Fall is in the air in Etonville, New Jersey. The leaves are about to change colors, the humidity has evaporated, and I, Dodie O’Dell, am whipping the Windjammer restaurant into a finely- tuned machine. Nearly two years after Hurricane Sandy I’m finally getting comfortable trading the Jersey Shore sun and sand for the antics of small town life.
Of course, with autumn comes the opening production of the Etonville Little Theatre—Arsenic and Old Lace. It’s perfect for them: a love story, batty old ladies, a homicidal maniac, delusional relatives, and murder. Plus a large cast. My BFF Lola Tripper is shifting from playing the leading diva in recent productions to artistic director, leaving former director and love interest Walter Zeitzman to step into the role of the delusional nephew. Which I think is type-casting. Lola has invited Antonio Digenza, a friend from her Off-Off-Broadway days, to serve as a guest director. He agreed as long as he could cast his very young wife as the romantic lead. Lola agreed, much to the annoyance of some ELT regulars.
So, my theme food ideas went over so big with the Romeo and Juliet crowds, that I decide to up the ante with a weekend food festival to promote Arsenic and Old Lace. 1940s Brooklyn fare: Nathan’s hotdogs, Italian ices, egg creams, knishes, and elderberry wine, without the arsenic, of course. My chef/boss Henry isn’t too thrilled about a 1940s throwback food theme, since he’s still in culinary competition with his cross-town rival La Famiglia. But Henry is usually a good egg and this time is willing to give me the benefit of the doubt.
The ELT is three weeks into rehearsal and is proceeding on time. But yesterday Lola burst into the Windjammer needing a drink, clearly upset: Antonio has been disappearing without any explanation, his leading lady wife hasn’t learned her lines, and the cast is grumbling over Antonio’s direction. Of course, Lola is frantic but the gossip mill in Etonville is loving the crises. Never mind, I told myself, the food festival will be just the dose of diversion the theater needs. A stroll down Main Street noshing knishes, Italian ices and hotdogs. I might even get my current heartthrob—Police Chief Bill Thompson, a former NFL player with the body to prove it—off the local gridiron next weekend, where he’ll be coaching Etonville’s Youth Football team. Their record is 0 and 8, but hope springs eternal.
Bill and I have become an almost-couple since last spring when I helped solve the murder of my good friend Jerome Angleton, the ELT box office manager. With the aid of my digital forensic research geek Pauli, son of my other BFF Carol, owner of the Snippets salon.
Tonight, I’m the last person standing at the Windjammer. I sent bartender Benny and chef Henry home an hour ago. I grab my bag, switch off the lights, and open the door, inhaling the chilly autumn air. I turn to lock the door when a white Mercedes speeds down Main Street. I glance up and catch the tail lights of the car. There is only one white Mercedes with a New York license plate in Etonville at the moment and it belongs to guest director Antonio Digenza. Interesting that he’s racing down the road away from the theater at this hour. Lola and her staff have been burning the midnight oil there every night this week. For that matter I’m surprised he’s even in town at all. Lola had told me he would be away overnight and his assistant would take over rehearsal.
Something about Antonio doesn’t sit right with me. He’s too smooth, too good-looking, too arrogant. I have these little hairs on the back of my neck that twitch whenever something is wrong. My personal radar system. Right now, they are standing at attention. Is there something about the ELT guest director that he’s kept hidden? Is there more to his story? I shake off my suspicions, climb into my trusty Chevy Metro, and head home.
TIME OUT is the second book in the Dodie O’Dell mystery series published by Lyrical Underground, January 2017.
KNISH OF DEATH
The amateur actors at the Etonville Little Theatre may be known for chewing the scenery, but restaurant manager Dodie O’Dell has something more appetizing for them to sink their teeth into. She’s been taking bows in her small New Jersey town for her theme menus, designed to complement the local productions. This fall, the community theatre is staging Arsenic and Old Lace, set in 1940s Brooklyn, so Dodie is serving up hot dogs, Italian ices, egg creams, and knishes at the weekend food festival.
All is going well until Antonio Digenza, the ex-Off-Off-Broadway director of the show, dies dramatically while noshing on a knish. As rumors of food poisoning quickly spread, Dodie scrambles to rescue the Windjammer restaurant’s reputation. But when clues point to foul play, she’s faced with a cast of suspects all auditioning for the part of DiGenza’s murderer. She’ll need to act fast to shine a spotlight on the killer—before it’s curtains for another victim . . .
# # # # # # # # # # #
About the author
Suzanne Trauth’s novels include Show Time (2016) and Time Out (2017), the initial books in a new mystery series published by Kensington Books. Her plays include Françoise, nominated for the Kilroy List; Midwives developed at Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey; Rehearsing Desire; iDream, supported by the National Science Foundation’s STEM initiative; and Katrina: the K Word. Suzanne wrote and directed the short film Jigsaw and is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Dramatists Guild. Connect with Suzanne at www.suzannetrauth.com.
All comments are welcomed.
Giveaway: Leave a comment below for your chance to win a print copy of Time Out. US entries only, please. The giveaway ends January 23, 2017. Good luck everyone!