As Leather’s soul was leaving his body, Ruston Wrigley’s poor, wounded mind and body were slowly mending themselves. By morning, he was picking up steam on his journey back to the land of the living. The nurses had noticed a definite turn for the better now, and when the head nurse gave Missy a call to let her know of his progress, Missy breathed a deep sigh of relief.

The morning had dawned bright and clear with a nip in the air that made a sweater and fluffy house shoes feel extra good. Missy had her “Uggs” on, which she jokingly referred to as “Tuggs” since they were a bit of a job to get on over her favorite pair of thick socks.

Maureen was still wearing the yoga pants and sweatshirt she had put on last night, and the socks she was sporting had music notes and treble clefs printed all around.

Joe and Lena were at the breakfast table, finishing off some French toast with an abundance of maple syrup. The matching plaid pajamas they wore had been a gift from Lena’s mother a couple of Christmases ago, and every time Lena put hers on, she smiled, remembering how proud her mom had been to give them this gift.

At the Warm Springs Willows Apartments, Kay-Renee was still asleep. Beside her lay the empty bottle from last night’s wine. When sleep had overtaken her, she had been pleased with herself for the fine time she had just had shopping online with Missy’s credit card information. When she would awake later to see the notifications from Amazon that her orders had been canceled, there would be a fit to pitch, and she was just the person who could do it.

Waking up at the Nighty-Night Motel, Jezebel opened her eyes, to find the room spinning. Five seconds later, she had bolted out of the bed and sprinted to the bathroom. Not having eaten supper the night before, she didn’t have much to throw up, but her insides wretched good and proper, trying to wring out whatever might still be inside.

“You sick?” yelled Lance from the bed.

“What does it sound like?” she replied, still kneeling in front of the toilet. “We’ve had nothing but junk to eat lately. I need some decent food.”

“Well, excuse me, Your Majesty,” he said. “I didn’t realize your system was so delicate. How about IHOP for breakfast?”

Jezebel stood up, flushed the sickness down the toilet, and splashed cold water on her face at the sink. “I guess IHOP is okay,” she answered.

At the front door of the home of the now-departed tough guy known as “Leather” a tall lean man was knocking. This was “The Sandman” and he had come to discuss a business deal with Leather. In order to expand his territory and increase his already hefty income, he planned to offer a consignment deal to Leather. After hearing how many contacts Leather had, it seemed only natural to bring him into the fellowship of death merchants who sold toxic thrills to naïve young people.

After knocking several times and getting no response, The Sandman leaned forward and peeked into the gap in the curtains he could see through the window. He could make out the end of an ugly 1980s velour couch with wagon wheels printed all over it in an outmoded gold, yellow, and brown display of low-budget taste. Hanging from the end of the couch was a lifeless arm. The Sandman could tell, from much experience, that the arm was not in a natural, comfortable position. No, this arm was stiff, mottled in color, and definitely belonged to a dead man. Spinning on his heels, The Sandman made haste to vacate the small porch where he had been standing. He quickly but nonchalantly put distance between himself and the scene of this tragedy that he realized he had most likely caused. He felt no pain for Leather’s loss. No, he just hated that he’d have to find someone else to sell drugs for him in this neighborhood.

When lunchtime rolled around at Bette Kogut’s house, the delicious aromas of homemade desserts had the whole place smelling like a gourmet bakery. At straight up noon, Lena, Audrey, and Maureen were standing at her door, each one carrying something luscious to contribute to the ladies’ “Gorge and Giggle” session, as they called their monthly get-togethers.

Between bites, they shared all the latest news from their lives. Maureen remarked that today’s lunch was certainly superior to the meal that she had been served a few days ago at a local charity event. “It was Tex-Mex, a hundred percent,” she said, “and not the good stuff. It was strictly ‘cheesy – greasy,’ and I got the impression that it was all ordered in from ‘The Cheap Chalupa’ over on Highway 7.”

“I guess they ordered the ‘cheesy-greasy’ because it is ‘easy-peasy,’ “ laughed Audrey.

“Oh, I’m sure,” said Maureen, “But you know what comes after ‘cheesy-greasy’, don’t you? ‘Queasy-uneasy-diseasy!’”

The four friends were just wrapping up their lunchtime camaraderie when Lena’s phone rang. She picked it up. “Hi, Sweetheart,” she said to Joe.

“I have a little news item I thought you might be interested in,” he said. “I drove by the Warm Springs Willows Apartments a little while ago. There were two WSVPD cars out front, and I saw Marla Jo crouching beside her cruiser with her pistol out, while two other cops were on the porch of one of the apartments wrestling around trying to handcuff a woman. This ol’ girl was hollerin’ and kickin’ and it was all they could do to get her subdued a little and into the back seat of one of the cars. Of course, I only saw them finally get her into the car because I had decided it was worth my while to stop and watch it all unfold.

“After they drove off, I asked one of the guys who were standing around watching if he knew who the woman was. He said she was new to the village. He had met her the day before when she was moving stuff into her apartment. Her name was ‘Kay-Renee’. She said it was her stage name.”

“Nobody can say we never have any action in the village, can they?” Lena laughed. “Thanks for giving me the scoop. I will share it with the gals.”

A couple of hours later, the doorbell rang at Missy’s house. It was Marla Jo of the WSVPD. “Missy, I have some info to give you regarding your credit card being used by a third party. It seems that Amazon jumped right on the case after someone tried to clean you out last night online.”

“Oh, thank you, thank you! Yes, come right in!” Marla Jo and Missy discussed the shenanigans that Kay-Renee had been into with Missy’s credit. Norman sat there with them and listened after Missy assured Marla Jo that it was alright to let him hear this private information.

“She said she bought your numbers from a man named ‘Leather,’” Marla Jo said. “I ran that nickname through our database and came up with a record on a fraudster and all-around bad guy in the next county. When I called the PD there, they told me that ‘Leather’ had been found dead just today. As we find out more, we will keep you posted. In the meantime, be alert. There could be more to the story.”

Missy sighed. “Isn’t there always?”

Stay Tuned For More To Come