Today, we'd like to share an excerpt of our new novel, Murder on the Mullet Express.
The central characters are Cornelia Pettijohn, an Army nurse who is nearly old to muster out, the elderly Professor Percival Pettijohn, her uncle, and Teddy Lawless, a twenty-year-old flapper in a body pushing sixty.
Their 'vacation' trip to Florida hasn't been going well. Their car broke down on the Dixie Highway, a man who rode into Homosassa, Florida on the train with them died of poisoning, and now someone has taken an unhealthy interest in the professor.
The three of them sat at a small table for breakfast. Cornelia was grateful that none of the other hotel guests had joined them. They needed to figure out who was interested in her uncle and why.
Professor Pettijohn began to order sausage with his eggs.
"That's not a good idea." She indicated Teddy, who was greener than the palm fronds. He wisely switched to bacon.
Cornelia ordered orange juice, eggs, and grits.
Teddy ordered coffee and a bag of ice.
After the waitress left, Cornelia lowered her voice. “Why would someone want to break into your room?”
Pettijohn shrugged. “I brought cash for a down payment. Maybe they wanted it.”
“A number of other people here have cash, too. Probably some brought more than you did, especially the ones in that fancy new hotel. Why you?”
“Maybe they have a list, and it was my turn.”
“I don’t think that’s it. If I were that sort of crook, I would break into a binder boy’s room, not yours,” Cornelia said.
“They wanted to start small?”
She gave him a disgusted look. "Will you please take this seriously?"
The waitress arrived with the coffee and orange juice. She also had a bag of ice on her tray. She handed it to Teddy, who lifted her broad-brimmed hat long enough to tuck it inside.
“There’s my camera,” the professor said. “It’s valuable.”
“Most of the visitors can afford one of their own. If they can afford a winter home in Florida, they can afford a camera. Even one as nice as yours.”
“Perhaps it’s a pair of locals. Men in need of money, and ones who don’t have a car. It’s a fair walk to the new hotel.”
“So, now you’re suggesting they picked you because they were lazy?”
Teddy’s voice, acidic, broke in. “Figure out who they were first. If you know the who, the why might solve itself.”
“Good suggestion,” the professor said.
“I need out of the sunlight,” she replied. “I thought I’d hurry the two of you along.”
“How will we identify these people? What did you see, Corny?”
Cornelia winced at the use of the nickname. “Very little. One was average size, the other was huge. That’s about all I could tell.”
“But you heard their voices.”
“So, we match the voices to the people,” he said. “I think we should do some socializing with my potential neighbors today.”
“Speak more quietly,” Teddy muttered. “I have a fat head.”
The professor ignored her. “Should we begin with the people on our floor?” he asked his niece.
“No,” Cornelia said, “I don’t think they’re staying or working at this hotel. We’ve eaten here every day. I know every voice by now. These men were strangers.”