Wednesday, December 26, 2012


The characters of Ellery Tinsdale and Samantha Greene begin their fictional lives in the first book in my Blonds at the Beach series, THE BLOND LEADING THE BLOND.  But they did have a life before the book.  Here we get a peek into the incident that led up to the opening scene, and get to see a little of the characters in their “ordinary world” before everything is tipped topsy-turvy on the very first page of the book.  I call this THE PREQUEL.  Enjoy.    

<<News clipping from the front page of the  Braddocks Beach Bugle, Braddocks Beach, Ohio, May 31)>>

Town Matriarch Dead at Age 63

          Isabel Genevieve Tinsdale, age 63, was found dead yesterday at the bottom of the stairs of the Braddocks Beach watchtower. Although the autopsy report is not expected to be released for two more days, sources involved in the clean-up efforts indicate that loss of blood will be listed as a contributory cause of death.
          Police have declared Miss Izzy’s tumble down three flights of steep, cement stairs to be an accident, although the reason she was visiting the watchtower at two o’clock in the morning leaves many asking questions. Don’t expect answers from the local authorities, as according to Braddocks Beach Police Chief Albert C. Bennett, “Delving into a citizen’s personal business is beyond the scope of our duty to protect and serve the community. Miss Izzy took that secret to her grave.”
          Our dearly departed Miss Izzy has taken more than secrets; also gone is the magic and mystery that defined our societal leader.  Her gracious spirit was mimicked but never duplicated.  Her boundless energy was admired but never matched.  Her financial generosity was appreciated but never publicly acknowledged.  Regal in conformation and character, she was a true local treasure. 

          Born on the steps of the old Town Hall (now the Tourist Welcome Center), Miss Izzy left her mark on our small lakeside town. As a ten-year-old, she started a Teddy Bear Drive for orphans. It became an annual event, which last year distributed over $1,000,000 worth of toys and clothes to impoverished children throughout
Ohio. As a teenager, she staged the town’s first sit-in to protest rising school lunch prices. Her actions led to a free milk policy still in effect today. Most recently, she appointed herself Braddocks Beach’s Goodwill Ambassador, making daily rounds of local eateries to spin tales of local lore in the manner of the great Samuel Clemens (better known as Mark Twain). Thanks to Miss Izzy’s efforts, visitors to our town left feeling they were as much a part of Braddocks Beach history as the gingerbread trim that adorns the shops that encircle Town Park       
          Miss Izzy’s direct lineage to the town’s founding father gave her “royal” status among local society, leading to the official title of Town Matriarch. She served with grace, pride and flair. Her fashion choices set the trend for the season. Recipes for her culinary creations (when she shared) were hoarded like gold. Her bestselling book, Etiquette-liness is Next to Godliness, will proffer mannerly guidance toyoung men and women for generations to come.
          Throughout her life, Miss Izzy received many offers for her hand in marriage. Despite such romantic overtures as sky-written proposals, a newspaper headline declaring undying love and the legendary footprints painted in the street leading from both Tandy Grisholm’s and Miss Izzy’s front doors to the steps of the Braddocks Beach Church of Divine Spiritual Enlightenment, Miss Izzy chose to remain single. The consequences of this decision are that she produced no heirs to the great Tinsdale fortune. Undoubtedly, the reading of her Final Will and Testament will be the most anticipated event of the year.
          Miss Izzy is preceded in death by her parents, Jonathon and Gertrude “Irene” Tinsdale, and her brother, Jack Elliot Tinsdale. The existence of Jack’s daughter, Ellery Elizabeth Tinsdale, born in San Diego, CA was only recently discovered.  However despite Miss Izzy’s funding of exhaustive coast to coast searches, no record of Miss Ellery has been found in over 20 years and she is presumed dead. Thus Isabel’s passing is not only the end of an era, but also the end of the lineage.
          Isabel Tinsdale’s life will be celebrated in true “Miss Izzy style” with a potluck picnic and chamber music concert in Town Park on Saturday afternoon. Donations in lieu of flowers are requested to be made to the Braddocks Beach Historical Society (or as Miss Izzy was fond of calling it, the Hysterical Society), of which she was a founding member.
          Peace be with you, dear friend.
~Mystic Sayers,
Beat Reporter, Braddocks Beach Bugle

June 9

          Have you ever felt like a dry martini, shaken not stirred?  I don’t mean felt like imbibing in one, I mean actually felt like the gin and vermouth inside a shaker where the bartender rattles it up and down and side to side to make sure all the ingredients are sufficiently blended but not bruised?  That’s how I’ve felt ever since the letter arrived from Geoffrey Maxamillion Eddington the Third, Esquire.  I don’t imagine anyone likes getting a letter from an attorney, but this one had the effect of shaking me like a martini. 
          On the surface, one might consider his request of my presence for the reading of the Last Will and Testament (his capital letters, not mine) of one Isabel Genevieve Tinsdale, to be held June 11 at his office in Braddocks Beach, Ohio, to be a good thing.  There’s a hint that I might be a beneficiary of some sort, and with my current financial situation, well, any little bit would help.     
          But here’s the problem.  I’ve never heard of Braddocks Beach, let alone anyone by the name of Isabel Genevieve Tinsdale.  So I ran to my computer and Googled both and I discovered the small lakeside resort in east central Ohio to be nothing more than a dot on the map and found an obituary for the Tinsdale woman. Based on that, it seems a nomination for sainthood was immanent.
          Figuring they must have mistaken me for some other Ellery Elizabeth Tinsdale, I called this Geoffrey guy to tell him he had the wrong person.  He was out of the office, but his secretary asked me a question that had every last one of my neck hairs standing at full attention.
          “You are the daughter of Jack Elliott Tinsdale, born March 9, 1940, aren’t you?”
          “Yes,” I answered.  At least in my head.  My mouth didn’t seem to be functioning at the time.  How would she know who my father is?  He and my mother have been gone from this earth for more than 15 years. 
          “Miss Izzy was Jack’s little sister.”
          Oh.  Well then. That explained it.
          When I had been about five years old, my mother told me that everyone from my dad’s side of the family, including his sister Bella, had been killed in some sort of tragic accident when he was 18 years old.  Mom warned me to never ask Dad about it because it upset him, so I never did.  Could Bella and Izzy be one and the same?  And if so, why then, up until a few days ago, had she been alive when Dad thought her dead? 
          “Why didn’t my aunt contact me before?” I asked, my voice revealing just a hint of the suspicion I was feeling.  Could this person be fishing for information so they could steal my identity?   
          “I’m not at liberty to discuss the details with you,” the secretary said. 
          Nor was the secretary able to answer any of the other twenty questions I bombarded her with. But she did reveal just enough information to lead me to believe that this was no hoax.  I was due to inherit something, and anything that tied me to my father as a child, say a picture of him and my grandparents, would mean more to me than all the money in the world.  But truth be told, a little money would be nice, too.  
          Eventually, and in the most syrupy sweet voice, the secretary said, “If you are able to meet with Mr. Eddington on Friday at 2 p.m. you’ll get all the answers you need.” 
          “Okay.” Really, what choice did I have? 
          I brushed away the niggling worry that I would have to leave tomorrow and that the pilgrimage would take four days out of the two weeks that were already slammed full with myriad of things that needed to be done before my summer vacation, which had been three years in planning and saving.  I was booked on a cruise to Alaska, and my ship sailed in a little over two weeks.   
          “I’ll tell Mr. Eddington you’ve confirmed the appointment,” the secretary said. “He’s looking forward to meeting you, as is everyone else in Braddocks Beach.”  And she hung up.  Just like that, with the faintest of clicks, my tenuous connection to my father’s childhood was severed.
          So what does any good female do when faced with the prospect of meeting kin she didn’t know existed for the first time do?  Most would go shopping, of course.  But I had long ago accepted the fact that I had not been blessed with the Shopping Gene in my DNA.  But this was perhaps the one instance where a snazzy new outfit was needed hence a trip to the mall warranted.  I mean, I couldn’t very well show up in my teaching uniform of denim skirt and polo shirt now, could I?  So I dragged myself to McArthur Center in downtown Norfolk and blew an entire year’s clothing budget on one outfit, complete with shoes and some classy jewelry. 
          On the afternoon of June 10th, I threw an overnight case in the passenger seat, hung my new outfit on the garment hook and pointed the nose of Bessie (my bold and brassy Land Rover) northwest.
          No sooner had I cleared the limits of Virginia Beach than I got a craving for pimento stuffed olives.  Preferably ones at the bottom of a gently shaken martini.

June 9
          Total anarchy. That’s the only word to describe the hodgepodge of homemade food offerings placed on tables stretched the length of Henrietta Zucker’s driveway.  Thick and creamy desserts snuggled up next to light and healthy salads.  Appetizers mingled with main courses.  Sushi sat next to Stromboli while the chips were three feet away from the guacamole.  There were steamy dishes not just next to, but actually touching, chilled Jello-O plates and a heavy bowl of horseradish dip had been plopped on top of an apple crumb pie, forcing the filling to ooze out over the crust and onto the white linen tablecloth. What a mess. 
          Samantha Rose Greene, known affectionately to all who loved her (and even those who didn’t) as Sam, surveyed the potluck debacle with an eye as to how best to make order out of chaos.  If Miss Izzy were here, she’d have it properly organized in no time.  No, if Miss Izzy where here this wouldn’t have happened in the first place.  But Miss Izzy wasn’t here, because she’d suffered a horrible fall down the steep steps of the watchtower and died ten days ago. 
          Sam was skeptical about the facts surrounding her dearest friend and lifelong neighbor’s demise but had refrained from voicing her concerns to the new chief of police in whom she had little faith.  He didn’t seem to be capable of finding a polar bear in a field of buttercups, let alone investigate a suspicious death, the first in their small lakeside resort in over 100 years.  So just like everything else around Braddocks Beach, if Sam wanted things done right, she’d have to do them herself, starting with a few discreet questions asked of others attending the potluck tonight.   
          But first things first.  Sam began moving dishes from the last table and stacking them on the tailgate of her husband’s F350 parked at the end of the driveway.  She then worked quickly to move desserts to the open space and moved down the line to organize side dishes, main dishes, salads and appetizers.  Just as she was finishing, Doris Rodgers, a retired nurse who’d more recently retired from her second career as a librarian, stepped over to lend a hand.
          “Not the same without Miss Izzy, is it?” Doris asked.
          “Not even close,” Sam replied.  “Can you believe they had the plates next to the napkins and forks?  Everyone knows the Chinet goes at the beginning and once people have filled their plates they grab their cutlery at the end.  It’s not like these people have never been to a potluck before.”
          “I know, but we all relied on Miss Izzy to make sure things were done right.  And if you don’t want your head to explode I suggest you stay away from the drink table.”
          “Dare I ask why?”
          “They have pop in the same bin as wine coolers.”
          Sam gasped in horror.  “But kids could grab the wrong—” 
          Doris raised her hand and Sam pressed her lips into a tight thin line to keep from speaking her mind.
          “Hang in there.”  Doris reached out and patted Sam’s arm. “I’ve heard a rumor they found Miss Izzy’s niece and she’ll be here for the reading of the will tomorrow.  I can’t remember her name, though.”
          “Ellery Elizabeth Tinsdale,” Sam said, providing the name of the last living descendant of one of Braddocks Beach’s founding fathers, only recently discovered through an exhaustive—and, she suspected, expensive--search.     
          “I’ve also heard she is the spitting image of her aunt and will no doubt sweep into town take the reins of local society to lead us with the same aplomb as Miss Izzy.  Oh, here comes Flossie and it looks like she broke out her melting pot for tonight.  I’ll just go offer my taste-testing services.”  Doris turned and greeted Flossie Underwood, the local pharmacist, and escorted both her friend and her tiered plate of chocolate-covered Oreos to the dessert end of the table.
          Sam finished organizing the appetizers, her thoughts not quite as optimistic as Doris’s.   After all, what did anyone really know about this Ellery woman?  Her father had disappeared from town a half-century ago and until recently they’d all thought him dead.  Suddenly a private investigator finds he had a daughter, and just like that she’s to be crowned Queen Bee.  Would this stranger have the ability to organize charity events, set fashion trends for each season and play Hostess with the Mostess to everything from a BUNCO party to a posh garden party, continually WOW-ing her guests with culinary masterpieces?  Those skills are not passed down on the DNA, but instead learned by years of walking in the shadows of a mentor, as Sam had been doing the past forty years of her life under Miss Izzy’s careful tutelage.   Now some nobody from nowhere is sailing into town…
          “Belly up, people,” Henrietta Zucker announced.  “Dinner is served.”  The announcement was met with riotous applause from the guests who then stampeded toward the tables. 
          Sam grabbed a piece of broccoli and swiped it through the chipotle pepper dip before stepping away. Like goats to a feeding trough, Sam thought.   The beginning of the end of polite society. She could practically hear Miss Izzy spinning in her grave. 
          Before Sam could work her way to the beverage table to make sense out of that mess, Mystic Sayers, the beat reporter for the Braddocks Beach Bugle, shoved a microphone in Sam’s face.  “Care to comment on the palm trees?” she asked.
          Sam stared at Mystic, who was her usual rumpled self.  “I’m not aware of an issue with the palm trees,” Sam replied. 
          “They’re practically dead.  Waste of taxpayer money, if you ask me.  I believe it was your idea to bring in live palms to, let me see, what were your exact words?  Oh yeah, ‘To lend a tropical feel to our beaches which will bring in more tourist dollars.’ So, your comment for the record?”
          Sam owned up to saying those exact words.  And they did lend a tropical feel to the lakeside resort in central Ohio.  Feedback had been positive and tourism was up enough to warrant the cost of their purchase.  “What’s wrong with them?”
          “Nobody’s been watering them.”
          “What?”  Sam knew Miss Izzy had secretly hired the new police chief’s grandson who was visiting Braddocks Beach for the summer, in order to ensure Sam’s great idea didn’t fail.  But Miss Izzy was like that, quietly funding community events, never wanting nor expecting a bit of thanks from anyone in the community. 
          Come to think of it, Sam hadn’t seen hide nor hair of that redheaded imp, but then she’d been preoccupied with Miss Izzy’s death and funeral to worry about it.  Maybe he thought with her gone he wouldn’t get paid? 
          Sam quickly excused herself from Mystic, offered a quick “Thank you” to her hostess, hopped in the F350 and drove straight to the beach where, still dressed in her pale blue summer sweater and pearls, she proceeded to water the three dozen palm trees herself.  Really, sometimes she felt like The Little Red Hen.  Water the palm trees, organize the potluck, find out what really happened to Miss Izzy, and do her best to settle Ellery in to her new role as Braddocks Beach societal leader.  Was it to much to hope that she carried the Queen Bee gene on her DNA?

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