Bitter End

 

Bitter End first appeared in the May, 2016, edition of Mystery Weekly Magazine.

 

 

It was two o’clock in the morning on the eleventh of August and no one, except Louise Tellier Hannington Brown, had any idea where I was.

She’d called me out of the blue a week ago, unhappy with her lawyer, her husband’s lawyer and her impending divorce.  I should have hung up immediately but we’d known each other since high school and I owed her one.

“If you think Ted’s hiding something on his boat, Louise, why don’t you just go down to the marina and check it out?”

I heard the flick of a lighter on the other end of the line.  Louise smoked when she was agitated.  I drank coffee.  Pouring myself another cup, I walked out onto my back deck.  It was going to be a scorcher.

I wiggled my bare feet in the sun.  The nail polish might be a little chipped around the edges, but, all in all, I was doing pretty well.

Unlike the rest of us, Louise had been racking up her assets the old-fashioned way.  Ted Brown was her third, and wealthiest, husband to date.

Brilliant and ruggedly good-looking, Ted had been at the forefront of the high-tech industry, launching first one company with his partners, and then another.  Now he wanted to kick back and cruise the Caribbean.  Without Louise.

“His lawyer’s slapped me with a restraining order!  Can you believe it?”  She exhaled angrily into the phone.

“What’d you do?  Beat the guy up?”  I watched Marm, my three-year-old ginger cat, chase a black squirrel out of the yard.

“I got tired of leaving messages on his machine so I went down to the marina.  The guard wouldn’t let me past the front gate…”

“…and?”  The squirrel was back, sneaking along the fence, a kamikaze rodent in black fur, searching for his target.

“What was I supposed to do?  Say `thank you very much’ and go home?”

Apparently, she’d torn a strip off the guard, thrown her BMW into reverse and blocked the entrance to the parking lot, refusing to leave until the club manager had threatened her with the police.  They’d called Ted.  He’d called his lawyer and now Louise was calling me.

I went inside for a notebook.  I’d worked off and on for years as a chartered accountant before specializing in the relatively new field of forensic accounting.  I learned my trade at one of the biggest firms in the country, tracking “hidden” assets and investigating fraud.  Now I was on my own, picking up enough business to pay my rent and my share of raising the kids.

Meagan and Patrick, my fifteen-year-old twins.  At the moment, they were vacationing with their father in Cape Cod.  Which suited me well.  If I was going to get involved with Louise, I’d rather they were safely out of town.

To be honest, I felt a little squeamish about delving into Ted and Louise’s personal affairs, but under the latest family law legislation, she had a claim on half the assets Ted had accumulated during their six-year marriage.

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why Louise wanted access to the Yellow Goose.  Ted’s financial declaration, according to her calculations, was out by a few million dollars.  If he was hiding something, it would, in all likelihood, be aboard the Yellow Goose, the one constant in his life.

“I can’t just sail into a strange marina.”

“Why not?”

“At the very least, it’s trespassing.”

“It’s not as though you haven’t been there before…” if sarcasm was a liquid, Louise’s phone must be dripping with it.

I picked up a pen and started doodling.  “You talking about the Somerset Yacht Club?”

“Don’t play dumb, Stevie.  It doesn’t suit you.”

Oh, but it did.  When it came to affairs of the heart, I was a total incompetent.  Just ask my ex-husband, John Carston.

I’d married him when I was twenty-one, juggling kids and career to put him through law school.  Twelve years later, we’d divorced.  I’d kept his name and the kids.  Since then, I’d had a few serious relationships, but none of them had panned out.

Then a year ago last spring, I’d bumped into Ted at the local boat show.  He and Louise had split after a major row, and I was at loose ends having been without a partner for about a year.  His offer to go sailing was irresistible.  But by the end of the summer, he was back with Louise and I was in dry dock.  The next spring I’d bought a boat of my own, the Indigo Blue, a twenty-four-foot Shark with a sweet cut to her jib.

“If I’d thought you and Ted were going to get back together, I never would have gotten involved.”

“Take the case and I’ll forgive you.”

“The guilt I can deal with, Louise.  How much are you willing to pay?”

“Five thousand up front and a ten percent finder’s fee.”

Sailing’s an expensive sport.  I took the job.

read more…

Silver Threads

 

I love silver. In all its guises. From silver cuffs and statement rings to sugar bowls and tea pots, the lure of a finely wrought piece of silver is irresistible. The hours I’ve spent in the silver hall at the Victoria & Albert museum gliding from one stunning display to the next, have given me an appreciation for silver as art, as utilitarian, and as historical record.

But, as a child, silver meant only one thing. We were eating in the dining room, and all the knives, forks and spoons had to be polished before company arrived. These days my flatware spends more time in the drawer than it does on the table, but not my silver candlesticks.

They are a thing of beauty.

Nothing is more elegant, or flattering, than basking in the soft glow of candlelight. Or more romantic. But before the advent of electricity and gas lighting, candles had a far more practical use, as did silver. Its reflective qualities made life, upstairs at any rate, a little easier and a whole lot brighter.

And there was the beginning of the story.

A single 18th century antique candlestick, rumored to be part of a much larger collection once belonging to King George II, has come on the market. Attracting our modern-day silver expert Samantha Redfern and her boss, Chas Porter, who for very different reasons, are both desperate to own it.

 The candlestick was in superb condition.

 Just under nine inches in height with a circular base, swirling shell motifs rising up its stem and a petal-shaped lip surrounding the socket. In a London sale, he would expect it to sell for another five hundred pounds. At least. A pair wouldn’t just double the price, it would triple it.

The candlestick’s monetary value has little to do with the story. It’s all about history, Chas’ and Sam’s, and how a single candlestick can change everything.

When Chas asks Sam about her interest in silver in Chapter Two of Outbid by the Boss, her passion bubbles to the surface. She reveals more than she knows, about herself, her childhood and her family.

…“I saw a painting when I was a young girl…called Five O’Clock Tea. It was only a picture in a book…about women silversmiths,” she blushed slightly. “Two young Victorian women sitting on a chintz sofa. There’s a silver tea service arranged on the table in front of them. One wears a hat and gloves and sips from a delicate porcelain cup. She’s the visitor. They’re just friends having tea, yet it was so…captivating.”

Enchanted, Chas watched the memories play across Sam’s face. She really was beautiful, and so much more real to him than she had ever been before.

She must have sensed he was looking at her. “I guess I was hooked.”

“On silver?” asked Chas.

Sam laughed. “Tea parties. My grandmother was a good sport.”

The painting Sam refers to is by Mary Cassatt, an American artist who lived and worked for much of her life in Paris. And the book Sam refers to is on my shelf. Published by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, it catalogues the museum’s collection of works by women silversmiths from 1685 to 1845.

“Businesswomen,” Philippa Glanville writes in the book’s opening chapter, “are not 20th-century phenomena.” Nor was their contribution to the silver industry. They were active business partners, owners and artisans making beautiful and functional objects from buttons and christening cups, to jewellery and candlesticks.

The threads of history continue to intrigue and inspire no matter what I write.

Outbid by the Boss is by Anne Stephenson & Susan Brown writing as Stephanie Browning.

Writing For Children

 

When I first started reading mysteries, it was all about Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and their uncanny ability to get out of any small-town scrape that came their way.  They didn’t need rescuing and neither do the kids in the books I like to write.  Or the adults, for that matter.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, letting the kids solve their own problems was the secret, for me, to a good read.  In a world dominated by adults, those stories were a refuge.  They helped shape my sense of self as I moved through my teen years, and ultimately, my choice of career.

One of the first books I wrote was for eight to 12-year-olds.

The Mysterious Mr. Moon follows the adventures of Peter and Allison Martindale as they adjust to life in the small town of Maple Bay.   Their parents, as the new owners of the Coach House Inn, are struggling to make ends meet.  Especially during the off-season.

So when a mysterious stranger comes to stay, they welcome him with open arms.  But Peter and Allison are not so sure Mr. Moon is who he appears to be.  For one thing, his interest in Mrs. Gruger, the town’s wealthy widow, is decidedly suspect, and he refuses to have anyone enter his room — even to change the sheets!

After tracking his every move, by Chapter Ten, Peter and Allison are convinced Mr. Moon’s about to bump off Mrs. Gruger, And they have the “hard evidence” to prove it…

    “Oh, by the way,” Mr. Moon said to Mr. Martindale.  “You are still serving beef stroganoff tomorrow night, aren’t you?  I’ve asked Mr. Gruger to join me for dinner.”

   Peter froze in the doorway.  Beef stroganoff!  Of course!  Why hadn’t he thought of it before?

   Allison lay in bed listening to the wind.  The shutters rattled and the old maples creaked with each new gust.  The waves would be crashing against the cliff, carving out giant scoops of earth and carrying them away.  A perfect night for a murder.  She shivered and pulled the covers up to her chin.

   There was a rap on the door.

   Allison sat up, the blankets clenched in her fists. “Who’s there?” she called in a squeaky voice.

   “Peter, your brother!  Remember me?”  The door swung open and Peter’s shadow entered the room.  He stood in the doorway, his lean figure illuminated by the hall light.

   “I’ve figured out how he’s going to do it,” he announced, striding into the room.  “Beef stroganoff!”

   “Beef stroganoff?  Peter, what are you talking about?”

   Peter plunked himself down on the edge of Allison’s bed.  “What is it,” he said patiently, “that you don’t like about beef stroganoff?”

  “Mushrooms,” his sister replied automatically.  “You know that.”  Her hand flew to her mouth.  “There’s mushrooms in beef stroganoff.”

   “And guess who Mr. Moon has invited to have dinner with him tomorrow night?”

   “Mrs. Gruger!”

   “Exactly.”  Peter hopped off the bed and began to stride around the room.  “Mom is always saying you can hardly taste the mushrooms in beef stroganoff, right?”

   Allison nodded.

   “So all he has to do is slip the Angel of Death into the beef stroganoff, and presto!  No more Mrs. Gruger!”  Peter stopped dead in his tracks.  “I just thought of something.  What if everybody thinks it’s food poisoning?”

   “Then Mr. Moon will get off scot-free and nobody will ever come to the Coach House Inn again,” cried Allison.  “Then we’ll really be poor!”

Needless to say, the kids and their friends saved the day in Chapter Twelve, The Deadly Dinner, with the added bonus that Mr. Moon wasn’t such a bad guy after all….

Now available in paperback on Amazon 

Three Mystery Shorts…the gestation of a small collection

 

When I first thought about bringing Bitter End, Oscar Chump and Bermuda Short together, I wasn’t sure what connected them.  The differences were easy to pick out; each story is unique to its setting, both in time and place, and their central characters are as idiosyncratic as you and me.

But what they did have in common was the desire for revenge.  They might go about it in different ways, and for different reasons, but at the end of the day, it’s about getting your own back even if it is only on the page!

Which led me to my title:  Revenge With A Twist, three mystery shorts varying in length from 2,999 words to 5,200.

The longest in the collection is Bermuda Short, my first adult fiction.

I had just returned from a family holiday in Bermuda with the sights and sounds of the island still fresh in my mind, when there was a call for submissions to Cold Blood IV, part of a long-running anthology edited by Peter Sellers, and published by Mosaic Press.  They were looking for original stories and dangling a huge carrot…the book would be launched at Bouchercon, the international convention for mystery writers, to be held in Toronto the following autumn.

Talk about motivation!  I confess it took me several months to “get it right,” but by then I’d made the leap from writing exclusively for nine-to-12 year olds.

And then there’s Oscar Chump, a small-town mystery with a fifties’ feel.  For years, all I had was the title and the lyrics from a 1956 rock-and-roll song by Jim Lowe.  He kept asking “Green Door, what’s that secret you’re keeping?”   I had no idea, so I asked Oscar Chump.  I’m pretty sure the secret I came up with wasn’t exactly the answer Jim Lowe had in mind, but I had my story.

We’ll file that one under writer’s revenge; I had way too much fun with my cast of characters!

And while divorce does turn deadly in Bitter End, I swear this one’s total fiction.  Except for maybe the odd bit about sailing (I had a part interest in a twenty-one-foot Shark at the time), and an article I had recently read about forensic accountants searching for the hidden assets of a deposed dictator.  In my short story, the assets are, shall we say, far more personal…and it definitely ends with a twist!

Bitter End first appeared in the May, 2016, edition of Mystery Weekly Magazine which publishes original short stories in print and digital form.  Once they no longer hold exclusive rights, authors are free to publish elsewhere which is exactly what I did.

I had my title ready and waiting, and a few ideas for the cover which I sent to Heather McIntyre at Cover&Layout in the U.K.  And voilà, in March, 2017, Revenge With A Twist appeared “in print” as an eBook with an eye-catching cover and a brand new audience.

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