When her career is outsourced to Asia, fledgling romance author and empty-nester Gracie Elliott wants a job that will allow her time to write. So she opens Relatively Speaking, becoming a wing woman to the senior set. Since her clients need several hours each morning to find their teeth, lube their creaky joints, and deal with lower GI necessities, and they always turn in after the early bird specials, she has plenty of time to pen her future bestsellers.
Gracie deliberately avoids mentioning her new business venture to husband Blake until after she signs her first client. Blake joins the company as a not-so-silent partner, tagging along to make sure Gracie doesn’t cause a septuagenarian uprising. When Client #13 is found murdered in the parking lot behind the Moose Lodge, Gracie knows, no matter how much Blake protests otherwise, she can’t wait around for the police to find the killer if she wants to save her livelihood.
Targeted Age Group:: adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I’ve always loved the old Thin Man movies from the 1940’s and wanted to create a modern day spin of them. With my husband and wife sleuthing team, the wife is the sleuth, and her husband tags along to try to keep her out of trouble.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
At the time I was thinking about writing the book, I was reading a biography of George Burns and Gracie Allen. I decided to pattern my Gracie after Gracie Allen, a very ditzy woman on-camera but a brilliant, savvy businesswoman in real life. My Gracie is totally right-brained and like many right-brained, creative people, she thinks outside the box. Only in Gracie’s case, it’s a box of her own construction. Her husband Blake is the left-brained, steadying force in the marriage.
“Is he dead?” As I forced the words out around the hand I’d firmly clamped over my mouth to stifle a gag reflex, I inched away from the body sprawled at my feet. The blood pooling beneath Client Number Thirteen, one Mr. Sidney Mandelbaum, followed me, creeping along the asphalt like some B-movie sinister slime out to get me. Euw! I jumped to my left to avoid contact.
Blake crouched into a catcher’s position, felt for a pulse, and nodded. “Definitely dead.”
I backed up another step. “You’re sure?”
“Bashed-in skull. Knife sticking out of his heart.” He turned his head and spoke to me over his shoulder. I noticed his skin had taken on a slightly green tinge, but maybe that was a trick of the halogen lights that had switched on to illuminate the twilight-bathed parking lot. Or maybe it was a reflection of my own queasiness. “Yeah, Gracie, I’m sure.”
Green tinge not withstanding, both Blake’s eyes and the quirky slant of his mouth conveyed The Look, the one he saves exclusively for me. And just so there wasn’t any doubt in my mind, The Voice accompanied The Look.
When I met Blake, he was researching early Fifties television. Although he won’t admit it, I suspect he was first attracted to me because I reminded him of Gracie Allen. Along with a shared name, I bore an uncanny resemblance to the comedienne, including the eerie coincidence of having one blue eye and one green eye. The one difference being that although we were both born dark brunettes, the other Gracie had opted to go blonde.
Most importantly, though, like Gracie Allen, I tend to segue into slightly off-kilter rambling discourse that always makes sense to me but not necessarily to anyone else. The difference? Gracie Allen was acting; I’m not.
Now, after a quarter century of marriage, I’m still a brunette, although a slightly weightier one, still rambling to the tune of my own off-key and off-kilter symphony, and still Blake’s Gracie. I’m not complaining.
His sarcasm aside, Blake Elliot is as sharp as aged Vermont cheddar. So if he said Sidney Mandelbaum was dead, I believed him. I crept a bit closer. Keeping Blake between Sidney and me, I peered over my husband’s broad shoulders. The unfortunate Mr. Mandelbaum lay spread-eagle on the macadam. “Maybe we should have skipped from Client Twelve to Client Fourteen,” I said. “Like the way floors are numbered in hotels and office buildings.”
Blake stood and brushed his hands together. “Thirteen certainly wasn’t Sidney’s lucky number.”
“Or ours. He said he was coming out for a smoke.” I pointed to the unlit cigar and book of matches floating in the center of a blood puddle. “I’ve got a prospect waiting to meet him.”
“Somehow I don’t think he’s up to it, sweetheart.”
I swatted Blake’s arm. “How can you joke at a time like this? Someone murdered one of our best paying clients.”
Blake raised both eyebrows. “Me joking? What about thirteen?”
“I was serious.” I pointed to Sidney. “This proves how unlucky the number thirteen is.”
Sidney Mandelbaum was a serial schmoozer, and if you believed him, a serial schtupper. Like many single men his age, he’d entered his second randyhood thanks to the marvels of a little blue pill, which made him a desirable commodity among widows and divorcees of a certain age. And thank God for that because we needed the money. Sidney’s murder was a definite financial setback for us.
The loss of Mandelbaum Moolah aside, Sidney wasn’t just dead. I could fool myself into thinking his bashed in skull might be courtesy of a fall down the steep flight of concrete steps at the back of the Moose Lodge, but natural causes hadn’t plunged a knife into his heart. “Omigod!”
Blake reached for me. “What?”
“What if the killer is still here?” I shuddered, quickly scanning the area for any movement, any lurking shadows.
“Go inside. Tell Mrs. What’s-Her-Name—”
“Her name is Goldenberg. Ethel Goldenberg.”
“Tell her he came down with a sudden case of—”
“Of what? Death?”
Blake waved his arms in the air as if he expected someone to slap a logical explanation into his hands. “Of food poisoning. The flu. Menstrual cramps. I don’t know. Think of something. Before she comes looking for you.” He pulled his cell phone from his coat pocket. “I’ll call 911.”
I stared at my normally levelheaded and always logical husband. “Menstrual cramps?”
Blake pointed to the door and mouthed, “Go.”
I wasn’t keen on leaving my husband alone with a dead body and a possibly loitering killer, but I could see the merit in keeping a heavy steel door between Mrs. Ethel Goldenberg and the man I had spent little more than five minutes convincing her to meet.
I ran up the steps as fast as my Kate Spade kitten heel mules would carry me, which admittedly wasn’t all that fast. With a grunt and a yank, I opened the back door and went in search of the double-D cup retired bookkeeper who’d taken Client Number Thirteen’s breath away—that is, while Client Number Thirteen still had breath.
All I wanted to do was sit at my computer and write romance novels while Blake sat across the room and two-finger pecked away at Pop Goes the Culture, his epic tome on twentieth century culture and counter-culture and its influences on the media. Or vice versa. It was a real chicken-and-egg sort of thing as far as I was concerned, even if it was my husband’s passion. Anyway, dead bodies weren’t part of our empty nest blueprint.
I’d formulated a seven-step strategy for the next stage of our lives, going so far as to cross-stitch my plan and frame it over my desk because I believed in keeping both eyes on the prize. It’s one of those management mantras they taught us at the mandatory team building retreats I used to attend back when I was gainfully employed as a fabric designer. Who would have thought you could outsource creativity to some Third World nation?
The sampler still hangs above my desk, but now it’s more a taunt than a plan, an example of fate spitting in my eye.
PLAN FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE
1. Take early retirement.
2. Collect sizeable pension.
3. Pay off mortgage.
4. Write romance novels.
5. Sell romance novels.
6. Collect enormous royalty checks.
7. Live happily ever after with Pulitzer prize-winning husband.
Not that Blake had yet won a Pulitzer, or even been nominated for one, but I haven’t given up hope. We need that prize money. Especially now.
But you know what they say about best-laid plans—they’re bound to rear up and bite you in the tush. Six months later, when my unemployment compensation ran out and I still hadn’t sold a book—since in most cases you actually have to write a book before you can sell one, and I was nowhere near finished—Blake informed me that I’d have to find a job.
“Or we can sell the house and move into an apartment over an auto repair shop in Newark,” he said. “With double college tuitions, we can’t afford your handbag bills, let alone much else on one income.”
Just my luck I had to fall in love with a college professor instead of Warren Buffet or Donald Trump.
Since the smells of gasoline and car exhaust make me queasy and I have a deep-seated, must-own compulsion for every handbag du jour, I sat down at my computer and perused the postings at every online jobsite. I quickly struck out. No one wanted me.
I had just about resigned myself to spending the rest of my days working a minimum wage retail gig, where I’d at least get an employee discount, when I happened to come across an article about a phenomenon called Wing Women, an introduction service where women pose as longtime female friends to help guys meet other women.
That’s when inspiration struck. Within two weeks Relatively Speaking was up and running, and I became a wing woman of sorts to the senior set.
I did mention I was creative, didn’t I?
“So where’s this handsome uncle of yours?” asked Mrs. Goldenberg when I found her piling a huge spoonful of ambrosia onto her already overflowing plate.
We had taken Sidney to the monthly five-dollar all-you-can-eat early bird social at the local Moose Lodge. Traditional twenty-something wing women escort their clients to trendy New York clubs. I take mine to various wildlife-with-antlers lodges, houses of worship, and senior citizen centers throughout New Jersey where elderly women usually outnumber the men by at least ten-to-one.
So why do the men need me? My job is twofold. I run interference between my clients and all the women they don’t want zeroing in on them, and I offer assurance to the women. As desperate as they may be, they don’t want to get hooked up with septuagenarian serial killers or gigolos.
Mrs. Goldenberg was one of three women “Uncle” Sidney had shown an interest in meeting that evening. But she was first on his list.
“The blonde with the casaba melons on her chest,” said the none-too-subtle Sid, waving his unlit cigar in Ethel Goldenberg’s direction. “Go. Do your thing, kid. She looks hot to trot, and I’m not getting any younger, you know.”
He sent me off with a wink-wink and a pat to my tush that I was glad Blake didn’t notice. My husband hadn’t taken much of a liking to the boorish Sidney Mandelbaum.
Then again, neither had I, but at fifty dollars an hour with a three hour minimum, I could put up with the chauvinistic old coot for as long as his bank account held out. I had romance novels to write, and besides supplying the funds that allowed me to write them, Mr. Mandelbaum was juicy character research. Because Mr. Mandelbaum was quite a character.
Just so you don’t get the wrong idea, I don’t run a dating or escort service. All I do is mingle and chat with potential prospects, usually breaking the ice with a compliment—often the most difficult part of the evening, given most of these women wear polyester pantsuits and orthopedic shoes, carry vinyl (shudder!) handbags, and haven’t updated their hairdos since Jackie Kennedy held court in the White House. After verifying their single status, I steer the conversation to my “uncle” or “father” or “my grandmother’s second-cousin-once-removed on my mother’s side.” If the woman shows an interest, I introduce her to my client.
It’s up to the client to do the rest. If the gods of second-time-around are smiling on him that night, he may go home with a few phone numbers and the promise of a future date. These are not people who meet in bars and hook up for one-night-stands, no matter how much the very recently departed Sidney Mandelbaum boasted about schtupping live wires. Wink-wink.
“I’m afraid Uncle Sid isn’t feeling quite himself,” I told Mrs. Goldenberg.
“Stomach trouble?” she asked. “My Arnold, may-he-rest-in-peace, had stomach trouble like you wouldn’t believe.” She rolled her eyes heavenward as she placed a liver-spotted hand on my arm. “What that poor man went through. And what I went through with him. The stories I could tell you—”
“It’s not his stomach,” I said, hoping to extricate myself from Mrs. Goldenberg before she launched into a graphic telling of The Tales of Arnold’s Intestines.
“Oh, dear, not his heart, I hope.” She removed her hand from my arm and placed it over her own heart.
I offered her a worried frown. “Afraid so. Stabbing pain.” At least it wasn’t a lie.
When I was four years old, my mother washed my mouth out with soap after I told her my sister had helped herself to the platter of brownies mom had baked for that night’s PTA meeting. Too bad the evidence was spread all over my face and hands. To this day the very smell of Lifeboy makes me want to hurl.
Mrs. Goldenberg craned her turkey wattle neck, scanning the room behind me, no doubt, in search of a man clutching his chest. “Where is he? Have you called an ambulance? I should go to him.”
As she set her overloaded, flimsy paper plate onto the crowded buffet table, a blob of marshmallow-topped orange Jell-O slid onto the roast beef platter. Mrs. Goldenberg made a tsking sound and brushed the ambrosia off with a wadded napkin. “Let’s go,” she said.
I reached for her arm. “I’m sure the ambulance is already here.”
“But he shouldn’t be with strangers at a time like this.”
I started to remind her that she was a stranger, given I never had the opportunity to introduce her to the now dead senior Don Juan, but instead I said, “My husband is with him, and I think it’s best we don’t crowd the EMTs, don’t you?”
Mrs. Goldenberg sighed. “Yes, I suppose you’re right.” She rifled through her purse until she found a pencil stub and a grocery receipt. “You give your uncle my number. Tell him to call me as soon as he’s feeling up to it. I’ll visit him in the hospital if he’d like. Every day. I’ll make my chicken soup. My dear Arnold, may-he-rest-in-peace, said my chicken soup could cure the warts off a witch’s nose.”
I took the scrap of paper from her. “I’m sure Uncle Sidney will appreciate that,” I said before hurrying toward the back exit.
Award-winning and Amazon bestselling author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, and non-fiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry.
Links to Purchase Print Books
Link to Buy Definitely Dead Print Edition at Amazon
Link to Definitely Dead Print book for sale at Create Space