Allow me to introduce my first book. It’s a murder mystery.
Here’s the blurb on the back cover:
What does a single mom need to do to meet Mr. Right when there are no eligible men at church, and bars are out of the question?
You join a dulcimer club, of course!
Kimberly may not meet her future mate at the dulcimer clubs she’s joined but she finds the people friendly and fun.
Then one by one, her friends start dying.
Is this normal, she wonders? Or is something darker at work? With the help of her son’s new mentor, former gang member Miguel Villanueva, she discovers that even small towns in northeastern Texas are not safe from murder.
And just to give you a taste to see if you’d enjoy it, here’s the first four chapters:
Murder in East Texas
A Murder Mystery by Sharon Wilfong
“Why are we going to Pittsburgh?”
“Because there’s a dulcimer club there and I want to jam with them.”
“People don’t jam on folk instruments.”
“People jam on anything. People can jam on rocks, if they want to.”
“I don’t want to.”
“That’s why we have dulcimers.”
“I don’t want to play the dulcimer either. I asked why we are going to Pittsburgh. Why can’t you go without me?”
“Don’t get smart. I want to meet people with mutual interests and I also want to spend time with my precious baby boy.” I waited for the eye roll then continued. “I told you we’ll eat at Pizza Hut afterward.”
Thus ran the conversation between my son and myself. Christopher, fourteen years old, felt his Saturday was ruined by having to drive to a town forty-five minutes away with his mother, who was trying to rake up some vestige of a social life.
I was the music teacher at a local school in my town, Longview, Texas, and I decided that teaching my students the dulcimer would be a valuable addition to the other array of instruments we played. I was also the single mom of an adolescent boy.
I had been divorced for five years and did not like being single. I never wanted to be divorced, but there I was. There were no eligible men at my church, at least, I wasn’t meeting any, and I did not think hitting bars was a good idea. Sure, it’s happened, but my personal opinion was that meeting your future spouse at a bar… in addition to being highly unlikely… and how many sorry sod suckers would you have to meet before meeting the right one… assuming bars attract “right ones”… would not make the kind of love story you’d want to tell your grand kids.
Longview was pretty limited for social activities. In fact if you didn’t include churches and bars, you were left with Walmart. Could love happen in the ice cream aisle? So far, no. Which was why I was driving north to Pittsburgh to join a dulcimer club.
Perhaps I should mention that of all the things Texas is noted for, giving towns the same names as more famous cities from around the country and the world should be near the top of the list. Here in East Texas we have Athens (noted for its fishery), Paris (with its very own Eiffel Tower), Atlanta, (the economic center of Cass County!), Palestine (Hot Pepper Festival), and Pittsburg- home of, you guessed it, the Pittsburg Dulcimer Club.
What do these East Texas towns have in common wit their more famous namesakes? Aside from carbon-based life forms, nothing, what do they have in common with each other? Together they possess a population of your average state college. They’re small.
It was to Pittsburg I drove with high hopes of meeting someone. That special someone. Not the man of my dreams, because I was still plagued with nightmares of my ex-husband. No, someone with irresistible qualities, which at this point added up to a Christian man, somewhere near my age, who was single and wanted to marry me. I’d also like him to be employed, unless that was expecting too much.
I’d settle for a student studying engineering. He’d have to be a non-traditional student. (“After I retired as a full bird colonel from the Air Force, I decided to go to back school and get another degree…”) I always had high hopes of meeting my future spouse every time I entered a new situation, new job, new store, new room… and so far they had been dashed.
But this time was going to be different. This was a dulcimer club!
As Christopher and I entered the community center, I took a quick look around. My hopes wavered and came slowly sinking to earth like soldiers parachuting out of a plane. They always did. First high in the sky, then landing with a depressing thud.
The median age in the room was around sixty. It looked like a retirement home for elderly musicians. Everybody was sitting around in a big circle with dulcimers on their laps and music on little fold out stands in front of them. They all looked happy. They were happy. Only two people in that room weren’t happy and they had just walked into the room.
No matter. We were here and we were going to play the dulcimer. After all, I was truly interested in playing and teaching my students. I even got a grant from the local Lyons club to buy dulcimers for my classes.
And I must say, a good time was had by all, minus the youngest member of the club, as we strummed away for a couple of hours singing along to tens of folk songs.
Folk songs are easy to learn because they are made up of a simple A B construct: verse, chorus, verse, chorus etc… Most of the songs told stories, long stories, of unrequited love, hillbilly life, country life… life when people had a ton of time on their hands to sit around on a front porch and make up songs about their lives. Who does that now? Maybe they weren’t as educated as we are, but they were more creative.
One thing I like about older people is that they’re more sociable than young people. Go to one of those hip, contemporary churches and if anyone greets you, you know they’re over forty. I don’t know if the same is true for bars.
Before Christopher and I left, we got to meet and greet most of our fellow dulcimer players.
A couple of hours later found us standing outside the center waiting to cross the street.
I said, “Well, I enjoyed that. Those people were interesting to get to know. It’s a small town, and they all know each other, which is kind of nice, isn’t it?”
Christopher wasn’t as impressed.
“Mom, did you notice how they all talk about their medical problems? Everyone there had diabetes, or arthritis or some kind of sickness…”
“Well, let that be a cautionary tale, Christopher. When you’re old and people ask how you are you don’t give them your medical history.”
“They even all have the same…”
At this point a truck roared past and drowned out the end of Christopher’s sentence.
“What did you say?”
“Are we eating at Pizza Hut here or in Longview?”
“We could eat here, but you heard that the group was going to the Pizza Hut here so they could continue playing.”
“So let’s go to the one in Longview.”
“Aren’t you hungry? I am.”
That was met with a glare so I said, “There’s one in Gilmer. That’s closer.”
And it had an Italian buffet, something I did not need but oh well. I had lived in Longview for three years now. I had moved down here from New Jersey. I arrived a size eight and had since ballooned up to a size fourteen/ sixteen, depending on the make. I did not need to be eating at Pizza Hut, but it was the only way to appease my son. Mother guilt is a great motivator. I was too desperate or selfish, take your pick, to stay home and be lonely on the weekends.
I blame Longview for its lack of social activities, but if I were being honest, my efforts at creating a social life for myself had been minimal at best. A case of “I tried nothing and, for some crazy reason, it didn’t work.”
I am not an outgoing person and divorcing a man who had been unfaithful to me for years had left me crippled with self-doubt and hyper-sensitive to rejection.
School took up most of my time, which was OK because it paid the bills. I enjoyed my job, because it was a creative outlet and I loved the kids. I liked being the music teacher because I got to know the entire student body and it also meant that I only had to make three different kinds of lesson plans for the three different grades, although they all learned pretty much the same things, modified to their age levels.
But then I came home, exhausted. Fridays were great. Christopher and I put on some high energy jazz music in the car, drove to Little Caesars and got some cheap pizza, which was fine by us, because we had cheap tastes, came home and enjoyed the rest of our day.
Saturday was OK. Sunday was another trial because every single week I went to church wondering if I was going to meet my future husband. As far as I could tell, the single men had girlfriends, except one, a single dad who sat behind me. Every week, I hoped he would talk to me. Initiating conversation would set me up for rejection so I avoided that. Aside from the normal meet and greet, this man never spoke to me at all, which was too bad, because he had the most delightful voice. It was deep and rich with a sexy, Southern drawl. He wasn’t bad looking either. But no. Never a glance my way. I always left church depressed.
Sunday night was the witching hour. My mother knew this and would call from Florida to help walk me through the valley. She faithfully called me every Sunday night and patiently listened as I told her how my life was a bag of garbage. I hope I’m as good a mother one day. I guess my son will have weekly conversations with his therapist about having to attend old people activities.
Then Monday came and I was fine for another week.
But not having a social life was starting to lie heavily on me. Doing nothing really does not work, so I looked up possible social outlets in northeast Texas. A couple of churches offered singles groups, but I was too self-conscious. “Here we are. Single. Looking to get un-single. Heh.”
I thought subterfuge was a better strategy. Join a group that is not obviously a place to meet people and then, surprise! A man my age looking for Mrs. Right. I was convinced I was somebody’s Mrs. Right.
I did not mind marrying a cowboy. Cowboys are educated. Cowboys have college degrees. Cowboys like to read. Some do. I knew I was working against the odds, not because they were Cowboys, but because I didn’t know anyone who read as much as I did. It’s like a sickness with me. Or that’s how some people make me feel.
One friend, after looking around at the piles of books in my house, on my coffee table, end tables, floor, informed me she only read her Bible and Christian books. For the record, I didn’t slap her, but God knows I sinned against her in my heart.
I considered joining a Cowboy church, there was number of those around the outskirts of my town, but I never did. At least I could join a dulcimer group. I also joined a traveling Sacred Harp group that gathered at different churches all over East Texas. Christopher did not care for those activities, either, although I think he enjoyed singing more than strumming. At least he could belt his heart out with the best of them.
And I joined another dulcimer group in Jefferson. This one actually included any kind of folk instrument, including singing if a voice was all you had. Otherwise the music was the same. Christopher liked this group because everybody brought desserts, which made it worth his while. Also, Jefferson is historical and scenic with big antebellum houses, and antique stores. After the gathering we’d walk around and browse, especially the stores with old books. It was fun.
The next month we were back at Pittsburgh. I wanted to sit next to the man who I sat next to the previous month. He was a widower. No, he wasn’t husband material, he was seventy-eight years old, but he was interesting. Yes, he told me his medical history (“I got the diabetes. The doctor told me on my birthday. How’s that for a ‘Happy Birthday’?”) but he also talked about his life. His name was Dave.
He had been in the Navy and had traveled all over the world. Served in Vietnam. He had been stationed in Iceland for a year.
“What was it like?” I asked.
“Dark for most of the time. We were there in the winter. We got about four hours of daylight. And we were alone. Men were going nuts. They got pet rocks and put them next to their beds. Just lay there and talk to their rocks. And you better not touch their rock or you’d have a major fisticuffs on yer hand.”
He was talking about Iceland. I had meant Vietnam, but maybe he didn’t want to talk about that.
After he got out of the Navy, he became a piano tuner. He sounded like a brilliant piano tuner. If I got a piano, I would definitely hire him.
“I learned not to just tune, but renovate. I got pianos from every sort of saloon and bar or old time Movie Theater when they played ‘em for silent films. People thought they were good for kindling. I took them, replaced the hammers, the strings…painted ‘em. They were good sounding instruments after I got through with them.”
I said, “Well, if you get one I can afford. I’d like to get it from you.”
“I have a player piano that was in a cabaret for eighty years. It was built in 1920. It’s a bright, lime green. I was going to paint it, but if you take it as it is, I’ll give it to you for a hundred dollars. You’ll have to move it yourself. Then I’ll come and tune it.”
“It’s a deal!”
That was last month. I looked around for Dave but did not see him, so Christopher and I sat next to a sweet woman, who had come with her son and his wife. I soon learned she had some sort of dementia, but we managed to carry on a conversation. Because her memory was limited, our topics shifted a lot, but I didn’t mind.
During a break I leaned past the woman and asked her son, “Where’s Dave?”
The son, whose name was Michael, said, “There’s three Daves.”
“Are they all here?”
“No, only two.”
You’re on your way to dementia yourself, aren’t cha, pal? I put on my patient smile, which I hoped did not look like my condescending smile, and crisply Drewiculating my consonants asked, “Where’s the Dave that is not here.”
“He passed away.”
“Oh! I did not know he was sick.”
“I heard him tell you he had diabetes. Don’t you remember him telling you that?” Michael frowned at me like I was suffering from dementia. I allowed my smile to become condescending.
“Diabetes doesn’t have to kill you, Michael. Did you know that?”
OK. That was cheap, but Michael deserved it. Anyone his age who lets his hair grow as long as he did deserved a condescending smile. The top of his head was bald and as shiny as if he’d polished it, but it was encircled by long gray, stringy hair that looked like it was dancing “Ring Around the Bare Patch.” The front part of his face was covered with a long, gray, crinkly beard that lightly rested on his chest. With no mustache, he looked like a cross between an elderly mountaineer and an Amish Farmer.
I mentally prepared myself to rib him, but first I had to wait as he explained to me how someone could die from diabetes.
“Well, you can die from not taking care of yourself, eating the wrong food, stepping on a nail and getting an infection in your foot, because diabetics can lose feeling in their extremities.
“Yes, I know…”
“… and forgetting to bring your insulin with you and going into insulin shock with no one around to help.”
“Thank you, Michael, I happen…”
“Dave lived alone and he went into insulin shock during the night and the next Sunday morning his daughter found him dead.”
I remarked, “Well, at least his daughter came the next day.”
“Did I say that?” Michael was once again miffed at me for my poor listening skills.
“Dave did not die Saturday night?”
Michael began twisting the knobs on his dulcimer.
“How long had he been dead?”
“He was alive when his daughter came to take him to church the previous Sunday and he was dead when she came to get him the next Sunday. He had been dead a while.”
Dave only had a visitor once a week? He knew what loneliness is. I wasn’t the only one coming to the dulcimer club for friendship. After one conversation, we had become friends. My stomach began to hurt. I should not have taken my loss as hard as I did. I hardly knew the man; but my counselor told me that my divorce would leave me with abandonment issues. I fought back tears and felt like an idiot for being so unexpectedly emotional.
And here was Michael, being friendly and I was already pushing him away. Why? Because he looked like a hillbilly Moses? He faithfully brings his mother to the dulcimer club, even though she did not have a dulcimer, but because she loves to listen. I deemed myself a bad person and dropped the condescending smile. I decided to start a friendlier conversation.
“What do you do, Michael?”
“I am the pastor at a local church.”
“Oh, that’s nice. Which church?”
“First Christian Reformed of Pittsburgh.”
“What denomination is that?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I misunderstood. What’s its name, then?”
“First Christian Reformed of Pittsburgh. I said that already.”
“So you did. Why is it called “First”? How many Christian Reformed churches are there in Pittsburgh?”
“There are no other Christian Reformed churches here. The next closest is in East Mountain. After that, you’d have to drive to Tyler.”
“So you could call yourselves the ‘Last Christian Reformed of Pittsburgh if you wanted to, couldn’t you? Or even the ‘Only Christian Reformed’. The ‘Best Christian Reformed’ or the ‘Worst Christian Reformed.’”
“I suppose we could,” his tone had become frosty, but I had gained momentum.
“The ‘Hallelujah Reformed’, the ‘Standing on the Mountaintop with Christ my Savior Reformed Church of Pittsburgh; ‘Reformed Church of the Holy Spirit’;
“We were considering “Christ the King, Reformed Church of Pittsburgh…”
“… ‘Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam Reformed Church of the Rising Sun’…”
“You’re full of cow patties.”
I stopped, stunned. I admit I had gotten out of hand, but his mother was giggling at every brilliant title that poured out of my smart mouth.
I wasn’t non-plussed that a pastor used the term, “Cow Patties.” I was shocked because he did not say “Cow Patties”. He used the swear word.
“Oh, I’m sorry did that offend you?” Michael laughed.
“Yes, it did,” I answered.
“Why? What’s wrong with that word?”
“The Bible speaks against using coarse and vulgar language. You used a swear word.”
“No, I didn’t. A swear word is when someone takes a vow.”
“A curse word, then. That is unbecoming of a Pastor and remember that teachers are going to be judged more strictly by God.” Forgetting my previous irreverence, I had shifted into pious gear.
Michael shrugged. “Paul said it.”
“In Phillippians chapter three, verse eight.”
“Paul said all his good works were like a ‘dung heap’. ‘Dung’ is not a swear word.”
“Curse word,” Michael corrected.
He shrugged again. “It’s just a word our society decided is a swear word. Society could have decided that a red book is obscene. It’s just random.”
I will not bore you because this argument went on throughout the jam session. Between each song, we picked up where we left off. It continued as we walked to our cars. At my car, Michael apologized.
“I’m sorry I offended you,” Michael said.
That should have been the end of it, except his tone of voice changed the meaning of his sentence to:
“I’m sorry you’re so ignorant in your faith. Sigh. I suppose that I as the stronger brother should not have exercised my Christian liberty over my weaker brother.”
Yes, his tone was quite precise. I heard his meaning very clearly. Some people are masters at saying one thing while meaning something else. I hoped he didn’t deliver his sermons in the same snarky tone. He’d be lucky to have twelve people in the congregation.
When I got home I looked up the word the Apostle Paul used. There seemed to be two camps. One camp claimed Paul was swearing and thought it was funny and edgy. This included an Anglican pastor in New Zealand that had a blog with the entire passage typed out in Greek, I suppose to prove to everyone that he spoke Greek. It didn’t prove anything, because I don’t know Greek and I doubt most of his readers did, either. His argument seemed to be based on, “See? I can write Greek, therefore I am right. Aren’t I a clever boy?”
The other camp thought “dung” or “rubbish heap” was a more appropriate translation. This included a secular scholar whose interest was to accurately translate Greek and not whether Apostles used curse words or not.
One thing I noted was that those that insisted Paul was dropping the “S” bomb showed no examples in any other ancient Greek texts that indicated that the Greek word was considered a curse word. The ones that said it was not a swear word, showed many examples of the word used in government documents and other official records.
Because of my tendency to obsess, I brooded over this all month. I gathered my evidence and armed myself with irrefutable arguments and waited until the next dulcimer gathering to foist my retort upon Michael.
All of which was wasted because the next month there was no sign of Michael.
Christopher and I found a couple of empty seats, sat down and got out our dulcimers. A soft, charming accent asked if the seat next to Christopher was taken. I turned to see a short man with woolly iron gray hair and a mustache. His face was crinkled into a smile.
“Not at all,” I said and gestured for him to sit down.
He did and got out his dulcimer, put it across his lap and reached out a hand to me.
“I’m Jack McDuffy,”
I took his hand and shook it. Where did I know his accent? It sounded a bit British.
“Where are you from,” I asked.
“New Zealand,” he replied.
“You sound like you’re from Johannesburg. You’re not Afrikaans?”
“Well, my family is from Scotland but they moved to Rhodesia before I was born. I was born there. It is now Zimbabwe, you know, and I lived there for some years after my parents moved back to Scotland.”
I will briefly explain here that I am not an expert on all the accents in the world. My ex-husband was from South Africa and his father was Afrikaans. I recognized the unique way they pronounce English.
I asked Jack, “How did you end up in New Zealand?”
“Ach, Zimbabwe became quite intolerable, I must say. The living conditions became impossible, and there was no more work, so I moved to London where I met a woman from New Zealand. I followed her home, got work there and bided my time until she caught me (broad smile and twinkling of the eyes). Then I married her. I became a naturalized citizen and there you are.”
Twinkle is an appropriate description for Jack. The entire time he talked, his whole face twinkled. His voice was soft and low. I could have listened to him all day, besides, I was curious about him.
“Do you live here?”
“Oh, yes. Fifteen years.”
“How did that happen?”
Well, you see. I worked for an oil company for a number of years in Saudi Arabia, this was after I married and had children. We all moved there, our second son was born there…”
“Oh, that must have been interesting.”
“It was, but you know, it’s a Muslim country and they do not allow alcohol.”
“I see,” I said. But I meant, ‘So?’
Jack was apparently fluent in tone of voice.
“Well that is simply inconceivable,” he explained. “A man has to have his drink. So my wife and I built a still on the roof of our house. We then bought the separate ingredients at the local grocery store.”
“You never got into trouble?”
“Ach, no, not ever.” He pronounced it “evah”. “We weren’t the only ones. The merchants knew.”
He winked at me.
“Sometimes we would forget an ingredient and the cashier would remind us. “I believe you have forgotten the sugar, sir.’”
Jack laughed like a jolly little elf. He was about five foot four or five and just needed a beard and pipe.
“Well, I have never heard of someone, not from the backwoods, making homemade liquor.”
“Oh yes. It was quite good, too. My wife would go up the stairs to the roof with a baby on her hip. She made up little songs, ‘Up, up, up, to the tippy, top, top. That is where the drinky drink drink is. Down, down, down, to the bottom down, down, and now we have some fun!!’ Soon our boys were skipping up the stairs with their mummy singing in chorus.”
I must have looked judgmental because he said, “Now, now. We of the Commonwealth do like our Spirits. You Yanks have frightful inhibitions.”
It was time to change the subject before I lost my temper. A thought occurred to me.
“Where’s Michael? Do you know him?”
Jack said, “Oh yes. He’s our pastor; He was feeling under the weather so he stayed home.”
“You go to the same church?”
“Indeed I do. I’m an elder.”
This was my chance. Surely Jack did not know his pastor swore. Furthermore, he was an elder so he would hold him accountable.
“You know, I had a strange conversation with your pastor.”
“Yes, yes, I know all about it. Michael mentioned it at our last board meeting. Apparently you had a problem with his use of the word, ‘Cow Patty’” (remember I’m bowdlerizing).
I should have realized then that Jack would not be on my side, but still I plowed ahead.
Every point I made, each point I carefully researched and stored away was laughed off with a dismissive, yet cherubic, smile and chortle. If he had a pipe, he would have taken it out of his mouth and waved it around. How could someone look so much like a leprechaun yet mock my reasoning? Then again, I guess a leprechaun would mock my reasoning.
“How can Paul in one passage say no swearing and then swear himself in another section? It’s God’s word, is it not? It’s really God speaking to us.” I could hear my voice getting louder, but I couldn’t stop.
“Now, now,” he soothed. “You have to understand that each writer of the Bible has his own unique style. Paul was simply engaging in a little earthy Hebrew humor.”
“How many people attend your church, Jack?”
“About twelve. Why?”
I gave up.
Am I the one who’s crazy? Was there no one who felt as I did about swearing? And as to this dulcimer club, not only were Christopher and I the youngest people there, there were no eligible men. Sure there were some single men, but I’m only willing to go five years over or under, not ten years, especially since I was forty. I did not want someone already hitting the half-century mark and guys in their thirties were starting to look like children.
There was a guy there who looked about my age, but I was pretty sure he was married, if a gold band on the third left finger means the same thing in Pittsburgh, Texas as it does everywhere else in America.
I left a little disheartened. My only friend at the club had died. I waited all month to win an argument, only for the person to be too sick to attend. His substitute pooh-poohed everything I said. And then there was the slight depression I always felt at meeting no marriageable men. Again.
Christopher, on the other hand, always experienced an inverted mood to mine. As we left the Community Center, his spirits lifted as mine sank.
“Are we going to Pizza Hut, again?”
“Of course.” Who needs a waist line when there isn’t a handsome, single man to appreciate it?
Did this stop me from attending next month? Of course not. Surely there’d be someone then.
End of Sample.
As Amazon says, if you enjoyed this sample, maybe you’d like to read the rest. Here is the link for the book:
There is also a Kindle Version.
I am also in the process of creating an audio version. I’m going to narrate it myself, because I am a control freak.
If you enjoy my book, please leave a review on Amazon; it will help bump my book up their search engines.