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Authors: Barbara Colley

Dusted to Death

BOOK: Dusted to Death
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DUSTED TO DEATH
Books by Barbara Colley

MAID FOR MURDER

DEATH TIDIES UP

POLISHED OFF

WIPED OUT

MARRIED TO THE MOP

SCRUB-A-DUB DEAD

WASH AND DIE

DUSTED TO DEATH

Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation

A Charlotte LaRue Mystery

DUSTED TO DEATH
Barbara Colley

KENSINGTON BOOKS

www.kensingtonbooks.com

To John Scognamiglio, with my sincere thanks for his support
and understanding
.

Acknowledgments

My heartfelt thanks to all of my readers who have written me such wonderful letters about my books.

Once again, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Rexanne Becnel and Marie Goodwin. Their input, advice, and critiques are invaluable. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

A special thanks to Frank and Parris Bailey for so graciously allowing me into their beautiful home and answering my questions about their experiences with having their home used for a movie set.

Last, but never least, a loving thanks to my husband, David, for everything.

Chapter 1

“M
aid-for-a-Day, Charlotte LaRue speaking.”

“Hey, Charlotte, I’ve got some good news and some bad news. Then, I’ve got some more
good
news.”

Charlotte bit back a groan of impatience. Bitsy Duhè, an elderly lady, was a longtime client. Her phone call had come smack in the middle of Charlotte’s search for an article that she’d cut out of the newspaper. The article in the
Times-Picayune
listed the upcoming Fourth of July celebrations going on in the Greater New Orleans area, and Charlotte wanted to check out the different locations again before she settled on the one she had in mind.

“Bitsy, can I call you back in a few minutes?” Charlotte tucked the telephone receiver between her chin and shoulder to free her hands so that she could continue sorting through the stack of papers on her desk.

“This won’t take long,” Bitsy responded sharply, her tone petulant. “Besides, I don’t have all day to sit around and wait for you to call me back.”

And I do?
Charlotte closed her eyes and counted to ten before speaking again. Truth be known, other than staying on the phone gossiping, watching her soap operas, and going to her many doctors’ appointments, sitting around all day was exactly all that Bitsy had to do. Knowing how Bitsy could pout, though, she figured that she might as well let Bitsy have her say or Charlotte would never hear the end of it. “So what’s the good news?” Charlotte asked.

“Oh, Charlotte, you’ll never guess.”

No, and I don’t want to
. Charlotte bit her tongue to keep from saying the words out loud, and guilt for being so impatient with the old lady reared its ugly head.

“They want to use my house.”

Charlotte’s brow furrowed. “They?”

“Mega Films—you know—the production company that’s shooting that movie here in the Garden District, the one starring Hunter Lansky and Angel Martinique.”

Hunter Lansky! Charlotte’s mouth gaped open. Hunter Lansky was one of her all-time favorite actors. Why, even the mention of his name immediately conjured up his handsome image in her mind.

“Two days ago,” Bitsy continued, “a man knocked on my door and said he was Mega Films’ location manager and that he wanted to use my house for a movie. Then, yesterday, he came back with three other men, including the producer and the director. Can’t remember what the fourth man’s title was. Anyway, they’re willing to pay me a boatload of money and said they’d put me up in the hotel of my choice while they shoot the scenes they need. I’m thinking that maybe I’d like to stay at the Monteleone. I’ve always thought it might be fun to live in the French Quarter—temporarily, of course.”

“Why, Bitsy, that’s terrific.”

Louisiana, and the Greater New Orleans area in particular, was quickly becoming known as Hollywood South. Though the movie industry was good for the economy since they used locals, Charlotte had mixed feelings about the so-called Hollywood invasion. Still, it was exciting. Why, just earlier she’d read an article that mentioned that in addition to the movie starring Hunter Lansky, several more movies were scheduled for production over the next few months. She’d even had to take a different route to work the day before since part of St. Charles Avenue had been blocked off for filming. Could that be the one Bitsy was talking about?

“Yeah, I was all excited at first,” Bitsy continued, “but here’s the bad news. I could hardly sleep last night for thinking about it, and now I’m not so sure. I can always use a bit of extra money, but just the thought of all those strangers traipsing in and out of my house makes me nervous. Why, no telling what they’ll do to my stuff.”

And what on earth does this have to do with me?
Charlotte thought impatiently.

Still searching through the stack of articles, Charlotte sighed. “Granted, I don’t know a lot about this type of thing, Bitsy, but I would think that they would be extra careful when they use someone’s home.” She suddenly spied the Fourth of July article and set it aside. She should have known that it would be near the bottom of the stack.

“You’re probably right,” Bitsy went on, oblivious of anything but her own agenda. “But just to make sure, I called them bright and early this morning and told them that I want you to be there.”

“You did what?”

“Well, I would have asked that young man, Dale, who you’ve got working for me, but since he’s decided to get his master’s degree, I knew he wouldn’t have time.”

And I do?
Bitsy’s audacity never ceased to amaze Charlotte.

“There would be some cleaning involved,” Bitsy continued. “But between you and me, your job would mostly be to watch over my stuff. So—and this is the other good news—I insisted that they hire you to keep the house clean and organized during the shooting, and they’ve agreed. And guess how much they’re willing to pay you for the two weeks that they’ll be shooting?”

Without waiting for a response, Bitsy blurted out, “Five-thousand dollars. And believe me, I had to negotiate with them to get that much. Pretty nice, huh?”

For several moments Charlotte was speechless. No wonder making movies cost so much money. Once she finally found her voice, she said, “Ah, Bitsy, I—I appreciate the offer—I really do—and the money is unbelievable, but I do have other clients, you know. I can’t just take off for that long without prior notice.”

“That’s what this is!” Bitsy exclaimed. “I’m giving you prior notice. And before you say no, don’t forget who’s starring in the movie.”

Hunter Lansky and Angel Martinique
. How could she forget? In spite of herself, Charlotte felt a tingle of anticipation at the chance to actually meet Hunter Lansky.
Just say no…just say no
. Ignoring her inner voice of reason, Charlotte hesitated. The money would be really nice and certainly more than her maid service would bring in for the two weeks. It would also be more than enough to finally have the twins’ portrait done. Now that her little grandbabies were finally crawling and sitting up by themselves, they were the perfect age for a portrait.

Besides, the publicity for Maid-for-a-Day would be great, and this might be the only opportunity you’ll ever get to meet Hunter Lansky
.

Charlotte felt her face grow warm. Hunter Lansky had been the first movie star that she’d ever had a crush on. By now he had to be at least sixty-eight, five years older than Charlotte. She knew that because, ever since she’d been a lovesick teenager, she’d followed his career through the years. He’d been twenty when his career had taken off, and she’d collected all of the tabloid articles and pictures printed about him, not to mention seeing all of his films at least twice.

Knowing she would probably regret asking, she said, “How much prior notice are you giving me?”

“Then you’ll do it?”

“Bitsy, how much prior notice?” she repeated.

“They start shooting two days after the Fourth—that’s this Monday—and should be finished within two weeks.”

Charlotte winced. The Fourth was on Saturday, two days away. Four days’ total notice—not a lot of notice, but adequate…decisions, decisions. “Tell you what, let me check my schedule and see what I can do. Then I’ll get back to you.”

“And how long will that take?”

Lord, give me patience
. At times it was all she could do to keep a civil tongue in her head when dealing with Bitsy. Finally, taking a deep breath, she said, “It shouldn’t take too long. I’ll give you a call just as soon as I can. More than likely, by later this afternoon I’ll know something, one way or another.”

“Oh, good. And, Charlotte?”

“Yes.”

“Please try to work it out.”

Charlotte frowned as she hung up the receiver. Something about the way Bitsy had said “Please try to work it out” gave her pause. After a moment, she shrugged and reached for her schedule.

Her regular days to work were Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Since Dale worked at Bitsy’s on Tuesdays and wouldn’t be needed while the movie was being shot, maybe he would switch to one of her days instead.

She glanced farther down the schedule. Her part-time employee, Janet Davis, only worked once a week, on Thursdays. If she could persuade Janet to take up the slack on the other two days, then…

Charlotte drummed her fingers on the desktop. Janet had been an employee longer than Dale, and she really should give Janet first choice of the days to work. Even so, because of Dale’s class schedule, she would have to give him first choice instead.

Charlotte glanced at the cuckoo clock on the wall behind the sofa. It was still pretty early. Had Dale left for classes yet or not? Since she couldn’t remember his schedule, she reached for the telephone receiver and tried his home phone number. While the phone rang, she flipped through her Rolodex in search of his cell number, just in case he wasn’t at home.

On the fourth ring he answered, and Charlotte winced when she heard his groggy voice. “Hey, Dale, this is Charlotte. Did I wake you up?”

“Yeah, but that’s okay. I should have been up an hour ago.”

“Are you ill?”

Dale chuckled. “No,
Mom
, I’m fine. I just stayed up too late last night working on a paper.”

Charlotte grinned. “Humph, if I
were
your mother, I’d tell you to have a little more respect for your elders.”

Dale laughed. “Okay, okay, sorry. So, what’s up?”

Once Charlotte explained the situation, Dale readily agreed to work for her on Monday. “On Mondays my only class isn’t until five. I could also work on Friday, if you need me to. The extra money would come in handy right about now.”

“Great!” Charlotte grinned.

After giving Dale the addresses for her Monday and Friday clients, she quickly filled him in on their particular peculiarities. “Just so you know, my Monday client, Sally Lawson, likes all of the sheets changed. Never mind that none except hers have been slept on. Also, she has this stainless steel garbage can in the kitchen. Make sure you Windex it.”

“What about the Friday client?” he asked.

“My Friday client is Joy Meadows. Joy has a couple of cats that she allows to roam everywhere, including the kitchen countertops. Make sure you wipe down those counters and get rid of all that cat hair. I swear, one of these days, Joy is going to cough up a hair ball.”

“Gross, Charlotte. Really gross.”

“Sorry,” she apologized.

“Anything else?”

“No, I think that’s about it.”

After ending her conversation with Dale, she dialed Janet’s number.

A few minutes later, she sighed with relief as she again hung up the receiver. Janet had also agreed to the extra day for the next two weeks, so now all she had to do was call Bitsy back and give her the news.

“No time like the present,” she whispered as she dialed Bitsy’s number. The phone barely rang before Bitsy answered. Charlotte figured that the old lady must have been sitting next to it, waiting. “It’s all set up,” Charlotte told her. “I was able to clear my schedule.”

“Thanks, Charlotte. I really do appreciate this.”

“So, who do I contact now?”

Bitsy cleared her throat. “Ah—well—nobody.”

“What do you mean ‘nobody’?”

“Now, don’t get mad, but I already told them you’d do it. All you have to do is fill out the paperwork when you show up.”

The heat of sudden anger burned Charlotte’s cheeks. No wonder Bitsy had been so eager for her to
work it out
. As far as Charlotte was concerned, Bitsy had crossed the line. No one, but no one, made these kinds of decisions for her. Barely able to contain the anger boiling inside, she said, “You shouldn’t have done that, Bitsy.”

“Probably not, but I figured you’d take the job. You always come through for me.”

Charlotte chose her words very carefully. “That might be true, but please don’t ever do something like that again. I’m hanging up the phone now, and I’ll talk to you later.” Charlotte immediately dropped the receiver onto the cradle.

For several moments she glared at the phone and fumed. It was true that she always tried to help out her clients when they needed her. In fact, most times she bent over backward to be accommodating, but she truly resented anyone outright assuming that she would do something without asking her first.

“Bitsy, Bitsy, Bitsy,” she murmured. “What am I going to do about you?” With a shake of her head, she sighed. There was nothing she could do about the old lady but put up with her, and what was done was done. Feeling somewhat calmer and in hopes of distracting herself, she turned her attention to the newspaper article she’d found.

After considering each location, she finally made up her mind and set the article aside. She figured that instead of fighting the crowd in Jackson Square, they could see just as well from the levee across the river at Algiers Point. Meantime, she needed to make a grocery list…and a hair appointment.

Where did that come from? Until she’d talked to Bitsy, she hadn’t even considered getting a trim.

But you might actually get to meet Hunter Lansky
.

Charlotte felt her face grow warm. Big deal. He met thousands of women all the time, so what were the chances that a big-time movie star like him would even notice someone like her? She automatically reached up and finger-combed her hair. Still, it didn’t hurt to always try to look your best.

Making a mental note to call Valerie, her hairdresser, she grabbed a pen and paper and jotted down several items she needed for the backyard barbecue that she and Louis were hosting before the Fourth of July display.

A tiny smile pulled at her lips. The whole get-together had been Louis’s idea. He’d pointed out that since they lived next door to each other, why not join forces?

Charlotte got up and walked over to the birdcage by the front window. Outside was sunny, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. According to the weather forecast, record high temperatures would be set today. Already, her air conditioner sounded as if it was having labor pains.

“I just hope it makes it through this summer,” she told Sweety Boy, her little parakeet. But the heat and her aging air conditioner weren’t the only things on her mind of late.

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