Putting on a light cardigan, broad-brimmed hat, and sunglasses had become second nature when I ventured into the Arizona sun.
Gordy exploded from the house next door. “Hey, Diana!”
“Why are you dressed like a cat lady? You’re a tasty ginger nymph. Don’t cover your savory offerings.”
I groaned. Survival of the fittest. Really, Darwin? I kept walking toward the mailbox. He grabbed my hat and held it out of reach.
“Give that back! I burn easily.”
“You can have it if you promise to go out with me tomorrow night.” He grinned like an idiot. “I’ll let you drive my ricer.” He pointed at a shiny purple car with a huge spoiler.
I pulled a battered box, some bills, and an official-looking letter for Iona May Brown from the mailbox. I tried to look excited. “Gosh, Gordy! You’ll let me drive your ricer! Wow!”
He flashed another grin. “Sure, baby. I’ll buy you giggle juice, too.”
I loosened two buttons on my cardigan. “That’d be dope!”
He lowered my hat. I grabbed it and motioned him closer. “What time should I be ready?”
Gordy stared at my breasts. “Anytime, baby.”
I stamped on his foot as hard as I could. “For God’s sake, I’m twenty-two and have a BA in Statistical Analysis. I can buy my own damn liquor. Go back to your parent’s basement and play a video game or something.” I left him, hopping on one foot, ran inside, and slammed the door.
Cocoa appeared around the corner. “Are you okay?”
“Gordy’s an ass.” I threw my stuff at the clothes hooks. Some of it stuck. “How come I just meet losers?”
She patted my back. “You’ll find someone. Give it time.”
“I hope so. I got a package from Mom in Cairo. You got a few bills and a letter from Dixon Creek, Idaho. Isn’t that where Uncle Wally lives?”
“Uh-huh.” She examined the box. “I wonder if this has anything to do with your mom’s work for National Topographic Magazine?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Let’s see.” We cut it open and found ten small tissue-wrapped figurines. “They’re Shabti dolls. They represent the servants of ancient Egyptians in the afterlife.” I unwrapped one. “Made in China.”
Cocoa humphed. “Why am I not surprised?” She opened the letter from Dixon Creek. “Oh, my God!”
“What is it?”
She slumped against the wall, and the letter fluttered to the floor.
“Are you okay?”
“Wally died, and that bastard Cyrus didn’t tell me.” She covered her face with her hands. “He was your grandfather.”
“Uncle Wally? Wait a minute! You said you didn’t know who Mom’s father was.”
Her hands muffled her reply. “I lied.”
Uncle Wally had been Cocoa’s special ‘friend’ for years. They vacationed together and visited each other’s homes. We moved to the sofa, and I waited until she could speak.
She told me they were high school sweethearts, and she got pregnant at fifteen. Cocoa wanted to escape Dixon Creek and move to a big city. But Wally wished to stay where he was. They loved each other, but their relationship would have faltered if they’d married, so after mom was born, Cocoa moved away.
She wiped her eyes. “Wally inherited forty-eight shares of Dixon Mining Mineral Lumber and Land Company stock when his father passed away. He was very wealthy.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “Was Wally the Wallace Dixon? I thought Uncle Wally owned a comic book shop.”
“He did. His cousin Cyrus ran the corporation.” She paused. “Cyrus hates me because I chose Wally over him.” She sniffed. “Cyrus wanted to get me in bed, but Wally wanted to be my friend.” She looked at me. “Oh. Diana, he was a wonderful man, and he treated me like a queen.”
I looked at the stunningly beautiful woman. Part of me was glad she found Uncle Wally. The other part was envious as hell. I wanted a Wally, too.
I picked up the letter. “Uncle Wally mentioned you, Mom, and me in his will. We’re supposed to inform his attorney, Mr. Jarvis, if we want a cash settlement or try for one-third of Uncle Wally’s stock. He left an envelope with questions for each of us.”
Cocoa looked at the letter. “Wally would want us to try for the stock.”
I’d read encyclopedias and watched Jeopardy since I gummed on teething biscuits. Mom said my first words were: “Potent Potables for one hundred.”
“Let’s do it, Cocoa! Let’s teach Cyrus a lesson.”
Her eyes gleamed. “My thoughts exactly.”
We landed in Spokane, Washington, the following morning at seven-thirty. After a potty break, we rented a car and arrived at Dixon Creek a little before noon. Cocoa parked in front of a block of well-kept red brick buildings. Wally’s Comics and Collectables sat next to Dashiell’s Deli, the office of the Dixon Mining Mineral Lumber and Land Company, and the attorney that’d sent the letter.
Cocoa pointed at the shop. “Wally loved that place. He was never interested in money. He and I thought it better that you and your mother didn’t know. He didn’t want the money to change you.”
“I can see his point.” I looked at the quaint little town. “Where to now, Cyrus’s office?”
“No, I thought we’d have lunch.”
“Great. I need to use the bathroom.”
Cocoa gathered her purse. “Me too. Shall we try Dashiell’s Deli?”
I unlatched my seatbelt. “Sounds good.”
The deli’s frosted glass door had the words Spade and Archer Detectives in black letters. The Archer had a slash through it.
The inside mirrored Effie Perrine’s office in the noir classic The Maltese Falcon. Dark wood made up the chair rail and window trim, and scuffed linoleum covered the floor. Tables that looked like desks with green ink-stained blotters sat against cream-colored lath and plaster walls. Their chairs were modeled after office furniture, and the straw and napkin holders were In and Out baskets.
A young man wearing a white apron and a side cap appeared behind the counter. “May I help you?”
He reminded me of a young Alex Trebek. His name tag read Ace. “Where are your restrooms?”
He pointed to a door with Dolls in black letters. “How about I take your order now, so you don’t have to wait?”
I chose a Sam Spade on rye with a dill pickle and lemonade. Cocoa picked an Iva Archer on sourdough with iced tea.
Ace had our sandwiches waiting when we returned. “Interesting combination.”
Cocoa handed him a twenty. “What do you mean?”
“Spade and Iva were having an affair,” I said.
Ace smiled. “Are you a fan of old detective movies?”
“Knowledge in general. Although I like mysteries and film noir.” His eyes were so brown.
I kept staring at him.
Cocoa picked up her plate. “Diana, we’re in kind of a hurry.”
I picked up mine and started to leave.
“Excuse me,” said Ace. “Miss. Diana?”
He blushed. “If I asked you how high the tides get on the Great Lakes, what would your answer be?”
“I’d say about five centimeters. But they depend more on the wind and the rain than the moon.”
He stepped back. “You’re the first girl I met who could answer that.”
I pursed my lips. “Which fictional character had the first Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic?”
“That would be the Man of Bronze, Doc Savage.”
I looked for a ring on his finger. “Most people answer, Superman.”
Cocoa nudged me, “Remember our appointment.”
I felt tingles. “Uh. Are you going to be here later? Maybe we can have coffee?”
He rested his elbows on the counter. “I’d like that. It’s Diana, right?”
“Nice to meet you.”
“You too, Ace.”
Cocoa pulled me to a table. “You two should get a room!”
I sat and bit my pickle. “Ace was interested in my brain! Plus, he’s cute.”
Cocoa leaned closer. “He reminds me of Wally.”
I left my name, phone number, and a ten-dollar tip when we finished. We walked down the block to the company headquarters. Ruth Wonderly, Cyrus’s secretary, led us to the boardroom and told us to wait.
Cocoa pointed to the portraits on the wall. “That’s Wallace Jerome Dixon Sr., Wally’s father. The woman is Wally’s older sister Wallis Jessica Dixon-Cuthbert. The next is Wally and then Wallis’s son, Cyrus Wallace Cuthbert.”
I scratched my head. “What’s with all the Wallaces?”
Cocoa shrugged. “Family tradition?”
Cyrus and a man with a mullet and a three-piece suit walked into the room. They expressed their condolences, and then Mr. Mullet introduced himself as Larry Jarvis, Uncle Wally’s attorney. His briefcase opened with a click.
“In keeping with the wishes of the late Mr. Wallace Dixon, you may take ten million dollars or choose to answer a question for sixteen shares of Mr. Dixon’s stock. Their current value is one hundred million dollars.” He held up his finger. “However, if your answer is incorrect, you forfeit the money, and the stock goes to Mr. Cyrus Cuthbert.” He showed us a business-sized envelope with’ Famous Potatoes’ written in black ink.
I whispered. “They’re about Idaho.”
Cocoa nodded. “We choose to answer the questions, Mr. Jarvis. Diana will act as her mother’s proxy.”
The attorney turned. “Are these your wishes, Miss Martin?”
“Yes, they are.”
He removed three documents from his briefcase. “Are you positive you don’t want the ten million dollars?”
“Wally would want us to try for the stock,” said Cocoa. “He knew we loved trivia and obscure facts.”
“Very well. Please sign these waivers. Mr. Cuthbert, we’ll need your signature as well.”
Cyrus made a face but signed under our names.
The attorney gathered the forms, then opened the envelope. He removed three slips of paper. “Miss Brown. Your question is, ‘A famous Turner.’ Turner is capitalized.”
Cocoa raised her eyebrow. “Who is Lana.”
Mr. Jarvis checked the slip. “That is correct. Lana Turner was born in Wallace, Idaho.”
He turned to me. “This is your mother’s question. Ernest Hemingway’s permanent address.”
“What is the Ketchum cemetery in Ketchum, Idaho.”
He glanced at the slip. “That is also correct.”
The attorney hesitated before asking the last question. “Miss Martin. What legend of the old west has Doc Holliday and the towns Eagle City, Raven, and Murrayville, Idaho in common?”
My pulse quickened, and my jaw dropped.
Cyrus grinned. “I’m going to call time, Miss Martin. You either know the answer, or you don’t.”
I gave Cyrus a big smile. “Who was Wyatt Earp? Mr. Earp also served as a Deputy Sheriff in Kootenai County for a short time.”
Cyrus glared at me.
Larry smiled. “The shares are yours, Miss Martin.” He turned to Cyrus. “I’ll let you take it
I could hear Cyrus’s arteries popping as he got to his feet. “Thank you, Larry. I’ll give you the details later.” He showed him out, then walked to the other side of the office and opened another door. “Iona May. Miss Martin. I’ll need you to come with me to transfer the shares into your names.” He led us down a hallway and into a long room. Two men grabbed us from behind.
“What’s going on?”
He laughed. “Young lady, if you thought I’d hand over millions of dollars in stock because of a stupid trivia contest, you’re as big a nut-job as Wally was. Gentlemen, take these ladies to the old Kasper Gutman Mine, and ensure they don’t come back.”
A chloroform-soaked rag went over my nose and mouth. I struggled, and then everything went black.
The next thing I knew, a flashlight shone in my eyes, and somebody untied my wrists.
“Are you okay, Diana?”
“No. It’s me, Ace.” He turned the flashlight. “I dialed the number you left and heard a Jeopardy theme ringtone in the alley. I figured it was yours and ran back in time to see Wilmer and Joel dragging you and Cocoa to their car.” Ace pointed the flashlight at the rotted clothing and rat-gnawed human skeletons littering the tunnel floor. You’re not the first people they’ve dumped here.
He helped me stand.
“I’m here,” she said.
We drove back to Dixon Creek and went straight to Larry’s office. We told him what Cyrus had done. He said not to worry and phoned him.
Five minutes later, Cyrus walked through the door.
“You wanted to see me?” His body language changed when he noticed us.
Ace lunged, but I held him back. “You tried to kill Cocoa and Diana! If I hadn’t followed….”
Cyrus laughed. “Larry, whatever these people told you is a lie.”
Cocoa’s eyes burned. “Ace saw your goons drag us from the building. I’m sure the Sheriff will also be interested in the skeletal remains in the tunnel. You’re going to prison, Cyrus. I only wish we could do more.”
Larry cleared his throat. “You could call a shareholder meeting and vote Cyrus out. I would be happy to record the minutes.”
Cocoa smiled. “Excellent idea.”
Cyrus laughed. “You need a majority, and you only have forty-eight shares.”
Larry tapped his desk with his pencil. “You’re forgetting Mr. Dixon Wallace Dixon’s four shares, Cyrus.”
Cyrus looked at Ace.
Ace took my hand.
He smiled. “My given name is Wallace Dixon Benson. Our great-grandfathers were brothers. We’re third cousins.” He swallowed. “That doesn’t mean anything. I mean, we’re sort of related. But not that closely. We could get married. Not that I’m asking. . .Unless?” He turned red. “I will gladly vote my four shares with yours.”
Cyrus rushed us. “You ungrateful piece of ….”
Ace popped him in the chops. I kicked him in the gut.
I grabbed Ace. “We’ve only known each other for a day.”
He looked into my eyes. “Yes, but fifty-one percent of Americans believe in love at first sight.”
“I know,” I said. “But fifty percent of marriages end in divorce.”
We kissed. “But fifty percent don’t.” We kissed again. “Why don’t we vote and talk about it later?”
I looked up at him. “Or I could just say yes now?”
And that’s how I became the managing director of the Dixon Mining Mineral Lumber and Land Company. Ace and I drove to the Shoshone County Courthouse in Wallace the next day and married. You heard right. Wallace.
Statistically, third-cousin marriages produce more children. I love Ace, but we’re not naming any of them Wallace. I have a Great-Grandpa, Wallace. Grandpa Wallace. A husband, Wallace, and a Great-Aunt, Wallis, we’ll even live near Wallace. No, we need an Alex. Alex Trebek Benson. Wallace is an okay name, but there are just too freaking many of them.