Authors: Elaine Orr
Tags: #Mystery: Cozy - Real Estate Appraiser - New Jersey
|Elaine Orr - Jolie Gentil 02 - Rekindling Motives|
|Jolie Gentil |
|Lifelong Dreams (2011)|
|Tags:||Mystery: Cozy - Real Estate Appraiser - New Jersey|
by Elaine Orr
Copyright 2011 by Elaine L. Orr
Cover Design by Miss Mae
Poetry by James W. Larkin includes:
Copyright 2011 by James W. Larkin
Poetry by Miles D. Orr includes: The Lava Poem
Copyright 1994 by Miles D. Orr
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. If you
want to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the author’s work.
Discover other books and novellas by Elaine Orr
Secrets of the Gap
(mystery with a touch of romance)
Jolie Gentil Cozy Mystery Series
Appraisal for Murder
(first of the series)
(second of the series)
When the Carny Comes to Town
(third in the series)
Any Port in a Storm
(fourth in the series)
Trouble on the Doorstep
(fifth in the series)
Behind the Walls
(sixth in the series)
First three Jolie books in one ebook
Thanks to my husband, James W. Larkin, for permission to use some of his wonderful poetry, and to my late father, Miles D. Orr, for the use of his.
In dozens of trips to East Coast beaches as a child and adult I got a sense of life in those towns, especially on trips after Labor Day. I owe thanks to every boardwalk vendor and B&B host I stayed with. If not for the Ottumwa, Iowa Ecumenical Lord’s Cupboard and the Ottumwa area Hy-Vee stores I would know much less about how people band together to help those who do not have enough food. I wish every community had such dedicated volunteers and businesses.
I would rather have walked barefoot over shards of glass on the boardwalk in January than go to the Ocean Alley High School reunion. However, Scoobie and Ramona combined their charms, so on the Saturday after Thanksgiving I was in the so-called ballroom of Ocean Alley’s largest hotel, Beachcomber’s Alley. I’m such a wuss.
The ‘ballroom’ is actually a large multi-purpose room that is the site of the high school prom, but can just as easily be used for after-funeral gatherings for prominent townspeople.
For the latter, the room is not adorned with crepe paper in high school colors nor does one wall have a series of poster boards, each sporting dozens of pictures of former classmates in various poses – all appearing happy, popular, and cool. Since this was not how I spent 11th grade, my only year at Ocean Alley High, I was not in any of the photos. I know because I looked.
There were pictures of students at high school football games posing with the school mascot (a large crab), and others showing students eating lunch on the beach.
There was also one of Scoobie. He was lying on the small brick wall that bears the school’s name, and the caption is, “Enjoying the spring clouds.” Since Scoobie spent a lot of time stoned, he would have been higher than the clouds, which was likely the point.
“You’re Jo-lee Gen-teel, aren’t you?”
A woman who did not look at all familiar was approaching, hand extended. Since she had mispronounced my name (Jolie Gentil is pronounced Zho-Lee Zhan-tee; the “J” and “G” are soft, and the “L” on the end of Gentil is silent) I knew she was not someone who knew me well.
I smiled weakly, scanning the space behind her, hoping to see Scoobie or Ramona.
“It’s pronounced Zho-Lee, but yes, that’s me.”
“I’m sorry,” she continued.
“We didn’t really know each other in high school, but I’ve been reading about you in the Ocean Alley paper. I get it mailed to me in Connecticut. You’ve had a rough couple of weeks.”
Tell me about it.
Since coming to Ocean Alley to stay with my great Aunt Madge to decompress after the end of my marriage, I had found a dead body and nearly been killed by a man who was angry with my ex-husband. I had made him angry, too, but in all fairness, that was not my fault.
“Yes, it’s been…wild.”
I shook her hand as I looked at her name badge. “So, your name is really Gracie Allen?”
She was tall, slim, and dressed in a stunning burgundy dinner dress that clung to her like a bathing suit.
She looked nothing like the photo of the round-faced girl who was on her name badge. Her laugh was contagious, and I smiled as she explained. “My maiden name was Grace Fisher, and I married Jeremy Allen. I get a kick out of being Gracie Allen, so I told the committee to put my married name on my badge.”
In a way she looked a bit like the iconic radio and TV actress, but without the curls. I had not shown up for the junior class pictures, so the reunion committee made my badge from a photo that had recently appeared in the local paper. It was not my best picture.
“It’s good you have a sense of humor,” I said, unsure what else to add.
“Actually,” she said, “I wanted to talk business with you for a minute. I heard you do real estate appraisals.”
“I do,” I said, seeing dollar signs.
“I work through Harry Steele’s company.”
She waved a hand.
“I know all about that. It was…”
n the paper,” I finished for her.
Jeremy and I have to sell my grandparents’ house. I have no idea what it’s worth.”
I didn’t understand why she wanted my help.
Usually a real estate agent helps the seller set the price, and the appraiser is not called for until after there is a contract with a potential buyer. “Umm, you won’t really need me until after you have a contract,” I began.
“I know how it’s usually done.
But this real estate agent we’re working with has suggested a price that seems awfully high.” She frowned slightly. “We don’t want to sell it under market, but if we price it too high it won’t sell quickly. I want to be done with all this estate stuff.”
A warning bell dinged in my brain.
Ramona’s uncle, Lester Argrow, has a well-earned reputation for listing a house for more than the market will usually bear. He wants a higher commission. This has put him at odds with Harry Steele, though Lester and I get along okay.
I was saved from an immediate response as the lights in the room dimmed and a portable spotlight aimed toward the center at the far end of the ballroom.
Gracie and I turned to watch Jennifer Stenner, one of my competitors in the appraisal business and a former cheerleader, step into the light.
She was wearing a dress of what I (hardly a fashion maven) would call party-dress material.
As Jennifer welcomed everyone to the 10th reunion of our Ocean Alley High School class, I scanned the room again for Scoobie and Ramona. While I wouldn’t put it past Ramona to forget, even though we had talked about the reunion the day before, I had really expected Scoobie to be on time. In the two weeks since we made the papers for solving a murder, he has made a point of seeing me on the boardwalk every day or stopping by Aunt Madge’s Cozy Corner B&B.
Jennifer had just awarded the prize for coming the longest distance to a couple who now live in
London. Their prize was a large plush dog dressed in school colors, making me glad I wouldn’t win anything. It was big enough that it would need its own airline ticket, so I figured it would get left under a table.
“And now to the most successful Ocean Alley graduate of our class, Annie Milner.”
There was more applause for Annie, whom I knew to be an attorney who worked in the county’s Office of the Prosecuting Attorney, so I turned to see if she was in the audience. As I did so, my eyes met those of a very pregnant woman who had apparently been trying to get my attention. She waved and pointed toward the back of the room, and started walking that way. Feeling it would be rude to ignore her, I whispered to Gracie, “I’ll catch up with you in a few minutes.”
Gracie, busy clapping for Annie Milner, didn’t seem to hear, which was fine with me.
I threaded my way through the crowd, trying to remember why the woman looked familiar. She was about my height, which is five feet, two inches, and had light brown hair. Her only remarkable feature was the watermelon that preceded her.
When we were a few feet from each other, she started to laugh.
“You don’t recognize me, do you?”
I threw myself at her and hugged. Or tried to anyway, in spite of the watermelon. Margo was my best friend in 11th grade, the only person other than Scoobie who knew that I was staying with Aunt Madge while my parents ‘worked things out’ in their marriage. I told everyone else they were touring in Europe.
“I’m sorry, I just didn’t…” I stammered, embarrassed at not recognizing her.
“I wasn’t exactly pregnant in 11th grade.” Her eyes laughed at me, but she wasn’t making fun. “Although, I was kind of lucky not to be.”
I felt my jaw drop.
“No. You and Eddie…?”
Then we were so scared for a month we didn’t do it again until we got married.”
It was my turn to laugh.
“Scared straight. I should have kept in better touch. Aunt Madge told me when she saw your wedding announcement, but I didn’t know you were expecting.” I looked at her belly. “Boy or girl?”
“I never let them tell me,” she said, suddenly very matter-of-fact.
“The little devil kicks like a boy, though.”
“So it’s not your first?”
I, caught up in my own life, could not imagine parenting, much less having a second child at twenty-eight.
ghed so loudly we got a couple of ‘keep it down’ looks from people near us. She covered her mouth and we moved into the hall. “More like my fourth.”
This did not strike me at all funny, and it must have shown in my expression, because she continued, with a slightly defiant look.
“Eddie and I always said we wanted four, and we wanted to finish having them before we were 30.” She patted her belly.
“Lucky for her,” said a familiar voice behind me, “they look more like Margo than Eddie.”
I turned toward Scoobie, about to lambaste him for leaving me on my own for an hour, but the words died on my lips. Gone were his traditional unkempt look and blue jeans. Instead, he wore an old-fashioned tux, reminiscent of Rock Hudson in
, and his blonde hair and beard were neatly trimmed.
“Don’t let Eddie hear you say that, Scoobie,” Margo chided.
“Everyone says our little Jack looks like the UPS guy. You’ll get me in trouble.”
As usual, Margo had taken whatever came before her in stride.
Probably why she could handle three kids with one on the way. I, with no such aplomb, blurted, “Wow! You look really …”
It was a mistake.
Insecurity replaced his joviality in an instant and he interrupted. “You don’t like it?”
“I do,” I said quickly.
“Different,” said Margo, in her no-nonsense way.
“But you look good.”
“Thanks,” he said, acting somewhat cocky again.
“I figured since Jolie and I spent junior prom night at Pizza Hut, I’d dress for this occasion.”
“Oh God, we did.”
I had actually been asked by a guy in math class whose name escaped me, but I barely knew him and couldn’t imagine spending an entire evening talking to him. Scoobie and I had hung out a lot together, but not as an item, as Aunt Madge would say. It seemed perfectly natural to argue over who got the last piece of pepperoni pizza rather than get dressed up to see if we could get a local restaurant to serve us alcohol.
“Eddie and I went,” Margo said, as she looked over me into the ballroom.
“I think someone’s calling you or something,” she said.
Sure enough, I heard Jennifer saying my name into the mike.
“Oh, no.” I felt my color rise in sync with the case of nerves I felt.
Serves you right for being in the paper so much,” Scoobie said. He gave me a small shove.
As I walked the few feet into the room, the spotlight shone on me, and I shielded my eyes.
“There she is, folks,” Jennifer said, and the spotlight swung back to her. Which was good, though all I could now see were blinking lights. I ran into something firm, which turned out to be a good-natured classmate.
“Go on up front,” he urged.
I could feel my face turn even more crimson as I walked toward Jennifer, who was looking very pleased with herself. “And for the super sleuth,” she began, as several people laughed, “we have a special award.”
I stood next to her, trying to look at ease and as if it was perfectly normal for me to be in front of a couple hundred people who knew my name when I didn’t know most of theirs.
“I can’t believe you did this,” I said. What I really wanted to say was that I would try to steal some appraisal business from her, but that would be rude.
From a small table just to one side, she took a package about the size of a shoebox and handed it to me.
“Open it,” Scoobie yelled from the back.
I looked at Jennifer and saw genuine delight in her face, no trace of the usual pretentious attitude that she wears about town.
I struggled with the lid for a moment, and then pulled out tissue paper and looked beneath it. Tucked inside were a magnifying glass, bubble pipe, and tweed cap, which someone had inexpertly tried to fashion to look like Sherlock Holmes’ hat. I took out the hat and plopped it on my head.
The applause and catcalls had me laughing in spite of myself.
“Read the card,” Jennifer said.
. I recognized Aunt Madge’s handwriting. She knows everyone in town, so I couldn’t say I was surprised. I removed the card and read aloud, “To the best girl detective in Ocean Alley.” An arrow indicated I was to turn the card over. “Now learn to mind your own business.” This brought another round of laughter, and I gave a small bow and tried to edge out of the spotlight.
Jennifer would have none of that.
She put her arm through mine and drew me to the center of the spotlight. “Now, not everyone knew Jolie when she was here for 11th grade, but we’re sure glad she’s back.” Only scattered applause for this, as people had started talking to others again. “Even,” she raised an eyebrow as she looked at me in mock sternness, “if she is competition for Stenner Appraisals.”
I knew she’d get her business name in there somewhere.
I suddenly realized people expected me to say something. Jennifer was, after all, holding the mike in front of my face.
“I think I’d like to crawl under the boardwalk.”
This brought a couple of guffaws, and I remembered coming across two or three couples under there, during junior year.
“Get your minds out of the gutter,” Margo yelled from the back.
Everyone laughed, and I felt the tension – my self-created tension, as usual – lessen. “It’s nice of you guys to think of me,” I said. “But, I have to warn you, I might use this,” I held up the magnifying glass, “To see what you’re up to. Watch out.”