Dirty Harriet Rides Again

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  “PHENOMENAL – KEEPER!”

 

Once again, it’s Harriet’s job to kick some butt in Boca Raton.

Someone is murdering clergy members in Florida’s ritzy resort haven—starting with the minister at the gay wedding of private detective Harriet Horowitz’s best friends. Suspicion focuses on the drag queens of the Holy Rollers Motorcycle Club and Gospel Choir, who provided the wedding’s musical entertainment. Harriet—always defending the underdog—is hired to clear the choir’s name. Pretty soon a rabbi becomes the next victim, and Harriet’s lust-buddy, Israeli martial arts instructor Lior Ben Yehuda, is arrested as the prime suspect. It’s time for Harriet to climb on her Harley and wreck the pampered peace of the society that used to think of her as just another wealthy Boca babe.

Dirty Harriet rides again.


Read the Excerpt

Chapter 1

As weddings go, it was a little … unorthodox. And that was before the body turned up. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

So to back up, let me begin by stating immediately and emphatically that it wasn’t my wedding. So don’t panic. That’s not gonna happen (again). At 39, I’ve been happily widowed for four years, since shooting my abusive husband in self-defense. That act made my day and earned me my moniker, Dirty Harriet.

My real name is Harriet Horowitz. The wedding in reference was that of my best buds, Chuck and Enrique. Now, seeing as these are two members of the male persuasion, some would say it wasn’t a real wedding. To them I would say, “Get a life!” Love doesn’t get any more real than what these two had going.

Okay, so our beautiful, bountiful burg of Boca Raton and our great State of Florida doesn’t bestow legal recognition on gay unions. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a plus. After all, it was the law that had sanctified my own unholy alliance of a marriage. And it was the law that had done shit for me when my husband beat the shit out of me.

So the law, rules, and regulations don’t mean a whole lot to me. Truth and Justice do. That’s where my Inner Vigilante comes in. But more on that later.

Chuck and Enrique’s love was true and just, which is why I was there that April Sunday, standing up for them as Best Human in their commitment ceremony. I was standing up, to be precise, at the altar of the Church of the Gender-Free God, waiting for the groom and groom to escort each other down the aisle.

In deference to the occasion, I had ditched my daily uniform of black leggings, black tank top, riding boots, and leathers when I dismounted my trusty steed – my 2003 100th Anniversary Harley Hugger. I wore a floor-length silver gown, matched by four-inch sandals and shoulder-length silver earrings. I’d had my normally wild dark hair blown out, and it hung down my back in long silky perfection. My green eyes were fully lined and mascaraed, and my normally bare, raw nails were polished in a fluorescent opal that changed colors with the light. Damned if I didn’t look like my former incarnation of myself – a Boca Babe ne plus ultra.

What’s a Boca Babe, you ask? Well, that’s a two-part question. First of all, what’s Boca? It’s a town on the southeast coast of Florida, located between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, that’s been called “The Beverly Hills of the East.” The comparison is apt: just like that other place, Boca’s got balmy breezes, plentiful palm trees, mind-boggling mansions, serious shopping, and beaucoup bucks. In fact, Boca is the second wealthiest municipality in Palm Beach County. Second only to the island of Palm Beach, which is in a whole different world, akin to places like Monte Carlo and St. Tropez. Palm Beach residents are old money; Boca Raton residents are the arrivistes, the nouveau riche. And all their new money sometimes comes from some, well, shady dealings.

Now as for Boca Babes, here are some clues: If it costs you $200 to get your hair cut and another $250 to get it colored, you might be a Boca Babe. If you don’t talk to anyone who doesn’t own anything made by Prada, then you just might be a Boca Babe. If your boobs are a size 38DD and you butt is a size 0, then you are probably a Boca Babe. If you live in a house the size of a jumbo jet hangar, then you are likely a Boca Babe. But if you don’t have a husband who’s a doctor, lawyer, investment banker, or developer raking in over a million a year, then you’re definitely not a Boca Babe. And if you’re all of the above but have hit the big 4-0, you’re no longer a Boca Babe; you’re now a Botox Babe.

I shed my Boca Babe persona like a snake shedding its skin the day I shed (okay, shot) my husband, and I’ve never looked back. I’m now a Hog-riding, ass-kicking, swamp-dwelling private eye. A solitary ScamBuster, making a fine living busting those shady deals I mentioned. So my temporary reversion to Babeness gives you some sense of the supreme sacrifice I was making for my friends.

But even though I’d transformed myself for the day, a part of the real me still came through. That was the rose tattoo on my left boob that peeked out of my low-cut dress, thanks to the strapless push-up corset that I’d strategically placed underneath. But let me tell you, between that and the high heels, I was in some serious discomfort. After all, I wasn’t 21 anymore. This whole hottie act does not get easier with time. My feet and back were killing me and I couldn’t take a breath without feeling like I would pass out. I was ready for this show to get on the road so I could disrobe.

The proceeding seemed to be taking its sweet time, though. So as I waited, I gazed out at the guests. Right up front were all our nearest and dearest. There was Enrique’s mama from Panama, decked out in a lime green chiffon gown with matching broad-rimmed hat. She was absolutely beaming at the prospect of her baby boy finally settling down. As Chuck’s family had long since disowned him due to his perceived sin against God and Nature, his surrogates were there. There was my mother, Stella Celeste Kucharski Horowitz Fleischer Steinblum Fishbein Rosenberg, who had recently unofficially adopted Chuck as her honorary son, which made him, I guess, my honorary brother. Which was cool with me. Mom was casting an approving eye at my reclaimed Boca Babe appearance. I guess she figured my titty-baring getup would finally snag me a man to replace her late, unlamented son-in-law. Of course, she had failed to consider that I had no interest in a replacement, and even if I had, many of the guys at this gathering were batting for the other team.

Next to Mom sat her new squeeze, Leonard Goldblatt, whom she’d met on a cruise a couple months previously. Leonard was a former CIA agent, and as such I’d initially had my suspicions about his intentions toward Mom. But then I’d actually met him and my guarded apprehension turned to grudging appreciation. Yeah, okay, maybe I’d been guilty of premature evaluation. But admit it, wouldn’t you feel the same where your own mother’s vulnerable feelings, and fortune, were at stake? As it had turned out, Leonard was good for my mother.

But forget about that, the man was good for me. His relationship with his own grown children was of the supportive and noninterfering variety, and some of that had rubbed off on Mom, so that she had started treating me a little more like a sovereign being instead of an instrument of her own wish fulfillment.

Leonard and Mom presented a beautiful picture, he in a white summer suit with a gray tie to complement his gray brush cut, she in a butter-yellow cocktail dress, her golden blonde hair perfectly rounded about her face. On Leonard’s other side was Boca’s big-time benefactress, the Contessa von Phul. I’d recently solved a murder case for her, during which she’d met Chuck and Enrique and wangled an invite to the big event. She sat regally, dressed in her usual Chanel suit and pearls, her sleek mahogany pageboy completing the picture of a perfect seventy-year-old Botox Babe.

The contessa’s Chihuahua, Coco, sat primly in her owner’s lap, all duded up in a pink rhinestone collar. Now, the church sanctuary boasted several large glass sculptures by the renowned artist Chihuly. As Coco tended to be just a little high-strung, I was hoping we would not have an incident of the Chihuaha chipping the Chihuly.

Next to the contessa was Guadalupe Lourdes Fatima Domingo. Lupe, as she was known, had also had a role in the contessa’s case, and in the process had become a good friend of mine. Today she wore a traditional Mexican embroidered dress and her salt and pepper hair was elaborately swept up with multicolored ribbons. The outfit was an homage to her hometown heroine, the late artist Frida Kahlo, and also reflected Lupe’s background as a cultural anthropologist.

Beyond the front row sat an assortment of Chuck and Enrique’s friends and acquaintances, including their gay matchmaker, who savvily saw this event as a supreme marketing opportunity and brought along all his clients. There were also all the bad boy bikers from Chuck’s maintenance shop, the Greasy Rider, and from the local biker bar, Hog Heaven; and all Enrique’s coworkers from the Boca Beach Hilton, where he was the hotel dick, that is to say, the Chief of Security.

Outside, I heard the unmistakable potato-potato-potato rumble of Harleys. Ahhh … the day’s musical entertainment had arrived, in the form of the Holy Rollers Motorcycle Club and Gospel Choir, a group of five black drag queens whom I had met at the rehearsal dinner the previous evening.

I knew they rode their Hogs in full riding gear, so it would take them a while to change into their wigs, makeup, bras, girdles, gowns, and all. So I would be standing here in my misery a while longer. I tried to take a deep breath to send some healing oxygen to my aching back and feet, but my chest wouldn’t expand beyond the rigid steel cage of the corset. I coughed and staggered, drawing all eyes to me. Great. Like I really wanted to be the center of attention here. Apparently, my cough provided some kind of permission to the assembly to engage in similar behavior, as there followed a flurry of throat clearing, foot shuffling, seat adjusting, and other expressions of discomfiture.

Finally, the nuptial procession started with the entrance of the first of the Holy Rollers, Cherise Jubilee. She came down the aisle in a red sequined clingy sheath and a headdress piled high with fake cherries, à la Carmen Miranda. I hoped she did not intend to pour brandy on them and set them afire.

She was followed by Virginia Hamm, wearing, you guessed it, a pink gown criss-crossed with brown threads and studded with what looked suspiciously like cloves. May the Gender-Free God help us. Next came Keisha LaReigne, wearing an egg-yolk yellow caftan streaked with reddish brown strips. A bejewled golden tiara nested in her bouffant hair. Close on her heels was Lady Fingers, in a vanilla-colored off-the-shoulder number that split into separate panels from her waist down to her knees.

The four Holy Rollers lined up next to me at the altar, awaiting the arrival of their final member, Honey du Mellon, so they could launch into their harmony. But she was nowhere to be seen. Nervous titters passed through the assembly as we waited. Finally, she rushed in, out of breath. She’d managed, miraculously, to prop up a set of knockers the size of … well, honeydew melons. If her supporting infrastructure was anything like mine, I could see why she was out of breath. But apparently that wasn’t the reason. Arriving at the altar, she puffed, “So sorry, loves. My Hog had some mechanical trouble on the way over. I just got here and changed as fast as I could. Okay, ladies, let’s rock and roll!”

With that and a nod to the organist, they launched into “We Shall Overcome.” Now, this particular selection, as I understood it, was an homage to the Church of the Gender-Free God and its founder, the Reverend LaVerne Botay. The good reverend had grown up attending the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, in the fifties, listening to Martin Luther King, Jr. preach the social gospel of service to the world’s oppressed. Like the late great martyr, she’d rejected religious fundamentalism in favor of the Golden Rule.

Now, personally, I wasn’t a particular believer, being the progeny of my dearly departed Jewish Daddy and my very present Catholic Mom. The only thing I’d gained from that interfaith union was a double dose of guilt. However, I respected the hell out of the Rev. Botay’s message and mission. As the Holy Rollers sang out their souls, tears came to my eyes.

But they weren’t because of the words; they were because of the organ. The damn thing was way out of tune. In fact, it was downright blood-curdling.

The Rollers were rolling their eyes at each other. I decided to roll with the punches. After all, every wedding has something go wrong. It would all be a fond memory in our collective future.

As the Rollers launched into another spiritual, Chuck and Enrique came gliding down the aisle, hand in hand. Dark-eyed, dark-haired, clean-shaven Enrique was his usual slick and dapper self in his Armani tux. No surprise there. But Chuck … well, any description would only be a gross injustice, and as I said, this whole celebration was about justice. So suffice it to say he was in an identical tux, all 250 redneck pounds of him. His graying goatee lent him a distinguished air, and his bald pate gleamed with what I chose to believe was pure delight, not nervous perspiration.

As the happy couple reached the altar, the Rollers, with perfect timing, ended with glorious harmony: “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty we are free at last.”

Yes! Thank God Almighty I would be free at last of this sartorial straitjacket, not to mention the grinding organ noise. Just as soon as the Rev. Botay arrived, the vows would be exchanged, the blessing bestowed, and we’d all be outta there and off to the reception at Hog Heaven.

So, okay … where was she? Minutes passed as we all looked nervously at each other. Okay, I know I said all weddings have snags, but enough was enough. I’m an investigator, after all. I set off to investigate.

Now, you know that when you’re looking for someone they’re always in the last place you look. (Naturally – why would you keep looking after you found them?) But always wasn’t the case here. I found the good reverend in the first place I looked, her office. And I found her good and dead.

The poor woman was crumpled behind her desk, her violet and white vestments flowing about her petite body. Her skull was smashed in, her black hair matted with blood. And the murder weapon was right next to her, also covered with blood. A big metal organ pipe. No wonder that monstrosity was emanating those blood-curdling screeches.

Bile came up my throat. I rushed into the adjoining bathroom and threw up in the toilet. After I rinsed my mouth and washed my hands, I just stood there, staring into the mirror. I couldn’t believe it. The last two weddings I’d attended had both ended in killings. It seemed like marriage really was a dangerous proposition. Yeah, okay, so I’d been the perp last time, blowing away my husband at a friend’s wedding reception. But how could this be happening to me again?

Then my conscience, always a little slow on the uptake, came on line. What the hell was I doing feeling sorry for myself? I was neither the perp nor the victim here. A good woman, a woman of peace, had been savagely slain.

It was time to act. I pulled out my cell and called the cops. Dirty Harriet was on the case.


Reviews

****1/2 stars. Another can’t put-down-story filled with unique characters and laugh-out-loud humor.

      –Page Traynor, Romantic Times Book Reviews

 Bawdy. Irreverent. Wicked. Totally hilarious…. The characters are so quirky and so much fun you wish they were real and your friends. The plot is clever and moves right along. The book is worth the cover price just for Auerbach’s description of Boca Babes. This series is almost too much fun to be legal. Can you tell? I liked it.

      –Prudy Taylor Board, Boca Raton News

 Dirty Harriet is back! And I still love her. Auerbach’s sense of humor is right on the mark. Well plotted and nicely written, this is a light, pleasant and enjoyable book that also brings across a social message.

      –Joanne Sinchuk, Murder on the Beach Bookstore

 ***** stars. Zany and definitely over the top, readers will welcome the exploits of Dirty Harriet as she rides the Everglades and the urban jungles of Southeastern Florida. The story line is fast-paced and very amusing as Harriet’s latest capers star a horde of eccentrics who make for a fun humourous jaunt.

      –Harriet Klausner, Amazon.com

 **** stars. A wickedly funny commentary on the lives and mores of Boca. A consistently fun read.

      –Pat Bradley, Bookreporter.com

 ****stars.  A light, fun mystery.

     –Neil Plakcy, Amazon.com

 ***** stars. Fun characters. She’s not Stephanie Plum but she is the closest I’ve come across. Highly recommended.

      –Marilynn L., Paperback Swap (www.paperbackswap.com)

 

 

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