Authors: Cindy Blackburn
Three Odd Balls
A Cue Ball Mystery
Three Odd Balls
Copyright © 2012 by Cindy Blackburn
Published by Cindy Blackburn
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
All Rights Reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.
For my sister Sharon, who learned to hang ten
at age fifty-four. You go girl!
“I’m loving it, Babe!” Louise shouted into the phone. “Love, love, loving it!!”
I held the receiver a foot away from my ear and wondered why my literary agent even bothered using a telephone. Geez Louise Urko speaks so loudly, and with so many exclamation points, I would have heard her if she had simply opened her office window and bellowed out. Never mind that she works in Manhattan. And I live in North Carolina.
The reason for her excitement?
My South Pacific Paramour
, my alter ego Adelé Nightingale’s next novel. Adelé was venturing into new and untried territory with this one. Instead of placing her energetic and altogether over-sexed lovers somewhere in Europe, sometime in the sixteenth century, Adelé had Delta Touchette and Skylar Staggs seeking adventure and discovering romance in a tropical paradise.
“In the nineteenth century no less!” Louise was shouting. “It’s, like, practically a contemporary, Jessica!”
I shook my head at Louise’s math. “Maybe by Adelé Nightingale standards,” I said. “But the sixteenth century was starting to bore me.”
“Oh, absolutely! All those lords and dukes and earls, with their castles and turrets and dungeons? They were getting downright dreary.”
“And this new setting makes sense.” I winked at my cat Snowflake. “What with Wilson and I heading to Hawaii tomorrow for seven days of sun and fun.”
“You’ll be inspired, Jessica! A vacation is just the ticket!”
Speaking of which, I remembered the task at hand and returned to packing. “Heck,” I said as I dropped a tube of sunscreen into the suitcase on my bed. “I may even be able to write off part of this vacation as a research expense. The IRS doesn’t need to know I never bother with anything so tedious as actual research, do they?” I rummaged around in the closet for the ridiculous pair of daisy-adorned flip flops I had purchased for the trip. “But no.” I stood up, flip flops in hand. “I’m far too law-abid—”
“Oh my God!” Louise interrupted. “I just had a fantastical idea, Jessica! I mean, beyond fantastical!”
“Oh?” I tossed the new shoes onto the bed, where Snowflake took immediate interest in the fake daisies.
“I’m coming!” she shouted.
My face dropped. “Excuse me?”
“To Hawaii! With you! And Wilson! What an utterly fantastical idea! I’ll meet you there!”
My face dropped a little further with each new exclamation point, and I struggled to find my voice as Geez Louise continued on her merry and insane way.
“I need a vacation,” she shouted. “And I’ve never been to Hawaii! And I’ve never met that hunky heartthrob of yours! The man who inspired Adelé Nightingale to new heights of sexual fantasy? I am dying, dying, dying to meet Wilson Rye the mystery man for myself. I must meet your paramour, Jessica! Must, must, must!”
“But now?” I squeaked. “During my vacation?”
“Yes, now! Of course, now! I can help you with him.”
“Help?” I took the sandals away from Snowflake and hid them in the suitcase.
“Yes, help! I’ll help you uncover the mystery man’s deep dark secrets! You know how you’ve been wondering about his past, Jessica? Well, just leave it to Louise! By the end of this vacation, all will be revealed. Every single, scintillating detail. The man will be an open book, I tell you. Oh! And that gives me another idea, Jessica!”
“I think I need to sit down,” I said.
“The plot for
My South Pacific Paramour
! I’ll help you with that, too! No more plot plight for Adelé Nightingale. We’ll lounge by the pool, sip silly drinks—you know, the kind with little umbrellas in them—and brainstorm together. I can’t wait! Can’t, can’t, can’t!”
I sat motionless and blinked at the cat.
Louise cleared her throat. “Now then,” she said, all business-like. “Tell me your exact travel plans.”
I was so stunned I actually did so.
Snowflake was still staring at me as I hung up the phone. “Wilson is going to kill me,” I told her.
The cat did not argue.
“Oh now, Honeybunch, you and Wilson just go on and have a grand time,” Mother said. “I don’t want you to worry about me even for one minute, do you hear?”
My mother might not have the lungs of Louise Urko, and she definitely needed the aid of the telephone, but I heard her loud and clear. I again cringed at the cat and wondered why I had ever chosen to answer my phone that day.
“No, Mother,” I argued as I arranged a stack of shorts into suitcase number two. “I cannot go off and have this grand time you’re insisting on, knowing you’ll be alone for Christmas. Why aren’t you going to Danny’s? Wasn’t that the plan?”
The fact is, I had never, in all my fifty-two years, spent a Christmas away from my mother. So when Wilson and I planned our Hawaiian vacation, I took pains to be sure she could visit my brother Danny and his family for the holiday. But, as Mother was now informing me, Danny’s wife Capers had decided otherwise.
“Capers says she needs a vacation, too,” Mother explained. “They’re taking the twins to Saint Martin for the holiday.”
“And they just informed you of this today?” I gave up on packing and plopped down on the bed.
“Oh, Jessie, please don’t be mad at me.”
I hastened to tell my mother that I most certainly was not angry with her, but with my hapless brother and his inconsiderate wife, who lives to make my life difficult. Of course, Capers wouldn’t tolerate me, Jessica Hewitt, enjoying a fun-filled tropical vacation if she couldn’t do so herself. So of course, she made these last minute plans. And of course, she thought nothing of leaving my eighty-two-year-old mother in the lurch.
“The Live Oaks is planning a very nice Christmas party for us residents,” Mother was saying. “I’m sure it will be lovely.”
She was putting up a brave front, but I knew she wasn’t looking forward to spending Christmas without any family, even if she did have lots of friends at The Live Oaks Center for Retirement Living.
I pursed my lips and made an executive decision. “You’ll come with us,” I said. I ignored Snowflake’s shocked expression and headed toward my desk.
Mother started protesting, but I was already getting online to see about her plane tickets on such short notice. While she repeated over and over that she wouldn’t dream of interfering in my vacation, I played with the internet and made her reservations. The Hawaiian gods were smiling on me—there was even space available at the resort where Wilson and I were staying.
Interrupting a rather involved description of the elaborate Christmas Eve dinner The Live Oaks was promising, I gave my mother her flight information. I had gotten her on the early morning flight from her home in Columbia, South Carolina to Atlanta.
“Wilson and I will meet you at the Atlanta airport,” I said. “And from there, the three of us can fly together.” I tapped on the keyboard some more. “Believe it or not, they even had a last minute cancellation at the place we’re staying. Soooo,” I hit the enter key, “I’ve just booked you a bungalow at The Wakilulani Garden Resort. Wilson keeps calling it the Wacky Gardens. Doesn’t that sound fun?”
“Jessica Hewitt!” she scolded. “You are not listening to me. I will not be ruining your vacation with that darling beau of yours. I will not be a third wheel, so you just cancel those reservations this minute!”
“Non-refundable,” I argued. “And besides, you won’t be a third wheel, but a fourth. Louise Urko is meeting us there, too.”
Mother skipped a beat. “Geez Louise is coming?” she asked, her tone considerably brighter. “Well then, I’d better start packing, hadn’t I? What should I bring, Jessie?”
I told her to remember a bathing suit and hung up.
Snowflake was watching me. “Wilson is going to kill me,” I said quietly.
Once again, the cat did not argue.
“You’re gonna kill me,” Wilson informed me the second he made it through the door of my condo. He’s a big guy, but even he was struggling with everything he was lugging. He turned around and gestured to the bottle of champagne he had tucked under one elbow, and I grabbed it before it fell.
“Hopefully that will keep you in a good mood, despite my news,” he said as he set down his luggage and the huge cat carrier he was holding. He bent over to open the door and glanced up. “Ready?”
“Of course we’re ready.” I offered an encouraging nod to my cat. “We’re looking forward to seeing our new friends, aren’t we, Snowflake?”
She yowled and jumped to the top of the refrigerator.
Okay, so maybe not. But Wally was banging his skinny black body into the door of the cage, and Wilson did the honors anyway. Out Wally popped, and right behind him came Wilson’s other cat, an enormous calico named Bernice.
She took a moment to glower at Snowflake, yawned dramatically, and found a corner of my couch for her next nap. Meanwhile, Wally had located a jingle-bell ball under the coffee table and started flicking it across the floor and going for the chase.
Wilson sat down with Bernice. “You still think this will work, right?”
I sure did hope so. I poured the champagne and reviewed our cat-care plans. My downstairs neighbor and good friend Candy Poppe had volunteered to look after our pets while we were away. So far, so good. But her offer rested on all three cats staying at my place for the week. And what if Wally and Bernice didn’t like my place? Or what if Snowflake wasn’t the most gracious hostess?
With the what-ifs in mind, we’d been practicing for days, and Wilson had been bringing his cats over for play dates. Thus far, no one had actually played together. But then again, no one had started fighting either. I decided to take that as a positive sign.
“Our cats are not going to kill each other,” I reassured everyone. I took a seat beside Wilson and handed him a glass. “But you may kill me.”
“Well, umm, Louise called this afternoon,” I began in the breeziest voice I could muster. “She’s very excited about my new book.”
“Isn’t Geez Louise always excited?” He clicked my glass. “To Hawaii.”
“In fact,” I continued, undeterred, “she became so enthused with the tropical paradise theme Adelé Nightingale is planning, that you’ll never guess what she’s decided to do.” I tilted my head and waited for him to guess.
His face dropped. “You’re kidding, right?”
I grimaced. “She’s meeting us in Hawaii! Please don’t kill me.” I grimaced again and kept going. “Louise has no family at all, Wilson. She considers me her family. And it is Christmas. And she wants to help me with my book. And—” I stopped and tried to think of more excuses. “And, umm—” Nothing more was coming to me, but when I hazarded a glance sideways, Wilson was actually grinning. Indeed, he seemed altogether disinclined to kill me.
“Are you feeling well?” I asked and then repeated that Geez Louise Urko would be joining us on our vacation. “She pulled a few strings and booked herself a last minute bungalow at the Wakilulani Gardens and everything.”
He kept grinning.
I eyed him suspiciously. “What exactly is the bad news you have for me?”