Crime and grime are everywhere, at least in Maggie Phillips’ opinion. Deep in the throes of a New England winter, Maggie’s still adjusting to her new role as confidential informant for the Hudson Police Department. When a suspicious fax is sent to one of her new clients, Maggie is sure she’s unearthed a conspiracy. With no crime to investigate, however, the Hudson P.D. can do nothing—that is until a wealthy trophy wife disappears and the FBI is called in to the hunt.
On the home front, her twelve-year-old son is growing up way too fast, while her brother is back with a few surprises destined to wreak havoc on the household. To frost the whole crappy cake, her best friend’s marriage is falling apart, which leaves Maggie worrying over her own. All of the family drama is put into perspective, however, when Maggie is arrested for kidnapping and blackmail.
Between economic woes and a now tarnished reputation, Maggie is in way over her head. Yet out of the ashes of frustration and failure, something great might emerge. If she survives the birthing process that is….
And for the first time for my great friends at the Writer's Gone Wild Blog a sneak peek into Maggie's new crisis!
We parked in front of the Valentino’s house. The brick and stone behemoth, flanked by leafless deciduous trees, sat at the end of a private drive. While the house was gated, the gate stood open, probably in expectation of the police. Lights blazed from every window and reflected off the brilliant snow and the sight took my breath for a minute. The mansion did have a Currier and Ives look to it, even the snow seemed whiter than in my middle-class neighborhood.
“Tell me again why we’re here.” Neil scowled at me and shifted in the driver’s seat, bashing his knee into the gearshift. Whoever had designed the Mini Cooper didn’t have six foot, two inch retired Navy SEALs in mind.
“Mrs. Valentino called me, thinking I had something to do with the dead bird. My logo was on the delivery box. Therefore, I have a vested interest in getting to the bottom of this.”
He winced as he rubbed his abused knee. “Only in your mind, Uncle Scrooge. Do they know you intercepted that fax the other day?”
I rolled my eyes. “What do I look like, a complete doofus? I made a copy of the fax before I beat feet outta there. The original I left precisely where I found it.”
“I still say you’re sticking your nose into somebody’s kinky sex life,” he grinned and met my gaze. “That’s always entertaining, at least.”
I thought of Sylvia’s stricken face. “Not so much from my angle. Besides, you ever heard of anyone with a dead foul fetish?”
“No, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I’m a sheltered sort, you know.”
I snorted and unbuckled my seatbelt. “Yeah, Neil the Pure with his lily-white sensibilities. How about the thing you did to me last week in the shower? What bedtime story featured that particular move?”
“My favorite.” He glanced around. “You sure she called the police?” I’m not seeing any lights yet and we’ve been sitting here for five minutes on top of the twenty minute drive.”
“I told her to call, but she was a little busy doing the Technicolor yawn and then my phone went dead. And you left yours at Dr. Boob’s. I mean Bob’s.”
He opened his door. “Might as well knock and see what’s up.”
The air hit me as soon as I straightened from the car, whipping my hair into my face. Neil grasped my gloved hand and pulled me to the relative shelter of the porch. He rang the doorbell and we waited.
“Maybe she took the package directly to the police station. Or animal control.” Neil guessed.
I opened my mouth to respond, but a black Jaguar slid to an abrupt stop in front of the house and Mr.Valentino emerged. He sprinted up the porch steps and brushed by us without a word, inserting his key in the door. It swung open and he didn’t bother to shut it so Neil tugged me inside.
“Candace?” Mr. V called out stomping through the foyer. “I can’t just show up whenever you’re in the mood to….”
Neil cleared his throat and gave me a knowing smirk. Valentino spun on his heel and scowled at us, his gaze focused on my husband. “Who the hell are you?”
Neil dropped my hand and extended his own. Neil Phillips, sir. Your wife called mine.”
“Phillips, Phillips,” Mr. V pursed his lips. “Why does that name sound familiar?”
“Your wife hired me to clean twice a week. I’m Maggie Phillips from the Laundry Hag cleaning services.” I informed him. Though I’d been on the job for almost a month, this was the first time I’d seen Valentino up close. Jet black hair cut fashionably short and GQ worthy stubble only emphasized his high cheekbones and pale complexion. His eyes, almost a neon shade of blue, stole attention from his extra large nose, an almost beaklike appendage which announced his Greek heritage. He appeared the perfect masculine foil for Candie’s petite blonde beauty, but some instinct told me theirs wasn’t a love match.
“Well, get to it then,” Markus Valentino dismissed me with a wave of his hand and continued his hunt for his wife.
Before I could get my back up, Neil called to his retreating form. “We’re here about the bird.”
Valentino stopped in mid-stride, like his feet had been super-glued in place. It was almost comical, like a Wile E. Coyote signature move before he fell off a cliff.
“What bird?” Mr. V’s tone held suspicion, and as he turned back around to face us, I noted a brief flicker in his eyes. Fear perhaps?
“Oh, Markus!” Candie rushed down the stairs and flung herself at her husband. Beneath her tan, she was sickly pale and trembling. “It’s awful, just plain terrible.
“What is?” Valentino held her an arm’s length away. “I get this message from Sierra that you need me here, but no explanation. Just what is going on?”
Candie looked as if he had slapped her. With visible effort she pulled back and composed herself. “It’s in the kitchen.” Without another word she led the way, Valentino hot on her heels.
“What a tool,” Neil murmured almost inaudibly. I heard him though and grinned. He’d read my mind.
We followed the footsteps into the kitchen. A large white box, like a bakery container sat open on the granite island. Candie had been right, it was the little caricature from my business logo, the sprightly little woman with a pink kerchief wrapped around her head and matching vacuum. Candie stood in the corner next to the gourmet refrigerator, arms wrapped around her upper body. Valentino loomed over the box then pulled away in disgust, yanking a handkerchief to his face. I shuffled past Neil and stood on my tip toes to get a better look. The carcass did resemble a large bird, one that had been barbecued. The stench invaded my nostrils and I stepped back.
“If I had to guess, I’d say it was some sort of hawk, maybe a falcon,” Neil moved closer, seemingly oblivious of the putrid smell. “Did you phone the police?”
“What for? It’s obviously a prank.” Valentino scoffed, the tone losing some impact delivered as it was through the hanky.
“If it’s a prank, I’m missing the punch line. Dead foul in a bakery box, how is that funny?” Neil asked his tone mild. “Looks more like a message to me.”
“Just who the hell are you?” Valentino seethed.
“A concerned husband. Whoever sent this didn’t do it by certified mail. The smell alone insures that. And the box has my wife’s logo on it, which means the perp wants to shift attention to her.
“Why wouldn’t he go all the way though?” I asked “If he ripped off my caricature, he could have put my business name on there too, made the connection even more obvious.”
“Who gives a shit?” Valentino thundered, closing the lid with his hanky-free hand. “It’s just some freak playing a game. Not worth all this fuss and bother.”
Out of the three of us, Markus Valentino was the only one who appeared remotely riled. The stress brought out his Texas accent and a vein bulged in his forehead. Neil stood like the calm eye in the center of a shit storm and both Candie and I were green around the gills.
“I recommend you report this to the police. Mrs. Valentino has our number and we’ll be happy to answer any questions they might have.” Neil inclined his head toward Candie and then led me to the front door by my arm.
“We can’t just leave—” I protested as he propelled my forward.
“There’s nothing else we can do.” Neil replied. “We can’t force him to call the cops and your connection is shaky at best.”
“Why do you think my logo was on the box but not my name?” I repeated my earlier question. Neil didn’t answer until we were both secure in the car and heading towards the main road.
“Someone is messing with Valentino. Did you see him freeze when we mentioned the bird? I think whoever sent that box has been watching them and snagged your logo to cast suspicion on you. Maybe they didn’t want it to be obvious that it was you, or maybe the site that I ordered your stuff from has copy write protection for its consumer’s company names. I’ll look into that when we get home.”
I wanted to ask why me, but didn’t bother as it sounded too whiney and Neil had put up with enough from me today. “Do you think Valentino knows who is behind this?” I asked instead.
Neil cut his gaze to me briefly. “I’d bet my left nut on it.”
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