Elvis and the Tropical Double Troubleby Peggy Webb
Callie Valentine Jones can't think of a better way to check out of her personal Heartbreak Hotel then to accept her cousin Lovie's timely invite to get away in Cozumel, where her brainy beau is digging up bones for research. But the moment Callie and her loyal good luck charm Elvis arrive, trouble greets them in the form of a skeleton too fresh to be ancient history and too dead to spell anything but homicide. Suspicious minds blame ghosts and gods, but Callie knows the guilty party is all too human--and for once, she's determined not to get involved.
That determination flies right out the window when Lovie and Elvis go missing. It's now or never, if Callie wants to save her cousin and her canine from someone who's got murder always on his mind.
"Prepare to laugh out loud." --Library Journal
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ELVIS and the Tropical Double Trouble
By Peggy Webb
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2011 Peggy Webb
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMooreville Gossip, Mexican Capers, and Misbehaving Mamas
Mooreville was edging toward fame with the disco ball dance trophy at Gas, Grits, and Guts, plus my dog Elvis, who thinks he's the King of Rock 'n' Roll. But I put it on the map when I hired an Atlanta manicurist who paints roses with faux jewels—and everything else you can imagine—on my customers' nails. My little beauty shop is now the talk of northeast Mississippi.
When I hired Darlene Johnson Lawford Grant to enhance the beauty experience of my clients at Hair.Net, I never figured on getting another menagerie plus a cherub/holy terror on chubby, dimpled legs. (Her son, David, from what Darlene terms her "second and final" marriage.)
Not that I'm complaining. In fact, just the opposite. Having a five-year-old running around the shop is almost like having my own little boy. Now that Jack Jones has promised a divorce and Luke Champion is acting like he's my personal prize stallion (he's a vet, which explains the animal analogy), I see my most cherished goal—motherhood—just over the horizon.
The only hitch is that I keep seeing my aspiring stallion-in-hot-pursuit as a delicious-looking blonde confection you admire through the window, but never get the burning desire to reach in and take a bite of.
On the other hand, just let my almost-ex come within spitting distance, and I want to eat him up, starting with his dark, always mussed hair and ending with his size twelve feet, which just about says it all.
But where Jack's concerned, I've decided to make no my new middle name. After all, everybody in the know in Mooreville's society considers me an entrepreneur on the upswing since Hair.Net got a manicurist. I'd be featured in the newspaper if Mooreville had one. Which is not likely in the next fifty years, considering Darlene and David are the biggest population explosion we've had in ten years. And they only brought the live body count up to six hundred fifty-two.
Holy cow, listen to me, thinking in body counts. I'm turning over a new leaf. Now that we've put the Peabody murderer behind bars, I'm giving up crime. Period. Unless you consider it criminal to amass the stash of cash I'm saving so I can hit the after-Thanksgiving shoe sales next month.
The sight of Mama in her red Mustang distracts me from thoughts of cute designer shoes. She's driving with the top down. Anybody else her age would drive with the top up. Shoot, they wouldn't even have a convertible in the first place. But that's Mama, sassy all over, and I have to say I'm glad. In this day and age, a little joie de vivre can take you a long way past the blues.
Mama's wearing a flaming red caftan, which matches her car, but clashes with her hair. I might tell her, depending on what kind of mood she's in. She doesn't always take criticism well, even if it's well meant. Which mine most certainly is. My motto is Be nice to everybody. There's too little kindness in this world, and I try to do my part to spread it around.
Mama bursts through the front door and charges in like she owns the place. "I want the works."
"Mama, whatever happened to hello?"
"Flitter, everybody here knows who I am." Mama sashays over to the manicure table to see what color Darlene is painting Fayrene's fingernails. "Is that green?"
Well, naturally. Fayrene always decks herself out in the color of money.
"It's called peacock." Fayrene holds up her left hand. "It matches the new swimsuit cover-up I bought for my trip to the undertakers' convention."
For once Mama is speechless. If I recall, she never invited Fayrene, even if they are best friends.
"You didn't think I'd let you go to Cozumel without me, did you, Ruby Nell?" Fayrene blows on her left hand, though she knows good and well I've installed the latest technology, a nail dryer in pink, which happens to be my signature color, as well as Elvis' (my dog and the real King). Plus, it matches my loveseats with the hot pink vinyl covers.
"Besides," Fayrene adds, "that hammering over at Gas, Grits, and Guts is driving me crazy. As much as I want a séance room, I need some rest and respiration."
Relaxation, I hope, but you never can tell. Maybe Fayrene's having breathing problems I don't know about. Which is highly unlikely. The grapevine in Mooreville is alive and well. Not that I gossip. Far from it. But I pride myself on having created a spa-like atmosphere in Hair.Net. (That's why I painted a beach scene on one wall.) I want my customers to be totally relaxed and to feel free to tell me everything.
"Mother's horoscope said she'd be traveling to hot climes this month." Darlene consults the stars daily. I didn't know this when I hired her, but I was tickled pink to find it out. Any woman in touch with the stars is a welcome addition to Hair.Net.
Besides, Darlene's a natural blonde with flawless skin and thick hair cut in long layers, perfect for her pretty little heart-shaped face. With her angelic looks and unflappable personality, she's drawing customers in here like there's no tomorrow. Even the men are abandoning the Mooreville Barber Shop to come here for a great cut from yours truly and a good gander at Darlene in her slim-cut jeans and Texas style, genuine alligator-skin boots. She and Lovie have a lot in common.
The last two days, though, Darlene's been looking a bit frazzled. I can't help but notice how relieved she looks that her mother is talking about leaving the country.
Currently Darlene, her son, and their menagerie are living with Fayrene and Jarvetis. I guess they're feeling a little crowded over there. That will happen after about a week of company. And I know for a fact she's already been with her parents for three weeks.
My next project is to help Darlene find a little house with rent she can afford.
Darlene's unfazed when Mama plucks some Persian pink polish right out from under her nose, then proceeds to open the bottle and paint her own nails.
"Mama, if you'll care to remember, Darlene's the manicurist. Besides, that color clashes with your caftan."
"Since when is it a crime to try out a nail color in my own daughter's beauty shop? And for your information, if I want beauty advice, I'll ask for it."
As if that didn't announce her mood loud and clear, Mama flounces into my chair, snatches up a hand mirror, and views the back of her head like it's the burning of Chicago and I've personally lit the torch.
"I can't do a thing with my hair. You made a miswhack the last time."
"That's not even a word, Mama. And even if it was, I never miswhack."
I cinch the haircutting apron around her neck a little tighter than usual. Listen, I may be a pushover when it comes to Jack and babies and Elvis and stray cats and dogs—well, to just about everything—but I have my limits. And being called anything less than a total expert with hair is one of them.
I'm so good, my older customers make post mortem hair appointments while they're still alive. I have a whole shelf devoted to the special color blends I use on some of my customers (Bitsy Morgan and Mabel Moffett, to name two) in case I'm out of current stock if they die unexpectedly and need a little touch-up.
If you're wondering, I also fix up hair and makeup of the deceased over in Tupelo at Uncle Charlie's Eternal Rest Funeral Home.
"What do you want me to do today, Mama?"
"Take an inch off, color me jet black, and loan me about five hundred."
There goes my after-Thanksgiving shoe shopping spree.
"Holy cow, you'll only be gone a few days."
"It's for incidentals."
"How many incidentals can you buy, Mama?"
"You never know. I hear Cozumel is a shopper's paradise. I might need six hundred."
At this rate, I'm going to have to go to the Yucatan to keep up with my money.
Besides, Mama's not going to like her hair black. Knowing her, she'll get a thousand miles away, then call me to fly down and turn her into a redhead.
"Black's too harsh for your face, Mama."
"It's my hair. Besides, while I'm south of the border, I want to look like a señorita."
"There's no use arguing with Ruby Nell." Fayrene prances over, plops herself into the empty chair next to Mama, then proceeds to hold her hands out to admire her green nails. "Every time I argue with her, it just irrigates the tar out of her."
Nobody raises an eyebrow. Around here, we're used to Fayrene's rearrangement of the English language.
"Still, it's my job as a hair professional to steer my customers to a flattering color."
"Carolina, I'm not a paying customer." Mama always calls me by my real name when she's mad, though I can't think of a thing I've done to get on her bad side except continue divorce proceedings with Jack Jones. She thinks he walks on water. "I don't know if I want to go jet black or raven."
The phone rings and I'm relieved to abandon my losing battle over Mama's disastrous hair choice. Lovie's name pops up on the caller ID.
"Callie, is the speaker on?"
"You don't have to shout, Lovie. I can hear you. And, no, the speaker's not on."
"Turn it on. I want everybody in Mooreville to know what's going on down here."
"Don't you even want to know who's in the shop?"
"I don't care. I need some love advice. The more the better."
I might as well turn the speaker on. Mama's leaning over so far trying to eavesdrop, she's about to fall out of her chair. Plus Fayrene and Darlene are all ears.
I'm glad I don't feel the need to spread around my love life, or the lack thereof since Jack walked out. But my cousin enjoys being a one-woman show. She says it's good for business (she's the best caterer in the South), but personally I think she's just trying to cover up that big soft heart of hers, which makes her open her arms—and other body parts I'm too much of a lady to mention—to anybody who needs a dose of "Love Me Tender."
That's one reason I'm pulling so hard for Rocky Malone. He's the first man who has ever treated my cousin like the treasure she is. Besides, he's the kind of gentleman who would take good care of a woman. Plus, he's a very fine archeologist with a good shot at becoming world-renowned if things go well at his Mayan dig.
I put the phone on speaker. "You can broadcast to the masses now, Lovie."
"We've got everything down here—romantic sunsets over the water, a lovers' moon over the Mayan ruins, privacy out the wazoo—and Rocky's not even close to discovering the national treasure."
"I thought he was searching for a lost city," Fayrene says.
"It's the lost tomb of the Nine Lords of the Night," Lovie tells her.
Mama chimes in. "The national treasure is my niece's you know what, Fayrene. She had it tattooed."
"Where?" Darlene wants to know.
"In Memphis," I tell her, but Lovie says, "On my hips, one word on each. About as close to the Holy Grail as you can get."
"The Holy Grail?" Fayrene looks puzzled, and her daughter says, "Mother, don't ask. I'll tell you later."
"I've tried everything," Lovie says. "When I went skinny dipping, Rocky ran to get me a bathrobe. And the only rise my Dance of the Seven Veils got out of him was to get up and turn down the lights in case somebody was looking in the window."
"I think that's sweet, Lovie," I tell her. "Rocky's an old-fashioned gentleman." Something my almost-ex never was.
Lovie says a word that should not be broadcast over the speakerphone.
Here I am doing everything I can to reassure her, when Fayrene pops up with, "Got any cards? I used to play strip poker with Jarvetis."
I don't even want to picture that.
I'm thinking this whole speakerphone conversation was a bad idea, when little David wanders into the room trailing Elvis. Could it get any worse? Now I'm a party to polluting the mind of the innocent, plus my dog has ice cream all over his muzzle. Thank goodness, Darlene jerks up her son and whisks him to the back room.
"Flitter, Fayrene," Mama says. "Anybody can play strip poker. Try a little lap dance, Lovie."
I don't even pretend her suggestion shocks me. Ever since I saw Mama doing the mambo up in Memphis with Mr. Whitenton, nothing shocks me where she's concerned. Though I'm happy to report that after she found out Thomas Whitenton was not the gentleman we first thought, she hasn't invited him back to her farm. Or any other place that I know of. Unless she's keeping secrets. Which she's perfectly capable of doing.
"Aunt Ruby Nell, when are you and Daddy flying down?"
"Day after tomorrow, Lovie. Charlie wants to have plenty of time to tour Rocky's dig at Tulum before the undertakers' convention."
"That's great. Callie, why don't you come?"
I'm just getting ready to say I can't leave Hair.Net when Mama says, "Fayrene's coming, too. By the time we get there, we'll have a seduction strategy."
Holy cow! This trip has disaster written all over it. When it comes to a choice between taking care of business in Mooreville and preventing Lovie from implementing Mama's seduction strategy in the Yucatan, there's no contest.
"I'll be there, Lovie."
My dog prances by, looking miffed. I swear, he acts like he thinks I ought to buy him a ticket, too. Which is perfectly ridiculous.
On the other hand, Tulum is filled with the bones of antiquity. And Elvis loves old bones.
Chapter TwoSuitcases, Studs, and Traveling Dogs
Mama is the last customer to leave the shop. She exits with raven hair—which I have to say looks good on her, thanks to yours truly—and more than half my shoe budget. The minute she jumps into her convertible for the short drive to her farm, I set about preparing for my departure to tropical climes.
Leaving home for a few days is not as easy as it sounds. First, I have to reschedule my hair appointments. Next, I explain to Darlene that my customers like to congregate at Hair.Net, whether they have an appointment or not.
"They love to just lounge around on my pink vinyl loveseats and discuss the latest doings in Mooreville."
"In other words, gossip."
I can tell by Darlene's face and tone of voice she's not being mean. If she was, I just wouldn't leave her in charge. Period.
"Around here we consider it selfish not to share the news." I motion Darlene to follow me into the break room where I open the refrigerator door and point out a big pitcher of punch. "This is Lovie's Prohibition Punch. The recipe is tacked to the wall by the sink. Make sure the pitcher is filled at all times. My customers like to refresh themselves when they come here."
Darlene leans over the pitcher and takes a whiff. "In other words, drink."
I'm beginning to think she has a droll sense of humor.
"Let's just say they like to get happy. While I'm gone, continue to be your cheerful self and make everybody welcome."
"I can do that with one hand tied behind my back."
Darlene's a chip off her mama's block. Next to Mama, Fayrene is the bossiest, most take-charge woman I know.
Still, I've never left Hair.Net in anybody else's hands. I've always just shut down the shop when I'm leaving town.
The thought of not being here to personally handle every little thing makes me want to pour myself a big glass of Prohibition Punch. Plus, between Mama's loan and Lovie's crusade to discover and rev up Rocky's libido, this has turned out to be a stressful day. I'm reaching for two glasses, one for me, one for Darlene, when my cell phone rings.
"Callie, I'm coming by to see you." Since when has my almost-ex ever issued a warning? This must be serious. "Are you at the shop?"
I can picture it now. Jack roaring up on his Harley making me go limp in front of my newly hired manicurist.
"I'm just leaving," I tell him.
"I'll see you at the house, then."
Thank goodness, he no longer has a key. I've had the locks changed. Still, a little thing like that never stopped Jack Jones.
Darlene leaves with David and William while I make sure everything is shipshape at the shop. Satisfied, I snap on Elvis' leash, and then lock up and head home. Which just happens to be only three minutes away.
Excerpted from ELVIS and the Tropical Double Trouble by Peggy Webb Copyright © 2011 by Peggy Webb. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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