As if running a successful laundromat and writing a perennially popular (and soon to be national!) household tips column weren't enough to keep Josie Toadfern busy, she's taken a gig on the side. The Mayfair Sisters, a local singing group from way back when, are reuniting for a benefit, and they need Josie to perform her stain-busting magic on their old tie-dyed costumes. But the dresses go missing, only to reappear in a fashion more deadly than retro.
Although Josie's the prime suspect in the murder and mayhem that ensue, she's not about to allow her squeaky-clean reputation to be soiled by some false accusations. But this time, her snooping will land her in some very hot water . . .
About the Author
Sharon Short's humor column, "Sanity Check," appears every Monday in the Dayton Daily News. Her fiction credits include several short mysteries published in Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine and Orchard Press Online Mystery Magazine. In addition, Ms. Short is a principal of her own marketing communications firm and has a bachelor's and a master's degree in English. She lives in Miamisburg, Ohio, with her husband and two daughters.
Read an Excerpt
Tie Dyed and Dead
A Stain-busting Mystery
Once upon a time, there were three sisters who were also singers.
The oldest Mayfair sister, Cornelia, sang for money.
The middle sister, Constance, sang for fame.
But the youngest sister, Candace, sang for love.
Not romantic love or passionate love or worshipful love or family love. Just for a pure love of singing, from the heart, because singing was who she was; it was as much a part of her as breathing . . .
For more than half an hour, Cherry had been going on and on about how the Mayfair sisters' lives were like something out of a fairy tale. So I reckon it's not surprising I started entertaining myself by thinking along those lines.
It was either that or listen to her babble on with what I'd come to call Mayfair Fever, or hum along to "Sugar Daddy," playing on the jukebox.
"Sugar Daddy" was one of the Mayfair Sisters' big hits back in the 1960s. The fact that Sally, my cousin/best friend and owner of the Bar-None, had reprogrammed her establishment's jukebox (really a fancy CD player made to look like a retro fifties jukebox) to play only Mayfair Sisters oldies—even though we were smack-dab in the middle of the twenty-first century's first decade—was just another symptom of Mayfair Fever, which had infected all of Paradise, Ohio, and environs for nearly two weeks.
I'm Josie Toadfern, laundromat owner and stain expert. Best stain expert in Paradise . . . and in Mason County. Maybe the best stain expert in all of Ohio. Maybe even in all of the United States.
I can make sucha claim with some authority, and not just because I've helped Mrs. Beavy get red wine out of her favorite pink blouse, or Becky Gettlehorn get mustard out of her little boy's best Sunday-go-to-church shirt, or my auto mechanic Elroy Magruder get grease out of his Dickies coveralls.
Besides plenty of testimonials to back up my stain claim to fame, I have a syndicated column—Stain-Busters!—which gives stain removal tips and general household hints.
And on that Friday night a while back, I was thinking about what my next column should be, instead of listening to Cherry—owner of Cherry's Chat N Curl, right next door to my laundromat on Main Street—go on and on about her customers' Mayfair Sisters sightings. I'd already completed a three-parter on the incredible stain removal properties of white vinegar. Next, maybe how to remove coffee and tea stains from mugs? A cautionary reminder about not mixing chlorine bleach with other cleansers? Or ironing tips . . .
And maybe to go with that, a little about the history of ironing techniques and tools. It's fascinating, really. And my current passion was learning as much as possible about the home ironing machines of the 1940s and 1950s, also known as mangles, especially the Ironrite brand . . .
I looked across the table at Cherry, then back at my forearm—yep, those were fingernail marks—and then again at Cherry, glaring this time.
"Poke me again, and I'm popping those fake fuchsias off of every fingertip," I said.
Cherry ignored my threat, probably feeling safer than she should since she was snuggled up next to Dean Rankle—Mason County deputy sheriff. And her fiancé.
"Josie, have you heard a thing I've said?" Cherry asked.
"No. I've been ignoring you, because you keep talking about the Mayfair Sisters, and I really don't want to hear about them tonight."
"Then you've got to be the only one in Paradise," said Caleb Loudermilk, with an intriguing tone of ruefulness.
Caleb was in the booth next to me, but we weren't snuggling. Caleb's the editor-in-chief (and sole reporter, and ad salesman, and occasional janitor) at the Paradise Advertiser-Gazette. I'd already been doing my stain-busting column for the weekly local newspaper when he took over newspaper operations, but he's the one who had the brilliant idea to get my column in as many of the regional newspapers—all owned by the same publishing company—as possible.
We'd also dated for a while at the beginning of the year, but our relationship had settled into an easy friendship after we figured out that our initial attraction was based on a rebound from an old relationship (for me) and a bit of uneasiness at settling into a small town that thinks of second-generation Paradisites as newcomers (for Caleb).
"I've gotten calls from everyone—including the mayor—asking me if I'm going to get a big, exclusive interview with Cornelia and her bankruptcy and tax woes," Caleb went on.
The one who sang for money, I thought.
"Or on the rumors of the feud between the other two—"
"Constance and Candace," Cherry said eagerly, leaning forward, which gave Dean a chance to rub her back—a chance he immediately took.
"Which one wants to relaunch the trio, honey?" asked Dean.
"That's the middle sister, Constance," Cherry said.
The one who sang for fame . . .
"The youngest sister wants to just keep on with her solo folk career, singing backwaters like this the rest of her life," Cherry went on, shuddering as if that modest goal was something that ought to be featured on the current reality TV show The World's Yuckiest Jobs. "But, from what I've heard, Candace—"
The one who sang for love . . .
"—was always something of a loner, even when the Mayfair Sisters were a big hit," Cherry said.
"They still seem to be a big hit around here," Caleb said.
"Biggest thing to come out of this area," Dean said. "Well, except for Delbert Whitacre." Dean beamed. Delbert was, after all, Dean's second cousin, once removed.
Caleb looked blank.
"Nascar driver," I said.
"Oh," Caleb said, trying to sound suddenly enlightened, but still looking blank. He shook his head as if to clear it. "Anyway, it seems as if everyone has been calling the newspaper office, demanding to know when I'm going to do an exclusive, in-depth interview. And I'd love to. It would make for a nice surge in circulation, and a nice clip for my portfolio."Tie Dyed and Dead
A Stain-busting Mystery. Copyright © by Sharon Short. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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