I was in a snit. To begin, with, August sucked. By then Phoenix had seen more than three months of over-100-degree days. Electricity bills were the highest of the whole year, even if you kept your ancient air conditioner at eighty-five degrees. It was too hot to take public transit, even if your registration was expired because your stupid car hadn’t passed emissions and you didn’t have the money to fix it. And this August was particularly sucky because I was in a slump, acting-wise. After yet another this-close-to-getting-a-film-role day, my uncle Bob tried to cheer me up by taking me to MacAlpine’s Soda Fountain.
“The director actually said I was the better actor.” I nursed my grudge with an ice cream soda, sitting across from my uncle in a dark wood booth. “But they wanted to go with a brunette.” I bit my maraschino cherry in half.
“Ha.” Uncle Bob pointed at my soda with his spoon. “That’s why you ordered Gentlemen Prefer Blondes?”
“Yeah.” I stirred my butterscotch and praline soda. “Take that, Mr. Director.”
“Seems to me like they could tell you’re not a real blonde.” My uncle snuck a look at my half-inch dark roots. “I mean, that you could be a brunette pretty easy.”
I scooted closer to the mini jukebox in our booth and flipped through the songs. They were all too happy. “Aren’t you supposed to be making me feel better?” I pressed the cool soda glass to my forehead.
Uncle Bob smiled and gave me his cherry. It did make me feel better. A little. “You want to hear about a silver lining?” he asked.
“All right.” Uncle Bob went back to work on his banana split, which was already half gone.
“Okay. Yes.” Curiosity always won out with me.
“This morning I got a call about a job. For both of us.”
My part-time job at my uncle’s private investigation firm was the only thing keeping me financially afloat.
“Pays good, involves travel, and you get to act.”
“Right.” I was the teensiest bit gullible and Uncle Bob loved to pull my chain. I was eighteen before I realized Jackalopes weren’t real. “Hey, do you think the waiter would give me a few extra cherries?”
“I mean it about the job. Scout’s honor.” He held up three fingers in a salute. “You heard of Get Lit! cruises?”
I nodded. The high-end, literature-themed cruise line was designed to appeal to readers, to families who wanted their kids to take an interest in the classics, and to cruisers who wanted to feel like they were getting an education and a buffet. There were Shakespeare cruises and Jane Austin cruises and Mark Twain riverboat cruises, and. . .“Hey. Weren’t they the ones with the Jack London incident?”
“Yeah. But the dogs were framed.”
“Framed?” On the Alaskan cruise in question, a pack of huskies got loose and ran rampant through the dining room. The dogs were rounded up, but not before eating five hundred pounds of steak dinners, several Baked Alaskas, and a mink coat.
“The cruise line is pretty sure the dogs were a distraction. Guests reported seven thousand dollars stolen in just that half hour, both off their persons and from their in-room safes. Phones and jewelry, mostly.”
“And we’re supposed to find out who’s behind this knavery?”
“You been reading Shakespeare again?”
“Get Lit! thinks the thefts are organized. They want a team, one to go undercover as a rich guest, and the other to pose as a crewmember. A performer would be best, they said. But I should warn you; the job could be dangerous. That’s why they’re paying so well.”
“But screw your courage to the sticking place and we’ll not fail.”
My uncle scraped the last bit of fudge sauce from the bottom of his banana split dish. “Time to get Shakespeare outa your head. We’re gonna be on a Dickens-themed ship, the S.S. David Copperfield. You’ll be playing Nancy from Oliver Twist.”
“Please sir, I want some—” I tried to flag down the bow-tied waiter to get a few cherries for the road.
“You familiar with Dickens?” asked Uncle Bob.
“Sort of.” I knew The Muppets Christmas Carol and could dredge up a fuzzy memory of the movie musical Oliver!, but that was about it.
“You won’t have much time to prep. We sail Monday.”
“Yikes.” I was a quick study, but. . .
“I nearly forgot. We get paid no matter what happens, but there’s a ten thousand dollar bonus if we find something that’ll stand up in court.”
“Ten thousand each?” I could get my car fixed. Maybe even get a new one.
A paid gig on a cruise ship with one of my favorite people in the world, plus the female lead in a musical, and the promise of a ten thousand dollar bonus if my uncle and I did our work well. What self-respecting actor/private investigator wouldn’t be thrilled?
Oliver Twisted is the third book in the Ivy Meadows mystery series, published by Henery Press, June 2016.
Orphans. Thieves. Murder. And an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet
When Ivy Meadows lands a gig with the book-themed cruise line Get Lit!, she thinks she’s died and gone to Broadway. Not only has she snagged a starring role in a musical production of Oliver Twist, she’s making bank helping her P.I. uncle investigate a string of onboard thefts, all while sailing to Hawaii on the S.S. David Copperfield.
But Ivy is cruising for disaster. Her acting contract somehow skipped the part about aerial dancing forty feet above the stage, her uncle Bob is seriously sidetracked by a suspicious blonde, and–oh yeah, there’s a corpse in her closet.
Forget catching crooks. Ivy’s going to have a Dickens of a time just surviving.
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About the author
Cindy Brown is a theater geek, mystery lover, and professional writer who recently combined her passions to produce madcap mysteries set in the off, off, off Broadway world of theater. Macdeath, Ivy’s first adventure “a hilarious riff on an avant-garde production of the Scottish play” (Mystery Scene Magazine) was recently nominated for an Agatha Award for best debut novel. The second Ivy Meadows book, The Sound of Murder is “a definite delight”(Suspense Magazine) and the third book in the series, Oliver Twisted, comes out June 21, 2016. Cindy and her husband live in Portland, Oregon, though she made her home in Phoenix, Arizona, for more than 25 years and knows all the good places to hide dead bodies in both cities. She’d love to connect with readers at cindybrownwriter.com (where they can sign up for her Slightly Silly Newsletter) or on Facebook or Twitter. Photo credit by AJC Photography.
Giveaway: Leave a comment below for your chance to win a digital copy of Oliver Twisted. The giveaway will end June 26, 2016 at 12 AM EST. Good luck everyone!
All comments are welcomed.