Best Men, part 1

Friday, November 28

“This kitchen could use an upgrade.”

It was the day after Thanksgiving. Pete and I were standing in the kitchen of his dad’s house with Lisa Tierney, a high

By Cameronnovak (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Cameronnovak (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

school friend of Pete’s brother Steve. More relevant, Lisa was a real estate agent – who was now frowning at us, arms crossed. No doubt calculating the extra commission she’d gain from the sale of a house with a newly renovated kitchen.

Pete said patiently, “It’s not going to get one. Neither are the bathrooms. This is an as-is sale. I thought Steve told you that.”

Lisa’s frown deepened. “He mentioned it. I said I’d have to see the condition of the house first.”

Pete taught at a community college; his patience was legendary – but Lisa was wearing it down. “It’s not your decision, is it, now? What Steve should have told you – what’s going to happen – is that we are going to unload this house ASAP. My dad owns this place outright, and he’s moving to my sister’s in three weeks. He doesn’t need a huge profit from this sale. We will paint the walls and clean everything thoroughly, and that will be the extent of our upgrades. The only question is, do you want this listing or not? ‘Cause if you don’t, we’ll find someone who does.”

Lisa was clearly used to bossing her clients – but she probably hadn’t dealt with a 6’4” ex-cop with a psychology degree who’d been a master at manipulating witnesses. She attempted to stare him down. Pete stared back but didn’t play along. “Jamie, please, check online. See who else is available.”

“You got it.” I whipped my phone out of my back pocket and started tapping.

Lisa huffed, but caved. “All right, fine.” She walked a circle around the kitchen island. “At least the floor plan is semi-open. That helps.” She turned back to face us. “Please tell me you’ll replace the window treatments.”

“Yes. We’ll hang new blinds.”

She pursed her lips, thinking. “You’ll want to consider staging.”

I said, “We have a stager.” Our friend Paul was an interior decorator and professional stager.

Lisa looked us up and down, in our ratty t-shirts and sweats, probably figuring any stager we knew would make the place look like a giant man-cave. “What’s the name? Maybe I know her.”

“Him. Paul Thayer.”

Lisa’s eyes widened. “You know Paul Thayer?”

“Yep. Pete’s going to be his partner’s best man at their wedding next month.”

Lisa gazed at Pete with grudging respect. “All right. You’re going to paint, install blinds, do a deep clean and have Paul stage.”

Pete said, “Right.”

“That’s acceptable.” Lisa was the brisk professional again. “I’ll draw up a contract for an as-is sale.”

I said, “We’ll have our lawyer take a look.”

A tiny muscle under Lisa’s left eye was beginning to twitch. “Of course.” She gathered her purse and briefcase from the kitchen counter. “How long will it take you to have the house ready?”

Pete said, “Two weeks.”

“Fine. I’ll email you the contract for your attorney to review. We’ll meet again Saturday, December 13th.” She consulted her calendar. “Say, 9:00?”

Pete nodded. “We’ll be here.”

“Excellent.” Lisa shook both our hands quickly. “I’ll see you then.”

Pete saw her out then came back to the kitchen, grinning. I said, “Is she the best we can do?”

“She has a terrific reputation. She’s just used to getting her way.” Pete rubbed his hands together. “Ready to start?”


We went into the garage, cracked the lid on a five-gallon container of paint, and got busy.


Sunday, December 7


On December 7 we stood in the same spot, this time accompanied by Paul. Pete and I were exhausted. We’d painted for three days straight the previous weekend, had driven up every day after work for the past week and toiled for a few hours before we dragged ourselves home, then spent the night here on an air mattress for the past two nights. We were trashed, but the house was pristine.

The windows were open to dissipate the faint odor of paint that remained, the new blinds folded neatly at the top of each window. The kitchen, bathrooms, and tile floors sparkled. We’d painted the walls and the ceilings, used cat litter to get rid of the oil and grease spots on the garage floor and driveway, and washed all the windows and screens inside and out. We’d moved Jack’s remaining belongings to a storage unit nearby to wait for moving day.

Mel had approved the contract. Lisa brought us a print copy Wednesday evening; Pete took it to the skilled nursing facility where his dad was in a cardiac rehabilitation program and got Jack’s signature. Paul would do the staging this week, and next Saturday Lisa could begin showing the place.

We’d just brought Paul through the garage, into the house. He’d been dictating notes to himself into his phone. “Garage, empty. Nothing needed. Kitchen…” He looked around, assessing. “Too bad you didn’t have time for an upgrade in here.”

I groaned. Pete said, “Not only did we not have time, we didn’t have the money. Besides, you’ll make it look great, right?”

Paul sighed and began dictating. “Kitchen. Maple wood cabinets with white pulls. White walls. Need two bar stools, kitchen towels – yellow and white. Stripe, not checked.”

I said, “What’s wrong with checked?”

Paul said, “We are marketing this house as classy comfort, not country kitsch. Stripes are classy. Checks are country.”

Pete snorted. I said to him, “We’d better get some striped towels.”

Paul rolled his eyes and spoke to his recorder. “For the walls – yellows, oranges. Sun. Or fruit. Contemporary still life. Two place settings for bar, probably solids. Fiestaware. Don’t forget cloth napkins.”

We led Paul through each room as he dictated lists of items to bring, right down to the bathmat. When we stopped at the bedroom that had been Pete’s as a teenager, Paul dictated, “Third bedroom. Tiny. Show it as an office. Table as desk, under window; bookshelves either side; armchair and lamp in corner. Items for desk, contemporary chair.” He paused the recording. “This was a bedroom?”

Pete nodded. “It was my bedroom.”

“Cozy.” Paul moved to the doorway and mused. “Office or nursery?” He tapped his forefinger against his lips.

I said, “An office is classier.”

He gave me a dirty look, but said, “Office it is.”

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Christmas in July!

Chris Downer [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Chris Downer [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

As I promised back in the spring, I’m going to share a short story with you, in installments on this blog over the next few days. The story is called Best Men. It takes place from late November through December 31, a couple of weeks after the end of Hearts, the short story included with Talked to Death.

There’s no mystery here; it’s just a slice of life story – a slice of Pete and Jamie’s life that I needed to show you all before the next book (Avenged to Death) comes out. It wasn’t anything I could turn into or include in a book, so I decided to serialize it here.

Part One will appear tomorrow. Stay tuned!


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I have a Facebook page!

I finally decided to take the plunge and set up a Facebook author page. You can find it at The (new) posts from this blog will appear there, but I’ll post other stuff too – so you’ll have a reason to like the page. :-) Come check it out!


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What I’m reading now: The Girl on the Train

Wow. Ever sit down with a new book, thinking, “I’ll read the first few chapters, then I’ll go do [fill in the blank]” and then you end up not moving for four hours because the book is just that good? It happened to me on Saturday. We’d gotten a copy of The Girl on the Train at the library and I’d heard good things about it, so I checked it out to read. The writer’s name is Paula Hawkins, and this was her first novel – so you never know, right?

Wow. (I think I said that already.) The girl on the train is Rachel, a woman who’s lost her husband and her job due to her alcoholism. She continues to ride the train into London every day, because she’s afraid to tell her roommate that she’s unemployed. As the train passes through the suburbs it slows and often stops at a crossing, and Rachel has the chance to watch a couple in their back garden. She gives them names and imagines an idyllic life for them, transferring what she wishes she still had with her husband to the couple.

Then one day she sees something she shouldn’t have. Or does she? She’s an alcoholic, she has blackouts, she’s an unreliable witness. She goes to the police, but doesn’t think they believe her. She decides to take matters into her own hands – and the consequences are severe.

This is a terrific psychological thriller – not psychological horror, like Stephen King or Dean Koontz can be, but an entirely believable story about entirely believable people whose lives disintegrate in entirely believable ways. I could not put it down. There’s not a word wasted in this book. Hawkins was a journalist first, I believe (and may still be), which probably accounts for that.

In case you can’t tell, I highly recommend The Girl on the Train!

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Launched is scrubbed for now

I went back and forth on the title for this post – Failure to Launch was my other choice, but I decided that “scrubbed” came closer to my meaning.

I’m fortunate to live a little more than an hour’s drive from the Kennedy Space Center. I can see rocket launches from my front yard. When the space shuttle was still flying, I tried to watch as many launches as I could, holding my breath until the solid rocket boosters separated. On a clear day, or at night, you could see that happen; the boosters looked like two small stars floating away from the shuttle as they separated and fell to the ocean.

By Thomas Fawls (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Thomas Fawls (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

I only drove to KSC once to see a launch up close. A friend and I got up before dawn and drove down – it was a morning launch. We got situated, surrounded by an excited crowd – and the time came and went for the launch. A couple of minutes later, someone with a radio got the word – the launch had scrubbed with nine seconds to go.

Aauuggghh!!! So close!

I never went back. I settled for watching from my front yard, knowing that if the launch scrubbed I hadn’t wasted nearly an entire day.


The next book in the Jamie Brodie Mysteries series is Avenged to Death, out this fall, then Played to Death, out (I hope) by the end of the year. The book after Played was going to be Launched to Death. The premise was that Pete’s brother Steve would invite Pete and Jamie to view a rocket launch, since he had worked on the rocket or payload somehow. The launch would maybe get scrubbed, maybe not, but there would be a body found near the pad.

Originally I was going to base the book here, bring the boys to Florida, so I could set a story on my home turf. Then I decided that wouldn’t work logistically – the launch would have to be in California, at Vandenberg AFB. Then a whole host of other issues appeared. What the story was turning into was a good twisty mystery, but there was no emotional component to it. I talked it over several times with my writing group pals, and we finally decided to scrub Launched.

That’s not to say that the Launched window has completely closed. I love the plot ideas that we came up with, and if I can think of a way to use them later, I’m going to. But I just wasn’t feeling it – and if I was going to have this book out by next spring, I was going to have to start feeling it pretty quickly.

So the book after Played to Death will be Filmed to Death, which got pushed back a couple of times in the sequence, but is now just begging to be written. My intention is to still have it published by next spring, which coincidentally will be when the book actually takes place. I haven’t pulled that off before. :)


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What I’m reading now: The Handsome Man’s Deluxe Cafe

The Handsome Man’s Deluxe Cafe is the latest in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, by Alexander McCall Smith. I’ve loved these books from the beginning – they are cozy mysteries, yet entirely unique. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is owned by Precious Ramotswe, a “traditionally built” (I LOVE that phrase!) lady in Botswana. She employs Grace Makutsi, who has risen from secretary to partner. In this book, Mma Makutsi has decided to open a restaurant, the Handsome Man’s Deluxe Cafe, which will cater to the elite of their town. Naturally she runs into difficulties. Meanwhile, Mma Ramotswe is dealing with the mystery of the book – a woman has turned up in town claiming to have amnesia, and the agency has been hired to uncover her identity.

The mystery in this one is pretty thin, but that’s okay. These books are entirely driven by the characters, and my enjoyment of them is based on the fact that I care about these folks and want to see what happens next in their lives. If you like cozy mysteries and are tired of the cats-in-bookstores trope, you should try these books.

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The soundtrack for Talked to Death

This was a tough one. There aren’t that many songs about library conferences. Who’d have thought? :) But I put together a list that I thought matched up with some of the scenes in the book. CAUTION: Spoiler alert!!!


On the Road Again – Willie Nelson: As Jamie and Liz are driving

Shouting in the Library – Popple: When Creighton is arguing in the lobby as Pete and Jamie go to dinner

Something to Talk About – Bonnie Raitt: When Pete and Jamie shower together before bed

Jive Talkin – Bee Gees: When Pete is telling Jamie that the police want them to sit in on the questioning

Librarian – Haunted Love: When Avery Roth is telling the police about Creighton and Renee Jubelirer

Low Budget – The Kinks: When Grant Schaeffer is talking about cuts to the library’s databases at the reception

Sympathy for the Devil – Rolling Stones: When we first see Haywood Kern on Jamie’s laptop

Getting Away With Murder – Papa Roach: When Autumn reports on the sidewalk conversation she overheard

Dirty Work – Steely Dan: As Kern is being led from his home by Detective Rinaldi

Everybody’s Talkin’ – Harry Nilsson: When Rinaldi is telling Pete and Jamie about Amanda and Gwen

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