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People Lookin' Half Dead
A Bogey Man Mystery
Chris hung up his cell phone and turned to me with an odd expression on his face.
“Who was that?” I asked.
He glanced at his watch, which made me glance at the clock on the wall behind the counter. It was only nine-thirty in the morning.
I waited for a moment, but he didn’t say a word. Instead, he rolled his upper lip under and rocked back on his heels. It wasn’t long until he pulled on his ear lobe, looking thoughtful.
You have to understand that my husband, Chris Cross, is a dead ringer for Humphrey Bogart, although a little taller, and he’s spent a lifetime playing up the resemblance. He walks the walk and talks the talk – literally. It’s a long story, but thanks to him being a Bogey lookalike, he’s involved both of us in a few cases. I don’t know what else to call them other than cases. I guess you could say we’re amateur sleuths, but we’ve retired from trouble, and that’s exactly what it was – trouble and danger. We were always in the thick of things, and we have a young son we’ve tried to protect.
“What’s going on, Bogey Man?” I asked, using my nickname for him.
He unrolled his lip and leaned toward me. “Pamela, Tillie’s here.”
Did I detect a note of dread in his voice?
“Your grandmother? When did she arrive?”
Chris’s parents had bought the house next door to theirs for Tillie. She’s Chris’s maternal grandmother. At the time she said she was busy and not ready to move to Los Angeles. I’ve never met her in person. She wasn’t at our wedding because she’d been out of the country, visiting Spain – or maybe trying to take it over. I’ve talked to her on the phone many times, and she’s quite a character.
“She came in late last night, unannounced. My father’s having fits. He wants our help. Mother isn’t answering her cell phone.”
“Ah.” I understood.
Judith, Chris’s mother, had gone out of town with the Church Ladies to a ladies’ retreat. She’d be gone for a week. Since Tillie is Judith’s mother, not Chris Sr.’s, he probably had no idea what to do with her. Judith is somewhat eccentric, and the Bogey Man tells me Tillie puts his mother to shame in that department.
“He’s going to drop her off here,” Chris said, “while he goes back and puts her house in order. She stayed at Mom and Dad’s place last night. He wants her to stay in her own home tonight.”
“Ah,” I repeated. I didn’t know what else to say.
Two small hurricanes ran through the front door of our restaurant. Diner? It wasn’t really either one. I’d settle for supper club.
We’d leased the Gin Mill Grill to open as a second business. A friend of ours, a private investigator and the one who’d introduced me to Chris, had solved a multiple murder case that involved this 1930s building. Yes, it had been a speakeasy back in the day under the guise of a diner. Our other business, Bogey Nights, was an upscale forties-themed restaurant. We were expanding. This would be thirties-themed in honor of Prohibition – or the fact that this building had been a gin mill.
Anyway, back to the small storms entering the building. Our ten-year-old son, Mikey, and his closest friend, Danny, had been spending time with us while we renovated the restaurant. They’d disappeared for about an hour.
“Where have you two been?” I asked.
“We walked down the street and introduced ourselves to people from the other businesses,” Mikey said. “They’re excited about the Gin Mill Grill being open again.”
“They really are, Mrs. Cross,” Danny said. “They can’t wait to see what your food will be like.”
“Ace,” Chris said, “don’t hit the bricks again without letting us know where you’re going.” Ace is Chris’s nickname for our son.
“Okay, Dad, but we wanted to see what kinds of stores are around here.”
“We didn’t bother anybody, sir,” Danny added. “Not even the people who were sitting on the sidewalk.”
I raised my eyebrows, wondering what that was about.
I looked the two boys up and down. Their faces were red and they were slightly out of breath. It was quite hot outside.
“You two need to stay inside where it’s cool. Go back to the kitchen and pour yourselves some water. You need to rest for a few minutes,” I said.
“Yes, ma’am.” Mikey signaled his friend to follow him. “We’ll sit at the old oak bar in the other room.”
“Oh, and your great-grandmother is coming in soon. I want you to be on your best behavior.”
“Tillie’s here?” My son sounded excited. “Cool! I can’t wait to meet her in person. Grandpa’s told so many stories about her. She sounds like she’s worse than Grandma Judy, but she didn’t sound like that on the phone.”
“Ace, that’s enough of that,” Chris said.
“Grandpa calls her looney,” Mikey said.
“Don’t listen to everything your grandfather says.”
As the boys walked away, I heard Danny asking why we call her Tillie instead of Grandma.
“’Cause she says calling her Grandma makes her feel old. She says Tillie is good enough.”
Danny nodded and the two boys disappeared.
Mikey is actually my son from another marriage. My first husband died of cancer when he was young. After Chris and I married, he adopted my son. His relatives have no trouble treating Mikey as one of their own. I love them for that.
“I suppose it’s going to be up to me to entertain her,” I said. I didn’t mind, but I wondered if Chris would leave it all up to me.
“Oh, I have a feeling she’ll entertain you,” he replied.
The front door opened again and Big D walked in with John, one of his employees. Big D, Davey, is a friend of Chris’s and a contractor. He’d done renovations for us and he and John were putting on some finishing touches.
“Pammy, what’s up?” Big D is the only person on the face of the earth who calls me Pammy and gets away with it. He’s a big, blond bear of a man who’s as lovable as a Teddy bear.
“Not much. What’s up with you?”
“Just a few more things to take care of. Sharon will be in later this afternoon to take a look around.”
Sharon Stone is Davey’s girlfriend and a reporter. She promised she’d do a story about our restaurant – club – mostly because she owed me. I’d given her the inside scoop on a couple of our cases. Sometimes trading favors is a good thing.
Chris put his hand on Big D’s arm and turned him around. “Tillie’s on her way here. She should be here any minute.”
Davey warily glanced at the door, but apparently having second thoughts, he started to laugh. “I haven’t seen her since we were in high school. She’s a hoot. Remember that time she caught us smoking behind the garage?”
“There are some things I’d rather forget.” Chris rolled his eyes, which is actually one of my bad habits.
The two men wandered off to the back room where Big D was finishing his work.
I sat down at the counter where I was putting together a menu, welcoming the temporary peace and quiet. The printer wanted the menu no later than the afternoon because we were planning on opening in a week and a half. He needed to get them put together. It seemed like there was so much left to do and we were running out of time. I hoped I could meet his deadline.
As was our habit, we usually hired famous actor lookalikes to work with us. I’d already hired our staff, and Donna, from the other restaurant, was going to start working here as the manager. It’s closer to home for her. As a single mother, she wanted to spend as much time with her son as possible. She doesn’t look like anyone famous, but she dresses the part. Duke, our Steve McQueen lookalike from the other restaurant had decided to work here, too. I had a feeling there was a wedding in Donna’s and Duke’s futures.
I snapped my fingers when I thought of something I wanted to add to the menu and made a quick note.
The door opened one more time and a teeny tiny woman walked in. Before she closed the door, she turned and glanced behind her.
“Get a move on, bucko,” she said. “Time’s a’wastin’. I’ve got things to do and places to go.”
“No, you don’t,” Chris, Sr. replied, walking in behind her.
“Well, it sounds good.” The little woman smiled up at him.
When Chris, Sr. smiled you had to watch for it. His lips would get tight, straight and only turn up at the corners. Blink and you might miss it. My father-in-law is slender and about six feet, two inches tall. He has longish gray hair that he combs straight back. He’s also very quiet and soft-spoken, and he detests controversy.
He smiled at the little woman now, before turning his gaze on me.
“Pamela, this is – “
“No introductions necessary,” Tillie interrupted. “I’d know Pamela anywhere.” She held her arms out as she walked toward me, wanting a hug.
I slid off the stool and obliged her.
She pushed me away and touched my hair. “Just like I pictured it -- long and the prettiest color of auburn. And look at your green eyes. Amazing! I use half medium blonde and half medium ash blonde on my hair. What color do you use?”
I laughed. “This is the real deal, Tillie.”
“Well, aren’t you blessed? Yes, indeed.”
Somehow I knew this little lady and I were going to have fun together.
“By the way,” she said, “there are some people out there lookin’ half dead from the heat. I think they’re streeters. Can we bring them in and give them something cold to drink?”
Now I knew what Danny had meant by people sitting on the sidewalk.
“Chris,” I hollered. “Tillie’s here.”