Read No Such Thing as a Free Lunch (No Such Thing As...: A Brandy Alexander Mystery) Online

Authors: Shelly Fredman

Tags: #cozy mystery, #Philadelphia, #Brandy Alexander, #Shelly Fredman, #Female sleuth, #Funny mystery series, #Plum Series, #Romantic mystery, #Janet Evanovich, #Comic mystery series

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch (No Such Thing As...: A Brandy Alexander Mystery)

No Such Thing
As A
Free Lunch

 

A Brandy Alexander Mystery

 

Shelly Fredman

Copyright © 2008 Shelly Fredman

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher except as permitted by law.

 

Published by Aquinas & Krone Publishing
Pennsauken, New Jersey 08109

 

Cover Design by Dr. Louis Castelli

 

eBook edition by
eBooks by Barb
for
booknook.biz

 

Prologue

 

W
hoever said “The truth will set you free” obviously has never met my mother.

My first instincts were to lie. Lie, lie, lie. As soon as my mom told me that she and my dad were coming in from Florida, where they now reside, to South Philadelphia, to see my thirty year old, Italian-Jewish, born-and-bred-Roman-Catholic brother get “Bar Mitzvah,” and they’d “naturally” be staying with me, I should have told them that the house had, unfortunately, burned down. Or was being fumigated for rats. Or that I have a psychotic roommate who hears voices and talks to his hands (which is actually true, but kind of endearing.)

The one thing I definitely should
not
have done is tell them the truth—that being, I love my parents dearly, but they drive me up a wall. (Okay, to be fair, it’s just my mom, but they’re sort of a package deal.) Then when you add the fact that said house used to be the family home until I moved back from Los Angeles, and they sold it to me at “well below market value,” well, you can see where they might take a weensy bit of offense.

Okay, so I was wrong. I should have bit the bullet and told them how great it would be to have us all under one roof again. After all, it was only for a few weeks. How bad could it be? And then I remembered how, when I was eighteen, my mom cancelled my subscription to Vanity Fair because she thought the ads were “too risqué,” and my stomach did the Acid Reflux Rumba, and before I knew it I was telling them I thought they’d be much more comfortable at Paulie’s.

“Your brother lives in a one bedroom, over a garage.”

“Yeah. It’s so convenient. You could get the rental car tuned up for the ride back to Florida.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Brandy. Paul has enough to worry about, what with his becoming a man.”
Unhhh!
She made it sound like he was undergoing a sex-change operation. “And you have plenty of room at the house,” she continued, oblivious to the knot that was forming in my stomach. “Is that Ventura boy still staying with you?” Toodie Ventura is thirty. Two years older than I am, but to my mother, we are eternally twelve.

“No,” I sighed. Toodie had recently moved back to his Granny’s house, at her request. Seems she missed his shadow puppet shows.

“Good. It’s settled then. Oh, and don’t forget we’re having people over on Sunday, after church. It’ll be good to see Father Vincenzio again.”

Father Vincenzio is a senile, old goat. If I
never
saw him again it would be too soon.

“Sounds like a blast.”

She couldn’t decide if I was being sarcastic or not so I decided not to press my luck.

“I’ll see you on Thursday, Mom. Give Daddy a kiss for me.”

I guess if I were being totally honest, I’d have to admit that a part of me was relieved to have the company. About a month ago, I’d been involved in a series of pretty scary events, which left me with a two-inch scar on my side, courtesy of a gunshot wound. Since then, I’ve been afraid to go to sleep, spend time alone, be in a crowd or pass a mime on the street. (But that has nothing to do with my “ordeal.” Mimes are annoying.) My friend, Franny DiAngelo told me she thought I should “talk to a professional” about everything I’d been through, lately. I told her I was fine—if night sweats and facial tics constitute a healthy psyche.

The thing is I’m not all that good at expressing my feelings. I believe it’s best to keep them bottled up until they can’t breathe and die a natural death. Besides, if I dwelled on every Tom, Dick or Harry who’s tried to kill me, I’d never get anything done, and as it was I was late for work.

I am an investigative reporter for a local cable TV news station. Okay, so maybe the title is a slight exaggeration. Technically, I’m their puff piece reporter (a lateral move from my job in L.A.) but it’s just a matter of time before they see my full worth and promote me to hard news.

It’s only my third week there, and I’ve already made some inroads. The station manager knows my name now—but that’s only because I keep parking in her spot—or did until she had the car booted. The important thing is I’m getting to know people in high places—which is good, because all my co-workers seem to hate me.

It’s not my fault the last person to hold the job was fired. Her name was Wendy and she was beloved for her sunny disposition and home baked sticky buns. Unfortunately, Wendy became enamored with her own culinary skills, gained about seventy-five pounds and was no longer able to perform the sometimes-rigorous physical requirements of the job. A lawsuit is pending, but the show must go on, so they hired me to take her place. It would not have been my first choice, but I had mortgage payments and home-improvement bills to pay. Plus, I like to eat. (But apparently, not as much as Wendy.)

Chapter One

 

I
knew it was going to be a crappy day the minute I crossed Ridge Avenue at five-thirty a.m. and nearly got mowed down by some idiot running a red light. I’d just run across the street from work to the Seven-Eleven to buy some baked goodies for my co-workers. I figured I could win them over if I could just make them forget about those damn sticky buns.

I walked into the store and perused the bakery case. There were some cinnamon rolls in there that looked about a month old. I tried one just to be sure and thought I felt a tooth crack. “Do you have any fresh ones?” I asked, ever hopeful.

The guy behind the counter gave me a sour look. “Those
are
fresh.”

I looked around some more. Everything was pre-packaged and I didn’t have time to rewrap them to make them appear homemade. It was a little discouraging. In the end I bought a Hershey bar and fifteen corn dogs. I just couldn’t go back to work empty handed.

The light changed and I stepped off the curb. In the next instant, a dark green sedan careened past me, nearly taking out the traffic light. The bag of corn dogs flew out of my hand as I dove back to the curb. “You suck,” I yelled to no one in particular, as the car was already long gone.

Only a handful of the corndogs had actually fallen out, and they didn’t look too damaged. I glanced around and when I didn’t see anyone from the office lurking about, I picked them up and stuffed them back into the bag. I even mixed them up a little so that everyone would have a fair chance of getting one that hadn’t been scraped off the sidewalk.

I’d ripped a huge hole in my brand new slacks and my knee was dripping blood. The elbow of the new winter coat I’d bought on sale at Urban Outfitters was laced with street grime from my fall. That’s what happens when I try and look nice. I should’ve worn my dad’s old pea coat like I usually do, but Franny had talked me into a new wardrobe.

“New job, new attitude,” she’d said. She’d also told me to cut down on the chocolate. Said I was hyper enough without the sugar rush. I opened the Hershey bar and ate it on the way back to the studio.

I was headed for the bathroom to clean myself up when I heard footsteps behind me.

“There you are. I’ve been looking all over for you.”

Wow. Someone around here is finally speaking to me.
I turned around, flashing a big, friendly grin. It was Craig, one of the reporters’ assistants. “Well, you found me. What can I do for you?”

Craig looked confused. “Oh, sorry, Randi, I thought you were Tamra. You look a lot like her from the back.”

Oh, great. He only spoke to me on accident, plus he got my name wrong. That settles it. No corn dog for Craig.

I sighed. “If I see her I’ll tell her you’re looking for her.”

“Thanks.” He started to walk away and then turned back to me. “Uh, you’ve got a glob of chocolate stuck to the corner of your mouth.”

“I do?” He nodded and smiled shyly as I swiped at the smudge.

“Did I get it?”

“Yep. Well, catch you later, Randi.”

Oh boy, my first friend!
“Hey Craig, you want a corn dog?”

Encouraged by my encounter with Craig, I walked into the newsroom and scoped out my co-workers. Lynne Schaffer, line producer and well-known bitch was leaning against her desk, deep in conversation with the station’s political pundit, Art Metropolis. Art is a right wing bigot with the personality of a sewer rat and the IQ of a ball of lint—and hopefully, my next best friend.

They glanced up when I approached, making a big point of looking interrupted.

“Hi, guys,” I said, giving it my perkiest shot. “Would you like a corn dog? They’re fresh from the oven.”

Art’s eyes lit up like I’d just offered him a sip from the Holy Grail. He reached for the bag but was stopped cold by a withered glance from Lynne. “How thoughtful,” she sneered. “Breaded nitrates on a stick. What are you trying to do, kill us?”

Actually, Lynne, the thought hadn’t occurred to me—until now.

Art grunted, disappointment oozing from his pores. He lumbered past me, but when Lynne turned back to her work he pressed his thick chapped lips against my ear. “Save me one for later.”

By the end of the morning, I still had thirteen corn dogs left. I’d eaten two on my coffee break, along with another Hershey bar. Making friends is really stressful.

In the afternoon, my boss, Eric, came by my desk with an idea about Honey Farms. Eric is twenty-six and was hired to capture the “youth market.” Eric thought it would make a hilarious visual to see me dressed up in one of those caged, veiled helmets, with hundreds of bees swarming all over my body.

“That’s swell, Eric. And then we can do a piece on anaphylactic shock. I’m allergic to bee stings.”

“That’s what Benydril is for, Alexander. Don’t be such a wuss.”

I couldn’t protest too vehemently, since I’d made up that stuff about being allergic.

“Eric,” I said, instead, “I was thinking. Homelessness is up twenty percent this winter. I could get some good interviews with some of the people living out on the street.”

He cut me off with an exaggerated sigh. “And where are the laughs in that? I hate to break it to you sweetheart, but you’re not Katie Couric. People tune in to your segments to be entertained, not enlightened.”

“Couldn’t I do both?” I asked. “I’m multi-talented.”

There was a sympathetic groan from the next desk over, as Tamra Rhineholt labored at her computer. She waited for Eric to wander back down the hall and then she swiveled her chair in my direction. “Don’t be discouraged by the Erics of the world, Brandy. You’re smart and you genuinely want to make a difference. You’re not going to be stuck covering honey farms and Junior Miss Beauty Pageants forever.”

“Hey, that was a step up from the wet-noodle wrestling I covered the day before.”

Tamra laughed. “You should hear some of the stories they foisted on me, when I first started out. Just hang in there.”

Despite a ten-year age difference, I could see why Craig had mistaken me for Tamra. We’re both slight of stature—I measure five feet two inches (
if
I adhere to my mother’s admonitions not to slouch), with shoulder length brown hair and identical winter coats—although I doubt Tamra had to wait for the 70% off sale.

Tamra has been at WINN for about a year, as a hard news investigator, having worked previously at a cable news station in Des Moines. She’s married to Jeff Rhineholt, a Biology professor at U of P. They have no children. I found all of this out online, while reading the publicity department’s bios for the on-air talent. Mine says I’m a “fun-lovin’ Philly native with an extensive stuffed animal collection.” I could seriously kill someone.

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