Easter Hair Hunt
- Publisher: Orange Grove Press
- Series: The Bad Hair Day Mysteries , 16
- Release Date: March 10, 2020
- Genre: Cozy Mystery
- Available Formats: eBook and Paperback
- Digital: ISBN: 9780999793268
- Paperback: ISBN: 9780999793275
When hairstylist Marla Vail attends an Easter egg hunt at historic Tremayne Manor, she’s only there to fix hair for a client, Bonnie “Blinky” Morris. But when she’s asked to comb the grounds for leftover goodies, Marla discovers more than just a few dyed eggs. The dead body in the bunny costume is definitely not having a good hare day. And Blinky seems to have disappeared down a rabbit hole.
While trying to solve a murder, everyone needs a friend who’s all ears. For Marla, that’s her husband, homicide detective Dalton Vail. They make an eggcellent team. Dalton isn’t the kind to leap to conclusions, but with his wife seven months pregnant, and knowing Marla finds crime-solving to be irresistible, he worries about her running off on another hare-raising adventure.
Marla’s peeps are hoping for a happy ending, but she may have found a basketful of trouble this time. Can she crack the case before Blinky becomes the next victim?
“Marla is drawn into an investigation that involves a missing friend who is possibly a victim and a stolen Fabergé egg. In her third trimester of pregnancy, she uncovers clues that lead to several possible perps, including the unfriendly security chief Rick Eaton and future heir Daniel, who is viewed as someone who dislikes history and will likely squander his inheritance.
As Marla and husband Dalton proceed, she finds her family life and pregnancy challenged in more ways than one, with everything overshadowed by Easter and a mystery steeped in South Florida history and culture. Nancy Cohen excels at capturing this atmosphere, injecting it into Marla’s life and choices with a series of seasonal egg-related revelations and surprises that keep readers immersed in both town affairs, personalities and politics and an Easter egg hunt like no other.
Easter Hair Hunt’s evolution will attract and delight cozy mystery readers who look for the backdrop of a small interconnected community and a murder probe that offers a number of satisfying twists, turns, and insights into small community psychology and interactions as well as the ultimate motives of a puzzling perp.” Diane Donovan, Midwest Book Review
“I don’t see Blinky anywhere, do you?” Marla Vail asked her best friend, Tally Riggs. They stood on the rear terrace of Tremayne Manor, a historic mansion privately owned but open to the public for special events and guided tours. A wide expanse of lawn faced them.
“She seems to have disappeared,” Tally replied. “Where were you supposed to meet her?”
“Blinky told me to wait here after her appearance as the Easter bunny.” Bonnie Morris, also known as Blinky, had hired Marla to fix her hair for a fundraiser luncheon that followed the children’s Easter egg hunt. Blinky was a customer at Marla’s salon as well as a friend.
Tally rocked the stroller holding her nineteen-month old son, Luke, who sat happily playing with a squeaky toy. Marla had figured the duo needed an outing, so she’d invited Tally to join her. After her husband’s death, Tally was struggling to raise Luke on her own.
Marla shaded her eyes from the sun and peered at the manicured grounds in front of them. A few stragglers, children who hadn’t heeded the call to rejoin their parents, ran about shrieking and hollering as they sought to collect more Easter eggs hidden in the grass.
What could be delaying her client? Tardiness was not a habit where Blinky was concerned. The woman was never late for an appointment. If anything cracked her reserve, she blinked a mile-a-minute. Hence her nickname, that she told even strangers to call her.
“Do you think Blinky needs help getting out of her costume? It did look awfully bulky,” Marla said. “I can’t imagine what else might be keeping her.”
Tally gave Marla a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry; she’ll turn up. There’s still a half-hour until the meal starts. How about if I search inside the house and you check the yard? Blinky might have strayed off the beaten path and gotten lost.” Tally pointed toward a row of hedges that bordered the formal gardens. Tall, shady trees edged the rear of the property.
“You’re right. She wouldn’t want the kids to see her remove the costume, although it’s more likely she’s changing clothes inside the house.”
“Would you rather we switch places? You don’t want to fall in your condition.”
Marla patted her baby bump. “Now you’re sounding like Dalton. Don’t coddle me because I’m seven months pregnant.” Nonetheless, her back hurt more lately and the added weight made her feel clumsy. She’d better watch her footing.
She had just started down the marble stairs when Lacey Tremayne—their hostess and the estate’s owner—called, “Marla, are you free for a few minutes?”
“I suppose. What’s up?” Marla asked, turning toward the woman.
Lacey wore her blond hair swept into a chignon. A diamond necklace circled her neck. Her eyes mirrored the blue from her tea-length gown and held a friendly expression. As she drew closer, Marla caught a whiff of expensive perfume.
“I see you’re heading out for some fresh air. Would you mind gathering the eggs left in the field? I don’t want them hiding in the grass to muck up our gardener’s mower. The last of the children are coming in now, and my house staff is busy preparing for the luncheon.”
“Sure, I can do that.”
Lacey’s gaze lowered to Marla’s belly. “Are you even able to bend over? If not, I could ask our head gardener. He’s working in the greenhouse today. We’ve given the rest of his crew the weekend off to be with their families.”
“I’ll be fine,” Marla said, accepting the basket the woman offered. She couldn’t very well refuse the lady of the house, who’d been kind enough to invite her to stay for the luncheon.
Worried about Blinky, she hastened down the steps and then paused, wondering which way to go first. Would her client have headed toward the formal gardens with cultivated hedges, cascading fountains and geometric flower beds? She wouldn’t have gone to the café. Maybe she had ventured farther out on the lawn by the trees.
Deciding to search the level ground first, Marla roamed across the grass, glad she’d worn low-heeled pumps instead of sandals. She had on a dressy top over comfortable black pants, which made walking outside easier.
The Tremayne estate bordered the northern edge of Broward County in Southeast Florida. She’d never heard of it until now or she would have visited sooner. Her husband enjoyed touring historical houses as well as nature parks. Dalton would like the mansion with its museum-quality collections and extensive gardens.
Her cross-body purse bounced with each step. Today’s March weather had brought sunny skies and balmy breezes, but it could also bring a quick rain shower. She hurried forward.
A sweet scent cloyed the air as she approached the end of the field, picking up a leftover egg here and there. Thankfully, the ground was dry, and her shoes barely left any impression. She hurried toward a cluster of seagrape trees, eager for the shade. Being heavier these days, she overheated easily and had to pace herself.
As she dodged the broad leaves on overhanging branches, a glint caught her attention. What was that? A piece of metal reflecting the sunlight?
Oh, it’s another egg, she realized as she got closer. She picked it up and turned it over in her hand. That’s weird. This was not a child’s plastic toy like the others she’d retrieved. The egg she held appeared to be a real treasure, or else a fancy replica. Lines of rose-cut diamonds set in gold quartered its ruby enameled surface. Or were those crystals? Surely, this exquisite piece wasn’t meant to be lying in the grass. Someone must have dropped it by mistake.
A central seam split the surface. Did the thing open? She tried to pry it apart without any success. There must be a trick to it. Maybe pushing on the top gem would trigger the release.
Just then the sun exposed a flash of white among the shrubbery. She stepped over for a closer look. As she parted the branches, a gasp escaped her lips.
Dear Lord. Lying face-down on the ground was the missing Easter bunny, still in full costume.
“Blinky, are you all right?” Marla called. She stuck the jeweled egg in her pocket and dropped her basket on the grass.
The figure didn’t move a muscle. Had Blinky fainted? Maybe she couldn’t breathe in that outfit.
Marla fought an urge to remove the headpiece, because that would entail dragging her friend into the clearing. She shouldn’t exert herself that way.
How could she help? A zipper ran down the back of the costume. No indication of movement was present. Was Blinky breathing at all?
Maybe she could loosen the headpiece and feel for a pulse at the neck. But as she leaned nearer, her breath hitched. A blotch of red congealed on the ground beneath the body.
Marla’s heart thudded in her chest. Is that blood? You’d better not touch anything. Call for help.
She whipped out her cell phone and dialed nine-one-one. After giving the relevant information, she rang off and called Tally.
“I’m out on the lawn,” she said. “I found Blinky. She’s still in her costume and lying unresponsive on the ground.”
“Holy smokes! What’s wrong with her?”
“I’m not sure. I’ve called for the medics, and the police should be arriving.” Marla hesitated to mention her other observations. She shouldn’t say anything until the first responder confirmed her suspicions.
“Did you notify Dalton?”
“Not yet. I’d like to get a better assessment of Blinky’s condition first.” Marla thought of her husband, happily at home, relaxing on this Saturday afternoon, along with his teenage daughter, Brianna. Tomorrow was the proper Easter holiday when they were hosting a family dinner.
Sirens sounded in the distance. “You can tell Mrs. Tremayne,” she added, “but don’t let people come out on the lawn. We need to keep the place clear.”
Turmoil erupted as the authorities pulled into the driveway. Marla waved her arms until they spotted her on the lawn. The paramedics approached, carrying their equipment, while Marla snagged the police officer who was first on the scene.
“Hi, I’m the one who called for help,” she mentioned, pointing to the figure on the ground. “I didn’t want to touch anything, or I might have felt for a pulse.”
“You did right to call us, ma’am.” He took one look at the crimson blotch and yanked out his radio. He moved aside to make some calls she couldn’t overhear.
The medics withdrew the prone woman from the bushes. They unzipped her furry white suit and turned her over. Marla had been right in that the headpiece could be removed separately. But as they lifted the bunny head away, she cried out in stunned surprise.
It wasn’t Blinky.
A man’s face greeted her. And from the stranger’s dilated, fixed pupils, he wouldn’t be telling them his identity any time soon. Her gaze swept downward, noting a bloody gash in the costume’s midsection.
Blinky had disappeared, leaving a dead guy in her wake.