Excerpt from FUR BALL FEVER: Grace is hot on the trail of a suspect she believes stole Miss Coco, the prize poodle she was minding for her elderly client. Money, careers, and lives are in jeopardy. Too bad Auntie Beth, Grace’s aging and unconventional hippie relative, has taken it into her head to stow away in the back seat of the surveillance vehicle.
A block away, Julius slowed down in front of a three-story building resembling a maximum security detention center. Grace tromped on the brake and let the car idle. She rolled down the window and craned her neck. Small windows studded the top two floors. Someone had spray-painted, “R.I.P.” across the red brick frontage. There was no sign of a door. It didn’t matter because Julius pulled into a laneway alongside the building and disappeared. She waited.
Auntie Beth said, “Why aren’t we following him?” She twisted her white pony-tail around one finger. “I need to pee. Bad.”
“I told you not to drink two sodas. Cross your legs. I don’t want him to see us.”
Auntie Beth settled back with a disgruntled grunt. Three more cars entered the laneway before Grace thought it was safe to follow. The building’s main entrance, she saw, was at the side. As they rolled past the door, she turned her head to squint at a metal plaque. It contained one word: Kinki. A hand-lettered sign under the plaque announced, “Rodeo Nite Tomorrow: Unleash Your Darkest Desires.”
“Hey, I think this is one of them X-rated clubs,” Auntie Beth said, her voice taut with excitement. “I’ve heard of these bondage places where people whip one another for fun. They have a code of conduct, so everyone’s nice and respectful. No one gets hurt—unless they want to.”
Grace gave Auntie Beth a quelling glare. “Don’t even consider following me inside.”
“If you think I’m gonna wait in the car while you have all the fun—”
“Getaway drivers stay with the vehicle. It’s a rule.” She wheeled into a dimly-lit parking lot containing a surprising number of cars. Noting Julius’ car parked against the building, she backed her Chevy into an empty spot as far from the Grand Prix as possible.
A car door closed nearby. The clatter of boots echoed on concrete. “Lock your door and duck,” she whispered to her aunt, pushing the lock button on the driver’s side and grabbing a tire iron from its resting place under her seat.
Whispering and giggling, a cluster of young women emerged from the shadows. All five wore jeans, flirty blouses, and strappy sandals. A girls’ night out, Grace decided, replacing the tire iron with a sigh of relief. The women headed slowly toward the entrance. Hard on their heels, a grey-haired couple crossed the parking lot. Arms intertwined, they strolled past the car. The pair looked harmless enough, if bizarre. Each wore identical black leather getups with platform boots, headbands, pants decorated with knotted fringes, plus his ’n’ hers jackets adorned with metal studs.
As they walked away, Grace grinned. The pants were deceptive, similar to false fronts on movie sets. Viewed from behind, the chaps encased two sets of flaccid butt cheeks, which jiggled in time to their strides. Leather thongs preserved minimal modesty. An upside-down tattooed eagle with outspread wings decorated the man’s back and butt. The thong bisected the bird vertically.
Auntie Beth tilted her head to stare. “Nice tattoo. Whenever our cowboy takes a step, his eagle flaps its wings and dives head first into the spot where the sun don’t shine.”
Grace studied the four butt cheeks and the eagle as they headed for the main entrance.
“My bladder’s ready to explode,” Auntie Beth announced.
Grace hopped out and extracted the peanut butter jar from the trunk. “Not inside my car, she warned. “Your aim’s not good enough. Do your thing outside.”
Auntie Beth exited the car with surprising agility. She whipped the jar away at the same time as a pair of headlights slanted into the parking lot.
“Back inside! Quick!” As Grace spoke, she hit the dirt beside her car. The smell of hot tar hit her nostrils.
Auntie Beth obeyed. After a moment she whispered through the open window, “That there’s Oliver’s pimpmobile. I bet he’s here to meet Julius.”
An icy prickle slid down Grace’s spine. “Are you sure?”
“What other idiot drives a silver Cadillac with plates that say ‘PURITY 101?’ You’d better roll under your car.”
“I don’t want to wreck my new jeans. It’s their first day of butt minimizing.”
“Okay, but Oliver’s headed this way. He’ll notice you squatting there when he pulls into the parking spot beside us.”
Grace dropped to the warm asphalt and assessed the clearance beneath her car. Thanks to its former macho owner, the chassis was jacked up five inches. Ignoring the grit prickling her elbows, she squirmed under the Chevy until she was pretty sure nothing stuck out.
Oliver’s car purred into the empty spot beside them. The door opened, banged shut. She practiced shallow breathing. A light finger snap underscored his hummed rendition of Hurts so Good. From now on, she’d hate the song.
Although her range of vision was restricted, the clearance was high enough to reveal a pair of laced work boots planted six inches from her nose. The gloss on the boots would have blinded her if the parking lot wasn’t so dark.
She started to sweat in earnest. What if Oliver saw her? How could she justify wedging herself under a car in a fetish club parking lot? This might be an appropriate time to re-think her approach to life.
Keys jingled. A trunk opened. Oliver’s humming ceased. So did his movement.
She held her breath. He was way too quiet. Was he listening? Any minute now, a large hand would descend and yank her from her sanctuary.
“Shit! I know I put those suckers in here somewhere.” Oliver’s voice coming out of nowhere caused her to jump, whacking her head painfully on an overhead pipe. The voice was so close she figured he must have rolled under the Chevy too, hoping to cop a feel. Either that, or he’d stuck his head into his trunk, mere inches away.
“Son of a bitch,” he said, to the accompaniment of rustling paper and the thump of heavy objects shifting. “Where the hell are they?”
Dammit, but she wanted to see whatever treasures he might find. She considered poking her head out, but the notion of trying to convince Oliver she was checking her muffler for perforations kept her on the pavement.
Seconds later, the trunk closed. Oliver resumed humming and strode away. She waited until Auntie Beth’s voice broke the silence. “You can come out now. Too bad you missed the show.”
Grace rolled out from under the car. She brushed off dust, pebbles, and loose asphalt. “I couldn’t see anything.”
“Lucky you. Our man of God was wearing a red latex jump suit with zippers everywhere. And his privates were stuffed into a pouch thingie. It wasn’t pretty.”
Grace couldn’t seem to bring the picture into focus. “You mean, like a codpiece?”
“Yeah. He must have stuffed the thing with socks.”
“What did he get from his trunk?”
“Looked like paddles. Maybe he likes ping-pong.”
Grace kept her doubts to herself. “I’m going in.” She pulled out the wig and tugged it on. “Oliver and Julius are in this together, for sure,” she said, tucking her hair underneath.
Auntie Beth said, “Hey, what about me?”
Grace stuck her head in the window. “Stay put and get ready for a fast getaway.” She remembered Auntie Beth’s bladder. “On second thought, hop out and use the pee jar.”
“That ship,” Auntie Beth said with a serene smile, “has already sailed.”