and the Gang Will Stop At Nothing To Clear A Diva's Husband of Murder Charges.
You'd think a midnight prowler would have sense enough to get out after being discovered by a group of middle-aged women armed with flower vases. Or at least stop what he was doing. Not this one. Despite our menacing appearance, he kept opening cabinet doors and drawers. Our intruder wore what looked like a black Ninja outfit. It did not flatter. He was a bit chunky and not much taller than me. Nor did he move very fast as Gaynelle and I bore down on him like a freight train. Instead of screaming in fear and fleeing out the front door--which stood wide open to help facilitate his escape--he turned away from the cabinet he had opened and threw something heavy. It was a Mason jar, and it hit poor Gaynelle right smack in the middle of the forehead. She dropped to the floor like a sack of flour. I looked down at her, then up at the masked intruder. Eyes glittered at me from the tiny eyeholes, and as he seemed to be unarmed--no more Mason jars at hand--I left out a bellow and charged him.
VIRGINIA BROWN is the author of more than fifty novels in romance and mystery. Next up in her bestselling Dixie Divas Mysteries: Divas and Dead Rebels.
Also coming soon: the Blue Suede Memphis Mysteries and Virginia's mystery/drama sage, Dark River Road
year murder was something I read about, not something in which I was an active
participant. That has greatly changed since my return home.
Not that I
participate in heinous acts of murder, of course. No, it’s more like I’m
involved in the clean-up detail afterward. So to speak. Now, I did not in any
way seek out this new pastime. After all, it has its hazards. Nor do I ever see
it coming before it strikes. I can be especially obtuse.
most part, I amble along until I take the last step off a metaphorical cliff
into a murder case. In the past few months it has begun slowly: a hint of
warning here, a smidge of difficulty there, then full-fledged calamity strikes.
It’s not as if I am unaware that danger is out there. Usually, I am the nagging
voice warning people to stop at the crosswalk; watch for cars; yes, the dog
bites; just leave the corpse in the closet.
this time. This time, disaster blasted in from the Mississippi delta like a
runaway freight train. It all started one hot afternoon when Bitty Hollandale
and I sat out on the front porch of her antebellum home in Holly Springs,
My name is
Trinket Truevine, and I live with my elderly parents about three miles outside
the Holly Springs city limits in a house named Cherryhill. It is the house in
which I grew up, an antebellum-style that is listed on the Historical Register
because it had the misfortune of being set on fire by the Yankees a hundred and
some-odd years ago. We tend to remember things like that in the South. Bitty
Hollandale is my best friend/first cousin. We grew up together and are apt to
finish one another’s sentences, and far too often, our minds run in the same
direction—usually the wrong way.
September, north Mississippi sizzled in the heat. It hasn’t always been like
this. Once upon a time about thirty or forty years ago, the month of September
was a pretty firm dividing line between summer and fall. I can remember going
to the Mid-South Fair up in Memphis in late September wearing a coat, gloves,
and hat. Now tank tops and shorts are the more common attire.
not going to argue cause-and-effect with global warming enthusiasts or
detractors, suffice it to say that Bitty and I sat on the afore-mentioned front
porch of Six Chimneys—we like to name our older homes—under ceiling fans and
with cool drinks firmly in our hands that hot September afternoon. We would
have been inside if not for the particularly strong stench emanating from the
solution used by a pest control company. Old houses attract more than enough
species of creepy crawly things and must be regularly sprayed. It was certainly
bad enough to drive us out of the air conditioning and onto the porch.
Fortunately, we both wore cool clothes. Bitty had on a sleeveless tangerine top
and tan capris, and I wore a blue tee shirt and denim capris.
of conversation had drifted to the Hummingbird Festival held at nearby
Strawberry Plains every September. I waxed enthusiastically about the coming
Audubon Society owns and operates the house and gardens, it gets a lot of good
publicity. There are going to be tons of people there. That grand old house and
those gorgeous gardens... and all those hummingbirds stopping
by to fuel up on their way south for the winter. Beautiful!”
just know Trina Madewell will be there all gussied up in some horrid outfit
that makes her look like an overstuffed couch, and—”
broke in, "we agreed not to gossip about other people, remember?”
turned wide blue eyes on me as if she had no idea what I was talking about.
agreed to anything like that, Trinket Truevine, and you know it.”
immediately interrupted by shaking her head so vigorously I thought it might
detach and roll across the porch like a blonde beach ball. "No, you can only
recall suggesting we not gossip. I did not reply. That signifies neither
assent nor dissent.”
I said, "we’re using fifty-cent words now, are we.”
college education did not go completely to waste, dear.”
"I should say not. You met your first husband at Ole Miss, and got a degree in
Partying 101 as well as How to Marry the Most Eligible Jock.”
being insulted, Bitty preened a little bit. "I did, didn’t I? Frank Caldwell
was pursued by every girl in my sorority, but he chose me.”
It’s a very unladylike sound, but that’s one of the many differences between
Bitty and me. She sniffs daintily. I snort rudely.
"Choseyou? Good lord, the poor guy never had a chance once you set your sights on
him. Too bad he didn’t listen to his professors as much as he did you. He
wouldn’t be doing fifteen to twenty-five in a Federal prison right now.”
sighed. "Frank never did believe in doing things the right way instead of going
for the easiest. If he hadn’t gotten stuck with all the blame by those nasty
men—who are now living in Aruba, no doubt—he might have gotten off with a
very doubtful. He ran a pyramid scheme that took people’s life savings. I doubt
any sane judge would have given Frank just a warning.”
pity. Still, he’s the father of my sons, so I must endure the shame.”
put the back of her hand against her forehead, I resisted the urge to toss what
was left of my drink at her. For one thing, I’m accustomed to Bitty’s theatrics
by now, and for another thing, she wears her pug like a fashion accessory. Said
pug is rather elderly, has only three fangs and a tendency to flatulence, and
brooks no insults to either Bitty or herself. Chen Ling—I have recently been
forbidden to ever again use my favorite name for the dog since Miranda Watson
bought a miniature pig and named it Chitling, too—is Bitty’s constant
accessory. Chen Ling bites when annoyed. Chen Ling is easily annoyed.
of wasting a good mimosa, I drained my glass and got up from the wicker chair
where I’d been comfortably supported by fat blue pillows—they contrast nicely
with the circa 1845 pink house—and announced my intention of going for a
quickly from her dramatic moment, Bitty thrust her glass toward me. "Ooh, get
me another too, please. And would you mind bringing Chen Ling her bottled
water? It’s in the fridge right by the champagne and orange juice.”
anything else, Madame? An apéritif? A napkin for your ugly child, perhaps?”
growled, Bitty said something quite rude, and I was still smiling as I went
into her kitchen. The kitchen has been newly remodeled, and while it’s lovely,
I can vividly recall the damage done by a fire that necessitated the remodel.
Thankfully, Bitty no longer attempts to cook. Not only can she again afford to
have Sharita Stone come in to cook a week’s meals for her, I’m pretty sure the
firemen insisted upon it at their last meeting. It saves more than just
antebellum homes from total destruction; it also saves volunteer firemen from
unnecessarily dealing with hysterical, half-dressed, fully-drenched women.
returned to the porch, Bitty set her drink on the wicker side table and took
the bottled water for the dog. Chen Ling drank half—yes, from the spout—then
smacked her doggy lips, clacked her three front teeth together, and settled
down on Bitty’s lap.
I said, "you treat that dog better than you do your guests.”
Unless you’re referring to yourself. Then it’s only half-true.”
agreement because really, she’s right. Bitty was reared at her mother’s knee
learning every social convention any hostess could dream up and use to put
another hostess to shame. My upbringing was different, although not as much as
one might think. Both our mothers had strict social guidelines, but where
Bitty’s mother, Sarah, came from money and that seemed to require lots of
social obligations most of us never have to hear about, my mother, Anna, came
from a genteel but middle-class family with fewer rules. Bitty learned the
proper function of every piece of dining utensil from a cocktail fork to a fish
knife. My siblings and I learned not to throw dining utensils at the table.
Edward Wellford Truevine, is a year older than his now-deceased brother, who
was Bitty’s father. That makes Bitty and I first cousins. The best friends part
of our relationship happened when we were around six, and held strong all
through our childhoods, until young adulthood took us down different paths.
though I married and moved off and only returned to Holly Springs a little over
nine months ago, we picked up right where we left off in terms of friendship.
In a world that often seems to have gone crazy, this continuity is comforting.
As well as a bit dangerous at times. Since returning home, my friendship with
Bitty and a group of local women in a club known as the Dixie Divas has
encountered... shall we say, rather bizarre situations. The oddest
situation being murder. Until this past year, I had never known anyone who was
murdered or a murderer. My education has broadened quite a bit.
By that, I
certainly do not mean that she is in any way to blame for the actual murder or
murders. Or murderers. It’s just a very odd coincidence that in one way or
another she has been connected to each of the deceased.
occasional jest at her expense—and only in the most loving way—I am well aware
that Bitty just has the bad fortune to know most everyone in and around Holly
Springs. A few spiteful people have mentioned that she seems to draw trouble
these days, but I am not one of them. Well, not often and never in anyone’s
hearing that would dare repeat it to her.
Bitty’s last divorce—from a newly reelected state senator—had been rancorous
enough to draw attention from all over Mississippi and the nation’s capital.
His unexpected death and the subsequent investigation had tongues wagging from
the east to the west coast, I understand. Certainly, after it was all over,
Bitty had gained a lot of male admirers who did not hesitate to send marriage
proposals to a wealthy "widow” by mail. If most of the proposals had not come
from the prison population, Bitty may well have embarked upon another adventure.
Jackson Lee Brunetti, her attorney and chief male admirer, does an admirable
job of keeping away the riff-raff. He’s tall, handsome, of Italian descent, and
is hopelessly in love with my cousin. Bless his heart. Now, there’s a
match made in practicality paradise: a shrewd lawyer and a client prone to
idiotic acts of self-incrimination. What could be more perfect?
afternoon on her porch, I had actually begun to think the drama and danger of
the past few months just might have ended forever. After all, we had gone for
nine weeks without a single bit of trouble out of the ordinary. By that, I mean
no one we knew had gotten murdered. Or arrested for murder. I felt
congratulations were in order.
congratulate ourselves,” I said to change the subject from Trina, "that nothing
bad has happened in the past few weeks.”
lifted her freshly waxed eyebrows at me. "Nothing bad? Parrish and
Patrice Hollandale won their lawsuit against me.”
didn’t really win. Since Philip is dead, your alimony payments would have
stopped anyway. Jackson Lee just got you a really nice settlement instead.”
Bitty "hmmphed”at me but didn’t argue the case. She should have.
since learned that I have a tendency toward premature congratulation. One would
think I would have realized that before. In retrospect, maybe I am still
vulnerable to insanity. After all, I had recently divorced my husband of nearly
thirty years, quit my job, and after long phone conversations with my
elderly—and unexpectedly mobile—parents, decided it would be best if I came
home to care for them. Hah!
probably took me longer than any normal person would have required to figure
out that my return home to nurse feeble parents was in reality a new position
as travel agent and caretaker to an endearing, if neurotic, dog and a couple
hundred feral cats. My parents require no nursing, just chauffeuring to and
from airplane and boat terminals. I am willing, if not delighted, to oblige.
they have been willing, if not delighted, to watch Bitty and me self-destruct
in a number of inventive ways. Bitty is very creative. I am a lemming. I
promise myself I will not join in to whatever madness she concocts next, but I
almost always do. I do not really know why. Perhaps one day a doctor will
explain it to me once I’m safely installed in a padded room at Whitfield, the
state "rehabilitation” facility for people prone to idiotic acts of
Forsythe, a Diva and long-time friend, has observed that putting Bitty and me
together in the same space is quite similar to putting gas and a lit match
together in the same space: highly combustible.
true. We do tend to draw unusual occurrences into our sphere of the planetary
orbit. It must be Bitty’s magnetic field.
said Bitty after her second sip of mimosa, "I can’t understand why that woman
doesn’t consult a stylist. And I don’t mean just for interior decorating.”
we had gone back to the topic of Trina Madewell. I sighed.
doesn’t think she needs to. Besides, think how much pleasure it gives you to
criticize her wardrobe. Would you want to end that?”
flapped her hand at me as if to dismiss my observation entirely. "Oh, Trina
gives me more than enough reason for criticism. She has the personality of a
sock puppet and the business sense of a rock.”
at her rude assessment. "You’re just mad because she said you have tacky taste
the nerve! And after I invited her into my home, shared my hospitality with
her, she goes off and tells everyone my antiques are cheap copies, and my
settee is filled with rocks instead of horsehair.”
admit, the settee is uncomfortable,” I said soothingly.
a stern gaze my way. "I invited her to tea, Trinket, not a critique of
invited her to an interrogation. You just happened to serve tea with
yes, I suppose that’s true. I didn’t mean things to get out of hand like they
did. And I certainly didn’t think Trina would be so hateful afterward.”
that on the alien in your lap. She’s the one who jumped in the middle of the
precious,” Bitty crooned to the pompous pug in her lap. "All that fuss and
shouting kept her tummy upset for a week.”
down an inch of champagne and orange juice before I said, "It didn’t do my
stomach any favors, either. Tell me again why we’re having this waltz down
Memory Lane? Are we already out of other things to complain about?”
sighed and laid her head back against the fat blue cushions of her wicker
lounge chair. "Well, I’m tired of talking about how hot it is. Why on earth did
that nice Al Gore ever start all that stuff about warming the globe? It’s done
nothing but cause trouble, and raise my air conditioning bill—it’s higher than
a politician’s hair at a Sunday School picnic.”
tried to figure out that non-sequitur, Bitty rambled on about other world
events of great importance, such as how the rule about not wearing white after
Labor Day should be amended since it was still so hot in September now, and how
Trina and Trisha Madewell had put out a color brochure advertising their family
home as a bed and breakfast but didn’t include one word about a famous murder
there, and didn’t I think it was spiteful of Miranda to name her silly pig
something so close to Chen Ling’s name... Truthfully,
somewhere in there I zoned out. I listened to the katydids in the trees hum
louder and louder as the afternoon lengthened, and wondered idly if Bitty’s
sprinkler system would drown out the cricket serenade when it switched on at
dawn. I thought about my parents and how happy they seemed lately, poring over
travel pamphlets at the kitchen table while I looked for the Maalox and prayed
they wouldn’t try to climb Mount Everest or the Matterhorn. I had recently
hidden a lovely brochure they sent off for about visiting pyramids in the
Valley of the Kings in Egypt. Twice. My parents are nothing if not resourceful.
I fully expect to one day receive a post card from Cairo with a photo of both
my parents waving to me from the back of a disgruntled camel. By then my mail
will no doubt be addressed to me in care of Whitfield Sanitarium. Or the
contemplated the relaxing properties of champagne that allowed me to deal with
not only septuagenarians, but grumpy pugs and rattle-brained cousins. If not
for fermented grapes, I definitely would be on strong medication. Too bad my
stomach does not allow me to be an alcoholic. I think I have all the rules down
brought me back from my reverie by leaning over to poke me with one finger.
"You’re not listening,” she accused.
I took a
wild guess at the conversational topic. "Of course I am. You’re talking about
Trina Madewell’s interesting wardrobe choices.”
back in her lounge chair and looked at me with slitted eyes. "You just took a
good guess, I’m sure, but yes—that is what bothers me.”
heaven’s sake, Trinket, because anyone who dresses like she does has no right
to say my antiques are just cheap copies! Haven’t you heard a word I’ve said?”
upon your every word like it is a precious pearl of wisdom, my dear.”
something quite rude, I responded by fanning my face with one hand and
drawling, "My, my, it’s so vairy, vairy wahm out heah,” and then we both
laughed. I suppose you have to be there to get the essence of our craziness,
but we tend to enjoy it.
that’s one reason we get into trouble without even trying. As adolescents, it
wasn’t surprising; as adults, my mother is mystified by this new course our
lives have taken. So am I. It’s unnerving that we can just be sitting around
and a chance phone call, or some other means of modern communication, suddenly
plunges us into a world of trouble. Almost always, Bitty is right smack in the
center of the chaos.
my surprise when trouble came from a completely different direction.
were on the porch discussing—arguing—about whether or not saying Trina Madewell
usually looks like an unmade bed is gossip or fact, when Rayna Blue screeched
her SUV to a stop in front of the house. It’s a new one to replace the last one
that took a dive off a back road and into a gully, and very shiny. No one has
dinged it yet in the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly or at Walmart. That’s why
it seemed odd to me that she would slam it into Park and jump out and leave the
driver’s door wide open.
sure does seem to be in a hurry,” Bitty remarked. "She’s going to end up with a
heat stroke if she isn’t careful.”
going so fast she was almost running as she cleared the curb, sidewalk, and
shoved open the iron gate to Bitty’s fence. Her dark hair was pulled straight
back from her face into a pony tail, and she wore a sleeveless white blouse and
jeans with what looked like paint all over them. Her paint-smeared tennis shoes
were untied and the laces flapped against the brick walkway as she came up to
Rayna,” said Bitty, "we’re drinking mimosas if you want one.”
you to come with me,” Rayna said, not even responding to Bitty’s offer of a
cool drink. "It’s Rob. He’s in trouble.”
married to Rob Rainey, who is a local bondsman as well as insurance
investigator. Rob has been kept pretty busy lately bailing out Divas, so naturally,
we both said we would go with her. We didn’t even ask what kind of trouble or
where we were going. We just got our purses—and Chen Ling’s traveling
harness—and climbed into Rayna’s car.
over at Rayna once we were moving down College Street toward town. Fine white
lines etched her face, and tension made her knuckles white on the steering
wheel. This was something really bad, I figured. Rayna just didn’t get this
upset about most things. Not that she is immune to fits of pique; the last one
she’d had got both of us into trouble way over our heads. But that is the
exception rather than the norm.
okay?” I asked her, and she shook her head.
scared out of my mind.”
the back seat with Chen Ling cuddled against her chest like some mutant papoose
in a doggy sling, Bitty asked bluntly, "So what kind of trouble is Rob in?”
pulled the car over to the curb in front of a house I recognized, and hit the
horn twice. Gaynelle Bishop opened the front door and scurried down the walk
toward us. She’s a retired schoolteacher and long-time Diva. Now that she
doesn’t have to teach children to sit still, listen, and stop cussing in class,
her entire appearance has changed. She used to wear plain cotton dresses,
cats-eye glasses, and short hair that was dull gray. That’s altered to silk
blouses, silk-blend slacks, contact lens or designer eyeglasses, and hair cut
into an inverted bob and colored a nice shade of light brown.
Gaynelle was in the back seat next to Bitty and the pug, Rayna turned in the
driver’s seat to look at all of us.
"Rob is in
Clarksdale. In jail. I have to go post bond for him.”
I gaped at
her. "Rob? In jail? Dear lord, what idiotic thing happened that would put him
in jail? I mean, he’s a former cop. Don’t police have some kind of silent
agreement about not arresting each other? You know, as comrades in arms, so to
smile curved Rayna’s mouth. "It would be nice.”
rearranged Chen Ling in her baby sling and said, "It’s not like Rob is some
kind of criminal, for heaven’s sake. He’s not the kind of man to run out and
break a law. Is he? I mean, if he did, he must have had a good reason for it.
Was he drinking?”
Bitty a reproving look meant to shut her up, then said to Rayna, "It’s just
something minor, I’m sure. Right?”
Rayna, and took a deep breath. "They’ve charged Rob with murder.”
I repeated. "Murder? Robert Rainey? Are you serious?”
heaven’s sake, Trinket,” said Bitty, "why would she kid about a thing like that?
You’re not kidding, are you, Rayna?”
not kidding. He called about fifteen minutes ago.”
nodded. "I was there when he called. This is so awful. But it’s going to be
fine, Rayna, you know it is. There’s been some error made, and they may even
have released him by the time we get there. This is all just a big mistake.”
fervent comment sounded more like a prayer, and I added my own, as I am pretty
sure Bitty and Gaynelle did, too. Chen Ling made the only sound in the sudden
silence that fell, and that was a doggy sort of utterance that I generously
decided to think of as her own kind of prayer on Rob’s behalf.
back in her seat, Rayna squared her shoulders and started the SUV. We left
Holly Springs and headed west to Clarksdale, none of us knowing quite what we
would find when we got there. Whatever it was, I had the nagging feeling that
it would not be good.