As deliveries went,
this one was somewhere between a balloon telegram and a bulletproof vest wrapped
around a dead fish. Most gift baskets arrived with cards bearing congratulations
or condolences. Rarely were they sent with the simple two-line message Jane
Monaghan stared at, then read, in disbelief, a second time.
A skinny delivery
boy hovered in the doorway, the screen door flapping and creaking as he shifted
his weight. Jane fumbled in her handbag for a tip. Why did she never have
singles when she needed them? As she poked through the tissues, keys and various
black electronics cases in her voluminous bag, the boy peered inside the house,
curious about the women renting the old Beninger place. He remembered the first
year they came. His mother had warned him to keep his distance and his father
had slipped him a sly wink that he'd been too young to
They weren't bad
looking, neither young nor old, that gray area between youth and invisibility.
Still good for a nooner, he fantasized, using an expression he’d heard his uncle
Billy use, if he could cut one from the herd. Especially the small, dark-haired
one sprawled on the loveseat near the fireplace. She had a nubby throw tossed
over one leg but the other was exposed – tan, taut and barely covered by denim
cutoffs. Still pretty hot, even if she looked old enough to have been his
babysitter - and after all, what boy hadn't had that fantasy?
The hot one and the
boy made eye contact. Having been on the receiving end of similar looks for
close to twenty years – longer than he’d been alive – it took Tina Ruggiero all
of thirty seconds to read his mind.
“Come back in a few
years, sonny. You’re not entirely hopeless but, let’s wait until that acne
The boy’s naughty
daydream evaporated, his face reddened and he reverted to bumbling, pimply
errand boy. His eyes grew watery. He even seemed shorter, if that was possible.
Jane abandoned her search for singles, shoved a five in his direction and kicked
the storm door shut.
“A day without a
verbal castration is like a day without sunshine?”
“Come on,” Tina
said. “He deserved it – gawking like that. Half the people in this town think
we're practicing witchcraft and the other half think we’re gay. Not that I don't
think you're all cute. I just wanted to set the record straight.”
Jane wasn’t sure
the exchange wouldn’t have the opposite effect, convincing him she was a witch,
only he’d spell it with a “b.” Which was fitting since that's what they'd been
dubbed a long time ago when they were teens, The Bitches of Brooklyn. Were they
really? Depended who you asked.
“A new wrinkle has
been added to our weekend,” Jane said.
"Oh no please, not
another one. I already have a new wrinkle, that's why I cut
"I wondered what
the new hairstyle was about."
Jane carried the
oversized basket to the wooden dining table where Clare Didrikson and Rachel
Weiner, two of her closest friends, sat with their morning coffees.
The table and
chairs were like all the furniture in the rented house - ancient wood or wicker
upon which thousands of summer memories had been made, or brand new, from the
discount store, because who would buy good furniture for a house through which
total strangers traipsed for three months out of every year? Or suffered from
too much sun and too much damp. Jane pulled out a chair and read the card aloud
to the group.
"It's a joke," Tina
said. She flung off the blanket and hopped over on her one good ankle to join
them. "Just like her to bail at the last minute and then pull a stunt like this.
She’s probably laughing her ass off somewhere, ordering the next fruit basket
with the next cryptic message. Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes! Go to the
hayfield, there’ll be a volcanic rock that has no earthly business in a Maine
hayfield. She’s always so melodramatic. Can't she just admit something better
It was not the
first time their missing friend had cancelled at the last minute even though the
dates were fixed well in advance. The four were always understanding but there
was always a trace of resentment, too. As if the others were expected to
understand that the fifth woman’s time was more valuable than
The four women
settled around the table in the weather-beaten Cape Cod bungalow they'd rented
every summer for the last six years. They met for the same late summer weekend
when husbands and partners were otherwise engaged, either of their own accord or
dispatched so the women wouldn't feel guilty about leaving four men, one
daughter, one veterinary practice, and two businesses for much girl talk and
more alcohol in an ocean beach setting far removed from their Brooklyn
Initially, they had
played "remember when" and speculated on what had happened to still-missing
friends from the old neighborhood. That first year Rachel brought her laptop and
their old high school yearbook, and between drinks and steamers they Googled and
giggled over former boyfriends and teachers, most of whom had lost their hair,
gotten heavy, or somehow morphed into ordinary mortals instead of the brooding
geniuses and bohemian heartthrobs they’d once seemed. After that, it was agreed
- no laptops at The Weekend.
But it wasn't all
about the old days. The five women had forged new friendships. What felt better
than familiar but new - the safety net of people who knew your background and
your history, but, because of the time spent apart, brought the freshness of
anecdotes and stories you hadn't heard a hundred times before. And they’d helped
each other professionally, with contacts and as trustworthy
Clare reached over
to read the card for herself, looking for...what? Some explanation hidden
between the lines? Some tone or nuance conveyed in the elegant script of an
anonymous clerk in a gift shop? She chewed on her lower lip but said
Jane tugged on the
purple ribbon at the top of the basket, untying the bow and noisily releasing
the twisted cellophane. She flattened the ribbon and wound it around four
fingers as if saving it for some future use, which wasn't likely since they'd
all be home in a few days. A hidden staple pierced one slim, unmanicured index
finger and she sucked on it while poking through the basket with her undamaged
"At least she
sprang for the good stuff.” Jane held up a red foil-covered brick. “Real cheese,
not cheese product."
"And candy," Rachel
said. "Just what we need."
Tina and Jane
plundered the basket, Jane moving through the items and inspecting ingredients.
"Cream crackers, no partially hydrogenated anything so far." Jane was co-owner
of a small bakery called Sweet Dreams and paid attention to such things. Tina
wasn't so picky. Two grunts and an arched eyebrow told her the others were less
appreciative of their missing friend's nutritional considerations. "Belgian
chocolates. Scottish cookies," Jane said, still sucking on her punctured
"Please don’t get
blood on anything," Tina said. "If there are shortbread cookies, I’ve got dibs.
I don't care if they have lard in them but I draw the line at bodily fluids.”
protestations, the chocolate would disappear first. No chance to melt or develop
that mysterious white stuff around the edges. Then the cheese, the crackers and
the fruit, one step up from artificial and typically chosen not for taste but
for their ability to retain an unblemished appearance despite being shipped
thousands of miles. All the food would go, even the boring sucking candies, and
all that would remain was a tasteful brown basket, some purple ribbon and the
the short notice but I won't be making our little reunion this year. I've run
off with one of your men.
Trade paperback and ebook available at Amazon and bn.com
This book is very different from your
previous ones. What made you decide to
go in a different writing direction?
This is a great question - and one
that followers of my Dirty Business mystery series are asking a lot! I
love mysteries and I've grown very fond of the fictional town of Springfield Connecticut
and the warm - mostly wonderful - characters I've created who inhabit it.
At their core, all of my mysteries are about friendships, marriages,
relationships and what we will do for the people we love. Searching for a
missing friend, proving a wife's innocence, uncovering the story of an ages-old
romance. But because they included crimes, usually a murder, they were called
At some point last year I needed
a break from killing people! It's an unfortunate fact that a great many
mysteries these days rely on the ever-more gruesome plotline of a psycho
victimizing, torturing and killing young women. The flip side of that is the
all-too-casual "Is that a body, oh rats, I dropped a stitch"
storyline. I think one of the reasons the book Gone Girl was so popular
was that it conformed to neither of those tropes.
I believe there are plenty of
mysteries within relationships - ones that don't usually involve weapons and
duct tape - and I'm enjoying writing about these now, whatever publishers
decide to call them. But I'm already missing Paula Holliday, Lucy
Cavanaugh, Babe Chinnery, Rolanda Knox and the other gals from
Springfield so it's likely that I will find a way to merge the two. Chicklits
with some mystery and mysteries with strong, fun women who appreciate a good
glass of wine, a nice six-pack on a man and the perfect black boots.
Rosemary Harris has been a bookstore manager, a video producer
and a public television exec. Her debut novel, the Agatha and
Anthony-nominated, Pushing Up Daisies, was followed by The
Big Dirt Nap, Dead Head andSlugfest, all
titles in her Dirty Business mystery series. She is past president of
Mystery Writers of America's NY Chapter and Sisters in Crime's New England
Chapter. Like some of the characters in The Bitches of Brooklyn she
was born in Brooklyn but now lives in New York City and Fairfield County,
Connect with Rosemary at:
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