Hello Fellow Red Roomers,
Below is a taste of my next book, "How to Plant a Body". It's a cozy and promises to be a great story. I hope you enjoy the excerpt and it will be out in April 2012:
Birds singing on the windowsill are a really nice idea . . . in theory. However, when they wake you up out of a sound sleep, the nice idea theory becomes a cold hard fact of how they’re really pretty to look at, but annoying as hell first thing in the morning. Still, as I sit on the front stairs of my quaint, little house in Grangeville drinking coffee—my life’s blood—soaking up the warm sun, I can’t help but feel like today is going to be wonderful. Like the kind of day I’ve only read about in nursery rhymes and on greeting cards.
Before long, it’s time to get into my sister Angelica’s car and go to work. I guess it’s true when they say, ‘There’s no rest for the wicked.’ She lives three houses down with my parents in the home we grew up in. I call her Angel, although sometimes I don’t view her in that manner. But that’s more my fault than hers. Let’s just say I have a poor attitude sometimes. I have a strong sense of self as well as an overrated and rather loud perceived awareness of entitlement that sometimes gets in my way. “Perceived” is the operative word in that statement. Believe me, it is never pretty. It is all a mask really. A way for me to get through situations I don’t know how to address. I think it makes me seem more intelligent and aloof. Others think it simply makes me annoying. I know this because I’ve been told on more than one occasion.
Now, I know I was just speaking about the morning feeling wonderful, but sometimes things can turn around on a dime. And, oh yeah, then there’s that poor attitude of mine I sometimes have.
“Why did I let you talk me into taking my car today? I should be having it detailed while we’re at work. You know how much I hate a dirty car.”
“Do we have to start our morning out on a sour note, Angel?”
“I’m not being sour, Lily. I just think I should drive back to your house so we can pick up your car and drop mine off. That way it will be done when our work day is over.”
As Angel’s left arm moves toward the signal to make a u-turn, I grab her other arm, “Wait! Let’s do it at lunch. We’re almost there. Going back when we’re this close will only make us late. You know how anal Mom is about opening on time.”
Aster’s Offerings is our family’s business on 590 East Main Street, close to Syringa General Hospital in Grangeville, Idaho. Owen and Iris, my parents, opened up a small flower shop shortly after they got married, about thirty-five years ago and developed it into the most successful flower/gift shop in the city.
My sister Angelica is a bit of a stuffed shirt, at least that’s how I see her. She’s supposed to be a school teacher, but once Dad had his stroke and Mom stayed home to care for him, I think she’s become determined to keep the shop going. She’s always such a goodie-two shoes. She should have just continued with her studies.
I really have no room to talk though. I was going to school to be—of all things—a mortician. Yeah, I know, it’s kind of gross, but it’s a living and someone has to do it. At first I thought it was sort of disgusting, but after I drained my fiftieth cadaver it got to be old hack. Oops, sorry for the pun. Wait, did I just say cadaver? Oops to the second power, I should use the word “body.” Cadavers are what you dissect in med-school to find out how things work. Hey, maybe I missed my calling. Perhaps I should’ve gone to medical school.
There I go, getting off track. I tend to do that. I think it’s because my brain works at such a fast pace and my mouth simply tries to keep up. Angel—and a few others who know me well—confess it’s because I’m weird and just plain talk too much.
We are a bit different, she and I. She is a dead serious, skinny, junk-a-holic—ho-hos are her drug of choice—carnivore, who always acts like she has a stick up her backside, while I, on the other hand, am a sixty-five pound overweight carnivore who has a wise-ass streak and zest for life. If I can’t make myself or others laugh over a situation, I tend to aim my tongue toward sarcasm. I believe life is nothing without laughter.
My question is: how does a woman with a normal appetite become overweight? Answer: a terrible sweet tooth. So I guess that junk-a-holic/ho-ho crack was a little out of line.
I have another question, a curious one: how does a woman who eats a two-pound box of chocolates gain five pounds? What the hell is that, the new math? If so, give me long division any time.
I also have a slight problem with authority figures—men in general—but not my parents. I’m not a man-hater mind you, but I find myself very easily annoyed toward them whenever they feel the need to speak. Why? I don’t really know, or perhaps I’m not quite ready to face the real reasons behind my anger. I think it is partly because one of my fears is some macho guy will come along and think of me as some weak little girl that needs to be saved. Add to that, the fact that my last few boyfriends find it necessary to say cruel things about my weight when we break up. I know it’s just their way to make themselves feel better about the way they treat me, but it doesn’t make it any less painful. So I guess you can say I am on guard.
“Fine, we’ll do it at lunch, but I’m telling you right now, it better be done when we go to pick it up after work or you’re going to hear me.”
Angel sounds more irritated than ever before. Maybe her mattress is too lumpy so it interrupts her slumber. Maybe she is suffering from a highly-muted case of botulism. All the guessing in the world won’t change the fact that I have no idea what her problem is.
“I don’t doubt it, sister dear.”
“Can you just this once talk to me without sounding so demeaning?”
“Can you just this once not act like a dirty car is the end of your world? For crying out loud, Angel, laugh a little, will you?”
Needless to say, the ice princess doesn’t give me a response. Don’t get me wrong, I love my sister, but she grinds on my very last nerve every day. If she isn’t complaining about something like global warming, she is whining about over-crowded jails—like she’s in one—or the way cows are given drugs to produce more milk. I haven’t heard her complain about where her red meat comes from or how it’s processed.
Does she care about that? No! Of course, then again, neither do I.
I know, I’m off the beaten path again.
“I hope Joey’s not outside waiting again like yesterday. I’d like to get there first just once.”
“Angel, when are you going to stop sweating the small stuff? Just give him another set of keys.”
“And it’s all small stuff, right?”
“Hey, I’m not the one with animal fats clogging my arteries. I know that’s what makes you so—the way you are.”
“You eat meat too, Lily.”
“Yes, but I eat lean meats. Beef is low on my list of things to ingest.”
Just as we’re getting into yet another argument, we turn the corner right before the shop and both stop talking. If the circumstances were any different, I would swear it was a miracle. However, with the four police cruisers, two fire trucks and an ambulance outside our shop, I’m not thinking about heaven.
“What the heck is going on?” Angel asks as if she knows all about my heaven thought.
“Let’s go find out!”
This is probably the most excited I’ve been in a long time. I guess I’m feeling like our boring, little lives are due for some sort of thrill.
For the first time, my sister doesn’t try and park her car perfectly. Maybe there is a miracle in this after all. Nah, she’ll never change. It’s the anxiety of the moment. I have to run to keep up with her, no easy feat, believe me. Not because I’m overweight but because she’s like a freaking gazelle.
Joey Emerson, our employee, is standing leaning against the stair’s railing with his trusty, dyed, sky blue hanky fastidiously placed over his mouth. He’s wearing his khaki slacks and a peach-colored shirt with a white cardigan over it. His sandals are peach—dyed, I assume, to match his shirt, and yes, he was wearing socks . . . white ones. Joey is gay.
He is a sweet, sweet guy, but there are some things I just shouldn’t know about my employee and the one secret of Joey’s that I know is—he wears ladies panties. Don’t ask me how I know . . . I just do.
“Joey.” Angel puts her arm on his. “What’s going on? Are you all right?”
He is so overcome, he can’t speak. He just waves us toward the door and mouthes the word “greenhouse.” Maybe there are a few too many dead flowers for him to handle all at once. I know it sounds a bit cruel, but he is rather delicate. However, if someone just sees his “stature” and not how he talks or dresses, they would never know.
I step one foot inside the store in front of Angel, intending to go toward the back while she stays behind me, with Joey I assume.
“Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to stay out there,” says the cop putting his arm on mine while pointing outside.
I flinch and pull my arm away.
That’s his first mistake. Having a stranger put his hands on me, cop or not, doesn’t go over very well. My parents taught me to respect authority, but my mother also taught me the immense importance of personal space.
“Excuse me, but this is our shop and we’d like to get inside, please,” I say, attempting to get around him.
“And you are?” asks the still unknown cop.
“You first, please,” I say crossing my arms.
“I’m Detective Anthony Falcetti and your shop is now a crime scene, ma’am.”
“My name is Lily Aster and this is my sister Angelica.”
I point my thumb over my right shoulder while trying a second time to get past him to go inside the shop.
Stepping in my way and looking me square in the eye—making me surprisingly uncomfortable—he says, “Don’t make me tell you again. Stand back please.”
“I think he means it, Lily,” Angel says with a tone of certainty in her voice.
I turn around to face her, and reply, “Thank you, Angel. I wasn’t quite clear on that.”
“There’s no need to get upset,” she states.
After taking a second to try and compose myself I ask, “If it’s not too much trouble, Officer, can you tell us why our shop is now a crime scene?”
“As I’ve already stated, my rank is Detective, not Officer.” Without missing a single beat, he continues, “An unidentified, deceased male has been discovered in your greenhouse by Mr. Emerson,” he says pointing toward Joey.
“A body?” Angel asks turning white as a ghost.
“What the hell are you talking about?” I ask not completely believing what we are being told.
“Ladies, if you don’t mind, we have some work to do inside so if you will wait out there with Mr. Emerson? I’ll be back in a few moments to speak with you both,” he says directly to me since I haven’t moved off the stair yet.
I barely hear him. The truth of the situation starts to settle in and I have to hold on to something before I fall over. None of it is his fault per se, but after all he is in my way, and staying sweet isn’t a strong suit of mine when I get upset. It is one of my few faults.
“I have to get back to the greenhouse to continue my investigation. I’ll be back to speak with all of you.”
He put his hand over my shoulder while still standing behind me and motions for me to join Angel, who is still standing next to Joey. Poor Joey, as near as I can tell, he hasn’t moved a muscle since we got there.
I step down, turn around and salute him, purely out of contempt and nothing more. I decide immediately that I don’t like him.
Angel puts her arm on Joey’s shoulder and gives him a little sideways hug.
“You all right, Joey?”
“Oh,” he sounds—understandably—sad, or ‘forclempt’, as he calls it. “It’s completely horrifying. And the thought of his poor mother, uh, terrible just terrible.”
Falcetti steps back inside completely and shuts the door.
“What happened, Joey?” I ask while climbing back up to the top step and turned around to face them.
“I came to work as I always do. Neither of your cars was here, but I checked the door anyway because I know sometimes you guys carpool and then one goes out for breakfast while the other stays here. The door was unlocked so I didn’t think anything of it and I went inside. I called your names, but no one answered. I assumed you were in the back watering the plants. That’s when I found . . .”
He started weeping at this point and I can’t stand it. So of course, I am determined to make him laugh.
“Oh, Joey. This is nothing. I’m glad you found the body. If we don’t get him out of there, once he starts decomposing, it will kill our plants and flowers. Then where will we be?”
Now he’s sobbing almost uncontrollably. Angel holds him in her arms so he doesn’t collapse onto the ground. I don’t do well around wilting flowers, the human kind. I mean, I know he’s more delicate than some men, but he acts as if he woke up next to the dead guy. Get over it. Oops, I think the would-be mortician is being resuscitated.
Between sobs, Joey utters, “How do you know it’s a man?”
“I’m just generalizing, sorry. You don’t think I killed him, do you?”
“Oh my heavens no! I think the world of you and Ms. Angelica. I would never accuse either of you of doing anything so heinous.”
He seems to be regaining some poise, thank God. I offer to go and get him—and us—some coffee while we wait for Detective pain-in-the-ass to come out and grace us with his presence. He declines, telling me he doesn’t think it’s a good idea for me to leave.
Finally, after what feels like a lifetime, Falcetti decides to join us, a.k.a. the living. Whoop-dee-freakin’-do. He comes out the door so quickly he almost knocks me off the step, so I go back down where Angel and Joey are standing. He has a Polaroid in his hand. I know I’m not going to like this.
“Thank you for waiting.”
“Did you give us a choice? Besides, this is our shop, we aren’t about to leave.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to close up for today, ladies.”
“But we have a business to run,” Angel informs him.
“Ma’am, I’m not making a request.” He turns the photograph toward all three of us, “I’d like you all to look at this picture and tell me if you recognize this man.”
The picture is very disturbing, but I try to cover up my fright, “I told you, Detective, her name is Angelica Aster, not ma’am. We run this store for our parents, Owen and Iris. What right do you have to come here and tell us when we can and can’t open?”
“My apologies, Ms. Aster,” he says, as he slightly bowed in my sister’s direction.
I hear the sarcasm in his voice, which I feel is aimed directly at me even though he is facing Angel. Although, he’s personally pissing me off, I appreciate his tenacity. There is nothing worse than someone who can’t hold their own.
I know he is simply doing his job. It just makes me upset that someone can do something so horrible and I am having a little trouble handling it.
He continues, “Have any one of you ever seen this man before? Maybe he’s come in the shop or maybe you’ve seen him walking by or down this street? Even perhaps the street where you live?”
We all say we haven’t seen him. He is not familiar, even a little bit. Joey continues to weep. The picture makes him cry harder. Seeing the body once is already proving to be too much. Granted, it is only a photograph of the man’s face, but he’s been through enough and the photograph did little to hide the wounds on the poor man’s head. It’s hard to see such horrific things done to another person. I hand the picture back to Falcetti and reiterate all of our previous responses.
“I’m sorry we aren’t able to keep the injuries completely out of the photograph. The possible murder weapon—a shovel—did some pretty extensive damage.”
“Shovel?” asks Angel.
“A gardening shovel, Ms. Aster. Next to the body.”
“We don’t have a gardening shovel here. Just trowels, hand-held hoes and small rakes,” I tell him.
He reveals nothing else about the shovel.
Looking at us, he states, “This is a crime scene, and until further notice, you will not be open for business and—for the record—I do indeed have the right to tell you that. If you care to go up against me, I can arrest you for interfering in a murder investigation and you can make yourselves at home in the county jail until your trials if you’d like. Any questions?”
I can’t stop myself, but I’m careful.
In my nicest, snottiest voice I ask, “When can we expect to resume business as usual . . . sir?”
Blech! That last word leaves a horrible taste in my mouth!
“If all goes well, perhaps tomorrow. We’ll most likely be here for the entire day. The area will be cordoned off completely until all the evidence is gathered and our main investigation of the area is over.”
I plan on giving him a run for his money. Never will I allow some overbearing detective to get anything over on me. I am determined to see to it that he earns his battle scars. And I plan on enjoying each and every one as I inflict them upon his person.
Causes Terri Armstrong Supports
American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, Jerry's Kids, Lymphodema Research