Title UKULELE DEADLY
Author Leslie Langtry
Genre Cozy Mystery
Publisher Gemma Halliday Publishing
Ukulele player Nani Johnson is just starting to put the past behind her and settle in on Kauai with her loveable but crazy Mom, her hot new boyfriend, and regular gigs at both the Blue Hawaii Wedding Chapel and the Aloha Lagoon Resort. But unfortunately her island life proves anything but relaxing when a man carrying ID that says he’s from Nani’s hometown dies in front of her. Now it looks like Nani and her mother are the main suspects.
Things go from bad to bleak in paradise as Nani’s mom starts acting even odder than usual, there’s a mutiny involving snakes at the Blue Hawaii Wedding Chapel, and more bodies inconveniently pop up near Nani. Can Nani stay out of jail long enough to unmask the real killer…or will the police pin it all on her?
“Are those…human heads?” eight-year-old Daisy asks as we walk through my front door. “Real human heads? From, like, people?”
My entryway looks like Madame Tussaud stopped by for a visit and made a bunch of wax heads but got bored and left before attempting anything below the neck. Dozens of glassy eyes stare unnervingly at us, probably begging us to call the police for help.
“No. They’re just…” My mind races for an explanation as to what these things are and why I’d even have them in my house.
Which, by the way, I wouldn’t. These heads weren’t here when I’d left for work a few hours ago. Mom must be on one of her insane decorating binges. I really should take over her bank account. I’m sure Dad didn’t mean for her to use her inheritance for this. Again. Still, I have to admit, this is way better than the time she filled the dining room with three dozen obscenely endowed tiki gods. They were basically giant erections with tiny figurines attached on one end, and they fell over every time I took a breath anywhere in the house. As a result of this pornographic collection (Mom called them cultural artifacts), I couldn’t eat in there, and I took bratwurst off the menu until Mom removed them. Being that we’re mostly German (where brats are their own food group) and from the Midwest (where it’s possibly illegal if you don’t grill them once a week), she grudgingly complied.
“Mannequin heads.” My exhausted brain finally connects with the right word. “They’re for a…a hairstylist convention.”
Daisy shrugs and walks over to a head that eerily resembles me and pokes it in the eye. Would she actually do that if it were real? Kids are creepy.
And that’s best I can come up with? A hairstylist convention? Well, I guess that’s better than saying Mom’s on an island-wide decapitation spree. At least she’s diverse. I count quite a few different races represented by the unblinking heads. Some are even wearing makeup.
“Oh good, Nani!” Mom rounds the corner in a bright lime muumuu with a sloshing mai tai to match. Great. She’s on a binge and a bender.
“I’d like your opinion,” she says as she totters in on her flip-flops. Despite their flat engineering, she walks in them as if they are six-inch high heels. Mom never really warmed to the “shoes off at the front door” culture here.
Huh. Mom never asks for my opinion on her, um, stuff. Most of the time I just stumble into the living room to find one hundred and twenty-three plastic bananas wearing handlebar mustaches and giant googly eyes.
She waves toward the severed heads. “Do you think the legs would look better in the living room or in your bedroom? I’ve given them all pedicures but can’t find shoes that fit.”
Fantastic. This means she has the rest of the body parts stashed somewhere. With the way my luck is running, she probably has the torsos scattered around the yard, which will definitely skeeve out the neighbors. Does she forget that not too long ago, I was the main suspect in three murders? I do not need the extremely nearsighted little old lady next door calling the police to say she saw me dismembering bodies.
I need to get a little tough here. “Neither. And there’s no more room in the garage for your ‘decorations.‘ You can keep the heads, but the bodies have to go away.” I know…why let her keep the heads? Because you have to pick your battles with Harriet Jones Johnson.
Mom pouted. “Well, you’ll have to move them then, because Nick and his mother are coming over in an hour for dinner.”
I groan. I don’t even do it inwardly anymore, because Mom doesn’t appear to notice or care.
“Why didn’t you tell me before I went to work?” I whine.
Now I have to cancel Daisy’s lesson, scavenge for something to cook, and, well, cook it, all in one hour. Sure, I do this all the time. But that doesn’t mean I like it. At least we are past the surprise dinners where my mother foists me on strange men. I’m in a pretty serious relationship with someone she introduced me to…at a surprise dinner, where I’d tried to pass off carryout as my own cooking.
Daisy sighs, pulls her cell out of her pocket, and dials. Unfortunately, she knows the drill. My mother has no respect for my student lessons. No matter what I say, she’ll just do it again. Daisy’s a little too used to this, and once she tells her parents about the severed heads in the foyer, I’ll probably lose her as a student.
“Okay, Dad.” Daisy ends the call and looks up at me. Her bright yellow, smiley face ukulele hasn’t even left the case. “He’s just a block away. I’ll wait for him outside.” And with that, she’s gone.
“Mom.” I turn on my mother. “I’ve told you to check with me before you invite people over. Now I’m going to lose another student.”
My mother doesn’t care. “I’m sorry, Nani. I really am. But you work for the resort now. You don’t need to teach lessons anymore.”
I take a deep breath and steel myself. “I don’t need to—I like to.” Not to mention the fact that at the rate she’s emptying her bank account, she’ll need my income to buy googly eyes, disembodied heads, and erect tiki statues.
At one time I had quite a few students. But when I was a suspect in those aforementioned murders, my students started falling away. The tragic and disturbing upside is that because of those murders, my competition is gone, and now I’m able to perform at the Aloha Lagoon Resort. I balance that with my gigs at the Blue Hawaii Wedding Chapel. So I’d narrowed my teaching down to three of my favorite students, which included Daisy.
“You’re going to have to start dinner,” Mom says. “Nick and Vera will be here in forty-five minutes. What are you going to make?”
“I thought you said an hour,” I say through gritted teeth.
An artificially black eyebrow rises. “Did I? Well, it doesn’t matter, because they’ll be here in thirty minutes.”
I really need to get Mom a watch.
“I’ll order out,” I say after doing a mental inventory of my empty cupboards. Why does this always happen when we have no food?
My mother shakes her head, causing her mai tai to spill again. A neon green puddle that looks suspiciously like antifreeze starts to run across the floor. One more mess I have to clean up.
“I think it would be better if you cook. How do you expect to keep Nick interested if we order out each time?”
I roll my eyes. “Nick and I have been dating for a while now. I don’t think it’s my cooking that he’s interested in.”
Storming past Mom before she can ask for details, I reach my room, locking the door behind me. Half an hour—or whatever it is now—is at least enough time to take a quick shower and change my clothes. I’ve just come home from a luau, and my hair smells like roasted pork.
My name is Nani Johnson, and I’m a Julliard-trained ukulele musician living on the island of Kauai. I moved here almost two years ago with my mother, after my father died. And since she’s mostly certifiable, she doesn’t work, instead spending her days either playing mah jong at the senior center, decorating our small cottage, or running around with her new friend, Vera Woodfield.
It’s funny how I’d once thought moving to Hawaii would solve all of our problems. Mom’s a diehard Polynesia-phile who thinks she’s a direct descendant of King Kamehameha’s. She’s descended from German farmers, and instead of having Tahitian ancestors, we have pasty white people from Kansas.
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Leslie Langtry is the USA Today Bestselling Author of the Bombay Greatest Hits Series, Merry Wrath Mysteries & the Ukulele Mysteries. She lives in the Midwest with her family and an alarming menagerie of pets. Leslie loves cake and puppies but will not share her cake with puppies.
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