"Work-at-home dad, devoted husband, hustling freelance writer, aspiring screenwriterall ways to describe the unwilling sleuth Aaron Tucker, whom one reviewer dubbed a combination of "Bart Simpson and James Bond". In A Farewell to Legs, the second installment of the Aaron Tucker Mystery Series, Aaron is back on the trail again, this time trying to ferret out the murderer of a former high school classmate, a D.C. lobbyist whose enemies finally stick it to him, literallywith a six-inch steak knife. The deceased leaves behind a bombshell of a widow, a secret bankroll of $13 million, and a cloud of political controversy, all of which lead Aaron to a barrel of red herrings.But in the life of Aaron Tucker, one mystery is never enough (though he'd be quick to tell you otherwise). He’s also been delegated the odious task of tracking down Buzbee School’s secret stink-bomber. And, much to Aaron’s consternation, his wife, the beautiful attorney Abby Stein, is being stalked by a former client. All in a day’s work for the diminutive freelance writer, who, as procrastinator extraordinaire, would rather be doing anything but investigating."
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A Farewell to LegsAN AARON TUCKER MYSTERY
By Jeffrey Cohen
Bancroft PressCopyright © 2003 Jeffrey Cohen
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIn retrospect, it all started with the lizard.
"A gecko?" I said. "You want to give an eight-year-old girl a gecko?"
I stared into my bedroom closet with what I'm sure was the same expression Dr. Livingstone had assessing the Nile for the first time, a combination of absolute wonderment and complete confusion. My wife Abby stood behind me, doing her very best not to snicker.
"They make very low-maintenance pets," she said in a soothing tone, as if she were addressing a potentially dangerous mental patient. "You don't have to walk them, you very rarely have to clean the aquarium and they never make any noise. Try the blue one."
She indicated a royal blue Gap t-shirt I'd been avoiding. I turned to her, surprised, and pointed at it. Yes, Abby nodded, that one.
"I can wear a t-shirt to a high school reunion? And why, exactly, does our daughter even need a pet that looks like it escaped from The Land That Time Forgot?"
Abby smiled tolerantly, once again secure in the knowledge that I would, indeed, collapse into a heap of quivering jelly without her. On her way to the bedroom closet door, she pressed by me (and I did very little to get out of her way, thus necessitating as much pressing as possible).
"Leah loves animals. I want to encourage her to develop that interest, and this is the easiest way to start her on her way. Don't worry—you won't have to do anything."
"Famous last words."
My wife, befitting a woman of her dignity and accomplishment, stuck her tongue out at me. She leaned into the closet (we have a lean-in closet in our bedroom, meaning that it's roughly the size of a small refrigerator, so all you can do is lean in) and came out with the blue T-shirt, a pair of black jeans I actually fit into, and my black sport jacket, which is made of something that approximates suede without actually harming any animals to produce it. Abby laid the clothes out on the bed. "There," she said.
"My Hollywood scriptwriter disguise," I said, nodding. On the rare occasions that one of my screenplays has generated enough interest for me to actually meet with a producer (and that is upwards of once), I have worn this exact ensemble. I began to take off my hideous flannel shirt (with only two holes in it) and my worn-to-the-white jeans (three holes, but two are in the knees).
"Certainly," Abby said. "Show your old classmates how cool you are."
"Cool, my love, is something I've never been able to pull off successfully."
"Fake it," she said. I grunted at that, and considered the question of the lizard again.
"So let's suppose—and I want to stress that suppose—that I agree to this lizard thing. What does Jurassic Junior eat?"
It's so rare I get to see my wife blush. As with everything else, it becomes her, but it's unusual that she'd be flustered enough to let it show. I braced myself. She mumbled something.
"WORMS!" she shouted, unintentionally, I presume. "It eats ... worms. And they have to be ... live."
"Live? As in alive? We're asking our eight-year-old to feed one living thing to another living thing as a character- building experience?" During this exchange, I had managed to don my entire screenwriter disguise, minus the jacket (which would make me sweat no matter what the weather, and so was best left for later).
"Well, she's perfectly okay with it," Abby said as I sat down again to put on my classy sneakers. "Melissa has one ..."
That's all I needed to know—the discussion was over. Leah and her friend Melissa are actually the same person, but you need two bodies to harness all their combined energy. They're constantly in motion, constantly talking, and constantly together, so whatever one does, the other must certainly do. There's no arguing with Melissa. Ever.
"Where do we get these worms?" I sighed. "Do we have to dig in the back yard? Remember, we have no, um, soil in the back yard."
"The pet store. Then we keep them in the refrigerator."
"The same refrigerator where we keep our food?" She nodded, and I think actually looked a little nauseated.
I stood up and put an arm over my wife's shoulder. "Is there any power on heaven or earth that can stop this?"
"Any chance I can get some sex out of saying yes?" I figured it was worth a shot.
"Not tonight. I'll be asleep long before you get home."
From downstairs, I could hear the doorbell ring, followed by Leah's shrill shriek. "It's Uncle Mahoney!" Abby and I started wearily toward the stairs.
"All in all," I told her, "this night is not starting out terribly well."
Chapter Two"Remind me why we're going to this thing."
Jeff Mahoney, all six-foot-whatever of him, was scrunched into the passenger seat of my 1997 Saturn four-door. He had pushed the seat back as far as it went, and still his knees were threatening to hit his chin.
"It'll be fun," I said unconvincingly. "We haven't seen these people in twenty-five years."
"And we didn't like them then," he reminded me.
"You're not going in with a terrific attitude," I pointed out.
"And you expected ... what?"
I grumbled something under my breath and shoved a cassette into the car radio. John Mayer. Room for Squares. He grimaced, but didn't say anything. To him, any music recorded after 1979 is suspect.
He was right, of course, although not about the music. There was no reason for me to have anticipated anything but a sour attitude from him, since it had been my idea for us to go to our 25th year high school reunion. Overcome by a sudden, inexplicable wave of nostalgia, I had responded to the invitation in my mail (along with the inevitable bills) by convincing him that we would spend the evening drinking and making fun of our former classmates. Well, he could drink, anyway. I'd appointed myself designated driver. The major effect of alcohol on my system is to make me sleepy.
I don't know what it was that convinced me to go. At Bloomfield, NJ's prime example of a high school in the mid-1970s, students divided themselves into the usual cliques: the jocks, the cheerleaders (who existed mostly to sleep with the jocks, thus serving to doubly tweak the rest of us), the brains (this was years before nerds were invented, and decades before computer geeks), and the remedial students.
And then there was Us. Myself, Mahoney, Friedman, Wharton, and McGregor. We were a group because we didn't fit in with any of the other groups—we fell between the cracks. And we got along because we expected nothing of each other, and got exactly that. Besides Mahoney, who was still my closest friend, I had-n't seen the others in at least 10 years.
So maybe it was that kind of reunion I had been trying to manufacture. I'd blackmailed Mahoney into going by telling him I wouldn't go without him, and had emailed Bobby Fox, who was coordinating the reunion (and who was still, at 43, calling himself "Bobby"), to be sure Friedman, Wharton, and McGregor would be there. But I hadn't told Mahoney, and I didn't know why.
Now, he listened thoughtfully to the music, wrinkled his brow, and turned it down a notch. "This guy's not bad," he said. "But he's never going to replace Jim Croce."
"I'm sorry. I left my Bad Company tape back home in my white double-knit leisure suit."
Mahoney grinned. "Somebody get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?"
"I can't remember why I wanted to go to this thing, either," I admitted.
"It's because Stephanie Jacobs is going to be there," he said matter-of-factly. "You've had the hots for her since Gerald Ford was president."
Stephanie Jacobs! I hadn't even thought of her. Would she be at this miserable wing ding?
"Everybody had the hots for Stephanie Jacobs," I reminded him. "And when I say 'everybody ...'"
When Mahoney and I were seventeen, all of us considered Stephanie Jacobs the ideal woman. Built so that she looked naked even in a down parka, Stephanie was rumored to have caused cardiac arrest in middle-aged men of, say, 30 or so.
"Not everybody," said Mahoney.
"Your memory fails you," I told him. "I remember a time you gave Stephanie Jacobs a ride home in the Mustang, and you talked about nothing else for six weeks."
"Bullshit," he said. "It was only four weeks."
"Nonetheless. You had just as many hots for Stephanie Jacobs as everybody else."
His eyes got a little dreamy. "That Mustang was a great car," he said.
I decided to pretend he hadn't spoken. "Anyway, she's not the reason I wanted to go tonight," I protested as I pulled into the parking lot of the luxurious Vacation Inn of Carteret, New Jersey. "I hadn't thought once of her before you mentioned her name right now."
"Sure," said Mahoney. "You just knew she liked me better, anyway."
We got out of the car after I parked, which made sense. If we'd gotten out before I'd parked, the car might very well have run over our feet and hurt us, and possibly destroyed property at the Inn. It's important to follow certain procedures.
I led the way toward the door marked "Banquet Room," which was sure to be an overstatement. And about 20 feet from the door, I stopped dead in my tracks.
Mahoney, who came close to barreling into me and causing permanent damage, slammed on his heels. "What the hell is wrong with you?" he yelped.
"I can't go in. Let's go to the movies or something. This was a bad idea."
He laughed. "It'll be fun! We haven't seen these people in twenty-five years!" he said.
"Yeah, and we didn't ..."
"Why, Aaron Tucker," purred a voice behind me that was laced with sex and nostalgia. "I hear you solve mysteries."
Mahoney and I both spun around and muttered something in the tradition of Jackie Gleason's classic "homina, homina, homina."
Stephanie Jacobs, in a dress covering considerably less than a down parka would, stood maybe five feet away.
She smiled a satisfied smile that indicated she knew exactly what effect her voice would have on us. On me, really, since she wasn't looking at Mahoney at all. Her deep blue eyes bored into me, and I'm pretty sure left a hole in the back of my head. Stephanie looked just as good as she had at 18, which was entirely unfair of her.
Maybe I hadn't come just to see Friedman, Wharton and ... what's-their-names, after all.
Chapter ThreeIt took me a few moments to regain the power of speech, and a few more to look Stephanie in the eye, something her plunging neckline wasn't helping me achieve.
"I don't solve mysteries," I said when English once again became my primary language. "I'm a soldier on the bottom rung of the literary battleground." It sounded good at the time. I have no idea what it meant, since battlegrounds don't generally have rungs, but there was no time to think of that.
"That's not what I heard," she said, still not taking her eyes off me. I thought Mahoney might begin doing the tarantella behind my back just to get her attention. "I heard you found out who killed some woman in your town a while back."
Well, therein lies a tale. And one I have told elsewhere, so I'll spare you the details. I decided, in this case, to be modest.
"Oh, I was just working on a story and got lucky," I said.
"You were lucky I was backing you up," grumbled Mahoney, "or you might not be here today."
His booming voice finally penetrated Stephanie's radar screen, and she turned to him. "I'm sorry," she said. "You don't have a name tag, and I'm embarrassed, but I can't remember ..."
"Come on inside," I said, gesturing toward the door. "Let's see who we can remember without name tags."
I didn't hold out my arm, but she took it anyway, and as we walked inside, Mahoney gave me the same look arsenic would give you if it had eyes.
Inside was a table with "Hello My Name Is" name tags, next to which was tastefully arranged an array of pictures from the football highlights of Bloomfield High School's team for my graduation year (meaning three pictures, one for each of our victories against nine losses). Mahoney and I walked past the table, having decided ahead of time to forego the stupid tags and let people guess who we were. Stephanie stopped and carefully found hers, then tried to find an artful place to attach it to her dress. It took a while, but she managed.
I was across the room by the time she had assembled herself, but I did take some amusement in the looks our male classmates gave Stephanie as she made her way around the dining room. The nametag gave them a legitimate excuse to look where they wanted to look, which I believe was exactly the effect Stephanie had desired. But before I could make my way back to her, I felt a hand grab my upper arm, and turned.
Mark Friedman, looking every bit his age at 43, was smiling, tall, trim, and healthy-looking. I fought the urge the choke him.
"Hey, Tucker!" he yelled. "I saw you come in with the Goddess. How'd you manage that?"
"It's nice to see you, too, Mark," I attempted. "Are the other guys here?"
"I saw Wharton earlier," he said. "He's trying to get everybody to vote for him for something. But what about the Goddess? You banging her?"
"I'm married to a goddess," I told him, "and it's not Stephanie Jacobs. Before the parking lot five minutes ago, I hadn't seen her in twenty years."
"Could have fooled me, the way she was hanging onto your arm," he said, doing his best to leer but coming up with a lopsided grin instead. Friedman could never really transcend his original image, that of a cute little boy. But he was constantly trying.
After showing off pictures of our respective children (they throw you out of the Father's Union if you're caught not carrying), Friedman and I caught up on professional accomplishments. His took longer than mine. He owned three carpet stores. I made a mental note to change professions.
We headed for the bar, where I got a Diet Coke (they never listen when you tell them to forget the lemon) and Friedman opted for a Chivas Regal with water on the side. I knew what I had paid for the Diet Coke, so, if Friedman could afford a Chivas at the cash bar, I figured there must be money in selling carpet in Central New Jersey.
The problem was, we weren't making eye contact very much. And when we did, it was that kind of tentative, accidental eye contact that's really just a way of finding out if the other guy is looking at you, or if he's just checking out some woman he went on a date with 27 years ago.
"Where'd you say you saw Wharton?" I asked.
He looked relieved, pointed, and we walked across the room more or less together, waving at people we thought we recognized and avoiding the glances of people we were certain we recognized.
Halfway there, Stephanie grabbed my arm again. I thought Friedman was going to have a hemorrhage right then, and he found himself caught in one of those awkward situations where you don't know if you should continue on the path you've begun or stop to ogle a woman's cleavage. He was clearly leaning toward the latter, but I pushed him in Wharton's direction and stayed to talk to Stephanie.
"You didn't show me pictures of your children," she said. "You have some, don't you?"
"Two," I admitted, reaching for the evidence. "Ethan is twelve, and Leah's eight."
She made the usual noises you make when you see someone else's children. "So what do you do when you're not solving murders?" she asked.
"I freelance." Stephanie gave me the same confused look everybody gives me when I say that, and yet I persist. "Writing. Magazines and newspapers." I actually pulled a business card out of my wallet and gave it to her.
"No kidding. My husband knows a lot of editors. Maybe he can help you get ..."
Mahoney loomed up behind her. "Do you remember me yet?" he asked Stephanie. Clearly, the man was trying way too hard.
"I do. You drove me home once in the rain, didn't you?" Damn, she was good. Mahoney's grin got so wide I was afraid it would meet at the back of his head and his brain would fall out. While they were reliving this fascinating episode in their lives, I followed Friedman from the bar (where he'd replenished his Chivas) toward our resident politician.
Greg Wharton, New Jersey state assemblyman (and osteopath), brushed the forelock out of his eyes as we approached. Wharton was a little heavier than I remembered him, but then, I was a little heavier than I remembered me, too. His suit was nicely enough tailored that it was hard to tell exactly how much heavier he was than his early-30's self, the last version of Wharton I had seen.
Excerpted from A Farewell to Legs by Jeffrey Cohen Copyright © 2003 by Jeffrey Cohen. Excerpted by permission of Bancroft Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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