When small-town police chief Arly Hanks returns to Maggody, Arkansas, after vacation, she finds the population has risen to a booming 802. Among the newbies: Madame Celeste, the psychic who’s holding locals in thrall with her predictions of doom; a handsome new high school guidance counselor; and a gaggle of mantra-chanting hippies who have turned the old general store into the source for cosmic harmony. Unfortunately, life in Maggody is anything but harmonious.
Robin Buchanon—a member of Maggody’s most abundant family—has been murdered. The moonshiner, prostitute, and mother of four foul-mouthed little bad seeds was found shot to death in a booby-trapped marijuana field. Assuming the weed harvesters are sending a message to trespassers, Arly decides to hold vigil and set her own trap. But when another, seemingly unrelated, murder catches Arly off-guard, even Madame Celeste can’t predict where this case is headed.
An Agatha Award finalist, Mischief in Maggody is just the kind of “bawdy, cheerful entertainment” that has brought countless fans to Joan Hess’s quirky, long-running Maggody series (Kirkus Reviews).
Mischief in Maggody is the 2nd book in the Arly Hanks Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
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Mischief in Maggody
An Arly Hanks Mystery
By Joan Hess
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 2013 Joan Hess
All rights reserved.
Carol Alice Plummer clutched her teddy bear to her post-pubescent chest. "I don't know what I'm going to do," she moaned, rocking back and forth on the edge of her bed. "It's so damn awful, I may kill myself and save everyone the bother of watching me fade away into nothingness."
Heather Riley put her hands on her hips and glared down at her best friend in the whole world. "Get real, Carol Alice, and stop talking like that. You know perfectly well, that you aren't going to kill yourself. I don't even like to hear you say it."
"I might as well. I mean, there's no point in life if Bo Swiggins and I can't get married."
"You can't? I thought you two were almost engaged. You've been going together for more than a year now, and he took you out to dinner on your birthday and gave you a present and everything." Heather bit down on her lip, wishing she hadn't used the word "everything." She wasn't supposed to know that Carol Alice and Bo had engaged in "everything" in the backseat of his uncle's '73 Trans Am, but she knew. Everybody in Maggody knew that sort of thing within fifteen minutes of its happening. Which was the only reason she'd made Billy Dick McNamara keep his hands to hisself the night he'd taken her to the movie in Starley City, and Billy Dick was the best-looking boy at school even with the harelip.
Carol Alice politely overlooked the lack of tact. "Today after school I found out that we're totally, hopelessly incompatible. There's no way to get around it, even if I change my name — and my pa'd whip me silly if I even said I was thinking about it. But as for Bo and me, it's our vibrations. We can never be harmonious." Carol Alice squeezed her bear hard enough to make his little button eyes bulge. "We could get married, but we'd end up fighting and screaming every night, worse than my oldest sister and her husband what live in Hasty. I might as well tell Bo the truth and break up with him after the game this weekend. See, I already put his letter jacket in that sack to give back to him, along with that chain he gave me for my birthday and that sweet little stuffed dog he won me at the county fair less than a month ago." She began to sniffle. "Then I'm going to commit suicide and kill myself."
Heather sat down next to her. "I don't guess there's any way to get around vibrations," she said solemnly. "After all, it's cosmic fate — yours and Bo's. And Lord knows you don't want to end up like Terri Lee and that jerk she married. Their baby's right cute, but I don't know how she stands him hitting her and getting drunk and everything."
"Bo's such a gentleman; he'd never act like Terri Lee's husband! It's not poor Bo's fault we're so dadburned incompatible and doomed to discord. But there's no closing our eyes to the fact that he's going to be too materialistic for a cosmic mother like me, and we'll grow to hate each other."
"A cosmic mother? That sounds real mysterious. What does it mean?"
Carol Alice flopped back against the daisy-covered pillow sham and sighed. "Well, if I weren't going to kill myself — which I am — I'd make a good nurse or housemother for sweet little mentally retarded children. But if I act all arrogant and ignore my Life Path, I'll end up fat and slouchy ... like Dahlia O'Neill. Can you imagine me in one of those tent dresses, stuffing Twinkies down my throat and belching like a sow in heat? That's reason enough right there to kill myself!"
"Why don't you talk to Mr. Wainright about it? Maybe he could tell you what you ought to do." Giggling, Heather poked her best friend in the world. "Besides, it'd give you a reason to talk to him, and he's such an incredible hunk."
"There ain't no point in it, that's why. I've got more guidance than I can stand right now. It's fate. There's nothing anyone can do."
"Oh, Carol Alice, I feel so sorry for you that I could just cry."
Carol Alice handed a tissue to her best friend in the whole world. "How many aspirin tablets do you reckon it'll take to kill myself?" "Probably a whole bottle," Heather said, blinking. "You ought to get those coated ones that won't give you an upset stomach. I think I've got a coupon in my purse."
Nothing, and I repeat, nothing ever happens in Maggody, Arkansas. The good citizens of Maggody, all 755 of them (counting household pets and a couple of dearly departeds out behind the Baptist church), would agree that the last event of any importance happened well over a year ago, and it wasn't worth talking about within a matter of weeks. Before that, the spiciest topic of conversation involved the night Hiram Buchanon's barn burned down and a cheerleader got caught dashing out in flagrante delicto, smoldering panties in hand. That was a good twelve years ago. Other than that, we're talking five-legged calves, brawls at the pool hall, and shenanigans under the straw of the swine barn at the county fair.
Maggody isn't a quaint, picturesque little village in the Ozark Mountains, and it wouldn't qualify for a Norman Rockwell painting. The grand tour takes about three minutes, presuming you get caught by the one stoplight and have to sit and fume while a stray dog ambles across the highway. If you come in from the west, you'll see a few signs welcoming Rotarians, Kiwanians, and Lions, but the only members of local chapters are out behind the Baptist church I mentioned a while back and not holding the sort of meetings most of us would prefer to attend. The bank branch is on the right and the Voice of the Almighty Lord Assembly Hall on the left, followed by a bunch of boarded-up stores with blind, dusty windows. The pool hall's in there somewhere; you can see a smattering of broken beer bottles in the dust out front, and sometimes on Sunday mornings a drunk out there with them.
After a few clumps of crabgrass and some telephone poles decorated with faded posters, you'll see Roy Stivers' Antiques & Collectibles: Buy, Trade or Sell on the left. I live upstairs in what would politely be called an efficiency flat, were anybody inclined to bother to call it anything. I call it cheap. Catty-corner to my apartment is the Police Department, a small red-brick building with perky gingham cafe curtains across the window and two parking spaces out front with Reserved signs in front of them. Competition's not real keen for the spaces. It has two rooms, known as the front room and the back room. It also has two doors, known as the front door and the back door. We are accurate in Maggody, if not especially inspired.
Across from the PD is the Suds of Fun Laundromat and the KwikStoppe-Shoppe (or Kwik-Screw, as we locals call it), owned by our illustrious mayor, Jim Bob Buchanon. Hizzoner and I have a history of ill will, but neither of us gives a hoot. Especially during the summer months, when the town's hotter than a sauna turned on full blast, which it had been three months ago when I escaped for a few months. Too hot to hoot, so to speak.
A little bit farther on the right you'll see Ruby Bee's Bar and Grill, a bizarre pink building with a tile roof and a couple of rusty metal signs tacked on the side that still promote Happy Daze Bread and Royal Crown Cola. I never cared for either, myself. In one corner of the parking lot is a sign for the Flamingo Motel, although you won't see said motel since it's out behind the Bar and Grill. Six units, usually rented by the hour. The locals call it the Stork Club, when they bother to call it anything at all. My mother, who happens to be the infamous Ruby Bee, lives in #1. She offered to let me have #2, but I felt obliged to decline her kind gesture. Listening to bedsprings squeal half the night would make me crazier than I already am. Living next door to my mother would qualify me for the butterfly farm, full scholarship.
But moving on, there're a couple of houses on the left, a car dealership on the right, Purtle's Esso Station, which pumped its last drop of gas the decade before I was born, and then not a blessed thing more until you wander north to the Missouri line. Well, cows and trees and potholes and mountains and litter, but nothing worth pulling over to take photographs of. Norman Rockwell wouldn't have slowed down.
So there you have it — a guided tour of Maggody. And, I might add, conducted by the chief of police of same. And the first female to hold the post, due to the fact I was the only candidate for the job and Hizzoner does like Ruby Bee's blueberry pie with ice cream. It's not the most impressive job, but it's safe, and safe was what I wanted. I'd managed to escape Maggody after high school, but I was back for the moment (the going-on-more-than-a-year-and-a-half sort of moment). In the overall scheme of the universe, Maggody is not some sort of cosmic magnet; I came back to lick my wounds after an unsettling divorce. I figured the wounds would scab over before too long, but in the meantime I needed a place that didn't put too many demands on me. Maggody doesn't put any demands on me, because, as I said earlier, nothing ever happens in Maggody.
"Thank the Lord you're back!" Ruby Bee shrieked, coming around the bar to give me a hug. "You will not believe your ears when I tell you all the things that have been going on in Maggody since you left on that so-called vacation of yours in the middle of the summer. I swear, it's been a three-ring circus around here!"
"Why was it a so-called vacation?" I asked mildly.
"Just sit yourself down and let me tell you what's been happening," Ruby Bee continued, ignoring my question with her typical aplomb. She is a master of the delicate art of hearing exactly what she wants to hear, and going stone-deaf when it suits her fancy. "But do you want something to eat first? You're looking a mite scrawny these days."
I sat down on a stool and propped my elbows on the bar. "I couldn't possibly eat until I hear all the big news. Did someone run the red light in my so-called absence?"
"Oh, Arly, you are such a cutup," Estelle Oppers said as she came out the kitchen door behind the bar.
Estelle and Ruby Bee have been friends since the days of the dinosaurs. Ruby Bee is short, stocky, and matronly-although I'd never use that word in her presence; I value my life, boring as it gets. She has blond hair, paid for by the lock, a magnolia-blossom complexion under several inches of powder, and enough eye makeup to do all the girls in the freshman class.
Estelle is tall, thin, and about as jumpy as a tree frog. She owns and operates Estelle's Hair Fantasies in her living room, and had been doing some experimentation lately, if the red curls dangling in her eyes, over her ears, and down her neck weren't an accident of nature. Mother Nature doesn't have that much of a sense of humor. The pair are rather a Mutt and Jeff combination , although they seem to see themselves as the Hardy boys. It has caused a problem or two in the past. If I had a nickel for every time they'd sworn to turn in their junior G-man badges and stop interfering in police investigations, I'd live in Jim Bob's hilltop manor and spend my idle moments harassing the chief of police.
Ruby Bee narrowed her eyes as she wiped her hands on her apron. "If you're going to sit there and act snippety, young lady, you can forget about hearing my news. Maybe it's just not important to someone who's lived in New York City and gone to those plays where the actors get naked and climb all over the audience."
I made the obligatory contrite noises, then said, "So what has been going on, anyway? And could I have a grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of milk while I listen?"
Ruby Bee crossed her arms and gazed at the ceiling. "I don't believe I heard anyone say 'please.'"
"Please may I have a sandwich and milk," I said through clenched teeth. The woman drives me crazy. She was about to drive me to a diet, if not a full-fledged fast.
"I'll fix the sandwich," Estelle said. "You tell Arly all the news."
Ruby Bee rewarded her with a smile that was meant to be a further editorial on certain people's lack of manners. "Thank you kindly, Estelle. Well," she began, settling back against the beer tap, "for one thing, Madam Celeste and her brother have rented that big old house out past Estelle's. You know which one I'm talking about, don't you? It used to belong to old Mrs. Wockermann before her husband died and the bank took it back and sent her to the county old folks' home, where she sat on the porch and rocked herself to death. I can't for the life of me remember what he died of, although Estelle said she heard it was some advanced stage of a nasty disease of the privates."
"Who'd you say rented the house?" I said before I heard a more detailed description of the late Mr. Wockermann's privates. Not on an empty stomach.
"Madam Celeste and her brother. She's a psychic, and she is absolutely fantastic. No one in town can stop talking about how she can see into the future or tell you all your innermost secrets. Gladys Buchanon says that she lost her reading glasses, and Madam Celeste told her exactly where to look for them." Ruby Bee's voice dropped to her version of a dramatic whisper. "And there they were in the top drawer of the dresser under a red scarf. Gladys liked to have swallowed her dentures."
"Oh," I said, trying to look impressed. "And what else has Madam Celeste done?"
"She told Millicent McIlhaney that she was going to take a long journey and it would be a true test of character. About three days later, Millicent and her daughter had to go to her aunt Pearl's funeral in Iowa. They took the station wagon, and the engine caught on fire on the other side of Kansas City. Millicent dashed right out in the middle of the interstate and flagged down a truck driver with a fire extinguisher, not even stopping to consider how she was likely to get herself run down. If that isn't a test of character, I'd like to know what is."
"Oh," I said. I was aware I was repeating myself, but I didn't trust myself not to say something that would cancel lunch.
"I went to visit her last week."
"When did you start believing in that sort of nonsense?"
"You have no call to speak to me in that superior tone of voice, Ariel Hanks. What I do or don't do is none of your concern. If I choose to spend my money trying to find what all's going to happen in the future-"
"Money? You spent money on this fortune-telling stuff?" I couldn't help it; I really couldn't.
Estelle swept through the door, plate in hand. "Ruby Bee is a grown woman, and she can do whatever she pleases, Miss Big City Girl. Madam Celeste has been very perceptive about a lot of things, and of great assistance. Why, she comes over to the beauty shop and has appointments with my customers while I'm giving perms. She is very popular."
I knew who wasn't. "My apologies," I said meekly, sucking in my cheeks while I stared forlornly at the plate in Estelle's hand. "I'm sure this Madam Celeste is astoundingly perceptive and overflowing with more helpful hints than the sainted Heloise herself."
"She certainly is," Ruby Bee sniffed. "She told me that I was extremely sensitive, and that if I listened to my inner voice, I could hear things no one else could hear and learn all variety of cosmic secrets of the universe. She's going to teach me how to attune myself this week."
Estelle set down the plate in front of me. "And she told me I was going to meet someone who would make a profound impression on the rest of my life." She pushed a coil back and shot me a pinched look. "A man, if you want to know, and with one of those foreign accents. She hasn't been able to tell exactly when I'll meet him, but she's sure it'll be in the near future. I made Ruby Bee go into Farberville with me last Saturday to shop. Madam Celeste says I have to wear aquamarine if I want to meet this fellow."
"Where did this Madam Celeste come from?" I asked through a mouthful of delightfully gooey cheese.
"She and her brother moved here from Las Vegas, Nevada," Estelle said. "She used to work on the stage in one of those big casinos, reading what was in people's wallets and guessing their birthdays. She was a very big star out there, but she had to leave because it was too exhausting. Her brother's name is Mason Dickerson."
There was a sudden silence. The two exchanged looks that would have been pregnant had menopause not come and gone years ago. I chewed for a minute, then said, "Was he onstage, too?"
"No," Ruby Bee said in a studiously nonchalant voice, "he's Madam Celeste's agent and manager. He takes care of her finances so that she can focus her psychic energy on more important things."
Excerpted from Mischief in Maggody by Joan Hess. Copyright © 2013 Joan Hess. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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