The plot hatches during a margarita fest at a Manhattan cafe. Create a contract-killing business. Get rid of pesky ex-husbands and professional rivals—and get off unemployment as well. But when an intoxicated Babs Harrison announces to the patrons of that diner that she and buddy Bootsie Kittredge are becoming hit-women, Bootsie wonders if the sanity train has left the station. Then the top three intended victims on the ladies’ list are murdered. Bootsie and Babs must deal with skeptical detectives, mob bosses, auditions, agents, a fake psychic and a magician with the uncanny ability to know where the ladies are at any given moment—all while trying to prove they are innocent. The question is—are they?
“Sweet Cream Ladies, Limited. You call—we kill!”
“A fun read.”—The Meandering Reader
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Holy Duplicity! It's Madam Minerva."
"What? Where? Why?" Pause. "Wait. Who?"
"Madam Minerva. Over in the corner by the pies. Didn't I tell you about her?"
"No way. I would have remembered that name. Madam Minerva. Let me guess. A fortune teller in a Greek tragedy circus?"
I growled, "Close. Remember me telling you that Todd and I had gone in for counseling about two months before the split?"
Binnie nodded. "Yeah — but you didn't say with whom."
"Sorry. I was trying to toss the entire experience into the nearest landfill where it belonged."
Binnie stopped mid mug-raise. "Durn, Bootsie, you never told me it was that bad. Why didn't you say something?"
"I was too humiliated."
"Because Madam Minerva, whose real name is Minerva Krempowsky and whom I am now calling Madam Medusa since her fried perm is a perfect replica of a Medusa head and she's just as evil ... hang on ... where was I going with this? Oh yeah. She puts the one name, Minerva, on her business card like she's some rock star and she's nothing but a world-class lying slime-bucket. Had I seen the little sucker — the business card — before Todd roped me into going, I'd've hid in a subway tunnel for a month with the rats who were kinder and less lethal."
Binnie grimaced. "Ouch."
"Yeah. My exact feelings. As it turned out, not only was Madam Minerva not a licensed counselor, she was seeing Karalynn at the same time she was having her little marital bliss sessions with Todd and me.
"Seriously? You're talkin' Karalynn as in ...?"
"The girl Todd was ... I'll go British here ... shagging ... while married to me."
Binnie turned around to stare at the woman who was wearing enough scarves to stock a Turkish bazaar and more eye make-up than a top model posing as that Greek circus performer. "Totally unethical. Not to mention, Bootsie, the woman is beyond ugly."
"And greedy. But I didn't know about that until last week when I was trying out passwords on Todd's old computer. The fink generously donated his to me because he had to have a new one."
"Madam Minerva has a website. Password-protected. Idiots — no that's rude — let's say desperate people may come to the website and submit questions to Madam Minerva, which she will then answer for a steep price. The kicker? She uses tarot cards. Online. It's called spankthepalm.com or something."
Binnie nearly spit out her coffee. "You're not serious!"
"I am. Well, not about the name of the place — although it really is something with palms and spanking in it — but she does charge for readings. It's like those old Psychic Hot-line scams from the Eighties." I smiled grimly. "She soaked Todd for a bundle. Which really ticks me off since he left me with less than nothing and those credit cards he used to charge on the site happened to be shared with me. I can't even begin to tell you how much effort it took to get my name off them."
"What'd he ask her? On the Minerva Muse site, that is."
"Ready for this? Stuff like, 'which woman should I choose?' After nearly twelve years of marriage I kind of assumed that question had been settled."
Binnie raised an eyebrow. "Apparently, not so for our Toddy. Anything else juicy?"
"Howzabout, 'is she too young for me?'"
"I'm guessing you believe I wasn't referring to you, although I never considered thirty-nine to be headed toward assisted-living-retirement-home land."
"Well, Karalynn literally just turned twenty-one. Two days ago." I paused, and then carefully stated, "She needs to die."
"Karalynn? Shoot, Bootsie. Todd is like late-forties, right? Karalynn may not stick with him either."
I shook my head. "Not talkin' Karalynn. As far as death is concerned, that is. I'm referring to the sweetly deceptive Minerva. I actually understand Karalynn. She became enchanted by the famous Todd Kittredge charm so it's hard blaming her when I didn't know better at thirty when I met him and got sucked into his web."
"Wait. I still call his proposal manipulative since he saved your life when you got food poisoning."
"True. I did get food poisoning at Blitzkrieg in Tuscaloosa, and, really, I should have known better than to even enter the joint and ingest anything other than canned soda. Which put me into a weakened state for Todd's 'you just have to marry me or I'll wither and die' bit. Anyway, Minerva knew Karalynn had oodles of money, caught on fast that Todd was interested and slithered her way into our lives so Todd would get a trophy wife and I'd get zip."
Binnie silently chewed a bite of soda bread before swallowing and responding, "Yep. A gruesome death is indeed in order. Perhaps by something occulty. Is that a word?"
"No, but the meaning is clear, so I say keep it."
We lapsed into silence for a moment or two to eat while the food was still hot. I finished my oatmeal before saying, "Oh. Ready for the other lousy news of the day?"
Binnie nodded. "Go on."
"I didn't get it."
"Oh doo-doo. What did Chuck say?"
"Our sweet agent was very tactful. 'They gave it to Charmaine Freedman because they've used her before, plus she lives in Houston, unlike me.' Chuck skirted the real issue by telling me I was at an awkward age. Too young for pressing buttons while falling on the floor and too old for playing a new mom slapping diapers on her toddler."
"Say what? Did I hear that correctly? Awkward age? Pardon my curiosity, but have I missed something in this world?"
"Think about it. I'm thirty-nine with true strawberry-blonde locks and zero wrinkles, but twenty-five horrendous pounds overweight. Chubby women aren't considered desirable for commercials or leading roles in TV series. Chuck lied when he referred to age and geography. He was trying to be kind."
I mindlessly slathered a good tablespoon's-worth of butter on my scone, took a bite then immediately, but delicately, spat it out into my napkin. "I hate him. I really, truly absolutely despise him."
Binnie knew I wasn't referring to Chuck Willingham, my agent and friend. "Me, too."
"I dream about ways for him to die. Sprinkling a little ground glass into his 1999 Chateau le Pin Pomerol — or perhaps slashing the brake line on his new classic Corvette."
An expression of sheer horror crossed Binnie's face. "Bootsie! You can't do that?"
"Why? Because I'd end up in the women's section of Sing-Sing?" I mused, "Do they have a women's section at Sing-Sing?"
Binnie shook her head before emitting a most unladylike snort. "No. No. Forget Sing-Sing. That actually might be a plus. A free roof over your head and three squares that are so bad you'd lose the twenty-five pounds in perhaps ten days. I may join you in homicidal mania. I have thirty to dump and since I'm shorter I should really lose forty. We'll write a book, call it the 'Sing-Sing Prison Diet' subtitled 'Kill Your Mate and Drop the Weight' and make a fortune. No. Back to murder. It's the 'how' I'm objecting to. You can't destroy a perfectly fine automobile merely for the sake of sending Todd to the next world in a fiery — albeit well-deserved — crash. And the wine angle is also unacceptable. Ruining a thousand-dollar Bordeaux is just — wrong."CHAPTER 2
Binnie and I clinked our coffee mugs together. I carefully wiped the overspill off my hand. "You know, if I had the money I'd hire a hit man. Clean. Thorough. Nothing traced back to me."
"I like it."
We chewed scones and soda bread and drank our French vanilla coffee and sipped mimosas and contemplated various scenarios to dispatch my ex-husband Todd to meet his maker sooner than Todd might be anticipating. We considered basics like stabbing, or suffocating. Classics, like a simple shooting or a little arsenic in something other than good wine.
Binnie grabbed a raisin-filled scone and tore off the tip before saying, "We should come up with a plan that would also remove Clay from existence. I know, I know — I've been divorced for a ridiculous fifteen years and should be over it by now but really — the man he needs to be gone from the gene pool before he has another chance to populate it with someone who resembles him and his latest bimbo, Tammy, who, mind you, is sending signs to the universe that she'd like to be the one to do the populating. Thank heaven Bree takes after my side of the family so my particular grandchildren will be lovely once she actually has them." She paused then gently rubbed her jaw. "Wish I could give Clay this toothache."
I ignored most of her last comments because brilliance was hitting me. I snickered. "You know. We should start a side business and make some money. Hit men. Doing away with Todd and Clay to start. I wonder how much contract killers get for taking out creeps masquerading as human beings?"
"No idea. I don't remember reading that one in my Non-traditional Careers for Older Actresses Who Can't Find a Stinkin' Job book, which is why I ended up renewing my teaching credentials. May have simply missed the job though. Could be alphabetically sandwiched between Hiking Guide and Housekeeper."
"Doubtless under Hit Women for Hire. We'd have to disguise the name of course."
We thought in silence for about thirty seconds, ordered another round of mimosas and finished the ones in front of us. Binnie eyes lit up. "Got it. Killers-R-Us."
"No offense but that's a bit obvious. Perhaps we should go for something with a tad more subtlety?"
"What about just the initials? KRU?"
"We'eel, makes me think it's the old Soviet Union intelligence combining GRU and KGB and trying to hide their doin's."
Back to silence. Then Binnie chuckled. "Okay. How's this? Ladies of the Night?"
"Not bad. Sexy. Elegant. Then again, I'm not sure it succinctly states the objective of the business and it also does sort of smack of vampires."
"Okay, okay. Boy, you're picky. Hang on. I'm not through yet." Binnie closed her eyes and let inspiration seize her. "Wait! Maybe we could pair a weapon with something cute."
I mulled this in my brain for about fifteen seconds before commenting, "Um. Maybe Girls with Guns?"
"A bit too in your face and abrupt, doncha think?"
I nodded. "True. Plus, if we were going to take these contracts we'd have to expand to include various other means of murder. Especially since neither of us owns a gun. Hey, can we even call ourselves girls when we're both over forty?"
Binnie glared at me. "What is wrong with you? Neither of us is old. You were always Peter Pan, now suddenly you're Dorian Gray?"
I exhaled. "Peter Pan. That really was me. The girl who would never grow up. Never grow old. There I was crowing and strutting and believing I could fly. And I did. But, you know what? Captain Hook found a new, young Wendy and then he launched a fatal attack across the bow. The little green tights and the little green chapeau are all that are left and I can't squeeze into them anymore. Peter Pan was murdered on a fine spring night last March. Peter Pan flies no more. Peter Pan is dead."
Binnie stared at me. Then she laughed so hard she began to cough.
I cocked an eyebrow at her. "Too much?"
"Ya think? Honey, that was Melodrama Central crashing off the rails. But honestly, the age thing is just a number. Okay. Back to names."
"Bootsie. I've got. Ready? Sweet Cream Ladies."
"Well, it has a bit of a hooker ring to it but it's probably because it was the point of the old Box Tops song."
"Ture. Hmm. We expand our services. I mean, we can't just out and whack someone every night. Could get messy."
"So. Blackmail. Find creeps being creepy and tell them we'll expose their sins if they don't pay. Now then, we need to think about this from a business standpoint. So, the name needs to be a tad more businesslike."
"It's easy. Just add something like incorporated or limited to the end. Abbreviate it. L.T.D."
"Sweet Cream Ladies, Ltd."
"It's perfect." We lifted our glasses (now newly filled with mimosa fixin's) and toasted.
"We're gonna be rich. And destroy certain men while we're at it. I mean shred 'em. Demolish 'em."
I stared at her. "Wow. I've known you over twenty years and never realized what a monetary, bloodthirsty wench you truly are. I like it!"
Binnie raised her right eyebrow. "It's all for you, my friend. I'm over my urges to see Clayton Harrison the Third tarred, feather, disemboweled and hanged from the closest neon sign hanging above all the bars in Times Square."
"Well, slap Todd Randolph Kittredge the first, only and hopefully the last, up there right alongside Clay. Lousy adulterating, scheming, selfish no-good — slime."
"You left out lying scum and career saboteur."
"Goes without saying." I paused. "Wait. Career saboteur? What do you mean? He didn't go beyond chorus at the Met back when we lived in New York but he didn't deliberately sabotage his own career. He just got that great offer to teach and decided to do the big fish, small pond ... or in this case island ... thing."
"Not his career — just yours."
I slowly placed my glass back down onto the table. "What? What are you talking about?"
"Oh, hell. You don't need this added to the angst in your life."
"Yes, I do. Since theatre is supposedly my profession unless we get the hitman/hooker thing going, I kind of need to know whatever you know."
She signaled our waitress. "This calls for stronger stuff. Time to switch to Irish coffee along with the mimosas. Which might help numb that irritating molar of mine on the left side. Anyway, after you've had a couple of good swigs, I'll tell you what Chuck told me."
We discussed other, non-lethal topics while we waited for the bartender at Reilly's in what passed for downtown in Manhattan to pour a few snorts of whiskey into our coffee. Topics like religion and politics. Which, in actuality are quite non-lethal for Binnie and me because we agree on both of them and can't understand why the rest of the world simply doesn't agree to disagree and move on. We discussed what might be causing Binnie's left molar to be inhibiting her ability to drink her coffee while it was hot. We discussed the utter gorgeousness of the Rockefeller Christmas tree this year.
Our waitress, Molly O'Something-Han, who'd been in the States for two whole weeks (so she informed us) set steaming mugs in front of us and added a fresh basket of Reilly's famous raisin scones. Digressing slightly, but I love Sunday brunch at Reilly's. No matter what you order — eggs, sausages, ham, kippers, Irish porridge, shepherd's pie, fish & chips, or raisin scones alone — baskets of those raisin scones come with the meal. Along with two mimosas and all the coffee refills one could desire. Obviously, Binnie felt more sustenance was needed for whatever she was about to share. I trusted her to sense when alcohol was a vital addition to java.
I took the three swigs Binnie had encouraged, then set the mug on the table and leaned forward. "Spill."
"Remember the last five years?"
"Not senile yet. I'd give that a yes."
"Hush. Let me finish."
"Okay. For the whole time, you've been griping that Chuck never sent you out for auditions. You assumed it was because he thought you weren't right for anything."
"I did. And Todd encouraged me in that assumption. It's weird though. I've gone on more calls in the ten months I've been divorced than in those five years."
Binnie inhaled. "About a week ago Chuck called to tell he had had plenty of auditions lined up for you that whole time. But Todd kept telling him and I quote, 'Bootsie is ill and can't read for any roles right now.'"
"Ill? Ill? Other than the twenty-five pounds which, mind you, I did not start gaining until I married Todd, I don't even get colds."
"Chuck said that Todd implied this was more mental — as in 'Bootsie's in a fragile state and shouldn't be put in positions where she'd have to deal with rejections.'"
I was stunned. Stunned quickly changed to blazing anger. "Why the flippin', finaglin' fool didn't Chuck say something?"
"Because he believed Todd. Who doesn't, right? You did and you're the smartest person on the planet. Chuck didn't want to ask if you were one step away from commitment in Bellevue in the straitjacket ward. I didn't know 'til Chuck became my own agent and he wasn't even sure whether to tell me until a week ago. He finally figured out that Todd had indeed taken the art of prevaricating to a level that makes Wall Street tycoons look like preschoolers caught playing doctor."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Sweet Cream Ladies, Ltd."
Copyright © 2018 Flo Fitzpatrick.
Excerpted by permission of Encircle Publications, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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