50% OFF MURDER
“Okay, is everyone clear on what they’re supposed to do?” Maggie Gerber asked.
“Head straight for shoes, do not get distracted by hand bags,” Ginger Lancaster said. It appeared she was reminding herself.
“What do you do when you get there?” Maggie asked.
“Sizes eight and nine, leather only,” Joanne Claramotta answered. She had her best running shoes on and was jogging in place, her usual warm up routine for storming a store.
“What is our primary target?” Maggie asked.
“Designer only, preferably Italian,” Claire Freemont answered. “No knock offs.”
“Excellent.” Maggie said.
She took a moment to study the reflection of her crew in the store’s glass door. They all wore track suits of varying colors with running shoes and carried canvas shopping bags on their arms.
Claire had her blonde bob pulled back by a wide neon pink headband, which matched her sweat suit and also helped to keep her glasses in place. She looked determined.
Joanne, in navy blue, wore her long dark hair in a ponytail on top of her head. She stopped jogging and was stretching, looking prepared to run over anybody who stopped in her way.
Ginger, who kept her black hair cut close to her head, was in a baby blue track suit which enhanced the rich brown of her skin. She was muttering ‘no handbags’ under her breath like a mantra. Her eyes were narrowed in concentration. She had her game face on.
Finally, Maggie took a cursory glance at herself. She was in her favorite green workout suit, her shoulder length auburn hair was pulled back and clipped at the nape of her neck. She had her shopping tote on her arm. She was good to go. She could feel the surge of adrenaline coursing through her body as the rush of scoring a good deal was just minutes away.
She consulted her watch. “We’re in the sixty second range. Remember when the doors open go to the left.”
The women took their places. A crowd of fifty or so had gathered but Maggie and her crew had arrived at five this morning to stake out their turf. Stegner’s was a premier outlet in southern Virginia that specialized in shoes, handbags and belts. Twice a year they had a sale that could literally blow the doors off a woman’s closet.
Maggie and the Good Buy Girls, as they called themselves, had yet to miss a sale at Stegner’s. Their system was honed to perfection. They arrived early, they took the spot in front of the doors on the side of the store where they were headed, and they let nothing get in their way.
“Thirty seconds,” Maggie said.
The crowd behind them shifted restlessly. The lure of ridiculously marked down Manolos, Weitzmans and Prada shoes as well as Coach and Michael Kors handbags was drawing them all like bees to pollen.
Abruptly, a platinum blonde, wearing black leather stiletto boots with black leggings and a zebra striped halter top, elbowed her way to the front of the crowd until she was standing beside Maggie.
“You’re going down, Gerber,” the woman hissed.
Maggie turned and saw her nemesis Summer Phillips standing there.
“Are you actually trash talking me?” she asked.
“Trash, is that how you see yourself?” Summer asked. “So you are more self aware than I thought.”
Maggie felt her temples contract as her temper flared.
“Why are you here, Summer?” she asked. “Didn’t your fourth husband pay enough to get rid of you when he divorced you? I wouldn’t think outlet sales were your thing.”
Summer’s blood red lip curled back and she looked like she wanted to bite Maggie.
“Countdown, Maggie,” Ginger said.
When Maggie didn’t respond, Ginger leaned forward and saw Summer Phillips on the other side of her.
“Uh oh,” she said. “This is bad.”
Maggie was breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth. Summer Phillips had been the bane of her existence since they were kids.
For some reason that Maggie had never fully understood, Summer lived to make her life a misery. She had made sure that Maggie was mocked, picked on and ridiculed at every possible turn. She had even tried to befriend Ginger, but Ginger had refused, seeing Summer for the devil in Spandex that she was.
Maggie hadn’t seen much of Summer over the past few years, but now here she was, horning in on one of Maggie’s ultimate joys, a sale. Well, she was darned if she was going to let this big busted, bleached blonde bubblehead ruin one of the highlights of her summer.
Shaking Summer’s presence off like a bad case of fleas, Maggie glanced at her watch and began the count down, “Seven, six, five…”
She could feel her crew take their mark.
“Three, two, one!”
The automatic doors slid open and the crowd pressed forward. The professionals walked swiftly, but in an orderly fashion. Shoulder to shoulder, the Good Buy Girls veered to the left as planned and headed straight for the eights and nines.
The amateurs, Summer, bolted into the store, throwing elbows and body slamming people out of the way until what had been a fine day of shopping, turned into an Ultimate Fighting cage match.
“Focus!” Maggie ordered. “Eye on the prize.”
The four of them strode to the shoes. They fanned out by size, Claire and Joanne in the eights and Maggie and Ginger in the nines. Working in teams, they started on the end of the row and worked their way to the middle, stuffing their canvas bags full of the shoes that met their criteria.
Maggie was a third of the way in when Summer, looking disheveled, stumbled into her row. As Maggie went to pick up a pair of Jimmy Choo ankle boots, Summer snatched them from her hand.
“Hey!” Maggie snapped. “That’s rude!”
“I got them first,” Summer argued.
“Maggie, focus!” Ginger’s voice ordered from behind her. Maggie glanced up. Other shoppers were beginning to crowd into the aisle. She had to work fast.
“Fine,” she said and turned her back on Summer. She reached for a pair of Alberto Fermani’s and Summer snatched those, too. “What is your problem?”
“I don’t have a problem!” Summer said. “What’s yours?”
“What are you, twelve?” Maggie asked. The crowd was pressing inward. She reached blindly for a pair of plastic pumps, thinking she might hit Summer over the head with them, but Summer grabbed those, too.
It was obvious that Summer’s sole purpose was to ruin Maggie’s shopping expedition. Well, Maggie had played this game with other amateurs. Summer was going to lose.
Maggie reached for a pair of cheap knock offs, but Summer snatched them away. While she juggled the four pairs of shoes in her arms, Maggie grabbed a pair of Seychelles. And so it went, Maggie faking out Summer with lousy shoes and using her distraction to grab the good ones, until she met Ginger in the middle.
“We’re good?” Maggie asked.
“Good,” Ginger confirmed. “Let’s meet the others.”
They wound their way passed the throng, through handbags, where Ginger kept her eyes on the floor, to the corner where they always met up.
Now, it was time to unload their bags and finalize their decisions.
They had each managed to snag seven to ten pairs of shoes in the correct sizes. Now they would try them on, check the prices and figure out which ones they would actually buy. If the deal was good enough and no one wanted the shoes, Maggie would buy them anyway and sell them online. She had discovered she could make a tidy monthly income, selling items she picked up at sales.
She and Ginger went through the size nines. They each picked two pairs of shoes to buy for themselves and then debated the rest. When you were looking at a three hundred dollar pair of shoes that had been marked down to thirty many things had to be taken into consideration.
Fit, practicality and style were of the utmost consideration. But then this was why they came here. There was no substitute for quality. A good pair of Weitzmans could last ten to fifteen years, wear well and never look out of date. Poorly made shoes would cost the same and last one season, not only that but they’d probably cause foot damage before they ended up in a land fill.
“There she is! I demand that you throw her out!”
The Good Buy Girls glanced up from their pile of shoes as one.
Looking indignant and pointing a boney, red talon tipped finger at Maggie stood Summer Phillips. Beside her was Stegner’s manager Barney Comstock.
He broke into a grin at the sight of them. ”Hey, it’s the GBG’s. Great to see you!”
“Hi, Barney,” they all said together.
“GBG’s?” Summer asked, looking disgusted.
“Good Buy Girls,” Barney said. “Get it? Good buy
girls! I didn’t see you come in. We had a bit of a ruckus at the opening today.”
He cast Summer an unhappy look and Maggie was pleased that he knew exactly whose fault that was.
Summer’s face flushed. She did not like the way this was going. Maggie had to duck her head to keep from laughing. She and Barney went back more than twenty years. He’d helped her pick her wedding shoes, for Pete’s sake.
“So, Ms. Philbrick here says you have some shoes of hers,” Barney said.
“The name is Phillips,” Summer snapped.
“Oh, my bad,” he said, not looking at all repentant.
Barney had managed Stegner’s for over forty years. His gray hair was just a fringe around his bald head, and both his jowls and his belly sagged as if gravity had a hold and wasn’t about to let go. Summer could throw whatever she wanted at him, but Maggie knew Barney had been dealing with obnoxious customers since the pill box hat went the way of the dinosaur. Surely, he could handle Summer.
Summer stomped her stiletto into the industrial carpeting. “I want my shoes back.”
“Maggie.” Barney put his hand on the back of his neck and blew out a breath as if he really hated this part of his job. “She seems to think you’ve got some of her shoes.”
Maggie gritted her teeth. “Really? Because she followed me into the aisle and snatched every pair I touched.”
Summer turned up her nose as if she smelled something bad and said, “I never.”
“That’s obvious,” Joanne snapped. Joanne was Brooklyn born and bred and she did not take insults to herself or her friends well. She moved to stand behind Maggie in a show of support. Both Ginger and Claire moved in as well.
After all those years of being cornered in the locker room by Summer and her posse of chesty cheerleaders, Maggie had to acknowledge that she liked having her peeps at her back.
“Let’s all calm down,” she said. “Now, Summer, which shoes do you think I took from you?”
It was admittedly a trick question. Since they had all dumped their shoes into a pile, taking out only the ones for themselves so far, Summer had no way of knowing what shoes Maggie had gathered nor could she tell which pairs Maggie had put aside for herself.
“Why, those!” Summer said and she reached into the pile and pulled out a pink pair of pumps by Via Spiga.
Maggie almost laughed at the absurdity of it all.
The pumps were size eights and had been picked up by Claire or Joanne. A quick glance at Summer’s stilettos and Maggie frowned.
“Really? You fit into size eights? Barney, don’t her boots look to be elevens?” Maggie asked.
“Hmm, I’d say twelves -- wide,” he said. He rubbed his chin with the back of his head. “You have some sturdy feet there, ma’am.”
Summer sucked in a breath as if she’d been slapped. The Via Spigas dropped from her hand and she growled, “How dare you?”
“Oh, we dare,” Joanne said. “Care to make it a double dare?”
Like any bully who finds herself outnumbered, Summer spun on her pointy heel and fled the store. Joanne led the group in knuckle pounds and the women went back to their in depth shoe analysis.
“Here you go, ladies,” Gwen Morgan said. She carried a tray with four coffees on it, two lattes, one espresso and a chai tea. “Your punch card is full, Maggie, so next time you get a freebie.”
“Excellent,” Maggie said. She took the card from Gwen and put it in her wallet.
The ladies were basking in their post sale success, sitting on the front patio of the Perk Up, surrounded by their bags from Stegner’s. The drive back from the store had taken an hour. It was mid day now and they had a nice view of the goings on in town from their spot on Main Street.
Gwen and her husband Jay Morgan owned the Perk Up, which they had opened five years before during the coffee boom. They had a small bakery case in there as well and offered an assortment of baked goods to go with the coffee. A glance at the mostly empty coffee house made Maggie wonder how business was going. It was so close to lunch, she would have expected the tables to be full. Then again, it was the end of summer and people were trying to get in the last of their vacations and prepare for back to school, so maybe the slowness was just temporary.
Gwen served their coffee and tea and said, “If you need anything else, let me know.”
“Think she knows where we can hire a hit on Summer Phillips?” Joanne whispered.
“I’m pretty sure husband number two tried that,” Ginger said. “The woman is like a cat with nine lives.”
“A feral cat,” Maggie said.
“Still, you got her good with the size eights,” Claire said. “She outed herself. That was classic.”
“Yeah, but what I can’t figure is why she was even at Stegner’s,” Maggie said. “I mean she’s loaded. Why is she bargain hunting and why do I get the feeling it was mostly to mess with me?”
“I don’t know, but if I were you, I’d watch my back,” Ginger said. “And we’ll help.”
“Absolutely,” Claire said.
Joanne lifted her espresso and said, “To the Good Buy Girls. We came, we saw, we scored.”
TITLES BY SERIES:
Bluff Point Romance
Library Lover's Mysteries
London Hat Shop Mysteries
Good Buy Girls Mysteries, writing as Josie Belle
Decoupage Mysteries, writing as Lucy Lawrence