Insights on business -- and life.
Death by Killer Mop Doll: Chapter One
by Lois Wnston (January 16, 2012)
(Note: Death by Killer Mop Doll
© 2012 by Lois Winston. Used by permission. Midnight Ink Books
Upstairs, the front door slammed with
enough force to register a five on the Richter scale. Dust dislodged
from the exposed basement rafters and drifted down like polluted
snow, settling over the basket of clean laundry I’d been folding.
The ensuing shouting, barking, and yowling drowned out my muttered
curse of choice and yanked my attention away from the now
Dalmatian-spotted white wash.
"Once more unto the breach, dear
friends," squawked Ralph, the Shakespeare-spouting African Grey
parrot I’d inherited when Great-Aunt Penelope Periwinkle died two
years ago. "Henry the Fifth. Act Three, Scene One." He spread his
wings and took flight up the basement stairs to check out the
action. I raced after him, eager to prevent World War III from
erupting in my living room.
"Muzzle that abominable creature, or
I’ll have the pound haul him away," shrieked Mama. "He's
traumatizing Catherine the Great."
"So shove some Prozac down her throat,"
said my mother-in-law, Lucille. "What the hell are you doing back
here? And don’t you ever bother to knock? Just barge right in like
you own the place."
"I have more right to be here than you.
This is my daughter’s house, you … you pinko squatter."
As I hurried through the kitchen, I
glanced at the calendar tacked next to the telephone. Mama wasn't
due back from her Caribbean cruise for another three days. Damn it.
I needed those three days to steel myself for the inevitable
explosive reaction that occurred whenever Flora Sudberry Periwinkle
Ramirez Scoffield Goldberg O’Keefe, my mother and the former social
secretary of the Daughters of the American Revolution, locked horns
with Lucille Pollack, my mother-in-law and current president of the
Daughters of the October Revolution. I'd been swindled out of
By the time I entered the living room,
Mama and Lucille’s voices had reached glass-shattering decibel
"Crazy communist!" yelled Mama. She
stood in the middle of the room, cradling Catherine the Great, her
corpulent white Persian with an attitude befitting her namesake.
Manifesto, my mother-in-law's runt of a
French bulldog, stood inches from Mama's Ferragamos, his bark having
switched to growl mode as he glared up at his nemesis. With a hiss
and a yowl, Catherine the Great leaped from Mama's arms. Showing his
true cowardly colors, Mephisto, as we always called him behind his
back and often to his snout, scampered to safety behind my
mother-in-law's ample girth.
Lucille barreled across the room,
waving her cane at Mama. "Reactionary fascist!"
"How dare you threaten me!" Mama
defended herself with a French-manicured backhand that would have
done Chris Everett proud. The cane flew from Lucille’s grasp and
landed inches from Mephisto's nose. Demon dog yelped and dove
between Lucille's orange polyester-clad legs.
My mother-in-law's rage multiplied into
Vesuvian proportions. Her wrinkled face deepened from a spotted
scarlet to an apoplectic heliotrope. "You did that on purpose!"
Mama jutted her chin at Lucille as she
rubbed the palm of her hand. "You started it."
"And I’m stopping it." I stepped
between them, spreading my arms to prevent them from ripping each
other’s lips off. "Knock it off. Both of you."
"It's her fault," said Mama. She jabbed
a finger at Lucille. Her hand shook with rage, her gold charm
bracelet tinkling a dainty minuet totally incompatible with the
situation. "And that vicious mongrel of hers. She sic'd him on us
the moment we walked through the door."
Highly unlikely. "Mephisto's all bark
and bluster, Mama. You should know that by now."
"“Manifesto!" shrieked Lucille. "How
many times do I have to tell you his name is Manifesto?"
"Whatever," Mama and I said in unison.
It was an old refrain. Mephisto better suited demon dog anyway.
Besides, who names a dog after a Communist treatise?
Behind me, Ralph squawked. I looked
over my shoulder and found him perched on the lampshade beside one
of the overstuffed easy chairs flanking the bay window. A chair
occupied by a cowering stranger, his knees drawn up to his chest,
his arms hugging his head. I glanced at Mama. Glanced back at the
man. "Who’s he?"
"Oh dear!" Mama raced across the room,
flapping her Chanelsuited arms. "Shoo, dirty bird!"
Ralph ignored her. He doesn’t
intimidate easily. Mama was hardly a challenge for a parrot who had
spent years successfully defending himself against Aunt Penelope’s
mischievous students. "Anastasia, I told you that bird's a
reincarnation of Ivan the Terrible. Do something. He's attacking my
Her Poor Lou? Okay, at least the man
had a name and someone in the room knew him. I stretched out my arm
and whistled. Ralph took wing, landing in the crook of my elbow.
Poor Lou peered through his fingers. Convinced the coast was clear,
he lowered his hands and knees and raised his head.
"Are you all right, dear?" asked Mama,
patting his salt and pepper comb-over. "I'm terribly sorry about all
this. My daughter never did have the heart to turn away a stray."
She punctuated her statement with a pointed stare, first in
Lucille’s direction and then at Ralph.
Mephisto bared his teeth and rumbled a
growl from the depths of his belly.
Catherine the Great had lost interest
in the family melodrama and dozed, stretched out on the back of the
Before Mama could explain Poor Lou's
presence, the front door burst open. Fourteen-year-old Nick and
sixteen-year-old Alex bounded into the living room. "Grandma!" they
both exclaimed in unison. They dropped their baseball gear and
backpacks on the floor and encircled Mama in a group hug.
"Aren’t you supposed to be on a
cruise?" asked Nick.
"Who’s this?" asked Alex, nodding
toward Poor Lou.
Poor Lou rose. He wiped his palms on
his pinstriped pants legs, cleared his throat, and straightened his
skewed paisley tie. "Maybe I should be going, Flora. The driver is
I glanced out the front window. A black
limo idled at the curb.
"Yes, of course." She walked him to the
door without bothering to make introductions. Very odd behavior for
my socially correct mother.
"I'll call you tomorrow," Poor Lou told
She raised her head, batted her
eyelashes, and sighed. Poor Lou wrapped his arms around my mother
and bent her backwards in a clinch that rivaled the steamiest of
Harlequin romance book covers. His eyes smoldered as he met her
slightly parted lips. Mama melted into his body.
I stared at my etiquette-obsessed
mother, my jaw flapping down around my knees, and wondered if she
had eaten any funny mushrooms on her cruise. Out of the corner of
one eye, I saw my two sons gaping with equally bug-eyed expressions.
Behind me, Lucille muttered her disgust. Even Ralph registered his
amazement with a loud squawk.
Over Mama's shoulder, Poor Lou stole an
anxious glance toward Ralph, broke the kiss, and darted out the
Mama fluffed her strawberry blonde
waves back into place, smoothed the wrinkles from her suit jacket,
and offered us the most innocent of expressions as we continued to
ogle her. "Is something wrong?"
"Wrong? Why? Just because my mother was
doing the Tonsil Tango with a total stranger?"
Lucille stooped to retrieve her cane.
"I suppose this means that trashy hussy is moving back into my
"Your room?" asked Mama.
"Hey, it's my room!" said Nick.
Poor Nick. He was none too happy about
having to give up his bedroom to his curmudgeon of a grandmother. He
didn't mind the occasional upheaval when Mama came to visit because
he knew it was temporary. Besides, the boys and Mama had a great
relationship. Lucille was another story. When she moved in with us
to recuperate after a hit-and-run accident and subsequent hip
surgery, none of us had expected a permanent addition to the
household. Then again, I had suffered from quite a few delusions
Lucille scowled at me. "You should
teach those boys some respect. In my day children knew their place."
"Don’t you speak to my daughter like
Lucille scoffed. “Look who’s talking. A
fine example you set.”
"What’s that supposed to mean?"
"Strumpet." Lucille pounded her cane
once for emphasis, then lumbered from the living room, Mephisto
following at her heels. Lucille habitually pronounced judgment with
a pounding of her cane, then departed.
"At least I’m getting some," Mama
called after her. "Unlike a certain jealous Bolshevik who hasn't
experienced an orgasm since Khrushchev ruled the Kremlin."
Nick and Alex grabbed their middles and
doubled over in hysterics.
Mama brushed my indignation aside with
a wave of her hand. "For heaven's sake, Anastasia, I'm a grown
“Then act like one. Especially in front
of your grandsons.”
She winked at the boys. "I thought I
did. Besides, if they don't know the facts of life by now, they’ve
got a lot of catching up to do."
I glanced at my sons, not sure how to
interpret the sheepish expression on Alex's face or the feigned
innocence on Nick's. After the initial shock of seeing their
grandmother in the throes of passion, both seemed quite amused by
the drama playing out in our living room. "They know all about the
facts of life. What they don’t need is a graphic demonstration from
The corners of Mama’s mouth dipped
down. "Honestly, Anastasia, just because I'm over sixty doesn’t mean
I’m ready for a hearse. When did you become such a stick-in-the-mud,
I suppose right around the time she
morphed from Ms. Manners into Auntie Mame. Other sixty-five-year-old
women might behave this way in front of their daughter and
grandsons, but up until today, Mama wasn;t one of them. Was Poor
Lou's last name Svengali?
Alex spared me from defending myself.
"So who's the stranger dude, Grandma?"
"Lou isn't a stranger. He's my fiance."
"Your what?" Surely I hadn't heard her
correctly. Had some of that rafter dust settled in my ears? "What
about Seamus, Mama?"
"Yes, Seamus. Remember him?"
Mama heaved one of those sighs reserved
for children who need repeated instruction and explanation. "Seamus
died, Anastasia. You know that."
Of course I knew Seamus had died. He'd
suffered a cerebral aneurysm while kissing the Blarney Stone. "But
he just died. Three months ago."Within days of losing my own
husband, Mama had lost hers.
"Well, it's not like we were married
very long. He died on our six-month anniversary. Besides, I'm not
Merlin. I don't grow younger with each passing year."
Ample justification for getting herself
engaged to a total stranger, no doubt. "Where did you meet this
"On the cruise, of course."
"So you're engaged to a man you've
known for all of one week?"
Mama shrugged. "Time is meaningless
when soul mates connect."
Soul mates? The now-departed Seamus had
been soul mate number five for Flora Sudberry Periwinkle Ramirez
Scoffield Goldberg O’Keefe. When Mama finally met her maker, she'd
have a line of soul mates waiting for her at the Pearly Gates. She'd
better hope St. Peter allowed polygamy up in Heaven.
"Besides," continued Mama, "at my age,
I have to grab happiness when it presents itself. Advice you"d do
well to heed." She glanced down the hallway toward the bedrooms.
"Unless you want to wind up like her."
"No, not that!" Nick grabbed his throat
and made gagging noises. "Not my mom!"
Alex fell to his knees in front of
Mama, his hands clasped in supplication. "Please, Grandma, save our
Comedians. I tossed them a mom-scowl.
"If the two of you have so much time on your hands, you can vacuum
and do a load of wash before dinner." Nearly seven and I still had
to prepare a meal, finish a project for a photo shoot tomorrow, and
figure out a way to rob Peter to pay Paul before the bill collectors
came knocking. Again.
Alex grabbed his backpack. "Sorry, Mom.
Got an economics paper due tomorrow."
"Bio test," said Nick, retrieving his
backpack from the floor.
"Dibs on the computer," called Alex as
he sped down the hall to the bedroom they now shared. The boys used
to have their own computers, but Nick"s died last month. A
replacement would have to wait until I won Mega Millions or
Nick raced after Alex. Neither bothered
with the baseball gear they'd dumped on the carpet. Apparently, it
had become invisible to all but me.
I stooped to pick up the discarded
duffels of sports paraphernalia.
(Note: Death by Killer Mop Doll
is the second in Lois' Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series.
U.S. $14.95 CAN $16.95 | Trade Paperback Original | ISBN:
978-0-7387-2585-7. the first in the series – and there will be more
-- is Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun (978-0-7387-2347-1).