“Bystander Boondoggle” was originally published in Mystery Weekly Magazine
This story’s protagonist is down on his luck and just wants to enjoy a quiet holiday alone in his shack, but his plans are thwarted by murder, intrigue and romance. Pull up a slice of pie, kick your shoes off and enjoy this short Thanksgiving story.
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Read an Excerpt from “Bystander Boondoggle”:
Thanksgiving. San Fernando Valley. Eighty-nine degrees. I was reclining in my little drive-up kiosk that I lease. The place used to be a drive-through coffee shack. Now it was my office shack, and also temporarily my apartment. A guy walked over from the bus stop at the corner and asked if I by any chance sold cigarettes. I said no, I don’t sell anything. He tried ordering a coffee. I told him again—I don’t sell anything. He wanted to know what I meant. I told him I wanted to know what he meant asking me what I meant. He asked me if I realized the coffee mug painted on the side of the shack made it look like a coffee place. I told him to cram an egg in it and scram. The guy stank-eyed me and walked across the lot to Judy’s Donuts.
Thanksgiving. An honest holiday. No presents. No fireworks. No used-car-lot inflatable decorations on front lawns. Just good stuff. Overindulgence. Wine. Family fighting. Champagne. The sting of old regrets bubbling out and making me sentimental. I wanted to be grumpy about everything. Then my mood brightened when a big strong woman in firefighter’s clothing walked into Judy’s shop.
Caution: Wet Floor. Cuidado: Piso mojado.
Judy is a compulsive floor polisher. I once told him he was going to kill someone or get sued, big yellow warning cone or not. His doughnut shop is slip city. I know the man as Judy but he also has an entire different name. His actual name. I guess the shop was called Judy’s when he signed the lease and the man just rolled with it.
I basked in the thick aroma of fried dough, coffee and lemon-fresh floors. The tough looking woman I had followed in was picking out a dozen doughnuts when one of her boots slipped on the slick linoleum.
I swooped an arm around her back. She weighed a ton. The weight felt good. My biceps whinnied like proud stallions. Her caramel eyes flared back at me.
She said, “What are you doing?”
“Catching you,” I said.
She told me, yeah well, she wasn’t in need of any catching.
“You were about to fall,” I said.
No, she said, she wasn’t.
“I’m pretty sure you were falling,” I told her.
She said, “I think I would know.”
“Hmm. Maybe so.” I shrugged. “Points for good intentions?”
“Yeah. Ok, weirdo,” She said and asked, what were my intentions exactly?
“Why don’t you marry me and find out?” I told her.
She said something like, “Ugh. What’re you, drunk?”
I said, “Well I’m not hungover yet. So, yes?”
The hot thrill of the old dance had begun.
The firefighter woman said she didn’t have time for chit-chat with some drunk guy but somehow I charmed her out of pepper-spraying me and into having a cup of coffee and a fritter with me instead. She told me her name was Sandy. Sandra Brown. She was there getting doughnuts to bring back to her folks’ place nearby.
Chit-chat, caffeine, sugar rush. Hangover came and went. She wanted to know if I went overboard at a Thanksgiving party the night before.
“Are there Thanksgiving parties?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I never heard of one.”
I sipped my coffee. She squinted at me. Something compelled me to explain why I was in such pitiful condition. I told her the Irish pub across the street had live country music on Wednesday nights. She waited for me to go on but I had nothing else to say. She changed the subject.