Funny how the author writes mysteries but isn’t alert enough to see me swipe the chapters she completes. You’d think she’d pay attention a bit better. Lucky for you guys, that is not the case. Below is Chapter 4 from the still unfinished, still untitled Lesbian Adventure Club: Book 10.
I lowered the paper to my side and fully expected laughter or maybe some comedic concern for the detained delinquent duo. But, this was a mystery, and that meant I had no frickin’ clue what was up and what was down.
A moment of stuporous silence passed before the room shook.
"Out on bail? Out on bail?" Gertie shrieked. "What the hell did you do, Kris?"
"I didn’t do anything," she loudly defended. Her face sported a red-hot hue.
The detective apparently detected a ding in the defense. "All right, what did Dr. Amah Fraud do?"
"Um…" Red turned crimson. "Experiments," she admitted with shame that did not at all seem feigned.
Shovel dug deeper, "What kind of experiments?"
Amah hemmed and hawed before admitting, "Experiments … um … on children … testing the effects of stress on children." Nervously, she shifted her legs and rubbed her forehead. "I really don’t like this game."
In perfect synch, hands darted to cover mouths and keep the laughter from escaping.
Gertie shook her head in disbelief. "What exactly did you do to the children, Kris—I mean, what did Amah do?"
"Well, I’m not exactly sure," Amah replied. Then, she swiveled an evil eye around the room. "But somebody in here knows. One of you is blackmailing me."
Gasps erupted, and the traditional accusatory glances commenced. The fog of mistrust grew considerably thicker. By morning, we would not be able to see.
"Anybody care to admit to being the blackmailer?" Shovel probed.
I wondered if that was how she cracked all her cases: by simply asking whodunit and letting the culprit raise her hand in willful admission. That seemed unlikely, but still, the lot of us waited patiently for the upraising of a hand. None came.
"And how about you, Gertie?"
Gertie whipped her head to Shovel. "What about me?"
"Well, what were Bonnie and Clyde about to deliver to your coffeehouse?"
Shit! That was a damn good question!
"Bootleg, I assume," Gertie point-blankly answered and then shrugged her shoulders. "But like Amah here, I got only half my character’s story."
Bootleg? Okay, that made obvious sense. But, what did that have to do with anything? Is that what went on in Gertie’s back room? A Prohibition speakeasy turned write-easy for those literary types? I tried to imagine something exotic, something muse-seducing. Um… Booze? Earl? Drugs? Absinthe! … But seriously, what the hell did that have to do with anything? Why was I supposed to learn that little tidbit of information? Um… Uh oh! I looked to the green-eyed gangster down in the hot tub but high atop of the supply chain. Protect Alberta at all costs, skated across my consciousness like the proverbial fingernails on chalkboard. Shit! Was this my moment of dishonest truth?
As Shovel verbally contemplated bootleggers and holey character sketches with Gertie, I quickly scanned the news story again. Frantic to divert, I armed myself with trivial crap and loudly lobbed, "What about you, Carolina? It says you’re a collector. What exactly do you collect?"
Well, that shut the detective up. Her whole body jerked in my direction, and she plucked the tear sheet from my hand. If looks could indeed kill: Heady Heaper beheaded by demonic dick. Horrified, I shifted my eyes from her to Carolina, who stood in her classic Holly-hands-on-Holly-hips pose of indignation.
"Duh!" she sounded. "Art, Kate. I’m an artist so I doubt it’s baseball cards. I collect art." She glommed onto Shovel and added, "And private investigators. I just love private investigators. Let’s go somewhere private, babe, and investigate."
Kissy-face predictably began while the rest of them groaned. Me? Hell, I was pleased—cocky, even—with my handiwork and inconspicuous avoidance of the what-the-hell-are-you-up-to-Kate expression on Alberta’s face.
"Shovel and Reef, get your mitts off each other!" Girl Friday yelled from the doorway. "Strangers! Remember?"
Joan declared, "There are none stranger than these two!"
Everyone started laughing and swatting, and I feared perhaps we had partaken in too much slapstick last meeting. Then, Alberta splashed the kissy-facers and told them to knock it off, but mission accomplished required another bellowing from Girl Friday before they stopped and separated.
"Sorry," they breathlessly said, and then Shovel shamefacedly asked, "Where were we?"
Vanna volunteered, "We were discussing baseball cards."
That little half-truth gem perplexed the hell out of them. With squinched up faces, they looked at each other, and afterward, Shovel nervously cleared her throat. I needed to remember this moment if worse came to worse, which it probably would. Carolina acted as some sci-fi mind wipe on the dogged detective. If I had to defend Alberta from either of them, that would be my weapon.
"It’s late," the mayor noted. "I think we should call it a day and get some rest."
A glance to my watch shocked me; the little hand already reached beyond eleven.
Everyone concurred and began collecting their things. I helped Alberta out of the tub, gave her a towel, and then fetched her clothes.
Soon, we were heading out, and Girl Friday informed us that the mayor and she would be camping out in the sunroom at the end of the hall. Strange pleasantries were exchanged.
We trudged up the stairs, and as soon as we hit the hall, partner latched onto partner.
Our activist Joan advocated, "I say we should just switch rooms."
"Really, like why the hell can’t we sleep with whoever the hell we want to sleep with?"
Unfortunately, I knew why, but I didn’t need to say it. Amah said it.
"Because they’re trusting us. They set this silly thing up this way for a reason. They trust us, and we have to trust them in return."
"Since when do the Dykes Who Dare give a crap about trust?"
The question loomed, but there proved no reason to answer it. Instead, a sorrowful silence descended.
I pulled the gangster into my arms, and we held on tight.
"What do we do without skin, Kate?" she whispered. "It reminds me of when you were sick. I don’t like it."
Contrary to the three-year-old tantrum brewing inside me, I answered, "We’ll be okay, honey. We’re right across the hall from each other. Just think really hard like we used to." Jesus, something was wrong in the world when I was the strong one. Despite what the rest of me sounded like, my hand frantically slipped inside the back of her T-shirt … only to find a wet swimming suit. Shit! I wanted to cry.
We kissed for a full non-breathing moment before someone said, "All right, let’s do it."
Four couples parted. Eight wusses begrudgingly marched into cell-rooms. Four doors sealed eight fates.
Wordlessly, Gertie and I changed into pajamas, and after I found a suitable place to hang my damp clothes, I slithered in beside her.
"Would it bother you if I read for a while?" she asked.
I assured her it would not, that it would, in fact, give me cause to study. Hmm… Studying in bed on a Friday night with a professor: I wondered if that could possibly garner extra credit.
We settled in, began to read, and despite the crybaby in me that wanted Alberta, it turned out to be quite cozy and safe. But, not five minutes later, her cell phone sounded, and she scurried to retrieve it from the dresser. I did my best not to listen, which wasn’t too difficult since I figured it was a whiney psychologist on the other end.
"Kate," she called, and I looked to see her standing with her palm over her phone. "Any problem sleeping with Susan?"
"What?" What the hell kind of question was that?
"Susan," she enunciated as though I didn’t understand English. "I’m going down the hall to sleep with Holly. Susan will come in here."
Huh? "I thought we were going to trust the— Holly? You’re going to sleep with Holly? Why isn’t Holly finagling her way into—"
"Is it acceptable or not, Kate?"
"Yes, it’s acceptable" I ignorantly confirmed. "I don’t have a problem sleeping with Susan." Jesus, what the hell had I just said? I hoped no one was writing down this shit—especially out of context.
She flipped her phone shut, grabbed an over-shirt, and aimed for the door. "Get some sleep, dear," she ordered before disappearing into the hall.
Moments later, Susan crept into the room. "Are you sure this is okay, Heady—Kate?" she sheepishly asked.
"Don’t ask stupid questions." That was my job. "Get in here."
I held up the blanket, and she crawled in beside me.
"What the hell is going on, Susan—Vanna … Susan?"
"I have no clue," she said as she snatched the packet of papers from my hand. "What are you reading?"
"The study guide for my Alternative Media class."
She smiled and patted my arm. "I’m so proud of you for going back for your master’s. I’ll bet—"
My phone interrupted her, and I stretched for it, finding Claudia’s name on the screen. "Hi, honey," I eagerly greeted after a desperate punch on the keypad.
Several seconds of cumbersome quiet lapsed before she coolly whispered, "I need to be with you."
Those words warmed my heart at the same time they caused an ache. They harked back to a time when we were indeed still strangers in many ways. And not unlike that decade before, I did not know what to say to her. I needed her, too, but things wedged between us.
"Meet me at the hot tub in ten minutes, Heady," she suggested. "Just for a little while. We’ll still keep our word to them. I promise."
The honorable thug made me smile. "I promise, too."
"I’ll see you in ten minutes. I love you."
I reciprocated and promptly disconnected. As I leaned to put the phone away, I tried to figure out what the hell I was supposed to say to Susan. Was the truth bad at the moment? I hated shit like this.
"Alberta?" Susan inquired.
"Uh huh." I paused long enough to tell myself to hell with it. "We’re going to sneak away for a little bit."
She chuckled. "Maybe my turkey rescuer will have the same idea. But then again, there’s always the chance she and Kris will begin implementing their plan to save the world. That could take a while."
"If they merely started with the people in this house, it could be an eon," I joked. "Do you want me to stop by on my way and throw a wrench in the works?"
With a smile, she shook her head. "Let them be. I’ll steal one of Ginny’s books and be quite—" This time, her phone interrupted. The ensuing thumbs-up led me to believe no one’s world but theirs would be saved that night.
Again, I tried not to listen. I put my schoolwork away and slunk to the door. Quietly, I pulled it open and stuck my head out just in time to witness an arm yanking our dear detective into the bathroom. The bathroom? I waited for the door to close and then swiftly tiptoed to the stairs and zipped down.
Once in the main hall, I saw Alberta’s head crane out of the study. It turned to the right, and when it came to the left, she smiled at me and thrust out a candle she had apparently swiped.
She scuttled to me. "Did you bring your lighter?"
I kissed her. "I wasn’t expecting the need for any fire but our own."
"I thought a candle would be romantic." She looked disappointed … and incredibly sexy there in the dim light.
"Get to the hot tub," I told her. "I’ll run back upstairs."
She nodded, and I made for the stairs. Halfway up, though, I heard far more activity than my stealth could ever contend with. I ducked and slammed myself into reverse.
I was about to enter the hot tub room when I remembered the fireplace in the study. There had to be something capable if igniting Alberta’s wick. A mad dash produced wooden matchsticks nearly as long as my arm. Score!
Moments later, I was the hero of the story, standing in front of her and lighting the candle that brought a sparkle to those green eyes and a smile to those recently pouting lips. After placing it safely on the floor, I sat next to her on the bench, and she nuzzled into me. We drifted into the silence, and as we grooved, I found my eyes lazily surveying the flickering room. In construction, it was akin to our porch with its three sides and ceiling of glass. It was smaller, though, and way the hell more tropical. Plants of all sizes and shapes thrived in the hot tub’s steaminess. I half expected to hear crickets or maybe misty gorillas. It felt like a retreat from the real world, or maybe at that moment in time, it took us from unreality into what was truly genuine.
Suddenly, she rose and tugged my hand. She took the candle and led me to an uncluttered spot on the large wall. There, we reclined on the floor, that sacred place of skin on skin. As tempting as it was to lose myself there, I tried to be mindful not to let us be accosted by the sneaky sandwoman.
Out of the corner of my stargazing eye, I saw either a nova or something much more earthly. I stretched my neck toward the sudden light. "Shit! Blow out the candle, honey," I whisper-yelled. "Somebody just went into the shed."
Quickly, she scrambled to extinguish the light and then peered out the window with me. "Who the hell is it? … Should we get Laura?"
By the time anything had a chance to make sense to either of us, the door opened, the shed light went off, and a darkened figure made a beeline for the house. Despite our efforts, we could not make out who it was.
Then, we barely heard a door close.
Claudia shot to her feet, shushing me. "I’m going to peek and see who it is."
I quickly followed her, and she cracked the door, but we were too late. She opened it fully, and we craned our heads down the hall but still couldn’t see anyone. The soft footfalls on the staircase gave us a clue. We darted down the hall and listened intently. There came three soft knocks, and many seconds later, a door quietly closed.
Claudia and I turned to each other. We held stares of befuddlement before she finally asked, "What the heck was that all about? It’s this damn mystery, isn’t it?"
That made sense, but it still gave us nothing to go on, let alone any indication of what the mystery even was.
"Let’s just get upstairs. I don’t want to be suspected of anything."
I clutched her hand as I pondered the ramifications of that. "Shit! The candle and the matches!"
"Shit!" she concurred. "We don’t need to make this the ‘Who Burned Down the House Mystery,’ do we?"
I laughed but reminded, "You put out the candle, honey."
"Oh yeah, I did. … But still, it’s evidence we were here. Then, it would be the ‘Who Swiped the Candle Mystery’ or ‘Who Burned For Who by Candlelight in the Hot Tub Room Mystery.’"
"I think it’s ‘for whom,’ and you are so not funny, Alberta."
"Claudia’s funnier, huh?"
We sniggered, and I cuffed her one. "Just wait for me, Alberta. I’ll go hide the evidence that we were here."
A mere three feet into my mission, she whisper-yelled, "End table in the study by the love seat."
When I returned, she slipped her arm around my waist. "I really don’t want to sleep without you, Kate."
Your goal this weekend is to protect Alberta at all costs. From all things bad? From anything that threatened her livelihood? How the hell was I supposed to keep two opposing promises? She was more important. She was more important than anything.
I racked my little brain and then said, "Come on, Alberta. I can be resourceful, too. I have a plan."