Blue McCarron has a Ph.D. in social psychology. She teaches and writes while living reclusively in an abandoned motel in the middle of the California desert with her Doberman, Bronte. A minister's kid, she has an imprisoned felon for a twin and a broken heart from grieving over her lost lover, Misha. When a body is found trussed up in a public freezer and widow Muffin Crandall claims she killed an intruder in self-defense and then did some dumb things, including freezing the corpse for five years, Muffin’s brother Dan hires Blue to free his much older sister by analyzing her. It is apparent to Blue and forensic psychiatrist Rox that Muffin's story is a hoax. But who is Muffin protecting? Who wants her dead? And, maybe more important, will Blue ever resolve her love for Misha and love again?
Complete with commentary by a Rastafarian Greek chorus in the form of ex-felon BB the Punk, the witty, suspenseful lesbian-detective thriller is hard to resist.
This is the first Blue McCarron mystery by Agatha Award-winning author, Abigail Padgett.
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About the Author
Agatha and McCavity Award-winning author, Abigail Padgett grew up in Vincennes, IN, and holds degrees from Indiana University, the University of Missouri and Washington University, St.Louis. She has taught high school English and college courses in Sociology and Creative Writing in San Diego and Boston, directed an ACLU chapter in Houston and worked as an advocate for the mentally ill, plus enduring some truly weird temp jobs. San Diego is now home, although she spends much time on the East Coast and in France. She is a dog person happiest in the company of dachshunds, a lapsed vegetarian with heartland food preferences, and a lifelong fan of Poe, Algernon Blackwood and the Graveyard Poets.
Read an Excerpt
By Abigail Padgett
Mysterious PressISBN: 0-892-96671-8
Chapter OneWhen I was ten years old my godmother announced through clouds of Marlboro smoke that I was definitely not an old soul. It was clear, she explained, that I carried no baggage from previous incarnations and therefore should be encouraged to explore life without the usual annoying constraints. After all, I was starting at zero and had a lot to learn.
But for those long-ago remarks I might not have been here in the middle of the California desert when the body was found. I might have restrained my personal anarchy and conformed. I might have been a regular person, probably an insurance agent in the Midwest. State Farm. It's unlikely that I would have been anywhere near Wren's Gulch, California, less than three weeks ago when something large wrapped in a heavy-duty lawn and leaf bag began to thaw in a public freezer only ten minutes from my pool.
Not that I knew what was there and thawing, of course. But I think of that package now, the frozen blood melting, a pale hand moving sluggishly in the dark. Imperceptible movements. Lifeless but significant, nonetheless. Sometimes I think of these small motions as a last warning, a danger signal I would have ignored in any event. At other times I just wonder what it felt like, trussing an adult human body tightly in the fetal position with lengths of clothesline. Then tucking it into a plastic bag and rolling it into a public frozen food locker. Weird.
It's been twenty-five years since my godmother, Carter Upchurch, found temporary enlightenment with a New Age group and cheerfully defined the nature of my soul. But I haven't forgotten. When Carter arrived at my childhood home that day for one of her visits with my mother, I had just created and then arranged for the dramatic kidnapping of an imaginary set of parents whose sole function was to supplant the jolly tedium of the real set, Elizabeth and Jake. I was between the fictional scenarios with which I entertained myself. And I was thrilled to hear Carter's summation of me as a daring seeker who would never be bored. A New Age baby soul. Perhaps a bit of a flake.
The concept stuck. Without it I clearly would have been somewhere other than here when Beatrice "Muffin" Crandall, a sixty-one-year-old widow, confessed on the day the body was discovered to bashing a stranger in the head with a paperweight five years in the past. Then, she told police, she stored the stranger in a public freezer for half a decade. I read the San Diego newspaper account of her crime with interest but failed to imagine that I might have a role in its consequences. This perfectly ordinary oversight pales in comparison to the succession of dangerously erroneous assumptions I would soon make.
The body was found after a minor earthquake rumbled beneath the desert floor near San Diego. The quake disarmed the automatic timer on the generator at a public food locker called Roadrunner Ice and Food Storage outside the little desert town of Borrego Springs, where I live. Or at least where I reside. Roadrunner's proprietor, a retired high school chemistry teacher with a lust for blackjack, was in Las Vegas when the temblor occurred. The temperature in Borrego Springs that day hovered around a hundred and fifteen. Nowhere near a record for the last week of August. Nothing unusual. Except at the locker.
I'm convinced that Bronté and I were swimming in the motel pool when the timer failed and everything in the Roadrunner began to thaw. I like to troll images of things past for those moments in which cosmic inevitability becomes for the first time completely obvious. I'm a social psychologist, so this hobby isn't as weird as it sounds, although I am. I choose to believe that Bronté and I were swimming on that day less than two weeks ago when a man thawed inside a lawn and leaf bag and slumped against the locker door. We were undoubtedly still by the pool when the backcountry sheriff's department arrived in Borrego Springs to assign the body its fictitious name, "Jose Doe." The Spanish-American takeoff on "John Doe" never failed to make me think of square dancing.
I choose to remember that Bronté looked rather dashing then in the teal green life jacket that enables her to stay in the pool long after her lean Doberman legs have tired of dog-paddling. Human memory is quite selective, and I tend to select images in which things look dashing.
Certainly we were playing catch in the pool that day with a sodden orange tennis ball that might have been a small sun bursting through blue chlorine spray. Eventually I'll assign a title and music to this picture, a soundtrack. Sun/Woman/Dog. Mozart, probably. But for now there is only silence echoing brilliant light on water. That was the moment in which a process began that would force me to remember a woman named Misha Deland, even though I'd just spent two years successfully forgetting her.
Social psychology is the academic discipline in which I earned the dubious right to call myself "Dr.," but my business card says merely "B. McCarron, Consulting." The "B" stands for Blue, the only first name I've used since leaving Waterloo, Illinois, for college at eighteen. Names like "Blue" do not inspire confidence in businesspeople, however. Hence the more acceptable "B."
My increasingly adequate income is derived from advising retailers, mostly male, about the social psychology of women. The retailers are not aware that their wives and daughters could tell them exactly the same things that I tell them, without my exorbitant fees. They are also not aware that even shopping may be traced to its roots in primate behavior. To a man they have not read my book, an academic press release of my doctoral dissertation, which was roundly trashed as retro-Darwinian by postmodernists at the time of its publication. Postmodernists really hate the fact that males and females are innately different, and I agree that the concept is scarcely groundbreaking, merely supportable. Nevertheless, my book remains the answer to gangs, rape, drugs, teen pregnancy, and political imperialism, if only the right people would read it. Which is not to say that no one reads it. At least one man did.
My book, Ape, is responsible for my involvement in the Muffin Crandall case. Somebody read it. Then he showed up beside my pool on the first day in September, a Wednesday, two days after the body was found, displaying straight white teeth and hands that remind people of statues they saw when they were children. Big, out-of-proportion hands with no cuticles at the base of nails like shovels. I was, as usual, nude in the pool. And Brontè lost no time snarling her way up the net ladder I'd secured for her in a corner of the deep end.
Significantly, Bronté came to Misha and me four years ago after her owner, very drunk at his thirteenth birthday party, dressed the dog in his older sister's underwear and sprayed beer foam on her. Finally, she nipped him. That same night the boy's father, who had provided the lads with a case of brew and three of his milder porn videos as a birthday treat, drove the Doberman to a twenty-four-hour emergency animal clinic in San Diego. He explained that the dog had savagely attacked a child engaged in what he regarded as normal boyish hijinks. The father paid the euthanasia fee in cash.
But a clinic night attendant, an acquaintance of Misha's from one of the multitude of feminist groups invited to meet in our apartment, phoned at two in the morning begging that we drive into the city and rescue the Doberman before a lull in emergency room traffic permitted the on-duty vet enough time to load and discharge a syringe. That's how Bronté came to live with us, later with me. Not unreasonably, the scent of testosterone enrages her.
"Bronté, stay!" I bellowed as the man executed an impressive scramble to the top of the eight-foot chain link fence I installed around the pool to prevent its use as a watering hole by the larger desert fauna. The smaller fauna I net from the filter baffle each morning, waterlogged or dead. Limp mice, lizards, the occasional snake. These serve as a constant reminder that I don't really belong here any more than the pool does, but I love the solitude and the truth is, where else would I go? A tribute to careful training, Bronté froze at my command, forelegs flat on the pool decking, hindlegs paddling against the net ladder. But I could feel her ongoing snarl like a current that raised the invisible pelt of hair all over my body.
"I've read your goddamn book," the man yelled from atop my fence. "I want to hire you." Sullen, he said no more and looked away as I climbed the shallow-end steps and pulled on the shorts and T-shirt I'd tossed on a chaise loungue. Dressing while dripping wet in the presence of strange men is always awkward, and old habits die hard. I remembered the smoke-enshrouded Carter Upchurch as I stashed my panties and bra under a bright blue chaise cushion. In addition to the knowledge that I was a new soul, Carty impressed upon my juvenile brain the concept that men should never see female undergarments except those designed as erotic props. This injunction applied also, Carty noted, to the eyes of my twin brother, David, who is now called "Hammer" and won't see another brassiere until the Missouri State Parole Board releases him from a razor wire cage full of people noteworthy for their lack of breasts.
Any clinical psychologist would surmise correctly that David is the reason for my research into human behavior as it breaks down by gender. We're twins for God's sake. Same parents, same house, food, church, and school. But David is a public menace and I'm not. Who wouldn't be curious?
"Hire me to do what?" I inquired after helping Bronté from the pool and instructing her to sit. Competently, she managed the predictable canine flapping and spraying of water from a seated position. The electric snarl became a rumble of small tympanies, but her eyes never left the man on the fence.
"A job," he replied with an economy of presentation I would later understand was simply his style. At the moment it seemed insufficient.
"I guess you didn't notice the sequence of no trespassing signs, the locked gate across the only access to my property, and the Doberman in the pool," I pointed out. "If this were a hiring hall you'd have seen a coffee pot and a framed black-and-white glossy of Jimmy Hoffa. Either get the hell out of here or I say a word that frees this dog from the constraints of civilization while I dash inside to get into something more comfortable. Like the shoulder holster hanging on the other side of that door."
I tipped my head in the general direction of all twelve doors anonymously facing the pool. There was nothing behind nine of them but bare cement floor and unpainted drywall. "In the holster is a loaded Glock nine millimeter," I added. I didn't mention the old single-shot bolt-action .22 rifle that was also in there somewhere. It was one of a matched set given David and me on our ninth birthday by our father, Father Jake McCarron. An ordained priest in the Episcopal Church, dad nonetheless had and has a regrettable fondness for things that go bang.
David carried the concept a step further, beginning with convenience stores and ending with a St. Louis bank. The St. Louis Post Dispatch said that during the attempted robbery my brother shot holes in two Tiffany glass panels, a plaster frieze depicting scenes from St. Louis's early fur trade, and an enormous Made-in-Taiwan vase holding silk frangipani and bleached ostrich feathers. Men, for reasons explained in Ape, are sometimes made uneasy by large floral arrangements.
The man on my fence was being made uneasy by gravity. Baseball-sized biceps were straining to hold what looked like about a hundred and sixty-five pounds at the level of the horizon, while his heavy boots clanged uselessly against the chain link. Men in California, even the bikers and desert rats, do not wear boots like that. Their feet would rot off in a week, drowned in sweat. Men in California also don't wear wool plaid Pendleton shirts with the sleeves rolled up over waffle-weave long johns. Southern California's deserts still claim inferno status in late summer, at least during the day. It was becoming clear that Fenceman had dropped in from somewhere north of Seattle, at least. He reminded me of a poem dad adores and frequently struggles to work into sermons. It's about Alaska. "The Cremation of Sam McGee."
"There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold," I yelled at the man atop my fence.
"The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold ..."
David and I could recite the entire thing from memory by the time we were five.
"If your name's Blue McCarron I've got to talk to you," he said, thin lips whitening beneath a handlebar mustache that draped his teeth.
"Who wrote the poem?" I demanded, expecting nothing.
"Robert W. Service. Will you hold that damn dog or not?"
"Get down," I answered. "Brontè, stay."
Much nonsense can be made of coincidence that is merely coincidental. But there's another kind that feels like a typhoon in your bones and lets you imagine that the sky behind your right ear has just opened to reveal a hidden pattern. The hidden pattern. You jerk your head around and it's already gone. But it was there, and the certainty falls on and through you like a breath, like that first scent of autumn you feel in your soul. That happened to me when the man on my fence named an obscure poet he shouldn't have known. It was a message.
The improbable circumstances and eerie sense of connection created by his pronunciation of the poet's name provided a jolt I'd been waiting for. And the world may be divided into two camps-those who know precisely how this works and those for whom such a connection sounds like nonsense. You either get it or you don't.
"What's your name?" I asked as he dropped the last three feet from the fence and hit hard, dark blue eyes registering pain. He knew the poem's author and that meant I really was on the grid again. I was really alive and not just an entity marking time alone in a half-built, bankrupt desert motel until some poisonous snake, earthquake, or disease took my body to the great beige nothing I saw every night in an absence of dreams. I had feared for two years that "I," whatever that is, had already died. But after he answered my question I could feel again my own movement on the roaring, warp-speed grid of universal intention. And my first whole thought was to tell Misha. My second whole thought was that I couldn't. Misha was gone.
Excerpted from Blue by Abigail Padgett Excerpted by permission.
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