Sprayed Stiff: A Hair-raising Mystery

Sprayed Stiff: A Hair-raising Mystery

by Laura Bradley

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451631876
Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication date: 06/01/2011
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Laura Bradley, a former award-winning reporter and television news producer, has written three contemporary romances. Her first two novels were named finalists for the prestigious Holt Medallion award. She grew up on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, and now lives with her husband, three children, two dogs and a cat in San Antonio, Texas.

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Chapter One

I got on my knees, held my breath, and extended my fingers.

It was sleek and firm, but it sprang slightly at my touch. I kept my eyes closed and continued my exploration.

Suddenly, the surface gave way. My fingers sank through, diving into a wet, gooey pit.

"Ugh," I groaned, and squeezed my eyes more tightly shut as I extracted my hand.

"Gnarly nuns and timid terriers, Reyn. What are you doing?"

I really didn't want to look at what was hanging off my fingers, and I really didn't need to open my eyes to see who was standing over me. Instead, I eased to my feet, trusted that my guest would stay out of the way, and did the blind-man's grope to the sink. I cranked the handle up and slid my hand under the stream of water.

"Ow, damn!" My eyes flew open and took in the kaleidoscope of neon that was my best friend, Trudy, as I danced around the kitchen shaking my seared hand in the air. I'd forgotten that, just minutes before, I'd cranked the water as hot as it could go, which felt like somewhere around eighteen million degrees. That's what I got for being forgetful.

"I hate to repeat myself," Trudy said as she handed me a dish towel, "but I will anyway. What the hell are you doing, Reyn?"

"I'm cleaning out my refrigerator."

"Dun, dun-dun-dun," Trudy sang out a dirge. "Dun, dun-dun-dun."

"Very funny."

"From the looks of what was hanging off your fingers a second ago, it's not too funny. What was that, anyway?"

I peeked into the half-open hydrator. "Rotten eggplant. If I left it a little longer, maybe it could ooze out of there on its own." I looked a little more closely at the gray-green fuzz nearthe semblance of a stem.

"I'm not going to ask why you are cleaning your refrigerator. Obviously, it's needed to be cleaned almost since you bought it. However, I will ask, why are you cleaning it now?"

"It's one of my if-I-live-through-this resolutions to myself."

"Wouldn't those be made after you survived the refrigerator cleaning?"

I glared. "I made three resolutions to myself while that maniac was trying to erase me."

"That was a long time ago, Reyn. You're just now getting around to it?" Trudy pointed out with irritating accuracy. Why couldn't I have a best friend who thought I was brave and brilliant, who never pointed out my faults and always praised my virtues? Because I'd never buy that load of crap, that's why. Trudy was shaking her head. "What about the other two resolutions?"

"Well," I began as I replaced the dish towel on its peg, "one of them I can't do yet -- or, hopefully, ever."

"Why not?" Trude cocked her hip and put a fist on it. Her rayon minidress looked like something straight out of That '70s Show (or, of course, the actual '70s) with its psychedelic wiggly bull's-eye business and the clash of electric green, traffic-cone orange, and spastic yellow. Its hem hit three inches below the crotch of her Victoria's Secret undies (I didn't have to look, she just didn't own anything else). People would be thrown into peals of laughter had I worn anything like this. The same people were paralyzed by awestruck ogling when Trudy wore it. Her legs were that good. Even better now, after a summer out in the sun. The thing is, summer in San Antonio lasts until November, so she'd still be tan for Christmas. Now, me, I never tan. I just get freckles.

"I can't do it because the resolution is that I will hide all the knives and other sharp, potentially homicidal objects in my house the next time I go poking around in a murdered friend's life."

Trudy rolled her eyes. "You're right. What are the odds of that ever happening again? I mean, how many people have friends who are murdered -- and then, of course, even if that did happen again, by some bizarre twist of fate, you've learned your lesson on not messing around with murder investigations because you nearly got killed. Right?"

Uh-oh. I really wasn't sorry for what I'd done about Ricardo Montoya's murder, even though my best friend and the man who occupied my dreams at night thought I was sorry. But I wasn't letting on to them about my lack of remorse. "Right. Sure. I'll never conduct my own murder investigation again. No sirree. So the odds are way too low, even to consider resolution number two," I agreed, moving past the eggplant and on to the jars along the refrigerator door.

"And the third if-I-live-through-this resolution?" Trudy asked, not effectively distracted by the pungent odor of apricot jelly that had fermented nearly to wine. I closed the jar and pitched it into the garbage can I had dragged into the middle of the kitchen. Its twenty-gallon capacity was already half full.

"It's a little vague."

"Vague?"

"I was under a lot of stress at the time, remember? I was being pursued by a duct-tape-wielding killer with an affinity for sharp objects."

"You made this resolution before or after you were victim of the sharp object?"

"Before. But I already had been attacked by the duct tape. It tore the first six layers of skin off my face."

"Uh-huh, the excuse you used to keep Scythe at arm's length for a month." She let that hang in the air for a minute. I wasn't going to bite. Talking about the hunky police detective gave me a headache. And hot flashes. I was too young to be having those. He was a helluva good kisser, that's all I knew, even after months of pussyfooting around our sexual attraction and "the deal." Frankly, it was enough hassle to make a woman go gay. But Trudy didn't need to know even that much. Especially since this "deal" was really something she and Scythe had come up with, and I was more than a little hazy on the details.

She raised her eyebrows, reached for a container of tofu, and checked the expiration date. "And the resolution?" she insisted.

I lowered my head and muttered, "To get organized."

Trudy's giggle always starts like the peep of a newborn chick and gets louder and louder, until it reminds me of a Ritalin-deprived three-year-old playing the violin. I saw tears in the corners of her eyes. It really pissed me off.

"What prompted you to make this particular resolution?"

"Besides imminent death?"

"Besides that."

"I couldn't find my extra set of truck keys for a getaway."

"Okay." Trudy rubbed her hands together. "So, you found them and got all your keys set up in an organized manner."

"Umm." I considered reapproaching the eggplant and toed the hydrator open further.

"You didn't find your extra set of truck keys, did you?" The self-righteous way she said it made me think the nuns at Trudy's grammar school had rubbed off on her a little too much.

"Not yet."

Ever optimistic, Trudy smiled, a little too brightly. "Instead, then, you tackled the job from a different direction. Taking on your closets, maybe."

"You think I should start there?"

"You haven't started at all?" Her shoulders slumped in disappointment. The too-bright went out of her smile. Her neon was suddenly the only thing lighting up the room.

"I wanted to do the refrigerator first, considering it involved perishables." Bravely, I swiped up the oozing eggplant and slam-dunked it into the plastic pail.

"It involved perishables, months and months later." Trude threw her hands into the air and sashayed to the kitchen door. Shaking her head in disgust, she let herself out and slammed the door. My Labrador retriever trio, mother and two daughters, looked at me in question. They'd been observing the scene quietly since Trude walked in. I think they were on their best behavior in hopes of me slipping them a molding slice of Brie or something worse. You know dogs. Remember where they like to sniff.

"I'm definitely looking for an ass-kissing friend," I told Beaujolais, Chardonnay, and Cabernet. "Starting tomorrow."

I returned to my grim work in the refrigerator, and, aside from taking the time to eat two pieces of turtle cheesecake before they went bad, I kept at it for a couple of hours, until I was interrupted by the ringing of the telephone. Since I'm so supremely organized, I ran around, knocking into things, listening for the direction of the ring. I found the phone between the cushions of the couch in the den (duh, the first place everyone looks!), and also found the truck keys, but not before the call went to the answering machine. I hated the sound of my own voice, so I hummed through my greeting, then listened to the reedy-voiced caller: "Reyn, this is Lexa...Alexandra Barrister. I am so sorry...so sorry to bother you so late, and at home, too. I promise, I tried the salon. No answer."

For the first time, I glanced at the clock. It was eleven-nineteen. But I'm a night person, so I was just coming alive, which is why I kept listening.

"If you could call me back...at any hour, really. I have an emergency. It involves Mother. I mean, Wilma."

I picked up before I could really register how rattled Lexa -- one of the most eccentric clients to cross my threshold -- must be to call her mother "Mother."

"Hello?"

"Reyn? Oh, Reyn! I was beginning to think I was going to have to manage it alone."

"What's it? What's the emergency?" Managing made me think of large sums of money or large objects that needed to be moved, like cows and big-ass great-aunts. With my luck, it involved the latter.

"It's Mother. Wilma. It's her hair." The silence stretched out for nearly a minute.

Wilma Barrister was one scary woman, and I didn't like the way this conversation was going. Somewhere between fifty and sixty, Wilma could be described as "handsome" -- you know, one of those horse-faced, hard-eyed ladies who rose above the "plain" moniker by the grace of expensive cosmetics, designer clothing, and a commanding presence. Her thick silver hair was her best feature, its simple turned-under, chin-length style emulated by the high-society senior set. She was on this month's cover of San Antonio Women, along with an article detailing her extensive philanthropic work. My only personal encounter with the charity maven had been about three years ago, just after Lexa had become a client. Lexa asked me to cut her long, fine black hair with its split-end hippie style into a short, punky, spike look. With her fine bone structure and perfect alabaster complexion, it truly did suit her, and when I told her so, Lexa had responded that she didn't really care how it looked as long as it drove her mother crazy.

Well, it had. Wilma hated her precious daughter's punkified do, or, more likely, hated the fact that her daughter had gone directly against her orders to finally "grow up" and get a country-club cut. Wilma Barrister arrived at my salon loaded for bear -- accusing me of "stealing" one of 'Om's clients (ha! I only wish I could steal the clients of that overpriced Dallas hairdresser of the rich and famous). When she saw that I considered her criticism a compliment, she changed her tack -- upbraiding me for having "experimented" on "misguided Alexandra," who never would have chosen such a hideous hairstyle had it not been for me. She intended to turn me in to the ethics division of my professional association. When I pointed out that I was a hairstylist and not a psychiatrist, and that the National Association of Hairdressers didn't exactly have a powerful ethics division, she said she'd report me to the Better Business Bureau. I told her I thought Lexa would explain to the BBB that she'd been given the service she requested. Wilma told me we'd see about that. She did report me, the BBB did talk to Lexa, who did stand up for me, and that was that, except for the extra wrinkle I earned between my eyes from frowning for three straight days. It took me a year of visits from Lexa to realize how much she had enjoyed putting her mother through the wringer. By then I liked the young woman too much to be mad about the wrinkle.

"O-kay," I responded evenly as the silence on the phone threatened to become permanent.

"Okay, meaning you'll come over to the house?" Lexa asked, a little desperately.

"No. Okay, meaning I'm listening. If your mom is having a bad hair day, why doesn't she call Om? I'm sure he'd be happy to talk her through this. He's such a big deal, I'm sure he has some sort of stylist outreach -- in-city hairdressers who have the authority to work on his long-distance clients for emergencies."

Instead of answering, Lexa hummed Outcast's latest hit. When Lexa hummed, it meant she was stressed-out to the max. This usually happened when one of her outrageous stunts failed to irritate Wilma the Hun. Lexa lived to bother Wilma. She'd moved back home after graduating Dartmouth with a philosophy degree to make that her full-time occupation. So, if Wilma was having a bad hair day, why was Lexa scrambling for a solution instead of celebrating?

Before I could ask this aloud, Lexa said flatly, "She can't call 'Om."

"Why? He owes her, after all the publicity she's given him in the media. Her hair is the most talked-about style in South Texas, and she never fails to ensure his name gets in print along with hers."

"Reyn, you don't understand. You are the only one I trust to fix this." Now she was humming Smashing Pumpkins. Hard to do. Worse to listen to. "Mother..." That word again. "...Wilma has been sprayed...stiff."

Great. Sounded painful. For me, and for Wilma. But the humming was getting to me. I was such a pushover. I sighed. "What happened, Lex? She do some touch-up and go overboard on the hairspray?"

"I don't know what happened. I just know you'll know what to do about it. You are the most capable, reasonable person I know."

Yikes. That in itself was scary. I had seen the kind of multipierced, personal hygiene-challenged people Lexa tended to hang with, and I daresay she was right.

"What's going on at this hour, anyway? Your mother have a late-night soiree planned -- another one of her famous midnight buffets at the Argyle Club, maybe? Some kind of moonlight campaign fund-raiser?" I was dying to talk myself out of this. If I found out the house known as Horror on the Hill was about to be inundated by a bunch of soused Republicans in Versace, I was not going. No way, nohow.

"Please, Reyn. It's nothing like that. It's for the photographers that are sure to come."

Maybe Wilma had been named Mother of the Year in an after-dark vote of homemakers. Lexa wasn't giving it up, whatever the big news was. I tried one last-ditch effort to get out of what was sure to be torture. "Remember, your mother doesn't like me."

Silence stretched on again for a minute. Maybe Lexa had covered the receiver and was telling Wilma exactly whom she was recruiting. Goody, that would get me off the hook. Suddenly, a big sniff snorted in my ear. Alarm bells rang in my head. I'd seen Lexa vexed, depressed, and exhilarated, but never had I seen her shed a tear. As she cleared her throat, her voice sounded strangely high, but certain. "Her opinion won't be an issue. I promise."

Holding the receiver to my ear, I wandered back over to the refrigerator and reviewed what remained to be cleaned out -- some plastic bags filled with coagulating mystery fruits, Tupperware containers of multicolored leftovers. Wilma might not be so bad after all. Maybe the old bat mellowed after midnight. And, even if she didn't, at least I'd be making some money. I'd never made a house call before. How much extra could I charge? Hmm. Maybe that hairstyle simulation computer program I'd been coveting would be within reach after tonight.

"I'll be there in about ten minutes, Lexa, just tell your mom to sit tight."

Little did I know, Wilma was already doing just that.

Copyright © 2005 by Linda Zimmerhanzel

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