"Séances and skunks are silliness, but death is serious business."
Reviewed by Sabrina Marino
Posted January 16, 2010
Amy Crosby is about to lose her home in Independence, KS.
She must now finally have her husband, who has been missing
for seven years, declared legally dead so she can collect
the insurance money. However, this decision has stirred
someone up. Amy receives a blackmail note insinuating Dan
is still alive. Her best friend, Sue Ann, convinces Amy
that another woman must be involved. The two women take it
upon themselves to investigate who might have killed Amy's
husband, or who he might have run away with.
Between Amy's fertile imagination as a fictional short
story writer and her mother-in-law's antics with séances,
Amy's life has been turned upside down. Her friend Jerome
is in love with Amy and thinks he has to protect her by
installing new security alarm system in her house and
checking up on her at every turn. Still the blackmailer is
able to step up the threats, break into her house and make
attempts on her life. Whenever something happens, Amy calls
Brad Tyler, a police detective who makes Amy tingle when
they touch. Brad has to prove someone else killed Dan,
since Amy is the number one suspect.
DIARY OF A CONFESSIONS QUEEN is a hilarious mystery full of
zany characters. Amy Crosby has a quirky sense of humor and
her mother-in-law is quite entertaining. Kathy
Carmichael assuredly has a winner of a humorous mystery
with this one.
Confessions writer Amy Crosby has put her life on hold for
the last seven years after the disappearance of her husband,
Dan. In writing for "True Lies Magazine," guilt-ridden Amy
takes on the abilities her fictional characters confess to,
such as the time she thought she was psychic after
With fatalistic acceptance of the
craziness in her life, she uses humor to cope; but when the
home Dan bought for them is about to be foreclosed, her only
answer is his having him declared legally dead and using his
life insurance policy. Her home is safe--that is, until she
receives a blackmail note.
Equal parts mystery and humor,
this novel is sure to keep readers guessing--and
laughing--until the end.
MY HUSBAND TOOK OUT THE GARBAGE
AND NEVER CAME BACK
Karma is as karma does. It’s what Nana, my grandmother who
raised me, always said. Her intentions were kindly. They
always were. She strove to find ways to help me feel good
about myself, so my basic inner confusion isn’t her fault.
I should have kept karma in mind that morning.
Everything was going well. Too well.
As I stepped out my front door and headed for my mailbox on
the street, dew twinkled in the April morning sunlight like
faux diamonds on the Neelah Queen’s tiara. I looked up the
curving road and a shocking silence reverberated. All was
still on my small street and my elderly neighbor, Mrs.
Mitchell’s, lace curtains didn’t twitch as they usually did
when she’s home, watching for something to talk about.
I earned my living by writing short stories for True Lies,
a confessions magazine. Sue Ann, my best friend, insists I
have enough Catholic guilt I’ll confess to almost anything
and I suspect she’s right. My True Lies editor was about
to go on maternity leave and my source of income would at
least temporarily dry up. Imagine my excitement when I
checked my mailbox to learn she’d bought eight confessions
from me in advance. What a relief.
I desperately needed the money.
My house was about to go into foreclosure — the house Dan
bought for me — for us — when we got married. I had sixty
days to pay or I would risk hell and brimstone in the
hereafter. I simply could not lose our home. It had been
seven years since Dan simply disappeared and I had no other
choice than to put the wheels in motion to have him
declared permanently out of print. That morning Sue Ann’s
attorney husband, Ron, assured me I would have the
insurance proceeds in time to save my home.
Now most people probably aren’t as worried about facing the
hereafter as I am, but they don’t share my past. My
parents were devout Catholics. Two days before my
confirmation, when I was thirteen and it was the main focus
of my life, my parents were involved in a fatal auto
accident. I was distraught — not only had I lost my folks,
but I never was confirmed.
Instead I went to live with Nana, who didn’t believe in
such nonsense. Instead, she was a Spiritualist and
believed in a totally different set of nonsense. Or not.
As a result, I’m basically totally confused about the
hereafter and have one leg firmly planted in each realm.
The good news that day was I no longer had to worry about
burning in hell for losing Dan’s house. The bad news was
that neither my parents nor Nana had visited from the
Eternal Divide to let me know one way or the other. I
expected better from Nana.
Since the people I loved had a way of going to their
spiritual reward or just plain disappearing like Dan, I
recently decided it had something to do with the Law of
Attraction. By concentrating on my losses, I attracted
more loss. It had taken me awhile, but I came up with a
new affirmation: I attract people into my life who stay.
As I picked my barefooted way back up the graveled drive
toward my front door, I glanced at the redbud tree I
planted when Dan and I moved in. Its bare limbs were a
tangled puzzle and I willed it to hurry up and bloom.
The next good thing to happen that morning was when I went
to get dressed I found a twenty-dollar bill stuffed into my
ill-fitting WonderBra. I vaguely remembered wondering
where the money had gone to a year ago, so now I knew.
Another new affirmation: I attract money into my life to
Feeling as if I was on a roll, I tried on my too-tight
jeans and they fit perfectly. I could even bend and sit
without causing my fallopian tubes to screech in protest.
There was edible food in my refrigerator.
And to top it off, I wasn’t out of toilet paper after all.
Incredible, exceptionally good karma.
So when I saw the corner of a crisp white envelope peeking
out from a stack of books on the coffee table, it caught my
eye. I pulled it out and saw my name, Amanda Crosby,
written on it in block print. There wasn’t an address or a
postmark, so it hadn’t come in the mail.
When I turned in my story Diary of a Teenage Psychic, which
was retitled by my editor (I don’t know what it is about my
titles, but she changes all of them) to I Can Read My Best
Friend’s Mind and She’s Messing Around With My Boyfriend, I
honestly believed I was now somewhat clairvoyant. Or at
least warning bells and whistles would go off before
something dire was about to happen.
Boy was I wrong.
As I opened the envelope, I can’t tell you my hair stood on
end or chills chased down my spine. What I can state
without any hesitation is that I was merely curious.
Who expects to receive a blackmail note?
But that’s what it was.
I collapsed onto my sofa.
The note said:
Insurance fraud is a felony criminal offense. Before
contemplating cashing in your missing husband’s life
insurance policy, you might try to discover where he is
living or, at the very least, ask his mother. Should you
wish the fact he’s still alive to remain confidential,
place $2,000 in unmarked bills in the waste bin on the
corner of Main and Knox on Friday at 6:00 a.m. Or else.
Or else what? Unanswered questions pelted me like a
hailstorm. What kind of insane person would write a
blackmail note like this? Who would want to blackmail me?
Why would someone blackmail me?
And most of all — was there a chance Dan was alive? And if
he were, why would I want to keep it confidential?
Was the Law of Attraction and my new affirmation working?
I scanned the note again.
Obviously I’d be thrilled to welcome my husband back into
my life. I hadn’t wanted to start the legal proceedings
because of the off chance Dan might return someday. I knew
it wasn’t likely after this long, but I missed him and
dreamed of the day he would come home. Now it felt as if
the legal proceedings did the trick that years of praying
and tears hadn’t. Was Dan alive?
The blackmail note didn’t make sense. The logic of
blackmailing me at all seemed senseless, and with such a
small amount, it was peculiar. Plus, why put the money
into the trash? While one segment of my brain analyzed
the physical attributes of the note — it was a computer
printout similar to those of most city, school or library-
owned printers as well as my computer and there were no
identifying marks — the emotional part of my brain short
I suppose I need to digress. Technically I was still
married in the sense that I hadn’t been divorced or that my
husband hadn’t officially corked off.
It wasn’t as if I hadn’t waited long enough or grieved
It wasn’t as though I’d be unhappy if Dan turned up alive,
I saw an image in my mind — in black and white like an old
movie. It was my favorite fantasy in the early months when
Dan first disappeared. I was in my kitchen, cooking
something. Okay, okay — I don’t know how to cook, but it’s
my fantasy and I reserve the right to fantasize I’m the
next Rachel Ray. So there I am, pans steaming, vegetables
bubbling, and I’m chopping something green and I’m not even
afraid of my knife. Hmm. Maybe instead I’m ladling
something, when the sound of the front door being thrown
open startles me. The next thing I know, I see Dan,
tanned, brimming with health stride into my kitchen. I
drop my ladle, in thrilled shock, then Dan swoops me into
his arms and, in a Fred-Astaire-like-dip, leans me over.
His lips press against mine.
The fantasy no longer worked for me. All I could think was
where the hell has he been for seven years and why did he
look so tan and fit?
Nothing less than being kidnapped by those sex-slavers his
mother was always ranting about would satisfy me. Unless
they allowed him to use a tanning bed?
Or maybe he’d been recruited by the CIA and they needed him
to invent some top secret thing and it’s now invented.
He’s finally allowed to come home and return to me, his
Nah. The CIA would have let him bring me along — or at
least he should have found some sly way of letting me know
he hadn’t kicked the bucket.
No matter how many scenarios I played in my head, none
truly satisfied me because I’d long since believed that if
Dan were alive he would have found some way of clueing me
in. The only other option was he would never be coming
home again and the very idea made me more than sad — worse
than devastated — lower than the bottom.
It also left me truly pissed off at whomever the jerk was
who willingly reopened this emotional can of worms for me.
Who could have done this to me? I wanted to lash out at
whoever it was.
And there was the problem with losing Dan’s and my home. If
I wanted to save it, maybe I should pay the blackmail?
Putting off having Dan declared legally non compus life-os
would mean my house would definitely go into foreclosure.
But what if he came back and I’d done that to him? Would
he be able to forgive me? Would he understand I’d done it
to save our home? Would I be able to forgive myself?
Before I had a chance to make sense of it all, my friend
Sue Ann chose that moment to come barging into my house.
“You didn’t knock,” I said with a sort of surly tone.
She ignored my statement of course, as she always does,
because she doesn’t think knocking is necessary. Instead
she stopped in her tracks and asked, “What’s wrong, Amy?”
I hadn’t realized I’d given myself away other than a slight
trembling of my hand fisting the blackmail note. Then I
realized tears silently streaked down my face.
It was amazing how a little detail like that could slip
This was not how my life was supposed to pan out. I wasn’t
quite sure yet how it was supposed to go, but this wasn’t
it. “My louse of a husband has apparently been alive all
“What?” screamed Sue Ann, making a dive for the letter.
Snatching it from my shaking hand wasn’t a problem for her
and she quickly scanned it. “Do you think it’s likely?”
“I hadn’t really considered that. I’m still reacting to
the very notion Dan’s alive and chose to skedaddle out of
town.” Was it really possible he’d done this to me? My
breath left me and with a whoosh I deflated back onto the
sofa. “I told you I didn’t want to start the legal
proceedings to have him declared officially dancing with
“This letter doesn’t change anything.”
“You’re wrong. It changes everything.”
“Let’s not jump to any conclusions just yet. Scooch over,”
said Sue Ann, parking herself beside me. “That’s the
weirdest blackmail note I’ve ever heard of. I thought they
usually threaten someone missing, not threaten to prove
I wiped my tears away with the back of my hand. “It is
“We’ll get to the bottom of this,” she said
reassuringly. “I just know it.”
The two of us are not much alike. Sue Ann’s blond hair is
cut in one of those pixie-like bobs and her blue eyes flash
with life. She’s an extrovert, sure of herself and her
place in the world, certain everyone will like her and she
likes them all back. She jumps into life with her limbs
spread akimbo and with all the effervescence of sparkling
Me? I’m not so much like that. I have long, dark brown
hair, boring grey eyes and the only flashy thing about me
is the thumb drive on my computer. I’m more the hide in my
office and hopefully no one will want to talk to me sort.
With very good reason my favorite animal is the turtle.
Sue Ann glanced over the note again. “The way I see it is,
either Dan’s alive or he’s not.”
Since she’d stated the obvious, I ignored her comment. “So
why blackmail me? It’s not as though I’m rich or
anything. Between the confessions and the monthly check I
get from Dan’s inventions, my ends are far from meeting.”
When he’d first turned up missing, the money from his
inventions had been sufficient. But it had been years
since any new devices were invented and accordingly my
monthly income had flatlined.
One look at my house and anyone could see it desperately
needed repairs, things Dan would have taken care of if he
wasn’t MIA. Not only did the house need updating, it
needed to have the gutters repaired, a new roof to stop the
leaks and the shutters tacked back into place. Surely any
blackmailer could see that if I had a spare two thousand
lying around, I would have paid for a fresh coat of paint.
A pale canary yellow might be nice.
“Why only two thousand dollars? Why not twenty thousand or
two hundred thousand?” asked Sue Ann.
“If it’s over twenty dollars, it might as well be two
million considering my budget.”
“So maybe the point isn’t blackmail.” Sue Ann, whose bangs
were always about an inch too long, yanked them over her
forehead. “Maybe someone’s trying to let you know, in a
sneaky way, that Dan’s still around.”
I sighed, sending my sunshiny paint fantasies skittering
away. “That doesn’t make sense. Why not just write an
anonymous letter saying, Dan’s alive and well and living
the good life in Tahiti?”
The more I thought about why the note had been sent, the
more it worried me. I’d been caught up in thinking Dan was
alive rather than considering the motive of the person who
delivered the note.
Sue Ann leaned over to pick up the envelope. “This doesn’t
have a postmark. Did someone slide it under the door or
My forehead furrowed, but I quickly smoothed it out. I had
enough wrinkles already, even though I hadn’t yet crossed
into thirty-something territory. “That’s another weird
thing. It was here, stuffed between a couple of books on
my coffee table.”
“How’d it get there?”
“I have no clue.”
“When did you find it?”
“Was it there last night?”
I slowly shook my head. I couldn’t recall seeing it there,
but I didn’t remember actually looking in any more than the
usual cursory way. It could have been there since the last
time Sue Ann cleaned the room out of desperation because
I’m such a hit-and-miss housekeeper. Since then I’d barely
left the house because I’d been busy writing. “I don’t
know when or how it arrived, but it couldn’t have been here
long since you cleaned a couple of days ago.”
“So all we know for sure is this anonymous person knows you
well enough to come in your house and put it here. The
blackmailer wants you to believe your husband is alive and
that your mother-in-law is fully aware of this and is
keeping it a secret from you.”
Put like that, I felt even shakier than when I’d first read
“So, someone I know wants me to talk with Dan’s mother
about whether he’s alive? There’s no way. Even if she
knew he was alive, if he’d asked her to keep it quiet, the
secret would go with her to the grave. She’s already one
olive short of a pizza. If it’s not true, even a hint he’s
still around might send her to the loony bin or putting
together a séance.”
“Maybe there’s another way to find out,” said Sue Ann.
There was no mistaking the devilish gleam in her eye.
“What did you have in mind?”
“She asked me to clean her place. I said I’d work her in
I didn’t know whether to roll my eyes or lock myself in the
bathroom. I knew where she was going with this and it made
me nervous. “Tell me you don’t have a key to her house.”
“I have a key.” She grinned malevolently. “Now before you
get started, I know you don’t clean. But you do know how
“No, no, no.” Searching was a skill I acquired when I
wrote a confession about being a private detective. But it
wasn’t a skill I was eager to use. “You know anytime I try
to do anything remotely wrong, I always get caught.”
“It’s either we snoop to find out if she knows anything or
you tackle her directly. Your choice.”
“There’s got to be something else I can do. How about I go
to the bank and ask for a discreet loan of two thousand
bucks in unmarked bills?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Have you called Brad yet?”
We’d known Brad Tyler, now a detective with the
Independence Police, since the days when he’d been a
troublemaker himself. He’d been assigned to handle Dan’s
missing person case. “Wouldn’t calling the police be
Sue Ann pushed back her bangs again. “You received a
blackmail note. Calling Brad should be the first item on
your agenda, I’d think. Besides . . .”
“Yeah, yeah. I know.” How many times had she told me
this? Trying to mimic her voice, I said, “Besides, he’s
always had a soft spot for you.”
“Well, he does. I think if Jerome wasn’t hinting that he’s
about to pop the big one, Brad would ask you out.”
“Why is it everyone knows my business long before I do?”
Jerome and I didn’t have that kind of relationship yet. We
were close and I knew he wanted more, but I wasn’t ready.
He was a really good guy and assured me he was willing to
wait for when the time was right. The idea he was about to
ask me to marry him rocked me because it would change what
I felt was a very comfortable and comforting friendship. A
friendship that involved kissing, but not much more in the
way of physical contact. His kisses were nice and I missed
being touched, but I always felt as if I was cheating on my
missing husband. Possibly for good reason if Dan had
merely done a disappearing act. “Jerome hasn’t proposed
and I think Brad’s only interested in me as a murder
suspect. If he’d found Dan’s body, I’d probably be in the
clinker right now.”
“No one ever mentioned anything about murder.”
“No one had to. Dan’s gone as if he evaporated in thin
air. Law enforcement always looks at the spouse in any
suspicious circumstances. I’m sure Brad thinks I did
“Brad doesn’t think anything of the sort. You’re so
clueless about men. Look at you and Dan.”
I growled. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“It’s about time you did. You’ve been running in place all
these years. And why? The two of you never had a close
relationship. When he didn’t come home, it didn’t much
affect your life one way or the other except you no longer
had anyone to do all the household repairs or take out the
I opened my mouth to argue with her, then shut it firmly.
Unfortunately, she was right in some ways. Don’t get me
wrong, I loved Dan. But time had given me the chance to
see that he was more like a father-figure to me rather than
a typical lover. I missed the closeness, having someone to
hold me, care about me. What I didn’t miss were the bits
and pieces, nuts and screws, Dan’s spare parts for his
inventions always cluttering up our living room. Or the
inventions he’d created that didn’t quite work — like the
combination coffee maker/band saw.
I recently began tossing his invention stuff into our spare
room, unsure what to do with it but unwilling to part with
it entirely. Over the course of the past month I’d
gradually moved his belongings from our bedroom into there
as well. It felt so — final.
Perhaps in addition to the foreclosure issue, the action
had been what spurred me to ask Sue Ann’s husband to
petition the court to declare Dan officially mortality-
challenged and right now I needed to clear the air about
Dan and me. “We were close. So what if our relationship
wasn’t like your marriage? Dan was a wonderful man and I
Sue Ann gave me a quick hug. “I know you do. But I still
think you should call Brad. If he finds out you didn’t
call him about the letter, it’ll make him suspicious — like
you’ve got something to hide.”
Her comment surprised me. “You don’t think I had anything
to do with Dan’s disappearance, do you?”
“Of course not. He always went to the Independence Tavern
on Friday night to play chess. He always walked home when
the bar closed at two in the morning. Everyone in town
knew it and if anyone had wanted to harm him it would have
been the best time.”
“Yeah, but who would want to hurt Dan?” The question had
haunted me for years. Had Dan had an accident or had
someone set out to harm him? Other than during the
Neewollah Festival (aptly named with reverse spelling of
the word Halloween because it celebrated, what else, All
Ghouls Day — and the city population rose during the ten
festival days from 10,000 to around 80,000), Independence,
Kansas, isn’t exactly a crime hotbed. “It’s not like Dan
was rich or cruel or anything. He was just a real sweet,
harmless guy who liked to invent things. It’s no wonder
Brad suspects I had something to do with it. In his shoes,
I would, too, even though I don’t have a motive.”
“I’m certain he doesn’t think you had anything to do with
it. But you do need to call him.” Sue Ann placed the
cordless phone between my stiff fingers. “Maybe this
blackmail note will make him reopen the case and find out
exactly what did happen to Dan.”
I dialed 9-1-1 and Peggy picked up on the first ring.
Things rarely hopped this time of year at the Independence
Police Department. Although they received plenty of calls,
most were minor incidents such as dog bites, rather than
“Hi, it’s Amy Crosby. Is Brad available?”
“No, hon. He’s over at the diner. But if it’s an
emergency . . .” Her voice trailed off and I could tell
she was hoping I’d say it was.
Sue Ann piped in. “Tell Peggy it’s an emergency.”
When I heard the excitement in Peggy’s indrawn breath, I
did what I could to dispel it — I laughed. “Peggy, this is
not an emergency. Don’t listen to Sue Ann. Just have Brad
call me when he gets a chance.”
After disconnecting the call, I threw the phone at Sue Ann
who deftly caught it with one hand.
“You know better than to tell Peggy it’s an emergency,” I
grumbled. “It’s like broadcasting it over the radio.
She’ll blab everything to Maureen down at the Clip ‘n Curl.”
Sue Ann smirked. “You think this won’t get out? Better we
have the law on our side than the other way around.”
“I suppose you’re right,” I said grudgingly. “And you’d
better tell your husband to withdraw that petition. No use
having Dan declared awake to life immortal if he simply
Just then the phone rang and my new psychic ability told me
Peggy hadn’t listened when I told her to wait. I grabbed
the phone from Sue Ann’s lap and answered it.
“What’s the emergency?” Brad sounded annoyed, as if he
thought I was the sort of woman who overreacted — just as
I’d told Sue Ann.
“I gave Peggy explicit instructions not to tell you it’s an
“Now that you’ve interrupted my lunch,” he teased, “you
might as well tell me what you called about.”
“I thought we’d established I hadn’t interrupted you.
He gave a long-suffering sigh. “Amy, will you get to the
“All right, already.” How did you go about telling the
law, even if he was an old friend, that you were being
blackmailed? Did you build up to it or blurt it out? “I
received a letter today.”
“Well, an anonymous note, actually.”
“And you want to report receiving an unsigned note?”
Again he sighed. “Is it a death threat?”
“No. It’s more like — eh — blackmail.” I didn’t relish
the way my voice squeaked. Sue Ann grabbed my hand and
gave it a little squeeze, providing me with the courage to
go on. “Or at least that’s what it says. Sue Ann and I
aren’t sure that’s the intent.”
“You guys are getting your fingerprints all over it, aren’t
you?” he snapped.
Dropping Sue Ann’s hand, I tossed my head. “Generally you
pick up a letter in order to read it. It’s not like I wear
gloves when going through my daily mail.”
“Just put the letter in a plastic bag. If there’s an
envelope, toss it in as well. It’ll take me five minutes
to finish up here and then I’ll head over to your place.
You are at your place?”
“Duh. You just called me here.”
“Stay there. Don’t let anyone else in and don’t handle the
letter more than you have to. Got it?”
The man was far too bossy for my tastes. “Got it.”
After disconnecting the call, I said to Sue Ann, “He should
be here in about fifteen minutes and I need to grab a quick
“What did he say?”
“Fingerprints.” Sue Ann hightailed it to the kitchen.
After a few seconds of sounds of drawers and cabinets being
opened, she yelled, “Where’s your plastic bags?”
“Like I buy any?”
More rumbling noises, then she returned with a plastic
Wonder Bread wrapper and my bacon tongs. Using the tongs,
she gingerly slid both letter and envelope into the
wrapper. “There. I need to head over to Mrs. Henderson’s,
so I’ll leave you to your shower. Want me to make you some
My gaze shot to the shelves in my living room. The ones
Dan designed to hold my teacups when we first got married.
I shook my head. “That’s okay.”
She grabbed her handbag. “When I get done cleaning Mrs.
Henderson’s, you can go with me to your mother-in-law’s and
tell me what Brad has to say.”
Bowing to the inevitable, I agreed to go with her to
Dolores’s. Somehow I had to find out if Dan was still
alive. Besides, this gave me an idea for another
confession: I Was A Professional Snoop Until I Found My
Cheatin’ Husband With Another Woman.
What do you think about this review?
1 comment posted.
Re: Séances and skunks are silliness, but death is serious business.
Lively and sneaky, I love this tale and the cleaning business is a great way to snoop around. Good premise for a mystery that I'm rooting for the lady and think the disappearing husband is definitely a rockbottom weasel.
(Alyson Widen 6:17pm February 10, 2010)
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