The first dead body I ever saw was at my grandparents’ country club in
My big brother and I were fascinated. And in the way. We were repeatedly shooed off, but we kept coming back. When the body was finally removed, the wet spot on the sofa shocked me. That's what happens when you die, I remember thinking. A fate worse than death! Two men rolled the sofa away, never to reappear. All this was intensely interesting, but my brother and I never discussed this little adventure with the adults. We didn't dare.
The adventure continued: We went to the funeral. My grandparents
knew the deceased. No foul play suspected, just death by natural causes; this was a country club, after all, not a hotbed of homicide.
But my parents didn’t belong to a country club, so the setting awed me. Silver finger bowls! Restroom attendants! A dead body and
a funeral? Bonuses for a ten-year-old. Visiting
At the service my grandmother, in her gruesome fur wrap with the fox head biting its own tail, whispered loudly, “Thank goodness the children didn’t see a thing!” Oh no, of course we didn’t. And “The Case of the Pink-Clad Corpse” had no effect on me. None whatsoever. Of course I did grow up to be a mystery writer...
I always knew I wanted to write, but I had nothing to write about. Yet. So I majored
in journalism. My role models? Brenda Starr.
After graduating college with these lofty goals, I “interviewed” by phone for one of the entry-level reporter jobs posted at my journalism school placement office. It was with a newspaper in a little town in western Colorado I'll call “Sagebrush.” When I told my editor-to-be, I'll call him “Muldoon,” that I had a hot-off-the-press journalism degree, he had just two questions for me: “Do you have a car? Do you have a camera?” I said a hesitant yes to both. “YOU’RE HIRED!” Muldoon shouted over the phone. A little warning bell rang in my head. Two weeks, I thought, I’ll give it two weeks. Sagebrush turned out to be a shambles of a dusty Western boom town, where tumbleweeds, tractors, ranchers, and miners rolled in, and it took me two years to roll out.
Muldoon was a local legend, a lunatic whose saving grace was that he loved his little Daily Press with a maniacal joie de vivre. You hadn’t really worked for Muldoon till he “fired” you--and in the next breath shouted out your next assignment. One reporter Muldoon often fired would tell me, “This time he means it!” He never did. He called me “Scoop” when he fired me. (He didn’t mean it.) Local high school teachers used the paper in English classes: As a bad example. The writing varied, but the typos were legendary. The Daily Press once reported that a local man, identified by name and address, was cited for “having his dong [sic] loose and at large.” His “dong”?! Did they mean his dog?He never complained. No one in Sagebrush would have been surprised either way.
Sagebrush was different from Denver. For example, the town was full of people missing fingers and teeth, from the mayor (missing his wedding ring finger) to the tubercular waitress at the coffee shop (missing many of her teeth). The paper’s advertising saleswoman (missing a finger) could be very friendly (if you bought a full-page ad). The alcoholic staff photographer (missing most of his teeth) started refusing to take photographs for reporter’s stories. Later he refused to develop film for reporters who took their own photos. Then he refused to even let reporters use his darkroom to develop their own film. Finally Muldoon fired him (but he didn’t mean it). The printer, a paroled armed bank robber, was hired because convicts can’t quit until their parole is up. (Or so Muldoon said.) He was a nice guy, with all of his fingers and many teeth, who one winter accidentally drove right through the wall of the Daily Press while “parking” out back with a girlfriend. He'd kept the engine running to stay warm, and in a moment of passion he hit the accelerator pedal with both feet. Muldoon fired him. (Not really.)
Ah, Sagebrush! Golden memories. Climbing through a massage parlor window to interview the girls inside. (No one had a doorkey. I got offered a job, too. It would have paid more, a lot more. But Muldoon wouldn’t fire me that time.) Going on wild goose chases, excuse me, wild horse hunts with the Bureau of Land Management. Observing the FBI SWAT team “training” the local police. Hunting stolen dynamite with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The BATF agent put me in the back of his car with the anxious suspect, who wondered what we'd say about him in the Daily Press. I said we'd write about “his dong being loose and at large.” (Kidding.) Those halcyon young reporter days of sleep deprivation, exhaustion, hunger, and lunacy ended one winter. It hit 40 degrees below zero and the water in my toilet froze solid. In a flash of clarity I realized I could be just as broke someplace warm.
Lacey was a character in my imagination long before the Crime of Fashion mystery series. For years I carried around in my head the first few lines of Killer Hair and the image of Lacey looking down at a beautiful young woman in a coffin with the worst haircut she's ever seen. Lacey was amusing and persistent, and now she’s striding stylishly through her mysteries in her high heels and her knockout vintage suits. Luckily, she and I get along.
Besides, she had a journalism degree, and a car, and a camera, so I said, “You're hired!"
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