Authors: Jeri Green
© 2016 by Jeri Green
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
To Rita and Jeanette.
Hadley Pell, a college-educated housewife and widow, is still reeling from the loss of her beloved husband five years ago. She lives in a small town in the Southern Appalachians where nothing much happens. Nothing much, that is, until murder comes to town. And it isn’t until Hadley is given the job of cleaning out the victim’s house, an incredible hoarder of the first degree, that Hadley begins to unravel the mystery.
When it's discovered that Eustian Singlepenny has been poisoned and a friend is arrested for his murder, Hadley dives head first into the muddy maze, searching for clues to the killer’s
A humorous tale full of local color and wit, this is the first book in the NOBODY mystery series.
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her glasses and focused on the small letters of the form.
Last name first. First name last.
She couldn’t help but smile. Onus, her fat, orange tabby, glowered at her from his perch atop the fridge.
It had been a running joke between Harry and Hadley all their married lives. Written on paper, there was nothing strange about the arrangement. But sounded out loud, you ended up with something like
. At least in Hadley’s southern brogue.
The contest was simple.
We Need a Jingle
Just like that giant coffee company who wanted a new version of their famous waking up song, not so long ago. Hadley regretted not entering that one. The $250 grand prize would have been nice.
“Now, what have we here,” she muttered. “Answer a few questions. Write a jingle. Mail it in to win the grand prize. That’s easy enough.”
That coffee company had wanted a video with the writer actually singing his brand new song. Hadley had vetoed that. She was one of those poor souls who could not carry a tune in a galvanized pail. The crease in Hadley’s forehead deepened. She was extremely glad that no video was required. She hurt her own ears when she tried to sing, and everyone else’s,too. Hadley concentrated on her creative writing. She looked up to the ceiling. That was where inspiration sprang. At least in her case.
“Let’s see. Question Number One. How often do you polish your silver?”
Hadley reached over and pulled open a drawer. She peered inside. Clean, but not blindingly bright. The sparkle on her silverware definitely did not sizzle.
“Oh, I’d say before the tarnish clogs the tines of the forks.”
She put her pencil lead to the paper. Erasing, she blew the pink crumbs out of her way.
“Better not write that. They’ll never pick me if I do. Let’s fudge a bit. I love fudge,” she said.
Hadley wrote in her delicate script:
Faithfully. Every Friday.
“Faithfully,” she said glancing up at Onus, peering down at her from his refrigerated throne, “that should give them the idea I do it religiously.”
Onus stared down at her sourly.
“What’s the matter with you? Not feeling well? You look like you swallowed the canary sideways.”
Was he on the verge of coughing up a hairball?
“Question Number Two,” Hadley mumbled, “Do lingering sink stains keep you at your wit’s end?”
Her cell rang. Hadley answered on her retro flip phone. She was one of perhaps the last three people on earth who had not upgraded. She refused to be tied to a battery charger every day. Besides, this little bugger was all she needed. She wasn’t into texting or surfing. Leave all that to the sports nuts.
“Hey, what you doin’?” the voice on the other end said.
It was Maury, Hadley’s younger sister.
“I’m filling out a contest for one of our local small businesses, Sara’s Silver Polish and Stain Remover,” Hadley said.
“Not another contest! What do you win? A butler and a maid and a truckload of stain remover? I got dibs on the butler, Hadley. I’ll be one of those horny old ladies who will demand he work shirtless. I’m such a sucker for broad shoulders and a six-pack.”
“He’s married, Maury, with thirty-seven kids and eighteen wives. More alimony payments than he knows what to do with. He has to make withdrawals from Fort Knox to pay them all. And he’s let himself go. His six-pack has ballooned into a full-fledged beer gut. He’s lost all his teeth, and he probably has bad breath.”
Hadley peered down at question number two. Should she fudge again and say elbow grease was a pretty good dissolver of sink drain stains?
Never. I use Sara’s Silver Polish and Stain Remover. With Sara’s Silver Polish and Stain Remover, my sink is spotless.
“Hang on,” Hadley said. “I’ll be finished in a jiff.”
Placing the pencil horizontally in her teeth, she waited for inspiration to strike. That ceiling could use a fresh coat of paint, she thought.
“Perfect,” she muttered, ignoring Maury’s repeated pleas to spill the beans and reveal what spiffy, little rhyme she was writing down.
Hadley scribbled this jingle.
Is your silver dark and drab?
Do you shudder just in horror,
When a spoon or fork you grab?
Are grungy stains a never-ending pain
For your sink and stainless drain?
After endless scrub-a-dubbing, do you sigh?
They still remain. Are they ingrained?
The answer to your plight
Stands on your counter in plain sight.
Use Sara’s Silver Polish and Stain Remover.
Your results will just delight!
“What’s going on?” Maury asked.
“Not much,” Hadley said. “I was at the dentist’s getting a tooth filled yesterday. I was flipping through that Banjo & Fiddle on the Blue Ridge magazine the county puts out. You know me. Once I spotted it, I couldn’t resist.”
“You tore it out, didn’t you? What am I gonna tell the neighbors when those office workers from Dr. Smith send Bill to arrest you for illegally tearing out magazine contests!”
Hadley reviewed the contest form. Satisfied, she jammed it into an envelope. A quick lick, a flowery Forever stamp, and another contest entry for Sara’s Silver Polish and Stain Remover was complete, ready for the mailbox.
“You just say she’s a sucker for those things. And don’t forget to tell them that you never win, if you don’t enter.”
Hadley heard the familiar sounds of Maury’s laughter.
“I’ll say. You sure hit the jackpot five years ago,” Maury said. “I’ve never seen so much goat cheese in all my life!”
Heavenly Farms Goat Cheese.
Goodie Latham put a box in the center of the dairy aisle down at Pixie-Squares Supermarket. She didn’t need that much cheese, but it was a contest, and Hadley could not resist. She had written her name on over two dozen of those little slips of paper and dropped them in the slot of that box. Nothing like helping your chances a little whenever you could.
“Ten pounds is a lot of goat cheese,” Hadley said. “I had to get very creative to use it all up before it went bad. That stuff tastes fishy when it gets old! And I mean really fishy. Good thing we had a lot of potluck dinners that first couple of months after I won!”
Maury and Hadley chatted for a few minutes more. They said goodbye, and Hadley returned to sipping her coffee. It was cold. The clock on the wall seemed to be ticking louder today. Or was it just her imagination? She never knew when the feeling of loneliness would hit her. Even after all this time. But it felt like today was going to be one of those days.
She tugged the collar of Harry’s robe tighter. This was an old friend snuggly nuzzling her neck. Harry had been gone for almost five years, but in so many ways, it felt like yesterday.
The robe was fraying at the sleeves. It was faded and paper-thin in places and as soft as a newborn duckling’s down. Much of the thread along the hem had given up the ghost. One pocket was useless. A gaping hole allowed anything you put into it to go ‘plonk’ onto the floor. It was no use wasting good thread to fix it.
When she walked across the room, the right side of the robe was a good two inches longer than the left, another casualty not worth stitching. The uneven hem lent Hadley an air that was both comical and melancholy. Still, she did not have the heart to throw it away. You didn’t trash your friends just because they were worn and wearing out.
“Throw that rag away,” Maury had said. “It’s falling to pieces. You look like a ragamuffin in that old thing. A street urchin. A war orphan. A bum who’s just crawled out of his box in Cardboardville.”
But Hadley could not.
Those first few days after Harry was gone were like static on the radio. Whenever anyone spoke to her, the sounds landing on her eardrums registered as white noise. She limped through those weeks in a dazed state of shock. She could not eat. She could not sleep. She forgot to feed the cat. Hadley could not let herself feel anything. If she did, she feared she would free fall into a pit so deep she would never claw her way out.
The sun rose the morning after Harry was buried. Hadley was mildly irritated that, at the very least, the universe had not paused, if only for a split second, in honor of the fine man she had called her husband.
But why should it?
Life marched on. The band did not stop playing because one of its members had fallen by the wayside. Everyone knew that.
Still, it was hard.
After the funeral, the house felt as empty as a stadium – game over, fans gone home. Her footsteps echoed as she rambled from room to room, and even Onus seemed to realize that something essential was missing.
Onus, never a loving and cuddly teddy bear by any standard, hopped up into her lap whenever she sat down. Hadley rubbed the soft fur between his ears without thought. He tolerated her touch, sleeping quietly in a curled ball.
She had been Harry’s wife for most of her adult life. Longer than she’d been single. Theirs was a good marriage. They had lived good lives together. Married straight out of college. No kids. But that was not for lack of trying. Their love had deepened and Harry became her best friend.
Then, without warning, Harry up and died on her.
His annual physical had foreshadowed nothing unusual. He had voiced no complaints. Hadley searched the recesses of her memory trying to dig up some clue, some hint that he was ill. She could remember nothing. Not one twinge or grimace. Nothing. He had been as chipper and as happy-go-lucky as always.
Harry was looking forward to summer. They had big plans. They were finally going to take that road trip to see America. For years, they discussed it, but inevitably, something would come up. They kept putting it off.
Not this year.
This was the summer they were going to explore, to learn, to discover. And Harry was like a little kid. Almost every evening, he would spread his Atlas road maps across the kitchen table. They took turns, telling each other what site or place they wanted to visit. Harry would dutifully trace a route with his forefinger.
“Nothing is set in stone,” he’d tell Hadley. “We’ll have fun and go wherever the spirit leads. But look! This way we could kill two birds with one stone!” Harry said, his finger tracing a squiggly path east and south. “Or maybe this way is more scenic. You know, I think I enjoy mapping and dreaming with you almost as much as I will love the journey. This is half the fun!”
Hadley smiled. Harry was like that. Nice and easy-going. Like a
The jarring ring of the cell replayed in Hadley's memory. The sound of the disconnected voice on the other end of the line was seared in her brain. She heard the strain in the inflections of his voice as he spoke to her. She ran as quickly as she could to the car.
Her fingers twitched, and she fumbled with the key. She dropped it on the floorboard as she tried to jab it into the ignition. Already, her breath was coming in short, uneven gasps, and the tears were flowing down her cheeks in steady streams.
She raced to town, slamming the gearshift into park, and jerked open the car door.
Bill, her brother-in-law and the sheriff of Hope Rock County, was standing beside Harry’s sedan. It rested in the middle of the intersection, blocking traffic, just across from Brinkley's Garage. They had yet to tow it away.
One look in Bill’s eyes told Hadley the one thing she never wanted to know.
She always joked with Harry that she’d go before he ever did.
“I won’t be cold in the ground, Harry Pell, and you’ll be hitched to the first good cook and housecleaner who winks at you.”
“Aw, honey,” Harry would answer, “you know I’ll hold out for one that sings.”
Hadley chuckled, knowing Harry would be a prime catch in Hope Rock County. Or any other county, for that matter. All he’d have to do would be to stand across the street from Lou Edna’s, and he’d find any number of single ladies lined up to reel him in.
But Harry was gone, and Hadley had not even had a chance to say good-bye.
On the morning that forever changed her life, the alarm failed to go off. Onus had decided to have a ticker tape parade with the toilet paper on the dispenser. Harry was already running late. Nevertheless, he stopped to clean up the mess so Hadley would not have to face it when she got up.
There was a hole in his sock, and his favorite tie had a spot on it. But that was all right. He’d remember to keep both his blazer and his shoes on all day at work.
Harry threw on his suit jacket and grabbed his briefcase and bolted out the door. He had not taken the time to rouse Hadley, who lay snoozing soundly with her head mashed halfway under her feather pillow. Harry rushed out the door. He cranked the car and backed out into the sleepy lane. He smiled as he remembered how beautiful Hadley looked as she slumbered in their bed. He couldn’t help but think he was a lucky guy.
Hadley only hoped he’d kissed her on the forehead before he left.
She wanted to think she had some remnant of his touch lingering on her skin.
Harry. Harry. Harry. How will I go on? How will I face the world without my better half?
“He was gone when I got here, Hadley,” Bill said. “I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am.”
Hadley’s brain was screaming inside her skull.
This cannot be! This is not happening!
A hundred thousand denials bombarded her mind at once. Her heart felt like gravy in her chest. She knew that this was it. She would never be the same. Her old life was gone.
Did you know I love you?
Were you wearing clean underwear
Should I pin a white rose to your lapel?