Death is discovered on an idyllic southern California island when feisty British gossip columnist Tosca Trevant is banished to the U.S. at the request of Buckingham Palace. Idly snooping out of sheer boredom, she stumbles across what she believes to be human remains in a recently widowed music professor’s rock garden. Tosca asks a retired U.S. Secret Service agent for help, and by solving the riddle of a coded music score, the two sleuths bring a serial killer to an unexpected end.
“Sorry I’m late, Mother. Have you been standing out here long? We had a death on the island, and the memorial service ran on forever,” said J.J. Trevant. She picked up the two suitcases and loaded them into the Porsche parked curbside at Los Angeles International Airport.
“A murder? Re’m fay! Right on my new American doorstep.” Tosca Trevant pursed her lips.
“No, of course not a murder. Where did you get that idea? A neighbor drowned. And what on earth do you mean, right on your doorstep?”
“I’ve put in for a promotion from gossip columnist to crime reporter, so I need a murder to solve. Don’t be dense, dear.”
J.J. slammed down the trunk lid and stared at Tosca. “That’s ridiculous. You know nothing about crime writing. Besides, this wasn’t a murder. The poor woman died on vacation in Mexico. Surely the royal scandal you discovered wasn’t a crime, was it?”
“Let’s not get into that right now, love.”
J.J. opened the passenger door for her mother, who stepped in and buckled her seat belt.
“How was the flight?” asked J.J. as they drove out of the terminal. “That eleven-hour trip from London is no picnic. Did you sleep? It must have been horribly uncomfortable for you in that unbelievably short outfit.”
“This?” Tosca tugged at the hem of her black leather miniskirt.
“You’ve been out of England too long. Covers my knickers all right, doesn’t it? The toddler I held on my lap part of the flight didn’t mind. What a joy it was to cuddle him. You’ll learn that when you have children of your own.”
“Not on my radar, as you know.”
Tosca sighed. ”You can’t race cars forever.”
J.J. glanced at her mother. “And look at your hair! It’s down to your waist now.” She frowned. “Bit old for that, too, aren’t you?”
“Old? I haven’t said hello to fifty yet, although it’s fast approaching. Re’m fay.”
“I wish you wouldn’t swear in Cornish, Mother. It makes you sound more eccentric than you are. No offense, of course.”
“None taken, love. I will try my best to behave myself. Apologies for descending upon you with hardly any warning. I was so rudely hustled out of England, I barely had time to send you those jugs of mead. I hope they didn’t get too jostled en route. I can’t wait to have a glass.”
J.J. shrugged. “I haven’t opened the box. You know I hate that awful plonk you insist on brewing yourself. Anyway, now that you’re here you can relax.”
Tosca raised her eyebrows. “Relax? With a royal lawsuit hanging over my head? Fat chance. I’m in exile.”
“No, you’re not. You’ve been reassigned, that’s all. Don’t exaggerate.”
“I still can’t believe I caused such an uproar.” At J.J.’s snort, Tosca grimaced. “Honestly, I had no idea Queen Elizabeth would be so rattled. She should know my ‘Tiara Tittle-Tattle’ column is harmless.”
“Harmless? Like a python. The royals never know where you’ll strike next. That piece you wrote last week about the Earl of Dunene’s false teeth falling into the queen’s lap at dinner was a bit mean spirited, don’t you think?
“But it was true! The footman told me he saw the earl try to catch them, but it was too late.”
“All right, but you still haven’t told me what your scoop was. Sex again, I suppose. Your last email said that you’d blundered through the wrong door at Buckingham Palace, and you’d be arriving here today. Sounds really bad, so tell me.”
“It wasn’t sex, for a change, and the palace hushed it up, of course. No, J.J., I’ve promised not to discuss it, even though it was the best scoop of my career. That wimpy editor Stuart assured the Queen’s Counsel and their vast team of barristers and solicitors the column would never see the light of day. In exchange for my silence over what I saw, as I said, I asked Stuart to switch me to crime reporting, but he refused.”
“Sorry, Mother, but I can’t see you interviewing murderers and families of victims unless they’re wearing crowns.”
“I’ve always wanted to cover criminal cases for the newspaper, but I got stuck with the gossip column. Oh, well, at least I still have a job.”
J.J. guided the car expertly onto the southbound 405 freeway, weaving in and out of six lanes of giant tanker trucks, semis and bumper-to-bumper traffic until the carpool lane appeared. She entered it and gunned the engine past eighty miles an hour.
“Goodness, dear!” Tosca clutched the armrests. “Don’t you think you should slow down? We’re not on one of your speedway tracks. I can’t imagine why you chose such a dangerous career as racing. Too much like your father, God rest his soul.”
“We’ll be home soon. Please, just close your eyes.”