Friday, February 5, 2016

Chapter 1 of the new Ari-Zoe story--quick peek

Here's a peek at the opening of the sequel to MURDER BY THE MARFA LIGHTS.

"How did you find his body?" my sister Zoë asked, not because she wanted to know, but primarily to irritate me.

Tabitha looked around furtively, then spoke in an exaggerated English accent while pretending to peer through fake pince-nez. "Acceptable, my dear Watson."

She and Zoë guffawed. "More than acceptable, surely," Zoë said, setting the bait.

"And don't call me Shirley," added our other lunchmate, Samantha, in a Groucho voice. This sent both of the others into peals of laughter.

"Look over at the next table. The one in the red jacket. Hubba hubba hottie," said Tabatha between chortles. Rather too loudly.

"Cougars," said Samantha. "The kid can't be more than sixteen."

This observation--quite true--led to renewed hysteria.

"Quiet," I finally hissed, even without benefit of any esses. "He'll hear you."

"I don't care if he does, Ari. Men are all crazy." Tabitha dabbed at her eyes with the orange cloth napkin. They do it up right at Zorreia's Tex-Mex, even down to tablecloths of real linen and candles inside screened glass. "Want to hear what Lunkhead said to me after our fight?"

"Even though you're a fat bitch, I love you anyway." Zoë has always been droll.

All three of our companions started crying from the supposed hilarity. "He really didn't say that. Did he really?" Samantha wiped at her eyes with the hem of her tunic.

"Yes, I'm afraid he did." Tabitha nodded, then pantomimed pulling up one's overalls. "Boy howdy, he's a chubby chaser, all right. Always knows just the right thing to say."

"Ranks up there right after 'For a fat girl, you don't sweat much." Sam giggled.

None of us were fat. But it wouldn't matter if we were in Divine's league. Body size and shape did not define a person. Although I was grateful not to be constantly losing the battle of the bulge, at least not yet.

"I prefer the ever-popular 'Does your butt still hurt from where you fell out of Heaven?" Samantha looked at me, as though still believing I would come out with some witticism, or at least half of one.

The waiter interrupted their general hilarity. "Would anyone like to order? Have you heard today's specials?"

Zoë adjusted her half-moon reading glasses (she's far too vain to admit she needs them, so she won't wear bifocals, just gets Wally World cheapies with sparkly purple frames) and began to read, even though she has memorized the items on offer. "You still have the avocado enchiladas? Made with large crescents of avocado?"


She slammed her menu. "With double rice, no beans. And a large peach iced tea. Unsweetened."

I ordered my usual, veggie quesadillas with a side of guac (which Zoë deplores, terming it "gorilla snot") and the other two got the lunch special, chicken fajitas to share. They'd probably take most of it away in a doggie bag, judging from their dieting obsession. Lucky doggie.

"Well?" My sister raised an eyebrow and looked pointedly at me. "What did you think of the waiter? Hottie, or snotty?"

"Shut up," I explained patiently. "You know I hate to categorize people by appearance. He was perfectly adequate. Maybe not the body beautiful of the world, but at least a Doll-Boy." I frowned down at the menu. "But what does it matter to us? We're not in the market."

"Speak for yourself, honey." Samantha's phone rang, and when she read the screen, she rose from the table. "Gotta take this." She headed for the front door.

"Apparently we're not to be privy to her special secrets." Zoë frowned. Surely (Shirley!) she wasn't actually irritated.

"Oh, no," Tabitha said, taking a large sip of her water-with-lemon. "It's probably work, and it's confidential."

"We're not exactly Close Personal Friends," I allowed. "Classmates don't qualify until they've been through initiation."

Zoë inclined her head to agree. "I'm just being mean," she admitted. Typical external behavior, although she was a cream puff inside that steel-clad barrier she'd built for protection.

We had signed up for this travel photography course at Renner Community College on a whim. Actually, I had signed both of us up, thinking it might be a good way to get Zoë out of her house for a change. She hadn't been going out much since we got back from Aaron's funeral in Marfa, and I was afraid she had slipped back into the slough of despond. Of course, she was entitled to, since my nephew Ricky had passed away only two years ago this month. Grief has no timeline. They tell you time heals, but it only makes it recede a little. You never got over something like that.

The class turned out to just barely make, with the only students being Zoë and I, these two (also sisters, although ten years younger at twentysomething than we were at thirtybouncing), and a tall kid who kept his baseball cap (worn forwards, for once) pulled down over his forehead and never said a word. Either reticent, or the FBI plant, we figured. At any rate, we'd looked at each other after the first class and agreed on lunch, and here we were making it a regular appointment. At Zoe's favorite restaurant.

"Anyway, here comes our food," I said in a deliberately cheerful tone. I was going to enjoy myself despite their sexist and appearance-ist conversation, by Zeus.

"Plates are hot," the server warned. And was right. I almost singed my fingers adjusting the platter.

I hadn't even taken a bite when Tab's phone rang and she also rushed out. I shot my sister a significant look.

Hating to not be the center of attention, my phone warbled.

I picked up. "Ari French, how may I help you?" I said without thinking. I'm used to answering phone calls at my job on the help desk at Aqualife, "the fishes' place." Had "Hello" gone out of style?

"Um. Yes," said a strained voice. "Are you the"--the voice consulted a rustling page--"the niece of Agatha French of Rachel, Arizona?"

A spider inched up my backbone. "Yes, I am, at least one of them, I mean."

"I'm sorry to have to be the bearer of ill tidings." The voice went on for a minute or so, but I could barely comprehend it. When it quieted, I thanked it and gently placed the phone on the tablecloth.

Zoe eyed me suspiciously. "What?"

"Aunt Agatha." A heavy sign escaped me. "She's dead."

For once, Zoë was speechless. "Not to put too fine a point on it," she said at last.

"I saw no reason to tease you and drag it out." Slipping my phone back into my purse, I spied our companions returning. "Cheezit until later. No use upsetting them."

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