a commercial, and learns that in the advertising business, bad acting
can lead to murder . . .
every step of the way. A brilliant hairdresser, Carter has just
landed his dream project: doing hair and makeup for a theatrical
production of Rapunzel. But the dream turns into a nightmare when he
runs into Fiona Renoir, a cruel, talentless starlet who won’t let
Carter touch a hair on her head.
her latest commercial. But true to character, Fiona is a terror on
set, and Tobi is starting to think she’s made the biggest mistake
of her life. But things get even worse when Fiona drops dead in the
hairdresser’s chair, and the only suspect is the man left holding
the tainted hair dye, Carter McDade. And unless Tobi can prove his
innocence, he’ll never do hair in this town again.
There was simply crunching.
Loud, deliberate crunching.
In fact, it was the cruncher and the crunchee that had turned the fiery flames of the dreaded underworld into the clichéd icicles referenced at the end of virtually every nasty breakup.
My best friend, Carter McDade, was standing less than five feet from my sofa eating a bowl of Cocoa Puffs. That’s right, Carter McDade—the same guy who lectured me daily on the gaps (okay, seismic gullies) in my eating habits. The same guy who could draw a textbook food pyramid in mere seconds. The same guy who’d willingly and happily choose broccoli in a head-to-head with a Caramello bar.
Which is why his puff-crunching pointed to one indisputable conclusion: Carter was stressed. Big-time. A rarity in and of itself, Cocoa Puffs or no Cocoa Puffs.
My upstairs neighbor was the most positive human being I’d ever met. One of those happy-go-lucky, always-has-a-smile types. You know, the kind of person everyone needs in their life, but few are fortunate enough to have.
I was one of the fortunate.
I was also dumbfounded. Utterly and completely dumbfounded by what to say and how to say it. So I took the not-so-subtle approach.
“What’s wrong, Carter?”
Now I’ll admit, I have a leg up when it comes to deciphering pufftalk (it is, after all, my second language), but I was feeling pretty proud that I could decode it from even the most novice of crunchers.
“Nothing? Nothing?! Do you realize what you’re eating right now?”
Carter looked at the bowl in his left hand and then the spoon moving toward his mouth with his right. “Uh-huh.”
“They’re Cocoa Puffs, Carter! Co. Coa. Puffs. As in chocolate—or as you call it, sugar central. You know, void of roughage. In fact, if I do recall correctly, you refer to them as the downfall of mankind. The reason for society’s ills.”
I guess I thought if I really hammered home the point, it might sink in. Then again, I was living proof that tactic failed. Just ask my mother. Besides, it was hard to hammer home drawbacks when I didn’t believe a word of what I was saying. Why? Because I, Tobi Tobias, am a chocoholic. And proud of it, I might add. So I did what any good chocoholic would do. I sauntered into the kitchen, grabbed my Bugs Bunny melamine bowl and matching spoon, filled it to the brim with the last of the crunchy brown puffs (don’t worry, I’ve got four more boxes in the cabinet over the stove), and headed back into the living room. I mean, let’s face it, the expression “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” was coined for a reason, right? Not that my commiserating helped. In fact, when I returned, Carter showed no signs of having noticed my departure or subsequent return.
His facial expression was still void of its trademark smile, and his eyes held a vacant look. Somehow, though, I managed to coax him onto the sofa.
“C’mon, Carter, spill it. It’s Fiona again, isn’t it?”
Call it a lucky (or, really my only) guess, but it was worth a shot. And judging by the look of complete mortification on his face as my words (and thus, his choice of food) registered in his subconscious, I’d hit the jackpot.
“Oh, good God, please tell me I’m not eating what I think I’m eating.”
Carter squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them slowly, cautiously.
A tortured gasp escaped his mouth, along with a partially chewed puff.
“It’s okay, Carter, really. It’s been a long time coming. And it’s not a good idea to keep depriving yourself of the finer things in life.”
I reached out and touched his shoulder, a teasing smile tugging my lips. “Thanks for letting me be a part of your spiritual awakening.”
If looks could kill . . .
He rolled his eyes upward and then frantically wiped his tongue with the sleeve of his cable-knit sweater. “Ugh, how on earth can you eat that stuff?”
“Same way you just did, my friend. One yummy spoonful at a time.” I winked and popped some puffs into my mouth. I knew I was being ornery, but I couldn’t help myself. Let’s face it, I’d endured more pontificating about my eating habits from this man than I could possibly recall. So this was, in a way, sweet justice. Payback. Comeuppance at its finest . . .
“My mind was compromised.” Carter released a long, slow sigh and wiped his tongue one more time. “I swear, Sunshine, that woman will be the death of me yet. Mark my words.”
I took the bowl from his shaking hand and set it on the end table to my right. It never ceased to amaze me how fast the sugar rush hit the chocolate virgins. Especially the stressed ones.
“What’d Princess Fiona do this time?”
“In the interest of time, it might be better if I tell you what she didn’t do.” Carter pushed off the couch and wandered over to the window. Drawing back the curtain, he peered outside. “Have you ever noticed the way Ms. Rapple kinda looks like Gertrude? Around the eyes and snout—I mean, nose?”
That did it. I laughed. And snorted. Loudly.
“I’m serious, Tobi. The eyes droop in almost the exact same spot, and the nose, well, it’s a perfect match. Right down to the persistent wetness.”
Ewwww . . .
including Silence of the Flans and Éclair and Present Danger,
and the national bestselling Amish Mysteries, including A
Churn for the Worse and Suspendered Sentence.
Under the pen name, Elizabeth Lynn Casey, she writes the Southern
Sewing Circle Mysteries, including Wedding Duress and Taken In.
She lives in Yorktown Heights, New York, with her husband and their
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