Hung Out to Die: A Stain-busting Mystery

Hung Out to Die: A Stain-busting Mystery

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by Sharon Short

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There's no fun in dysfunctional

Small-town laundress Josie Toadfern has her own fair share of dirty laundry—namely the Toadfern clan! Ostracized from the family unit ever since her parents dumped eight-year-old Josie in a local orphanage, the stain-busting dynamo's stunned to find herself invited to crabby old family matriarch "Mamaw" Toadfern's


There's no fun in dysfunctional

Small-town laundress Josie Toadfern has her own fair share of dirty laundry—namely the Toadfern clan! Ostracized from the family unit ever since her parents dumped eight-year-old Josie in a local orphanage, the stain-busting dynamo's stunned to find herself invited to crabby old family matriarch "Mamaw" Toadfern's Thanksgiving celebration—and too curious to refuse.

But an even bigger shock is waiting for her there: Josie's long lost mom and pop, blandly unapologetic and full of new—probably illegal—get-rich-quick schemes. And when a dead body is tossed into the already explosive chaos of bitter feelings, intra-family feuding, and incinerated turkey meat, Josie finds herself in the most uncomfortable position of having to prove her disreputable dad innocent of murder. But cleaning up messes is Josie's business. And sometimes blood is thicker than cranberry sauce—and a much more difficult stain to eliminate.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Stain-Busting Mysteries , #4
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Hung Out to Die

A Stain-busting Mystery
By Sharon Short

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006 Sharon Short
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060793244

Chapter One

"Now, this square was cut from your Uncle Fenwick's football warm-up jersey, after the 1970 season," Mamaw Toadfern said, as she stared at the crazy quilt spread on top of her bed, which was itself covered in another crazy quilt. The mixture of colors and shapes in both of her homemade quilts was making me dizzy.

As was her perfume -- Estée Lauder's Youth Dew, also vintage 1970. I briefly wondered if Mamaw had gotten the perfume at Maxine McNally's estate auction, held the previous weekend. I'd gone and found on a card table -- right next to a stack of lovely old linen and lace napkins and tablecloths -- a whole box of Youth Dew. Riley -- one of Mrs. McNally's granddaughters -- told me no one ever knew what to get her grandmother, so they just kept sending her Youth Dew. Turned out she was allergic to it, but she wore it anyway at Thanksgiving, just to make everyone happy, and finally confessed, a year before she died, not just to her allergy but also to her complete dislike of the scent.

At least, said Riley, as I bought up the whole lot of linens -- stains and all -- that explained why her Mamaw McNally always sneezed through the entire Thanksgiving meal.

Anyway. My own Mamaw Toadfern now reeked of Youth Dew and I suppressed a sneeze and wondered if I was allergic, too. I hadn't seen Mamaw at the sale. But then, I hadn't seen her other than at a distance since I was about seven years old . . . and that had been twenty-two years before.

And now, here I was. At her house for Thanksgiving. Looking at a quilt that seemed to be comprised mostly of old sports clothes. And trying not to sneeze at her perfume.

Mamaw poked again, with a hot pink sparkly fake fingernail, at the square of shiny silver fabric with the navy blue number 23. "Or maybe this square was cut from your daddy's football jersey. I got their numbers mixed up all the time." She tapped navy-on-silver 47 a few squares away. "Fenwick and Henry aren't identical twins, but at least back then they looked a lot alike. Same build. You'd think the numbers would have helped me keep them straight, but with two other boys to keep track of too . . ." She shook her head. "Your daddy and your Uncle Fenwick were the stars that season. Henry set a record for interceptions and Fenwick for field goals, records that have yet to be broken in Muskrat history." She was referring to the mascot of East Mason County High School and for a moment she looked really proud, as if she'd gone back in time to the season when they'd set the records. Then she looked suddenly despairing again. "Those two were always so competitive, you know."

No. No, I didn't know.

In fact, I had no recollection of my daddy at all, considering he'd run off from my mama and me when I was two.

And yet, here I was, in his mama's bedroom, as she droned on sentimentally about this quilt, and I held my breath, and heard somewhere in the back of my head a high-pitched whining sound that wavered to the melody of "Over the River," as in "Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go, the horse knows the way, to carry the sleigh, through white and drifted snow, oh . . ."

At least I found the song cheery, if a bit ironic.

Because this was the first, last, and only time that this particular Thanksgiving tale would be cheery.

Oh, it included a river and woods, seeing as how I live in Paradise, Ohio, and Mamaw lives in the country, on a farm, on the other side of the Stillwater River. Her huge, two-story farmhouse sits in the midst of trees. The rest of the property is a cornfield, which she farms out.

And it included plenty of white and drifted snow. The day before Thanksgiving, we'd had a record-setting storm, which dumped almost a foot of glistening white snow throughout much of the Midwestern United States, including our little patch of the Midwest in southern Ohio.

But in this tale's case, there is no horse or sleigh, although a confused, derelict deer does figure into the telling -- later on, anyway.

And grandmother is my Mamaw Toadfern, not exactly the white-haired, apron-wearing, doting grandma the song implies. In her high-heeled mules, Mamaw was at best four feet eleven inches -- a good four inches shorter than me -- and weighed maybe a hundred pounds. The lines in her face were so deep and craggy they reminded me of the glacial grooves I'd once seen in a rock at the Museum of Natural History in Cincinnati, but still . . . she loomed as big and scary as she had the last time I saw her, which, as I said, was when I was about seven.

I think she still seemed scary because of her piercing blue eyes. Or maybe because at seventy-six she wore tight black pants with those high-heeled mules, and a tan sweatshirt appliquéd with sequined turkeys, pilgrims, and Indians, and a big blond wig, and somehow managed to look pretty good.

Mamaw was suddenly shaking me as she hollered, "Josie! Josie, are you okay?"

My vision cleared, the melody drifted away, and I coughed as I peered down at Noreen Faye Wickenhoof Toadfern. The matriarch of my daddy's family -- a family I'd never known, except for a stray cousin or two, because long ago this woman had decided my daddy's running off was my mama's fault, and forbade everyone from talking to my mama or anyone in my mama's family (which was much smaller, consisting of only a brother, a sister-in-law, and a nephew). Then when I was seven, my mama ran off, too, and Mamaw chose that time to instruct the whole family to cut me off.


Excerpted from Hung Out to Die by Sharon Short Copyright © 2006 by Sharon Short. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Sharon Short's humor column, "Sanity Check," appears every Monday in the Dayton Daily News. Her fiction credits include several short mysteries published in Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine and Orchard Press Online Mystery Magazine. In addition, Ms. Short is a principal of her own marketing communications firm and has a bachelor's and a master's degree in English. She lives in Miamisburg, Ohio, with her husband and two daughters.

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Hung out to Die: A Stain-Busting Mystery 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Josie Toadfern has been separated from her family since she was eight. Her parents dropped her off in the local orphanage, and her dad¿s family refused to have anything to do with her. Now her grandma ¿Mamaw¿ Toadfern wants her to come to Thanksgiving dinner. Against her better judgment, she accepts. Once there, she regrets going. Even more so when her long lost parents show up for dinner. Things go from bad to worse when she finds a dead relative while out walking with a friend. Her mom begs her to help clear her father¿s name. She doesn¿t want to do it. But to keep peace in the town, she decides to help. Can she clear her father¿s name and keep them from ruining the town with their new get-rich scheme? Can she do all this without putting herself in danger? In the meantime, she is having second thoughts about her situation with her boyfriend. Josie is a great character. I always enjoy reading a book in this series. She is so down to earth and likeable. It doesn¿t surprise me all the situations she gets into. The author has done a great job of creating a town full of quirky but likeable characters. I can¿t wait for the next book. I highly recommend this book and the whole series.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Paradise, Ohio Josie Toadfern was two when her daddy abandoned her not long afterward her mother dumped her in an orphanage. Whereas her paternal side led by her grandma said she was dead, her maternal Uncle Horace and Aunt Clara raised her as if she was their offspring. Twenty-two years later, her father¿s mother septuagenarian Mamaw Toadfern wants to allegedly see her after all this time when she only lived on the other side of the river from where Josie grew up and now runs Toadfern¿s Laundromat while claiming to be the national expert on stain removal. --- Thus that is why she is having Thanksgiving with the Toadfern brood when her parents arrive. They want to forget the past offering a deal involving a flea market. However, unforgiving Uncle Fenwick Toadfern rejects the peace offering with the two men threatening to kill one another. Not long afterward someone kills Fenwick trying to make it seem like a suicide, but local officials think hid death is a homicide and hone in on Josie¿s daddy as the prime suspect. Josie believes someone else killed her uncle after removing a stain from his favorite shirt. --- The first half of the tale is a soap opera family drama that introduces the audience to a horde of Toads and a heroine struggling with a sudden rash of relatives who never recognized her as alive until now including her biological parents. The interrelation dynamics are interesting to follow as the audience gain insight mostly from the baffled heroine who understands stain removal a lot better than blood relatives. The suspense comes in the latter half as fans along with Josie will learn that family is inside the heart, not the blood. --- Harriet Klausner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Nonstop Spaniels" took me less than a couple of hours to read. It combines my interest in no-kill shelters with a interesting murder mystery.