Judy Wingate’s NOT-BFF, Olivia Hargrove of the Robertsville Reporter, discovers a Civil War-era secret newspaper code that may lead to a seven million dollar windfall.
Not long after Judy and Hart’s baby is born, Judy and Ardyth are embroiled in another murder. This time it’s 99-year-old Esme Espe, the queen of the Petunia Society, Robertsville’s Garden Club. Dead-heading petunias has become a serious undertaking in Robertsville.
Ten minutes later, Judy, who’d accompanied Olivia to her second-floor apartment above the card shop, stood with her in front of the big oval mirror in the bathroom. Judy hovered behind her, deciding what to say and how to say it. Olivia still hadn’t told her about the code in the newspaper, or much about Adam.
And the hair! What in the world could she say without being accused of being too honest again?
“Hopeless, isn’t it? I might as well shave it off.” Olivia made a face at herself.
“I changed my mind. Do you really need glasses?” Judy decided to start with something easier. “Who…why did you decide on that style?”
“The clerk said cat’s-eyes were retro chic and I’d be memorable.” Olivia raised one eyebrow. “I’ve a lot to learn about reading people, don’t I?”
Judy took a deep breath, not about to start sharing her secret ability to read body language. She’d gotten so good at it after taking a class a few years back her former principal tried to use her as a kind of human lie detector in student behavior hearings. Her gift seemed to have faded since having Elizabeth. “I think you want to try something simpler. Have you heard of ‘less is more’?”
“Of course.” Olivia removed the glasses and reached into a drawer. She pulled out a pair of wire rims. “This is my last prescription. And, yes, I do need glasses. If I want to see anything, that is.” She stuck them on her nose and peered, eyebrows beetled, at herself. “Are these better?”
“If you want to look like a reject from Woodstock. You don’t exactly have to be in style, but you should aim to be stylish.”
“You’re saying I have no style?”
“That’s not what I mean.” Judy prayed for the right words. “Sometimes I think you don’t care about how you look.”
“I don’t usually have time to do makeup and hair, with my job.” She studied her reflection. “But I’m afraid I might end up a batty lonely old lady, like Esme, in a houseful of stray animals.”
“Esme had a lot of people who cared about her. She did things for the town. She might have lived alone, but I don’t think she was lonely. And Ardyth says she didn’t really have a houseful of strays. That was just a rumor.”
“You didn’t report that, did you?”
“No. It’s not relevant. I don’t think.” Olivia turned to look at her. “Unless somehow one of her strays got into trouble with, like, shredding her work, or picked up something that belonged to someone else and brought it back. I read a book, once, where a packrat hid jewels in its nest and the homeowner was killed over it.”
“That’s pretty far-fetched.”
Olivia shifted back into place and gathered her hair in both hands. “What about this?”
Judy didn’t have a clue what to do with the wiry mop on Olivia’s head. “Have you tried growing it?”
“This is about as long as it gets.”
“Have you tried braiding, or something?”
“Maybe I can try.” Judy studied the amount of hair and the directions it coiled. “I learned how to do this style back when I had my apartment in Lewiston. One of my neighbors was a flight attendant, and she liked to have her hair away from her face. Let me see. I divide it first. Do you have a comb?”
Five minutes of untangling and looping later, Olivia jerked under her hands. “Ouch!”
“Sorry. It’s been awhile.” Judy tucked under one of the French braids she’d styled around Olivia’s face. “And I have a daughter now, so I better get back in the habit before she starts asking me. Okay, how’s that?”
Wow, who knew Olivia had a real face under all that. Heart-shaped, too.
“Um, okay. I guess.” Olivia gave a cursory glance at the mirror. She raised her chin and looked at Judy’s reflection. “How many boyfriends have you had?”
Ah, so she’s back to thinking about Adam Gordon. Let’s follow this tack. “I’m probably not the best person to ask about boyfriends,” Judy warned.
“Besides the one who was a murderer,” Olivia added.
Judy felt the tingle of anger. No matter how nice Olivia looked on the outside, tact was not part of her inner make up. She acted more like one of Judy’s students.
Don’t take it personally, she reminded herself.
But maybe I can turn this to my advantage. “Graham was my first adult boyfriend,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons I didn’t know he couldn’t be trusted—I didn’t have any experience with boys. Men.”
“So, you’re saying I can’t trust my feelings about Adam Ray because I don’t know any better.”
Judy cleared her throat and finished the other braid before stepping back. “That’s pretty blunt. Why don’t we talk about the things you know for sure, not what you think or feel?”
Olivia nodded. “I can do that. Let’s see. We went to college together.” She frowned. “He was three years ahead of me. I guess I don’t even know for sure that he graduated, though I could look it up on line.”
“If he took a teaching job at a college, let’s assume he finished college and graduate school.”
“I had no idea what he was doing after college until he sent that letter inviting me to collaborate.”
“Those were his words? He wanted to collaborate?” Judy smothered a laugh. “I haven’t heard that one before.”
“You think it’s just a line?”
“I don’t know. I’m sorry, that wasn’t very nice of me. What else did the letter say?”
Olivia pulled the towel from around her neck and replaced the wire rims with the cat’s-eyes. “Here, you can read it for yourself.”
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Lisa Lickel is a Wisconsin writer who lives in a hundred and sixty-year-old house built by a Great Lakes ship captain. A multi-published, best-selling and award-winning novelist, she also writes short stories and radio theater, is an avid book reviewer, blogger, a freelance editor, and magazine editor.