Hi! I’m running on a tight schedule—got to get my daughters Maggie and Em to elementary school on time. So far, in spite of some family crises, they’ve been on time every day, and I want to keep it that way. Come with me, and then we’ll go to my real estate office, and we can visit unless Keisha, my assistant, decides she needs to take over the conversation. She’s good at that, but she’s wonderful, a student I snatched from the Fort Worth school vocational program.
This morning Keisha justified my description, and I know you were surprised to say the least. Keisha’s African American, large—not fat, but big all over, and today she’s wearing a turquoise muumuu and turquoise sandals with her trademark spiked heels, lots of turquoise at her neck, on her wrists, in her ears. Luckily, she has not tinted her hair turquoise—the spikes are usually blonde. Keisha has the sixth sense, and she’s saved me more than once from my own folly.
I’m Kelly O’Connell, sole owner of O’Connell and Spencer Realty, a real estate firm that specializes in renovating the Craftsman houses as well as other vintage structures in historic Fairmount neighborhood in Fort Worth, Texas. Fairmount is a wonderful place to live, like living in a small town within a big city. Fifteen or twenty years ago it was a neighborhood in decline, but young professionals discovered the charming old houses and the neighborhood’s close proximity to downtown and the hospital district. An active neighborhood association oversaw the development of classy commercial areas, and now, among other things, Fairmount has one of the best dining strips in the city.
The Spencer part of my firm name is my ex-husband who was killed a few years ago—but that’s a story long since told in Skeleton in a Dead Space I married Mike Shandy, the neighborhood police officer when I met him and now a detective with the Narcotics Squad after a bad automobile crash left him unable to run fast enough to be a patrol officer (Trouble in a Big Box). Mike and I married after a close call with a serial killer nearly left me and my mom dead, and shortly thereafter, Mike adopted my girls (No Neighborhood for Old Women). The girls adore him—and so do I.
Mike says, however, that I have a real talent for trouble. I maintain that I’m looking out for my beloved neighborhood. He says I should let the police do their work and stay out of things. I argue that I would if they’d move fast enough and act on the tips I give them. I admit I have been vandalized, stalked, almost shot, almost asphyxiated, and kidnapped and kept in a dungeon-like basement. Mike reminds me of those things when he thinks I’m crossing the line into police concerns.
In spite of Mike’s irregular schedule and my brushes with disaster, we try to maintain an orderly life for the girls—homework in the afternoon, dinner at a regular time. I am no kitchen maven. Before Mike and I married, I mostly fed the girls pizza, turkey burgers from the Old Neighborhood Grill, and peanut butter-jelly sandwiches. My repertoire has grown since then. I make a cheeseburger meatloaf that Mike loves, and my beef stroganoff is pretty good. Still, there are nights when he says, “Creamed tuna again? Must have been a bad day!”
On Sunday nights, we often have a potluck supper—sometimes Mike grills, sometimes I make a ham or something, and everyone brings potato salad, cheese grits, green salad, whatever. My mom often brings extravagant Italian cream cakes—along with her companion, Otto, with whom she swears the relationship is platonic. Me, I’m not so sure about that. Anthony, my carpenter/renovator/do it all, comes with his two young sons and an ice cream cake—or bottles of wine. And Theresa, Anthony’s daughter, and her new husband Joe join us—now there’s a separate story and one yet to be completely told. Last but not least, there’s my friend Claire—we’ve rescued each other from time to time, and she’s important to me, even if Mike remains a bit skeptical about whether or not she deliberately murdered her husband.
You come join us some Sunday night. You can meet all these fascinating people I love, the people who try to keep me out of trouble. They’ve got a hard job.
An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter is the author of three books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries series: Skeleton in a Dead Space, No Neighborhood for Old Women, and Trouble in a Big Box. With Murder at the Blue Plate Café,due next February, she moves from inner city Fort Worth to small-town East Texas to create a new set of characters in a setting modeled after a restaurant that was for years one of her family’s favorites.
Before turning her attention to mystery, Judy wrote fiction and nonfiction, mostly about women of the American West, for adults and young-adult readers. Her work has been recognized with awards from the Western Writers of America, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame. She has been honored with the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement by WWA and inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame at the Fort Worth Public Library.
Judy is retired after almost 30 years with TCU Press, 20 of them as director. She holds a Ph.D. in English from TCU and is the mother of four grown children and the grandmother of seven.
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