Mayhem in Miniature
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SYNOPSIS

 

In the second book in the series, we find GERRY and MADDIE busy with room boxes for the Mary Todd Lincoln ball. When one of Gerry's students in a senior crafts class is accused of murder, Gerry and Maddie are drawn into the investigation. Besides Gerry's family, the cast of characters includes residents of a retirement home—all a lot smarter than most people give them credit for.

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CHAPTER 1

The final test was always nerve-wracking.

The room was cozy and inviting, with a leisure chair and matching ottoman in a sweet briar rose pattern, a tall bookcase filled with the complete works of Shakespeare, photographs in white porcelain frames, a mahogany coffee table, and a hardwood floor polished to perfection. With its stately Christmas tree and holly-laden mantel, the composition might win a designer award for Victorian charm and décor, but could it hold its own against the force of gravity?

I took a breath and did the arm stretch I learned in aerobics class—the special session for the over fifty crowd.

Then I picked up the room by the back of the chair, my fingers gripping the carved wood. Everything else came up with it, even the basket of knitting next to the chair's Queen Anne feet.

So far so good.

I tipped the room upside down and gave it a little shake, keeping a careful eye on the half-full glass of wine and the star at the top of the spruce.

I waved the room from left to right. The miniature furniture and all the accessories stayed glued to the floor, the books stayed in the bookcase, the lamp clung to the table. Only the beaded fringe on the ornate lampshade moved, sending a delicate pattern of roses and green leaves rippling through the air.

I was home free, officially done with my Victorian roombox, which was ten inches long, representing ten feet (full-scale, we miniaturists called it). Tomorrow I'd take the parlor downtown to the community center—my contribution to the holiday auction. More aptly, the Mary Todd Lincoln auction, as every crafter in town competed for the most authentic Victorian-era ornamentation.

Lincoln Point, California, about forty miles south of San Francisco, took all things Lincoln seriously. Never would we lump Abraham's birthday with those of every other president of the United States. We celebrated on the day itself, February 12, no matter which day of the week it fell on.

We were equally meticulous about his wife. One of Lincoln Point's founding fathers in years gone by apparently decided that Mary Todd Lincoln's birthday, December 13, was an appropriate day for the official start of the Christmas celebrations around town, beginning with a grand ball at city hall.

Thus, not even Christmas had escaped our grasp. (And lately, we also included Hanukah, Kwanzaa, and generic winter solstices, Lincoln-izing them all.)

Linda Reed, my good friend and a much better crafter than I was, had chosen to create a model of a Victorian bedroom in half scale (only one half inch equals a foot of life-size space). She'd hand-sewn a mountain of tiny pillows and added embroidery picturing an elaborate skating party worthy of a Currier & Ives print.

"I'm tired of needlework," she'd told me. "Next year, I'm going to do a Victorian bathroom."

"I'll bet one dollhouse kit and a year's supply of rubber cement that you'll be doing crewel work on the towels and hand weaving the toilet seat cover," I'd said. "Mrs. Lincoln would have liked that."

This had drawn a laugh and "You've got a point, Gerry." Linda seemed happier these days, now that her adopted teenage son, Jason, had an after-school job and was making the honor roll, and the more troublesome of her two exes was out of her life. Linda had also managed to streamline her career as a nurse. Instead of juggling part time positions at three medical centers, she'd accepted an offer of a full-time job at the Mary Todd Home, an upscale, multilevel care facility near her own house. I was a volunteer there myself on Friday mornings, teaching and helping residents with crafts projects.

The Mary Todd Ball was only two days away, and there was much to do in the meantime in my regular, life-size schedule. First up today was a meeting at the library with Lourdes Pino, one of my favorite GED students. She was more than ready to take the test for her high-school equivalency diploma, but she still lacked the confidence to go for it. In her fifties, she had a tough time with change and risk-taking. (Didn't we all.)

I had a couple more deliveries to make around town—my inability to "just say no" had earned me a spot on the decorating committee for the ball. There was also shopping and preparation for a special guest: this evening, I'd pick up my beloved ten-year-old granddaughter, Maddie, at the airport. I'd have her to myself until her parents joined us for Christmas next week.

I gave my roombox a nudge on the way out the door to meet my student, poking at the table legs and the antimacassar I'd tatted for the chair back. I found it just the way I liked it—completely static.

Rrring. Rrring.

My kitchen phone. I stood in place by the front door, waiting to hear a message. I never thought I'd be one to screen calls, but I had to admit how handy it was. What had I done before answering machines, caller ID, cell phones, and call waiting? It was a long way from the four-party line we shared in my childhood home in the Bronx.

"Geraldine, this is Dolores Muniz. I need to talk to you. Please, please be there."

Coming from my machine was the voice of the Lincoln Point City Hall. That is, of one of their high-ranking administrators, a dynamic woman with whom I'd worked on publicity and permits for the many crafts fairs and programs I helped organize. Dolores's personality leaned to the dramatic, but this seemed a little intense, even for her. I rushed to the phone.

"It's my grandmother," she said to the machine, just before I picked up the receiver.

"What's wrong with Sofia?" I asked Dolores. I hoped we wouldn't be faced with losing Sofia during what should be a festive time.

I had a special bond with Dolores's grandmother. Sofia was in her mid-eighties, a resident at the Mary Todd Home and a regular participant in my Friday morning crafts workshop. But more than that, she'd built me a shrine in the very dark days of my husband's long illness. Though only three inches tall, the beautiful altar, with its rows of votive candles and statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe gave me great comfort. Neither Sofia nor the lovely lady in blue in the miniature scene seemed to mind that I wasn't Roman Catholic.

"Geraldine, I'm so glad you're there." I heard relief in Dolores's voice, then increased agitation. "They can't find her."

I heard the panic in Dolores's voice and wished I were there to offer relief. As it was, I had only a silly question.

"She left the home?"

"The administrator is saying she ran away, but I know she wouldn't do that. So either her memory has gotten worse, or"—Dolores's voice caught—"someone kidnapped her. You know, you hear such horrible nursing home stories these days. Who knows what could have happened to her?"

I put down my purse and tote and sat on a metal chair in my atrium. "I'm so sorry, Dolores. I assume they've called the police?"

"They did, and so did I, but on the whole, the police don't care. They never do. She's just an old lady who wandered off."

The beginnings of a speech in defense of law enforcement formed in my mind as I thought of Skip, my conscientious twenty-eight-year-old nephew and one of the newest detectives in the Lincoln Point police department. But on the whole, I knew that Dolores was right, that a harmless, meandering octogenarian was not a high priority on the LPPD crime-fighting agenda. Perhaps we needed an old person alert, like the Amber Alert for children.

"Can you talk to Skip, Geraldine?" Not unexpected. I often got requests to intercede with Skip. Sometimes for a speeding or parking ticket, sometimes for more serious matters, like this one. It was hard to convince people that, one, I didn't have a hotline to Skip, and, two, the wishes of a retired English teacher were not what the LPPD had dedicated their lives to. "I'm going to drive around myself and look for her, but it would be nice to know someone on the police force cared."

"I'll try to reach my nephew, but I can't promise anything. What I can do, if it will help, is drive for you if you want some company while you look." My own time, at least, was something I had control over. Though I questioned the usefulness of a random search of Lincoln Point's streets, I understood why Dolores would need to be doing something to find her grandmother.

I heard a loud sigh. "That would be wonderful, Geraldine. Can you pick me up at city hall?"

"Give me ten minutes."

I hung up and mentally changed gears. My call to Lourdes caught her just in time, before she left for our tutoring session at the library.

"That's okay, Mrs. Porter, I will wait here until you call me."

"Thanks for being flexible, Lourdes. Go on to the next chapter in your book, and we'll work on it later today."

Always the teacher, my late husband, Ken, would have said. Always giving homework. I knew he meant it as a compliment.

I gave my cozy scene one more nudge, and my atrium Jade plant a quick spray. I grabbed a light jacket (Decembers are mild in this part of the world, at least for a Bronx native) and glanced at my tote full of books and materials for tutoring. Before the morning's over, I thought, Sofia will have been returned safely to her room at the Mary Todd, probably by an LPPD officer as young and handsome as Skip was (though it would be hard to find a cop with Skip's dazzling red hair).

I'd still have time for conjugations and punctuation with Lourdes.

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