Authors: Elizabeth Spann Craig
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Cozy, #Women Sleuths, #A Myrtle Clover Mystery
A Body at Bunco
A Myrtle Clover Mystery
Elizabeth Spann Craig
A Body at Bunco - Copyright 2015 - Elizabeth Spann Craig
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
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This book is a work of fiction. With the exception of recognized historical figures, the characters in this novel are fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Formatting by RikHall.com
Cover Design by Karri Klawiter
Editing by Judy Beatty
For my readers. Thank you.
Thanks most of all to my family; especially Coleman, Riley, and Elizabeth Ruth. Many thanks to Judy Beatty for editing.
A special thanks to Karri Klawiter for the cover design.
Thanks to Rik Hall for formatting the book for its digital and print releases.
My thanks to Amanda Arrieta for her excellent beta reading.
And thanks as always to the writing community for its support and encouragement.
“Need help, Miz Myrtle?”
As soon as her yardman, Dusty, had asked the question, an irritated look passed across his lean features. Myrtle smiled. Volunteering for more work was usually not in Dusty’s game plan.
“As a matter of fact, I do, thank you.” Myrtle bumped the door to the metal shed open wider with her hip.
Dusty slouched against the frame of the storage shed, a ragtag figure in frayed, grass-stained khakis, and a floppy hat over lanky gray hair. “We ain’t pulling all them gnomes out, are we?”
Myrtle’s collection of yard gnomes was extensive, it was true. And the gnomes were an impressive sight when they were arranged throughout her front yard. The sight of their winsome faces infuriated her son, Red, who lived across the street from his octogenarian mother. Which happened to be the whole point.
“Oh, I think that they
need to make an appearance, Dusty.”
Dusty turned his head and spat a wad of chewing tobacco into a nearby bush. Myrtle wrinkled her nose in distaste. “Red done stepped out of line again?” he asked.
“He certainly has. This time he’s really gone too far, Dusty. I need to make a point. Draw a line in the sand.”
Dusty scuffed a worn leather boot at the red clay that served as soil in Bradley, North Carolina. “No sand here, Miz Myrtle. Besides, can’t you make your point without all them gnomes out? You know I can’t mow when they’re covering your front yard. I’ll have to use the string trimmer and that thing is broke more often than not.”
Dusty’s grudging willingness to trim around the gnomes was the sole reason for his employment. Aside from that willingness, he was lazy, unpredictable, and coarse.
“You just mowed, so we’re in good shape for a week or so.” She grunted as she pulled out a particularly winsome gnome that was inexplicably holding a chainsaw.
“Okay. I done finished fixin’ the broke spigot, by the way.”
Myrtle said, “Wonderful. Now maybe I can actually water the bushes out back. Please make sure you collect all your tools. Last time they were scattered here and yonder. And when you’re all done with the gnomes, be sure to lock the gate to the backyard.”
Dusty gave an affirming grunt and reached in for a gnome wearing sunglasses and holding a saxophone and glumly carted it off to a prime location in the front of Myrtle’s house.
He returned with Myrtle’s son Red in tow. “He’s onto us, Miz Myrtle,” said Dusty with a shrug of a shoulder.
“Keep on going, please, Dusty. Red and I will have a little talk inside over some milk and cookies.”
Red’s face was thunderous and he ran a hand through his red hair (now with a good deal of gray mixed in) until it stood on end. “Mama, what is this gnome invasion in response to? I’ve been so busy and
been so busy that I haven’t made contact with you for days.” Dusty grunted as he carried a scuba diving gnome out of the shed and Red looked at it with distaste. “And I sure don’t need any milk and cookies. I’ve gained several pounds in the last couple of weeks.”
Myrtle thought the weight looked fine on him. Red had inherited her own propensity for height and stood several inches over six feet. As a teen, he’d been thin as a rail. He looked much better with the heft of weight on him.
“Oh, these are low-fat cookies,” said Myrtle with a dismissive wave of her hand. In fact, they were laden with fat. And sugar. What was the point, otherwise? But sugar helped to sweeten Red’s moods, so it was the perfect tool. Except Red seemed as firmly planted in her yard as a tree. She sighed and instead sat down in an old wrought-iron chair on her patio. Red plopped down across from her.
“You should know exactly why the gnomes are gracing my front yard, Red Clover.” She paused and waited for light bulbs to go off in Red’s head but seeing they weren’t forthcoming she snapped, “Sloan Jones. You told Sloan that I was the one correcting all the
’s errors and mailing them into the newsroom. Really, Red. Was that necessary?”
Red looked slightly relieved, as if he thought this was something he could easily handle. “I swear, Mama, I didn’t mean anything by it. I just saw the corrected papers lying on Sloan’s desk and absently mentioned that I recognized your handiwork. The red pen is a dead giveaway, you know. Ex-schoolteacher and all that. Besides, what was Sloan going to say? It’s not like he’s going to fire you from the newspaper over something minor like that. He’s petrified of you…has been ever since he was your student.”
“It’s not that he was mad, Red. It’s that he was
. Wounded Sloan is difficult to handle. I was in constant and abject terror that he was going to start crying over the betrayal. And now I have a meeting with him in an hour in the newsroom. That’s all I need,” said Myrtle.
“If that’s the only challenging part of your day it’s a blessing, Mama. I had more than that to deal with before breakfast. Such is the life of a small town police chief.” On cue, Red’s phone rang and he heaved a tremendous sigh. “Chief Clover,” he said.
Red listened for a minute and then said, “Miss Mabel, we’ve talked about this a couple of times. I can’t do anything about Miz Tritt’s pine tree. Even if it is dropping needles, pine cones, and sticks all over your property, the tree is on
Myrtle could hear Mabel’s reedy voice say, “But the sticks and pine cones are trespassing on
property. And she won’t rake or pick them up.”
Red was placating. “I tell you what, Miss Mabel. I’ve got a few minutes before I have to run by for a meeting with the mayor. Just to ease your mind, how about if I run by and take care of those pine cones and sticks for you. Will that help?” He rolled his eyes at Myrtle. “I know it doesn’t help the root cause, but it sure might save you some aggravation. How ‘bout it? Deal? Great. Be there in half a shake of a lamb’s tail.”
He hung up and leveled a serious look at Myrtle. “Now that I got Miss Mabel taken care of, how about if we resolve this issue between us? I’m sorry about telling Sloan that you were the phantom editor. I was out of line.”
“You certainly were,” said Myrtle.
“So can I ask Dusty to start heaving those gnomes back into the shed?” asked Red in a hopeful tone. “I’ll tip him.”
“Absolutely not. It’s completely out of line to give poor Dusty conflicting orders…it will only confuse him. Besides, I’ve missed seeing the gnomes out there. I love it when children make their parents stop the car to look at them. I’m an attraction.”
,” grumbled Red. “All right, I’ve got to get out of here if I’m going to do yardwork before my meeting. I’ll check in with you later.” He gave a winking gnome a dirty look as he hurried off. Myrtle might have to keep all the motion detectors running tonight in case Red planned any gnome vandalism.
Dusty was starting to slow down a little, not that he’d gone at any great pace before. “How many gnomes does it take to make a point?” he asked, putting a hand to his back suggestively.
“You already asked me that earlier,” said Myrtle. “If you won’t do it, then I will. Maybe Puddin can help out, too.”
The mention of his wife’s name appeared to startle Dusty. Unless it was the juxtaposition of “Puddin” and “help”. “She’s not here,” he said. “Besides, her back is thrown.”
“Somebody needs to catch that thrown back of hers,” said Myrtle darkly. “It’s getting more and more out of whack as my dust and clutter builds up.” Myrtle frowned. “You know, I think it’s been at least two weeks since Puddin has come over to help me clean. My dust bunnies will be procreating. Give her a call and see if she can run by.”
Dusty’s brow furrowed, but he obediently fished his phone out of his baggy jeans. “She probably won’t be able to make it until late afternoon,” he warned.
“Fine. Whenever is fine—I simply want her to come by. The situation is getting dire. Just set it up. I have to head downtown,” said Myrtle.
Dusty quickly said, “Want me to drive you there in the truck, Miz Myrtle? It’ll just take a second to get there.”
“No siree! I want you to lug gnomes around. I can lug
downtown.” Myrtle gave him a stern look and he dolefully continued arranging gnomes on Myrtle’s front lawn as she walked around the house to the sidewalk and down the tree-lined street to the small downtown.
When she reached the newspaper office, she paused for a second to collect her thoughts before walking into the
. She wished Sloan
be mad at her. It was much worse to cause hurt feelings. Then she frowned. Was it her imagination, or was the office’s wooden front door even more battered than usual?
With a sigh, she pushed the door open and entered the shadowy newsroom. As usual, it smelled of old books and paper. There were stacks of printed photographs, old newspapers, and papers on every surface. In the middle of everything was a heavyset balding man.
editor Sloan Jones was ordinarily smiling, even though he was cautious around Myrtle. But now his face was as long as she’d ever seen it. Ordinarily he leapt up from his desk in deference to Myrtle’s age and her former position as his English teacher in high school. This time he made a half-hearted effort to rise, before collapsing again in his rolling chair, which squealed in squeaky protest.
“Hi, Miss Myrtle,” said Sloan in a pained voice.
Myrtle pressed her lips together. She was almost positive that Sloan’s mournfulness was put on to make her feel bad. “Look, sorry about how I handled the proofreading thing.” She sat down gingerly in a rolling chair next to Sloan. She didn’t much care for chairs that doubled as fair rides.
“You probably can’t even help it, Miss Myrtle. Being an English teacher for so many years and all,” said Sloan nobly.
His forgiving nature made Myrtle cross. “It’s just that, having been
teacher, Sloan, I hate to see very basic mistakes in the newspaper.
There, their, and they’re
errors. That sort of nonsense. It reflects poorly on me. I’m about to have to start telling people that Doris Penbrook taught you instead of me. And you know it pains me to lie.”
Sloan hastily jumped in, likely not wanting to receive any more edits in person. “Here’s the thing, Miss Myrtle. The
had to let Tilly Morris go a few weeks ago and you know she was the copyeditor. Since then, I’ve had to take over editing and I’m just not used to doing it. Plus there’s the fact that I have no time at all whatsoever. I’m really having to juggle a lot of stuff.”