Thanks to themiz at freeimages.com for the photo.
I’m so excited! I checked a mystery novel out of the library this afternoon, the third one in the Dr. Franks series. I hope it’s as wonderful as the first two. Hubbie is out of town, so no one will complain if I read all night.
I should eat dinner, but forget it! I pour myself a glass of Rosé and crawl into bed, stuffing all of the pillows behind my back. Sylvester curls beside me, and I rub his fluffy cat body before savoring a sip of wine. Then it’s story time.
Stony Meadows, the amazing author of these mysteries, wastes no time in preliminaries. On the very first page, the town drunk finds a woman’s body while rooting for food in a dumpster. He drops the half-eaten chicken in his hand and runs to his buddy’s house, his teeth chattering in fear.
I’m hooked. That poor woman. What if the drunk doesn’t tell anyone, and she ends up buried under a ton of trash? I’m so engaged, I barely notice that Sylvester has crawled into my lap.
I read on. The drunk’s buddies tease the story out of him and convince him to report the death, even though he’s afraid he’ll be fingered for a murder he didn’t commit. Or did he? I, of course, wonder, but that would be too easy, wouldn’t it? I trust Ms. Meadows to lead us on a long chase before we piece the puzzle together, just like in her previous novels. In any case, I sure hope the poor guy won’t turn out to be the killer, as he seems sweet.
After a little back and forth between the drunk and the police, they follow him to the dumpster, where they retrieve the body. The medical examiner determines death by strangulation, with a good old-fashioned clue left behind — a fresh tattoo on the right hip. When the woman is identified as a twenty-one-year old drug addict, the cops figure a pimp or drug-dealer killed her. Dr. Franks, on the other hand, reads the autopsy report and thinks something doesn’t add up, which confirms what I’ve deduced.
I gulp more wine and work out a kink in my neck. Sylvester yawns and licks my hand, his sandpaper tongue alerting me that he’s getting heavy, but it isn’t enough to break my concentration.
Dr. Frank examines the body at the morgue and finds the tattoo, the same one a patient of his sported a few weeks previously. Ah, I think, right along with him, this is suspicious, and, sure enough, he takes a photo and tracks down a well-known tattoo artist, Bella, to ask her if she knows anything about it.
I’m so deep into the story that I don’t even realize I have finished my glass of wine when the next sentence peels off the page. All I manage to read is ‘Bella strode’ before the words solidify into a woman lying on the bed next to me.
I rub my eyes, wondering if the wine has a higher alcohol content that I’d realized, but, if so, the effect is incredibly strong because I feel her weight on the mattress. Jasmine perfume wafts towards me. I stare, so shocked to see this thin woman with bright orange and purple hair materialize that I can’t speak or move. A black and red tattoo curls up from her shoulder-blade, protruding out the top of a red tank top. For a second, I wonder if she will kill me, but then she rolls off the bed and walks out the door.
Suddenly, I come to my senses. “Wait,” I shout. “Where are you going?”
Bella turns and announces, in a silky low voice, “I’m getting out of this plot.”
I sit up straight. “What do you mean, you’re leaving? You can’t. This is a library book. I have to return it in good shape. Get back in there.” I point at the now empty spot on the page where she is supposed to perform her bit.
“No way.” She turns and takes a step. I jump off the bed, disturbing Sylvester, who doesn’t seem to notice Bella, and go after her. She stumbles in her spiked heels, so it’s easy to catch her and grab her arm.
“Why are you doing this?” I ask. “You’re ruining my evening. I need to know how the story turns out.”
“I can tell you how it ends. I’ve lived through this piece of shit thousands of times, every single time someone reads it, and I always lose. I’m pegged as the murderer, when I’m innocent!” She stops trying to escape my grasp and glares. “Dr. Franks is a fraud. He misses half the clues.”
“How do you know?”
“You think that a book is just what is on the page. Well it isn’t! We have a whole life that goes on behind the scenes. The stupid author ignores most of it. Last time someone read the book, I figured out who killed that young kid and how they did it.”
“Oh, really!” I say, sarcastically.
“Of course. Let me go! I’m going to find a typewriter and fix this stupid plot so that I’m the detective, and I catch the murderer.”
I release her, realizing that her version might be even more interesting than the original story.
“There’s a computer in there.” I point to the door. “Make yourself at home. Would you like some wine?”
“No way! I only drink martinis.” She shakes her head haughtily and her many piercings sway back and forth. I stare at a tattoo of a cobra on her arm.
“We don’t have any hard liquor.”
“I knew it. My god, look at you in your flannel nightgown buttoned all the way, and your perm, so prissy. What are you doing home alone on a Friday night? You should be out, rocking the town. But, no, you’re here, probably adding more lace to the house.”
“I was reading. And I love lace.” How dare she criticize my style.
“I wish I had my kit. A rose would be perfect right here.” She touches the back of my shoulder.
I shiver, a little scared and a little excited by this wild woman.
“Look at you, your eyes are shining,” she says. “I bet you’d rather have a cobra like mine than a flower.”
She’s right, although I think I want a dragon instead, one with fire coming out of its mouth, but I don’t feel like confiding that to this bizarre stranger. “Tea then?” I ask.
“Fine. I’ve never used a computer; you’ll have to show me.”
I make a pot of tea, then join her at the computer. She’s already figured out how to turn it on, though by now I’ve begun to wonder why a magical creature like Bella needs a machine. I sit with her for a while, until she seems comfortable with my word processor.
“Thanks. Go rest,” she says. “I will be awhile.”
Immediately, my mind fills with mist. The wine I drank earlier must be spiked with magic mushrooms because I barely make it to bed before I am asleep.
When I wake at six, she is gone. I am certain for a minute that I dreamed the entire encounter, but the novel sits on the desk next to the computer. It has a new subtitle, Dr. Franks Unmasked. Inside the front cover, a piece of paper contains a drawing of the tattoo on Bella’s arm, her signature, and the words, ‘Thank you.’
Wide awake, I settle into an armchair to read. Later today, I resolve, I will see about getting that tattoo.