THE PAJAMA FRAME
Mad for Mod Mystery #5
Hardcover ISBN: 9781635113037
Paperback ISBN: 9781635113006
Audio ISBN: 9781974902880
She inherits a pajama factory. A dead body turns the factory into a crime scene. Can she expose past discretions to bare the truth?
Interior decorator Madison Night is no stranger to the occasional odd inheritance. But when an octogenarian friend dies and leaves her a pajama factory, the bounty is bittersweet. Once a thriving business, Sweet Dreams closed decades ago after a tragic accident took the life of a young model. Or was that simply a cover up?
Between her friend’s death and her own stagnant life, Madison is tempted to hide under a blanket of willful ignorance. But when family members and special interest groups lobby to expose the secrets of the factory, Madison gets caught in a tangle of secrets and lies and discovers that sometimes, the bed you make is not your own.
Can Madison help solve a murder investigation while navigating the grieving process over her friend’s death?
The Pajama Frame is the humorous book in the Mad for Mod mystery series. If you like layers of clues, mid-century style, and unpredictable fun, you’ll love Diane Vallere’s subversive cozy.
Buy The Pajama Frame and say nightie night to your reading blues today!
“Alice Sweet left me a pajama factory?” I asked in disbelief. In front of me, an abandoned building sat on a neglected plot of land that my Shih Tzu, Rocky, seemed bent on exploring. The building was four stories tall, white, and in serious need of some TLC. Graffiti that had since been painted over was still visible on the lower portion of the exterior. On the upper floors, the damage to the building had been done courtesy of Mother Nature. A cursive “SD” was painted on the exterior front-facing wall by the corner in faded letters that I estimated to be about five feet tall.
“That’s what it says in her will,” said John, the lawyer who had delivered the news of my latest bizarre inheritance. He opened the leather folio in his hand and read the details on a piece of paper. “Sweet Dreams Pajama Factory goes to Madison Night. When I called the number she left, you answered. You are Madison Night, right?”
“The one and only.” I smiled. “But a pajama factory? In downtown Dallas?” I tightened my grip on Rocky’s leash while he strained it to sniff the sidewalk that led to the building’s entrance.
“Well, it was a pajama factory. Now it’s an abandoned building. It’s been closed for sixty years, so I wouldn’t expect too much from the walk-through. It’s probably not in the best of shape.”
In my line of work, reading the obituaries was good business practice. Aside from the ick factor, they indicated my next big score. But today’s obituaries hadn’t given me a lead on inventory for my mid-century modern design business. They’d informed me that a friend had passed away.
Longtime Lakewood resident Alice Sweet died the evening of Feb 10 of natural causes. She was the wife of 1960s sleepwear magnate George Sweet, who died in 1989. She was eighty-six.
Alice Sweet was one of the many women I’d gotten to know from my early-morning swim routine. I shouldn’t have been surprised by the obituary; Alice’s health had been on the decline in recent months. Eighty-six was a long life by many people’s standards, and I sensed she’d had no regrets. During locker room talk, she often shared memories that illustrated she’d been an active participant in her life, not a spectator from the sidelines.
Unlike me, the other women at the pool had little interest in Alice’s experience as an extra on the set of Pillow Talk back in 1959, or in her mid-century modern time-capsule house that had gone untouched since her husband died in the eighties. Many of them thought Alice’s decision to not keep up with the times was silly, but it was the foundation for our friendship. She’d always promised I’d have first pick of her belongings when she passed away. That was of little consolation now.
I had torn the obituary page from the paper and set it aside. Mad for Mod, my interior-decorating business, thrived because I had an inside track to original fixtures and decorative objects d’art. That track had been established through unlikely friendships with the local funeral parlors and lawyers who managed estates. It wasn’t unusual for me to place a call after reading an obit like Alice’s, to find out the contact information for the next of kin and make an offer to take the entire estate off their hands. For the first time since I’d started using this practice, the gesture felt sleazy. Even if Alice had indicated she wanted her belongings to go to me, I didn’t want to benefit from her move to the great mid-mod classic in the sky.
As it turned out, Alice had taken the ick factor out of the equation by naming me in her will, a gesture that was only slightly more awkward since the lawyer by my side was also her grandson.
John Sweet, said lawyer, wore a gray suit, white shirt, yellow tie. His brown hair had a faint orange cast to it that suggested his natural color was more salt-and-pepper, though it was neatly cut and combed away from his face, and his brushed-steel framed glasses stood out against his skin. When I’d arrived at the pajama factory, he’d scanned my outfit in about the same amount of time it had taken me to scan his.
Today I wore a pair of light blue narrow ankle pants, a matching cropped blazer, and white canvas Keds sneakers. Under the jacket was a yellow turtleneck. My blonde hair was pulled into two low ponytails. My coloring was fair naturally, but four times a year I had a blonde rinse that perked up the subtle ashy shade that came with each passing birthday. A month ago, I’d turned forty-nine, and I was starting to wonder what delightful physical issues would accompany the changing tone of my hair. I’d recently had bangs cut, which I wasn’t sure fit on a woman my age. There are those who might argue that a woman my age probably shouldn’t wear yellow and aqua, or ponytails, either. You could make a case for the fact that I didn’t care what people thought of how I looked, and you’d be right.
“I’m still confused. In all the time we spent together, Alice never mentioned a pajama factory. The contents of her house, including her wardrobe, yes. Are you sure this is right?”
“That’s what it says in her will,” John said.
“Why didn’t she ever tell me about it?”
“I can’t answer that. My grandfather owned the Sweet Dreams Pajama Company in the fifties. The company closed before I was born. The only evidence we had that it ever existed was what seemed like an unlimited supply of old-fashioned pajamas.”
“You didn’t know she still owned it until she came to see you?”
“No. I assumed it had been repossessed by the bank. It’s been sitting here vacant where the residents are mostly four-legged and eat out of the trash. Another factory in the neighborhood was converted into apartments in the late nineties, but it’s rare to make something like that work. Under normal circumstances, you’d have to clear the taxes on the property before taking ownership, but she said in the will that she has an escrow account to pay that money, so once all the paperwork is filed, you’ll get the building free and clear.” He paused for a moment. “I’m guessing the explanation is inside the letter she left you.”
I turned to face him. “You didn’t say anything about a letter.”
“It’s at the office with the will. I expected you to meet me there.”
“I don’t always do the expected thing when it comes to the death of a friend.” I managed a smile. “Maybe we can go there now.”
Despite our attempts to keep things light, neither John nor I were in celebratory moods.
Even before meeting John, I knew he considered Alice’s blue living room and pink bathroom a joke. Her husband, George, had been married once before Alice, and the children and grandchildren from that marriage had been raised as her own. But her husband had died almost thirty years ago, and she’d never wanted to redecorate.
Thirty years. While I stared at the long-abandoned building in front of me, I did the math. Alice had been fifty-four when she found herself widowed and on her own again. Only five years older than I was now. Maybe that’s why she had always felt like a kindred spirit even though she was from a different generation. She’d discovered her new independence late in life too.
In my experience, families like Alice’s—estranged and merely putting up with Mom’s “quirky desire” to not change with the times—usually sold property off to the top bidder. These days that was a house flipper. He’d come along, gut the place, toss her pink toilet and tub into the nearest landfill and slap together a bare-bones renovation. All signs of Alice would be gone. And while logically I knew there was just as much of a chance that the house flipper would be a woman, I refused to believe a woman could be as cold-hearted as a man when it came to demolishing a pink bathroom.
I made no move to get closer to the building. Despite the seemingly generous nature of the inheritance, I was flummoxed. This was most definitely not the same as rescuing a pink bathroom. “I don’t know what to say. This is—this is completely unexpected.” I tore my attention away from the building and faced John again. “What happens next?”
John stared at me for a few seconds before speaking. “Full disclosure, Ms. Night, Grandma Alice and I weren’t that close. When she came to my law firm, she already drafted a will. That was the first time I’d seen her in over a decade. Her health was declining, and she asked me if I would handle her estate when she died. I think it was her way of trying to make amends. I always assumed, even though we weren’t close, that whatever she had would go to the family. Your name popping up took me by surprise. The fact that it’s more than a couple of items from her closet makes me want to know you more, to know how you were able to forge a relationship with her when my family wasn’t.”
The whole situation tamped down any emotional response I had to Alice’s death and forced me to think objectively. I pretended we weren’t talking about a friend of mine who had died, but a business transaction and channeled the same emotional detachment I’d relied on in the past when faced with situations like this. I considered the request and quickly concluded that, if it had been my own parents, I’d probably be asking the same questions.
“When I first moved to Dallas, I was recovering from a knee injury, and my doctor suggested daily swimming would be the best physical therapy. I’ve always been a morning person, and after fighting the crowds at the pool at various times of the day, I discovered six a.m. was the best time for me to schedule my swim. I don’t know if you’ve ever spent time at a pool at six a.m., but you’ll find that the majority of the other swimmers are retirees. Alice was among a group of women in their eighties who swam at the same pool I do each morning, and that’s how we met.”
John nodded. “I do remember she loved swimming. My dad said Grandma used to compete when she was growing up.”
I smiled. “Alice must have felt comfortable in that world long after she stopped competing. It was a social thing for her and her friends. They swam laps, but at their age, it was more about camaraderie with each other. The women would giggle and poke fun at the men and sometimes tell stories about old boyfriends.”
I remembered how they’d reacted the day police Lieutenant, now Captain, Tex Allen, had joined me in my daily routine. Until that day, the only companion I’d brought to the pool had been my Shih Tzu, and having a physically fit policeman thirty years their junior show up with me had triggered the kind of girl talk I didn’t think a grandson should hear. I smiled to myself, and then, when I saw him looking at me, forced the smile off my face and continued. “I was new in town. I didn’t know anybody. Your grandma and her friends accepted me into their circle.”
“You were a surrogate daughter to her,” he said. He didn’t seem happy about the observation.
“No, I wasn’t.” I waved my hands up and down my vintage pantsuit. “This is how I dress every day. I wear what they wore, and I reminded them of who they were before they got old. I think they saw me as one of them who had somehow made use of a time machine.”
John’s forehead wrinkled in consternation. I continued, “John, your grandmother told me she planned to leave me her clothes and her furniture because she knew I would wear the clothes and find the furniture a new home with someone who loves that style of decorating as much as she did. I can’t pretend to know why she left me this building. All I can think is that she might have thought, after all this time, having you deal with the factory would leave you with a big pain in the butt that you would have resented.”
John relaxed. He looked down at his hands. When he looked back up, there were tears in his eyes. “That makes sense,” he said. “I was afraid she’d been haunted by the rumors all these years and wanted you to do something about proving them wrong.”
I tensed, a counter-reaction to John’s apparent relief. “What rumors?”
“I guess if you didn’t know about the factory, then you wouldn’t know about the rumors.” He looked up at the façade of the building for a few moments and then looked at me. “Sweet Dreams Pajama Factory was once a thriving business, but after what happened, Grandpa had no choice but to close it and walk away.”
John tipped his head down, and I found it hard to read the expression on his face. “Do you mean the war?” I asked. “I would have thought a factory would thrive after World War II ended and soldiers came home.”
“That’s what should have happened, but it was something else. One of the pajama models died in a freak accident inside the factory. My granddad closed down production and took a job as a traveling salesman, and it’s been sitting vacant ever since.”
“That’s horrible,” I said. “But what are the rumors you mentioned?”
“There were rumors that my grandfather was having an affair with the model and that the accident wasn’t an accident. That’s why the building’s been closed. To a whole lot of people, it’s not just an abandoned building. It’s also a crime scene.”