The Val & Kit Mystery Series

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Making a List, Checking It Twice (And Deleting It Once)




“Kit, I’m making my Christmas list, and I’d like to get you something you really want.”

“I don’t want anything, Val. Just come spend the day with Larry and me. That will be more than enough present. You are still coming, right?”

“Yes, of course.”

“And for crying out loud, I’m begging you, don’t go wasting your money at Family Dollar. I don’t need a thing.”

I ignored her, and since I had a big, fat Christmas bonus coming, I put a question mark next to her name.


“Hi, Mom, it’s me.”

“Who?”

“Valerie. Your daughter. Remember, you went to the hospital about fifty years ago, and they sent you home with a little baby.”

“Oh, are you that baby? How could I forget? Seventy-two hours of excruciating labor, and then you howled nonstop for a month.”

“That’s the one. I’m calling because I’m starting my Christmas list, and I wondered if there is anything you and William particularly want.”

“Valerie, don’t go squandering your money on William Stuckey and me. We don’t want a thing.”

“Seriously, Mom, I’m expecting a huge bonus from work, so don’t worry about the cost.”

“Well, why don’t you spend it on yourself? Get a decent haircut, or join one of those gyms.”

“Er, no, I love my haircut, and I hate gyms.”

“You know, Valerie, it’s bad manners to ask people what they want for Christmas—”

“Oops, my other line is ringing; gotta go. Forget I called.”


“Emily, it’s Mom. I know it’s early, but I’m making my Christmas list. Anything in particular you and Luke would like? And don’t hold back. I have an enormous Christmas bonus coming.”

“Oh, Mom, Luke and I were just talking about this very thing. What we would like . . .”

“Yes, tell me. Anything.”

“We’d like you to make a donation to a charity; it would mean so much.”

“What are you thinking? Whales, baby seals?”

“Show Dogs.”

“Show . . . dogs? Do show dogs really require a charity?”

“Yes. It’s the name of a rescue shelter for homeless dogs.”

“Hmm. Didn’t you tell me about an antique bookcase you have your eye on?”

“Mom, some of the dogs are vision impaired; they would have no use for bookcases or even books.”

“Well, I meant the bookcase would be for you—oh, never mind. I see your point. Because some of the dogs can’t see. Or read.”

“Exactly.”

“Let me think about it some more.”


“What are you doing, Val?”

“Oh, hi, Tom, best boss in the whole world; I’m making my Christmas list with the help of that gigantic bonus we’ve got coming—”

“Yeah, yeah, about that bonus—”

“Don’t worry, you’re on the list too. How about a bottle of that Louis XVI cognac you like?”

“It’s Louis XIII, and it costs seven grand, and about that bonus—”

“Oh, that much? Do they perhaps sell it in those little airline bottles? Maybe a couple of those—”

“Sorry, Val, but there won’t be a bonus this year; we lost that big sale on Main Street, and it looks like the Higginbothams are pulling out of—”

“Wait! No bonus? But I thought—”

“Sorry, Kiddo. Maybe later in the year we can catch up moneywise . . .”

I deleted my list and opened the website for Edible Arrangements. Who doesn’t like winter fruit? Even a vision-impaired mutt can enjoy a pomegranate.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Father Doesn’t Always Know Best (Even in 1979)



What is that thing?” my mother asked. Parked at our curb was the most beautiful car I had ever seen. Sleek, red, and glossy. Kit sat behind the wheel looking like the cat that got the automobile equivalent of the cream.

“It’s Kit’s eighteenth birthday present from her parents,” I said in awe.

“A. Pontiac. Firebird.” My dad said it slowly, as if the meaning of life had just dawned on him.

“I love it!” I squealed. My best friend was waving, urging me to get in. “Kit, it’s so cool!” I opened the passenger door with great care.

“Have you even passed your driver’s test?” my mom asked Kit.

“It’s a beaut, all right.” My dad seemed to be in some kind of trance.

Twenty minutes later Kit and I were driving, somewhere, we didn’t know where exactly. “Why didn’t you tell me you had passed your driver’s test?” I yelled into the wind. My head was hanging out the window, like a golden retriever with floppy ears blown back.


“I haven’t,” I heard her shout.

In an instant, I was back from retriever land. “You haven’t? Wait . . . what? You don’t have a license?”

“Nope.” She pressed her foot harder on the gas pedal. “But it’s in the works.”

“Stop!!!” I screamed, turning down the radio and Chaka’s voice claiming to be “I’m Every Woman.”

“Relax. I’ll have one soon enough.”

Later, over dinner, my dad asked, “So, Val, I expect you would like a car too.”  I had thought about this a lot, since I did at least hold a recent license. But with Kit in her flashy new vehicle, and never really going anywhere without me, I wasn’t in any rush.

“She’s in no rush to get a car.” For once, my mother, who was spooning peas onto my plate, seemed to have her finger on the pulse of the matter.

“Every kid wants their own car. They all want to drive, right, Val?”

“Some do,” I offered weakly, mentally scanning my group of friends. Cynthia Hogg didn’t drive, but the Hoggs were so wealthy they had a chauffeur. Eileen McMullen went everywhere on her bike, which probably accounted for her overly developed calf muscles. And then there was Bart Purcell, who definitely didn’t drive, but mainly because he was currently in juvie. I felt sure stealing a car would be at the top of his list once he got out.


Dad was not convinced. “How about we go car shopping? I have a couple of options in mind.”

“Make sure it has four real seats.” My mother was now spooning carrots onto our plates. “Not those baby seats in the back like Kit’s death trap.”

The following Saturday, I gingerly drove home in my new (to me) 1969 Chevrolet Corvair. It was a misleading shade of cream, or possibly white, depending on the light. The seats were hard black plastic, and there was a strange banging sound when the engine was turned on. I did my best to avoid driving it, but wanted to please my dad, who seemed happy with the purchase. Luckily, my mother came to the rescue when she produced Ralph Nader’s 1965 report in which he claimed the Corvair was unsafe at any speed.

That did it. The Corvair was returned and the new search began, this time with my older brother. I love my dad dearly, but note to self: don’t go car shopping with a man who is on a first-name basis with the local bus driver.



Monday, October 1, 2018

There’s No Buddy Like a Brother





“Is Buddy home?” I remember asking my mother back in the 1970s. She was busy spreading meringue on a lemon pie.

“Don’t go bothering your brother, Valerie. He’s in his room studying.”

As I suspected, my seventeen-year-old brother was hard at work playing Pong on his Atari. “Buddy,” I said quietly, opening his door.

“Val, it’s you; good. Here, take this.” He shoved an Atari paddle into my hand, and I reluctantly sat on the edge of the bed next to him.

“Man, this is slammin’,” Buddy said, his eyes alight and focused on the TV screen. “See how fast it is?”

I wiggled the joystick on the paddle. “So, I need a favor, a big one. Would you drive Kit and me to Milwaukee on the eighteenth to see David Cassidy?”


“Who?”

I relaxed a little since he hadn’t said no. “David Cassidy. The Partridge Family. He’s got a concert and—”

“Oh, that guy! No.”

“Buddy, please. Mom will let me go if you go with, and you don’t have to actually go to the concert—”

“Yeah, right, ’cuz why would I want to see that guy?” He was furiously moving his joystick left to right. That guy blows, Val.”

Later, as Buddy was leaving to go see Blazing Saddles, the new movie everyone was raving about, I attacked him at the front door. “Pleeeeez, Buddy. I’ll mow the lawn for you. For a month.”

“No.”

“Two months?”

“No. I kinda like mowing the lawn.” That was true, but only because it gave him an excuse to go bare-chested, which apparently held some sort of attraction to the sixteen-year-old Bermondsey twins who lived three doors down.

Next morning at breakfast: “How about I write your English essay on To Kill a Mockingbird?”

“Don’t need ya; I’ll see the movie.”

And at dinner that evening: “I’ll wash your car.”

“And vacuum the interior?”

“Yes, yes,” I said eagerly.

“Still no; you’re not going near my Mustang.”


Finally, that night I had to resort to Plan B, which involved my dad, which in turn meant it involved my mother. “Daddy, David Cassidy has a concert in Milwaukee on the eighteenth, and I was hoping—”

“David Cassidy—doesn’t he work at Oswald’s Pharmacy in Naperville?” my mother asked.

“No, Mom. Well, maybe a David Cassidy does work at Oswald’s, but I mean David Cassidy the singer—”

“Ya call that singing?” Buddy piped up.

“You know, from that cute TV show, The Partridge Family.” I looked at my father, who appeared clueless, but my mother chimed in.

“Oh, that David Cassidy. By the way, I really admire his mother’s hairstyle.”

“You mean his mother on the show, Shirley something?”

“No, I mean David Cassidy from Oswald’s. His mother has a stunning French twist.”

I retreated and concentrated on my meat loaf. “This is so good, Mom,” I said, hoping to butter her up some. Twenty minutes later, when she was slicing the lemon meringue pie, I launched my second offensive. “So, Daddy, do you think you could drive Kit and me to Milwaukee on the eighteenth?  I know it’s a two-hour drive, but perhaps you could—”

“What, Valerie?” my mother demanded. “What would you have him do? Drive around Milwaukee hoping not to get shot by the Balistrieri Crime Family while you are enjoying your rock and roll?”

“True,” Buddy said. “Because in Chicago we don’t have any crime families.” He gave me a wicked grin.

“Sorry, honey,” my dad finally spoke. “I will be out of town on the eighteenth.

“So, that settles it.” My mother looked thrilled. “No concert for you, young lady.”

I felt tears of frustration sting my eyes. I pushed my plate of lemon meringue deliciousness away, and Buddy quickly moved it in his direction.

“I’ll take ya.” He spooned a heap of yellow and white fluff into his mouth.

My tears suddenly vanished. “You will?”

He continued chewing. “I will. But only you and Kit, and you have to leave fifteen minutes before the show ends, and no David Cassidy cassettes in the car—”

“Done. Oh, thank you, Buddy, thank you.”

“I haven’t finished yet. My essay on that dead mockingbird thing is due on Friday, and you can vacuum my car, but not wash it. And you can start on the lawn tomorrow.”

I remembered then that the whole Bermondsey family, including the twins, was out of town.

“You got a deal,” I said. Triumphantly.



Sunday, September 2, 2018

Short-Short



I arrived at the restaurant early, by design, so that I could pick out a table at the back, one where I could face the entrance with no obstructions. If I didn’t like the look of Trevor when he appeared—if that was even his real name—I wanted a clean shot to the restroom, where I could climb out of the window. That didn’t sound too difficult.

I ordered a black-currant martini. I’d never had such an exotic drink before, but its picture was on the cover of the cocktail menu. I sucked down nearly half of it two seconds after the server set it in front of me. So, with twenty minutes to kill, I used the time constructively, devising painful ways to murder Kit, my best friend, who had pushed me into this situation. Ignoring all my protests, she had combed several online matchmaking sites and settled on √Člite Chicago Singles. I would have been more comfortable with Run-of-the-Mill Unmarried Guys, but I had to hand it to her, the ECS website was bulging with men of the right age, all attractive and with interesting careers.

Then she had started to whittle them down. She really liked the astronaut, since while he would presumably be in space a lot, I would always know where he was. For the same reason, she also liked the idea of any professional race car drivers, baseball players, and doctors (with the exception of male gynecologists, which she considered weird). She immediately dismissed anyone who claimed they enjoyed long walks on the beach.


“Why?” I had asked.

“Because it means they are cheap. No one wants to walk on a beach with a skinflint.”

Also out of the running was any business owner who didn’t mention the precise nature of his business.

“Why?” I had repeated.

“Because he might make license plates for a living.”

Back to my vigil. Forty-five minutes later, with now two black-currant martinis under my belt, I was refining my plan to boil Kit in hot oil when I felt the presence of someone standing in front of me. I looked up, discarding the napkin I had been shredding. It was Kit.

“Where did you come from?” I asked. I was horrified and relieved at the same time to see her there.

She turned and pointed to the far side of the room. “Back there. You didn’t think I was going to let you do this alone, did you? Not after half a dozen of those.” She glanced at my empty martini glass. “And just what is that, anyway?”

“Two, just two,” I corrected her. “And it’s the September cocktail of the month. Delicious. And what difference does it make, anyway, since Trevor has not shown?”

“Maybe he did,” she said, “and we don’t recognize him because he looks nothing like his picture.”

I thought of the image next to his bio on the website. He did look very handsome, athletic, and youngish. But then again, the picture Kit had posted of me was taken five—okay, ten—years ago, and I was wearing oversize sunglasses and a baseball hat—and not even the Cubbies, but rather the Athletics.

Kit sat down, and we both turned toward the hostess, who was now walking our way with a man, not quite visible, behind her. When she got to our table she stopped, looked surprised to see Kit sitting there, and asked if I was Valerie.

“No. Nooooo. Oh no,” Kit piped up. “This is Magda; she’s Romanian and doesn’t speak much English.”

The man behind the hostess took a sideways step so we could see all of him. If anything, he looked younger and handsomer than his picture. And he definitely looked way too pleased to learn that I was not Valerie.

On the way home, Kit called me from her car. “Remind me what Trevor does for a living.”

“He’s a surveyor,” I said.

“That could mean he works in a lighthouse. And his eyes were awfully close together,” she added. “I think you dodged a bullet with him, Val.”

“You think?”

“Yes. Definitely. Did you notice he wasn’t wearing socks? Probably one of those losers who likes cozy dinners at home.”

Oh man, Trevor was sounding better all the time. What’s wrong with a cozy dinner in a lighthouse? And besides, I think I could have adjusted to those close-set eyes.



Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Val’s Staycation



Val: Where are you going on vacation?
Billie: Oh, Val, it’s going to be great. I’m hooking up with some people in Amsterdam, and we are renting a bus and driving to India.
Val: Wow. I had no idea. Who are these people?
Billie: Don’t know; we’ll meet in Amsterdam for the first time. If you want to come with, there’s always room for one more. But I should warn you: it’s kind of a rough way to travel. No showers, not even any bathrooms. You take only what you can fit in your backpack.
Val: Well, it sounds like heaven on earth, Bill (who was I kidding?), but I think I’ll pass.
Billie: Oh, Val, you are such a girl! What are you planning?
Val: Not sure, but somewhere with indoor plumbing.

Val: So where are you going on vacation?
Tom: Why do you think I’m going on vacation?
Val: Because it’s August. Don’t most people go in August?
Tom: Monaco.
Val: Monaco?
Tom: Yes, they have a little ol’ casino there called Monte Carlo, so I’m told. Wanna go with?
Val: Sounds fancy. But I haven’t decided on my plans yet.


Mother: Valerie, William Stuckey and I are booking a Caribbean cruise for the last week in August. Should we book a cabin for you, or perhaps a suite where we can all be together?
Val: Gee, that sounds so fun, but I’ve already made vacation plans (lie!).
Mother: Really? You didn’t tell me that. Don’t let anyone talk you into getting cornrows in your hair, and don’t speak to any locals because people trafficking is on the rise, even if you are a bit old—”
Val:  I’ll keep an eye out for braids and people smugglers—but oops, I’m getting a call-waiting, Mom. Gotta go (bigger lie).


Val: So what are you and Larry doing this summer?
Kit: Russia.
Val: Russia! That’s a new one.
Kit: Yes, I want to see what all the fuss is about. Why don’t you come with us?
Val: Oh, that’s sweet, but I have other plans.
Kit: No, you don’t. Come with us, it’ll be fun. I’m looking at a private cooking class in Saint Petersburg. Blini and red caviar. Think of it, Val.
Val: Is that supposed to entice me?  Enjoy, and bring me back some of those nesting dolls.


August: Me, lying on my couch, with a bottle of pinot and a humongous bowl of popcorn. DVR ready to go in honor of my family and friends. First movie Slumdog Millionaire, followed by Casino, then Pirates of the Caribbean. And finally From Russia with Love. Gee, travel is the BEST.





Monday, July 2, 2018

Some Like It Hot







“Val, you have to speak up; I can barely hear you,” Kit said.

“Is this better?” I pressed my cell phone closer to my ear.

“Huh? I still can’t— What’s that noise in the background? Where are you? Are you at the airport?”

“No, I’m at home.”

“You sound as though you are on the runway at O’Hare.”

I moved across my tiny living room and switched off one of the fans. “Better?”

“What?”

I switched off the second fan on the opposite side of the room, and the mini tornado that was forming over my coffee table instantly ceased. “How’s that?”

“Okay, now I can hear you. What are you doing over there?”

“The AC is out in the building, so I have a couple of fans going—”

“Why didn’t you say so?  Pack a bag and come over here; what are you waiting for?”

I knew Kit would offer a retreat to her spacious air-conditioned home, but I was reluctant to leave. There was a new British murder mystery on Netflix that I planned to binge and a carton of leftover chop suey in my fridge to finish off. Kit neither binged nor finished off Chinese leftovers. “I’m good, really; thanks anyway. It’s not that hot in here.” I had moved to my galley kitchen, opened the refrigerator, and planted myself in front of it. The Lucky Wok carton sat alone on the middle shelf, happy to share its cool environment, urging me not to leave the apartment.


“Val, it’s the middle of July, for heaven’s sake. You’ll get heatstroke or something—”

“Nah, I think I’ll be okay. They are working on fixing it. Gotta go; I’ll call you later.” I had no idea who “they” were, and was even less certain that anyone was working on the problem. I had called the building manager and left two voice mails, but at seven on a Saturday night, I was not really expecting a return call. Or a cool breeze.

At least the first episode of my British murder mystery opened to a gloomy and chilly-looking scene, somewhere in England. Since I had turned both fans back on, I was forced to use the subtitles rather than listen to the actual dialogue. I didn’t bother heating my chop suey, but even without the benefit of the microwave, the sticky glob was nearly as delicious as it had been at lunch yesterday.

Two hours later Kit called again, but I switched off the fans before answering.

“Is it back on?” she began.

“Yep,” I lied. “All good now.”

“Really? Because it sounds hot over there.”

I laughed. “How does hot sound, Kit? I’m telling you, I’m as cool as a turnip.”

“Oh, for crying out loud. You’re delirious. Larry!” I heard her yell to her husband. “Val has heatstroke.” Apparently, she considered this very common vegetable mix-up proof of my high-temperature-induced dementia.

“Cucumber, I meant cucumber—”


“Val?” It was Larry. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Truly.”

“Thought so. Enjoy your evening.”

He hung up, and I wiped the sweat off my brow with a soggy tissue. When I returned to my program, I was happy to see a British policeman brush a dusting of snow off his shoulder with a gloved hand. A black-and-white dog sat silently by his side, patiently listening to his master’s wise words. “Looks like it’s gonna be a cold night, boy.”

Really, Chief Inspector, or whoever you are? What was your first clue?