Friday, July 24, 2015

A Summer Short from Alison Bruce

Amateur Status

It was a hot summer evening. Air conditioning in the building consisted of open windows and noisy fans. We had the fans, but members of the group were a wary of open windows because of the sensitive nature of our discussions.

Doctor (PhD not MD) Bill dipped his head toward me. He had already taken me to task about my lack of participation. I nodded and stood.

“My name is Rachel and I am an amateur sleuth.”

In unison, the group replied, “Hello Rachel.”

“It’s not an easy life.”

The response was less uniform this time.

“Damn straight, sister.”


“You got that right.”

“Tell us something we don’t know, doll.”

Dr. Bill intervened. “Charlie, you’re not at a crime scene. Leave the tough guy at the door.”

Charlie, shuffled his feet. “Sorry, Doc.”


“Alicia, did you remember to take your antihistamine?”

“I ran out.”

After a brief pause to dig into pockets or rifle through purses, five bottles of antihistamines were offered.

“I got night time and day time relief,” said Charlie, holding out two bottles.

The ever helpful Goldie brought Alicia a bottle of water. Alicia wiped the dog spit off on her skirt and gave the golden retriever a pat on the head. Her cat Rufus, a silver-grey Persian, took a swipe at Golda, but it was perfunctory. I’d only been with the group for a couple of months, but most of them had been meeting for over a year. All the animals in the room were friends, or at worst, frenemies.

I looked around the room and sighed.

There were a lot of draw backs to being an amateur detective. If you weren’t independently wealthy, like Miss Maypole, or had a pension like Charlie, you had to have a day job. Some employers were flexible, but others wanted you to show up on time and work a full day. They didn’t understand that your vital role in the solving of crime or the inherent risks–like having suspects try to kill you at your workplace or lawyers trying to sue your ass.

Professional private investigators hated us. Not that I blamed them. Who was going to pay them big bucks for doing what we did for free? Only the guilty.

Then there were the police detectives. They’d bluster about you not having any business sticking your nose into an active case, and then expect you to come up with something brilliant within minutes of your arrival. You had to do this without formal training, and you had to do it for free.

But that wasn’t the worst part.

“I still don’t have a pet. The cat I adopted moved in with the family down the street.”

Lulu, whose six cats, two dogs and a rabbit took turns accompanying her to our weekly group session, put up a hand. “What about the rescue grey hound I found you?”

“He ran away.”

“And the snake?” asked Charlie.

It was my turn to shuffle my feet. “Do you remember my first night? I brought him to meet the group…”

Everyone nodded.

“He got out. I haven’t seen him since.”

They all started looking around as if Reggie would just pop out–except Dr. Bill. He was standing on his chair.

“Don’t worry, Doc. I’m betting Reggie has moved on to a better place.”

There was a collective sigh and Bill sat down. Father Wight bowed his head in prayer. Other than me, he was the only one who didn’t have a pet partner. He didn’t need one. He had God in his corner. However, the assumption that I was responsible for an animal’s death pissed me off.

“I only meant I bet he’s probably taken up residence in the boiler room. Reggie likes the heat and there are plenty of mice to eat.”

“Plenty of mice. Plenty of mice.”

Charlie’s parrot Pauley had finally decided to chime in.

“Anyway,” I said, sitting down because I’d been on my feet all day, “it’s getting to be a problem. The detectives aren’t bad. They know they need my expertise. It’s the uniformed cops. Last week, one of them gave me a pet rock and told me not to lose it.”

With a hand gesture, Miss Maypole sent Goldie to me to give me a hug.

“Thanks Goldie. Thanks Miss Maypole. I’ll be fine. I just wish having a pet partner wasn’t essential to being taken seriously as an amateur sleuth.”

“If only,” said Alicia, wiping her runny nose.

This led to some indignant mutters from the animal lovers.

Dr. Bill spoke over the noise. “As you know, Rachel, I encourage you all to share work experiences so the group can offer tangible support. I haven’t pushed, because you’re new, but maybe it’s time for you to tell us about your work. Detective work, that is.”

I knew he wasn’t asking about my day job, although the two were related.

“I’m an electronic surveillance expert. I work at the Spy Shop selling, installing, and maintaining surveillance equipment.”

“No shit!” said Father Wight. He crossed himself. “I mean Good Heavens.”

There was a chorus of “Cool” which might have been directed at the priest.

“It is pretty cool,” I agreed. “Of course, if someone has an excellent memory and doesn’t use electronic devices, there’s nothing for me to detect… unless my surveillance equipment records the person passing on the information to their client.”

When I pulled out my tablet, Dr. Bill went as pale as Father Wight was dark. I’d already cued the video. All I had to do was hit play.

The view was from the air return. Even with the grating, it was clear that Dr. Bill was talking to the head of a private investigation agency we all knew for working with defense attorneys to discredit police (or amateur sleuth) gathered evidence. Doc told the leggy blonde how Alicia solved the murder of a mob bagman while her cat lulled the culprit into a false sense of security by use of excessive purring.

“I think we can use this,” said the P.I. “The confession was obtained under duress.”

She crossed her legs. Charlie whistled and was shushed. Lulu pushed Doc back into his seat. Everyone’s attention went back to the video.

“I’ve got a more pressing issue, Bill. I need to get past that damned service dog. The old lady has a file that could make life difficult for one of my clients.”

“Cheese. She’s addicted to cheese. It’s the only treat Goldie will take from a stranger. You can drug her that way.”

But Doc was wrong about Goldie. His cheese bribe didn’t work when he tried to cut and run. Miss Maypole and Goldie were the ones who brought me in on the case of the Support Group Mole. The cheese was a red herring. Goldie was lactose intolerant.

Later I went down to the basement to retrieve Reggie. He coiled his way up my arm and settled on my shoulder. I wasn’t great with real animals, but I was a whiz with the electronic kind. If Doc had ever spotted Reggie in the ducts, he’d just think my pet python got loose, not that he was being shadowed by a mobile surveillance system. Reggie was so lifelike sometimes I forgot he wasn’t real. I looked down at a neat row of dead mice beside the furnace. Sometimes Reggie forgot too.

“Maybe I should start bringing you to crime scenes.”

Reggie rubbed my cheek with his head.

Bonus! Two problems solved in one day.

Coming soon*… Are Androids Afraid of Electric Snakes?

Alison Bruce is the coffee-fueled author of History, Mystery and Romantic Suspense novels. You can find out more about her and her books on this blog site or at Reviews and donations of coffee (dark roast, black, no sugar) are always appreciated.

(*Maybe in time for Holiday Shorts.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Summer Short from Catherine Astolfo

Coulda Bin A Barclay

As we approach the house, we see several cars parked in the driveway and out front. This is normal.

My sister is a magnet for family and friends. She lives in a neighborhood of interesting, funny people, not to mention that they’re a short walk from the beach.

Today I’m arriving with my grandchildren. So far we’ve had a great mini-vacation, visiting other family and a resort in between. Now we look forward to beach time and a campfire and lots of other family at Kim’s Place.

When we knock on the door, there is no answer.

“Maybe they’re out back,” Ben says.

I try the door and it’s unlocked.

“That’s probably it,” I respond.

The house is dark and cool and deathly quiet.

Other relatives have obviously arrived; they’ve left their mark everywhere – portable high chair, baby clothes, jackets for later. A cell phone sits abandoned on the table.

We walk toward the sun room. Like a school without students, the party place is eerily absent of music and laughter.

In fact it’s so quiet that we can hear birds complaining in the trees, squirrels arguing back.

We traipse out to the backyard. Only the ashes from a recent fire occupy the area.

We scan the neighborhood. No one is around. No funny, interesting people. No people at all.

“Maybe they’re at the beach,” Catey says.

“That’s probably it,” I respond.

We walk down to the beach. It’s not a good omen for lake activity today, at least for us. The wind is very high. Waves pummel the sand. An intrepid sailboat with colorful wings flies over the water and into the air. We stand and watch for a moment, in awe.

Up and down the boardwalk, there are very few people. Certainly no signs of our family.

I send Kim a text message, but get no answer. This is very unlike her.

“If this were a Linwood Barclay novel,” I inform Ben and Cate, “the whole family would have disappeared except us.”

As the grandchildren of a not-as-famous-except-in-the-family crime writer, they are into it immediately.

“Even Kim’s cell phone was on the table,” Catey says. “And she never goes anywhere without it.”

“Maybe they were kidnapped,” Ben offers.

“Yes and they’ve been taken into another time dimension.” I decide to get fancy – or is that fantasy – like a Melodie Campbell novel.

We walk back to Kim’s place powered by our imaginations.

“A space ship lands in the backyard and lets them go!” Catey adds. Now we’re into Robert J. Sawyer.

“And we go off in their places!”

“Or - we walk back into the house and it finally occurs to us. We’re in the wrong house!” Ben says, ruining the fantasy altogether.

The house is still deserted and far too silent. For a fraction of a moment, we’re just a little worried.

Then I notice the text message. They’re on their way home from the park.

As Louis C.K. would say, of course we’re relieved and happy.

On the other hand, it coulda been a Barclay.

Catherine Astolfo is an Arthur Ellis winning author of short stories. Five novels and a novella are published by Imajin Books and have been optioned for film by Sisbro & Co. Inc. A Derrick Murdoch award winner, she is a Past President of Crime Writers of Canada, and a member of both Mesdames of Mayhem and Sisters in Crime. Find all the stories and links right here:

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Summer Short with Susan Horsnell

Summer With Dad

Those who know me are aware that my dad passed away recently and left a huge hole in my heart. I thought I would recall our summer holidays with you.

In the mid – late 60s when I was 9-13 years old, dad would always take two weeks off in summer – December to March here in Australia, and we would head north the day after Christmas. Mum would wake us at around 2.30am, not that I had been able to sleep – too much excitement, and with four kids aged between 4 and 9 years old crammed in the rear seat of dad’s Holden station wagon, off we’d go. The back of the car would be packed to the ceiling and the roof racks were always full of tent and camping equipment. Can you imagine taking four kids camping in a tent?

Our destination was a place on the far north coast of NSW called Woolgoolga (try saying that with a few drinks in you) about 8 hours north of where we lived.

The Pacific highway, the road leading north, was narrow, bumpy and downright dangerous even then. Our first stop was always the truck stop at Raymond Terrace, 4 hours from home, where dad would refuel while we made a beeline for the loo. Dad always warned us it was our only stop and if we didn’t go now, we would have to hold on until we arrived. It was here we discovered Jerry, the resident talking Magpie. He’d been with the owners for years but had recently picked up “truckers language”, he could put a sailor to shame with his swearing. We loved him as he would copy whatever you said.

We would continue on our way, playing ‘eye spy’ and any other game of the time. Us kids would argue and squabble causing mum to almost wrench her shoulder out of joint as she reached back to whack the offending child at that particular time. Then would come the mountains and winding road near Coffs Harbour. We would hear the inevitable thunk as one of the retreads separated from the rest of the tyre. AGAIN! Every year without fail this happened and every year dad and I would be on the side of the road unpacking everything from the back of the car to retrieve the spare. Once the tyre was changed, everything went back in – funny how it never seemed to fit as well as it did before the exercise began.

Finally we would arrive in Woolgoolga and mum would read us kids the riot act about staying close by while she and dad erected our tent. We never listened and immediately went off exploring. To a 9 year old kid the tent seemed huge and once assembled, double bunks, a stove, dining table and chairs etc etc were all placed within. Mum and dad never did everything in half measures and mum liked her comforts.

The holiday would then begin in earnest. We would visit the Big Banana and have a ride through the banana plantation in a rickety train, the ice cream factory – yum, and the cheese factory. After watching cheese being made, it was years before I would eat it again.

Swimming at the beach was always a challenge. Mum would sit on the sand yelling at us kids - “come back to where I can see you”, “don’t go in so far”, “where’s Brian” (my younger more adventurous brother). Being English, my parents were very wary of the surf. One year, dad made the mistake of leaving his foot sticking out from under the umbrella in what I’m sure was 100 degree heat. The rest of the holiday was spent with dad on crutches with an ankle five times its normal size and a huge dose of sunburn poisoning.

Then, after a couple of scorching hot days, which I loved, the rain would start. It would bucket down and us kids delighted in touching the inside of the tent (after being told at least a zillion times not to) to watch the water run down the inside. The flooding came next, water at least 8inches deep inside the tent and four kids splashing and having the best time. Every year, for six years, this was repeated (with the exception of the sunburn). Mum and Dad persisted, hoping things would change but they never did.

The final year our tent literally began floating away – the straw that broke the camel’s back. After that we would holiday down south, 5 hours from home, in a motel! No rain, no flooding, no loss of retread. Was it as good? You bet it was, I had my dad for two whole weeks!

It’s Winter down under in most areas of Australia but where I live in Queensland, we have a wet season and a dry season only. It’s dry season now, cooler but still warm and sunny. I hope you have enjoyed this peek into my past.

Enjoy your summer, stay safe and as we say in Australia remember to – SLIP, SLOP, SLAP.
  • SLIP on a shirt,
  • SLOP on some sun protection lotion, and 
  • SLAP on a hat.

Susan Horsnell writes sweet Western Romance under her name and Erotic Romance under her pen name - Lacey Roberts. Her stories are entirely fictional. She tries to give her readers fantasy, an escape from real life, a Cinderella type story.



Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Little Light Houskeeping

I'm a terrible housekeeper. I can always find something else I'd rather be doing. However, there comes a time when you've run out of dishes and your kids are leaving you messages in the dust. You lose things in the clutter and worse, you find things you forgot to do when you're looking for something else.

This is what happened with this blog. It looked like I hadn't scheduled it so I decided to modify it and schedule it now... then it turned out I did.

All this happened because I was doing the blog equivalent of dusting.

Direct from Imajin Books...

'Share the Imajin Books Buzz' contest: Share our events on Twitter and Facebook, and share pics of our books on ereaders or you holding one, and receive entries into our Summer Sizzles Giveaway! Grand prize winner: 12 free ebooks (winner’s choice). Plus 10 winners of single ebooks. Open to anyone 18+. Void where prohibited. Draw will take place the first week of August. Rafflecopter form for contest entries will be at from July 1-31, 2015. Be sure to share it with your friends.

Coming Soon... (Saturday to be precise)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Coffee Break

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven..."
Right now, it's time for coffee.

“Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love.”
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand 1754-1838

I wasn't always a coffee drinker. For the first twenty-two years of my life I was all about tea... I don't actually remember when I was too young to drink tea. For all I know, my baby bottle was filled with milky tea.

I didn't like coffee at all back then.

I blame my parents. They drank instant. Seriously? Who would forsake tea for instant coffee? On special occasions my mother would perk coffee. By that point in the evening her guests had so much food and drink they didn't notice how bad it was. Or maybe they were too polite.

I'm not being mean. Mum would have been the first to admit she did not have the knack of brewing coffee. She was English after all. Most of the time she drank tea and her tea was excellent. 

When I went to university, the tea was terrible. Sure, I could bring my own, but they charged the same for a cup of hot water as a cup of coffee. Worse, tea doesn't keep you awake when you have three papers to complete in twenty-four hours. That's what drove me to coffee. Since I wasn't crazy about it, bad coffee didn't bother me.
“I don't really like coffee," she said, "but I don't really like it when my head hits my desk when I fall asleep either. ”
Brian Andreas
I'm not sure when the turning point came... maybe it was when I was hanging out at cafes writing longhand fan fiction when I was supposed to be writing essays... but I became a coffee drinker.

Back in my fan fic days, I preferred flavoured coffee. When I was Captain of the Guelph Star Trek Club I had my own "Captain's Blend". (Two parts Colombian dark roast to one part Dutch chocolate flavoured beans.) I started drinking straight dark roast about the same time I started writing mysteries. Coincidence? I think not.

When my sister started her own communication and marketing business,  I suggested the name BelleFare. It was a play on the street where we grew up, Bellefair, and the idea that she served up good communications. I still have notepaper with the business name, coffee cup logo and the following quote:

“Good communication is just as stimulating as black coffee...”
Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Whether writing fiction, nonfiction or advertising copy, which is a bit of both, coffee is what gets me going and keeps me going when I'd rather have a cuppa and curl up with Netflicks. Of course, emails, Facebook (looking for coffee quotes) sometimes distracts me and my coffee gets cold. That reminds why I'm sitting at my laptop and I get back to work.