Cara Mia Delgatto and the Bye-Bye Birdie, Part 5

Note: We’ve had so much fun with serialized stories that I’m trying my hand at one again! Here’s the next installment of a new adventure for Cara Mia Delgatto and her friends. To read Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 scroll to the bottom of the blog post and click on OLDER POST.

Skye was thrilled with Kookie. The minute she came through the front door, she raced over to see the bird, even though she was still wearing her server’s uniform from Pumpernickel’s. Usually Skye can’t wait to get out of the black slacks and white blouse. They are totally not her style.

“Isn’t he beautiful?” she gushed. “I didn’t realize he’d be a blue-eyed cockatoo. These are really, really rare. An endangered species or close to it.”

In response, Kookie eyed her warily. With a bit of coaxing, Skye was able to get the big white bird to step onto her outstretched finger. He stared at her, fluffed his feathers and wailed, “Helen? Kookie loves you!”

“Poor baby.” Skye brought him closer for a cuddle, and Kookie allowed her to rub her face against his chest. But he didn’t give her a kiss like he’d given Helen.

This love fest went on for half an hour. Finally, Skye let Kookie take his place back on his perch. “I’m going to run upstairs and get him grapes and carrots. He’ll love those.”

As she raced away, MJ shook her head at me. “I was wrong about what a cockatoo is worth. At least, I was wrong about what this one is worth.”

“Not as valuable as you thought, eh?” I chuckled.

“On the contrary. Much more valuable. A bird like Kookie would go for ten grand at least.”

I coughed. “Pardon? Are you sure?”

“Absolutely. He’s a blue-eyed cockatoo. That ring of bright blue around his eyes? It’s a telltale marker. That’s the clue I didn’t have.”

“Wow,” I said, channeling my friend Kiki Lowenstein.

“Should I start writing an ad for Kookie? Sid can put him up on Craigslist and some of the other sales sites.”

I thought about Skye’s reaction. She never asked me for anything. Lately she’d been kind of down because her relationship with Lou, a local detective, had hit a rough patch. “Not right now,” I said. Once the excitement of owning a big bird wore off, perhaps she’d be willing to trade the cockatoo for cash.

“Have it your way,” said MJ, with a shrug that told me she thought I was absolutely nuts.

A few days went by, and I came to agree with her. Although Skye was totally smitten with the bird, the cockatoo had not settled in. Hour after hour, he cried, “Helen? Kookie loves you!” He fixated on the front door, growing excited each time it opened and despondent when Helen did not magically appear. Worse yet, he had started to pluck out his own feathers. Each morning, I swept up a small pile from the floor around the cage.

“I’m really, really worried about him.” Skye started chewing a fingernail.

“I’ll call my friend Pete, the vet,” said MJ. “But you’re going to owe me, Skye, because Pete only wants to be re-paid by going on a date together. If I do this for you, you better come up with something really, really great to make it up to me.”

Skye nodded. “I will.”

~To Be Continued~

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Excerpt from Cara Mia Delgatto and the Thanksgiving Gift

Cara
Mia Delgatto and the Thanksgiving Gift

Chapter
1

The first day of November

The Treasure Chest in Downtown
Stuart, Florida

 

“Another
beautiful fall day here in southeast Florida,” said MJ Austin, my friend
and full-time employee. She poured herself a fresh cup of coffee, the fragrances
of vanilla and cinnamon mingled in the air. When I gestured with my empty cup, she
poured me a warm-up.

While
she had the pot in her hand, MJ cocked her head at Skye’s cup. “Want
some?”

“No,
thanks. I’m drinking Yerba Mate,” Skye said.
Cara Mia Delgatto and the Thanksgiving Gift

“Sorry
I asked,” said MJ. “That stuff is just plain nasty.”

They
are such a study in contrasts. While Skye’s curls tumble down around her
shoulders, MJ wears her hair pulled off of her face. They are both gorgeous
women, both blonde, and very different from each other. I’ve been blessed to
welcome them into my life. Doubly-blessed that they’re my co-workers at the
store.

“Granted,
Yerba Mate isn’t as tasty as coffee, but I like it,” said Skye. “It gives
me extra energy. I need it when I’m working an extra shift over at
Pumpernickel’s Deli.”

“I
hope you aren’t racing over to the deli right away,” I said. “We need
to discuss the upcoming holiday. Specifically, how we can leverage Thanksgiving
as a way to boost our sales.”

The
Treasure Chest is a décor and more shop, specializing in upcycled, recycled,
and repurposed items. Most of our items have a sort of beach vibe to them.

There
are two stumbling blocks on the road to our success.

One,
we need to keep finding ways to turn trash into treasure. I don’t have a lot of
money to spend with vendors. I also don’t have the time to wait for them to
check my credit and process my order. That means we have to be come up with our
own merchandise—and that takes a lot of creativity.

Two,
we need to get people through the door. Once they see what we’re offering,
they’re sure to make a purchase. That purchase will become one of many, if we
do our job right.

“My
shift doesn’t start for another half an hour, so we’re cool.”

“I’m
all ears,” said MJ.

“Good.
I made up an agenda.” From the pocket of my Lilly Pulitzer skirt, I pulled
out a list I’d printed neatly on a sheet from a legal pad of paper. “Item
#1, thank you for coming.”

That
set my pals to snickering. We were sitting in the back room of my little store,
The Treasure Chest, around a table that had become our natural gathering spot.
Even though I’d officially called a meeting, the chances had been high Skye and
MJ would have shown up anyway. Skye lives upstairs, on the second floor, in the
apartment right next to mine. Effortlessly, our schedules have become
synchronized. Most morning, we bump into each other on our way down the stairs.

MJ
has a bungalow on the other side of town. I haven’t seen it, but my fingers are
crossed that one day she’ll issue an invitation. She seems to have a sixth
sense about when to show up at the store. Even on the days that she isn’t
scheduled, she often manages to pop in and see what’s up.

“Please
note that our response to Item #1 was we’re happy to attend your meeting. We
want this place to succeed almost as much as you do,” said MJ.

“I
couldn’t have said it better.” Skye gave MJ a high five.

“Then,
let’s move right along to Item #2. How are we going to keep this ship afloat
over the holidays? Specifically, how are we going to fill our shelves—and what
can we offer that’s unique for Thanksgiving?”

 

Chapter 2

 

            The expectant faces now turned
solemn.

“Unique
for Thanksgiving?” Skye parroted my question. “You mean what can we
offer that’s just for the holiday? A one-time product?”

“Not
exactly. I’m thinking we need merchandise that we can point to as being the
perfect gift for a Thanksgiving hostess. Or something unique to put on the
Thanksgiving table. Otherwise, we don’t have anything new to promote. Seems to
me that we have to keep changing up what we offer so we keep capturing the
buying public’s attention. We need to give them a reason to walk through our
front door.”

Right
then, my rescue pup Jack started whining. I opened his crate and cuddled him
under one arm. Jack and I met as a man threw the Chihuahua out of a moving
truck. The dog has come a long way since then, growing in confidence even as
his broken leg healed up. But once in a while, when he hears stress in my
voice, he whimpers. I can’t blame him.

“You’re
right,” said MJ. “Back when XXX owned The Treasure Chest, she’d put a
new display in the window and surround it with pumpkins and Indian corn. It
wasn’t much, but it always brought more foot traffic. The idea is to lure the
customers in. They change the menu over at the deli, don’t they?”

Skye
nodded. “We’re serving pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, cider, bratwursts,
butternut squash casserole, and other seasonal dishes. Cara, you’re right.
Folks love the new selections at the deli. It’s a change of pace, I guess. That’s
all. But it’s enough to give us servers something to brag about. A talking
point, is what our boss called it.”

“So
what do we have to offer?”

Everyone
was stumped. MJ played with one of her fake diamond earrings, twirling it
around and around in her ear. Skye stared off into space while she rubbed the
fabric of her black pants between her thumb and forefinger.

            “Don’t everyone chime in at
once,” I said.

            They didn’t.

            The silence went longer than I
expected.

“Anyone?
Anyone?” I tried channeling Ben Stein as the teacher in Ferris Buehler’s
Day Off, but I didn’t get a response.

“Give
us a day to think about it,” said MJ. “Rome wasn’t built in a day.
You’re springing this on us, and I need time to process.”

She
sounded a bit testy, but I knew why. MJ is supposed to be my retail guru,
because she’s worked in retail her whole life. But this slipped past her. Her
lack of diligence disappointed me, and she knew it. In addition to twirling her
earrings, she began tapping her toe on the floor impatiently. Like a fox that
gets startled by an approaching dog, she wanted to run and hide in her burrow.

“Right,”
I said, as I folded the paper and put it back into my pocket. “That makes
sense. Is twenty-four hours long enough?”

“Sure,”
said Skye.

“I
guess,” said MJ.

 

Chapter 3

 

            I needed to change the mood. No way
did I want my friends going out and greeting the public with frowns on their
faces. “Tell me everybody, what are you doing for Thanksgiving? Any
special plans?”

            My voice sounded light and cheery
because I felt happy about the upcoming holiday. My son Tommy is down the
highway, attending University of Miami. He’d promised to come to Stuart for the
weekend break.

            “I like it here, but it’s not
home,” he’d complained. “I miss St. Louis. The leaves, Mom! Remember how
cool they were? All the colors?”

            When my friends didn’t volunteer
their plans, I told them about Tommy’s upcoming visit and then I added what
he’d said about the leaves.

            “The drive to Kansas City had
this dip, and you could see colors like a painter had mixed on his palette.
Bittersweet, orange, fiery red, maroon, brown, gold. Tommy and I would make the
drive just to get to that spot. It made our hearts sing. The maple in our front
yard started turning first. He and I would rake up leaves and jump in them.
When we were tired, we’d go inside and drink apple cider.” I brushed a
tear from my face. The memories cheered me and saddened me. That was my old
life. Things had changed. Was it wrong of me to miss the sweet parts even as I
enjoyed my new home?

            “We do have trees that change
here,” said Skye. “Sugar maples, sweet gum, and live oak, to name a
few, but most of those are north of here.”

            “But nothing changes here! You
can’t tell one season from another!” I said.

            “That’s not true, Cara.”
Skye’s voice was gentle but firm. “There are a lot of seasonal changes.
You just don’t know what to look for. Not yet at least.”

“What
would you do back home?” asked MJ. “What would make your son feel
less homesick for St. Louis?”

“I
always decorated our front yard for the holidays. I’d buy a bale of hay and
spread it around in the front yard. I’d add cornstalks. Maybe even a scarecrow.
Tommy used to make fun of me for doing it, but maybe it mattered more than I
realized.”

“What
did you do for Thanksgiving day proper?” asked Skye. “I know you had
a restaurant. Did you have to work all day?”

“Not
always. We had a lottery system. Employees and staff would toss their names in
a hat. Dad would draw the slips of paper out in front of everyone so it was
totally above board. A couple of holidays, we were able to eat together as a
family.”

MJ
stared at me. Her emotions were unreadable. She’s like that. I’ve never met a
woman who can project so much sensuality and then turn so cold and inscrutable.
“How did you celebrate when you were all together?”

“Well,”
I thought back, “our last Thanksgiving, I made dinner for my family. Turkey,
stuffing, and all the trimmings. We kept the same menu every year. I’ve got it
in my cell phone. We decided that if everyone couldn’t come, we’d have the same
meal the next day and pretend it was Thanksgiving as if it didn’t happen the
day before. Kind of silly, but we loved it.”

“The
same food every year,” repeated Skye.

“Absolutely.
The menu never changed. A couple of years, Poppy flew up to join us. He looked
at the spread on the table and said how happy he was that we kept with
tradition. So I couldn’t change the menu, even if I wanted to. See, Dad was in
charge of the menu at the restaurant, but at home, Mom used to—” My voice
cracked. I choked back tears. I’d been so busy at the store that I’d forgotten
that this would be my first Thanksgiving without my parents.

My
eyes filled with tears, but through the blurry lens I could see MJ and Skye
exchange glances. Skye hopped up from her chair and poured a glass of water.
She slid it in front of me with the practiced movement of a woman who’d been
waiting tables for years.

“So
we’ll finally get to meet your son?” MJ sounded pleased. “I bet he’s
gorgeous.”

Skye’s
voice sparkled with delight as she said, “That will be so nice. I know
you’ve missed him. He’ll have tons to tell you about his roommate, his classes,
and—”

“His
love life,” said MJ.

I
frowned at her. “My son just turned eighteen. I’m hoping he hasn’t had
much experience in the love life department.”

“And
at eighteen, you were…?” MJ’s eyes pinned me down.

“Pregnant
with him. That’s exactly why I hope he’s being smarter than I was. Don’t get me
wrong. I love my kid to pieces, and I’m glad I had him, but eighteen is awfully
young to be a parent.” I wanted to change the subject, so I asked, “What
are you doing for Thanksgiving, MJ?”

“Opening
cans of turkey Fancy Feast for all my cats.” Her expression was
unreadable.

“You
can’t do that. Come eat with us. Tommy and Poppy and I would love to have you.
You can’t eat alone at Thanksgiving!”

Some
days I worried about MJ. She’d come from a family that didn’t believe in
celebrating holidays. While she was honest, loyal, and in possession of a kind
heart, she could be a bit prickly now and again. I attributed that to her being
lonely. The very idea of her being all alone on Thanksgiving—except for the fur
babies—made me sick.

“Kidding,”
she said, almost too quickly. “Just joking around with you, Cara. Actually
an old boyfriend invited me to join him at the Biltmore in Coral Gables for
their Thanksgiving buffet. It’s to die for. Elegant tables with white damask
clothes, silver serving dishes, a carving station, Champagne, and music, in a
room with dark wood paneling, tropical palms, and Spanish mosaics. I can hardly
wait.”

Now
that sounded more like it. I turned
my attention to Skye. “What are your plans?”

Her
smile flickered like a bad florescent bulb. On, off, on, off, and on. “I
always work Thanksgiving Day at Pumpernickels. The tips are fantastic.”

“But
when do you eat your Thanksgiving
meal? Surely they schedule servers in shifts,” I said.

She
hesitated. “I usually work a double. But don’t worry. The boss sets out
turkey and trimmings for the servers. Okay, one year I didn’t get any because
we were so busy, but usually I load up a plate. I’ve even been known to take
home leftovers.”

She
rubbed her tummy appreciatively.

“What
time do you get off?” I asked. “We can adjust the time of our meal so
you can join us.”

“That’s
very kind of you, but no, please don’t,” she said, shaking her head.
“I actually prefer eating with the other servers. It’s a sort of bonding
experience. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

Right.
My gut told me that both my friends were lying.
 
< > < > < >
 
Are Cara Mia’s friends telling the truth about how they’ll spend Thanksgiving? Will the holidays of Cara’s remembrance over-shadow the present day? Or will Cara adjust to her new home and make this Thanksgiving a day of thanks?
 
Or go to
 
This short story includes four recipes for Thanksgiving!

Mourning the Passing of Stuart Kaminsky

I was so sad to hear of the passing of Stuart Kaminsky. He had written many, many mystery books and was honored numerous times by the Mystery Writers of America. He was a gentleman, a brilliant writer, and a generous colleague to all in our profession.
We met at Sleuthfest, oh, three years ago? He stepped in to fill a short story class after Elaine Viets had her stroke. I asked him after the session what he thought about outlines. He told me that he could never have been so prolific if he didn’t outline first. I took that to heart.
He also mentioned that he regularly writes letters to his granddaughter, as a matter of course, and as an ongoing part of their relationship. So, in his own way, Stuart was a scrapbooker of the highest order!
His wife Enid is a lovely and gracious woman, and a delightful person in her own right. I very much enjoyed meeting her at the conference. She was kind enough to remember me the next time we met, and that means a lot.
My condolences to his entire family.

Here is a link of his obit from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in Florida where he had lived for more than twenty years before moving to St. Louis earlier this year while hoping for a life-saving liver transplant.

http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20091011/ARTICLE/910111085/0/article

Thanks,
Rev. Mike