Authors: Kylie Logan
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #General
Chan can’t cook . . .
I stared at the strip of floor behind the front counter.
The strip of floor that wasn’t empty.
“Bea? Kate? What’s with you two?” I’m pretty sure the next person who spoke was Luella,
but it was kind of hard to tell seeing as how the voice sounded as if it came from
a very deep cave. I’ll bet she was the one who grabbed my arm, too, but then, Luella’s
the type who would notice right away that I was swaying on my feet.
The hold on my arm tightened when Luella looked behind the front counter.
“What in the world is wrong with all of you?” Chandra’s laugh dissolved when she joined
us and saw what we saw.
The four of us stood side by side, leaned forward, and took another gander at what
I’d seen the moment I walked up to the front counter of the Orient Express.
Peter Chan on the floor.
His eyes bulging.
His mouth open in a silent scream.
A knife through his heart.
Mayhem at the Orient Express
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
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MAYHEM AT THE ORIENT EXPRESS
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright © 2013 by Connie Laux.
Chili Con Carnage
by Kylie Logan copyright © 2013 by Connie Laux.
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Purchase only authorized editions.
Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.
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For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,
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Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / June 2013
Cover illustration by Dan Craig.
Cover design by George Long.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the
of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual
living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility
author or third-party websites or their content.
For Koula, George, and the entire staff of
Something Different Gallery
in Cleveland, Ohio.
Thank you for your continued support,
your discerning eye when it comes to art, and
most important, your friendship.
I have a very clear memory of the day I got my first library card. My dad had taken
me to the closest library branch, and when we were done, I was so excited, I ran into
the house, waving the pink cardboard card in the air so my mother could see it. And
the first book I ever took out with that card? I remember that, too—
Horton Hatches the Egg
, that great Dr. Seuss classic.
Books still give me that kind of a buzz and I know you, as a reader, understand. For
us, books are the magic carpets that take us on all sorts of adventures.
That’s what I was thinking about when I came up with the idea for the League of Literary
Ladies Mysteries, my love of classic books, and yours, too. This new series gives
me the opportunity to explore the wonderful classics I’ve enjoyed through the years,
and I’ve started with one of my favorites,
Murder on the Orient Express
. Nobody does twists and turns better than Agatha Christie, and having the chance
to reread her masterpiece was a treat in itself. So was the opportunity to take her
story and riff off it with a Lake Erie island setting, a cast of eccentric supporting
characters, and the League of Literary Ladies itself, four very different women who
become a book discussion group thanks to a neighborhood squabble—and a court order!
As with every book, I owe special thanks to a whole host of people for their help
Mayhem at the Orient Express
, including Tom Colgan, my editor at Berkley Prime Crime; his assistant, Amanda Ng;
and my great and fabulous agent, Gail Fortune. My thanks, too, to Shelley Costa, who
over cups of coffee, spent many an hour going over plot points and making suggestions.
Like me (and you!) these are people who know and love books, the stories they tell,
and the places they transport our imaginations.
f it weren’t for Jerry Garcia peeing on my pansies, I never would have joined the
League of Literary Ladies.
No, not that Jerry Garcia! Jerry Garcia, Chandra Morrisey’s cat. In fact, it was that
peeing incident, and the one before it, and the one before that . . .
Well, suffice it to say that if it weren’t for Jerry’s less-than-stellar bathroom
habits, there never would have been a League at all.
Jerry, see, was the reason I was in Mayor’s Court that Thursday morning.
“That damned cat . . .” I bit my lower lip to hold in my temper and the long list
of Jerry’s sins I was tempted to recite. After all, Alvin Littlejohn, the court magistrate,
had heard it all before.
Then again, so had Chandra Morrisey, and her cat was still peeing on my pansies.
Chandra was standing to my right, and I swung her way. “He needs to be kept in the
house. That’s all I’m asking.”
It was all I’d asked the week previously, too, and just like that time (and the time
before and the time before that), Chandra rolled eyes the color of the gray clouds
that blanketed the sky outside the town hall building. “Cats are free spirits,” she
said, her voice as soft as the rolls of flesh that rippled beneath a tie-dyed T-shirt
that fit her like a second, Easter-egg-swirl-of-color skin. “They are the embodiment
of nature spirits. If we don’t allow them to roam free, we impede their mission in
this world. They can commune with the Other Side, you know.” Like it would help the
information sink into this nonbeliever’s skull, Chandra looked at me hard.
If I were still back in New York City, I would have given her a one-finger salute
and been done with it. But we were, in fact, on an island twelve miles from the southern
shore of Lake Erie, and as I’d come to learn in the six weeks I’d lived on South Bass,
people here were a different breed. They moved slower than folks back in the Big Apple.
They were friendlier. Considerate. More civilized.
Well, except for Jerry.
And, obviously, his owner.
“This is ridiculous!” I threw my hands in the air. Not as dramatic a gesture as I
would have liked, but hey, like I said, people here were considerate, and my goal
in coming to the island in the first place was to blend in. “You’re wasting my time,
Chandra. And the court’s time, too. All you need to do is—”
“All Chandra needs to do?”
Honestly, I was so fixated on Jerry’s loony owner, I’d forgotten Kate Wilder was even
in the room. She stood on my left, tapping one sensible pump against the black-and-white
linoleum. “It’s not like I have time for this, Alvin, and you know it,” she grumbled,
her arms crossed over the jacket of a neat navy suit that looked particularly puritanical
against flaming orange hair that was as long as my coal black tresses, but not nearly
as curly. “We could settle this whole thing quickly, if you’d tell her . . .” Kate
was a pretty, petite woman who looked to be about thirty-five, the same age as me.
Her emerald green eyes snapped to mine. “Tell Ms. Cartwright here to cut down on the
traffic at that B and B of hers and there won’t be anything left for us to discuss.”
“Oh, we’ll still have plenty to talk about,” I shot back. “Especially if your constant
nagging about traffic means my renovations don’t get done by the time I’m scheduled
to open. Come on, it’s not like it’s any big deal. It’s just a few trucks coming down
the street now and then.”
“A few?” Kate ticked the list off on her fingers (which is actually a pretty pithy
way of putting it, since while she was at it, she was ticking me off, too). “There
was the truck that brought the new windows, and one that took care of the heating
and air-conditioning, and one from the painters, and one from—”
“I thought you said you were busy and had better things to do?” Ah yes, me at my sarcastic
best! Not one to be intimidated (see the above comment about New York), I, too, crossed
my arms over my black turtleneck and adjusted the dark-rimmed glasses on the bridge
of my nose, the better to give Kate the kind of glare anybody with that much time
on her hands—not to mention nerve—deserved. “Apparently, you don’t have anything better
to do than spend your time looking across the street at my place. Once the renovations
“At least those trucks won’t be spewing fossil-fuel exhaust fumes near my herb garden.”
Chandra tugged at her left earlobe and the three golden hoops in it. “Once
gets rid of those—”
cuts down on the traffic jams—”
takes care of that damned cat—”
“All right! That’s it. Quiet down!” In the weeks I’d been appearing before Alvin in
the basement courtroom, I had never seen him so red in the face. He fished a white
cotton handkerchief from his pocket and mopped his forehead. “This has gotten . . .”
There was a plastic bottle of water on his desk and he opened it and took a gulp.
“This situation has gotten out of control. You’re out of control.”
I would have been willing to second this last comment if he’d kept his gaze on Chandra.
When it moved to Kate . . . well, that was understandable, too. But when it slid my
way and stayed there, I couldn’t help myself. My chin came up and my shoulders went
Alvin scraped a hand through what was left of his mousy-colored hair and pointed a
finger at Kate. “You’re mad at . . .” He arced his finger in my direction. “Her because
of the traffic. And you’re . . .” His slightly trembling finger remained aimed at
me. “Mad at her . . .” The accusatory gesture moved to Chandra. “Because her cat—”
“Pees on my flowers. All the time. What’s going to happen in the summer when I have
guests and they want to sit out on the front porch and—”
“I get the picture.” A muscle jumped at the base of Alvin’s jaw, but he kept his gaze
on Chandra. “And you, Chandra, you’re mad at Kate. Do I have that right? Because . . .”
He flipped open a manila file on his desk and consulted the topmost piece of paper
in it. “Because Kate plays opera too loud on Sunday mornings.”
Chandra nodded, and her bleached blond, blunt-cut hair bobbed to the beat. “I do my
meditating in the morning.” She said this in a way that made it sound like public
knowledge. For all I knew, it was. From what I’d heard, Chandra Morrisey had lived
in Put-in-Bay (the little town that was the center of life on South Bass) nearly all
of her nearly fifty years. “She’s messing with the vibrations in the neighborhood
and that affects my aura.”
“Oh for pity’s sake!” Kate’s screech fell flat against the pocked tiles of the drop
ceiling. “She hates opera? Well, I hate that creepy sitar music that’s always coming
from her place. And I don’t have time for this. Any of it. I need to get to the winery.”
“Oh, the Wilder Winery!” If we hadn’t been enmeshed in our own little version of a
smackdown, I might have laughed at Chandra’s attempt at a la-di-da accent. “Play your
screechy opera at the winery, then, why don’t you,” she suggested to Kate. “And leave
the rest of us in peace.”
“Which actually might be possible,” Kate snapped back, “if it weren’t for you, Chandra,
and those stupid full moon bonfires you’re always building.” She fanned her face with
one perfectly manicured hand. “The smoke alone is bound to kill somebody one of these
days. Add your singing to it—”
“It isn’t singing.” Chandra was so sure of this, she stomped one Ugg-shod foot. “It’s
“It’s annoying,” Kate countered.
“And it’s getting us nowhere.” Me, the voice of reason. “It all comes down to the
stupid cat. If you’d just make Jerry Garcia—”
“In the animal kingdom, cats are among the highest beings, intelligence-wise.” Need
I say that this was Chandra talking? The heat kicked on and blew my way and it was
the first I realized she was wearing perfume that smelled like the herbal tea they
sold in the head shops around Washington Square Park back in New York.
I wrinkled my nose.
And ruffled Chandra’s feathers.
Her eyes narrowed and her voice hardened. “In fact,” she said, “the ancient Egyptians—”
“Are dead, mummified, and poofed to dust. Every single one of them,” I reminded her.
Then I added, just for the sake of a little drama, “They died from the germs because
they let their cats pee anywhere they wanted. Like on their neighbor’s flowers.”
It was the ultimate in bad comebacks, and yes, I knew better. I swear, I did. I just
couldn’t help myself. I answered Chandra with a, “Yeah,” of my own.
It should be noted that, at this point, Alvin dropped his head on his desk.
I’m convinced he would have kept it right there in the hopes that when he finally
looked up, we’d all be gone, but at that moment, the door to the courtroom opened.
“Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were busy.” The woman who poked her head in, then
stepped back, looked familiar. Short. Round. Dark hair dusted with silver. I’d been
introduced to Marianne Littlejohn, the town librarian and Alvin’s better half, at
a recent potluck.
Only the evening of the gathering, her eyes weren’t puffy and her nose wasn’t red.
Not like they were now.
“Marianne! What’s wrong?” Yes, this would have been a perfect thing for Alvin to say,
but it wasn’t the magistrate who raced to the door and grabbed Marianne’s hands. It
was Chandra. She drew Marianne into the room. “Your aura is all messed up.”
“It’s . . . it’s . . .” Now that it was time to explain, Marianne hiccuped over the
words. “I’ve had such terrible news.”
Kate checked the time on her phone. “And that’s a shame, really, but we need to finish
up here. I’ve got to get over to the winery—”
“And I’ve got someone coming to repair the stained glass window in my front stairway,”
I piped in, refusing to be outdone by Miss I’m-So-Important. “So if I could just pay
a fine or something, I’ll be heading home. And by the way . . .” I hoped Kate could
see the wide-eyed, innocent look I shot her from behind my glasses. “I hear the stained
glass artist is going to be driving a really big truck.”
A head toss from Kate.
A click of the tongue from Chandra.
A whimper from Marianne.
And Alvin was on his feet.
His teeth clenched and his palms flat against his desk, he turned to his wife. “Marianne,
honestly, this isn’t a good time. We’re kind of in the middle of something and—”
“I know. I said I was sorry.” She sniffled. “It’s just—”
“That we need to finish up,” Kate said.
“And get out of here and back to the B and B,” I put in.
“Nobody’s going anywhere. Not until you women learn to get along!”
In all the weeks I’d been appearing in court thanks to my neighbors’ not-so-neighborly
complaints, I’d never heard Alvin raise his voice. Now, it ricocheted against the
walls like buckshot on a barn door.
We pulled in a collective gasp and as one, took a step back and away from his desk.
Alvin, apparently, was as surprised by his outburst as the rest of us.
“Look what you’ve reduced me to!” he said, suddenly ashen and shaking like a hoochie-koochie
dancer. “I’ve been doing this job for nearly thirty years, and in thirty years of
weekend drunks and fighting fishermen and vandals tearing up the mini-golf course . . .
in thirty years I’ve never lost my temper. Now you three . . .”
Since Marianne was standing next to me and sobbing, I can’t say for certain, but I
think Alvin growled to emphasize his point.
That was right before he pulled in a long breath and let it out slowly. “Maybe what
we all need,” he said, “is a time-out.”
“Great.” Kate reached for her Coach bag and slung it over one slim shoulder. “I’m
out of here.”
“No. That’s not what I meant. You’re not going anywhere, Kate. Not yet. None of you
are.” Alvin sat back down and folded his trembling hands together on the desk in front
of him, his suddenly flint-hard gaze hopping over each of us before it came to rest
on his wife. “You have the floor, honey. Tell us what’s going on. That will give us
all a chance to take a few deep breaths and get our collective heads back where they
belong before we figure out what we’re going to do about the problems in Ms. Cartwright,
Ms. Wilder, and Ms. Morrisey’s neighborhood.”