Book One in the Empty Nest Mystery series
by Lois Winston
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.
“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.”
USA Today bestselling author and award-winner Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, 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 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.