A Trouble of Fools

Carlotta Carlyle Mysteries (Volume 1)

Linda Barnes

Minotaur Books

Chapter One 
If Margaret Devens had told me the truth right off the bat, things might have turned out differently. Or as my mom used to say, in Yiddish or English depending on the situation, “If your grandmother had wheels, she would have been a truck.”
 
I never met my bubbe, my grandma, the source of all my mother’s Yiddish proverbs, but thinking about it now, I guess I wouldn’t mind if she’d been a ringer for Margaret Devens—stubborn, smart, and crafty behind the sweet-old-lady facade.
 
 
“Congratulations, Mr. & Mrs. Thomas C. Carlyle,” the letter began cheerily. The stationery was thick and creamy, sharply creased, names typed in boldface, the way they are in those “personal” computer-generated mailings.
 
No such couple existed. I read on.
 
The vacuum cleaner hummed pleasantly. If you’ve never considered your Hoover’s voice soothing, you’ve probably been shoving it across a high-pile carpet. From the right distance, propelled by other hands—in this case the paint-smeared hands of Roz, my tenant cum new-wave artist cum sometime assistant—vacuum cleaner buzz could make the lullaby obsolete.
 
Roz gets reduced rent in exchange for basic household chores. As a cleaner, she’s a great artist. My spice rack is color-coded, my knickknacks adroitly arranged. Books and papers are stacked in tidy piles at attractive oblique angles. My floors have never been filthier, but then Roz doesn’t have much time for nitty-gritty cleaning. She dyes her hair a new color every three days and that takes up the hours. I like Roz.
 
A firm of Omaha lawyers was pleased to inform me that the above-mentioned Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle were the lucky recipients in their GRAND GIVEAWAY. After a courteous tour of a “luxurious time-sharing condominium resort,” located someplace I’d never want to visit, much less live, I—or rather Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle—could claim the GRAND GIVEAWAY FIRST PRIZE of, take your pick, a trip to Italy for the entire family, all expenses paid—or twenty thousand bucks.
 
I searched for the fine print that said “valid until yesterday,” or “provided you make a thirty-thousand-dollar donation to the United Church of Holy Poverty.” I didn’t find it. I read the whole thing again. It said trip to Italy, all expenses, twenty thousand dollars.
 
Claiming the prize was going to be a problem.
 
I know Mr. T.C. Carlyle pretty damn well. The T.C. stands for Thomas Cat, aka Tom Cat. Right. A good sort, Mr. Carlyle, but definitely of the feline persuasion. Sleek and black, with a right forepaw so white that it looks like he dipped it in a dish of cream, Thomas Cat has a disposition you could describe as independent, which I prefer, or surly, which is closer to the truth. He is not your eager three-piece-suit-and-tie type. I have trouble getting him to wear a bell around his neck, a necessary indignity that keeps him from dumping dead sparrows on my carpet, which in turn prevents the parakeet from going bonkers.
 
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Copyright © 1987 by Linda Appelblatt Barnes. All rights reserved.