Runner-Up, 2015 Beach Book Festival
Winston Wong used to test video games but has left his downward spiraling career to follow in the footsteps of Encyclopedia Brown, his favorite childhood detective. When the Pennysaver misprints his new job title, adding an extra “s” to his listing, Winston becomes a “Seniors Sleuth.” He gets an easy first case, confirming the natural death of a ninety-year-old man. However, under the surface of the bingo-loving senior home is a seedier world where a genuine homicide actually occurred. Winston finds himself surrounded by suspects on all sides: a slacker administrator, a kind-hearted nurse, and a motley crew of eccentric residents. To validate his new career choice (and maybe win the girl), he must unravel the truth from a tangle of lies.
WINSTON SQUINTED AT the fine print and scowled. The Pennysaver ad was printed as “Winston Wong, Seniors Sleuth,” not “Winston Wong, Senior Sleuth.” The word “senior” was supposed to make him seem more experienced; after all, he didn’t want to sound like a noob at the detecting game. Due to the error, he now seemed lame, ready to mooch off older adults for some dough.
He picked up the phone to call the company and correct it, but then he thought, Screw it. Instead, he rubbed his slight potbelly to bring in the clients. Whenever his sister Marcy saw him, she teased, “Looks more like the lucky Buddha’s every day.” In fact, he’d had to up the size of his pants, which he now wore baggy-style like a punk kid because of his expanding waist. At least the style matched his flip-flops.
Winston swiveled in his black mesh computer chair and surveyed the office. Not a bad look for the mother-in-law unit. With no wife and family to speak of, the spare room used to be his man cave. But he had swept all the consoles and accompanying video games into the main house in preparation for his new business, leaving only two electric blue inflatable chairs. They would serve as seats for his future clients, but he had made them classy by draping them with faux leather throws.
He tapped his fingers on the scarred particleboard folding table and looked at his clunky laptop. Maybe he could play a quick game of Minesweeper first, without getting sucked in (as usual). Before he could even touch the keyboard, the door swung open.
In walked fire on stilettos. The woman’s waterfall of flaming curls tumbled onto a gold gown welded onto her curves. Her sapphire eyes, which had a slight Eurasian tilt, pierced him. “Are you Winston Wong?”
He couldn’t move.
“Seniors Sleuth?” she asked.
Winston swallowed, the saliva making his throat feel even drier. He smoothed his part to the left to better cover his blinding bald forehead. “Yes, that’s me.”
“I’ve been looking for you.”
Winston had trouble finding his voice. Before he could even respond, she turned and left. He thought he had missed his chance, but to his relief, she soon returned…ushering in an old woman wearing an outrageous frilly muumuu. The scent of apples and cinnamon lingered in the air. Maybe she was the kind of old lady who baked goodies for her grandchildren in her spare time.
At second glance, though, the warm associations faded. Ice exuded from Granny’s face. Her hair appeared colorless, and her dull blue eyes were bleached versions of her granddaughter’s sparkling ones. Granny’s gaze floated, detached from everything around the room.
“I’m Carmen Solstice,” the knockout beauty said. “My grandmother’s Eve.” She turned toward the old woman, raising her voice. “Nana, this is the nice detective I told you about, Winston Wong.”
Eve didn’t stop her roaming eyes.
Carmen brushed her slender hand against her grandmother’s shoulder. “He’s here to help you. He’ll figure out what happened to Teddy.”
At the name, Eve covered her face with her gnarled hands and moaned. “Teddy, Teddy. Why did they kill you?”
Carmen shushed her grandmother, making soothing noises until Nana became distant again. She walked her grandmother over to the far wall. “Why don’t you take a look at this, uh, artwork while the detective and I chat?”
Winston smacked his palm against his forehead. He had forgotten to remove the framed equation reading, “I like to eat = area of a circle divided by radius squared.” It didn’t even have a picture of a steaming pie to help the old woman out. Unless she liked mathematics, Nana would be occupied for a while.
When Carmen returned, Winston asked, “Um, what’s this talk about a killing?” He didn’t want his first case to be a homicide.
“Don’t worry,” she said, rolling her eyes. She glanced back at her grandmother, scooted closer to Winston, and whispered, “It’s all a figment of her imagination. Nana suffers from dementia. Teddy, my gramps, has been gone for decades, and he died quite peacefully in his sleep.”
“So what do you need me for then?”
“Well, Nana took a liking to one of her co-residents at the care facility and confused him with her long-lost husband. This other ‘Teddy’ died yesterday afternoon, and she keeps thinking that it’s foul play. It’s really stressing her out, so I want you go investigate”—Carmen used air quotation marks around the word—“and settle the matter.”
“I don’t understand. Can’t you just provide her with the original of Teddy’s death certificate?”
Carmen frowned, a cute pull of her lips. “We don’t have the documentation anymore, and I can’t be bothered getting a copy from a governmental office. They’re always so slow.”
“What about showing her the new death certificate?”
“The replacement gramps was called Joseph, so that won’t work. She’ll see the new name and be even more confused.”
Winston leaned back in his chair, making it squeak. “Let me get this straight. You want me to stage an investigation to show your grandmother that her Teddy died naturally, so she can move on.”
“Exactly.” Carmen leaned forward, her juicy strawberry lips an inch away from his. “I’ll pay you, of course.” She pulled two crisp fifties from a miniscule purse. Where had she hidden that on her body? “Will this be enough, or do you need more?”
Winston watched Carmen’s fingers dance close to him with the money and gulped. “That’s plenty. It’s not even a real case after all.”
“Good. It’s settled then.” Carmen wrote down the address on a piece of paper. Even her writing curled in seductive flourishes. “Sweet Breeze. 2255 Julian Street.” Winston watched Carmen’s hips sway away from him as she helped her grandmother out the door.
About the Author
J.J. Chow writes Asian-American fiction with a geriatric twist. She has a gerontology specialization from Cornell University and a Master’s in Social Work with geriatric field experience. She lives in Los Angeles and is a member of Sisters in Crime.