Authors: Sue Ann Jaffarian
Tags: #mystery novels, #murder mystery, #Women, #Fiction, #odelia grey, #murder, #Mystery, #Odelia, #soft-boiled, #Humor, #plus sized, #odelia gray, #Jaffarian, #amateur sleuth
About the Author
Like the character Odelia Grey, Sue Ann Jaffarian is a middle-aged, plus-size paralegal. In addition to the Odelia Grey mystery series, she is the author of the paranormal Ghost of Granny Apples mystery series and the Madison Rose Vampire mystery series. Sue Ann is also nationally sought after as a motivational and humorous speaker. She lives and works in Los Angeles, California.
Other titles in the Odelia Grey series include
Too Big to Miss
The Curse of the Holy Pail
Thugs and Kisses
Corpse on the Cob
Twice As Dead
Hide & Snoop
Hell on Wheels
Visit Sue Ann on the Internet at www.sueannjaffarian.com and www.sueannjaffarian.blogspot.com.
A Body to Spare: An Odelia Grey Mystery
© 2015 by Sue Ann Jaffarian.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any matter whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Midnight Ink, except in the form of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
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Any unauthorized usage of the text without express written permission of the publisher is a violation of the author’s copyright and is illegal and punishable by law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
First e-book edition © 2015
E-book ISBN: 9780738732268
Cover design and illustration by Ellen Lawson
Midnight Ink is an imprint of Llewellyn Worldwide Ltd.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Jaffarian, Sue Ann, 1952-
A body to spare : an Odelia Grey mystery / Sue Ann Jaffarian. -- First
1 online resource. -- (Odelia Grey mysteries ; #10)
Description based on print version record and CIP data provided by
publisher; resource not viewed.
ISBN 978-0-7387-3226-8 () -- ISBN 978-0-7387-1886-6 1. Grey, Odelia
(Fictitious character)--Fiction. 2. Overweight women--Fiction. 3. Legal
assistants--Fiction. I. Title.
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For all the librarians of my past, my present, and my future.
I’m of a fearsome mind to throw my arms around every living librarian who crosses my path, on behalf of the souls they never knew they saved.
the note said. Written in careful block capital letters in black ink across common lined notebook paper, the two words mocked me. They might as well have had
neener, neener, neener
written after them. But written or not, I heard the taunt.
A finger tapped the note. Actually, it was a copy of the note, the original long since packed in an evidence bag for protection and off being analyzed somewhere. “What can you tell us about this, Odelia?” The finger belonged to Andrea Fehring, a Long Beach homicide detective I’d come across a couple of times in the past. Even though Fehring had been a guest in my home on occasion, it was difficult to say whether or not I considered her a friend in the traditional sense of the word. She was a colleague and friend of my friend Devon Frye, a homicide detective who worked for the Newport Beach Police Department.
I stared down at the note, willing it to say more. To tell me where it had come from and how it had gotten—well, where it was found. People wanted to know more, and they were looking to me for the answers. I closed my eyes, as I had done just a couple hours before, but when I opened them I was in a police station interrogation room, not sitting in the California sunshine as I had been when this nightmare started.
The warmth of the sun had been welcome after the two straight weeks of cold and rain that had blasted Southern California with both surprise and ferocity, causing flooding and mudslides up and down the coast. February can be cool, and we often get rain during the month, but this February had been brutal after last February’s unseasonable sunshine and dryness. My friends that live elsewhere in the country laugh whenever I mention “cold” temperatures being in the forties and fifties, but we’re simply not used to it for long stretches of time. After a few days, it gets on our nerves and makes us as disagreeable as soggy nachos. Next to me on the bench was my mother. She was enjoying the sun and spending the time pecking away on her iPad.
“I’m blogging about how you Californians are wussies when it comes to a little rain and cold,” she told me, not looking up. Mom, who’d moved back to California from New England nearly two years ago, maintained a blog called An Old Broad’s Perspective. The blog was surprisingly popular—and not just with the AARP crowd.
My wussie-assed meditation on California living was interrupted by my cell phone. It was the ringtone set for my husband, Greg Stevens.
“Hi, honey,” I said upon answering.
“Where are you, sweetheart?” Greg asked. “I came home hoping to surprise you and take you out for lunch.”
“I’m in Long Beach. I had an errand to run. Now I’m at the car wash. My car was pretty disgusting.”
“I need to get the van washed too,” my hubs said. “Are you going to be long or should I grab something from the fridge and head back to work?”
I looked out across the parking lot of Twinkle Clean. Men wearing matching Twinkle Clean tee shirts and clutching drying cloths were crawling over lines of wet cars like beetles over dung. The place was packed, and vehicles were pulling into the lot at a fast pace. I wasn’t the only one taking advantage of the break in the weather to get my car cleaned with the half-off price offered every Wednesday. I only work part-time, so whenever I can, I like to grab the Wednesday deal. I spotted my sedan in the front line of cars being dried.
“My car’s being dried off now,” I said into the phone. “So we should be out of here in about ten minutes or less.”
“We?” my husband asked.
“Mom’s with me.” I lowered my voice and turned away from Mom. “Should I dump her at home first?” If my mother overheard my question, she was choosing to ignore it.
“Bring her along,” said Greg with a laugh. Easy for him to say. He got along with her better than I did. “Why don’t you two meet me at the Gull? I’m craving one of their lamb burgers.”
“Hey, Mom,” I said to my mother. She looked up from her iPad. “Do you want to go to lunch with me and Greg after we leave here?”
“Sure,” she answered with a shrug. “Why not? Got nothing else to do but wait for death to find me.” It was a typical Grace Littlejohn response.
A woman came out of the Twinkle Clean office and looked around for a place to sit while waiting for her car. I shifted on the bench, moving closer to my mother to make room for her to sit down next to me. I smiled at her, and she returned it and mouthed a silent thanks. In her hand was an iced coffee from the fast food restaurant next door to the car wash. It looked refreshing. Then I remembered that the Gull also had great coffee drinks.
“Sounds good, honey,” I told Greg, judging the time it would take me to get to the restaurant from the car wash. “We’ll see you there soon. Why don’t you order me a large iced mocha latte to start.” I turned to my mother again. “Mom, would you like an iced coffee drink? Greg will order them for us so they’re waiting when we get there. They’re super good at this place.”
“Nah,” she said, her head of white hair still bent over her iPad. “They give me gas. I’ll stick to plain coffee.”
When the call ended, I dug into my purse and retrieved the claim slip for my car and a few dollars for a tip. I glanced at my car to estimate its progress. The man drying it had finished the front and sides and was about to start on the back. Another was cleaning the dashboard and inside windows. I closed my eyes and went back to sunbathing for a few minutes.
My relaxation and visions of cold, creamy chocolate and coffee were interrupted by a loud, piercing cry. I wasn’t sure if it was coming from a man or from a woman with a three-pack-a-day habit, but it was close enough to send chills up my spine. My eyes popped open to find several Twinkle Clean workers dashing toward the front line of cars being dried—specifically, they were crowding around
My first thought was that someone must have hurt themselves. Did my car mysteriously kick into neutral and roll over someone’s foot? Did one of my windows break and a worker was bleeding all over my upholstery? Was it my insurance or Twinkle Clean’s insurance that covered such things?
I scrambled to my feet and quickly made my way across the wet pavement, nearly slipping. Putting a hand out, I placed it on a freshly washed Beemer and steadied myself as I threaded through the line of cars toward my own. Mom trailed behind me several steps, her thick rubber-soled shoes squeaking in the shallow puddles. A man stepped forward and stopped me from getting closer. His name tag identified him as Xavier and the manager of the car wash.
“Just step back, please,” Xavier told me. “We have this under control.”
“My name’s Odelia Grey.” I tried to look around his bulky presence to see what was causing the commotion. “That’s my car.” I pointed to it just so he knew which one I meant, though with all the hubbub surrounding it, I didn’t think he’d be confused.
Xavier looked at me funny but didn’t move aside. Instead, he latched a large hand onto my upper arm, holding it in a firm grip. “Stay here, please.”
“What’s going on?” Mom asked.
“I don’t know, Mom.” I turned to Xavier and parroted the question. “What’s going on?”
Ignoring me, he turned and said something to one of the other workers in Spanish. The only word I recognized was
—police. The other man pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and made a call.
“Stay here,” I said to my mother. With some effort, I yanked myself free from Xavier’s grasp and sprinted the final few feet to my car. Well, sprint is a strong word and not entirely accurate when you’re in your late fifties and weigh around two hundred twenty pounds. It was more of a wog—half jog, half waddle. Either way, I made it to my car in spite of efforts to stop me.
My trunk was wide open, like a surprised gaping mouth. Several men had gathered around it, gabbing away excitedly in Spanish. I elbowed my way through and stared into the butt end of my car.
Other patrons had left the waiting area and were coming forward. My mother had caught up with me and I felt her grab the tail of my sweater in a death grip. My teeth vibrated with more screams and cries. These were new ones and not coming from me but from the people starting to crowd behind me with curiosity.
Tucked inside my trunk was a naked man with long blond hair. He was in the fetal position, with duct tape on his wrists and ankles and patched over his mouth. He was wedged neatly between the case of water I’d bought two days ago and a couple bags of old clothing I kept meaning to drop off at Goodwill. It took several double takes for me to believe my eyes.
A dead man was stored in my trunk as snuggly as a second spare tire.
My legs gave out. I slipped to the pavement and into a puddle, nearly taking my aged mother with me. Next to me, a man with a dog on a leash snapped photos of the body with his cell phone. The woman with the iced coffee was puking it up on the clean tires of the car next to mine. Several patrons were making excited calls. Around me people parted, giving me room, but no one reached out to help or to ask questions—not even my own mother.
People stared at me open mouthed like I was a freak or carried a highly contagious disease. I knew how it would play out at dinner tables across the city tonight. “There was this fat lady at the car wash today,” they’d say, “and she had a real live dead body in her trunk.” The thing is, no one would correct the contradiction of the comment. There is no such thing as a real live dead body. Trust me, I know. I’ve seen more than my share. After all, I was the Corpse Magnet—the woman who stumbled over dead bodies as often as most people stumbled over uneven pavement. What can I say? It’s a gift—an ugly, inappropriate gift—like a hideous red candle of a naked woman with fruit on her head that you can’t wait to re-gift at the next office secret Santa exchange.
I felt the cold water beneath me penetrate my jeans and soak my panties. I struggled to get on my feet, still receiving no help from anyone around me. Xavier stood next to me, looking ready to make a grab should I try to bolt. My mother was on her cell phone speaking with excitement to someone. Once I was stable on my feet, she held the phone out to me. “It’s Greg,” she said. “I called him.”
With trembling hands, I took the phone from Mom. “Greg, it’s me.”
“What in the hell is going on?” Greg asked, his voice going up, as it often did when he was stressed. “Did Grace just say something about a dead guy?”
In answer, I aimed the phone at the body and took a photo of it. A second later, the photo was hurtling towards Greg in a text message. I didn’t send a message, just the photo.
“Check the text I just sent from Mom’s phone,” I said into the phone after returning to the call.
In the distance, sirens could be heard. Closer…getting closer…coming for me. Another body. Another endless barrage of questions that I couldn’t answer.
Just a few seconds passed before my husband shouted through the phone, “Dammit, Odelia! Just walk away. Don’t you dare get involved with that.”
“Too late, Greg,” I told him as a police car screeched to a halt in the street, blocking all cars from leaving Twinkle Clean. “That’s my car. That’s my trunk.”