Home Sample Chapter for
“Town in Sweet Pickle”

The attack came from behind, without warning.

Later, she would grudgingly admit it was partially her own fault, since she’d likely antagonized the nanny goat by appearing out of nowhere, rushing into the place like a madwoman, and then beeping the horn incessantly as the animal meandered across the driveway right in front of her, obviously holding her up on purpose. Critters could be territorial—just like her, in some ways. And ornery, like their owners. This one was both.

She’d completely ignored the goat as she climbed out of her Suburban, hurried up the cement steps, and rapped at Sally Ann’s side door. No one home, an annoying detail. But at least the woman had left the pickle jar out. It sat near Wanda’s feet, on the top corner of the steps.

Something was wrong, though. From where she stood, looking down, Wanda knew right away that Sally Ann had left out the wrong jar. The label was much too professional, and a different color entirely. Sally Ann’s labels were cream-colored and handmade, somewhat crudely, with few embellishments and black spidery letters, a sort of angled cursive scrawl that looked like it might have been written by someone living in the eighteen hundreds. Often the labels were stained or creased because they’d been mishandled or applied too hastily. But they were easily recognizable, and everyone around town could identify a jar of pickles made by Sally Ann Longfellow.

The label on this jar, however, was better designed, and the writing on it much more legible. It had a light green background, with dark green lettering in an attractive, folksy font outlined in black. And it had unique entwined copper-colored embellishments at the four corners. It didn’t look like Sally Ann’s work, or her taste in design.

At first Wanda was confused. Why would Sally Ann leave out the wrong jar? They’d discussed this. Judging was about to begin. Wanda was in a hurry, and she was doing the other woman a favor, stopping by on her way to the event.

Was Sally Ann using someone else’s pickles? A mystery entry? She squinted in the bright light, focusing on the name written across the top of the label. She could just make out the words:

SWEET PICKLE DELI.

Wanda’s head jerked back in surprise as her eyes widened. “It can’t be,” she muttered to herself. She blinked several times. This couldn’t be true. It must be a fake, an imposter. But if it was genuine—an actual jar of pickles from the Sweet Pickle Deli—then it was indeed a rare find.

But what was Sally Ann doing with it? Where had the jar come from? Had she been hoarding it all this time? And why put it out on the cement stoop now?

A flash of irritation swept through Wanda. She’s throwing in a ringer, Wanda thought. What is she up to? I should just disqualify her right now.

But perhaps she’d just been mistaken. Perhaps she’d just read the label wrong. She had to get a better look at it.

She bent over slightly, and stopped. She didn’t want to lean over too far, she realized. She had on a new outfit today, an orange, beige, and rust-toned ensemble designed to herald the imminent arrival of autumn. The beige slacks were more form-fitting than she preferred but they were too nice to pass up when she’d found them at that new boutique on Ocean Avenue. She didn’t want to stretch them to their limit, which wasn’t very far, so instead of bending over farther, she climbed back down the steps, where she could view the jar at something closer to eye level.

Once back on solid ground, she was foolish enough to turn her back on the animal as she leaned in to get a better look at the label. Unfortunately, that exposed her to the attack.

The goat, seeing an opportunity for retribution, or perhaps just because she was in a cranky mood, lowered her head, darted forward, and butted Wanda squarely in the rear end.

It was a clean shot but not a vicious one, meant to be a statement, more an act of irritation than aggression. But Wanda was so engrossed in studying the label that the unexpected bump caught her completely unawares. It had just enough force to send her teetering forward, throwing her off balance.

With a startled squawk of surprise, Wanda Boyle went down face first onto the dry, tightly cropped grass next to cement stoop, her arms splattering out to her sides, red hair flying.

An oomph of air escaped from her lungs as she landed hard on her chest and stomach. Her eyes, heavily outlined in mascara, squeezed tightly shut and her mouth, adorned with a deep shade of orange lipstick called Autumn Sunset, drew into a tight line, pursed against the grass and dirt into which she’d fallen.

Her whole body rocked and settled. For a moment all was silent, until she blew out another breath on purpose, sputtering her lips to clear them of debris as her eyes flew open and her expression darkened.

Her head lifted and twisted about. She focused in on the four-legged critter standing behind her. She eyed the animal defiantly.

“Cleopatra,” Wanda said in an accusatory, barely controlled tone, “I thought we talked about this. No head-butting. How’d you get loose anyway? You’re in a lot of trouble, young lady!”

Wanda lifted an arm and brushed several strands of red hair out of her face as she took a moment to mentally assess her condition. No shooting pains. No broken bones. Nothing appeared to be severely damaged. Other than her pride.

Her gaze shifted, head turning both directions, back and forth, to determine if anyone had spotted her in such a compromising position—lying in the dirt, flat on her stomach, at the hands of a grumpy nanny goat, no less. If someone saw her like this, it would be around town in hours, if not minutes. It could easily damage the reputation she’d carefully honed for herself over the past few years.

But today she lucked out. The street and surrounding yards were thankfully vacant. No cars whizzing by. No one walking past with a dog. No one staring out a window, catching her by surprise.

Convinced she hadn’t been seen and confident she wasn’t hurt, Wanda pushed herself up on her side, got an arm under her, and managed to sit up. She took a moment to collect herself before she struggled shakily to her feet. Looking down, she saw dirt all down her front and grass stains on her knees. Her new outfit was ruined.

She eyed the goat again with a venomous gaze. “Just great,” she growled. “What’d you that for? I was just trying to get a good look at that pickle jar.” And, of course, that explained it right there. The goat was after the pickles.

Cleopatra let out an obstinate bleat, laid back her ears, and swung her bony head toward the house. Then, in a burst of activity, she clattered up the stairs, gave the jar a vicious knock with her nose, and sent it tumbling down the cement steps. It landed with a heavy thunk! at each step, moving faster and faster, arcing higher and higher, until it smacked onto the cement walkway at an awkward angle and burst open like an eggshell.

Wanda let out a howl of disbelief as a second goat named Guinevere, attracted by the noise, poked her head around the side of the building, spotted the fresh pickles suddenly available for consumption, and trotted forward. At the same time, Cleopatra triumphantly descended the steps to claim her prize.

Both goats reached the broken jar at the same time as Wanda watched in dismay. If these really were pickles from the Sweet Pickle Deli, there was no way she was going to let a couple of goats steal them from her grasp. Her brow fell in determination as she started forward as well, swinging her big arms and zeroing in on the broken pickle jar.

The goats saw her coming and moved quickly, lowering their heads and sniffing at the contents. After a few moments Guinevere drew back her head, snorted, and turned, angling away. She obviously wasn’t interested in pickles. But Cleopatra wasn’t as choosy. She slurped up first one into her mouth, and then another.

Wanda was horrified. “Leave those alone! Do you know what those are?” She crossed the distance quickly and reached out with one hand, pushing the goat back. At the same time, she swung down her other hand and managed to carefully pluck a single whole pickle from the ground. But the goat fought back, and as Wanda watched, shifted around and quickly gobbled up all that remained.

Wanda was beside herself with regret. “Do you know what you’ve done? You just destroyed the best pickles ever made!”

The goat raised her head, gave Wanda a satisfied look, and starting moving away, still chewing on her gourmet meal.

Wanda left out a huff. “Well, that’s just great. Wait ’til Sally Ann hears about this. You’ll be in the doghouse for weeks. Or goathouse. Or whatever.” She waggled a finger at Cleopatra’s retreating backside. “You’re in a lot of trouble, you . . . you old goat!” But Cleopatra paid her no attention now.

With a sigh of disappointment, Wanda looked down at the pickle she held in her hand. At least she’d been able to salvage one of them. She studied it for a moment, almost romantically. It looked relatively free of dirt and glass shards. And it smelled so delicious. She ran a finger across it, cleaning off a few small bits of debris, and hesitated. Should I? she thought. “Oh, what the hell.”

With a shrug, she lifted it to her mouth and took several bites, savoring each one. She hadn’t had one of these pickles in years, and didn’t care if she’d pulled it from the bottom of a cesspool. They were the dreamiest she’d ever eaten. And this one was no different. A perfect crispness, exquisite flavor, just a hint of tartness, and . . . something else.

Wanda sensed a burning sensation in her stomach. “What the . . . ?” She felt a rumble down below, and a moment later the pickle threatened to come back up on her. “What . . . ?”

She heard a shuffling sound and looked over. Cleopatra was walking funny. Her legs were wobbly. The nanny goat turned around to look back at Wanda with forlorn eyes, and then suddenly collapsed in a heap.

“Oh my god.” It took a few moments for Wanda to register what she was seeing. She looked down at the half-eaten pickle in horror. “Oh, no.”

She started spitting heavily, trying to get all the pickle juice out of her mouth as the burning sensation in her stomach grew. Panic rising, she made a mad dash to her Suburban, where she’d left her phone. She yanked open the door, snatched the phone from its cubby in the center console, and frantically began to dial.

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End of Excerpt
Available from Berkeley Prime Crime, February 2014
Copyrighted material, used by permission.

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