Small-town Iowa sleuths Brandy and Vivian Borne—with their trusty shih tzu, Sushi—head for a Big Apple comics convention to sell a rare 1940s Superman drawing. When an intruder breaks into their hotel suite, their madcap Manhattan misadventure is only beginning. Soon the out-of-towners stumble onto a murder victim impaled by a pen-shaped award. Villains abound—from cartoonists to crime bosses—creating a jumble of clues. But Brandy and Vivian will leave no comic-book page unturned in their race to trap a ruthless killer.
“The exploits of the ditzy heroines remain endlessly amusing.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Fans of the series will enjoy the banter between this pair of engaging characters.”—Booklist
“Humorous… Tips about comics collecting add to the cozy fun.”—Publishers Weekly
Don't miss Brandy Borne's tips on antiques!
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
A Trash 'n' Treasures Mystery
By Barbara Allan
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Max Allan Collins and Barbara Collins
All rights reserved.
No, your eyes are not deceiving you, nor has the publisher made a printing error by beginning this book with chapter two. Rather, chapter one has been omitted, having been deemed by our esteemed editor as inconsequential to the murder mystery about to unfold.
But Mother and I beg to differ!
Mother being Vivian Borne, seventies, bipolar, widowed, Danish stock, local thespian, and amateur sleuth; and me, Brandy Borne, thirty-two Prozac popping, divorced, and frequent reluctant accomplice in Mother's escapades since coming home to live with her in the small Mississippi River town of Serenity, Iowa, bringing along only a few clothes and my little blind shihtzu, Sushi.
The following is our defense for writing chapter one, however bereft of mystery content it might be.
Several loyal readers have written to inquire as to whether we have as yet found poor Aunt Olive. Olive—actually my great-aunt—wasn't "missing" in the face-on-a-milk-carton manner, since she was, after all, deceased, her ashes encased in a glass paperweight and entrusted to Mother for safekeeping. Unfortunately, during a well-meaning flurry of downsizing our antiques-cluttered home, Olive had gotten herself mixed in with a collection of paperweights and erroneously sold at a garage sale to Fanny Watterson, a third-grade teacher visiting Serenity from Akron, Ohio.
But, as Mother would say, I digress.
Thanks to the prodding of our readers, we— that is, Mother, Sushi, and I—set out by car on an eastern trek to the Buckeye State to retrieve her/it. But, in Akron, we discovered that the third-grade teacher who had purchased Auntie had done so with a paperweight-collecting friend in mind, to whom Olive had been mailed as a birthday present, in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Then, upon our arrival in Scranton, we were told by said friend (a fourth-grade teacher) that she had found the paperweight rather unattractive and possessed of "an odd vibe," so she'd regifted it to a sister (presumably not her favorite one) in Hackensack, New Jersey.
Now, just how Aunt Olive ended up in a torpedo hole of the USS Ling at the New Jersey Naval Museum in Hackensack is a fascinating, amusing, and remarkable set of circumstances, but—and here we must reluctantly bow to editorial wisdom—wholly inconsequential to the mystery at hand. (Chapter one will be available for your reading pleasure on our website, www.BarbaraAllan.com.)
Just the same, Mother and I would like to point out that if it hadn't been for the quest to recover Aunt Olive, she (Mother) and I would never have considered incorporating into our plans a trip to New York City, where we became innocently involved in yet another murder, giving us material for this, our eighth book.
So forget Akron and Scranton and Hackensack and, for that matter, Aunt Olive (meaning no offense to those cities nor our beloved late relative). Our story proper begins in Manhattan, in late March, where we were on our way to attend a comic book convention, to sell a rare Superman drawing by creators Siegel and Shuster that we had found in a storage locker won in auction last October. (We refer you to Antiques Disposal, available from your favorite bookseller.)
Still with us?
Specifically, we were traveling south by car on the Henry Hudson Parkway, having just crossed the George Washington Bridge, when the old burgundy Buick that had done amazingly well for us on our travels thus far began to shudder violently.
Luckily, I was able to ease the car over to an emergency lane before it shuddered its last shudder, dying with a long, mechanical death rattle, punctuated by a final conk! and one last steam-heat sigh.
After using my cell to summon help, I was informed by a dispassionate dispatcher (did my lack of a local accent brand me as an outsider?) that our situation was not worthy of a 9-1-1 call in the city, and not to bother her again.
No, Toto (that is, Sushi), we were not in Serenity anymore. Quiet Serenity, where a police car would have been dispatched to assist us tootsweet. Sweet Serenity, where Mrs. Clyde Martin— monitoring a scanner in her kitchen—would begin preparing an apple pie to present us on our doorstep, in a few hours, as a consolation for our travails.
But no such assistance (and certainly no pie, apple or otherwise) had been dispatched to aid us here on the HHP, where cars cruelly whizzed by two helpless women and a blind dog next to an obviously broken-down car in the late afternoon March wind.
Mother was still quite attractive at her undisclosed age—porcelain complexion, straight nose, wide mouth, large eyes admittedly magnified by her glasses, wavy silver hair pulled loosely back. And I was no slouch—button nose, blue eyes, and shoulder-length blond hair. Plus, Sushi was cute as all heck. Yet our collective predicament failed to soften the hard-hearted New Yorkers, who continued to stir the wind as they passed, ignoring us as if that were a requirement of Big Apple citizenship.
Now might be a good time to mention that Mother was handcuffed. To a black briefcase, that is, which held our valuable Superman drawing. My insistence that the artwork would be safe in a suitcase did nothing to sway her; once Mother got an idea in her head, that was that, even after I pointed out that she would be attr acting undue attention to herself (as if that would dissuade Serenity's most notorious diva).
Still, I had smirked. "Why don't you carry a big sign that says, 'Hey world! Here's something so valuable that I'm willing to lose an arm over it'?"
Her frown was almost a scowl. "Dear, I hope you're not going to be a Debbie Downer."
And I had replied, "I hope you're not going to be a Nutty Nancy."
Then she said something, to which I responded in kind, none of which can be reported here, if we are ever to have any hope of Walmart stocking our books.
Let's just say it had been a long cross-country trip.
One more thing about the handcuffed briefcase: Mother didn't want to spend the bucks ordering one from her spy catalogue, so she had borrowed a beat-up case from a neighbor, then stole (or as she puts it, "borrowed") cuffs from the police department, where she had recently dropped by ostensibly to give a neighborhood watch report.
Anyway, as soon as we'd crossed the George Washington Bridge, she'd hooked herself up to the briefcase.
And now she and I and the briefcase and our blind dog stood next to our dead car in an emergency lane, where I began to suspect we would spend the rest of our lives.
Mother, pulling her coat collar up around her neck with her spare, uncuffed hand to combat the icy river wind, sighed, "I'm afraid getting someone to stop won't be easy, dear. If you weren't wearing sweatpants, I'd suggest you lift your skirt in time-honored Claudette Colbert fashion."
"It Happened One Night, dear!"
"You don't want to know what'll happen to us if we are still here at night."
Then I had an idea. It could happen.
I positioned Sushi on the car's hood.
"Dance!" I commanded the cute little fur ball.
At first she just looked at me, in the way you're just looking at this page right now.
But then I began singing "Shake Your Booty," and the dear got up on her hind legs and hopped around, wagging her furry ears, flopping her front paws rhythmically, and twitching her doggie booty.
I hadn't gotten to the song's bridge by the time a tan Subaru suddenly veered off the highway, pulling in front of us, then backed up to the Buick.
I gave Mother a self-satisfied smirk. "Who needs Claudette Colbert?"
Grabbing Sushi, I rushed over to the driver's side of the vehicle, just as the woman behind the wheel powered down her window.
"Oh, thank you so much for stopping," I said.
"Car trouble?" the lady asked.
She was middle-aged but nicely preserved, with chin-length honey-blond hair and striking, light brown eyes. She was wearing a red wool coat and black leather gloves. Next to her in the passenger seat was a large gray gym bag.
"Our car is the trouble," I said. "I'm afraid we need a junk dealer, not a tow truck."
She gave me a winning smile. "Been there, done that. But with an old Mustang." Then,
"Where are you headed?"
"The Hotel Pennsylvania on Seventh Avenue."
She nodded. "Not too far from where I'm going. Hop in."
I thanked our Good Samaritan, then went back to the Buick to collect Mother and our luggage, giving its battered hood a final pat. We'd arrange at the hotel for a proper burial for our old friend.
We filled our savior's trunk with our belongings and settled into the Subaru—Mother in front, gym bag on her lap, the blond Samaritan giving the handcuffed briefcase a curious look; me in back holding Sushi. Then we were once again traveling south on the Hudson Parkway.
Mother introduced herself and me, ending with, "And the little dancing dog that caught your attention is Sushi."
"You should put that mutt on YouTube," the woman said, eyes on the traffic. "But it was your license plate that caught my eye."
Mother's head swivelled toward her. "Oh? Are you another native of the great state of Iowa?"
"Des Moines, originally." She took her right gloved hand off the wheel, thrusting it toward Mother. "I'm sorry, I haven't introduced myself."
She said her first name.
Which prompted Mother to ask, "Do you use a c or a k in the middle?"
"Two ks, actually."
"And end with a y or an i?"
I could see our new friend Vikki's face in the visor mirror; she had a sideways smile going, in response to Mother's insistence on detail.
But the woman wouldn't be smiling if she knew Mother's purpose. Before ride's end, she would wheedle from Vikki her last name as well as her address, and the unsuspecting lady Lancelot who'd ridden to our rescue would find herself on Mother's ever-growing Christmas-letter list, receiving—year after year—a long and laborious Yuletide report ("Merry Christmas, my darlings!"), from which the only known escape was death, either the recipient's or Mother's—and Mother felt just fine.
Moved with no forwarding address? No problem. Mother will find you. Returned to sender? Out goes the letter again. Addressee deceased? Next time, it goes to "Family of," so maybe even the Grim Reaper couldn't get you off Mother's Christmas-letter list.
This would very likely be the last time Vikki with two ks and an i helped anyone ever again on the Henry Hudson Parkway (especially with Iowa license plates).
Mother was asking her, "What's your trade, dear?"
"I work backstage on Wicked. I'm a costume dresser. "
I interjected, "Oh! That's the show we're hoping to see while we're in town. What theater is it playing in, again?"
Vikki looked at me in the mirror. "The Gershwin on West Fifty-first. That's where I'm going after I drop you off."
With trying-too-hard sincerity, Mother said, "My dear, your job sounds simply marvelous." Then, instead of inquiring how long Vikki had been with the play, or how many witches she had seen come and go during its long run, or even if she'd been a dresser on other Broadway shows, Mother shifted the subject to herself.
Just like a wicked witch would.
"Ah, how well I remember waiting for reviews at Sardi's," she expounded.
"Oh?" Vikki replied politely. "You've appeared on Broadway?"
"Oh, my, yes," Mother warbled, as if the woman should have known. "My stage name was my maiden name—Vivian Jensen. But you are so young, and that was so many years ago."
"What were you in?" Vikki asked, interested.
Mother waved a dismissive hand. "I'm sure you've never heard of it, dear. Way before your time."
She had dug herself in a hole.
"Try me," Vikki said.
Confronted with an actual Broadway professional, Mother hesitated, then finally said, "Well, it was just a little production, dear, ... not so much Broadway as off-Broadway."
I'd never heard this story before, but my guess? If the play had been any farther off Broadway, it would have been performed in Hoboken.
Mother was saying, "This was in the late sixties, you see, when I was single and had come to Gotham to make my mark."
Maybe in answer to the Bat signal.
"And did you?" I asked, lending her a hand digging that hole. "Make your mark, I mean."
"I like to think so," Mother said regally. "As a matter of fact, I was the first actress to bare her breasts on a theatrical stage!"
"Oh," Vikki said. "Were you in Hair?"
"No, dear, this predated that production by some time."
"Ah. Old Calcutta, then?"
"No, this was before Oh! Calcutta!, as well. Of course, nowadays I suppose they might call my landmark performance a 'wardrobe malfunction.' You see, the strapless bra I was wearing in a boudoir scene suddenly came unhooked and shot into the audience like a huge rubber band. But this unintentional piece of improvisational business went over so well, the director decided to incorporate it into the production." Mother sighed. "A week later, the police closed us down." Then she added, chipper, "But nothing was held against me!"
Vikki gave me a look of astonished amusement in the rearview mirror, and I smiled back, raising my eyebrows in quick succession. Welcome to my world.
Mother was saying, "These days I'm the director of our community theater playhouse ... along with playing leads."
"She also founded a theater group in our county jail," I offered mischievously.
"That is commendable," Vikki said, seeming impressed. "You go to the jail and hold classes?"
"No, dear," Mother replied. "I was in jail—for murder."
The car veered onto the shoulder, then Vikki regained control.
"But the charges were dropped," I said.
The Hudson Parkway had changed to Joe DiMaggio Highway, and then Twelfth Avenue. Soon we were turning onto West Thirty-fourth Street, the crosstown traffic—much to our blond chauffeur's relief, I'm sure—relatively light, and in another few minutes we veered onto Seventh Avenue, where the stately Hotel Pennsylvania loomed on the corner of Thirty-third Street.
Quicker than one can say "Good riddance to bad rubbish," Vikki whipped her car into the hotel's unloading zone and hopped out. Mother and I disembarked, too, to speed things along, and together we got the luggage to the curb.
Holding Sushi tightly, I said to the woman, "Thank you again for helping us."
Mother took her by the hand and said, "My dear, after we take in your show, we would just love to visit you backstage."
Vikki smiled nervously and withdrew her hand. "Ah, well, I am rather busy back there. Can't promise anything."
I could see the backstage notice board now: Vivian and Brandy Borne Not Admitted!
Mother pressed forward, all big eyes and bigger teeth. "Perhaps we could call you and arrange for tickets to be held at the box office. Let me get my cell phone out and add your number...."
But our rescuer was already leaving. "It's been very interesting," she said. "I don't imagine we'll be running into each other again, so I'll just say so long...."
"Don't be so sure," I said with a smile. "It's a wicked old world, you know. Always another witch waiting in the wings."
She looked a little startled, then hurried back to her Subaru, relieved to unburden herself of her charges. In another moment, she pulled skillfully out into busy traffic, courtesy of Penn Station and Madison Square Garden across the street.
Pedestrian traffic was no lighter. As we stood beneath the hotel's golden overhang—above which four American flags fluttered between massive Grecian columns—Mother and I made speed bumps in everyone's path.
Sushi gave out a little whimper, bothered by all the big city hubbub, and I held her tighter.
"Welcome to the Hotel Pennsylvania," someone said.
A doorman had materialized, smartly attired in a black uniform with red stripes around his coat cuffs and down his pant legs. Middle-aged, with reddish hair, a ruddy complexion, and friendly smile, he cut an impressive figure.
But the most impressive thing about him? He gave but a brief glance at Mother's handcuffed briefcase, no doubt having seen much stranger things in his line of work.
"Thanks for the welcome," I said.
Mother beamed at him, just a little less crazily than Norman Bates's mama at the end of Psycho. "It's a pleasure to be here at ..." And shaking a forefinger in the air, yowza style, she sang, "Pennsylvania six five thousandI"
Then Mother, in response to my horrified expression, waiting a beat for the Andrews Sisters to turn over in their graves, said defensively, "It's a Glenn Miller tune, dear. Very popular, back in the day. After the hotel's phone number?"
The doorman smiled gamely. "We do get that from time to time. But you're the first one to mention it today, ma'am."
"Do I win a prize?" Mother chirped. "A discount coupon perhaps, or a hotel beanie?" The game smile turned a trifle strained. "I'm afraid not."
Sushi yapped her impatience.
And I yapped mine: "Mother, could we please get checked in? Soosh needs to be fed and to get her insulin shot, and I'm hungry, too."
Excerpted from Antiques Con by Barbara Allan. Copyright © 2014 Max Allan Collins and Barbara Collins. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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