grand theft retro
Style in a Small Town Mystery #5
Paperback ISBN: 9781939197269
eBook ISBN: 9781939197191
Nothing says new beginning like a birthday. But sometimes beginning involve confronting the past.
With her thirty-mumble-birthday on the horizon, amateur sleuth and fashion expert Samantha Kidd is determined to get her life under control. Her steady (!) job at Retrofit Magazine comes with a paycheck, medical benefits, a 401K, and an assignment to dive into seventies style. She's prepared to report on patchwork velvet and platform shoes, but she never expected to uncover the theft of a major collection of samples from the days before disco died--or stumble upon a murderer who's been living in plain sight.
When the guilty party threatens Samantha's family and friends, her priorities shift into protection mode. The investigation heats up faster than fondue over sterno, and all too soon Samantha learns that while the beat goes on, there's no guarantee she'll go on with it.
Grand Theft Retro is the fifth hilarious caper in the Style in a Small Town cozy mystery series. If you like over-the-top situations, birthday drama, and a dash of romance, then you’ll love Diane Vallere’s seventies-inspired mystery.
Let the good times roll. Pick up Grand Theft Retro today!
1: The Seventies
There were seven and a half reasons why it was a bad idea. If I had listened to my inner voice, the one that tabulated those seven and a half reasons, I might have spent the weeks surrounding my birthday enjoying myself. I might have spent my days at my job writing editorials about style from decades past. I might have had a date for Saturday night. Instead, I was hanging from the side of a building. The last thing on my mind was cake.
And as much as I’ve been trying to distract myself from my current situation, it’s getting harder and harder to ignore the truth. Being on the cusp of a birthday might not be my biggest concern.
Yeah, possibly falling three stories to my death trumps any concerns I have about my age.
One day earlier…
It was closing in on eleven o’clock at night. The sun had gone down hours ago, taking with it my desire to stay at the office working on editorial content and retweeting #OOTD (outfit of the day) and #FashionFail (white socks with sandals) under the Retrofit Twitter account.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t a farmer, and the rise and set of the sun had nothing to do with my workload. I could be a farmer, I thought, gazing out the window at the pitch-black sky and the mostly empty parking lot. I could wear Wellingtons and overalls and raise chickens. Someone knocked on the doorframe. I whirled around. “Chickens,” I said.
Our newest intern to take on the role of office manager and schedule coordinator looked startled. “Um, sure. Chickens. Listen, Samantha, Nancie’s finishing up with the manager of the auction house. She said as soon as they’re done, she wants to see you in the boardroom. You know what that means.” She grabbed both ends of the scarf that had been wound around her neck and adjusted it so the ends were closer to even, and then went back to her tiny desk out front.
I did know what it meant. If my boss, the owner of Retrofit, the e-zine where I’d held a job for four months, had requested my presence in the boardroom at eleven o’clock at night, it meant she wanted to go home. Which meant the rest of us could finally go home, too.
“I’m on it,” I said to myself.
I left my cubicle and walked down the hall to Nancie’s office. Retrofit had been started on a shoestring budget, but thanks to Nancie’s ability to talk people out of their advertising dollars, she’d catapulted us from fashion blogger territory into becoming a regular website with tens of thousands of page views a day. The concept was simple: how to take yesterday’s trash and modernize it into today’s world of style.
Fashionistas checked in with us on how to incorporate vintage finds into their daily wardrobes. Collectors searched our databases to see if that pair of culottes they scored at a yard sale over the weekend had a chance of coming back into style. Retrofit had been cited by more than one industry professional as a website to watch. Our online subscribers doubled almost daily. We were one of the fastest growing style-dedicated websites on the internet.
The past few months had all but erased the memory of the spotty work experience I’d had after I gave up my job in New York and moved back to Ribbon. Four months at Retrofit had gone a long way toward restoring my instincts and making me feel like I was part of something that appeared to be successful.
I arrived at the boardroom and tapped on the door before going inside. Nancie stood with her back to me, talking to a tall man. He was attractive in a boldly masculine way. He had jet-black hair and strong features and wore a white collared shirt under an unstructured navy-blue jacket, and jeans. His skin tone, a shade I needed a steady stream of appointments at a tanning salon to achieve, glowed against the white of his shirt. He had a look of determination about him, probably thanks to the fact that his two eyebrows almost connected above the bridge of his nose.
Nancie turned toward me. “Sam,” she said. “This is Tahoma Hunt. He works at an auction house. We’ll be working closely with him on our next project.” She turned to Tahoma. “This is Sam Kidd. She’s my right hand around here.”
He held out his hand. “Tahoma Hunt. Executive Director, Bethany House.”
“Samantha Kidd,” I said while clasping his grip. “Nancie’s right hand.”
He smiled as though I’d said something funny. He put his left hand on top of our handshake, making a hand sandwich. Not a naturally touchy-feely person by nature, I stiffened at the contact but held my smile in place.
Tahoma turned to face Nancie. “Call me when your team is on board,” he said. “I’ll make the necessary arrangements to help your project succeed.”
“Perfection!” Nancie said. She put her hand on his shoulder. He dropped my hands and stood very straight. I could tell from his posture that he was both physically fit and proud of his build. “Sam, wait here. I’ll be back after I see Tahoma out.”
I stifled a yawn and dropped into one of the vacant chairs that sat around the boardroom table. The wall in front of me was filled with colorful Post-its. Nancie liked to work out ideas this way, shifting colors from the left to the right and back again. I claimed not to understand her system, though I suspected it was a problem-solving technique she’d read about in whatever recent How To Succeed book was at the top of the bestseller lists. Nancie was a self-taught dynamo when it came to running Retrofit, and far be it from me to criticize her methods.
About a minute after she’d left me alone, she returned. She took a swig from her environmentally friendly travel mug and set it on the table with a thunk. “Sam, I know it’s late. We’re going to call it a night soon. But first, I need to know if you’re in or you’re out.”
I searched her expression for clues to what she was talking about and then tried to rewind my thoughts to a place where maybe she’d offered me an opportunity. The only thing I could think of were chicken coops.
“I need to hear more before I decide,” I said.
She sat in the chair opposite me and leaned forward. The white cuffs of her crisp cotton shirt were flipped back over her black sweater dress. Nancie ignored the trends we covered in Retrofit and embraced a simple black-and-white dress code and low maintenance beauty routine. Even her jet-black hair was never out of place, thanks to a Japanese treatment and a turbo-powered flat iron.
“As you know, Retrofit’s subscriptions are on the rise. You know what that means?”
“I’m thinking it’s good—”
“It’s perfection! Except that just last week five new fashion blogs started up. We must stay ahead of the curve. Be new. Different. Risky. Do you know what that means?”
“I’m thinking you want more content—”
“We have to beat everybody else at the game we started. Change. Be aggressive. We’ve built a database of over a hundred thousand names in a little over four months, and we show no signs of slowing down. Those names are our future. They’re gold. They’re money in the bank. And you know what you do with money in the bank?”
“Leverage it to make more! I’ve been talking to a team of investors. They’re interested in taking Retrofit to the next level.” She stopped talking and looked at me. Was I supposed to say something now? She hadn’t asked me a question.
“I feel like I’m supposed to know where this is going,” I said.
“Here’s where it’s going. Retrofit is going to produce a trend magazine. Print. National distribution. This is the big leagues, Sam. This is what I always dreamed of. But I can’t do it alone. What do you say? You convinced me to take a chance on you when I started this thing. Are you still with me?”
I felt the old familiar one-two punch that I used to feel when I worked in a corporate setting as a buyer. The immediate fear of a near-impossible challenge and the subsequent sparks of excitement to figure out how to get it done. “Nancie, that’s big. Huge, even. But how are you—we—going to produce a magazine? There’s two of us. Four, if you count the interns, but they change every couple months. I like the idea, but I think maybe there’s a little more involved than we can handle.”
“I thought you might say that. Pritchard, you can come out.”
The door at the back of the boardroom opened, and a man in a three-piece suit entered. He had glossy dark-blond hair parted deeply on one side in a comb-over. He wore both tie pin and cuff links, and when he reached his hands up to smooth the sides of his hair with his palms, I saw the chain of a pocket watch draped across his vest.
“Sam, this is Pritchard Smith. He’s joining the Retrofit team. He comes with a long list of contacts in the industry just like you.”
“It’s Samantha,” I corrected.
I knew the reasons my employment history had brought me to Retrofit: my degree in the history of fashion, coupled with nine years as a buyer and then two as a mostly unemployed job seeker. My mentor in New York had told me about this opportunity, and I’d out-interviewed at least a dozen fashion bloggers to get it. Nancie and I spent long hours working to ensure Retrofit’s success. Pritchard’s interest in a relatively small start-up might be a sign that we’d done something right and were poised for expansion.
I looked at Pritchard. He crossed his arms and studied me. A half smile pulled at the left corner of his mouth, and I wondered if there was something else that brought him to our door.
Nancie picked up a two-inch-thick spiral-bound notebook from the table. She looked lovingly at the cover, and then pushed it in front of me. It was about nine inches by twelve, and on the bottom right-hand corner a sticker had been placed that said Retrofit Trend Magazine, Vol. 1. I started to open it, but Nancie put her hand on top and kept it closed.
“That’s my baby. My dream. I’ve been working on it since before you came on board. From the first day we started the e-zine, Retrofit has been about focusing on previous decades and teaching people how to understand the evolution of style. This is going to work in tandem with what we’ve already built. Two issues a year. Comprehensive style tips, history, tutorials, and anything else we can brainstorm. Each issue will focus on a different decade.”
“Isn’t that what we do now?” I asked.
“We’ll do it times a thousand. We’ll go back in time and highlight the designers who influenced that decade, give brief histories. Publish never-seen runway photos, collection sketches, anything we can get our hands on. Find the designers to whom they’ve passed the torch. We’ll highlight individual trends and provide how-to guides on styling vintage clothes while staying modern. Mix and match. Create a look with a knowledge of fashion history.”
“That sounds pretty amazing, but—”
She continued. “Every page of the premiere issue has been laid out. Editorial. Fads. Accessory highlights. Sidebars. It’s all there.” She tapped the top of the notebook. “What we need is the content.”
I had a suspicion where Nancie was planning on getting content. I looked at Pritchard. He confirmed my suspicion with a smug smile.
Nancie tapped the notebook again. “I want you and Pritchard to put your heads together and come up with concepts. We’re not going to do the whole ‘what’s hot/what’s not’ thing most magazines do. Instead of telling people their horoscopes, we’re going to show people how to dress for their horoscope. I want to teach women how to discover their personal style by showing them the icons who changed the way we see clothes today.”
“Go retro,” I said.
“That’s it! How to go retro and find the fit that flatters you. Build a look from the inside out. Are you taking notes? You should be taking notes.”
“I don’t have a pen,” I said.
Pritchard reached inside his suit jacket and pulled out a sleek silver ballpoint pen. “Take mine.”
“See? Already working together. Perfection!”
Reluctantly, I accepted it. The pen had a nice weight. I clicked it up and down twice, made loopy circles on a blank sheet of paper that Nancie thrust in front of me, and then turned the circles into a giant flower doodle. Next to it, I wrote New Retrofit project.
Nancie turned her spiral-bound notebook around so it faced me. She picked up the corner of the cover and opened it. Inside was one line: Retrofit: the Seventies.
“The Seventies have been having a moment for years. We’d be foolish not to get on the bandwagon. Mock something up while I’m out selling ad space. Once we lay out your concept, you can start contacting designers, pulling samples, and setting up the shoot. Bethany House has agreed to give us unrestricted access to their archives. It’s going to take real commitment on your end, Sam. I know this is more than you signed up for, so back to my question. Are you in or are you out?”
This time I didn’t look at Pritchard. I didn’t have to. For the first time since I’d left my high-profile job as senior buyer of ladies’ designer shoes at Bentley’s New York, I could pay my bills.
I’d weathered a storm of personal danger with more close calls than I wanted to count. I had a fully stocked pantry and a regular schedule for the dry cleaning. I had enough money left over after paying my bills to buy new shoes. And just last week I’d bought a two-hundred-dollar luxury cat condo for Logan. I wasn’t about to give it all up.
“I’m in,” I said.
Nancie glowed. “My power team—perfection!” She tapped my hand. “Now, go home and get some rest. We’re going to attack this first thing in the morning.”
And that’s how it happened that I jumped into the deep end of Seventies fashion.
The story of how I ended up hanging from the side of a building is a little more complicated.