In Small Town Trouble, we meet Kim Claypoole and get acquainted with her irreverent and witty ways of dealing with the peculiar characters and events that she regularly finds in her life. Claypoole's adventures begin as she leaves her home in the Smoky Mountains to help save her kooky mother Evelyn from financial disaster. In the first scene of Small Town Trouble Claypoole says, "I'd had a feeling all along that this wasn't going to be my day. But I hadn't been prepared for things to go this badly..."
Setting off to assist Evelyn (i.e., "the other Scarlett O'Hara") with her newest personal crisis, Claypoole leaves in her wake her Gatlinburg doublewide, her restaurant, The Little Pigeon, and her restaurant partner and sometimes best friend Mad Ted Weber as well as a budding secret love affair with a Martha Stewart wannabe that's hotter than an Eskimo in July.
Claypoole's savior complex leads to more trouble when she bumps into an old flame in her hometown who asks for her help clearing her hapless brother of murder charges. In true Claypoole fashion, Kim gets more than she bargained for when she gets dragged into a complicated quest to find the true killer complete with topless tavern dancers, small town cops, a stream of backwater characters-even a meeting with the Grim Reaper
"Gimme," I said, snatching the binocs from Amy. After all, I was the professional. Charlene was out the front door all right, headed like a high wind for a compact white car. She looked agitated. I couldn't tell which form of agitation it was. Maybe she was twerked off at somebody, maybe she looked scared. Maybe she was just excited about getting off work.
Charlene wore short cutoff jeans, an ultra-tight T-shirt and sneakers. Her white-blond hair was pulled into a huge, floppy bun.
"What's she doing now?" Amy wanted to know.
"Looks like she's punching out for the night."
In the weird blue light of Jimmy's Place, I watched Charlene unlock her car door. She jumped in and promptly fired up a cigarette, then started the engine. Before I could say booballabies, Charlene sped out of the lot.
I cranked up the Toyota. "Let's roll."
The rainstorm that had been threatening all evening picked an inopportune time to let go. I flicked the Toyota's wipers into high gear as the huge splotches came harder and faster, all the while trying to keep Charlene's car in my view finder. I laid well off her tail, a little too well, actually, and we lost sight of her completely for a few minutes, caught back up, then I lost her again. I was definitely rusty in the tailing department.
I was also a bit distracted by a persistent pair of headlights in my rearview, but decided that I was just suffering from a slight case of the paranoids.
"Damn," Amy said, binoculars once again pressed into action. "Can't this car go any faster?"
Amy was right. Faster was the way to go. I put my foot to the pedal, passed a pickup truck which had turned onto the highway, and closed the gap. I was counting on the rain to make it tough on Charlene to notice us if she was inclined to check her rearview. The pavement was slick in spots from oil and from being dry too long, and the dang Toyota was having trouble holding the curves. Maybe I'd trade it in next time for whatever Charlene was driving. At least get myself a new set of tires.
"Aha," Amy said, as Charlene's car came back into view.
I clocked her. Charlene was doing a cool eighty on the straightaway.
"Hold up," Amy said. "I think she's turning off."
Charlene made a hard right, headed out route 132. I let her make the turn, then followed her lead. The rain wasn't letting up and, at this point, neither was I.
We went on like this for a couple miles, us on her tail and the rain beating the car like a platoon of angry little drummer boys. Then, without warning, Charlene jammed on her brakes and swerved off to the side of the road. I made a quick decision and, just short of her, cut a sharp right, and we bumped hard down an old rutted lane. I rolled just far enough down the road to get out of sight, then I cut the lights, spun us around and pulled off on the shoulder. I killed the engine and hoped we hadn't attracted attention.
We were close enough to hear Charlene's car humming.
"Now what?" Amy said.
I shrugged. "I don't know yet." I tried the binoculars again, but they weren't much help. The trees were thick and clumped in all the wrong places. "What is she up to?"
"Maybe she lost a contact lens.”
"Maybe not." A car coming up the highway from the opposite direction slowed and pulled in behind Charlene. There was the sound of a car door opening and slamming. Charlene's lights and engine died. Then I heard a man's deep voice. Hadn't I heard that voice before? Charlene and the man spoke briefly, then it sounded like Charlene was getting into his car. More door slamming.
"Whoa," Amy said, "a low-rent rendezvous?"
After a moment, his car pulled out of the turnoff, the headlights sweeping the trees, and headed quickly back up the highway. It looked like Amy and I were back in the tailing business.
The car was a dark, late-model sedan, nothing fancy, and Charlene was definitely on the passenger side.
The rain had let up a hair and Amy was working the binoculars again. "I think they might be arguing," Amy said. "She's waving her hands around."
"You get a look at the guy?"
"Just the back of his head. He doesn't appear to be wearing a hat, if that's helpful."
Amy was getting good at this. "Can you read the plate?" Maybe I'd get lucky later and find someone to run it.
Amy refocused. "Nope. Can't quite make it out. Get closer."
I knew it was risky, but I was working for Amy now. I gave the Toyota more gas and moved in on them.
"Oh, for chrissake," Amy said, "I think they're kissing."
"Well, are they arguing or kissing?" I had seldom done these simultaneously with much success and figured no one else did either.
I was practically driving up his tailpipe now. I took a good look, mentally noted the plate and backed off a bit. Amy was right the second time. They were making out. Charlene had her arms around the guy's neck and, in between road checks, she'd suck on his face.
"Well, this is interesting," Amy said.
Jean Erhardt, a former private investigator, is the author of the Kim Claypoole mystery series. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, she now resides in Portland, Oregon with her partner and two Cairn Terriers, Hollis and Higgins.
I invite readers and writers to visit my links and be in touch!