Decatur, Illinois/1986 - A nasty divorce leaves Cragan Collins with a mountain of bills and her grandmother to support. She takes a job as an ad salesperson for The Gazette. The market is tough, but Cragan finds a mentor in business reporter, Robert Smithson. One icy January day, Robert is found dead in a city park. His murder is dismissed as gay-on-gay crime. Cragan asks The Friday Night Mystery Club to find justice for Robert. Will Cragan's quest for the truth land her on the obituary page?
A Day in the Life of Cragan Collins
By Joanna Campbell Slan
“Croydon?” The man holding my business card mispronounced my name.
“Cray-gin,” I explained. “My name is Cragan.”
“Kay-don?” He stared at me through bifocals that were smudged with fingerprints. I wondered how he could see through the fog. Actually, the dirty glasses were the least of his problem. Mr. McKinney needed a trip through a car wash while sitting in a convertible. But he is a business owner, the guy behind Bug-Not, a pest removal company. I am an advertising salesperson. Because I want his business, I will endure his ordure.
I decided that “Kay-don” was close enough. Time to move on. Giving him my most winning smile, I said, “Mr. McKinney, what would you like to advertise this month? Do you have any specials? We have a space 2 columns wide and 4 inches long to fill.”
I didn’t add that we needed to fill it fast because I had to get back to The Gazette for a sales meeting at ten, thirty minutes from now.
After shoving my business card in his pants pocket, Mr. McKinney pinched the bridge of his nose. He seemed forlorn. “Can’t rightly think of anything.”
Oh, boy. I fought to keep the smile on my face. If he couldn’t come up with something to advertise, he might stop his ads. If Mr. McKinney stopped his ads, I might not meet my sales goal. If I didn’t meet my sales goal, my adopted cat, Sher Kahn, and I might starve.
Nothing like the threat of an angry Siamese cat to jolt your brain into high gear. “Oh-kay,” I said slowly, drawing out the two syllables. “Is there any particular pest that people are reporting right now? Could you have a special on a certain, um, critter?”
His hand rose to stroke his chin. Not surprisingly, he needed a good shave. I hoped the motion indicated he was giving my question serious thought. I waited. And waited. And waited.
“Well, now that you mention it. I’ve been getting calls right and left about deer eating people’s flowers.”
I nodded, thinking back to the pink-and-white-striped petunias I’d recently planted. Now I had nothing but a few masticated stems where the flowers had been. “What can you do about that? I mean, you can’t go out and shoot the deer, right?”
“No, missy, I can’t. But I can use my secret potion on customers’ plants. One squirt and it keeps them deer away for days. Until it rains at least,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest. His expression was one of great satisfaction.
“Really? So this is a liquid? And you apply it?” I had my notepad out now so I could jot down details, using them to concoct an ad.
“It surely is that. I can apply it or the customer can. You got deer problems?”
“I sure do.”
“Let me give you the details for the ad and then I’ll grab you a sample of my concoction. You can see for yourself how it works,” he said. His face had turned positively jovial.
Ten minutes later, I was in my car, driving back to the newspaper. I had the ad and a small glass bottle of “Deer-Go-Bye-Bye.” A curious name, but hey? Whatever works, right? I was halfway to the paper when I was stopped by one of the seven railway operations that run through Decatur, Illinois. This particular train went on and on. I got bored. I picked up the bottle of “Deer-Go-Bye-Bye.” I wondered, What does this smell like? How can it be so bad that deer run away? Cautiously, I unscrewed the top.
Ding-ding-ding! The crossing gate lifted. The car behind me revved its engine and tapped my bumper. The entire bottle of “Deer-Go-Bye-Bye” drenched the front of my navy dress. The smell was horrible. I needed to change. But I couldn’t because I had to attend the sales meeting. As it was, I’d be lucky to get there on time. All I could do was carry on with the hope that the smell would wear off.
Once I made it to the paper’s meeting room, there was only one seat left. It was the spot right next to our boss, Yakov Pavolich, aka “Yakky” or “the Yakster.” As befits his nickname, Yakky loves to hear himself talk. I slipped into the chair beside him right as the clock struck ten.
Yakky wrinkled his nose. He turned to stare at me. His nostrils flared. Frantically, he looked around the room. Because the meeting was mandatory, the place was packed.
I’d gone nose-blind to the smell. But Yakky was hit hard by it. So hard that he finished our meeting in five minutes, a record for the Yakster.
Back at my desk, I called Mr. McKinney. “I know your formula is a secret, but I dumped the bottle on myself. I need to know if I can simply wash it out? You said it works until there’s a rain. Do I need to get medical attention? Is it safe? I promise not to tell anybody. Swear on the Bible.”
He started laughing. Over the phone, I heard him slap his leg. “Yup, it’s safe all right. That stuff ain’t nothing but wolverine pee.”
About Joanna Campbell Slan
Joanna is a New York Times Bestselling, USA Today Bestselling, and Amazon Bestselling author as well as a woman prone to frequent bursts of crafting frenzy, leaving her with burns from her hot glue gun and paint on her clothes. And the mess? Let’s not even go there.
Otherwise, Joanna’s a productive author with more than 80 written projects to her credit. Her non-fiction work includes how to books, a college textbook for public speakers, and books of personal essays (think Chicken Soup for the Soul).
Currently, she writes six fiction series: The Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series (Agatha Award Finalist, contemporary, St. Louis setting, crafting), the Cara Mia Delgatto Mystery Series (contemporary, Florida setting, DIY, and recycling), the Jane Eyre Chronicles (Daphne du Maurier Award Winner, 1830s England, based on Charlotte Brontë’s classic), the Sherlock Holmes Fantasy Thrillers (late 1800s, based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s books), the Tai Chi Mystery Series (featuring a mature female amateur sleuth!) and the Friday Night Mystery Series (set in Decatur, IL in 1986 with a spunky female heroine.)
A former TV talk show host, college teacher, and public relations specialist, Joanna was one of the early Chicken Soup for the Soul contributors. She won a Silver Anvil for her work on the original FarmAid concert to benefit farmers.
In her ongoing quest never to see snow again, Joanna lives with her husband and their Havanese puppy, Jax, on an island off the coast of Florida. You can email her at email@example.com or visit her website at https://linktr.ee/jcslan