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THE KEEPSAKE SISTERS
THE KEEPSAKE SISTERS

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A Trash 'n' Treasures Mystery
Kensington
October 2008
On Sale: October 1, 2008
Featuring: Brandy Borne; Vivian
232 pages
ISBN: 0758211953
EAN: 9780758211958
Hardcover
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Brandy Borne's new life in the small Mississippi River town of Serenity is anything but serene. Moving back in with her bipolar Mum, Vivian - an antique herself who treats Brandy like a perpetual five-year old - is challenging enough, but stocking and running their antiques holiday booth at the shopping mall is positively daunting.

And as the big Christmas season gets into full swing, they find themselves in the midst of small-town mayhem when an old flame of Vivan's turns up mysteriously deceased.

'Tis the season - to be murdered?

Brandy and her diva Mum last saw the recently departed dealer, Walter Yeager, at a flea market where Vivian made her usual theatrical scene while saving Walter from under-pricing a valuable first edition of Tarzan and the Apes. The prospective first buyer was furious, and when Walter ends up dead the next day - 'officially' of a heart attack - and the book goes missing, Vivian senses a Yuletide homicide.

As the season's first flakes of snow drift lazily down over Serenity, Brandy and her mother - with moral support from Sushi, the decidedly spoiled Shih Tzu - must unearth vintage clues that point to restless ghosts from the town's past. If there's any duo that can tell a fake from a real thing, it's Brandy and her scene-stealing mother. But even though they know who's been naughty and who's been nice, they'll have to be very careful not to disturb too many ghosts from Christmas past...

Excerpt

Chapter One

The snow had begun falling in the late afternoon—big, wet flakes that stuck to the rooftops of houses like dollops of marshmallow cream, and coated bare branches with hardened white chocolate, and covered the ground in fluffy cotton candy. (I’ve been off sugar for a while and it’s just killing me.)

I was sitting in the living room on a needlepoint Queen Anne armchair, gazing out the front picture window at the wintry wonderland, waiting for Mother to come downstairs. Sushi, my brown and white shih tzu, lounged on my lap, facing the window, too—but she couldn’t see anything because the diabetes had taken away her vision.

Soosh, however, seemed content, and any impartial observer who hadn’t caught sight of the doggie’s milky-white orbs would swear she was taking it all in. I imagine she could still picture what was going on outside, her ears perking every now and again at the muffled rumble of a snow plow, or the scrape, scrape, scraping of a metal shovel along the sidewalk. (Mr. Fusselman, who lived across the street in a brick Dutch Colonial, had been coming out of his house every half hour to keep the pesky snow off his front walk; I, no fool—at least where shoveling was concerned—wasn’t about to tackle ours until the very last flake had fallen.)

I sighed and gazed at the Christmas tree that was in its usual spot next to the fireplace. The fake tree, with fake white tipping (which made Sushi sneeze), had been up since early November, as Mother jumps the gun on everything. (Christmas cards go out in October.) She still decorated the tree with things I had made since the first grade, and many were falling apart, like the clay Baby Jesus that had lost its legs (makes walking on water way tougher). But mostly, hanging from the branches by green velvet ribbons, were small antique items, like red plastic cookie cutters, Victorian silver spoons, floral china teacups, and colorful Bakelite jewelry. One year, however, when I was in middle school, Mother went overboard with her antiques decorating and jammed an old sled in the middle of the tree, and it fell over, knocking our one-eyed parrot off its perch.

For those just joining in (where have you been?), I’ll lay in some backstory—all others (unless in need of a refresher course) may feel free to skip ahead to the paragraph beginning, “I stood, giving my butt cheeks a break,” etc.

My name is Brandy Borne. I’m a blue-eyed, bottle- blond, thirty-one-year-old, Prozac-prescribed recent divorcée who has moved back to her small, Midwestern Mississippi River hometown of Serenity to live with my widowed mother, who is bipolar. Mother, a spry seventy- four—she claims she’s seventy and from here on probably always will—spends her time hunting for antiques, acting in community theater, and reading mysteries with her “Red-Hatted League” gal-pals. Roger, my ex (early forties), has custody of Jake (age eleven), and they live in a beautiful home in an upscale suburb of Chicago, an idyllic existence that I forfeited due to doing something really stupid at my ten-year class reunion two years ago (involving an old boyfriend, alcohol, a condom, and poor judgment).

I have one sibling, an older sister named Peggy Sue, who lives with her family in a tonier part of town; but Sis and I have an uneasy relationship, due to the span of our ages (nineteen years) and difference in politics, temperaments, and lifestyles—not to mention clothing styles (hers, high fashion; mine, low prices). Therefore, a truce is the best we can hope for. Peggy Sue, by the way, is still ragging me for not getting a good settlement out of my busted marriage, but everything Roger and I had—which was substantial—had been earned by his brain and sweat, and I just couldn’t ask for what wasn’t mine. I do have some scruples, even if they didn’t extend to ten-year class reunions. . . .

I stood, giving my butt cheeks a break from the uncomfortable antique chair, and replaced Sushi on the hard cushion—she jumped down, not liking it, either—and then I wandered into the library/music room to check on my latest painting.

Was I, perhaps, an artist? Someone who toiled in oil on canvas, waiting for her genius to be discovered? Hardly. Unless you count covering the bottom soles of an inexpensive pair of black high heels in red lacquer to make them look like expensive Christian Louboutin’s. (I don’t know why I bothered; inside, I’d always know they were a cheat.)

I picked up a shoe to see if it was dry, and left a fingerprint in the still-gooey paint. (Sigh.)

Mother, who also had a painting project in progress on the plastic-protected library table, was having more success. She had taken the little dead bonsai tree I had given her during her last bout with depression (I didn’t give it to her dead—she forgot to water it) and had resurrected the tiny tree (or entombed it?) by covering the brown branches with green spray paint. Brilliant!

I returned to the living room to see what was keeping Mother. We had preshow tickets this evening to the winter flea market event, and should have left a half hour ago for the county fairgrounds.

Mother and I maintained a booth at an antiques mall downtown and desperately needed to restock it with new merchandise for the holiday season. We also desperately needed to make a buck or two, since she was on a fixed income, and I wasn’t working. (Okay, I did receive alimony— that many scruples I haven’t.)

I crossed to the banister and gazed upstairs, where a good deal of banging and thumping had been going on.

“What are you doing up there?” I hollered.

Mother’s muffled voice came back. “Be down in a minute, dear—keep your little drawers on!”

In Mother’s eyes I was perpetually five. I guess if she could be perpetually seventy, I could be perpetually a kindergartner.

So I stood and waited, because there is no other choice with a diva, and in another minute Vivian Borne herself descended, wearing her favorite emerald-green velour slacks and top. Coming straight down would have lacked drama, however, and Mother halted on the landing and, with hands on hips, cast me an accusatory glare through thick-lensed glasses that magnified her eyes to owlish dimensions.

“Where,” she demanded regally, “is my raccoon coat?”

The hairs on the back of my neck began to tingle. I narrowed my eyes. When in doubt, answer a question with a question: “Why?”

“Why? Because I want to wear it, that’s why! What have you done with it?”

This was not as unreasonable a question as you might suspect. I had been known to take certain measures with that particular garment.

Displaying the confidence and grace of a child with a chocolate-smeared face being asked about the whereabouts of a missing cake, I said, “I . . . I, uh, I put it in the attic . . . in the trunk. . . .”

“What? Why?”

“To store it,” I said lamely.

Mother sighed disagreeably. “Dear, you know I like to keep that coat in my closet where I can get to it. It’s my favorite!” She turned on her heels and marched back up the stairs.

I shivered.

You would, too, if you’d spent your formative years in that house with that woman. Nothing could strike more terror in little Brandy’s heart than the sight of her mother in that raccoon coat.

I don’t know when Mother had bought it ...probably in the 1940s (judging by the severe shoulder pads) when she was in college and Father was off being a war correspondent in Germany. I’d always pictured Mother wearing the raccoon coat while riding around in an open jalopy with ten other kids, waving a school banner and shouting “Boola-boola” into a megaphone, like in an old Andy Hardy movie. (Not that there are any new Andy Hardy movies out there.)

But over the years, the coat—besides keeping moths fat and harvesting bald patches—had taken on a more disturbing significance than just the benign symbol of the bobbysoxed, jitterbugging Mother who once walked the earth with other hepcat dinosaurs. From the dawn of Brandy, that coat had been the magic armor Mother always insisted upon donning at the beginning of her manic phase (this included summer!).

Once, during my teen years, after Mother got better, I threw the coat out with the trash . . . then retrieved it be fore the garbage truck came around. After all, I reasoned, what better early warning system was there to alert me of her deteriorating condition?

And so, perhaps you now have a small understanding of just how worried I was at this moment. If not, let’s just say if we were on a submarine, a horn would be blaring ahOOO- guh! ah-OOO-guh! and Brandy would be yelling, “Dive! Dive! Dive!”

So when Mother tromped back down the stairs wearing the full-length ratty raccoon coat, I hadn’t moved from my frozen spot by the banister. Again, she paused on the landing, this time to look at me intently.

“Brandy, darling, if you’re worried about my mental health, you needn’t be,” she said. “I am quite current on my medication.”

“I ...ah...er...ah. ...”

And, having said my piece, I shut my mouth.

Mother was frowning thoughtfully and raising a theatrical finger. “We can’t look like we have any money, dear. You know how some of those dealers are at a major flea market like this one! They’ll send the price sky-high if they think we’re women of means.”

I nodded, sighing inwardly with relief.

An eyebrow arched, Mother was studying my designer jeans and cashmere turtleneck. “What are you going to wear, dear? I mean, which coat? I suppose they won’t see what we have on underneath. . . .”

I said, “I only have my black wool.”

Mother made a scoffing sound. “Far too good . . . I’ll find something for you in the front closet.”

Which was better than something from the attic.

While Mother rooted around raccoonlike in the entryway, I took the time to put Sushi out again. Diabetic animals have to pee a lot because they drink so much, and Soosh was no exception. The nice thing about winter is that she can’t stand the cold, and when she does her business, she’s quick about it—no sniffing each and every blade of grass, or checking to see if any other animal had dared trespass and soil her sacred ground.

I returned to find raccoon-coated Mother holding aloft a sad-looking, strangely stained trench coat, which I dutifully put on so we could get the heck out of there.

As we exited out the front door into the chill air, I suggested, “Let’s take your car. It hasn’t been driven in a while.”

Mother had an old pea-green Audi that was stored in a stand-alone garage. “Stored” because she lost her license to drive it. Several times, however, she had used it for “emergencies”— once to help me* and again to help her grandson, Jake**—which caused her suspended license to become a revoked license.

I turned the key in the ignition and the Audi whined. How dare we wake it from its deep slumber on such a cold winter night? The car shuddered and shook and wheezed and coughed, but I forced it to life, and we backed out of the garage and into the street. I turned the Audi toward the bypass, which would lead us to a blacktop road that would then take us to the fairgrounds.

Five minutes into the trip, I sniffed the air and asked, “What smells?”

Mother was studying the winter landscape gliding past her mostly fogged-up window a little too intently. “Pardon?”

“What . . . stinks?”

Overly casual, Mother replied, “Oh . . . that would be the hamburger grease.”

“Hamburger grease.”

“Yes, dear. Hamburger grease.”

“What hamburger grease?”

She was pretending to be enthralled by the vista barely visible out her frosted view on the world. “Why, the hamburger grease I smeared on your coat.”

“What!”

“It looked far too pristine, dear—I told you, we mustn’t appear as if we have much money.”



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