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  • Writer's pictureBrittany Brinegar

Death by Matchmaker

Sneak Peek at the third installment in a Roaring Twenties Mystery!

Death by Matchmaker

Summer 1924

Archie piled out of the passenger side of his Buick. He once again lost out to my quicker reflexes as I hopped behind the wheel and drove us home from the office. He waddled inside, escaping the ‘godforsaken Texas sun’ as he called it. His East Coast upbringing contrasted with my time in the Lone Star State.

My twelve-pound dynamo poodle Ginger charged from behind the columns on the front porch. She carried her favorite toy, a genuine American League baseball signed by Ty Cobb.

I reared my arm and sailed the throw across our green lawn. Almost expansive enough for a couple of innings. Daddy gave me the autographed ball when I was eight years old. He traveled to Philadelphia and caught a Tigers-Athletics game and hung around for the famous Ty Cobb’s signature.

Ginger grabbed the keepsake when I located it in a dusty drawer from my childhood. I tried to keep her from chewing on the baseball but she persisted. I decided Daddy would not mind. He would have gotten a kick out of the little pup enjoying it so. He loved animals as much as I did.

Ginger took a corner and snagged my toss. She sprinted back to me, stirring up fresh cut, deep green grass, and rich soil, and rolled the ball to me. I slipped off my low heels, scooped the ball, and made a throw to impress a pro like Cobb. The baseball sailed high into the air over our lawn and one-hopped into the open window of a shiny Oldsmobile pulling into the drive.

“Oops.” I raised my hand over my head as a woman exited the passenger side. “Sorry about the wild toss.” A hint of recognition registered. “Hello, Mrs. LeClerq. Prudence.”

“Prudence is my sister. I am Clarissa Braxton.” She adjusted long, white gloves and tilted a cloche hat. Her wavy brunette hair blew in the soft evening breeze. A respite from the hot day. “Penelope, is that you?”

“Yes ma’am. I apologize for the errant throw. I wanted to see if I could heave it across the driveway.”

She narrowed her brow. She was about thirty-five. A pretty woman, though one who rarely smiled. She lived a couple of blocks away, one of the women who disowned Mother when we struggled to stay afloat after the loss of the company. “You threw the ball? Not ladylike at all. Your mama still has work to do on you.”

Our neighbor Mr. March waved from the other side of the street. He tinkered with mechanical parts strewn about his drive. “Howdy, Clarissa. How’s the matchmaker business?”

“Lovely, Mr. March.”

Ginger leaped onto Clarissa’s legs and the woman jerked away. “Heavens, this dog is not well-behaved. For our kind of people, young lady, our pets should be trained to sit quietly and follow commands.”

I seethed inside, gritted my teeth, and resisted lighting into her. “We don’t share the same opinion on the topic.”

Another woman fought her way from the driver’s side. A red-gray-haired woman in her sixties. She carried a portfolio and scowled at me from behind saucer-sized eyeglasses. Despite the summer day, she wore a fur-collared jacket. Her earrings dangled. “Clarissa excels at helping young ladies, Penelope. Heed her advice and you will snag a husband in no time.”

I didn’t want one. Not so soon after David. But I pasted on my best smile. “You must be here to visit Mother.” I skipped toward the door, unlike a proper lady. “Follow me if you dare.”

Clarissa huffed. “Come along Opal.”

Ginger howled in back of me, upset her game of fetch ended with these interlopers’ arrival. She tugged at my skirt and I remembered to jog back for my shoes. Clarissa and her plump assistant waited by the front door.

Mother met us as I contorted to put my heels back on. Her eyes widened at the sight of me. “Penelope, you are perspiring.”

“It’s warm in Texas, Mother.”

“I don’t want to give Clarissa and Opal the wrong impression. They are here to help you and your brother.”

Archie peered from the entryway. “Good afternoon, Clarissa.”

The woman eased into the well-lit living room dominated by pink and peach hues. “This is my secretary. My assistant in the matchmaking company. Opal Vaughn.”

“Nice to meet you, ma’am.” Archie rubbed his hands together. “I am excited to find my potential match.”

I still attempted to interpret the remark from my mother about this woman providing ‘help’. I backed toward the staircase. “I’ll let y’all conduct your business. I’ll be upstairs.”

Mother flipped her red hair as she spun to me. “Penelope, these ladies are here to help both you and your brother.”

My face flushed. “I don’t need help. I don’t want help.”

“It is time you move on from David. Clarissa will set you up with the proper kind of men.”

“Ones with money? No thanks. I’m not interested.” My voice rose.

“Hold that temper of yours, young lady.” Despite my twenty-four years on earth, she remained stern with me.

“I understand helping Archie.” I shook my head side-to-side, agitating my auburn hair out of place from under the wide-brimmed white hat. Instead of adjusting the headwear, I sailed it across the room, missing the wrought iron chandelier hanging from the decorative wooden beams. It smacked into a lamp and tipped it. The shade fell end over end and the base smashed on the edge of the rug and hardwood floor.

“Calm down,” Mother said.

Archie hooked his thumbs on his vest. “A lost cause. No man wants a foul-tempered, spoiled, wildcat of a woman as a wife.”

I balled my fists to slug him but held off. “You know good and well there is a line of boys interested in me.” I ticked the list off on my fingers. “Big Ralph Sweeney, Johnny Simpson, Officer Bud, and a couple of fellas in Connecticut. And frankly, the next single, eligible man I meet on the street if I choose. I simply don’t want that right now.”

Mother placed a hand on my shoulder. “None of those men are suitable for you. Give Clarissa a chance, dear. She has an unequaled track record for finding perfect matches. Even though you believe yourself capable, why go through the hassle? Clarissa will do the work of locating a superior match for you.”

Clarissa adjusted her necklace. “You might be interested to hear this. All of you will get the biggest kick. Lady Anne Worthington enlisted my aid.”

 “Oh yes, I read all about her.” Mother clutched her pearls.

Archie’s eyes brightened. “The English countess hired you? She is beautiful and comes from a prominent family.”

“It is unfortunate her husband the Earl of Worthington died so young. But she is intrigued by Americans. I told her I will do my best.”

This English chippy as a client didn’t impress me. She made me suspicious. “Why does a comely Brit with a fancy title need help?”

Now Archie puffed his chest. “I wonder about an introduction to me, Clarissa. I feel she and I would make a fantastic match.”

“When Dorothy contacted me a few weeks ago, I began preparing preliminary dossiers of matches. I am having no trouble whatsoever for Penelope.” She drilled her glare to me. “However, despite your feminine outward appearance, the fabulous clothes you wear, and your obvious beauty, your personality presents a problem. I do not want the potential beaus caught unaware of the challenge.”

“Personality?” I made friends with ease, both female and male. I huffed. “Why don’t you return to Archie instead of changing the subject?”

She continued anyway. “What is with the baseball? And the roughhousing with a dog? If you allow, I will sand those rough edges.”

“Nah.” I patted my leg and Ginger jumped into my arms. “Me and my puppy are happy enough for now. And when I am ready, I will find my own fella. The legwork is half the fun. I don’t want some outsider – no offense – finding one for me.”

Mother cleared her throat. “We will talk. How about Archie? He is one of the most eligible bachelors in Dallas. In all of Texas, even.”

“Yes, Dorothy, you are right.”

“Hah,” I mumbled.

Clarissa cut her eyes to me and offered a faint agreement. But to Mother and Archie, her discretion remained. “Certainly. I must weed out the ones not up to his standards.”

I paced to the granite fireplace and leaned as the others spoke. I rolled the Ty Cobb baseball toward the hallway and Ginger flew after it, yelping and growling. The bitter-like-she-bit-into-a-lemon secretary, Opal, put her foot out to block the roll. “The mutt is loud.”

“She loves to play.”

“I think I have the card of an obedience school somewhere…”

I ignored her jab and decided to fire back with one of my own. A nugget of gossip I didn’t realize I possessed tickled my brain. I grinned and rejoined the others. “Hey, remind me about the screwy professor and the singer you matched up. Felix Something and Gwendolyn Smythe. One of the gals at work caught her act. She’s a riot. Their three-year marriage is breaking up. Loudly.”

Clarissa fumbled her purse and jerked her head to Opal. “This is the only match I missed in a decade of doing this.”

Doubtful. “But this sap Felix is a huge mess. This won’t be a feather in your cap.”

“Penelope, stop bothering Clarissa.” Archie wobbled in between. “Tell me more about Lady Anne.”

“I heard enough.” I shoved the front door open, stepped to the porch, and let loose a high, towering toss across the yard. Ginger howled and all four legs lifted from the ground as she took off like a racecar. Her cute red hat flew off as she sailed at the speed of a deer.

Mr. March grinned as he danced around his rusty truck. He pulled out two mitts. “Heck of an arm there, Penelope Van Kessler. How’s about a game of catch?”

Ginger beat him to the baseball and I snorted as she curled away from his pursuit. “Maybe later when she tires out. Are you still convinced the Giants take the pennant? I like the Pirates in the National League.”

We talked baseball for a few minutes as Ginger continued to return with the ball. Mr. March tossed the old horsehide and we competed over who could sail it further. “I wager you are like all the other baseball fans in the country. Since the Babe came on, all of you are Yankee fans.”

I curled my lip. “The Yanks and Babe took it to your Giants last year. I bet they do again this season. Ruth hit his fifteenth homer yesterday and they bested Cobb’s Tigers 10-4.”

Talk of the sport stopped when Clarissa and Opal exited the house. Her remark about my ‘personality’ jabbed into me and I wondered why I let it bother me. The woman meant nothing to me.

I made friends with ease. Perhaps I was a touched spoiled and quick to anger. However, I worked on improving and remained vigilant to curb my arrogance. I had much to learn and had to remind myself to occasionally come down off my high horse.

In an effort to avoid a confrontation, I attempted to sneak around back but the matchmaker waved me over.

She dismissed the secretary with a flick of the wrist. “Go ahead and get in the car, Opal. I want a word with Penelope.”

Opal scowled and rolled her eyes. She sucked on another lemon as she headed to the Oldsmobile. “I’ll crank the engine.”

“Has she worked with you long?”

“A few years.” Clarissa took my hand. “I know what you do for a living. And I don’t really approve.”

My heart thumped. Did she mean the real job with the Heist Society? How did she find out? “I’m not sure…”

“Someone is trying to kill me, Penelope. I want to meet with you on the sly to fully explain.”

I stood dumbfounded as a woman I despised loaded into her car and sped away. Was she serious or was this a way to get on my good side? Her words made no sense.


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Death by Matchmaker

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