Sassy salon owner Marla Shore is giving grumpy Mrs. Kravitz a perm when her client dies in the shampoo chair. If that isn’t enough to give her a bad hair day, handsome Detective Vail suspects Marla of poisoning the woman’s coffee creamer. Figuring she’d better expose the real killer before the next victim frizzes out, Marla sets on the trail of a wave of wacky suspects. Her theory regarding whodunit gels only after she looks for the culprit closer to home.
Permed to Death was originally published by Kensington. This Author’s Edition has been revised and updated with added bonus materials.
Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore Bestseller
“Fast-paced and jaunty…” — Publishers Weekly
“An amusing tale, buoyed by a likable amateur sleuth and enhanced by the South Florida atmosphere.” — Sun-Sentinel
“Permed to Death is a beauty of a read. The characters are believable, the mystery is well-plotted, and the suspense is a real manicure ruiner.” — I Love a Mystery
“A terrific mystery debut for Nancy Cohen. Marla the beautician is a delight!” — Tamar Myers, author of the Pennsylvania Dutch Mysteries
“A fascinating story, with intriguing, sometimes quirky characters, a touch of humor, a hint of romantic possibilities, and a look at a profession we don’t often see in mysteries.” — Mysterious Women
“A pleasing and interesting cozy that will keep you entertained all evening. .The atmosphere is definitely South Florida, the heat, the crazy drivers, the Santeria, but with none of the Miami overtones.” — Murder on the Beach Mystery Bookstore
“Permed to Death is a witty and a well-crafted mystery that will have you guessing till the intense end.”— Southern Scribe
“Great premise and a fun read overall. Lots of what one expects in a cozy…some false trails, some clues that aren’t really useful, some great clues, lots of amateur sleuthing, and a cast of off-center people.” —Write on Purpose
“Cohen fills the book with well rendered details of the beauty salon business, the Fort Lauderdale area, and Marla’s South Florida Jewish family.” — GO Riverwalk Magazine
“…a plot with more tangles than an uncombed perm.” — Kirkus Review
“Nancy Cohen has styled a novel that is to curl up and die for. A permanent solution to the doldrums.” — MyShelf.com
“Permed to Death is a good book to start reading while waiting at your favorite salon for your hair appointment.”—Cozies, Capers, & Crimes
Permed to Death
Copyright 1999 by Nancy J. Cohen
“Marla, if the coffee is ready, I’ll have a cup while my perm processes,” Mrs. Kravitz said, squinting as Marla squeezed the pungent solution onto her scalp. “Be careful! I feel it dripping down my neck.”
“I’ll be done in a minute.” Marla gritted her teeth as she bumped her hip against the shampoo sink. Already this promised to be an aggravating day. She’d had to come in early to accommodate Mrs. Kravitz, and the rest of her morning was fully booked. Not that Bertha Kravitz cared; she never considered anyone’s needs except her own.
With an efficiency born from years of practice, she wrapped Mrs. Kravitz’s rods in a plastic cap, then set the timer for twenty minutes. After washing her hands, she poured her client a cup of coffee and added a package of sugar.
“Don’t forget my powdered creamer,” Mrs. Kravitz called.
“I’ve got it.” Marla mixed in two spoonfuls from a reserved jar, frowning when her spoon scraped bottom. She hadn’t realized the supply had dwindled so low. Sparing a moment to rinse the container at a sink, she tossed it into the trash while making a mental note to buy more later.
“Here you go.” She handed Mrs. Kravitz the steaming mug.
“Marla, was that my jar you just discarded? I hope you have another one in stock because I’ll want more coffee.” Taking a sip, the woman winced. “Ugh, this tastes like medicine. How long has it been standing?”
“I just brewed a fresh pot before you came.”
“Give me another package of sugar.” While Marla complied, Mrs. Kravitz scanned the room like a vulture searching for prey. “Where are the bagels? I could use something to eat.”
“I haven’t had a chance to get them yet. Why don’t you relax? You have less than fifteen minutes left on your timer. I’m going into the storeroom for some clean towels.”
Scowling, Mrs. Kravitz took another sip of coffee.
Hoping to escape before the woman issued a new command, Marla rushed into the storage area. Her gaze scanned the shelves of chemicals, alighting on the neutralizer solution she’d selected earlier. She plucked it off its perch and was reaching for a pile of towels when a strangled sound struck her ears. A loud crash followed, like glass shattering.
Sprinting into the salon, Marla stared at Mrs. Kravitz, who slumped in the shampoo chair. Her bagged head lolled against the sink. The plastic cap wrapped around her rods had become dislodged, partially shading her face. Marla’s gaze dropped to the floor where broken shards of the ceramic mug lay scattered amid a trail of dark liquid.
“Mrs. Kravitz?” she said, her heart thumping.
When there was no response, Marla stepped closer. Her client’s face was distorted into a grimace. The woman’s wide-set eyes, pupils dilated, stared blankly at the ceiling. She didn’t appear to be breathing, unless her respirations were too shallow to notice.
“Mrs. Kravitz?” Marla repeated, her voice hoarse. Maybe the lady had fainted or been overwhelmed by fumes from the perm solution. Or else she’d fallen asleep. But then her chest would be moving, wouldn’t it? And her eyes wouldn’t be as vacant as— Oh, God.
Bile rising in her throat, Marla prodded the woman’s arm, then jumped back when Mrs. Kravitz’s hand flopped over the side of the chair, dangling like a cold, dead fish. A surge of nausea seized her as images from the past clouded her mind.
You can’t freeze up now, girl. Call for help.
She rushed to the phone and dialed 911.
“Police, fire, or medical?” replied the dispatcher.
“Medical. I’m Marla Shore at the Cut ’N Dye Salon. One of my clients has stopped breathing. I think she’s dead.” Her voice cracking, she gave her street address.
“I’m notifying the rescue unit. They’ll be there soon.”
Marla replaced the receiver in its cradle, her hand trembling as a sense of déjà vu washed over her. Stiff with fear, she stood immobilized as memories from another time, another place, haunted her thoughts. A child’s limp form, cradled in her arms. Her screams, echoing through a summer afternoon. Accusations, harsh and unforgiving. She hadn’t known what to do then. Maybe she could make a difference now.
She dashed over to check the body for a pulse, forcing herself to feel the clammy wrist. Nothing. A faint odor, vaguely familiar, assailed her nostrils. Briefly, she wondered about performing CPR, but logic told her it was too late.
Sirens sounded outside, accompanied by the noise of screeching brakes. Any decision became unnecessary as a team of paramedics thundered in the front door. She stood aside while they performed their assessment.
A police officer arrived on the scene. After conferring with the medics, he asked Marla some preliminary questions. Numb with shock, she leaned against a counter while he notified his sergeant via cell phone. He mentioned something about a crime unit, so when several techs and a detective walked in, she wasn’t surprised. Still, she wondered why they’d been called. Surely Mrs. Kravitz had a heart attack or a stroke.
Ignoring the technicians who scoured the salon, she focused on the steely-eyed detective approaching her. She could tell he was used to being in command from his set of wide shoulders, his determined stride, and the hawk-like expression on his angular face. Bushy eyebrows rose above a nose that might have been rearranged in his youth, indicating he wasn’t averse to physical action when required. Faced with such a formidable symbol of authority, she quaked when he stopped in front of her.
Nervous, she began babbling. “I didn’t realize she was ill. If I’d have known, I would have called for help sooner. It wasn’t my fault.”
He held up a hand. “I’m Detective Dalton Vail. Please tell me what happened from the start, Miss Shore.” When she’d finished, he studied his notes. “Let’s see if I’ve got this straight. You wrapped her hair, gave her a cup of coffee, then went into the back room. Hearing a noise, you returned to find the woman slumped in the chair.”
Marla nodded. “That’s right.” Her knees weakening, she sank onto a seat at the closest hair station. A quick glance in the mirror unsettled her. Her shiny chestnut hair curled inward at chin length, wispy bangs feathering a forehead creased with worry lines. A stranger’s fearful eyes, dark as toffee, stared back at her. Surely, that ghastly complexion couldn’t be hers. She looked ill, which was certainly how she felt, but this wasn’t as horrible as that day when—
“You made a fresh pot of coffee just before Mrs. Kravitz came in?” Detective Vail asked, ripping her away from painful memories.
She nodded, glad for the distraction. “I poured some coffee into her mug, then added a package of sugar and two spoonfuls of powdered creamer. My other customers prefer Half & Half, but Bertha insisted on using the dry variety. I kept a jar just for her.”
A gleam entered his gray eyes. “Where is it?”
“I’m afraid I threw it out. I’d used up the last amount. She said the coffee tasted bitter,” Marla recalled. “I didn’t think much of it because she complained about everything.”
“Did you notice the color of the creamer?”
“Any unusual odors?”
“No…yes. I did smell something after Mrs. Kravitz…when I went to feel her pulse. It reminded me of”—she wrinkled her nose—“marzipan. Yes, that’s it.”
His eyes narrowed. “You mean almonds?”
“I believe so.”
He scanned the tabletop holding the coffeemaker and related supplies. “Where do you normally keep the foodstuffs?”
“In a rear storeroom.”
“Who’s allowed back there?”
“Mainly the staff, but sometimes a client will wander inside to take a look. The door is always open.”
“You said the creamer jar was nearly empty. Did you recall using most of it the last time the lady was here?”
“Not really.” An idea dawned on her that made her pulse accelerate. “Surely you don’t think it was something in her drink?”
“We’re just collecting evidence, ma’am. The medical examiner will determine cause of death. Is there anything else that might be relevant?”
She frowned. “The back door was unlocked when I arrived this morning. I meant to speak to the cleaning crew about it later.”
“I see. Please excuse me.” He held a hushed conference with two techs, one of whom veered off to examine the trash and another who headed for the rear entrance. They’d already scooped up the dribbled remains of coffee on the floor, collected pieces of the broken mug, and dusted everything for fingerprints. The medical examiner had taken charge of the body. Finished with his initial assessment, he’d called the removal service.
Please get here soon, Marla thought, looking everywhere but at the dead woman.