[Elderhostel Mysteries & Fiction Writing Techniques]

Bloody Bonsai
by Peter E. Abresch


    "Hey, you crazy?"
    He stared at the miniature tree, peeled end pointed at himlike a stick.
    So what was this, a joke?
    He shifted to the wild eyes glaring back at him.
    What could you do with a three-foot bonsai tree?
    But then it thrust at him like a spear.
    "Hey get away--no!"
    It caught him in the chest, smashed against his rib cage and shoved him back a step. The spear point slipped inside, and the shock of itsent him plunging down a deep hole. He flailed his arms for something to grab onto while the bottom rushed up and slammed him in the back.
    Air exploded from his lungs. He sucked it back in a wheeze. A gurgle bubbled up from down where the bonsai tree nailed him to the floorlike a pin through a butterfly.
    Okay, enough was enough.
    Pull the goddamn thing out and get a doctor.
    The joke was over.
    But the wide screen television of his mind shrank down to a far star of light, and it came to him, for a brief moment, the joke might beon him.
    Then the star winked out.

Chapter One

    You'll have a really good time, they said.
    You'll learn lotsa stuff, they said.
    You'll meet people, they said.
    Yeah, right.
    Jim's two-year-old blue Lincoln smoothed out the thump thump of the low bridge's expansion joints so they hardly disturbed the instrumental of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" playing in the tape deck. Off to the side, sending up bursts of dirty spray, a twenty-foot sport fishing boat plowed through the slate gray bay, complimenting the slate gray sky, as two men huddled against the cold in the lee of her cuddy cabin.
    Jim glanced at his watch.
    One o'clock, probably heading in for a late lunch.
    Houses lined the barrier island shore as far as he could see,with a yacht basin just to the left as he came down off the bridge onto 130th Street, the main drag of Bolder Harbor, New Jersey. "North of Cape May and not far from Stone Harbor," the brochure had said, and: "Bolder Harbor, despite our name, is a gracious family resort where boldness is our vision and violence is unknown."
    It looked like most of the town's businesses were centered on this one street: bay side restaurants in the short first block; quaint gift shops, a Ben Franklin, and a firehouse in the second; the statue of a revolutionary war soldier, life-size plus a half, stood in the middle of the intersection; and in the third block, a library, post office, hardware store, a theater advertising the movie Ping Pong, liquor store, combination bar and cafe, and the police station. The number of car sangle-parked at the curb was less than he could count on his toes; this was a summer resort caught in the chill of early spring. Plus, it was Sunday.
    Jim brought the Lincoln to a full stop at the corner of 130th and Ocean Boulevard, glanced in the rearview mirror to see no one behind, then rummaged through the papers on the passenger seat and pulled out the motel brochure. He slipped on his reading glasses and read the address, Ocean Boulevard between 110th and 111th Streets.
    So, left or right?
    He sucked in his breath, letting it out in a long sigh, and turned north, rolling along the lonely road, relaxing as he noticed the cross streets ticking off in descending order. Empty motel parking lots along the shore on his right, deserted beach houses to the left. New leaves, not yet blossomed to full size, clung to trees buffeted by a fresh breeze that sent low clouds scudding overhead.
    The Windswept Dunes Motel sign announced, in block slide-inletters: Welcome Elderhostelers.
    Yeah, right.
    Shouldn't have come.
    Uncle George's fault.
    "C'mon," he had phoned from Richmond, "you haven't been any where since Penny passed away. It will be good for both of us. I need a roommate and someone to drive me, and you need to get away with your really super Uncle."
    Except that two months ago, on the very day Jim got his Elderhostel confirmation, Uncle George had canceled out of everything.
    Seems like he'd attended a lot of funerals lately.
    So maybe it was really God's fault.
    Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
    He turned into the parking lot. The four-story motel was L-shaped, half running along the beach in front, half along 111th Street on his right, a drive-under portico at the front entrance. He pulled the Lincoln into one of the empty spaces -- few cars, lots of spaces -- and cut the engine, draping his arms around the steering wheel and staring out the windshield.
    Or maybe it was Ceecee's fault.
    "Go, Dad, you already paid your money." It went on for two months. Getting her brothers to gang up on him. "You need to get away. You haven't gone anywhere since Mom died."
    Did any of them ever wonder that maybe he hadn't wanted to go anywhere after Penny died? And on top of it, two to a room, he would be paired up with a stranger for a roommate.
    Great, really great.
    He climbed out of the car, got his bag from the trunk, and lumbered across to the entrance.
    The lobby extended clear through the building to a patio and pool on the other side, the beach and Atlantic Ocean beyond. Two couches and two easy chairs mated up with a wall to form a conversation area on theright, where two women and a man were whispering. On the left was the check-in desk.
    "I have a reservation. Dandy, James P."
    A redheaded man, looking too young to be working, ran his hand over a computer screen, and blinked. "I don't see a reservation. Are you with the Elderhostel?"
    "Yes, I am."
    "That's a different register." He typed in a few keys and the computer monitor flickered. "Ah, yes, here you are."
    "Is it true what the brochure says about Bolder Harbor? Where boldness is your vision and violence is unknown."
    The redheaded man glanced sideways at him. "Oh yeah."
    Jim raised his eyebrows. "It's not? What, the bold vision or the violence --"
    "I'll deny I told you if the chamber of commerce asks," the man typed on the computer, "but four months ago we had a grizzly murder right down on the main drag. A computer nerd by the name of Bixby Boyd was stabbed to death like he had a stake through his heart."
    "Maybe I want to go home."
    The man shook his head as he ran his hand down the monitor. "That's been the only real trouble we've had since I came here."
    "They ever catch him?"
    "Nope. If the murderer was even a 'him.'" He took a key from rack of square holes attached to the back wall. "Personally, I think it was a drifter, although the police have other ideas." He handed over the key. "Okay, you're in room two oh four, Mr. Dandy."
    "James Dandy?" barked a new voice.
    Jim turned to see a man coming from the patio, unzipping aleather bomber jacket. He was taller than Jim, six two or three, hard browneyes, bushy brown eyebrows; close-cropped brown hair rimmed a nearly baldhead.
    "Are you James Dandy?" The man held himself erect, like he had spent too many hours on a military parade ground. "Two oh four?"
    "Yes," he nodded.
    "I'm General Sopwaite, U.S. Army, retired." He stuck out his hand. "Barney, to you. I'm your roommate."
    Jim stuck out his own hand and had it engulfed in the bigman's firm grip. "Good to know you, Barney." He caught the unmistakable reek of cigarette smoke clinging to the man's clothes.
    Oh great, really great.
    "Guess you're here to learn about bonsai," Barney said, pronouncing it "bone sigh."
    "I'm going to give it a try," he answered.
    Not that he cared if Barney smoked. He had a right to his own life, but he sure didn't want it in his bedroom.
    As if reading his mind, Barney gave him a square grin. "I'm asmoker."
    Big revelation there.
    The retired general wore a plaid shirt with a string tie underhis leather bomber jacket. "I guess you don't smoke," Barney said, shaking his head. "No sir. Dirty habit really," he barked. "Most everyone I know has already quit. Our generation, huh? But I figure, what the hell, if     What was the guy telling him?
    He wanted to smoke in the room?
    "I thought," Jim glanced towards the glass doors as four women blustered in from the parking lot, "I thought there was no smoking in the motel?"
    The grin faded to cool. "Oh, you can smoke in your room, if both parties agree to it?" the General ended the sentence in a hopeful question. "Well, I guess I can smoke out on the balcony, if I have to? It's not that cold."
    "Do I have to sign in somewhere else," Jim asked, ignoring the bait, "or is this it?"
    "Oh, no sir," Barney turned and pointed to across the lobby, where full-height windows separated the parking lot from a hallway. "You register with the Elderhostel down there. I'm already checked in. The room is the same way. Can I help you with your bags?"
    "I only have the one," he answered, pocketing his key and picking it up.
    "Well, sir," Barney zipped up his bomber jacket and smoothed the rim of brown hair encircling his head, "I'm going to head out and get the lay of the land. Glad to meet you, roommate."
    Jim watched the general march out, like he was keeping cadence under his breath.
    Going out to get the lay of the land.
    Well, hell.
    If the guy didn't smoke in the room, he'd probably end upliking old Barney ...
    What was the last name -- Sopwaite? General Sopwaite?
    See, that was another thing, he could never remember people'snames. Probably forget "Barney" by morning and have to end up calling him-- oh God -- Roommate.
    He shouldn't have come.
    Shouldn't have allowed himself to be talked into it.
    You'll have a really good time, they said.
    You'll learn lotsa stuff, they said.
    You'll meet people, they said.
    Helloooo Barney!

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Reviews of Bloody Bonsai:

    "...he {Abresch} thoroughly entertains us with Jim and Dodee's amateurish murder investigation." -- The Midwest Book Review,June, 1998.

    "... highly entertaining mystery...." -- Mary Ann Steele,I Love A Mystery.

    "This strong first novel opens with a highly original murderby bonsai and includes interesting background on the traditional Oriental art .... This is the kind of compelling mystery that demands a one-sitting reading." -- John Rowen, Booklist, 3/1/98.

    "As a bonsai person, I find Peter Abresch's book, Bloody Bonsai, intriguing. His excellent use of people involved in the study of bonsai, in relationship to a crime, is well done. Once I started the book, I didn't want to put it down. I had to find out who did it, and why." -- Chase Rosade, Rosade Bonsai Studio, New Hope, PA.

    "Blackmail, murder, and a second chance at life. Abresch grabs the reader by the throat with compelling characters and a twisted plot-line that doesn't quit. Masterful dialogue combines with a true story flair." -- C.W. Morton, Pilots Die Faster.

    "A bonus in this winsome ... debut is a short course in how to style a bonsai plant and use it as a murder weapon." -- Kirkus Reviews.

the reader from the very first page to the last." -- Tammy Kleitsch,Eclectic Book Reviews, Vol. 5, Issue 3, May-August 1998.

    "A promising first novel." -- Library Journal,April 1, 1998.

    "... readers will enjoy the contrast between the gentle humor and the actual mystery." -- Samantha Lee, Gothic Journal,Vol. 6, No. 6, April/May 1998.

    "James P. Dandy is a great character to watch develop, and the Elderhostel concept has endless possibilities for further adventure. A new "senior sleuth" to add to the list." -- Suzanne Epstein, The Snooper,Vol. 7, Issue 3, May/June 1998.

ISBN: 1885173342 - $21.95
cloth - 5" x 8" - 240 pages - April 1998

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