The 2 Sisters Pet Valet Service is purring along, thanks to the entrepreneurial talents of retired schoolteacher Gwen Franklin and her bestie and business partner, Nora Goldstein. But whenthe fur starts to fly, they become partners in crime detecting as well . . .
At Nora’s request, Gwen is happy to accompany her to a meeting with ex-hubby #3’s lawyer. Much to Nora’s surprise—and dismay—she’s been named executor of said ex’s will. The fact that the man has been missing for years and was just declared legally dead only makes an already complicated process more so. And besides, is he really dead? What’s not a surprise is that Nora’s twin ex-stepchildren are pressing for access to their father’s dry cleaning fortune . . .
With Gwen’s assist, it’s time for Nora to do a little digging. It turns out that the twins’ catering business is failing—and that their dad’s business was laundering more than clothing. Soon, Gwen and Nora are infiltrating a long list of dirty deeds, including fraud and illegal gains. And the perpetrators are all too close to home. The police may want Gwen and Nora to stick to their own line of work, but the pair are determined to make sure the truth comes out in the wash—before someone ends up in the discard bin . . .
Release date: October 5, 2021
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Print pages: 320
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
“What. The. Heck.” Nora Goldstein, my best friend, sat frozen in her living room, one manicured hand holding out a letter as if it had bitten her.
We’d just arrived back at her apartment after a grueling hour spent chasing a runaway dog, and all I wanted to do was sit quietly without any drama. I liked running a business with Nora, I really did, but some days made me wish I’d stuck with my original plan of doing absolutely nothing following my early retirement from teaching.
Still, 2 Sisters Pet Valet Services kept me in pocket money for those occasional shopping excursions to the local Goodwill, and now that my allergies were in check, spending time with animals kept my blood pressure down.
Except for days like today, of course.
Glancing now at Nora and the object she dangled from her fingers, I could see her blood pressure was on the rise. Something had her slacks in a swivel, as my granny liked to say, although “slacks” was the furthest thing I could ever imagine on Nora.
Today she was dressed, as usual, in black yoga pants, a tight neon-green top, and ankle-breaking stiletto heels. Compared to my faded denim capris and occasional skirts, billowy shirts, and comfy Birkenstocks, Nora looked like a tropical bird. The two of us couldn’t have been any more different, and I liked to think that was the glue that had kept us together since our kindergarten days.
Watching her now as she sat staring at the letter, her eyes opened as wide as they could go, I knew my wish for a drama-less afternoon was kaput.
“I guess you’d better tell me what’s up before you blow a gasket.” I struggled to sit up as I motioned to the letter. “Care to share, or should I read it to myself?”
“I’m not sure I believe what I’m seeing, Sis.” She waved the letter in my direction. “You’d better read it and tell me what you think it says.”
With a slight groan, I pushed myself up and shuffled over to where Nora sat, plopping down on the other end of the overstuffed sofa.
“I swear to goodness.” I leaned down and rubbed my legs with both hands and wiggled my toes, wincing as I did. Our first pet client of the day had really done me in. Running in Birkenstocks as we chased the little darling was not the smartest idea I’d ever had. “Not only are my dogs barking, my calves are mooing as well.” I glanced at Nora, my mouth twisted in a grimace. “Take my advice and drop that maniac animal from our client list. I’m in no shape to chase that thing again, no matter how much his owner offers us.”
“Already done.” She leaned back against plump cushions and thrust the letter in my direction. “Read, please.”
I opened it and carefully smoothed out the stationery with one hand, noting the address embossed at the top of the page. “Is this from your lawyer?”
Nora shook her head against the pillows. “Nope. It’s from the lawyer that my ex used.”
That wasn’t a facetious question. Nora, bless her little romantic heart, had quite a collection of men who carried the label of “ex-husband.” It was thanks to these exes and their various divorce settlements that she’d become a millionaire in her own right.
“Number three. The one I like to call the ‘Bottomless Pitt.’”
“As in Hades?” I lifted one eyebrow in question. “That bottomless pit?”
Nora’s short-lived marriages were often so brief in duration that I missed them completely during the years when we weren’t in as frequent contact. I wasn’t familiar with this particular nickname.
“Of course, and the fact that his last name is Pitt. And because he managed to hide more money than he admitted to having.”
I looked back at the letter and quickly skimmed the information. The brief paragraph inserted between the greeting and the closing made my eyes widen, and I could see why Nora had reacted the way she did. Clearing my throat, I held the letter up and began to read aloud.
“‘Dear Mrs. Pitt.’” I looked over at Nora. “‘Mrs. Pitt’? When did you ever use that name?”
She chuckled. “I never did. I was always Nora Goldstein, just as I am now.” She paused, head tilted. “Maybe that’s why none of the marriages lasted.”
I grunted, looking back at the letter. “Maybe it was because all five of them were absolute stinkers. Except, possibly, the Bottomless Pitt, it would seem. Why in the world did he appoint you as his executor? Had you seen him recently?”
“No, not since the divorce.” She held up one hand, counting silently on her fingers. “Let’s see. It’s been at least fourteen, fifteen years. I’ve seen his kids Merry and Martin more than I ever saw him.”
“That’s bizarre. Maybe he thought you were the most honest person in his life and could be trusted to handle this.” I handed the letter back to her.
Nora gave a short laugh. “That’s a pretty sad commentary on his family, I’d say. Although,” she added with a small hitch of one shoulder, “I might agree with him. Both of his offspring were absolutely despicable as kids, at least the way I recall those two brats. I can only imagine what type of adults they’ve turned out to be.”
We sat silently for a few moments. I debated getting up and making coffee, but a twinge in my right leg changed my mind. Maybe I should give Brent a call. He’d be glad to come over and help. Actually, Brent would be glad to come over and escape his younger brother. I was about to make the suggestion when Nora abruptly headed for the desk she kept in one corner of the living room. It was tucked discreetly behind a folding Japanese screen, and its shiny top held a state-of-the-art computer and printer.
I sat with my head leaning back against the cushions as I listened to Nora rummaging in the various desk drawers. What I really needed was a good long soak in Epsom salts. Herc, my black-and-white rescue dog, would have to be content to use the doggie door to do his business.
I’d almost drifted off to sleep when a loud noise brought me straight up, my heart pounding as loudly as the bass drums in the high school marching band. Had someone broken in and targeted Nora? An extreme reaction, I know, but with all the murders we’d been involved with lately, anything unusual could make me as jumpy as a frog in a hot skillet.
“That rat. That unbelievable, absolutely despicable, downright irritating rat!”
Another loud bang told me exactly what had startled me. Nora was slamming desk drawers as loudly as she could.
“If you don’t want your neighbors to think you’re being attacked, I’d advise you to bring it down a notch or two.”
My best friend marched from behind the screen, two bright spots of red on her cheeks.
“And to which rat are you referring? Marcus? Or the Bottomless Pitt?”
She glared at me as she shoved her cell phone into her top, currently doubling as her carrying case, and kept marching past the sofa and down the hallway. A loud slam told me she’d gone into her room and closed the door.
Marcus Avery was Nora’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, a private detective whose reputation as the local Lothario sometimes got him into hot water with her. I could never figure out why he was so attractive to the ladies, to be honest. His physique was on the rotund end of the scale, and his thinning hair topped a round face that had seen better days. Apparently, he had a charm I couldn’t detect. As long as he kept my friend happy, though, I was content to leave it at that.
My own taste in men tended to run toward retired dentists with laugh lines and a wonderful smile. Particularly one named Roger Smithson, owner of two aging golden retrievers named Max and Doc, and lately, I had to admit, of my heart. Just thinking about him gave my pulse a little jump, and I was grinning like a loon when Nora banged out of her room and stomped back to the sofa, where she sat down.
She gave me another glare. “What’s got you so tickled, Sis? You think dealing with the Bottomless Pitt is funny?”
I came back to earth from the cloud on which I’d been floating, landing with a thud beside one very irate Nora. Something had put her panties into one king-sized twist. Maybe this last order from beyond the grave had her reliving the problems from her marriage to the occupier of said grave.
I stared back at her, my eyebrows riding near my hairline. “Funny? Apparently not.”
Leaning over, I gently touched one arm. She was trembling, almost vibrating, under my hand, and I was instantly on guard. This wasn’t like Nora, not at all. If I didn’t get to the bottom of the issue soon, I was afraid she’d make herself sick.
“Nora?” I spoke quietly as I scooted closer, placing my arm around her thin shoulders. “You need to tell me what’s wrong, okay?”
At first, she sat there stiffly, acting as if she hadn’t heard a word I’d said. I was tempted to shake her and make her talk, but I wasn’t sure how she’d react in her present mood. Besides, we’d only had a handful of real disagreements over decades of friendship, and I didn’t want to chance one now.
Finally, she gave a deep sigh and leaned back against me. The crisis, as my role model Miss Marple would say, had passed. She’d tell me in her own time.
“Hey, you.” I gave her shoulders a little squeeze and stood. “I’m going to get us some coffee, okay? Then we can talk about this.”
She nodded but said nothing. I got the coffee made in record time and carried the steaming mugs back into the living room. Handing her one, I took the other and reseated myself on the other end of the sofa.
“I’m not well-versed in law and wills and that sort of stuff.” I took a cautious sip of coffee and winced. It was still too hot to drink, but the aroma of the smooth Ethiopian blend was delicious. “Do you have to abide by your ex’s request?”
Nora gave a half-hearted shrug. “I’m pretty sure it’s binding, especially since he used a lawyer.” She took a small drink of coffee. “Knowing him like I do, that man didn’t leave any loose ends. And that’s not what’s bothering me, if that’s what you’re getting at.”
“Ah.” I looked at her, scrutinizing her face for any hint of what had made her so angry. When none was forthcoming, I decided to switch tactics. Whether she liked it or not, I’d get it out of her eventually. “If I were you, I’d make an appointment with the lawyer and get the scoop on what your role really is.” I kept my tone neutral, still observing her closely.
“Oh, believe you me, Sis, I intend to do just that.” Nora’s lips were a firm line of annoyance. “I wouldn’t put it past him to get in one last dig, you know? He never got over the settlement I got after our divorce.” She gave a short, unamused laugh. “What a piece of work.”
I gave her an uneasy look. She was beginning to sound cynical, something that wasn’t like Nora. She could be sarcastic, certainly, but cynicism wasn’t in her style book.
“What? Do I have something on my face?” Nora attempted a smile, but I wasn’t fooled.
“You make that appointment, and I’ll go with you.” I lifted my coffee mug in a salute. “One for all and all for one, right?”
She snorted. “Yep, that’s us, Sis. The Two Musketeers.”
I was glad to hear her sense of humor beginning to resurrect itself. “Then let’s get this show on the road.” I glanced at my cell phone. “It’s early enough to cancel tomorrow morning’s pet-sitting assignments. You can let the lawyer’s office know we can be there first thing tomorrow.”
“No need.” Nora’s tone became brisk, businesslike. “Between Brent and Rachel, they can handle the jobs.”
“If you say so.” I frowned slightly as I mentally counted off the jobs. “I think we might need to hire another dog walker and free up Rachel to take on more of the pet-sitting assignments.”
“Have anyone in mind?” Nora gave me a mischievous grin. “Maybe a certain gent who happens to like dogs?”
I wanted to stick out my tongue. Instead, I lifted my chin haughtily. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“And the Bottomless Pitt was the sweetest man on the face of this earth.” Nora shook her head in wry amusement. “You call Roger and ask if he’ll help us out. I’ll get busy calling this lawyer.”
Talking on the phone was never my favorite thing to do, and the advent of text in place of actually speaking to a faceless voice had made my life easier. I never minded a face-to-face exchange, but there was something inherently awkward about carrying on a conversation with someone I couldn’t see.
Still, texting Roger instead of calling him seemed somehow discourteous, as if he wasn’t important enough for a call. I opened my contact list and found his name.
He answered on the first ring, and his cheerful voice made me smile. “Gwen! How nice to hear from you.”
I could hear the muted sounds of a television in the background.
“How are you today? Anything new and exciting?”
“Not unless you call getting a letter from an ex-husband exciting.”
There was a momentary silence from his end of the line. “An ex-husband, you said? I thought you’ve never been married.”
I chuckled, imagining the expression on his face as he tried to figure this out. “Not my ex. One of Nora’s.”
At this, my best friend turned to stare at me, one eyebrow lifted.
I waggled mine in return. “Apparently one of them made her the executor of his will, and now she’s got to talk to the lawyer. I said I’d go with her.”
“Aha. That makes more sense.” The sound of canned laughter rose in the background. “Give me a sec, would you? I need to shut this thing off.”
“Sounds like you’re watching All in a Day’s Work. Those candid camera shows can get really silly.”
“Indeed they can.” There was silence as he clicked off the television. “Now, where were we?”
“I was calling to see if you could lend a hand tomorrow with the pet business.” I shifted around on the couch, trying to find a more comfortable way to sit that didn’t make my legs ache more. “Rachel and Brent will be here, of course, but with Nora and me at the lawyer’s office, I’m afraid they won’t be able to handle it all.”
“Not a problem. I’d be happy to walk a few dogs for you.”
“Oh, that’s great.” I gave Nora a thumbs-up. “I’m sure there’ll only be one, maybe two at the most.”
“That’s fine. What time would you like me to be there? I’m assuming I’ll start off at Nora’s place, right?”
I paused, trying to think through the list of appointments. “Hang on a moment, Roger. I need to check before I give you the wrong information.”
Nora disappeared behind the silk screen that hid her desk, and her polished fingernails tapped an impatient tattoo on its shiny surface. “They’ve got me on hold, if you can believe it. And I’m stuck listening to some God-awful pop song that sounds like a cat getting its tail pulled.” She shook her head in disgust. “What was wrong with good ol’ elevator music, I ask you? At least I didn’t have to hear ‘ooh baby baby’ over and over.”
I distractedly waved her complaints away. “Listen, Roger said he’ll be glad to help tomorrow. I just need to know if he should come over here in the morning or go straight to the client’s house.”
“Whatever you think.” Nora’s continuous fingernail tapping was getting on my nerves. “It might be easier to send him a text with the client’s information. Everything’s already opened on my iPad.” She pointed with her chin to the desk, where the tablet lay. “The list for tomorrow is right there on the first page.” Her fingers paused in mid-tap as she listened to something on the other end of the line. “And it’s about time, too. Do you have any idea how appalling your hold music is?”
I shook my head, smiling to myself as I grabbed the iPad from her desk. A sassy Nora was a normal Nora. And if that lawyer had any sense about him, he’d better be ready with all barrels locked and loaded, or at least with some answers.
My job would be to get answers from Nora, including what it was that had suddenly set her off. Was the Ghost of Rotten Husbands Past about to make a visit? If so, it had better be warned: no one messed with my best friend, and I’d do everything in my power to see they didn’t, no matter if they were dead or alive.
The next morning’s sunrise outside my bedroom window was feeble, the rays battling a growing bank of dark clouds as they attempted to get through. My brain was in feeble mode as well, and as I slowly shuffled toward the kitchen in search of life-restoring caffeine, I began to regret my promise to go with Nora to see her ex-husband’s lawyer.
I’d had a restless night, despite the lavender chamomile tea I’d sipped as I re-read Agatha Christie’s They Do It with Mirrors. There was something about the friendship between Miss Marple and her American pals that had colored my dreams, and I’d awoken with a sense of anxiety. I had no explanation for feeling that way, and I chalked it up to Nora’s upcoming appointment.
However, once the caffeine hit my system and I’d had a shower, I began to feel much more like my commonsensical self. Maybe I needed to change my bedtime reading to something more soothing, such as Good Night, Moon.
Whatever the reason, I was back on an even keel by the time I arrived at Nora’s. I’d left my rescue dog, a black-and-white mixed breed I’d named Hercule, sound asleep on the living room rug. The doggy door I’d installed a few months before would let him out to do his business, and I’d left ample water. This, at least, was one less thing for me to worry about as Nora and I stood outside her apartment building waiting for our Uber.
I’d only visited this part of Portland a few times in my life. For such a small town, it had some amazingly hidden recesses that seemed to appear from nowhere, an American version of Brigadoon. After waving goodbye to our (thankfully) taciturn driver, Nora and I headed toward the building that housed her ex-husband’s lawyer.
The name emblazoned on the opaque glass door reinforced my highland musings. “I. MacWhirter, Esquire” was picked out in a gilt script that mimicked cursive, an art that was rapidly disappearing in our schools, much to my sorrow.
“Ready to rock ’n’ roll?”
Nora’s question shook me out of my reverie on the demise of cursive.
I reached over and gave her arm a brief pat, smiling my encouragement. “You betcha, girlie. Let’s do this.”
Despite the elegance of the front door’s presentation, the reception area looked as if a rainbow had exploded in the room. A lipstick-red sofa sat against one wall, its ends bracketed with a pair of mustard-yellow arm chairs. Pillows in green and blue added to the mix, and the teak coffee table that perched sedately on top of the multi-hued rug looked like the third wheel on a romantic date.
“Who decorated this place, Bozo the Clown?” Nora’s muttered comment made me smile. “Marcus would love it.”
I chuckled as I took in the busy room. “All that’s missing is a plaid jacket or two.”
“Plaid jacket? Sounds like my type of man.”
The voice behind us made us jump. We spun around, my hand clutching Nora’s arm.
A pair of green eyes twinkled above a wide grin, and the tight red curls that covered her head gave the woman a Brillo pad appearance. She thrusted out a freckled hand. “Ione MacWhirter at your service.”
“You’re the lawyer? My ex-husband used a woman lawyer?” Nora’s mouth gaped in a most unbecoming manner, and I was tempted to shut it for her. “The Bottomless Pitt hated women. Hence the ‘ex’ in front of ‘husband.’”
It was difficult to tell if Ione MacWhirter was flushing. Her freckles seemed to have multiplied in the few moments since we’d met her, and her narrowed eyes had lost their friendly welcome. “If you’ll give me a few minutes to review your case, I’ll be happy to speak with you.”
Turning around, she headed for the bright yellow door behind a low teak desk. I exchanged a shrug with Nora. Clearly, something had upset the lawyer, and ten to one it was my best friend’s choice of words.
“Let’s sit down.” I motioned to the colorful seating arrangement. “I’ve got a feeling her ‘few moments’ might stretch out a bit longer.”
“Oh, more than likely.” Nora gave her thin shoulders another hitch and followed me over to the sofa. “She’s got to prove a point, right?”
I stared at Nora, my eyebrows lifting in mock confusion. “And why’s that, pray tell?” I knew the answer already, having been a witness in the past to my pa. . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...