The Trouble with Harriet

An Ellie Haskell Mystery

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In a murder mystery so charming it could only have come from Dorothy Cannell—hailed by Nancy Pickard as “America’s P. G. Wodehouse”—Ellie Haskell is shocked when her long-lost father shows up on her doorstep with some rather . . . compromising baggage.
 
Ellie Haskell and her husband, Ben, haven’t taken a vacation in years. Now their suitcases are packed, their tickets are booked, and they’re ready for a romantic getaway in France. But everything goes awry after a chain-smoking fortune teller makes a dire prediction: “Take that trip at your peril!” Those ominous words ring true when Ellie’s prodigal father, Morley, suddenly appears with the remains of his ladylove, Harriet, whose untimely death in a car accident has left him bereft.
 
But after Morley loses the urn in a bizarre series of events, Harriet’s family is furious. Now a bewildered Ellie finds herself asks some probing questions: Who or what was in that urn? Could her father be a pawn in a deadly game? And what exactly is the meaning of that darn prophecy? Ellie just hopes she lives to find out whether the answers are worth the trouble.
 
Praise for Dorothy Cannell and the Ellie Haskell series
 
“A thoroughly entertaining series.”Cosmopolitan
 
“It is the absurd predicaments of her central characters that readers find themselves recalling, and Cannell is cunning at devising outlandish situations for them.”Chicago Sun-Times
 
“Cannell is a master of subtle wit and humorous asides that lift her cozies to great heights. Before the influx of writers trying to out-humor Janet Evanovich, there was Dorothy Cannell. Long may she write!”Library Journal

Under the Cover

An excerpt from The Trouble with Harriet

Chapter 1

“How’d you like to have your fortune told by a true Gypsy?”

It was a crisp autumn day, and I was traversing the market square in Chitterton Fells after purchasing traveler’s checks at the bank. I had just avoided bumping into gossipy Mrs. Potter from the Hearthside Guild, knowing she was dying to have a word about our new vicar, when the thickset woman in the tobacco-brown coat beckoned to me. She was sitting on one of the stone benches under the clock tower. Having been brought up not to be rude to strangers, I walked over to her.

“You’ve got luck in your face, young lady.”

“Do I?”

“And a pretty face it is, too.” She pushed back a lock of unkempt hair before tossing down the cigarette she had been smoking and grinding it underfoot.

“Thank you.”

She certainly had the patter down pat. It was true I was looking my best in my new heather tweed suit. But at thirty-three I had come to terms with the fact that my eyes were rainwater gray and were unlikely to turn blue as I matured. I no longer minded too much that I was sturdily built or that my hair was so straight it wouldn’t maintain a hint of style unless worn long and secured with enough pins to make the metal detectors at airports go berserk. What I did mind, particularly when I looked up at the clock tower and saw that it was almost 5:00 p.m., was being sweet-talked into crossing the woman’s palm with silver. Perhaps if she had demonstrated a true professionalism by producing a crystal ball, I would have felt differently.

“I see a dark, handsome man and lots of good fortune.”

“That’s nice.” The hustle and bustle of daily life went on all around me. The doors of Tudor buildings opened and closed. Pedestrians thronged the square. There were mothers pushing prams or holding on to toddlers, elderly couples with shopping bags, and gaggles of teenagers elbowing each other amid sputters of laughter. A longhaired trio stood strumming guitars and singing “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” Pigeons pecked their way around my feet, while I stood like someone who had nowhere to go in a hurry, watching the woman on the bench pull a battered packet of cigarettes out of her coat pocket and light up again. I had been raced off my feet the last couple of days, and it felt good to idle. But the truth was, I had always been nervously interested in having my fortune told.

The woman dropped her match and squinted at me through a wispy spiral of smoke. “No need to be scared, lady. I won’t tell you nothing bad. I just said there’s luck in your face. You’re going to live to be ninety-three, you are, and hardly a day’s sickness from now till then.”

I wasn’t quite that gullible. Shaking my head, I turned away. But she stopped me, although not by a hand grabbing at my sleeve or a voice that descended into a whine.

“You’ve had your share of sorrows,” said the woman in the grubby tweed coat, most of its buttons hanging by threads. Her hair could have done with a wash. “Lost your mother, didn’t you, lady? When you was only sixteen.”

I had been seventeen. Suddenly I felt chilled.

“Came as a shock, it did, because it wasn’t like she’d been ill, poor soul. What I see is her taking a bad fall down a steep flight of steps. They didn’t think she’d die, not at first, but it was a terrible bang she’d given her head.”

“She developed a blood clot.” It was difficult getting the words out. The pain of memory mingled with a fearful, heady excitement. “Spellbound” best described my state of mind. Not only did time stand still; even the pigeons, along with the passersby, froze in place. Detractors claim psychics are crafty. They know how to size up their subjects. But how could this woman, true Gypsy or not, have known about my mother? From the way I walked? Or held my handbag?

She began talking in an ordinary, chatty sort of way about the wonderful weather we had been having for October and how there were some decent shops in Chitterton Fells.

“And it’s nice to be in a place where you get a blow of sea air.” She tossed away another cigarette stub. “Want me to take a look at your hand?”

“How much will it cost me?” I asked.

“Ten pounds, lady.”

So much for “cross my palm with silver.” Perhaps I had provided her with necessary information, after all. The heather tweed suit had been a splurge, and my handbag was patently expensive, having belonged to my cousin Vanessa and given to me in a mad moment of generosity.

“Gypsies got to keep up with inflation like everyone else.” The woman’s eyes narrowed in amusement. “And you’ll see I give value for money. Want me to tell you about your dad? Doesn’t get in touch much, does he?” She leaned forward, seeming to inhale my faint gasp. “You’ve been worried about him, haven’t you, lady?”

My hands moved, turning the brass catch of my bag, then feeling around inside for my wallet. Tucked into one of the little credit-card slots was a dog-eared snapshot of my father. It had been taken shortly before he left a note on the mantelpiece, hijacked my three-speed bicycle, and took off for parts unknown, leaving me to fend for myself at seventeen and three-quarters.

The woman took the ten-pound note I handed her and stuffed it into her coat pocket before taking my hand.

“I should’ve charged you twenty,” she said, tracing a tobacco-stained finger across my palm.

“Because the writing’s so small?”

“Aren’t we the funny one?” Her lips twitched, but whether with amusement or annoyance I couldn’t tell. “What I meant is there’s a lot that’s happened to you. I’m giving you a reading on the cheap, lady, because this old Gypsy has a heart and I liked your face from halfway across the square. I see you’ve got a husband.”

“You see I’m wearing a wedding ring.”

“He’s that dark, handsome man I mentioned earlier. And you’ve got a big, beautiful house overlooking the sea and enough money laid by so you don’t have to lay awake nights wondering where the next pot of caviar’s coming from. Then there’s the children.” She turned my hand for a better look. “Two lovely kiddies. A boy and a girl, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they was twins. Twins is lucky.”

I felt quite dizzy.

“And I seem to see another child. Younger than the others. Though I’m not quite sure how she fits into the picture.”

“That would be Rose.” I was unable to stop the words from spilling out. “She’s my cousin’s daughter. But we’ve had her since she was a couple of months old. Her mother’s a fashion model and travels abroad a lot.”

“Some aren’t cut out to be mums. Well, it takes all sorts, doesn’t it? And she knows you’ll take good care of her little one.”

Now halfway convinced that the Gypsy woman was the true article, I almost asked if Ben and I would get to keep Rose and bring her up as our own. But I was afraid that she’d say it wouldn’t happen.

“You were going to tell me about my father,” I reminded her.

“Doesn’t do to rush these things.” She dropped my hand to light up another cigarette. “I’m getting to him, lady.

He’s been out of your life for years, hasn’t he? Except for the letters.”

“Written mostly by me.” I couldn’t keep the bitterness from my voice. “He does well to send the occasional postcard, and there hasn’t been one for weeks.”

“That’s a man for you.” She tapped ash onto the passing head of a pigeon. “My advice, lady, is don’t hold on to hard feelings. He loves you in his own way, and times haven’t been easy for him of late. True as I’m sitting here, one day soon he’s going to show up on your doorstep. Sobbing his heart out. Begging you to forgive him.”

“Oh, really?”

“And if I know diddle, you won’t be able to send him away. Not your very own father.”

She sat puffing on her cigarette, looking past me as if searching out another likely customer. When she next spoke, I sensed that her interest had dwindled and she was rounding out my ten pounds’ worth by resorting to a tried, if not necessarily true, spiel. There was money coming to me from an unexpected quarter and a trip across the water.

“That’s right!” I was jolted back to my senses. “I need to get home and finish my packing. My husband and I are leaving for France tomorrow morning.”

The look of alarm that leaped into her eyes could have been faked, but it stopped me in my tracks as I turned away from her. Disposing of the cigarette, she reached again for my hand but instantly dropped it as if it were red hot.

“Listen to the Gypsy,” she rasped. “Don’t you take that trip! The fates are against it. And it don’t never do to turn your back on them. Not if you want good fortune to be your friend. Here!” She pulled a button off her coat and handed it to me. “This’ll do for a good-luck charm. Magic from a true Gypsy. But it won’t work if you don’t stay home.”

I thanked her and put the button in my shoulder bag. What nonsense! Ben would have a lot to say if I told him we shouldn’t go to France because a Gypsy had advised against it.

- About the author -

Dorothy Cannell was born in London, England, and now lives in Belfast, Maine. She writes mysteries featuring Ellie Haskell, interior decorator, and Ben Haskell, writer and chef, and Hyacinth and Primrose Tramwell, a pair of dotty sisters and owners of the Flowers Detection Agency.

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— Published by Alibi —