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A Bunco Biddies Mystery Book 1
By Julie B Cosgrove, Susan M. Baganz
Prism Book GroupCopyright © 2016 Julie B Cosgrove
All rights reserved.
Betsy Ann Hunt huffed up the hill, breathing in time to the slap of her sneakers on the early morning dew-dampened pavement. The lavender, velour-covered backside of her neighbor and Bunco playing buddy, Janie Manson, wobbled ahead of her, her elbows swinging in sync with her steps, no doubt to some early Beatles song on her I-pod. Janie claimed to be one of the privileged few who squealed on the first row of the band's concert at Sam Houston Coliseum during their first British Invasion tour in April of 1965. But Janie bragged about a lot of things, such as her physical stamina — which appeared to be ebbing at the moment as a result of the sultry Texas humidity.
Betsy Ann urged her sore calves to accelerate on the incline. With every ounce of gumption mustered in her quivering ligaments, she edged alongside Janie. Exhaling a slight wheeze, she tapped her friend on the shoulder. "Can we slow down?"
"Huh?" Janie pulled out the left ear bud. She waited at the top of the lane near the entrance to the club house parking lot in their fifty-five-plus community of Sunset Acres. The rumble of the sanitation truck on its Tuesday morning rounds to empty the dumpsters drowned out Betsy Ann's breathless response.
"What did you say?" Janie jogged in place as she leaned closer.
"Have ... to ... stop." Betsy Ann raised a hand with fingers spread and then pressed it to her thigh as she bent over. Her ample breasts bounced with each chest heave under her fuchsia zip-up jogging jacket.
"Okay, all you had to do was say so." Janie clicked off her music. "It's only been three weeks since you slipped on your tailbone, Betsy Ann. I realize you gained six pounds lying around, but are you sure you should be power walking so soon? Dr. Pearson gave me strict orders about exercising when I chipped my hip bone two years ago."
Always knows everything. With gritted teeth to keep her from speaking her mind, Betsy Ann straightened upright in slow motion as she counted to ten. But the sincere concern on Janie's apple-cheeked face dissolved her angst. She edged up to her friend's ear and spoke louder to compensate for the trash vehicle's droning engine. "I'm fine, really. Just need a breather for a moment or two." A whiff of three-day-old, fermented garbage combined with diesel fumes left her a tad lightheaded. She waved a hand over her nose. "Whew, away from that monster."
The two widows eased to a bench under one of the many sprawling live oak trees dotting the community. Their eyes followed the commercial dumpster as it rose in the air. The sanitation lorry's built-in forklift maneuvered the box up and over the cab.
"Amazing how they lift and dump, isn't it? The dumpster must weigh several tons."
Janie nodded. "Hydraulics, no doubt. My brother became a mechanical engineer, you know. Explained them to me one Thanksgiving, oh, back in 1972 ..."
Betsy Ann's eyes glazed over. Janie exhibited the epitome of a walking encyclopedia. Her mind, even though encased in seventy-two-year-old wrinkles, still resembled a sharpened pencil lead.
Her attention left her jogging mate's diatribe on modern mechanics and turned to the labored whir of the metal arms grasping the garbage container. Black plastic sacks, white ones, and various cartons tumbled into the truck's receptacle like upturned chocolate-covered mints into a wide open mouth. Then, something long and blue-jean colored caught Betsy Ann's eye. She jolted to her feet.
"Oh, my word. A leg! With an orthopedic shoe attached."
"Dear, I thought you quit taking oxycodone for pain." Janie pushed a sweat-dampened silver curl off her brow.
"I'm serious. Look."
Janie's gaze followed her friend's finger. "Oh, my heavens. It is!" She jumped up as she waved her hands over her head. "Stop. Stop."
Her words didn't reach the city worker's ears over the automatic grinds and thunks.
Betsy Ann dashed in front and proceeded to slam her hands onto the driver's door.
A middle-aged man knitted his thick black eyebrows. He jerked the lift to stop and rolled down the window. "What?"
The community's trash receptacle dangled at a precarious angle.
The senior citizens sputtered in unison. "Stop. There's a body."
The man shook his head in confusion.
Betsy Ann motioned to the back. "A body. Get it? Dead person."
The man shut down the engine. "¿Muerto?"
"Yes. Uh, sí." She bobbed her cropped, reddish-blonde hair.
The worker crawled down from his seat and walked to the back of the sanitation truck, which rumbled and spewed more putrid fumes. The dumpster titled down at a forty-five-degree angle. Suspended in time clung numerous trash bags, pizza boxes, a broken lawn chair and ... an arm?
"Blessed Mary, Mother of God." The man crossed himself and dug a cell phone from his back pocket. He punched in a number and began sputtering Spanish rapid fire like a machine gun from a 1940's film noir movie.
The two spinsters edged around to peer up into the dumpster's contents, their cupped palms shading their eyes from the morning sun's rays. Janie scrunched her mouth to one side. "If I am not mistaken, it's Edwin Newman in there."
"Who?" Betsy Ann swiveled her torso towards her sprinting partner.
"You know. The old grouch who moved down the street into the Williams' old condo last Friday."
"Oh, yes. The Williams transferred to the assisted living units, didn't they? He developed advancing Alzheimer's and she's recovering from double hip replacements. Or a knee and a hip? Oh, dear, I get fuddled sometimes about all that medical stuff. So many of us are losing body parts and getting titanium joints ..."
"Betsy Ann!" Janie hissed. "Body. Dumpster. Remember?"
"Yes. My, aren't we testy?" She brushed her jacket with the palm of her hand. "Why do you think those belong to ... What did you say his name was?"
"Newman. Edwin Newman. He chewed out Mildred Fletcher because her Yorkie barked at him. Threw a coffee mug at the poor animal. Whack! Right on the nose. It left a raw, sore spot."
Janie gave her a quick nod. "Mildred must apply a special salve on him three times a day. Says it cost her $22.95."
"On Mr. Newman?"
Janie scoffed into her velour v-neck. "No, the Yorkie."
Betsy Ann's lips formed an "O."
Janie pointed to the dumpster. "Mr. Newman's in there all right."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes." Janie bent to Betsy Ann's ear. "I see his head."CHAPTER 2
Sirens pulsated from the highway. In minutes, the red hook and ladder truck from the Alamoville, Texas, fire department wound past the oak tree-dotted entrance like a barrel racer steering a trusting mare around the metal drums in a rodeo arena. It screeched to a halt as the wailing abruptly ceased mid-cadence. Close behind, an emergency medical services van bumped through the front gates, followed by two police cars and a Texas Department of Public Safety vehicle.
Janie and Betsy Ann sat on the bench to take in the orchestrated mayhem. Residents shuffled toward the scene, some in robes and others in street-wear. Betsy Ann clicked her teeth. "The sounds of sirens draw folks in this community the way the ice cream truck's jingle once attracted my kids"
"Yep. Everyone wants to find out who fell, croaked, or suffered a heart attack."
Ethel MacDaniels, one of the Bunco Biddies, as they fondly dubbed the twelve of them who gathered for the game each Thursday at 6:00 p.m., sauntered towards them, wrapped in her fleece housecoat. Day-old mascara smudged across her crow's feet. "What's going on?"
"Morning, Ethel." Janie grinned. "You fell asleep watching TV again didn't you?"
"How d'ya guess?"
Janie motioned to Ethel's lower eyelids.
Ethel wiped across the right, darkened half-moon and stared at her forefinger, now sporting a grayish smudge mark. "Oh." She dabbed her digit on her tongue and began to rub.
"Hardly shows, hon." Betsy Ann waved the gesture away. "No one will notice, not with all the commotion."
Ethel peered over at the row of emergency vehicles. "What happened?"
Janie stretched her legs out in front of her. "We found a body in the dumpster. Well, pieces of one, that is."
Ethel's mouth opened as wide as her eyes.
Betsy Ann became animated. "Janie thinks they belong to a mean old man who moved into the William's condo on Solar Boulevard." She turned her head back to Janie. "What did you say his name was? Edmund?"
Janie straightened her back. "Ed-win. Edwin Newman."
Ethel's head bobbed in rapid jerks. "Oh, the one who beats up dogs? Yes, I heard. Poor Poopsy. Mildred seemed quite irritated with him."
"No, Betsy Ann. With Mr. Newman." Janie rolled her bluish-silver eyes.
A black car with a red light pulsating on its dashboard pulled into the drive. A forty-something man in a dark suit and gray tie hopped out. His baritone voice acknowledged the caller broadcasting through the Bluetooth in his ear. "Yes, Mr. Mayor. I'm at the scene. Well, the first responders with the Alamoville Fire Department are here. So are two of my officers and a Texas state trooper. No, sir. I'm not sure why he's here. No signs of the coroner, yet." His boots crunched the asphalt gravel. "Yeah, tape's going up now." He whistled. "Hey, Officer Jenkins. Get those people back behind the barrier."
"Hi, Blake. How's my daughter and the kids?" Janie flashed the professionally dressed man a sweet smile.
Detective Blake Johnson tapped the ear device to end the call as he walked over to the bench. "Hi, Janie. They're fine ..." He halted mid-sentence. "For Pete's sake. Can't they follow instructions? Excuse me for a moment, ladies." He took several purposeful steps toward the crowd, his shoulders arrow-straight.
Janie bent closer to her friends. "Melody doesn't think they're 'fine.' Last night, she sniffled to me on the phone about Blake missing yet another of Ellie's volleyball games. Plus, he had to leave before Jamie gave his recital last Friday. Got a call and skedaddled. Ever since they put his partner on medical leave two months ago ..." Her thought process halted at the sound of her son-in-law's bellow.
"Jenkins. Now?" Blake jerked his thumb to the growing crowd of onlookers, now peppered with local TV reporters.
The underling officer shrugged his shoulders and continued his efforts to corral the silvered heads and camera-toting press into a contained area as uniformed police taped off the perimeter around the dumpster.
Blake shook his head and walked back to the trio. "Sorry, ladies. Your neighbors are being a little too curious."
Betsy Ann flipped her wrist. "They always are."
"Might as well be herding cats away from a bowl of cream." Janie humphed. "Half of them are deaf, and the other half just pretend to be."
He snickered and bent to peck his mother-in-law's cheek. "Good to see you. Melody says you are coming to dinner next Friday?"
"That's the plan." She narrowed her focus. "Hope you'll be there."
"All depends." He tipped an imaginary hat rim. "Betsy Ann. Ethel. Nice to see you as well. You ladies should return to your homes now."
Janie rose to her feet. "I think you'll need us to stay here."
"We discovered the body." She pointed back and forth between herself and Betsy Ann. "Well, some of him anyway."
Betsy Ann shuddered.
Blake rocked back on the heels of his boots. "You're serious? Are you ladies all right?"
Both motioned that they were.
"In that case, why don't you wait here, out of the way of the mayhem? I'll call you over in a few minutes to get your statements."
Ethel gasped. "Just think. A murder." She danced on her tiptoes and clapped her hands. "Oh, I've never witnessed a real one before. Only on TV."
Janie patted her arm. "Yes, sweetie." She turned to her puzzled son-in-law with a smirk. "Ethel owns four bookcases filled with cozy mystery paperbacks. Catalogs the crimes in alpha order."
Blake pursed his lips. "Um, hmm." He back-stepped before pivoting on his boot tip. He strutted to speak to the emergency medical technician tending to one perplexed, pale-faced sanitation worker wrapped in a disposable silver blanket.
"Humph. What a wimp. None of us are falling apart." Janie jutted out her chin and sat down on the bench again.
Ethel leaned against a tree trunk. "Well, he is sort of young, so it stands to reason he hasn't witnessed that many dead people."
Betsy Ann re-crossed her legs. "Me, I have visited dozens of people in caskets. My parents, elder brother, my beloved late husband, Joe ..." She made a sign of the cross over her heart with a pout. "Next came Aunt Gertrude, Uncle Ted, oh, and Shannon Perkins when she keeled from an aneurysm during a Bridge match three years ago." She stopped on the seventh finger. "And, of course, President Johnson was my first. We stood three hours in line at the Capitol to pass by him lying in state. But I was much younger then."
Janie arched a penciled-in eyebrow. "Would that be Lyndon Baines Johnson or Andrew Johnson?"
"Very funny." Betsy Ann scrunched her forehead. "Wait, shouldn't we be saying a prayer or something?"
"I guess." Janie shrugged. "Even though nobody liked him."
Ethel waggled her finger. "Don't speak ill of the dead, my dear. You're right, Betsy Ann. We should." She bowed her head.
The other two did the same. A few minutes of silence followed, despite the commotion in the background near the club house.
After a moment Betsy Ann whispered, "Amen." She crossed her chest with a reverent sigh and then reached over to pitty-pat Janie's arm. "Your daughter married well. Detective Johnson is such a nice man."
Janie sighed. "I suppose. He'll never be as good of one as my late husband Jack, but then few ever could be."
"Man or detective?"
Janie's eyes gleamed with pride. "Both."
Betsy Ann shot Ethel a smirk. Anyone who spoke with Janie for more than five minutes learned how amazing a police detective Jack Manson had been. Let her jabber for another ten, and she relayed three of his most notorious cases, four if she drank too much caffeine. Janie's Texas drawl revved to rival a New Yorker's fast-paced delivery after the third cup.
Blake turned to the three ladies' direction and wiggled his finger for them to approach. As a policeman and two firefighters rummaged through the dumpster for the rest of Edwin, a latex-gloved medic placed the leg, arm and head on a gurney and covered them with a thick, black plastic sheet. Murmurs and groans waved through the community's gawkers.
The three widows traipsed as proud as peacocks toward the crime scene, knowing all eyes of their fellow Sunset Acres neighbors, and a few reporters, rested on them.
Janie winked. "We'll be the talk of the town for at least a week."
"I know. Isn't this fun?" Ethel giggled.
"Girls, please." Betsy Ann clucked her teeth. "A man has been brutally killed."
Her friends' smiles dissipated.
However, Betsy Ann's eyes twinkled. "But, you're right." She pressed her lips to keep from grinning like a cat after catching a lizard.
Janie lifted her nose a bit higher. "Well, we're bound to gain some notoriety if we help Blake solve this mystery. Poor man is spread too thin. He needs us, whether he realizes it or not."
Ethel gasped. "Do you think we can?"
"We have every right. After all, this happened in our neighborhood. I've lived here for six years. Betsy Ann, you signed on as one of the first residents eight years ago as I recall."
"And Ethel, people trust you, so they tell you their life stories. Together, we three can glean more information in one day than the police could scrounge up in three weeks."
The other two women eyed each other. Ethel pushed her mouth to one side. "She has a point."
Betsy Ann sighed. "Very well. I for one won't sleep knowing a killer is on the loose, so the sooner they get him, the better."
Janie set her jaw. "Good. Then it's settled. Let's meet over tea and lemon poppy seed cake at my place in half an hour. What ya say?"
Ethel let out a giggle. "Oooh, I can't wait."CHAPTER 3
Janie hummed as she got out her grandmother's high tea set along with slices of fresh cake and a bowl of strawberries dipped in sugar. Pencils and pads of paper perched on the edge of the table. A pitcher of ice water sweated droplets onto a trivet set upon the china bureau. She placed three goblets in a triangle, and with one more eye-sweep, clasped her hands in approval as two quick raps pounded on her front door. Janie shuffled to peek through the peephole even though she recognized Betsy Ann's woodpecker-like tap. "Come in, come in."
Now in more appropriate street attire, Ethel and Betsy Ann set their purses on the sofa and made themselves at home around Janie's Queen Anne dining room table. The three widows lived within close walking distance in the condo section of Sunset Acres. Ethel lived in a three-bedroom unit at 125 Sunburst Court. Betsy Ann and Janie resided in the two bedroom models one block over at 131 and 134 Sunny Ridge Blvd.
"Oh, strawberries, too. My favorite." Betsy Ann plopped one on her mouth. "Yum."
Excerpted from Dumpster Dicing by Julie B Cosgrove, Susan M. Baganz. Copyright © 2016 Julie B Cosgrove. Excerpted by permission of Prism Book Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Reviewed by Gretchen Jawurek for Readers' Favorite Hair raising, but delightful was my overall reaction to Dumpster Dicing. I know it is a strange reaction, but you have to read the book to get a full understanding of what I mean. Dumpster Dicing: Bunco Biddies Book 1 by Julie B. Cosgrove is a murder mystery set in a retirement community. It starts right out with the murder of one of the recent residents being discovered by Janie and her friend Betsy Ann, two women of a group of twelve friends who get together once a week for Bunco. The action bounces right along as the intrepid, yup, I said it, intrepid ladies sleuth for clues to figure out who did it and why. As they turn up clues, the mystery gets complicated, but they don’t give up - even when Janie, their leader, is threatened in every way possible. Then, of course, there is the detective son-in-law, Blake, who is constantly driven crazy, trying to get Janie and the girls to stay out of it and leave it to the police, but in the end they win him over as well. And in the end the ladies solve the case, of course! The characters are engaging and you end up wishing for a group of friends just like them. The plot is based on the investigation and unraveling of the mystery, so for those of you who love a good mystery or to quote Ms. Cosgrove “a cozy clean” mystery, this book is for you. This one is also for readers out there that love knitting, cooking, and Renaissance Faire mysteries, or anyone who just enjoys a good mystery - they will love it! It encompasses friends, mystery, and getting together to do an activity. You will gasp and laugh and want to settle into your favorite chair and finish the book in one sitting.
Betsy Ann and Janie are widowed friends in their retirement community, Sunset Acres, in Alamoville, Texas. They play the dice game of Bunco with several ladies, including special friends Ethel and Mildred, whose barking puppy, Poopsy, caused the new neighbor, the despicable Mr. Newman, to complain and even hit the poor thing. While Betsy Ann accuses Janie of being a walking know-it-all encyclopedia, Betsy Ann has a walking inventory of the residents and their particular physical and mental capabilities. Out for exercise one morning on trash day, the ladies are taking a breather when they spy a blue-jean-clad leg as the dumpster is being emptied. Janie recognizes the newly-moved-in grouch Newman, and the race to solve the murder is on between the biddies and Janie’s son-in-law, an Alamoville detective, Blake Johnson, who truly needs to spend more time with the family. They vow to help Blake whether he thinks he needs it or not. Soon the ladies have the neighborhood divvied up and begin interrog—um, visiting with the neighbors in the search for clues. They put their wits to the test and do research in back issues of newspapers to get to the bottom of their former neighbor’s cash reserves, foul temper, and mistaken identity. When the whole Bunco group starts to help the police, Blake in particular, find the murderer so they can all feel safe again, it’s Operation Bunco Biddies to the rescue. Told in multiple viewpoints, the ladies add their detecting skills to the adventure, all in good natured attempts to help Blake get to his daughters’ special schoolyear-end events, and learn more about themselves and their need to uplift and support each other in the process. First of a series. Lots of fun for those who enjoy chatty senior citizen-set mysteries.
Senior citizens, Janie and Betsy Ann, never imagined they’d see a body tumbling out of the dumpster during their morning walk at the retirement village. Determined to do a little sleuthing to help out Janie’s overworked son in law, Blake, chief detective of their small community, Janie and Betsy enlist the help of the Bunco Biddies. This novel will make you smile, make you laugh, and shake your head at the antics of the senior set and their ability to solve the mystery just steps ahead of the police department.