Dorothy Howell, Mystery Author
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Excerpt from Fanny Packs and Foul Play

Chapter One

“I’d die for a new handbag,” Marcie said.

I was ready to kill for one but didn’t say so.  Marcie had been my best friend since forever.  She already knew. 

We were at the Galleria in Sherman Oaks, one of L.A.s many upscale areas, scoping out the shops and boutiques.  Marcie and I shared a love—okay, it was really an obsession, but so what—of designer handbags . 

All things fashion-forward were of supreme interest to us.  But that was to be expected.  We were both in our mid-twenties, smack in the middle of our we-have-to-look-great-now-before-it’s-too-late years.  Marcie was a petite blonde, and I, Haley Randolph, was tall with dark hair.  Marcie was sensible and level headed, and I—well, I wasn’t.  But that’s not the point.  We’re still BFFs and that’s what matters.

Since we’d exhausted all the places we should have been able to find a terrific handbag, we moved through the open-air shopping center past the stores, restaurants, and office spaces toward the parking garage.  I had on a fabulous black business suit, since I was on my lunch hour, and Marcie had taken the day off from her job at a bank downtown so she had on jeans, a sweater, and a blazer.  We looked great—perfect for a November afternoon.

“What the heck is wrong with all the designers?” I asked, as we passed one of the boutiques we’d already checked out.  “All they have to do is design handbags.  That’s it.  And I haven’t seen one decent bag in months.”

“It hasn’t been months,” Marcie pointed out.  “Only a few weeks.”

She was right, of course.  Marcie was almost always right.

I was in no mood.

“You’ve been kind of crabby lately,” Marcie said, as only a BFF can.  “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I insisted.

Marcie gave me a we’re-best-friends look which was usually comforting, but not today.  My life had been a roller coaster for a while now, but I’d been doing okay with it.  I had a great job as an event planner at L.A. Affairs and … and …and—wait.  Hang on.  Was that the only good thing I had going?

Oh my God.  It was.

I still had my will-this-nightmare-ever-end part-time sales clerk job at the how-the-heck-does-this-crappy-place-stay-in-business Holt’s Department Store.  My mom was driving me crazy—no, really, crazier than usual—over prep for her upcoming Thanksgiving dinner that I was expected to attend.  I’d broken up with my hot, handsome, fabulous official boyfriend Ty Cameron.  I was staring down the barrel of the single girl’s Bermuda Triangle of holidays—Christmas, New Years, and Valentine’s Day—and lately it seemed that if civilization were dying, men would rather let it go than date me.

So was it too much to ask that a designer somewhere come up with a fabulous new handbag that would soothe my worries, boost my spirits, and keep me going until things turned around?

Apparently, it was.

“If you want to talk, I’ll be home late tonight,” Marcie said.  “I’m having dinner with Beau.”

Oh, yeah, and Marcie had a new boyfriend—which I’m really happy about.  Really. 

“Have fun,” I said, which I totally meant. 

Marcie had kissed her share of frogs, and while Beau might not be her prince, he was at least a really nice guy, good looking with a great job, and liked to go places and do things with her—which was why I was really happy for her.  Really. 

We waved good-bye and Marcie continued on toward the parking garage.  I headed the other way through the Galleria and crossed the busy Sepulveda and Ventura intersection to the building that housed L.A. Affairs, an event planning company to the stars—and everyone else who mattered in Hollywood and Los Angeles.  It was my job to execute fabulous parties for people who had more money than they knew what to do with so they spent it on extravagant, outrageous, mine-is-better-than-yours events, then left it up to me to, somehow, pull it off. 

I took the elevator up to the L.A. Affairs office on the third floor and walked inside.  A florist on our approved list—who wanted us to keep booking them for events—had decorated the lobby with pumpkins, corn stalks, and mum plants. 

Mindy, our receptionist, was at her post.  She was somewhere in her forties, with a waistline that attested to her total commitment to the Food Network, and blonde hair she’s sprayed into the shape of a mushroom.

If it’s true that we learn from our mistakes, Mindy will soon be a genius.

“Are you ready to party?” Mindy exclaimed.

She’s supposed to chant that ridiculous slogan to clients, yet for some unknown reason I was continually bombarded with it. 

“I work here,” I told her, for about the zillionth time.  “Okay?  I’m an employee.  Here.  You don’t have to keep saying that to me.”

Mindy made a pouty face and shook her head.  “Oh, dear, someone is having a bad day.”

I walked away. 

Just past the cube farm and the client interview rooms I turned down the hallway where the offices, supply room, conference rooms, and breakroom were located.  I desperately needed to hit the snack cabinet.  I was long overdue for a chocolate fix, and the mocha frappuccino—the most fabulous drink in the world—that I’d gotten after lunch at Starbucks—the most fabulous place in the world—had worn off.  

I ducked into my private office—a great space with neutral furniture and splashes of blue and yellow, and a huge window with a view of the Galleria—and was about to drop my handbag into my desk drawer when my cell phone rang.   It was Mom.

Oh crap.

“Good news,” she announced when I answered.

Mom’s news was seldom good—for me, anyway.

“I’ve figured out how to remedy my seating chart problem,” she said

Mom said it as if she’d just hammered out a peace treaty in the Middle East, and while she did wish for world peace—she was, after all, a former beauty queen—I’m not sure she was even aware there were problems in that region of the world. 

Really, how could she know if it wasn’t covered in Vogue

“Oh?” I murmured, as I dropped into my desk chair. 

“I’ve been quite concerned about your sister lately,” Mom said. 

To the untrained observer, it appeared that Mom’s seating chart and her concerns for my sister weren’t related.  I knew the connection would be revealed—as long as I was patient enough to wait.

I’m not usually that patient.

“She hasn’t been herself since she broke up with Lars,” Mom said. 

I had no idea who Lars was.

My sister was a little younger than me.  She attended UCLA, did some modeling, and was a near perfect genetic copy of our mother. 

I wasn’t.

“So,” Mom said, “I’m going to find a dinner companion for your sister on Thanksgiving.”

I lurched forward in my chair.  She was going to—what?

“That way she won’t be lonely and sad,” Mom said.  

She was going to set up my sister with a blind date? 

“Someone from a good family, of course,” Mom said.  “Young and handsome, well educated.”

What about me?  She knew I’d broken up with Ty.      

“Which will also solve my seating chart problem,” Mom said.

No way did I want my mother to set me up with somebody—but that’s not the point. 

“I’m calling around now to see who’s eligible,” Mom said.  “I’ll let you know.”

She hung up.  I jabbed the red button on my cell phone and tossed it into my handbag.

Oh my God, I couldn’t believe this.  My life was locked in a death spiral and this was what Mom wanted to do?

The office phone on my desk rang.  It was Mindy.

“Hello?  Hello?  Haley?” she asked, when I picked up. 

I drew a quick breath, trying to calm myself.

“Yes, Mindy?”

“Oh, yes, hello.  I’d like to speak to Haley,” Mindy said.

Good grief.

“I’m Haley,” I said. 

“Oh, jiminy, so you are,” Mindy said and giggled.  “So, anyway, there’s a Mr. Douglas in the office—no, he’s on the phone.  Yes, he’s on the phone, holding.  He wants to come by and see you right now.”

A man wanted an appointment?  In person?  Immediately?

That could only mean one thing—he wanted to plan a surprise party for his wife or girlfriend.   Somebody he desperately loved, thought the world of, wanted to impress and flatter, and shower with special moments.

No way.

“Tell him to forget it,” I barked, and hung up. 

Two people had told me today that I was in a crappy mood.  Well, screw them. 

I grabbed my handbag and an event portfolio and left.

 

All of Dorothy’s novels are available in paperback and ebook editions on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Indiebound.

 

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