—The Library Journal
©Kindle Nation Daily 2011
Kindle Nation readers, do you have any idea how important you are to emerging authors?
Several times a month some of the best indie authors publishing on the Kindle platform share generous excerpts of their work here through the Free Kindle Nation Shorts program, and they are counting on you, and on our small staff here at Kindle Nation, to help separate work of distinction from the vast rest of it.
So far, it is working. We’ve seen Free Kindle Nation Shorts authors whose books have moved into the top 100 in the Kindle Store, and others who have signed contracts with AmazonEncore and other publishers, and others for whom entire series have caught fire. Just a couple of weeks ago one of the very first authors to be featured in this program received a rave review in the Sunday New York Times Book Review for her newly released novel. But the proof is always in the pudding, and in the few cases where you our readers have stamped “mediocre” on one of our selections, it has tended to fall where it belonged in the first place, by the wayside.
That won’t be the case this week, because we’ve got an emerging star in the house.
I’m especially pleased and confident this evening to share a generous excerpt from the debut novel in Julia Buckley’s Madeline Mann Mysteries, entitled, appropriately enough, Madeline Mann. If you’re a fan of suspense from the woman’s angle, I believe you’ll love … wait for it … “the Madman.”
For my brothers and sisters:
Bill, Claudia, Christopher, and Linda.
You have helped me know the warmth of family;
as a result, Madeline knows it too.
My capricious episodes have made me notorious in my family. Often unexpected, even by me, they are whimsical impulses I sometimes feel compelled to follow. Often my motivation is clear–as in the doll-head-shaving incident when I was seven, prompted by my older brother’s comment that my Beautiful Chrissy was “too girlie”–but sometimes the notion is a bit more mysterious, like the infamous wild ride I took in my father’s gray Celebrity when I was seventeen. I’d been a sedate driver previous to the incident and ever since, but on this afternoon some demon caused me to rocket down Alder, Webley’s quietest side street. I shot past a playground, glimpsed the pale, shocked faces of an elderly hand-holding couple in matching sweat suits, and set some aged doggies to barking. Despite some passionate last-minute braking, I rear-ended a newly minted Mr. Whippy ice cream truck and consequently alienated my father for a full month.
These sorts of occurrences earned me a nickname from both of my brothers: Madman. It wasn’t a clever creation on their part, since it’s merely an ironic combination of my first and last names, Madeline Mann, but I have a feeling Madman would have become my nickname even if I’d been christened Jill Smith. Though I’m basically a quiet, thoughtful person, I can sometimes be ruled by my impulses–based upon what I like to call the “floating vibes” I feel in a given situation. Sometimes I need to take vibe-restoring action. It’s hard to explain, but there’s a certain rightness about it within me. It’s the only way to begin this story, I’ve decided, because I never would have become involved in a murder investigation if I hadn’t, in fact, been mutinously reacting to something else.
A case in point is my hair. Jack, my upstairs neighbor for two years and my boyfriend for one, loved my brunette locks; they were fairly thick and smooth and hung straight and simple to my shoulders. When Jack and I had our first big argument one autumn night and I stormed out of his apartment and flew down the stairs to mine (we lived in the same three-flat), I was definitely in one of those unstable moods. I felt it was over, and I felt it was Jack’s fault. I was miserable but furious.
Who knows where wacky ideas come from? I simply had one. I took out my barber’s shears and carefully cut off two or three inches of my hair. I ran out to the drugstore and bought L’Oreal Preference blonde dye–“Because I’m worth it,” I murmured throatily to myself in the store aisle. I hurried home and applied the smelly stuff without further thought. I had to let it sit for forty-five minutes, during which time I played Peter, Paul, and Mary’s Ten Years Together CD and sang along with every song while I perused a Cat Fancy magazine. (I don’t have cats, but I fancy them. My landlord doesn’t.)
I took a shower, rinsed out the dye, and pampered myself with some scented powder before slipping into my favorite jeans and a gray T-shirt with Shakespeare’s face on it. I flopped into my papasan chair and considered the reading material on the steamer trunk that was my coffee table. My brother had lent me a biography of Howard Hughes and I had a Nora Roberts book from the library. Not in the mood for either, I decided. My life needed a little mystery. I opted for an Agatha Christie off the shelf above me. Eventually, three chapters into What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!, I wandered back into the bathroom to take a look at what I’d done.
I was expecting the worst. I’d burned myself on numerous occasions–the bad perms, the “no Novocain” decision, the jalape-o eaten on a dare, the downright loony choice of watching my cousin’s colicky six-month-old for a weekend–I could go on. To my amazement, I liked what I saw in the bathroom mirror. Not only did I look perky as a blonde, I looked like I’d been born a blonde. I have green eyes and pale skin, and I’d serendipitously chosen a shade that accentuated them.
Jack had told me on more than one occasion that I was beautiful; my mother had told me that I had “good German bones.” Now, for a moment, I thought I could see what they meant. I fancied that I looked like a sort of poor man’s Elke Sommer. I pouted in front of the glass like a ferocious supermodel until I was quite sick of myself; then I decided to prowl around the building in hopes of a purposely accidental meeting with my brand-new ex, Jack.
I found him in the tiny laundry room, a small addition Mr. Altschul had built on the back of the ground floor of his large Victorian house (now three apartments accommodating the aforementioned German landlord, attractive ex-lover, and newly blonde me). Jack was stuffing all his clothes into the washer, darks and lights alike. He was obviously still angry about our fight, because he was jamming things in with extra force, as though his clothes offended him. I stepped casually into the room, ostensibly to check for an unused washing machine. Jack took one look at me and his hands flew to his stomach and one knee came up, as though I’d hurled a softball into his abdomen.
“What did you do to your hair?” he gasped.
“Isn’t it obvious?” I asked, curling a blonde strand behind my ear.
“Are you nuts?”
“Is the washer available?”
“For God’s sake, you couldn’t just talk it out with me? You had to go and turn yourself into someone else?”
“I like it. Don’t you like it?” I think my tone made clear that I wouldn’t be happy with anything but an affirmative response.
We faced each other, our unresolved argument still sitting like an iceberg between us. Since the crux of it was Jack’s tendency to control me, his protest against my hair color choice was not, I thought, the wisest response.
He finished shoving his clothes into the washer, hastily sprinkled some Tide over them, shut the lid, and cranked the knob with energy. I had always admired Jack’s athleticism, being rather sedentary myself; even now I could appreciate his well-shaped, tanned forearms as they strong-armed the coin slot. He turned to face me, trying to keep his emotions in check.
“Okay, I don’t know what you want, Maddy, but I don’t think you do either.”
“You’ve decided that for me?”
“Are you going to acknowledge that I’m an adult woman who can make her own decisions?”
“I never doubted it.” He folded his arms defensively in front of his chest. He was wearing a solid black T-shirt and some old gray jogging shorts. I felt a pang of sadness, because I used to borrow the outfit.
“You opened my mail, Jack.”
“It was a second notice–“
“It was my second notice!” I heard my voice shrilling, and I toned it down. “If I got a hundred notices, it wouldn’t change the fact that they were addressed to me!”
Jack ran a hand through his wavy brown hair. He looked around the laundry room as though hunting for inspiration among the detergent and clothespins. I felt for him. In the year we’d been together, arguments had been rare, and always resolved. This one, to his surprise, wasn’t going away.
Jack sighed and shrugged. “I’m sorry I made you angry. But I’ve got to tell you, Maddy, if I thought I was doing something wrong, I wouldn’t have done it. I mean, if you don’t know me by nowÉ”
He let the sentence hang there. We faced each other like duelists.
“I guess I feel married to you,” he continued. “I don’t think it’s a big deal for a husband to open his wife’s mail. I feel like a husband. We love each other, we sleep together, we’re monogamous, we practically live together–“
“In separate apartments.”
“Only because you want it that way. So we both have some control here, don’t we, Madeline?”
I took a deep breath and made myself unclench my fists. “I’ve got to be up early tomorrow to do some work, so I’m going to bed now. I suggest you steer clear of me unless you are willing to address the actual issue. This isn’t about love or marriage or which bed I choose to sleep in. This is about acknowledging my autonomy and my rights, just as you would for a male best friend who was your roommate.”
His jaw dropped. “Are you calling me sexist?”
“If the narrow shoe fits,” I yelled over my shoulder as I stomped out of the room.
I caught a glimpse of Mr. Altschul’s nose as he pulled it back into his apartment, and felt a blush of shame. We had turned this into One Life to Live in a matter of hours. I doubted our landlord would request our departure, since he was obviously thrilled by the fireworks, but I felt shame nonetheless. Aside from my aforementioned erratic moments, which were relatively rare, I was a reasonable, even reserved person. My brothers, Fritz and Gerhard, called this trait “the Too-Teutonic Reserve,” since they saw it as a hereditary flaw passed down by my German-immigrant parents–one that prevented meine Bruder from bonding with numerous women. My brothers liked Jack very much. They weren’t going to be thrilled by my news of a breakup, especially since they thought everything I did was irrational. They thought I chose to date Jack, a rare family-sanctioned decision, because they were there when we met and they helped to influence the outcome–about which they were, of course, wrong.
It was the guitar that made me fall in love with him. He’d been playing it on the day I moved in. (My mother had won me the apartment by chatting with Mr. Altschul in German.) I was sitting, exhausted, on top of a packing box and eating ice cream with my sweaty siblings, who had hauled in all of the heavy stuff. Suddenly, a melody wafted through the window, unmistakably played on a guitar and pretty certainly coming from the apartment above. Then a voice began singing, as though my own troubadour had come
to woo me at my window. I wondered vaguely if the singer was a professional.
“What’s that?” asked Fritz, two years my junior, distracted for a moment from his double scoop cone, his fox-like face alert, his red mustache dripping.
“A guitar, brain,” answered Gerhard, two years my elder, still studying his ice cream sandwich’s label, his dark brows furrowed above his handsome face.
“The song, I mean.” Fritz shoved what remained of his cone in his mouth and then, in an awesome feat, continued to speak: “The awhtist.”
“Gordon Lightfoot,” I ventured. He was playing “That’s What You Get for Lovin’ Me.”
“It’s acoustic,” Fritz sneered.
“That’s right. We forgot you don’t like instruments that can’t be plugged in,” Gerhard quipped.
“Or musicians who play more than one chord progression over and over,” I added spitefully, referring to Fritz’s garage band, the Grinning Bishops, who had once practiced in my parents’ garage but had mercifully moved their act to his friend Chuck’s basement. Apparently things were different now, though, because Fritz actually made more money some weeks with the band than he did working as a manager at Barnes and Noble. In any case, our family tended to remember those appalling years, the discordant notes and loud feedback still echoing in our nightmares.
Some kids grow out of that nasty argumentative phase, but my brothers and I still argue–I think, sometimes, it’s to express our closeness. We feel we have the right to be sarcastic because we’re family. We don’t strike each other or fling things, but we have potentially cruel tongues.
Still, it was my brothers I went upstairs and called now. They share an apartment, so they were able to yell at me on two extensions.
“Wait until Mom hears this,” Fritz threatened. “She’s gonna have a nutty. She was crocheting some sort of little bag for your wedding.”
“Shut up, Fritz, that’s a secret,” boomed Gerhard in my ear.
“Well, it doesn’t matter now, does it? She dumped him.” The two of them began an argument of their own, and it comforted me briefly, until I heard Jack playing his guitar upstairs. He knew I could hear him; I’d confided that to him long ago. I could even hear lyrics when my window was open, which it was now. Jack was playing “Devil Woman.” Real subtle.
“We weren’t even engaged,” I protested.
“It doesn’t matter, Madman. He’s the one she wants you to marry. Everyone does. He’s not a total loser, like some we could name, so of course you had to break up with him.” Fritz, as usual, opted for criticism over compassion.
Gerhard was gentler, by a hair. “Really, Madman, we did like him. I have to wonder if the problem isn’t just something you’re manufacturing, maybe for a little drama?”
“Okay, I’m hanging up now!” I yelled just before I slammed down the receiver.
I rubbed at my eyes. There was no one who was going to be on my side here, except maybe good ol’ Gloria Steinem, and I didn’t think she’d be returning my e-mails, or voice mails, or whatever kind of mails I might send her.
This was where Fate intervened. Jack had switched to something more melancholy; it sounded like some sort of sea chantey. I imagine he thought it would send me running up there in a diaphanous gown, seeking a night of passion in his bed. In his defense, I suppose it had happened before. I’m only human, and I do love the guitar. However, despite the sound of the lonely sailor above me, I remained on my couch, and I was back into Agatha Christie and Mrs. McGillicuddy when the phone rang. It was Fritz. He’d forgotten to tell me, in his anger, that Logan Lanford had disappeared. Naturally, Fritz was holding me personally responsible.
The following morning I walked briskly out the door, appreciatively sniffing the autumn-scented air, my mind still on Logan Lanford. Logan and I had gone to high school together, and it was I who had recommended Logan for Fritz’s band. Logan was a great musician, and I’d been concerned about him since he’d gotten fired from his public-relations job at the town hall a couple of months before. My mom worked part-time for the mayor, and I tried to pump her for information about Logan’s termination, but she merely shrugged and said that Mayor Paul had his reasons. Logan had a wife and two kids to support, so I mentioned to Fritz that Logan played bass. Fritz needed a bass player, and it seemed like the obvious solution.
I was still thinking about this, and about Fritz’s incoherent ramblings about Logan’s disappearance, when I spied Jack tinkering under the hood of my car. I was tempted to yell something, but I decided instead to catch him in the act. Furtively, catlike, I moved toward him, trying to stay in the cool shadow of the building. He must have seen me out of the corner of an eye, because he let the hood slam shut, which brought Mr. Altschul to the window with surprising speed, considering the arthritis and the lack of knee cartilage. Our landlord lingered at his ground-level window, ostensibly as a noise hunter, but quite obviously as an eavesdropper.
He had to be standing on a chair.
Jack looked ready to hare off in the other direction, but I was quick.
“What are you doing under my hood?”
“Checking your oil.” He was a bold one. He wore a look of complete indifference.
“What gave you the–who do you think–this is just so unbelievably–“
“You never check it, Madeline. Just because you’re mad at me doesn’t mean I’m going to stop caring about your safety.”
“Good timing, Jack. You couldn’t even wait a day before you displayed still another controlling behavior. I’m tempted to call the police. Really. You’ve committed a crime.”
That got his goat. “All right. Call the police. Tell them I checked your oil–which is fine, by the way–and gave you new wiper blades and filled your windshield reservoir. Tell them you’re my recently ex girlfriend, and some old habits die hard!” Jack was the kind of guy who didn’t get loud when he got angry, but he did develop some facial twitches. His one dimple would appear, just as it did when he was happy or mischievous. I stared at his dimple, too upset to meet his slate blue eyes.
He cleared his throat. “Besides. Technically, I didn’t ‘break into’ your car–you left it unlocked again.” He shrugged, as though my carelessness cleansed him of all responsibility.
I lowered my voice, aware of the long, curious nose in the window behind me. “This is what we’re fighting about, Jack: not because you’re not a good person or I don’t love certain things about you, but because you have this pathological need to control my life!”
“A lot of people would be grateful–“
“That’s not the point. All you had to do was come to me and offer, as a friend. I might have said yes, thank you, how nice of you. But you didn’t, and I’ll tell you why. Because you didn’t want to give me the option of saying no. Right, Jack?”
I had the brief satisfaction of seeing him squirm. “I didn’t mean to make you upset, Maddy. I just wanted–I felt–“
“You love her!” yelled Mr. Altschul, impatient with our labored conversation. “Mein Gott!” He slammed his window in despair, sending some very offended birds shrieking away.
We stood in silence for a moment, and then we began to laugh. It was a nice release. I was able to admire again how wonderful Jack looked when he was smiling–friendly creases at the corners of his eyes, straight white teeth, and the solitary, beloved dimple in his clean-shaven face.
“He’s taken our troubles very personally,” I said softly. “After all, that’s one hundred percent of his tenants with unhappy love lives. But I know we’re another soap opera to him. I hear him yelling at his TV all the time, like, ‘Don’t let her walk avay! Tell her you were drugged when Carly seduced you!'”
I imitated his German accent to the best of my ability, and Jack, grinning, nodded in recognition.
“He summarizes the plots for me when I’m stretching before a run. I guess I should stop stretching in front of the Old School.” This is what Jack called our building, because I told him that’s what Altschul means: “old school.” I realized I was softening, so I looked at my watch. “I’ve got to fly. I have to do some, uh–research.”
His eyebrows went up; he was curious. I could forgive that, because I happen to be very nosy about everything Jack does as well. However, he wasn’t going to make the mistake of asking what I was up to, not after two arguments in a row.
“Have a nice morning,” he said.
He looked rather forlorn, standing there with his windshield fluid. Things like that tempt a person to give in, but I had my principles. “Thanks.”
He touched my arm. “I have some bad habits, Maddy. I’ll work on them. You’ve been happy with me for a year, haven’t you?”
“Yes,” I acknowledged.
“Just tell me it’s not over. I don’t expect you to hop back into bed with me. Right away. Just tell me you’re not going to leave me over this, okay?”
“IÉ” I hesitated, confronted by the dimple in a truly earnest expression. “I’d like to see us work things out. We’ll see.” I opened the driver’s door of my rehabbed Merkur Scorpio, a car I’d chosen because it bore my astrological sign.
“Dinner tonight?” he asked, with an appealing amount of humility.
I shut the driver’s door and rolled down the window a crack. “Let me see how the day goes. If you’re planning some kind of seductionÉ”
“I’m not, Maddy. I said I wasn’t.”
“Because what we need is communication, not sex.” This wasn’t entirely true, as one thing Jack and I had in common was a healthy zest for making love, but I was trying to make a point.
He put his hands up in a gesture of surrender. “Can you at least call and let me know? Chicken Shea takes two hours to prepare.”
Chicken Shea, I thought, suppressing a smirk. How did I end up dating a guy who named recipes after himself? Still, I happened to know that Chicken Shea was delicious, as was most of what Jack created in the kitchen.