Title MAKE BELIEVE MURDER
Author Leslie Langtry
Genre Cozy Comedy
Publisher Gemma Halliday Publishing
Merry Wrath’s summer plans didn’t originally include an unexpected visit from her old friend, Hilly—a quirky CIA assassin who’s been forced by HR to take her first vacation in…forever. The fact that Hilly chose a small town in Iowa for vacation doesn’t bother Merry or her scout troop (especially since Hilly’s teaching them how to kill a man with one punch), but her former handler, Riley, believes something sinister is afoot.
After all Lana, Merry’s arch-nemesis, is sighted all over town, and when a Chinese operative ends up murdered in her backyard, Merry starts to wonder if Riley is right and Hilly is secretly on the job. It doesn’t help that a group of cosplaying teenage druids have targeted Merry for a misguided ritual sacrifice, or that Medea Jones, cub reporter, constantly harasses Merry, seeing the former spy as her Pulitzer Prize winning vehicle out of Who’s There, Iowa. Merry wonders if her strange friend really is on vacation, or if she's after another target? Is it Lana? Was it the Chinese operative? Or is it Merry Wrath?
"All rise!" a voice cried out. I couldn't tell if it was male or female, but it was definitely a teenager and I'd definitely heard it before.
As for the request to rise, well that would be a bit tricky, considering that I was tied to a chair with a hood over my head. Rough rope cut into my wrists and ankles. Too bad it wasn't zip ties. I was good at getting out of those.
A burst of cicadas screeched around me from every direction, telling me I was outside and it was most likely evening. The hood was open a bit at the bottom, and I could see weeds and dirt. That could be the backyard at my old house. I wasn't much of a gardener. In fact, I was a little embarrassed that whoever had taken me could see that.
The last thing I remembered was taking a nap in my hammock at my house. And by house, I meant the one I shared with my husband, not the house across the street that I still owned, to the complete consternation of said husband.
Where was I, and why was I tied up? Had I been captured by the Russians? Hmmm…no, not if this was rope that held me down. Like me, they preferred zip ties. The Russians went berserk when that particular form of bondage was invented. Like it was Christmas in Moscow and Russian Santa was actually sober. Spies over there used them on everything from Ukrainians to leftover salads.
You might think, hey! The voices I heard spoke English! They must be Americans. And in most cases you'd be right. But once I'd been kidnapped by an Estonian arms dealer who was a bit obsessed with America and wanted to show off his newly acquired Bronx accent. He also only ate hot dogs and Velveeta cheese.
So, you see, it wouldn't do to guess until I knew more.
My name is Merry Wrath, and for several years, I was a spy with the CIA, until the vice president "accidentally" outed me to get back at my senator dad. Originally, my name was Fionnaghuala (pronounced "Finella") Merrygold Czrygy, but I changed it to Merry Wrath and moved back to my hometown of Who's There, Iowa to help run a Girl Scout troop.
Makes perfect sense, right?
There was a tapping sound, kind of like a baseball bat on a rock.
"I command the Dark Forces to accept this old lady as our tribute," a male voice squeaked, "so that we may have superpowers!"
Old lady? That's it. I put some effort into it, and in a split second the ropes binding my wrists fell off easily, and then I untied my legs and pulled off my hood.
"Stewie!" I shouted sternly as I got to my feet.
The short, fat kid with wiry red hair was dressed in a dark, wizardy robe with a cow skull perched on top of his head that only helped to give him three more inches, bringing him up to the robust height of 5'4". I'd met the kid only a month or so ago when I walked in on him and a kid named Robby engaging in some cosplay at the zoo.
"You're not supposed to do that!" Stewie stamped his foot, and the cow skull fell to the ground, landing with a very un-wizardy thunk.
I stalked toward him. "Why was I tied to that chair?"
The other teen druids looked around anxiously, like they were about to get grounded from their video games.
Stewie knew he was losing them. Raising his arms dramatically over his head, which wasn't easy since he was so rotund, he screamed, "We are the Cult of NicoDerm!" His fingers wiggled at me, reminding me of jazz hands. "Fear us!"
"NicoDerm…like the nicotine patch?" I asked as I placed my hands on my hips.
"What?" Stewie's face fell. "No!" he shouted. "We are Dread Incarnate!"
I shook my head. "Not unless you mean to inspire fear in those who try to quit smoking."
His arms came down, and he scooped up the cow skull. His hair had matted against his skull in a way that looked like he had horns on either side of his head. I had no idea if that was intentional.
"Who is this chick?" A tall, skinny girl with stringy brown hair stepped forward. "I thought you were getting us a proper sacrifice."
I narrowed my eyes. "You were going to sacrifice me?"
"Not really," a tall boy on my left with a serious acne affliction said in an unnaturally low voice. "We weren't going to kill you or nothing. We were just going to draw a little blood with this knife." He held up a certified Boy Scout pocketknife with the Phillips-head screwdriver sticking out.
"Oh, that makes me feel so much better." I shook my head.
Stewie shrieked, "I am Odious, the Demigod!"
I looked down at the chair. "Is this from my house?"
"I knew you couldn't pull it off," the girl sneered. "You really are a Stewbutt."
"You should've gotten us a virgin." Another girl in back pointed at me. "When they're old like that, they're not virgins anymore."
"I've heard that." The boy with the low voice nodded. "It falls off them or something when they hit menopause at thirty."
"First off"—I glared at the kids—"I'm not old. I'm not even thirty. And secondly, I don't think you understand how virginity works, but I'm not the one who's going to explain it to you."
"Who is this woman?" the squeaky boy asked.
Stewie seemed to shrink. "Some crazy lady who talks to birds."
Every fake druid turned towards me, staring at me.
"She can talk to birds!" The girl bowed down to me.
"She's magical!" The squeaky boy did the same.
* * *
"And," I explained, "that's how I became the Bird Lady Protector of the Cult of NicoDerm."
Rex's right eyebrow went up. To be honest, I'm surprised he let me go on this long. He didn't seem amused ten minutes ago when I walked through the front door with leaves in my hair, carrying one of our dining room chairs. I forgot to ask Stewie how he got it but had no intention of going back to ask because they were in the process of collecting bird feathers to make me a crown, most likely woven with a healthy dose of surly despair.
"That's your excuse for being late for dinner?" The corner of his mouth twitched a bit. "How did they kidnap you, and how did they get a dining room chair?"
Barnes & Noble: https://bit.ly/2ouHOVH
Apple Books: https://apple.co/2Mg7Kxl
Leslie Langtry is a small-town Iowa native who, inexplicably, doesn’t live there anymore. She currently resides in Illinois with her family and assorted, obnoxious pets. She is the author of the Greatest Hits Series featuring the Bombay Family of Assassins (Book 1 – ‘Scuse Me While I Kill This Guy), and two Cozy Comedy series; Merry Wrath Mysteries (Book 1 – Merit Badge Murder) and the Aloha Lagoon Series (Book 1 – Ukulele Murder).
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