Here’s Chapter One of the middle grade mystery book, Shirley Link & The Party Poopers! It’s available now on Amazon.
Everyone loves my mom. She’s fair, stern but kind, and she makes brownies that sell out at every bake sale. But I have to say, she’s never been good with large groups of people. Don’t get me wrong. In her job as a police officer she could charm a room full of crooks before arresting them. But when it comes to things like speeches, well, she’s not in her element. The crowd is especially big today as the town enjoys the Iron Bridge Dinner. It’s an annual party where most of Shelburne Falls shows up at our bridge to eat a meal together.
“So, uh, YEAH! Okay!” my mom says. “Thank you, councilman. Thanks to uh, to uh…” She wants to thank her sister, my Aunt Patty, but it looks like she’s forgotten her name.
“Patty,” Patty mutters. She’s shaking her head and smiling, teeth clenched like she just sat on a cold toilet seat.
Poor Aunt Patty.
Poor Mom! The town is recognizing her for her service to the community. She raised $25,000 for a fund to restore the Mohawk Trail, which is this beautiful path that runs around our town. She came up with the idea of a music fair fundraiser last summer. No one thought it would come to much. But when she asked a really popular band called The Nields to play, they said yes.
(Which freaked out my friend Wiley, because he has a huge crush on the Nields sisters. He started testing out colognes which was disturbing on several levels.)
So after they said yes, that opened the floodgates and before we knew it we had a free venue and five bands performing for the cause.
My Aunt Patty nominated Mom to get the annual Community Service award. Everyone is surprised she won, though. The last few years’ awards have been given to my friend Jacob’s dad, J.L. Graham who, apparently, has as much charm as his son. Meaning not much at all. I mean, the man has never shown up to receive the award. He’s a billionaire. I guess he likes his privacy.
I’m fascinated by J.L. Graham. His family has lived in the area for two hundred years. They’ve always enjoyed a lot of support from the community, even when the Graham family hit hard times. If I remember right, J.L.’s mom died young and his dad had a reputation for hating everyone. J.L. had to stay with friends for months at a time while his dad got carted off to jail. Just a bunch of small crimes. But they added up to a life that doesn’t sound like much of a life. J.L. worked hard to put that behind him. He built up his empire from nothing.
Speak of the devil! Well, speak of the devil’s son, I see my friend Jacob on the other side of the crowd. He’s what many people would call handsome, but I would call dastardly. What can I say? I just know him too well. I guess the fact we met because he kidnapped me makes it hard to be objective. I gesture for him to come over, but he just slouches his shoulders and walks away.
Weird. I probably did something to offend him. Like getting an A to his A-. Or maybe I beat him to school one day this week. He’s competitive that way. Hey, I said he’s a friend. I didn’t say I like him all the time.
Mom’s finished her speech, Thank Thor. That was painful.
“Hi sweety,” she says to me, coming off the stage.
“That was a disaster,” she says, the smile not breaking from her face. She doesn’t really have a problem messing up. She usually thinks it’s funny.
“It was your worst yet,” I say, giving her a hug. She laughs even more. Before I know it, she and I are taking Aunt Patty to Moe’s for something sweet.
“I still feel bad for forgetting your name, Patty.” Mom is sipping a lemonade while her two favorite girls enjoy ice cream.
“Stop it,” Aunt Patty says.
“It could happen to anyone,” I add.
“Sure. Anyone who drops 127 IQ points when she speaks in front of more than three people,” Aunt Patty finishes, with a smile and a wink.
“Congratulations, Mrs. Link,” a voice says from the table behind me. It’s Jacob. He has his moping face on.
“Why, thank you Jacob!” Mom says. “We finally broke your father’s impressive run. Actually, I think the bridge repairs he paid for were more worthy of the honor.”
“No, not at all, Mrs. Link. My dad could use a few more losses in his life.”
Uh-oh. He’s in a mood and a half.
“Excuse me,” I say, getting up from the table. I’m going to get to the bottom of this. “Jacob, would you walk with me for a minute?” Mom and Aunt Patty look at each other and use some kind of weird silent language that only siblings understand. I think Mom thought, “Wonder what’s going on here!” and Aunt Patty thought back, “Best to stay out of this one, Mrs. Link!”
Jacob follows me outside. We stroll toward the bridge.
“What?” he asks. Or whines. Depending on how you look at it. He has his hands in his pocket and his whole body screams leave me alone.
“Did someone steal your Cheerios this morning?” I ask.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” He darts out from between his slouched shoulders like an angry rooster.
“You look like your spoiling for a fight with the whole world,” I say. “And you congratulated my mom back there. No way would Jacob ever do that. Jacob does not congratulate anyone, anytime, ever, never.”
“Maybe Jacob is changing,” Jacob says. “Did Shirley ever think of that?”
“Shirley has not thought of that,” I say, running with the fun new game ofRefer to Yourself in the Third Person.
“Maybe she should. Maybe after all these months of nagging Jacob to be normal have finally paid off for Shirley.”
“Shirley hasn’t been trying to make Jacob normal,” I say. “Shirley has been trying to make Jacob not a felon.”
“Maybe Jacob wants Shirley to mind her own business!”
We glare at each other.
“Maybe Marie and Wylie should capture this Instagram moment,” Wylie says from a bench on the sidewalk. Marie is sitting next to him. They both grin like they just won a million dollars on a game show. I didn’t see them there.
“Jacob is acting weird,” I say, jerking my thumb at him.
“Shirley is acting normal, which is to say she’s irritating and making a perfectly nice gesture on my part into a crime.”
“You were nice to someone?” Wylie and Marie ask at the same time. They laugh. I try not to. I don’t want to pile on Jacob. I just want him to tell me why he’s so mopey!
“Very funny. Nice talking to you three,” he says as he walks off.
“I’m here to help if you need it, Jacob,” I call out after him. He stops walking, doesn’t quite turn around and then starts walking again.
“Boy, he’s crabby,” Wylie says.
Suddenly, Mom pops out of Moe’s. She’s on her cell phone and has that urgent walk I know so well. It looks like the police have a new problem on their hands.
I’m about to stick my nose in her business when I hear a honk up the street.
“Who’s that?” Marie asks. She points up the hill. A shiny red Chevy pickup truck that I don’t recognize has stopped next to Jacob.
New Hampshire license plates.
Fresh from the car wash. Maybe even just off the sales floor.
Jacob’s body language screams discomfort. Whoever is in that truck is not a friend. So I’m surprised when the driver leans over and pushes the passenger door open. Jacob climbs in.
“Jacob,” I say, not loud enough. He doesn’t hear me. Or he ignores me. “Jacob!” I yell. He slams the door shut.
The truck peels off and roars up the hill, out of sight.