Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Gallo Ripple and a Knight in Shining Armor

The inside of Holly Hocks was as dreamlike as the back lawn was magical. The home was so large, it had a ball room, which went back to its original design in the early 1800's. Naturally, Ivy Lane was Bunny's home now. It was all she had of Harrison, and she felt his love there everyday. That said, the lawn at Holly Hocks was also special because that was where she first spent time with Harrison. The sweeping carpet of thick green St. Augustine grass that slowly made its way to the river, was the first time she realized that someone really wanted to spend time with her. It was Harrison's choice. He wasn't embarrassed to be with her. But now, all she had was memories.

Her deep thoughts were interrupted by Mike, "I brought you a glass of champagne. I do not know enough about wine to feel safe going there."

"You are a dear," Bunny said taking a sip. "How can you go wrong with champagne." As they stood there chatting, Sam and Della walked up. "Whoa!" said Mike. "Della, you have always been a good looking woman but tonight you are stunning."

Della gave Mike a short curtsy and thanked him. Mike looked at Sam,"Guess those rocks cost you a pay check or 2?"

Sam laughed,"No, I didn't buy them for her. However, worse yet, I fear her expectations have risen a bit." 

They all laughed. Just then Vivian and Terse walked up. If the men appreciated Della's stunning beauty in her deep green dress, red hair, and emeralds, they were speechless when they saw Vivian. Mike just stood there somewhat speechless. Luckily Sam could speak,"Vivian, that color looks divine on you. If Terse is an ass tonight, let me know and I'll be there to console you."

They all laughed when Della cocked an eye toward Sam and interrupted her conversation with Bunny. "Vivian, can take care of herself. Perhaps you need to have someone on standby to offer you solace if you stay on this track tonight."

Sam smiled and gave Della a kiss,"You know I'm smitten with you."

"Yes, but it never hurts to remind you." Sam gave a big hug.

Mike stepped up, "Well Vivian in that case, if Terse does something stupid, come find me, I'll take it for the team."

Bunny looked at him then looked at Vivian. "I'm not even going there." She laughed, "Y'all are all nuts."

Wade walked up and complimented everyone on the way they looked. Della said, "Thank you Charlie. And thank you for the tickets tonight. This is wonderful." Wade kissed each lady on her cheek, spoke to the men, then headed toward the bar.

"Charlie?" asked Sam.

Della giggled,"It's an inside joke."

Vivian added,"A long story."

Standing with Vivian and Della, Bunny looked like their Fairy God Mother. All she needed was a magic wand. But no one stared or snickered, or even commented behind her back. This was their Bunny.  Well, that was everyone but folks like Marcy and Tula.

Speaking of Marcy, of course she was there, but only as a date of an older man, with more money than charm or good looks. Marcy spoke badly about him behind his back, but with him, he could do no wrong. Anyone in their company would think she worshiped him. Close friends feared he would die an untimely death from an unfortunate incident.

Bunny excused herself to go to the Powder Room. On her way she ran into Marcy. Harrison had told her that Marcy felt guilty that Harrison had to escort her instead of Bunny to the Ball due to the rules of the Grand Assembly. In a way, she had always remembered that as a thoughtful thing for Marcy to say. They spoke. In the conversation, Marcy asked Bunny,"Can you do me a big favor?"

"Of course, I'll be glad to", said Bunny.''

"I'm waiting for my date, "said Marcy, "and it sounds silly, but I told him I would stay here with his things until he gets back. He always gets irritated at me because he says if he gets up to go to the bathroom, he has lost me for the evening."

Bunny laughed,"I've been accused of the same thing."

"Can you get me a glass of wine? They are serving different kinds, I want a red wine. They'll ask if you want a Cabernet, a Pinot Noir, or a Burgundy. Please tell them you want a 'Gallo Ripple'.

Bunny smiled, " 'Gallo Ripple'? I've never heard of that?"

"It's my favorite, not many people drink it."

"I'll be right back." Bunny scurried to the bar. Luckily there was only one person in the 2 lines for wine, while the full bar lines were 4 and 5 deep.

She walked up and a formally dressed bartender asked,"Yes mam, how can I help you?"

"I would like a glass of 'Gallo Ripple'?"

"Excuse me, what kind do you want?"

" 'Gallo Ripple' "?

"Is that a red or white?"

"A red," said Bunny thinking this must be a new or unsophisticated bartender.

"Please excuse me," and the bartender turned to his partner and explained his problem.

Then both bartenders were there trying to serve her. "Mam, would you like a Cabernet, a Pinot Noir, or a Burgundy?" He paused and added,"maybe, a Malbec?"

Bunny did not realize this would be so hard. "No, thank you, it is a 'Gallo Ripple'."

The first bartender looked at Bunny and smiled,"What does it taste like"

"I don't know. I've never had any. A friend of mine asked me to get  her a glass of wine and was very specific that she wanted a glass of 'Gallo Ripple'."

By this time many of the guests in line had picked up on Bunny's quandary. There were a few hushed chuckles. The first bartender knew he needed to do something to save this lady. Obviously, she was the butt of a cruel joke. He turned away where Bunny could not see him, poured a red wine glass half full of a Burgundy, then added some Bitters and cherry juice from the bar.

He returned to Bunny and gave her the glass and a napkin. "Mam, take this to your friend and make sure she taste it to ensure it is what she wanted."

"Thank you so much for helping me."

"You are welcome, bless you," said the bartender, curious as to what the story was behind the ripple and the Fairy God Mother costume.

Marcy was surprised when Bunny returned, even more so when she handed Marcy the glass of wine."It took a while for them to find it, but they did. The bartender said to make sure you tasted it to make sure it is the right thing."

Marcy just looked at the glass of wine. It couldn't be that bad. After all it was probably just a Cabernet, a Pinot Noir, or a Burgundy or maybe some combination of the later. Marcy swirled the glass, as if she knew what she was doing. Next she sniffed the wine. Then she took a good sip.

Immediately, Marcy spat out the wine, which went all over her white silk sheath dress. She looked at Bunny. "What the Hell is that?"

Before Bunny said anything, a voice over her shoulder said, "Your God Damn 'Gallo Ripple'. Doesn't it have the correct notes Marcy?"

Bunny turned around and saw Terse standing there with 3 glasses of champagne. "I am surprised that even you would try to embarrass someone like that. You are not a 13 year old, although you act like one."

Marcy looked at Terse with looks that would kill. "So you did this? Do realize how much this Carolina Herrera dress cost me?"

"No, I didn't do this. A very quick bartender did and I could not care less what that dress cost." He turned to Bunny,"You OK?"

"I am now."

"Here," he handed her a glass of champagne. I need to get you back to the group. We were all worried where you were?"

"Thanks Terse."

"That's what friends are for. By the way I wanted to thank you for sharing the jewelry with Vivian and Della. It has made a nice evening even more special."

"I'm glad they are enjoying it."

They found the others. Terse made a comment about how difficult it was to get through the groups of people. He said he had found Bunny stuck in the crowd. "Someone had to save her!" he laughed.

"Terse was my knight in shining armor."

At that point they heard their host asking everyone to find their tables for dinner and be seated. As they started looking for their places, Wade spotted them. "Our table is #8, over here." He pointed toward the left side of the large ballroom. The group moved toward the table.

Mike said,"I don't know about y'all, but I'm starved."

Sam laughed,"Me too, but I have never left Holly Hocks hungry."

Della looked at them, "I think y'all are always hungry."

Across the room, the Colonel put his hand behind Winfred's back,"Let's find our table." The Colonel whispered in her ear, "My dear, you have left me breathless this evening."

Just then, Clark Hocks found them in the crowd, "Colonel, you and," he paused just a second,"Winfred will be sitting with us at the head table, if you will follow me."

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Harry Winston Jewels and a Black Bow Tie Event

Wade walked into the rental office in the morning."Good morning ladies."

Della laughed,"You sound like Charlie, so that must make us your angels."

Wade shook his head, "Something like that." He put 2 tickets on Della's desk. As he did, Bunny walked into the room. He handed 2 tickets to her also. "I thought y'all would enjoy this."

Della and Bunny looked at the tickets. Before they could ask, Wade offered,"These are tickets to the Gallagher Historic Society's annual dinner. Usually it is a nice affair. The Butlers host it at Holly Hocks, so you know it will be a nice time."

Vivian walked in the front door. Wade handed her 2 tickets also and explained what they were for. All three ladies thanked him.

Wade laughed,"Obviously they are for you 'plus one'. Isn't that the new thing - 'plus one'?"

The Vivian and Della laughed with Wade. Bunny didn't get it. Della smiled and said,"Bunny, 'plus one' means the invitation is for you and the one other person you wish to bring with you. Like a date."

Vivian offered,"Like, Mike!"

"Oh," said Bunny. "I always wondered what that meant."

Wade just smiled and shook his head. Before he walked out the door, he added, "Oh, and Col Walker is the evening's speaker. Even though I know y'all are 3 naturally beautiful women, let's close the office at 2 this afternoon - just in case y'all may need some time."

They all thanked him and told him goodbye. Wade left.

As it was, the dinner was that evening. Della laughed,"Good thing we did not have plans for tonight." She looked at the invitation."Oh my, it is black tie."

"That means that Mike needs to wear a black bow tie, right?" asked Bunny.

"That means Mike needs to wear a tuxedo, if he has one. And if not, his best suit. And, you need to wear a formal dress."

"Oh," said Bunny trying to remember what dress she had like that. "I'm sure I have something to wear."

"Bunny, it will not matter what dress you wear, your jewelry will be gorgeous."

Bunny had not even thought about the jewelry. But, she did know she needed to figure out what she was going to wear that evening. She called Mike to tell him about the invitation, hoping he could go.

"Of course I can go. And, believe it or not I have a tuxedo."

"How did you know it was black bow tie?"

"Because that dinner is always black tie," Mike laughed. Her comment just reminded him of why he adored her. "What if I pick you up at 6?"

"That would be great. See you then." They rang off.

Just as she had called Mike, Della had called Sam, and Vivian had called Terse. Everyone was set to go. The ladies discussed what they would wear. Della had a deep green dress that would look great with her red hair. Vivian said she was going to wear a dark blue one that she loved. One would think it was the prom the way the ladies discussed hair styles, shoes, etc.

At lunch, Bunny went home and pulled her jewelry out of the safe. It always surprised her how beautiful it all was. She selected a tiara, a necklace dripping with diamonds, and matching earrings. While she had the jewelry out, she took her time and looked through it. Carefully she put the jewelry she wasn't using that evening back into the box and locked the safe.

Back at the office, she pulled out a small cloth bag and placed it on Della's desk.  Della just looked at her with a quizzical expression. "I thought this might go well with your dress tonight."

Della opened the bag to find an emerald necklace, earrings, and matching bracelet. "Oh, Bunny!" Della said stunned. "Are these . . .?"

"Yes, they are part of Mary's collection. I thought it would be a good night for you to enjoy them also."

"I don't know what to say?"

"Nothing, I can't wait to see them on you. Just enjoy them."

"I promise I'll get them back to you tonight," Della said excitedly.

"I think sometime next week will do."

Della carefully picked up the jewels, still in awe of what she was holding.

Vivian walked in, saw what was on Della's desk and gasped,"Oh, my God Della, those are spectacular. Are those yours. . . to wear tonight?"

Before Della could say anything, Bunny handed Vivian a small bag.  Vivian carefully opened it. She looked at Della. "Oh!" She pulled out a blue sapphire set of earrings and matching choker. "Bunny!!" The looked closely at the pieces. "These look like Harry Winston pieces."

"They are, whatever that means." Bunny explained the story behind the jewelry. Vivian gave her a big hug. 

Della laughed,"There is only one problem - no one will think they are real."

"I don't care. They will make me feel special." said Vivian, still looking at the sapphires.

Bunny looked at Vivian,"You are special. You do not need sapphires to make you feel that way."

By this time it was 2 and they closed the office. At home Bunny looked through her closet. Mary had many lovely long dresses, but they were all just not that fancy. Bunny just did not think they were correct for a 'black tie' event. Then she came across a dress she knew was perfect. Of course, what was she thinking? She pulled it out.

The gown she never got to wear, the one she bought for the Grand Assembly Ball. She hung the dress from the top of the closet door.  There it was in all its splendor - the purple polyester dress with lace detail on the skirt. She had almost forgotten the amount of tulle that made it look like it had a hoop skirt underneath. The jewelry was a perfect match.

Winfred had known for weeks that the Colonel was the speaker at the Historic Society dinner. She also knew she needed something really nice to wear. Needless to say, even though her 20th century wardrobe was expanding, she had not gotten into formal wear.

On the morning of the dinner Winfred was at loose ends. She still had not found anything to wear. She had taken the day off since she knew it was important to the Colonel. When she showed up at the Gentleman's Club that morning, Anna Belle knew there was some issue. Winfred explained her situation to Anna Belle. Anna Belle just laughed,"I think I can solve that problem for you. Follow me."

Anna Belle led Winfred upstairs into a bedroom at the end of the hall that Winfred had never been in. Anna Belle opened the doors to a large closet and disappeared inside. It wasn't 2 minutes before she emerged with an armful of clothes. "I think these should fit. And I think any of them will look spectacular on you."

Anna Belle spread the dresses across the bed. Winfred had seen gowns like this in fancy magazines but never in real life. "Oh, come on," said Anna Belle,"try them on. Let's see which one best suits you."

As Winfred tried on gown after gown, she felt like a little girl playing dress up. Finally, they agreed on a sequined covered peach colored gown that fit her well without being too revealing, but was still alluring. Winfred was thrilled and, once again, indebted to Anna Belle. Naturally, Anna Belle was more than happy to make someone else happy.

Winfred was so proud of the Colonel. Speeches to historic societies, like this one he was going to give that evening, was when he was at his best. Even with his eccentricities, he really was a fine man. When she emerged from the bedroom, the Colonel was almost speechless. "Winfred, my dear, you will truly be the belle of the ball tonight." She thanked him, they walked to the car, and he opened the door for her. As soon as she was settled in, he got in the driver's side, they started toward Holly Hocks.

"Come to think of it, I do not know anything about the Butlers. Who are they, besides the owners of Holly Hocks? I do not even know their names?" Winfred laughed. 

"Well, they are Mr. and Mrs. Davis Clark Hocks III. His wife's name is Adair. They are both so nice, interested in historic preservation, and philanthropy." The Colonel paused. "But is not just our hosts, there will so many people there tonight who are key to supporting the historic preservation of the area. Keep that in mind," he said with a wink.

They arrived at Holly Hocks, and drove up the long drive lined with tall ancient cedars. As they approached the house, the Colonel stopped. A gentleman opened Winfred's door and helped her out. The Colonel gave his keys to the young man on his side of the car. All the cars would be valet parked. The Butlers would never dare have a guest tonight worry about parking.

Winfred stood at the steps looking at the lovely antebellum mansion. Thankfully a few of these were spared the ravages of the war and all the other natural disasters that had followed. The Colonel came to her side and they walked up the steps together. Once they got in the front door, there was a small line of guests waiting to greet the hosts.

While they waited, Winfred looked around at the architectural detail, the fine art, and the rich colors of the grand hall. The large crystal chandeliers overhead, cast a gentle bright but elegant light onto the room. Finally they reached their hosts. Winfred introduced herself to Adair Hocks, a lovely red headed lady, who had aged very well. Adair offered her hand and with genuine warmth welcomed Winfred to Holly Hocks. She turned to her right and introduced her husband. "Clark, this is Winfred Walker, she is the wife of our distinguished speaker this evening."

Clark Hocks offered his hand to Winfred,"So nice to meet you."

Winfred took his hand, smiled, and said, "You also. I have heard so much about Holly Hocks. I am looking forward to this evening."

His long look at Winfred ended only when she turned to her right, "Mr. Hocks, this is my husband, Colonel Walker."

"Our speaker!" Clark said enthusiastically. "We are so looking forward to your talk tonight."

"Thank you sir, I just appreciate being invited." Winfred and the Colonel moved along. Winfred was relieved when they immediately ran into one of the Colonel's fellow history buffs. As the Colonel rattled on about some newly learned nugget of some battle 150 years ago, she did not have to say a word.

Winfred needed a chance to catch her breath and compose herself. She had no idea that one of her favorite clients, she knew as 'DC' , was in real life Mr. Davis Clark Hocks III. No doubt Clark was surprised to see that 'Sara' was Winfred and married to Colonel Walker. This should make for an interesting evening.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Then the Knight of Cups Appeared

A strange woman appeared on the streets of Gallagher. Her unmistakable thick accent affirmed she was from the bayou. But, more than her accent, her costume could not help but attract attention. The black caftan that flowed from her neck to the ground and the colorful gillie she wore on her head, were hard to ignore. Being polite,  ladies who passed her on the sidewalk acknowledged her with a 'Hello' or 'Good Morning' and the gentlemen did so with the polite nod of their head.

Yes, Reeza was in town. She moved with purpose as if she was on a mission. Knowing who she needed to see, but not sure where they were, she needed directions. When she saw 2 men getting into an Alabama State Government car, she asked them, "Could you tell me where the Sheriff's office is?"

The Chief State Inspector apologized, "No mam, I'm afraid I cannot help you. This is my first visit here."

Rezza thanked him and saw she was in front of The Goodness Gracious Tea Room. She opened the door and took a look around. 'What a surprise to find this here' she thought looking at the sophisticated setting with the crisp linens, silver, and fine china. Caroline saw her enter and went to greet her and tell her they were not open yet, but if she wanted to have a seat, it would not be long. Reeza said,"What a lovely place." Then Reeza turned to face Caroline,"I'm much obliged, unfortunately, I do not have time for tea now, but I would love to come back."

"Well we hope you do?" 

"But, I do need some help." Reeza added.

"Of course," said Caroline with a smile.

"I am looking for the Sheriff's office."

"Oh, that is easy, you are very close." With that Caroline gave her very precise directions to the station. Then she added, "I hope nothing is wrong."

"Oh, no," said Reeza with a smile. "I just need to speak with him. Thank you so much. Have a kind day." Caroline wished her a good day and Reeza left.

Hattie has been watching Caroline's encounter with Reeza. "Whad' she want?"

"Directions, why?"

Hattie was standing at the door of the kitchen with her hands on her hips,"That woman's no good."

"Hattie, granted she dressed a bit eccentrically. But I found her very pleasant."

"She can be trouble."

"Do you know her?" asked Caroline.

"Don't have to. Her bad juju entered with her."

Blanche walked up to join the conversation, "Juju? What the heck is Juju?"

"That there lady is a priestess!"

"A priestess?" exclaimed Caroline.

"Yes mam. A Voodoo priestess from the bayou. She up to no good - being she's in town."

Blanche smiled at Hattie, knowing Hattie did not make such declarations without grounds."Do we need to sprinkle garlic on the door step, carry around old amulets, or special crystals?"

Hattie's face showed she found no humor in Blanche's comment.

Caroline asked,"Blanche, how do you know so much about heading off Voodoo?"

"My Grandmother used to talk about it when I was little. She would tell me all these stories about Voodoo, you know tales of Marie Laveau and Tarot cards."

As Hattie turned to go back into the kitchen, she just said, "Y'all ain't takin' me seriously. This is not sumpon you want to mess with."

Just as Caroline said, the Sheriff's office was just a few blocks away. Mary Lou was used to seeing all kinds of folks walk into the office, but Reeza was in a different category. "May I help you?" she asked as Reeza approached her desk.

"Yes," Reeza said in her matter of fact serious tone. "I need to speak with the Sheriff." Hearing that unmistakable voice, the Sheriff came out of his office before Mary Lou could ask for her name.

"Reeza, this must be important for you to emerge from the bayou."

Reeza turned back to Mary Lou,"Thank you dear." Then to the Sheriff she said, "We need to talk. You need to hear me."

She followed him into his office. The Sheriff offered her a seat. Not one to mince words, Reeza started talking before he could sit down "We have problem." 

"I'm listening," said the Sheriff seriously, knowing first, he had no choice and secondly, he was curious as to what rabbit hole she was going down.

"It is about the Widow Barker." She held up her hand to stop the Sheriff from saying anything. "Yes, I know she is in a facility in Montgomery but the cards have spoken."


"There is a cloud in her future. I am very concerned. There is good, the Ace of Swords tells me that the Widow's mind and karma are finally achieving realization, clearness, objectivity. She is getting much better. However," Reeza raised her hand with its long bony fingers tipped with bright red polish - telling the Sheriff not to speak yet. "Then the Knight of Cups appeared. This is where the evil starts."

Reeza paused, took a breath, looked to the ceiling as if she were gathering strength from up above. "The King of Cups is the card of a homecoming - not the Widow's. It usually foretells the prodigal son returning after a long estrangement."

The Sheriff interrupted, "The Barkers had no children that we were aware of. We talked with their friends and looked carefully for signs of pictures etc. during our search of the house when she was a suspect in his death. As far as I know, nothing was found."

"It doesn't have to be a child," Reeza said and her eyes changed from blue to green, like a cat's.

She continued."The next card, the 10 of Disks surprised me. It represents wealth and security. I never thought of her as a woman of means."

"She isn't as far as I know." Then the Sheriff paused. "Although, now that I think of it, I'm not sure how her medical expenses are being paid. The facility she is in is not cheap."

"When the 9 of Disks appeared, followed by the 9 of Swords, I knew I had to advise you." She paused, something she did not need to do because she had the Sheriff's attention." The 9 of Disks foretells greed, materialistic thinking, abuse, and exploitation, while the 9 of Swords brings on cruelty."

"So let me get this straight", said the Sheriff with his elbows on his desk, "You are telling me the Widow is getting better, but someone is getting ready to return into her life, someone we know nothing about. And that this prodigal person is going to be cruel and exploit her wealth. Wealth that we are unaware of."

"I haven't gotten to the last card."

All the Sheriff could think of was the wailing, the shot gun, the dead deer, the blood, the fire, and the Widow's mysterious disappearances. What else could there be?

"The 3 of Cups tells me that there is wellness, pleasure, and fulfillment in the Widow's future."

"Wow," said the Sheriff as he leaned back in his chair. "I'm not sure what to say?"

Reeza stood up and her green eyes now glowed yellow,"Don't say anything, do something. Be happy I came to you." She started to the door. 

The Sheriff stood to walk her out. "And, you still have not met the Widow Barker?"

Reeza turned back to face the Sheriff, "No, I do not need to. Good day Sheriff."

The Sheriff was telling her how much he appreciated her help, but she did not hear him. She was wrapping her caftan around her and moving swiftly toward the door.

Mary Lou looked at the Sheriff, "OK, there is a story here and I need to hear it."

Just then Mike walked in. Mary Lou asked, "You just missed Reeza."

"Actually I'm sure you saw her outside, she left less than a minute ago." said the Sheriff.

"Even if I did, how would I recognize her?"

At the same time, the Sheriff and Mary Lou said,"Oh, you'd recognize her."

Friday, December 8, 2017

Closed Until Further Notice

Needless to say all the ladies in town were thrilled at the idea of a Tea Room. Many of them had just heard tell over the years of Caroline's grand affairs and Hattie's sumptuous cuisine. Although many women had seen the results of Blanche's talent with decor, few had actually met her. But, one thing everyone knew - if these 3 ladies were opening a Tea Room, it would be done well, done right, and something no one should miss.

Blanche and Caroline tried to make sure everyone got invited to the soft opening. They wanted it understood from the get go that the Tea Room was not just for the ladies from the older families in town, the more well heeled families in the area, or even those who ran around with the either of the later. Their Tea Room was open to anyone who was dressed appropriately, civilized, and had a few dollars. They made sure that there was something for everyone. When Caroline and Hattie first sat down to work on a menu, it was most important that a reasonable price point was included.

Blanche laughed when they talked about it. "You know there are women in this town who will not darken these doors when they learn this is not an exclusive club."

"Well so be it," said Caroline,"that will just keep us from having to deal with their bluster." As for men, they were not sure how men would feel about it. Even though the establishment was designed with ladies in mind, the gentlemen were more than welcome.

Sure enough, Tula, along with some other ladies in town, did not even wait for the opening before declaring the Tea Room to be nothing special, just a place for 'common' people - nothing to see here, move along. Blanche happened to run into Tula the Thursday before the opening, she made sure Tula understood that, it was true, their Tea Room was not an exclusive club. If Tula did not feel comfortable in those surroundings, Caroline and Blanche's feelings would not be hurt. They would not want her to be forced to socialize with those she felt were beneath her. (Or worst yet, everyone else have to deal with her.)

That Friday morning at 10 O'clock the ladies were shocked. When they opened the doors to the Tea Room there was such a large crowd of folks waiting, Caroline and Blanche were not sure they could seat them all. Everyone was dressed very nicely. Some of the ladies wore their best Sunday hats. Others had even worn their gloves.

All those who came were seated and served. Luckily, Caroline and Blanche were prepared, just in case they had a crowd, and had some extra help trained and on hand to assist. Hattie had prepared extra scones and sandwiches. Looking at the crowd sitting at the tables, Caroline was thrilled. From where she stood everyone was enjoying themselves.

Blanche and Caroline made their way around the room trying to speak to as many of their guests as they could. Most were complimentary and looking forward to returning. Many had questions about the teas and coffees. By 2 o'clock the last of the patrons had left and Caroline locked the door and put up the 'Closed' sign.

"Wow," said Blanche,"we did it. I think this is going to be a success."

"That is if it doesn't kill us first," laughed Hattie.

The 3 of them finally sat at a table enjoying a cup of coffee and reflecting on the soft opening. There was very little they would change. Perhaps they would need to take reservations during the more popular times on the busier days, but they would have to figure that out.

They knew they needed more help and to train the new staff well. And they needed them this weekend so they would be ready Monday for the grand opening. Naturally they would ask those who had helped that day first. They had been very careful in selecting them initially. The 3 of them made a list of others they thought would make a good fit. Hattie weighed in that she could use help in the kitchen. Caroline laughed,"Honey, you get whatever and whomever you need."

Blanche looked at Hattie and smiled,"We cannot do this without you. We want a happy Hattie."

They all laughed, Caroline added,"Hell, I'll help if you need me, just let me know."

Hattie laughed again,"I don't think that will be necessary."

That afternoon they received calls from 2 mothers of brides who wanted to book the extra room at the Tea Room for bridal luncheons, 1 mother wanted to book it for her daughter's 16th birthday, and another lady wanted to know if they did outside catering. (They politely declined the catering request. They had enough on their plates as it was.)

Monday morning, well before they opened at 10:30, there was a knock at the door. Caroline went to the door, prepared to politely explain that they were not ready for business that morning and hoped the kind customers would return at 10:30. To her surprise she found the two men standing there. They introduced themselves as the Chief Alabama State Health Inspector and his associate.  Caroline introduced herself and invited them in. 

Naturally, the first thing she did was offer them tea or coffee. Both declined. "Mrs. Hollingsworth," said the Chief Inspector. "You are the proprietor of this business, right?" 

Caroline replied,"Yes, along with 2 other ladies."

"And, we understand you opened your business last Friday."

"Well," Caroline smiled, "we had our soft opening. Our actual first day of business is today."

"Mrs. Hollingsworth, I'm afraid we are going to have to close your business for the time being."

Caroline politely protested,"Sir, I do not understand. We passed the inspection with your department just last week and received the highest rating."

"Yes, mam. I see that you did." The Chief said as he looked at his notes. "Unfortunately, that was before Friday."

By this time Blanche had joined the group and asked,"What about Friday?"

Caroline introduced Blanche as one of the other owners and repeated Blanche's question,"What about Friday?"

"Well, we have had 3 very disturbing complaints from customers who were here on Friday?"

Blanche calmly looked at him,"Such as?"

"Well, one lady saw a mouse in the ladies room. That is a major violation." He looked at his notes again. "Another said that there were roach droppings in her coffee cup."

Caroline looked at the Chief, "That is odd that we did not receive any complaints from the patrons. After we closed, we had a meeting with the servers and other staff. We specifically asked about any issues they observed or heard about. There were no issues like this voiced."

Blanche asked,"And the 3rd?"

"Oh, your State Health Rating sticker was on the right side of your door, not the left, where we specifically require it be displayed."

Carolina started to say 'seriously?' but held her tongue. She did ask,"OK, even if  none these accusations are true, but the complaints were made, what do we need to rectify this situation?" 

"Well, like I said, you will be closed for now. A sign will be placed on the front making it clear that the business has been closed by the Alabama State Health Department due to infractions until further notice. Then we will need to do a complete inspection of the premises and interviews with the staff. After all this has been done, we will make our decision."

"And how long will this take?"

"Several days."

"You've got to be kidding," Caroline finally lost her patience. "Sir that will put us out of business."

Blanche asked,"Can you tell us who made this report?"

"No mam, their identity is protected."

Caroline looked at Blanche, "You and Hattie call the staff who were here Friday and get them down here as soon as possible." She looked at the Chief, "If we are going to suffer through this, then we are going to do everything you want us to do, as quickly as we can - with a smile." She gave the Chief an honest smile. "This is a bunch of bull shit and I'll find out who did it."

The Chief hesitated,"Normally, it would take us a day or 2 before we could even start the process, however, I can see you are a force to be reckoned with. So I think," he looked at his Associate,"we can start on this now."

The Associate headed toward the door. The Chief asked, "Where are you going?"

"To get the sign out of the car to post on the door, saying the Health Department has closed them down."

"I don't think that will be necessary."

The Chief asked Caroline and Blanche to walk him around the building starting with the kitchen. They introduced him to Hattie. Her eyes went wide when she learned who he was. "Chief, I can assure you I run a clean kitchen. That is one thing my mama beat into my head,'we may be poe, but we are clean'."

The Chief laughed,"That is very obvious. This is an impressive kitchen." He turned to the ladies and indicated with his arm that he was ready to move on. Then he turned to Hattie,"It was very nice to meet you. I can assure you next time, I'm in town I'm going to stop by. No doubt you are one heck of a cook."

"Thank you sir," Hattie said much relieved.

They showed him the main dining room. the butler's pantry where the serving pieces, silver ware, and china were kept and the cabinets, where all the linens were stored - all nicely pressed. They took him into the extra room. He asked what it was used for, and they explained it to him. 

He said he did not need to go upstairs since that was not part of the business. They moved back into the dining room. He made some notes on his pad. "I have to say I am very impressed. You ladies have put together a good operation here."

Caroline smiled, "Don't you need to see the Powder Room?"

The Chief laughed,"I guess so. My report needs to be complete."

They showed the room to him and returned to the front of the dining room. "Off the record, I agree it does look like someone turned you in under false pretenses." He paused, "We take that very seriously. It is a waste of our time and can be disastrous to your business. As far as I'm concerned, if anyone asked me, or you for that matter, if I was here or why I was here, I just came to try your coffee."

"Well, our offer of fresh coffee stills stands."

"I'm sure it does and I regret that I turned it down when it was first offered. We have another stop, one that no doubt, is going to take us several days." He walked to the door and offered his hand to both of them. "Ladies, this has been a pleasure. I'll be back, but, I can assure you, not on business." He walked out.

It was 10:15. Blanche looked at Caroline,"I need a drink."

Caroline laughed,"No kidding. And, after that I want to kill someone."

But they had time for neither because when they opened the door, once again, they found a small crowd eager for tea, coffee, Hattie's fare.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Goodness Gracious Tea room

It was rare that something new happened in Gallagher, well one exception being Anna Belle's Club. However this week 2 citizens from the grander families in town were opening a tea room. Naturally, it would not be just any tea room, but one in the downstairs of a Victorian home on the main street. These women had been planning it for years. There was an additional room that could be used for private parties.

Caroline (Mrs. Paten Ratliff (Paten) Hollingsworth III) was well known for the dinners, balls, teas, luncheons, and cocktail parties she had at their grand home. She was the ultimate hostess. Her secret was Hattie. Caroline was a very good cook. Hattie was even better. She had started working for them as a young woman when the Hollingsworths were in their 50's.

Hattie had initially worked for Caroline's in-laws, Mr. and Mrs. Paten Ratliff Hollingsworth, Jr. When they no longer needed a cook, Caroline swooped in and employed Hattie before anyone knew the cook was available. Caroline's 2 sister-in-laws were still peeved over her quick move. They called her action, underhanded at best .

Hattie's mother had worked for Olivia Hampton (Mrs.Quinton Gallagher Hampton Jr - Wade's grandmother) for years. Caroline had taken advantage of what Hattie had learned, as a little girl holding onto her mother's apron strings, and from 'Miss' Olivia. In addition to all that valuable experience Caroline had time to hone Hattie's skills. Now the presentation was as lovely as the food was delicious. Hattie loved to cook and Caroline had given her free rein of the kitchen and the family's menus. It was a good call. Hattie prepared incredible meals using a combination of traditional food from the South, recipes her elders had brought from the West Indies, and Creole flavors.

Even though the Hollingsworth house was now an empty nest, Caroline had continued entertaining on the same grand scale. But with the kids gone, Hattie had plenty of time to work with Caroline on her new project. Caroline knew that her entertaining skills paired with the well known culinary skills of Hattie, would be successful at any food enterprise they decided to undertake.

Caroline's partner in this endeavour was Blanche, (Mrs. Royce Royal (Roy) Sullivan Jr.). The Sullivans were another one of the old families of Gallagher, like the Hollingsworths and the Hamptons, they were descendants of the original founders of the Grand Gallagher Assembly. Blanche was known for her panache and flare in decorating. She had a unique style that was the envy of all the ladies in town. Roy's great grandfather had made a windfall from investments  in oil and coal. He then invested the earnings in lucrative and safe investments, including, the then new, power companies. This incredible wealth had the family set. They were well off for generations to come.

Caroline and Blanche spent several months carefully planning their new business. Details were important - from the sources of the best international teas and coffees to the toilet paper hangers in the ladies Powder Room. Both ladies had several sets of sterling patterns that they had inherited. One of Blanche's hobbies had been collecting fine china cup and saucers with matching salad plates. She had dozens. Those together with the pieces from the unused extra fine china sets each lady had also inherited, gave them enough for the tea room. Blanche continued scouring EBay for additional pieces to add to their supply.

They had their eyes on the old Adkinson home, a large early 1900's Victorian house that was in excellent condition. The late Mrs. Adkinson was the last to live in the house. She had passed away a year earlier. Caroline had learned that the heirs wanted to get rid of the house, so it was for sale, an unknown fact to most folks in town. Blanche bought the house for cash at a price that was a fraction of its worth. In addition to Roy's family's wealth, Blanche had her own family money. She saw this as another investment to add to her portfolio.

Soon Hattie had the kitchen brought up to her standards and the larder stocked with what she needed. Blanche had put the final touches on the decorations. She selected fine Fitzgerald Irish linens, contracted with Lavenia's House of Lilies and Lavender to provide fresh flowers twice a week, and made sure the business had  both a reputable and dependable repairman and a cleaning person on staff.

Caroline had made sure there was enough china and silver, as well as serving pieces to handle as many guests as the establishment  could hold. Hattie suggested an initial menu of little sandwiches (naturally with the crust off), small muffins, scones, and wafers. All three of the ladies had researched, tasted, and selected premium teas and coffees that they felt would most likely be enjoyed by their clientele.

The women put together a guest list for the soft opening on a Friday. The Grand Opening would be the following Monday. When all the details were taken care of and the invitations sent out, Caroline and Blanche walked through the rooms, making sure every small detail was taken care of. The Goodness Gracious Tea House and Social Parlor was ready for business.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Bungee Bungee Jungle Virus

The following morning Dr. Magill went to the Sheriff's station to update him on the Widow Barker. "I was able to get her into a good facility in Montgomery. She will be in excellent hands there. The doctor who handled her initial check-up assured me that he thought she could fully recover from this state that she is in."

"Well, maybe that 'fun' part of our life is over for now," said Mike.

The Sheriff turned and looked at him,"Never say never son."

"OK, well maybe I have seen that floating ghost for the last time."

The Sheriff laughed. Dr. Magill looked puzzled. The Sheriff explained,"Apparently, in all the to-do with the Widow Barker, there was a ghost moving about."

"A ghost? Seriously?" asked Dr. Magill.

"You have to ask Mike. He is the only one who saw it. The only one, that I am aware of," said the Sheriff. "And he saw it twice."

Dr. Sadler turned to Mike,"I'm most interested, please fill me in."

Mike described seeing the 'ghost' for the first time, just before or after the Widow was aiming her shot gun at him. "The figure was clear, yet looked white. It had a face but nothing on the face. It did not walk, it just floated."

"And the 2nd time?"

"It was the following time we went to the Barker house - the time she escaped from your clinic. I just caught sight of the ghost out of the corner of my eye as it moved around the corner of the house."

"Have you seen it since?"

"Thank God, no. Twice was enough for my life time."

Dr. Magill said, "Give me a moment." With that the doctor walked out to his car and returned with his medical bag.

The Sheriff smiled,"You think something's wrong with his head also?"

"No, but Mike if you don't mind, I'd like to examine you."

"Sure," Mike said not knowing where this was going.

Dr. Magill held Mike's face in his 2 hands. He felt the top of his head. "Does any part of your head hurt?"

"No, sir."

"Any ear problems, pain, problems hearing?"

"No, sir."

"You don't wear glasses do you?" Dr. Magill said as he reached into his medical bag.

"No sir. I just had my eyes checked 3 months or so ago. My vision is 20/20 in both eyes."

Dr. Magill started examining Mike's eyes. "Wish I could say the same thing." He pointed to a small flash light into one of Mike's eyes. "Look up," he paused. "Look down," he paused again. "Now left, now right." Dr. Magill did the same thing to Mike's other eye. Then the doctor backed up.

Dr. Magill did a few more tests on Mike's reflexes, asked him about any recent illnesses he had had. Then he put his things back in your bag.

"Is my Deputy right in the head Doc?" asked the Sheriff with no seriousness in his voice.

"Oh, the issue is in his head, but he's fine."

"What?" asked Mike surprised.

"Didn't you have that virus last month. The one we never could identify?" Doctor Magill asked Mike. The Doctor continued," Now, there's no doubt in mind, you had the 'Belladonna mottle virus'."

"What the heck is that?" asked Mike.

"It is an odd virus only southerner's get. Some folks get very sick with it, others like you, just feel bad for several days and get over it quickly. Looking back on it - that purple rash that was only on the top of your left hand and the head ache you had only on the left side of your head are sure signs of the virus."

"So what does this have to do with the ghost."

"The 'Belladonna mottle virus' also effects your eyes. Most people have blurred vision for days, even after they feel better. However, another side effect on one's eye sight can be 'Sporatic Blurred Motion Effect'."

Mike just stood there, not having a clue what Dr. Magill was saying.

The Doctor continued."Stress makes the issue worst. 'Sporatic Blurred Motion Effect' causes small blurry pieces of film to break off and move across your eye. Usually, they move so quickly, one doesn't see them. A person just thinks they have something in their eye. In your case, I think the stress of suddenly running into the Widow Barker, caused it. However, in your case the piece did not move as fast as usual. A small piece of film going across your eye could have looked just like what you described as the ghost ."

"What about the 2nd incident? I wasn't stressed then."

"Like I said, it can happen anytime."

"You said you saw it in the corner of your eye? If so, my guess is that that was another piece of film."

"Damn," said the Sheriff. "Who knew?"

"Certainly not me," said Mike.

The 3 men talked for a while then Dr. Magill left. The Sheriff looked at Mike, "How 'bout next time you come down with the bungee bungee jungle virus you just stay home. I've never heard of a virus making you see ghosts."

The Sheriff laughed,"Seriously, I'm glad that mystery is solved. I've got enough problems dealing with folks in the flesh than to have to deal with the spririts also."

With that, he and Mike went back to work.