A Disguise to Die For (Costume Shop Mystery Series #1)

A Disguise to Die For (Costume Shop Mystery Series #1)

by Diane Vallere
A Disguise to Die For (Costume Shop Mystery Series #1)

A Disguise to Die For (Costume Shop Mystery Series #1)

by Diane Vallere

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Someone is dressed to kill in the debut Costume Shop Mystery from the national bestselling author of the Material Witness mysteries.
No sooner does former magician’s assistant Margo Tamblyn return home to Proper City, Nevada, to run Disguise DeLimit, her family’s costume shop, than she gets her first big order. Wealthy nuisance Blitz Manners needs forty costumes for a detective-themed birthday bash. As for Blitz himself, his Sherlock Holmes is to die for—literally—when, in the middle of the festivities, Margo’s friend and party planner Ebony Welles is caught brandishing a carving knife over a very dead Blitz.
For Margo, clearing Ebony’s name is anything but elementary, especially after Ebony flees town. Now Margo is left to play real-life detective in a town full of masked motives, cloaked secrets, and veiled vendettas. But as she soon learns, even a killer disguise can’t hide a murderer in plain sight for long.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425278284
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/02/2016
Series: Costume Shop Mystery Series , #1
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 4.20(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Diane Vallere also writes the Lefty-nominated Material Witness series including Suede to Rest and Crushed Velvet, as well as the Mad for Mod and Style & Error series. She has had a lifelong love of playing dress up, and believes the lines between fashion and costume can (should?) be blurred on a regular basis.  At age ten, Diane launched her own detective agency and has maintained a passion for shoes, clues, and clothes ever since.

Read an Excerpt


Praise for Diane Vallere

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Diane Vallere

Title Page




Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Disguise DeLimit Costume List: Blitz Manners’s Detective Party


Costume Ideas

Special Excerpt from Masking for Trouble

Chapter 1

“GIVE ME THE knife,” demanded the cranky man in the wheelchair.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“I’m not playing, Margo. Give me the knife.”

“Why? I already told you I could do it. It’s just going to take longer than I thought.”

“That’s because you can’t climb the ladder in those silly boots.”

“Why are you so worried about my go-go boots? You bought them for me. Besides, you’re the one wearing two different shoes.”

My dad—the cranky man in the wheelchair—looked down at his feet. He wore one brown wing tip and one black.

“I pay that nurse too much to end up leaving the house wearing two different shoes,” he said. “And this stupid chair makes everything worse. If I can get up and down the stairs okay, then I don’t need it.”

“You’re in that chair because you’re still weak. The doctors don’t want you running all over the place and having a second heart attack. And the nurse didn’t mismatch your shoes on purpose. Most of the nurses don’t expect to have such colorful patients.”

He stuck his feet out in front of him and shook his head at the sight of the mismatched shoes. “I said brown wing tips. How hard is that?”

I was pretty sure my dad wasn’t used to relying on a woman to dress him—nurses or otherwise. He’d been a widower since my mother died giving birth to me thirty-two years ago. While growing up, I’d notice the way women who came into the costume shop looked at him in his paisley ascots, tweed blazers, and dress pants. He was a catch, my father. And now that he was recovering from an unexpected heart attack, he was a cranky, stuck-in-his-ways catch that the nurses of Proper City Medical Care had the distinct pleasure of dressing, at least until I’d arrived. I wondered if the mismatched-shoe situation was payback for his attitude.

“You’re going to have to let me help you. Got that?” I said, pointing an accusatory finger at his nose. He swatted it away.

“It’s not right. I’m your father. I’m supposed to take care of you, not the other way around.”

“I’m a grown-up now.”

“You’re too grown-up, if you ask me.” He glared at my outfit a second time.

“What? We have this exact same outfit in the ’60s section of the store.” I pointed to the back corner of the shop, where a kaleidoscope mural in neon shades covered the walls.

The store in question was Disguise DeLimit, our family’s costume shop. The store had been around far longer than I had, starting sometime in the ’70s by a couple who had worked in the movie business in Hollywood. My dad had started as a stock boy before he was old enough to work legally, and slowly graduated first to salesperson and then manager.

Eventually, the couple decided their time running the store was over. Turns out Dad had been saving for a rainy day and bought them out, inventory and all. Shortly after he became owner he met my mother and they fell in love. They married and planned to start a family and run the shop together. Two years later, the love of his life was gone and in her place was a newborn baby: me.

“Besides, you always said the fact that my outfits are inspired by costumes in our inventory was good for business. Remember?”

He grunted an answer and rolled back to the boxes.

The outfit that ruffled his feathers was a mod, zip-front minidress colorblocked in red, white, blue, and black. It ended midthigh, which left an expanse of skin between the bottom of the hem and the top of my white patent leather boots.

The summer before I moved out of Proper, I bought a box of patterns from the ’60s at a yard sale and made myself this dress. The bandleader at the local high school stopped me one day and asked where I got it. They were planning a Beatles tribute concert and thought dresses like mine would be perfect for the choir. He came to the store and placed an order, and I spent the next two weeks knocking out dresses just like it. One by one the girls came in and bought up our inventory of white patent leather boots, plastic hoop earrings, and colorful fishnet stockings. I didn’t always dress like a go-go dancer, but when I got the call from Nurse Number Three that my dad was trying to inventory the costume shop against her direction, there hadn’t been time to change. So here I was in the white patent leather go-go boots he’d bought me before I moved to Las Vegas seven years ago—the perfect complement for my mod minidress but not so practical for balancing on a ladder while your father glares at you—reaching for a rubber knife that someone had hung on the Western wall by the fake pistols and plastic holsters. Everybody knows you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.

I extended my reach the way I’d been taught in the ballet class I took last year and nudged the peg until the knife fell. It dropped—the peg, not the knife—and landed by my dad’s brown shoe. The knife landed by his black one. I picked up both and set them on the counter.

“Dad, I don’t get why this is so important. Inventory can wait until you’re better.”

“We’re heading into spring. Remember what that means? Outdoor birthday parties and the Sagebrush Festival. I have to know what props we already have stocked so I can start planning concepts.”

“You can’t expect to carry on business as usual while you’re recovering. It’s too much.”

“That’s right. I can’t, but you can. You grew up here. You know as much about the costume business as I do.”

He was right. While other children were playing on backyard jungle gyms, I was playing in the store. My birthday presents had come from costume suppliers and my clothes had come from our inventory. By the time I’d turned sixteen, it was natural for me to work part-time hours after high school.

After graduation, I took the occasional night course but most of my time had been inside these four walls. I’d been responsible for painting the walls around the gangster clothes black with white chalk stripes and also the psychedelic flower-power mural by our ’60s section. It was my dad who encouraged me to move away—he wanted to make sure I knew there was a whole world out there before I accepted Proper City as my home base—and kicked me out on my twenty-fifth birthday. I moved to Las Vegas—which was only about forty miles from Proper but might as well have been the moon for how different it was—and experienced independence for the first time. It was far enough to feel as though I was on my own but close enough to come home for major holidays. I’d been in Vegas ever since.

“I can’t stay indefinitely. You know that. I think you have to sit this season out.”

“Nobody’s sitting anything out. You got that, sister?” asked a black woman from the doorway. She held a small, white bichon frise under one arm. His fur was brushed out in the same manner as her natural Afro.

I rushed forward and flung my arms around her. “Ebony!”

The small dog yipped from inside the hug. I backed away and patted his puffy head. “Hello to you too, Ivory,” I said.

The woman assessed me from head to toe. “Margo Tamblyn, as I live and breathe. You’ve grown into a fine young lady. I bet this old man wants to take the credit for that, doesn’t he?” She winked at me.

“I think we all know you had a little something to do with it.”

Ebony Welles was a fifty-six-year-old woman who had lived in Proper City her whole life. College had been out of her financial reach after high school, so instead she started Shindig, her own party planning business, when she graduated. She’d expanded from birthdays to all of the major holidays and a few minor ones too. She wore her hair in a brushed-out Afro and dressed in a largely ’70s vibe. She bragged that she could still fit into the clothes she owned in high school, and four out of five days a week she proved it. Considering my wardrobe came from bits and pieces from the costume shop, I didn’t think it was all that strange.

Ebony had become a part of my life when I was five. She’d been hired to plan an anniversary party for the local dachshund society. At a loss for inspiration, she’d headed out to clear her mind. My dad had recently redone the windows of Disguise DeLimit in a Wizard of Oz theme. Ebony thought it was brilliant. She reserved the six costumes he had on display and ordered flying-monkey costumes for all seventeen dogs. She asked me to help put the wings on the dachshunds and she even let me dress like a Munchkin. The pictures from the party had circulated far and wide, and I hadn’t been the same since.

“How long do we have you for?” Ebony asked.

I cut my eyes to my dad before answering. “My boss gave me through the weekend.”

“Where are you working?” she asked, her eyes darting to my outfit.

I tugged at the hem of my skirt. “I’m a magician’s assistant. I asked a friend to fill in for me while I came here.”

“I have an idea. Tell the magician you can’t go back to work because we accidentally made you disappear.” She slapped my dad’s knee and laughed so loud I suspected they could hear her in the pet shop across the street.

Ebony and my dad sometimes acted like they didn’t get along, but deep down I knew they were close friends. My dad had never gotten over the death of my mother, and judging from how often people told me I looked like her, I knew the constant reminder must have been hard for him. He’d done the best he could, even if my school clothes had mostly come from Disguise DeLimit. Some days I dressed like a flapper, others, a cowgirl. My wardrobe was more costume than couture, a fashion quirk I attributed to his influence. By the time I started shopping for myself, I found the latest trends lacking a certain spark of individuality. To this day I accessorized with props from our inventory rather than jewelry or scarves from the local department store: a holster with cap guns when I went Western, white patent leather go-go boots when I felt mod, a top hat and cane when I wore a tuxedo. Getting a job in Las Vegas had been a natural, because everybody in Vegas was in some kind of a costume.

My job history had been spotty at first: receptionist for a real estate agent, vintage clothing store clerk, concession stand clerk for a theater. The big money was as a showgirl, but the fact that I preferred to wear clothes at work kept me at a certain income level. Hey, a girl’s gotta have standards.

Eventually I met a fledgling magician who wanted an assistant. I provided my own costume—a black, cutaway tuxedo jacket over a red-sequined bodysuit, fishnets, and pumps—and we hit the circuit. He paid me 20 percent of the take from the door, which paid for my half of the rent and bills. On a good night, I bought steak from the grocery store. On a bad night, I ate ramen noodles.

Ebony was the closest thing I had to a mother. She taught me about makeup, clothing, and men. When I headed off to Vegas for a job, I caught her crying. She said she had something in her eye and I pretended I believed her.

“Listen up, Jerry,” she said. “Margo came here because of you, so don’t go getting better too fast. She and I have a lot of catching up to do.” She put her arm around me and turned me away from him. “How’s your love life? Anybody on the horizon?”

“The quality of men in Vegas isn’t what you’d think. How about you?”

“Honey, I like my life just the way it is. Can’t imagine turning my world upside down for a man.”

“How’d you know I was here?” I asked.

“Elementary, my dear Watson,” she said in a poorly affected English accent. “I saw the white scooter out front and took a guess. We don’t have many scooter riders around here.”

“She’s lying!” my dad cried out. We both turned to him. He had pulled on a deerstalker hat and held a pipe in his hands. “She made no such deduction. I told her you were on your way.”

Not one to let the fun pass me by, I pulled a tweed cape from a circular rack and draped it over my shoulders. “So the evidence points to a conspiracy,” I said, brows furrowed. “Number one: information about my arrival was discussed behind my back. Number two: a suspicious white scooter is parked in front of the store. Number three: I smell sugar cookies, and you know they’re my favorite. The mystery isn’t how you knew, but what you plan to do about it.”

A slow clap filled the air. All three of us turned our heads toward the door. It had been propped open since Ebony arrived, and a young blond man now filled the entrance. He wore a short-sleeved green polo shirt, madras plaid shorts, and navy blue canvas deck shoes. His glowing tan set off blue eyes and white teeth. I got the feeling he spent a lot of time on a golf course or a boat—or both.

“Cheesy, but charming,” he said. “Not what I had in mind, though.” He entered the store and ran his hand over a rack of colorful feather boas that hung inside the entrance. When the orange boa fell through his fingertips, he turned his attention back to us.

My dad rolled his wheelchair out from behind the counter. “Hello, Blitz,” he said. “Octavius Roman says you rented out his facility space for your birthday party. You must be busy with all of the last-minute details. What brings you to Disguise DeLimit?”

“Octavius can’t accommodate me. Roman Gardens had a flood in its kitchen and canceled. My birthday is this weekend and the entire plan is out the window.”

“That’s too bad,” Ebony said. Her fingers rubbed the gold of the medallion pendant she always wore. She let go of the necklace and leaned back against the counter on one elbow, holding her other hand in front of her as if she was inspecting her manicure. “This town has come to expect an extravaganza from you. It’s going to be hard to find someone to plan a full-blown party in less than a week.”

The blond man scowled. “Why do you think I tracked you down here? Nobody else will even consider it.”

“Who says I will?” Ebony said.

“I have money. Lots of it.”

“I don’t want your money,” Ebony said.

“You were more than happy to take my dad’s money twenty years ago. Are you going to pretend things are all that different now?”

Ebony stiffened. Ivory bared his teeth and growled at Blitz. I moved my eyes back and forth between Ebony and Blitz, gauging the number from one to ten that would best correspond with Ebony’s reaction. I didn’t know who this guy was, but I didn’t like what he was implying about her past.

“We haven’t met yet,” I said. I stepped forward and held out my hand. “I’m Margo Tamblyn.”

“Blitz Manners,” he replied. He clamped his hand onto mine pretty hard, squishing my fingertips together. I squeezed back a second too late to block the pain, but soon enough to make it look like everything was fine.

“If I understand the situation correctly, you were planning to have a party at Roman Gardens but they’re no longer available because of a flood in their kitchen. You’d like Ebony to put together a new party plan on short notice. Is that correct?” I asked. I used the voice Magic Maynard had taught me to use to divert the crowd’s attention from his act. Soft and steady, and pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Blitz took a couple of extra seconds to reply, but when he did, I nodded and stepped him away from Ebony. I picked up the pad of paper my dad had been taking inventory on and flipped to a blank page.

“How many guests?”


“That’s a pretty big party.”

“I’m known for my parties, sweetheart. Are you new around here? Better make it forty-one.”

I bit back a laugh at the expense of his come-on and stayed professional. “Do you have a caterer? Music? Theme?”

“Roman Gardens was going to supply everything.”

“They must still have the music and theme arranged, even if their location is out. So really, you need a location. That shouldn’t be so hard—”

“I canceled everything Octavius had planned and took back my deposit. He’s not getting a dime out of me. I need a new plan and I need it fast. The works.”

It had been a while since I’d worked at the store, but I knew what he was asking for was borderline impossible. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think that’s doable.”

“Sure it is. That’s your business, isn’t it?”

“Our business is costumes.” I held a hand up and made a sweeping gesture toward the rows of clothing hanging on racks over our heads. “If you have a theme, we can suggest costumes, and you can either rent them or buy them. We do custom costumes too, but that takes time. There’s a considerable price break if you rent instead of buy, but the deposit is nonrefundable. If you don’t have a theme, we can show you around the store and maybe something will inspire you.”

“That skit you were doing when I walked in. What was that for?”

“Skit? We weren’t performing a skit.” I turned around and looked at my dad. He still wore the deerstalker, but had set the pipe on the counter. “Sherlock Holmes?” I said.

“He’s a mystery guy, right? That could be cool. Intellectual. Nobody’s done anything like that around here. It’ll be highbrow, literary. Yep, I like it. Everybody comes as their favorite detective. Bring out all the famous ones. Perry Mason, Sherlock Holmes, the works. Just remember, keep it young. I’m turning twenty-six, not eighty-six.”

“I don’t think you understood me. We do costumes, not party planning—”

“But I do,” Ebony interjected. She stepped between Blitz and me. “Give me the night to secure the location, entertainment, and catering. Come to my shop tomorrow and we’ll work out details.”

“There aren’t any details to work out.” He pulled an envelope out from inside his jacket and tossed it on a table. “Twenty thou should get you started. I’ll pay the rest when it’s done.”

Chapter 2

WE ALL STARED at the thick envelope on the table, but none of us made a move to pick it up.

Blitz turned to me. “You work with the costumes?”


“You’re going to turn me into the hottest detective Proper City has ever seen. I’ll come back tomorrow to pick up my costume. Better have the rest done by then too, so I can figure out who’ll wear what.”

“Tomorrow? I can’t have forty custom costumes ready in twenty-four hours!”

“Sure you can, toots. Your store’s reputation depends on it.” He pulled a brown leather billfold out of the back pocket of his shorts and extracted a piece of paper. “My measurements. Make sure it fits in all the right places.” He winked.

I didn’t take the paper. “I’m sorry. Like I said, I can’t hit that deadline.”

“I don’t think you understand. I just paid you twenty grand for this gig, and that means I own you. So if I want to pick up costumes tomorrow, then you’ll have them ready. Got it, babe?”

He put on a pair of black Ray-Ban sunglasses and flashed teeth that were whiter than my boots. He shut the door behind him, and Ebony threw a pair of fuzzy dice at the door after it closed. I shook my arms to get rid of the heebie-jeebies. Blitz Manners might be used to flashing his smile and getting what he wanted, but I didn’t care how much money he threw at us. As far as clientele went, he left much to be desired.

“Who was that guy again?” I asked.

“That guy was trouble,” Ebony answered.

I waited for more. My dad wheeled himself to the front of the store and scooped the fuzzy dice from the floor. He wheeled back to the counter and set them on top of the case. “Blitz Manners. Local trust fund baby. His family lives in the mansion at the end of Winnie Lane.”

“Winnie Lane. Isn’t that part of the new big development? Christopher Robin Crossing?” I asked.

“Yes. When the money moved into Proper, that’s where they built.”

Ebony spoke up. “There’s all sorts of mansions out that direction, like they’re afraid to let their property get too close to the rest of us. Pretty silly, all those rich people living in a development named after Winnie-the-Pooh.” My dad shot her a look. “Well, it is. Ten years ago one of ’em tried to petition the city council to rename the streets. I guess Piglet Lane doesn’t look so fancy even when it’s engraved on an invitation.”

My dad shook his head at Ebony’s insights.

“Those houses were there when I lived here. Why don’t I know the name?”

“Those kids went to private schools and then out-of-state colleges. Most of the families that live out that way have their own social circles.” He rolled his wheelchair back a few inches and then forward, trying—and failing—to change direction. He rolled the chair back into the same position where he’d been. “As far as I can tell, nobody’s said no to Blitz since his father died. He started collecting his inheritance when he turned eighteen. His mother remarried Jack Cannon, but he never had any luck controlling the boy either. Blitz was too far along as a spoiled rich kid. His solution to everything is to throw money at it.”

I glanced at the bulging envelope. “What’s with the party?”

Ebony spoke up. “There’s a competition between the rich kids to outdo each other with their birthday parties. It’s been going on for about five years now, I think. Blitz and his friends are currently controlling the game. Grady O’Toole had a hustle party a few months ago. He hired me to provide the catering. I would have loved to design the entire thing, but he gave the job to Candy Girls.”

Candy Girls was an operation of women who organized events in Proper. They were started as a postcollege nonprofit by a group of sorority sisters, but when the founders realized the income potential, they were quick to turn their backs on their initial charitable impulses. You could hire Candy Girls to cater, decorate, or simply show up to guarantee a crowd and a decent girl-to-boy ratio at your event.

Even though Candy Girls employed a lot of the women who chose to stay in Proper City, I had never considered working there. Candy Girls were blond, giggly, and popular. They were the kind of women who kept the local salons in business with their highlights and blowouts. I kept my hair in a dark-brown-from-a-box ’60s flip with bangs that I trimmed with sewing scissors. It was the way my mom wore her hair for her yearbook photo in 1968. That was my favorite way to remember her. The style worked with just about any costume-inspired outfit I wore. Especially the ones with the go-go boots.

“Why do you think Blitz didn’t go to Candy Girls for his party problem?” I asked.

“Rumor is that Blitz’s current girlfriend is Grady’s ex,” Ebony said. “That makes things messy. Besides, Blitz is the kind of person who wants to outdo everybody. If Grady O’Toole’s party was the talk of the town and it was done by Candy Girls, then Blitz isn’t going to go with Candy Girls. He once threw a casbah party and flew in ten guys from Morocco to put it together.”

“Sounds like the competition to outdo each other is pretty steep. What about the kids who don’t have trust funds?”

“These parties are a big deal. Most are happy just to get invited.” Ebony pulled her sunglasses from a hip pocket and slid them into place. “What am I standing around here talking to you two for? I have a party to plan.” She picked up the envelope and thumbed through the bills inside. “Twenty thousand dollars to throw a party in Proper City. Who’da thunk.” She set the envelope down, picked up Ivory, and left.

Ebony walked down the sidewalk to a coffee-colored Cadillac Coupe de Ville. She hopped in and drove away, leaving a parking space big enough for three smart cars. I turned back to my dad and asked the question I couldn’t shake.

“Dad, what do you think Blitz meant by that comment about Ebony and his dad’s money?”

“People like to start rumors. Ignore him.”

“But if he’s so eager to throw the party of the century, why go with Ebony? Why come to us? Aren’t we a little too small-town for him?”

“Just because we live in a small town doesn’t mean we are small-town,” he said. There was a proud determination to the set of his jaw. “We have five thousand costumes in our inventory, acquired or created over the past forty years. In that time we’ve gotten bigger than the local costume party circuit. We’re known all over Nevada. Some people even tack an extra day onto their Vegas vacations so they can come and see us.”

“You know what I meant. Ebony said Blitz flew people in from Morocco last year. You’re kind of talking apples and oranges.”

“We’ve been providing costumes for the parties in Proper City for a very long time now and we do it better than anybody. This wheelchair is only temporary and it’s not going to change the way we run the store.”

He pulled the deerstalker off his head and set it on the glass case. He wheeled over to a circular rack of capes and trench coats. “Blitz wants forty detective costumes. Let’s make a list. We can do Sherlock Holmes, Perry Mason, Mike Hammer.” He paused. “Who else?”

“What about Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, and Miss Marple?” I added. “Shaft. Veronica Mars. And Encyclopedia Brown!”

The pencil flew across the paper as he wrote the names down. His expression had changed from determination to enthusiasm. “What do you think? Are you up for this?” he asked.

“Sure am. It’ll be like one of those murder mystery parties, only times a hundred. But what about you?”

“I can’t do it by myself. It’s going to be a lot of work and because of this chair, the brunt of it is going to fall on you.”

I pulled on a tweed cape, pulled the deerstalker down over my hair, and caught my reflection. My flip curled up just above my shoulders. My eyes were wide and brown and framed with fake eyelashes. I’d gotten so used to wearing them in Vegas that I felt naked without them. I pulled the hat off and set it next to the register.

“Margo, this is a big opportunity for the store. Candy Girls has expanded from catering to party planning, and I heard they’re starting to sell prepackaged costumes. This party would give us a chance to show off what makes us special. Custom costumes. And the money is good. It’ll help cover some of my medical bills.”

“Don’t you have insurance?”

He looked away. “Yes, but there are deductibles to meet.”

“Is the shop in trouble?” I lowered myself onto an orange beanbag chair and looked up at him. He spun his wedding ring with the fingers on his right hand like I’d watched him do my whole life.

“If you weren’t here, I wouldn’t even consider taking this job,” he said.

“Then it’s settled,” I said. I stood up and straightened my dress. “We’d better get to work if we’re going to have costumes to show Blitz Manners by tomorrow.”

*   *   *

WE spent the next two hours sorting through the inventory for mystery-themed costumes and related accessories. Since my dad was temporarily confined to the wheelchair, he was in charge of props and concepts. I moved around the shop and collected elements that we could modify: trench coats, plaid wool suits, capes, deerstalkers, and fedoras. I assembled Columbo from the suit and tie that went with our traveling salesman costume, a beat-up trench coat that went with our hobo, and a plastic cigar. Rockford was also easy: jeans, plaid shirt, and stick-on sideburns. I designed two Nancy Drews: a ’30s one with cloche hat, capelet, and below-the-knee-length skirt, and a ’50s one with an argyle sweater, plaid kilt, knee socks, and loafers. I had to flip through most of the skirts in our schoolgirl section to find one that was long enough to be appropriate for a girl detective—not that I believed the woman who wore it would have chosen the modest length. Tom Swift came from our steampunk section, and Cherry Ames, school nurse, came from the medical corner.

I checked in with my dad after the first hour and found him sorting hats, monocles, pipes, and magnifying glasses into piles. “Do you think it’s okay to have more than one Sherlock?”

“Why not? Who’s to say if he wants to be BBC Sherlock or CBS Sherlock or Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock?”

“What about regular old Sherlock? Tweed cape, tweed hat, gloves, ascot. You know, the classic image of him.”

“You heard what Blitz said about keeping things modern.”

“That’s too bad. If he wants to be Sherlock Holmes, there’s pretty much only one way to go so everybody knows who he’s supposed to be. I mean, what’s he going to do, dress like that guy on the TV show? His Watson isn’t even a man!”

“You convinced me.” He stroked an imaginary beard and looked up at the ceiling. “Go to the back room and bring me the houndstooth fabric that we used for the My Fair Lady costume. The taupe one with the navy, burgundy, and forest green pattern. Better yet, wheel me back there. The sewing shop is set up and I can knock out a cape and trousers while you’re working in here.”

I stood behind the wheelchair and rolled him backward and then forward, past the cases of colorful makeup, paste jewelry, and other accessories that we didn’t hang on the shelves. I stopped next to the bald caps and pulled one out. “Kojak,” I said. He nodded, and we continued until we reached the back room.

Behind the interior of the shop was a long, narrow room set up with various sewing machines and a table for cutting out fabric. Two forms stood like sentries at the end of the room: a male and a female. Large, round metal trash bins held bolts of fabric that protruded out like giant flower stems without blooms.

I didn’t know when my dad had first taught himself to sew. I imagined that my mother had been the one to make most of the costumes while he watched the shop and fabricated what needed to be made from wood or sheet metal, but as far as I remembered, our costume assortment had been limited only by what he could create. At an early age I learned how to adapt already-made clothing into costumes by shortening hems, narrowing pants, and hand-sewing patches on secondhand castoffs. We shopped the local thrift stores for items that we could use and, with dye and imagination, created wizards, princesses, hobos, animals, and a whole lot more. By the time I’d graduated high school, I was a pro at turning flea market finds into high-ticket costumes. My Chicago collection had been rented by seventeen different groups by the time I moved to Vegas.

It was close to eight when we finished our list. I’d collected items from throughout the shop and had a list of the few remaining props we needed.

“Dad, you look exhausted. Let me wrap things up here and we can finish tomorrow.”

“Fine. I’ll start dinner. Spaghetti and meatballs sound okay to you?”

“Sounds perfect. Give me fifteen minutes to get things organized and I’ll be up to set the table.”

The doctors had recommended the wheelchair, and I knew my dad hated it. I watched him wheel himself to the back stairs, lift himself out of the chair, and slowly ascend the staircase. It wouldn’t have mattered if we did have a ramp or an elevator. In his mind, the chair was temporary, and he wouldn’t allow himself to get used to it.

I found a large plastic bin of hangers and clear garment bags on a shelf behind the cash register and assembled each costume in a bag. Because of the short window of time, we’d expected each person to wear their own footwear, but I made a note with suggestions on index cards and taped them to the front of the hanger with the name of the costume.

Behind me, the door rattled. Blitz Manners was on the sidewalk, surrounded by a gaggle of men around the same age as he was. He stumbled inside. He wore a crooked smile and reeked of beer and cigarettes. He reached out and put a finger under my chin and grinned. A tall man with hair the color of freshly minted pennies and the blue eyes and freckles to go with followed him into the store. The rest of his entourage stayed on the sidewalk out front.

“Let’s see what you got for me, babe,” Blitz slurred.

“Our store is closed for the night. You can come back tomorrow to see what we’ve put together.”

“I wanted to keep you on your toes.” He swayed forward and back, but I didn’t think he knew he did it. I looked at the redhead. He grinned and shrugged, like he was used to Blitz doing whatever Blitz wanted to do. I smiled back, and he winked at me.

“The costumes that we finished are over here.” I walked him to the ballet barre that held the numbered garment bags. “I think we came up with a nice assortment for you. We have Hercule Poirot, Columbo, Kojak, and Jim Rockford. I assume you’ll be inviting women to your party too, right? There’s Miss Marple, two Nancy Drews, Cherry Ames, and Veronica Mars. And four different Sherlock costumes: BBC, steampunk, CBS, and a custom classic Sherlock that my father made this afternoon.” I bent backward at the waist to put distance between the scent of happy hour and my nose. “Personally, I think it’s a standout.” I picked up the hanger with the tweed cape and deerstalker.

“Is this some kind of joke?” he asked. He grabbed the hanger from me and threw the costume on the ground. “I thought I told you to keep it hip. These are costumes for an old person’s party,” he said.

“This is exactly what you asked us for,” I said defensively, and bent to scoop the clothes from the ground. “This very costume is the one you saw when you came into the store.”

He looked over his shoulder at the guys standing on the sidewalk out front, and stepped back and gave me a full-body scan from my face to my boots, and back up to my face. “Things don’t look like they did when I was here earlier. Maybe I didn’t communicate clearly enough what I wanted.”

He overenunciated his words. I didn’t doubt that he was well on his way to passing out, but I also didn’t doubt that this was a regular occurrence. It wasn’t my problem if Blitz was blitzed. I just wanted him out of the store.

The cowbell over the door clanged and another man entered. He was tall and had broad shoulders. Longish straight black hair was pushed away from his face. There were traces of a beard and mustache that looked more like the product of a couple of days without shaving than a conscious decision to wear facial hair. His features were Asian with a mix of Roman. Black-brown eyes studied me from under strong eyebrows. Aquiline nose. Naturally red lips. I smiled a cautious greeting—cautious because I was alone and didn’t want to encourage the rest of the group to enter too—and turned my attention back to Blitz.

“I’m sorry to disappoint you, but this is the best we can do on short notice.” I put my hands on the rolling rack and moved it away from him. I picked up the envelope of money from the counter where Ebony had left it and held it out. “Here’s your deposit back,” I said.

The redhead snickered. “You were right, Blitz, she’s not like the rest of them. All the girls we know would have kept the money.”

“Shut up, Grady,” Blitz said. He kept his eyes on me. The solicitous drunk who had come into the store had turned into a sullen one. He shot a nasty look at the third man who had entered, snatched the envelope of cash from my hand, and turned around and stormed out the door.

Grady leaned forward. “Don’t admit defeat yet. He’ll change his mind. He always does.” He stared at me for a few seconds and then turned and followed Blitz outside.

The third man was gone too. I gave the crowd a couple of seconds to start down the street, and then popped my head out and looked left and right. Blitz’s crowd had gone one way, the Asian man was by himself, walking in the other direction. He turned around and caught me watching him. I froze. He pulled a hand out of his jacket pocket and waved tentatively. I waved back in like fashion.

I locked the door, pulled the shades down, and turned out the lights. After moving the rack of costumes to the back of the store by the register, I headed upstairs. Dad was in the kitchen, stirring a pot of marinara sauce.

“What kept you? It sounded like I heard voices,” he said.

“Blitz Manners showed up after you left. I told him the store was closed but he didn’t seem to care.”

“Customers like Blitz don’t pay attention to store hours. So how’d it go?” he asked. “Was he impressed with our work?”

“Not really.” I dropped into a red vinyl kitchen chair, part of a ’50s diner set my dad had scored on one of his flea market trips. “He had a bunch of his friends with him. He said he didn’t like what we pulled together. Is this normal? People throw money at you to spend your day working for them and then they insult your work?”

“No, it’s not normal. Last week Molly Cunningham came in and bought five princess costumes for her nieces to wear to her wedding. And the week before that, Black Jack Cannon had a Maverick-themed poker party and rented our best Western garb. It’s not all bad, Margo. At least Blitz paid in advance.”

“When he said he wasn’t happy with what we’d pulled together, I gave him back his money.”

My dad studied my face. I knew it had been the right thing to do and I knew he knew it too. But I remembered what he’d said about medical bills and I wondered again if there was more—or less—to the store’s financial situation than he was letting on.

Chapter 3

A SMOKE-GRAY CAT sauntered up from under the table and ran his head against my dad’s pant legs. My dad set down the spoon and sat in a diner chair.

“Is this Soot?” he asked.


“He was just a kitten when I last saw him.”

Soot jumped into my dad’s lap, turned three circles, and settled into a curled-up position. I ran my hand over the top of Soot’s head and he started to purr. The cat, not my dad.


Excerpted from "A Disguise to Die For"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Diane Vallere.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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