Pearls and Poison (A Consignment Shop Mystery)

BOOK: Pearls and Poison (A Consignment Shop Mystery)
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PRAISE FOR

Killer in Crinolines

“Brown deftly spins the tale of Reagan’s many misadventures while sleuthing, fills her story with Southern eccentrics, and offers up a magnolia-laced munificence of Savannah color.”


Richmond Times-Dispatch


Killer in Crinolines
is a fast-paced cozy with lots of twists and turns. Brown has a knack for writing dialogue and readers will find themselves so engrossed in the story, it’s hard to concentrate on anything else.”


Debbie’s Book Bag

“Great characters, funny dialogue, twists and turns, and a little romance. What more could you want in a cozy mystery? If Agatha Christie lived in Savannah, she would have written this novel. Charming, clever, and sometimes creepy, a really good read.”


Sweet Mystery Books

“Southern coziness at its finest! A most enjoyable read—mystery fans will love this one. It’s the kind of book that makes a bad day good!”


Socrates’ Book Reviews

“If you have read
Iced Chiffon
, then you’ll absolutely LOVE
Killer in Crinolines
. In fact, if you weren’t hooked on the series after reading
Iced Chiffon
, you bet your derriere you’ll be hooked after reading this one. Its compelling mystery and engaging plot will have you staying up countless hours into the night . . . If you’re a fan of Southern mysteries and just cozy mysteries in general, I HIGHLY recommend checking out this new series by Duffy Brown! You won’t regret it, I promise.”


Dreamworld Book Reviews

Iced Chiffon

“A Southern comfort cozy with Yankee tension . . . A treat. Not to be missed.”

—Annette Blair,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Tulle Death Do Us Part

“An amazing mystery debut . . . Riveting.”

—Mary Kennedy, author of the Talk Radio Mysteries

“A delightful world filled with charm and humor.”


New York Journal of Books

“This amusing, thoroughly entertaining mystery . . . has perfect accomplices, plenty of suspects, and humorous situations.”


RT Book Reviews

“Besides a fabulous look at Savannah, especially the haunts of high society, Duffy Brown provides a lighthearted, jocular amateur sleuth.”


Gumshoe Review

“Delightful . . . If I could give it six stars, I would.”

—Examiner.com

“A pleasant beginning to a new series . . . A light tone, a quick pace, [and] good old Southern hospitality . . . all come together for a charming read.”


The Mystery Reader

“A strong story, fantastic, well-developed characters, and a great mystery . . .
Iced Chiffon
was a stellar read and I can’t wait to see where Duffy Brown takes these characters next.”


Cozy Mystery Book Reviews

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Duffy Brown

ICED CHIFFON

KILLER IN CRINOLINES

PEARLS AND POISON

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

USA • Canada • UK • Ireland • Australia • New Zealand • India • South Africa • China

penguin.com

A Penguin Random House Company

PEARLS AND POISON

A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2014 by Dianne Kruetzkamp.
Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

Berkley Prime Crime Books are published by The Berkley Publishing Group.

BERKLEY® PRIME CRIME and the PRIME CRIME logo are trademarks of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-13799-8

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / March 2014

Cover illustration by Julia Green.

Cover design by Diana Kolsky.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are 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.

The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

Version_1

Chapter One

“P
EOPLE
are going to hate me if I do this,” I said to Auntie KiKi. “They’re going to cuss a blue streak and call me names and tell me to mind my own blankety-blank business and then slam the phone in my ear.”

“Oh for crying in a bucket, Reagan.” KiKi shoved a computer printout at me. “Time to put on your ironclad bloomers and dial the numbers on this here sheet. It’s your very own mamma everyone in this room is trying to get elected to city council. Least you can do is tell folks what a fine alderman she’d be, and Lord knows the city needs her instead of the scum bucket running against her.”

KiKi held up a plate full of pure temptation. “And keep in mind that we just happen to have pecan shortbread cookies for those who lend a hand.”

Mamma and KiKi were sisters. At birth the muses tangoed over auntie’s crib turning her into Savannah’s dance diva, and they wrapped mamma in a blanket with little elephants resulting in this campaign and me getting the name
Reagan
.

“Why doesn’t Mamma just run ads on TV saying what a total jerk Kip Seymour is? That’s what he’s doing to her.”

“Mudslinging is not your mamma’s style,” Marigold Haber, Mamma’s campaign manager and once upon a time sorority sister, offered, drawing up next to me. She had on the unofficial red, white, and blue “Elect Gloria Summerside” hat, scarf, and matching embroidered vest . . . politics belle style. She waved her hand over six tables of volunteers: some with a phone in each ear, others tweeting and Facebooking to keep supporters current . . . politics contemporary style. I reached for the phone and stopped dead with an acute attack of slam-phone phobia. “What if
we
take out the ads and don’t tell her.”

“Don’t tell me what?” Mamma asked from the doorway of the once-upon-a-time HotDoggery now serving as her campaign headquarters. It was filled with banners, signs, and a Lego replica of Mamma from the Garrison Elementary kindergarten class over on Jones Street. Bruce Willis, my four-legged BFF with wagging tail, and I hated to see the Doggery fold, but even we couldn’t eat enough to keep the place afloat, though heaven knows we tried. All that remained was a dull yellowish mustard stain in the back corner and a faint whiff of relish.

Mamma had on a black knit suit, meaning she’d come from court where she was known affectionately—or not so affectionately depending on who you were and what you did—as Judge Guillotine Gloria. KiKi gave me a sharp kick under the table and said to Mamma, “Your one and only offspring got someone to mind the consignment shop for her and is here chomping at the bit to get started making those campaign calls for you.”

A worried look creased Mamma’s forehead, riddling me with bad-daughter guilt, the product of a Catholic education from no-nonsense nuns who took the honor-thy-mother-and-father idea real serious. I snapped up the phone. “Look, look, I’m dialing, I’m dialing!”

Mamma’s lips thinned to a fine line across her face in a way that was reminiscent of when I had married Hollis Beaumont the Third. Considering how that turned out, I figured whatever was worrying Mamma today would send us all straight to hell in a handbasket. “I heard that Kip Seymour has a new attack ad coming out about me,” Mamma said. “I don’t know what it is, but I’m concerned. They say it’s a nasty one.”

KiKi snapped up a cookie. “Can’t be any worse than that ad declaring you’re a snotty judge who thinks you’re better than everyone.”

“Or the one with you embezzling money from the Children’s Aid Society?” Marigold huffed. “I do declare the man’s lower than a beetle’s bellybutton. Thank the Lord no one in their right mind paid any attention to all that malarkey and we survived just fine and dandy, thank you very much.”

“Oh, but I can do much, much better,” Kip Seymour said as he and his wife, Money-Honey, strolled in through the open doors as if they owned the place. Honey was fiftysomething, had been a barmaid in her previous life, and had new money from a dead cousin over in Beaufort. Now she could buy anything from perky boobs to an incredible cream and black suit right out of Nordstrom’s catalog to a politically ruthless husband. Seymour was in his early forties, a building contractor of the crooked-as-a-dog’s-hind-leg variety though no one could actually prove it. Today he had on wrinkled khakis to relate to the ever-important workingman, the pants making his behind look like two hams flopping around in a Piggly Wiggly bag.

His lip curled. “My, my, it’s the pearl-girl set in all their glory. Is this here the best you got? Kind of a sparse crew to win an election, not that you have a snowball’s chance in hell of doing that.”

The room stilled, all eyes shooting daggers at Seymour and wife. I pulled up next to Mamma, Marigold and KiKi on her other side. The four musketeers plus peeps.

“The polls have us dead even.” Mamma said in her best I-am-the-judge voice.

“That’s why I’m here.” Seymour shoved his hands in his pockets, stretching the khaki material tight across the hams. “I have plans to change all that and thought you might want to hang up your campaign before things get ugly.”

“Your half of the campaign’s fallen out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.” I took Mamma’s hand.

“You ain’t seen nothing yet, girly.” Seymour laughed and circled the tables like a wolf on the prowl. “I’ve got a new ad coming out tomorrow that says if Gloria Summerside is elected, she’ll require all the restaurants here in Savannah to disclose calorie content right there on their menu and that dishes requiring more than a cup of butter will be banned. Anyone looking at your skinny behind or that has seen you jogging around town would suspect it’s true enough.”

“Sweet Jesus in heaven!” Auntie KiKi clasped her hands to her chest, her eyes bulging.

“You’re going to label Gloria a foodie foe!” Dottie Harrison put the back of her hand to her head and did a very nice Southern swoon. Marigold sank into a metal folding chair, and all the volunteers sucked in a collective gasp.

Washington had monuments, Arizona had the Grand Canyon, and Savannah had food, really good food. No one messed with Savannah restaurants and the delectable dishes concocted within.

“Foodie foe.” Money-Honey slipped her arm through Kip’s, all cozy like. “Why that’s a right-fine sound bite. You should use it, sugar bear.”

“It’s a lie,” Mamma pointed out.

“Like I care,” Seymour said as Money-Honey smoothed back her faux-blonde hair. “Folks will picture the Old Pink House being forced to get rid of shrimp and grits and bring in tofu!”

We all made the sign of the cross over the mention of tofu at the Pink House.

“And they’ll imagine the Pirate House giving up pecan chicken and serving steamed salmon and broccoli. Zunzi’s would stop making their secret sauce! Leopold’s will ditch Frozen Hot Chocolate ice cream and serve yogurt.”

There was another round of cross-signing.

Marigold banged her fist on the table and stomped her foot with perfect belle precision. “You’re nothing but a whoreson skunk, Kip Seymour, you know that!”

Money-Honey held tight to Seymour. “Don’t you yell at my husband; he does have a heart condition you know.”

“That’s assuming he has a heart,” Marigold seethed. “We’ll sue. You’ll never get away with this. I’ve got half my life in this campaign like everyone else in this here room, and I won’t have you ruining it.”

“Election’s in two weeks.” Seymour sauntered to the door. “No time for taking this to court. You can refute my ad, but I have a boatload of witnesses to back me up.”

“That you’ve paid off.” Mamma ground her teeth. Was that smoke curling from her ears?

“But you can stop this all right now.” Seymour glanced back over his shoulder, an evil look in his beady black eyes. “Bow out gracefully.”

“You’d still have Archie Lee to deal with,” I said with a toss of my head. “He’s gaining ground every day.”

Scumbucket turned, a sly smile on his face. “Feeling a little desperate? I think I can beat a barkeep. Call it quits, girlie. Say you need to spend time with your family. Isn’t that the excuse politicians give to run from the line of fire? Consider this your warning shot.”

“How about this for a warning shot?” Mamma snagged the plate of pecan shortbreads and flung them at Seymour’s fat head, cookies flying in all directions. “I’m going to strangle you with my bare hands, you overbearing, middle-Georgia, low-rent bastard.”

Bastard? From my mamma’s mouth? Get out the umbrellas and mops because pigs just went airborne and Lord knew what the fallout would be once they hit the skies.

“See you on TV.” Seymour snickered. “Make that you’ll see me on TV.” He took Honey’s hand, chomped a cookie that had landed on his shirt, and left, his hams flopping in retreat.

“I shouldn’t have lost my temper like that,” Mamma’s voice the only sound in the dead-quiet room. “I’ll go apologize to him, make things right.”

“Fiddlesticks!” Lolly Ledbetter raised her phone in defiance. “That man’s in bad need of strangling. I know it first hand after the nasty way he treated my Cazy over at the savings and loan when he was there. Always wanting favors, cases of wine, trips to the Bahamas, or he’d tell his clients to get loans elsewhere. If you don’t go and do the deed, Gloria, I swear on my daddy’s grave I’ll do it myself and enjoy the experience.”

Marigold plopped her purse on the table and yanked out a half-empty bottle of Wild Turkey honey bourbon. She thrust it at Mamma. “If you talk to Seymour, I suggest you get him plastered first; that’s what I planned to do tonight. I figured he’d already gone far enough with his sleazy campaign, and he and I needed to have a little come-to-Jesus chat. Now the man’s gone and made things worse than ever.”

Mamma snagged the bourbon. “We’re going to win this thing or die trying, and you all can post that all over the Internet.” She squared her shoulders and marched out the door clutching the bottle like a weapon.

“I should go with her,” I said, an uneasy feeling gnawing at my gut. “What if Seymour gets mean? What if Mamma gets feisty?”

Auntie KiKi shoved another printout into my hand. “Your mamma can handle herself. What you need to do is get a move on and make some calls. We got ourselves an election to win come hell or high water.”

But after a half hour of phone duty, Marigold fired me on the spot. Seems I was a natural-born election killer doing Mamma’s campaign a lot more harm than good. I suppose calling a few people narrow-minded, pea-brained jackasses if they didn’t vote for Gloria Summerside wasn’t proper campaign phone etiquette. Well, it should be!

Marigold and Lolly headed off to the Lady’s Afternoon Bridge Club. I snagged a pecan shortbread that had landed on the table, broke off the squashed side, hitched Old Yeller, my yellow Target-special pleather purse, onto my shoulder, then headed down Bull Street. In summer I was a capris and flip-flops kind of girl, but the cooler weather had me in an old denim jacket and flats held together with superglue.

I stopped by Mamma’s house hoping she’d come to her senses and avoided the face-to-face with Scumbucket. He wasn’t about to give up his ad no matter what she said. The house was a small cottage on West York and easy walking distance to the courthouse for Mamma’s daily commute. It had a white picket fence I’d painted more times than I wanted to remember and a perfect Southern garden. It was built for Revolutionary War major Charles Odingsells, the three musket balls still embedded in the ceiling proving the point.

When Mamma didn’t answer, I continued on to Scumbucket’s campaign headquarters, the gnawing in my gut over her going alone getting worse with every step. Mamma wasn’t the type to be pushed around. Mamma pushed back.

Afternoon sun sliced through the live oaks draped with Spanish moss in Chippewa Square where James Oglethorpe stood watch over his fair city and—Holy mother of God save us all, was that Mamma yelling at Scumbucket on the sidewalk in front of his campaign headquarters!

“And don’t call me girlie,” Mamma barked as I ran up beside her. Then right out there in the open air for the whole world to see, text, and Twitter, Guillotine Gloria socked Kip Seymour in the jaw, sending him stumbling backward to land on his two-ham butt.

“Mamma! That was not a good idea!”

“Well, it sure enough felt good,” she giggled, and from the twinkle in her eyes she meant every word.

“You’ll be sorry,” Scumbucket bellowed, waving his fist as I propelled Mamma down Bull Street away from poised iPhones snapping away. “I’m filing assault charges.”

BOOK: Pearls and Poison (A Consignment Shop Mystery)
4.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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