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Dirty Tricks

Dirty Tricks

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Dirty Tricks

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Oct 20, 2014


No. 7 in the Kate Lawrence Mystery Series: Margo’s Auntie May is newly arrived from Atlanta. A mystery writer and the publisher of erotic romances, she becomes the victim of a series of dirty tricks. A rejected writer with a wounded ego lurks in the shadows, while a successful author’s husband blames May for his wife’s questionable career. As the harassment intensifies in the weeks before Halloween, Kate and her partners struggle to identify the prankster. Is this a case of trick-or-treating gone bad, or is something more sinister afoot?
Oct 20, 2014

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Dirty Tricks - Judith K. Ivie

Dirty Tricks


Judith K. Ivie

Mainly Murder Press, LLC

PO Box 290586

Wethersfield, CT 06129-0586


Mainly Murder Press

Copy Editor: Paula Knudson

Cover Designer: Karen A. Phillips

All rights reserved

Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Copyright © 2014 by Judith K. Ivie

Paperback ISBN 978-0-9905103-0-7

Ebook ISBN 978-0-9905103-1-4

Published in the United States of America by

Mainly Murder Press, LLC

PO Box 290586

Wethersfield, CT 06129-0586


Dedicated to the overwhelming majority of thoughtful, ethical writers, editors, reviewers and publishers in this industry … long may we prevail.

The Kate Lawrence Mysteries

(in order of publication)

Waiting for Armando

Murder on Old Main Street

A Skeleton in the Closet

Drowning in Christmas

Dying Wishes

Auld Lang Syne

Dirty Tricks


Available in trade paperback at:


Heart of the Country, Wethersfield, CT

Barnes & Noble, Glastonbury and Farmington, CT


Available in a variety of e-book formats at:



Available in downloadable audio formats at:




A special note to my bird-loving readers

It’s so kind of you to want to help out our feathered friends, especially during the hard winter months, but I need to make you aware of something I myself didn’t know until a few years ago: The digestive tracts of waterfowl and other birds are not equipped to digest bread, crackers, popcorn and other starchy stuff made from processed flour. In fact, these things can make them very sick and contribute to the spread of avian botulism.

Birdseed is widely available in packages that clearly state the types of birds for which it is intended. As for ducks, geese and swans, as long as water fowl can find open water, they can mostly feed themselves.

Birds with injuries that make it impossible for them to fly to open water usually spend the winter in marshes fed by springs and moving streams, such as the Spring Street Pond in Wethersfield. Helping them out is a good thing during tough winter months—but not with bread or junk food. By all means, bring them some cracked corn, which you can purchase from feed stores, nurseries, pet supply stores and even the grocery store these days very affordably. Please pass this information along—and thanks so much for caring.

Judith K. Ivie


It had been a very freeing moment when Isabelle Marchand learned, really knew, that nobody was paying attention to her. It came to her in a happy moment of realization that no one at all gave a hoot about what she was doing, saying or wearing. They were far too busy worrying about who might be looking at them. She found this to be especially true in a crowd, which meant that unless she made it a point to draw attention to herself in some way, she could go about her business all but unnoticed. This knowledge had already served her well, and she expected to make even better use of it in the years ahead, since women of a certain age were virtually invisible in a youth obsessed culture.

If Isabelle’s ever suffered a stroke from sheer frustration, she had no doubt it would happen while she was standing in line at the supermarket. How the checkout staff could bear the endless procession of fumbling, querulous customers without becoming homicidal was beyond her. Before she endured that experience today, however, she had first to wait her turn at the deli counter, where she customarily purchased the low sodium turkey breast upon which her internist insisted. She consoled herself that it was probably the last time she would have to do so. Her lawyer, with whom she had just finished consulting, had assured her that henceforth, she could afford to have her groceries delivered. It was a comforting thought.

She was delighted to see that the counter was deserted except for one clerk, who wiped down the slicing machine without enthusiasm, so she eschewed taking a numbered service ticket from the machine.

Someone will be right with you, the clerk acknowledged her, waving in the general direction of a door in the back wall, which led to the inner sanctum. It figured. One clerk, one customer, but still Isabelle had to wait. Half a minute or so later, another clerk scuttled through the door to resume his counter duties. Before asking her to state her business, he peered up at the screen displaying the number of the next customer due for attention. As he did so, another patron arrived and snatched a ticket from the machine. The woman’s excess poundage was encased in pink spandex, and her already overflowing shopping cart didn’t auger well for an improvement in that situation anytime soon.

Number forty-six, the clerk announced, looking at his two customers with barely concealed contempt.

Isabelle stepped forward. There was no one else here when I arrived, so I didn’t take a ticket, but I’m next.

Sorry. Gotta have a ticket to be served, he pronounced officiously, clearly delighted to have the upper hand.

Spandex Woman was quick to pounce. I have a ticket! Number forty-six, right here. She waved the pink slip with glee to prove her worthiness. Isabelle noticed that the color of the paper matched the godawful stretch pants. She spoke up firmly.

Nevertheless, Madam, I was here first, as you are well aware, and that should entitle me to first service.

No ticket, no service, the clerk contradicted her. You can take a number now or come back later. Even behind thick lenses, his eyes sparkled with venom.

I can also shop at another store, Isabelle suggested.

Okay, then, ‘bye ‘bye! The clerk grinned full out and turned his attention to Spandex Woman, who unapologetically began asking to sample various mayonnaise-laden potato salads.

Isabelle paused to consider what would happen to the odious clerk after she’d had what would surely be a satisfying conversation with the store manager. Did the misguided troll perhaps have a dog or cat at home that would be abandoned at the pound if his master were suspended? It was, after all, a difficult economy in which to lose one’s job. Isabelle would feel bad about the pet if that happened. Still, the store manager deserved to know how his customers were being treated.

Resolved, Isabelle turned to retrieve her cart, which remained empty. Her eye fell upon Spandex Woman’s cart, jammed to the rim with fat, salt and sugar, not a vegetable in sight. Unobtrusively, Isabelle transferred her handbag from one cart to the other and pushed Spandex Woman’s briskly away from the deli counter and toward the manager’s office at the front of the store. After a quick stop to rid herself of the cart in a discreet corridor outside the ladies’ restroom, she asked a customer service clerk at the desk to invite the store manager to join her for a moment. He did, and Isabelle outlined her experience to him clearly and concisely. When she left the store, the manager was headed purposefully in the direction of the deli.

The morning after Isabelle learned from her attorney that she was suddenly quite comfortable, thanks to the demise of dear old Aunt Caroline, who had made Isabelle her sole heir, she arose at her customary time, drank her coffee and dressed with care. The events of the past twenty-four hours had been so unexpected and of such consequence that she found it difficult to believe they didn’t show on her face, but the woman regarding her in her dressing table mirror appeared unaltered. Over the four and a half decades she had spent in the workforce, she had occasionally daydreamed of winning the lottery and retiring, but since she rarely purchased a ticket, she had dismissed that hope as the nonsense it was. Isabelle was not a lucky person. She had never won anything and so eschewed gambling of any kind.

Still, she had been fortunate in many ways. As a girl she had been bright, athletic and healthy, blossoming into a sleek young woman with bright prospects. Schoolwork had come easily to her, and she had never lacked for a young man or two to squire her to all the appropriate dances and parties. After high school she had attended Katharine Gibbs School in Boston and equipped herself to earn her living, later completing a bachelor’s degree in business administration externally from the State University of New York.

Over the years she had received three proposals of marriage but had ultimately declined them all. After that, she made her preference for singlehood known quickly to avoid misleading the young men who had domesticity in mind. Instead, she enjoyed a number of discreet relationships, some brief and others of longer duration, with men whose interests paralleled her own. Free of the financial burdens of child-rearing and the emotional burdens of tending to aged parents (Both Isabelle’s father and mother had expired nine years apart of massive heart attacks, each in the space of an afternoon.), she had indulged her interests in traveling and the performing arts. She had season tickets to absolutely everything and attended alone, reveling in her freedom to walk out mid-performance if she became bored.

So the woman of sixty-two who now regarded her in the mirror had enjoyed a life of quiet satisfaction. She was slender, attractive, well dressed. Her haircut was stylish and her makeup discreet. Her relatively unlined face shone with good health. She had never lacked for anything or regretted her personal choices. The one fly in the ointment of Isabelle’s contentment had been her inability to find challenging, fulfilling work to do.

As an accomplished administrative assistant, Isabelle had never had trouble finding or holding a job. She made a good appearance and interviewed well, and she had been hired by top executives in both corporate and nonprofit organizations wherever she went. No, getting a job had not been the problem.

Beginning as an ace stenographer and typist fresh out of Katie Gibbs, Isabelle steadily acquired the new skills that were always necessary to perform the duties of each position she held. As a junior editorial assistant in the Boston headquarters of a major publisher, she polished her already considerable language skills and learned to copy edit, marking up manuscripts for senior editors. As the dean’s secretary at a small college in eastern Connecticut, she ran the work study program and became adept at event planning. Her next job required her to make complex travel arrangements for half a dozen senior executives.

For thirteen years after that, she devoted her workdays to creating sales prospectuses, course materials and catalogs for a tradeshow company. She rose through the ranks to become publications manager before being shown the door, along with all the other employees, by the owners, who sold the show and walked away millionaires. All the while Isabelle gained hands-on knowledge of the increasingly sophisticated computer technology that emerged in the 1980s and took over the world of work.

After that Isabelle worked for a prominent attorney, mastering the intricate billing software that invoiced clients in six-minute increments. She crafted fundraising proposals for a Hartford university’s capital campaign, then produced quarterly SEC reports for a telecommunications company. For four years she assisted the CEO of a dining equipment company. She tracked reams of legal documents and kept her mouth shut through a drawn-out, hush-hush acquisition by a larger firm.

And through it all, more than forty years of it, Isabelle had been bored, bored, bored. Each and every one of her prospective employers had plumbed her depths during pre-employment interviews to ensure that she possessed the myriad skills and superhuman qualities they insisted their jobs required, but when it came right down to it, Isabelle could have fulfilled the actual requirements of any of them backwards and in high heels. She often thought of Ginger Rogers, to whom that famous quotation referred, trapped in the role of arm candy while Fred Astaire claimed the spotlight and, presumably, the lion’s share of the cash. Small wonder Ginger had relinquished her role to other dancers. There’s only so much satisfaction one can take in making someone else look good.

Yes, it had been enduring the tedium of her jobs that invariably proved to be the difficulty, and her present position was no exception. In fact, it was by far the worst of the lot. In all of her previous posts, Isabelle had been well aware that she surpassed her supervisors in both intelligence and competence. Several of them had sensed it, too, and had compensated in the fearful, weasely manner of empire-building middle managers everywhere, taking care to keep her in her place. Their tactics varied somewhat, but the intent was always the same, to keep her where she was in the hierarchy, making them look good while denying her significant advancement or compensation until she had no option but to leave if she wished to improve her situation.

Occasionally, her departure had stemmed from other causes. The sale of the tradeshow company had been one. The manufacturing company acquisition had been the most recent. Before the ink on the sale documents was dry, Isabelle and her boss, the former CEO of the acquired company, had both been informed that their services were no longer required. To her everlasting disgust, at the age of sixty-two in the middle of a devastating economic recession, Isabelle had found herself smiling and chatting through a numbing series of interviews, once again seeking out a job she didn’t want. And once again, she got it.

This time she was to manage the financial records of an assisted living facility in Wethersfield called Vista View. The redundancy of the name alone was enough to set Isabelle’s teeth on edge, but she had to admit the position had its advantages. For one thing, the modest salary was considerably augmented by the one-bedroom apartment that came with the job, and she couldn’t complain about her commute. Her living quarters were on the ground floor of Vista View’s administrative building and were separated from the small business office by a set of double doors. For another, she would be able to handle the workload in blessed solitude, for the most part. The accounts were maintained off site from reports transferred through Vista View’s integrated computer system, and unit sales and rentals were handled by Mack Realty, a local firm whose agents had managed that side of the business for years. The previous business manager had recommended them to Isabelle very highly.

All in all, she reflected, she was nicely situated. With her retirement nest egg safely tucked away and just three years to go until Medicare kicked in, she could skate through her undemanding new day job in near solitude, retreat to her paid-for apartment in peace, and finally have the time and privacy necessary to accomplish the one thing she’d always dreamed of doing: getting her romance novel published.

Chapter One

I do apologize for intrudin’, but there didn’t seem to be anyone at the reception desk, so I just came on in. I hope that’s all right.

I did a one-eighty, followed by a double-take, not a prudent combination for a woman of fifty-three perched atop a wobbly chair on a September Monday morning, one arm straining to reach a box of Sweet’N Low at the back of the top shelf. Alone in the building, I thought, I’d been lost in speculation about my daughter Emma, who seemed to be avoiding me of late.

The speaker, who stood in the doorway of Mack Realty’s coffee-copier room, looked enough like my partner Margo to be her mother. She sounded like her, too, with that unmistakable drawl. It occurred to me that maybe she was Margo’s mother. I pulled myself together and clambered down from the chair, Sweet’N Low secured.

Kate Lawrence, I offered along with a dusty hand, which I swiped hastily on my pants before it made contact. My partners and I run Mack Realty. Is there something I can help you with?

I couldn’t help staring at the elegant lady before me, a vision of Margo fifteen or so years hence from her beautifully cut suede jacket to her gray-blonde hair, pulled into Margo’s sleek signature chignon. She smiled at me kindly and produced a business card to clear up my obvious confusion.

Maybelle Farnsworth, she explained, Margo’s auntie, lately from Atlanta, now a fish out of water in the land of the Yankees, awaitin’ the completion of renovations to a cute little house y’all just sold me on Wheeler Road.

Of course, Margo’s Aunt May. It’s wonderful to meet you. You and Margo look so much alike, I should have known you instantly, Ms. Farnsworth.

Just May, please, and you’re right about the resemblance. Margo took after our side of the family in every way. Her daddy is my brother, and the whole time she was growin’ up, everybody took me for her mama, not her auntie.

Big sister, surely, I protested, and she giggled at the compliment.

Why, thank you so much. I know you’re just bein’ nice, but the fact is, there are only fourteen years between us, so I guess I could qualify at that. She looked at the fresh pot of coffee with unabashed longing. Do you think you could spare me a cup of that? My kitchen is simply a disaster, and I haven’t had my brew this morning.’

I checked my watch. And you made it all the way to ten forty-five? You’re made of sterner stuff than I am, May. I filled a mug for each of us and led the way down the six stairs from the lobby level to our sunny little office at the rear of the building. Margo and Strutter are out at the moment, so I need to stay close to the phone, I explained as I settled May on our small sofa, her coffee beside her. She looked around with interest at the large desk holding my laptop computer, two visitors’ chairs, and a wall of three-drawer file cabinets that constituted the rest of the room’s furnishings. The October sunshine spilling through the rear windows enlivened the colors of the Amish quilt hanging on the remaining wall. They were echoed in the late blooms from Strutter’s garden, casually arranged in a pewter vase on the corner of the desk.

Cheerful but not too girlie, May approved. I can see why you like the coziness of this space. The upstairs is very attractive, of course, but it’s just a bit echo-y and intimidatin’. This is much nicer. She reached for her coffee and took a greedy swig.

I knew what she meant. The lobby on the main floor of the building known as the Law Barn had once housed several paralegals, as well as a receptionist and a comfortably furnished client waiting area, during the real estate boom of the 1990s. The collapse of that market in 2009 had forced the temporary closing of many local businesses, including Mack Realty. We’d been fortunate to be able to reclaim a portion of our old digs when the market improved a couple of years after that.

We’re probably another year from being able to hire a receptionist, I told May now, but things are getting better month by month. We’re hopeful. By the way, how are things coming along with the renovations on your new place?

May put her empty mug on the side table and passed one impeccably manicured hand over her forehead. "I’m sure everything will be just lovely when it’s done, but my dear, the noise. I simply had no idea. What with the hammers and saws and drills and what have you, there’s not a moment’s peace. I don’t know what made me think I’d be able to work in that racket, not to

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