The Val & Kit Mystery Series

Sunday, September 2, 2018


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?”


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 Jos√© 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.”