As he waits in the checkout line at Consumers Market, Jay Jay Anderson is certain of one thing: His wife, Cookie, deserves to die. In the tabloids, he finds a story about a man whose wife was kidnapped by Big Foot, and Jay Jay can’t imagine a luckier fellow. But Cookie is a wino with nicotine-stained fingers, badly bleached hair, and a voice shrill enough to cut glass. . . . Big Foot wouldn’t be interested. If Jay Jay wants out of his rotten marriage, he’ll have to kill Cookie himself.
“Big Foot Stole My Wife!” is classic Joan Hess: diabolical, hilarious, and utterly unpredictable. This sparkling collection of stories, which includes two tales culled from the Maggody police files of beloved small-town sheriff Arly Hanks, shows a master of comic mysteries operating at her very best.
Fans of the comic small-town mysteries of Donna Andrews or Liz Lipperman will adore Joan Hess. The creator of the outrageous Ozarks hamlet of Maggody, she’s one of the funniest authors in mystery fiction, and these stories show her at her laugh-out-loud best.
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Big Foot Stole My Wife!
And Other Stories
By Joan Hess
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 2003 Joan Hess
All rights reserved.
Big Foot Stole My Wife!
Jay Jay Anderson read the tabloid headline, not once but over and over and over again, as if each subsequent time might produce an entirely new declaration. It did not. He tightened his grip on the bottle of Perrier, the plastic bag holding three limes, a similar container of arugula, and the crinkly package of rice crackers. "Big Foot Stole My Wife."
"Sure, he did," Jay Jay murmured. "That's what I'd say, too."
A stout woman with blue hair and a bunch of bananas stared over her shoulder at him. "I beg your pardon?"
"Inquiring minds want to know," Jay Jay said, pointing with his grocery list at the tabloid in the metal rack. "Those things pander to the morbid side of human nature, don't you think?"
Apparently comforted by his impeccably conservative clothes, trimmed hair, and boyish face, she gave him a vague nod and turned back to glower at the inconsiderate soul with nine items in the express lane — which was clearly labeled eight items, cash only. Jay Jay also glowered, being the sort who would never defy the laws that governed the express lane at Consumers Market. If one's list had nine items, one planned accordingly for the necessity of a slight delay in the standard lanes. The express lane was for the use of those with foresight. The inconsiderate soul was now further delaying Blue Hair and Jay Jay by the writing of a check. Perhaps the Big Foot of the produce department would come lumbering down the aisle, slobbering and slathering and searching for Those Who Deserved to Die.
Corkie deserved to die. Jay Jay arched his eyebrows and mentally listed eight reasons why she deserved to die, then halted out of deference to the express lane sign. The eight were in the spirit of the seven deadly sins, with indiscriminate promiscuity thrown in to make a tidy octet.
Blue Hair huffed away and Jay Jay lay down his items, produced cash, counted his change, and carried the sack to his tawny BMW. As he pulled into traffic, he tried to recall his emotions when he'd first met his wife, Charlotte "Corkie" McNevins Anderson. She'd been as sleek as his car, as golden, as eager to purr when he pushed down on the accelerator, as redolent of the softest and most expensive leather. Quality, he'd decided by the second date, and exactly what he needed. He promptly (and successfully) had devised a plan to win both her heart and access to the family fortune.
Now, ten years later, her purr was shrill. The sleek lines were harsh angles; the redolence was a miasma of ashtrays and booze (her nickname having arisen in prep school from an infamous predilection for that beverage constrained by corks). Her erstwhile golden hair changed colors weekly, as a result of lengthy sessions in the salon, and as he carefully changed lanes in anticipation of a turn, Jay Jay found himself wondering if he would recognize her should she step into the street. There was no doubt in his mind that if he did, he would run her down with only a second's hesitation to devise a convincing defense.
But if it were not convincing, life would become intolerable. The scenario included policemen, lawyers, juries, and a judge; the bottom line was an unpleasant future in cohabitation with the criminal element of the lower class. A pervert for a roommate. Crude clothing. A diet consisting only of cheap, starchy carbohydrates. Limited exercise inside a fenced square. Neckless, uneducated brutes with the power to bully him. No corner office, no stunningly beautiful and compliant secretary, no racquetball at lunch, no eighteen holes on the weekend, no carefully choreographed networking in the locker room, no wondrous car. An institutional lifestyle was not in his plan.
Jay Jay drove at a moderate rate down the tree-lined streets, noting the plethora of European cars, the mansions, the manicured yards, the designer-dressed children frolicking like thoroughbred colts, which of course they were. He did not want to lose this utopia, this enclave of wealth and power and gentility. He couldn't kill Corkie.
And he couldn't divorce her, either, although it was painfully clear that his acquisition had been a grievous error, attributable to youthful zeal and miscalculation. Corkie was hardly more than a marginal asset, and her value depreciated annually. He had first realized the enormity of his mistake when their portfolio had reached an appropriate level to begin a family. He had presented her with the glad tidings and suggested they commence the procreation of a respectable number of offspring to please her father and ensure the continuity of the family fortune. She had scoffed. Over the years he had requested on numerous occasions that she serve as hostess to those who would aid the dazzling escalation of his career. She had sneered. Her disdainful attempts too often had ended in drunken disaster. Yes, she had continually scoffed and sneered and stumbled, forcing him to make detours along his carefully plotted journey through life. Jay Jay detested detours. He detested his wife.
It wasn't as though she would object to a divorce, in that she had told him on many occasions how thoroughly she detested him. But a divorce would destroy the years spent on each rung of the ladder — the series of goals thus far achieved, the goals that glittered within his reach in the future. Corkie's father, also known as the chairman of the board of the conservative investment firm that supplied the corner office, the secretary, the racquetball court, the membership in the country club, and the car, would harrumph and then fire his ex-son-in-law more briskly than he could say high-yield zero coupon treasury bill.
Noting a stoplight at the end of the next block, Jay Jay instinctively braked so that the light would change to green seconds before he reached the intersection. No, if he was to have a million invested in blue chips and municipal bonds by fifty, a townhouse in New York by fifty-five, a condo in Palm Springs by sixty, followed by a golden retirement of golf, travel, exquisite art, aged brandy, prudent philanthropy, and all the other items noted in a leather-bound journal, he couldn't divorce Corkie. Beginning anew at thirty-six would play havoc with the game plan.
"I wonder if Big Foot hires out," he said as he parked behind Corkie's Cadillac — big, flashy, ostentatious, marred by dents and scratches (and therefore due to be replaced before too long). It was unfortunate that wives could not be replaced in an equally efficient manner. He went through the kitchen door and left the sack on the counter. Next to the sink the gin bottle was half empty, the vermouth scarcely touched. An ashtray piled high with red-stained cigarette butts smoldered, sending up a tendril of acrid smoke.
As he curled his lip, he had a whimsical thought, and despite his innate aversion to such things, he paused to analyze it. Thus did Jay Jay Anderson, while standing in the middle of his kitchen, a pensive frown tugging at his mouth and two creases marring his brow (but not his trousers), conceive of an outrageously bold — yet potentially workable — plan to murder his wife.
The preliminary groundwork took several months, but Jay Jay permitted neither impatience nor impetuosity to discolor his methodology, aware that a single lapse might result in a fatal error (and a lengthy sentence, since premeditation was indicated). While Corkie obliviously spent the summer at the club, he haunted public libraries to ascertain where best to orchestrate his plan. He peered at an endless stream of microfiche newspapers, all the while making notes that were kept in an unmarked manila folder. He consulted atlases, anthropological studies, topographies, and past issues of The Farmer's Almanac. Once he had selected date and location, he wrote his dialogue, which had to sound spontaneous despite heavy editing, and then rehearsed both in his car and, when conditions permitted, in front of the mirror in the executive washroom. One night he stayed at the office and taped his lines, then dissected each in terms of enunciation and inflection. The results of his labor were more than satisfactory.
Over the course of the summer, each contingency was addressed. Eventually, through diligence, each contingency was covered.
"I've rented a cabin for a month," he announced one evening when he felt his wife was sufficiently sloshed and therefore disinclined to violence.
"A cabin? How utterly absurd." Corkie swirled the gin in her glass, ogling the tumbling olive with a predatory glint. "The very word gives me hives. What ever could have come over you?"
"Oh it's not really a cabin," Jay Jay said, chuckling. "I've done research on it. It's a summer lodge in Vermont, built by a very rich old family as a retreat, and quite luxurious. All the modern conveniences, terribly elegant, good antiques, fireplaces in all the bedrooms, sauna and hot tub, screened-in porches to keep out the pests, that sort of thing. You'll love it, honey."
She sucked in the olive and rolled it around her mouth. Jay Jay watched with idle optimism, hoping that she might inadvertently inhale it and choke to death. To his regret, she gulped it down and said, "Now why would I love it? I cannot imagine a month in Vermont, much less a month with only you for company. You're so proper and predictable that I'd expire from boredom after thirty minutes. My shrink says you're a classic example of anal-retentive. In any case, I'd rather spend a month in hell than in this remote place for even an hour."
Taking her glass, Jay Jay crossed to the wet bar and fixed a martini for her and a glass of Perrier for himself. She had a point. It was difficult to envision her gathering autumn leaves for a centerpiece on a pine table, or frying fish in a cast iron skillet. But he had anticipated the inevitability of her initial resistance, and was looking forward to the next series of countermoves with some degree of amusement.
He sat down beside her and offered a mild argument to gauge the depth of her resistance. "You've been so busy playing golf and tennis this summer that I thought you might enjoy a chance to get away for a few weeks and simply lounge around all day. You wouldn't have to fuss with your hair or clothes, or even bother to put on makeup."
"And look like something the cat wouldn't bother to drag in? What a divine suggestion." She lit a cigarette and blew a cloud of smoke into his face. "Besides, I happen to enjoy my afternoons at the club. This house is so dreary, especially when you're here, and there are so many interesting people at the club with whom to drink and chatter. This cabin of yours would be a veritable mausoleum."
"But it would be so tranquil, my dearest, and relaxing. Besides, I think it might be expedient to avoid the club for a few weeks, don't you?"
"Not particularly," Corkie said with a yawn. She sent a cloud into his face, then ground out the cigarette and lit another.
Jay Jay shook his head in gentle admonishment. "Perhaps you might reconsider, my dear. You know that I make every effort not to meddle with your ... ah, friendships. However, this ... ah, friendship with the greenskeeper at the club is beginning to raise a few eyebrows among our set. Borwaski is hardly in your class. He's crude, unintelligible, and illiterate. His beetlish brow and beady little eyes are symptomatic of generations of inbreeding. He reeks of fertilizer and sweat. To be frank, he resembles a very unpleasant gorilla, and I should hate for anyone to assume that you and he have been and continue to be, ah, intimate friends. It might prove the death of you — socially, that is."
"He is a brute, isn't he? I can't imagine why the board members keep him on." Corkie gave her husband a beatific smile, but her hand was trembling as she held out her glass for a refill. "But no one has any reason to think I'd allow him to paw me in some sleazy motel."
"But people eventually do notice that sort of liaison, no matter how carefully one strives to be discreet. I'd hate to imagine what Kitty and Adele would say should they catch even the tiniest hint. As much as I like your friends, they do tend to talk behind one's back, don't they? And cut people dead for infractions they find too distasteful to tolerate, such as sexual trysts in the tough rough beyond the fourteenth green or variations on bestiality in the equipment shed."
She drained the glass and leaned back to study him. "How would they hear ridiculous crap like that?"
"You know how everyone gossips at the club, my darling. Why, if you were to overhear some of the things said in the men's locker room on a Saturday afternoon, you'd realize that one idle remark might become a full-grown scandal by that same evening. If you don't believe me, you might ask your father. He dearly enjoys playing gin rummy and swapping stories with his cronies. By the way, he and I are playing in the four-ball this weekend, both afternoons."
"Where's the damn cabin?"
Jay Jay did admire anyone with the aplomb to concede gracefully. He began to describe the wooded mountainside and the peaceful isolation they could look forward to. Mentally, he checked off the first potential hurdle. It had been cleared with several inches to spare.
"This is a town?" Corkie said, her voice laden with contempt. She flipped a cigarette out the car window and sank back in the seat, her eyes hidden behind sunglasses. "What do they do for excitement around here — watch the stoplight change from green to red?"
"It is a rather backward place," Jay Jay admitted. In fact, it was the most backward place he had been able to locate that met the vital criteria. It possessed no tourist attractions, no spectacular scenery, no mediocre scenery, no daily newspaper, no seasonal influx of outsiders. The locals had refused to discuss certain past events with the national press, presumably because they placed more value on their privacy than on the dubious rewards of five minutes of fame. It fit into the plan perfectly.
"Look at those hideous buildings, and those hideous yokels on the benches in front of them," his wife continued in the same contemptuous voice. "They're living proof that incest exists in the twentieth century. This whole idea is increasingly ridiculous, Jay Jay." She turned to offer him a smile, although he could see the effort it took. She had drained the contents of the flask more than an hour ago, and her tongue kept exploring her mottled lipstick in search of a stray drop. "A month out here with no one but those people will drive both of us absolutely crazy. Let's get the hell out of here. I swear I'll give up golf. I won't even have lunch at the club with my friends. I'll stay home and learn to cook. We can have a dinner party."
"Oh, but we both know that with a couple of martinis under your belt, you'd find yourself romping in the rough before too long, and we don't want that to happen. Your father would never forgive you if he learned about that ... relationship." Jay Jay braked to a stop in front of a shabby grocery store and reached across the seat to pat her knee. "Borwaski's hardly up to your usual standards. What is the attraction?"
"You couldn't possibly understand it. He has a primitive charm, and a divine spontaneity. That sort of lust is a refreshing change from twice a week in the missionary position, year after tedious year. Afterwards, a kind word and a pat on the head satisfy him. A diamond in the rough, so to speak, and an amusing divertissement." After several unsuccessful attempts, she managed to light another cigarette. "I really don't want to linger in this dreadful town any longer than necessary. Get whatever it is and let's get out of here. I'm dying for a drink, even if I get it in the middle of some godawful woods and have to stir it with a twig."
"I put two cases of gin on the list. I'll unload them as soon as we arrive at the cabin, and you'll be sipping a martini on the deck before sunset. I made arrangements for the key to be left here with the owner of this little store. You wait here, my darling; I'll only be a minute or two."
"God, I hope so," she muttered through a cloud of smoke.
Once inside the store, Jay Jay spotted a grizzled man in overalls, with a faded cap covering tufts of white hair. He could not have envisioned a more perfect character for this, the next scene in his play.
"Anderson, for the Woodybrook Lodge key," he said, radiating what he hoped was a boyish enthusiasm.
Excerpted from Big Foot Stole My Wife! by Joan Hess. Copyright © 2003 Joan Hess. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsBig Foot Stole My Wife!,
Make Yourselves at Home,
All That Glitters,
The Cremains of the Day,
Dead on Arrival,
The Last to Know,
The Maggody Files: D.W.I.,
The Maggody Files: Death in Bloom,
About the Author,