative in each of them.
When the challenge doesn’t come—or the hand or the handcuffs that would eventually follow—there’s a whoosh, like a plane slipping through a layer of clouds or a diver breaking the surface, coming up for air. You’re free. And after years of that happening and
free, maybe you are. When every trace of who you were has disappeared or been buried and all that’s left is the new person.
crooked financier who turned himself in to the authorities—the one who stole billions with a decades-old Ponzi scheme. Springfield was abuzz with gossip. The names of those who’d been hit and were quietly deaccessioning boats and pied-à-terres were spoken in hushed tones as if the victims should somehow be ashamed for having been bilked out of their fortunes. People were astonished at the greed and the lavish lifestyle the man’s crimes had supported. At how otherwise smart people had handed over millions of their hard-earned dollars apparently without checking the man out.
marveled at how the man had kept the lies straight for so many years—the nonexistent meetings and transactions, the phantom companies, the fictional world he’d created a thousand times more complex and intricate than the one I’d devised—and how it had all come crash
ing down around his ears and whether the same thing might happen to
But then, I had no intention of confessing.
“It’s a false lamium,” I said.
Babe Chinnery folded her muscular arms, appraised the plant, and said simply, “If it’s not a lamium, why in hell do you keep calling it one?”
“Things aren’t always what they seem to be.”
“Thank you, Yoda.”
The woman had a good point. She usually did. Despite the rock ’n’ roll outfits, the hair color that changed with the New England seasons, and the boyfriend twenty years her junior, Babe had more common sense than most of the people I knew. It was a perfectly legitimate question and I couldn’t answer her.
“Don’t give me a hard time. I’m just a gardener, not Linnaeus.”
“Some Swedish guy who named plants,” I said. “Don’t worry—there won’t be a quiz. I was just trying to dazzle you with my smarts.”
“Consider me dazzled.”
In fact, Linnaeus hadn’t named this plant. There was a lot of deception in the garden. Beautiful plants that were poisonous to the touch. Things that look like one thing but were something else—false spirea, false hellebore, false Solomon’s seal. I suppose it’s accurate to label them false, but why not just call them what they are? When I’m queen, I’ll change that and give them all their own lyrical, poetic names, like
or a new favorite, nicotiana ‘Only the Lonely’. Roy Orbison would be so pleased.
“Trust me, you don’t want real lamium in these planters. You said you want more yellow. This may not look like much now, but when this baby flowers, believe me, it’ll be yellow.”
Babe squinted and walked around the parking lot. She held a nursery catalog near each planter to visualize what it would look like next year when it was in full bloom. I resisted the urge to tell her the images in the booklet were almost as unrealistic and unattainable as the ones in the Victoria’s Secret catalog. Why burst her bubble? Optimism was a critical ingredient in any garden.
Babe had specifically requested yellow because that color would work with the diner’s new hot-pink shutters. Not exactly ye olde New England color scheme found in regional magazines, which always wanted to call red, Betsy Ross red, and blue, Heritage blue, as if the building’s occupants all wore knee breeches and white hose and were called Lemuel or Goody. But Babe was not your garden-variety New Englander and the colors worked for her—a little punk rocker, a little Caribbean beachcomber—to go with the lakeside setting and the tiki-bar feel of the place.
“Damn,” she said.
What now? She stood at the far side of her outdoor café, looking perturbed. Behind the lattice and the flaking hand-painted
sign stood the small utility shed where Babe stored her trash cans and where a Dumpster was temporarily parked. The top and
side doors of the shed were open, and the industrial-sized cans beside it had been knocked over.
“They can’t be bargained with. They can’t be reasoned with. They don’t feel pity or remorse or fear. And they absolutely will not stop.”
Where had I heard that?
“Raccoons.” She smacked the side of the shed in frustration. “How can they have lifted those rocks off the top?”
“Beats me. The rock trick works at my place. You want me to help clean up?”
“Nah. I shouldn’t do it now, either. I’m needed back in the kitchen. I’ll take care of it tonight. Just chaps my butt, though. Look at this—papers and food scraps strewn all over.” She hauled off and kicked one of the rocks that had held down the top of the shed, and it bounced off one of six metal cans lined up in formation behind the shed.
“What are you saving the empties for?” I asked. “Deposit?”
“They’re not empty. It’s WVO—waste vegetable oil. I leave it out for the people with the fat wagons.”
I’d read about the fat wagons, or French frymobiles. Serious environmentalists or loonies, depending on which side of the gas pump you stood, reconfigured engines to run on waste vegetable oil; and, apart from making their cars smell like a death wish–sized tub of onion rings, it sounded like a good idea. Maybe it was a diet strategy, too. Perhaps if you smelled fried food all day long, you were less likely to eat it.
“You think it was one of those guys?”
“Looking for what? I leave all the good stuff out. There’s no need to go through the trash. And most of them aren’t poor. One guy has a Mercedes fat wagon. He just hates paying for gas. For some it’s the carbon footprint; for others it’s the dependency-on-foreign-oil issue. I think the Mercedes guy just wants to relive his radical youth. It kills him that he’s turned into his dad. I’m happy. They recycle my garbage.
And it makes me feel less guilty for not having traded in my SUV for a Prius, like I told my sons I would.