Many readers tell me that the Old Farts are among their favorite characters in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. Frankly, I love all of my characters even the ones with no redeeming qualities. Certainly that includes Jim Hawthorne aka Thorny the ex-police chief from Killing the Story who continues to haunt Isabel in book no. 6 Following the Lead. But the Old Farts have so much going for them.
So who are the Old Farts? They are a group of retired men who meet in the backroom of the Conwell General Store to gossip over cups of crappy coffee. I suppose lots of stores and restaurants have groups of men and women who do the same. Perhaps the coffee is even good.
Isabel has given them all secret nicknames — they don’t know she calls them the Old Farts — keyed to their salient characteristic. There’s the Fattest Old Fart (the group’s loud mouth ring leader), Silent Old Fart, Old Fart with Glasses, Bald Old Fart, Skinniest Old Fart and the Serious Old Fart. Sometimes there’s a Visiting Old Fart. And, no, readers who know me, they are not based on anyone real.
Isabel will visit the Old Farts when she has a case to solve because these guys have the intel on what’s happened in the hilltowns of Western Mass. Their reach is quite extensive although Isabel knows to back up their sometimes so-called facts with her own research. The Old Farts welcome her visits — and there is a humorous scene in Following the Lead when they seek her out because she has been too busy to visit them. And for this case one of them is actually involved.
Following the Lead, no. 6 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, is only a couple weeks away from its Nov. 3 release. When I began writing this one I realized I wanted to try a different kind of mystery. This one required Isabel to go way back, say nearly fifty years ago, to find out what happened when a baby was snatched from a family’s front yard. Sounds a bit impossible. But our gutsy P.I. was up for the challenge.
Lin Pierce, Isabel’s boss briefly, was an 11-year-old boy, who was cleverly lured away. The loss hit his parents and him hard. But Lin believes Isabel has the wherewithal and smarts to find out what happened to Elizabeth and bring some closure to his family — or better yet, actually locate her.
Of course, Isabel starts with the family. His mother, Jessica was giving a piano lesson when the baby was stolen. His father, Ben, was at work. Ah-ha, Ben turns out to be one of the Old Farts, actually the Bald Old Fart.
Here’s a scene from Following the Lead involving the Old Farts:
Jack’s still sleeping when I duck out for my visit with the Old Farts in the backroom of the general store. This is definitely going to be tricky considering the seriousness of my case and who is involved. From the vehicles parked near the store, I assume I will have one hundred percent attendance, and as I make my way through the stockroom, I hear a chorus of laughter. Naturally, the Fattest Old Fart, the group’s lookout, announces my arrival.
“Where in the heck have you been, Isabel? We’ve been waiting to hear all about your last case.” He pats the spot beside him on the school bus seat. “Sit yourself right down, kiddo. We had to read about it in the Daily Fart.”
Laughing, I do as I’m told. I forgot that’s what this group of old men called my old newspaper just to tease me when I still worked for it. Little do they know that it inspired their secret nicknames.
The Serious Old Fart is already up getting my coffee. As expected, he jokes, “How about a cappuccino, Isabel,” which is a far cry from the crappy coffee he will serve me. But I graciously accept the cup before I proceed with a detailed narrative of my last case. Of course, they’ve read about it in the Daily Star. I imagine one of them brought in a copy and read the article aloud to the others. What they want to hear is what wasn’t in the paper, and I gladly oblige their comments and questions, except for the really personal details. While we talk, I take in the Bald Old Fart, trying my darndest not to be obvious he’s the primary reason I am here. And then I get hit with the question I’ve been expecting. It comes from the Silent Old Fart, who isn’t living up to his name this morning.
“So, Isabel, when are you starting your next case?” he asks.
The Bald Old Fart and I exchange glances.
“I have one already,” I say quietly.
“Speak up, Isabel,” the Fattest Old Fart says. “We can’t hear you.”
I’m about to do just that when the Bald Old Fart clears his throat.
“It’s about my family,” he says. “My daughter …”
For once there are no wisecracks as the Bald Old Fart’s voice trails off. Just serious faces. The Old Farts already have the intel on his sad family history. Perhaps they’ve even discussed it as a group. I decide to let him off the hook.
“His son, Lin, has hired me. He wants closure after all these years.”
The Bald Old Fart nods and wipes away a tear.
“Closure. That’s a good way to put it,” he says. “I believe we should meet in private, Isabel. Yes? Fine.” He puts his attention on his buddies. “If you don’t mind, fellas, I’d like to find something else to talk about. If I, er, we have news to report on this case, I will let you know.”
This is an interesting turn of events. I’ve been here before when the Old Farts were gabbing about somebody’s missteps or misfortune, and even being a little free with the facts. Certainly, they have been a source of info for my cases, but like the good reporter I once was, I backed up whatever they told me with more research. As I mentioned earlier, two other Old Farts had a connection to my cases but none were as close as this one.
“All right, fellas, let’s move on,” the Fattest Old Fart says. “Before you got here, Isabel, we were talking about the town’s latest romance.”
“Oh, you mean Jack’s cousin, Fred?”
“Ha. Heard he was moving in with Amy Prentice.”
“How’d you hear … oh, was he just in here?”
“No, but thanks for confirming it.”
I check the wall clock. I bet Jack should be up by now.
“And with that I will be leaving you, fellas,” I say, drawing the typical chorus of protests, all part of the fun since they will be skedaddling it out of here soon to whatever they do back home.
I have my hand on my car’s door when I hear my name being called. You guessed it, the Bald Old Fart has followed me outside.
“Thanks for your discretion back there,” he says.
I throw my bag into the car and face him.
“Be honest. How do you feel about your son hiring me for this case?”
He shakes his head.
“I have mixed feelings. I’m the father, so I have a different take on what happened almost fifty years ago. He was just a boy.” He raises his hand. “But I agreed to speak with you. When would you like to do that? How about tomorrow morning, say ten?”
I check the store’s windows as we agree on a time. The rest of the Old Farts are staying put out of consideration for their friend, nice guys. I decide that I will go solo on this visit. I’m sensing there might be some sensitive adult issues involved that Lin isn’t aware happened.
“See you soon.”
LINKS: Following the Lead is available for pre-order here https://mybook.to/followingthelead
Order now and it will magically appear on your Kindle device. And thank you if you do. Paperbacks will be out in a couple of months.
PHOTO ABOVE: The view to the north on a recent ride, fitting since Following the Lead takes place in the fall.