Brandy Borne is pretty sure her “charmingly eccentric” (a.k.a. “off her meds”) mother, Vivian, didn’t kill that viperous mousy-haired busybody Connie Grimes. But there’s the small matter of her guilty plea….While Mother blithely adapts to life behind bars by organizing a jailhouse theater troupe, seven-months-pregnant Brandy and her intrepid shih tzu, Sushi, trundle into a morass of fake antiques and faux collectibles. In the dog days of summer, they’d better not bark up the wrong tree—or a scheming killer just may put the bite on them!
Don’t Miss Brandy Borne’s Tips On Antiques!
“If you like laugh-out-loud mysteries, this one will make your day.”
—Romantic Times (4.5 stars)
Praise for Barbara Allan and the Trash ‘n’ Treasures Mystery Series...
“You’ll laugh out loud as Brandy and Vivian bumble their way through murder investigations in far-from-serene Serenity, Iowa.” —Mystery Scene
“One of the funniest cozy series going.” —Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine
“A sure-fire winner.” —Publishers Weekly
If you are in a bookstore, reading this opening paragraph,
trying to decide whether or not to shell out your
hard-earned money, you should know that I, Brandy
Borne—thirty-one, bottle blonde, divorced, who came
running home last year to live with her bipolar mother—
am not perfect. I make my share of mistakes. Repeatedly. I
am not always what you might call “nice.” Nobody’s role
(Also, there will be parenthetical remarks. I’ve been told
the mark of a really bad writer is the overuse of parenthetical
remarks. But you wouldn’t know that, if I hadn’t
made a parenthetical remark just now.)
Therefore, I will understand if you replace this book on
the shelf. One favor, please, if you don’t make a purchase?
Could you face the cover out? And, perhaps (if no clerks
are lurking to catch you at it), move the book to a more
prominent spot? Thank you.
So much has happened in the fourteen months since I’ve
been back in Serenity, a small Midwestern town nestled on
a bend of the mighty Mississippi, that I hardly know
where to begin. Actually, I began four books ago, but
don’t panic—I can catch you up quickly, and those of you
who have been with Mother and me from the beginning
(God bless you, and no sneeze required) might appreciate
Besides the several murder mysteries in which Mother
and I got ourselves involved (Mother a willing participant,
me not so), I had also received two disturbing anonymous
The first claimed that my much-older sister, Peggy Sue—
who lives in a tonier part of town—was my birth mother;
the other missive insisted that my biological father was
none other than a certain United States senator.
After confronting Sis about these obnoxious notes, she
confirmed that their contents were accurate, which put an
added strain on our already strained relationship. But we
both came to the conclusion that, for the present, we would
keep these revelations to ourselves, and not disturb the status
quo. Sis was to remain Sis, and Mother Mother . . .
which suited social-climbing Peggy Sue just fine. Me, I had
my own reasons for keeping quiet, chief among them not
disturbing an already plenty disturbed Mother, who had
stopped taking her bipolar medication a few months ago.
We now return you to the regularly scheduled mystery
novel (and there will be another mystery, and another
murder, despite my best efforts otherwise). . . .
Summer had once again arrived in Serenity, though it
seemed something of a surprise after endless snow and
then continual rain that had caused a flood from which
our little community was still recovering. These were what
we Midwesterners call the dog days: hot and humid, a literal
pressure cooker—well, not a literal pressure cooker,
but more than just a figurative one.
And while those with money fled north to Minnesota
and Canada until the weather cooled off, we common folk
holed up in air-conditioned houses, or malls, or movie the
aters, venturing out only in the early-morning hours, or
late evening, when the heat was barely tolerable.
At the moment, I was indoors, specifically upstairs in
my bedroom, trying to find something to wear that was
cool, and cool. Because being seven months pregnant during
the summer was no picnic.
Oh! Didn’t I mention that I was expecting? Sorry. Okay,
just a little more catching up. . . .
My best friend, Tina, couldn’t have a baby with her husband,
Kevin (because she’d had cervical cancer), so I volunteered
to be a surrogate mother for them. (Sometimes I
am nice.) But don’t worry—I’m not going to be all,
“Ooooh, my back hurts,” and “I gotta pee again,” for
three hundred pages. Nor will you have to encounter such
verbs as “trundled,” or “waddled.” You’ll hardly even
know I’m preggers. Just, when you picture me—shoulderlength
blond hair, blue-eyed, kinda pretty—don’t forget to
add a baby bump.
From my closet I selected an outfit Tina bought for
me—a Juicy Couture yellow sundress (from their maternity
line) and a pair of orange Havaianas (flip-flops that
I’d always wanted but wouldn’t buy myself because I
couldn’t pronounce them). You see, I figure if you dress
right, people won’t think “trundle” or “waddle” when
you pass them on the street.
Sushi, my brown-and-white, blind, diabetic shih tzu (actually,
my only shih tzu, and the only thing besides clothes
that I slunk home with after the divorce) (Jake, twelve,
was staying with his father in Chicago) (I warned you
about the parentheticals) was on the floor a few feet away,
attacking an old brown Brighton snakeskin belt as if it
were a real reptile. I used the thing to keep her busy while
I got dressed, otherwise she’d drag out all my shoes from
the closet. I would hide the belt in the bedroom for her to
find—which she’d sniff out in a nano-second, even though
she couldn’t see it, having slobbered on the thing so much.
After checking myself out in the large round mirror of
my Art Deco dressing table, feeling a pregnant woman of
thirty-one had no right to look so cute, I scooped Sushi up
and headed downstairs to find Mother.
This morning, we were taking in an antique mantel
clock to be fixed; it was lovely but not keeping time. We
had snagged the clock at a tag sale because the seller (an
out-of-state relative of the deceased) didn’t know its regional
value and, naturally, we kept mum, as is the prerogative
of any dealer (first rule of collecting).
Mother and I had a booth at the downtown antiques
mall—located in a four-story Victorian brick building—
and we figured that once the clock had been cleaned and
repaired, we could sell it for five times what we paid.
Mother would take the lion’s share (or lioness’s share) because
she had spotted it first.
Our acquisition was one of only a few thousand such
clocks made right here in Serenity from about 1890 to
1920 by the celebrated Andre Acklin, who had emigrated
from Switzerland to take advantage of the top quality
wood from our lumber mills (for clock casings), and pearl
from the Mississippi mussel shells (clock faces).
As a young man, Acklin had worked in France with
Jules Audemars and Edward Piguet—future founders of
Audemars Piguet Watch Company—but Acklin went his
own way when the other two men began to concentrate on
expensive pocket watches. Acklin preferred creating larger
timepieces over working in miniature, and also wanted to
use more natural materials.
Sadly, Serenity’s famed clockmaker died one bitter winter
afternoon in 1920, when a fire broke out in his shop on
Main Street, blotting out the cold temporarily and the
clockmaker permanently. According to local legend, some
of his precious inventory did survive.
So, naturally, when Mother and I saw an opportunity to
buy an Andre Acklin mantel clock for a song at the tag
sale, we were nearly beside ourselves with excitement—although
we did our best not to show it (second rule of collecting).
In the kitchen, I found Mother in all her manic glory,
standing at the sink, feverishly polishing a vintage silver
tea set that we never used. At least her energy, as of late,
had been directed toward home improvement, not investigating
some murder—real or imagined.
Mother—age unknown because she’d forged so many
documents, but who had claimed to be seventy-four for
the past three years—was a statuesque Dane, with porcelain
skin nearly free of old age spots, wide mouth, narrow
nose, prominent cheekbones, and pale blue eyes magnified
to twice their size behind large round glasses. She wore her
shoulder-length silver-white hair in a variety of buns on a
variety of places on her head, even when she went to bed.
Today Mother graced us in a pale yellow blouse and
matching capris—one of several new outfits I’d gotten her
because she’d lost so much weight during her manic phase,
when she slept little and ate even less.
Now, some of you may be asking why I didn’t just talk
to her about going back on the medication. I did talk. She
Why did she refuse to listen to reason? Because, at the
age of seventy-whatever, the manic phase makes her feel
like Superwoman! She’s on a high that can last for months.
But then comes the inevitable depression stage (laced with
paranoia) and, inevitably—like a jet going three hundred
miles an hour at thirty-six-thousand feet—she runs out of
gas and nose-dives to Earth.
I just prayed the crash wouldn’t happen until after the
baby was born.
(I’m not proud of this, but I tried crushing one of her
pills and hiding it in her favorite pastry—a vanilla cream-
horn—but she caught on with one bite, and threw the rest
of the pastry—and her medicine—away.) (This technique
doesn’t work on Sushi, either.)
“If you don’t stop doing that,” I said, “you’ll polish the
silver right off.”
Mother held the teapot out by its ornate handle, saying
proudly, “Look, dear, I can see my face in it!”
So could I, a funhouse reflection with giant bug eyes,
and I could only wonder if it was how she viewed the
world at the moment—recognizable, if distorted.
“Mother,” I said, “we should hurry—before it gets too
“Oh, yes, dear,” she said with a pensive frown. “The
clock.” She set the teapot down and began wiping her
hands with a dishtowel. “You’ve packed it well?”
“What about Sushi? Do you think the little doggie
would like to go with us?”
“Moth-er,” I groaned.
Groaned, because at the mention of her name, Sushi
would no doubt come running, and did. That and the
word “go” had her dancing at our feet.
“Oh, I am sorry,” Mother said. “The little devil knows
the word ‘go,’ doesn’t she? I should have spelled ‘go,’ instead
of said ‘go.’ ”
“Will you please stop saying ‘go’?”
Sushi was in a frenzy now, yapping ever louder.
Mother put hands on hips. “Now you just said, ‘go.’ ”
“There you go again!”
We glared at each other in what was an all-too-common occurrence around the Borne homestead: a stalemate of
I sighed. “Well, now, she’ll have to go with us.”
“I guess she will,” Mother huffed, “because you keep
saying ‘go.’ ”
I left (not trundled!) to get the dog carrier in the front
closet, Sushi underfoot, almost making me trip. Normally,
I enjoyed taking Soosh out with me on short errands, but
this time we were going to a new place—Timmons Clock
Repair—and I didn’t know if there would be another dog
on the premises, or how long we would stay . . . and, besides,
we were toting along a valuable antique.
But now, if we didn’t take Sushi, the little furball would
surely exact her revenge, and that could mean (but would
necessarily not be limited to) any of the following: peeing
on the Oriental rug, chewing the leg / arm of a Queen
Anne chair, tearing up a feather pillow, unrolling the toilet
paper. Barricading the blind barker in the kitchen never
worked—the one and only time we did that, she chewed
off all the corners of the lower cabinets.
I did own a rhinestone-studded dog-carrying bag, but
the pink balboa feathers made Sushi sneeze, so I’d replaced
the bag with a baby front-pack (pink, pictured with
rattles and pacifiers and diaper pins), which was better because
it freed up my hands.
I had just strapped the front-pack on and was preparing
to deal with the dog, when the doorbell rang. Our post-
woman—short brown hair, no make-up, athletic build—
handed me the mail and, after exchanging a few words
with her about how hot it was, I closed the door, then put
the correspondence on a nearby Victorian marble-top
table reserved for such things as car keys, loose change,
sunglasses, cell phones, and grocery lists.
I’d been waiting for a rebate check on my new phone—
which I intended on blowing on the end-of-summer shoe
sales, because shoes would still fit after the baby came—so
I took the time to sift through the mail.
Electric bill, water bill, church bulletin, You-Could Win-
a-Million-Dollars! notice, letter with no return address,
phone bill, fashion magazine . . .
. . . letter with no return address!
I snatched up the familiar white envelope with distinctive
computer font, but was surprised this time to see it addressed
to ...Vivian Borne.
And she was right there, instantly suspicious. “What is
that you have there, dear?”
I whirled, hiding the anonymous letter behind my back.
“Nothing. Just more junk mail.” And I laughed a little,
in that unconvincing way the guilty do in movies.
Mother’s eyes narrowed, her voice taking on a strange,
dubious tone. “If it’s nothing, dear, why conceal it?”
I was in a kerfuffle—should I lie about the letter, and increase
her paranoia? Or give it to her, knowing its contents
might well send her on a downward spiral? Not the best of
options. . . .
I handed the letter over, with a “You’re not going to like
She ignored that, and strode over to her favorite Queen
Anne needlepoint armchair, and sat regally, while I crossed
the Oriental rug to the matching needlepoint sofa, settling
as comfortably as I could on the rigid furniture.
I watched with increasing anxiety as Mother opened the
envelope, unfolded the single-sheet contents, then brought
it up closer to her glasses.
Sushi, sensing a postponement in our trip, found a
stream of sunlight to swim in, placing her head on her
crossed front paws, her lower lip protruding poutily.
I could pretty much guess what the letter said, going by
the two I’d already received. But as Mother slowly read it
aloud, I clearly had underestimated the depth and scope of
viciousness intended by its sender.
“‘Soon all will know that Brandy is not your daughter,’”
Mother said, then paused, realizing what had just come
out of her. Then she resumed, in an atypically hushed
voice. “‘. . . and that Peggy Sue is her real mother. And
Senator Clark can kiss his political career good-bye.’”
Mother’s hand containing the letter dropped to her lap,
her face turning ashen; then a bright red burn began at her
neck, working its way up.
She turned to me, eyes blazing. “You knew?”
“How long have you known?”
I shrugged, as if I were the one who’d wrongly withheld
a secret. “A few months. First one I got was about Peggy
Sue. Second one was about Senator Clark.”
“And Peggy Sue? She knows that . . . you know?”
I nodded again. “She got her own nice anonymous
Mother stood, pointing at me, j’accuse. “And you kept
this from me? How could you do such a thing?”
“Hey! You kept it from me for thirty years! So don’t get
up on your high horse.”
Mother stared for a long moment, then nodded. Her
manner was disturbingly calm. “Point well taken, my dear.
You have a perfect right to be miffed.”
“But you must understand . . . we did what we thought
“Best for whom, Mother? You and Peggy Sue, you
Mother came to join me on the couch, putting one hand
on my knee. “No, Brandy . . . best for you. Peggy Sue
couldn’t have cared for a baby properly—she was only
eighteen, and unmarried—times were so different back
then. And since the man you thought of as your father—
my husband, Jonathan Borne—had just died, you gave me
great comfort.” Her eyes seemed about to overflow. “Did . . .
did I do such a bad job, dear?”