|Publisher:||Daniel, John & Company, Publishers|
|Product dimensions:||5.52(w) x 8.51(h) x 0.64(d)|
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BLANCHE WEDDINGTON went down with a shriek, a resounding thud, and a clattering crash that left the party in stunned silence.
Across the patio, Roxanne Prescott reacted instinctively. She spun toward the sound, evaluated the situation in a horrified moment, then sprinted past the startled men and women who stood frozen, holding champagne glasses and canapé plates. Roxanne knelt at the side of the fallen woman, now wailing loudly in pain.
"My ankle," Mrs. Weddington moaned. She had landed half-sitting and was supporting herself with her left hand, braced on the tile beside her. Her right leg, extending from beneath the hem of a long floral-printed skirt, showed no obvious signs of injury. The ankle in question was almost certainly her left, twisted beneath her ample body. The fallen tray of abandoned canapé plates and glasses that had caused the dreadful crash lay nearby, a single half-eaten cucumber sandwich resting unnoticed on Mrs. Weddington's lap. Roxanne picked up the sandwich, deposited it on the tray, and used both hands to help support the woman's weight.
"Oh my God!" Ralph Weddington, the injured woman's husband, squatted nearby, rubbing his hands ineffectually. He was a slight man with thick glasses and almost no hair. "Blanche, are you all right?"
Clearly not. Shifting her own weight slightly to continue supporting the woman, Roxanne lifted the torn skirt enough to see Mrs. Weddington's left ankle twisted at an appalling angle.
"Help me get off it," she sobbed softly.
Roxanne considered briefly, then provided enough support to allow the lady to move her rump off her ankle. Mrs. Weddington was now resting on her right hip.
A young waiter who'd been circling with an open champagne bottle stood gaping.
"Call the paramedics and get the manager," Roxanne ordered the waiter, who hesitated briefly, then fled. She turned to the injured woman. "What happened, Mrs. Weddington?"
Blanche Weddington shook her head. "I don't know," she wailed. "I slipped...."
As Roxanne patted the woman's hand, Ralph Weddington trembled helplessly. Roxanne looked around at the assembled members of her tour group. Some had only arrived within the hour and all wore expressions of shock and dismay.
"Did anybody see what happened?" Roxanne asked quietly. Keep things calm. Another instinctive reaction.
A dozen men and women murmured, but only Harriet Greene, a sprightly little senior from Chillicothe, Ohio, spoke. "She started to slip," Harriet announced, frowning, "and then she seemed to overbalance. I saw her grab for that little table, but by then she was halfway down." Harriet shook her head solemnly. "There was no way to reach her in time."
The hotel's owner-manager, an intense woman in her early forties, arrived moments before Roxanne heard the distant whine of an ambulance siren. Without moving, Roxanne explained what had happened.
"My husband will go to the hospital with her," the manager declared quickly, with a nod toward the graying but youthful man who had just materialized beside her. He smiled convivially, as if he'd hoped for an evening at the Emergency Room. The innkeepers were former D.C. corporate attorneys who had jettisoned legal practice to refurbish and run the Potomac Arms, a charmingly genteel small hotel dating from the early nineteenth century.
Once the paramedics bustled onto the patio, Roxanne felt a strange sense of déjà vu as she filled them in and watched them load the injured woman onto a gurney. The essentials were the same as ever; only the location and the style of her uniform differed. It was eight months since Roxanne had last gone on patrol with the Austin Police Department, eight months since the night she called in the horrific "Officer down" and watched her partner die on the weather-beaten back porch of a rundown frame shack in south Austin.
She deliberately banished those memories, concentrating on the situation at hand. She debated going to the hospital, wondered briefly what Maureen would do, decided that so early in the tour her own responsibility probably lay with the majority still on their feet.
Once the ambulance left, the hotel manager briskly set about restoring gaiety to the Irish Eyes Travel group. She apologized in a vague and general waythere'd be no admissions of liability from anyone who'd ever practiced lawthen began replenishing glasses from a fresh champagne bottle. Where Mrs. Weddington had fallen, the young waiter scooped up broken glasses and the other detritus of the toppled tray.
Roxanne knelt to investigate the accident site. A clear, viscous slick on the ground smelled like soapy violets. She pointed out the substance to the manager, who gamely knelt for her own examination, grimly recalculating liability.
Roxanne returned to her group. Conversation had resumed around the patio and most of the folks were now seated at small tables. They chattered excitedly about the upcoming trip, seventeennow fifteenstrangers united to share a week of sight-seeing.
At six-thirty on a late April Saturday, the outdoor patio was still warm and balmy. They would spend tonight here in Alexandria, Virginia, jumping-off point for the "History and Gardens of Virginia Tour," which Roxanne had privately renamed "Guns and Roses." She had been looking forward to the trip for two months, though she'd never dreamed she'd be leading it solo. She was supposed to accompany and assist her Aunt Maureen, owner of Irish Eyes Travel, a Del Mar, California, agency that specialized in "educational" tours for the well-heeled. Roxanne had envisioned her role strictly as backup: chatting up the guests, schlepping luggage, studying Maureen's techniques, absorbing the wonders of life as a tour guide.
Then, three days before Guns and Roses was slated to blast off, Maureen O'Malley awakened itching all over, with strange little bitelike bumps sprinkled around her body. An emergency visit to the dermatologist had produced a flabbergasting diagnosis that threw the future of the tour into doubt.
Roxanne had assured her itching aunt that she could manage the tour alone with no trouble whatsoever. "I've been chasing down bad guys for years," she had told Maureen breezily, "so how hard can it possibly be to chaperon a bunch of well-behaved adults?"
Famous last words.
At least, she thought, as she sat down to make the acquaintance of the Flanagan family, it was the kind of accident that could have happened no matter who was in charge.
"I understand you won the lottery," Roxanne said to the Flanagans, with a tinge of unconcealed envy. She herself had won a couple of Quick Picks over the years, and had known a juvenile officer who won ten grand, but the Flanagans were big-time.
"Seventeen million dollars," Patrick Flanagan announced expansively. Patrick was a good-looking, thirtyish Irishman with freckles and a glossy mop of thick black hair that gleamed in the fading light.
"Plus change," Merrily Flanagan added. She was in her late twenties, wearing a striped hot-pink shorts outfit and a lot of gold jewelry. Roxanne counted six rings, including a headlight diamond that had clearly been added later to the plain gold wedding band on Merrily's left hand. The rings looked like the sort of stuff you'd get with a handful of quarters from a gumball machine, except that the settings were expensive andgiven the lotteryit was entirely possible that the stones were real.
"I told them I'd be happy to take the change," Bridget Flanagan said, with a self-conscious shake of her head. Patrick's mother seemed less comfortable in this setting than her son and his wife. Her hair was also black and had been sculpted into an upswept lacquered 'do that could probably deflect bullets. When she tossed her head, not a single hair moved independently. "But Patrick said he'd take me traveling instead."
"Merrily, we roll along," Merrily sang, slightly off-key. "That's where I got this new spelling for my name." This was, indeed, something Roxanne had wondered about, albeit fleetingly. "Used to be spelled M-e-r-i-l-e-e, but that didn't seem cheerful enough for our new life." She smiled merrily.
"Is this your first trip?" Roxanne asked. This small talk came more easily than she'd expected. Hard to realize she was actually being paid for this, and a good sight more than she'd ever made as a cop.
"Oh, no!" Merrily answered, with a slightly affected chortle and a wave of one beringed hand. "We've done Vegas twice, and Mom Flanagan wanted to do the old country, so we did Christmas in Ireland." She rolled her eyes skyward. "I guess it was pretty enough, but even with my furs I could never quite get warm."
Roxanne could just imagine what Merrily Flanagan's taste in furs might run to. She allowed herself a brief flash of Cruella De Vil. "Well, I know that wasn't an Irish Eyes trip, because my Aunt Maureen said this is the first time you've traveled with us."
"It was the agency's name that did it," Merrily confided, inserting a long, slender cigarette into a shiny holder and lighting it. It looked as if she were preparing to conduct an orchestra. "Mom always wanted to do historic Virginia, and when the travel agent told us about this tour and your place being named Irish Eyes, well, that was that."
"Well, we certain hope you all will enjoy yourselves," Roxanne told them expansively. "So. Did y'all quit your jobs when you found out you'd won?"
"You bet your sweet ass we did," Merrily answered.
Harriet Greene and Edna Stanton, the two elderly Ohioans, were quietly eavesdropping nearby. Harriet dropped a fork, startled.
Patrick Flanagan grinned. "I was working at this repair shop, for a guy who was, like, the world's worst boss. Marty Conner his name was, and everybody called him Genghis Khan-er." When he paused expectantly, Roxanne rewarded him with an insincere chuckle. "Anyways, me and Merrily, we find out we've won one night and we're out partying all night long. Comes morning, the two of us go dancing into the shop with the boom box blasting 'Take This Job and Shove It.' Old Genghis just could not believe it!"
"And then we went straight to the mall where I was working," Merrily went on. They'd clearly told this story often and never tired of it. "I was in Plus Sizes at Sears. Same thing, only we went in the main door of the store and played the song all the way back through to my department. All around us, people were asking what was happening and screaming and carrying on once they found out. It was like leading a parade."
They were joined now by Larry and Josie Vanguard, the tour's honeymooners. Josie was a longtime Irish Eyes client whose late husband had suffered a fatal coronary arguing with a construction boss at a development site in Temecula a year earlier. Irish Eyes Travel had booked Josie on the Caribbean gambling cruise where she had met Larry Vanguard.
"Aren't there people coming out of the woodwork from all over, with their hands out?" Josie asked the Flanagans. Josie had been a very wealthy widow, and there was enough empathy in her question to make Roxanne wonder a bit about Josie's new bridegroom.
"You bet," Patrick Flanagan told her, with a captivating grin. "But you know what? Folks've been saying no to me my whole life and I know just how to say it myself."
The hotel manager caught Roxanne's eye from the doorway and she excused herself. "My husband just called from the hospital," the manager told her. She did not look happy. "The ankle is definitely broken, and apparently she has a blood pressure problem as well. They're going to set the fracture and they want to keep her overnight."
Roxanne put on what an old boyfriend had called her cop face and thanked the manager. Her watch showed a far later time than she felt. Her body was still on west coast time, three hours earlier, but the time difference would allow her to visit the hospital before calling Maureen with the bad news.
When the Irish Eyes group moved to a restaurant across the street for some Colonial chow, Roxanne watched her charges settle into fairly predictable groups.
Three generations of a bicoastal family sat apart from the others. Barbara and Monica Dunwoody, a mother and daughter from La Jolla, had been in the small group who'd flown out from San Diego with Roxanne this morning. Monica was in her early twenties and her mother somewhere in her forties, one of those impossibly buffed California women who augment strenuous daily workouts with substantial investments in a plastic surgeon's Keogh plan. Roxanne suspected that people sometimes mistook Barbara and Monica for sisters, which would mortify the daughter as much as please her mom.
Barbara Dunwoody's aunt, however, would never be mistaken for anything but an old lady. Mignon Chesterton was from Birmingham, Alabama. Her accent was thick and her manner regal. In the brief period since Mrs. Chesterton had joined her younger relations, she had unblinkingly assumed command. It would be interesting to see how their group dynamic changed once Barbara's husband, Dave, joined the group in Richmond on Tuesday.
The Flanagans and Vanguards had stayed together, and when Roxanne heard the lottery story beginning again, she joined a more loosely structured group that had pushed together two tables and was already chattering eagerly away about the coming day's itinerary. This group included the Ohio ladies, Harriet Greene and Edna Stanton, and a recently retired couple from Grand Rapids, Dick and Olive Forrester. It also included the tour group's only child, Heather Tichener, a precocious ten-year-old traveling with her grandmother, Evelyn. The Ticheners had provided a wonderfully infectious enthusiasm on the plane ride across the country.
Already the hapless Blanche Weddington was practically forgotten.
* * *
Maureen O'Malley was naked in her bedroom, grimly applying calamine lotion, when the phone rang.
She had hoped the worst of it was behind her, but no such luck. Today was the most horrendous of all, an agonizing overall itching that seemed to emanate from her very bones. The doctor had warned her that adults with chicken pox suffered more than children, but this was an appalling understatement. She kept hopping in and out of cool, gloppy baths full of colloidal oatmeal powder, finding scant comfort, wondering each time why she couldn't just dump a five-pound canister of Quaker Oats into the tub and be done with it.
Chicken pox was a ridiculous experience for a sixty-two-year-old woman.
She was still running a fever, and had been mentally reviewing news stories from recent years about children who had died or undergone multiple amputations as a result of chicken pox complications. She pictured her own obituary: LOCAL TRAVEL AGENT ITCHES TO DEATH.
Somehow Maureen had avoided childhood infection, and she'd never had children of her own. She had finally traced her exposure to a barbecue with friends whose grandchildren were visiting. The kids, her friends had assured her cheerily two days ago, were all better now. The wretched little brats.
So Roxanne's report of Blanche Weddington's accident came as an almost welcome diversion, and Maureen felt herself slipping automatically into business mode. "They have trip insurance, so if they want to go home, they're covered for their costs and we don't need to worry about reimbursing them."
"I don't think they want to," Roxanne replied, "or at least he doesn't. He seems kind of wistful, but henpecked, and I don't think she's one to suffer in silence. But the ankle is broken in three places and there's no way she can go tromping around with the rest of us."
"Then let's spring her from the hospital and get them back to wherever they want to go," Maureen decided. "She told me they live half the year in Naples, Florida, and go back for summers in Detroit. He's a retired auto executive. Either place, they'll be out of your hair and the insurance should pay up without any problems."
"I don't think she can travel right away. And we're scheduled to pull out of here first thing in the morning."
Maureen shrugged, which set a particularly bothersome pock on her right shoulder to itching again. She twitched in irritation, trying to ignore her absurd reflection in the mirrored wardrobe doors of her bedroom. She looked like some kind of scrawny plucked bird basted haphazardly with Pepto-Bismol.
"We'll get the hotel to comp his room for however long it takes, and I'll set up their plane tickets," Maureen told her niece. "Now, I know the Weddingtons weren't traveling with any of our other people, so we don't have to worry about that. Had they had a chance to bond with anybody yet?"
"Not really," Roxanne answered without hesitation. "They were talking to the Forresters, the other folks from Michigan. But it couldn't have been more than superficial getting-to-know-yous. The Weddingtons hadn't even been here an hour when she fell."
"Sheesh. They'll be mad as hell once it hits them. Dammit anyway!" Maureen took a deep breath, which hurt. Was she getting pocks in her lungs?
"It'll be fine," Roxanne reassured, "and I'm sorry to bother you."
"I may have a kiddie disease, but I'm still running this business," Maureen retorted irritably. "Your job now is to get a good night's sleep and keep smiling."
"I'm so cheerful my cheek muscles hurt," Roxanne told her. "But relax, Maureen. Something was bound to go wrong sometime on this trip and now it's over with."
Maureen swallowed a snappy comeback as a cluster of pocks in the center of her back began acting up. She'd never be able to reach them. She wished she could remember what she'd done with the ivory back-scratcher she had brought home from an early trip to Africa, back when ivory was an interesting natural material and not a political issue.
She got the necessary phone numbers from Roxanne and began running another oatmeal bath. It provided little comfort to realize that nobody would know that the efficient businesswoman on the other end of the line was almost totally immersed in gruel.
* * *
Roxanne decided to wash her hair before going to bed so she could slip out to the hospital again first thing in the morning. She stepped into the shower and just let the warm water pour over her for a few wonderfully relieving moments. Then she opened the little bottle of complimentary shampoo and stopped cold.
It smelled like soapy violets.
Exactly like the slippery patch where Blanche Weddington had fallen on the patio.
Table of Contents
What People are Saying About This
Carolyn Hart, Anthony Award Winner
"Genteel travel turns ugly in Taffy Cannon's delightful new mystery. Former cop-now-turned-tour-director Roxanne Prescott handles everything from misplaced leeches to murder in a fascinating mystery that will particularly please armchair travelers."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If she thinks like a police officer, talks like a police officer, and acts like a police officer, logically one would conclude she must be a police officer. Not! Roxanne Prescott is a former San Antonio police officer. She grew disenchanted with her job, especially after a perpetrator gunned down her partner. Now she earns a living as a tour guide for a California travel agency. Her first solo trip is guiding wealthy patrons on the ¿History and Gardens of Virginia Tour¿. However, her former occupation¿s skills are needed on this ¿Guns and Roses¿ tour as someone makes life difficult for the participants. It starts with childish pranks that turn criminal with the abduction of a child. Roxanne thinks the unknown assailant has a deadly agenda that she plans to stop. GUNS AND ROSES is the opening installment of a fascinating new mystery series. Taffy Cannon provides the audience with a refreshing and likable lead character who is at the crossroads of her life. Roxanne begins to understand that she can take herself out of the police force, but she cannot take the police force out of herself. The mystery is loaded with viable suspects that will keep the reader switching their decision as to which one is the actual killer. The audience will desire a quick release of the next tale in what looks to be a winning series. Harriet Klausner
A tour to Colonial Williamsburg runs into trouble when a series of strange accidents ends in murder. A fun mystery that uses multiple viewpoints well to tell the story.
Taffy Cannon, auhtor of the Nan Robinson series, has created a delighful new character, former cop and current tour guide Roxanne Prescott. Roxanne is filling in as guide for a Virginia gardens and history tour (known by the wealthy participants as 'guns and roses') and is prepared for a variety of travel related problems. She isn't prepared for a series of increasingly serious accidents and incidents which plague her diverse group of clients. She finds herself needing all her police skills to catch a cleaver criminal. Taffy Cannon has done a fine job of creating an interesting story, well rounded characters and a fine sense of the places the problem plagued tour visit. And her description of an adult with a case of the chicken pox made me (almost) itch with the memory!