Table of Contents
ALSO BY SARAH STROHMEYER
The Sleeping Beauty Proposal
The Cinderella Pact
The Secret Lives of Fortunate Wives
Bubbles A Broad
Bubbles in Trouble
Bubbles All the Way
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Published by Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First printing, July 2009
Copyright © 2009 by Sarah Strohmeyer
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REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
The penny pinchers club / Sarah Strohmeyer.
eISBN : 978-1-101-08197-6
1. Married women—Fiction. 2. Home economics—Fiction. 3. New Jersey—Fiction. 4.
Domestic fiction. I.Title.
This book 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.
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For Rita, who can pinch a penny ’til it screams.Thank you.
“Gather up the fragments left over, that nothing may be lost.”
JESUS, IN JOHN 6:12
“But lo! Men have become the tools of their tools.”
HENRY DAVID THOREAU,
“I always say shopping is cheaper than a psychiatrist.”
TAMMY FAYE BAKKER
ENGAGEMENT RING: $7,340
WEDDING AND RECEPTION: $23,000
RAISING ONE KID FOR EIGHTEEN YEARS: $250,000
HOUSE IN JERSEY SUBURB: $462,000
TWO MINT TINGLE TROJAN CONDOM WRAPPERS FOUND
IN YOUR HUSBAND’S POCKETS: $1.40
BEING FINANCIALLY READY WHEN YOUR HUSBAND ANNOUNCES
HE’S LEAVING TO BE WITH HIS ASSISTANT: PRICELESS
t was the cruel law of Murphy that Mary Ellen Bartholomew chose the one time I’d been arrested to pick up the police permits for the Project Graduation yard sale and fund-raiser. Now it would be all over town that she saw Kat Griffiths in the Rocky Riverit would be all over town that she saw Kat Griffiths in the Rocky River Police Department wearing a bloodied sweatshirt and, almost worse, a pair of Keds.
Of course, the handcuffs wouldn’t have been necessary if the FBI hadn’t gotten involved. But the shackles were totally absurd. Did these federal agents honestly believe I, a forty-something mother who could barely jog three miles, would make a run for it?
It was simply embarrassing any way you cut it. Especially since I’d been the Project Graduation committee member designated to get the permits and forgot.
“Kat?” Mary Ellen squinted hard in an attempt to mask her shock. “Are you okay?”
“Sorry about dropping the ball.” I hid my hands by burrowing them in the folds of my skirt. “I figured we had until Friday seeing as how the sale’s not until next weekend. By the way, Donna Andrews dropped off a whole slew of American Girl dolls and clothes yesterday in mint condition. That should be big. You know how popular they are now.”
My attempt at distraction proved futile. Mary Ellen shifted her gaze from me to the handsome guy in his thirties by my side. Wade Rothschild III had the kind of angular jaw and flinty WASPishness one was more likely to find on the cover of the Brooks Brothers spring catalog sporting silk and cotton seersucker than in a faded yellow T-shirt and khaki shorts, his strong, tanned legs ending in a pair of ripped leather Docksiders.
“Mrs. Griffiths?” Officer Ramone—the nice one with the pot-belly and warm brown eyes—appeared at the door of a gray-painted cinder block room where he and the FBI had been holed up for a half hour. “We’re ready for you now.”
I got up, teetered slightly because of the shackles, and was righted by Wade’s knee.
“Keep ’em guessing,” he said, loving this. I’d come to like Wade, but he lived in a yurt in his mother’s backyard by himself with no dependents, not even goldfish, so he had nothing to lose. One might call him footloose and fancy free except, in light of his bound ankles, not so much with the footloose.
“What about Griff?” Mary Ellen stole another curious glance at Wade.
I’d been purposely trying not to think about how my law-abiding husband would react when he found out I’d been busted kissing another man in a high-security trash bin. We were dealing with enough marital problems without having to cope with rumors of my infidelity.
“He’s out of town.”
She filed this away along with hunky Wade and the handcuffs.
Kat didn’t even want me calling her husband!
“A lawyer, then? Stan Levinson is the best, and he’s a friend. His son and Devon are on the same soccer team.”
Stan Levinson charged an outrageous $250 an hour. I wouldn’t have thought twice about that before joining the Penny Pinchers Club, but these days I was such a skinflint the very notion of more bills made me nauseated. “Thanks, but I have nothing to hide. Searching a Dumpster is hardly a felony.”
Not so, according to Officer Ramone. He said there was an exception when the Dumpster belonged to E. W. Drummond, an accounting firm that did the books of a major international defense contractor—as if I was supposed to have been privy to that. It wasn’t like I raided other people’s trash routinely, for heaven’s sake.
In fact, up until my arrest that morning, the only crime I’d committed was the one of paying too much for retail. By the way, that’s kind of a pet punch line among the Penny Pinchers. Cracks us up every time.
Most people get the wrong idea when I tell them I’m a member of the Rocky River Penny Pinchers Club. They assume I’m naturally frugal, that all my life I’ve carefully balanced my checkbook and flicked off lights around the house, clipped coupons and saved leftovers, that I keep the thermostat at sixty degrees in the winter and let my family broil in the summer.
Oh, if they only knew.
Being a Penny Pincher is more akin to being a member of AA, I think. What I’ve discovered since joining the group and meeting Wade the Wall Street dropout, Opal the Earth Mother, Velma the elderly woman with a mysterious past, Steve the widowed security guard/cop, and Sherise the former debutante is that, like alcoholic individuals with nothing in common except being one drink away from disaster, we are one Visa charge away from bankruptcy. Though, instead of calling up old friends to make amends, we have to call up credit card companies to negotiate reduced balances. It’s amazing how far you can get simply by refusing to hang up the phone.
That’s how I explained it to Officer Ramone and Agent Wasko, the unsmiling bureaucrat from the FBI. But he didn’t care.
Wasko was determined to link my innocent quest for authentic eighteenth-century tchotchkes to a much larger conspiracy. From his line of questioning, I could tell he was trying to pigeonhole me as a peacenik bent on bringing down the international defense contractor, maybe, or a disgruntled homeowner with a defaulted subprime mortgage since, apparently, the accountancy firm also did some work for Countrywide.
“The market crash made us all crazy,” he said, as if this news flash would earn my undying friendship. “I, personally, lost forty percent of my IRA.”
Ramone let out a whistle.
“So, it’s understandable how a frustrated housewife such as yourself might have gone over the edge and taken matters into her own hands, especially when you lost all the savings in your daughter’s college fund.”
I wanted to tell him that no one calls me a housewife. Not my mother. Not my daughter. Certainly not the FBI. As for losing our shirts in the Wall Street bust? Hah! Griff and I had already drained that account years before, and we had the tax penalty payments to prove it. Don’t even ask about our so-called college savings plan. Those leather couches I bought before I became a Penny Pincher didn’t pay for themselves.
“It wasn’t revenge,” I began, pausing to observe that my plastic handcuffs resembled the zip ties on oven bags (cooked goose?). “How I ended up in the Dumpster of E. W. Drummond has far less to do with the market crash and much more to do with what you might call domestic issues. In short, I was simply on the hunt for a sweet deal.”