Karen Cantwell

Saturday Night Cleaver, a Preview!

Happy Monday!

Finally, it is here! Your preview of the fourth Barbara Marr Murder Mystery, Saturday Night Cleaver.

I hope you enjoy Chapter One of Barb’s latest adventure which will make its way to a Kindle, Nook, and Kobo near you this December . . .

Chapter One

I blame the internet.

Did you know there are 34 symptoms of menopause? I didn’t. Not until I found that article. The article that started it all.

Of the 34 symptoms of menopause, I discovered that I had . . . 34 of them.


Every last one.

Well, that shouldn’t be such a big deal, I thought. There’s a treatment. I typed “hormone replacement therapy” into the search engine. I’d heard this term bandied about on shows like Oprah and The View. Not that those women were positive role models. If Congress ever felt the need to pass a bill requiring the incarceration of all menopausal women, and wanted the country’s support, all they needed to do was tell everyone to tune into The View. Those are some cranky, cranky ladies.

In any event, I didn’t have to dig too deep to find out that the hormones for HRT are derived from horse urine. That was a disturbing fact. I’m not a horse. The idea of taking pills that in any possible way, had a previous connection to horse pee gave me a serious case of the skin-crawling heebie jeebies.

So that’s how I found Dr. Sadistic.

I mean, Dr. Sadjik.

Dr. Sadjik is a holistic physician I sought out at the Natural Life Wellness Clinic on the north side of Rustic Woods. She’s forcing me to become a healthier person through diet and exercise. Well, okay she’s not forcing me, but she did exert a good amount of force by pushing the guilt button. You know, things like, “Your body is a temple to be worshiped, not corrupted,” and “Don’t you want to live long enough to see your grandchildren?” Things like that. Okay, I’m making that up. She actually didn’t push any button of guilt. But she did sit there with that taut, glowing skin, looking at me through clear, bright eyes, as if she were plucked from a granola ad (I think I even heard angels singing), and I knew I had to follow her plan. That whole living-to-see-your-grandchildren thing was probably my own inner guilt brought on by a recent Taco Loco binge.

A healthy diet filled with fresh, organic fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, fish, and chicken, plus a daily elephant-sized dose of supplements, topped off by an hour of exercise a day, would bring my body into proper balance and the symptoms of menopause should minimize. At first, this didn’t seem so bad. I can do that, I thought.

But then she handed me a list of foods I couldn’t eat.

Stupid Internet.

No sugar, no white flour, no egg yolks, white rice, red meat, white potatoes, processed foods of any sort, chips, sodas, fried foods, cakes, cookies, donuts, candy. Basically: everything I enjoyed eating.

Stupid, stupid Internet.

Maybe the horse-pee pills weren’t such a bad idea after all. I mean, people are always saying, “So-and-so is as healthy as a horse,” and health was what I was going for.

As I was leaving the office with a fifty-page volume of things I couldn’t eat, and a very short list of things I could, Dr. Sadistic, I mean Dr. Sadjik, reminded me, “And don’t forget the one hour of exercise a day.”

I stared at her blankly, wondering how I would possibly have any energy for exercise on her despotic diet of lettuce and bean sprouts.

So, on a chilly November morning, three days after beginning Mission: Slay Menopause, I tied myself into a pair of sneakers preparing for a brisk one-hour walk. A few months earlier, I would have talked my friend and next door neighbor, Roz Walker, into keeping me company, but one too many “adventures” involving guns and felons scared her and her family clear across the continent. I’d only talked with our new neighbors a couple of times in passing, so hadn’t yet graduated to a come-on-a-walk-with-me level of acquaintance yet.

But I had other friends to employ. My tummy grumbled as I dialed Peggy’s number, hoping she’d agree to join me on my jaunt. She must have seen my number on caller ID. “Ciao, Signora!” she answered perkily. “Come stai?”

Peggy Rubenstein was my good friend whose Irish genetic code was apparent in her fiery red hair and pasty white skin. She grew up on corned beef, cabbage, and soda bread, and then, at the age of twenty-five, fell deeply in love with the very Jewish Simon Rubenstein. She said good-bye to the Pope and hello to Rabi Goldman. But, when the newlywed Rubensteins landed on the shores of Bella Italia while honeymooning, Peggy found her true calling: the religion of Italianism. She fell in love with the people and the culture. Ever since, she’s walked Italian, talked Italian, cooked Italian, and often forgot that her maiden name was McCarthy and not Minelli. Because I’d known Peggy for so long, I knew that “Come stai?” was Italian for “How are you?”

“I’ve been better,” I said, “but it’s nothing that an hour-long, invigorating walk won’t cure. Wanna come?”

“I would, Bella, but there’s a Fall Festival planning meeting at Dandi Booker’s house.”

Ugh. Dandi Booker. She was the new PTA president at Tulip Tree Elementary, taking over after Roz moved to California. Dandi was possibly the shortest woman I’d ever met, but what she lacked in height she made up for in zippy enthusiasm. She was like a high school cheerleader on a caffeine drip. She’s one of those people who just loves everybody. I don’t trust people who love everybody. It’s not natural. You have to dislike some people and I’m not just talking about Hitler and puppy killers. For that reason, I was wary of Dandi Booker. Peggy said I was paranoid and that Dandi was just the nicest person and I needed to give her a chance. For that reason, I was starting to hate Dandi Booker. Peggy was my friend first and I was beginning to suspect that Dandi was stealing her away. Roz had already deserted me, so losing Peggy was out of the question.

“Forget Dandi,” I said, reigning in the urge to whine. “Play hooky. Please, please, please.”

“I can’t, she needs my pumpkins.”

“Sounds like a bad pick-up line to me.”

I heard her sigh. “Another day, but I gotta run now.”

“Some friend you are.”

“This diet is making you very grumpy, is there hope you’ll feel better soon?”

“Walking and talking with a good friend is just the medicine I need for the grumpies. Tell Dandi she can have your pumpkins later. And while you’re at it, would you ask her how she got that silly name?”

“I’ll call you later. Maybe we can get together for a glass of wine.”

“It’s not allowed.”



“Green tea then.”

“Have you tasted green tea? You might as well throw three blades of grass in a cup of hot water and call it healthy, because that’s what green tea tastes like.” The urge to complain had grown stronger than my ability to hold it at bay.



“I love you, and I know the last few months have been really rough on you, but I need to go right now. I’ll call you later, okay?”


A dial tone buzzed in my ear. I clicked the receiver off and contemplated other options. Husband Howard couldn’t walk that fast, that far, or that long with his bad leg. Daughters Bethany and Amber had just left for a fun-filled day of education at Tulip Tree Elementary School, and teenaged Callie had zipped off to Rustic Woods High in Howard’s Camry. I sighed, then clicked the phone back on and hit number three on my speed dial. “Pick up, pick up, pick up,” I murmured under my breath.

After four rings, my body relaxed when a familiar voice answered. “Yo.”

“I need you.”

“Tell me something I don’t know, Beautiful.”

Speed dial number three was my buddy from the college days, Colt Baron. Colt was confident, sexy, and sensitive all at the same time. He had wispy blond hair barely touched by gray, a good view from behind when he wore jeans, an enviable talent for cooking, and he really needed a woman in his life to pamper. I’d been working on finding him the right woman, but for today, was hoping he’d be willing to pamper me. Or at least keep me company.

“Walk with me again today?”

“I told you yesterday, I can’t. I’m on a job.”

Did I mention that Colt’s a private investigator? Adds to the whole sexy-factor.

“Start after the walk,” I said.

“Curly, I’d walk with you to the Moon any other day of the week, but today is a no-go. Out of the question. Got a meeting and some tailing to do. How about your mother?”

“I’d rather walk with Mussolini,” I said with an uncontrollable grimace.

“Mama Marr?”

Alka Marr was Howard’s mother who lived with us and who was known to just about everyone as “Mama Marr”. “Her sciatica is acting up.” My grimace had turned into a pout. I decided to play the guilt card. “You said after Howard’s accident that you were here for me whenever I needed you, and I need you now.”

“That was three months ago and I was there for you twenty-four hours a day seven days a week, remember? I turned down job after job to be with you and the girls. I need to make some money now before the bill collectors decide to camp out on my front door.”

Hmm. That backfired. Now I was the one that felt guilty. “You know how to make a girl feel bad.”

“That’s not what I meant to do.” Another call must have beeped through on his line because his voice cut out briefly. “Curly–gotta take this call. Listen, I’ll stop by tonight and fix you guys my famous tacos.”

“No red meat.”

“Chicken tacos.”

“Okay. Have fun making money.”

“I plan on it. Love ya.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Everyone was full of love for me today, but not enough to make them drop their plans and hit the trails.

“Hey, quick question,” he said. “Those new neighbors of yours–did I see white rocks in their front yard? The decorative kind? Landscaping rocks.”

“Where Roz used to live? They did some re-landscaping when they moved in, but I’ll be honest, I haven’t looked that closely. Why?”

“No reason. See you tonight.”

For a second time in just five minutes, a dial tone buzzed in my lonely ears.

“Double poo,” I shouted to no one in particular. Puddles the poodle, who had been lounging on the rug in front of the back sliding-glass door, raised his head and yapped twice at my outburst.

“No backtalk from you, Mister Man,” I snapped. “It looks like you’re going to be my walking companion today, so get used to it.”

“I’ll go with you.”

I turned to see Howard limping down the hallway, a cane in his left hand, a book in his right, and three days worth of beard growing on that face that made my heart melt.

“You,” I replied sternly, while stepping forward to help him, “are going no where except for the couch to rest that leg like the doctor ordered. You’re going to do what he says so I can have my happy, healthy husband back, and life can get back to normal around here. No more hospitals, no more surgeries. You hear me?”

He shook off my attempt to assist him. “I’m tired of sitting on the couch and I’m not an invalid. The doctor said rest the leg regularly, not immobilize it. Getting up and moving around does me good.”

He was right. I did go overboard insisting he rest. “Someone is moody. Are you going through menopause too?” I teased.

Howard frowned, obviously not pleased or affected by my attempt at levity. Three months earlier, during his last day on the job as an agent with the FBI, Howard’s SUV took a five-roll tumble, narrowly missing a dive off the overpass and onto Interstate 66 below. I know, because I witnessed the entire, metal-crunching, heart-stopping episode while teaching Callie to drive home from a dentist appointment. If I hadn’t seen it for myself, the likelihood that I’d have learned of the true events would have been pretty slim. As it was, no one, not Howard, nor one person at the Bureau would or could tell me who they were escorting that day or why that car came out of nowhere firing endless rounds of lead at the government vehicles.

Of the five agents involved, only one lost his life, but Howard was touch and go since he’d unbuckled to warn civilian vehicles on the road to stop approaching the mission gone dangerously wrong. He spent the first week on life support in a doctor-induced coma which allowed his brain heal from the head trauma. It was two more weeks after he retained consciousness before he could come home, but then the damage to his left leg and collar bone were so extensive that he saw two more visits to the hospital for three separate surgeries.

To say that he’d experienced emotional ups and downs would be the biggest understatement since the crew of Apollo 13 told Houston they had a problem. And unfortunately, the downs seemed way deeper than the ups seemed steep. However, I have learned the hard way, that when you see the love of your life come excruciatingly close to death, patience becomes as easy and natural as breathing. This current little display of irritation was nothing I couldn’t handle with a lot TLC.

“My walks are an hour-long, but I’ll tell you what, you can walk Puddles and me up to the path.” I placed a warm kiss on his scruffy cheek. “Deal?”

He emitted a low grumble that I interpreted as an affirmative.

I tugged a fleece jacket from a hanger in the hall closet, slipped a pair of mittens into one pocket, three grocery bags for collecting doggy poop into the other,  and snapped the leash onto Puddles’ collar. We were one week into a Virginia November that was proving slightly cooler than usual so I decided to grab my fluffy, warm scarf too, just in case. Those woods could get pretty nippy, even if I paced myself at a good clip.

One of the beauties of our quaint Northern Virginia suburb of Rustic Woods, is the fifty five miles of paved walking paths that run throughout the forested planned community. A person can get exercise and commune with nature simultaneously. Admittedly, I hadn’t really availed myself of the benefit in the six years we’d lived there, but I was developing a new respect and admiration for it now.

A thin, mulched trail ran between the Penobscott’s who were the new neighbors Colt had mentioned, and the Perkins’ house next to them. That trail led to the main path that I had walked the two previous days. Once with Peggy and once with Colt. Today, Howard walked me from our driveway to the mulched trail. As we passed the Penobscott’s, I noticed something interesting.

“Well I’ll be,” I said.

“Something interesting?” asked Howard.

“White rocks in that flower bed.”

“Against policy?” He was referring to the rigid rules as set forth by the illustrious and ever-enforcing Rustic Woods Home Owners Association. Rules and regulations that kept most residents quaking in their boots, wondering if a hefty fine was waiting in their near future.

I shook my head. “Colt just asked me if they put white rocks in their yard when they re-landscaped.”


“He’s way more observant than I give him credit for,” I said.

“He has to be, it’s how he makes his living.”

“But why would that interest him?”

“Heck if I know.”

We’d reached the mulched trail. He kissed me sweetly on the lips. His were warm and soft and made me want to run with him back to the house for some long and passionate morning delight. That would be exercise, right? Except we weren’t doing a whole lot of that since the accident. In fact, we’d done a whole lot of none of that since the accident, and despite the fact that one of those 34 symptoms I’d mentioned was “low sex-drive,” it wasn’t non-existent. Barb was getting pretty frustrated.

“Do you have your cell phone?” he asked.

I nodded, thinking more about how I wanted another kiss. “And my mace.” I patted the pocket that also held the grocery bags just to be sure I could still feel it there. Check. If Puddles’ glass-shattering yips and yaps didn’t scare a would-be attacker, a handy shot of pepper spray would.

As Howard limped his way back home, I made the thirty or so steps it took to reach the macadam-paved walking path. Once there, I had the choice of going to my left or to my right. The previous two days, I had gone right. Today, for some strange reason–let’s call it pathetically bad luck–I decided to go left instead. 

The paths were long and winding, much like that road in the Beatles song, so my strategy was to walk for thirty minutes, then turn around and walk back, giving me the prescribed one hour. Two minutes into the regimen, I realized why I hadn’t brought the dog along before. It’s very hard to get any momentum and heart rate up when your companion needs to sniff everything in sight and then pee on it for good measure. Thank goodness humans don’t mark their territory the way dogs do, or we’d be living in a very, very wet and smelly world.

The air temperature seemed to be going down rather than up. I could see my breath now, and even the mittens, which I had eventually resorted to, didn’t keep the bite away. I tugged at Puddles a few more times in an attempt to pick up some speed and warm up, but I was losing interest real fast. My watch told me we’d been at it for fifteen minutes and I was about ready to call it quits when Puddles started barking wildly at a pile of leaves beside a rotting tree trunk. His nose was inches from the pile and as he managed to pull himself closer, he barked even louder.

Who knew what was under that pile. I assumed a dead animal–a squirrel maybe–but didn’t really want to find out, so I bent down to lift Puddles up with the intention of carrying him back home. A move that turned out to be the wrong thing to do, because too much slack went into his leash–enough that allowed him to dig into that pile with the ferocity of a lion after a kill.

“Puddles!” I hollered, as I went back in for another attempt to grab him up. At the same time, my foot landed on something that squished, then cracked. If it had just cracked, I would have thought twig. It was the squish that caused me to step away and look closer.

After brushing a few wet leaves away, I gagged instinctively. Four dirty fingers, one thumb. Gray finger nails. Chopped at the wrist.

Meanwhile, Puddles was going to town on that pile of leaves.

Having just stepped on a human hand that did not have a live body attached, my mind reeled at what the dog might have discovered. I yanked back hard on the leash, not even caring about poor Puddles’ neck in the process. He barely noticed. He just growled and shook the prize in his mouth like it was his chewy toy at home. In fact, when I focused more closely, it kind of looked like his chewy toy. The one that looks like a sausage but squeaks like a lab rat on mind-altering drugs. My first thought was did some other dog leave his sausage-shaped chewy toy in the woods? Don’t judge me. I’d just found someone’s hand half buried in the ground. I wasn’t in my right mind.

I was still working to hold back the strong impulse to unload my morning’s portion of organic, honey-sweetened oatmeal, when suddenly, logic struck me like a bolt of lightning.

I understood.

That was no chewy toy in my dog’s mouth.

That friends, was another body part.

A male-only body part, if you catch my drift.

And unfortunately, even if the male, to whom it once belonged, was alive and could get it back, he’d probably say, “No thanks,” since Puddles was . . . how should I put this? Finding it awfully tasty.

Welcome to just another day in my crazy life. I’m Barbara Marr: wife, friend, daughter, and mother-of-three. Unfortunately, it would seem that I’m also and ridiculously prone to stumbling upon killer debris.


  1. Awesome, Karen! Can’t wait to read the rest. I know what I will be doing when I am supposed to be Christmas shopping…

  2. Pamela Hargraves

    Wow, can’t wait to read to read the rest!!!1

  3. Thank you for this peek at Saturday Night Cleaver. Now I’m REALLY impatient for December 7 to arrive !!

  4. Love it..you tease.

  5. Oh you are so gooooood!!! Thanks for sharing, Karen!

  6. I’m so excited to read the whole thing!

  7. I can’t…I just can’t…if I start then I’ll start going crazy wanting to finish it. I’m just going to close this window and pretend this post didn’t happen. 😉

  8. Anonymous

    I loved this first chapter. I can’t wait for the book to come out.