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Be of Good Cheer

BeofGoodCheerMadison hadn’t wanted to throw a party at first. There were always hassles when you hosted: the guest list; getting the carpets and furniture cleaned; the menu; the drinks. And that wasn’t even to mention the tree and decorations. Still, Carl had insisted on it. He’d said it was a good idea and besides, they owed invitations to people. Well, that was true. So she’d gone along with Carl’s suggestion. It suited her own plans, anyway.

Now she looked around the couple’s living room. She was completely exhausted from getting ready, but she had to admit that it all looked festive. The tree was beautifully trimmed; the lights from it glowed softly in a rainbow of reds, blues, yellows and greens. The ornaments glistened and the star at the top was the perfect touch. Carl wouldn’t let her open the presents under the tree – not until Christmas morning. But they did look lovely, all wrapped up in holiday paper with big gold and silver bows.

With one more satisfied glance at everything, Madison went down the hall to the kitchen. She wanted to make the eggnog now, so that it’d be ready when she needed it. Carl hadn’t gotten back with the wood for the fireplace yet, and that was just as well. She washed her hands and then got out the eggs, sugar, milk and bourbon she’d be using. She would dust on the nutmeg a bit later. She’d just finished mixing everything up when she felt him standing at the door of the kitchen watching her. Damnit! He’d come back sooner than she wanted.

She looked up, tossed her long, ash-blonde braid back over her shoulder and asked, ‘Is the fire ready?’
‘Just about to light it. How’s it going in here?’
‘Fine. Everything’s almost done.’
‘Good. Why don’t you go on up and change out of that outfit while I start putting things out?’
‘What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?’
He gave her an indulgent, but long-suffering look. ‘It’s a party, Maddie, not Movie-and-Popcorn Night.’

Madison glared at Carl’s retreating back. She hadn’t at all appreciated his remark about her outfit. It wasn’t her fault he was used to more formal parties. Her style had always been casual and he know it. Well, that would all change soon enough. With that thought to comfort her, she went upstairs.

Carl put the bowls of mints, nuts and chocolates out on the small tables in the living room. Maddie could be such a pain sometimes, he thought. She still hadn’t learned about things like the right vineyards, dressing properly for different things, or, well, just getting involved with the right kind of people. His kind of people. Well, that was all about to change. He smiled a little to himself as he put the last bowl carefully on an end table near the fireplace. Then he lit the fire. He straightened up when he saw that the flame had caught. It burnished his straight, almost-black hair and cast a warm glow on the whole room. The effect cheered him even more.

Half an hour later, Madison came down the stairs just in time to answer the doorbell. Carl watched her as she opened the door and let the first guests in. She had on that emerald silk blouse he’d gotten her for her birthday and a pair of black satin pants. She’d let her hair fall loose, too, which he thought suited her. He’d wondered when she was upstairs whether he was doing the right thing. But no. No time for doubts any more.

Madison was proud of herself as she greeted the guests and exchanged the requisite hugs with Carl’s mother Josephine, his brother Adrian and Adrian’s wife Dina. She was calm and collected and even remembered to smile naturally. Then came a few of Carl’s cousins (she could never remember all of their names) and some of his colleagues. Only a few of her own friends were there, but that was fine. This wasn’t their sort of gathering anyway.

Soon the party was fully underway. Toasts were made, appetizers were passed round (Madison was especially proud of how her homemade cheese puffs had turned out), and everyone seemed to be having a good time. As the evening wore on, the eggnog loosened the guests up a little and by the end of the party, a few people were saying it was the best they’d been to yet. Even Josephine, who could always be counted on to find fault with something, said she was enjoying herself.
‘Honestly, Madison,’ she said in her condescending voice, ‘You’ve done a great job. You even look really nice tonight.’
‘Thank you,’ Madison responded. Dina shot her a sympathetic glance. She came in for her share of Josephine’s criticism too.

After gently closing the door behind the last guest, Carl joined Madison in the kitchen, where she was rinsing out glasses and putting them in the dishwasher. He came up behind her, put his arms around her and rested his chin on her shoulder. ‘You did great,’ he said. She could feel his smile even though she wasn’t looking at him.
She turned around and put her arms round his neck. ‘You think?’
‘I know. Everything under control here?’
‘I think so. If you’ll just start bringing in the plates and the rest of the glasses, I’ll load them, and then we can start on the trash.’
‘Your wish is my command.’ He kissed her lightly and went out of the kitchen. She watched him move with that self-assurance that can only come from rich parents and an expensive education.

Soon he came back in, his arms filled with dishes. For the next twenty minutes, he and Madison said little to each other as they began to clean. Then, at about one o’clock, his telephone sounded. He raised his eyebrows, pulled it out of his pocket and looked at the screen. ‘It’s Adrian,’ he said. He answered the call, spoke for a few minutes and then pushed the ‘End Call’ button. Slipping the telephone back into his pocket, he smiled broadly at his wife.
‘Everything according to plan!’
‘Really? You mean it?’
‘I sure do. Mom died about fifteen minutes ago.’
Madison smiled back. ‘Then it did work. I knew nobody would notice anything.’
‘And you were right.’ He kissed her again and went back to get more dirty dishes from the living room.

Madison smiled even more happily as she looked around the kitchen. It had been a great idea. With all of those guests, most of whom disliked Josephine as much as she and Carl did, there’d be no way to figure out who’d put the weed killer in Josephine’s glass of eggnog. If the police even figured out what killed her. And now Carl and Adrian were set to inherit serious money. She was going to enjoy learning how to be one of the ‘beautiful people.’ I guess even rich people need some help from the rest of us sometimes, she thought.


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Crime Fiction News Break



Links You’ll Want

Rob Kitchin

Rebecca Bradley

The Very Best of 81 Words (So Far)

Quercus Books

Crime Book Club 


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What’s the Buzz? Tell Me What’s Happening*

BookForMaxineAs December starts, people are already planning their reading for next year. I know for my part, I get some of my best ideas for what to read from the many excellent crime fiction book and book review blogs I visit. You can see a list of them on my sidebar. Check ‘em out yourself and you’ll see just how great they are.

One terrific resource for great crime fiction is Petrona Remembered, a book blog in memory of Maxine Clarke, who was a devoted friend to the genre. Have a look at the blog and you’ll see how many terrific books are featured there.

And part of the reason for that is an excellent idea from Bill Selnes at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan. Bill’s idea was that each month, Petrona Remembered would feature a review of a book that the reviewer would recommend to Maxine. That way, there’d always be new books to explore, and the blog would continue to pay tribute to Maxine and her love of fine crime novels throughout the year.

Since July we’ve had some fantastic ideas for great reads. To those of you’ve who’ve contributed – thank you!! It would be wonderful if this could continue. If you would like to contribute a review, here’s how it works:

  1. Choose a book from among your best reads this year that you would recommend to Maxine. To get a sense of what she was like as a reader/reviewer, you can check out Petrona Remembered.

  2. Choose a month during which you would like your review to appear. We would love to have a contribution for December, so feel free to put your hand up!

  3. Let me know (margotkinberg(at)gmail(dot)com) that you’d like to contribute a review of that book.

  4. Send your book review to me.

  5. Watch your book review magically appear on Petrona Remembered at the same time as you put it up on your own blog if you wish.

Easy as!

Interested??? Thought so! Questions?? Please let me know as soon as possible so that we can get your review scheduled.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Andrew Lloyd Weber and Time Rice’s What’s the Buzz?


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A Run For the Border…

RunFortheBorderTom hid in the bushes, making as little noise as he could. They’d almost caught him a few weeks ago, but he’d managed to get away. Since then he’d been hiding out wherever he could. He knew he wasn’t safe as long as he stayed here. Sooner or later, they’d find him again and then he’d be done for. If he could just make it to the border, he figured, he’d be all right. And he was going to have to do it soon, too, because the weather was turning colder and colder. He couldn’t risk any populated places where there might be warmth, so unless he headed south, he’d likely freeze.

He listened carefully for a while, but he didn’t hear anything much. Just the occasional thwack as a pine cone hit the ground. Good. He was safe for the moment. He poked his head around the bush to be sure. Nobody there. Tom was getting tired, but he couldn’t afford to stop now. There were still a few hours of daylight left and he’d have to make use of them.

For a long while he moved along in a southerly direction, stopping now and then to listen for sounds that they might be following him. Once he heard voices calling to each other and hid until they went by. Finally he saw the sun start to dip behind the white spruces and the jack pines. He was going to have to find shelter for the night soon. Tired, hungry and very much afraid of being caught, Tom finally found a place to settle in. He hid among some white pine branches – not comfortable, but he was used to this by now – and tried to get some rest.

When Tom woke, the sun was just peeking over the horizon. It was early, but he wanted to get a move on. He had a long way to go and who knew how long it’d be before they’d pick up his trail. He shook himself a little and went in search of something to eat. There wasn’t much at this time of year, and he couldn’t afford to be seen going to a grocery store or a restaurant. So he foraged around until he found some chestnuts and one of the last of this year’s apples. That would have to do.

After he ate, Tom was ready to get going. He pointed himself south and spent half of the day making as much progress as he could. At least the weather wasn’t too bad. There’d been some snow, but he’d dealt with that before. It was cold, but there wasn’t much he could do about that. Just as the sun got to the highest point in the sky, Tom saw it straight ahead: the border!

He’d have to be very careful. A fugitive like him couldn’t just approach the Customs inspector, show his passport and go. He’d have to find another way. He waited for a while, watching everything from behind a convenient Douglas fir. No-one noticed him. Finally he saw what he wanted. An old pickup truck with a cover over its bed had joined the trail of vehicles on the Canadian side of the border. Tom glanced around quickly. Nobody was paying any attention. He quickly scurried up to the truck and dove onto the truck bed under the cover. It was tight and uncomfortable and not at all what he was used to doing. But he had no choice. The last thing he wanted was for anyone at the border to see him. It seemed to take forever for the truck to approach the border crossing, and Tom was getting a little claustraphobic stuck under that cover. But he stayed still and made no noise at all. It was the only way to get across.

After an eternity, the truck finally finished clearing Customs and crossed to the U.S. side. Finally!!! Safety at last! Tom felt a weight lifting off his shoulders as he thought about what he’d do next. It occurred to him that if he stayed in the truck, he’d get where he was going a lot more quickly than if he got out. And it wasn’t easy for a runner like him to hitchhike. So, despite his close quarters, Tom decided to stick it out for a bit.

The truck continued for about three hours and then came to a stop. Tom felt the driver get out and slam the cab door. Then he risked peeping out from under the cover. They were at some sort of hotel or motel – not the sort of place Tom could afford to be seen. He was going to have to take his chances somewhere else.

He got all the way the out from under the cover, hopped down from the truck bed and headed directly for the trees that lined the hotel’s property. At least among the trees he’d be less likely to be seen. Before long, he’d completely lost himself in some woods.

‘Shhhh!’ Mack hissed. ‘I hear something!’
Jared nodded and froze in place. For a short while there was no sound at all. Then they both heard it: a soft rustling of leaves.
‘That’s a gobbler for sure!’ Jared whispered. Mack agreed, but conversation wasn’t his thing, especially after a long, fruitless day of hunting. He pointed wordlessly ahead of him and both of them looked intently in the direction of the sound they’d heard. They’d been sitting for an hour with their backs against two big oak trees, just waiting for this moment.

In a moment, Tom came into view. Mack and Jared were fairly sure he didn’t know they were there. Jared pointed, and Mack nodded and aimed his gun. Bam! They’d gotten a beautiful big bird. Poor Tom! Too bad no-one told him that the US and Canada don’t celebrate Thanksgiving on the same day!

Happy Thanksgiving to all those who celebrate it. And to all of you, wherever you are, whatever you celebrate, all my best always. Know that I am grateful to you.


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One Man, One Hour

One Man One HourFelipe balled up his hands and stuffed them into the pockets of his jacket. People said it was always warm in Southern California, but not at six-thirty on a late November morning. At least it wasn’t warm by his standards. He didn’t like the cold, but hopefully he wouldn’t be outdoors for long. Oscar, Diego and Antonio, the guys he usually waited with, had already been picked up for a local contracting job. But that company only needed three workers. Now it was just him and Rafael. The group of them usually started at six, because that was when the contractors went to The Do-It-Yourself Place to get building materials. They’d wait outside, just off the store’s property, to see if anyone needed extra day help.

At least the weather boded well. It was bright and sunny, which meant landscapers and builders would be out in full force. So would the do-it-yourself types who found they got more than they bargained for with their home improvement projects. Felipe was pretty sure he’d find something. Just then, a late-model Lincoln pulled over nearby and the driver got out. Salt-and-pepper hair, sunshades, brand-name light jacket. He walked over to Felipe and Rafael.
‘I need some help moving some furniture this morning. One man, one hour.’
By mutual consent, it was Felipe’s turn, so he stepped forward. He was glad the man spoke in Spanish, because he didn’t speak very much English yet. ‘I can do it,’ he said.
The man looked him over, nodded and gestured towards the Lincoln.

As they approached the car, Felipe’s new employer stuck his hand out and said, ‘Pete.’
‘OK, Felipe, here’s what I need. I’ve got a sofa and a large matching chair that I need to get rid of, but I can’t do it myself. You help me throw them away, you get twenty dollars.’
Felipe and Pete got into the car and in a moment were on their way.

After about a ten-minute ride, they pulled up at a nice-looking house. It wasn’t a mansion, but it looked well-kept.
‘Here we are,’ Pete said as he stopped the engine. He and Felipe got out of the car and went inside. Right past the entrance was a living room. ‘The furniture’s in here,’ Pete said, gesturing towards the room. Felipe walked past Pete into the room and then saw the body lying on the floor, with the upended handbag next to it.

For a moment he stood, frozen, at the entrance to the living room. She was young-looking, with long curly black hair and a nice body. She was probably pretty while she was alive. Not now, though. Not after what the strangling had done to her face. Felipe looked from the body back to Pete. This time, Pete was holding a gun and pointing it at him.
‘Now here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to get this sofa and chair out of here, just like I said. That’s all you need to worry about for right now. And don’t do anything stupid.’
Felipe nodded.

The two men spent the next fifteen minutes carrying first the chair and then the sofa out of the house and leaving them by the curb; pickup day would be the next day. Pete made no obvious gestures, but Felipe knew he had the gun ready to use. When they were done, Pete said, ‘Now, let’s go back inside.’
Felipe went first, with Pete following closely behind.

When they got inside the house, Pete reached into his pocket and said, ‘Nothing against you personally, but I don’t have a choice. You came in here, you killed my wife, I caught you and shot you. That’s what I’m going to –’
Felipe swung as hard as he could at Pete’s chest, knocking the wind out of him. As Pete struggled to catch his breath, Felipe pushed him up against the fireplace and banged his head against it. Not enough to do serious damage, but he’d have one hell of a headache when he came to. How stupid did this guy think he was? After what Felipe had gone through with the coyote who’d brought him over the border, dealing with Pete was nothing.

But he still ought to do something about the gun, which had fallen out of Pete’s pocket onto the floor. It was a little too close for comfort right next to the unconscious man. He shoved it away with his foot. Then he left the living room and went outside. He’d need to get out of here quickly, before anyone really noticed him, so he started walking.

As he passed the furniture on the curb, he noticed again a long tear on the underside of one of the cushions. In the outdoor light he saw something he hadn’t seen when he was bringing it out. Glancing around quickly to make sure nobody was watching, he slid his hand in. Out came an envelope. He didn’t want to call attention to himself so he put it into his jacket pocket. Then he started walking again.

Within two blocks he’d gotten to a bus stop. No-one else was there, which was just what Felipe wanted. He pulled the envelope out of his pocket and looked inside. He hadn’t seen that much money since he’d paid the coyote. There must be ten thousand dollars there! He shoved the envelope back into his pocket when a bus pulled up, and got on it. He had to make a transfer, but forty minutes later he was back at The Do-It-Yourself Place. It wouldn’t be long now before he could bring Lupe and their daughter Cecelia to live with him.

Two hours later, Brian and Vince pulled up to the house. ‘He better have it,’ Brian muttered as they went to the door.
‘His funeral if he don’t,’ Vince said. Then he knocked on the door. No answer. He knocked again, this time harder. Still no answer. After a minute he tried the door. It wasn’t locked. Weird, but it did make their job easier.

Brian and Vince went into the living room just as Pete was drfiting back into painful consciousness.
‘What the hell happened to you?’ Brian asked him. ‘You owe somebody else, too?’
Pete shook his head and struggled to sit up.
‘You got our money?’
‘I did,’ Pete croaked. ‘Trina took it. She wouldn’t tell me what she did with it.’
‘See, that don’t help us very much,’ Vince said.
‘No, I don’t think that’s going to be enough,’ Brian said.
Pete slumped back to the floor.


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