Sophie “Phee” Kimball is getting dragged into the drama again at her mom’s Arizona retirement community. A new board member wants to get rid of two golf courses and replace them with eco-friendly parks, and some of the residents are pretty teed off about it. On top of that, her mother’s book club friend Myrna is being pushed out of the bocce league. These seniors are serious about winning, and Myrna’s dragging them down. She’s so bad at bocce, in fact, that when a community mem.ber’s dead body is discovered while Myrna’s practicing for a tournament, she assumes it was one of her own errant balls that killed the woman.
But before Myrna can be tossed off the bocce court and into criminal court, the police find an arrow in the victim’s neck. It looks like this was no accident—and Phee and her investigator boyfriend Marshall will have to team up to bounce a killer into the slammer . . .
Praise for the Sophie Kimball Mysteries
“A thoroughly entertaining series debut, with enjoyable, yet realistic characters and enough plot twists—and dead ends—to appeal from beginning to end.”
—Booklist STARRED REVIEW on Booked 4 Murder
“An eclectic cast of entertaining characters that will keep you wondering whodunit!”
—Nicole Leiren, USA Today bestselling author of the Danger Cover Mysteries
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Sun City West, Arizona
It shouldn't have come as any surprise to me that my mother's Saturday morning brunch ritual with her Booked 4 Murder book club ladies at Bagels 'N More would be anything other than agonizing. The lucrative little restaurant across the road from Sun City West featured an endless array of bagels, muffins, and all sorts of sandwiches reasonably priced. The gossip and rumor mongering were free.
The agony was a result of the constant bickering over the food or the endless gossip that came out of nowhere. That was why I tried to avoid it at all costs. Tried being the pivotal word. Sometimes, however, I got nagged and cajoled to the point where I acquiesced and joined my mother and her friends. Usually once a month, or every six weeks if I was lucky.
I'm the bookkeeper/accountant for Williams Investigations in Glendale, having moved out west at the bequest of my boss, former Mankato, Minnesota, police detective, Nate Williams, who relocated to Arizona once he retired. Nate needed someone he could trust, and, having known me for twenty years, it was a no-brainer. Plus, he had leverage — all those years of listening to me complain about snow and ice. Unfortunately, he relocated spitting distance from another misery, my mother's retirement community. I could kick myself.
That particular Saturday in February was unlucky. It wasn't that the ladies were more annoying than usual, it was the men seated at the table across from them. Mom's neighbor, Herb Garrett, was surrounded by his pinochle buddies: Bill, Kevin, Kenny, and Wayne. I'd gotten to know them this past fall when my mother decided she and her book club would take part in the local theater production of Agatha Christie's The Mouse Trap. When the men weren't playing cards, they were working on construction and lighting for Sun City West's theatrical troupe. And when they weren't doing either of those things, they were complaining.
The men had their noses buried in newspapers, and all I could see were a bunch of bald heads, with one exception — Wayne's. He was the only one who still had all of his brownish-gray hair. There was less conversation at the men's table but more grunting. That was, until they noticed my mother. It seemed each one of the men suddenly had a beef they thought she should deal with. It started with Bill Sanders, who got up from his seat just as I was about to bite into my toasted poppy seed bagel with cream cheese.
He glanced at the table and then at the entrance. "Psst! Harriet! I need a word with you before Myrna Mittleson walks in."
My mother said "excuse me" to the group and swung her chair around.
It didn't matter. Bill's voice was loud enough to be heard in Idaho. That was three states away, no matter which route you took from Arizona.
"You've got to do something about Myrna. She's destroying the bocce league. Not to mention the havoc she's wreaking on our team. For criminy sake, Harriet, can't you talk her into quitting? Maybe convince her to take up knitting or something?"
"Knitting? Are you nuts? Myrna's all thumbs. Besides, she loves bocce."
Bill let out a groan that made Cecilia Flanagan flinch and pull her black cardigan tight across her chest. Louise Munson and Lucinda Espinoza furrowed their brows and gave Bill nasty looks before returning to their food.
"Yeah," he said. "She may love bocce, but she can't toss the blasted ball. Lofts it all over the place. Last week it bounced into the miniature golf course next door and took out one of the blades on the windmill. And the week before, it bounced out of the bocce court and wound up on the garden pathway. That's right next to the pool. Luckily it didn't hit someone in the head, or they might have drowned."
"It can't be all that bad. Besides, these things happen," my mother said.
"Not every day! Not every time people play! Look, I hate to be blunt, but Myrna's a menace. She's a regular Amazon. All of us are scared to death when it's her turn. She tromps up to the start line as if she's about to throw a javelin. And no matter how many times we tell her to gently toss the ball, she heaves it like a shotput. I'm begging you, Harriet, please get her to quit. The Sun City West Bocce and Lawn Bowling Tournaments begin in three and a half weeks, and she'll get us disqualified."
"You know I can't do that. Plus — "
"Forget about Myrna and bocce ball," Herb shouted, throwing his newspaper on our table, nearly knocking over glasses of water and cups of coffee. "We've got real problems in Sun City West. Did you read this article? Did any of you read this article?"
Then he motioned to his own table. "Check out Sorrel Harlan's editorial on page fourteen. The one that says TURN THOSE GOLF COURSES INTO ECO- FRIENDLY PARKS. That woman is insane. I always thought she had a screw loose, but it was her own screw. Now that she got appointed to the recreation center board of directors, she'll be turning it on all of us!"
He had a point. My mother and her friends weren't all that thrilled to learn that Sorrel Harlan had been chosen to finish up Edmund Wooster's term when he resigned a few months before due to family issues.
"They always resign due to family issues," my mother had said earlier. "If you want to know the real reason, it's probably because they can't stand working with each other."
Herb continued ranting, pulling up a chair so that he and his buddies could now face our table. "This is unbelievable. She wants Sun City West to close two major golf courses and convert them to neighborhood parks. That's sheer lunacy. It'll destroy our property values."
"Let me see that article." Shirley Johnson reached for the paper. Today her nails were deep mauve and looked stunning against her dark skin. "It can't be as awful as all that."
She picked up the newspaper, held it in bifocal range, and proceeded to scan the article, pausing every few seconds to shake her head. "Lordy! I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't read it myself. What's gotten into that woman? Tot lots for the grandkids? Sandboxes instead of sand traps? Just listen to this — 'with ample solar lighting our community can enjoy evening festivities in the park as well.' Evening festivities? Lordy! It's an invitation for every teenage hooligan to smoke and drink behind clumps of trees. And I'll bet that's not all they'll be doing while granny thinks they're out for a stroll!"
"Who's smoking and drinking? What did I miss? I got stuck on the phone with my sister-in-law. Sorry I'm late." It was Myrna Mittleson, plopping herself into the empty chair between Lucinda Espinoza and Louise Munson. Suddenly the expression, "a rose among thorns," came to mind, and I had to keep myself from laughing. Myrna was all dolled up with her bedazzled tortoiseshell glasses and her tight beehive hairdo, while Lucinda and Louise looked as if they had spent the last hour fighting off a windstorm. Much worse in Lucinda's case, with her wrinkled clothing. At least those gaudy polyester blouses Louise wore were wrinkle-free.
"What you missed," my mother explained, "is the latest editorial from Sorrel Harlan about converting some of our golf courses into parks."
Shirley passed the newspaper to Myrna and motioned for the waitress. "Lord Almighty, I don't even live on a golf course, but this doesn't sound good to me."
"Hells bells!" Myrna shouted as she read the article. "Get a load of this — 'we can have lovely dog walk trails, barbeque and picnic areas, small ponds for children to sail homemade boats, and a plethora of pleasing vistas for everyone to enjoy.'"
"Pleasing vistas, my ass!" Herb bellowed. "Pardon me, ladies, but honestly, what vistas? We'll have every Peeping Tom in the neighborhood looking into our windows. And think about all the litter and garbage. The cigarette butts, the dog poop ..."
"Take it easy, Herb," Kevin said.
"That's fine for you to say. You don't live on the golf course. I do. And I paid top price for that privilege. Not to wake up to an eco-friendly circus in my backyard. And I've got news for you. Just because some of you don't own golf course homes, it doesn't mean you won't be affected. Where do you think people are going to park in order to enjoy these parks? On our streets! The streets will be overcrowded with cars. And don't let me get started about the sidewalks. They'll be full of gum that the little kiddies drop on their way to enjoy the playground. And while we're pulling the gum out of our shoes, we'll most likely be sideswiped by the teenagers on rollerblades."
"Yep, come to think of it, he's got a point." Louise patted her frizzy hair and looked at everyone. "I live right across from the golf course, and it's bad enough at night when the lights from cars shine into my house. My poor bird can't get any sleep. If they put in solar lighting, it will be like living across the street from a stadium."
I leaned back, sipped my coffee, and listened to everyone complain at once.
Myrna managed to order her meal in between the grousing and grumbling. "So, what do we want to do about this? Write a response to the editor?"
"You can go ahead with that if you like, but it ain't going to get you anywhere." Kenny rubbed the stubble on his chin. "The recreation center board will be holding its monthly meeting Monday night. That's the day after tomorrow. I say we all show up and give that Sorrel Harlan a piece of our minds. What do you all say? Are you in?"
More moaning. More grumbling. Finally, a consensus. The Booked 4 Murder book club and Herb's buddies agreed they would all attend the meeting on Monday night.
I'd started on my second cup of coffee when, out of nowhere, Cecilia turned to me and said, "What about you, Phee? Will you be attending?"
"Um, me? I don't live in Sun City West. I don't think I should —"
"Of course you should! They may be talking about legal matters, and who better than you should be there?" I couldn't believe those words were coming out of my mother's mouth.
"Legal matters? Who better than me? Anyone would be better than me. I'm a bookkeeper. Just because I work for a private investigation firm doesn't make me an expert when it comes to the law."
My mother wouldn't give up. "Well, you're dating someone who is. I'll bet Marshall knows all about the law."
"Marshall's a private investigator, not a lawyer. And while he may have a familiarity of the law as it pertains to his business, I seriously doubt I'd call him an expert on legal matters."
"It doesn't matter. At least he knows something. That's more than I can say for those buffoons who'll be shooting their mouths off at Monday's meeting."
"You're not suggesting I ask Marshall to attend that meeting, are you?"
My mother was silent for a moment and cleared her throat. A bad sign. She was going to use emotional blackmail on me. I was trapped. There was no way I was about to sabotage my relationship with Marshall by dragging him into another Sun City West escapade. It was bad enough he had to deal with the book club ladies a few months ago, when one of the actors turned up dead during the fall production. Talk about a real Agatha Christie murder. That investigation had fiasco written all over it. I didn't need to introduce another one.
"Okay, Mom. Okay. You win. I'll sit in on the meeting. But I'm not going to ask Marshall to join me, understood? I'm sure he'd rather spend the evening watching the sports channel or something."
"Good. Good," Herb said. "Now that we've got that settled, we need to get every homeowner we know to that meeting, especially the ones who live on or near a golf course. I've still got everyone's email from our neighborhood block party last summer. I'll shoot out an email as soon as I get home."
Louise scraped some of the butter from her bagel. "Wanda and Dolores are catty-corner from the golf course. They'll want to come. Last year someone cut through their yard from the golf course, messing up their new landscaping. Now, with this idiotic eco-friendly park idea, we'll have all sorts of ne'er-do-wells traipsing all over the place."
Shirley offered to call everyone she knew from the sewing club. Cecilia was going to send an email to the ladies social committee from her church, and Lucinda agreed to email her bridge club.
"I'll call the rest of the Booked 4 Murder ladies who couldn't be here today," my mother said. "Riva had to get her hair done, Marianne's still getting over a cold, Constance has out-of-town company, and my sister Ina is on some retreat with her husband. What about you men? You need to get off your duffs and make some noise, too."
"Fine. Fine. I'll call the canine companions club," Bill said. "And the men's card club, too."
Kenny agreed, somewhat reluctantly, to let his neighbors and friends know as well. "Good thing the meeting's taking place in the social hall. We know that room can hold a crowd."
Nightmarish thoughts of the last time I was in the social hall came back to me in a flash. It was the summer my mother and the book club ladies were convinced a book curse was killing off their members. I tried not to shudder as I took another bite of my bagel.
Herb leaned across the table, moving his head from left to right. "So, are we all set with this?"
A cacophony of noises ensued as everyone responded at once. Then, as if it wasn't bad enough I'd agreed to attend the meeting, Herb gave me a wink. "Maybe Phee would like to speak at the meeting. She did a good job last time."
If I hadn't already swallowed the piece of my bagel, I would have choked on it. "No! I'm not speaking. The last time was different. It was that ridiculous book curse thing. This time I'm going as a spectator only. A spectator."
I reached for my coffee and tried to ignore the two words my mother whispered to me, "For now."CHAPTER 2
"I don't mind going with you," Marshall said when I told him about the plan Herb had hatched for the book club ladies and the pinochle crew, and all the rest of the club members to attend the rec center board meeting. "I've got a good sense of humor, and this might turn out to be more entertaining than anything on TV."
Unlike yesterday's meal, we were having a quiet Sunday lunch at the Lakeside Grill near Lake Pleasant prior to spending an afternoon hiking the trails that overlooked the lake. It was the perfect time of year in Arizona, and we were taking full advantage of it.
"Um, are you really sure? Those meetings can get downright explosive. I know. I've been to one of them."
"Can't be any worse than my uncles arguing over poker and my aunts screaming at each other in the kitchen because none of them can agree on the sauce." He smiled as he threw an arm around me and pulled me close.
I gave his hand a squeeze. "All right. You're on. But don't say I didn't warn you."
We tried not to talk about Sun City West during our hike, but the subject kept coming up, like an indigestible piece of food that never should've been consumed in the first place.
"I never realized senior communities would have so many issues." Marshall kicked a rock off our path. "Up until now, the only thing I knew about them came from advertisements. All those photos of people swimming, playing tennis, and eating. I knew it was too good to be true. Except for the clear blue skies. At least they got that right."
"If they printed the real photos, no one would move here. People sweltering in the heat, people arguing at bridge games, people honking their horns because the driver in front of them is going three miles an hour. Still, it beats snow, ice, and freezing rain. And oddly enough, my mother loves living here. I never thought she and my father, rest his soul, would budge from Mankato, but they made the right move."
"Yeah, and now that little piece of Nirvana is faced with a major change. No one likes change, even though political campaigns are always built around that theme."
"My mother and the book club ladies are really getting antsy about it, but Herb Garrett and his buddies are going to attack that plan like storm troopers. Brace yourself for tomorrow night. That's all I have to say."
* * *
Nate Williams, my boss and the owner of Williams Investigations, couldn't keep a straight face the next day when Marshall and I told him about the meeting we were about to attend. Augusta Hatch, the office secretary, tried to keep from laughing, but only wound up making weird snickering noises.
"Sounds like a humdinger to me," she said. "I'd be mighty put off if I spent an arm and a leg on a house for its golf course view and wound up on the other side of a neighborhood park."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Botched 4 Murder"
Copyright © 2019 J.C. Eaton.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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