Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Peek at Joyce Oroz

I am happy to announce that Beetles in the Boxcar
is available in book and kindle forms from Amazon.                                                          
Here is a little peek into my latest mystery.                       
  Beetles in the Boxcar   
A Josephine Stuart Mystery
by Joyce Oroz
The snow-capped Sierra Mountains had become a faraway blur as my mud-spattered pickup bounced along Highway 41 to the beat of, “She Loves Me, Yah, Yah, Yah.” Riding shotgun was my Aunt Clara, who didn’t care for music by the Beatles or commercials and frequently turned the dial. Protesting would not have helped. Aunt Clara had a mind of her own, not to mention a stubborn streak that stretched all the way from her home in Oakhurst to mine in
Aromas, from one side of California to the other.
We had been on the road heading west for less than half an hour when she suddenly demanded I stop at a restroom. We had already passed Coarsegold. Why didn’t she say something then? I knew why she had her sweatpants in a twist. It was because she had to leave home in a hurry with me instead of her own daughter. Candy was on a cruise in the Bahamas with her third husband, Marty, celebrating their first year of marriage.
“Can you wait till we get to Madera?”
“No,” she snapped, fanning herself with a ropy freckled hand. A minute later she asked to be forgiven for her impatience.
“Not a problem, Auntie. I’m sorry things aren’t going well.”
       “Never mind that, Josephine. Get me to a restroom—a bush—something!”
“All I see are orchards and that shack up ahead. Must be a fruit stand.”
“Pull over,” she pointed to the one-room shack surrounded on three sides by bare fruit trees.  Brakes squealed as we jerked to a stop in front of “Facelli’s Fresh Fruit,” boarded up and deserted for the winter. Clara jumped out of the truck wearing a gray sweat suit and clear plastic rain boots. She plowed through the mud, ducked behind the old shed and minutes later returned with a better disposition. “Thank you, dear,” she said as she hoisted herself into the cab.
The turnoff to Highway 145 caught my eye just in time. We had about ten more miles to Madera and then another 120 miles to my home in Aromas, positioned just one hill shy of a perfect view of the Pacific Ocean.
“Goodness, now Felix has to go!” Aunt Clara pulled a scrawny yellow cat out of her over-sized knitting bag. “When he squirms around like that, it’s time.”
I pulled off the road onto an unpaved shoulder near a double set of railroad tracks paralleling the highway. The pickup idled as Clara cuddled the old cat, climbed out of the truck and set the animal on the ground. Felix jumped a foot into the air when a semi roared by, giving my truck a good shake. Aunt Clara held him close for a moment and they tried again.
Fortunately, Felix was able to complete his mission before a freight train appeared in my rear view mirror. We traveled alongside the train most of the way to Chowchilla where we stopped for a fast food lunch. My aunt and I ended up with mustard stains down our fronts. Travel was like that, or maybe it was just us. After all, we were not neat little girly girls … or queen bees like Mom. It was astonishing to me that Mom was Aunt Clara’s older sister. Clara was a fanatic when it came to mucking around in her extensive flower and vegetable gardens, while Mom babied a couple rose bushes and belonged to the Senior Garden Club. Mom was active, kept her hair styled and knew how to dress for every occasion. She owned the latest in hiking boots, wetsuits, tennis togs and a red sari, while Aunt Clara’s socks didn’t match and her white hair billowed.
Aunt Clara and I had the same wavy, shoulder-length hair, except mine was still auburn with a white hair creeping in now and then, which I would immediately yank out. Clara’s green eyes were twenty-five years older than mine but still had plenty of sparkle.
“You’re awfully quiet, dear,” Aunt Clara said, as we roared up Pacheco Pass.
“I was wondering what it was like for you growing up with my mother.”
“Kind of like it is now. She was so busy with all her friends and activities. Couldn’t slow down if she tried. I wasn’t like Leola. I was quiet, always had my nose in a book and not very good at making friends. Leola used to haul me around to parties and football games; but it took years for me to come out of my shell, marry Roger and ‘find my voice’ in the world.” I figured she was talking about her poetry—the published ones in particular.
“Aunt Clara, I’m glad you’re going to stay with me, so don’t get me wrong but why did you have to leave in such a hurry? The mudslide only affected the backyard.”
 “Josephine, you remember the Bass Lake fire last summer in the mountains behind my house?” I nodded, remembering the scary images shown on the news. “When the trees are gone, there’s nothing to hold the earth in place. It’s November and we’ve only had two rains. The mud is already at my back door. A construction crew is coming next week with tractors and such, and they’ll scoop out the mud and build a retaining wall. That is, if they’re allowed into the area. Cross your fingers it will be enough to hold back disaster.” Clara stared at her muddy boots while she stroked Felix. “Besides, my neighbors and I were told to evacuate.”
 “How long will the work take if the crew is allowed into the neighborhood?”
 “Depends on the weather. Our winters are colder and wetter than yours.”
Aromas had gone six months without rain, which was typical, and then it poured on all the little trick-or-treat goblins and witches. Clara stopped turning the radio dial when she heard classical music and left it alone for almost an hour. Conversation was minimal until an advertisement for termite abatement flashed over the air waves. She quickly snapped it off.
“Don’t you just hate commercials?”
“Ah, yeah. Auntie, I’m afraid I won’t have much time to spend with you after my new job starts Monday.”
“That’s OK, dear. We can spend Saturday and Sunday together,” she smiled as she dropped Felix back into her knitting bag. “What is your new Wild Bush job? Painting, I presume.”
“Yes, my Wildbrush Mural Company is scheduled to paint murals in the new Watsonville library. We’re doing a thirty-foot mural in the children’s story room and another one on the rounded entry wall.”
“Won’t you be a distraction to the folks in the library?”
 “Only if we don’t finish before December 15th, when the new building opens to the public.  We have exactly five weeks to paint two large murals depicting changes in California over the last three hundred years. I’ve researched the subject and my sketches got us a decent contract.”
“Do you still have people working for you? Alice and the college boy—what’s his name?”
“Yes, Alicia and Kyle are still working for me. They’re wonderful. Alicia lives in Watsonville, about ten miles from my house. Kyle lives about a half hour away in Santa Cruz.” I smiled, picturing Kyle, the tall, skinny redhead decorated with tattoos and piercings.
 “That’s a gas station up ahead. Pull over,” Clara said. As soon as the wheels stopped, she jumped out. I waited for my turn, standing outside the restroom door, shivering in the weak afternoon sun. I figured we would have to stop at least one more time for poor old Felix and maybe another for Clara.
In spite of all of Aunt Clara’s pit stops, we made it to my house in time for me to search the fridge for an evening meal. Clara had settled herself on the sofa and seemed happy to be eating dinner in front of the TV.
Solow, my dear basset hound with a backside the size and shape of my coffee table, barked at Clara’s knitting bag. She pulled the old cat out and placed him on my new tasseled throw pillow, a froufrou fiftieth birthday present from Mom and Dad.
 “Does he chase cats?” she asked.
“Do bears live in the woods?” Clara smiled. I told her about Fluffy, David’s cat next door, and how Solow loved to chase her. “She always runs circles around him,” I said, watching Clara’s eyes light up when I mentioned David.
“How is Mr. Galaz, dear?” She must have heard about him through the Leola grapevine.
“David’s fine … very fine, actually.” My cheeks felt hot as Clara gave me a knowing smile.  

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