My Life A Bit South of Normal

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Down the Rabbit Hole

Cordelia picked Iris up on time. When they arrived at the Tea House, Cordelia had her regular table reserved, set with Hattie's best scones and other goodies. She introduced Iris to everyone. As Cordelia expected, they warmly welcomed her. A waitress came over. They ordered tea, some hot, some cold. To Cordelia's surprise, Iris ordered Rooibos. The waitress asked if she wanted it hot or iced. Iris gave her an odd look, "Iced? No thank you, I prefer mine hot. And would it be possible to get a slice of lime with that."

The ladies laughed at her reaction to the offer of "iced" tea. One of them quickly explained why the Tea Room had "expanded" to serve their tea hot or iced. Iris found this humorous.

When the tea was served, Iris, put a small bit of milk and sugar in it. She slowly stirred it with her sterling teaspoon, cooling it a bit. After taking a sip, she looked at Cordelia, "This is excellent tea. It is fresh and obviously prepared just right."

"It is surprising to have something so refined here in Gallagher," laughed Cordelia.

Iris was a bit embarrassed. "Oh, I meant no offense at all. I have just found that few places in the states have fresh tea and know how to properly prepare it and serve it." She took another sip. "This is a treat."

"You sound as if you have had tea elsewhere?"

Iris put her cup down. "Well, before I met John, I worked for an art house in London. My job gave me the opportunity to travel across the world in search of art. I fell in love with tea in England and would seek it out where ever I was." She smiled and took another sip.

"Really," said Cordelia. She laughed,"Maybe you can teach us. Hot tea is a new thing here and I, for one, would love to understand more about it." Iris could tell Cordelia was very sincere about this.

"Oh, I'm not an expert, by any means," said Iris a bit embarrassed. "It is just one of those things I found comforting as I traveled about. I am a curious sort, so I made a habit of learning as much about it as I could."

Several of the other ladies chimed in that they would love to learn more about tea. Iris told them she would love to share what she knew with them, but at a later time. "This afternoon, I'm just honored to be invited to enjoy your company."

The ladies continued talking. As southern ladies are so good at doing, they were able to learn much about Iris and her background, without making it into an inquisition.  That would have been rude. Caroline came over to the table to check on the ladies. Cordelia introduced Iris. "Well, welcome to our Tea Room. I hope we will see more of you."

"Oh, I can assure you that you will. This is excellent tea."

Caroline thanked her for her compliment, spoke to the other ladies, then excused herself to go check on Hattie. At 4:30, Caroline was back at the table. "Well 'Miss' Cordelia, it is 4:30. Would you like to change beverages"

"Oh, my dear, of course!" She turned to the ladies and smiled,"Ladies, high tea is over. Caroline and Blanche have decided to expand their fare. Every afternoon, between 4:30 and 6:00, they are offering a new menu."

Caroline passed out the menus. One lady asked, "A light dinner?"

Another lady, looking at the menu, said, in total delight,"No! Wine and Cordials! Oh, this is divine."

Everyone had a good laugh and took time to seriously look at the list of libations before them. The selection included a variety of champagnes, Mimosas, a good array of white wines, sherry, and cordials. The waitress came back with platters of Hattie's cheese straws, small biscuits, bite size mini spinach quiches, and a small plate with a selection of cookies. 

She took their orders. Just as she left, a nicely dressed young man came and cleaned their table. He was so professional, that he was able to move all the cups, silverware, glasses, and plates, as well as  scrape the crumbs and give each of them a fresh crystal goblet filled with iced water. All this was accomplished without disturbing their lively conversation.

The waitress was soon back with a tray carrying their afternoon spirits. When they were all served, before anyone took a sip, Cordelia stood up, "A toast, to our new friend, Iris, who is going to enlighten us about tea and to our new 'hour and a half of 'delightful spirits'."

The other ladies raised their glasses, "To Iris, tea, and delightful spirits." Then they took their first sip of what was going to be one of many. Their conversation had been lively, but as the afternoon went on, it became even more robust. Not rowdy mine you, these were southern women who maintained their comportment even while slightly inebriated. Caroline and Blanche watched from the hostess table with amusement.

"Well," said Caroline, "I think we have a success."

"And, thankfully, we have a window of service to be able to control this 'fun'. I can see this becoming a regular thing."

"At their age, they deserve it. They would not feel comfortable gathering at Dot's."

"Or, Anna Belles!" They both laughed and went back to work, folding towels and sorting clean linens.

Mr. Nome found himself standing on the sidewalk alone. He was sure he had seen a witch but the Sheriff's denial made him have second thoughts. What if her words were true? "Be careful of the questions you ask, there are secrets here you do not need to know, and a ghastly price you will pay for that knowledge." He would never forget those words and that voice. She had to be real, how could he have imagined such detail and what she said.

He made some notes about the encounter and what he had learned in the Starlight Diner. This little assignment was a bit more difficult than he imagined. Either Reginald Jackson was the town's favorite son, loved by all, who dressed out of GQ, lived on a trust fund, and surprised everyone with his talent for writing, or it was a conspiracy to cover up the truth. Was the witch correct? Were there 'secrets here [I] do not need to know' ?

Art started walking and talking to himself. "You are losing your mind. There was no witch. There may be be some secrets but there will be no price I will have to pay when I find them. That's my job. That's what I am good at - learning secrets." Thanks to his little pep talk he was ready to resume his assignment, determined to find out the real story on this Reginald Jackson. And why he was called Terse?

Both Wade, the man he met when he first got to town, and Frank, the jeweler suggested he visit the Tea Room for a ladies perspective. He made his way around the park to the Goodness Gracious Tea Room. 'Good God', he thought, 'Only in the south would they name a business such. I bet they have waitresses dressed like 19th century housemaids and hostesses reminiscent of Scarlet O'Hara. This should be interesting.'

Art opened the door to the Tea Room and walked in. He was surprised at what he saw. Instead of some tacky tourist trap or some place out of the 50's, he found himself in this elegant, but no over done, dining room. There were fresh flowers about. The tables were set with, what looked like, fine china, fine crystal, and sterling silver. Caroline welcomed him and seated him at a nice small table.

When he looked at the menu, he was even more surprised. There was a good selection of exotic teas. He ordered a cup of black tea. When the waitress brought him his tea, she also had a plate with blueberry scones on it. Caroline walked up. "Since you are visiting us, I thought  you might enjoy some of our scones. They are made in-house. Welcome to Gallagher."

If he thought he was going to complete this trip as a low profile assignment, possibly getting into Gallagher, getting his information, and getting out, without anyone knowing any different he was wrong. One would think his arrival in Gallagher set-off a town wide notification of his presence and his assignment. 

Art thanked her, although by now he was almost speechless. "Is there anything I can do for you?" asked Caroline.

"Well as a matter of fact, I am writing an article on Reginald Jackson, the novelist. Do you know him?"

Caroline smiled and sat down at the table. "I have known Terse since he was born. He comes from a wonderful family." She went on about how well he dressed, his education, and how surprised they all were when he turned out to be a best selling author.

Art looked up from his notes, "One question, why he is called 'Terse'?"

Caroline explained where the name came from and that it was a southern thing.

"Isn't there anything else about him, some incident that happened to him, the girl or guy he dates, who his friends are? You know, something interesting that the readers would be keen to learn."

"Well, he is very private. He keeps to himself and we respect that. He is extremely kind and generous and no doubt would do anything for you. Just this morning he was in here picking up a box of scones for his mother to serve at her book club. He is your all American guy. Well, let me rephrase that, he is your All American Southern guy."

They looked up and Hattie was walking toward the table. Caroline stood. "This is someone you need to meet. This is the chef who makes all our delightful pastries and other treats, including those scones," Caroline said as she pointed to the plate on Art's table. "We would not be here without her."

"Art, I would like you to meet Hattie. Hattie, this is Art Nome. He is here from New York writing a magazine article about Terse."

Art held out his hand. When Hattie shook it, she felt a cold shudder run down her back. Hattie turned to Caroline. "She's back."

Not remembering who she was referring to, Caroline asked, "Who's back?"

"That Voodoo priestess. The one we thought was gone once the Widow Barker was saved."

Art looked at them with an odd look on his face.

Hattie looked back at him. "You saw her, didn't you? Tall thin lady with a blood curdling laugh?"

Art just stood there and hesitantly asked, "Dressed in a purple robe with a head wrap?"

"That's her. Reeza is back amongst us"

"Who is she? Where did she come from?"

"She is the Voodoo priestess who only appears when she foresees problem or thinks she can offer solutions. She is of the dark. She comes from the evil side."

"So I really did see someone."

"Did she tell you anything?"

"Yes," Art took a breath. "She said, 'Be careful of the questions you ask, there are secrets here you do not need to know, and a ghastly price you will pay for that knowledge.' "

Hattie's face went pale. "You need to leave. She thinks you are too close to the truth."

"But that's my job to find the truth."

"Well, sir, then proceed at your own risk." Hattie turned and went back to the kitchen.

Art looked at Caroline, "What does she mean, 'I need to leave'? How would she know that?"

"Mr. Nome, I cannot tell you how Hattie knows what she knows, but she does have a gift. I don't believe in the spirits or Voodoo or whatever, but I would take her seriously."

"I think this is a conspiracy to run me out of town."

"Well, I cannot imagine why. We have no reason not to want you here."

Caroline walked away, Art finished his tea. As he was enjoying the scones, the table of ladies to his right caught his attention. They were obviously well to do by their dress and the way they carried themselves. They all had thick Southern accents and all but one was wearing a strand of pearls.

He listened to their banter. Then he realized that they were slightly inebriated. The ladies were telling stories about their husbands visiting the Gentlemen's Club. After a while he gathered that these women had no issue whatsoever with the "club". Not only did it occupy their husbands, they received handsome gifts from their spouse's, supposedly, as payment for 'looking the other way'. They all saw this as a 'win win' for them. One lady commented that she was thrilled when Anna Belle opened. At least now, she knew where her husband was.

Art got up, paid his check, and left. On the sidewalk he pulled his phone from his pocket and called the editor of the magazine.

"Are you finding some good scoop on our man Jackson? Some dirt?"

"Not exactly?"

"What does that mean?"

"Looks like he is squeaky clean - the perfect small town boy, dresses out of GQ, lived on a trust fund, did better than anyone thought he would, from a good southern family, great manners, friendly, loved by all."

"So what's the issue?"

"This town's the issue."

"I send you down to the bowels of the south to write a piece on an up and coming writer and you call me about the town. Please don't tell me you are calling to complain they do not have a Starbucks."

"It's not what they don't have, it's more of what they do have?"

"Like what?"

"A bordello called a 'gentlemen's club' that most of the town's men frequent. I learned by sitting next to a table of the wives, who were half drunk, at a fashionable tea room at 5 in the afternoon, that the wives are in favor of the bordello because it keeps their husbands occupied and the men shower them with expensive gifts for being so understanding." He paused.

"Or it could be the man, Colonel something, who dresses like a confederate officer everyday, and is in charge of the Museum of Confederate Uniforms, Hats, and Paraphernalia." He paused again.

"Maybe it was the witch, excuse me, Voodoo priestess, who threatened me on the sidewalk not to ask so many questions or I would be sorry."

"Art, I told you this was your last chance. Get some dirt on that Jackson boy. That is why you are down there. I don't give a damn about bordellos, grown men who dress in confederate uniforms, or witches, I want some scoop on Reginald Jackson."

Art ended the call in total exasperation. He felt as if he had gone down the rabbit hole and, no doubt, soon would find himself at a tea party with the March Hare and the Mad Hatter. As he gathered his thoughts, a nice looking young man approached him. "Are you OK?" he asked. "You look as if you have seen a ghost."

Art laughed and explained who he was and why he was in Gallagher. He started describing his experiences, and the more they tumbled out of his mouth, the more ridiculous they sounded. Finally he stopped and said,"I guess you think I have lost my mind."

"No, I think you have paid attention to Gallagher in a way we choose not to. In the South, it is easier to live with the daemons and the issues, as long as everything is copacetic."

"Really."

"Well, let's say, we rarely admit there are skeletons in our closets, even though they are often dancing on the front porch."

Art had to laugh. "I can honestly say I have never been to a place like this."

"Let me introduce myself, I'm Terse Jackson," said Terse extending his hand.

"Seriously?"

"And you must be Art Nome, the reporter."

"Yes, yes I am," said Art shaking Terse's hand.

"I am assuming you want to talk to me while you are here."

"You could say that. I have several questions, I need help with."

"Let's go to the local place, Dot's, and discuss this over a drink or two. Sound Good."

"Best thing I've heard all day."

Terse pointed him in the direction of Dot's and they started walking. "Ever had moonshine? I mean real good moonshine."

Art was speechless. Terse continued,"Well we have these 70 year old twin sisters who are a bit eccentric. They collect gnomes, but I digress. Come to find out they had a still in their backyard . . ." 

"Why am I not surprised," Art said as he walked with Terse toward Dot's.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Below the Mason Dixon Line

Terse was in the Tea Room the following morning picking up 2 dozen blueberry scones Hattie had made for his mother. Blanche was hosting her book club and Hattie's scones were just what she wanted to serve. While he was paying for them he said, "By the way Caroline, I'm giving you a heads up. My publisher has decided to send a writer for a magazine to Gallagher to get a 'feel' for the town. God, only knows what he will do with his time. My guess is he will be here several hours at most."

"You think he will want to stop by the Tea Room?"

"I would think so. Y'all's storefront makes quite the show here in town. "

"Well, I appreciate that. If we see a stranger in town walking around with a pad and pencil, we will be sure to tell him good things about you." She handed him the box of scones.

"Thanks Caroline, you do that," laughed Terse and he walked out.

While eating lunch at the Starlight, Terse told Wade and Sheriff Quitman about the possible visitor. Both said they would do what they could to make him feel welcome. They discussed Terse's new book and how it was coming along. Terse told them his only problem, at this point, was his publisher - who was driving him crazy. "Every time I turn around he has some lame brain idea of a TV show I need to be on,  an interview I need to do, or some fool thing like this reporter coming to Gallagher."

"Well it worked out well when all your fans were looking for Reginald Jackson," laughed Wade. "Too bad someone spilled the beans that we didn't know anyone by THAT name."

The Sheriff chuckled,"If he gets too obnoxious I'll get Mike to pick him up for disturbing the peace."

"If he gets bored, or you just need to 'entertain' him, there is always the Museum,"suggested Wade with a smile.

The bells on the front door jingled as Aunt Cordelia walked in. Everyone turned to greet her. She took a seat at a table next to Terse, Wade, and the Sheriff. "Good afternoon gentleman,"she smiled as she put her napkin in her lap.

" 'Miss' Cordelia, how are you doing," asked the Sheriff.

"I'm just fine. I understand that Mrs. Barker is back in town and doing very well."

"She is. In fact Dr. Magill said Mrs. Barker had mentioned she hoped to get more involved in the community. She is a totally new person. Since her past here has been fairly rocky, do you think you could invite her to join you the next time y'all have one of your hen parties?"

"Of course, I'd be delighted," said Cordelia with a smile.

"Her name is Iris," the Sheriff added.

"Well, I never knew that."

"I don't think anyone else did either."

Wade added, "Oh, and she is living in one of my cottages on Oak Street. I think it is 315 Oak. You can check with Della to be sure."

"I think I'll try to visit with her this afternoon."

They exchanged some pleasantries and were interrupted when the waitress came for Cordelia's order.

After lunch Terse took some time and called Anna Belle, Ed, Ike, Frank, Lavenia, and a few other local business owners to let them know about the prospective reporter. He did not want anyone surprised.

Back in Bay Minette, the State Health Department had closed the Sanatorium. All the remaining patients were medically evaluated, their families were notified, and they were moved to other (safe) facilities. The building itself was condemned and then the state and local authorities conducted a complete inspection. After talking with the families of the patients, Sheriff Smythe realized there was much more there that they had yet to find.

Meanwhile the records showed current bills for patients who had died a year or so ago, current patients at the time of the closing, and some who could not be accounted for. The Sheriff pulled the County Coroner in to compare his records. Some of the patients on record as currently being billed were in fact deceased and several others not accounted for were not listed as deceased according to the Coroner's records.

When an overall census was done, there were 26 patients alive and accounted for, 12 certified by the coroner as deceased but still being billed, 11 mystery names that were being billed yet were neither certified as deceased nor ever admitted to the facility, and Burdell Wells - who was in the facility, according to his family, billed for, yet never officially admitted, had any medical records to show, nor was accounted for when the facility was vacated.

In Gallagher, later that afternoon. Cordelia called Della to confirm that Wade had given her the correct address for Iris. He had, so she decided to pay her a visit. Cordelia stopped by Lavenia's to get some fresh flowers. Her mother taught her early on never to show up at someones door empty handed.

When Iris answered her door, Cordelia did not recognize her. The frumpy woman, Cordelia had only glimpsed about town in dowdy over sized drab colored dresses, was wearing a cute sweater over neat black pants. She introduced herself to Iris and handed her the flowers.

"Why thank you," Iris said, as she took the flowers. "Please come in."

"I know I should have called but I didn't have your number. The Sheriff told me that you were living here and wanted to get more involved in the community."

"Oh, I do," Iris said as she offered Cordelia a seat. "I realize no one in town knows me. And, that's my fault. I wasn't aware of it, but I have been suffering a severe depression for some time. Poor John, he was such a dear. I shut him out as well as the rest of the world. He didn't deserve that."

"Oh dear," Cordelia said with that soothing voice that sounded as comforting as it was meant to be, with no hint of judgment. "John was a good man. Someone everyone in the community misses. I'm sure he was worried about you, because no doubt he loved you dearly. But you cannot do anything about that now. We all need to move forward, I can assure you that is what he would want you to do."

She smiled with teary eyes, "I needed to hear that."

"Now that we have that settled, you can get on with your life. . . and be happy." Cordelia smiled.

Iris told her, in brief detail, what she had been through. By the time she was finished, Iris felt better about herself. It was the first time she had discussed this with anyone beyond Dr. Magill and the Sheriff. "I cannot tell you how much support Dr. Magill has given me. In fact talking with him on the way back from Bay Minette made me realize how much of life I had missed. It had been so long since I had spent anytime with anyone. Of course I attended church, but that was all. And I did not enjoy that."

"Well, Mercer is a special person. I have been amazed how well he has done since his wife, Meg, died. They were so close. But he has soldiered on. We are very lucky to have him here as our doctor."

"Oh, I agree."

"Iris, I came to invite you to tea Wednesday. Several of us are getting together at the Tea Room around 3:30 and I would love for you to join us. These are ladies I know you will enjoy getting to know. And, no doubt, they will find you as friendly and engaging as I have. Will you join us?"

"Of course."

"Great, I will pick you up at 3:15, if that suits?

"It does."

"Then it's a date."

"Thank you Cordelia. I really appreciate the invitation and the flowers." She smiled, "And most of all the visit."

Sure enough Wednesday morning the reporter arrived. Wade was the first to spot him. He wasn't hard to miss. With his city slicker clothes and odd shoes, he looked like a duck out of water. Wade crossed the street and introduced himself. "Looking for someone?"

"Not really. My name is Art, Art Nome. I'm a freelance writer from New York. Reginald Jackson's publisher asked me to come down here and get a feel for his hometown."

Wade offered his hand,"Wade Hampton, nice to meet you."

"Wade Hampton. Like the General from South Carolina?"

"No, Quinton Gallagher Hampton IV. They just call me 'Wade'."

"Who do you suggest I talk with to get a feel for this town and Mr. Jackson?"

"Well, a good place to start is over there," Wade pointed toward Ed's. "Ed's is where most locals get their coffee, and many get their breakfast. I'd start there. After that you can wander around and ask anyone you see. Everyone knows everyone else here. Or, just visit the Starlight Cafe," Wade pointed toward the cafe."Or the Tea Room, to get a ladies perspective. The local hardware store, Wells and Smith, can also probably give you some insight."

"Thank you sir. I appreciate your help."

"Any time. Welcome to Gallagher."

With that, Wade turned and walked toward his office. Art headed for Ed's.

When Art walked into Ed's he felt as if he was walking back into a 50's diner. Mae greeted him and told him he could sit where ever he wished. She was soon over with a pot of coffee. "You just visiting?"

Art introduced himself and explained why he was in Gallagher. Mae put the pot on the table and sat down. "Well I can tell you all about him."

"Really?"

"Oh, honey. He is the best looking thing we have ever seen here. And the funny thing is that nobody thought he would amount to anything, who knew he could write? We all just thought he would live off his trust fund. You know he's from a filthy rich Mobile family. That's why he always dresses the way he does." She smiled,"Oh, and my name is Mae, that is spelled M-A-E, in case you want to use it in your article."

Art was entranced. He wasn't sure Mae had taken a breath since she opened her mouth. "Is he popular?"

"I don't know anybody that doesn't love Terse."

"Terse"

"Terse. His Christian name is Reginald Beauregard Jackson III, but he goes by Terse. I never knew why."

While Art was in Ed's he had a chance to talk with several other town citizens. They basically said the same thing Mae had said. It made Terse sound like a saint. No one could be that good, Art thought, there must be some skeleton in his closet.

After breakfast, Art walked down the main street around the city park, taking the time to visit Frank at the jewelry store, Lavenia at the florist shop, and even Ada at Heddie's. Along the way he learned a few more stories about Terse, but nothing that he thought would really 'catch' a reader's attention.

He saved the Starlight for lunch. Meanwhile he decided to walk down the oak lined streets and look at the old homes. He found them elegant yet quaint. When he came upon the 'Hunnicut House' he stopped to read the  historic marker telling the background of Colonel Hunnicut and his heroic service in WWI. The large Victorian house was in wonderful shape with a manicured lawn. Then he noticed the sign, "Gallagher Gentlemen's Club". 'What the heck is that?' Art wondered. But he moved on, assuming it was a private club for members only.

He made his way to the Starlight Diner. There he found a fairly large crowd enjoying their lunch. He walked in and Walter, dressed in his white apron and friendly smile, greeted him from behind the counter,"Welcome, take a seat anywhere. Someone will be right with you."

Art decided to sit at the counter, that would be his best chance to interact with the towns folk who were enjoying their lunch. The waitress came over and handed him a menu. "You're new in town. Welcome."

"How did you know?"

"Gallagher's only so big, we know everyone." She smiled as she filled his water glass. "And Mae from Ed's called me this morning and told me you might be by. You're Mr. Art Nome, writing a story about Terse, right?"

"I am. What do you suggest from the menu?"

"Walter's known for his burger - best in town."

"Well, I have one and some tea?"

"I'm assuming you want cold unsweet tea?"

Forgetting for a moment he was south of the Mason Dixon line, Art laughed,"Yes, unsweet please."

"Anything else?"

"You can tell me about Reginald Jackson?"

"There's not much to tell. He's the best looking thing that ever set foot in Gallagher. No one ever thought he would amount to much. We all figured he would just live on his trust fund. Who knew he was a writer?"

"That's what everyone says."

"That's because it's the truth. Not much more to say." With that she smiled and walked off.

Just then the gentleman sitting next to him spoke, "Good afternoon, let me introduce myself. I'm Col Wadsworth Washington III, but my friends call me George." He extended his hand.

It was at that time, that Art realized the Col was dressed in a full Confederate uniform - head to toe, hat to boots. "Art Nome, writer from New York."

"Welcome to Gallagher. Heard tell you were here. You should take time to come visit our museum, it will give you a good perspective of the history of the area. Just go that way, 4 or 5 blocks," he pointed down the street, "and you will see it. Hard to miss. Called 'The Museum of Confederate Uniforms, Hats, and Paraphernalia'."

"Is there a reenactment today?" Art asked looking at the Colonel's attire.

"Oh, no." said the Colonel, oblivious to the reason behind Art's question. "But we will have one this weekend, if you can stay. It is a great experience. Especially for someone from your neck of the woods. Although I will tell you now, the Rebels win this skirmish. Not to give it away, but anyone who studies history knows how this little battle ends." With that the Colonel picked up his hat, stood up, and said,"Now, I hope to see you at the museum."

"Well, I hope to get there."

The waitress returned and brought his burger. As she set it down in front of him, he asked,"Does that Colonel dress like that for the museum?"

In a matter-of-fact fashion, as she poured his tea, she answered,"Oh, no. That is how he dresses everyday. His wife used to dress in period costume also. But since she went to work at 'Miss' Anna Belle's she doesn't any more."

" Miss Anna Belle's?"

"She owns the 'Gallagher Gentlemen's Club'."

"Oh, I saw that when I was walking around. A beautiful home. It is a private club, right?"

"Yes," she said curtly,"can I get you anything else?"

"No, thank you. But, what type of club is it?"

"A men's club, like the sign says?"

"Like a card club or a gambling club? I don't understand?"

The waitress just looked at him, "It is a private club where men go to do what men do."

"Oh! That type of club."

"I'm not sure what you mean." stated the waitress.

"If I understood you, you said it was a bordello?" He paused, then asked, "Is that legal here?"

"Mr. Nome, here is your check, you pay at the counter. We appreciate your business."

"Wait, the Colonel's wife works there?" Art stood up and followed her. "Now there's a story."

Knowing he was not going to learn anything else from the waitress, Art paid and left the diner. As he stood on the side walk, he saw the Sheriff, easily recognizable by his uniform, across the street looking at him. Before Art could cross the street to speak to the Sheriff,  a woman breezed by. She was tall and thin, wearing a gele on her head. Her long purple robe flowed behind her as if she floated. Art called to her,"Mam, can I ask you a question?"

Reeza turned and looked at him with her bright yellow eyes, and in a deep eerie voice said,"Why?"

"Well . . ."

"I know who you are. You are the reporter from New York who is here to write about Mr. Jackson." She stared at him and pointed a long bony finger, tipped with a fire engine red colored nail, toward him. "Be careful of the questions you ask, there are secrets here you do not need to know, and a ghastly price you will pay for that knowledge." She laughed with her loud cackle and disappeared before his eyes.

Stunned, he just stood there. He saw the Sheriff was still standing across the street looking at him. Art crossed the street. "Sir, who was that?"

"Who are you talking about?"

"That lady who was talking to me in the purple robe. The one with the yellow eyes who cackled like a witch. You had to see her."

"Son, I didn't see anyone but you."

"You couldn't have missed her. She acted like a  witch. She threatened me."

"Threatened you?" the Sheriff asked, holding back a laugh.

"Yes, she said something about being careful about asking questions, that there would a price to pay."

"Mr. Nome, it is Mr. Nome, isn't it?"

"Yes," Art said almost shaking.

"Everyone in our town is very friendly. Have you met anyone who has not gone out of their way to be welcoming. Now, I don't know what you saw. Maybe, your trip down here has been taxing, but if you are accusing us of having a 'witch'? " the Sheriff laughed.

Art stammered,"I'm not accusing you of anything, I saw a witch."

"Well, I'm afraid I didn't," the Sheriff could say honestly knowing Reeza was a Voodoo Priestess, not a witch. "Are you OK?"

"Yes, yes, I'm fine."

"Good, if you need anything, just holler." With that the Sheriff walked off leaving Art Nome standing on the sidewalk dazed and confused.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Let's Make a Deal

Ignoring the wind in his office, Rascal picked up the phone and called Bunny. "When was the last time you spoke with Tula?"

"A week or so ago when she showed up at Vivian's unannounced and uninvited."

"Vivian, why Vivian's?

"Sheriff Quitman, you've been working too much, You're missing the idle town gossip. Vivian and I are half sisters."

The Sheriff was quite.

Bunny continued with the tale of Vivian's broken past. When she finished, Sheriff Quitman said,"Nothing surprises me any more, especially if it involves Tula." He paused. "There is no record of Burdell Wells ever being admitted to Bay Minette Midsummer Sanatorium."

"I know he was there," protested Bunny. "How can they say he wasn't?"

"But Bunny did you actually see Burdell Wells at the Sanatorium?"

"No, I never saw him, but he was there. Every time I went to visit him, even if he was unavailable, someone on the staff always told me what he was doing and how he was feeling. In fact one day they told me he had requested an old family he had in his den."

"What family photo?" asked Sheriff Quitman.

"They were not sure. But when I told Tula, she knew exactly which one he was asking for and promised she would take it to him next time she visited the Sanatorium."

The Sheriff assured Bunny that he would let her know more as the investigation continued. They rang off.

Next the Sheriff called Theo (Theodois Lofton Lowle), the head of the local bank, Gallagher 2nd State Bank. "Theo, this is Rascal how are you today?"

"Doing well, and you?"

"I've seen better days, but you can help me."

"Shoot."

"Theo, I need access to Burdell Wells' bank statements."

Theo paused,"Rascal, you know I can't do that. I need a warrant."

"Well, let me tell you what is going on with Mr. Wells and why I need to see his statements." Then the Sheriff told Theo the tale of Burdell Wells.

"And, there is no record of his being there at all?"

"That's what they say." The Sheriff thought for a moment. He had an idea. "Never mind that, Theo, changing the subject, do you miss the Twins Elixir?"

"Of course I do. Everyone does. Fact is, bunch of folks are right mad at you for arresting them."

"Theo, I didn't have a choice. It was the law. But would you be interested in access to some elixir of the same quality?"

"Yes, but who is making it?"

"Can't tell you because I honestly do not know. But that's not the issue. The quality is as good or better. You want in?"

"Sure. How much?"

"Well, first it is limited to a very few patrons. But I think I can talk to the man running the show and get him to add your name to the pot. Hell, I may be able to get you a better rate."

"Rascal that would be great. God, I've been missing that stuff."

"OK, well let's do some business. I'll get you access to the Elixir, if you give me access to Burdell Wells' bank statements."

The phone was silent for a moment. Then Theo spoke," Rascal, you are supposed to be enforcing the law, not asking me to break it."

"This is not a break or even a bend or a curve. Hell Theo, this is not even a turn, this is a slight wiggle across a line."

Theo was quiet again. "Damn Rascal, I'm going to go to Federal Prison because of you. I can't give  you electronic access to the files because they can trace your IP address, I can't have you in here looking at them without arousing some suspicion - even at night, there are cameras every where." He paused and thought. "Tell you what, send Mary Lou up to my office tomorrow around noon. I'll access the files on the computer here on my desk. She can go through them at my desk, under my login. But we will only have 2 hours max. Do you understand? And tell Mary Lou to wear business attire and if anyone asks her anything, she has an appointment with me concerning a family issue."

Rascal almost yelled for joy into the phone,"Damn Theo, I knew you would come through. Thanks. And I'll get my part of the deal started asap. Thanks again buddy." The Sheriff hung up the phone thrilled to have access to Burdell's bank statements. Now he had to find out where Ike was getting the moonshine from.

The Sheriff was a pretty astute man. Many folks had thought him to be a dumb South Alabama Sheriff who didn't know his head from a hole in the grown. Many of those had then rued the day they had not given him credit for being pretty damn smart and effective. He had been at Dot's enough to see that there was a group of men who could come to the bar and say 'something the doctor ordered' and Ike would pull a bottle from beneath the counter and pour them a small glass of clear liquid. No doubt it was moonshine. No doubt it was fine shine, because these men had been enjoying the best for years and would never lower their standards, even if it were all that was available.

The Sheriff told Mary Lou about her assignment the following day. She was thrilled. Then he told her that he had to step out for 30 minutes or so, but he would be back.

The Sheriff made his way to Dot's. It wasn't open yet, but like all the regular customers, the Sheriff knew Ike would have left the front door unlocked. And it was, so the Sheriff walked in. Ike was behind the bar filling up a few bins with ice from the ice maker.

"Well, Sheriff Quitman, what can I do for you sir?"

"Ike, I got a problem that you can help me with. Now, I'm going to tell you right off the bat that no one is getting arrested, and anything we talk about doesn't go any further than you, me, and the door post."

The Sheriff had Ike's attention. He explained how he knew he was serving moonshine and that did not bother him. And he wasn't worried about who was buying the drinks. But, he needed to know where the Moonshine came from.

Ike just shook his head, "I told Mr. Wade this wasn't going to last long."

The Sheriff laughed,"Ike it can last as long y'all want it to, I just need to know where it comes from. And no, I have no plans to arrest anyone involved at all."

"Mr. Wade Gallagher showed up one day." And Ike went on to tell the Sheriff all he knew about the moonshine. Ike trusted the Sheriff. That was how the law was managed around Gallagher and in Atasi County - the Sheriff and the Town Police picked their battles. If it wasn't hurting anyone, causing any physical or mental damage, damage to property, or involved theft, they were very judicious on how justice was meted out.

When Ike finished, the Sheriff thanked him. "I really appreciate your help. I'll make sure this is held in confidence, in fact, let's just say one of your highly inebriated patrons happened to spill the beans on this to me." The Sheriff nodded and walked out.

Next stop was Wade Gallagher's office. Wade did not argue or deny any of the facts the Sheriff presented. The Sheriff found it quite humorous when Wade told him that source of Ike's stash was, in fact, from the Sheriff's office.

Rascal asked,"So what happens when this stash runs out? Then what?"

Wade just sat there, not saying a word, pondering. Then he leaned forward, put his elbows on the desk, and clasped his hands. "Rascal, I think I can get you access to some number 1 grade A home grown liquor. But," he paused,"if I set it up, you cannot ask me any questions."

"Wade, I don't need any answers, I just need the liquor. Can you just take it to Ike. I'll get it from him when I need it."

Wade didn't say anything. Rascal added,"And let me know how much I owe you.  I'll get you the money - in cash. No strings attached."

"Rascal, you must need this badly."

"Actually, this isn't for my personal consumption as much as I wish it were. Let's just say I need this to handle some other official business."

Wade stood up, shook Rascal's hand."You'll do anything to get the job done."

"Well, let's just say, some times it takes a little extra to make all the pieces of a case come to together. Using this elixir is no harm, no foul. Let me know how much I owe you - and this money will be coming from my pocket, if you are wondering."

"So you are saying you are willing to pay for this out of your pocket and not use any of the county funds?"

"Wade, we've been friends for a long time. You know I am a law abiding man. That would be an illegal use of my office's funds. You think I am a man to break the law? Desperate times call for desperate measures."

They exchanged pleasantries and the Sheriff left Wade's office.

On his way back to the station, the Sheriff called Mercer to check on Mrs. Barker. Mercer told him about their ride home. "Rascal, it was like a totally different person. She was pleasant and engaging. Her outlook is positive. Her memories of the past several weeks are spotty at best."

"Well given what she has been through, that may be for the best." Then the Sheriff shared what he had learned (or not) from the Sheriff of Baldwin County. "I'm just stumped. If I didn't know Burdell Wells myself, I would think he was the figment of Tula's imagination. But we are working on it."

They discussed several other details about Mrs. Barker and the Sanatorium before they rang off.

Sheriff Quitman sat quietly at his desk. He was alone at the station. Everything was eerily quiet. Rarely did he have time like this just to think.  How did the Barker's home burn? Where in the Hell was Burdell Wells? What would they find in Burdell's bank statements?

His door blew open, he looked up to see Reeza there. "I thought you were lost in the mist?"

Reeza just gave her eerie laugh,"No dear. I may go away, but I can always come back."

"So I see. Like a bad cold" The Sheriff glanced behind her to see if she had anyone or anything with her. But there was nothing that he could see.

"If you are wondering about Mr. Wells, just follow the money."

"So now you are deep throat?" the sheriff said sarcastically.

"No," and her eyes turned a bright yellow. "I am Reeza. Have I been wrong yet?"

Before the Sheriff could reply, Reeza added,"Must I remind you that it was you who sought me. I have no need for this mess. I have little time for all this." She waved her arm with the long wing like sleeve across his desk. "I'd be careful about using elicit elixir to find fiscal evidence. You do not want to open another Pandora's box." She flicked her hand at him. "And don't forget that vile money may have come in just as good money could have gone out."

"Do you always speak in riddles?"

"No, they are only riddles to those who cannot grasp the truth. For everyone else they are the map to enlightenment."

With that, the wind picked up, she turned, and she was gone.

'Damn her', thought the Sheriff. 'I wonder if every Sheriff has a soothsayer who appears, speaks in riddles, throws cards around, then disappears into thin air?' Then he yelled at Mary Lou, "Can you get Tula on the horn? I need to speak with her asap."

He heard Mary Lou pick up the phone and start dialing. 

The office phone rang. The Sheriff picked it up, "Sheriff Quitman, how can I help you?"

"Sheriff, this is Iris Barker. Dr. Magill said to call you if I remembered anything that I thought would be of value. And I have."

"Mrs. Barker, that is great."

"Oh, Sheriff, please it is Iris. I can vaguely remember someone knocking on my back door. When I went to see who it was, there was a man standing there covered in blood."

"Anything else?"

"No."

"Well, every little bit helps. If there is anything else you think of, or anything we can do, please call."

"Thank you." And they rang off.

Mary Lou stuck her head in his office,"I'm having some problems finding Tula, but I'm still on it."

"Tomorrow, I need you to find out the date and amount of the last withdrawal from Mr. Well's account. Heck, just makes notes, if you can, of whatever activity you see. I fear you will find a very low balance, if any. And all the debits going to one place. And it will not be the Bay Minette Midsummer Sanatorium." He thought for a moment. "And, see if it is possible to see copies of the deposits. Some banks are now making digital copies of the deposits for their clients' records."

All he could think of was, 'don't forget that vile money may have come in just as good money could have gone out'.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

There is No Record

Before Dr. Magill left, he had spoken with the Baldwin County Sheriff  (Solly Smythe) about Burdell Wells. The Sheriff had assured him he would go to the Sanatorium and find Mr. Wells. Mercer told him just to advise the the Sheriff in Gallagher (Atasi County- Rascal Quitman), when he learned of Mr. Wells' status.

Before Dr. Magill and Iris got back to Gallagher, the Baldwin County Sheriff had called the Sheriff in Gallagher. "I just left the Sanatorium up here. We cannot find a Mr. Burdell Wells - alive or dead, or even any record of a patient with that name. There are no records of a male patient there who matches his description. Are you sure he was here?"

"His family says they visit him there regularly, although only one family member is ever able to see him. He never seems to be available when any others are there."

"Well, we have an accounting firm coming in to audit the books, the accounts, and the overall finances of the Sanatorium. I'll give them Mr. Wells' name and other information, including the family contact information. They should at least be able to track down the billing information. As soon as we know something we will call you."

The Sheriff thanked him and they rang off.

Back in town, 'Miss' Ella walked into the Tea Room. "Caroline, I just need a table for 2. Rayanne Murray will be joining me." Caroline said that would be no problem and asked her if a table by the window would be good? "Dear, that would be lovely." Caroline seated 'Miss' Ella and told her someone would be right over to serve her.

Just as Caroline left, Rayanne walked in and joined Ella at her table. Rayanne was one of Ella's oldest and dearest friends. They had survived the hell of Gallagher High School, roomed together for 2 years at the Magnolia Women's College for Ladies, been in each other's weddings, and helped each other through widowhood.

As soon as Rayanne sat down, she said, "I came as soon as you called." By then the waitress was at the table. Both of the ladies ordered a cup of Earl Grey with lemon. As soon as the waitress had left, Rayanne turned to Ella and said, "What is up?"

"I just needed to share this with someone and I knew you would appreciate it."

"Well, do tell!"

"Yesterday I was at Heddie's getting a new hat. Lenoir walked in to pick up her gown that Ada had altered. The dress was that beautiful blue that goes so well with her eyes. But, that child has never lost all that baby weight she gained when Paul was born. Bless her heart, no one will tell her that she should not wear anything form fitting. "

"And, Paul is now, what, 22 years old?" said Rayanne shaking her head.

Ella smiled. "Any way,  Lenoir was telling me that while she was getting her hair done just the other day, Millie shared with her that she learned from Marge, earlier that week. Marge was at Ed's one morning. While she was waiting for her to-go cup of coffee, she overheard Mae comment that her boyfriend, Parnell, told her that Cre Uisce Aer, Parnell's family home place, had been sold. Seems that investor group that bought the place needs to unload it. And they have a buyer"

"Well who is buying it?'

"Nobody's sure,"

"Seriously?"

"Very seriously,"said Ella, as she passed the sugar to Rayanne for her tea.

"Well, that is funny, because I just heard that some Russian multi-billionaire bought it for his girl friend. She wanted a 'Summer' Home."

"God, I hope not. They would paint the interior walls gold and try to put those funny shaped onion tops on  the roof."

"No," laughed Rayanne. "Seriously, last I heard, they were talking about bulldozing down the entire place and making a strip mall."

"A strip mall?"

"One of those ticky tacky ugly string of stores that sell cheap hair products, cheap liquor, clothes that no self righteous woman would ever be caught dead wearing, and at least one Chinese Buffet." Rayanne took a sip of her tea and continued. "What other kind of 'strip malls' are you aware of?"

"Well, 'strip malls' are certainly not something I visit often." Ella laughed, "Why, even the name does not sound fitting for anyone proper to frequent."

Rayanne got serious,"The worse part is that they are going to do away with a true cultural landmark of our area. Cre Uisce Aer has been such an important part of our history. I cannot imagine it just being leveled to ensure more space for bleach blond hair color, extra large polyester pants, and General Tso's Chicken." She took another sip of tea and added, "And, to make it worse, they plan to call it, the 'Lucky Irish Town Center'."

"Good God."

Back at the the Baldwin County Sheriff's station, Solly Smythe called Rascal, "I put a priority on your 'Mr. Wells' and asked the accountants to scour the records for anything referring to a 'Burdell Wells' or 'Tula Wells' first when they started the audit of the Sanatorium's records. They came up with nothing. Nothing in the medical records, nothing in the financial records. They even checked to see if there was a patient, under any name, admitted the day the family says they took him there. They even checked that entire week. There were no admissions that week."

"Huh, well that makes this interesting. I thought we had a financial investigation, now we have a missing person. Thanks Solly for moving Mr. Wells to the top of your list."

"Glad to do it. Let me know what I can do to help. All my guys over here are aware of the situation. We'll find 'im one way or a 'nuther."

"Appreciate it Solly, I know we'll talk later." They rang off.

'Great', Rascal thought,'where the Hell do I start looking for Burdell Wells?'  For once, he missed Reeza and her Tarot cards. Although he was sure she was just speaking in monkey dust, making it up as she went along. However, he had to admit, Reeza had been right about Mrs. Barker.

The thought was still in his head when a breeze from nowhere  blowing in the office suddenly became a heavy wind.  All the Sheriff could think of was, 'If that is Reeza returning, God please don't let her bring flying monkeys or an ornery raven.'