Pineapple Mystery Box
When a giant inflatable Halloween witch goes missing in the Pineapple Port retirement community, amateur sleuth Charlotte Morgan’s eager to nab the culprit. But before she can lift a fingerprint, someone threatens to kill a new neighbor who looks like an adorable Pomeranian but possesses a disturbing talent for revenge. Moments later, a stranger demands the return of a mysterious wooden box… or else.
Charlotte's romantic interest, Declan, isn't having a great morning either. His calculating ex-girlfriend has returned to claim she's the rightful owner of his pawn shop. She’s livid he’s found a new lady, and she is not the sort of person you want angry at you…
Eh. Things could be worse. At least Charlotte doesn’t know that a mojito-swilling killer is on his way to Pineapple Port…
Quips get flung and puns get slung, making for a hilarious read, but even better, Pineapple Port's just a place you want to hang out. The dialog crackles---you'll hear the voices of your own nutty friends and relatives in every conversation.
Throughout the series, you find serial killers, crazy ex-girlfriends, loving dogs, romance, government operatives, FBI agents, danger... and a cast of characters almost as funny as they are loving, supportive and brave. The series appeals to men and women.
If Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum and the Golden Girls had a baby, it would be the Pineapple Port series!
If you like Jana Deleon, Angie Fox, Leslie Langtry, Susan M. Boyer, Gina-LaManna, Julie Smith or any funny, action-packed mystery, you're about to find your next favorite series.
Release date: October 28, 2015
Publisher: Vansant Creations
Print pages: 466
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Pineapple Mystery Box
He didn’t mean to kill her.
Well, he did, of course, but not that way. Not with a knife and not so soon. Now there was ooze all over his hand. The blood slipped down the back of the blade like a kid at a water park. His lip curled with disgust.
What a mess.
He’d spent a week researching sleeping medicines. A week. He hadn’t spent that long studying for his GED exam. He’d spent hours driving to three different counties to buy the pills. Real sleeping pills, not capsules. Capsules would have been easier, crack them open and pour—but something in his gut told him she’d be able to taste whatever came out of a capsule. It must taste terrible or why stuff it in a gel cap?
He was half way home from the drug store before he realized he’d forgotten to wear the ball cap with the blond mullet flowing from the back to hide his mug from the cameras. Idiot. He pulled over and pictured his face on all those videos, like watching a tiny episode of Dateline in his head. After stressing for a good five minutes, he decided that returning with the mullet cap to buy new pills didn’t make any sense.
He’d hit the gas. Nothing to do but hope he reached South America before the cops pieced together the mystery of Bobbi Marie’s death. If his plan worked, the cops wouldn’t even begin work on the outer edge of the puzzle. If his plan only half worked, he’d still be long gone before they completed the edges, started the centerand realized the picture was of him.
When he committed a crime it was like a puzzle of the sky. Sky puzzles were the hardest to solve. All blue, maybe some wispy clouds…
I’m a sky puzzle.
Back at his apartment, he’d mashed his cache of sleeping pills with a mortar and pestle usually reserved for crushing mint leaves to make mojitos. Girls loved mojitos. His original plan had been to run to Mexico but he’d decided that was too predictable. Everyone ran to Mexico. And Brazilian girls probably liked mojitos, too. He’d started watching the Spanish television channels to learn the language. He’d be good either way.
After smashing half a sandwich bag of light blue powder, he rinsed his tools. Reaching to return the mortar to the cabinet, he paused, staring at the stone bowl. He’d crushed sleeping powder into every pore of the thing. Could he still take it to South America with him? He knew he’d knock the South American girls’ socks off with his mojito recipe, but he didn’t want to knock them—or himself—out. Did they have mortars and pestles in South America?
Dang. I should have done more research on South America.
He drove to a nearby strip mall, threw the bowl into a dumpster with a reverberating clang, and stopped at a store to buy a new set. This time he wore the mullet cap. It felt good to get some use out of it.
Back at home, he stirred the entire bag of sleeping powder into a pot of milk on the stove. He tasted it several times, adding a bit more milk here and a dash of sugar there until he found it drinkable. Bobbi would never notice a thing.
Sleepy-milk in a thermos, he drove to the old lady’s apartment at Casa Siesta, letting himself in with the key he’d had cut while she napped one afternoon. She’d never noticed that he let himself in or that the woman assigned to her assisted living apartment had stopped visiting. He’d told the lazy nurse that he’d be taking over daily visits and she’d been more than happy to check Bobbi off her list.
“Hola! Ready for your warm milk, Bobbi?” He liked to practice his Spanish when he could.
Bobbi Marie glowered at him from her threadbare yellow sitting chair. She was a willful old broad, but her mind had been on vacation since he met her. She still puttered around the apartment and fed her ratty old cat, but the comfy chair absorbed most of her time. A small stroke had made it difficult for her to talk, so she barked everything in short staccato sentences that made him jump.
He was doing them both a favor by putting her out of her misery. Anyway, if anyone came around asking questions, the last thing he needed was her barking his name at the cops. If she even knew his name. He wasn’t sure she knew her own name anymore. She only seemed to remember the dumbest things.
His eye fell on Friskie, napping in the window. The tabby’s patchy fur looked worse than Bobbi’s chair. The only thing friskie about that cat was its bladder.
I should send the cat with her. A nice bowl of sleepy milk for kitty…
“I’m practicing Spanish,” he said, setting Bobbi’s mail on her sofa table. “Thinking of moving to Brazil.”
“Porch geese. Not spansch.”
He looked at the woman and noticed her misbuttoned dressing gown. It drove him crazy when she did that. “What are you moaning about now?”
She huffed and then barked again. “Brazil.”
“What about Brazil?”
“Portuguese? Wait… You’re saying they speak Portuguese in Brazil? Not Spanish?”
She nodded with one hard jerk of her head.
“Woman, you’re crazy. You can’t even button your dang housecoat. It’s South America. Of course they speak Spanish. It’s right next to Mexico, land of mojitos.”
“Right. Now they speak Cuban. Whatever.”
Tucking the thermos under his arm, he patted her on the knee as he passed on his way to the kitchen. It had been a long four months, trying to get the information he needed out of the old cow. He’d threatened, cajoled, and finally discovered that adding a bit of booze to her milk loosened her tongue. Unfortunately, the only thing he was sure of was that his father had given Bobbi a box. The old man mentioned it in the last conversation they’d had before he died. He didn’t know how big or what it looked like, but it had to be worth a fortune. He knew it. Why else would Pop give it to her to hide?
His father had bragged about the box, then went and got himself shivved by another inmate before he’d had a chance to share any details about his treasure chest.
Pop never did have any luck.
By the time he found his grandmother Bobbi, she’d lost her mind and didn’t seem to know what was in the box or what she did with it.
Some days she remembered leaving it at the old house. Other days she thought she sold it or gave it to someone.
That theory just about made him sick to his stomach. The idea that someone else might have the goods his father had worked so hard to steal…
Once Bobbi claimed Indiana Jones stole the box. That’s when he gave up trying to get a straight answer out of her.
He was unscrewing the thermos when she said it.
“What about tea?”
He poked his head out of the kitchen.
“You want tea?”
“But you always have warm milk.”
“Tea after church.”
She turned her head away from him and crossed her arms against her chest.
He rubbed his temple with one hand. The crazy old bird thought it was Sunday. Probably thought it was nineteen seventy-six, too, because she hadn’t been to church in all the time he’d known her.
He looked at the thermos, sitting there with all his hard work inside. He yawned.
What a day for her to switch to tea.
“Do you want milk in your tea?”
Fine. At least he could put his sleepy milk in the tea. Maybe it would be enough. If not, he’d just have to keep slipping it into everything he could until it did the job.
Yawning again, he reached into the kitchen cabinet and found a box of tea still sealed in plastic wrap. He picked at the edge of the box with his short fingernail. Frustrated, he pulled a long knife from the butcher’s block and stabbed at it until it tore open.
He opened another cabinet in search of a teacup but found none. He opened another and another, finding nothing but yellowed Tupperware containers warped by the microwave and enough cat food to keep a pride of lions alive for a year. He whirled and stormed back into the front room.
“Dang it, Bobbi, where do you keep—”
His face was inches from Bobbi’s.
She’d gotten out of her chair and they’d almost run smack into each other. Only the knife in his hand—the knife he hadn’t realized he was holding—kept her from hitting him.
He looked down and watched as a rivulet of blood rode the blade from where the tip pierced her midsection.
Her height had done her in. A shorter gal would have taken it in the ribs. The knife might have bounced off the bone. But Bobbi was nearly six feet tall.
He considered pulling out the weapon, but it was too late now.
Instead, he pushed.
Bobbi Marie barely made a sound. Just sucked in a little wind. Her face fell slack as the knife in his hand reached the wooden hilt. He froze and they stood that way, eyes locked on each other. He could feel her lean against the blade and his wrist trembled with the strain of holding her weight. Her legs buckled and he withdrew. She fell to the ground in a curled clump.
Standing over her, he watched the blood drip from the knife to the floor. He sidled past her and sat in the chair where she’d been only a moment before.
He didn’t mean to kill her.
Well, he had, of course, but not that way. Not with a knife.
His eyelids felt like they weighed a thousand pounds. In a situation like this, having just stabbed a woman to death, he felt as if he should be more awake. Wired, even. Instead, he wanted to sleep. Let his mind rest for a bit.
He closed his lids.
Maybe he’d taste-tested a little too much of the sleepy milk.
A moment later he was snoring.
Charlotte’s pulse quickened as she walked the final block to her destination. She was running the gauntlet. Succeeding against all odds. Soaring like a hawk full of helium with tiny rockets strapped to her talons.
…she was failing like a rainy Fourth of July.
It was hard to tell.
The sun reflected off the back of a molded plastic squirrel sitting at the edge of Mrs. Mann’s garden. The rodent eyed her, preparing to gnaw his plastic acorn, a treat destined never to reach his squirrelly lips.
Hm. That’s one.
Charlotte’s gaze moved to Mann’s mailbox. One of the yellow Rudbeckia flowers beneath it had lost its head. Not a single golden petal of the missing bloom remained; the executioner had carried it off whole.
Strange… Let’s say two.
A peculiar alligator-shaped patch of dead grass marred the Sykes’ otherwise perfect square of turf.
Two pugs guarded the steps of Mrs. Maggliozi’s porch like chubby little pagodas, their bulging eyes following her as she strode the last few feet.
Charlotte stopped at the end of the block where Seamus stood waiting for her, his muscular arms crossed against his chest. He peered down his nose at her, one bushy black eyebrow hiked higher than its twin.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
She met his steely gaze with a metaphorical metal squint of her own.
A titanium stare.
He nodded. “Go.”
She took a deep breath.
“At Mann’s you faced the squirrel in the opposite direction and yanked the head from one of her mailbox flowers—she’s going to kill you for that, by the way. You stole the Sykes’ alligator, Snappy, and one of Mrs. Maggliozi’s three pugs went missing. I don’t know if you had anything to do with that or if he just wandered inside, but there you go.”
Seamus’ serious demeanor cracked into a million-watt smile. “Beautiful!”
She grinned, preparing to accept his praise with great humility.
“Too bad you’re dead,” he added, slapping her on the shoulder.
The smile melted from her face.
He looked past her and barked a single word.
Charlotte followed his gaze to a pile of brush tucked behind a plastic storage box on the side of Maggliozi’s lime green modular home. The pile of grass grunted and stood to assume a humanoid shape. It looked like Big Foot covered in Spanish moss.
The monster pushed brown netting from its head to reveal a human face hidden beneath the nest of weeds. Jackie, Seamus’ girlfriend and a fellow resident of Pineapple Port, looked as if she’d rolled in a swamp and the whole thing had stuck to her. In her grassy paw, she held a two-inch wide, foot-long wooden dowel, painted black.
Charlotte grimaced. “Jackie, I don’t know how to tell you this, but you need a wax.”
“It’s a ghillie suit. Isn’t it cool?” Jackie bowed her legs and bobbed from her left foot to her right, weedy fringe dangling from her outstretched arms.
“It looks pretty hot, actually.”
“You’re right. I’m dying in here.”
“What’s with the black stick in your hand?”
“I gave her that to simulate a rifle,” said Seamus. “You noticed all the changes I made but you didn’t see the woman on the ground in the ghillie suit with the rifle, the one thing that could have killed you.”
“She was there when we started so I didn’t notice any change. That shouldn’t count.”
“She wasn’t aiming at you when we started.”
“Well I wasn’t expecting an armed pile of brush.”
“But that’s just the thing. Nobody ever expects an armed pile of brush. That’s why you have to notice everything.”
He pulled a small pad of paper from his pocket.
“Observational skill tests number one: I’m going to give you a C-plus for noticing the missing flower—”
“Right before I was shot to death by a pile of hay.”
Charlotte sighed. When she asked her boyfriend’s uncle to train her to be a top-notch investigator, she hadn’t expected the man to be so diabolical.
Her boyfriend. The phrase sounded funny; part grade-school label, part serious romance. She assumed Declan was her boyfriend. It wasn’t like he’d given her a ring or a varsity letter or anything, but they’d gone out a few times in the weeks since solving the mystery of his mother’s disappearance and their courtship seemed to be blossoming. Still, Declan was difficult to read and romance was hard anyway. So many things could make a relationship awkward: jealous exes, disapproving friends, the fact that she’d found his mother’s bones in her backyard…
Offering Declan a cocktail and then casually strolling to her lanai where they could overlook his mother’s former grave definitely qualified as awkward. But maybe finding his mother had nothing to do with the fact that their romance was moving at the pace of a snail cattle drive. Maybe it had more to do with the facts that Uncle Seamus was living with Declan and her own house was under constant surveillance by her mother-hen neighbors Mariska and Darla. At twenty-six, she was the youngest person in Pineapple Port and the subject of some local fascination.
When people asked how she lived in a retirement community, she told them she’d been grandmothered-in.
Nobody ever got the joke, but in all fairness, it didn’t make sense until she explained. Her parents had died, forcing her to move in with her grandmother in the retirement community. Then her grandmother had died. Rather than ship her off to an orphanage, Pineapple Port unofficially adopted her, pulled some strings, and enabled her to grow up amongst them, like Jane Goodall with the apes.
The residents didn’t like that joke either.
Charlotte had lived there long enough to grow accustomed to the scrutiny, but it was a whole new world for Declan. Dating in Pineapple Port was like trying to make out in a basement while your parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, and a hundred or so aunts or uncles mingled upstairs.
Then again, maybe the less-than-whirlwind nature of their romance was her fault. She’d been busy. She’d never felt so alive as she had while trying to unlock the mystery surrounding Declan’s mother’s death and now that it was over, she wanted to solve more puzzles. That’s where Seamus and his fiendish training came in handy.
“I hear your flyers didn’t turn out so well,” said Seamus.
She threw her head back and huffed. Declan must have told him she’d slipped flyers into her neighbors’ mailboxes to advertise her investigative services. She’d thought she was being enterprising. Aware of her potential clients’ proclivities, she’d even included a clip-and-save twenty-percent off. coupon. She wasn’t an idiot. Some of the Pineapple Portians would buy a wet suit in the Sahara if they had a coupon for it.
After a week of waiting for clients to come rolling in, only one crime had been committed: Someone put unstamped detective agency flyers in people’s mailboxes.
“Come on. Who knew it’s a federal offense to put mail in people’s mailboxes?”
“Mr. Caslin, apparently. The better question is: who knew you had a retired postman in the neighborhood?”
“Tell me about it. He felt duty-bound to lecture me on the dos and don’ts of mailbox laws for an hour.”
“Is he going to turn you in?”
“No. I begged Mariska to help me make a pie for him. She said he’d only threatened to report me in the hopes of getting a pie in the first place, but she helped me anyway.”
“He’s a notorious food grubber,” said Jackie, trying to unzip the ghillie suit. “I’ve seen that man eat an entire pie by himself. He ate it one slice at a time so people wouldn’t notice, but I noticed.”
“Maybe I should be training you,” said Seamus with a wink.
Charlotte tried not to take his comment as personally as it was probably meant and continued to whine about her failed marketing campaign.
“In hindsight, I did think it was a little weird that Mr. Caslin mentioned lemon meringue pie four times in a speech about mailboxes.” Charlotte lowered her voice to mimic the retired postman. “Say someone sends you two lemon meringue pies…you find one in your mailbox in a temperature controlled box with postage, and the other—this one with those little dollops of whipped cream around the edge—you find without postage…”
She’d only been operating a freelance detective agency for a few days and she’d already lost money on flyers, lemons and Crisco and committed two crimes herself. Turns out, she needed a license to be a private investigator, too. Crime number two. At this rate she’d be in prison by the end of the month.
“Maybe being a detective is a stupid idea. What’s the point? I can’t be a private investigator without a license, and to get a license I need at least forty hours of experience as an intern for a real private investigator and there aren’t any around here.”
“Yes there are,” said Seamus, grunting as he helped Jackie out of the ghillie suit. The zipper had stuck in her fringe.
“About two feet away from you.”
Jackie let out a little scream. “I swear, if you don’t get me out of this suit I am going to freak out.”
“Shush, Jackie, you just shot me dead. You don’t get to complain. Seamus, what are you talking about?”
The zipper gave away and Seamus took a step back as Jackie thrashed. He ducked to avoid her flailing grassy arms. She dropped to her knees and collapsed sideways, squirming from the suit like a snake shedding its skin.
The sight was so pathetic Charlotte couldn’t help but pity her pretend-murderer. “Aren’t you going to help her?”
Seamus held a hand in Jackie’s direction as she squirmed across the lawn. “And miss this?”
Jackie rolled to her back, kicking her feet in the air as best she could with her ankles bound together by the suit.
Charlotte shrugged. “Okay, so what are you talking about? Who’s a private investigator?”
Seamus tapped his chest. “I am.”
“You are? Licensed?”
“Really? Or are you a private investigator in the same way you said you were a cop in Miami when you were really a glorified informant?”
“Oh, you cut me to the quick, lass. I thought we were friends…you know I only fibbed to appear an upstanding citizen to my nephew.”
“So you’re really an investigator?”
“Sure. I did the paperwork while I was still in Miami right before I came up here. I even took a few side jobs. The cops didn’t pay all my bills.”
“Why didn’t you say so?”
“You didn’t ask.”
“Can I be your intern?”
He shrugged. “Sure. Unpaid, of course.”
“Naturally. All right.” She saluted him. “What’s my first assignment, sir?”
He jerked a thumb behind him.
“Locate a glass of water for her.”
Jackie’s face was flush and her shirt soaked with perspiration. She stood and began stomping on the ghillie suit with her right leg as she strained to yank away her left ankle.
“Jackie? Would you like some water?”
Jackie glared at her. “You two can play cops and robbers all you like, just leave me out of it from now on. This thing is some kind of alien…” She stomped on the suit one last time and then pounded toward her house, one leg dragging the deflated ghillie suit behind her.
“I couldn’t believe it when she agreed to wear that thing. This is going to give me material for weeks.”
He clapped Charlotte on the back and jogged after his girlfriend.
“Your shadow’s looking a little furry there,” he called.
“Shut up!” screamed Jackie.
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