Authors: Kylie Logan
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #General
Praise for the Button Box Mysteries
“I enjoy this series so much, and with each book, the stories get better. Character development is key in a mystery series, and it’s nice to see that Josie remains both a strong woman and hones her sleuthing skills, showing that she is intelligent about much more than buttons. As I said in a review of the first book in the series, if this book had a ‘Like’ button, I’d click on it for sure.”
“An unusual hobby provides the backdrop for this mystery that combines textile arts and history in a unique way . . . Eccentric characters at the convention add interest to the narrative as does the history surrounding the fabled Geronimo button.”
The Mystery Reader
“Who would ever have thought that buttons and murder would go together like peanut butter and jelly? . . . The second Button Box Mystery is a fascinating cozy starring an interesting cast.”
Genre Go Round Reviews
is absolutely terrific! I love it, and can’t wait for the next installment in the series.”
—Diane Mott Davidson,
New York Times
“This is the opening act of an engaging amateur-sleuth mystery series, and if this book is any indication, readers have a special and original new series to enjoy. The protagonist is independent and resolute . . . a woman who refuses to be Button Holed.”
The Mystery Gazette
“[A] unique and fun adventure . . . Fast-paced . . . [A] very different and very fun cozy series.”
“Lots of action and humor thrown together. First-rate writing and plotting.”
Once Upon a Romance
“This mystery was fun to read while still educating me about buttons. I also enjoyed Josie’s character—she’s fun, funny, and sharp . . . It was also nice to see someone embrace their ‘button nerd’ side.”
“I loved it. The writing is superb . . . The characters were interesting, the pace was fast, and there were plenty of clues planted.”
The Mystery Bookshelf
“That’s right, buttons. Who would have thought? . . . [
] was a very enjoyable mystery . . . [Josie is] a very entertaining narrator . . . And the plot unfolds in expert fashion . . . I know I’ll never look at a button the same way again.”
Berkley Prime Crime titles by Kylie Logan
Button Box Mysteries
League of Literary Ladies Mysteries
MAYHEM AT THE ORIENT EXPRESS
Chili Cook-off Mysteries
CHILI CON CARNAGE
THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP
Published by the Penguin Group
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USA • Canada • UK • Ireland • Australia • New Zealand • India • South Africa • China
A Penguin Random House Company
A Berkley Prime Crime Book / published by arrangement with the author
Copyright © 2013 by Connie Laux.
A Tale of Two Biddies
by Kylie Logan copyright © 2013 by Connie Laux.
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eBook ISBN: 978-1-10161473-0
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / December 2013
Cover illustration by Jennifer Taylor.
Cover design by Annette Fiore DeFex.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For artists everywhere who believe even something as small as a button can be beautiful. And for those who are willing to suspend disbelief enough to consider the possibilities in the world we see—and the one we don’t.
Every book is an adventure, especially when the author decides to throw in the kinds of fanciful elements I’ve used in
. I had such fun with this book, and I thank my wonderful, talented, and generous brainstorming group—Shelley Costa, Serena Miller, and Emilie Richards—for helping to give it shape. I’m also grateful to Roger and Russell (hosts of the best Halloween party in Cleveland) for chatting about the book. Russell, you’re going to recognize something familiar in these pages. Thanks for the idea!
As always, I’m also grateful to the wonderful button collectors I’ve met along the way. They are knowledgeable and interesting people, well-read and so informed on all things button-related, it takes my breath away!
There’s a fine line between artist and crackpot.
One quick look around the Celestial Spaces Gallery, and I knew Forbis Parmenter wasn’t just walking that line, he was tippy-toeing over it ever so tentatively. Blindfolded. And probably with a glass of Jim Beam in one hand.
My words escaped on the end of a sigh of utter astonishment. “I’ve never seen so many—”
“Buttons. Yeah.” At my side, Nevin Riley looked around, too, and truth be told, I’m pretty sure he was even more astonished than I was. His blue eyes were narrowed, and his usually ruddy complexion skirted green and headed toward ashen. “You sure this guy bills himself as an artist?” he asked. “Because I’m pretty sure I’ve arrested people like this. You know, screwballs.”
It was so close to what I’d been thinking that had I been with anyone else, I would have been surprised. With Nev, not so much. These days, Nev and I always seemed to be on the same wavelength. It was nice. Reassuring. And not the least little bit unnerving.
Not like the exhibit of Parmenter’s works in front of us.
“Of course he’s an artist,” I reminded Nev, because, really, the process of gluing so many buttons on so many various and sundry objects must have been tedious, and the pictures (birds and fish and flowers) and geometric designs (zigzags and circles and squares) made out of those buttons were intricate, and the color combinations were astonishing. That qualifies as art, right? “Anyone who can take buttons—”
“Thousands and thousands of buttons.” Nev glanced over the heads of the people gathered in front of the installation to our right, the first in the exhibit, billed in the brochure we’d been handed as we entered as
Vudon Me Wrong: The Daring, the Decorative, and the Devilish Art of Forbis Parmenter.
This particular piece was a bulky chest with thick, squat legs. The side panels were covered with brown and black buttons that twirled and swirled like a tornado on steroids. The drawers of the chest were decorated with stripes of buttons in shades of blue and red and surprising splashes of yellow. They were open, and each was mounded with buttons that spilled over the sides of the drawer and landed in little buttony puddles on the marble floor.
All shapes. All sizes. And in every color of the rainbow.
Even I—who love buttons and whose life’s work is the Button Box, a shop that specializes in antique and vintage buttons—felt as if I’d been dropped smack-dab in the center of a very weird dream.
The sound of someone calling my name snapped me out of my button daze, and I turned to find a woman winding her way through the crowd and headed in our direction. I knew at once that she must be Laverne Seiffert, secretary here at the Chicago Community Church, and in charge of the gallery space that helped pay the church’s bills.
“I’m so glad you made it!” Laverne grabbed my hand and pressed it. She was a middle-aged African American woman with a warm smile and eyes that danced in the reflected light of the spotlights that had been installed to throw halos of illumination around Forbis Parmenter’s work. I’d never met Laverne in person but we’d talked on the phone plenty of times in preparation for tonight. I knew she was friendly and efficient. If her turquoise-colored suit and paprika and gold paisley silk scarf meant anything, she also had an eye for art as keen as Forbis Parmenter’s.
With a little motion, she waved us to the far aisle, away from the art installation that took up a good portion of what used to be the main altar area of the old Roman Catholic church. These days, as in many cities, the historic churches of inner-city Chicago were empty of parishioners and the buildings were being sold off to smaller congregations. Except for the stained-glass windows, which must have been magnificent in daylight, the church had been stripped of its ornamentation; the old statues and side altars were gone. When the faithful of the Community Church weren’t using the building for their services, it did double duty as a gallery.
“It helps keep the lights on,” Laverne once told me. “And it doesn’t hurt to get some new blood in here. Maybe our visitors will see all the wonderful things we’re doing in the community and join in to help.”
“You brought it, right?” The trill of excitement in Laverne’s voice brought me out of the memory and I saw that she was so fidgety, she shifted from foot to foot on the gorgeous pumps that matched her Chanel-inspired suit. “You’ve got the button?”
“Right here.” I patted my purse. “I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. Only . . .” I glanced around. There were knots of people in front of the various artwork and a hum of anticipation that echoed around the church with its pointed Gothic arches and Romanesque columns. “I don’t see Forbis. Where’s the guest of honor?”
Laverne pressed her lips together. “Not here yet, and I’ve got to admit, the man’s making me a little nervous. Then again, I’m not used to a show like this. We’re new,” she added, with a look at Nev because she’d told me all this when first we talked. “We only made the decision to use the church as a gallery space about six months ago, and we’ve had exactly two shows since then. One was from the local senior citizen center and the other featured artists from a nearby college. This is the first . . .” The breath Laverne pulled in trembled with anticipation. “This is the first time we’re playing with the big boys on the real art scene.” We heard one of the side doors of the church slap open, then shut, and automatically we all looked that way.
Along with Laverne and Nev, I studied the man who’d just strolled in. He was tall, with dark hair just graying at the temples. Wide shoulders. Narrow hips. A face that wasn’t anywhere as near handsome as it was craggy, with a nose that was a little too big, and a chin that was a little too weak. He was wearing a tux that fit so well, it had obviously been made just for him. The overhead lights glinted off the studs on his shirt. Black onyx rimmed with silver. OK, so not technically buttons, but close enough for me to notice.
Laverne grabbed my arm with both hands. “Well, that pretty much proves what I was just saying. That’s Victor Cherneko.”
Even I knew the name. But then, when things were slow at the Button Box, I was known to skim the local news in the
, and things like charity fund-raising galas always caught my eye. “He’s the billionaire philanthropist, right?” I asked Laverne.
“And a big patron of the arts.” She practically swooned. “I guess it’s official. We’re a real gallery, and now, I’m officially a nervous wreck!”
“You’re doing fine,” I told her, and then I said, “The church is beautiful,” to help get her mind off her jitters.
I guess it worked, because Laverne beamed with pride. She looked away from Cherneko so she could look around the church. “It is, isn’t it? We were lucky to get it for a song, that’s for sure. And luckier still that we have an active and faithful congregation. Someday . . .” She sighed. “Someday I’d like to see this place filled to the rafters on Sunday mornings. Right now, we hold our services in the basement, which isn’t all that shabby by any means, but it’s not as magnificent as this space. Not as expensive to heat, either,” she added with a wink that explained the real reason for the basement services. “Wouldn’t it be something if someday we had standing room only and a choir so big, we had to use the loft up there to hold them all?”
I followed her gaze to the back of the church. The place was cavernous and because the exhibit was housed at the front, the back pews and the second-story choir loft were lost in shadow.
“That’s all a someday dream, good Lord willing,” Laverne added. “And we’ve got to start somewhere. Lucky for me, I’ve got a silver tongue and I was able to convince the church board of the benefits of holding art shows here. You should have seen Reverend Truman’s face when this exhibit was set up earlier in the week!” When Laverne’s throaty laugh came out louder than she intended and ricocheted back at her, she pressed one neatly manicured hand to her lips and glanced around, hoping no one had noticed. “When I arranged to have the exhibit here, I played it nice and cool, only told him it was artwork and talked up Forbis as the newest darling of the art world. Which is true, as you know. Man came out of nowhere and he’s got the art world by the tail. The reverend, he never asked exactly what kind of artwork we’d be showing, and so I never told him. When he saw that the subject of this particular exhibit was voodoo . . .” A smile cracked her solemn expression. “I told him to pray—and get over it. Then I reminded him that the church is getting twenty percent of the price of any of the art that’s sold. That changed his mind fast.”
“Forbis’s work is always . . .” I searched for the word and found my vocabulary sorely lacking.
“Bizarre?” Nev suggested at the same time he snagged a little sandwich from the tray of a passing waiter.
“We prefer provocative,” Laverne said, but the way her eyes shimmered told me even she didn’t take the word one hundred percent seriously. “At least that’s what I told Reverend Truman. I pointed out that the work will help spark discussions about religion and about the enslaved people who practiced the various forms of voodoo like this vudon thing Forbis Parmenter has focused on. We’re even going to invite some of our Haitian neighbors in for a discussion a week from Wednesday. Discussion is good, right?”
“Twenty percent of the profits is better.” Because Laverne had been so forthcoming, I knew she’d get the joke, and she did. “From what I’ve read, Forbis’s showings in other cities have been—”
“Dagnabbit! You can’t talk to me like that!”
The voice that interrupted what I was going to say was distinct for a couple reasons. First of all, it was loud, and it bounced through the church like a flat stone skipping over water. Second—
“I ain’t done with you so don’t you dare turn your back on me. I’ve got a mind to walk outta here and tell the whole world what you done.”
“That accent is unmistakable,” I said, looking from Laverne to Nev. “I recognize it from talking to Forbis on the phone. That’s him, and he sounds plenty mad.”
Nev was already looking around but like I said, the building was enormous and like so many old churches, it had dozens of chambers and anterooms, one main aisle with a smaller aisle on either side of it, who-knew-how-many nooks and crannies, and a row of pillars marching down the main aisle that were plenty big enough for people to stand behind unseen.
Where Forbis’s voice actually came from was anyone’s guess.
The fact that he was spitting mad wasn’t.
“This is the end!” That voice—the words rounded by Forbis’s Southern roots—bounced around us like a handball striking a wall. “I ain’t takin’ this no more, and you ain’t givin’ it, that’s for certain.”
“Oh, dear.” Laverne chewed her lower lip. “That doesn’t sound good. I’d better . . .” And before she could say exactly what she’d better do, she scurried away.
“Sounds serious,” I said to Nev, though since Laverne hurried away, we hadn’t heard another word out of Forbis. “You don’t suppose—”
“That there’s something mysterious going on?” Nev brushed crumbs off his hands and, because I knew he wouldn’t notice or if he did, he wouldn’t care, I took care of the crumbs that had landed on the orange tie he’d worn with gray pants and a navy sport coat. “No mysteries! Whoever this Parmenter character was yelling at, the fight’s over, right?” For a minute, we both stood in silence and strained to hear Forbis’s voice again and when we didn’t, Nev nodded. “So it’s official. The fight’s over, no harm done. We are having a night out. And I’m not letting you get entangled in any more murders.”
“From your mouth to God’s ear.” Just to hedge my bets, I glanced up at the nearest stained-glass window when I said this. “No more murders.” I repeated the words I’d been saying to Nev in the months since one of my customers was killed outside my shop and I helped find out whodunit. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t find out what’s going on and who Forbis is fighting with. It could be serious.”
“There’s a security guard here.”
Wise words, but Nev knew he couldn’t get away with them. Not when we’d both seen the security guard when we walked in, and we both knew that the man was eighty if he was a day, and so frail-looking, one good puff of wind off Lake Michigan would blow him clear to Iowa.
“I’m not saying we should stick our noses where they don’t belong,” I assured Nev.
He crossed his arms over his chest. “But . . .”
“But if something’s wrong and you don’t help–”