The Val & Kit Mystery Series

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?


Friday, June 1, 2018

Behind the Scenes: Val’s Father’s Day 2008



“You know it’s Father’s Day on Sunday, right?” Emily asked me.

“Is it?”

“You know it is, Mother.”

“Okay, you got me. So what about it?”

“Well, shouldn’t we do something nice for Dad?”

“Go ahead. He’s your father, not mine.”

As soon as I said it, I wanted to grab the words out of the air and shove them back down my throat.

Meanwhile, my fifteen-year-old daughter snatched her Coke from the counter, took a long gulp, and then set the can back down carefully, as if she needed to steady herself. “Are you and Dad fighting?” Her blue eyes squinted just a bit, ready for a battle.

“No, Emily.” It wasn’t a lie; he’d have to be home for us to be fighting.

She immediately brightened. “Okay, good.” She sounded relieved. “So, I was thinking maybe we could cook his favorite dinner, that manicotti thingy, and play his favorite music—you know, that jazz stuff he likes—and then we could go to Omega for a brownie sundae. He loves that place.”


Huh? How did she know his favorite dinner when I had no clue? And jazz? When did he become a jazz fan, for heaven’s sake?  “That sounds like . . . well, like quite a plan. I didn’t know he liked . . .”

“Omega? Yeah, he loves it there.” She smiled her radiant smile, the one that lit up the whole world, the one that would have had me trekking up the Andes to celebrate David being her father if that was her wish.

“Okay, then that’s what we’ll do.” I slid the telephone bill into my pocket. The bill that showed numerous calls made by her jazz-loving father from a hotel in Pittsburgh to a person called Candy. That much I had figured out by calling the number myself.

“I bought him a golf shirt.” She took another swig of her Coke. “I know he’s got a million already, but I guess they wear out, right? Or get lost . . . or something.”

“Yes, I expect they do,” I concurred. “He’ll love it.” I flashed to the golf shirt he’d last worn, and the makeup stains on the collar. No doubt courtesy of Candy.

She skipped out of the room, her plan set in motion. And I was left wanting to call her father to remind him just how damn lucky he was to have such a precious gift as Emily. The problem was, I had no idea just where he was, but it certainly was not where he was supposed to be. I just hoped he remembered where he should be on Sunday.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Prom Dress(es) 1978



“Valerie, are you planning to actually go to the prom, or should we move it to your bedroom?”

It was my mom calling from the hallway below. I took one last look at myself in the full-length mirror, and I could hardly believe what I was seeing. My shiny pink satin dress had a ruched bodice and a floor-length full skirt, under which was a hooped petticoat. Even more exciting was the enormous bow on the back that covered most of my rear end. It was the most beautiful dress I had ever worn, and, as my mom liked to remind me, the most expensive.

“I’m coming,” I yelled back, smiling at myself, for once glad I had listened to her advice on the perfect prom dress. I couldn’t wait for Kit to see it.

At the top of the stairs I began my descent, but got only to the first step before I stopped abruptly. At the bottom stood two guys—Kit’s date, Larry, and my date, a boy called Teddy who I hardly knew (but he was cute, and so I’d jumped at the chance when he asked me to prom). Between them was my mom, looking proud as she took her Kodak Instamatic out of her pocket and began her clicking. Next to my mother stood Kit.

Kit! Her dress—oh, her dress! Where to begin . . .  Okay, it was gold. A shiny, glimmering fabric that hugged her slim body and was held up by two thin gold chains over her shoulders. It was short, above-her-knees short, and on her feet were strappy gold sandals with the highest heels I had ever seen her wear. Were we even going to the same prom?  Mine apparently was taking place on a Southern plantation, whereas hers was in Las Vegas.

“You look very pretty, honey,” I heard my dad say when I reached the bottom step.

“Do your best to ditch Charo,” my mom whispered, when she came to me for a close-up.

But I couldn’t stop looking at Kit, who I now noticed was also wearing gold gloves. Up to her elbows. Note to self: never let your mother pick your prom dress, unless of course your mother is Kit’s mother and she takes you to Frederick’s of Hollywood.

“How’re things back in Tara, Miz Scarlett?” Kit, the golden Bond girl, whispered into my ear as we headed out the front door to the Cadillac Fleetwood parked in the street. But before I could respond, she added, “Don’t worry; I’ve got scissors in my purse. That bow has got to go.”

I couldn’t wait for her to get out her golden shears and start snipping.



Sunday, April 1, 2018

Spring Clean(ers)




“You busy?” It was me, calling Kit at 11:30 on a particularly sunny April morning after I had just completed a very lucrative closing. “Wanna have lunch?  I’m buying. Anywhere you want. I just sold a house.”

“Great.” Kit sounded a little breathless.

“Okay, I’ll pick you up. Where do you—”

“I’m busy. You do realize it’s April, right?”

“Yes. Is that supposed to mean something?” It was possible. I shook my brain up a bit. Last week I forgot to attend a free spin class, even though the coupon was taped to my calendar.

“April . . . spring . . . ringing any bells?” Kit continued.

Brain still rattling, I tried to think.

I heard her exasperated sigh. “Spring cleaning, Val. You know I spend the first week of April cleaning.”

“Oh, really?  No, I didn’t know that. How would I know that?”

“How would you not?”

“I guess I forgot.” I was curious. I had never known Kit to spend a day, much less a week, cleaning anything. “What about Martha? Doesn’t she pretty much take care of the place, like twice a week?”

“Ha! Her! I think her names Maria. She went back to Columbia, or El Salvador, or wherever it was she came from.”

“Are you sure? Because—”

“Of course I’m sure. I think I’d know when my own maid—”

“Only you don’t seem to know her name or what country she’s from, soooo—”

“Val, trust me, she’s gone. And it’s up to me to get gutters cleaned, floors waxed, windows washed, blah, blah, blah.” Her last blah sounded on the verge of hysteria.

“Okay, I get it. No time for lunch. I’ll stop by anyway and help.”

“Yeah, that would be good, and pick up some coffee. I’m almost done with the kitchen.”

An hour later we were sitting on Kit’s patio, drinking our Starbucks and watching through the French doors as two middle-aged women wearing pink overalls waxed her hardwood floors. On my way in, I had passed a man on a ladder throwing debris from her gutters to the ground. In the hallway, another woman was cleaning her oversize gilt-edged mirror, and yet another woman with her back to me was vacuuming the stairs.


“You must be exhausted,” I said to Kit.

“You bet, Valley Girl. Larry just doesn’t get how much work it is to keep this place looking good.”

“Understandable,” I said, as the patio door opened and a young woman appeared.

“I am ready to start the laundry, ma’am. And José would like to begin cleaning the pool.”

“Ah geez.” Kit sighed. “See what I mean, Val? It’s so much work. You don’t know how lucky you are.”

Later, when I got home to my tiny apartment, I changed out my Swiffer Duster for a fresh new one. It took until the first commercial break in Law & Order:  SVU to dust all four rooms, sweep the kitchen floor, and run a cloth over the bathroom mirror. When I finished, I poured myself a glass of wine and drank a toast to Swiffers everywhere. Then I kicked whatever it was that I saw sticking out from under the couch back into its hiding place.

Whatever it was, I’d catch it in twelve months, during my next spring cleaning.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Internal Revenge



  
“Did you know Kelly Kabot wrote a book?”

“Wait . . . who is Kelly Kabot?” I racked my brain.

Kit and I were sitting in Starbucks at a table by the window. It was my lunch break, her late-morning whatever.

“You know her; she’s that blowsy blond who lives on Elmore.”

“Blowsy? Do people still say ‘blowsy’? Does she actually wear blouses?”

“I said ‘blowsy,’ not ‘blousy.’ And no, she wears very tight T-shirts, usually with a picture of Bon Jovi or Kurt Cobain, or one of those other dead rockers.”

“Well, Bon Jovi is not dead, and I don’t know who this Kelly is, so . . .  But good for her. Writing a book sounds amazing. Did you read it?”

“No, Val, I didn’t read it. Why would I read it? I just happen to know because of my new job.” Kit put down her Starbucks and flashed me some air quotes, presumably meant to be around “new job.” “She’s got more so-called deductions than she has tacky T-shirts. She could have rewritten the Dead Sea Scrolls with all the printer ink she’s bought.”

I didn’t know how long the Scrolls actually were, and I’m pretty sure Kit didn’t either. But apparently, her new job had made her an authority on all tax write-offs, literary related or otherwise. “So, how’s it going?” I asked.

Kit’s husband, who heads a CPA firm, was having problems during the busiest time of the year for accountants. His nemesis was the flu sweeping across Chicagoland, and more specifically, his office, keeping over half his staff at home. In a bid to keep his head above water, he had enlisted his wife to help with simple tasks like filing.

“It’s fascinating, Val. Did you know the Jensens file separately? Why would they do that? I’m thinking a divorce is looming. Bill Jensen went to Vegas three times last year.” She stopped briefly to take a sip of her latte. “And Sandra Pinkerton claims she runs a dog-grooming business.” Again the air quotes were flashed in front of me.

“Well, I can see Sandra running a dog-grooming business. Doesn’t she have like ten dogs?”

“Dachshunds, Val. Dachshunds. Short hair. I don’t think there’s much grooming going on, although she might wanna take some scissors to that moustache of her husband’s. Only Tom Selleck should have that much hair growing below his nose.”

“So how do you know all this?”

“Taxes, Val. An accountant knows all the secrets. We’re kinda like doctors. Only not as well paid, of course—”

“Welllllll, like a doctor, shouldn’t all the info you have remain confidential?”

“It is. I’m telling only you, and you’re nothing.”

“Thanks for that.”

“I mean, you’re Switzerland.”

“Would you want Switzerland to know you had a yeast infection?”

Kit waved my words away. “What are they gonna do? Blab to Austria?”

We finished our coffee, and I rose from the table, gathering my purse and coat. “I gotta get back to work. I’ll see you later.”

“Right.” Kit rose too, wrapping her deep-purple pashmina around her shoulders. “I gotta go to the office as well. Listen, bring your tax stuff over tonight, and I’ll do them for you. No charge.”

I leaned over to give her a hug. Across the street I could see an Office Depot looming—my personal tax haven, where I could purchase TurboTax. The Turbo people know how to keep their mouths shut.

“Thanks, but I’m good.”

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Alphabet is Missing Its Z

A word about Sue Grafton and all the wonderful words she put together to create her amazing series, affectionately known as the “alphabet mysteries.”

Her heroine, Kinsey Millhone, likes peanut butter and pickle sandwiches, which she makes quickly in her mini house, rented from her beloved neighbor and dear friend, Henry.  Kinsey has one black dress, suitable for any formal occasion, which rolls up easily and is made from some never-creasing fabric. She's compassionate, perceptive, and smart—oh so smart.

We worked our way through the alphabet with Kinsey, and, as so often happens with a quirky and endearing fictional character, we grew to love her.

Thank you, Sue Grafton. Thank you for all the pleasure you brought us. And although you left us before you got to Z, we are ready to start again with A.


Monday, January 1, 2018

Looking Backward and Forward

Name one of the best things that happened to you in 2017.

Patty: Our family gained another beloved ­member, and another musician, when our oldest grandchild married his college sweetheart.



Roz: Two things. Taking Foreign Relations to market. And the Houston Astros winning the World Series.

What personal event affected you the most in 2017?

Patty: Again, the wedding! Any time my entire family gathers, especially for a joyous occasion, life is extra good!


Roz: Did I mention I live in Houston? So, Hurricane Harvey was overwhelming. But if any good came from it, it’s how it united the city. Everyone helping everyone (and the shot in the arm from our Astros didn’t hurt none either).

What one thing are you most looking forward to in 2018?

Patty: Ah, so many things (I am the eternal optimist, often “accused” of wearing rose-colored glasses). I’ll start with the clichéd getting in shape and getting caught up on projects. And I’m looking forward to seeing Roz in person. (Take that, Skype! You’re good, but you ain’t THAT good.)

Roz: I am itching for us to start writing No. 7 in The Val and Kit Mystery Series. I miss writing and working with Patty. We’ve kicked around a few ideas already, and hopefully we’ll be ready to begin soon.

What is the first book you plan to read in 2018?

Patty: This Is the Story of a HappyMarriage by Ann Patchett, one of my favorite authors. Described as a blend of literature and memoir, it was recommended (and loaned) to me by my daughter-in-law—so it has winner written all over it!

Roz:  Testimony by Scott Turow has been sitting on my coffee table for a month. Now that the holidays are over, I plan to crack it open.

Is there something you’d like to do better in 2018?

Patty: Everything! But I’ll try to focus more on what I have accomplished and remind myself that it’s good enough, instead of bemoaning what I haven’t done or done well enough (my rose-colored glasses should help with this).

Roz: I’d like to get better at marketing our books and take more advantage of social media. Once we start writing, I become so immersed that promoting our other books goes on the back burner (plus Patty is so much better at it than I am, so she bears the load).

If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?

Patty: In addition to my busiest and favorite “jobs” of mom and grandma, I would choose perennial student or lawyer (at least I know I’d have fun going to law school!).

Roz: Ideally, something in the legal profession.

When you were young, what profession do you remember wanting to try?

Patty: I was always going to be a teacher and played school CONSTANTLY (when I wasn’t playing “house” with my dolls). I learned from my “students” (my three younger and very silly brothers) that I really didn’t have the patience to be a teacher. I was always sending them to the principal (my dad, who assured me I should learn to deal with my problem students in the classroom). I must have done something right, though, because those brothers turned out just fine!

Roz: I remember thinking that flight attendants had the best job in the world. It must have been the uniform, because as an older person I hate getting on an airplane. It’s my least favorite thing to do. Plus, it’s terrifying.



Roz and Patty: We hope that as you look back, and forward (especially forward), you see many blessings and a whole lotta fun! Happy 2018!