CHAPTER ONE (Unedited version)
“Chief, we have a situation,” came over the radio.
“Code?” Adrian Skehan, Alden's sheriff, asked, tapping on the steering wheel impatiently.
“Unclear. Old McPherson is seeing blinking lights in the wilderness,” Holly, the sheriff’s office dispatcher, explained. “Couldn't find a code for that.”
Of course not.
“Stationary or moving?” he asked, without even flinching.
That was something he would have never said in his previous life as a Boston police detective.
A scoff. “Stationary, boss. Stationary. We have a code for moving lights, don't you remember?”
True. They came up with it after Mrs. Hayden got into documentaries about extraterrestrial life and believed her lapses in memory had nothing to do with her fondness for cherry liqueur but that she was actually being kidnapped by aliens.
Kids playing with a laser pointer hadn't helped at all.
CIA was the code. Cherry Induced Abduction.
How he ended up in such a crazy town, where law enforcement needed a special code list, he had no clue.
Well, he did. He just didn’t want to think about it.
“He said it’s coming from the old B&B. Sparkly, white-bluish lights.”
“On my way.”
Probably teenagers messing around.
Alden's B&B had been closed for many years, but now that it had a new owner, it was being renovated and reopening in a couple of months.
He parked the patrol car in front of the building and walked toward the swimming pool area, where, as reported, a bluish flickering light was coming from. As he approached, he heard the chatter, the clicking of glasses, and someone yelling LOLOOO.
Shit. Shit. Shit.
Dispatcher had been wrong; they did have a code for this: OG WMD. Original Grandmas Weapons of Mass Destruction. In his previous life, he'd been chasing terrorists and narcos. Now? Now he chased senior citizens. And more often than not, they managed to escape him. Not running, though, simply smiling and patting him on his arm as they faked ignorance.
The bane of his existence, Rebecca, Wilma and Greta were in the swimming pool, on the jacuzzi side, wearing very indiscreet flowery bathing caps and drinking what looked like champagne. They'd turned the lights on and the bubbles too. Music played from somewhere—one of the grannies’ cells, probably.
Man, he thought that once these bunch got Mike, Rebecca’s grandson, and Kyra, his first love, hooked up, they would have calmed down, but no.
The second they saw him, the grannies glanced at one another, each drawing in a big breath, and with cheeks full of air, dove into the water, looking like crazed chipmunks.
For the love of God.
He crossed his arms and stood by the pool, waiting for them to come up for air.
It took a while before those damn bathing caps resurfaced. He had to give it to them; for eighty-year-olds, they had great pulmonary capacity.
“Well?” he asked with a glare, his voice as stern as he could muster.
Silence. Then Wilma, the one with the flashy red cap, turned to her partners in crime. “Didn't work, girls. He's still here.”
“Never seen this place from this point of view,” Wilma said, sitting on the holding cell’s bench and glancing around. “Rather inhospitable.”
Rebecca and Greta, both on the bench next to her, nodded.
“You know what's missing? Curtains,” Greta suggested. “Some festive theme. In red. There would be no outside view, but the bars would stay hidden. Would boost morale.”
Wilma assented. “And pillows. This bench is too hard.”
And now that they were on the topic, an in-depth cleaning would do this place a world of good.
"In hindsight, it was a good decision to keep the bathing suits on,” Rebecca said.
Yep, it had been. Or they would have been facing charges for breaking and entering, indecent exposure, and giving an officer of the law a heart attack.
“He got mad this time,” Greta murmured. “The bottle of champagne didn't help.” Neither did all the run-ins they’d had with Adrian lately.
“I can't believe you arrested them,” they heard Rachel yelling from the office.
“Your granddaughter is here to rescue us,” Rebecca said, turning to Wilma. Then she frowned. “We didn't get a free phone call, like in the movies. Or did we get it and I spaced out?”
“I don't remember calling anyone,” Greta mused, shaking her head.
Neither did she, but whoever had phoned Rachel had their best interest in mind. Rebecca's grandson, Mike, would have bailed them out but would have given them a talk and taken the sheriff's side. Greta's son, Grady, would probably pay to keep them behind bars. Rachel was the only one carrying the senior flag. She always took their side, no matter what. Even when they were in the wrong.
She'd rushed to their defense when the sheriff tried to get Wilma's driving license revoked, which, taking into consideration that they were driving twice the allowed speed and about to turn into oncoming traffic, kind of made sense. In their defense, though, Wilma hadn't had her glasses on, so she hadn't seen the speedometer. And the oncoming traffic consisted of an empty street with a couple of cars parked on it.
Rachel sounded outraged. “You can't keep eighty-year-olds in a holding cell.”
“And I wouldn't have if they didn’t try to convince one of my officers to release them.”
“Since when is it a crime to try to conv—”
“Slipping him money,” Adrian cut Rachel off.
“I told you it was a bad idea,” Rebecca mumbled to her friends. “A fifty-dollar bill was too little.”
“Trying to bribe an officer is illegal. Breaking and entering too,” Adrian stated, his voice calm. So far.
Rachel's snort was loud. And rude. “There was nothing broken, and they didn't enter the building. They just used the outdoors facilities. You could say they were rehearsing for the opening, making sure everything worked.”
Wilma looked at her friends. “Why didn’t we think of that?”
The conversation outside seemed to grow louder and louder. Rebecca lifted her shoulders. “In between the champagne and the chlorine, I ended up guzzling, I was a bit fuzzy. Still am.”
Greta pointed at the toilet in the far corner. “It's the smell coming from that. As soon as we get out of here, we're organizing some fundraiser to get this place in tip-top shape.”
Wilma couldn't stifle the laughter. “You plan on visiting often?” At her friend’s shrug, she dug into the pocket of her bathrobe and produced her cellphone. “Let’s immortalize the moment. Just in case.”
“You had your phone all this time?” Rebecca asked.
“I just remembered. Let’s do a selfie. With the bars as the backdrop. Ladies, get your duck faces on.”
“I really don’t understand it,” Greta said in a sigh. “All our lives being told small lips are beautiful, and look at us now. Right when we need them, they’ve deflated.”
“Like everything else,” Rebecca commiserated. “No lips, no boobs, no ass. Just shriveled-up skin.”
“It’s from all the time we spent in the pool, don’t worry,” Greta said.
Rebecca didn’t seem too convinced.
“Ready?” Wilma asked, interrupting. She wasn’t wearing her glasses, so she wasn’t sure the shot was centered, but she stretched out her hand, took the picture and hoped for the best. “Now let’s Tweet with the hashtags #campingwiththegirls #exploringnewfrontiers #nevertooOldtogetarapsheet.”
“Two months,” Adrian said sternly. Wilma could almost see him standing with his arms crossed on his chest. That handsome, young face of his, frowning and getting old and crinkled prematurely. What a waste. “The B&B opens in a couple of months. Couldn't they wait?”
Rachel was raising her voice, sounding exasperated. “They don’t make long-term plans.”
“Two months is a long-term plan?”
“What do you think? They don't even buy their bananas green,” her granddaughter all but yelled, her tone aggravated. Wilma could also see her in her mind, standing as tall as possible, on tiptoe, probably, facing off with Adrian. “This is an abuse of authority.”
Rebecca turned to Wilma. “I love your Rachel. You really got lucky in the grandchildren department.”
Wilma knew. She'd missed her granddaughter's childhood because of the divorce, but Rachel had gotten in touch with her ten years ago, and when she decided to move to Alden, Wilma had been ecstatic.
“Like you can complain with Mike,” Greta said to Rebecca. “You’re both lucky. I struck out.”
Greta's son was no fun. Her grandson, Connor, was a sweetheart, but he was in the military and was very seldom in the US.
“I remind you I'm already taking care of all the police cars’ maintenance.” Rachel’s voice was getting louder by the second.
“Three cars. Do I have to remind you what the OGs did to make that happen?”
Greta and Wilma stared at Rebecca, who whispered, “What?! That was an accident. It could happen to any one of us.”
“Wait a second.” There was a pause, and then Rachel cursed. “You have them in their bathing suits and wet robes? What are you thinking? They’re old. They could get a cold and die,” Rachel reprimanded him.
Good attempt at guilt tripping. It might have worked with other police officers, but Adrian was too seasoned. The OGs knew; they’d tried it before.
Adrian snorted. “They won’t. Viruses don’t dare mess with them. And it’s not my fault they decided to drive there in their bathing suits and without any spare clothes. Wait, how do you know…”
“They’re Tweeting from their cell, that’s why. You have them half-naked in there.”
Oops… and Wilma thought she’d pointed the camera at their faces.
“I’m going to sue you,” Rachel continued. “The whole department. This is misuse of power. Abuse of authority. Human rights violation. Whatever it’s called.”
From then on, Wilma couldn’t make out the words, because both were screaming. After a short while, the door from the corridor opened, and Rachel marched in, followed by Adrian.
“How good to see you, dear. You're here to bail us out?” Wilma asked, as the sheriff began unlocking the cell.
Rachel had her arms crossed, her lips pursed, and was giving him the evil eye. “I'm afraid not, Grandma.”
Adrian opened the cell and, to their surprise, pushed Rachel in and closed the door behind her. “She’s being charged with disorderly conduct.”
“Disorderly conduct, my ass,” she replied. “This is contempt of cop.”
The sheriff ignored Rachel. “The phone, ladies,” he demanded, stretching his hand out to them.
Wilma harrumphed but gave it to him. “Don’t take it out on poor Walter. He was scared of frisking me.”
“Have a great evening, ladies," he said as he walked away. “See you tomorrow.”
“Now what?” Greta asked when they were alone again.
The four of them sat on the bench.
Wilma sighed. “Now we wait until Mike logs on to Twitter.”
The next day, Rachel stomped down the stairs of the Town Hall, the OGs in tow, Mike behind them.
“Sentenced to community service,” she said, fuming. “At age eighty. For breaking and entering and attempting to bribe an officer of the law. Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
Her grandma and the other two culprits turned to each other and shrugged. No, not ashamed at all.
“It could had been worse,” Wilma admitted.
“Really? How much worse?”
“We could have been naked. Skinny dipping at our age is probably considered two offenses. Indecent exposure and attempted murder. If we got community service now, imagine what we would have had if we gave the sheriff a heart attack.”
“And we had a hostile judge.”
“Well, if you wouldn’t have reprimanded him.” Although Rachel understood her grandma. Who could look seriously at a judge when you’ve changed his diapers? All in all, they had been lucky. Alden only had two judges, and Greta had had an altercation during bingo with the other one, who was infamous for holding grudges.
“They have a point there,” Mike admitted, trying very unsuccessfully to stifle his laugh. “The judge was a jackass.”
“Not helping, Mike. You’re taking this rather well.”
He lifted his hands. “As they said, it could be worse.”
Since hooking up with Kyra, Mike was much more relaxed. A year ago, he would have hit the roof and lectured them, too.
“I see. Our grandmothers are going through their bucket list, and the only one worried here is me.”
“Oh, I’m worried,” Mike interjected. “I’m worried you seem to be going through the same list too. Need I remind you that you also got arrested?”
“We appreciate all you do,” Wilma said, patting Rachel on the arm, “but you have to recognize you were not too… inspired when you started a brawl with the sheriff.”
“You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” Greta offered.
True. Although she was sure a ton of honey wouldn’t be enough to sweeten that sour-ass sheriff of theirs.
Disorderly conduct charges. Apparently to yell at a sheriff and threaten to cut his balls off was a punishable crime too.
“What exactly is a bucket list?” Rebecca asked, turning to her grandson.
“A to-do list before one kicks the bucket,” he explained. “Get a tattoo, try bungee jumping. Shit like that.”
The faces of the three ladies brightened.
“Not helping. At. All,” Rachel punctuated, cutting him short.
Greta’s eyes went big. “Oh, that’s a great idea. Not the jumping. The list.”
Both her friends nodded.
Mike seemed to have finally realized his mistake and tried to change the subject. “What were you doing at the old B&B?”
“We promised Audrey that we would go for a swim when the place reopened. She would have been so pleased to see her beloved business up and running again.”
“You could have waited until it actually reopened,” Mike suggested. “We would have avoided all this mess.”
“Audrey would have wanted it like this, I’m sure,” Wilma answered.
Rachel was sure too. Audrey had loved mayhem as much as her friends, or so she’d been told. “Well, it’s not Audrey dealing with the aftermath, it’s me, so no more shenanigans. Please. I’m already in the doghouse with the sheriff as it is, I don’t need any more trouble with him.”
Stickler for rules, the jackass.
In the first seven years she’d spent in Alden, she could count with the fingers of one hand how many times she’d talked with the old sheriff, a very accommodating, sweet man, but then her grandma and friends had decided to regress to their teens right about the same time the new sheriff had stepped in. Now, because of all their run-ins with the law, she had Adrian’s number on speed dial. And he had hers. She spoke with that jerk more often than she did with her mother. Well, not so much talking like a sane, balanced thirty-four-year-old would, but more so scolding and yelling like a nut. Or begging and apologizing, or everything all at once, depending on the situation. Which always had her at a disadvantage.
“Complain all you want about Adrian, but you were lucky he called me to bring clothes for the OGs; otherwise, they would have appeared in front of the judge in their bathrobes and impressive caps. That wouldn’t have helped your case either, Rach.”
True. Mike was not big on Twitter or social media. There was no chance he’d have seen their message in time.
“Are you coming with us to the gym?” Mike asked. “Today is Wednesday. Self-defense class. You could take out your frustrations on the guys.”
“No, thank you.” There were two self-defense classes at Haddican’s, the first one for seniors. She had already had enough of crazy grandmas for a day. How Mike could deal with them en masse, it was beyond her. If she’d have time, she would love to drop by Kyra’s dance studio, Alden’s Dance Factory, where Mike’s wife and Sara, Mike’s sister, held dance classes, but she was extremely busy today, not to mention, she wasn’t the most feminine person in the world. Pole dancing when you smell like petrol and your nails are dirty with motor grease? Not that sensual. “The boys are waiting for me in the garage, we’re swamped. Maybe another day.”
Wilma shook her head reprovingly. “You spend all your time in that garage of yours.”
“Cars don’t repair themselves, and they don’t talk back and argue, either,” she said, that last part in a barely audible mutter.
Her grandma ignored her completely. “How is it going with the dating service? Did you find any interesting candidates?”
Mike turned to Rachel; his brow pinched. “What dating service?”
“They signed me up for one of those dating apps,” she explained. “They faked my profile like you wouldn’t believe it.” By now, Mike’s frown had disappeared and he was laughing. Or so she thought, because he’d covered his face and his shoulders were shaking. Either he was laughing or crying. She had a good hunch which one of those it was.
“It’s what everyone does, honey,” her grandma justified herself. “They all exaggerate a bit.”
Rachel looked at Mike, whose face had resurfaced. Yep, laughing his ass off. “Exaggerate a bit? The only real thing on there is my name. You guys even uploaded a picture of me from ten years ago. I’m the youngest looking thirty-four-year-old in existence.”
“Correction. You’re twenty-nine,” Rebecca explained. “We heard thirty is the tomb for dating.”
Wilma assented. “Besides, what could we do? You’re always in the garage, with those greasy coveralls. We can’t upload a picture of you working under a car. It’ll scare the candidates.”
Why on earth Rachel had taught the OGs how to use their smartphones, she didn’t know. One thing was clear: she had no one to blame but herself.
“Results are what matter the most,” Greta decreed. “So, have there been any, honey?”
“Nothing promising yet,” Rachel muttered, “so don’t get your hopes up.”
She could tell them about the dates from hell she’d gotten from that app, but she feared the OGs weren’t ready for so much gruesome reality. Besides, they did mean well. It wasn’t their fault the world of dating was a cesspool.
“Now I’ve got to go,” she said, and, after kissing her grandmother, Rebecca, and Greta, she took off in the direction of her business, waving at Mike. “If they get into trouble, it’s on you. I’m off duty.”
She heard his chuckle and a ‘You got it,’ before turning the corner and entering the garage.
Rachel went straight to her office. She loved her grandma and the other OGs, but she was exhausted and didn’t have the energy to keep up with them and their shenanigans today. Man, and she thought she’d never step foot inside another cell or courtroom. Ha. Think again, Rach.
“So, boss, how did it go? You going to prison?” Rico asked, peeking out from the door, a smirk on his smudged face.
“Worse,” she said, dropping into a chair. “Community service. I have to teach mechanics to a bunch of juvenile delinquents.”
Rico looked at her and burst out laughing. “Is the judge trying to put you away for murder?”
Probably. Rachel wasn’t the most patient, most diplomatic person in the world. Far from it. Add a group of unruly teenagers to her garage and disaster was bound to happen. “All this is Adrian’s doing, I’m sure.” He was the one trying to reinsert the thugs back into society. Convicting her for murder was just an added bonus.
“The sheriff wants to keep them out of trouble,” Rico said.
“Why the heck doesn’t he take them in at his office to help? He’s always complaining about being short-staffed.” Rico gave her a duh-look and she sighed, resigned. “I know, I know. Those delinquents would burn down the police station, so we get them instead.”
“Look at it this way,” Rico offered. “They might not know how to repair a car, but stripping it bare and reselling the parts, they must have down pat. It’s a start.”