Four excerpts follow . . .
“Bud, is there anything, anything at all, that you can say about the meaning of these words?” I asked, knowing I was grasping at straws.
I could see his wheels spinning, searching for an answer. The man really did want to be helpful.
“They kind of rhyme?” Did I just witness Lindsey rolling her eyes? That’s a rare sight. Bud went on. “I can see how the theft of the bricks has to do with building the house, and then there’s the May Day basket. That kind of makes sense . . . but I haven’t the slightest idea what the ruler, the hands, the coins is all about.”
Straws, all straws, nothing but straws.
I had nothing to add either, but Lindsey did.
“I’m not sure of the relevance, Bud, but we do know the note arrived on June 1st and, according to some calendars, June 1st is Dare Day. You dare someone to do something. Some even refer to it as Double Dog Dare Day, in which case one person dares another to do something, but they must do it first.”
Bud sat shaking his head—mine was shaking, too— while Lindsey added that June 1st was also Flip-a-Coin Day, which originated back in the day of Julius Caesar. It was written that he’d flip a coin to make a decision where the right choice was unclear. Good grief! This was not what I’d signed up for. I wanted to be deep into real detective work, not this nursery rhyme stuff.
“What the hell does that all mean?” Bud complained, holding his almost hairless head in his hands.
Frustrated and without a doubt out of his comfort zone, Bud began to drum all eight of his fingers on the veneer surface of the table adding to my leg bouncing and pencil tapping. We had a regular rhythm section performing in booth 22 at the Flagstaff Denny’s.
“More coffee, anyone?” offered the cheerful waitress.
“Not for me,” Lindsey answered quickly. “Jake, I’m going to go out and check on the pets. See you in a few minutes.”
I sensed we were complicating this interim principal’s life far beyond his tolerance for problems and details. Bud confided in me that he’d like us to forget about all the House That Jack Built “crapola” and concentrate only on the threat to vandalize the computer lab. As he put it, ‘I didn’t ask for any of this; I wish it would all go away.’
He was candid and comfortable when it came to Lindsey’s participation at the school. Her expertise was welcomed and needed. He said, and I quote, “I can keep any ship a-float, but don’t ask me about the common core curriculum or teaching strategies. That all came after my time.” And now all I could think about was that Lindsey could do this guy’s job in her sleep and do it a thousand times better.
FYI—Hit The Road, Jake! is not about Halloween. It just happens to have a few scenes that relate to the holiday. This novel is a romantic mystery with an emphasis on mystery. In this second excerpt, Lindsey and Jake find more than flames in the fire ring. Enjoy!
“I say we get this Halloween party started! Do you have a costume?”
“I don’t have an outdoorsy, cookout costume, but I might be able to improvise something later in the evening.” Oooooh. Did I just say that? From the quizzical smile on Jake’s face, I wondered what picture had flashed through his mind.
The four of us—yes, Malcolm, too, but with his cage partially covered due to the chilly temperature—gathered around the fire ring. Wendell went to work; at least that is what it looked like to us. He circled the fire ring with his nose to the ground like a sniffer dog. He didn’t have the face shape or the nose for that kind of work, but unaware of his limitations, he continued to sniff, to circle, to lift his head and look around. To all this, he added a little whining and then a sneeze or two. We were clueless as to the cause of this sudden frenzy of activity.
Jake retrieved the lantern from the RV to shed some light on the area until the fire’s flames could take over. The strike of a match, the hiss of pressure within the lantern, and then the glow of . . . Right away we spotted the object of Wendell’s curiosity—a box lying in the center of the fire ring. At first, we assumed that a departing camper had left some burnable trash, but there was a trash container at the far end of the campground, even a container for recyclables. So, our initial idea didn’t make much sense. Curiosity got the better of Jake and he wanted to get the fire lit, so he lifted up the box.
I screamed! Jake gasped. We weren’t expecting to come face to face with a pile of . . . of . . . dead insects? Oh, wait. Something was moving. Several furry, multi-legged inhabitants ascended to the top of the morbid pile and scurried away. Tarantulas, I think.
“Okay,” said Jake throwing, kindling, sticks, and logs on the remains of the others. “Let’s get this fire blazing!”
“What? Just like that, we’re going to carry on as if nothing strange just happened?”
“Yes. That’s exactly what we’re going to do. This could just be a Halloween prank.”
That’s what Jake said, but his actions suggested something far more ominous. As soon as the kindling set the twigs to burning, and the flames from those twigs lit the logs, and the fire roared, Jake went into the RV. He quickly returned with his gun in one hand and a crowbar in the other.
“Just a few precautions. You know I always wanted to be a boy scout when I was a kid. I took the motto Be Prepared to heart. I am prepared to bash bugs!”
He’d put on a happy face for my benefit. He was a good man. But both of my appetites were now absent. We cooked and ate quickly, then fell asleep watching a DVD of Kindergarten Cop. Things would feel different in the light of day.
Now it was my turn. The mystery, the fun, my part of this equation would finally begin. To say I was chomping at the bit, didn’t begin to describe how I felt. Bring it on! I took a deep breath to calm my enthusiasm, not wanting to seem over anxious, then, “How can I help you, Brady? Your application didn’t contain much information.”
“Yeah, sorry about that. The office ladies do all the paperwork for me and I didn’t want them to know about my little mystery. I don’t need your services, but I think my friend, Gigi, does.”
“And this friend is a teacher or school employee?”
“No. She works for the park service in the gift shop.”
“Oh.” I wondered if my expression appeared as puzzled as my mind felt. Lindsey and I shared an oh-my- gosh-what-have-we-just-stumbled-into look. That was not the way we usually worked. In fact, it had never occurred to us to help with problems outside of the school, the district or its employees.
“You or someone had hand-written the word blackmail on the form.”
“Yeah, that was me. Added that right before I mailed it to you. I didn’t know what else to call it.”
“Is your friend being blackmailed?”
“She’s talked about blackmail since late last spring. I think I’m more upset about this than she is. She won’t say much to me about it, but I know it bothers her.”
“And now she wants to talk to me about her blackmail situation?”
I didn’t understand his uncomfortable hesitation until he finally spoke.
“Let’s say she is willing to talk with you.”
Now I was the hesitator; this did not feel right, but I agreed to check it out.
“Okay. When and where?”
Brady scribbled something on a yellow pad and handed it to me. He’d written her name, a phone number, and her work schedule for the next five days.
“Will Ms. Gigi Guzman be expecting my call?”
“Not sure about that.”
“Then make sure. We don’t want any trouble.” That was the understatement of the day.
“Our Mr. Farley sure is an odd fellow. Did you hear his Sherlock comment, Lindsey?”
“I certainly did, and I have but one comment of my own about that issue. Who’s who?”
“Uh, that’s more of a question than a comment, but since you asked, I am the doctor in the family, PhD and all, so shouldn’t I be Dr. Watson?”
“Nope. A PhD does not qualify you for that. Besides, I called you Sherlock first, a long time ago. Remember?”
“Yeah. Maybe. But these additional names are just between us. There will be no Sherlocking me in public. Agreed?”
She hesitated and then slowly replied, “Sure.” My Lindsey is a brilliant and humorous woman.
The sun dipped below the surrounding tree-covered hills and the temperature plummeted. Not yet ready to go inside, we put warm jackets on our bodies and another log on the fire. Then, wow! Déjà vu! Thoughts, memories of our time together two summers ago, in the Zuni Mountains, flooded in.
“This feels familiar, doesn’t it?” Her thoughts had traveled the same path as mine. We held hands and reminisced. “That’s when we fell in love.” She spoke with a dreamy, whispery, far away voice.
“That is when you fell in love; I’d already loved you for months.”
She looked surprised. “Really?”
“How many months?”
“Hmm. About eight or nine.”
“But that would mean . . . ”
“Yes. For me, it was almost love at first sight. I could not get you out of my mind since that night I delivered Chinese food to your house . . . to you.”
We sat in silence for a while, the only sound was the crackling of the fire. Then, glancing back at the RV she continued. “It does feel like that wonderful night in Zuni except that instead of sleeping in a distressed, old tent we’ve upgraded to a luxurious RV. Though with the presence of Wendell, Malcolm, and all of our stuff, it still feels . . . kind of cozy.”
“And that, my dear woman, sounds like a song.”
“Oh, Jake. I really wish I could sing or write music like a pro. Perhaps in another lifetime.”
“In the meantime, we’ll make do with the talents we’ve got.”
I took her hand, led her into the RV, then back toward the bed, singing all the while. “Gonna get cozy . . . in the camper.” Wendell mumbled, Malcolm chirped, and, if I’m not mistaken, Lindsey cringed.
“Sherlock becomes Johnny One Note before my very eyes. Or should I say ears? You do have more than one note in your repertoire, right?”
“Of course, I do. Just not when I’m singing.” My smart-aleck side had surfaced and the look on her face told me I’d be wise to smother her with kisses before she could vocalize her own clever reply. Ah, sweet wisdom.