Monday, March 6, 2017

LIFE IS A CABERNET

It is possible that you have been hiding under a rock.  That is the ONLY excuse for not knowing that 50 Shades of Cabernet is being released on March 20, 2017.  This new anthology combines my two favorite things, mystery and wine! It's a collection of 17 stories, some by award winning authors.  I'm honored to be in their company with my short mystery titled "Life is a Cabernet." It's set at a Mahjongg convention, so this story combines THREE of my favorite things!   Here is an excerpt:


“Okay gals.  Time to wash the tiles,” Daisy called out in a singsong voice. She was our instructor for this afternoon’s Novice Mahjongg class, part of the first annual Mahjongg Maniacs Convention held in Williamsburg, Virginia.  Daisy was a character if I ever saw one, with a mop of unruly blond hair (I wish my own could be one tenth so voluminous!) and dressed from head to toe in mahjongg couture. From earrings to bracelets to Keds painted with Chinese characters, her passion for the game was obvious.  But what really cracked me up was her T-shirt, which read, If you think sex is better than mahjongg, you’re playing it wrong.
“Wash ’em good now,” she sang.
By “wash the tiles” she didn’t mean take them to the sink and give them a good Ivory-soap scrub.  Washing the tiles in mahjongg lingo means to turn them face down and scramble them around on the table. It’s the equivalent of shuffling a deck of cards. And so far, that’s the only part of the game I understood.
“Because of the sound the tiles make when hitting each other,” our instructor said, “some groups call it ‘Chirping the birds.’”
The tiles resembled thick dominos, and when knocked together sounded more like a click than a chirp to me, but I am no expert on bird sounds.
My best friend Charlie leaned towards me. “Having fun yet, Randa?
I paused from pushing the thick Bakelite tiles around to take a sip of one of the berry-est cabernet sauvignons that I’d ever had the pleasure of sipping.  I was here for the wine, not the game. “Le vin est bon,” I said, offering up my nearly empty goblet in a toast.
“I’ll admit this is harder than I thought it would be.”   Charlie sighed.  We were both way in over our heads learning this game. Mahjongg is an ancient amusement that kind of resembles gin rummy. Some attribute its invention to that super smart guy, Confucius. ‘Nuff said.
“But learn we must,” I said by way of encouragement.
This trip had been Charlie’s idea.  She’s a real estate agent back home in Ohio.  A very successful one, but she had yet to break into the upper crust of society, client-wise.  She figured her entrée into the “in” crowd was to join the Mahjongg Mavens. Their members included the wives of all the movers and shakers from Cleveland’s east side.  Problem is, you had to know how to play in order to become one of them. Self-teaching was not an option as the rules don’t make any sense. Trust me, we tried—and gave up after the second sentence.
When Charlie had discovered a convention that included beginner mahjongg classes, she offered to pay for my trip if I joined her.  I was hesitant because I don’t have a head for games.  But when she mentioned part of the activities would include a wine-tasting featuring some very fancy vintages, I had my bags packed before you could say “Life is a Cabernet.”
“That’s enough washing,” Daisy murmured.  “Time to build your wall.”
She sounded distracted, in contrast to the attention and enthusiasm she’d expressed this session. I glanced her way and saw her staring at her smart phone, which was accessorized with, as you might have guessed, a bejeweled mahjongg case.  What caught my attention, though, was the odd expression on her face—her lips tight and eyes wide.  If pressed, I’d slap a terrified label on it.
“While you do that, I need to make a call.” Daisy beelined for the door, head down scrolling through her phone. She knocked two chairs over but didn’t stop to set them right.
That’s the problem with technology. Life’s problems are never more than a text away.
The four of us at table three began to build our wall by lining up a row of eighteen tiles in front of us. Our fellow trainees were two seasoned citizens—over 70, I guessed. Bonnie and Gloria hailed from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, a two-hour drive south from the convention center. We chatted while topping the first row of tiles with a second row, and then we sat back and stared at each other. None of us remembered what to do next. I was glad I wasn’t the only one who didn’t understand how to set up the game, let alone play it.
“Excuse me,” I said. “I’m taking advantage of the break to go to the little girl’s room.”
The hallway was eerily quiet. We newbies were being treated like the redheaded step-children of the convention, relegated to a small room on the upper level of the convention center. Being a redheaded stepchild myself, I was okay with the classification.  In this case, it kept us away from the mahjongg fanatics, who were all downstairs in the grand ballroom shopping or studying the table assignments, but mostly catching up with other mahjongg fanatics. For an introvert like me, that classified as a Class-A social nightmare.
I set off down the hallway at a brisk pace, but paused when I heard Taylor Swift start singing Shake it Off. The noise was coming from behind a potted plant.  I looked but no one was around.  Curious, I paused at the planter and found a cell phone in a bejeweled mahjongg case lying on the ground, singing away.  Daisy must have dropped it. Or, considering this was a mahjongg convention, it could belong to someone—anyone—else. If I answered it, I could find out who they were calling then have that person paged over the speaker system. Nowadays, people panic if their phones are not in arm’s reach. If I had dropped my phone behind the plant, I’d want someone to do that for me.
I picked up the phone and said, “Hello?”
“Daisy, you have got to get out of there!” The female voice was high-pitched and in panic mode. “He’s going to kill you.  He posted a picture of you with a target on your forehead on Facebook.  Get out now!”
“Who is this?” I asked.
“Who is this?” the person on the other end of the phone asked back.
“I’m one of Daisy’s students.  At least I think I am.  How many Daisies can there be at one convention?”
“Where is she?”
“I don’t know. I found the phone lying on the ground.”  As I talked, I glanced around looking for any sign of Daisy. Nothing.  It occurred to me she had probably hit the ladies room and dropped her phone en route.  “I bet she’s in the bathroom.” I started walking down the hall.
“Hurry,” the voice on the other end of the phone urged me.  “You’ve got to find her before Jimmy does.”
The urgency of her voice had me running full speed. I banged through the door to the ladies room only to find a quiet, seemingly empty row of beige stalls, all with doors slightly ajar.
I bent down and looked and sure enough a pair of familiar Keds were tucked into the last stall on the left. I breathed a sigh of relief. “Daisy?” I called as I walked down the row.  But the only sound I heard was my sandals scratching against the tile floor. 
“Please find Daisy,” the voice on the phone kept repeating.  She was crying now, which quickly escalated to the hysterical range.
I looked under the stall door and confirmed Daisy’s mahjongg-bejeweled Keds were set in the standard position when taking care of business. “Daisy?” I called and tapped on the unlocked door.  It swung open at my touch.
I found Daisy, fully dressed while sitting on the commode. And with a bullet hole right between her eyes.

For more inforamtion about 50 Shades of Cabernet, especially how you can pre-order it, go to www.50ShadesofCabernet.com 

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