"Donna! Where are you?"
Even through the fuzzy cell phone reception I could hear that Marcia Talley's voice was a bit frayed.
"I'm on I-270. Tony says we'll be there in ten minutes."
"What are you doing on 270?"
"Long story. I'll tell you when I get there."
It was the Monday after Malice Domestic, and Marcia and I, along with Rhys Bowen and Kate Flora, were embarking on one of the mystery writer's favorite spring pastimes: the post-Malice pilgrimage up to Oakmont, Pennsylvania, for the Mystery Lovers Bookshop's annual Festival of the Mystery. For mystery readers, this event's a paradise--Mary Alice and Richard rent the parish hall of a church near their store, invite forty mystery authors, haul in hundreds--maybe thousands--of those authors' books and throw a four-hour long book party. It's a pretty cool time for the writers as well--talking to fans, signing books, and seeing readers leaving the hall with shopping bags full of books.
But first we had to get there. Rhys, Kate and I had stayed at Marcia's house after the four of us and Sarah Rosett had done a signing Sunday night at an Annapolis Barnes and Noble. Marcia and I were both going to drive to Frederick, Maryland; park my car there; and take her car to Oakmont--Frederick being the point where, on our way home, I would be heading south to Reston while Marcia went southeast to Annapolis. Simple plan.
As we pulled out of Marcia's street, I realized that Tony, my GPS, wasn't getting a signal. Not unusual on a cloudy day, and he'd pick one up before long, and until then, I'd follow Marcia. No problem.
Except that after a few miles, I lost track of Marcia--the heavy rain and fog weren't ideal for caravanning--and Tony still didn't have a signal. I turned him off and then on again, which sometimes seems to help him find a signal. Still took a while, and I was looking for somewhere to pull over and wait when he finally spoke up. "Right turn ahead." (These days, he says this in John Cleese's voice, which usually cheers me up.)
I obediently did Tony's bidding for a few miles until I spotted a familiar landmark and realized we had a problem. Apparently when I'd turned him off, he'd forgotten about the address in Frederick where Marcia and I were supposed to meet and had reverted to our last successfully found destination--Marcia's house.
I uttered a few words you will never find in my books, and since I was on an interstate with no safe place to pull over for miles, drove with one hand while reprogramming Tony with the other.
Crisis averted. Tony began giving orders again, and I obediently followed . . . until I realized that instead of the due west course I had expected, Tony had me heading south. One-handed again, I clicked buttons to get a preview of the route he had planned. Tony, no! He was routing me onto the Washington beltway! Which was not only pocked with rain-induced accidents but clogged with large contingents of trucks trying to get downtown to participate in a rally to protest high gas prices.
I reached into my purse for my cell phone. Surely Marcia would have some suggestion on a better route.
Only my cell phone wasn't there. Had I left it at Marcia's house, or perhaps stuffed it in the suitcase that was packed in the trunk of her car?
I forged ahead with all the speed of an arthritic snail. Every time I glanced at Tony, my arrival time in Frederick had slipped another few minutes later, from 9:44 to 9:55 to 10:05 to . . .
Suddenly I felt a strange vibration near my right foot. Holy cow--was my car manifesting some strange new symptom of impending mechanical failure? Was it going to need expensive repairs when I got home? Or was it perhaps about to collapse into a thousand pieces right there on the interstate?
The vibrating came and went a few times, and I realized it was following a regular rhythm.
It was my cell phone. I'd had it on vibrate while attending panels at Malice, and apparently it had fallen on the floor and under my seat. Extricating it from under the seat wasn't the easiest thing in the world, but I managed, after a few miles of nerve-wracking writhing. I called Marcia back, gave her my ETA, and thank goodness, it was only another ten minutes before I pulled up beside Marcia's car and we started on the next leg of the trip.
With Marcia driving. Whew. The rest of the trip was a lot less uneventful.
Meg Langslow, my heroine, would never have been in this predicament to begin with. Before taking off, she would have made sure her GPS had a signal, compared its planned route with Marcia’s and made adjustments if necessary, and made sure that her cell phone was fully charged and within easy reach. (Which would make her pretty boring to write about if life didn’t keep strewing dead bodies in her path.)
So when my friends tell me that Meg reminds them of me . . . well, I’m flattered, but puzzled. Too me, all too often, life looks just like Monday’s mishap-filled trip to Frederick.