I am, of course, referring to Annette Waters, who has had a continuing role in my Isabel Long Mystery Series since the second book, Redneck’s Revenge. That’s when she hired Isabel to investigate the death of her father, Chet, who died when his shack of a house burned to the ground. She didn’t believe it was an accident.
Right off the bat, Isabel gave Annette the nickname the “Tough Cookie,” although not to her face. After all, the woman runs a garage and junkyard she inherited from her father. Plus, Annette is one woman you don’t mess around with. She’s a single mother who got pregnant in high school and raised her son by herself via a regimen of so-called tough love. (The father is a local drug dealer who wouldn’t be the ideal role model in her mind.) She was married oh-so-briefly to another local guy and since then, enjoys the full company of any man she likes. And being an attractive woman in her late 30s, she has plenty of men interested in her.
Annette’s what I would call a hot ticket. She doesn’t take crap from anybody and isn’t afraid to dish it out, with humor, of course. She and her cousin, Marsha, aka the Floozy, (Isabel is fond of giving people secret nicknames) own the Pit Stop, a small convenience store with gas pumps in the hill town of Caulfield. Her son, Abe, lives in the back. He also works with his mother in the garage and at the store. She’s trying to teach him to be a responsible adult, in her own way.
And in case you’re wondering, Annette is not based on anyone I know. She comes totally from my imagination although I will admit knowing women who have as much spunk as her.
Both Isabel and her mother are fond of Annette. She is also a great source of information for Isabel’s cases. Frequently, she will contact her to find out the local dirt. She’s been helpful as the series goes on. I am currently writing no. 7 and, of course, she’s in this one. I like her too much to let her go.
Oh, by the way, Annette paid Isabel with free mechanical service for life. Her former boss got the same deal.
Annette’s new pastime is being the lead singer in a band she appropriately called the Junkyard Dogs. Her son, Abe plays drums and the guitarists are mechanics from another garage. The band plays at the Rooster on Fridays nights when Isabel is tending bar, and at Baxter’s another local watering hole.
Here’s I’ll give you an excerpt from Following the Lead, no. 6 in the series, that features the Tough Cookie. Isabel’s mother, Maria, her partner in solving crime, has decided she no longer wants to drive, so she is selling her car to Annette’s son, Abe.
Annette and Abe walk up the front path. This is a first for Abe, but Annette has been here before, when she hired me for my second case, plus another time with Marsha for my mother’s birthday party, which shocked my daughter Ruth a bit but their appearance made for a lively event.
But this time it’s for business. Annette nods at Abe and growls something under her breath I don’t catch before he hands my mother a fat envelope filled presumably with cash, a figure the two of them arranged without my input. Ma bought the car from Annette after I totaled the one she brought here. Hey, it wasn’t my fault. I had an alleged murderer trying to run me off the road.
“Do you want to count it, Mrs. Ferreira?” Abe’s face reddens. “It’s the amount we agreed to over the phone.”
My mother and Abe had a telephone conversation? This is news to me. Ma has the car’s title, plus a bill of sale I created on my computer ready.
“Here you go Abe,” my mother says. “It’s all yours.”
Annette gives her son the evil eye. She’s been working hard to train him to be a good adult in her own way, giving him a job and a place to live in the apartment behind the Pit Stop, the convenience store she co-owns. And now, he’s the drummer in the Junkyard Dogs. I half expect her to slap his arm and grumble, “What do you say?” But Abe beats her to it with a genuine thanks to my mother as he takes the paperwork, gives my mother an awkward hug that startles my non-hugging mother, and with a quick bow of his head, he’s out the door to get to work.
The Tough Cookie takes a seat.
“How’s your new case goin’?” she asks.
“I’m just getting started. This one’s gonna be tough.”
She shakes her head after I tell her about my new case.
“Don’t know anythin’ about that one. Almost fifty years ago? Really?”
I’m not surprised Annette hasn’t heard about the kidnapping. Given she’s in Caulfield, a few towns north and west of where I live, she has access to a different set of locals. Caulfield and Jefferson have few if any connections. No one from one town would go to the other unless they had kin living there. And I would wager Caulfield has more natives percentage wise than Jefferson, which has become a semi-suburb of Hampton, the county seat.
But then again, Caulfield and the towns around it would be a great place for a man or woman with a past to hide out. Plus, she and her cousin, Marsha own the Pit Stop, the only gas station and convenience store for miles. She’s lived there all of her life, and like a lot of the natives, she keeps tabs on the newcomers.
“You ever hear of a man named Tim Todd or Robert Todd? He is or was a musician. Plays the piano.”
“There’s a guy named Robert Todd who comes into Baxter’s. Sometimes he plays the piano. He’ll come in on a Sunday or sometime when there’s not a lot of people. He seems rather harmless, quiet and kind of a loner.” She stops and laughs when she realizes she just used a description for people who are often guilty as hell. “Anyway Dave lets him play. You should talk with him about the guy.”
My mother chuckles. I can read her mind. I can’t escape talking with Dave Baxter about a case it seems.
“What’s he look like?”
“He’s kinda old. White hair, lots of it. Not bad lookin’ for his age.” She shakes her finger. “And he has the longest damn fingers I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t play the kind of music the regulars like. It’s that highbrow stuff. You look excited there, Isabel. You, too, Maria.”
“He definitely sounds like the guy I’m looking for. Any idea where he might live?”
“No, I don’t. You could ask Marsha if he comes into the Pit Stop for gas. She’s there more than me. I bet Dave Baxter will know.” She gives me a sly laugh. “He won’t mind you askin’.”
Annette is clearly alluding to the obvious crush Dave has on me.
“That might be a good time to tell him we’re going to live with Jack,” my mother says. “Fred’s moving out.”
“You two?” She snorts a laugh. “How come I don’t know about this?”
I try to conceal my surprise. I don’t want my mother to feel badly about blurting out the news, but some damage control is needed here.
“Uh, because it just happened and we haven’t told anybody. There’s stuff to work out. If you don’t mind, Annette, could you keep it to yourself please? But when people start talking about it, you can tell them you already knew. Okay?”
Annette leans back in her seat as she focuses on the living room window.
“Will do. Abe’s got the car hitched up. I gotta check to make sure he did it right. I don’t wanna lose the car on the way.” She stands and knocks the table top with a fist. “Nice to see you both, and I’ll make sure Abe takes real good care of your car, Maria. Gotta get back to the junkyard. Somebody’s droppin’ off a Crown Vic. I’m keepin’ that one for myself for next year’s demolition derby.” She laughs. “This time I’m gonna make sure I win. Gary Beaumont better watch out.”
“See you around,” I tell her, and then I remember something I want to ask her. “When’s your next gig at the Rooster? My mother wants to hear you play.”
Annette smiles at Ma.
“You do, do you? Jack’s kinda booked, so I hope soon. We’re playing at Baxter’s two Saturdays from now. Why don’t you come, Isabel?” She makes a chuckle that contains a large amount of mischief. “I’m sure Dave would love it.”
“I’m sure he would.”
LINK: Here’s the link to buy Following the Lead, no. 6 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, now available in Kindle and paperback — https://mybook.to/followingthelead You can find the paperback at Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/following-the-lead-joan-livingston/1142832432
And thank you if you do. That’s the cover above by the way.
SPECIAL THANKS: I am grateful for the services of Travis Johnston, owner and web architect at Creo Coding — Web Design and Development for rescuing my website. I couldn’t log in for days and Travis not only figured out the problem, he upgraded every part that needed to be done. He lives in my village but, eh, the internet is international. Here’s his website: www.CreoCoding.com