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I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason A Cece Caruso Mystery
By Kandel, Susan
Morrow/HarperCollins ISBN: 0060581050
What a pity my vintage Maud Frizon pumps didn't come with steel-reinforced toes. Lace stilettoes are not the best defense against a case of gourmet cat food moving inexorably toward zero-degree gravity. Why on earth did I ever buy in bulk?
"You okay?" asked my gardener, Javier, who was fixing a downed sprinkler head on my small but velvety front lawn.
"I'm fine, just ignore me," I moaned, rubbing what was left of my foot. "What about the snails?"
Javier checked the bowl of beer I had put out last night. I wasn't being a good hostess (I drew the line at cheese and crackers), but I had tried everything else, including mailorder carnivorous snails bred to destroy their herbivorous cousins. I'd been ready to give up entirely on my ornamental cabbages when I'd heard the mere smell of beer lured the monsters to their deaths.
"Sorry. No bodies."
I kicked the door open with my good foot, greeted Mimi, the cat indirectly responsible for my suffering, and Buster, my teacup poodle, dumped the grocery bags on the kitchen table, and upset a half-drunk cup of cold coffee. I decided against wiping it up just then (that would mean finding the paper towels) and hit the button on the answering machine.
BEEP. "Hi, it's Lael. You won't believe it -- "
Actually, I would. Lael was my best friend in the world and an extraordinary person, but she had a unique talent for disaster. I'd listen to the rest after a shower and perhaps some meditation. I don't meditate, but I keep thinking I should start.
Sidestepping the coffee now dripping onto the floor, I went into the bedroom and took off my favorite suit, a black Joan Crawfordesque number I'd found at an estate sale with Lael, who'd zeroed in on an almost complete and barely chipped set of Wedgwood lusterware. She'd tried to talk me into removing the suit's shoulder pads, but I liked the linebacker/diva effect -- not to mention that you don't mess around with a classic silhouette. But I suppose Lael and I are different that way. I am obsessed with clothes, and she is the kind of beautiful woman who doesn't need to be.
I picked my robe up off the bathroom floor and turned on the water, which took precisely three and a half minutes to warm up.
My West Hollywood bungalow, purchased nine years ago with the proceeds from my divorce settlement, was like a Stradivarius -- the 1932 Spanish had amazing art deco details, but woe to she disrespectful of its myriad quirks. Like the temperamental plumbing, for one thing. Or the sloping floor in the kitchen, which meant that anything heated on the stove top would migrate to the right side of the pot. Or the front door's inlaid brass knob, which pulled off pretty much every time you tried to open the door from the inside. Visitors seemed to find this latter idiosyncrasy particularly unnerving.
BEEP. "This is George at Kleiner's. The new motor for your fountain is in. Listen, the old one was really filthy. You have to clean it out twice a week like I told you, especially when the Santa Anas are blowing all that muck around."
What George didn't know was that my fountain was of the same vintage as my house, and equally volatile. Also, that the portentous Santa Ana winds were invented by Raymond Chandler purely for literary purposes.
BEEP. "Call your mother."
BEEP. "Please call your mother, dear. I have no idea where you are."
BEEP. "Cece, it's Richie. Call Mom, for god's sake. She's cleaning the attic again, and doesn't know what to do with your stuff. Do you want to keep your crown? Joanne and the kids send their love."
Like all good Italian boys, my brothers, Richie and James Jr., worshiped their mother. I was somewhat more ambivalent. This the boys understood from an early age, which meant I'd spent my childhood at the mercy of a pair of pintsize enforcers. They became cops, just like our dad. I became a beauty queen. But for the record, my reign as Miss Asbury Park, New Jersey, was short-lived and utterly lamentable. Mom could use my crown to plunge the toilet for all I cared. More likely she'd wear it to a church potluck. She'd always harbored the belief that she'd been switched at birth and was really royalty, or Frank Sinatra's sister at least.
BEEP. "Hello, I'm returning Cece's call. Listen, Cece, if you're there, I have a vagabond virgin, a negligent nymph, a hesitant hostess, and a borrowed brunette for you. So, are you a madam or a mystery buff ? But seriously, folks, they're five dollars apiece, paperback reprints."
Everyone's a comedian.
"I've got a first edition of The Case of the Sleepwalker's Niece, but I don't think you want it. There's some water damage on the sleeve, but it's still pretty pricey. Ditto The Case of the Curious Bride, which is one of the better prewar Masons, not that I'm an expert, like some people. You can order on-line or by phone. We're here until eight p.m., thanks to folks like yourself."
I suppose that made it official. Even the bozo working the desk at the Mystery Manor could see that Perry Mason had stolen my life. Yes, that would be Perry Mason, the worldfamous and much-beloved attorney-at-law.
To wit: I could tell you under what circumstances Perry could be persuaded to take a case (a natural blonde in distress was always a plus); his favorite expletive ("the deuce!"); how he liked his steak (broiled rare); and what he drank when he had to drive (soda water just flavored with Scotch) -- in short, as much as Della Street, his perfect jewel of a secretary, ever could. I go to bed marveling at his courtroom moves and wake up mulling his situational ethics. Some might say I'm obsessed. My answer would be it's purely business ... Continues...
Excerpted from I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason by Kandel, Susan Excerpted by permission.
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