Something Borrowed, Something Chewed: A Little Tombstone Novelette

Something Borrowed, Something Chewed is a novelette-length cozy and the fourth in the Little Tombstone Cozy Mystery Series.


Hank Edwards, the proprietor of Little Tombstone's Museum of the Unexplained, is finally tying the knot with his longtime ladylove, Phyllis.

But when Emma tries to get Hank down the aisle on time, she discovers that someone--Hank won't say who--has attacked both Hank and his precious collection of taxidermied Chupacabras. Who has it out for Hank? And why? It's up to Emma to get to the bottom of this troubling turn of events before the long-suffering bride's big day is ruined by a mysterious stranger threatening to throw a wrench in the already-chaotic nuptials.

Join Emma, Earp-the-pug, Hercules-the-potbellied pig, and precocious six-year-old Maxwell as they cooperate with the whole Little Tombstone family in making sure that Hank and Phyllis get the wedding day of their dreams.

This novelette is a prequel to the next novel in the series, Tamales at High Noon, but features a complete stand-alone short mystery.

Read a Sample

Chapter One

When my Great Uncle Ricky first envisioned how Little Tombstone—a truncated imitation of the original old west town in Arizona—would age, I’m sure he’d imagined something quite different from the weather-beaten row of buildings fronting Highway 41 as it bisected the village of Amatista, halfway between the interstate to the south and the city of Santa Fe to the north.

In my late Uncle Ricky’s mind, I’m sure the gravel strip in front of the elevated boardwalk that tied the whole crumbling monstrosity together would be forever packed with massive American-made sedans overflowing with families of midwestern tourists searching out cut-rate kachina dolls and “Zuni” pottery of questionable provenance.

A tourist—on the rare occasions that we got one these days—could still purchase all manner of tacky southwest-themed tchotchkes at the Curio shop—but they rarely did.

The star attraction of Little Tombstone was no longer the Curio Shop, the Museum of the Unexplained, nor the under-renovation motel out back.

The reason people still came to Little Tombstone was the Bird Cage Café, where Juanita Gonzales served up daily lunches and dinners to a packed dining room. The food at the Bird Cage rivaled the finest Mexican cuisine north—or south—of the border.

Today, even though the gravel parking strip out front was crowded with cars, the café was closed.

A large cardboard sign hung from the front door of the Bird Cage. CLOSED FOR PRIVATE PARTY, it said. COME BACK TOMORROW.

It didn’t much matter that the Bird Cage was closed. Most of the regulars of the café would be guests at the private party, anyway.

It was no ordinary party; it was a once in fifty-years’ event that had come as a shock to the village of Amatista in general and the inhabitants of Little Tombstone in particular.

Sixty-something Hank Edwards—proprietor of the Museum of the Unexplained, proud owner of the worlds’ only complete family of taxidermized Chupacabras, and confirmed bachelor—was tying the knot.

Hank Edwards was getting married, and it was my job to make sure he got to the church on time, in a manner of speaking.

Phyllis, Hank’s intended, had initially lobbied for a wedding in the tiny, picturesque adobe chapel on the edge of Amatista, presided over by Father Orejo.

Hank, unlike Phyllis, was not a baptized Catholic. Hank was not a baptized anything, and when Phyllis raised the possibility of conversion, if only for the sake of a proper Catholic wedding, Hank wouldn’t hear of it.

And it wasn’t just Catholicism Hank objected to.

Hank is perpetually prepared to entertain the possibility not only of the existence of aliens in some galaxy far, far away but aliens who may at any moment show up on one’s doorstep and crave humanities’ assistance in saving their race from mass extinction. Hank enthusiastically embraces vast and untenable conspiracies involving collusions between all manner of disparate government and civilian entities collectively cooperating to deprive the American People of life, liberty, and happiness—not that Hank’s life, liberty, or happiness seems to have been affected in any way by these mass indoctrinations of the American Citizenry, just yet. According to Hank, this detracts nothing from his theories; disaster on an apocalyptic scale is always lurking just over history’s horizon.

Regardless of Hank’s multitude of other views requiring an abundance of blind faith, acknowledgment of the existence of a Supreme Being, according to Hank, required a suspension of disbelief too great for his whiskey-addled mind and bacon-clogged arteries to bear.

For years, Phyllis had ignored Hank’s bizarre views on the world and its workings and faithfully gone by herself to mass every Sunday and sometimes Saturday evenings, too.

Phyllis and Hank had maintained an amiable toleration for one another’s disparate viewpoints throughout their lengthy courtship but making their relationship official had brought a brewing conflict to a head. Phyllis was of the unshakeable conviction that so solemn a step as marriage ought to include an appeal to Divine Power for a blessing on the sacred union.

There’d been a great deal of arguing back and forth between Phyllis and Hank about the wedding. I heard this from Morticia.

Morticia is our resident fortune-teller on the premises of Little Tombstone, which means she knows more about other people’s business than the rest of us. Morticia is supposed to tell her clients what’s going to happen in the future, but more often than not, her clients tell her what’s already happened in the past. Also, Morticia’s mother, Hettie, and Phyllis had been best friends for years.

Morticia wasn’t privy to the outcome of the argument—Phyllis had simply said that she and Hank had reached an acceptable compromise—so I didn’t know what to expect regarding the sectarian nature of the ceremony.

All I knew was that the ragtag collection of chairs and strawbale benches set up on the patch of dirt and sagebrush out back of the trailer court behind the Bird Cage Café were full up with wedding guests. It was my job to make sure the groom made it down the aisle and stood under the whitewashed and fairy-light-festooned tumbleweed archway to await the entrance of his bride.

Phyllis was arriving in precisely twelve minutes with a multispecies entourage. She was to be transported to the wedding venue in style, sitting on a muslin-draped bale of straw in the bed of our mayor, Nancy Flynn’s, pickup truck.

I hoped none of the members of the bride’s party—small boy, elderly pug, or half-grown potbellied piglet—got over-excited by all the fuss and threw up on the bride. Fortunately for me, seeing to it that nobody threw up on the bride was my cousin Georgia’s job. She was in charge of the health, wellbeing, promptness, and presentability of the bridal party.

I’d gotten off easy. I only had to get the groom to toe his mark at the front of the assembled congregation, and my duties were done.

As I entered the front door of the Curio Shop, the bell on the door tinkled. I’d expected Hank to be ready and waiting for me to accompany him out back. I’d anticipated my duties to consist of tying Hank’s tie—which Morticia had picked out for him, along with his new suit—making sure Hank had combed his freshly-trimmed hair—courtesy of our friend and neighbor Ledbetter—and pinning a single white rose to the groom’s lapel.

Contrary to my expectations, the groom was not ready and waiting. I called out to Hank but got no answer. The third time I called Hank’s name, he finally replied, ”That you, Emma?”

“Come out and let me have a look at you,” I shouted into the open door leading to Hank’s tiny apartment at the back of the Curio Shop. “Morticia and Ledbetter said—”

Hank’s appearance was a shock.

I’d expected—per Morticia and Ledbetter’s description—an uncharacteristically clean and dapper Hank.

What I had not expected was an uncharacteristically clean and dapper Hank, who was also sporting an enormous black eye.

“What’s happened to you?” I demanded.

“What?” said Hank.

“Your eye,” I said, reaching up to touch my own face.

Hank’s eye was so injured; it was very nearly swollen shut.

“You need some ice on that!” I said.

“I don’t need no ice,” said Hank, glaring at me out of his one good eye before his gaze strayed to his feet as he stood in the middle of the Curio Shop.

It was then that I noticed that more than Hank’s eye was amiss.

Chapter Two

Someone had wreaked havoc on a display of desert-themed snow-globe-style paperweights. Several paperweights lay at Hank’s feet. When he bent to pick one of them up, I stepped toward him to help gather up the scattered souvenirs. As I stooped to collect one of the large glass globes, I noticed that there was a great deal more out of place than a few upset souvenirs.

A large, open archway connected the Curio Shop with the Museum of the Unexplained. The Museum contained, amongst other bizarre objects, Hank’s most precious possession: a family of stuffed Chupacabras.

According to everyone but Hank, the Chupacabras were the work of a talented and highly creative taxidermist. Hank, however, was utterly convinced of their authenticity.

Fortunately, the family of Chupacabras was still intact, but one corner of the plate-glass display case was shattered, and, resting at the feet of the leering Papa Chupacabra, was a hefty snow-globe paperweight.

“Who did this?” I asked.

Hank grunted, which was not informative.

I walked over to the case and started to reach through the hole in the glass for the paperweight. Inside the snow-globe was a pair of anthropomorphized red and green chili peppers who appeared to be dancing the bachata. Their googly eyes stared back at me as if I were some interloper in their romantic moment.

Then I caught the glassy stare of Papa Chupacabra, and I was not sorry when Hank interfered with my rescue.

“Stop!” said Hank. “I’ll take care of that later.”

“Later? After the wedding?”

It was a testament, I suppose, to Hank’s love for Phyllis that he was willing to allow his precious family of Chupacabra to remain exposed to the dangers of the open air, not to mention a pair of dancing chili peppers about to get amorous.

“Who did this to you? Who did this to your Chupacabras?” I asked again.

“Nobody did,” said Hank.

“Why won’t you tell me?”

“Nothing to tell,” Hank insisted. “I was rearranging the paperweights when I noticed that the glass on the case was dirty.”

Hank does not rearrange anything. Ever. On the rare occasion he sells something to a tourist possessing such poor taste as to want anything Hank has on offer, he just leaves an empty spot on the shelf.

Hank also never cleans. He doesn’t even wipe down the Chupacabras’ case. For as long as I’ve been at Little Tombstone, the only change I’ve ever noticed to the Curio Shop and the Museum of the Unexplained is everything gradually becomes coated in a slightly thicker layer of dust.

“I was holding that paperweight in my hand,” Hank continued. “I dropped it and broke the glass. When I bent over to check for damage, I caught my eye on the corner of the case. Hurt like the dickens, but I’ll be fine."

I wasn’t so sure Hank would be fine, and I wasn’t for a second buying his story.

“You and Phyllis didn’t have a fight, did you?” I asked.

I couldn’t imagine Phyllis, or Hank, for that matter, becoming violent, but who besides Phyllis would have been in the Curio Shop that morning? Someone had obviously precipitated a heated argument with Hank that had spiraled out of control.

Hank snorted in answer to my question about Phyllis, which I took as his way of saying that the very notion of his betrothed having been the source of his black eye was the height of absurdity.

“Never mind,” I said, “let’s do something about that tie and get you down the aisle. All the guests have been seated for ten minutes, and we don’t want the bride starting to worry that you’ve gotten cold feet.”

I’d toyed for a few seconds with the idea of appealing to Chamomile, one of the waitresses at the Bird Cage, for a little foundation makeup to try and disguise the damage to Hank’s eye before I sent him down the aisle. I almost immediately dismissed the notion as futile. I could cover the bruising, sort of, but no amount of makeup was going to disguise the fact that Hank’s right eye had swollen shut.

I tied Hank’s tie and pinned the white rose to his lapel. Contrary to expectations, Hank’s hair was in pristine condition. Prior to Ledbetter and Morticia taking him off to Albuquerque—for what they only referred to as a “make-over” outside of his hearing—Hank had sported stringy shoulder-length gray hair that perpetually looked like he’d just woken up from a sound seven-hour nap.

Now, Hank’s hair looked like the “after” in a trendy barber’s photo gallery.

His formerly shaggy beard was also neatly trimmed. His suit fit. Aside from his conspicuous black-eye, I doubted Hank Edwards had ever looked better in his sixty-nine years.

For the first time, I had an inkling of what Phyllis saw in him.

“Ready?” I said to Hank.

He grunted, which I took to mean, “yes.” I hoped when the officiant asked Hank if he vowed to “Love, Honor, and Cherish” Phyllis Ford “’til death do you part?” he’d not merely grunt in reply. Wedding vows are one of those occasions which call for the use of actual, intelligible words.

“Did you write your own vows?” I asked Hank.

Hank just gave me the side-eye with his one good one. Clearly, Hank was of the opinion that only hippies and millennials wrote their own vows.

“Who is officiating?” I asked as we walked down the boardwalk in front of the Bird Cage on the way to the back where the guests were waiting for the entrance of the happy couple.

“Freddy,” said Hank.

I decided he must mean Freddy Fernandez, the devout barber who had a shop next to the Bird Cage. Most people referred to Freddy Fernandez as “Pastor Freddy,” although he wasn’t an official clergyperson on the payroll of any religious entity registered in the state of New Mexico.

Pastor Freddy was a lay preacher who held a nondenominational protestant service in the back of his barbershop on Sunday afternoons.

“I thought you and Phyllis agreed not to have a religious service?” I said.

“We did,” said Hank. “Freddy’s agreed not to mention the G word.”

“Is Freddy licensed to marry people?” I asked.

The last thing poor Phyllis needed, after being deprived of her church wedding, was to find out after the fact that the alternative ceremony she’d settled for wasn’t even legal.

“Freddy got some license off the internets.”

I hoped Freddy knew what he was doing.

I hoped Phyllis knew what she was doing, too. I supposed she ought to. She and Hank had been a pair for the past eight years.

Hank had not been in favor of marriage until he’d been convinced that his late mother was speaking to him from beyond the grave and urging him to “make an honest woman” of Phyllis. Hank’s mother had used the highly unusual method of piercing the veil by communicating with her son through the crossword puzzle in the Amatista Advance, our weekly community newsletter.

Hank’s mother, was, of course, safely resting in her grave up on the hillside overlooking Little Tombstone, oblivious to the machinations of the living, but I liked to think that the elder Mrs. Edwards would have appreciated the lengths to which Hank’s near-and-dear had gone to make sure that a gem like Phyllis didn’t slip through Hank’s grasp.

Fond as I was of Hank, I was well aware that Phyllis should have been out of his league. Practically any woman should have been out of Hank’s league.

We had just rounded the corner of the Bird Cage and were on the home stretch to get Hank down the aisle when I saw Nancy Flynn’s pickup in the distance tearing down the hill from the Flynn ranch.

I’d assumed that given Nancy had a bride of advanced years seated in the back of the truck, she would have driven in a more sedate manner. Instead, she raised a plume of dust as she tore down the gravel road.

“You’re late!” Morticia said, taking Hank firmly by the elbow and hauling him off to the starter’s mark: the end of a piece of aquamarine shag carpet our handyman, Oliver, had found in the cellar under the Bird Cage.

End of Sample

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