Mae West, a far cry from the Hollywood actress, has been thrown for a loop. Her plush lifestyle in the big city of New York comes to a screeching halt after the FBI raids her mansion and arrests her husband, Paul West, for a Ponzi scheme that rips people out of millions of dollars.
Mae finds herself homeless, friendless, and penniless. All hope isn't lost... the only thing Mae got to keep that the government didn't seize is a tourist camp ground, Happy Trails, in Normal, Kentucky.
By the look of the brochure, Happy Trails has plush Kentucky Bluegrass, a crystal clear lake, and a beach chair with her name on it. Mae figures she'll take a couple weeks' vacation with her toes dipped in the lake.
Mae quickly finds out that Happy Trails and the citizens of Normal were also victims of Paul's schemes, making her lower than than lake scum in the residents' eyes. Mae doesn't think things could get much worse, but as luck would have it, Paul West has escaped from prison and is found dead, murdered, floating in the Happy Trails lake.
Time is running out for Mae to prove that she's innocent and nothing like her husband. If only she could get someone to believe her before the curtain is closed on this Hollywood namesake.
Release date: May 25, 2018
Print pages: 198
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Beaches, Bungalows, & Burglaries
“A campground?” I gulped back a good hissy fit because one could never underestimate the power of a good hissy fit, something I’ve tried really hard not to do in years. “As in, tiny little metal houses and porta potties?”
“Well, I think they have a toilet in them,” said Stanley Shelton, my lawyer.
He eased back in his big fancy wingback leather chair with his elbows resting on the wooden arms and his fingers drumming against each other. The grey pinstriped suit was made of the finest materials, and the nice crystal cufflinks were the touch it needed that screamed successful lawyer.
“I think the toilet is small, but you’re small.” He rubbed his hand over his bald head and then proceeded to draw his hand over his mustache and beard.
I tried as hard as I could to keep it together, but my composure was under attack.
“What about my house in the Hamptons? I’ll just go there.” I let out a sigh of relief. It was a perfect plan. “I’m desperately going to miss the New York City apartment, but I need a break.”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to change the fact that my now ex-husband was in jail for a Ponzi scheme. He kept me busy by sending me to the spa, salon, and shopping for most of our two-year marriage. Not to mention, I’d cashed out my 401(k) to help him start a side business where he said we’d be partners. Little did I realize it was partners in crime.
“And the house is gone.” Stanley’s jaw set. “I’m going to need the keys to your car and trade you for these.” He dangled a very small key from a flamingo key chain in the air.
“What’s that? A moped key?” I joked.
“It’s to your house and your new car.” He glanced out the window of his fancy office that was filled with plaques and certificates that boasted of his high education.
“You can’t even look at me? Because I clearly remember that when we were donating to your son-in-law’s election fund and visiting our friends in the community who ended up being big donors, you had no issue looking at me. And now that my bank account has taken a hit, you won’t even look at me?” I questioned, with a slightly bitter taste in my mouth.
“It didn’t take a hit. There’s no bank account. The FBI seized it all.” Stanley made no effort to make me feel the slightest bit better about my situation.
“Where is my new house? The Upper East Side? Not that that’s a bad place to live, but not like where we live now.”
“Ummm”—he licked his lips—“out there.” He pointed to the window.
I sat up a little straighter in my chair and leaned on the arm of the leather chair.
“There’s nothing out there but an RV; a small one at that.” I laughed and eased back into the chair. “Wait, you mean that…” My voice trailed off when I noticed he didn’t find amusement in my teasing about the camper.
“I’m afraid that there’s no money to give you. The only thing free and clear are the camper and the campground.” He stood up and walked around the desk. He eased down on the edge. “I’m sorry, Mae. You don’t deserve this.”
“Are you sure?” I asked.
I mean, I was having a real bad day before I got here, but this just made it almost unbearable. I rested my elbow on the arm of the chair and covered my mouth with my hand. I twisted my head to the side so Stanley couldn’t see my tearing up. There was a glimpse of my silhouette in the door of the mini refrigerator.
My hazel eyes were sunken with half-moon dark circles under them. I’d not taken time to straighten my long brown curly hair, and the humidity in the air wasn’t making it any better.
“Mae?” Stanley said my name. I blinked a few times. I didn’t recognize the image staring back at me.
“Sorry,” I apologized and forced a demure smile.
I was having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I had nothing. No family. No marriage. No place to live. No car. Nothing. “I mean, Paul is a jerk, and I’d like to kill him, but he left me with nothing?” I hugged my designer bag to my chest.
That scum, I couldn’t believe that I was so dumb that I put everything in his name.
“He owed a lot of people money, and some still don’t have their retirement back. You’re lucky I could salvage this in the settlements since he did have it in your name alone.” He sounded as if I needed to thank Paul. Stanley picked up the flamingo key chain and once again stuck it in my face. “The campground is in Normal, Kentucky.”
“Kentucky?” My jaw dropped. “You mean I have to go there?”
My mind rolled back to the last time I was in Kentucky. It was 2:04 a.m. I knew the exact time because it was the time I was born and also my eighteenth birthday. It was the day I grew up and knew that no one was going to give me a free ride. Somehow, Paul made me feel safe and secure, until now.
“You have to go there and be the manager if you want to have some sort of income, or we can look at selling the place.” He didn’t move those darn keys.
“I didn’t even know about this campground.” I shook my head, refusing to take the keys. “I’ve certainly never been a manager of a campground.”
“When Paul was in college, he somehow ended up at this campground and won some silly bet. After the two of you were married, he had me put the deed in your name and your name alone. The FBI couldn’t seize it.” Stanley thumbed through some papers on his desk.
“Lucky me,” I groaned.
“You have a camper to live in and a way to acquire some income.” He pushed himself up off the desk and put a hand on my shoulder. “I suggest you take a trip. Make it an adventure. Check the place out and save up a couple of months before you decide if you want to sell it or not.” He held out a brochure that had Happy Trails written in big letters across the top.
There was a beautiful, bright, and vibrant photo on the front that looked more like a vacation spot than a campground.
“Adventure?” I cocked a brow and looked back out the window at the camper. “Yellow?” I questioned the color of my home on wheels. “I don’t even like yellow.”
“It’s a pop-up. The top lifts to make more space. There’s a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and you can drive it. It’s perfect,” he said with an upbeat tone. “Be sure you read the manual in the glove box on how to work all the equipment. It can be tricky.”
“Are you really trying to sell me on this camping idea? I lived in a ten-thousand-square-foot home with a house cleaner. I drive a Maserati. Drove.” I gripped the keys of my little car in my hand. I looked down and opened my palm. “Did drive a Maserati.” I gulped back the tears and practically ripped the flamingo key chain out of his hand.
“I’m sorry to cut this short, but I’ve got to get to court.” He took his hand off my shoulder and put it in his pants pocket, pulling out a hundred-dollar bill. “Here. This is for gas and food. I can feel the bones in your shoulder. Eat.”
“No.” I shook my head and stood up, a bit wobbly. “I’m fine. I don’t need a handout.”
He didn’t take no for an answer. He stuck the money in my palm and curled my fingers around it.
“Let me know when you get to Kentucky.” He smiled and patted my hand before he dropped it. His eyes softened. “Mae, I’m sorry. Out of all my clients’ wives, you’ve always been so kind and nice. I know this whole process has made you bitter and hard-hearted. But I know you’re strong and will figure this all out.”
“Thanks, Stanley.” I sucked in a deep breath. “You’ve been great. I know I sound like some spoiled brat, but I think I’m still in shock, despite having been in this nightmare for only three months.”
“I sent some of your things to the campground. There’s even a storage facility on the grounds. The current manager knows you’re coming. I put a file in the camper with her name on it and some information about the campsite.” He patted my back. “I suggest you not even look at it until you get there so you can focus on your new adventure the next couple of days.”
“Couple of days? That’s how long it’ll take to drive to Kentucky?” I questioned, clearly not remembering how long it took the Greyhound to drive here years ago.
“In a camper, yes.” He walked over to the door and opened it. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.”
“You’ve done enough, keeping me out of jail.” I started to tear up, my voice cracking. “I can’t thank you enough.”
I walked out the door knowing that I’d never see Stanley again. The past few months, I’d seen him practically every day. When the FBI had shown up at our house that morning of the raid, I’d never forget. Stanley came right to the jail and bailed me out. We left Paul in there. He deserved it. It took a lot for Stanley to prove that I’d not signed any of the paperwork and Paul had forged my name, but Stanley did it. I’m forever grateful.
The long walk down the hall of his office was a blur. I was numb. I remember pushing open the door of his office building and stepping out into the bright sunshine. I pulled my sunglasses down onto my nose and pushed them up. My eyes slid over to the cute little black convertible that was my birthday gift last year when I turned thirty. Little did I realize it was bought with other people’s money Paul had schemed them out of from our fake partnership.
I slid my eyes over to the bright yellow camper and then down at the flamingo key chain.
“I guess it could be much worse,” I grumbled and took my first steps towards my new reality as I tried to keep an upbeat attitude.
The day I drove out of my lawyer’s parking lot and into the small southern town of Normal, I should’ve known then that nothing was going to be… normal. Never ever again was anything going to be normal.
Before Paul, I was what you’d call a pretty normal person with a regular job as a flight attendant. I worked every shift at the airport I could and had a roof over my head. When I met Paul five years ago, I was twenty-five. That’s when I began to live his life with all of his lavish things. I’d gotten used to it pretty quickly and the finer things just became part of my identity. Everyone thought I was a gold digger since Paul was a sixty-one-year-old bachelor that’d never been married. I wasn’t. I truly fell in love with the Paul that I knew.
I should’ve known something was wrong the night before the FBI showed up at our house. Paul had said something funny, like if something were to happen to him, he had a special present in the sock drawer for me. I didn’t know what that had meant. The FBI raided the house, and there was literally nothing in the sock drawer. But there was something in the secret sock drawer compartment that the FBI didn’t find. It was one hundred thousand dollars in cash with a note from Paul that said the money was from my 401(k) that we’d cashed in. Little did I realize that he’d cashed it in to help fund his little crime.
You can bet that I didn’t turn that money in, though I probably should’ve. I convinced myself it was my 401(k) that he took from me.
When it quickly dawned on me that my world was no longer in existence, I knew I had to make that money last. And this RV… what was I going to do with that?
First off, I had no idea how to drive it. I didn’t realize the toilet was just a hole that had to be cleaned out, and I couldn’t believe there’d not been an invention improving upon this. Regardless, I made it to Normal, Kentucky in a couple of days like Stanley had predicted. I did what Stanley suggested and focused on getting to Kentucky while the other things worked their way out in my head.
In fact, after taking a look at the brochure of the campground, I got a little excited. It was actually a little paradise with a big fishing lake where there appeared to be a beach to lie out. I could stand to use a little color, and with summer fast approaching, this was exactly what I needed.
Now, there was no denying that I was definitely going to sell it, but like Stanley said, while he found a buyer, I could just go check it out and see what I thought. From the photos, it was an upscale campsite. The latest craze for people in their twenties was to live with less and explore more, which could be a good thing for business. The brochure also showed a little tiki bar near a lake and a lot of people mingling around with smiles on their faces. It was a perfect place for me to go relax for a couple of months. Like Stanley said, it was easy income with everyone paying me a lot fee each month. It appeared to be run like a well-oiled machine. The financial reports showed that there wasn’t much money in the account and only two employees, but it looked like I could cut back on a few things because the place looked perfect.
I’m sure Dottie Swaggert, the property manager, was going to be very helpful in getting my feet wet. So many things rolled around in my head and firing Dottie was one of them. But why would I do that when I was going to sell it anyways? It didn’t appear that her salary was that much. I’d decided that any big decisions that needed to be made would be after I’d been there and taken in a few rays by the sparkling lake.
“This is way out here,” I said to myself after I’d driven out of town and into the country, hugging a few of the curvy roads that tickled my stomach. “The entrance should be here somewhere.”
I leaned over the big steering wheel and looked out of the windshield.
“Happy Trails Campground.” I read the faded words on a piece of propped up wood that looked as if it’d once arched over the entrance like the one in the brochure.
Pushing back the notions that this was a sign of what the campground looked like in person, I forged ahead, figuring they were in the process of having a brand-new sign installed. If not, it’d be the first thing on my list. The folder Stanley had given me was in the middle console between me and the passenger seat. I grabbed it. I wrote down a to-do list and repainting or buying a new sign was the first thing that went on that list.
“And pavement,” I murmured to myself as I wrote down a second to do after the ticking sound of the gravel spitting up underneath the tires of the camper caught my attention. “No one likes gravel.”
It was just a minor detail I wasn’t going to let spoil my much-needed vacation in my fancy campground. At least Paul had done something right by me.
The sun was shining, and the backdrop of the Daniel Boone National Forest made up for any ugly sign. I couldn’t wait to park this thing and plop down into a lawn chair next to the lake and let the bright sun warm my face. That’d make me feel a little better. I was sure of it.
Pulling onto the grounds itself, I could see that there were plenty of trees for shade. There were storage units on the right like Stanley had said. The brochure did say that campers who were here an extended time were able to rent those, which probably brought in more income for me. There was a small building in front of the storage units with peeling letters on the glass door that read: OFFICE.
“That just needs a little cleaning,” I said, stopping the RV in front of it before I wrote that on the list.
A little further down was a community recreation room, exactly like the brochure had said, though it needed a good coat of paint, or a bulldozing down. Either way, it too had to be a minor detail.
A detail that I didn’t think was so minor was the lush green Kentucky bluegrass that I’d read about and seen in the photos in the brochure that was in reality brown and burnt looking.
“Am I at the right place?” I questioned and picked up my phone to make sure the GPS had taken me to the right place. “I guess so.” I shrugged and wrote down that I might need to get some sod.
Driving a little further and around what was supposed to be the lake and tiki bar, there was a cluster of run-down cabins.
I brought the camper to an abrupt halt after I’d made a complete loop around the grounds. My jaw dropped. I picked up the brochure from the passenger seat and looked back and forth.
“Nooooo.” I just couldn’t believe my eyes. I shoved the gear shift into Park. The entire Happy Trails campground was nothing like the brochure.
The tiki bar consisted of two posts and a wood plank across them with a caved in roof, not the plush and vibrant bar with stools and little lights and people smiling. I gulped. My eyes slid across the lake and the beach. Again, I referred back to the brochure.
The glass blue lake with the people hanging out on the dock with their toes dipped in and a smile on their face, a fruity drink next to them and lawn chairs along the beach were nowhere in sight. I was looking at a green film floating on top of a mucky brown piece of water with a small dock that had missing planks. There wasn’t a single lawn chair on the dry dirt.
I looked up and around. In the distance and off a couple of different roads, there were concrete pads with some grass between them. Some of the lots were filled with campers, and some were empty. According to the brochure, all the lots were filled with happy campers, twinkling lights, and smiling people. Where were my people? I gulped. Where were the crazy designed twinkly lights people hung outside of their campers? My heart dropped into my gut. I should’ve known this wasn’t going to pan out and Paul screwed me again.
Just as I was about to jerk the gear shift into drive and get out of dodge, someone banged on the RV door.
My nerves were shot. I fumbled to unbuckle the seatbelt, hopped over the console into the living part of the camper, and pushed the door open.
“What do you want?” The voice was hidden by a puff of smoke.
“You almost gave me a heart attack on top of the one I’m currently having!” I yelled, trying to see through the smoke.
There was a fairly older woman standing about five feet nine with pink foam curlers clipped all over her red hair. Her green satin pajamas matched her fuzzy slippers.
“I’m Dottie Swaggert. What’ll I do you for?” she asked and took a long slow drag from the cigarette in her right hand, while her left hand rested on her jutted-out hip.
“Is this Happy Trails Campground?” I asked.
The sun beat down on me when I stepped out of the camper.
“Mmmhmmm.” She drew in a big breath. The coals at the end of her cig light up bright red like her hair color as she sucked in. “One and only.” She stared at me from behind a puff of smoke.
“In Normal, Kentucky?” I fanned my hand in front of me so she didn’t get her smoke in my face or my house on wheels.
“Mmhhhh. One and only.” She chomped on a piece of gum and smoked at the same time. She put her fingers with her cig stuck between them up to her temple. She closed her eyes. “Let me think.” She tapped her head. “You must be Mae West.”
“Oh gosh.” My stomach knotted. My go-get ‘em attitude was wavering. I reached over the back of the passenger seat and grabbed the brochure. “Where is this Happy Trails?” I shook the brochure at her.
“Honey, you look as confused as a cow on Astroturf,” she cackled.
“What?” I questioned. “What does a cow and Astroturf have to do with anything?”
“They are gonna eat you alive,” she said in smug delight. “Paradise awaits.” Dottie’s lip cocked up on the right side as she smacked her gum and swept her hands out in front of her. “It’s all yours.”
She turned around and laughed like a madwoman on her way to a small trailer that didn’t have a way to drive. It looked like it was just plopped down, and the trailer hookup was casually resting on two cinder blocks.
“Dottie! Wait!” I hollered, kicking dust up under my feet as I chased her. “This isn’t right. This isn’t what the brochure shows.”
I let the part about being eaten alive just wash over me. Dottie Swaggert was someone I needed at this moment and fussing with her wouldn’t do me any good.
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