Things are looking up for Robin Hudson. She’s been promoted, her nonmonogamous love life is cruising along, and her cat is making decent money as an advertising spokesfeline. It’s time for a girls’ night out. And what better night than Halloween? Bad decision. Robin plans to meet up with her gal pals and her new intern, Kathy, in a Times Square bar. But Kathy doesn’t show. According to a phone message, she’s trapped in a married man’s closet.
Turns out Kathy was chasing a story for Robin. As Robin and her posse track Kathy’s last movements, they find strategically placed notes that refer to Robin’s teenage past, when she and her best friend, Julie, were class outcasts, also known as the cootie girls. Now an evening of trick or treat turns into an encounter with real and present danger as Robin is plunged into a morass of money-laundering mobsters, mayhem, and murder that could get a nice girl killed.
The Robin Hudson Mystery series is a winner of the Sherlock Award for Best Comic Detective.
Revenge of the Cootie Girls is the 3rd book in the Robin Hudson Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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Read an Excerpt
Revenge of the Cootie Girls
A Robin Hudson Mystery
By Sparkle Hayter
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1997 Sparkle Hayter
All rights reserved.
Normally, I feel a little thrill when I return to New York, which starts as the plane begins its descent into the airport and the little houses and gardens of Long Island and Queens come into view. It picks up steadily on the drive into the city and fully inflates when the skyline of Manhattan suddenly looms over the Calvary Cemetery in Queens. There's something about that juxtaposition of the gleaming skyline and the vast cemetery that almost always gets me where I live. I don't know why.
But that Halloween, the LaGuardia control tower kept my plane circling for over an hour, and after I'd seen the little houses for the twenty-seventh time the thrill was completely gone. The traffic on the ground was even worse, backed up all the way from the goddamned airport. The city/cemetery panorama was frozen in front of me for an hour, and lost its luster in about half that time.
It took one long, horn-slamming hour just to get to the midtown tunnel, and another forty-five minutes to get through it. By the time we got to the Manhattan side my cab driver, who had painfully observed the Taxi and Limousine Commission's new politeness guidelines when I got into the car, was banging his fist on the steering wheel and swearing like a longshoreman's parrot. I don't mean to throw stones, because I've employed the odd cussword or two when the occasion demanded it. In New York, cussing serves a healthy purpose, often venting and/or replacing anger. Better a sturdy Anglo-Saxon expletive that has stood the test of time than a punch in the nose, I always say.
But cussing wasn't helping this guy one bit.
"It's okay," I said, trying to calm him down.
"No, it's not okay," he said. "I have a curse on me!"
Why this curse was put upon him I never learned—he kept breaking off into his native language—but I did gather that an enemy had cursed him. And what a curse. Because of it, his face was changing into someone else's, his penis was receding into his body, and he couldn't seem to escape bad traffic.
Right, gotta go now, the microchip in my buttocks is beeping, I thought, but didn't say, though I generally believe one good insane comment deserves another.
Instead I said, "Everything will work out," because I was trying to be more mature and nurturing and all that, now that I was a semirespectable executive.
That's when he flipped.
"It will work out? I have a curse on me! How can it work out? I'VE HAD IT! This is the last straw!" he screamed. He threw his door open and took off running.
I sat there in the back seat, thinking he'd come back, you know. The guy picked a jim-dandy time to have a nervous breakdown. This crazy cabbie was even worse than the one who believed Korean greengrocers were involved in a conspiracy to spread rumors that he was homosexual.
Cars were honking behind me. For a split second there, I wanted to bolt screaming from the cab myself. But, no, I told myself, calm down. You're a problem-solving grownup. This obstacle can be overcome. I called the cab company on my handy cellular telephone.
The line was busy.
What choice did I have? Schlep my two big suitcases a mile to and from the subway? Not after the day I'd had. Find another cab? Ha! I had a better chance of finding Bob Dole in a Lollapalooza mosh pit than another free cab in a Manhattan traffic jam.
So, despite a longtime driving phobia, I got behind the wheel and I headed home, wondering, What else could possibly go wrong today?
You'd think, after everything I'd been through, I'd know the answer to that one, seeing as my life is ruled by only one immutable law: Murphy's.
The funny thing is, if I had been thinking with my genitalia instead of with my brain, I wouldn't have taken the cab from hell. At the airport, a nice-looking man offered to share his cab with me, but out of the corner of my eye I saw another cab coming up so I declined, thinking I'd save time and energy by taking my own cab. Instead of going back to Manhattan with a handsome and chivalrous companion, I rode back with a man under a curse who then deserted me in the trenches.
I would have thought it was some kind of sign or omen, except I no longer believed in that crap.
If you've ever driven in Manhattan you know what a rough ride it can be. There are no rigid traffic lanes, and traffic laws are considered to be optimistic suggestions rather than anything actually enforceable. You never know when the guy in the far-right lane next to you will abruptly decide to make a left-hand turn, or when someone will dart across the middle of the street. Pedestrians routinely cross against lights, leisurely taking their time even when they see a car coming. Most of the time, the cars don't even slow down, they just honk and trust the pedestrians will scatter in time. On my way home, I almost mowed over a blind woman and a man wheeling a shiny steel hot-dog wagon down the street.
Thank God other cabbies, seeing me struggling, let me cut in, and I was able to get to some clear space on Second Avenue. But, man, were my nerves were jangled when I finally pulled up to my apartment building on East 10th street on Manhattan's Lower East Side—excuse me, East Village. I felt real empathy for the AWOL cabbie.
After I unloaded my bags from the trunk and dragged them to the steps of my building, I stopped for a moment to catch my breath. As a rule, I like to get in and out of my building quickly to avoid my ancient neighbor Mrs. Ramirez, who is always trying to provoke me into a fistfight. Due to a fairly strong societal taboo against elder abuse, I try my damnedest to avoid her. But, luckily, she was in Puerto Rico visiting her even more ancient mother, so I had the luxury of lingering on my stoop.
There is something calming about my street at this time of day. It was the blue hour, the hour after the sun sets and the sky begins to darken. There was just enough light left to illuminate the deep color of the sky and give the air around me a grainy texture and a blue tinge. The windows seemed milky and people on the street were starting to darken into silhouettes.
The days were getting shorter, but it was also unseasonably warm and humid for the end of October. We'd been having freak weather in New York for a couple, maybe three years. This, according to my neighbor Sally, was one of the signs of the coming apocalypse, though the people out on the street didn't seem to see anything ominous in the warm weather. There were a lot of people outside enjoying it, sitting on their stoops, yakking, playing music. Two men sat in folding chairs and watched a black-and-white television set on the hood of a low-slung car. The TV was tethered to a tenement apartment on the second floor by a series of extension cords.
Above them, a woman hung her head out a window and hollered for her kid, Ronnie. In the distance, another mother called her kids. It was dinnertime, and the mothers were calling their children in, like we were in some small town, not on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. My sometime boyfriend Mike once said it reminded him of Pakistan, where muezzins in different mosques sing the evening call to prayer, first one, then another, then another, their overlapping songs echoing throughout the hills.
In about an hour the kids would all be out on the street again, extorting candy from people and doing God knows what, and the small-town resemblance would end. When I was their age, kids used to toilet-paper houses and go on undercover garden-gnome-switching operations on Halloween. But, then, unlike a lot of kids in my neighborhood, kids in my day didn't have guns, so our entertainment options were more limited. And we didn't get as much candy.
"Welcome back, luv," said my super, Phil, going out as I was going in. "'Ow was your trip?"
"Great until today," I said, giving him the highlights. Even before the cursed cabbie, it had been a pretty shitty day. I'd been on the West Coast on business for my network and for Womedia, a women's service organization I had joined. I had to fly back via Denver, transferring planes, the second of which aborted its first takeoff because of an air- pressure problem, which was finally fixed with, according to passenger rumor, a piece of stick and duct tape. There was a crying baby on the flight from Denver, and the guy next to me complained about it in a stage whisper through clenched teeth the whole time. "Why doesn't she shut him up?" he said about 150 times, and, "They shouldn't allow babies on passenger planes." I almost asked him how they were supposed to fly—in little carriers with the dogs and cats in freight? Crying babies don't annoy me for some reason, but guys who complain about them drive me up a wall.
"Well, at least your day 'asn't been boring," Phil said. "I 'ear you saw your ex-'usband and 'is fiancee in L.A."
"Where did you 'ear that?" I said, imitating his working-class English accent.
"I hhhheard it on E! this afternoon," he said. That's the problem with having a famous ex with a famous fiancée. Someone sees you with them at Spago and the next thing you know it's on the airwaves.
And what a great decision that was, staying an extra night in Los Angeles to have dinner with my ex and his beautiful fiancee, whom I liked, of course, because who wouldn't like an amusing, pretty, charming, and age-appropriate woman, and with her own career as an independent filmmaker to boot. Naturally, I was thrilled that Burke, my ex, was marrying this gem, and not, say, some semiliterate dullard in itchy clothes.
"Sometimes, luv, people are only meant to take each other partway in life," Phil said.
"Yeah, so I found out on the ride in from the airport."
"Mike going to be 'ere this weekend?"
"I don't know," I said. "He's supposed to call and let me know. If his shoot finishes early tonight, he's going to fly in, but if it goes late, he's going to stay in Arizona for the weekend. And either way is fine with me. I have a lot of work to do."
"What are you doing tonight?"
"Going out with the girls—Tamayo, Claire, my intern Kathy, and maybe Sally."
Our neighbor Helen Fitkis, unrepentant communist and widow, came out of the building and said, "I'm ready to go now, Phil. Hello, Robin."
"We're off to the movies, luv," Phil said. "Stop by tomorrow for tea."
"Okay," I said, and watched them walk off together. At first, I couldn't figure out what Phil and his new best friend Helen Fitkis had in common. He was apolitical, she was as red as they come, though since Phil moved in she had calmed down a bit and stopped distributing her angry, monthly leaflets calling for a RENT STRIKE in big black letters. He was lighthearted, she came off as seriously humor-impaired. But they were contemporaries who both spoke Esperanto and remembered World War II. You could tell how well they got on just watching them walk, neither too fast nor too slow but at the same pace, easy and comfortable with each other.
Good, I thought, as I picked up my bags and went inside. Maybe it would turn into Love (or, as I know it, The Madness), and Phil would settle down here. The man had spent his peripatetic retirement working odd jobs all over the world to finance trips on his own nickel to work in refugee camps. He never stayed more than a year or two in any one place and he'd been in New York for more than a year now, most of that as our super. Recently he'd been seen with a Swahili grammar under his arm, a bad sign. Well, a bad sign for us, his neighbors, a good sign for Swahili-speaking refugees somewhere.
The first lucky break I got all day was a note on my door from Sally, the bald witch downstairs. "Robin," she wrote, "I fed Louise in the morning and stacked your mail in a box by your desk. I don't think I'll be able to join you tonight because of client business, but call me just in case I finish early. Sorry."
No apology necessary, I thought, with great relief.
"I had a dream and you were in it. An old woman was leading you towards the horizon. A man was there. I couldn't see his face," her note went on, adding that she was fairly certain her dream fit into my daily horoscope, which she had done as a Halloween present and enclosed. I read the first line, about how communication problems were going to figure into my day, and ignored the rest. I'd had my fill of nuttiness on the ride in from the airport.
If my new good luck held, she wouldn't catch up with me. Sally had been a very taxing friend, always in the midst of a Huge Crisis or else driving me nuts with her New Age chatter and her psycho-romantic fantasies about True Love (The Madness). She's one of those people who are always madly in love or madly looking for love, with often bad results (see Huge Crises, above).
Even though her own life was a mess and she'd take no advice from me, she insisted on telling me what she saw in my "future," and what I was supposed to be doing with my life, particularly my love life. Yeah, I'm going to take advice from a bald woman with a scorpion tattooed to her skull whose last True Love pulled a gun on her and then fled with her life savings. I was pissed at her too, because she had publicized the falsehood that I was one of her "clients" in a little write-up she got on the widely read gossip page of the New York News-Journal. Now that I was a semirespectable executive, I did not appreciate this kind of publicity.
Sally's beliefs were certifiably wacko and I hadn't yet figured out how to tell her this, because if you challenged her delusions she had a breakdown.
"E-Yowh E-Yowh E-YOWH," my cat, Louise Bryant, said when I opened the door. Not to anthropomorphize too much, but I believe, loosely translated, this meant, "Where the hell have you been? Don't ever leave me with the bald chick again."
She then walked to her food dish, where I noticed a mealy mixture of grains, egg, and vegetables, Sally's special blend, which she used to feed her late cat, Pie. Before I did anything else, I fed Louise the one meal she liked, cat food sautéed in oyster sauce with bok choy. As near as I can figure, she acquired a taste for this in her youth, when she was a street cat in Chinatown.
There was too much mail to go through, so I left it and checked my answering machine, which had been turned off. Louise had lately taken to sleeping on it. Sometimes her butt hit the personal-memo button, which meant either I'd hear two minutes of purring when I called in for my messages, or she'd turn it off completely. I turned it back on, called the cab company, and told them to come pick up their cab and bring spare keys, because I'd locked the one set in the glove compartment for safety. The guy on the other end had a pretty strong accent, and I was only guessing that he understood me.
For many hours, I had been spared a glimpse of myself larger than that in a rearview mirror, so it was quite a shock when I went into the bedroom and saw myself full-length. My hair was totally out of control and there wasn't a damn thing I could do with it. Lately, I'd been too busy to have my hair relaxed, and I hadn't seen much need, since I hadn't been on the air as a reporter in several months.
Bad choice. The unseasonable humidity had brought out my thick red hair's most pronounced corkscrew quality and puffed it up into a frizzy demi-'fro. I put on my costume, a black velvet dress, long black gloves, and a black scarf with a stuffed toy bat sewn on to it, so it looked like it was biting my neck. A healthy layer of waterproof white pancake, black eyeliner, and black lipstick, and I'd be all set to go out as a freshly undead person. My hair made me look like vampire Orphan Annie on steroids.
Next, I needed some weaponry for the night. I see weapons everywhere, and I have a theory about this. See, my father was a safety nut, obsessed with locating and then neutralizing the hidden menace in things. He taught me how to find the hidden menace, but he died when I was ten, before he had a chance to teach me how to thwart it. So I can usually look at something, see the menace, and though I don't know how to neutralize it, am pretty good at figuring a way to use it to defend myself. People laugh at me, but I'm a girl, a woman, whatever, alone in a big city, and—go figure—not everyone is well disposed towards me, so I feel better having this kind of knowledge.
Excerpted from Revenge of the Cootie Girls by Sparkle Hayter. Copyright © 1997 Sparkle Hayter. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If you like chase scene's or what N.Y. used to look like, you' ll probably like this book. The plot is weird. The writing style doesn't appeal to me. This book makes you take a look at your own past an re-evaluate how things happened, and what type of person you are. Always a good thing. Also there are some words of wisdom scattered about in this tomb. Over-all I give rhis a 2 star 'cause . . . I think that's all it deserves.
Maybe you just have had to live in NYC and lose personal landmarks to appreciate the crazed, non-linear, nostalgic, scavenger hunt-type plot of this book. I liked it.
This book was entertaining, although a little hard to follow at times. I enjoyed it.