Posted on May 9, 2013 - by Lucy
A book launch is soooo much fun and this week was no exception! Here’s the famous celebratory cake that we served at RJ Julia last night–I so appreciate all the friends who turned out. And I’m very pleased with the press so far. Here’s a snippet from Phil Jason at the Florida Weekly:
“What’s most fun with this loony crew is Ms. Burdette’s perfect-pitch parody of food talk as made familiar on “Chopped” and other popular food programs where judges and competitors try to top each in their descriptions of preparations, styles, successes and failures.
Sweet and savory, “Topped Chef” captures Key West’s sensory enchantment, and Ms. Burdette’s bubbly protagonist is once again the main ingredient in a sure-fire recipe.”
Posted on April 20, 2013 - by Lucy
I received my author copies of TOPPED CHEF last week which means the book’s launch is barreling down at us! I’ll be making quite a few tour stops, both online and in person and would love to visit with you at one or more.
Today, by the way, I’m talking about reality in fiction at TYPE M FOR MURDER.
Visit me on the Cozy Mystery tour at these stops:
May 1, 2013 – Socrates Book Review
May 2, 2013 – Book Lady’s Book Notes
May 3, 2013 – Traveling with T
May 4, 2013 – YA Book Nerd
May 5, 2013 – Cozy Up with Kathy
May 6, 2013 – Read Your Writes
May 7, 2013 – Mochas, Mysteries & More
May 8, 2013 - Girl Lost in a Book
May 9, 2013 – Vixen is Reading
May 10, 2013 – Melina the Reader, Shelley Reads & Reviews & Dru’s Book Musings
And on May 2 and May 9, recipes from TOPPED CHEF will be featured on Mystery Lovers Kitchen.
And we’ll be throwing a big book launch party on May 7 at Jungle Red Writers.
As for real places, you can find me here:
May 2 SALT AND PEPPER BOOKS, Occoquan, VA
May 3-4 MALICE DOMESTIC, Bethesda MD
May 8 RJ JULIA BOOKSELLERS, Madison CT
North Carolina Mini-Tour…
The Unusual Suspects — Hallie Ephron, Lucy Burdette, and Jennifer McMahon tour Raleigh-Durham with Molly Weston
5/15, 2:00 East Regional Library, Knightdale, NC
5/15, 7:00 North Regional Library, Raleigh
5/16, 11:30, Carolina Club, UNC-Chapel Hill (luncheon)
5/16, 7:30, Southeast Regional Library, Garner
5/17 , 10:30 Cameron Village Library, Raleigh
5/17, 2:00 West Regional Library, Cary
5/18, 2:00 McIntyre’s, Fearrington Village, Pittsboro
5/19, 2:00 Halle Cultural Arts Center, Apex
5/20, 2:00 Eva Perry Library, Apex
5/20, 7:00 Page-Walker Cultural Arts Center, Cary
May 29 WILBRAHAM, MA Library panel for Sisters in Crime with Steve Ulfelder and Edith Maxwell
More to come after that–stay tuned!
Posted on February 24, 2013 - by Lucy
“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”
“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”
“I say, ‘I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?’ ” said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.
— A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
Evinrude woke me from a sound sleep, first with his rumbling purr and then with a gentle but persistent tapping of paw to cheek. I blinked my eyes open—the bedside clock read six fifteen. I hissed softly at his gray-striped face. “I love you dearly, but you’re a monster,” I told him as I rolled out of bed. “Spoiled rotten cat flesh.”
Tail hoisted high, he trotted out of the room ahead of me, meowing loudly. Miss Gloria’s lithe black cat, Sparky, intercepted him before he reached the food bowls lined up in the corner of the tiny galley of our houseboat. He sprang onto Evinrude’s back and wrestled him to the floor. While they boxed and nipped at each other, I poured a ration of kibbles into each bowl, refreshed their water, and then staggered onto the deck to check out the morning.
The plum-colored night sky was shifting to pink to make room for the day, which looked as though it might turn out “glorious and whimsical,” as the Key West Citizen had promised. A quartet of wind chimes tinkled lightly from the boats down the finger. Had there been a stiff wind or the first spitting drops of a cold rain, I’d have gone directly back to bed. But on a morning like this, there was no excuse to avoid the dreaded exercise I’d prescribed for myself.
Twice in the past ten days, I’d lured myself out of bed to go jogging before work, with the promise of a thick, sweet café con leche from the Cuban Coffee Queen as a reward on the way home. In addition to adding heft to my resume, my position as food critic for Key Zest had added a bit to my waistline over the past months; I was anxious to reverse the trend. And besides that, the Key West Food and Wine Festival loomed this week—it promised a series of tasting sessions that could ruin the most stalwart dieter. Which I was definitely not.
And most pressing of all, my first real date with detective Nate Bransford had been rescheduled for this evening. (You can’t count a threesome including your mother as a romantic encounter.) So it wasn’t hard to convince myself that today should be the third session—not that jogging two miles would magically transform my figure from jiggles to muscles, but I had to start somewhere. And maybe it would help work out the predate jitters, too.
I hurried back inside, replaced my pajamas with baggy running shorts, red sneakers, and a T-shirt that read “Dinner is ready when the smoke alarm goes off.” I’d bought the shirt for Christmas for my stepmother—who, while a brilliant chemist, was famous in our family for cremating roasts and burning even soup from a can—but lost my nerve before sending it. Why jostle a relationship that had recently settled into a pleasant détente?
I tucked my phone into my pocket and dashed off a note to my roommate, Miss Gloria, who lets me live onboard her houseboat in exchange for errands like grocery shopping (which I adore anyway), and sending occasional reports on her mental and physical condition to her son in Michigan. I stand between her and a slot in an old-age home—and I take my responsibility seriously. The Queen’s Guard of Tarpon Pier.
I wrote: Jogging—ugh! Call me if you want a coffee.
Then I hopped off our deck, tottered along the dock, and started grinding up the Palm Avenue hill over the Garrison Bight, which is Key West speak for harbor, toward the Old Town section of Key West. There aren’t many changes in elevation in this town, so I was just as happy to get this challenge over with early on. I puffed past the U.S. Naval Air Station’s multistory building—Fly Navy—and then by the pale pink and green cement block apartments for enlisted folks and their families. I finally chugged around the curve onto Eaton Street, my lungs burning and my thighs cramping into complaining masses. I picked up my pace, pushing harder because I smelled bacon: The Coles Peace Bakery called to me like a Siren to Ulysses. Stopping for an unscheduled bacon and cheese toast on crispy Cuban bread would devastate my fledging resolutions.
As I hooked right on Grinnell, heading toward the boardwalk that wound along the historic seaport area, I tried to distract myself by thinking about my tasks for the day. There’d be e-mail to answer, as the biweekly issue of Key Zest, our fledgling Key West style magazine, hit inboxes today. And I was in charge of responding to the usual flurry of complaints and compliments. For the first time in my short career, I’d had to swallow hard and write a negative review. This was bound to come sooner or later. Key West is a foodie paradise, but like Anywhere, USA, there are lousy meals to be had, too. As a careful follower of the major newspaper restaurant critics, I’d read plenty of stories about critics suffering through horrendous dinners. Or worse yet, bouts of food poisoning. I’d actually memorized one of the New York Times critic Sam Sifton’s sharper quotes:
“And lobes of dismal-flavored sea urchin served over thick lardo and heavy toast were just dreadful: the eighth band after Nirvana to write loud-soft-loud music and call it new.”
But hearing about rotten reviews and writing them were two different animals. I wasn’t convinced that I would ever develop a killer instinct—famous critics seemed to enjoy ripping apart a horrible dinner. Me? I could only imagine the chef sweating in the kitchen, slaving over the stove, plating the meal, praying that his special whatever hit the mark. It broke my heart to think about dissing some poor chump’s food.
My second meal at Just Off Duval a couple nights earlier had started off well. True to its name, the restaurant was located a half block from Duval Street, far enough from the bustle of the town’s main party artery to mask the grit and noise. My friend Eric and I had ordered glasses of wine and settled into the pleasant outdoor patio edged with feathery palm plants to enjoy our dinners. The night was cool enough for a sweater, and the scent of roasting meat had my stomach doing anticipatory back-flips. A half loaf of stale Italian bread and a pool of olive oil that tasted almost rancid were the first signs the experience would be a downer. I jotted a few notes into my smartphone, agreeing with Eric: Any restaurant should be allowed a tiny misstep.
But then my chef’s special salad was delivered: a small pile of lettuce dog-paddling in thick blue cheese dressing that screamed “emulsifier” and wore powerful overtones of the plastic bottle it must have been squeezed from. On top of that were chunks of pale pink mealy tomatoes. Though the mashed potatoes that accompanied the main courses were creamy and rich, my thirty-eight-dollar fish smelled fishy and Eric’s forty-two-dollar steak was stringy. We didn’t have the nerve to order dessert. I hadn’t actually gotten ill, but my stomach had roiled for half the night in spite of the half roll of antacids I’d eaten. According to a text the next morning from Eric, who generally had an iron constitution, his gut still didn’t feel quite right as he and his partner drove to Miami for some much-needed R and R.
I had tried to wriggle out of writing it up. But there wasn’t time to substitute something else. And my boss, Wally, had specifically told me this restaurant should be included in the next issue of our magazine. But the words of former New York Times food critic Ruth Reichl kept churning through my mind: The more expensive the restaurant, the more damage a lousy review can do. And mine was definitely lousy. It started like this:
All kitchens have an off night. Unfortunately, my three visits at Just Off Duval coincided with three bad nights. JOD, a newish restaurant on a cul-de-sac a half block off Upper Duval Street, has been the site of four failed restaurants over the past six years. Whether this is due to bad cooking juju or simply uneven and overreaching preparation, I fear that Just Off Duval will be joining their ranks….
I shook the words out of my mind and staggered past the Yankee Freedom ship, which ferries tourists to the Dry Tortugas for snorkeling expeditions most mornings. Then I paused on the boardwalk along the harbor to catch my breath. Several large sailboats left over from the races the previous week still clanked in their slips, alongside catamarans loaded with kayaks and sport fishing powerboats. The pink streaks in the sky had expanded like silken threads of cotton candy, bringing enough light so I could make out the details of the early-morning activity. Nearby, a thin man in faded jeans with long hair and a bushy beard that reached to the middle of his chest sprayed the deck of one of the Sebago party boats with a high-pressure hose. The hair around his lips was stained yellow, as if he’d smoked a lifetime’s worth of cigarettes, and faded to white at the tip of his beard.
As I leaned against a wooden railing to stretch my calves, a bare-chested, red-haired man skidded around the corner, wearing a long black coat and a small American flag draped from his belt like a loincloth. He leaped onto the boat, pulled a knife out of his waistband, and, taking a fighter’s crouch, brandished it at the man with the hose.
Even under the pirate’s tricornered hat, I recognized him—Turtle, a chronically homeless man whose behavior fluctuated with the status of his mental illness. A couple of months ago, I would have backed away as fast as I could. But now I understood more. Since it was the end of the month, he’d probably run out of meds. And if the cops came, he’d end up in jail. Where he’d only get worse.
The bearded man spun around, growled, and pointed the hose at Turtle, who had begun to execute tai chi–like movements, waving the knife in shaky figure eights. My adrenaline surged as I pictured a throat slit right in front of my eyes.
“Listen, man,” the worker yelled, “get the hell out of here. You’re on private property.”
“They can’t take what I ain’t got,” said Turtle, crouching lower and moving forward.
This was going to get ugly unless someone intervened. “Turtle,” I called. “Put the knife down. Please?”
“Avast, ye stinking pirates!” Turtle yelled, swinging around to wave the knife at me. Heart pounding, I stumbled back a few steps.
“I’m calling the cops right now.” The white-bearded man sprayed Turtle’s legs, now wet to the knees, as he yanked a phone from the back pocket of his jeans.
“Turtle,” I said, “I’m going for coffee and a Cuban cheese toast. Can I get you one?”
His pale blue eyes darted from me to the white-haired man and back; the knife twitched in his fingers. Then he shrugged, shoved the weapon into his belt beside the flag. and hopped off the boat. I took a shaky breath and led him around the block to the Cuban Coffee Queen, wondering how to keep him focused in this world, not deep in his own crazy loop.
“I love this weather, don’t you?” I asked, glancing over my shoulder. He danced along several feet behind me, fending off imagined dangers with his cape and his knife. What would it feel like to be inside his head? Awful, I guessed.
As we approached the little white shack painted like an oversized Key West postcard that housed the Cuban Coffee Queen, he hunkered down and pulled out the knife again. A couple with a baby stroller were ordering breakfast at the walk-up window. The woman stiffened and whispered something to her husband. He moved around to stand in between his family and us.
“Turtle,” I said softly, “better put that away or you’ll scare the other folks. Would you rather have a Cuban bagel or a cheese toast?” I reached out to touch his arm but stopped when I saw his startled face.
“Cheese toast, matey!” he growled, sidling away from me and sliding the knife back into his belt again.
“Why don’t you wait here?” I suggested, pointing to a painted wooden bench about ten feet from the coffee stand.
He sat, tugging his cape around his body and closing his eyes. He rocked back and forth and his fingers tapped out a rhythm on his knees to a tune I couldn’t hear. I stepped up to the food stand’s window next to a large stuffed rooster.
“Two large café con leches and a cheese toast please,” I told the woman with dark hair and eyes who appeared at the window. I glanced over at Turtle. “Better make one decaf.” She took my money and I stuffed two bucks into the tip jar while the milk steamed and shots of espresso drained into paper cups. Smelled like my kind of heaven. She buttered a slab of Cuban bread, slapped on a layer of cheese, and popped the sandwich into the grill press.
As soon as my order was ready, a police car pulled up and stopped next to the coffee stand. Officer Torrence—a cop who knew my business a little better than I’d prefer for a man I wasn’t dating—peered out of the cruiser on the passenger side. His gaze darted from the sodden homeless man to the breakfast in my hands. He rolled down the window and smoothed his mustache.
“Everything okay here?”
“Just dandy,” I said, forcing a smile. Turtle had tensed, looking ready to spring. My hands trembling, I walked over to deliver his coffee and sandwich. He took off, Torrence watching him as he booked it around the souvenir shop and back to the harbor.
“Where’s your scooter?” Officer Torrence asked.
“I jogged here this morning.”
“You want a ride?” he asked, gesturing to the backseat of the cruiser. “You look a little pale.”
“No thanks,” I said with a weak grin and waved them on. I was terrible at keeping secrets—the worst. He’d want to know everything about Turtle and I’d find myself spilling the details of the altercation at the harbor and how he’d scared the little family at the Cuban Coffee Queen and likely Turtle would still end up in jail.
Besides, everyone on Tarpon Pier would notice me emerging from a black and white—I’d never hear the end of it. As I took my coffee and walked out to Caroline Street, a text message buzzed onto my phone.
FYI, Hayley, the owner of Just Off Duval called me at home. Freaking Out. Get to the office ASAP and we’ll make a plan.
I almost dropped the phone. My worst nightmare: facing the owner or chef whose restaurant I’d panned. It hadn’t taken long to happen.
I flagged down a pink taxicab to carry me home.
IF YOU’D LIKE TO PREORDER TOPPED CHEF, ALL THE LINKS CAN BE FOUND RIGHT HERE.
Posted on February 7, 2013 - by Lucy
Hayley Snow and I love it when book groups read our Key West mysteries. So we’ve provided some questions to help get the discussion going. And if you want to serve snacks that fit the theme, you’ll find recipes in the back of the book!
I wish I could travel the country meeting with book clubs–nothing is more fun than talking with readers! I would love to consider attending your group–either in person or by Skype. Shoot me an email and we’ll discuss! Lucyburdette at gmail dot com
1. TOPPED CHEF opens with Hayley worrying about her first negative review. How do you feel about restaurant reviews, either online or in newspapers? Do you trust them? Do you write them? Do you feel critics should write about their negative experiences as well as their positive?
2. Do you watch celebrity chef or cooking TV shows? Which chefs do you like and why?
3. Peter Shapiro mentions several times that reality TV is entertainment. And entertainment means conflict. So all’s fair in what they film and how they attempt to goad the participants into reacting on camera. How do you feel about TV shows exploiting the conflict in real people’s lives? Which reality TV shows do you watch and why are they appealing? Would you consider being a participant in such a show?
4. One of the most challenging parts of writing a mystery with an amateur sleuth has to do with her stake in solving the mystery. Were you convinced by Hayley’s insistence on getting involved in this story? How does this fit with her character?
5. Hayley struggles with her feelings about the homeless people who inhabit Key West. What conclusions do you see her drawing by the end of the book?
6. Hayley puts her own safety at risk to rescue someone else. Do you see this as consistent with what you know about her? How do you think you would react in a similar situation?
7. In TOPPED CHEF, one of the contestants makes recipes from the tradition of molecular gastronomy. Does this kind of cooking appeal to you? Why or why not?
8. How do you feel about the quote from chapter nineteen, from Mona Talbott, that the grandmother is the ultimate cooking teacher in the world? What is your family’s cooking like? Do you have treasured recipes passed down from a grandmother or another relative?
Thank you for reading and discussing TOPPED CHEF! Look out for the fourth Key West food critic mystery, coming in February, 2014. And don’t forget to spread the word–leave your reviews on Amazon or Barnes and Noble or Goodreads–anywhere books are sold!
Posted on September 20, 2012 - by Lucy
DEATH IN FOUR COURSES is now officially launched! Here are some of the stops along the way. (And trust me-this last few weeks has been hectic!)
I enjoyed writing this piece about where ideas and books come from for the New Haven Register’s blog.
Here’s a fun interview done by Susan Boyer at Get Lost in a Story:
And Ed Irvin of the Florida Book Review said of DEATH IN FOUR COURSES: “In a crowded cozy market, Lucy Burdette’s Key West Food Critic series stands out among its peers.”
Mixed in among the book events and blogs over the last couple of weeks, I had great fun as part of the Sisters in Crime publishers summit team, chatting with publishing gurus across New York about where our industry is headed. Here’s a photo in the Penguin offices, with my editor at NAL, Sandy Harding, author Laura DiSilverio, Berkley editor Natalee Rosenstein, and me.
I also just completed the annual Seascape “Escape to Write” workshop in Chester CT with my fellow authors and teachers, Hallie Ephron and Hank Ryan. This weekend is a wonderful opportunity to meet with other serious aspiring mystery writers and work on a manuscript. We’ve already had our first reservation for next year’s workshop, September 27-29, 2013.
And just in case anyone’s interested in reconstructing the past (and who would be??), my Ph.D dissertation is now online.
Posted on September 4, 2012 - by Lucy
We admit, we’re sizzling over the release of the second Key West food critic mystery, DEATH IN FOUR COURSES. Here are a few of our favorite reviews so far:
“All the elements of a winning recipe: Key West, food and fun! The not-so-secret ingredients? Lucy Burdette’s exquisite plotting and sly prose set her apart. Death in Four Courses is a full course feast!”
~~Julia Spencer-Fleming, NYTBS author of ONE WAS A SOLDIER
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY: “Near the start of Burdette’s yummy sequel to An Appetite for Murder, Key West food critic Hayley Snow brings her mother down from New Jersey for a visit… Outspoken Mom provides tart commentary as Hayley once again turns sleuth. Anyone who’s ever overpaid for a pretentious restaurant meal will relish this witty cozy.”
“What fun! ….Key West and food — a winning combination. I can’t wait for the next entry in this charming series.”
~~ New York Times bestselling author Diane Mott Davidson
“An excellent sense of place and the occasional humorous outburst aren’t the only things An Appetite for Murder has going for it, though: There is a solid mystery within its pages….Not only does Burdette capture the physical and pastoral essence of Key West, she celebrates the food.”
~~Ed Irvin, The Florida Book Review
To read about how I see the process of writing a book, here’s an essay on the New Haven Register’s book blog, hosted by the fabulous writer, Sandi Kahn Shelton.
And Susan Boyer’s terrific interview on Get Lost in a Story.
Did you know that early sales make a huge difference in whether a series is continued? Thanks for all your support–You can buy DEATH IN FOUR COURSES anywhere books are sold!
Posted on August 30, 2012 - by Lucy
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS FOR DEATH IN FOUR COURSES
1. Hayley has mixed feelings about inviting her mother to the food writing conference. Why? How does this affect your feelings about her a character?
2. The role of food in the families of the conference speakers varies widely. How was food seen in your family? Who cooked the meals and what were they like? How has that history affected your relationship with food today?
3. What is your favorite recipe? Cookbook? Do you prefer to stick to old standbys or are you adventurous in cooking and eating?
4. How has Hayley changed since AN APPETITE FOR MURDER? Or hasn’t she? What would her best friends Eric and Connie say?
5. Hayley is surprised by her mother in several ways over the course of the book. Have you had an experience where someone close to you does something unexpected? Do you think this happened because you had a certain view of them that proved to be incorrect or because they actually changed?
6. Hayley’s friend Eric says “At first it might feel good to confess, but honesty can have terrible consequences for the people who have to hear the so-called honest truth. ” Do you agree? why or why not? How can we decide when telling the truth will cause more damage than good?
7. How does Hayley see her mother’s life choices at the beginning of the book? How does that change?
8. Which of the fictional speakers’ books would you be interested in reading? Which might you want to have at your book group meeting–and why?
Posted on May 28, 2012 - by Lucy
“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” Manuel Rouvelas
My new boss Wally slid his glasses down his nose and squinted over the top of the black frames. “Don’t even think about coming back with a piece telling us offal is the next big foodie trend,” he said. “I don’t care what’s in style in New York and LA. We eat grouper and key lime pie in Key West, not entrails.” He leaned back in his weathered wicker chair, fronds of faux tropical foliage tickling his hair. “Clear?”
“Aye, aye, Captain.” I snapped my heels together and saluted; it wasn’t easy to be serious with a man wearing a yellow silk shirt dotted with palm trees. Our company uniform. Which made my complexion look a little sallow, but I would have worn the houseplant and the straw lampshade that matched the other furniture were those required for the job.
Right before Thanksgiving, I was astonished and grateful to be hired as the food critic for Key Zest, the new Key West style magazine. They sure hadn’t planned on shelling out big bucks so I could attend the “Key West Loves Literature” seminar barely two months later. But after I explained how most of the top food writers and food critics in the country would be there and we’d look like foodie fools if we missed it, Wally finally caved. With the caveat that I keep up my schedule of local restaurant reviews and write a couple of snappy, stylish feature articles about the seminar as well.
At the time, that had all sounded doable. But right now, I had big-time nervous jitters about meeting my writing idols and trying to sound smart. And I wished that my Christmas present brainstorm for my mother had been something other than tuition to this seminar. She was completely thrilled to be visiting here from New Jersey, and who wouldn’t feel good about making her mother happy? But for one of my first major (and paid!) journalistic assignments, having my mom tethered to my side felt a little like looking through the oven door at a falling soufflé.
Wally fidgeted with his glasses, opened his mouth once, then closed it again. “Listen. I don’t mean to up the ante on this weekend, but I figure you’re a grown woman and you should know.”
My heart thunked to my gullet and despite the warm, dry air in the office, I felt cold. “Know what?”
“Ava Faulkner has been pressuring me—she’s trolling for a reason to let you go.”
My eyes bulged. Ava was Kristen Faulkner’s sister—the sister of the woman who’d stolen my boyfriend last fall and then gotten herself murdered. “But why? She can’t still think I killed Kristen. That’s all been settled.”
Wally smoothed a hand across his desk blotter. “She’s not a rational woman, Hayley. But since she owns more than fifty percent of the magazine, I have to listen to her. It’s just—I need your very best work this weekend.” He looked up and met my gaze. “If you can come up with something exclusive, like an interview with the keynote, all the better.”
“Thanks for the heads up. Gotta go pick up Mom.” I saluted again but my limbs felt boneless and my smile wouldn’t work. I’d emailed the main speaker at least four times to request a meeting, with less than stellar results.
I sucked in a big breath and ran downstairs to catch the waiting cab, determined to push Wally’s warning out of my brain before it reduced me to gelatin. My mother’s parental radar would pick up on the tiniest nick in my façade and her worries would start seeping into my mind like water into cement sidewalk cracks. And then she’d spend the weekend working on me to move back home. Not going to happen.
Since I didn’t own a car, I’d considered picking Mom up on my scooter. But her terror of motorcycles dissuaded me, and besides, she didn’t travel light. I’d seen a lot bulkier loads carried on a scooter in this town than two women with an oversized suitcase—like the guy who passed me on White Street with two golden retrievers strapped to the back of his bike and one draped across his lap. But I could still picture my bungee cords snapping and the suitcase bursting, spreading Mom’s private essentials through the city streets for the homeless to pick over. Instead I slid into the back seat of a bright pink station wagon that smelled a little funky, even for a taxi. Then I noticed the oversized green parrot riding shotgun in the front, the Key West Citizen spread out to contain his droppings.
“Where ya headed?” the bird squawked.
“To the airport,” I said after a few seconds of stunned silence.
“Got visitors coming?” asked the cabbie as he gunned his engine, swerving around a golf cart full of whooping kids. The parrot lost his footing and tumbled, cursing, into the passenger seat.
“My mother,” I said, watching the bird edge sideways across the newspaper on the seat and climb back onto his perch. He pecked at a few feathers that had been dislodged in the fall, then swiveled his neck around to glare at me.
The cabbie’s eyes, brimming with sympathy, met mine in the rearview mirror. “Mom came to visit the first year I moved down,” he said. “Once she saw my apartment door off its hinges leaning against the wall in the hallway next to all the empty beer bottles, she turned around and went back home.”
**ps, there’s no one named Patrick in the book, but that’s exactly the shirt I was imagining as the company uniform for Key Zest–courtesy of smallfry designs…
Posted on April 15, 2012 - by Lucy
It’s available for preorder from all the usual suspects:
Posted on February 25, 2012 - by Lucy
Roberta Isleib‘s (AKA Lucy Burdette) short story, “The Itinerary,” published in THE RICH AND THE DEAD edited by Nelson DeMille, has been nominated for an Agatha award for best short story. The Agatha awards are given out in April, at Malice Domestic, a convention celebrating the traditional mystery. The story features Detective Jack Meigs from the advice column mysteries on an unwanted vacation to Key West.
Detective Jack Meigs knew he’d hate Key West the moment he was greeted off the plane by a taxi driver with a parrot on his shoulder. He hadn’t wanted to take a vacation at all, and he certainly hadn’t wanted to come to Florida, which he associated with elderly people pretending they weren’t declining. But his boss insisted, and then his sister surprised him with a nonrefundable ticket: He was screwed. A psychologist had once told him that it took a year for grief to lift, and that making major life changes during this time only complicated the process. Which was why he’d gone to work directly from the funeral, and every day in the three months since. There was no vacation from the facts: His wife Alice was dead and she wasn’t coming back.
The driver packed him into a cab that smelled like a zoo and lurched away from the curb. Then the bird let loose a stream of shit that splattered off his newspapered roost and onto Meigs’s polished black leather loafers. The cabbie hooted with laughter.
“That means good luck, man,” he said, gunning the motor and grinning like a monkey in the rear view mirror. “Mango doesn’t do that for just anybody.”
The parrot screamed during the entire ten-minute ride to Meigs’s hotel and the driver never shut up either. Would everyone connected with this damn town want to give him a travelogue?
“I’m takin’ you down our main street, give you the flavor,” the cabbie said as he turned off Truman Avenue onto bustling Duval Street. He veered around a stumbling bum and a covey of fat, sun-crisped cruise ship escapees carrying plastic cups of beer. Were open containers legal in this town?
“Hemingway got soused here every afternoon after writing.” The cabbie pointed to a shabby-looking bar, drinkers spilling out onto the sidewalk. “And Jimmy Buffet wrote “A Woman Goin’ Crazy on Caroline Street” right down there in Margaritaville.” He pointed to yet another bar, lit by palm trees and flamingos in flashing neon, also crammed with boozers.
The whole scene was a police officer’s nightmare.
The cab driver swerved onto Caroline Street and pulled over in front of Notre Paradis, the bed-and breakfast that Meigs’s sister had chosen for him. A thin man wearing a tight white shirt and copper sparkles on his glasses bounded off the front porch to greet him.
“I’m Laurent, your host. This is your first trip to Key West? You’re going to love it!” He struck a theatrical pose, and then paused to look Meigs over—his khakis with the worn cuffs and pockets, the gray turtleneck on which he’d spilled his coke during the turbulence from Miami to Key West. Laurent lowered his voice to a whisper and winked. “Yes, there is a lot of money in this town. But there’s plenty to enjoy without piles of cash, too.”
After unpacking, Meigs changed his shirt and walked up to explore Duval Street on foot. Laurent had dismissed his protests and insisted this was a must-see; had actually escorted him down Caroline Street and watched like a mother seeing her first-born off to kindergarten until Meigs turned to salute goodbye.
On Duval, Meigs stepped over two bums stretched out on cardboard in front of an empty storefront and skirted another playing bad guitar next to a dog dressed in sunglasses and Mardi Gras beads. Every few minutes the dog lifted his snout and howled along with his owner. A handful of tourists stopped to take photos.
“Cruelty to animals,” Meigs muttered to himself. Neither the cops nor the residents in his small Connecticut town would have tolerated sleeping bums and singing dogs.
In front of Fast Buck Freddie’s tropical window displays, a petite woman in a lime green tube top and a heavyset man with a florid complexion were going at it in hissed whispers. Meigs couldn’t help catching “give me some space” followed by “but I paid for the god-damn cruise.” Then the big man grabbed the girl’s wrist and started to yank her across the sidewalk.
Meigs moved forward and grasped the man’s bicep. “Let the lady go,” he said in his fiercest cop voice. “Now.”
“Fuck off, asshole, this is none of your business,” the man said, but dropped his girlfriend’s wrist and gave her an unnecessary push.
Meigs turned to her. “Everything okay here? Should I find a policeman?” If he could find a cop—so far he’d seen no sign of any law enforcement at all.
“I’m fine,” she said, rubbing her wrist and then straightening her sunglasses. She turned to her friend and smiled tremulously. “I will see you later on the ship, George.” She disappeared into the stream of shoppers entering Fast Buck Freddie’s. The man scowled at Meigs and stalked off in the other direction.
Meigs blew out a breath and left Duval Street—so far the charm of the place was eluding him. He ambled over to the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square—also mandatory in his host Laurent’s mind. He slunk through a bevy of aggressive street performers with minimal musical talent, fended off a tarot card reading, and stopped by a crowd gathered around a slender man in ballet slippers and silver curls who directed a posse of mangy cats. Alice would have found this performance charming. But when the cat man motioned to Meigs to step into the arena to hold a flaming hoop, he fled.
The Disney Magic, a ten-story cruise ship decorated with white mouse ears on red smokestacks, was docked on the square. Meigs strode past her and on down the pier to a row of magnificent boats—racing sailboats with names like Primal Scream and Big Booty. More like big money, Meigs thought. Streams of spectators ogled the boats and their passengers. The largest yacht at the end of the line, the Emelina, got the most attention. On its upper deck, a four-man band banged out Buffet tunes for a group of elegant partygoers sipping fizzy drinks in glass flutes.
Meigs sat on a bench for a minute to watch the show. If he was ever worth a couple of million—a billion even—would he moor his ostentatious transportation steps from Mallory Square for every sun-sick passerby to moon over? No, he would not.
Voices floated across the water. “Why don’t they move that stinkin’ tub so we can see the sunset?” asked a handsome man from the rail of the party boat. He stabbed a finger at the enormous cruise ship across the water and frowned.
“Isn’t it illegal to keep a cruise ship at the dock this late?” asked a woman with silver-lacquered nails and matching hair. A flash of sun glinted off the jewels in her belly button.
After the sun set to a smattering of applause, Meigs headed back toward Mallory Square. He stopped at a trolley bar for a Budweiser and leaned against the railing in front of the cruise ship. To his right, the cat man still pranced toe-heel like a misshapen ballerina, calling to the felines in falsetto French, now forcing a yellow tiger to leap over a scrawny black specimen and then through the flaming ring. The tipsy crowd gathered around him howled with appreciation.
Meigs watched the jumpsuited crew of the hulking Disney Magic prepare to launch, spooling enormous hanks of steel off cleats on the pier. Why had they been allowed to partially obscure the sunset—the ostensible excuse for this sideshow? Laurent at Notre Paradis had assured him this was rule number one on Bone Island (AKA Key West): No boat shall be allowed to obstruct the tourists’ view as the sun sinks into the harbor. And its corollary: Tourists must and shall be encouraged to spot the green flash, said by Jules Verne to confer the power to read minds. Meigs doubted the minds here were worth the effort.
A heavy man with a bad sunburn and a loud flowered shirt tenting his gut paced down the gangway that opened from the belly of the ship, out onto the pier, and back. Meigs stiffened, recognizing him as the man he’d seen arguing on Duval Street earlier this afternoon. Two crew members dressed in cruise ship whites approached him, but he shrugged off the hand of the taller man, who’d reached out to pat his shoulder. The heavy fellow began to shout and wave his hands but Meigs couldn’t make out the words.
“Looks like one of the passengers forgot when their rig was setting sail,” said a man next to him. Meigs turned to look him over—he seemed normal enough—blue golf shirt, sunglasses, a beer.
“Will they wait?” Meigs asked.
“Not for long,” the man said. “They’re fined for leaving late. And the docking fees for cruise ships are prohibitive to begin with.”
Meigs watched the three men continue their heated discussion, until finally the heavyset man disappeared into the hull of the ship. He emerged soon after, a porter tailing him with two suitcases, one brown leather, the other faded red denim with yarn flowers wired to the handle. The porter dumped the luggage on the dock and waited a minute for a tip, which was not forthcoming. The crewmen signaled to the workers manning the ropes and the gangway was drawn up. The heavy man steamed up the pier with the luggage, sweating and cursing, and disappeared into the crowd.
“There ees a man who has carried few bags in hees life,” said the cat man to Meigs, as he packed his animals into small cages. Meigs nodded, surprised to hear him break character.
The Disney Magic pulled away from the dock and Meigs went off in search of a carryout dinner. He refused to sit alone at a table for two at a café on Duval Street where every tourist who passed could feel sorry for him.
Next morning, Meigs carried his coffee and cereal out to the deck behind his lodging. He skimmed the front page of the Key West Citizen, loaded with typical small town stuff—a push to recycle, a scooter/delivery truck crash, projected budget cuts in education and the police department. This last bit of prudence, Meigs thought, would be a false and costly economy. A small town populated by more bars per square inch than New York or New Orleans and a slew of transients and tourists made for barely contained chaos. They needed all the police officers they could hire.
He turned the page and perused the weather forecast—nothing but sunshine and super-humidity for the remainder of his stay. Could he possibly get out a day early? His eye caught on a small article in the crime report at the bottom of the page.
Woman Reported Missing from Cruise Ship, the headline read. As Meigs studied the photograph accompanying the article, his fingers tingled. The clothes were different—a white shirt instead of the green tube top, the hair and make-up more formally styled—but he recognized the picture of the young woman he’d seen arguing with her friend yesterday. According to the paper, the girl’s mother had reported her missing, and her travel companion confirmed the disappearance.
He took out his cell phone and dialed the police department’s number, but got a busy signal. He wondered if their lines were getting flooded with imagined sightings. In the end, rather than being taken for another attention-seeking fruitcake, he rented a ridiculous, souped-up, open-air golf cart to make the three-mile trek to the KWPD. In person, with a badge in hand, he would be taken seriously. Besides, he’d a lot rather kill time shooting the shit with cops than riding the Conch Tour Train or listening to female impersonators at the La Te Da Cabaret, both of which had been earnestly recommended by his lodging host this morning.
The police station was painted in muted pinks and greens and surrounded by a forest of palm trees. Meigs strode in and introduced himself.
“I’m a detective visiting from Connecticut,” he told the officer at the front desk. “I may have some information on the missing person reported in today’s newspaper. I’ll speak to your chief if he’s available.”
Minutes later, an attractive man with a wide grin that showcased his even, white teeth against a deep tan emerged from the back and ushered Meigs into his office.
“I’m Chief Ron Barnes.” He squeezed Meigs’s hand, then sat behind his desk—a lot neater than Meigs kept his—and motioned to the chair in front. “Welcome to Paradise.”
“Thanks. I guess.” Meigs grunted and pulled the newspaper out of his back pocket. He laid it on the polished desktop and tapped the photo. “The paper said you’re looking for this woman?”
“Sort of,” said the chief. “This being Key West, we see more than our share of missing persons. Mostly they surface after they’ve slept off the booze or woken up in some stranger’s pad. But Sheila Brown’s mother wasn’t satisfied with that explanation.” He grimaced. “You have information?”
Meigs explained how he’d seen the woman on Duval Street yesterday, filling in as many details of the argument with her boyfriend as he could remember. “When that monster Disney cruise ship was leaving the dock, it looked as though someone was about to miss the boat. Her boyfriend—I’m assuming it’s the same man—appeared quite distressed—or gave a good show of it, anyway. He ended up taking some luggage off the big boat and that’s the last I saw of either of them.”
“George Vesper—the boyfriend—is coming in to touch base shortly,” said the chief. “You’re welcome watch the interview from our observation room if you’re interested.”
Meigs was. A sergeant installed him behind a one-way mirror and soon after, ushered Vesper into the room with the chief. Dressed in sharply-creased khakis, a blue silk shirt, and an expensive-looking watch, Vesper appeared less disheveled than he had yesterday on the dock, but even more sour. Chief Barnes asked him to recount the facts of yesterday’s disappearance.
“Sheila wanted to check out the shops on Duval Street,” Vesper said. “And when a gal wants to shop, I stay out of her way.” He shook his head and grinned. “I’m not one of those pantywaist dopes who tags along to sit outside the dressing room and approve every damn purchase. I gave her a couple hundred bucks and told her to knock her lovely self out. This trip with Sheila wasn’t going to be cheap,”—he waggled his carefully groomed eyebrows—“ but worth it, if you know what I mean.”
“Were you and Ms. Brown experiencing problems with your relationship?”
Meigs noticed the muscles in Vesper’s neck tighten. The thin hank of hair that had been combed across his sunburned pate trembled. He patted it down and frowned at the chief. “Not at all. She’s a delightful girl and the trip has been great so far.”
The chief settled his elbows on the table and leaned forward. “What’s your theory about her disappearance, Mr. Vesper?”
Vesper pursed his lips, the overhead fluorescents casting sallow shadows under his eyes. “Maybe she met an old friend and tied one on. I expect she’ll show up later today. Frankly, her mother’s a worrywart—it’s a shame to squander your department’s resources on this.”
“Let’s take down some basic information, as long as you’re here,” said Chief Barnes. He opened up the small computer on the table in front of him. “Let’s start with you.”
Vesper reported that he was a businessman from Connecticut, age 54, and this was his first cruise on the Disney line. He had been dating Ms. Brown for five months. They’d met in a local Mexican restaurant on half-price margarita night—she was a server in the cocktail lounge. Vesper owned four furniture stores along the Connecticut shoreline, and no, they did not carry crappy fiberboard pieces like the ones advertised by that buffoon on television. His outfit focused on high-quality wood and styles consistent with old New England fashion. He was divorced, two kids from a previous marriage that he seldom saw, even though he’d paid through the goddamned nose for prep school and college tuition.
“What about Sheila?” said Barnes, looking up from the keyboard. “What’s her background?”
Vesper hesitated, patted his forehead with a neatly folded handkerchief. Despite their relatively short acquaintance, he said, he’d been swept away both by her physical presence and her personality. “A live wire with a very soft spot for a middle-aged man,” was how he described her.
“Maybe she had a daddy complex and maybe she didn’t,” added Vesper. “I can tell you that what went on between us was not parental.”
Meigs rolled his eyes. What had Miss Brown seen in this bozo?
Chief Barnes asked for contact information on the missing girl, but Vesper was vague. He hadn’t met any of her relatives, though she had made nightly calls to her mother, often in his presence. And she lived with a roommate—another waitress—when she wasn’t staying with him. Vesper had already called her but the friend claimed she hadn’t heard from Sheila since they’d left Connecticut. He paged through his iphone and found the friend’s phone number.
“You’re wasting your time though,” he said after reading it off.
Behind the mirror, Meigs jotted the number on his newspaper.
“Call us if you think of anything else. Were you traveling with friends?”
“Just us.” Vesper refolded the handkerchief and stuffed it into his pocket. “I’m staying at the Marquesa Hotel. You can reach me there or on my cell.” He shook hands with Barnes and left the room.
“He’s got some dough,” said Chief Barnes, once Meigs was back in the conference room and the door clicked shut behind him. “No one stays at the Marquesa unless they’re rich, famous, or both. What’s your impression?”
“He’s a liar,” said Meigs.
Chief Barnes looked startled.
Meigs repeated how he’d seen Vesper and the girlfriend arguing on Duval Street, how she’d wanted some time alone. “So the trip wasn’t going well and he is the kind of pantywaist dope who wants to tag along shopping.”
Chief Barnes laughed. “What else?”
“Most of the cruise ship disappearances I’ve heard about ended up with one of the parties murdered,” Meigs added. “Didn’t Vesper sound as though he didn’t want you looking too hard for her?” Meigs tapped his fingers on the table. “But chances are, she got tired of this clown and bailed out. I imagine that cruise ship cabin could have felt awfully small after a few nights entertaining Vesper.”
The chief laughed again. “You ‘re right about that. I’ll put one of my guys on it, ask around at Sunset tonight to see if anyone else saw her or talked to her. Thanks for stopping in,” he added. “As you probably read in the Citizen this morning, the sailboat races are in town and we’re stretched thin.”
“I’d be happy to do some research,” Meigs offered.
“We’ll be fine,” said the chief, his voice cool now.
Meigs motored back into town and stopped at the pink cement library on Fleming Street. He couldn’t help himself—and what were the options? Alice would have wanted to tour Hemingway’s house, have her picture taken at the Southernmost Point, order pina coladas and watch the human interest show from a streetside bar on Duval. Dismal prospects without her.
Meigs settled at one of the computers in between a teenage girl with multiple eyebrow piercings and a shabby man whose odor suggested he hadn’t put soap to skin in some time. He started by Googling George Vesper. As Vesper had boasted, his four furniture businesses appeared to be doing well. Very well. An article in Fortune Small Business dissected his success and reduced it to customer service, quality manufacturing, and an aggressive marketing campaign that targeted wealthy homeowners along the Connecticut shoreline. For the article, Vesper had been photographed at his own waterfront home in Greenwich, which Meigs figured had to be worth eight or ten million. He also owned a “cottage” on Nantucket and a thirty-five foot sailboat moored at a fashionable and pricy Cos Cob marina. During his limited down time, Vesper enjoyed competing in local regattas. He appeared to have plenty of money and no problem flaunting it.
Next Meigs Googled Sheila Brown and skimmed dozens of links about Sheila the artist, Sheila the fifth grade teacher, Sheila the lawyer, Sheila the nature photographer. But nothing about Sheila the waitress.
Meigs then typed the Disney cruise ship’s name into the search bar. The Disney Magic was a mid-priced boat offering a standard Western Caribbean winter break itinerary, including Key West, Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and Castaway Cay. He sat back in his chair, trying to ignore the homeless man next to him muttering as he rustled through a filthy knapsack. Meigs could definitely imagine Vesper steering by his genitals. But why on earth would a man with his alleged assets and sailing expertise choose a floating Disney city loaded with middle-class folks and their offspring? Disney, for god’s sake. The girlfriend must have chosen it.
He logged out of the computer and returned to his B and B. Back on the deck, Meigs called the number of Sheila Brown’s waitress friend and roommate, Maya Redkin.
“This is Detective Jack Meigs, on behalf of the Key West Police Department.” So it was a little stretcher—she’d never check on him. He explained about Sheila’s disappearance and her boyfriend’s worry.
“I haven’t heard a peep since she left,” Maya protested. “Oh my gosh, did something happen to her?
“That’s under investigation,” said Meigs, noting that not getting involved came before concern, for Sheila’s alleged best friend. “She left the ship to do some shopping yesterday and didn’t return. How would you characterize her relationship with George Vesper?”
There was a long pause. “He treated her well. Took her out to expensive restaurants and clubs. Bought her some nice stuff and sent some gorgeous flowers. Apparently he’s loaded. What’s not to like about that?”
“Would you say they were serious? In love? Was marriage in their future?”
Maya laughed. “Now that would surprise me, especially since she has another boyfriend.” She stopped and corrected herself: “Had one. And isn’t Vesper a little old for her?”
“That would be her decision,” said Meigs, bristling silently. He was the same age as Vesper, without the big belly and the big bucks. Not that he wanted a girlfriend half his age, but was he over the hill too? “What about other family members? Friends? Anyone I can call who might know where she is?”
“She kept those numbers on her cell phone,” said Maya.
“Was it Sheila who chose the cruise?”
“He planned everything—he liked to control things, you know? Listen, I have to get to work.”
“Call us if you hear from her,” said Meigs. “Save us a lot of trouble.”
“Wait. What’s the weather like down there?” Maya asked in a wistful voice. “It’s ten degrees here and snowing.”
Meigs signed off and leaned back in his rocker. The roommate was definitely not concerned about Sheila. Nor was she impressed with the solidity of her relationship with Vesper. Both of which pointed to the likelihood that Sheila had fled rather than been taken by force. He let his thoughts wander to Vesper, his business in Connecticut, his flamboyant wealth. And this brought to mind a Connecticut entrepreneur who’d allowed his wealth to taint his judgment: Stew Leonard. Leonard had siphoned off cash from his high-end grocery shops in the 1990’s with a sophisticated software scam and then served jail time for tax fraud.
Meigs grabbed his hat and sunglasses and hurried back to the pier at Mallory Square. A Carnival cruise ship had taken the place of the Disney Magic and the cat man was setting up for the evening’s performance.
“I’d like to buy one of your t-shirts,” said Meigs. He pointed to a light-blue shirt with “The cat man and his flying house cats” written across the chest. When he’d paid for the shirt, he showed his badge and handed him the newspaper photo of Sheila. “This woman disappeared yesterday and I’m wondering if you happened to see her.”
The cat man studied it and gave it back. “I can’t be certain, they pass through here like herds of mutton.”
“But maybe…” Meigs said.
“Eet was almost dark, but maybe she boarded the beeg yacht at the end of the pier.” He pointed to the empty slip that yesterday had held the Emelina. “After the cruise sheep was gone.”
Meigs thanked him, trotted back to Notre Paradis, and asked to use Laurent’s computer. He Googled the Emelina. One hundred and sixty-seven feet long, the boat had been sold in Monaco and was expected to winter in St. Bart’s. He jotted down the owner’s information and tucked it into his pocket, then started off for the Marquesa Hotel. A chat with George Vesper was in order.
The Marquesa’s lobby was caviar to Meigs’s hotel’s scrambled eggs. The soft hiss of a waterfall and the rustling of the uplighted palm fronds masked the scooter traffic outside. Vesper was splayed in a chaise near the poolside bar. He beckoned over a server dressed in blue Bermuda shorts and ordered a super single malt bourbon that Meigs had never heard of.
The man glanced up, his face blank.
“I’m Detective Meigs, Guilford Police Department. Following up on the reported disappearance of Sheila Brown.”
Vesper pinched his lips together in a tight frown and said nothing. Meigs couldn’t tell if he recognized him from the altercation on Duval Street. If he did, he wasn’t acknowledging their connection.
“Do you happen to know the owner or the crew of the Emelina? That’s one of the yachts that were moored a nine-iron from your cruise ship yesterday.”
The waiter approached and settled a drink on the glass table next to Vesper. Vesper didn’t even look at the man, never mind thank or tip him.
“Can’t say that I do,” Vesper answered, taking a swallow of the gold liquid. “What does that have to do with Sheila?”
“Any chance that she would have had friends on that boat?”
“Sheila?” Vesper threw back his head and roared with laughter. “That girl lived from tip to tip. No way she’d have pals that wealthy.” Then he sat up and scowled. “Why do you ask?”
“Might she have been connected with one of the crew members? Maybe cadged a ride out of town?”
Vesper’s face turned from red to purple. “If that no-good bastard boyfriend…” He chugged the rest of the drink as he scrambled to his feet, now hulking over Meigs.
“Was anything missing from your cabin after Sheila went shopping?” Meigs persisted.
Vesper took off his glasses and glared. “Look, this has all been a big mistake. I should have told you right up front. We had an awful row that morning and she said she was taking the first plane home. Which was fine with me, only she took my ruby ring and the cash in my wallet, too.”
“I’m sure Chief Barnes can radio the coast guard, have a chat with the captain and see whether Sheila’s on board. Insist she return your belongings.”
“Never mind that,” Vesper growled. “I can take it from here. I’ll settle this with her at home.”
“As you like,” said Meigs, starting back toward the lobby. “I’ll fill in the chief. He may wish to follow up. I would imagine the IRS might have some questions too.”
“This is none of your damn business,” Vesper sputtered after him. “What’s a Connecticut cop doing working a Key West case anyway?”
Meigs left the Marquesa, loaded back into his golf cart, and returned to the police station and asked to speak to the chief.
“I came across some information on that missing persons case,” he said to Chief Barnes. “If you contact the pilot of the Emelina yacht, I suspect you’ll find that Sheila Brown stowed aboard with a large sum of cash. The cash may have come courtesy of cooking the books at Vesper’s furniture business. It’s kind of a tradition in Connecticut.” He smiled. “Stew Leonard, Martha Stewart, even former Governor John Rowland. Some of the wealthy folks in our state aren’t quite satisfied with what they’ve got. So they stretch the rules to suit them.”
“That’s an awfully big leap,” said the chief.
“Not really,” said Meigs. “Vesper just didn’t seem like a cruise ship kind of guy. And the magic of Disney? I don’t think so. Then I noticed the Grand Cayman Island was included on the itinerary. Suppose Vesper had made substantial illegal gains and intended to bank the money offshore. The Disney cruise would be a terrific cover. But his companion figured this out and disappeared with his cash. No wonder he was upset.”
Chief Barnes shook his head. “That’s a hell of a lotta supposition.”
“Your cat man saw Sheila stow aboard the Emelina after sunset,” said Meigs. “While he’s working his felines, he watches everything.”
On the way home from the police station, Meigs stopped at The Lost Weekend package store for a six-pack of Red Stripe beer. Back in his room, he changed into his cat man t-shirt and took a beer out onto the back deck.
Maybe this vacation thing wasn’t so bad after all. Maybe tomorrow he’d buy a ticket for the Conch Train and another for a tour of the Little White House, in memory of Alice.
Four days later, as Meigs finished packing for home, Chief Barnes texted him.
Coast Guard located the Emelina in the British Virgin Islands. Sheila and bf onboard with 3 hundred K cash. Thx 4 the assist.
Meigs texted back ur welcome.
Then he called the taxi company for a ride to airport, specifically requesting a bird-free cab. Still, he wasn’t surprised when a golden retriever the size of a donkey lumbered out of the van’s passenger seat and began to sniff his luggage.
“Don’t you even think of it,” he shouted.