Desperate to locate a missing person, Constance Twist decides to call a detective agency. Waiting for directory assistance and muttering to herself about karma, Constance jots down the address for the Carr–Maah Consulting Agency. On the way to the agency, Constance is shoved into traffic and nearly killed.
Celeste Carr is shocked when Constance storms into the office, demanding help. Celeste tries to explain that Carr–Maah is a human resources consulting company, not a detective agency. Celeste grits her teeth when her mysterious business partner Ericka Maah overrules Celeste and forces her to take Constance’s case.
The killer rectifies the earlier error. Constance is brutally murdered as she leaves the agency.
Several hundred miles away, Jose is a restaurant manager and former agency employee. He helped Sonora escape her abusive husband by giving her a job and an apartment. After Sonora unexpectedly flees, Jose finds a hefty online reward for a lost dog. The posting shows Sonora’s image photoshopped with the picture of a dog. Jose follows Sonora’s trail back to his hometown and the Carr–Maah Consulting Agency.
Celeste, Ericka, and Jose, assisted by Hobart, the mysterious homeless man forced by Ericka to become the agency’s office manager, discover the Lost Dog website is a cover to help abusers locate their victims. As they follow clues to solve Constance’s murder and find the sociopathic mastermind behind the website, they discover a surfeit of viable suspects. His voice heated by the South African sun, Christoph Metre is the charismatic head of the rival consulting agency. Obsessed with the exotic Ericka, Christoph appears with his entourage in unexpected places, including the murder scene. Lovesick Mrs. Grant, in a one-sided relationship with Mr. Crispie, hated it when Constance Twist offered the spry widower lemonade with a Twist. Dr. Britta Spartan, head of the domestic violence shelter, writhes around Hobart like a predatory boa constrictor around a juicy mouse.
If Celeste and her friends can’t solve the mystery in time, they’ll be the next victims.
Targeted Age Group:: Adult Readers
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I had written mysteries without a supernatural element. I decided to write a mystery that included a paranormal element. Celeste Carr and Ericka Maah run the Carr – Maah Consulting Agency, a human resources consulting agency.
Celeste is practical. She rejects anything of a supernatural nature. Ericka is mysterious, with odd, unexplained things happening when she’s around. The two business partners clash, but each would give her life for the other.
I work in a fair-sized city. I saw homeless people roaming the streets. I did some research on the homeless population. It inspired me to include a homeless man. He plays a major role in the plot.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My mystery Mayhem Takes a Dare is funny and exciting, but also includes unusual characters and delves into more serious issues, like domestic violence and child abuse. One of the characters is modeled after my brother. He drank himself to death, and died in his early forties. I think many of his problems were related to child abuse we suffered at the hands of a person who should love us most: our father. I gave my brother a major role in the book. I also rewrote his ending.
Constance Twist allowed her eyes to fill with tears and sent her chin into what she hoped was a pathetic wobble. “Do you mean I risked my life to get here, and you’re refusing to take my case?”
Her pretty face set in solemn, sympathetic lines, the young woman behind the wide cherry desk rose, automatically smoothing the lines of the tailored navy jacket and knee-length skirt. “As I explained, we are the Carr—Maah Consulting Agency, Mrs. Twist. I am Celeste Carr, and my partner is Ericka Maah.” She adjusted the white cuffs of the plain white blouse under the jacket. “I’m sorry Information interpreted our firm as the Karma Consulting Detectives. That’s a hazard with automated voice systems.”
Constance straightened her spine in the comfortable wing chair, and planted her feet. “But you consult—”
“—with companies on various human resources-related matters, not missing persons,” interjected Celeste with a professional smile. “We help firms with issues like staffing, training, employee benefits, and the like.” She offered Constance a regretful shrug and a placating, outstretched hand. “We aren’t private detectives. May I call a taxi for you? After your mishap, I don’t think it’s wise for you to ride a bus back to the retirement community.” As she guided Constance to the reception area, she pulled a slim phone from her pocket and tucked her long brown hair behind her ear.
The door to the office at the opposite corner from Celeste’s office opened.
A miniature woman swam toward Constance like a slender mermaid, her liquid brown eyes catching the summer rays of sun slanting through the open blinds at the wide windows. The long nose seemed to accentuate the oval face rather than dominate it. The folds of blue silk fluttered at the slim wrists and delicate ankles like the warm blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The straight fall of dark hair framed the exotic milk chocolate lines of the smooth face, slight shoulders, and fragile hips as she glided across the room.
Constance blinked when the vision extended a trim brown hand.
“I am Ericka Maah. Welcome to our office.”
Without realizing she’d moved, Constance found her gnarled hand in a gentle clasp. The other woman’s fingers felt like delicate strands of cool, expensive silk. “Nice to meet you, Ms. Maah.”
Retaining Constance’s hand, Ericka pivoted on an air-conditioned breeze. “Celeste. Please make notes of Mrs. Twist’s problem. Use the special parchment.”
The gentle heat from Ericka’s hand soothed the pain of arthritis in Constance’s twisted fingers. As Constance found herself falling into the tranquil brown gaze, she thought, I don’t ever want to let go. This is my lifeline.
“B-b-b-u-u—” Celeste stammered. “Ericka, we are not equipped to help Mrs. Twist. We—”
“Celeste. Take the details. I will review and then make a decision.”
As the firm tones resonated throughout the high-ceilinged room, Constance sucked in a shocked breath. Her eyes flew to Celeste’s annoyed brown eyes, which Constance noticed were neither liquid nor tranquil.
Celeste’s eyes dropped and she pulled open a drawer with unnecessary force. “Yes, Ericka, you’re the boss.” The set of her pale pink lips, innocent of lipstick, and her rigid posture were the only outward signs of Celeste’s irritation.
In a wave of blue silk, Ericka extended her free hand. “And use my fountain pen, please. When you’re finished, bring both the parchment with your notes and the pen to me.”
Constance automatically compared the two women as Celeste accepted the pen. Ericka was as insubstantial as mist rising from a secluded lagoon. Celeste towered over the other woman, her athletic build in the navy suit appearing sturdy next to her partner’s delicate column of blue.
Constance felt an instant of jarring loss as the brown fingers left her hand and the exotic woman glided back to her office and closed the door. “You use tissue-thin, almond-colored parchment and a fountain pen, Miss Carr. How retro.”
The pen moved across the parchment, the scratching loud in the silence. “I think I’ve got the facts, Mrs. Twist. Bryant’s father was never in the picture. His mother, your daughter, has been hospitalized for mental illness off and on throughout Bryant’s childhood. They lived with you.” Celeste looked up from the paper, her eyes soft with compassion. “It sounds like you gave them both a stable home.”
Constance swallowed. “Once Bryant graduated from medical school, I sold the house and moved to the retirement community. My grandson started his internship at the University Medical Center. I know he’s busy, and he has a girlfriend. I’ve tried to give him his space, but it’s been months since I spoke with him. This morning, I tried to call his cell phone. It has been disconnected. I was desperate to get in touch with him. I called the hospital. They said he was no longer an intern.”
“And you spoke to the woman who said she’s Bryant’s fiancée. She did not give you her name. She stated Bryant didn’t have time for you.”
“Bryant hadn’t mentioned a girlfriend, let alone a fiancée. He always said his studies didn’t allow for much of a social life.”
“When you spoke with her, what were your impressions?”
“She sounded older than Bryant.” Constance frowned. “From the way she talked, I mean her vocabulary, I believe the woman is some sort of professional. She sounded very educated.”
Celeste frowned over her notes. “You realize he may be fine, Mrs. Twist, and simply busy with his life. Perhaps he will be in touch soon.”
“I don’t think so, Miss Carr. That woman’s tone was arctic cold on the phone, like she had Bryant in her clutches and she wasn’t about to let him escape.” Constance pulled herself to her feet, and stared down at the desktop. “What an odd shade of ink. Is that brownish red?”
“Ms. Maah makes her own ink. Anything else to add, Mrs. Twist?”
Constance opened her mouth. Should she tell Miss Carr she thought she’d seen her arch enemy Mrs. Grant in the crowd right before she’d been pushed into the intersection? She closed her mouth. Miss Carr might think she was paranoid or senile. Constance shook her head. She’d keep that detail to herself.
Her arched eyebrows drew together in a frown as Celeste capped the pen. She gathered the fountain pen and the parchment. She raised the copier lid, and gently placed the parchment on the glass. The machine whirred, and spit out a copy. Celeste’s low heels tapped the hardwood floor, then muffled on the thick oriental rug. She entered the far door without knocking, and then reappeared, shutting the door behind her. She placed the regular paper copy in her drawer. “We’ll see what Ericka decides. It will take a few moments.”
“Miss Carr, if Miss Maah is the boss, as you mentioned, why is your name first on the building? Shouldn’t it be Maah—Carr Consulting Agency?”
“Miss Maah is the senior partner. She decided on the name of the company.” Celeste picked up her cell phone. “While we’re waiting, I’ll call a taxi for you, Mrs. Twist.” Celeste raised a hand in response to Constance’s squawk of dismay. “Don’t worry, I’ll pay your fare. You not only had a close call earlier, but your purse was stolen.”
Constance’s lips twisted. “There wasn’t much cash in my wallet, but I did have pictures of Bryant to give you. I have more pictures in my apartment at the retirement community. I can bring those to you tomorrow, if Ms. Maah decides to take the case.”
The far office door opened. Plumes of smoke drifted from the doorway and twined around Ericka’s head.
I wouldn’t have taken that gal for a smoker, Constance thought in disapproval. She sniffed. Doesn’t smell like cigarette smoke, though. The spicy aroma made Constance think of her long-ago college roommate, who had been from the Middle East.
Ericka moved her hands with sinuous grace, seeming to trace patterns in the smoky air. “Mrs. Twist, we are taking your case, free of charge.” With a mysterious smile, Ericka beckoned Constance with delicate fingers.
Constance couldn’t help smiling back as Ericka placed her delicate hands on Constance’s wide shoulders. “Thank you, Miss Maah. But I can pay you.”
“We do pro bono work from time to time. This is one of those times.” Ericka moved her hands from the broad shoulders to the creased cheeks. She whispered in Constance’s ear in a low, throaty purr. She brushed her thin brown fingers across Constance’s forehead, lips, and heart.
“What does all of that mean, Miss Maah?”
“I am sending you on your journey with a prayer for safe passage, Mrs. Twist.”
Constance tilted her head, surprised her neck didn’t hurt. “It’s not that far. It’s not even the entire length of the city bus route.”
Celeste touched Mrs. Twist’s shoulder. “The cab is here. I’ll walk you out.”
“No need, Miss Carr. It’s the dog days of summer and hot as he…heck out there.”
“The term ‘dog days’ originated with the Romans, who linked the heat of dog days with the star, Sirius. Because Sirius is the brightest star in the Canis Major constellation, the Romans called it the Dog Star. Therefore, we have the sultry dog days of summer.”
“Thank you, Ericka, for an astronomical minute à la Wikipedia.” Celeste rolled her eyes.
At the bottom of the stone steps, Constance clucked to herself in dismay. The taxi was parked on the opposite side of the street. She’d either have to tramp a half block to the light, or wait for a break in the cars whizzing past in both directions. The taxi driver waved and honked the horn. She squared her shoulders. Her near disaster earlier was simply a mishap. Constance forced the thought of the earlier malevolent push from her mind.
As she waited for a break in the traffic, Constance thought of Miss Maah’s odd words. The singsong voice had been nearly hypnotic.
The force of the second and final push sent Constance flying into the busy street. Brown silken threads seemed to weave around her, ready to cushion her imminent fall. Ericka Maah’s parting words seemed to rise to a chant, surrounding her, filling her. I can almost understand the words. If I just concentrate—
* * * * *
“I hate it when you play the mystery card. It’s just a load of hokum.” Celeste glanced over her copy of her notes. “You either frightened that nice old lady, or you’ve built up false hopes we’ll locate her missing grandson. I bet Bryant is so enthralled with his new older woman, he’s simply checked out of life for awhile. Given his upbringing without a father, he may be attracted to strong authority figures—”
The sounds of honking car horns and squealing brakes from the street brought Celeste to her feet. “Heavens!” Celeste was halfway to the door when the crash of colliding metal goosed her from a trot to a run. At the front door, a form hurtled past her as she ran down the stone steps. Celeste dodged around the haphazardly stopped cars to the crumpled figure in the street. “Mrs. Twist!”
Celeste’s head whipped in desperation as she slid her hand into her pocket. She’d left her cell phone on the desk. She screamed at the onlookers, “Stop recording, you damn vultures, and use your cell phones to call 911!”
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