Introducing the hilarious new heroine, Mazie Maguire, in Juliet Rosetti’s irresistible debut novel that follows the outrageous adventure of a woman on the run.
Wrongly convicted of killing her philandering husband, Mazie Maguire is three years into her life sentence when fate intervenes—in the form of a tornado. Just like that, she’s on the other side of the fence, running through swamps and cornfields, big box stores and suburban subdivisions. Hoping to find out who really murdered her husband, Mazie must stay a few steps ahead of both the law and her mother-in-law, who would like nothing better than to personally administer Mazie the death penalty via lethal snickerdoodle. With the Feds in hot pursuit and the national media hyping her story, Mazie stumbles upon a vast political conspiracy and a man who might just be worth a conjugal visit—if she survives.
In the tradition of Janet Evanovich and Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Juliet Rosetti ups the ante in her laugh-out-loud funny Escape Diaries series, as Mazie Maguire must use any means necessary to keep her main squeeze out of the slammer.
Once you escape from prison and ride off into the sunset with the gorgeous guy who helped you nail a killer, you live happily ever after, right? Well, not exactly—not if you’re Mazie Maguire, and the flow chart of your life looks like a pinball machine. Mazie has broken up with her guy, Ben Labeck, she can’t pay her rent, her car is infested with mice, and she’s working at a coffee shop where the dress code is teddies, thongs, and toe-cleavage heels. Now Ben is the chief suspect in a murder investigation, and Mazie’s tapping into her fugitive wiles to keep him out of jail. Strictly as friends, she vows. No kissing, no touching, no romance. But how is Mazie supposed to keep her thoughts platonic when her “buddy” is giving her erotic back rubs, and a make-believe-we’re-newlyweds charade puts her in the mood for a wedding night?
About the Author:
Juliet Rosetti grew up on a Wisconsin farm. She has taught school in Milwaukee and in Sydney, Australia, where her duties included coaching cricket and basketball. Her work has appeared in The Milwaukee Journal, Chicago Tribune, and in many other publications. She is a past winner of Wisconsin Magazine’s Wordsmith Award for nonfiction. Currently she lives in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, with her husband and son, teaches in the local public school system, and is writing the next book in the Mazie Maguire series.
Where to Find Juliet:
Her website Juliet Rosetti
On Facebook at Escape Diaries Juliet Rosetti
On Twitter @JulietRosetti
Read Excerpts from The Escape Diaries & Crazy For You:
The Escape Diaries : A Guide to Breaking Out of Prison
Escape tip #1: Be prepared.
Actually I wasn’t prepared at all. I just wanted to go to bed. I was tired and cranky, sweat was puddling between my boobs, and my armpits smelled like sprouting onions. Deodorant cost one ninety-five at the prison canteen, well beyond the means of someone who earned ten cents an hour. Given a choice between M&Ms or Mennen, I’d pick the sweet and live with the stink. Repulsive, yes—but chocolate is what gets you through the day, and no one else smells any better.
If I’d stuck to chocolate, things might have turned out differently. But I had a leftover cough drop from a bout with bronchitis, and when my cellmate, Tina Sanchez, developed a tickly throat, I gave her the cough drop. Just being a pal, right?
Wrong. You’re supposed to return unused medications to the medical director. The staff tracks pharmaceuticals the way the CIA tracks yellow cake in the Middle East. A cellblock officer caught the menthol scent on Tina’s breath and wrote her up for taking a nonprescription drug. Since I was the one who’d dished out the illicit substance, I was written up, too. Along with a bunch of other drug offenders—aspirin pushers, Alka- Seltzer peddlers, and Midol dealers—Tina and I were sentenced to garden detail.
Not exactly the Bataan death march in a suburban peas and petunias plot, but Taycheedah’s gardens are a whole different chunk of real estate. Looking out over them is like gazing at the Great Plains; you wouldn’t be surprised to see buffalo and buzzards roaming around out there.
The first days of September had been sunny and hot, and in the perverse way of growing things, every tomato on six acres had ripened on the same day. Ten thousand of the squishy red things, demanding to be handpicked before thunderstorms swept through and turned them into salsa. We picked. And picked. And picked some more. All morning, all afternoon, and into early evening. When it got to be five o’clock I thought we’d be dismissed for dinner. But no-o. You do the crime, you do the time: that was the warden’s motto. The kitchen staff sent out sandwiches and bottles of water and we ate sitting cross- legged in the dirt. Then we hauled ourselves to our feet and went back to work.
My spine was an archipelago of ache, my skin felt scalded, and my teeth were filmed with bugs. The rank, catnippy odor of tomatoes clung to my clothes. I straightened and stretched at the end of my gazillionth row, rubbing my back and anxiously scanning the sky to the west, which had turned the pus-yellow of a fading bruise. The air was thick enough to stir with a spoon. Crickets chirped storm warnings. Lightning flickered in a raft of distant clouds.
Lightning terrified me. I glanced uneasily at the officer on duty, hoping she’d let the tomatoes go to mush and order us back inside. She didn’t. She just yawned, leaning against a tree, staring glassily into space. Obviously, distant lightning wasn’t high on her list of concerns.
“Did you know that lightning can strike as far as ten miles away?” I said to Tina, who was picking on the opposite side of my row.
“So what?” Tina scoffed. “Your chances of getting hit by lightning are less than winning the Powerball.”
“You’ve got it backward.” The heat was making me cranky. It was Tina’s fault I was on this gulag detail in the first place. “The odds against winning the Powerball are greater than your chances of being struck by lightning.”
“I ain’t never won the lottery and I ain’t never got hit by lightning neither, so that proves my point.”
Tina’s logic made my brain hurt. I opened my mouth to explain her faulty reasoning, which would probably have resulted in Tina’s giving me a mashed tomato facial, but at that moment a siren began to wail. I nearly jumped out of my sweat-streaked skin. Dropping my tomatoes, I clapped my hands over my ears.
“Is that the escape siren?” I asked.
“No, you goober. That’s the tornado siren.”
Tornado? My stomach did a roller-coaster dip. Tornadoes scared me even worse
than lightning. What were you supposed to do? In grade school we’d had to practice tornado drills, crouching under our desks with our arms over our heads and our butts in the air. By the time the drill ended, our classroom smelled like a cauliflower factory.
The guard snapped out of her heat-induced stupor, blew a whistle, and bellowed, “All right, everybody, form up in a line. We’re returning to the main unit. Inside, you will proceed to your designated—”
A galloping wind drowned out her voice, bowled over the tomato plants, and hurled leaves through the air like green rain. The storm blitzed in faster than anyone could have expected. Thunder shook the ground and a zag of lightning split the sky. The mercury vapor lamps that lit the grounds exploded, plunging us into murky gloom.
Disoriented, I grabbed onto Tina and we bumbled around, tripping over vines, squishing tomato guts underfoot, trying to catch our breaths against the scouring gale. The air sizzled with electricity and my hair stood on end. The wind worked itself into a tantrum and slammed us along, Tina’s long braid whipping against my face until she was whirled one way and I was hurled another. I smacked up against the wall of the greenhouse and stepped in a load of peat moss from an overturned wheelbarrow.
Lightning flashed again, turning the world muddy purple. The purple goop spat
hail. Split pea hail at first, that sounded like the first faint pops of microwave popcorn, then fist-sized hail that smashed the greenhouse panes and sent shards of glass geysering into the air. A 747 revved for takeoff inside my skull. My ears popped, my hair tried to yank itself out by the follicles, and what felt like a dozen Dustbusters sucked at my clothes. Tree branches and gutter spouts hurtled through the air, outlined by strobes of lightning. Something enormous somersaulted toward me, growing bigger and bigger, blotting out the sky. I stared in disbelief. It was a house! An enormous house was about to smack down and squash me like the Wicked Witch of the East. When the rescue workers came around searching for bodies, they’d discover my feet sticking out from beneath the foundation.
“She really needed a pedicure,” they would say.
I was five years old when I watched The Wizard of Oz for the first time. My parents were out and my older brothers, who were supposed to be babysitting me, had abandoned me. Alone in the house, I poured myself a glass of Kool-Aid, dribbled my way to the TV, and popped a tape into the VCR. I couldn’t read yet, but the video cover showed a girl in a blue dress, a scarecrow, a lion, and a shiny metal man. I plopped down on the sofa, my legs so short they stuck straight out over the edge of the cushions, and watched, entranced, as a girl named Dorothy balanced along a fence, singing a song about a rainbow.
Then Almira Gulch appeared. Eyes like Raisinettes, chin like an ax blade, mouth like a rat trap. By the time she was pedaling her bike through the twister, cackling insanely and transforming into the Wicked Witch of the East, I was petrified, sobbing, and soaked.
My mother came home, switched off the movie, changed my underpants, and put me to bed. I wasn’t allowed to watch The Wizard of Oz again until I was nine years old, presumably old enough to separate fantasy from reality, but even then I had to squeezemy eyes shut when the winged monkeys flew out of the witch’s castle.
CRAZY FOR YOU – CHAPTER ONE
Rhonda Cromwell was the kind of woman that gives cougars a bad name.
She broke up marriages, seduced door-to-door missionaries, and sunbathed nude in her front yard, causing neighborhood guys to run their lawn mowers up trees, neighborhood mothers to lock their teenaged sons in their rooms, and the local camping-goods store to stock more binoculars. Botoxed, liposuctioned, and siliconed to whatever bodily perfection is possible at age forty-five, she trolled campuses for fraternity boys, hung out at singles bars, and hooked up with hot, young hunks she met on Internet dating sites.
She carried on her predations at the office, too, slinking around in bustiers under blazers, screw-me heels, and miniskirts so mini that when she put her feet up on her desk, you could read the brand label on her thong. Young, male employees were afraid to bend over the water fountain. Female employees fantasized about strangling Rhonda with her own Spanx fanny-lifting leggings.
Rhonda was smart, hardworking, and ambitious.
She was also vain, greedy, and malicious.
She was my boss.
She was the owner and CEO of Cromwell Research Services, which sounds like the kind of business that crunches numbers, runs rats through mazes, or test-markets new brands of cheese spread. But its name is misleading. CRS is a spying operation. It sends mystery shoppers out into America’s malls and mini-marts to rat out rude employees, crummy food, and toilet paper stacked in towering piles ready to fall on your head when you squeeze the Charmin.
I’m one of those spies. My name is Mazie Maguire. I’m still pretty much the same insecure twelve-year-old who worried about kissing, except now my acne has cleared up, I’ve achieved a B-cup bra size, and I’ve kissed quite a few males. My real name is Margarita, a legacy from my Italian grandmother, who also handed down her dark-brown hair and ability to sing on key. My blue eyes, freckles, and small frame are from the Maguires, an Irish clan rumored to be descended from leprechauns.
I spent the last four years of my life in prison, convicted of murdering my husband.
I didn’t do it.
Of course, all felons claim they’re innocent, but in my case it’s true. When a tornado tossed me over the prison fence, I ran for my life, pursued by a federal marshal, a couple of nasty hit men, and squads of gun-toting citizens salivating over the reward on my head. Along the way I managed to solve my husband’s murder, expose a dirty senator, and royally piss off my loony-tunes ex-mother-in-law. A judge looked at the new evidence, declared me not guilty, and ordered me set free.
But people believe what they want to believe, and in their eyes I’ll always be the woman who got away with murder. When I tried to return to my old job teaching high school music, the school board refused to hire me back. Nobody wanted an ex-convict teaching their kids. Guilty or innocent, it made no difference. I still wore an invisible barbed-wire tattoo.
It’s now been seven weeks since I walked out of prison, and there are days I want to go back. In the can, you don’t have to worry about making your rent, filling your gas tank, or buying groceries. I’d been released at the exact moment the American economy was tanking. I was fighting for burger-flipping jobs with PhDs in physics.
So I was grateful to have found the job with CRS. True, I despised my boss, the salary was laughable, and I had to taste-test tons of greasy, calorie-laden fast food—but at least I was earning a paycheck. If Rhonda ever got around to paying me, that is.
I live in Milwaukee, a terrific city with not-so-terrific weather. Our unofficial motto is “Yeah, but have you ever felt a witch’s tit?” I rent a two-room flat at the rear of Magenta’s, a boutique that caters to drag queens. It’s the first time I’ve been on my own in years, and the freedom is dizzying. I can take a shower without Mona the Monobrow sidling over and offering to lather up my back. I can read in bed without someone yelling at me to turn off the damn lights. I can eat Pop-Tarts for breakfast and popcorn for supper. After you’ve lived cheek by jowl with twelve hundred people for four years, solitude is the sweetest thing in the world.
Except when it isn’t. Except when you’re missing someone so much it’s an actual physical ache and you want to clamp a giant Band-Aid over your heart.
Tough it out, my horrible brothers would have said.
Plenty of fish in the sea, my dad would have said.
Stop moping and get on with things, my mom would have said.
Getting on with things on this Friday morning meant heaving myself out of bed and going to work. I had mystery-shopping to do, restaurants to rate, salons to scrutinize. The consumers of the greater Milwaukee area were depending on me.
I skipped breakfast. Sack time wins out over cereal every time. I snapped a leash on Muffin, my shih tzu, and took him out for a walk, both of us exhaling frosty puffs of breath like speech balloons. It was sunny and chilly, typical mid-November weather for Wisconsin. The trees were bare, the ground was frozen, and Thanksgiving decorations were fighting a losing battle against the oncoming steamroller of Christmas.
I dropped Muffin off at doggie day care and hiked the five blocks to where I’d parked my car. I live on Milwaukee’s east side, close to the megalithic University of Wisconsin campus, which means that every day I have to compete with thirty thousand students for about sixteen available parking spaces.
My car is a twelve year old Ford Escort in an end-of-season clearance-sale color—sort of kidney bean red. It has a jones for oil, its tires are bald enough to require a comb-over, its glove compartment harbors a family of mice, and its engine makes odd grunting noises, as though a pig is curled around the carburetor. Still, it was as much car as I could expect for what I’d paid.
I’d sold my wedding ring for this car. I’d been wearing the ring the day I was processed into prison and was forced to turn it over to the prison staff, who locked it away in the property safe. Since I’d been sentenced to life, I’d never expected to see the ring again.
But what the penal system taketh, the penal system sometimes giveth back. When it spat me out, it handed back my ring. The man who’d set this ring on my finger had cheated on me, announced he wanted a divorce by sticking the papers on our refrigerator with a Scooby-Doo magnet, and tried to kick me out of my own home. As a symbol of faithfulness, this ring ranked with purple plastic secret-decoder rings that came free inside boxes of Cap’n Crunch.
When I slid the wedding ring back on my finger, I waited to see if it would set off sentimental vibes. Nope. Not a single vibe. The thing was just a shiny chunk of metal.
A shiny chunk of metal worth a goodly chunk of change, as it turned out when I took it to a jewelry dealer. I walked out of the shop with naked fingers, but with enough cash to pay my first month’s rent and buy the Escort.
I scraped the glacier off the windshield and got in. Crossing my fingers, I turned the ignition and the engine grumbled sullenly to life. I aimed the pig out into traffic and we sputtered and oinked our way toward downtown. My first secret-shopper call of the day was to a brand-new business rumored to be way too over-the-top for Milwaukee’s conservative sensibilities. A talk show host had called it smutty, risqué, and indecent. A church group was picketing it. Nearby high schools were forbidding their students to enter the premises.
I could hardly wait to review it.
When I’d escaped from prison, my mother-in-law had first tried to kill me with a do-it-yourself home electrocution kit, then had attempted to brain me with a laminated horse hock. Facing charges of attempted homicide, she’d paid a psychiatrist to have herself declared non compos mentis and get herself committed to a velvet-lined loony bin. Since she was immune from legal proceedings as long as she was locked in the Ralph Lauren Institute for the Rich and Deranged, I couldn’t sue her to get my money back. But she couldn’t stay there forever. Someday she’d be getting out. And I’d be ready with my pit bull lawyer.
Until then I was clipping coupons, mining my pockets for stray pennies, and taking home doggie bags. Glancing at the Happy Soup wall clock, I discovered that I was running late. Too bad about my leftover booyah, but a doggie bag just never works on soup. I tossed my iPad into my purse and barged out the door, failing to notice that someone else was entering while I was exiting.
“Oops—sorry,” I said.
I looked up.
Of all the booyah joints in all the world, why did he have to walk into this one?
It was Labeck. He was holding open the door for the TV dodo behind him, but he came to a jolting halt when he saw me. We stared at each other. Well, not exactly stared, on my part. Drank in, inhaled, devoured. He was wearing the aftershave I liked, the one that smelled like cinnamon and wood smoke.
“Hi,” he said, looking as surprised as me.
“Hi,” I replied, as a hellish red tide swept from my hairline to my clavicles.
“Muffin? Muffin’s good.”
“How are you?” I could feel my brain cells committing suicide, one by one.
“Me? I’m good, too.”
Who knows how long this witty repartee might have continued, but the Talent got tired of standing out in the cold and popped up beneath Labeck’s outstretched arm, which had frozen on the door. Looking as though he wished he could vanish beneath an invisibility cloak, Labeck said, “Mazie, this is Aspen Lindgren. Aspen, Mazie Ma—”
“Oh, this little gal needs no introduction.” Aspen smiled a dazzling high-definition-TV-just-out-of-the-box smile and stuck out her hand. We shook. “Maziemania, right? What a fantastic survival story! It’s terrific that you were cleared of those charges that you killed your husband.”
“Thanks.” For remembering to mention it.
To anyone watching, we were just two women making polite chitchat, but we knew better. We were taking each other’s measure. I was the ex-girlfriend and she was aiming for the new-girlfriend slot. Aspen was radiating, showing off for Labeck.
No one was going to outdo me at radiating, dammit! I wasn’t a former Miss Quail Hollow for nothing! I squared my shoulders, lifted my chin, sucked in my gut, thrust out my boobs, and turned up the wattage on my own smile. Labeck looked stunned, as though he’d been hit with exploding estrogen bombs.
“I’ll be sure to watch for your reports from now on,” I said to Aspen, still in the same overdosed-on-cotton-candy tones, resisting the urge to shorten her name to Ass.
“So where do you work, Mazie?” she asked.
“Cromwell Research Services.”
Aspen’s eyes lit up. “The website, right? They run tons of ads on our station. The owner of your companyRhoda? Rhonda?—anyway, she invited me and some people from our station to this party she’s throwing tomorrow night. I’m making Benny take me, even though he’s a great big ol’ grouchy bear about parties.”
“Yes, I bet he is.” I bit down on a laugh, noting that a nerve in Labeck’s jaw was twitching. How fascinating. I was almost enjoying this.
“I suppose we’ll see you there,” Aspen chirped.
“Probably.” My jaw muscles were getting sore from smiling.
“Super! Well, if you’ll excuse us, we’ve got to grab a bite and then we’re off to the next crisis. Just rush-rush-rush, all day long, you know how it is with us media folks.”
“Uh-huh. Nice meeting you.” I fled outdoors into the cold, clear air. Tiny black specks boogied across my vision and I suddenly staggered, overcome by dizziness. I was about to fall into the gutter and get run over by a garbage truck.
Aspen would cover the story, of course. “And so ends the tragic story of Mazie Maguire, the woman who murdered her husband in cold blood but later beat the rap.”
I didn’t “beat the rap.” I flushed out the guy who did the actual crime. Thanks mainly to Ben Labeck, who’d hidden me in his apartment. He’d also arranged the setup that nailed the scumbag, despite the fact that he could have been charged with aiding and abetting a criminal. When I’d been released from prison, Labeck had asked me to move in with him. We’d spent five blissful days together, most of them in his bed.
And then, with dizzying suddenness, before I quite comprehended what was happening, we’d broken up, Labeck spinning off to the wilds of Montana and me to the urban wilderness of Brady Street. Six weeks had passed since then. I hadn’t even known Labeck was back in town.
The dizziness passed. I pulled myself together and walked to my car. Milwaukee wasn’t that large; sooner or later Labeck and I were bound to run into each other. Now we’d both survived the encounter. We were getting on with our lives, me with my canine companion, Muffin, and Labeck with his junior Diane Sawyer.
I’m over him, I told myself. I didn’t need Ben Labeck in my life.
One of these days I might even start to believe that.