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Word for the Day
Boondoggle (BOON dahg’uhl) n. A pointless project. Work of no value, done merely to appear busy.
Icky (IK ee) adj.
Very distasteful; disgusting.
In the Michigan Upper Peninsula we love our guns. There’s a lot of talk about how the federal government is plotting to take our weapons away. Nobody, but nobody, is going to get our guns, even if it means burying most of them in the ground and taking a final stand with our legs spread wide and our favorite firing power nestled in our arms.
I have a perfect example of why upstanding citizens need weap-ons. If I’d had a gun with me in the Stonely Credit Union, none of this would have happened. I’d have had a bead on the masked bandit before he could say boo.
Instead of boo, he said, “Everybody freeze.”
How original is that? He might as well have said, “Stick ’em up.”
Michigan’s tall conifers and wide stretches of unpopulated land must have had him thinking he was back in the Wild West.
He swept a quick glance over his hostages, and our eyes locked. I stared back at him through the round holes in the mask he wore.
I’d bet my bottom dollar I knew him. Around here everybody knows everybody.
My name is Gertie Johnson. I’m sixty-six years old with three grown kids—Heather, Star, and Blaze—all named after the horses I wanted but never had. My son, the local sheriff, is on temporary leave from work with a full-blown case of brain swell. And I don’t mean that figuratively. He’s recovering from bacterial meningitis. He went through afight for his life before miraculously beating the odds. He should be in a rehabilitation center instead of home causing trouble, but he’s half Swede and his wife is Finnish. You can’t tell them anything.
If Blaze had deputized me like I wanted him to do, I could have worn the Glock I swiped from him on my hip in full view.
Instead, I was in line at the credit union, weaponless, waiting to cash my social security check and minding my own business. That’s when the robber decided to hold up Stonely’s small-town version of a bank. Just my luck, he’d pick now.
We all stared at the unexpected interloper while he waved his gun. It was one of the cheapest excuses for fire power I’d ever seen, but at close range it could still do plenty of damage to a person’s internal organs.
I could see thin, hard lips through the mask hole.
“I SAID, everybody freeze! And I want to see empty hands up in the air, right eh?”
I heard people’s belongings—key chains, wallets, and such— clatter to the floor as we reached for the ceiling, all pretty much in unison: a new teller from Trenary, the credit union manager, Ruthie from the Deer Horn Restaurant, Cora Mae, and me. Oh, and Pearl, who was right up by the teller getting her money counted out. She let out a squeal that almost pierced my eardrums, but she quit making noise when the gunman threatened to bop her with his pistol.
Pearl’s cash was the first dough the robber took, stuffing it into a pillowcase he pulled out of his jacket pocket.
Just before the thief interrupted us, Cora Mae, my best friend and partner in the Trouble Buster Investigative Company, had been filling me in on the latest events regarding our first paid job. Since we were in a public place, we were careful to keep our client’s identity and our mission top secret. We communicated in Cora Mae’s version of code, although I didn’t know it yet.
“Kitty’s going to Hell,” she said, before blowing an enormous bubble gum bubble.
Kitty acts as my occasional bodyguard when she’s looking for an excuse to hang out, and she’s the third partner in our investiga-tive business. Kitty pulls goofy stunts every once in a while, but I never considered her fire and brimstone material.
“Since when did you get so judgmental?” I said, thinking of some of Cora Mae’s more risqué adventures.
She sucked in the bubble and rolled her eyeballs to express frustration with me. Then she whispered, “I said Hell, but I meant Paradise.”
“Ahhhh,” I said, catching on, sort of.
In Michigan you can go to Hell or Paradise, depending on your mood. Or you can veer off from either location and visit Christ-mas, where you can gaze at the world’s tallest Santa and decorated houses even at this time of year: mid-April, the first day of turkey hunting season.
I glanced at Ruthie, who was in front of us in line, to see if she was listening in, but she was busy greeting the manager, Dave Nenonen, who stood behind the new teller, watching her every move.
“Wait until we’re in the truck to tell me the rest,” I said, scowl-ing while I tried to figure out what Cora Mae was really trying to convey. Apparently I hadn’t had enough coffee this morning.
I was still scowling when the big dope stuck us up.
I risked a good look at him while he pushed Dave toward the back room. He was dressed like everybody else in Stonely—cam-ouflage jacket, leather gloves, black winter ski mask.
The mask should have been a dead giveaway. While it can be a bit nippy in April, we generally don’t wear face coverings when the temperature rises above freezing.
If we hadn’t been yakking in line, someone might have noticed the seasonable mask faux pas.
Then I glanced down at his feet. The robber was either one of the dumbest criminals alive, or he was the craziest. Who wears bright orange high tops to rob a credit union?
Granted, orange is our favorite color in Stonely, but we don’t wear it on our feet. Jackets, gloves, hats, orange suspender pants. But not orange boots and definitely not orange sneakers.
“Hurry up,” the robber snapped at Dave. “And the rest of you …” he waved the gun. “My partner is outside, ya know? Any-body try anything and you’ll be leaking blood on the pavement.”
Dave, tough guy that he is, trotted right over, sorted through a string of keys, pushed a few buttons, and gave the thief open access to the credit union’s reserve cash. “Stay where you are,” our captor said, head swinging to encompass everyone in the room. “Anybody move and my partner opens fire.” The robber disappeared inside the vault.
He must have had Dave in his sights because the manager didn’t move a single hair on his head, didn’t even blink.
I glanced quickly out the window. Nothing unusual struck me, no movement at all other than a pickup truck going by on High-way M35. If he really had a partner outside, the guy was well hid-den. While I had the chance, I eased my stun gun out of my purse.
Either the credit union manager or the teller must have pressed a button under the counter at some point, because when I glanced toward the window again, I saw Dickey Snell running in a crouch from an unmarked car. His backup of deputized locals arrived right behind him, squealing into the parking lot, making enough noise to wake a teenage boy on a Saturday morning.
The masked marauder was doomed, and he knew it, judging by the way he bolted out of the back room. He jumped behind the counter and tried to smash the drive-thru window with the butt of his gun. When that didn’t work, he clocked the teller on her forehead instead. Her eyes rolled up until the whites showed, then she went over backward.
Someone yelled, “Everybody down,” and it didn’t come from the robber. It came from outside the building. In the Upper Pen-insula, or the U.P., as we call it, “Everybody down” means only one thing when guns are involved.
Pearl screamed again, and we all hit the floor.
Cora Mae, a little slow on the dive, clonked me in the head with a black, strappy high heel. From my face-down position, I could see orange sneakers running this way and that in short, confused motions.
“Boondoggle,” I muttered, surprising myself with the uncon-scious use of my word for the day. Usually I have to really work at finding the proper usage conditions. I couldn’t believe how my mind sharpened in times of crisis.
This guy was about to find out how pointless his misguided project really was.
“Crap,” our robber screamed, panic choking him up. “Shi—”
A bullet zinged into the building, busting out the front window and shattering my hope for a peaceful hostage negotiation. We’d never seen a real bank robbery in Stonely before. Dickey Snell, temporary sheriff until Blaze recovered, must be in his glory at the opportunity to fire at random. The fact that local residents were inside wasn’t slowing him down one bit. Dickey tends to be over-anxious, and he’s been known to lose his self-control in stressful situations.
The robber had to be from out of town. Otherwise he wouldn’t have tried to hold up the credit union. Everybody in Stonely is armed for combat, every weapon is a stone’s throw away, and worst of all, or best of all depending on what side of the armory you’re on, every one of us can shoot a nickel off the top of a beer can.
I don’t know why, but I was worried about the robber’s future health. Dickey hadn’t even given him the option of surrendering. I had my stun gun hidden from view and I was fully prepared to take him down without bloodshed.
Movement on top of the town hall across the street caught my eye. From my position on the floor, I had a direct view of the sky and rooftops. A man with a rifle appeared in my line of sight. He took aim.
“Hit the floor,” I shouted to him, pulling hard on his pant leg while firing up the stun gun at the same time.
But I was too late.
I heard a bang, more glass shattering, then an eerie moment of quiet.
The robber dropped to the floor, his peashooter skidding and landing not two inches from my face. The sharpshooter on the town hall roof peered through his scope and sighted-in again just in case the first shot hadn’t done the job. Before turning off the stun gun, I gave the shooter a football timeout sign with my hands. I didn’t know if he saw me, but he didn’t fire again.
Dickey Snell burst through the front entrance. I wanted to pick up the robber’s measly pistol and put a round into Dickey’s rear end for endangering upstanding citizens by handling the situation like he’d cornered Butch Cassidy.
No-Neck Sheedlo, his partner in crime fighting, stumbled in behind him, along with half the town. Cora Mae stood up and smoothed herself out. The rest of us did, too. We formed a circle around the dead robber. No question about it. He was gone. Even with the face mask, we all knew. The staring, blank eyes and the
hole through his forehead cemented his fate.
Dickey pulled off the robber’s mask, and we stared some more.
“Not from around here,” No-Neck offered, shaking his big neckless noggin.
“Anybody know this guy?”
“No, not, nope.” Heads shook, mouths muttered.
“He’s from the U.P.,” I offered, saddened by the abrupt end of a life.
“Not with shoes like that, ya know?” someone said.
“Expound on that, Gertie.” Dickey, the know-it-all college gradu-ate, puffed himself up.
“He said, eh.”
Everyone waited. Dickey dropped his arms to his waist to sug-gest impatience.
“Spit it out,” No-Neck said. “He said what?”
“He said, eh. E.H.” Did I have to spell everything out for them? “He said eh at the end of his sentence, like a Yooper. He talked like us.”
Tourists from down state like to compare our speech to char-acters from the movie Fargo, but they’re dead wrong. We have a very distinct pattern of speech in the Upper Peninsula, and this guy had it.
Everyone stared at me like I’d lost my mind. “We do,” I insisted, “talk different.”
Was I the only one who could tell? Years ago I came to the U.P. with my Barney, so I’m still considered a transplant by the old timers. Most of the locals lived here their whole lives and haven’t even traveled outside of our state borders.
“Well, he won’t be saying eh anymore, eh?” someone in the back offered.
Dickey bent down and looked him over. He wasn’t much to see. Scrawny, stubbly face, bushy brows, a scar on his cheek that looked like a dog bite that had required a few stitches.
“Nice shot,” Dickey said. “Who did the shooting?” Nobody said anything. “It’s okay to come forward,” he said. “Whoever you are, you won’t be incarcerated. You’ll be exonerated. You might even be in line for a special medal for bravery. Speak up.”
Muttering among the onlookers.
“Oh, come on,” No-Neck said. “Somebody shot him.”
“A guy on the town hall roof plugged him,” I said. “He had a rifle with a scope. Dickey, I mean, Deputy Snell, who did you send up there?”
“I didn’t send anybody to the roof.” Dickey was getting hot.
Cora Mae had been eyeing up the men, contemplating her next victim. She isn’t called the Black Widow for nothing. Cora Mae married and buried three husbands, and she’s on the make for an-other one.
She stopped preening and said something significant. “The dead robber said he had a partner outside.” She giggled nervously. “He wasn’t dead when he said it.”
“I didn’t see anyone outside until the armed forces showed up,” I said to the acting sheriff. “It had to be one of your men.”
Dickey ran his hands through his greasy hair and readjusted his cat-hair encrusted green jacket. “Deputy Sheedlo, I want state-ments from everybody.”
No-Neck rearranged the alleged witnesses and started taking statements. A moan from behind the counter reminded us that someone had been injured. The new teller rose, holding her fore-head. I guessed this would be her last day on the job.
We have our share of emergency medical technicians in Stonely. The local men and some of the women like to join the volunteer fire department so they can play with the red trucks and long hoses, but you can’t qualify without the proper credentials. The town’s finest rushed over to offer their assistance.
While they were administering to the teller, Dickey picked up the pillowcase and opened it. He pulled out a package of bills and ripped off the paper surrounding it.
His mouth fell open, which is where it is most of the time anyway.
“What’s wrong?” I said, leaning over the pillowcase for a good look.
Dickey reached in and pulled out more of the contents, peeling each bundle apart. He flung them over his shoulder and pulled out some more.
Pearl’s cash was at the bottom. The rest of the pillowcase was stuffed with Monopoly money.
Posted June 16, 2011
Deb Bakers' Gertie Johnson books should be issued with a Surgeon General Warning on the spine. Do NOT attempt to eat or drink while reading. Causes serious choking. Could be hazardous to your health. Could also be addictive.
I was immediately hooked on Gertie from the first chapter. It wouldn't have been so bad if I didn't think I actually know some of those people and I could so easily picture them getting into some of those situations. You will find it hard to see your neighbors or sit next to people in church now that you know what they might be up to in their private moments. It is a marvelous thing to have an older protagonist in a book, someone with a little knowledge of how the world really works, who has had the shine rubbed off, and has come to the point in their lives they can laugh at the worst situations.
If you are in the mood for a change of pace from bodice ripping romance or technical detective work and want to just go along for a wild, wild ride then put down your coffee cup and jump in with Gertie, Cora Mae and Kitty. I guarantee you will feel liberated.
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Posted February 6, 2015
Posted October 16, 2014
I always enjoy deb baker's cozy mysteries. However, the story on this one is not as tight as some of her others. There seemed to be several holes in her story. I think she tried to make it too complicated and had trouble wrapping it up and tying it all back together.
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Posted December 15, 2013
I just love this series! Gertie is such a wonderful, feisty senior! She seems to find herself always in the thick of trouble. You won' t be disappointed with this series or authr!
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Posted November 29, 2013
Posted October 8, 2013
Posted August 24, 2013
Posted June 10, 2013
Posted June 2, 2013
Posted May 18, 2013
Posted May 1, 2013
Spring in Upper Michigan (Yooper) means TURKEY HUNTING TIME!!! and not all the blinds are being used for hunting. Of course when the local credit union is robbed at gunpoint no one is talking about turkeys. Why would you plan a robbery in a town where everyone is armed and ready? The plan falls apart when the gunman is shot dead but somehow the money is still missing.
“Faster than you can say “Tom Turkey,” Gertie, Cora Mae, and Kitty are on the case, in this hoot of a whodunit.”
Gertie Johnson is such a wonderful character that always tickles my funny bone. Her and her Trouble Busting friends trying to help the sheriff solve the crime will have you laughing from beginning to end.
Well written stories with fantastic characters in crazy situations. This entire series is so much fun to read. Light, entertaining and a great escape. These Yooper stories are a real treat.
Posted December 23, 2011
Posted September 12, 2011
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Posted January 12, 2013
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Posted November 17, 2013
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