Bubbles a Broad

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Overview

Bubbles Yablonsky, everyone's favorite flaky hairdresser/ reporter/amateursleuth, goes all the way in this latest wacky mystery starring the woman Jennifer Crusie calls “Pennsylvania's answer to Erin Brockovich... You're going to love her!”

After a cat fight at a stuffy historical society meeting nearly kills her career, Bubbles is given just one week to prove her worth to her editors at the News-Times and earn a real job there by cracking her biggest story ever— finding out who...

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Overview

Bubbles Yablonsky, everyone's favorite flaky hairdresser/ reporter/amateursleuth, goes all the way in this latest wacky mystery starring the woman Jennifer Crusie calls “Pennsylvania's answer to Erin Brockovich... You're going to love her!”

After a cat fight at a stuffy historical society meeting nearly kills her career, Bubbles is given just one week to prove her worth to her editors at the News-Times and earn a real job there by cracking her biggest story ever— finding out who really murdered Carol Weaver's steel-executive husband with cyanide-tipped fingernails. More than Carol's own jail sentence for the homicide is riding on Bubbles's investigation. Also at stake—uncovering possible corruption in the steel industry at the highest level.

Nothing will deter Bubbles this time! Not trying to drive with a cell phone in one hand and a mascara wand in the other. Not the shenanigans of mother LuLu, the pressure of getting daughter Jane into a good college (maybe Princeton, maybe Two Guys Community), or the roadblocks posed by Jane's ever-clueless boyfriend G. Not even hunky, gonzo photojournalist Steve Stiletto, who takes Bubbles to bed in a scene so steamy it finally puts pay to her Mel Gibson crush. Gutsy, intuitive, and delivering her best one-liners along with beauty recipes, Bubbles is “behind the wheel, and a wild ride awaits” (Publishers Weekly). It's all in a day's work for a broad like Bubbles. bestselling author Meg Cabot) and playful intelligenceght up the pages of Bubbles Ablaze.” (Claire Cook<, author of Must Love Dogs)

Author Biography: Sarah Strohmeyer is the award-winning author of three previous Bubbles titles: Bubbles Ablaze, Bubbles in Trouble, and Bubbles Unbound, which won an Agatha Award and a Romantic Times Award for Best First Mystery. She has worked as a journalist for many publications, including The Boston Globe, the Plain Dealer (Cleveland), and Salon.com.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Journalist Sarah Strohmeyer's delightfully wacky, full-figured, blue-collar sleuth, Bubbles Yablonsky, is back for a fourth unorthodox investigation in Bubbles a Broad, a stylish sequel to Bubbles Unbound (which won an Agatha Award for Best First Mystery), Bubbles Ablaze, and Bubbles in Trouble. She might be a little rough around the edges, but Bubbles is a true diamond. Growing up in a steel town and living over a pierogi restaurant might dull many an ambition, but not for our girl.

After spending eight years at Two Guys Community College earning her degree in journalism, the former hairdresser wangles a week to prove herself at the local paper. That task proves a tad harder than Bubbles expected. The night before her first assignment, Carol Weaver (a local woman convicted of killing her husband with her cyanide-tipped acrylic nails) escapes from prison and parks herself in Bubbles's astoundingly messy living room, demanding a journalistic investigation to clear her name. Before Bubbles can sort out that sticky situation, someone peppers her bed with BB pellets, interrupting her much-needed beauty sleep. Then, when she finally gets to her long-awaited first assignment for the paper (covering the Local Historical Society's breakfast) her big break is interrupted by a cat fight that some might ungenerously say she caused. On top of all that, her hunky photo-journalist boyfriend, Steve Stiletto, has chosen this truly crappy time to complicate her personal life by announcing that he's done with his chaste phase and wants her to run off to England with him.

But, as Bubbles (high heels, leopard-print mini, big hair, and all) dishes the gossip and files her stories (she no longer does nails), she surpasses all expectations by piecing together the true story behind Carol's protestation of innocence, teasing out the details of a corporate cover-up that someone is willing to kill to protect. Sue Stone

Publishers Weekly
Broad humor, in more than one sense, permeates Strohmeyer's fourth amusing adventure (after 2003's Bubbles Ablaze) of Bubbles Yablonsky, Lehigh, Pa.'s unique combination of hairdresser, single mother, aspiring journalist and bumbling sleuth. Bubbles doesn't so much solve a crime as wait until all the dust settles and then see what's left standing. While the management and the workers at Lehigh Steel wage class war, the irrepressible Bubbles tries to parlay her degree from Two Guys Community College and a one-week tryout at the News-Times into a full-time reporting gig. The appearance on her doorstep of Carol Weaver, convicted for the murder of her husband, a Lehigh Steel executive, newly escaped from prison and claiming that someone is trying to kill her, may be just the break Bubbles needs. Strohmeyer expertly plays Bubbles's blue-collar working class background against the monolithic Lehigh Steel's country club types and their wives. On the other hand, Strohmeyer's targets are so big that just hitting them isn't enough, and the frequent bull's-eyes don't impress as much as they might. Bubbles may be Two Guys' "Biggest Loser Ever," but she's good-hearted, persistent and very, very funny. Agent, Heather Schroder at ICM. (On sale June 7) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Captivating series heroine Bubbles Yablonsky, hairdresser and aspiring reporter, will lose her newspaper job unless she can discover and write about who really killed a jailed woman's steel-executive husband. Colorful characters reappear as well, including her crazy mama, her college-hopeful daughter, and her now-requited photographer/ boyfriend. Highly recommended. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Would-be reporter Bubbles Yablonsky (Bubbles Ablaze, 2003, etc.) sticks her nose for news into a hornets' nest and lands in trouble up to her cellulite-free wazoowey. Determined to leave behind her hairdressing career and snag the berth on the Lehigh News-Times that her seven-year stint at Two Guys Community College prepared her for, Bubbles talks night editor Tony Salvo into giving her a two-week tryout. Unfortunately, her first assignment-covering the Lehigh Historical Society's meeting at the Moon Inn-pairs her with photographer Lorena Ludwig, who, halfway through the meeting, recognizes Bubbles as the stylist who accidentally dissolved her hair two hours before her wedding. Lorena lashes out at both Bubbles and social-climbing Susan Morse, and the ensuing brawl gets Bubbles hauled before managing editor Dix Notch, who'd love to can her. But Bubbles has an ace up her sleeve. She's talked with Carol Weaver, a convicted killer on the lam, who swears her executive husband Hal's death was actually part of a Lehigh Steel coverup. Bubbles convinces publisher Bill Graham to let her investigate. After she's shot at and stalked, hunky photographer Steve Stiletto stashes Bubbles chastely in the bedroom of his Saucon Valley mansion. From there, the race is on: Will Bubbles nail her story and her man before a killer with cyanide-tipped digits nails her?Strohmeyer's sharp dialogue gives her fourth an edge even Bubbles's clippers can't match. Agency: ICM
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780525947981
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 6/3/2004
  • Series: Bubbles Yablonsky Series , #4
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 9.38 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Mrs. Carol Weaver, rhododendron expert of the Lehigh Garden Club, demon on the tennis court and wife to the late Steel vice president Halsey Weaver, was not the type to slum it on our side of town unless her maid needed a lift home.

So what was she doing on my West Goepp Street doorstep far from her exclusive Saucon Valley mansion on a sleeting Sunday night? More important, where did she find that matching cashmere sweater set and pearls?

But those weren’t the only questions I had for her.

“Aren’t you supposed to be in prison?” I asked. “Didn’t you, like, kill a bunch of people?”

“Not a bunch. One.” Carol hugged her bony shoulders. “And I didn’t do it. Now, are you going to let me in, Bubbles? Or are you going to call the cops and blow the biggest news story of a lifetime?”

What could I do? It was November, almost Thanksgiving, and it seemed unseasonably cruel to let this murderess—albeit a polite and peppy murderess—freeze to death on my fading green AstroTurf welcome mat. Also, the next morning began my first week of try-outs for an official, full- time, paid-with-benefits staff position at the News-Times.

This was not the night to be turning away biggest news stories of a lifetime.

“All right,” I said, ushering her inside. “But not for long. You need to leave before the cops find you here.”

“I’ve been discreet,” she said, stepping in delicately.

I checked the neighbors and, sure enough, Mrs. Hamel’s ruffled white curtains quickly closed. Discreet held no coin on West Goepp.

Carol looked damn good for a fifty-year-old woman who’d spent the last eight months in the State Correctional Institution in Jakeville. I hadn’t a clue as to how she had managed to find a pill-free sweater set or keep her roots fresh in the slammer. I wanted to examine her nails, but caught myself. That was a sore point—especially between us.

Like a queen surveying her subjects before bending to the guillotine, Carol maintained a regal, composed air. I don’t know if her aim was to calm my jumpy nerves—a cold-blooded murderer in my living room!—but it worked. Temporarily at least.

She settled into my couch and wrinkled that button nose of hers in disgust, thereby making me feel like the criminal. My coffee table was strewn with potato chip bags and empty A-Treat bottles, along with an ashtray overflowing with G’s Basic cigarettes. (G is my daughter Jane’s boyfriend. A guy so lazy that he shortened his name to one letter—G—for, as he puts it, “God or Genius, depending.”)

I hustled about with a dark green garbage bag, tossing in my crusty, black plastic tray of Lean Cuisine lasagna and mumbling about whether I could get her some hot tea, as though tea was something we actually drank in this house.

“Hot water,” she replied, shivering.

“You want some?”

“No. I’m in it.”

“Oh.” I put down the garbage bag and sat on the cleared coffee table. “I guess that’s why you’re here, say?”

My gaze wandered over to my purse, which held my spiral-bound Reporter’s Notebook. It’s not every day that a murderer escapee wanders into the house of a beautician-turned-budding- reporter offering the news story of a lifetime.

“I’m here because I need a real reporter, one who’s not too jaded to get at the truth.” Carol crossed her legs and straightened her posture. “I’ve been reading your articles on Henry Metzger, Bubbles, and I have to admit, I’ve been impressed.”

For some reason this flattered me. Carol used to be married to the head flak at Lehigh Steel, referred to around here as simply, Steel. Weaver was the guy who issued press releases filled with lies about what a progressive company Steel was, how it treated its workers fairly and was constantly pushing for innovative, nonpolluting ways to turn out iron bars.

Funny. Iron bars is what Henry Metzger, the former chairman of Steel, should have been behind all along. His crimes were too numerous to list—though I managed to expose a few in my investigative pieces for the News-Times.

“Thank you,” I said, shifting on the coffee table and realizing that my skirt was sticking to the residue of spilled A-Treat. “But you broke out of prison to tell me that?”

“I broke out of prison because someone’s trying to kill me.” Carol leaned forward. “You’re my last resort.”

I was back to being uncomfortable again. “Can’t you find other last resorts? Like ones with palm trees and Caribbean addresses, far, far away from my house?” Couldn’t she sit in another chair so she wasn’t in full view of the street outside?

As if she had read my mind, Carol hopped up and started checking windows and once or twice trying the front door lock. While Carol’s back was turned, I made a dash for my handbag. Flipped open the notebook and clicked the pen attached.

“Remember when we first met?” she said, staring out the window. “It was shortly after you caught your husband cheating while you were supposed to be at work. What was that jerk’s name?”

“Dan Ritter. Though, uhm, he calls himself Chip. You know, to sound more WASPy when he married Wendy.”

“Right.” Carol made a clucking noise. “They’re all the same, aren’t they, these men? They get to a certain age, attain a certain degree of success, wake up one day, turn over in bed and decide that the wife looks like their mother. They get scared and become repulsed. They . . .”

I cut through the Oprahesque psychoanalysis. “Is that why you killed your husband? Because he was cheating on you?” You can’t hide stuff like adultery from beauticians. The House of Beauty had been buzzing about the Weavers’ marital woes for weeks before one word of it hit the press.

“I didn’t kill Hal. I loved Hal, and even though I’d heard rumors that he was sleeping around, I never saw evidence of that. He still loved me.” Carol sucked in a deep breath. “We had a terrific sex life.”

I must have seemed skeptical because Carol added testily, “I’m being honest, can’t you tell? I’d think that after holding someone’s hands for two hours a month you’d get to know a person, Bubbles.”

That was a direct reference to the fact that Carol had been a regular customer of mine at the House of Beauty. She had searched me out because I was the only manicurist in town who still did acrylic nails the old-fashioned way. I didn’t drill holes into the natural nails, I filed, and if it was a French manicure you were looking for, I never painted on the white. It was applied with a careful streak of dental enamel. The resulting nails were stronger than a bear’s canines.

So strong that when Carol soaked the tips in cyanide and then raked them across her husband’s back in a sexual, homicidal frenzy, not one nail broke. This was a fact harped on repeatedly by the Lehigh PD’s Homicide Division, which was positively clueless when it came to manicures.

I tried to explain that natural nails were actually sharper than Carol’s rounded acrylic ones, but the detectives had already formed a theory—that Carol’s nails were murder weapons. Murder weapons I had meticulously constructed and buffed with a tasteful pink gloss.

“If you didn’t kill your husband, Carol, then who did?”

“How about Henry Metzger?”

“Good luck getting to the bottom of that pit. Henry Metzger is dead. Shot before my very eyes.”

“But Henry Metzger may have ordered the hit and a faction at Steel took up his cause.”

“What cause?”

“That’s the key question, isn’t it? That’s what you need to find out.” She parted my blinds, peeking out and then shutting them tighter. “My husband told me once he knew a secret that could bring down Steel. He must have been right because he was killed by Steel’s upper management to keep quiet.”

I wrote this down. Carol was making an impassioned claim, but like many members of the state’s penal club, she was conveniently glossing over a few illogical details.

“I’ve heard of Steel’s goons breaking the legs of union leaders,” I said, “but scratching vice presidents to death? It’s . . . it’s too feminine.”

“That’s exactly what Steel wants you to think.” She put her hands on her hips. “That’s why they took pains to make sure there was cyanide on my nails when the cops arrived that morning. I don’t know how those evil SOBs at Steel managed to pull that trick, but let me tell you right now, they can get away with anything they want in this town. Including framing an innocent wife for murder.”

“What about your daughter? Can’t she help?”

“Kiera is twenty and pregnant. Far too young and immature for motherhood, if you want my opinion. Certainly she doesn’t. Kiera won’t speak to me. Hasn’t since the arrest.”

The only sounds in the room were of rain beating against the aluminum siding and my pen scratching along the tablet.

“Tonight after I got out, I stood outside my daughter’s house in the rain and stared into her windows, hoping to see some sight of her. Isn’t that weird?”

“Not really. My mother does that all the time.” I took one last note. “Drives me crazy. She keeps claiming she doesn’t want to be a bother. ‘It’s okay. You don’t have to ask me in,’ she says. ‘I like the cold. The rain’s good for my arthritis.’”

Carol frowned. “This is a bit different, Bubbles. My daughter’s due to give birth near Christmas. She’ll need her mother there, to help her get some rest and cook her warm dinners. This kid hasn’t a clue of how much work motherhood involves.”

That last line got me. Whatever I’ve said about Mama, about her retro sixties fashion trends, penchant for dangerous octogenarians in fake Kmart leather and her ability to embarrass me with her painfully personal comments made to strangers, I will always be grateful to her for the weeks she spent with me after Jane was born. Dan the Man was useless, of course. Passed out at dirty diapers and became nauseous at one whiff of sour milk. Mama had been a godsend.

“I pray every night that I’ll be reconciled with Kiera. But that will be impossible if I’m dead. It sounds awful to say, but deep down I’m grateful my cellmate Marta was almost murdered tonight and not me.”

The pen slipped across the tablet as my stomach did a quick somersault. “Your cellmate was almost murdered?”

“That’s right.”

“And your reaction was to break out of prison and rush right over to my house?” I just wanted to get this straight. “Because this is the kind of fact pattern cops find very interesting when they’re booking someone for harboring a fugitive.”

“Hear me out.” Carol tented her fingers. “Marta stole from a care package I received in the mail yesterday . . . postmarked from Saucon Valley. The package contained Moravian spice cookies with extra cloves just the way I like them. So whoever sent them knows me well.”

“Why didn’t you eat them?”

“I’m on Atkins. Anti-carb.”

Forget anti-carb. Carol should look into becoming anti-dote, what with her toxic history.

“Marta is a born thief. She found the package under my bunk, ripped it open and managed to get through three cookies before she started feeling queasy. I escorted her down to the infirmary and then hid myself in the infirmary laundry and was carted out. I didn’t want to wait around for her to die and then be blamed for her death, too.”

“So you don’t know if she died?”

“No, I don’t. At least I didn’t hear anything on the car radio. But do you see why I need you, Bubbles?” Her voice turned urgent and her face was as pale as the white plastic mini blinds behind her. “You have to find who killed my husband and who set me up. You have to find the person who is trying to kill me before . . . before my daughter . . .” She wiped away tears and coughed to hide the emotion fighting to surface. “Please, Bubbles. I promised myself I wouldn’t get hysterical, but I don’t know where else to turn.”

However, I was stuck on one word. Radio. Where did Carol hear a car radio? And, come to think of it, how did she get away . . . and so fast? The State Correctional Institution was stuck in a cornfield out by Jakeville; it wasn’t exactly convenient to a regular bus route. Then there was her sweater set and her constant window checking. . . .

My sucker-alert alarm went off. I might be blond and big busted with a Two Guys Community College diploma on my bedroom wall—but I didn’t need a degree from Slippery Rock to know when I was being played.

“Who’s been helping you?” I tapped my pen against the tablet. “Why do you need me if you have a friend who sprung you from jail?”

Carol’s expression turned to shock, then hurt and, finally, indignation.

“Skip it.” She threw up her hands. “I thought you’d be different from the other reporters I’ve written to, Bubbles. I hoped you hadn’t turned cynical yet, that you were still the warmhearted girl who used to listen to all my troubles over the manicure table. I see I was very, very wrong.”

With a series of quick movements she unlocked my front door, opened it and slammed it shut, running into the night. I heard a car start up and then pull out. At least I had been right about that—Carol had an accomplice.

Immediately I was plagued with self-doubt. What an insensitive slug I was. What if Carol were telling the truth? What if she’d been framed by the same folks who were trying to kill her? What if, through no fault of her own, she’d been sentenced to jail, estranged from her own daughter and therefore unable to hold her first grandchild? I knew firsthand how cruel Henry Metzger had been. Who was to say he had been the only creep at Steel?

Nah. I waved that away. What was this, the Lifetime channel? Only my mother’s nutsy friend Genevieve could swallow a conspiracy theory that complicated, and I bet even she’d have reservations.

Like a lot of socialite criminals, Carol had probably bought her own lie that she was innocent. Who, me? Carol Weaver, former president of the Junior League, a housewife with ironed towels and homemade chicken pot pies, guilty of murder? Surely, there must be some mistake.

So she had escaped and tried to rope me into believing her spin. When it was clear that I’d be skeptical, too, she cut her losses and split, no doubt to try her luck with other reporters.

For an hour I sat on my couch, absently eating potato chips and trying to decide what to do. Mr. Salvo, my immediate boss and night editor at the News-Times, was off, this being the second Sunday of doe season.

He was deep in the Pocono woods waiting for an innocent whitetail to step in front of his thirty- ought-six. Deer season is serious business in Pennsylvania. Kids get off school like it’s a religious holiday. Elvis could rise from the dead, walk into my kitchen, suck down all my mayonnaise, and I still wouldn’t dare call Mr. Salvo at deer camp.

Without Mr. Salvo to contact, I thought of my buddy Mickey Sinkler, a detective down at the Lehigh Police Department. He was off duty tonight, and all I got was his home answering machine. Probably at deer camp, too.

So I sat with the phone on my lap and read over my notes. They didn’t make sense. I’d never heard of Steel executives getting bumped off. Fired, you bet. Or sent to Williamsport. But not murdered.

I decided to take my inability to reach anyone as a cosmic clue. I needed to sleep on what had happened tonight and hope for a clearer head in the morning.

Before I went to bed, I called Jane at Dan’s and listened to her whine about how Dan wouldn’t let G stay over at his house, even in the guest room, for fear of infestation from fleas and other vermin.

Then I locked the doors, turned off the lights and laid out my clothes—black stretch skirt, high- heeled lace-up boots and a tasteful tiger-print top—for my first assignment as a tryout—the Lehigh Historical Society’s annual breakfast. Classy, say?

Now perfectly prepared for the next morning, I slathered on moisturizer, tweezed a few stray eyebrow hairs, rested my head on the pillow and thought about Steve Stiletto, my Associated Press photojournalist boyfriend. A dead ringer for Mel Gibson before he went super-Catholic wacko. A hunk with a heart.

Despite having been shot in the shoulder one month before, Stiletto was over his mystical “chaste” phase and was healing fast. He was even well enough to drive to New York, where he was finishing plans to oversee a new AP bureau in England at the end of the month. He wanted me to join him there, and I had to admit the offer was tempting.

Misty moors (I didn’t really know what a moor was, though it sounded awfully romantic). Stiletto showing me the sexy beaches in the south of France. He was determined to whisk me there so we could spend our first night of intimacy overlooking the Mediterranean surf, with the moon rising and the warm waves lapping outside our window, the two of us in nothing but a tangle of sheets and hot kisses.

Oh, my God. I put my hand to my chest, where a rapid beat thumped. Just the idea of sex with Stiletto drove me crazy with desire. It made my legs ache and my body yearn, like I was about to go mad if I couldn’t have it.

So why didn’t I run away with him? What was wrong with me?

It wasn’t like I was afraid of transatlantic plane travel or eating stuffed sheep stomachs. I didn’t fear being homesick or meeting rude French people who might pooh-pooh my Payless collection. Stiletto told me the other night that he knew why I was keeping him at arm’s length . . . and I knew he knew. He knew in the kind of way that made me squirm uncomfortably and think un– Lithuanian/Polish good Catholic girl thoughts about him and his longish brown hair and blue eyes, his six-pack abs and the way he slipped his hand behind my neck to pull me to him to kiss me and that damn chastity vow that had gone on way, way too long and petrified me to a refrozen virgin who didn’t know how to blow a . . .

Christ. I threw the pillow over my head and tried to recall this week’s ShopRite triple coupon items. Green Giant canned green beans. Buy one get one free. I was asleep before I even got to cereals.

I awoke at 4 A.M., frightened sick with a sudden realization. Not that if I didn’t buy cranberries advertised three packages for a dollar fifty during the holiday season, I’d never get them fresh again the whole year. But that someone was in the house.

They were downstairs.

In my slumbered haze I’d heard a door close and then footsteps. Slow and heavy. Ever since I’d been attacked late at night in my own bed by one Daniel Brouse, I’d never slept with the baby-like assurance that a woman’s house is her Barbie Dream Home, and I was now more alert than a Boy Scout.

Brouse was in prison. Stiletto was in New York. Jane was at Dan’s. And G didn’t step. He shuffled. Shuffled to the refrigerator, mostly. It definitely wasn’t G.

Instinctively I rolled out of bed, assembled the covers over the pillows, grabbed my robe and pushed up my bedroom window that leads to the fire escape. (The same one Brouse had crawled up.) Outside was damp and freezing, and I was loath to kneel on the wet, cold, rusted metal as I carefully closed the window shut.

Within seconds the shots rang out. Five of them. Zip. Zip. Zip. Zip. Zip. White-yellow sparks fired in the dark and into my pillows with dead-on accuracy. I was so startled, it had happened so fast, that I nearly fell backward off the metal stairs.

I hastily scrambled down the fire escape and ran to the front porch. I leaped over the low brick wall that separated our porch from the Hamels’ and banged on their door like a madwoman. The rain was falling hard, making it difficult to hear footsteps. I needed the Hamels to open up. I needed them to open the door now.

I thought of running to my car, but he would get me there. I peered into the night, hugging my robe and wishing someone, anyone, was out. Then I heard footsteps inside, and an immense feeling of relief swept over me.

Until I realized the footsteps were inside my house. He was trudging down my stairs.

He was coming after me.

Chapter Two

Detective Mickey Sinkler averted his eyes as I wrapped myself in a thick pink towel and stepped out of the steamy bathroom. We’d known each other since grade school, when Mickey earned fame among the nose-picking set for snorting cafeteria Jell-O with a straw. We had gotten ourselves into scrapes ever since, including a low point where I’d fallen off the Fahy Bridge right in front of him. Still, he was so shy about my near nakedness that his big satellite dish ears were bright red.

“Thanks for staying, Mickey,” I said, moving past him down the hall to my bedroom. “I don’t think I could have taken a shower alone.”

“Man. If you’d only said that when we were in high school.”

I ignored the yellow crime scene tape and turned the knob on my bedroom door. Mickey grabbed my damp wrist.

“Where do you think you’re going?” he demanded.

“In here. I’ve got to get dressed.”

“No way, Bubbles. This is a crime scene now. You’ll contaminate it.”

“Do you mind? My towel is falling down.”

Mickey blushed again and let go of my wrist. “Sorry.”

“The technicians have been all over this house, Mickey. They’ve brushed and powdered and poked and photographed every one of my possessions, including my underwear drawer. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get to work.”

Before he could snag me again, I swiftly opened the door and slammed it in his face, locking it behind me. But I wasn’t prepared for the effect of seeing my bed with tiny holes in it, little pieces of fluff everywhere.

Thank heavens I’d gotten out in time. Thank heavens it had only been a BB gun! That would have really, really stung. And me with an assignment this morning. Think of the amount of makeup I would have needed to hide the red pellet marks.

My pulse raced at the thought of heavy foundation and BB marks. Almost in response, Mickey rapped on the door, causing me to jump about a foot. “Don’t touch anything, Bubbles. Retrieve your clothes and come out.”

“In a minute,” I called back, slipping into a pair of stretchy pink underwear, a matching bra and a brand-new pair of no-name-brand panty hose. (Two pairs for a buck at The Dollar Store.) I stepped into the skirt and laced up the boots, trying my best to act professional, but was overcome with a new feeling. Hot fury.

Who in the hell did he think he was, this shooter? I briskly combed back my hair, rewrapped it in the towel and proceeded to make up my face. Entering my room in the middle of the night. Pelleting me without even turning on the light. I dabbed on Cream Bisque foundation and smeared the dots together, catching the reflection of my shot-up bed in the mirror.

I mean, those were brand-new pink percale sheets from Kmart. And from the Martha Stewart collection, too!

I had been so grateful when Mr. Hamel opened the door to my frantic pounding that I had flung my arms around him. I didn’t notice until later that he was wearing only his T-shirt and boxers, his gray hair sticking up like stubborn weeds. Unfortunately, whoever was after me had gotten away, fleeing my house through the back door and escaping through the neighbors’ backyards.

“Bubbles!” Mickey called. “Are you all right? What are you doing?”

“Makeup.”

“Aww, crap. I’ll be here till Tuesday.”

“You still think it was Carol Weaver who broke in here, Mickey?”

“Won’t have a better idea until the prints come back and the ballistics,” he said through the door.

“They have ballistics tests for BB guns?”

“I don’t know. Not like I walk the squirrel beat, but think about it. Who else would’ve taken potshots at you if not Carol Weaver?”

I had told Mickey pretty much everything Carol had said. As I predicted, he hadn’t been swayed by her protestations of innocence. She’d been singing the same song since her arrest, claiming some “vast Steel conspiracy,” as he put it.

“The Hillary Clinton of lockup, she was,” he said.

As for the tainted cookies, Mickey said interviews with other inmates at Jakeville indicated that Carol had foisted them on Marta—who appeared to be making a slow and painful recovery in the prison infirmary. Mickey’s version was quite a contrast to Carol’s claim that Marta had ripped open the box and stolen them.

I puffed powder on my face to set it. “Carol seemed so nice. And, except for her understandable nervousness, so normal.”

“She could be bipolar,” Mickey said. “That’d explain her hot and cold behavior.”

I painted on thick black eyeliner. “You mean she’s an Eskimo?”

“What? No. Bipolar. It’s a mental illness marked by severe mood swings and paranoia.” He let out a sound of exasperation. “Are you almost done?”

Puh-leeze. I hadn’t even begun eye shadow. As I shimmered my lids blue, my thoughts turned to Carol’s pregnant daughter. Even if Carol had been the BB assassin, her daughter needed to know that Carol was thinking of her. I had to find Kiera and relay Carol’s wish that she could be with her. It was my duty as a mother.

Commotion erupted outside the door. I heard Mickey saying, “Hey, hold on there. What the. . . .” The lock jiggled and with a great loud boom it was forced opened.

I slapped my arms across my nearly naked chest. “Mickey Sinkler!”

But it wasn’t Mickey. Standing in the doorway by the lock he had just busted was a tall figure in a worn leather jacket and jeans. Stiletto.

I managed to open my mouth just in time for Stiletto to kiss it, softly and gently, as he brought me to him. He radiated concern and what I detected to be a surprising amount of fear. He smelled so good, of leather and rain, that I wanted to melt.

“I wish I’d gotten here sooner,” he said huskily, looking down at me and smiling at my near nakedness. “I raced from New York after Sandy called. Tell me what happened. Right from the beginning.”

This is what I love most about Stiletto. He’s one of those one-hundred-percent listeners who holds your hands and asks good follow-up questions as though your life, your very breath, was the most important essence on Earth. (Actually, this is a total lie. What I love most about Stiletto is how his tight jeans crease suggestively and the way his Adam’s apple bobs up and down when he talks—but lately I’ve been trying to be more cerebral.)

I told him, sitting at the edge of the bed, dropping hairs and DNA and eyelashes and ruining the crime scene in all sorts of ways. When I was done, Stiletto got up and shut the door.

“Carol Weaver will try to track you down again. You know that,” he said. “Are you prepared? Do you have a game plan?”

I wanted to ask Stiletto how he was certain Carol would come after me, but didn’t want to come off like an amateur. “I get out the tape recorder instead of the Reporter’s Notebook?”

Mickey Sinkler opened the door, visibly pissed. “Enough. You two have got to scram. Jesus. On the bed no less.”

Stiletto turned slowly, thinking. “This place is not safe. Bubbles might be in the crosshairs of a serial killer.”

Serial killer? I poked my head through the tiger-print shirt. I hadn’t really thought of Carol Weaver as a serial killer.

“Now, calm down, Stiletto.” Mickey made a calming motion with his hand. “It was only a BB gun.” “I don’t care if it was a squirt gun, someone broke into Bubbles’s house and entered her bedroom in the middle of the night.” Stiletto was mad, but in control. “There’s nothing to be calm about.” Stiletto had one hand on the splintered doorjamb and another on his hip. It was some male, testosterone animal thing, the way Stiletto’s chest was broadened and his legs spread. No matter how many protein shakes he had downed or weights he had lifted, Mickey was no match.

“Let me ask you something,” Stiletto asked. “Have you caught this lunatic yet?”

Poor Mickey shifted feet. “You mean Carol?”

Stiletto gave him an of-course-I-meant-Carol look.

“Uh, er, no.”

“You have any idea who her accomplice was?”

Mickey and I locked gazes over Stiletto’s shoulder. I had failed to confide in Mickey about my suspicion that Carol had had assistance. “Accomplice?” he said.

Stiletto folded his arms. “I find it a hard to believe that Carol Weaver escaped from a prison in the boonies of Whitehall and was able to trek twenty miles across town here by herself within an hour of escape. Don’t you?”

“Twenty miles, is it?” Mickey looked helpless.

“Twenty-one to be exact. I clocked it.” Stiletto shook off his frustration. “I’m sorry, Mickey. I shouldn’t take out my anger on you. Shouldn’t make you the punching bag.” In clear contradiction, he lightly punched Mickey on the shoulder.

Mickey rubbed the spot where Stiletto had barely touched him and grunted a reply. He’d never been a big Stiletto fan since once upon a time he’d wanted to be my boyfriend first.

As for me, I didn’t appreciate being talked about in the third person like I was a three-year-old. Still, the two of them preoccupied with each other gave me a chance to finish putting on my makeup, and that was protection in its own special way.

I squeezed between the men and walked down the rose-carpeted hall to the bathroom. It took me eight minutes to blow-dry my hair and apply the last bit of lipstick. When I was done, it was 7:45. I had fifteen minutes to get to the Moon Inn for the Lehigh Historical Society annual breakfast.

I flirted with the idea of blowing off the assignment and spending the day with Stiletto. After all, he had made such an effort to be here, and certainly the newspaper would excuse me this once. I couldn’t imagine anyone objecting to an “I can’t make it into the office today because someone took me for target practice.”

No. No. No. Wasn’t it that kind of slack-jawed behavior that had led to my eight years of failed courses at the Two Guys Community College? I nodded to my reflection in the mirror. This was the new me. Bubbles Yablonsky, star reporter. Disciplined. Hardworking. Cerebral. Extremely cerebral.

Hey, you’ve got to fake it to make it.

“It’s decided,” Stiletto said, when I exited the bathroom. “You’re coming to live with me.”

I stopped dead. Standing a foot or so behind Stiletto, Mickey shook his head, slightly amazed, I assumed, by the ability of some men to get whatever they want.

“I don’t know . . . ,” I began.

“I do,” Stiletto said. “Think about it, Bubbles. Picture yourself coming home tonight. The house is dark. The sun sets around five, so the neighborhood is pitch black except for a few broken streetlights. You let yourself in with the key and flick on the—”

“Okay,” I interrupted, not eager to envision the scene, “I get your point. But what about Jane? She has school.”

“Dan,” he said. “Dan’s not one of my favorite people, but you’re the first to say he’s not a bad father. I’m sure he would insist on having her stay at his house until the killer is found.”

“BB shooter,” Mickey corrected, adding, “I think Stiletto’s right. He has security over in Saucon Valley and wait staff. Even if he’s not there, someone else will be home.”

“I’ll be there.” Stiletto’s voice was low and steady, Clint Eastwood–like. “No one would dare shoot at Bubbles in my bed.”

I gulped, that odd quivering sensation rippling up and down my legs.

“I guess,” I said weakly.

“Brilliant.” Stiletto checked his watch. “Now, don’t worry, Bubbles. I’m going to call my housekeeper, Eloise, and ask her to meet me here. We’ll get your things and Jane’s so the two of you don’t have to come back. I know this is a big week for you.” He kissed me on the forehead. “And you shouldn’t have anything else on your plate but writing the best story possible. Whoever shot at you isn’t going to risk crawling out of her rock during the day.”

He practically pushed me down the stairs. “Give ’em hell, Yablonsky.”

I was about to dash out the door when the phone caught my eye. Dan. I had to fill him in on our change of plans. Usually Dan makes me wait on hold when I call his office, but not this time.

“Sounds reasonable,” he said, when I told him I’d be staying with Stiletto and Jane would be staying with him. “I don’t like Jane going back to that hellhole you live in anyway.”

Before I could reply using a play on the words “hell” and “hole,” Dan’s voice softened and he sounded like the man who used to give me loving back rubs during the years I was working two jobs to put him through law school.

“You take care of yourself, Bubbles,” he said with sincerity. “That monster who shot at you in your own bed deserves to get it between the eyes.”

I mumbled that I’d be stopping by later in the day to explain everything to Jane in person, hung up the phone, opened the door to my front step and found myself face to face with two monsters far more frightening than Carol Weaver and her mysterious accomplice ever could be.

“You don’t look shot up” were the first words out of my mother’s mouth.

Wider than she is tall, given to dressing like either Jackie O or Jacqueline Susann depending on her prescription of the month, my sixty-something fireplug of a mother couldn’t stand to miss excitement. And I define excitement here broadly. In Mama’s world, Mr. Hamel mowing the lawn with his shirt off and flabby chest bared could cause heart trouble.

This morning Mama was definitely leaning in the Jacqueline Susann direction. She was in a tight black, long-sleeved T-shirt with faint grease spots that read Mama’s Gourmet Pierogies. We Stuff ’Em Good in white lettering stretched across her ample bosom. The cream- colored slacks she was wearing did her Polish-sausage thighs no favors despite the all-in-one girdle she wore underneath.

Her hair, naturally gray, sometimes jet black, occasionally red, once-in-a-blue-moon blond, today was brunette and enhanced by an extension she had attached with a black hair band. That combined with her dark-lined eyes and bright pink cheeks made for a package that I’m sure she imagined implied “LA sophisticate,” but that to most mentally balanced people would blare “circus clown.”

“Bubbles looks like death,” whispered my mother’s friend Genevieve, a hulking rectangular mammoth in a tweed coat, her usual accessory of a rusted musket slung over her shoulder. “Check out her eyes.”

I sighed. Such a simple task. Covering an annual breakfast of the historical society. Fourth graders with IQs below seventy could do it. Yet it would be a miracle if I arrived before the last round of coffee.

“The eyes is makeup,” I said. “And, no, I’m not shot up.”

“That’s what Mrs. Stottlemyer said, that you’d been blown to tiny bits in your own bed. And she would know,” Mama said. “She’s got a cell phone.”

I stood there clearly in one big blond bit. Mama and Genevieve squinted dubiously.

Finally Genevieve snorted. “I have to admit, LuLu, that daughter of yours looks all in one piece. A bit anorexic, perhaps. But one piece nonetheless.”

Mama still wasn’t convinced, but she was frightened. I knew this because she launched into a series of unintelligible Pennsylvania negatives. “Don’t spare the particulars on my account, Bubbles. My husband wasn’t incinerated in the ingot mold and I didn’t not hear about it ’cause I’m a woos. Not like I can’t take gore.”

I told them exactly what happened. “Now, if you two don’t mind,” I said, noticing that my watch now read 8:05, “I have to go to work.”

The women didn’t budge. They took up the entire top step. “What’s Stiletto’s Jeep doing here, then?” Mama asked. “Don’t tell me he’s sleeping over now. I thought you and me had a talk about that. You know, how a woman’s virtue is . . .”

“Like an unbruised apple, I know, I know.” How would I explain my reasons for being late to Mr. Salvo? I’m sorry, Mr. Salvo, but my mother wouldn’t let me get into my car without explaining the rules of female economics—that men have needs which women manipulate in exchange for goods and services.

In fact, I was so fixated on getting past these two old broads that I forgot to think ahead of what I was saying. “Stiletto’s here to get my stuff. I’m moving in with him for safety sake, until they find the shooter. Now, if you would kindly move aside.”

I skipped down the front cement steps. The day was cloudy and gray, giving the neighborhood a shabby and neglected look. The brick and aluminum-sided row homes that lined West Goepp were unusually sparse of holiday decorations, except for a few tattered cardboard turkeys and wide-eyed Pilgrim children dressed in drab brown. Last night’s rain had pooled on the thickly repainted porch railings.

“You’re moving into Stiletto’s?” Mama’s voice behind me was sharp and high.

I closed my eyes. I was thirty-five. I was the mother of a teenager entering college—God willing. I did not need a lecture about dented fruit. “Yes,” I said between clenched teeth.

“Yes!” Mama and Genevieve hollered. There was a loud slap. I turned to find them high-fiving each other behind my back.

“Took you long enough,” Genevieve said. “We been waiting four months to get back into that spread of his.”

As the stepson of the awful—and awfully rich—Steel baron Henry Metzger, Stiletto had inherited his sizeable wealth and Saucon Valley mansion. Mama visited it once when Metzger was alive. The in-ground swimming pool, clay courts and rolling green lawns hadn’t impressed her one whit. But to this day she spoke in awe of Metzger’s genuine leather Barcolounger with the heated footrest, built-in massage and handy-dandy cup holder.

“Hey, you think Stiletto still got that wide-screen TV his dad had?” Mama’s eyes were saucers of wonder. “Oh, Genny, wait till you see it. You can watch two channels at once.”

“Wheel and QVC?”

“Vowels and Viagra.”

Genevieve crossed herself. “Saints be praised.”

“Hold it, you two.” I emitted a piercing whistle between my teeth. “Stiletto is being very gracious. Just because I’m moving in doesn’t mean that . . .”

I hesitated. Maybe Mama and Genevieve’s visits weren’t such a bad idea. They might buy me some time. Time to bone up on my long forgotten—if I ever knew them—sexual maneuvers. Time to buy frilly underwear that no married or celibate women own. Time to research birth control.

“We’d have to bring our own food, though,” Mama added thoughtfully. “That spicy stuff he eats gives me the winds.”

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2006

    Funny!Feel Good,Great Characters

    This book was so funny,interesting,the characters will make you laugh so much. This series is a must read. A definate feel good Read.There is as much love,as detective work going on.There is no way to not love BUBBLES!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2004

    Great! but not as good.

    This book is great, but the others have more action and adventure. I do have to admit it is very amusing as you get to see the relationship between Stilleto and Bubbles get steamier!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2004

    Amusing mystery

    In Lehigh, Pennsylvania, Bubbles Yablonsky balances (some would say haphazardly while others would say that is an optimists¿ opinion) her profession as a hairdresser with her vocation as a reporter at the News-Times. Of course she also crosses that with being a single mom, going to community college, and an occasional bit of mystery solving (some would say that she is the Murphy in that universal law while others would say that is optimistic)......................... As labor and management strife rocks Lehigh Steel, former executive wife Carol Weaver, was convicted of illegal downsizing when she murdered her husband, Hal. Carol escapes from the State Correctional Institute in Jakeville to offer the story of a lifetime to Bubbles, if the tyro journalist with questionable sleuthing experience (see EVERYONE LOVES BUBBLES) helps her prove her innocence.................................. Bubbles¿ latest adventure is an amusing class warfare that would make both major presidential party candidates hide as the contrast between working class wanting to become wealthy (aside to Mr. Gore) vs. Carol and the elite is very funny. Bubbles as usual makes the tale with her poignant caring and stubborn attitude sort of like The Train That Could driven by a blond parody. Though the assault on the upper crust becomes a bit tedious as the early eagles turn somewhat to bogies, fans of irreverent amateurs sleuth tales starring a delightful ¿loser¿ who always insures fans win will chuckle with bodacious Bubbles......................... Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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