"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Thursday, December 29, 2011

I'm tired

Ah, the post-Christmas malaise. In ye olde days, I used to sleep all day on December 26th, then be up and on my feet by the 27th. This year, when I haven't been forced to work, I've been sleeping.

Of course, this is the first year we've had Christmas dinner at our house for Dale's family (mine is 2,000 miles away in Illinois). I was up at 7 a.m. to get the turkey in the oven so it could be done in time to get out of the oven and let the ham have its turn. After that was another 45 minutes for the stuffing that didn't fit into the bird and another 30 minutes for the sweet potatoes. While I wasn't cooking, I was getting out plates and arranging the tables and giving my darling son instructions about which floor to mop and what to get at the store, etc.

There's a million little things to do when you're trying to make 15 people comfortable in your home.

I got the last dish dried and put away at 1 a.m.

Don't misunderstand - I loved having the bustle of so many people in my house. It was fun to take care of them and make sure everyone had something to drink or eat or unwrap. Dale's youngest brother and his family spent the night and our nieces and nephews were nothing but good.

And now I'm exhausted.

The worst part is, the fog of fatigue has kept me from writing. It took me about three times longer than normal to write my column this week. I opened the file on my latest Peri story, looked at it, and closed it again. All I can do is play with my new Kindle Fire and do the puzzles in the newspaper.

My Fire and my mechanical pencil - that's all I need to rejuvenate.

This woman was not exhausted from cooking and cleaning, but every time I think, "I'm tired," I think of this:

How about you? How did you survive the holidays? Or are you TIRED?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Hit or Missus - Chapter 7

Good Christmas Morning, everyone! If you tuned in here to read another chapter, you're in luck. Our plucky heroine is just starting her assignment, and she has her hands full. Read on:

* * * * *


The room was a study in contrasts. The polished oak of the tables, chairs and bar could have darkened the space, but the pale walls and full-length windows stretching across the back of the room lifted it into the light. There were a few occupied tables, and a couple of servers strode from the kitchen to the diners and back again. A black man with gray on his temples and a roadmap of years on his face wiped the bar, occasionally glancing at the TV screen, where a baseball game was in progress.

A young, lithe woman in a simple uniform of white shirt, black slacks, met Peri at the door and led her to a table near the windows. Nikki and her friends were seated near the bar, all as coiffed and beautiful as she imagined. She gave them a relaxed glance as she walked past, and catalogued two brunettes and an ash blonde in addition to Nikki's golden curls. One of the brunettes looked up from her salad, and Peri could feel the intensity of her gaze as much as she could see it in her peripheral vision. 

The hostess offered her the seat beside the window. This didn't give Peri more than a slight side view of Nikki's table, but she didn't want to appear suspicious, so she sat down. The same woman came by to take her order. She asked for a spinach salad and iced tea, then opened the brochure and began to read.

Twenty thousand dollars? Peri fluffed her hair and tried not to grimace as she read. Plus annual dues? And monthly dues? She turned the page. Green fees? Isn't the golf course green enough?

Laying the packet aside, she studied her surroundings. To her left, golfers dotted the grassy carpet outside. She thought they looked similar in the way they walked around the area, faces tilted to the ground, occasionally looking up, as if gauging the distance. They were all tanned, wearing standard issue polo shirts, dressy shorts, white socks and golf shoes. The men wore hats. The women had a mix of hats and visors, but it didn't matter. Their faces were all still golden from the sun.

"Hey, Girlfriend."

Peri looked up to see Blanche, casually gorgeous in a pair of tailored, knee-length tan shorts and a sheer lilac blouse, the lace of a white camisole peeking out. She got up to hug her friend and gestured to a chair.

"How nice to see you," Peri told her.

They motioned to the server, who came over and took Blanche's order, giving Peri another opportunity to glance at Nikki's table. They were lively and loud, which meant it should be easy listening.

The server brought their drinks.

"So, thinking about joining?" Blanche pointed to the brochure.

"Possibly." She noticed the volume of her own voice. As much as she enjoyed having her friend here for support, it dawned on Peri she would not be listening to Nikki's table if there was too much conversation at her own.

"You're a member, maybe you could explain what this means." She placed the brochure next to Blanche and leaned in. As Blanche looked at the paper, Peri whispered, "I need you to identify who is talking at that table behind me."

"Hmm." Her friend pointed. "Oh, those fees only count if you aren't a resident. Here, give me a pen and I'll circle the ones you'd pay."

As the server arrived with their salads, Peri heard her cell phone. Tunneling through her wallet, car keys, and assorted flotsam, her fingers closed around a familiar object, a small digital voice recorder. She often used it to take notes. While her hand was still buried, she turned the recorder on. Perhaps she could capture their conversation and listen to it later.

Pulling her phone out, she looked at the number. "Skip."

"Did you guys kiss and make up?"

"You know we never stay mad for long." She swirled the baby spinach leaves around to coat them with raspberry vinaigrette and picked up a fork full of leaf, mango, and candied walnut. A crumb of feta cheese clung to the leaf and completed the sweet-salty-umame trinity in her mouth. "We've had worse arguments."

"Oh, yeah. I remember when you tried to live together."

"I might have thrown a few objects," Peri said.

"To get your point across?"

"Hairbrushes are good for punctuating sentences."

They laughed, loudly, until Peri noticed she wasn't hearing the women behind her. She looked at her friend and rolled her eyes in an attempt to point to the table she was watching. Blanche smiled and gave her a small nod.

"So what did Don say?" The question from the table was asked by a voice that sounded like a muted trumpet.

Peri looked at Blanche and pointed back to the brochure. "What about this?"

"Some people like to pay extra for that," Blanche said as she picked up the pen and scribbled, Susan Leske.

"Oh, I don't know." This voice was high, almost childlike.

Peri took the pen and wrote Nikki? Blanche nodded, as the voice continued. "He was all, 'Nikki, do you have to find the most expensive dress in the mall? Who is this Michael Course guy, anyway?'"

Several women joined her laughter.

"Course? Like golf course?" Peri noted this voice was lower, and the words had a bit of a slur to them. She wondered if this woman had lived in the South for awhile.

Lisa Silvan, Blanche wrote.

A soft, languid voice seemed to quiet the whole table. "Your husband needs a lesson in designers, that's all. Perhaps we could instruct him in the difference between Michael Kors and Alta Vista."

Laughter started again, although it didn't erupt as much as it bubbled.

"Oh, Kim, it doesn't matter." This was Nikki again. "Don doesn't really care. He just likes to tease me."

As Blanche scribbled another note in the sidelines, Peri heard Lisa say, "Clinton does the same to me. What are those shoes again? Choo-choo trains?' They tease us, but they love it when we look good."

"Which is why I'm so happily divorced," Susan said. "I have the Jimmy Choos and no one to get on my case about them."

The server came by Peri's table and offered more iced tea. She looked confused by the silence between the two women. Blanche put the brochure back in the folder. "I'm sure you can read all this when you get home."

"Thanks for the info," Peri told her. The server busied herself by taking their empty plates, so Peri turned to Blanche again. "How's the landscaping coming?" The question sounded so banal she felt like slapping herself, but it was the safest thing that popped into her head.

"It's a good thing Paul's on travel. Took us months to work out the design with the landscaper, and now every day is a brand new day for these guys. A new supervisor shows up, doesn't know what's been done, what's supposed to go next. Then I have to step in and undo the work…"

She said a lot more, but Peri's focus went back to the women behind her.

"Oh, Susan, how you tease," Nikki said.

"At least as long as those alimony checks keep coming," Susan added.

Lisa changed the subject. "Did you see this Sunday's LA Times?"

Peri heard Nikki say, "I so want that Kate Spade outfit in the magazine. Too cute."

"It was okay," Kim replied. "I wasn't crazy about the bag."

"I couldn't get past that hatchet piece on USC," Susan told them. "How dare they say our alma mater is egotistical."

"Bet the writer went to UCLA," said Kim.

"Kim, that's not exactly fair." Nikki's words were harsher than her delivery. "There are dozens of schools who envy USC."

"Shoot me now." Blanche's voice was a graveled murmur, but it was clear she had been listening, too. Peri choked down her laughter.

Lisa spoke. "So, what's our game for this week?"

Peri thought she saw unusual activity out of the corner of her eye. She resisted the impulse to turn and look, but got a brief impression of the women's arms reaching toward something in the center of the table. There was quiet chattering, none of it intelligible. She looked at her friend, her eyebrows raised in question. Blanche smiled back, so Peri knew she'd get the rundown later.

Peri heard the light pinging of glass upon glass. Someone was making a toast.

"Bettys rule," Nikki said.

Peri's phone began to vibrate again, so she turned to her bag and noticed the women all getting their purses out, too. They were preparing to pay, which meant she had to make her exit first. Her phone had stopped ringing, but she pretended to answer it anyway.

"Hey, you ready to go?" she said to no one. "Okay, I'm on my way."

She fished out a twenty and gave it to Blanche. "I need to pick up –," here she fumbled for a name, "Benny. This should cover my lunch."

"No problem, Kiddo. I'll see you later." Blanche held out the folder to her. "Don't forget this."

Peri picked up her tote and stood. As she walked toward the door, she heard Kim's voice again, although she couldn't make out the words. She did catch a comment about "ladies room" and saw money being taken out of bags, so she continued outside, to her car.

After reaching her car, Peri put her ball cap on again and assumed the air of the inconspicuous private eye. She read over Blanche's scribbles as she waited. According to her BFF, Kim Patterson was the long-haired brunette, Susan Leske had the darker complexion, and Lisa Silvan spoke with the southern lilt.

Blanche had written her notes next to the price list. Peri saw the numbers again and rubbed her neck. If she needed to follow Nikki Keller any deeper into that establishment, she may need Blanche's help as a member.

Peri finally saw Nikki walk out of the entrance, with two of the women at the table. Susan dug in her purse while Lisa turned to listen to Nikki. There was no sign of Kim. They all laughed and strolled to their cars, hugging as each one was dropped off.

Although they were of varying heights and hair color, the trio shared a common patina. Peri thought it was the glow of money, then scolded herself for judging.

They can't help it if they're rich.

She watched a blue Beemer and a silver Benz slip out. Nikki's convertible eventually reached the entrance, so Peri started her car and eased toward the driveway. She and a dark Range Rover with tinted windows arrived at the exit simultaneously, but the Range Rover paused and let her go first. Nikki made it across the intersection just as the light changed, making Peri wait. The light was mercifully short and Peri was able to see her target pull onto her home street.

Peri drove past the Keller enclave, planning to turn around at the next cul-de-sac, but the stream of luxury vehicles behind her made her travel further into the country club homes. Turning left got rid of some of the cars, but the Range Rover still tried to push her down the street, obviously trying to get home. Finally, it turned into a driveway and Peri could return to Nikki's house.

As she rounded the corner, Peri felt her car grab to the right, then heard the familiar thwop-thwop of a flat tire. She pulled over to the curb and got out.

The tire slumped against the pavement, giving her Honda a definite list to starboard. Peri looked up the street in time to see Nikki's car whip out, toward Alta Vista.


There was nothing to be done, except change the tire. Peri opened the trunk and peered inside. It wasn't a pretty sight. In addition to two plastic bins of paper she needed to file, the trunk was littered with papers she needed to put into the bins, along with a pair of running shoes, an emergency roadside kit, and a small bag, which was stuffed with a few toiletries and clean underwear, in case she had to tail anyone for more than a day.

So far, she'd used the roadside kit more than the toiletry bag.

Peri thought briefly about changing the tire herself. It wasn't rocket science, after all. She moved the trunk contents to her back seat, then lifted the carpet to find the spare tire release and the jack kit.

It took her exactly five minutes and two fingernails to realize that, although she had the brains for the procedure, she lacked the brawn. She called the Auto Club and spent her waiting time throwing loose papers into the plastic bins.

After an hour wait, then thirty minutes more while the tire was changed, Peri was finally able to drive, although not in pursuit of Nikki Keller. Hungry again, she stopped on the way home to pick up skordalia chicken from Sophia's, the local Greek restaurant. She felt like everyone's eyes were on her car as she drove; the little blue Honda still sat at a tilt with its emergency donut where a real tire should have been. Car troubles sharpened her cranky edge, so she decided to spend the evening working out a schedule for tomorrow.

She pulled into her driveway and stopped. Ordinarily, she left the car parked next to the front door. Her one-car garage sat back, detached from the house, and as much as she loved her older neighborhood, walking to the garage at night to get her car out made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. But she wouldn't be going out tonight, so she went ahead and yanked the garage door open, drove the car in and locked it up.

Having learned from the previous afternoon's encounter with the cat, Peri entered her house slowly, looking down to keep from stepping on the large tabby. Mr. Mustard was nowhere near. She set the food on the counter and walked through the rooms, turning on lights.

"Here Kitty-Kitty," she called.

There was no response.

"Mr. Mustard, Kitty-kitty-kitty." Peri looked in all the corners of the living room. "Great, I've lost the cat."

As she moved toward her bedroom, she heard a soft, shuffling noise, followed by thumping. She slipped off her shoes and tiptoed to the door, hoping it was the cat and not an intruder.

The sight before her made her wish for the latter. Mr. Mustard had found an old spool of red and green curling ribbon, probably under her bed, and had wound it around every object in the room. It was knotted around all of the legs of her shaker-style furniture, and had actually pulled the nightstand away from the wall, knocking a candle onto the floor. Pillows were on the floor as well, and one of them showed definite signs of shredding.

The cat was busily pushing the now-empty spool through the maze he'd created. He looked at Peri, jumped straight up, and then ran out of the room.

Peri looked around, trying to decide whether to eat first, or clean first, and whether she might actually be able to flush a cat. Cleaning won. She armed herself with a pair of scissors and a trash bag, and went to work. Half an hour later, she finally sat down in the kitchen with her dinner and her notes.

She was enjoying a mouthful of the rich, lemony chicken when she felt a warm, furry body rubbing her shins.

"We gotta find you a new home, cat."

As she read through her scribbles about Nikki and her friends, a rhythmic beep-beep-beep interrupted her study. She picked up her phone, but it wasn't the source of the noise.

The next ten minutes were spent checking clocks, smoke alarms, kitchen gadgets and anything else that might be setting off a warning signal. Peri finally narrowed the sound to her pink snakeskin tote in the living room. She dumped the contents onto the floor and sorted through her portable life until she found her digital voice recorder. A tiny red light flashed with each beep.

"Oh, yeah, I forgot I turned you on." She picked up the small, silver rectangle and took it back to the kitchen.

After another bite of dinner, Peri turned on the recorder and listened. There was a fair amount of extraneous noise from the room, but she could clearly hear the women's voices. She worked her way slowly through the recording, identifying each voice and taking notes on what was said. The conversation was pretty benign, even boring, by Peri's standards.

Right after Lisa asked about the game plan, she heard the server ask about more tea and turned the volume up to listen to as much of the background voices as she could. All she got were disjointed words, "blonde", "one of us", "discourage", and "force". She replayed the section several times, trying to add one more word to make it all make sense, but the ambient noise overpowered.

At last, she gave up and let the recording continue to the end. She heard the scrape of the chair as she arose, and the fluctuation of sounds as she moved through the room. Closing her eyes, she pictured where she was at each rasp, rattle, and voice. Suddenly one voice became clear.

"There goes the mark," Kim said in a whisper.

Peri's pulse trotted a little faster, wondering if she was Kim's "mark". She listened to the last part a few more times, but was unable to hear anything else. Leaning back in her chair, she speared another piece of chicken and put it in her mouth. She chewed, thinking.

If I could somehow separate the different sounds like they do on those TV shows. Grabbing her cell phone, she called Jason Bonham. He probably wouldn't be able to process her file, but he might be able to tell her what kind of software program would.

Mark or not, she was going to find out the game for the week.

* * * * *

Well that sounds ominous. Is Peri their "mark"? What are they planning to mark her with, a Sharpie? Tune in next Sunday and learn more.

P.S. Did Santa bring you a new Kindle or Nook? You could be reading HIT OR MISSUS right now, for only 99 cents!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hit or Missus - Chapter 6

I have a couple of things to point out about today's chapter. First, when you meet Linda, know that I secretly want to be her. Well, I guess it's not such a secret now. What I mean to say is that I am a short redheaded gal who sometimes catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror and thinks there's a gnome in the house, and I would love to be that tall, graceful woman of a certain age who dresses with taste and comports herself with great dignity. I amuse myself by thinking Dale would not have married that woman.

Second, I had a hard time writing the scene where Peri goes to the country club. I'll talk about it after you read.

* * * * *


Under normal conditions, Peri liked to show up early in a client's neighborhood and park a few houses away to observe the comings and goings of the person she was tracking. The Kellers lived near the Alta Vista Country Club, their house backing up to the golf course. This small area around the country club was the high-end of Placentia; the homes were large, even if the lot sizes were small, and all of them maintained their million-dollar worth, regardless of the economy.

Mr. Keller had told Peri his wife was usually still asleep when he left at seven, but Peri didn't want to miss anything, so she pulled into the Alta Vista community a little past six in the morning. The Keller house was on a corner, which would not have made parking in an unobtrusive spot difficult, but her first pass through the quiet streets made her realize she couldn't park anywhere and remain unnoticed. A little blue Honda sedan would be considered nondescript in most neighborhoods, but not here. The curbs were littered with BMWs and Audis, and her econo-car would stand out like a sore thumb.

She passed a jogger as she drove around the block to the main drag out of the enclave, and tried not to watch the woman stare at her. In her rear view mirror, she saw the easy kick of tanned legs as the jogger tossed one more glance over her shoulder and continued on her route. This was not going to be easy.

The thoroughfare onto their street was not so ritzy. Block walls bordered the sidewalks, making the boulevard look stark. A few random cars were parked here, of the more economical variety. Peri found a spot on the side where she could blend in with the others and still see a corner of the Kellers' driveway. She might not be able to see details, but she could at least tell when a car was pulling into or out of the drive. Tucking down in the seat, she pulled her black ball cap over her brow, put her camera in her lap, and waited for movement.

A few minutes later, she saw the jogger again, running toward her at a healthy pace. Peri tried to push her tall frame further into the seat, but the woman didn't appear to notice her, allowing Peri to get a better look. The woman looked sleek in her fitted running clothes, black spandex capris and a turquoise, racer-back top. She wore a matching ball cap and Peri could see a long brunette ponytail swing like a pendulum as she ran.

She was definitely from the neighborhood. Peri had seen plenty of these women, and was always amazed at the 'something extra' they possessed. It wasn't that their skin was just tanned, it was golden and smooth, as if they had it buffed and polished every morning. And their hair wasn't simply blonde or brunette, it had an additional sheen of copper or silver or gold to make it burn brilliant in the sun. They wore makeup that never smudged and lipstick that never disappeared from their soft, unwrinkled lips.

Looking that good must be exhausting, even if I had the money. Peri licked her lips. They were dry, as usual, so she applied some balm.

By seven o'clock, she watched Keller drive out in his Mercedes SUV, a sleek dark silver model that exuded luxury. She thought he glanced at her car, but wasn't sure. A few other residents drove past, but none paid any attention to her. A flickering light in her rear view mirror distracted her, so she looked up.

It was a police car.

Although she wasn't doing anything illegal, she had a sudden urge to hide her activities. Rumor had it, the police didn't really like private investigators and might try to make her job difficult.

She stashed her camera under the seat, and fumbled in her glove compartment as the officer approached, looking for her insurance card, registration, and a reason to be parked in a high-end neighborhood. There was a first-aid kit, a flashlight, two old tampons and a notebook. She took the notebook.

"You okay, ma'am?" The officer stood just behind her open, driver's side window. Peri recognized him at once, Officer Kenneth Chou.

"Yes, Officer. Is there a problem?"

"No, ma'am, we just had a report that a car had been stopped here for awhile."

"And you wanted to make sure I wasn't dead or something?"

The young, Asian policeman smiled. "Or something."

Peri held up her notebook. "I'm taking notes."

His smile remained, unchanged.

"I'm counting the number of cars in the morning, to see whether we need a traffic light at the intersection."

He continued to smile.

His stare was making her nervous, but she tried not to let it show. "There are a lot of new homes here, you know. Traffic has increased. We need to think about the children who walk to school this way."

A car rolled by them, so Peri wrote in the notebook. "See? There goes one more."

She wasn't certain if he believed her, but he suddenly spoke. "Aren't you Detective Carlton's friend? I don't know if you remember me, but I worked the Needles case."

"Yes… yes, of course… Officer Chou, isn't it? How have you been?"

"Good, thanks. You working a case?"

"Kind of." Peri didn't want to give away too much information. "I'm doing some research for a background check. Pulled over to write up some notes."

"Oh, sure. If another call comes in, I'll handle it."

"Thanks, Officer." Peri smiled at him. "I'll be going soon, anyway."

She watched him walk back to his car, talk on his radio and prepare to leave. As he pulled away from the curb, the jogger reappeared in Peri's side mirror. This time, she caught the glimpse of a tattoo on the woman's ankle, obscured by her sock. Again, she didn't look over at Peri as she passed, but Peri could have sworn she saw the woman smile.

The street grew quiet again and Peri settled back to wait. An hour later, she finally saw a metallic blue BMW whip out of the development, with a stunning blonde behind the wheel. This was Nikki Keller, in all her morning glory.

Peri rolled away from the curb, watching Nikki turn left onto Alta Vista Street before she drove forward to follow. Even though it was small, the little sports car was easy to tail from a safe distance, and Peri's Honda was able to get lost among the rest of the vehicles on the road.

She traipsed along as her client's wife ran mindless errands, to the dry cleaners and the local Bank of America, before stopping at the Brea Mall. Peri watched Mrs. Keller enter the Glen Ivy Day Spa. The spa offered everything from massages to pedicures. After waiting ten minutes, Peri entered.

The front desk sat at the entrance to a gift shop on the right and a lounge area to the left. A small door past the chairs probably led to the spas. The piped-in music was an inoffensive tune played by a trio of harp, flute and running water, and the scents of several flowers and herbs fought for control of Peri's nose. A young woman, exotic in an Asian-Hispanic-Polynesian way, looked up from her computer screen behind the desk and smiled at Peri as she approached.

The phone rang and the girl answered. "Just a moment," Peri heard her say, then watched her walk over to the gift shop.

It was an opportunity Peri couldn't resist. She quickly moved around to the side of the desk and scanned the appointments on the computer screen. Nikki Keller was here for a manicure and pedicure with Emma. The girl returned.

"Sorry about that," she said. "May I help you?"

"I was interested in your services. Do you have a brochure?"

The young girl handed Peri a small catalogue, done in soft neutrals and matte finish. Peri thanked her and left, returning to her car.

As she waited for Nikki to finish her manicure, Peri read the brochure. Holy crap, fifty bucks to get your nails painted? At some point, she might need to get chummy with Emma, but not until she had to, not at those prices.

Two hours later, Nikki's next stop was the Alta Vista Country Club. The club was a jewel in Placentia's crown, a yawning sea of greens that reached up to Rose Avenue, crossed Alta Vista and came to rest at Buena Vista Street.

Peri parked in a section far away from Nikki's sports car and checked her watch. Twelve thirty seemed too late for a golf game, but what did she know? A jaunty little tune began playing in her Bluetooth, so she tapped her earpiece and answered.

"You busy?" Blanche's voice was unmistakable.

"Working a case. I'm waiting outside the country club, thinking of going in. Why?"

"No reason. I got the day off and was bored. Thought I'd see if you wanted to come over."

Peri had an idea. "Want to join me for lunch at Alta Vista?"

"Oooh, can I be part of your operation?"

"Yeah, my very special ops team – of one. I'll go in and get us a table and nose around for info."

"I'm ten minutes away."

Removing her ball cap, she fluffed her hair away from her scalp, and then put on a pair of wire-rimmed glasses with clear lenses. She also slipped out of her gray zippered hoodie, before stepping out of the car.

Tall glass and wood doors stood at the end of a long colonnade of stone columns, which supported an oxidized metal roof. Square, window-paned lights hung inside, illuminating the way.

Peri watched herself walk toward the door in its glass reflection and stopped. When did her khakis get so wrinkled? And her blue polo shirt, the one she liked so much because it brought out the blue in her eyes, looked baggy and tired. Were these people going to believe she could afford to join their country club?

She took another step forward. Dressed up or not, someone should be able to give me information.

She hesitated. But I might get more information if I was dressed like everyone else.

Peri watched her hands smooth over her slacks in the reflection. Beyond her image, inside the clubhouse, she saw someone walking past. With a deep breath, Peri set her shoulders back, lifted her chin and reached for the brass handle.

Maybe Skip is right, I do need a little shopping trip. After I talk to some employees in this place.

The foyer was large and reflected the craftsman-style architecture of the exterior. Rich browns and caramels with slashes of burgundy were brightened by the light from the floor-to-ceiling windows that peeked from the rooms in the back. Peri heard the quiet murmur of a man's voice announcing scores, so she guessed one of the rooms was a bar.

An older woman was on the phone, checking a computer screen. "I see a foursome for tomorrow morning," she told the caller. "But nothing under Barber."

While she waited for the crisis to be resolved, Peri looked at the latest newsletter. Very glossy, high end printing with lots of pictures, it told of members and their accomplishments, as well as their absences. Peri recognized Don Keller's partner, John Patterson, in a small blurb about having knee surgery. The article wished him a speedy recovery, as the Heritage Golf Tournament and Banquet was coming up.

The woman turned toward Peri and smiled. "May I help you?"

"My boyfriend and I were thinking of joining the club, and I was wondering if you had any brochures."

The woman stood, almost as tall as Peri, and reached across the desk. She was elegant in her crisp, long-sleeved white shirt and navy slacks, her silver hair pulled back in a loose ponytail. A small pin on her shirt said 'Linda'. Holding out a blue folder with a business card, she told Peri, "This folder has all of our fees, and services. And this is the manager's card. You can call Jeff if you have any-"

At that moment, a collected burst of laughter from the bar interrupted them.

Peri smiled at her. "Sounds like a lively crew."

"Yes, that group of ladies meets here for lunch every week."

"Wow, so they're members - do they play golf here as well?"

"Oh, yes, they're a regular foursome."

Peri nodded and smiled. "How lovely, to have a group of friends to do things together." She picked up the folder. "Thank you so much, Linda. I have to discuss this with my boyfriend, but I hope to be in touch soon."

Another round of laughter could be heard from beyond the foyer. Peri looked up, tapped the folder against her palm, and hesitated. "You know, maybe I'll have lunch here, if it's okay. Give me time to read over this information and see if I have any questions."

"Absolutely," Linda told her. "Our restaurant is open to the public."

Peri turned toward the bar and felt her chest tighten. If she guessed right, Nikki's group of friends would be as casually perfect as darling Nikki. She smoothed her wrinkled khakis one more time, blew out the air she had trapped in her lungs, and walked toward the restaurant.

It felt like being back in high school.

* * * * *

Were you back in high school, too, as Peri walked into that room? If so, were you sitting with the cool kids or the chick with the wrinkled khakis?

In my original draft, Peri didn't go into the country club at all. Concerned about her appearance, she went back to her car and waited. The problem was, the scene wasn't working.

How did I know?

It felt flat, like Peri was doing all this surveillance, but nothing was really happening. Going back to her car and waiting for Nikki was boring. There was also something about Peri's character returning to her car that felt stilted and unnatural.

After a lot of head scratching I finally figured it out. I had broken two rules. One, I had let the tension wane by keeping Peri out of potential danger. Two, I had forced her to do something out of her character. Peri is too stubborn and curious to let wilted khakis and a sad polo shirt stop her from getting information. She wouldn't walk away.

So I rewrote the scene and had her go into the country club, and all the way into the restaurant. In my second draft, she went in alone. When I rewrote again, I had Blanche join her as a way of giving Peri someone to bounce ideas off, and get information from.

As always, HIT OR MISSUS is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, other booksellers, and the right side of this blog, where you can purchase an autographed copy from the author.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Wrapping up Christmas - at least the fireplace

As I've said in a previous post, I'm responsible for decorating the inside of our house for Christmas. Or Halloween. Or Easter. Or Whateverthehell Day. For the most part, I can handle this. There's only one thing that I could really use an extra pair of hands on:

Aw, you say, what a lovely garland. Lovely, my eye. This thing is about 25 feet long and is not soft or flexible. As a matter of fact, it is as pliable as a corpse with rigor. With a one-story house, there is no bannister to drape it over, so I wrap it around the fireplace chimney.

If I can get Marcus to help, he's tall enough to hold one end while I wrap, then grab the middle, etc. If I do this by myself, I am using fishing line, heavy objects, and the stepladder to accomplish the same thing.* By the time I am finished wrestling this monstrosity, this is what it looks like to me:

I know what you're thinking - Why does she put it on the fireplace in the first place?

See the book-like object on the left? It is an Advent Calendar. Inside, there are 24 teeny books on strings that tell the Christmas story. When Marcus was a wee little lad, every night he would read the 10-15 words in the appropriate book, then he would hang the book on the garland. I believe the last time he did this, he was a sophomore in high school and there might have been some mild protestations as he did them.

And so Gayle makes one more trip down Nostalgia Lane.

Here. Just listen to Nat while I go sit by the tree with some wine. A really big glass of wine.

*Why don't I ask my hubby to help me? Because when we work together, it sounds like this:

Dale: Mrmfaphljf.
Me: What?
Me: Wrap it around there (gesturing).
Dale: Where?
Me: There.
Dale: Mrmfallphfhl.
Me: Never mind. I've got this.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Away in a manger

Before I do anything else, I want to direct you to Christine Henderson's blog, The Write Chris, where I am being interviewed. I hope I was good. Even more than reading my interview, if you go back to her post of Monday, she's got all these great links for charities that could use donations, like, buying a goat for a village or helping the Salvation Army.

I confess, when I look about at all the need in the world, I feel a little guilty about what I'm going to share today. My Nativity.

Different, yes? Some might say sparkly.

Some might even say gaudy.

Some might wonder why there are disco balls, pearls, and glitter in the creche with Baby Jesus. I know Vegas is in the desert, but I don't think it really compares to Bethlehem.

Here's the thing. I've had this nativity set since I think about 1984. It is a one of a kind, uniquely made for me by one of the Three Kings in the Glory of Christmas. His name was Richard. If I wasn't trying to think of his last name, it would come to me in a flash, but my memory enjoys hiding things from me (it usually gives me the answer in the middle of the night, causing me to bolt upright in bed).

Let's face it. Even these guys look a little Brokeback Mountain...
At the time I knew him, Richard lived in Laguna Beach. He was a floral designer. Am I leaving enough clues here?

He was sweet and funny and I had the best time hanging out with him backstage (I was a flying angel). Somewhere around 1987 or so, he moved to Hawaii. I haven't heard from him since, but I hope he's alive and well and having a wonderful Christmas.

A side note about my baby Jesus: I know it is tradition to hide the baby until Christmas Eve, but my baby is glued to the manger. He ain't goin' nowhere.

So each year, I give you, LIVE FROM LAS VEGAS -


(insert wild applause here.)

Please remember, there is a two drink minimum at this show.

Monday, December 12, 2011

And now for a little light caroling

It's a rainy day in southern California, which is as close to looking like Christmas as we're going to get, if you don't count all the fake snow at the theme parks. I had planned a lot of things to do that involved going outside, not because I hadn't seen the forecast, but because I was in denial that it would come true. So now I'm going to spend the day mostly inside. I may force Duffy to go out for a walk later.

He is, of course, excited about this opportunity to be cold and wet.

I thought this would be a great time to listen to a little holiday music, starting with Dean Martin. The only thing I don't like about this video is that it doesn't show Dino - how crazy is that?

Honest to Pete, I don't know what it is about his voice and this song, but it all sounds so flirty and masculine I just want to giggle like a schoolgirl.

I also found this video of Dean singing a song I don't think I've ever heard but it's totally cool. What's totally uncool is that embedding has been disabled, so all I can do is point to this link.
Here's a version of "The Christmas Song" I stumbled upon while cruising for Dino tunes. Makes me feel all nostalgic.

Finally, it wouldn't be Christmas without these kids.

Confess: how many times have you watched this show? For extra points, how many times have you watched it NOT at Christmastime, just because it's so delightful?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hit or Missus - Chapter 5

Good Sunday morning, everyone!

Here's your next chapter of Hit or Missus. I thought I'd do something a little fun with the text today. I've attached links to some of the places mentioned in the chapter. That way, if you're interested in where Peri and Skip go around town, you can look things up easily.

* * * * *


Two steps into her kitchen, Peri's shins made contact with a soft but immovable object. She stuttered forward, trying to stay on both feet and hold onto the bag of Chinese food she'd just bought at Pick Up Stix. The object yowled as her foot came down on it and she fell to her knees, sending her chicken teriyaki bowl and egg rolls dashing across the floor and into the wall, where the container tops exploded.

"Ow-ow-ow." Pain pulsed from her hands to her elbows, her knees to her hips. She eased back onto her heels and rubbed her palms, looking at the chaos that was supposed to be her lunch, now splashed on the wall and floor.

Her new guest wandered over to the mess and sniffed. He picked up a piece of chicken and proceeded to shred and eat it.

"Damn cat, I forgot about you." Peri stood and limped to the paper towels.

Mr. Mustard sat and licked his paws while she picked up the food, then bolted away when she got out the spray bottle of cleanser.

Later, as she curled on the couch and ate a peanut butter sandwich while reading her notes, she felt a warm prickle on the back of her neck, as though she was being watched. She looked up to find two large, yellow eyes staring, unblinking, at her.

"Finding everything you need here?" She reached out and rubbed his ear. "Poor kitty, losing Bob and Dottie within a month. Don't worry, I'll find a good home for you. Someone who loves kitties."

Peri finished her sandwich and thought about Bob and Dottie. It wasn't unusual for elderly couples to die within weeks, or even days, of each other. Still, she thought it was curious.

She wadded up her napkin, and heard a strange, giggling sound. The cat at her side leaped to attention, staring at the paper ball in her hand. She held it up.

"You want this?"

The cat's tail vibrated. Peri threw the napkin across the room and watched him run after it, capture it, and return to her, the napkin in his mouth. She laughed and threw it again. The tabby gave chase, then dropped the napkin at her feet and waited. They spent a few minutes in this game, until the cat suddenly walked away and curled up in the window for a nap.

Peri thought about their game, and remembered the morning's events.

The paper Mr. Mustard gave me – "DECIDE NOW" – what was that phone number? She closed her eyes and visualized the note. It had been written in bold, dark print, making it easy to recall. Five-five-five, oh-six-two-four. She reached for the phone and dialed.

A woman answered, her voice low and words enunciated. "Keller and Patterson, how may I direct your call?"

"I'm sorry, I think I misdialed - is this 555-2624?"

"No, ma'am, it's oh-six-two-four."

Peri apologized once more and hung up. Why would Dottie have a note to call her client's office?

Forcing herself back to her own case, she logged on to her laptop and did a preliminary hunt for Nikki Simms Keller. A pass through the woman's internet presence was enough to give Peri indigestion. According to Classmates, Nikki Simms enjoyed life as a high school cheerleader before attending the University of Southern California as a communications major.

She checked Facebook next. Usually, people had their privacy settings so no one could read their information, but updates to the online social network sometimes reset preferences. Nikki's privacy settings were in the middle of the road, so Peri could see some of her information, such as her friends, her photos, and her notes.

Looking at her friends' photos, Peri saw one that looked familiar, Carol Hanlon. Carol was a woman she had once cleaned house for and was now in her Facebook friend list. She guessed Carol was Nikki's friend because they both belonged to the Alta Vista Country Club. Clicking on Carol's name, Peri was able to read some of Nikki's status updates.

"Party time tonight for all my Bettys," was the latest.

What are Bettys"? Peri searched the Internet, trying to figure out the meaning. Google was of no help; all of the pages were about businesses with 'Betty' in the name.

"No, I don't mean Betty's Baked Goods," she told her computer.

She printed basic information about her client's wife, including her previous addresses and criminal history. Peri glanced at them as she put them into a large purple folder with a number on the top. Apart from a few recent traffic citations, Nikki had no criminal history, and it didn't look like she had spent any significant time outside California.

The question of Dottie Peters and Don Keller's development firm tugged at the back of Peri's brain, so she decided to take a break and do a little digging in another direction. She was still wandering aimlessly through Dottie and Bob's histories when she heard a key in the back door, followed by the sound of the hinges, a simultaneous thump and cat's scream, and then Skip's growling expletives.

"Watch out for the cat," she said.

An orange streak flashed by her as the cat ran toward the bedroom. Skip walked in a few moments later with a bottle of beer.

"Thanks for the warning." He reached down and kissed her before collapsing into the couch.

"Rough day?"

"Not bad, except for Dottie. Death just leaves me feeling kinda… spent."

Peri put her laptop aside and wrapped her arms around him. "Sorry, Babe. Even when someone's older, it's hard." She kissed his neck. "And the older I get, the younger Dottie seemed."

They sat, entwined, for awhile, listening to the music from the stereo. Peri had put on Joe Sample, and the strains of smooth jazz piano floated through the room like a grown-up lullaby.

She reached for his beer. "What's for dinner?"

He glanced at his watch. "It's pretty early. We could go for sushi."

Peri caught his wrist and checked the time. "Five on a Tuesday. Hmm, I guess Fish in a Bottle won't be that busy."

Their heads bent together towards the watch, his upper lip close enough to brush her lower one. In less than a second, they were kissing, losing themselves in the moment while they tried not to spill the beer.

"How hungry are you?" He nuzzled her neck. "Could we get something a little later?"

"Mmm, sounds tempting, but I could eat shoe leather right now. The damn cat spilled my lunch."

He kissed her again. "Here one day and he's already ruining our love life."

She stroked his cheek. "Well, feed me and we can get back to business."

* * * * *

Check back next Sunday for Chapter 6, or buy it now and read for yourself!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Run for your lives! Frosty's on the warpath!

This is the scene on what I think is called my couch table (it's the table behind the couch) in the family room. My lovely sister-in-law, Mindy sent me these cute little Americana style decorations over the years, so I feel inclined to display them together. I was looking for a table runner that looked more like snow, but all I could find was this Christmas-y quilt pattern, which did fit in with the home-spun nature of the decorations.

The problem?

The perspective seems a little off. As in, "due to atomic mutation, Frosty the Snowman terrorized the small community of Quiltville." I'm not certain how the townsfolk conquered the attack of the fifty-foot snow monster, but as you can see in the left corner, chocolate was involved.

The train set is, in itself, problematic. In addition to the train, the set came with a town.

I'm thinking no one in town is tall enough to be the engineer. Heck, even Quiltville Trucker Bob needs a stepladder to get into his duelly.

(By-the-by, pay no attention to the starry Santa and tall-but-not-gigantic snowman in the picture. They only got half the dose of radiation that zapped Frosty.)

The train reminds me of a circus train, all brightly colored, just like the one that carried Dumbo across the country. But look at the animals in the cars.




What kind of train would haul barnyard animals?

Oh. Oh, that kind of train.

Don't worry, kids. This train goes to the petting zoo. That's right, the petting zoo. Maybe Frosty will step in front of the train and stop it, and the animals will escape. They will run away and find a kind and gentle girl who will take them in and keep them safe. Then everyone will live happily ever after.

Even the people in Quiltville.

Welcome to the mind of a writer. We never stop making up crap.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Christmas Sing-a-long!

I really have a bunch of cleaning to do today, but I had to get this out of the way first.

I was itching to do a promo video, and asked my son to provide the soundtrack. Unfortunately, he's all tied up with things like finals and juries (these are finals that you sing), so he was unable to help. That means it's up to you.

Let's have a sing-a-long! Here's your motivation (in addition to not being a singer, I'm also not a photographer, but play along):

Okay, in your best Karen Carpenter Dulcet Tones, sing along with me:

(insert beautiful piano intro here)

I'll be home for Christmas,
You can count on me.
Please have Nooks,
And lots of books,
And Kindles 'round the tree.

Christmas Eve will find me
Where the stories lead.
I'll be home for Christmas,
With lots of stuff to read.

Happy Holidays with much love for your support and friendship,


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Aw, Christmas tree.

I meant to have this post earlier, like yesterday, but I took pictures with my phone and mailed them to my email in order to post them here. It sounds convoluted, but it gets worse. The pictures took For.Ever. to get to my inbox, and I could have just downloaded them from my phone but I was too lazy to go dig out the cable.

Sue me, I'm a day late.

Anywho... on Monday, when I completed Decorating, Round One, I posted this picture of the tree to Facebook. Everyone oooh'd and aaah'd over its beauty, and I told them all Christmas trees look beautiful in the dark with twinkling lights. In the daylight, my tree looks like ornaments have flung themselves, willy nilly, at the branches. Don't believe me?

Here's the proof. There is no rhyme or reason to this. Angels, trains, golf balls and horses all clump together. If this was a novel, it would be one of those experimental pieces of literary fiction that would be hailed as genuis by that community out there who never believes a cigar is just a cigar. Don't be fooled. This tree is a hot mess. And why is there a string of plastic pearls running around?

Because it was in the box of decorations, and when I decorate for Christmas, I firmly believe in gilding the lily. Excess is not enough.

Let's add to the merriment with a side shot: Turns out, the tree trunk takes a slight list to starboard halfway up, a fact that I didn't see while I was evaluating the tree's worthiness on a hillside. The bottom trunk looked straight, which it is. The top half careens like a drunken sailor. This is why we tie the tree to the wall every year. Fishing line: it's not just for catching your limit.

It works out, though. Every evening, I sit on the couch with the lights aglow, a fresh smell of pine in the room, and toast the tree with a glass of wine. The tree's had enough.

Proud Member of ALA!

I support fair and equitable library access to ebooks and so should you.