Humor, thrills and mystery abound in the SIXTH Pineapple Port Mystery. Charlotte, the 55+ community's young female sleuth is thrust into a thrilling struggle to survive when her friend Jackie's underground "mature" disco is infiltrated by violent criminals intent on claiming the club as their own.
Even more frightening --- the ridiculously vengeful Gloria is back and on the warpath after a playful suitor goes missing.
Charlotte must search for the connection between the two cases with the help of Declan, whose own secret past with crazy, serial killer-spawn Stephanie is beginning to show...
Fans of female-sleuth authors like Jana Deleon, Lilian Jackson Braun, Gina Lamanna and Janet Evanovich will love the Pineapple Port series' abundant humor and clever plots --- as well as Charlotte's sharp intellect and the love and loyalty she holds for the wacky 55+ community who raised her.
Release date: May 29, 2018
Publisher: Vansant Creations
Print pages: 233
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It started with the brush of a hand.
Every day Gloria walked the River Walk, not far from her new beach apartment. After falling into a little money, she’d left the Pineapple Port retirement community for the cool beach breezes of the Gulf.
Gloria enjoyed nodding her head and smiling at the people who passed in the opposite direction when she walked. She liked everything about her new lifestyle by the water, but she especially enjoyed the walks.
Walking kept her need to right wrongs at bay.
She hadn’t slashed a tire, or dropped a bug in a cocktail, or switched yard decorations between neighbors with competing gnome ideologies, in nearly three months.
Even Superman grew old and let a few offenses slide here and there, didn’t he?
Gloria let her mind wander when she walked. She waved at dogs and called them buddy, or sweetie if they had a bow or a pink collar. She liked the Yorkie terrier with the watery eyes and the regal standard poodle that ran at the same graceful pace as her owner. The owner never smiled, but the dog’s presence said she wasn’t a bad person and Gloria believed the dog.
Thanks to the poodle, I let sourpuss off the hook. ‘Old Gloria’ never would have let that skinny woman’s refusal to return a smile slide. I’m maturing.
Her patience had limits, of course. Gloria did not like the two ladies who hogged the whole sidewalk and never deigned to step aside for her to pass. She had to balance-beam the curb, or tumble into the bike lane to avoid being clipped by their stupid rounded shoulders. Those ladies...
Those ladies didn’t deserve a pass.
After the fifth or sixth offense, Gloria followed them home. One had a New England Patriots football flag flying outside her house, so Gloria returned under cover of night to replace it with a Miami Dolphins flag. The next time she passed the women she made a point to not move out of their way. As they jostled to avoid knocking into her she shouted, “Go Dolphins!”
After that day, the women fell single file when they saw her coming. They knew she knew where they lived. Gloria had a giant bottle of vinegar for the other woman’s manicured lawn, should they forget their manners.
See how she likes the word MOVE scrawled across her front yard in brown, dead grass.
Other than those two sidewalk-hogging, boorish wenches, Gloria liked the people and pets on her walk. She liked the chubby Italian man who waddled along yammering on his phone in his native tongue. She liked the woman who always wore too many clothes, but never appeared sweaty.
Most of all, she liked the tanned man with the dark hair. He always flashed his perfect smile and winked. She didn’t know if he wore dentures or had those replacement teeth people had drilled into their jaw bones, but his chompers were impressive. Nearly as striking as the cowlick in his magnificent mane of dark hair. The front row of follicles stood strong and proud, like a hair wave begging to be surfed.
I never properly appreciated men’s hair until I grew older and suddenly none of the men have any. Think of all the hair I took for granted as a foolish young girl...
The man had kind eyes, and those sparkling orbs always found hers. At first, she’d thought the man was just friendly. After his walk she imagined he returned to a pretty wife sipping coffee on her lanai with a good book propped on her lap. But then she noticed he didn’t wear a wedding ring. Not even the telltale tan line of a cheater. If he was a widower, he’d been one for some time.
The man’s smile and wink were soon accompanied by a nod, the tip of an invisible hat, and once, what she felt sure was a blush.
Mornings changed. Gloria grew giddy pre-walk, eager to see Smiley Joe, which is what she’d started calling the man in her head.
Then it happened.
As she passed Smiley Joe on the narrow pathway, his hand brushed hers.
Gloria gasped and kept walking. After a dozen steps she glanced back, but Joe had continued on his way.
After that day, he always touched her hand. Anticipating the contact, her hand began to jerk away from her body, reaching to feel his, as if it had a mind of its own. Their touches became more eager. On day six their pinkies intertwined and uncoiled, slipping away like lovesick garden snakes as they continued in their opposite directions.
Then it happened. Smiley Joe wore his usual white t-shirt, but he’d handwritten Hi on the chest. She’d been so shocked to see the word she’d forgotten to reach for his hand.
Was that message for me?
The next day he wore a new t-shirt. She assumed it was new—it had looked as though the previous day’s Hi was written in permanent marker and she couldn’t imagine how he could have washed it out.
Now, his shirt said Will.
Gloria knew the messages on his shirts were for her. His eyes were playful. Twinkling with mischief.
He’s a scamp.
On the third day, the shirt said You.
Gloria felt a rush of excitement.
It’s a question! He’s asking me a question on his shirt, one word per day.
The mornings became almost impossible to manage. She didn’t want to leave too soon and miss meeting him at the spot they passed every day. She didn’t know how far he walked before they met each other. Leave too soon and he might miss her entirely. Same applied to leaving too late. She had to wait until the exact right moment, 7:39 a.m. This grew increasingly difficult, because she kept waking up earlier and earlier, eager to see what his next word would be.
It was Go.
Hi Will You Go.
Gloria had new problems to consider. Would she recognize when the sentence was over? Would he remember to punctuate the last word with a question mark? Would the last tee feature only a question mark? And then what? If it was a question—and she assumed it was—how would she answer? Would she write it on her shirt with permanent marker? Should she go shopping for a cheap tee she didn’t mind ruining with ink?
The next word was Out.
Gloria didn’t want to be presumptuous, but she felt confident she’d guessed the rest of his mysterious missive. Her day would soon arrive.
What if I accept his invitation and the message isn’t for me?
If she wore a cheap tee with Yes written on it and he ignored her, she would just die.
The next day he smiled and winked with With on his tee. The day after that, Me.
Still no punctuation. She knew she had one more day. The question mark would be the next day. Or not. Maybe he’d forget to add punctuation.
Can I date a man who doesn’t properly punctuate? So many questions...
Gloria drove to Bealls and bought a cheap white tee. It took nearly an hour to decide on the color of the marker. She’d had no idea they came in so many colors. Back in her day, permanent markers came in one color: black.
Or maybe red, too...but certainly not green and purple and...
She chose a feminine hot pink and hoped it didn’t come off trashy.
She spent another two hours picking the size of the lettering and contemplating cursive versus block and all caps versus first letter capitalization only.
On Thursday, Smiley Joe walked by with a huge question mark on his shirt.
His other words had been in black, but the question mark glowed in hot pink, just like her Yes tee back home on her kitchen table.
It’s as if we’re meant to be together.
Gloria barely slept Thursday night. Her mind raced with anticipation and questions.
Should I add an exclamation point to the end of Yes? Would that be too forward?
Friday morning, she donned her block lettering, first-letter-cap, no punctuation, Yes tee and leapt from her car as if it were a circus cannon instead of a Mercedes. She adjusted her pace to keep from speed-walking to her destiny.
Gloria practiced holding people’s gazes as she walked. She didn’t want to hold Smiley Joe’s attention too long and look desperate, but she didn’t want him to wonder if her shirt was for him. Or maybe she did. If it seemed as if the question hadn’t been for her, she wanted the opportunity to look away and keep walking, as if she always wore a tee with a giant pink Yes on it.
As she approached the portion of the walk where they always met, she could barely breathe.
It wasn’t until she reached the corner that she realized he wasn’t there.
She leaned forward, expecting to see him at any moment.
He never appeared.
On the drive back to her apartment, Gloria felt like a deflated balloon.
Where was he? Had he fallen ill? Twisted an ankle?
Maybe someone else had answered him?
She knew the shirts had been for her.
After much hemming and hawing, she wore the Yes tee again the next day.
Again, he didn’t show.
Something horrible had happened. Gloria was sure of it.
She needed a detective to find Smiley Joe.
She needed to call Charlotte.
Two Weeks Previous
Stephanie yawned into her hand and read the plaques on the wall of the bar for the fifth time.
Free beers tomorrow.
You can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning.
Wish you were beer.
She flicked a peanut across the bar top.
Nothing about this is right.
Assassins of her caliber weren’t meant to spend time drinking terrible iced tea while watching teenagers peddle drugs on the corner.
This is Declan’s fault.
She’d allowed herself to be inspired by her ex-boyfriend’s inherently good nature. She missed him, and her usual charms had ceased to sway his affections her way. In an attempt to better resemble his new little Ms. Perfect Girlfriend, Charlotte, she’d decided to pull a Dexter and only kill people who deserved it.
It turned out being good was even more boring than she’d feared.
She’d barely refrained from killing the neighbor who reported her to her community association for not recycling. She was hiding behind the woman’s bedroom door, knife in hand, when it hit her: People aren’t supposed to murder people for being bitchy.
It was a close call. If the woman hadn’t forgotten to brush her teeth Stephanie might have had to exterminate the tattle-telling little rat just to get out of the woman’s rat-hole undetected.
No, she didn’t trust her ability to identify people who deserved to die versus people who are too annoying to live, so she decided to pick a ham-handedly obvious target.
A drug dealer.
I should win some sort of serial killer Oscar for the restraint I’ve shown.
Not only was she hunting a drug dealer, but she was hunting the top banana. By sunrise, she could have easily taken out three or four of the hoppers on the corner, but she didn’t. She could hear Declan in her head... They probably had lousy home lives and fell in with the wrong crowd and blah blah bleeding heart blah...
Stephanie knew Declan wouldn’t give her any credit for killing a kid who made bad life choices.
She could have killed the slick-haired man who brought the corner kids their supply, but she didn’t.
Instead, she decided next time the drop-off man showed up, she’d track that guy back to the biggest, baddest guy.
That meant a lot of surveillance; the most boring part of killing.
This is all my mother’s fault.
Why did her mother have to pass down the serial killer gene? The time she wasted hunting, dreaming about hunting—she could have started a second business. Learned another language. Learned to cook soufflés...something.
The neighbor she nearly killed had a basket of knitting supplies. She’d stared at it for some time from her hiding spot behind the bedroom door. It seemed like such a peaceful hobby.
Why can’t I love knitting?
Instead, she’d mulled using the knitting needle to kill the woman just to make her attack a little more sporting.
Maybe it wasn’t all her mother’s fault. Sure, her mother was the most prolific serial killer of all time—whether the world knew it or not—but her mother had also abandoned her as a baby. Wasn’t that supposed to mess up kids? Maybe she was just like those hoppers on the corner out there. A tough life filled with bad decisions.
Or, it could have been the Honey Badgers. They certainly encouraged the bloodlust in her. Working for that barely sanctioned drug task force was where she learned how to kill and also where she realized how much she liked it. The Honey Badgers were like 21 Jump Street and Training Day had spawned a nightmare baby. What if she hadn’t joined? Maybe she’d be married with three kids and head of the PTA.
Stephanie chuckled at the thought.
Maybe the Honey Badgers had done her a favor.
She glanced to the left to keep tabs on the cop sitting in the corner of the bar.
Still nursing his beer.
She’d seen him before, but realized he posed no threat. He wore his badge, but he didn’t feel like a cop. She never saw him do anything coppy. During her time in surveillance purgatory she’d seen a thug rough up a kid right outside the bar window. The cop hadn’t moved. Hadn’t even feigned interest.
Something’s off with him.
Maybe he’s lousy at being a cop. Lazy. Maybe when he was off duty, he was off duty. Though if he liked separation, spending his evenings sitting at the one bar with a clear view of the area’s worst drug dealing corner seemed like a bad spot to hole up while wearing a cop badge.
“You want another?” asked the bartender.
Stephanie licked her lips, considering. Maybe it was time to pack it in for the evening. It seemed the drug trade was suffering a lull and—
“It’s on me,” said a voice to her left.
A man sat two stools down from Stephanie.
“You don’t look like you belong here,” he added, smiling.
She surveyed the stranger. He was a handsome man for his age—maybe sixty something. He didn’t look grizzled enough to be a cop who hung out in filthy dive bars during his down time.
“Neither do you.”
The cop pulled his light jacket a little tighter, covering his badge. “I’ve seen you before.”
The bartender put another iced tea in front of Stephanie and she cringed. The tea was terrible. She couldn’t even imagine what a person could do to ice tea to make it taste that bad. She didn’t like to drink during a hunt, but it occurred to her a glass of bourbon might be required to kill whatever was living in the tea.
The cop nodded toward her glass. “In the program?”
She laughed. “Right. Maybe I came to this nasty bar for the aesthetics. What better place to sober up?”
He shook his head. “No. I didn’t think you came here not to drink. I think you came here to watch them.” His eyes flicked in the direction of the dealers outside.
Stephanie frowned. “Do you have a point?”
Shaking his head, the cop stood to pull two dollars from his wallet. He put the money on the bar.
“I don’t know what you’re up to, but be careful.”
Stephanie arched an eyebrow, amused. “Back at you.”
The cop left and Stephanie watched him go, allowing her attention to drift to the men standing on the corner outside. Men. They were barely more than boys. She checked her watch. It was ten p.m. Last time their supplier had appeared at ten seventeen to gather cash and replace drugs. She needed to prepare to tail him.
Stephanie put a few more dollar bills on the counter.
“Thanks. I’ll send you the bill for the stomach pump.”
Eyes fixed on his newspaper, the bartender replied without missing a beat. “Try the shrimp cocktail next time if that’s your thing.”
Stephanie headed outside, walking briskly towards the junker car she’d rented for keeping a low profile in the neighborhood. Her long blonde hair tucked beneath a baseball cap, she’d worn baggy clothing to cover the rest of her impressive assets. She strode down the street affecting masculine gait so as not to shine like a beacon of weakness.
As she passed an alley, an arm hooked around her waist, jerking her into the shadows. Stephanie struck with the back of her fist, connecting with the attacker’s windpipe. She heard him gasp. His arm slipped from her waist, but not before she saw a flash of movement to her left, too far away to be the same enemy. She felt the sharp crack of something striking her skull. From the pain, she guessed a ball peen hammer.
The world spun and everything went black.
Her final thought was that her last meal had been that revolting ice tea.
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