Mystery Serials

Action Men with Duct Tape, Part 3

2

Continued from Parts 1 and 2.

As we got into the line at Starbucks, Bronwyn told me, “But I want a coffee drink.”

“You’re a little young for coffee, aren’t you?” Her parents would be thrilled at the way we were spoiling the kids, filling them with sugar and caffeine. “Don’t you want a Pokemon Go drink? It’s purple and pretty, and I’m pretty sure there’s fruit in there somewhere which means it may have a vitamin or two.”

“I want a caramel coffee frappuccino.” She looked up at me with twinkly eyes.

How could I say, “No?” “Have whatever you like.”

“Aren’t you cheating on your barista friend at the Salvador Deli by going to Starbucks?”

“I won’t tell her if you don’t,” I said.

Bronwyn traced a finger across her mouth. “My lips are sealed.”

We got to the front of the line. “I’ll have two caramel frappuccinos,” I told the cashier.

“I thought you took your coffee black,” said Bronwyn. “It’s that barista friend of yours. She’s getting you to try new things, isn’t she?”

“Yip.” It seemed, apparently, that I didn’t mind.

My butt vibrated. Let me rephrase that. The cell phone in my back pocket vibrated. Jack was calling. I picked up. “Hey Jack,” I said.

“Hey Andy. I’ve got Declan. He just finished up at Best Buy. We’ll meet you at the food court.”

“Great. Should we pick you up a couple of Cinnabons?”

“A couple of …? If we keep this up, we’re going to have Cinnabon buns, not to mention Pillsbury doughboy tummies. I am taking that krav maga class tomorrow. Pick us up one. We can share it.” I thought I heard muffled protests from Declan that he could handle his own. He was 14, had hit a growth spurt and could probably stand in for the host of Man v. Food with no problem. Jack sighed. “Make it two.”

“Okay. See you soon.”

Bronwyn and I headed next to the line at Cinnabon. “Let’s face it. We’re all going to be roly poly.” I looked down at my gut, at the little bit that hung out over my belt, and gave it a pat. I started to sing, “Watch it wiggle, watch it jiggle …”

Bronwyn stared at me strangely.

“Jell-O brand gelatin,” I finished. “Guess you’re too young for that.”

She shook her head at me. “Speak for yourself about getting roly poly. I’m going to way burn off all of these calories.” She swung out her right arm, showing off her pink Fitbit. “I take twirling on Mondays, gymnastics on Tuesdays and tae kwon do on Fridays. What you need, Uncle Andy …” Here, she gave me a side hug around the waist. “Is to hire me as your personal trainer.”

“Twirling. That’s a good manly sport for me to take up at my age. What muscles does that work?”

“Your arm, of course, and your core.”

“Core? What am I? An apple?”

Bronwyn smiled and then stuck out her tongue. I picked up four monstrous Cinnabons, then Bronwyn and I settled down at a table with our healthy snacks. I had the odd almost paranoid feeling of eyes at my back. I turned around. I whispered to Bronwyn, “Is he still there?”

Bronwyn answered back in the same whisper. “Who? The superfan?”

I nodded, and she looked over in the superfan’s general direction.

“Yeah. He’s kind of a creeper, isn’t he?”

I nodded again, although I couldn’t quite put my finger on what made him a “creeper.” Just then, I spotted Jack and Declan coming towards us, waved and motioned them towards us. They came over to our table.

Declan sank into a chair and took a Cinnabon. “Great! I’m starving.”

Jack took a chair beside him. “You just ate … an hour ago,” he said, “one of those Taco Bell box meals, the Bell Box or the Big Box or the Big Bucks … one of those things, plus some restaurant breadsticks you found in my coat pocket and a box of Raisinets you found in the car on the ride over.”

Restaurant breadsticks might seem like an oddity to carry in your coat pocket, but Jack’s trenchcoat pockets were full of oddities: plastic forks and toothpicks from restaurants, small toys and toy parts from creations he was working on, plus every other small gadget imaginable. I was surprised Declan didn’t find a four course meal in Jack’s pockets.

I turned to Declan. “A man after mine own heart,” I said. I held out a hand, and he slapped it low.

“What can I say?” Declan shrugged. “I’m a growing boy.”

“I wish I had that excuse,” I said, right before shoveling a mound of gooey bun into my mouth.

“You’re growing,” Bronwyn told me. “Just in a different direction, outwards instead of upwards.” She tapped herself on the chest. “Personal trainer.”

I was beginning to seriously consider taking her up on that offer, but, first, I had to digest. I turned to Declan. “So, did you find anything cool at Best Buy?”

“I found a model of drone I like, but I can’t afford it. I’m going to have to watch a lot more dogs and mow a lot more lawns before I can,” he said.

“You don’t need a drone from Best Buy,” said Bronwyn. “Uncle Jack can make you a drone from popsicle sticks, a bread twist tie and a paper clip.”

Her brother stared across the table at her. “That makes no sense, Bron. You didn’t list a single electronic part.”

“It’s called exaggeration,” she said and poked out her tongue.

I was on Bronwyn’s side. I’d seen Jack splice together such interesting gadgets that nothing would surprise me anymore. I turned to her, “Jack could build a car out of … “ I picked up my frappuccino straw wrapper. “This straw wrapper, a balloon and a couple of toothpicks.”

Declan shook his head at me. “You’re as bad as she is. Uncle Andy, you’re a bad influence.”

“Thank you,” I said.

Jack sat silently rubbing his chin. “Well,” he said. “I was going to wait until tonight or tomorrow, but I hate to see Declan disappointed. I have gifts for both of you, kids.”

“I knew it!” said Bronwyn, bringing down her fist and crooked elbow in a kind of “Chaching” motion. These kids had hit the jackpot in having a toy inventor for an uncle.

Jack began to reach into the interior pockets of his trenchcoat.

“Don’t tell me you have them in there?” I said.

What Jack pulled out first was not a toy but a Blaze comic book. “Well, I think you both know that when I created Blaze as an adventure hero and his niece and nephew, Angel and Hunter, as his helpers in adventure, that they were somewhat inspired by the three of us,” Jack said.

“A more adventure-y version of the three of us,” said Bronwyn.

She didn’t know her uncle very well if she didn’t understand yet that Jack could be pretty danged adventure-y.

“So now,” Jack said, “you not only have an adventure hero alter ego, your alter ego also has its own action figure.” Jack brought out the two action figures, and they did somewhat resemble the real life kids that inspired them. “Hunter,” he said, handing the figure to Declan, “And Angel,” he added, handing the other to Bronwyn.

Hunter had Declan’s dark brown hair, and Angel had Bronwyn’s strawberry blonde hair. Both were dressed like regular teen kids but were equipped with backpacks.

Bronwyn opened her figure’s backpack first. She pulled out the miniature items one by one and laid them on the table: a twirling baton, some rhythmic gymnastics clubs and a pair of nunchucks. “Cool,” she said.

Declan opened his figure’s backpack and pulled out miniatures of a camera, a GPS device and, last but not least, a drone.

“The drone really works too,” Jack explained.

“Really cool,” said Declan. “Thanks Uncle Jack. You’re the coolest uncle ever.”

Bronwyn popped out of her seat like a jack in the box and hugged Jack’s neck. Declan attacked Jack’s other side in a sort of wrestle-hug. While the three of them engaged in this cuddle fest, I turned around and looked for the superfan. He was still there. It might have been my imagination or it might not have been, but it seemed that he’d been looking at us too and had to look down just as I turned around.

To be Continued …

© 2018 Susan Joy Clark

New Review of Action Men with Silly Putty

Action Men with Silly Putty got a new five star review on the Literary Titan.

“Susan Joy Clark’s Action Men with Silly Putty features two comrades in the toy business on the adventure of a lifetime. Clark’s main characters are best friends who are attached at the hip and one another’s voice of reason. Jack Donegal and the book’s narrator, Andy Westin, set off on their journey to uncover the mystery of a mistaken identity and to find out what the heck is so important about the teddy bear from 1915 that Jack purchases at an estate sale in San Francisco. From their company, Out of the Box Toy Design, to breakdowns of Picasso’s private escapades to the Salvador Dali special–it involves eggs and a toast–Action Men with Silly Putty is filled with eccentricities at every turn and brimming with mystery!

I have always been a mystery fan and jumped in headfirst wanting, wholeheartedly, to love Action Men. I wasn’t disappointed. Jack Donegal, a character with every quirk imaginable, is as interesting a central character as I have seen. He appears as an amalgamation of whimsical leads from a handful of stories throughout the years. Incredibly well-read, dead set on having a plethora of alternatives to the traditional curse words, and a virtual fount of knowledge, Jack leads Andy on a wild ride with Andy doing little to challenge each subsequent request. Clark has given readers a vivid personality in Jack Donegal who is impossible to forget.

It’s fairly clear from the beginning that Jack is the book’s focus, but, for me, Andy sets the tone of the entire story. His obvious frustration juxtaposed with his allegiance to Jack is highly relatable. Readers will find common ground with Andy as he fights the urge to question his best friend while simultaneously appeasing him. I thoroughly enjoyed the repartee between the two and give full credit to Andy for the book’s future success.

Clark is consistent with her depiction of Jack as the absent-minded professor type character. She bestows upon him the same qualities that make one Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory the lovable and appealing guy he is. Andy, faithful to Jack to the bitter end, has some truly fantastic lines. Clark brings laugh-out-loud moments via many of Andy’s thoughts: “I thought of that famous photo of Albert Einstein, the one where he was sticking out his tongue and looking anything but genius, and felt reassured…slightly.”–my favorite line in the book as Andy reveals his never-ending stress over Jack’s idiosyncrasies.

I am giving Action Men with Silly Putty by Susan Joy Clark 5 out of 5 stars. Clark’s success with the business partners-turned-private investigators team of Donegal and Westin is tied up neatly in her narrator. As the solution to the mystery of the teddy bear is pursued through colorful secondary characters and unique settings, Andy simply shines. Clark is eloquent, creates one scenario after another to engage readers in her comedy team’s plight, and helps to define a new niche in the mystery novel. In addition, the path to the mystery’s solution is peppered with pop culture references which will appeal to a broad range of readers.”

Pages: 214 | ASIN: B00Y49AUXU

via Action Men with Silly Putty

Action Men with Duct Tape, Part 2

2

Bronwyn and I continued on our way, hopefully to the food court or just to food. “You really are harmless, Uncle Andy. Let’s face it. You’re too sweet and funny,” she said.

“Sweet and funny? That’s what I’ve become?” I said. “I’m not harmless. I’ve faced danger. I was speared by a tranquilizer dart. I was held at gunpoint. I was kidnapped … “

“By a woman.”

“By a scary, sword-wielding woman,” I corrected.

“Yes, but you didn’t want to fight her, because you’re too much of a gentleman.”

I sighed. This was close to the truth. “Well, when it comes to men, to ‘bad guys,’ you don’t have to worry about my sense of chivalry.”

“You and Uncle Jack are obsessed with bad guys, and you’re not even cops.”

“Yes. Lt./Det. Kelly keeps reminding us of that fact.”

“So, you’re saying that if that guy over there were to kidnap me, you’d knock his block off.”

I turned to look at “that guy over there.” She was pointing at some dude who I imagined must be a club bouncer, with a strangely triangular upper body you’d expect to find on a comic book hero, broad shoulders that narrowed down to a small waist. “Yeah,” I said, “Or die trying … most likely the second.” This guy looked like he could take me down easily … blindfolded … with his small toe.

“Look, kiddo,” I said. “Don’t even joke about getting kidnapped. If anything were to happen to you, your Uncle Jack and I wouldn’t rest until you were home safe.”

She linked her arm in mine. “Okay. Where should we go?”

“Somewhere where there’s food.” I said this partly because I’m a bottomless pit and partly because it seemed much more interesting than shopping for preteen girl clothes. “What do you say? A frappuccino and a Cinnabon or a frappuccino and a soft pretzel?”

“A frappuccino and a Cinnabon.”

Just a short while ago, I was thinking about a guy shaped like a comic book superhero. Here, just outside of Starbucks, sat a guy with what looked to be one of those unicorn drinks, deeply engrossed in a comic book, and the comic book looked oddly familiar. It was one of our own line, the Blaze series. Tomorrow, we would be releasing accompanying action figures with robotic features.

I linked arms with Bronwyn and slid over to his table. Bronwyn, equipped in her Heelys shoes, skated over. “Hey!” I said to the guy.

He looked up from the comic, and, for a second or two, his hands shook. He had trouble looking me in the eye, and I couldn’t decide if he had a classic case of Asperger’s or if he was just taken aback by a complete stranger grinning oddly at him.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. I just couldn’t help noticing what you’re reading. I’m from Out of the Box Toys. The Blaze comics are in our line. I’m just pleased to see we have a fan.”

He was looking at me now, from small blue eyes sunk deep in his face, in a way that hardly seemed more comforting. I looked him over. He had a long oval pasty white face, blue rectangular-framed glasses and dull blondish-brown hair with a receding hairline. He was also sporting more Blaze paraphernalia than seemed healthy for a grown man, a Blaze T-shirt that was just visible beneath his winter coat, a Blaze messenger bag and canvas sneakers that seemed to be hand-painted with the Blaze emblem.

“More than a fan – a superfan, I see,” I said. I expected a superfan to be more enthused by my presence, but he was looking at me as if he were deciding what to do with me. “I’m Andy Westin.” I realized this probably meant nothing to him. I shrugged a single shoulder. “I’m the marketing guy.” I looked to Bronwyn and suddenly pulled her to my side in what was half hug and half wrestling move. “And this is my niece. She’s actually Jack Donegal’s niece. He’s the real brains behind the series and the toys and the everything. He’s the brain. I’m more like … the right arm.”

His face changed at the mention of Jack’s name, with recognition, I supposed, but I found it hard to read.

“Bronwyn,” I said. “Let’s get a selfie with the superfan.” We both pulled out our phones and then, sandwiching the superfan like the cream in an Oreo, we clicked away. I looked through the results. I was grinning ridiculously. The superfan was looking stiff and somewhat unsociable. Bronwyn was looking cute and yet slightly awkward.

I suddenly slapped my forehead in an “I should have had a V8” moment. “We were taking selfies with our phones. We should have taken one with your phone,” I told the fan.

I was almost surprised when he pulled his phone out. I was beginning to think he thought we were a couple of desperate celebrity wannabes. He stretched his camera arm out, and, with the other, flipped a hair into place. He clicked, and, briefly, I saw the result. His face was different in this one. The stiffness was gone, yet he didn’t smile. Instead, he looked like an actor playing the part of the noble hero.

I tried one more approach. “We’re going to be at the New York Toy Fair tomorrow, unleashing something new. You should come or you should at least stay tuned.”

The statue that was the superfan spoke for the first time. “Yes, I n …” His voice was soft and squeaky. “Yes, thank you.” He nodded and smiled a weird smile that only moved the lower half of his face.

“Well,” I said, clearing my throat. “I’ll leave you to your excellent reading choice and your unicorn drink. I may get one for the niece.”

“Oh, it’s a Pokemon Go frappuccino.”

“Ah.”

I was almost glad to get away from him, and I linked my arm with Bronwyn’s once more.

To be continued …

© 2018 Susan Joy Clark

Giveaway for “The Lit Club Mystery”

Over the next few days, there will be a giveaway for my short story ebook, “The Lit Club Mystery,” featuring my female sleuth, English professor, Grace Darby. The story involves a series of secret messages hidden in books and in poetic graffiti, a Rubiks Cube and a lot of literary references for book lovers. Claim yours. 🙂

https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/2ccda32c6eb50e62?ref_=pe_1771210_134854370#ln-en

Action Men with Duct Tape, Serial, Part 1

This is a Jack Donegal Mystery, in the same series with Action Men with Silly Putty and Action Men and the Great Zarelda.

Part 1

“So, what do you think, Uncle Andy?” Bronwyn Byrne, my “niece” only by my close brotherly association with her actual Uncle Jack, stepped out of the dressing room, held her arms out and twirled around.
I sighed, expressing relief. “Ah. It’s fine.” I’d seen plenty of “Nos” on this shopping trip – the skintight leggings, the too-short skirts, some darkly themed band T-shirts of questionable taste. The outfit she was wearing with the pink shirt bedecked with cupcakes and sprinkles was something to which I could say “Yes.” This was how little girls should look, all pink with cotton candy and unicorns and glitter.

 

“It’s fine? Just fine?” She drooped her arms down to her sides.

 

Somehow, the girl had translated “fine” as “barely passable.” “Yeah … right. I mean it’s … cute.”

 

“It’s cute?” She groaned. “In other words, I look like I’m seven.”

 

“Nah. Nah. You look your age. You look like a cute …” I was not good at this. I’ve never been a dad, and here I was acting in the role of one. I was out of my element, standing here with my arms loaded with pastel-colored shopping bags, not to mention Bronwyn’s little purse, covered in emojis, dangling from my elbow … not exactly the manliest of accessories.

 

“Where’s Uncle Jack?”

 

That was a very good question. Why couldn’t Jack be here to handle these delicate girly issues with his own niece? “He got an important phone call on his cell about the event tomorrow, so he went to look for a quiet place to talk. When he’s done there, he’ll probably check on your brother at the Best Buy.”

 

I turned myself around, Bronwyn’s little purse swinging like a flag in tribute to my manliness. I spotted a boy, around 12, skulking in a corner behind a clothes rack with his Nintendo DS, probably the unfortunate brother of a shopper in this girly store. “Hey kid,” I said. “Come here.”

 

He looked up and lifted an eyebrow.

 

“I need a man’s opinion.” This seemed to get his attention. I hoped Bronwyn would appreciate the opinion of a boy her age. She was already starting to notice members of the opposite sex.

 

When the kid approached, I put my hands on his shoulders and pointed him in Bronwyn’s direction. “See there? That’s my niece. Her outfit shows good taste, right? It’s cool, hip, da bomb … Is da bomb still a phrase?”

 

“Uh … That would be a no,” said the kid. I noticed he refrained from rolling his eyes at me … unlike Bronwyn.

 

“Well,” I said. “The outfit. She needs some affirmation. She looks good, right?”

 

The kid was now giving me a nervous side eye. “Uh … yes?” The boy either had a young person’s habit of ending every phrase as a question or he was terrified of disagreeing with me. He shrugged a single shoulder. “Sure. Whatevs. It’s cool … for her.” He said this as if he wanted me to be sure he wouldn’t wear it himself.

 

A little while later, I met Bronwyn in her regular clothes, the trial outfit draped over her arm. She spoke to me through her teeth. “Can you get any more embarrassing?”

 

“Uh … do you really want to know the answer to that question?”

 

“Probably not.” Her comment was accompanied by another eye roll.

 

“So, you’re not taking it?” I asked, pointing to the pile on her arm.

 

“No, I’m taking it,” she said.

 

Moments later, we were hitting the halls of the mall, and I was relieved of half of the baggage. Walking along the halls and the crowd, a thought came to me. Maybe the thought came to me out of boredom from shopping at Girly Outfitters and Forever 13 or maybe my blood sugar was dropping and addled my brain. My nose was picking up aromas of Cinnabon and freshly baked cookies, but, up to this moment, I had refrained from indulging. I decided this was a good time to hone her self defense skills.

 

I steered Bronwyn away from the main mall traffic. “Hey,” I said. “Check out the mannequins.” I directed her towards a side entryway, sandwiched between Old Navy and another tween girl’s paradise. The mannequins in the window display were set up like a step by step dance tutorial. I was beginning to think like Jack, imagining photos from the line-up, left to right, put together into an action flipbook.

 

Bronwyn stood mesmerized, and then came the sneak attack. I slinked up behind her and seized her around the middle, pinning her arms. “Now, suppose I’m a bad guy,” I said, “what do you do now?” We’d gone through this exercise a few times back at our apartment. This was the first time I’d attempted it in public. Looking to my left and spying a mall cop giving me the stare down, I surmised it was probably my last time doing this in public.

 

Mr. Mall Cop Guy was glaring at me as if I were Ted Bundy. “I’m her uncle,” I said, loosening my grip on Bronwyn’s waist. Biologically speaking, this wasn’t the strict truth, but, emotionally speaking, it was. “I was impersonating a bad guy and – apparently – doing too good a job of it.”

 

Mr. Mall Cop Guy looked from me to Bronwyn and back again, perhaps looking for a sign that she was okay or that I was telling the truth. I pointed to him. “You, Sir, are doing an excellent job of protecting young girls from creeps like me … well, no, not literally creeps like me … creeps like the bad guy I was impersonating. I, for one, salute you.”

 

I put out my arm for a fist bump, and he took a couple of steps back.

 

“Aw, c’mon. I didn’t swing at you. If I wanted to swing at you, I’d do a better job than that.” This was my day to stick my foot in my mouth over and over again. I was going to have to head over to Starbucks for one of those frappuccino things to wash out the taste of foot. “Not that I’m in the habit of taking a swing at fine upstanding security personnel.”

 

Bronwyn reached over and gave me a squeeze around the middle. “Uncle Andy is completely harmless,” she told Mr. Mall Cop Guy.

 

“I am not completely harmless …” Just like Bronwyn had understood “cute” as babyish, I understood “harmless” as milquetoast. Then, I looked at Mr. Mall Cop Guy and thought I’d better change my phraseology. “Except to kids. I’m harmless to kids.” I gave Bronwyn a firm pat between the shoulder blades and rubbed my knuckles into her scalp.

 

Mr. Mall Cop Guy shrugged and shook his head in a way that made me think he was still assured that I was a weirdo but just of the “harmless” variety.

To Be Continued …

 

© 2018 Susan Joy Clark