I looked out the window at the sunless morning with a knot in my stomach, hoping this call would help. The ringing stopped and a familiar voice answered. After barely a greeting Frank Shaw got right to the meat of the matter.
"Oh, no, Feldstein, what is it this time? Don't tell me there is another dead body," Frank said. Before I could get a word in, he continued. "I'm telling you those people in the town that sounds like a candy bar are going to start putting two and two together and notice there have been an awful lot of deaths since you came to town."
"No one is dead, at least no one that I know about," I said, finally getting a chance to speak. Frank was my ex-boss from my time doing temp work. He was a PI, and working for him was my favorite job, though it only lasted a few weeks. Since moving to Cadbury by the Sea, California, I'd gotten involved in some murder investigations and Frank had been my go-to guy for advice.
"If it's not a murder, then what is it?" he asked with a touch of impatience. "I'm a busy man." I could hear the squeak of his reclining office chair, which he tended to push to its limits, and it in turn complained. I could hear the rustle of paper, which was no doubt wrapped around a submarine sandwich, as it was lunch time in Chicago. Frank was closer to being the Pillsbury Doughboy than he was to James Bond, and I imagined him anxious to dig into his food.
"It's about the retreat I'm putting on this weekend," I began. "It has to be perfect and I'm worried."
"I can see your point. You've had a few snafus. More people checking into that hotel and conference center than checking out after your retreat. The way you describe that place it sounds a little sinister with all the fog and the ocean crashing against the shore."
"Vista Del Mar is rustic and atmospheric, not sinister. And as for what happened to some of the guests-and about not everybody leaving who came-it wasn't my fault and at least I did find out what happened. But that's not going to happen this time. It can't. This time I know everybody coming to the retreat. They're friends from college." I explained that we had all recently reconnected on Facebook and then someone suggested we should all get all get together and someone else had seen my website advertising my yarn retreats and suggested I put on a retreat just for our group. It had all come together before I had a chance to think it through or come up with a reason not to do it.
"I get it, Feldstein," Frank said, interrupting. "What is it, a sorority?"
"Me in a sorority?" I said with a laugh. "Actually, we were sort of a team," I said. I could tell by the noise that Frank had sat upright.
"You mean like a team for a sport?" Frank said, sounding surprised. "I never thought of you as the sports sort."
"It was in a gym class," I said. "A requirement and we all hated it." I started to fumble when I got to explaining what kind of team. "It was a rhythm- ball routine team."
"Rhythm-ball routine? What's that?" There were more sounds of rustling paper and I was pretty sure Frank was working on the sandwich.
"Sort of like dancing while tossing a ball around," I said, remembering the fiasco. "And then we had to perform it for the rest of our class, only made worse by the fact that we shared the gym with a boys' class. If we'd been going for comedy, we'd have gotten an A."
"And those boys were doing the same thing?" Frank asked.
"We're getting off the subject, but no, they did weight lifting. The school was doing a remodel of their gym so we had to share ours." I could hear Frank chortling and I wanted to change the subject. "The point is they are settled in their lives and I'm sure they're going to be all judgy of me."
"Wow, Feldstein, I always thought of you as being someone who didn't are what people thought."
"Well, I don't most of the time. But this time I do."
"I'm surprised you called me about this. Isn't this the kind of thing you talk over with girlfriends?"
"I would, but one of them owns the restaurant I make desserts for. She's kind of my boss and I don't want it to sound like I'm upset with my life. She could take it wrong. And the other one is one my retreat helpers."
"And you don't want to blow your image. I get it." Frank cleared his throat. "Thanks to being a PI for a long time I've become a student of human nature. You think those friends of yours from college have such perfect lives. I doubt it. I bet they have dark secrets and messed up pasts that you know nothing about. What's the big problem with your life anyway?"
"I'm in my mid-thirties. I'm not married. If I hadn't inherited my aunt's house along with her yarn retreat business, I wouldn't be able to get by. Even so, it's only by cobbling together the income from making desserts for the Blue Door and baking muffins for the coffee spots in town along with the yarn retreats." I stopped myself. "Oh, no, I sound so whiney."
"My thoughts exactly, Feldstein. Get yourself together. I'm telling you, you'll find out that bunch isn't so perfect after all. Now, some of us have to get back to work. I have to go to the Drake for high tea and see who shows up with who." He seemed about to hang up when he said, "Did your group have a name?"
"Sort of. We called ourselves the Baller-rinas," I said quickly. I heard him let out a real laugh.
"If you and the girls decide to recreate that thing with the balls, send photos, or better yet, a video. I got to see that."