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.

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