THE ROCK AND ROLL QUEEN OF BEDLAM by Marilee Brothers

Trade Paperback
Publisher: Medallion Press
ISBN-10: 193475546X
ISBN-13: 978-1934755464
US $15.95
Fiction/Romantic Mystery
Copyright © 2009 by Marilee Brothers

The Rock & Roll Queen of Bedlam

Chapter One
Friday
Pantyhose are a tool of the devil.
On a tall woman, the crotch hangs at knee level so she’s forced to crouch and shuffle like Quasimodo. If a woman’s vertically challenged, they slither downward, pooling around her ankles like a reptilian second skin. My troubles began with pantyhose.
For a Friday, it was relatively tranquil. No fights, no blood spilled, no weapons displayed. I’m Allegra Thome, teacher of behavior-disordered teenagers with a few felons thrown in for good measure.
After school, I scoot across the parking lot as fast as my walking cast will allow. In forty minutes, I’ll be cast-free and ready for my third date with Michael LeClaire. Seriously hot, comfortably rich Michael LeClaire. Rumor has it his parents have ordered him to go forth and multiply. Enter Allegra: stage right.
With date number three looming large, I’d thrown together a killer outfit. Short, clingy black dress with a neckline that dips down—tastefully—to allow a glimpse of cleavage. Wispy lace panties and strappy heels. Successfully field tested and ready for action, it’s stashed in a shopping bag behind the seat of my red Ford Ranger.
Zipping across town to the clinic, I think about my leg and how it will look cast-free: pasty, shriveled and, in all likelihood, sprouting coarse dark hairs. Had I thrown in a pair of panty hose? Of course not! I slap myself in the forehead.
Braking hard, I swing into Sid’s Gas‘n’Grub. Because Sid is the father of one of my students, Crystal (shoplifting), I like to give him my business. Sid sits on a stool engrossed in a tabloid, his big belly pressed up against the counter. He marks his place with a pudgy finger and looks up. “Hey teach! How’s my kid doin’?”
“Not bad, Sid. Just a little language once in a while.”
“Aw, shit.” The corner of his mouth draws down in disapproval. “Hey, Suze! Didja hear that? Goddam kid swears at school!”
Sid’s wife Suzy stands up from behind the Plexiglas case where shriveled hot dogs rotate over a heat lamp. She talks around the cigarette dangling from her lips.  “What are ya gonna do?” She shakes her head. Ashes fly.
I assure them that compared to her classmates, Crystal is a veritable poster child of good conduct. I pick out my pantyhose and rummage through my purse for correct change while Sid peruses the package. He beams his approval. “Good choice, Miz Thome. Ya gotcher midnight smoke, lace high-cut panty, nude toe and heel. New boyfriend, huh?”
“Sort of,” I mumble, regretting it immediately. Oh, what grist for Crystal’s mill. I’d pay. I wave goodbye as Sid assures me, “Let me tell ya, I’ll have one serious fuckin’ talk with Crystal about her language.”
I step into the parking lot where a midnight blue Honda Accord with flipper wheels sits next to a beat-up Chevy; both of them nosed in to the line of poplars marking the back of Sid’s property.  I know this car. It belongs to another of my students, Jose Delgado. Jose is relatively crime-free, assigned to my class due to spotty attendance, two weeks on, one week off, like clockwork. With his multiple gold chains, smooth olive skin and dreamy eyes, Jose is the hands-down favorite of my behavior-disordered ladies.
I lift my hand to wave. But it isn’t Joe behind the wheel. It’s his guardian, the man he calls Tio Estefan, talking earnestly to a man in the passenger seat. I stuff my new panty hose behind the seat and look at my watch. I still have time to speak to Estefan about Jose’s attendance. Dragging my cast, I skitchity-hop across the parking lot calling out in my pathetic Spanish, “Hola Estefan.”
He gives me an apologetic grin and makes shooing motions with his hand which I ignore. As I lean over to remind him of his responsibilities, a series of events explode like a string of firecrackers.
Doors slam. I gape in open-mouthed astonishment as the man in the passenger seat points a gun at Estefan. Suddenly, I’m grabbed from behind and pinned against the car. A rough male voice growls in my ear, “You’re coming with me, lady!”
Heart leaping in my chest, I scream, “Sid! Suzie! Help me!”
With a howl of rage, I slam my cast into the man’s shin. He mutters an oath, spins me around, rams a shoulder in my midsection and hoists me into the air as I shriek and struggle. My captor, grunting with effort, tells one of his henchmen, “Get the goddamn door open. She weighs a ton!”
What???
“It’s the cast!” I yell as he stuffs me into the back seat of the Chevy.
Frantically, I try to scramble out of the car and bash my nose into his elbow. Blood gushes from both nostrils. The man recoils and I finally get a look at the guy who not only assaulted my person, but implied I’m overweight. Big, mean-looking guy. Cheeks dark with stubble. Blood-shot pale eyes. Strings of greasy hair hanging below a baseball cap turned backwards.
“Wha … wha?” I stammer as he digs a filthy-looking bandana from his jeans pocket and tosses it at me. I press it against my nose, gagging from the rancid odor of motor grease and sweat. He backs out of the car, slams the door and tells the guy behind the wheel, “You know where to take her.”
At his words, I feel the air leave my lungs. I scrabble for the door handle. There is none. I fight for breath while my brain books a one-way ticket on Air Terror. Who are these people? What do they plan to do to me? Shoot me up with heroin? Sell me into white slavery? Will I end up in some third world country dragging my cast behind me as I walk the streets, forced by a sadistic pimp to turn a trick in exchange for a crust of bread?
“Nooo!” I howl as the driver executes a perfect three point turn and pulls out of the parking lot. Sid and Suzie stand in the doorway of the Gas and Grub, eyes wide with surprise and mouths agape. I pound on the window and scream, “Call the cops!”
The driver pulls out into the street. “Take it easy, lady. We are the cops. What in the hell are you doing in the middle of a drug bust?”
I sink back in the seat, pinch the bridge of my nose to stop the bleeding and moan, “I just wanted to invite him to parents’ night.
#
Three hours later, I’m locked in a small room inexplicably painted pink. Periodically a man with chubby, dimpled cheeks steps in to check on me. He tries to look intimidating but fails miserably due to his squirrelly, chock-full-o- nuts demeanor. He tells me I have to wait for Sloan, the DEA agent in charge, the key to my freedom. Bereft of personal belongings, I pass the time tormenting Squirrel Cheeks.
“My aunt dates a lawyer who loves to sue people,” I snarl. “In fact, he specializes in false arrest.”
The last part’s a lie but I see a flicker of fear in Squirrel Cheeks’ soft woodland eyes.  “Don’t think for a minute you won’t be included in the lawsuit.”
He shrugs. “I’m just following orders, Ma’am.”
“That’s what Hitler’s minions said!” I almost feel guilty but I’m on a roll. “My grandmother’s best friend is a federal judge. He comes to the house every Sunday for her pot roast.”
I smile benevolently at Squirrel Cheeks who squirms and looks at the floor.
When Sloan finally slams through the door, I rise to a half-crouch with a feral growl. “You’re in big trouble, pal! This is America. I know my rights. You can’t just throw me in a car and lock me in a room for God knows how long!”
The corner of Sloan’s mouth twitches. He winks at Squirrel Cheeks and says, “You okay? She’s pretty scary.”
With a little hiss of rage I say, “You’d better let me go or….”  I stutter to a stop when he yanks off his cap and his long, greasy hair comes along for the ride. He sails it across the room where it lands on the floor at the base of a mirrored wall in a crumpled heap, like a dead porcupine along the side of the road.
Lifting my astonished gaze to the mirror, I see Sloan studying my backside. I whirl to face him. “You’re checking out my ass!”
He shrugs and swipes at his close-cropped dark hair. “Small room. Nothing else to look at.”
I try to decide if I should be offended because, thanks to spinning class, my butt looks pretty good. I turn back to the mirror, assuming it’s one way and that Sloan’s superiors are standing behind it. “First he bashes me in the nose then he abducts me and now…”
“There’s nobody behind the mirror,” Sloan says with a smirk.
“Okay, fine,” I huff. “If we’re done here, I’d like to get my things and go home.”
I desperately want out of this room and away from Sloan whose scary, pale-blue eyes and overbearing presence make me want to scream
Sloan opens the door and leans against the frame. “You’re free to go. Chuck will take you to your car.”
I clomp to the door to squeeze by him. As I turn my head to blister Sloan with one last glare, my walking cast bumps into the doorjamb and I lurch sideways, falling against his body. Instinctively, he grabs my shoulders to steady me.  A jolt of heat passes between us, the feeling so intense I inhale sharply and reach up to touch my hair to see if it’s standing on end a la Albert Einstein.
Sloan leans over me, his breath warm on my face. “Good way to break your other leg.”
Oh, yeah, the cast. I feel my anger return. He releases me and I back away to put some space between us before I tell him, “If not for you, my cast would be gone and I’d be on a date with my boyfriend.” I pause so he can digest this information and apologize. He doesn’t.
On the brief ride back to my car, I pump Squirrel Cheeks, AKA Chuck, for information about the drug bust and whether or not Jose is involved.  But Chuck, hands locked on the steering wheel at ten to two, is afraid to look at me, much less speak. After collecting the Ranger, I head home with a sigh of relief.
Grandma Sybil’s roomy two-story house seemed like a perfect fit when I slunk back to Vista Valley after my short, disastrous marriage. When Grandpa Mort died, Grandma sold his string of auto supply stores but flatly refused to leave the family home even though it sucks up money like a super-charged Hoover. I have my own apartment upstairs. Grandma and my thrice-divorced Aunt Dodie share the main floor and finished basement. Basking in my family’s support, I’m comfortably at home in apple/peach/pear-intensive Vista Valley, Washington—unofficial  motto—“We never met a fruit we didn’t like.”
When I burst through the front door into the empty house, I find a trail of notes, in Dodie’s handwriting, taped to the banister. I read each one as I mount the stairs.
5:15 p.m. “Allegra! Where the hell are you? Dr. Myers said you didn’t show up for your appointment and he missed his massage.”
Dodie’s the office manager for Whole Health clinic where three generations of Drs. Myers offer cradle to grave services. Dodie does not tolerate missed appointments.
7 pm. “Susan called. Sounds upset. Says call her about Nick.”
8 pm. “Michael called. Thinks you stood him up. He called your cell but got voice mail and is he ever pissed off!”
8:15 pm. “Word of warning: Your grandmother is with a client.”
With a little hiss of dismay, I crumple the last note and shove it in my pocket wishing I could turn off images dancing in my head, the ones featuring Grandma Sybil and her diligent efforts to help mankind.
I mentally sort the messages as I climb the stairs. Too late for Dr. Myers. I decide to let Michael cool off before I call. Nick, on the other hand can’t afford to be upset. His life depends on it. At sixteen, he functions fairly well considering he has cystic fibrosis. Nick and I became close during my short-lived marriage to his Uncle Harley. I adore his mother, Susan, having forgiven her for introducing me to Harley.
Susan answers on the first ring, her voice taut with an ill-concealed anger that I know springs from desperate worry. “It’s that girl in your class. Sara. He won’t talk to me. If he gets sick again.…”
Her voice trails off. A single parent, Susan struggles to hold down a job as an accountant for the Quail Hollow Winery and tend to her son. I start to answer but hear a clunk as Susan slams the down the phone. When Nick answers, I listen for the wheezing that signals an onset of deadly congestion.
“Sara’s gone,” he says in a voice hoarse with emotion.
Warning bells clang in my overloaded brain. Sara’s foster mother, Patsy, is no prize, but she keeps close tabs on her charge.
“What do you mean, gone?”
“She told me to call her tonight. When I did, Patsy told me Sara was gone, that she left a note and took off.”
I wince as I hear a deep racking cough. “Nobody saw her leave?”
“The whole family went grocery shopping. When they got back, Sara was gone.” His voice sounds panicky. “She wouldn’t do that. I know she wouldn’t!”
I struggle to find the right words. “You know, bud, Sara’s had a rough life. Maybe she’s fed up with Patsy. Maybe she has a new boyfriend.”
His voice grows more strident. “She doesn’t have a boyfriend. I’d know!”
I bite my tongue. Who am I to be counseling anyone on relationships?  “What did the note say?”
“Just the usual crap. Stuff like ‘Don’t worry, I’ll be okay’ and like that.”
I finally convince him to let it ride over the week-end and promise if she’s not in school Monday, we’ll file a missing persons report. Before we hang up, Nick says, “You think you know Sara but you don’t.”
His remark is so strange I’m not sure how to react. “I know her dad’s wanted for dealing drugs, that her mom’s serving time and her little brother’s in foster care somewhere in the lower valley. Is there more?”
“Oh yeah, Aunt Allegra. There’s more. Lots more.” Nick voice sounds old and tired as if he’s bearing a burden far too heavy for a kid of sixteen. He clicks off before I can question him further.
I decide to face the music and listen to Michael’s messages on my cell phone. When I reach for my bag, I realize it’s still in the truck and trudge back outside feeling each step reverberate in my throbbing nose. I grope around behind the seat, retrieve my bag and start back toward the house. Then it hits me. The shopping bag containing my man-catching outfit and new pantyhose? It’s gone. That creep Sloan stole my underwear!❖
________________________________

Buy Marilee Brothers’s THE ROCK AND ROLL QUEEN OF BEDLAM at:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Borders
Indiebound.org

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“I’ve been in love with the written word since the age of four when I sat on my mother’s lap, scanning the newspaper for the simple words she’d taught me. One of my first memories is of visiting the public library and returning with an armload of books. Even now, you can find me standing over the stove, stirring spaghetti sauce with one hand, an open book in the other.”–MARILEE BROTHERS

Visit Marilee’s website
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About Vicki Hinze
USA Today Bestselling and Award-Winning Author of 40+ books, short stories/novellas and hundreds of articles. Published in as many as 63 countries. Featured Columnist for Social-IN Worldwide Network and Book Fun Magazine. Sponsor/Founder of ChristiansRead.com & CleanReadBooks.com. FMI visit www.vickihinze.com.

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