Beloved author Lori Copeland brings her own brand of quirky humor to this endearing series about three generations of women trying to build a harmonious life together under one roof. In this third and final book, Maude, Stella, and CeeCee must solve the mystery of the Peeping Toms. Who is peeking through the townspeople's windows? Copeland's readers will be amused and surprised when they discover the identity of the nosy neighbors.
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A Case of Nosy Neighbors
By Lori Copeland
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2004 Lori Copeland
All right reserved.
Chapter OneJanuary in Morning Shade was as cold as a pawnbroker's smile. It was just a fact; too bad I couldn't say the same for City Hall. Edgar Burlow had the thermostat cranked so high tonight you could boil coffee on Mayor Thurvis Throckmorton's forehead. Thurvis was a gentleman of the Old South, a Colonel Sanders without the fried chicken. Now his mane of white hair was wilting in the heat, and his mustache and goatee drooped with the insufferable temperature.
I could identify with that. At sixty coming up on sixty-one, I often have my own personal summers. As an author I'd created many a miserable condition in my mystery novels, but none topped tonight.
Thurvis tried to bring order to the overcrowded room. People! People! He pounded a gavel on the wooden podium. Majority rules!
But, your honor! Ralph Henderson sounded agitated. No smoking? In Morning Shade anywhere anytime? He shook his head. Brutal.
It'll save your life, Midge Grainer predicted.
I fanned myself with a folded agenda, wishing that Midge would sit down and we could get on with the meeting. Thurvis was right: majority rules. Like it or lump it.
Can't say that I'm overly fond of the law myself, the mayor grumbled.
It was a well-known fact Thurvis enjoyed his imported Montecristo Cuban cigars, and far be it from me to point out that every man, woman, and teenager in this room would benefit from a no-smoking ordinance, but I knew the new rule would be about as popular in Morning Shade as a porcupine at a balloon festival.
Stella, my mother-in-law, shifted in her folding chair. Just get on with it, Thurvis. I'm burning up.
Mopping his brow, Thurvis sent a pleading look in Edgar's direction. Can you do something about that thermostat?
Edgar got up and shuffled to the opposite wall. Seconds later the fan clicked off. I for one was only too happy for a breath of air. I was half cooked myself.
Thurvis glanced at his notes. Effective January 15 there will be no smoking in Morning Shade's city limits. Any person or persons found violating the city ordinance will be fined two hundred and fifty dollars. He whacked the gavel on the podium. Meeting adjourned!
Such an uproar, Stella complained when we filed out of the overheated building. Bitter cold temperatures stung my face, and I quickly drew my coat collar up closer. Unless I missed my guess, this winter would break all records.
I giggled then caught my adolescent behavior and nodded at Sherman Winters. What was it about the town doctor that sent my pulse into overdrive?
Maude Diamond! Herb was barely cold in his grave
Well, that wasn't entirely true. Herb had been dead nineteen months. If he wasn't cold yet something was dreadfully wrong.
I paused on the bottom step of City Hall and let Stella move ahead of me. I knew I was inviting a few minutes alone with the handsome doctor, but I also knew that I didn't want to be that apparent about my attraction not that there was an attraction, but there could have been twenty years ago. Now I was way past girlish infatuations.
Sherman approached, hat in hand. My gaze skimmed his cashmere, caramel-colored overcoat, and I thought how much I appreciated a man with style. Herb had been neat, but not particularly fashionable. My husband had preferred down jackets to cashmere overcoats, and if I had ever seen him wearing anything other than a ball cap on his head, I couldn't recall the instance.
We stood on the bottom step, cold air sweeping around us. Both of us seemed to be stalling for time. I racked my brain for anything clever to say but what came out was anything but clever. Hot in there, wasn't it?
Sherm smiled. Temperature-wise, or subject-wise?
We both laughed, breaking the strained state. I didn't understand why our conversation would be forced. We'd known each other for years I'd been close friends with Sherm's wife, Cheryl, before she died. The smoking ban isn't going to be the most popular law on the books, I conceded.
I'll be interested to see who keeps it. Wouldn't be surprised if Thurvis Throckmorton won't turn out to be the biggest offender of the bunch.
Oh, Hilda will keep him in line, I predicted. The wind stung my cheeks; from the way the tip of my nose felt I knew it was as red as a cherry. My breath rose in vapory trails. Stella had reached my Buick, and she'd be leaning on the horn if she could get inside.
How's the wrist?
I lifted my gloved hand and stared at the object of discussion. For weeks now my left wrist had hurt, and my thumb and first two fingers on the hand had gone numb. When I'd called Sherm and told him that I thought I might be having a heart attack, he took my concerns seriously, but after preliminary tests he'd diagnosed the problem as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Surprised you lasted this long, he'd teased. All that typing you do. He went on to explain that the problem resulted when fluid or tight tendons press on the nerve within the carpal tunnel of the wrist. Repetitive motion causes the condition. Surgery usually alleviates the condition.
I'd smiled, but I wasn't too happy about the prospect of an operation.
Unless it gets a lot worse I don't want to have surgery, I'd told him.
It will get worse, he'd promised. Some carpal tunnel cases can be treated with therapy, but your case is much too advanced.
Sherm's baritone drew me back to the present. Looks like Stella's ready to go.
I nodded, spotting my eighty-seven-year-old mother-in-law huddled against the wind. I could imagine what was going on in her mind right now. Herb was her son, and I'm certain she wouldn't approve of this innocent conversation. Yes she's bored these days. No mystery to work on.
She loves to solve crime, doesn't she?
Morning Shade had such little crime that when something unexpected came up, Stella was in her element.
She looks like she's getting impatient. I'd better be going.
We smiled and parted company. I had the oddest feeling Sherm would have lingered longer, and I wondered why I hadn't simply handed Stella the car keys earlier and bought myself a little time.
No fool like an old fool. The uninvited thought popped into mind while I carefully picked my way along the slippery walk. Icy patches littered the flagstones. I couldn't wait to get into the car and jack up the heat.
I drove home automatically, barely listening to Stella complaining about Hilda Throckmorton and how the mayor's wife should never wear orange. Personally, I didn't think any woman should wear orange, but that's just my preference. I knew Stella and Hilda had a long-running personality clash. But I did silently admit that tonight Hilda had strongly resembled an overripe tangerine in that unmerciful getup she was wearing.
What was the woman thinking?
Mom CeeCee Tamaris, my daughter, peered over the rim of her cup when I attempted to pick up a piece of toast the next morning and failed you can't just ignore carpal tunnel. Your condition isn't going to get any better until you have the surgery.
I gave up on the toast, pushing the plate aside. I can't just have surgery, Cee. Sometimes my daughter could be downright impractical. When her husband, Jake, died, she'd moved in with me and Stella, and I couldn't say she'd changed much in the past two years. She could be both sweet and overdramatic at times. Do you know how long I'd be out of commission?
CeeCee didn't understand the implications of my being incapacitated for four to six weeks. I'd get so far behind in my writing that I'd never see light at the end of the tunnel.
She drained her coffee cup and set it on the table. Whatever, but I predict you're not going to have a choice before long. She stood and dropped a kiss on the crown of my head. Gotta run. Have a nice day.
Usually I'm still in bed when CeeCee leaves for work. I don't keep postal hours. But this morning the numbness and tingling in my thumb and forefinger had wakened me around three. I hadn't been able to go back to sleep. I knew Cee was right; the condition wasn't going to go away until I did something about it.
When Stella came downstairs around eight-thirty, I was dressed and had already called Sherm's office. The receptionist said they could see me at nine o'clock.
Want me to drop you off at the Citgo on my way? I picked up my purse and tucked in a couple of fresh tissues, thinking that Sherm could surely give me something for relief until I finished my work-in-progress.
Nope, I'm gonna walk this morning.
It's seventeen degrees out there, I warned.
So? These old lungs can't get any worse; besides, exercise is good for me.
Breaking a leg or worse at eighty-seven isn't good for you.
Stella slipped her arms into her heavy coat. How long do you think I'm going to last?
Much longer than you do, I bantered. My mother-in-law was certain she was on her last leg. One foot on an ice cube, the other on a banana peel, she'd often quip. I was thankful that Stella's health far surpassed her expectations.
I heard the front door close and Stella shout at one of the neighbor's dogs. The spotted terrier was always dragging up something dead and depositing the carcass on our front porch. It wasn't so bad in the winter, but it could be real irritating to clean up the mess in the summer.
Apparently the canine had dropped a dead skunk on the porch and Stella was putting up more stink than the victim.
Shaking my head, I slipped into my coat and picked up the car keys from the hall table. A moment later I opened the back door and went down like a rifle shot.
Dazed, I listened to my body hitting every wooden step count them: one-two-three. I landed at the bottom, spread-eagle, staring up into a slate-colored sky. My ankle ached like blue blazes.
The back door flew open and Stella stuck her head out. Maude?
Here, I answered feebly. I thought you'd gone. I groaned, trying to rock upright.
I came back to get the dustpan there's a dead skunk on the front porch. She watched my vain struggles to get to my feet. Are you hurt?
Yes I'm hurt, I snapped. Surely she didn't think I could fall down three steps and still be grinning. I peered at my boot, wondering if a bone was poking through. I could feel the flesh starting to swell. Don't come down! I warned when I saw Stella about to risk the stairs. There's black ice on the top step.
I rocked a couple of times and managed to get upright, wondering if I'd broken a bone. Or two. I ripped off my left glove with my teeth and probed my tender, leather-encased right foot. Ow!
I'll get help, Stella said.
Call an ambulance. I knew without even looking something was broken or at least severely sprained. Both wrists throbbed from my attempts to arrest the fall. Stella wouldn't be able to help me, and Maury Peacock was the nearest neighbor.
9-1-1? Stella queried.
Whatever. I groaned. Tell them to hurry. If I didn't die from pain, hypothermia was sure to finish me off.
Within the hour, paramedics burst through Shiloh General Hospital's double emergency-room doors with me strapped to a gurney. Stella briskly followed behind the cart.
I'll phone CeeCee. Don't you worry does it hurt?
Don't bother Cee. I bit back excruciating pain. It's just a sprain. At least that's what I was praying for. My whole left hand had gone numb, and my right foot felt like someone had doused it with gas and lit a match to it.
by the time they wheeled me into a cubicle and the boot was off, I knew I was in big trouble. Throbbing flesh now the size of a tennis ball, spilled over my anklet.
Bet that's painful, the nurse soothed.
It seemed like no time at all before Sherm pulled back the curtain, concern etched on his handsome features. Maude? His eyes caught my swelling ankle. What's going on?
I was just plain humiliated. I feel so stupid. I managed to meet his concerned gaze, silhouetted against the harsh overhead light. Stepped out the back door and hit black ice and down I went.
by now he was examining the ankle, gently probing the tender flesh. That hurt?
My wolf howl sufficed.
He nodded at the nurse. Get some pictures.
In the time I took to mentally reject this whole idea, I had been wheeled away and stuck beneath an X-ray machine. The man wearing a lead apron left the room, and I heard the machine whirl. It bothered me that he'd left and I was still in the room.
Later, back in the emergency-room cubicle, Sherm walked in, grim faced. You've broken the metatarsal of your right foot.
That sounded serious though I didn't have the faintest notion what it meant. I shut my eyes, fighting off despair. Exactly what does that mean in laymen's terms? Surgery?
CeeCee came in about the time I got the news. Mom? She made a beeline for the gurney and engulfed me in a zealous hug.
I'm fine. I feebly patted my daughter's arm. Really. I can barely feel it.
I knew I should have salted those steps last night, but I fell asleep
No one's to blame, I soothed. I should have thought of it, but by the time I got home from the town meeting I was too tired to go out to the garage and get the salt. Those wooden back steps froze over with the slightest mist.
I'm going to put you in a cast, Sherm said. You're not to put any weight on the injured foot. The only exception is the shower. They'll be taking you to surgery in a few minutes.
Great. I'd look like a one-legged flamingo. How long? I whispered, dreading the answer.
Stella leaned closer. Sherman, how long will it take for the broken bones to heal?
That's hard to say, but I wouldn't count on anything less than eight to nine weeks.
Look at this way, Maude, Stella piped up. You must not have osteoporosis or you'd have broken every bone in your body.
Thank God for small comforts.
Don't worry, Mom. CeeCee hovered overhead. I'll help any way I can.
What about the community service? Who's going to drive Stella to Shiloh every morning?
Because of the last Morning Shade mystery folly I, along with Stella, Hargus Conley, Simon Bench, and Duella Denson, had been implicated and volunteered for twenty hours of hospital community service every week. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, realizing how ungrateful I sounded. Agony can do that to a person, and I'm sure the judge would make a special dispensation in this case. I'm sorry. I know it could be worse. I could have broken my wrists. At least I can still work.
I opened my eyes to meet Sherm's. What's that supposed to mean?
That carpal tunnel surgery is going to keep you incapacitated about the same length of time as this break.
Excerpted from A Case of Nosy Neighbors by Lori Copeland Copyright © 2004 by Lori Copeland. Excerpted by permission.
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