PILLOW STALK | dianevallere
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PILLOW STALK

Mad for Mod Mystery #1
Hardcover ISBN: 9781941962053
Paperback ISBN: 9781940976068
eBook ISBN: 
Audio ISBN: 9781520063560

The lightness of a Doris Day movie. The darkness of homicide. And a Shih-Tzu named Rock.

 

Interior Decorator Madison Night might look like a throwback to the sixties, but as business owner and landlord, she proves that independent women can have it all. When a killer targets women dressed in her signature style-estate sale vintage to play up her resemblance to fave actress Doris Day-what makes her unique might make her dead.

The local detective connects the new crime to a twenty-year old cold case, and Madison's long-trusted contractor emerges as the leading suspect. As the body count piles up, Madison uncovers a Soviet spy, a campaign to destroy all Doris Day movies, and six minutes of film that will change her life forever.

Can Madison see beyond the obvious conclusions to spot a killer who’s been hiding in plain sight?

Pillow Stalk is the first in the Doris-Day-infused Mad for Mod Mystery Series. If you like well-written mysteries with animal sidekicks and unexpected endings, then you’ll love Diane Vallere’s smart mystery.

Buy Pillow Stalk to escape into mid-century-modern drama today!

Excerpt:

Chapter 1

“Mr. Johnson, I would like to discuss to discuss the disposition of your mother’s estate.  I understand that you don’t live around here—”

“Are you a lawyer?” asked a gruff voice on the other end of a crackly line. 

“No, sir, I’m an interior decorator.  Madison Night.  I own Mad4Mod, on Greenville Avenue--” 

 

“You’re a decorator?  You’re calling me about my mom’s tchotchkes?”

“I assure you that I mean no disrespect, but in my experience, you are about to be faced with the time consuming challenge of handling your mother’s affairs, and I am in a position to take a portion of that challenge off your to-do list.”  Internally, I cringed at the holier-than-thou tone that had crept into my voice.  It was a vocal knee-jerk reaction to people not taking me seriously.  “It might interest you that I specialize in mid-century modern design.”

“What was your name again?  Madison?” he snapped.  “What are you, twenty?”

I was used to people fixating on the least important detail of my phone call, my name.  I pushed my long hair away from my face, then used my index finger to free a couple of strands that were stuck by my hairline, thanks to the Dallas-in-May humidity.

“Madison was my grandmother’s maiden name,” I offered, my head cradled in the kitschy yellow donut phone I used in the office.  “I’m forty-seven, and I’ve been in this industry for over twenty years.”  The man was obviously more distraught over the death of his mother than the fact that my grandmother’s surname had come into fashion sometime in the nineties, but at times like these, minor details could change the course of our conversation. 

“My mom didn’t have anything valuable.  Her whole house was insured for fifteen thousand dollars, and I’d be better off if it had burned down and I got the check.  Now I’m stuck with a bunch of junk I could never convince her to throw away.”

I wrote fifteen thousand? on the side of a real estate flier that sat on my desk and put on my best can-do attitude.  “Mr. Johnson, I’m prepared to make an offer on the entire estate.  If you accept it, I can bring you a check tomorrow, and you can be on your way back to Cincinnati as soon as tomorrow night.” 

“Let me get this straight.  You’re offering to write me a check for stuff you haven’t even seen?”

“That’s correct.”

“Lady, if this is a joke, you have a lousy sense of humor.”  He hung up on me. 

I drummed my fingers against the top of my desk and stared at the flier, temporarily distracted by the overdone graphics and the photo of the woman listing houses.  Pamela Ritter, a recently licensed real estate agent stared up at me, a picture of blonde hair and blue eyes not all that different than my own, though some twenty-years younger.  Blast from the Past! screamed the heading, above listings for a string of ranch houses on Mockingbird. Live like a Mad Man!  Promised the copy on the side.  Turquoise bubbles filled the background of the paper, and starbursts, outlined in red, gave it a Pow! Bam! Bop! feel. 

Pamela had jumped on the new movement to capitalize on all things fifties, thanks to a recent pop culture focus on the Eisenhower era.  I’d been nurturing my passion for mid-century decorating since I was a teenager, since I first watched Pillow Talk after learning that I shared a birthday with an actress named Doris Day.  I surrounded myself with items from the atomic age long before people like Pamela were born, and thanks to my business, I’d found others who shared my interest and appreciated my knowledge.  I crumbled up the flier and tossed it at the trash bin.  It bounced off the rim and landed on the carpet. 

I glanced at the brushed gold starburst clock on the wall and twisted my blonde hair back into a chignon, then secured it with a vintage hairpin.  It was ten minutes to six.  I could leave early, I reasoned.  Nothing was going to happen in ten minutes.  I flipped the open sign to closed, locked the doors, and carried the small bag of trash out the back door, hitting the light switch on the way.  I emptied the trash into the dumpster and rummaged through my handbag for my keys.  That’s why I didn’t notice the flat tire. 

I bent next to the tire and a slash of pain shot through my left knee.  After a skiing accident two years ago, after fleeing down a mountain, I was left with a reminder that I had to look out for myself, because no one else would.  The chronic pain forced me to acknowledge my limitations.  It kept me from doing the kind of things that independent women knew how to do for themselves and Texas women took for granted.  And today, it would keep me from getting home to Rock on time.   

I went back inside the studio and called Hudson James, my handyman, though the term hardly described our relationship.  “What are the chances you’re up for rescuing a damsel in distress?” I asked. 

“Depends on the damsel.”

“I’m at the studio, and I’ve got a flat tire.  I’d try to change it myself,” I said, but stopped when the humiliating reality of me calling a man to ask for help resonated in my ears.  I never thought I’d be that kind of woman.  

“Madison, it’s no problem.  I’ll be there in a couple of minutes.” 

Hudson’s blue pickup truck pulled into the alley by my studio and parked next to the dumpster.  His longish black hair had curled with the humidity, the front pushed to the side, behind his ear, the back flipping up against the collar of his t-shirt.  “I thought you were calling because you had a job for me,” he said.

I flushed.  “I might,” I said, “I’m still working it out.  A woman died—”

He held up a hand.  “I don’t want to know the details.”

“It’s just business.”

“I look at you and I see sweetness and innocence, not a ruthless business woman.”

“Don’t let the blonde hair and blue eyes fool you.”

“Honey, they had me fooled me the first time I laid eyes on you.”  He winked and took the keys from my hand.  Before he turned back to the car, his eyes swept over my body.  “Is that a new dress?”

I looked down at my dress, a light blue fitted sheath dress that was significantly more wrinkled than it had been when I left the house this morning.  A series of circles in gingham, stripe, and polka dot had been appliquéd to the neckline and hem.

 

“It’s a new-old dress.  Early sixties.  From an estate sale in Pennsylvania, before I moved here.   The woman died in a car accident—”

“Enough!  I like the dress.  I like the dress on you.  But I don’t need to hear the obituary of the woman who owned it first.”  He disappeared next to the tire. 

“It’s good for business,” I said.

“The dress or the estate sales?”

 “The only client I talked to today was over the phone, thank you very much.”  Maybe things would have gone differently if I had met Steve Johnson face to face.  Not because of the dress, but because he’d see that I was legitimate. 

Inside the studio, the phone jangled.  Technically, Mad4Mod was still open, and even though I’d wanted to leave early, I didn’t want to be one of those businesses that skimped on the hours.  “Do you mind if I get that?”

“Nah, go ahead.  This’ll take a couple of minutes.”

I picked up the ball of paper by the wastepaper basket and set it on the corner of my one-of-a-kind desk, then reached for the phone.  “Mad for Mod, Madison Night speaking,” I answered.  I heard a click, then a dial tone.  I sank into the chair and battled the crumpled up flier back and forth across the slick surface of the desk.  It was a gift from Hudson, a hodgepodge of parts from items too damaged to repair.  It had cost him more in time and vision than materials, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.  More than once I’d asked him to be a partner in my business, and every time he declined.  He was reliable, artistic, genuine, and best of all, smelled like wood shavings.  In a parallel universe I might have entertained romantic thoughts of him, but life as it was for a single, forty-seven year old business woman with trust issues didn’t allow for fantasies like that.  And even if I was capable of giving in to attraction, I had long learned one lesson:  men may come and go but good handymen last forever. 

I closed up the studio for the second time.  The phone mocked me from the other side of the back door.  I ran back in and answered on the third ring, slightly breathless. 

“Ms. Night, this is Steve Johnson.  You called me about my mother’s estate?”  His voice had changed. The gruff had been traded for something else.  Maybe the interest in my money.  I seized the opportunity for a second chance. 

 “Mr. Johnson, I know it’s unorthodox for me to have made an offer over the phone, but if you have time available tomorrow, I’d be more than happy to meet with you in person.”

“That’s not necessary.  I changed my mind and I’m willing to sell.  Call me at this number tomorrow and we’ll wrap this thing up.”

I grabbed a thick black marker out of the orange Tiki mug on the desk, flattened out Pamela’s real estate flier, and scrawled the number across her smiling blonde face.  “Perfect,” I said, too eagerly, considering the circumstances.  And then, for the second time that day, Steve Johnson hung up on me, leaving me to wonder what exactly had happened to change his mind. 

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