I love appies. Today I’m sharing the first chapter of Ain’t Misbehavin’, which launches April 18th. You can preorder it now:
A naked alderman, a haunted trattoria and a love that can not be denied.
When the manager of the Black Cat Blues Bar, singer Maggy Malone, witnesses a murder in her favorite trattoria, her life is upended. Known as the Naked Alderman, the victim is a controversial politician who wants Vancouver to be known as the greenest city in the world. He’s also the lover of Maggy’s best friend. Despite his noble ideals, his head ends up in the pasta.
The last thing Maggy wants to do is chase another murderer. She’s worked hard to keep the Black Cat afloat and sort out her life, which is complicated by two, hot men, and acts of sabotage at her dock community on Granville Island.
But when the body count rises, Maggy decides to catch the killer.
Ain’t Misbehavin’ is the second story in the Vancouver Blues series. If you like ghost stories and urban noir, you’ll love this book, which combines all of their best traits in a fast-paced, captivating and sensual, romantic suspense.
There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be . . . ~ John Lennon
Maggy Malone gritted her teeth as she scanned the grisly scene in The Tuscan Trattoria. Sirens and flashing lights closed in on the small restaurant. The screams of patrons shredded the tranquility of the night. She swallowed. Another dead person. Inspector Peterson from the Vancouver Police Department strode through the front door, took one look around and headed straight towards her. Gravel voice. Of course it would be him. Of all the policemen in this fine town, and of all the Italian restaurants . . . His eyes cut through the distance between them like razor blades, bringing the memory of the last time she dealt with him back to her with the clarity of a hammer blow between the eyes. He stopped a foot in front of her and nailed her with his cop glare. “Why do men get murdered around you?”
“I wish I knew.” Her heart raced. Ten feet away, a man’s face lay motionless in his plate of spaghetti. Her quiet, Friday dinner had turned into a nightmare.
Her friend Joe sat across from her at the white-linen-covered table, holding his glass of merlot in the air. Of all they places they could have chosen for their get-away dinner . . . why did they end up here? Now? His head swayed to the classical guitar music—the Godfather music,—but his mouth firmed in a way she’d only seen once before. Her chest tightened. This excitement had to be hard on his heart.
Two constables in uniform threaded yellow tape across half the restaurant where they sat. More sirens blared through the night. The ambulance should be next.
Inspector Peterson motioned for her to get up. She walked with him a few feet away from Joe, making every effort to look normal, even though her legs felt like wobbly bands of rubber.
“Tell me why you’re here.” His gritty voice brought back many memories. It came from somewhere deep in his personal abyss, and sounded so rough it made the tiny hairs on the back of her neck stand up and take notice.
He smelled of expensive French cologne and cigarettes, a scent she remembered too well. When Maggy didn’t answer right away, he grumbled to get her attention.
“I needed to be alone with Joe.” Murder hadn’t been on the menu. She chose The Tuscan Trattoria to get away from their friends. She loved the place, built in the old grocery warehouse in Gastown, it had an urban-kitschy atmosphere, with old, red-brick walls, rustic, wood ceilings, antiques and artifacts.
The detective nodded. “Why?”
“To talk some sense into him.” She frowned. “He needs to take the meds his doctor prescribes, but he won’t because he says they make him feel tired all the time, and they’re expensive. So, instead he knocks back an herbal concoction three times a day some pretty lady talked him into. It makes him a little crazy. Meanwhile, his health isn’t improving.” She looked over at Joe again. He held his glass of wine in the air, swirled it like a pro and dipped his nose inside the edge to smell its bouquet. But he didn’t drink it. Instead he repeated the process.
Peterson’s persistent glare brought her eyes back to his bald head like a tractor beam. His six feet towered over her five-foot-four, which made her straighten her back and jut out her chin, as if that somehow equaled the playing field. A jagged purple scar ran across his square jaw.
“I remember Joe,” he said. “Clarence’s cousin, and now one of the owners of the Black Cat Blues Bar where you sing.”
His hazel eyes, the color of a wheat field at dusk, drifted over to Joe and back to her face, not softening even a smidgen. Cops. “So you’re out with him on a Friday night. What did you do with your other men?”
She exhaled slowly. Men—in the plural. Talk about being judgmental. There had been two men in her life when she last met the detective, but she had chosen one shortly afterwards. Not that it was his, or anyone else’s, business. “I’m here with Joe.” She shook her blond curls out of her face. Curly and long, it had a nasty habit of getting in her way.
Peterson took out his notebook. “So what did you see, Ms. Malone?”
Having been married to a cop for seven years she knew what he wanted. Facts—lots and lots of facts. The people in blue believed, without a shadow of a doubt, that sorting facts into neat columns on white boards could reveal the truth. She admired the simplicity of their plan, but she could never render life into tidy columns. The universe held too many surprises and nothing in her life had ever been logical or lineal. She took a deep breath of the garlic and basil laced air and sighed.
“We got here about seven—that would be an hour ago. Most of the tables were full, and a steady stream of people flowed in and out. The wait-staff hustled.”
She hesitated a moment, letting the images of people sift through her mind like musical notes. “A baseball team with blue shirts that read, “Vancouver Hitters,” sat near the back.” She pointed towards the kitchen. “They’d be in their early twenties. They had a burping contest.”
“Burping,” Peterson muttered as he scribbled.
“About half an hour ago, eight women in their thirties ushered in a lady dressed as a Steam Punk heroine with red-shadowed eyes and a funky black hat. Probably, a stagette. They sat near the front and made the bride-to-be hand out condoms to every man who passed. When the screaming started, they were the first group to run out the entrance.”
He nodded, as if red-eyed Victorian vixens were a common sight. Maybe they were in his life.
“A couple in their eighties wearing matching, powder-blue, jogging suits sat at the table between us and the man.” She wanted to talk about the victim with respect. “. . .the man with his face . . . in his dinner. They were there when we came but left just before it happened.”
Peterson’s pen raced across his notepad. His mouth twitched, as if he needed to say something, but wouldn’t let himself.
“The man sat alone. On the far side of him, about twelve people celebrated a birthday. I know that, because every so often one of them would stand up and give a toast. Some slurred. There was lots of happy chatter.”
When she stopped talking he looked up from his notepad. “And?”
“Inspector, I don’t know what else I can tell you. It seemed like a normal night in Gastown.” If that makes any sense.
The oldest part of Vancouver, Gastown got its name from Gassy Jack the wild frontier man who opened the first saloon on the edge of the Canadian wilderness. Over the years, it had become well known as a place for both debauchery and commerce. Now considered the hippest neighborhood in the city, the hood had transformed itself. The old warehouses had been converted to upscale condos, nightclubs and art studios. Meanwhile the homeless wandered the streets outside. Gastown had changed its outward appearance over the last two centuries more times than a busy whore at midnight, but some things never changed. It was, and always had been, a place where the word “normal” didn’t apply.
He tapped his pen on his paper. “Gastown—normal.”
Maggy ran a hand through her hair. “I didn’t see anything unusual. No one stuck out.”
Peterson twisted his mouth, as if he had difficulty digesting something she’d said.
She smiled as best she could. “We sat over there.” She pointed. “Where Joe is now, two tables away from the . . ..um . . .victim. Do you wanna know what I ate?”
“Just get to the murder, Ms. Malone.” His eyes held steady and his voice flattened out like concrete on a prairie highway, pushing her forward to a place with no horizon, a place she didn’t want to go.
“It happened behind me.” Her voice caught on her last word. It had been easy to talk about the crowd. Easy to make jokes about their behavior. She cleared her throat. Violent death would never be easy to talk about. “First, the big group sang ‘“Happy Birthday,”‘ loud enough and out of tune enough, to make you want to cover your ears. Then the lights went out.” She swallowed.
“Then I heard a shot . . . then another. Two, close together. The whole room shook with the sound. It rattled everything, even my bones. A blast of warm air hit the back of my neck and then the lights kicked in.” Maggy folded her arms across her chest and took a deep breath, seeing the whole event again in her head. She slowed down.
“A woman screamed. A loud, break-the-windows screech like in the old black-and-white movies. Then another screamed and another. By the time I turned around, people were huddled around the man’s table. I couldn’t see a thing.”
His eyes narrowed. “But you saw something.”
She swallowed. “Two waitresses got people to back away from the table. The man’s head, or what was left of it, lay in the middle of his plate of spaghetti. Bright red Bolognese sauce had splattered all over the table and floor.”
“What happened next?”
“Rick, the manager, ran in and checked his pulse. It all happened so quickly . . .” She tried to remember every detail. “A couple of the waiters came in and did the same. They shook their heads. Then I heard the sirens. Then you came.”
Peterson kept writing in his notebook, his body tensing with every new piece of information. She didn’t bother trying to read his face. She knew from experience he kept his emotions hidden behind his shiny badge. He’d tell her only what he wanted her to know, and that would be a sterilized version of the truth. A cop version.
While the good inspector had intriguing complexities, she didn’t want to explore them. He brought back too many bad memories. How the hell did he end up in her life again? Not to mention another murder? She’d put the past behind her and refocused on her career.
Anticipating his next move with dread, her fingers fidgeted. She clasped them together.
“You have any connection to the deceased?” he asked.
And there it was. She swallowed. No point denying the truth. He’d find out later. “Inspector, I . . .”
When she didn’t finish her sentence, the pupils of his eyes hardened into small pin-point dots.
She shook hair out of her face again and glanced quickly in Joe’s direction. “Don’t know him personally, but . . .”
He lifted his left eyebrow.
“I’m pretty sure he’s the guy they call the Naked Alderman.” And her best friend Mei Chang’s lover, but she didn’t say that. She exhaled slowly. “Kyler Ravensworth.”
An unwanted tremble entered her voice. Dead bodies did that to her, and this one was too close to home. His death would break Mei’s heart.
Peterson thumped his pencil on his notepad. “The guy who wanted a community garden on every block?”
She nodded. “Yeah. He got called ‘the naked alderman’ because he always took part in the annual naked ride in town. He liked to say he had nothing to hide.” She remembered laughing the first time she heard him say that, but it didn’t seem so funny now. The image of him on the local TV news flickered through her mind: young, healthy and virile, a handsome civic minded man in the prime of his life.
Peterson nodded and jotted more notes.
Flashes lit up the room sporadically as a police officer took pictures of the scene. They reflected off the ornate Tiffany lamp that hung from the ceiling with the name Tuscany’s on it, creating a macabre kaleidoscope of colored light. While the detective wrote, she took in the changing scene.
In the opposite corner of the room sat the ghost table set for two, vacant as always. According to local legend, the ghost liked his space. To sit at his table would bring bad luck. Scores of stories about what happened to people when they dared to sit at the table had circulated ever since the restaurant opened fifty years ago. A cold shudder snaked up her spine. She didn’t need to be thinking about ghosts now.
The trattoria’s saucy mix of relics from the past and present usually charmed her, but tonight, with the flashing lights, and spilled spaghetti sauce, it made her blood run cold.
The ambulance attendants waited while the medical examiner studied the body. After a second look at the deceased, Maggy turned back to Peterson. Her knees weakened. The last dead man she’d seen . . . No. She didn’t want to think about that. Nausea rose in her stomach.
“Take a deep breath in and let it out slowly,” Peterson said. His attention shifted to someone behind her.
“Can I take Joe home now?” she asked. The old man continued to swirl his wine and sniff the edge of the glass.
“Does he know anything more than you?”
“Don’t think so.” That was sort of true.
“I know where to reach you. Thank you for your help, Ms. Malone.” He said this as he brushed past her to join a group of policemen in uniform. He gave her no good bye, just a nod and a stirring of air, scented with his cologne, as he passed.
Maggy walked over to Joe. “Ready to go?”
“Sure, Maggy.” His thin lips spread into a soft smile that slid straight into her heart. Hmmm. She couldn’t let him win with his damned charm. There had to be a way to get the stubborn old goat to take his meds.
“I’ll get you back to the Black Cat,” he said.
Maggy waited as Joe slowly rose. He leaned on his white cane to steady himself. She knew better than to offer assistance. He’d get all huffy. Once he stood, she looped her arm in his.
Outside, the fresh, salty breeze off the strait mingled with the sweet smell of cherry blossoms. She inhaled the freshness of the spring evening and squeezed Joe’s thin arm.
He leaned his head towards hers. “Did you tell him what the ghost said?”