Take a small town in Alabama, chocked full of colorful southern characters. Add a young lady named Bunny, who likes teased hair, tight clothes, high heels, white bread, and Spam. Follow her as she makes her way through a southern society she has never quite been a part of. It is a tale of old traditions, old families, friends, a little voodoo, and the skeletons that dance in the closet. Oh, did I mention her mother is the town madame.
As soon as Flora saw her sister standing in the door way she was on her feet. "Flora what do I do now?" she said again in a loud whisper.
Flora quietly responded, "I gave you 2 books."
"I know, but I don't remember how to work the teddy."
'What?' Flora thought. 'What in the world was she talking about?' Before she could ask, Cora was speaking.
"It's in the way. You know . . ."
Then Cora smiled, "Never mind I figured it out. It snaps, that's pretty smart." She looked around her sister at John sitting there taking this all in. "Haayy!" He smiled and waved. Cora turned to leave. Before she got through the door, Cora said, "You know you have to take your clothes off for this to work."
Flora was so confounded by the way Cora was acting, all she could do was sit there. John asked, "Are you alright?"
She didn't say anything because she didn't know what to say. Both of them could hear noises coming from the living room. "Come over here," John suggested indicating the seat next to him on the swing.
Flora hesitated, but then stood up and moved to the porch swing. John put his arm around her. Flora just froze. 'What do I do now,' she asked herself. Her mind was blank. The sounds emanating from the living room sofa were all she could hear.
John nuzzled her neck. "You smell so good." Flora was a lost cause. All she could think of was, 'How could this have happened? Cora is such a prude.'
Meanwhile John was about to give up. Finally he sat back. "Flora I am sorry. I thought you might be trying to seduce me, like Cora is doing. . . to Don, you know?" He paused, "I guess I was mistaken. Have I done something wrong?"
"Of course not," said Flora.
"Well then move over here a bit closer to me." She did and he reached down to kiss her. But not before they heard, "Oh, baby do that again!" come from the living room.
Flora and John fumbled around for a bit. Finally Flora unbuttoned a button or 2 or her blouse. John could see the pink lace. Enthusiastically, he started undoing the remaining buttons. All this was going well until the screen door opened and Cora and Don walked out onto the porch.
It was quite obvious that both were drunk. Cora was wearing her blouse unbuttoned so you could see her teddy, with Don's neck tie hanging loosly around her neck. Don was wearing his shirt, boxer shorts, his brown dress socks, carrying his pants and shoes and a shit eating grin. "Whatcha y'all doing?" Cora asked in a bit of a slur. Flora sat up and tried to pull her blouse back on.
When Cora saw where Flora and John were, Cora said, "Oh, honey, you're not going to get any like that."
Flora had called Pearce earlier in the week to get the Johnsons' phone number. Later that morning, Flora called Don and John. Much to Cora's dismay, they gladly accepted the ladys' invitation to dinner.
Flora and Cora prepared a meal of steaks, salad, and potatoes. For dessert, Cora made a dish of their mother's famous peach cobbler. As she took the cobbler out of the oven, Cora asked, "Now what?"
"We get dressed. And don't forget to put on some perfume."
"But what about the teddy thing?"
"Wear that under your clothes."
"Over my underwear?"
"No, instead of your underwear, silly. That way when things get romantic, you can show it to him."
Cora was still unsure about all this. Certainly women did not do these things at their age. But following her sister's lead, she put on the teddy and the perfume.
When Cora walked back into the kitchen, she remembered the 2 bottles of their finest work they kept under the sink. She put ice in a glass and poured it half way up with the 180 proof moonshine. 'Courage in a bottle', she said to herself as she filled the rest of the glass with iced tea. She took a long swig.
Don and John arrived right on time. They had brought each of the ladies a bouquet of roses. Flora suggested they sit on the front porch in the old glider and on the porch swing. It was going to be a short while before the steaks were done.
As soon as the men were settled onto the porch, Cora asked Flora if she could help her in the kitchen. Flora had just gotten into the front door, when Cora started, "Flora, now you have really gone over the edge. You realize everyone who drives by will see we have company - men company."
"Yes, and so?"
"What if they think the men are spending the night here?"
"What if they do? After all, that's the plan isn't it?"
Flora walked back out onto the porch. Cora headed to the kitchen for the iced tea. All she could think of, as she pulled 4 glasses of their mother's best crystal from the China cabinet, was, 'What had Flora gotten them into this time?'
While she added ice and poured tea into the glasses, Cora continued to take big sips from her first glass. She poured the remainder of her first glass into a crystal one. She added mint and lemon to each then carried them out to the porch.
Conversation was light among the 4 of them. Don and John entertained the ladies with stories about working at Cre Uisce Aer. By the time they were half way through their iced tea, Cora was feeling much better. Come to think about it, she could never remember feeling this good.
At one point, Don asked, "So, what do you ladies do?"
Very enthusiastically, Cora blurted out, "Make moon shine."
The expression on Don's face showed he did not understand. However, since the cat was out of the bag, Flora added, "You know home made liquor."
Both men smiled widely.
Quickly, Flora said, "But we don't have any right now." She looked at Cora and gave her a 'Don't you dare say anything more' stare. To the others she said, "I'm going to check on dinner." She headed for the kitchen.
After she left, Cora moved over to sit next to Don on the porch swing. She giggled, "You know we are real happy y'all came over tonight."
Don smiled, "We are too."
Cora smiled, "Boy do we have a surprise for y'all tonight." She took another big swig of her 'tea'.
Flora opened the door, "Supper's ready." Cora showed them into the dining room. Flora served supper. Before she sat down, she asked, "Anyone need more tea?"
She picked up the mens' glasses, along with hers and went into the kitchen. She added ice to all the glasses. Once again she added a good 3 ounces of liquor to her glass, then filled all 3 up with tea. By the time she got back to the table she was starting to wobble a bit. She gave Don and John glasses of tea and sat down with hers.
They started eating. When Cora picked up her glass, she realized with the first taste, that she just had regular tea in her glass. Maybe she didn't 'supplement' hers after all, she thought. While no one was noticing, she put her hand in her lap. Slowly she moved it to the top of Don's thigh. He turned and smiled at her.
'Good', she thought, 'the book was right.' She took another sip of tea, for courage. Trying to remember exactly what the book said to do next, she slowly moved her hand up even further on Don's thigh. He let out a sigh with a smile. She would have stopped but it didn't seem to bother him -- at all.
Flora looked over, "Cora, can you help me in the kitchen."
When they got out of earshot, Flora turned to Cora. In a very low voice, she asked, "Are you sure you are OK? If you don't want to do anything I understand."
"I thought I was doing it," asked Cora.
"No, we have to do more than just sit and talk at the table. After dessert, I'll suggest to John that he and I move out to the porch."
"And, what about me? Just sit at the table?" Cora asked, thinking she was doing pretty good so far.
"No silly, that will be your sign to take Don into the living room."
"Just sit real close to him and see what happens."
Cora nodded and followed Flora back to the table with the peach cobbler. As soon as they sat down, she slowly moved her hand under the table back to Don's lap. It was only then that she noticed his chair had been moved much closer to hers.
When they finished dessert, Flora suggested that she and John go onto the porch. Cora quickly stood up. "Don, let's go into the living room so we can . . ." she unbuttoned the top several buttons of her blouse, revealing a good portion of her pink lace teddy, "so we can do this!"
Don thought it terribly funny. Flora was aghast. It was then that Cora first realized Don had gotten the 'supplemented' tea refill. He stood up, "Oh, yeah!"
Flora hurried John out onto the front porch. Totally frustrated with her sister, all she could say was, "I don't know what has gotten into her. I think she has lost her mind."
Back in the living room, Don and Cora had moved to the sofa. A line of abandoned clothes were left in their wake from the dining room table to the sofa. She was down to her teddy and Don was buck naked. Suddenly Cora sat up. "Wait a minute. I'll be right back."
Flora heard the screen door open. She looked to see Cora standing there, wearing nothing but her teddy and her knee high stockings. In a slightly slurred voice, Cora asked, "Flora, what do I do now?"
John and Don were busy working with Pearce redoing the Japanese gardens at Cre Uisce Aer. They had found a small house to rent from Wade, just outside Gallagher on the road that led to Pearce's estate. Soon they were just another addition to Pearce's rather eclectic group of international workers.
Flora and Cora had many conversations between the 2 of them about the brothers. They ranged from anger at them for not being honest to genuine curiosity as to why they stayed around. The ladies knew they were in town but, luckily, never ran into them.
Finally one morning Flora said, "This is stupid. Here we are by ourselves and there are 2 men here who want our company."
Cora, always being the more hesitant of the 2 was quiet. "You mean you think we should call them? Remember Mama always told us that nice ladies did not call men on the telephone."
"Yes she did - in the 60's. The world has changed Cora, catch up."
"So you want to call them, and then what."
Flora laughed, "Yes, sister. I think we should call them and invite them over. I think they would enjoy our company."
"But Flora, what if they want to . . . , you know? What would we do?"
Flora shook her head. "Honestly Cora, why do you think we were looking for men in the first place."
"Not to do that?"
"Yes. I think it is time we lived a little." Flora walked back to her bedroom and returned with 2 books. "Here," she handed them to Cora. "Read these, they will answer any questions you may have."
Cora looked at the 2 books, " 'Women, Sex, Power and Pleasure', where did you get this from?"
"Amazon, of course."
"And 'Drive Him Wild, 100 Sex Tips for Women'. What are these - instructions?"
Flora just gave her sister a wicked smile.
Cora held the books as if they were going to bite her. "These came in the mail? What if the postman knew what he was delivering?"
Flora laughed, "If he did, I think he would have accepted my invitation to come in for some lemonade that afternoon."
Finally at breakfast a morning or 2 later, Flora asked, "You ready?"
"Ready for what?'' Cora asked as she poured her cup of coffee. Then she stopped. "Oh Flora, I just can't."
"Oh, yes you can. And, yes, we are."
"Where do we start?"
"Cora, you can be such a ninny." Flora shook her head. "First, I'll call them and see if they can come to dinner tomorrow night."
"Oh, Flora . . . I just don't know."
"Don't worry. I bought us something." Flora went to the closet, opened the door and pulled out a small flat white box. "Look at this." She opened the box and pulled out what looked like a short pink lace slip. "This should do the trick."
Cora looked stunned. "What is that?"
"Cora, this is a 'teddy'. Men love them. Trust me, it will help get them 'in the mood'." Flora held the piece of pink lace up to her body. "See."
"And just where did you learn this from?"
"It is Tip #4 in that book I gave you ."
"Oh, dear, you are really going through with this."
"No," Flora laughed, "We are going through with this."
By the time they returned to the station, Mary Lou's first words were that Cordelia had called. "She didn't sound right to me. She asked you to call her as soon as you got back. Do you know anything about this?"
The Sheriff walked back to his office to call Cordelia. Mike explained to Mary Lou what had happened.
Mike turned and walked to his desk to see if there were any messages. There were none, so he sat down and started working on his never ending pile of paperwork.
The Sheriff called Cordelia. "Cordelia, I am so sorry."
"You never know what someone is thinking." She paused. "I wanted to let you know that I have Wells. Thankfully, he has been staying with me for the past 2 days or so. I'll keep him here. God knows the last thing he needs is whatever drama this will bring about."
"You know if you ever need something, let me know. I was over there this morning. I think you should that they think it was a murder, not a suicide."
"That doesn't surprise me. I can't imagine her doing something like that. Especially with Wells. He was the light of her life." They discussed a few things and then rang off.
The following morning, the police officer from Mobile called. "We just picked up a Mr. Santos Garcia. "
"At the local pawn store. Seemed he was trying to sell some of Ms. McCord's jewelry."
"How did you know it was her jewelry?"
"When we were going through the house, we saw, what looked like a jewelry box open and empty. I spoke with Ms. McCord's aunt and she was able to describe to me several of the more significant pieces that should have been in there. I put out a description of the jewelry to all the local pawn shops."
"And, he tried to pawn it?"
"That would be correct. We were able to get to the shop before he left."
"Did he have anything to say?"
"You bet. Once we got him to the station, and started interrogating him, he was quick to talk. Apparently, Ms. Cantrell was not the intended victim at the dinner. He said it was supposed to be a Mr. Haynes Duiese."
"Really?" He paused,"The plan was to kill Haynes not Colleen."
"So the 2 knew each other?"
"Yes, you could say they were an 'item.' Colleen was Haynes' date that evening."
They discussed the situation. When the officer in Mobile learned what Cajo had told Pearce and the Sheriff, he was even more interested in Santos. "He must have heard your car pull up and made it out of the back door just in time." He was a quiet. "Why were you asking about poison?"
"Based on a blood test, we know that she was killed by ingesting cyanide."
"So you think that Ms. McCord gave Santos the poison and he put it in Ms. Cantrell's food?"
"That's the thought."
"But why did he do that, if the plan was to kill Mr. Duiese?"
"That's what we need to find out."
They discussed a few more things and rang off.
Meanwhile, Cordelia had always been a very important part of Wells' life. In his mind she was better than any grandmother, she was 'Aunt Cordelia'. So it was natural that Cordelia take care of him. The only other option would have been his Aunt Liza. She had enough problems raising her own children, there was no way Cordelia was going to let her attempt to take care of Wells.
Of course, in addition to Cordelia, there was Pearl. She was even more doting than Cordelia thought about being. She believed that good food could always soothe the soul, especially her biscuits and chocolate chip cookies. Between the 2 women, Wells was in good hands.
Belva's funeral had been delayed due to the on going investigation and the circumstances of her death. Colleen's service was Monday afternoon. She had a last will and testament in which she stated she wanted to be cremated.
Her service was the first time Haynes had met Wells. He could see Colleen in him. This was a smart, nice looking young man who had watched his world crumble in a just a matter of a few years. His therapist had done a great job keeping the young man centered. Considering all he had gone through beyond the divorce - his father's change and now the death of both of his parents.
After the ceremony, Haynes had invited everyone back to his house for a luncheon. It was a full house. Despite the reason for the gathering, everyone had a good time. Haynes knew that was the way Colleen would have wanted it to be. So far, Haynes had been able to get through Colleen's death without having a break down. As always Parker and Bob were his rock. Naturally, both of them were also devastated by her death.
After everyone had gone home and the caterer had cleaned up and left, Haynes, Parker, and Bob found themselves on the patio with a bottle of wine. It was nice to enjoy the quiet after all the noise, laughter, and conversation of the day.
Parker asked, "Dad, what do you think of Wells?"
"I was most impressed. I know Colleen not being able to spend time with him must have been agonizing. And to have a parent change gender and leave, then to lose both parents within a week of each other, is hard on anyone, much less a 9 year old boy."
"Well, I think he is smart and thoughtful."
Haynes told Parker and Bob about Belva having found the therapists that specialized in children of transgender parents. Wells saw Dr. Haskell at least once a week.
Bob laughed, "They have those?"
"Apparently so and Wells is proof of how well the therapy can work. Thanks to her, this young man has been able to cope with his situation."
"I guess he is the closest you have ever had to grandchild," laughed Parker.
"I hadn't thought of that. Colleen talked about him a lot, but today was the first time I met him. Colleen and I never discussed him meeting me. Not that she had an issue with it, I just think it would have complicated a situation that was taxed as it was. The whole thing was a bit strange." Haynes was quiet. "It would have been very special."
Bob spoke up, "Well, what's stopping you now? Just because Colleen is no longer here, nothing says you cannot be part of Wells' life."
"Colleen would be thrilled. Think about it," added Parker.
"Okay, let me get this straight. He would be the 'adopted' grandson of the man his father was seeing after he transgendered into a woman."
"Yep, that's about it," laughed Bob.
"Oh, Dad, it's just a matter of semantics," Parker said laughing. "And, we all know semantics are so overrated."
"If there was a time, he ever needed you and you needed him, this was be it. Just get to know him. It will take some time."
Haynes was quiet. "Well, it's not like you 2 are ever going to make me a grandfather."
Back at the station the Sheriff asked Mike to come into his office. He wanted to tell him what he had learned from his visit with Pearce.
Mike quickly added, "So the lady in the purple gown gave Santos an envelope, maybe containing the poison. Then he put it in Colleen's dessert making sure he served it."
"But who was wearing a purple dress?"
"I don't remember a purple gown. What about asking Reeza? She was there."
"Sure she there, but only on the edge of the lawn. Oh, we can ask, but she is incapable of giving a clear answer. I'm not up for her mumbo jumbo right now.
"Wait," Mike said, as if a light had gone on in his head. "Belva McCord was wearing a purple dress.
"Remember, I spoke with her after Colleen's death. At the time I didn't recognize who she was. She never turned her face to look at me. She was very upset. Later Sam told me who she was."
"You sure you don't remember another purple dress?" He paused. "Could she have been putting on?"
"No, she was distraught. She was crying so hard when I walked up that she was shaking. I don't think you can fake that."
"But she never looked at you?"
"No, but Sam knew who she was."
The Sheriff was quiet. Then he remembered the cards. "Reeza said there was 'deceit'. That could be her pain over Culler's second life. Maybe she felt he had deceived her."
Mike added slowly, "And, 'pain' when he left. She felt abandoned."
The Sheriff added, "And what could be more "revengeful" than death?"
Mike added, "Well, I would think eternal pain and suffering would be revenge. But death is very efficient."
"Pain, deceit, revenge, death . . ." "'Regret'? Maybe at the time I approached her she was despondent due to regret." "And, 'change in feelings', could that be her regret after it was done? Remember she was wearing a purple dress. That fits with what Cajo said he saw." "So the poison was in the dessert." The Sheriff shook his head. "Belva, that really surprises me. I thought she had moved on." "Should we call Cordelia?" "Not yet. Let's just go pay Belva a visit." "In Mobile?
"You know another place?" They walked into the front office. The Sheriff told Mary Lou they were going to Mobile - but shared nothing else. Along the way, Mike and the Sheriff talked about current cases they were working on. To add some levity to the conversation, the Sheriff also shared with Mike the events with the Bean Counter.
They arrived at Belva's house. A car was in the drive. However there was no response when they knocked on the door. Mike said, "I'll walk around the house see if anything is amiss." He made his way down the left side, looking into each window. As he reached the last window on that side of the house, something caught his eye. He looked closer. He yelled, "Sheriff, we need to get into the house - the back room to your left." From the tone of Mike's voice the Sheriff didn't hesitate to take a iron fern stand, that was sitting on the front porch, and crash in into the door. He reached in and unlocked the door. His first thought was, 'Thank God, they don't make doors like they used to.' By this time Mike was on his heels. Sheriff opened the door to the back room. "Dear God." Belva's still body was hanging from the closet door. Mike pulled out a knife and cut the scarf that was around her neck. The Sheriff slowly pulled her down and lay her on the floor. He felt her pulse. "She still has a pulse. Call 911." In no time the Mobile City Police and Rescue Squad arrived. The EMT's hurried, as the Sheriff led them to the back room. They asked a few questions, as they tried to revive her. But they were not successful. One EMT looked at the Sheriff, "For someone to still have a pulse after hanging themselves, you were almost here in time to save her." The Policeman walked up and introduced himself to the Sheriff and
Mike. "You found her?" "Yes sir." Sheriff explained why they were there and how they found her. "I don't think she tried to kill herself. How did she get high enough to reach the door frame? There would have been a stool or chair. And there wasn't. My guess is we are talking about murder." The Policeman asked a few questions. "Do you know her next of kin?" Mike spoke up, "She has a sister and an aunt. I can get their contact numbers for you."
"I'd appreciate that. I always like to gauge their initial reaction and I can get some information." The policeman made some notes. "Any idea who would do this?"
"No, not all. But there are a lot of moving parts here." "Didn't she learn lately, that her husband had a 'limp wrist'? Wonder what happened to him?" Mike spoke first, "She was killed Monday evening - poisoned, cyanide. That is why we need to know if there is any cyanide is found." "So she and her husband, whoever, were killed within the same week?" "Looks like it." "How did you put all these pieces together?" The Sheriff smiled, "It was in the cards." Not understanding the Sheriff's comment, the policeman asked,"Do you have any suspects in his, I mean her death?" The Sheriff told him what they had learned from different sources. "So who was the boy that someone saw take something from Ms. Cantrell?" "Santos Garcia, but so far we do not know where he is." The Sheriff reached in his pocket and pulled out the piece of paper Pearce had given him. He handed it to the Policeman. "This is everything I know about him. Santos worked for Pearce Phinigan, back in Gallagher. But he has not been seen since Monday evening." The Policeman took the paper, read it, and looked up. "I'll put out an APB on him. We need to know what he knows." They spoke for a minute or 2. The Sheriff and Mike went back to their car. On the wind shield, under a wiper was a note. The Sheriff picked it up. He looked at Mike, "Seriously? A tarot card?"
Ada Mae had no money. She had showed up in Gallagher with an old carpet bag that held all her worldly belongings. Her wardrobe was quiet unique. Her favorite 'outfit' of a tattered light green flapper style dress and matching parasol. Often she could be seen walking through the town with her parasol. She wore an opera length strand of pearls. She would quickly tell anyone who asked, that they were a gift from her father. Usually she followed with a tale of the provenance. Supposedly they were given to her father by the King of Polynesia. The King made her father king over several hundred islands and atolls. When asked where these islands were on the map, she always laughed and said, "Oh they are all tee tiny islands, so they don't show up on a map." He had sent the pearls to Ada Mae as a little girl, promising he was on his way home. Ada Mae had a fabulous life. She claimed to be a close friend of Zelda Fitzgerald. If someone asked, she would quickly tell that the character Daisy in 'The Great Gatsy' was written with her in mind. That was quite interesting, given Ada Mae was born in the 1970's and Fitzgerald's era was the Jazz Age in the 1920's. However that was her story and she stuck with it.
She never strayed from her story that her uncle had left the house to her. When the bank tried to get some details of the title that she insisted she had, she would demure. She explained that her uncle had given it to her for safe keeping.
Once she claimed the house, she settled into a small bedroom upstairs, totally oblivious to the Sheriff's office downstairs. She would come and go, always sharing her daily adventures. Time was always a relative thing to Ada Mae. It was as if she lived in her own personal time warp.
She lunched with Queen Victoria and played cards with Teddy Roosevelt. Ada Mae would stop random people on the street and tell them how she survived the sinking of the Titanic. Her story telling was so outrageous and descriptive, it was if she really did live this vicarious life. Meanwhile the search for the murderer continued. Pearce called the Sheriff, "Can you come over? I may have something you would be interested in hearing." That was all the Sheriff needed to hear. He was on his way. Wraping up this case and finding who killed Colleen was his top priority. When he arrived at Cre Uisce Aer, he found Pearce in the library standing in the middle of the room. "Thanks for coming." The Sheriff noticed a young man sitting in a chair. "Sheriff, this Cajo Haraque. He works here on the grounds. Monday evening he was a server at the gala." He turned to Cajo, "Tell the Sheriff what you told me." He looked back at the Sheriff, "Now, he is Portuguese, so he speaks broken English." "I was serving the party. First I was working Tables 7 & 8. But before dessert was served, I was changed to Tables 4 & 5." "Who wanted you to change tables?" "Santos, he was another server." "Sheriff, I would have Santos in here also, but I cannot find him. I'll get all the information I have on him." "We'll find him." He turned to Cajo, "Then what happened." "I saw a mulher," he looked at Pearce for help. "Woman." "I saw this woman talk to Santose. They told us not to speak to the guests unless they spoke to us. But she gave him something in a small envelope. Tips I thought." "Do your remember the color of dress the lady was wearing?' Santos looked confused. Pearce spoke, "Her vestido? Cor?" "Iavender? Roxa?" Pearce looked at the Sheriff, "Purple or maybe lavender." "And, her hair color?" Cajo, again, looked at Pearce for help. Pearce answered,"Cabelo? Cor?" "Oh, marrom claro." Pearce interpreted, "Light Brown." Rascal looked at Pearce, "Do you speak Portuguese?" "Not hardly, I picked up a few words here and there from the men working on the restoration." "Do you remember what table the lady was sitting at?" Pearce looked at Santos, "Mesa, numero de mesa?" "Oito" Pearce looked at the Sheriff, "8, table 8." "Did you notice anything else?" "Sim . . . yes. When dessert was served, a server placed the dessert at Senhora morto." Pearce offered, "The lady who died." "Santos stopped him and put another plate in front of her." "So he swapped the plates." Pearce said a few words. Cajo nodded yes and crossed his arms as if to indicate swapping the plates. "Anything else?" Cajo shook his head, saying no. Pearce thanked the young man and said he could leave. At the same time he handed the Sheriff a piece of paper. "This is what I have on Santos." "Any idea who was wearing a purple dress?" Pearce thought for a moment. "I don't remember right now. There were so many people." They spoke for a while, the Sheriff thanked him, then he left. On his way back to the station he remembered Reza's prediction: deceit, pain and revenge, death, and a change in feelings. There were still a few pieces of the puzzle missing.
Rascal walked over to the store, stepped up on the porch. He reached above the double screen doors and pulled down a key.
"Don't we need to call the landlord?"
"But this is trespassing."
They walked into the front office where everthing was covered with a good half inch of dirt. Larry walked around, opened doors, measured the size of the main room. With that he stood up, "This will do."
"Do for what?"
"For the new Sheriff's station."
"Seriously, I'd like to know what part of this is 'new'?"
"Well, I meant as a 'new' location."
"Until the new one is built."
Larry continued walking around measuring windows and door widths. Almost as an after thought he said,"Oh, I doubt they will ever build that new building."
"Well, why in the Hell are you here?"
"To find you a 'new' location."
"If you think I am going to move my office and my staff into this place, you are nuts. We are just fine where we are."
"But, sir . . ."
"But nothing, we have no more business here. I need to go to the bank. I'm sure you can find your way back to old station." He turned, and as if it were an after thought said," Don't worry about locking up. I'll do that later." The Sheriff walked out.
Larry followed him out, not saying a word. He turned and walked back toward the station. The Sheriff said loudly, "Don't waste my time coming here again unless you have our congressman with you carrying a check!"
The Sheriff had no business with the bank. He just knew if he spent 1 more minute with that Bean Counter, he would exploid. No doubt his blood pressure was out of the roof now.
Meanwhile, Larry made his way back to the station. He walked in and Mary Lou realized he was alone, she asked, "What did you do with the Sheriff?"
"Oh, he had to go to the bank."
He picked up the canvas bag he had left on a table in Mary Lou's office. He turned to see this rather eccentric lady come tripping down the stairs, dressed in a long black gown, black gloves and a black veil that dropped from her head to the tips of her fingers. Larry could not make out her face under the veil..
At the bottom of the staircase, she spoke to Mary Lou, "I'm off, don't wait up for me."
Mary Lou nodded, "Be careful."
Before Ada Mae got to the front door, Larry asked, "I hope a family or close friend did not die."
Before Mary Lou could answer, Ada Mae stuck her head in the door. "Not family, he was a dear friend."
Curious about who had died, Mary Lou looked at her, "I'm sorry, who died?"
"Rudyard, but he had a grand life."
"Yes, Kipling, Rudyard Kipling. I'm afraid I'm late, toodle loo." With that she left.
Mary Lou offered no explanation.
"Kipling,?The writer's family lives around here."
"Goodness gracious no." She went back to her work, hoping Larry would leave. There was an uncomfortable silence as he stood there holding his canvas bag.
Finally he spoke,"May, I ask who she was referring to?"
Without looking up, Mary Lou kept typing and answered him. "Rudyard Kipling, surely you know the writer?"
"The only Rudyard Kipling was the man who wrote 'The Jungle Book"?"
Still looking down, Mary Lou answered, "The same one." Larry just stood there. Mary Lou could not help but add, "You know he won a Nobel Prize."
"Yes, but that was a while ago."
"I think 1907."
With that Larry walked quickly out of the office. He wasn't sure if the house was haunted and he had seen the ghost, or if he had had too much coffee.
As soon as the door closed, Mary Lou couldn't help but laugh. The Sheriff walked in, "What is so funny? Did I miss something?"
Mary Lou shared Larry's encounter with Ada Mae.
The Sheriff shook his head as he hung up his hat, "I only wish I had been here to see that."
The bank took notice that Ada Mae claimed the house, and decided not to intervene. Quietly they knew, worse case scenario, Ada Mae would live there quietly. If she decided to fix it up, the FHG&E Board would handle that. Ada Mae was not going anywhere. If her 'title papers' didn't prove authentic, she was a permanent resident by squatter's rights. Sheriff Quinton just took her as part of the 'station' when they first moved in. Her comings and goings at all times of the day and night just became the norm. Unless she engaged them, the Sheriff and his staff carried on as if she did not exist. His reminiscing ended when Mary Lou knocked on his door. She told him 'Larry from the State' was there. He looked at his watch, "Of course, he is. Just in time for lunch. And I'm sure he thinks I'm going to treat him." Mary Lou came back a minute or so later and brought Larry into the office. The Sheriff stood up and greeted him. "Please tell me we are finally ready to start construction." "We will be eventually."
What else should the Sheriff expect from the geeky looking middle aged man standing in front of him. His white shirt was stained, from what looked like, coffee. No doubt he had a pocket protector and a slide rule in the overstuffed canvas bag he carried. Trying to be casual, Larry said, "Now Sheriff, I know I am here at lunch time. Don't let me stop you getting lunch. I can go on my own. That hamburger I had last time I came was one of the best I've ever had." Larry was pulling Sheriff Quitman's last string. Very curtly he said, "I've already eaten," as he sat back down in his chair. "Oh, oh good, I ate on the way over here." Larry just stood there, like a deer in a headlight. The Sheriff remained quiet just to make him more nervous. Finally, Larry spoke. "Sheriff Quitman, can we walk over to the proposed site. There is something I need to look at." "No, problem." The Sheriff got up from his desk, grabbed his hat, and asked, "Exactly, what do you need to look at?" "Well sir, the contractor has a question about the grade on the eastern slope of the property." Rascal was excited about a new station. How many former Sheriffs in Gallagher had waited for this day to come. Meanwhile he was walking down the street with Larry, the Bean Counter, who looked as if he had slept in his ill fitting clothes. The new site was a vacant area, once the location of an old cotton gin that mysteriously burned to the ground one Halloween night. Since the building was over insured and the cotton market had tanked, the family took the loss as 'serendipitous'. The Sheriff tried to make small talk, but he found it painful with the socially awkward guy. At the corner, Larry asked,"What is that building?" "That's the old Peavy Feed & Seed. The Peavy family ran it for over 150 years until there were no more Peavys willing to carry on the family business." "So they sold the business?" "Oh, no, they just had a large sale to get rid of all the merchandise. They shut it up and moved to Florida." "Is it for sale?" "I doubt it. Someone tried to buy it years ago. Said they planned to start a chain store." "What kind of chain?" The Sheriff just looked at him. Larry kept talking, "You know bicycle chains, roller chains, timing chains?" "No, more like a K-Mart, a Piggly Wiggly, or a Wal-Mart." "No, I meant like a store that sells chains. I think they were also going to stock rope and wire." "So its available?" "I don't know. Probably so." "I want to see it. Can you get someone to show it to us?"
The Sheriff went back into his office to make a call. The room was his sanctuary. It fit his personality with its worn wooden floor, old widows with wavy glass, and well aged plaster walls that had not seen fresh paint in 80 years or so. (Mary Lou often referred to the color as 'Rat Shit Brown'.)
Like an old broken in shoe, he was comfortable. So much so, that he could close the door, sit at his desk, and most of the trials of day would disappear - if only for a moment. A state-of-the-art was a double edge sword. He picked up his phone and called Charlotte Beauregard. "Charlotte, this is Rascal, how ya doing?"
"Good, what's up?"
"I've just got a couple of questions about the Gala Monday evening."
"You know I'll be more than glad to help, but I'm afraid I don't know anything." The Sheriff told her about Paten overhearing her conversation with Adair Butler in hall. Obviously, Adair was very upset about something. He paused, "Can you share that with me?" Charlotte was quiet for a moment. "Yes, I will. Normally I would not break a confidence with a good friend. But I want to do whatever I can to help." She sighed. "Clark is having an affair with Colonel Wadsworth's wife. "Winfred?" "Yes, and it had been going on for a while. If that wasn't bad enough," she paused, "Winfred works for Anna Belle."
"You mean at Anna Belles'?" Charlotte laughed, "No - for Anna Belle. Winfred is one of her 'ladies'. At least, according to Adair." The Sheriff was quiet, he obviously did not see that one coming. "Paten said he overheard Adair say something like, 'he would never give her up, she would have to kill her' and 'that she deserved to die'." "Basically, that was the gist of it." "Now, my assumption is she was referring to Winfred." "Absolutely. She had told me earlier in the evening that she finally knew who the other woman was." "Did she ever calm down?"
"Yes, but it took a while. I was eventually able to get her back to the table. Then she seemed much better." "And, she never mentioned anything about Colleen?"
"No," she paused, "not that I recall." "Otherwise, you saw nothing out of the ordinary?" "No. Pray tell you don't think Adair killed Collen." "Anything is possible. I appreciate you sharing this. If you think of anything else, how 'bout call me." "I promise to do that." The Sheriff rung off. Looking around at the battered room his office occupied. He thought again about the new station they planned to build. He shook his head at the memories of those plans. As it was, they were now working from the old Mooney House. The county moved the Sheriff's office into it 68 years ago. The state promised it would only be 6 months or so before the legislature approved funding for a new facility. The house worked okay for some time. Then 6 months turned into a year or 2. Before long it was 68 years later.
The Mooney house was an old home, circa mid 1800's, that was nice in its heyday. However, the Mooney family fell on hard times during the depression. The town bank feared foreclosing. They knew it would only give them an albatross on their books - one, they could never get rid of. No one was interested in buying it, since it was in such bad shape. Listed on 'Gallagher List Fine Homes, Gardens, and Estates', razing the house was not allowed, only a complete restoration, approved by 'The Board'. A majority of those buildings on the list were well past their better days, making them poor investments.Rascal always found that moniker amazing. He was never sure who 'the Board' was, but he knew some folks just had to have a title. In addition to leaky plumbing, swollen doors, and tricky wiring, there were a 'few' other issues with the Mooney house. The roof tended to leak - only when it rained. The floors sagged. Locks on the old doors would often 'randomly' lock, leaving visitors stuck in whatever room they had entered.
Given the house was built as a residence, other than the randomly locking doors, there was no place for a jail. All those poor souls, in serious trouble and arrested in Gallagher County, were trucked to another county to be held in that county's jail. Probably the most 'interesting' feature was Ada Mae Mooney, a forty year old woman who townspeople called 'touched', and not in a good way. Ada Mae had showed up in Gallagher 20 years or so ago. She claimed ownership to the house. Her story was that a distant uncle had left it to her.
The Sheriff decided he needed to talk to Reeza. The only way to see her was to find her. He told Mary Lou and Mike. "I'm headed to the bayou."
"I'll notify your next of kin," laughed Mike.
The Sheriff gave him a smile, "Seriously?"
Mike and Mary Lou laughed as Rascal walked out.
He had not even gotten to his car when he saw Reeza standing there. "I was on my way to see you."
Without smiling, Reeza said, "I know."
Rascal just stood there, "How? How did you know that."
"It's in the cards."
The Sheriff shook his head and walked back into the Station, Reeza a few steps behind. Mary Lou and Mike just watched them go into his office. As he walked behind his desk, he asked, "Okay what's up?"
Reeza stood there. "Anger shows no appreciation."
"I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."
Reeza laughed, "Hurt my feelings? Seriously? I just demand respect."
Trying to rescue the situation, "Reeza, sorry I'm being short. Hell, you know what has been going on. It hasn't been a picnic around here."
She moved the chair closer to the Sheriff's desk and sat down. From out of no where, she pulled out 3 cards. "The cards speak for themselves."
She placed one on the desk. "The 5 of Cups - deception. Someone, I see a female, was experiencing treachery or deceit. She was hurt."
Reeza pulled out another card and placed it on the Sheriff's desk. "The Tower card - sign of anger and revenge."
The Sheriff just watched, knowing he best not say anything. Reeza continued, "The 3rd card." She placed it on his desk. "Death, there will be death as a result of the deception and revenge."
Reeza paused for moment. "Wait, 1 more."
She placed a final card on his desk. 'The Ace of Swords'. Ah, a change, there was a change in feelings." She looked up. Her eyes were green and almost glowing. "That's it."
"That's it? Damn Reeza, as usual I am more confused than before."
Reeza stood, wrapped her caftan around her. She moved out of the office so quickly she was gone before the Sheriff could get around his desk. By the time the Sheriff got to door, Reeza was no where to be seen. "Where'd she go?"
The Sheriff got a call from Hollis. "It definitely was poison - cyanide."
"Where could someone find cyanide?
"It's not hard to find or make it yourself. It is found in almonds, apple seeds, apricot kernel, tobacco smoke, insecticides, pesticides. The list goes on. It causes almost instant death."
"Is it ingested or absorbed through the skin?"
"Both, but it is kills faster when it is digested."
"So we know 'how' but still not 'who' or 'why'." The Sheriff looked at his notes, "Well, we've narrowed the list down a bit."
"Really? Who's on the list?"
The Sheriff read off the names:
- There's Dixie Quinton, she was overheard saying "If you're gonna kill someone, kill her." And she was sitting at her table.
- Then there's Stella, who arranged who was sitting at her table. I'm sure what that was all about."
By the way, do you know why Stella changed the seating chart?"
"I had no idea that she had."
"Apparently she called Pearce before the gala and asked if he could change her table. She gave him the names she wanted at her table. Pearce made the changes."
Hollis was quiet for a moment. "That makes no sense. Betty Jean and Finch Winston were at the table. Why would she request that? You know the history there."
"Yeah, that's pretty much an open secret." He paused, "Hollis, we have a witness who saw the 2 of y'all in the garden just after the first course. According to him, Stella was very upset."
"I was trying to console her. She was having a 'little' issue sitting at the same table with Betty Jean. Which makes even less sense if she was the one who set it up."
"I'm sorry Stella was upset, but I am glad to know why." He looked at his notes. "Then Paten overheard Charlotte Beauregard trying to calm Adair Butler. He said he heard Adair say 'I'm going to kill her. I'm serious." He looked at his notes again. "Then Mike saw Belva Culler. Found her crying in the garden."
"Why is it only women on your list?"
"I think because men do not carry grudges."
Hollis was amazed. "That is some list."
"Yep, sure is."
Parker and Bob were over at Haynes' home for that evening. During the meal, Haynes told them about Colleen's visit by Reeza. He also retold the conversation he had with the Sheriff about Reeza. "What I want to know, is how in the heck did Rascal know about Reeza?"
Parker laughed, "I'll take responsibility for that."
"I forget the details, but it happened one evening at Dot's."
Haynes' laughed, "That must have been an interesting conversation."
They were all quiet for a few minutes.
Parker broke the silence. "Dad, are you okay?"
Haynes hesitated, "I will be in time."
Bob offered, "You know we are here."
"And, that means a lot to me." He sighed, "God, she was special."
Bob asked with wry smile, "This may be too early, but can I have first dibs at her clothes".
"Seriously!" said Parker.
"Well it doesn't hurt to ask."
Haynes laughed, "Nothing would've made her happier." He just shook his head, smiled, and took a sip of his wine.
"Dad do they have any idea what happened. I mean who did this?"
"So far, if they know, they're not telling."
As Parker stood up to get some more wine, he commented, "Given her situation, no doubt there were some folks out there who took issue with her."
"I know there were some who never understood our relationship."
With that, they moved out to the patio with their wine.
"I love being out here. This patio always remind me of Mom."
"She did a great job planning it. I had no idea, we would enjoy it as much as we have."
Parker smiled, "She was always ahead of us."
Haynes was quiet. He took a sip of his wine. "I have been so lucky. I've loved . . . and lost twice."
"Dad, you have to remember the good times. Live on the memories."