Dutch Me Deadly (Passport to Peril Series #7)by Maddy Hunter
Book 7 in the critically acclaimed, bestselling Passport to Peril Mystery series!
As a travel escort for seniors, Emily Andrew-Miceli has led her feisty Iowa clan all over the world. This time, they’re off to see historic windmills, classic Rembrandts, and picturesque canals in Holland—if they can ever unplug from their smartphones, that is. Joining… See more details below
Book 7 in the critically acclaimed, bestselling Passport to Peril Mystery series!
As a travel escort for seniors, Emily Andrew-Miceli has led her feisty Iowa clan all over the world. This time, they’re off to see historic windmills, classic Rembrandts, and picturesque canals in Holland—if they can ever unplug from their smartphones, that is. Joining them is the high school class from Bangor, Maine, whose 50th reunion celebration goes south faster than a fallen Brussel sprout soufflé as old rivalries start heating up. Worse, Emily’s hopes for a 100% survival rate on this trip are dashed when an important member of the tour suffers a tragic (and highly suspicious) accident. Then the saucy seniors’ wild night of drug-laced desserts and risqué shows in Amsterdam’s infamous Red Light District gets even more mysterious when one unpopular reunioner goes missing . . .
“A first-class ticket to entertainment . . . [Dutch Me Deadly] offers non-stop humor and an engaging plot.” —Carrie Bebris, award-winning author of the Mr. & Mrs. Darcy Mystery series
Read an Excerpt
Dutch Me Deadly
By Maddy Hunter
LlewellynCopyright © 2012 Maddy Hunter
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHolland in springtime is a feast for the eyes. Just look at the travel brochures that promise sweeps of tulips radiating toward picturesque windmills. Fields of tulips bordering narrow canals. Crates of tulips glutting flower markets. Gardens of tulips brightening parks. Vases of tulips adorning hotel lobbies.
Holland in springtime offers tourists the most spectacular display of color on the planet.
Unfortunately, we were visiting in late autumn and were missing the spectacle, but with the economy in freefall, investment income dwindling, and our town needing to be rebuilt after being leveled by an F4 category tornado, we considered ourselves lucky to be here at all. So even if we weren't booked into five-star hotels, had no plans to dine at five-star restaurants, and could stay only eight days instead of fourteen, we were still excited about exploring Holland. Iowans are a practical lot and understand the meaning of "shoestring budget," which meant I didn't have to worry about anyone in the group having false expectations.
"So where's the gazillions of tulips I saw advertised in the travel brochures?"
Every tour group has its resident bellyacher. Ours is Bernice Zwerg, whose voice is to the human ear what fingernails are to a chalkboard. Cursed with hair like tangled electrical wire and the grace of a horseshoe crab, Bernice is renowned for having the sourest disposition in our hometown of Windsor City, Iowa. Lucky for me, the core members of our travel group pummel her complaints with sunshine almost before the words leave her mouth, so I can stay out of the fray until I hear the sounds of blood vessels popping, at which point I play my tour escort's card, restoring calm and order.
Even at their most volatile, Iowans are extremely respectful of authority.
I wondered how long it would take the gang to pounce on her this time. I peeked at my watch.
Ten seconds ... twenty seconds.
I straightened up in my seat and shot a look around the bus, perplexed.
Twenty-five seconds ... thirty seconds.
Okay, what was up with this? They should be all over Bernice by now. How come the only thing I was hearing was deafening silence? And a few extraneous clicking sounds.
I glanced across the aisle to find Margi Swanson and Tilly Hovick fiddling with handheld electronic devices: MP3 players, or iPods, or BlackBerries, or something. There were so many gadgets on the market, I couldn't tell one from the other. But the ladies were obviously so preoccupied with their games that they were completely ignoring Bernice.
I caught my breath, my eyes freezing open at the sudden implication. Oh. My. God. No. NO! If everyone ignored Bernice, the only person left to deal with her would be—my windpipe closed in panic—me!
"Don't give me that baloney," Bernice griped aloud to no one in particular. "I paid for tulips so I wanna see tulips, else someone won't be finding any happy faces on her evaluation."
The "someone" to whom she referred was me, Emily Andrew-Miceli, official escort for the twelve Iowans on our tour. For several years, I was the travel coordinator for a senior travel club sponsored by our local bank—an absolute dream job that paid great and included free travel abroad. But all that ended when the tornado roared down Main Street, depositing the bank and all its assets in random cornfields throughout eastern Iowa.
In a classic Hollywood twist, however, a devastatingly handsome Swiss police inspector by the name of Etienne Miceli relocated to Windsor City, built a travel agency out of the rubble, and offered me my old job back. We're called Destinations Travel and we serve a niche group, providing escorted tours, both foreign and domestic, for the senior traveler. We occupy a sleek steel and glass building on Main Street, attract busloads of potential clients with our multimedia presentations and all-you-can-eat pig roast buffets, and enjoy outrageous perks like a fully outfitted gym, a rooftop swimming pool that converts to an ice rink in winter, and a soundproof bowling alley in the basement. All this, plus I get to sleep with the handsome ex-police inspector.
It's one of the perks of being Mrs. Miceli.
"What do you mean there aren't any evaluation sheets in our travel packet?" Bernice complained without provocation.
My windpipe stopped closing long enough for me to flash a diabolical smile. Sleeping with the boss had its advantages. When we'd been in the throes of carnal bliss, I'd convinced him to dump the dreaded escort evaluation forms so Bernice could be denied the pleasure of rating my performance with a big fat goose egg.
"I demand an evaluation form," whined Bernice. "It's my constitutional right! Emily's husband did this. See what happens when you let foreigners buy up your prime real estate after a natural disaster? They shred the Constitution. The next thing he'll set his sights on is cutting our senior discounts and setting up death panels. Mark my words. Life as we know it is ending. The old America is going down the tubes. We're in the midst of a socialist plot that's killing the private sector so big government can destroy our freedoms and take over our lives!"
Wow. Bernice must have bought some powerful new hearing aids to be able to regurgitate what she heard on America's most trusted news network so accurately. And her ability to retain it was really impressive. If she was taking expensive herbal supplements to improve her memory, they were worth every penny.
"No, I'm not giving up my Medicare card," she snapped in defiance. "Why would I do that? Do you know what my podiatrist charges to cut my toenails? There'd be nothing left of my Social Security check if I had to pay for it out of pocket."
I looked around the bus again, a little creeped out. Whose questions was she answering? Why couldn't I hear them? I plugged my finger into my ear and gave it a rattle. Was I suffering from a condition known to plague kitchen floors and ear canals alike?
Uff-da. Was I a victim of waxy buildup?
A toilet whooshed.
Well, duh? How come I could hear that?
A few seconds later, the restroom door creaked open, and my grandmother ambled back to the seat beside me.
"Anything excitin' happen while I was goin' potty?"
I leaned close to her ear. "Bernice has been engaged in a weird conversation for the last two minutes."
"That's not excitin', dear. That's normal."
"Not when she's been having the conversation with herself."
"No kiddin'? That don't sound like Bernice. She'd much rather argue with someone else. That way, when she says, 'You're such a moron,' she don't end up insultin' herself. That can get real embarrassin'."
"You're such a moron, Margi!" Bernice sniped. "I don't care if Pills Etcetera offers free toenail cutting on the first Monday of every month. I'm going to the clinic with the real doctors. If the bureaucracy pays for me to enjoy the best health care in the world, by God, I'm gonna take advantage of it."
"See what I mean?" I urged. "Why is she getting on Margi's case? Margi didn't say a word."
Nana glanced across the aisle to where Margi was sitting. "Yes, she did, dear. See there? She's textin'. Seein's how you've been so busy with your new husband and buildin' your house, maybe you haven't heard about it. It's all the rage."
"You can't be serious. How can they be texting?"
"These new phones work anywhere in the world, Emily. That's why they call 'em global smartphones. They got Web access, global positionin', e-mail with unlimited accounts, textin', HD video, Wi-Fi, 5X optical zoom, Hulu, Netflix, and a bunch of other stuff I haven't figured out yet. They're like the Swiss Army knife of cellphones. We all bought one. The nice folks at Pills Etcetera give us a volume discount. And they come in several attractive colors."
This was terrible! They'd be texting absurd messages to each other, and I'd have no idea what they were saying or how to fix it.
I pondered that for a half-second before smiling.
On the bright side, they'd be texting absurd messages to each other, and I'd have no idea what they were saying or how to fix it!
"Okay, so why is Bernice talking instead of texting?"
"She's got arthritis in both thumbs, dear, so she don't type real good. Sometimes all she ends up sendin' are punctuation marks and vowels, which don't make no sense to no one. We kinda get the gist of the question marks, but the semicolons has got us all buffaloed."
Nana was born in Brainerd, Minnesota, during the era of the Model T Ford. She won the lottery on the same day Grampa's ice shanty collapsed on top of him, then moved to Windsor City with her millions to be closer to family. She lives in an upscale retirement village that survived the tornado, bankrolled the construction of the senior center water park and reconstruction of Holy Redeemer Church with her investment earnings, and never met a computer she couldn't hack into. She stands four feet ten inches tall, is built like a bullet, and lives in defiance of my mother, who is always trying to manage her life. Her name is Marion Sippel, and even though she boasts only an eighth-grade education, she's the smartest person I know.
"Attention, please! May I have your attention?" Our tour director was a middle-aged Kansan named Charlotte whose round little face was as soft and dimpled as the rest of her. Standing in the front of the bus, in a pea-green Passages Tours blazer with jumbo shoulder pads, she clapped her hands in snappy bursts loud enough to wake even the guests who'd turned off their hearing aids. "Can the boys and gir—" Cutting herself off sharply, she pulled a face and began again. "Can the people in the rear of the bus hear me?"
"You bet!" yelled Dick Teig from the seat behind me.
My guys always sat at the back of the bus. It's not that they're thrilled to pass up front seats with stunning vistas and unobstructed views; it's just that when the roads get bumpy, or their water pills kick in unexpectedly, they prefer to be in the "good" seats-the ones strategically located near the bus's only restroom.
"If you can all hear me, I'll ask you to look out the windows on the side of the bus where the exit doors are."
"The right side?" Dick Stolee threw out, obviously worried that the bus might have spontaneously redesigned itself since we'd boarded.
"Right side! Yes!" She clapped enthusiastically. "Who guessed that correctly? Raise your smart little hand so I can see you."
Two rows in front of me, Dick Stolee slunk down in his seat, taking his smart little hand with him.
"I'm quite sure it was someone in the back. Don't be afraid to speak up. Do we have a bashful Bobby sitting by the little boys' room?"
At the sound of muted tinging, Nana unsnapped her phone from her pocketbook and checked the display screen. "It's a Tweet from George."
George Farkas had been Nana's main squeeze since our trip to Ireland, where he had shyly dazzled her with his bald head, unerring sense of direction, and versatile wooden leg. He was now an indispensable part of her life, filling the hole that Grampa's passing had left in her heart.
"George knows how to Twitter?" I asked, mortified that I was being shown up by eighty-year-olds wielding cut-rate electronic devices.
"He says sendin' Tweets is like sneakin' notes in class, only without the paper. George was a real wildman in his grade school days."
"Did he send you a love note?" I teased as she read the message.
"Nope. He's tryin' to guess what Charlotte was before she become a tour director."
"Nursery school teacher," I whispered. "Or jail warden."
As a groundswell of whispers rippled through the bus, Charlotte clapped her hands to restore quiet. "Naugh-ty, naugh-ty," she scolded, wagging a finger at us. "Only one person at a time is allowed to talk. That's the golden rule, and I expect you nice boys and-you nice people to follow it."
Uh-oh. This was getting serious. We were apparently set to travel through Holland by way of Sesame Street. I wasn't sure how my group was going to feel about being treated like kindergarteners, but I had a suspicion they weren't going to be too happy.
Ting. Ting. Ting. Ting.
"This Charlotte's got a real knack for rubbin' folks the wrong way," Nana whispered as she opened a sudden flood of incoming messages.
"Now," Charlotte continued, "take a little peek at the embankment flanking the right side of the road. That's one of the many dikes that was built to hold back the waters of the South Sea, or Zuiderzee as the Dutch called it, during the time of the Dutch East India Company."
The embankment was gently sloped and grass-covered and not at all what I'd imagined a dike to look like. It looked more like Civil War earthworks, or an Indian burial mound, which completely contradicted my childhood vision of a brick dam towering over a little Dutch boy who was using his thumb to plug a leak.
"That doggone pesky South Sea flooded the lowlands for centuries, causing tens of thousands of deaths, but in 1932 Dutch engineers cut off its open link to the North Sea by building an enclosure dam. They drained the salty Zuiderzee and divided it into two freshwater lakes, the IJsselmeer and the Markermeer, and save for the tragic North Atlantic storm surge in 1953 that killed eighteen hundred people, Holland has been remarkably flood free."
"How come I'm seeing what looks like ships' masts poking above that embankment?" a woman called out.
"Because on the other side of the dike, there's a marina," said Charlotte.
"A marina?" The woman sounded skeptical. "You mean there's water on the other side of that mound?"
Charlotte's eyebrows flew up like flustered pigeons. "There's a lake on the other side. Haven't you heard anything I've said?"
"Does that embankment on the right side of the bus have some significance?" Dick Teig shouted out.
"It's a dike!" Charlotte shrieked, her voice ripping through the bus like cannon fire.
Margi looked up from her phone. "There's a dike here someplace?"
"Not to alarm anyone," Dick Stolee cautioned, "but if the lake is up there, and the road is down here, do you know what that means?"
"There's a lake?" Margi asked, swiveling her head left and right.
"It means the road is below sea level," said Tilly Hovick. Tilly was a retired anthropology professor with so much knowledge crammed into her head that she didn't need to use Google as her homepage.
Helen Teig gasped. "We're below sea level? Isn't that dangerous? What if the dike breaks?"
Bernice let out a sinister cackle. "Then you better grab your water wings."
"Are they stored in the luggage racks?" Margi asked as she eyed the overhead compartments. "Do you think they're sized? If they are, I'll need a medium, unless they run small, in which case I'll need a large. I hope they're not one-size-fits-all. That's such a crock. How can something that's big enough to fit over Dick Teig's head possibly be small enough to fit the rest of—"
Tongues stilled. Muscles locked. Thumbs froze.
"If you people in the back can't put a sock in it, I'm going to move you to the front of the bus!"
Move my group away from the restroom? Oh, yah, that would go over big.
I heard a chorus of horrified snorts and gasps, followed by a flurry of clicking sounds.
Nana bobbled her phone as it lit up maniacally.
"Our first stop this morning will be at a windmill a few miles south of our destination town of Volendam," Charlotte said pleasantly, returning to her canned narration. "It's called Molen Katwoude—molen is Dutch for mill—and it's a glorious example of a traditional Dutch windmill. Have your cameras ready because it's a real Kodak moment. And I'll give you fair warning. Stay! On! The! Sidewalk! If you wander into the road, you'll be run down by a scooter or a bicycle, and will end up in the morgue, like the pig-headed guest on my last tour. I harped and harped about the dangers, but no one was going to tell Mr. Know-It-All what to do. So he ended up dead. People never listen. It's epidemic."
"See, Emily?" Nana encouraged in a grandmotherly undertone. "Charlotte's had her problems, too. So don't go blamin' yourself for them tour guests what croaked while they was travelin' with you. Just about anything can do in us old folks. Hit n' run. Hearin' loss. Stupidity."
But my guests hadn't just dropped dead. They'd been knocked off. In fact, so many had died on tours I'd escorted that the body count was hovering somewhere around the national debt. Which goes to prove something I've suspected for several years: a surprising number of homicidal maniacs treat themselves to really nice holiday tours.
"Enjoy the scenery until we reach the windmill," Charlotte advised, "but when we arrive, do not jump out of your seats, trying to push and shove to be first off the bus. You will remain in your seats until I give you further instructions. Do you understand? Show of hands, please."
Uh-oh. She obviously didn't understand how important it was to an eighty-year-old with two hip replacements and a bum knee to be first off the bus. Claiming that honor not only gained the person rock star status, it earned him the kind of respect and awe usually reserved for people who could actually stay awake for events scheduled after luncheon buffets. Charlotte's edict could destroy the whole social dynamic of our group! What was she thinking?
I could sense rebellion brewing when only a few hands crept into the air.
Excerpted from Dutch Me Deadly by Maddy Hunter Copyright © 2012 by Maddy Hunter. Excerpted by permission of Llewellyn. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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