Dirty Harriet Rides Again

Dirty Harriet Rides Again

Miriam Auerbach

July 2013 $10.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-297-2

Once again, it's Harriet's job to kick some butt in Boca Raton.

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Once again, it's Harriet's job to kick some butt in Boca Raton.

Someone is murdering clergy members in Florida's ritzy resort haven—starting with the minister at the gay wedding of private detective Harriet Horowitz's best friends. Suspicion focuses on the drag queens of the Holy Rollers Motorcycle Club and Gospel Choir, who provided the wedding's musical entertainment.

Harriet—always defending the underdog—is hired to clear the choir's name. Pretty soon a rabbi becomes the next victim, and Harriet's lust-buddy, Israeli martial arts instructor Lior Ben Yehuda, is arrested as the prime suspect. It's time for Harriet to climb on her Harley and wreck the pampered peace of the society that used to think of her as just another wealthy Boca babe.

Dirty Harriet rides again.

Dirty Harriet, Miriam Auerbach's debut mystery novel, won a Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Award. Miriam can only assume that this is because the heroine kills her husband on page one. In a parallel universe, Miriam is known as Miriam Potocky, professor of social work at Florida International University in Miami. She lives in South Florida with her husband and their multicultural canines, a Welsh Corgi and a Brussels Griffon.


"I like that Harriet is a woman who doesn't need a man in her life to feel complete...The narrative is sarcastic, witty, and even the conversations with the alligator made me smile." -- Tara Chevrestt, New Age Mama

"I like this series...A diverse cast of characters complete this great story." -- Ann Klausing, NetGalley

"Miriam Auerbach continues her saga with another can't-put-down story filled with unique characters and laugh-out-loud humor. Four and a half stars."—RT Book Reviews


Chapter 1

AS WEDDINGS go, it was a little . . . unorthodox. And that was before the body turned up. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Let me begin by stating immediately and emphatically that it wasn't my wedding. Please, that's not gonna happen (again). At thirty-nine, I've been happily widowed for four years since shooting my abusive husband in self-defense. That act of freedom really made my day and earned me the nickname Dirty Harriet.

My real name is Harriet Horowitz. The wedding in reference was that of my best buds, Chuck and Enrique. Now, seeing as these are two members of the male persuasion, some people would say it wasn't a real wedding. To them I would say, "Get a life!" Love doesn't get any more real than what these two had going.

Okay, so our beautiful, bountiful burg of Boca Raton and our great state of Florida doesn't bestow legal recognition on gay unions. As far as I'm concerned, that's a plus. After all, it was the law that had sanctified my own unholy sham of a marriage. And it was the law that had done shit for me when my husband beat the shit out of me.

So the law, rules, and regulations don't mean a whole lot to me. Truth and justice do. That's where my inner vigilante comes in. But more on that later.

Chuck and Enrique's love was true and just, which is why I was there that April Sunday standing up for them as best human in their commitment ceremony. I was standing, to be precise, at the altar of the Church of the Gender-Free God, waiting for the grooms to walk down the aisle.

In honor of the occasion, I had ditched my daily uniform of black leggings, black tank top, riding boots, and leathers when I dismounted my trusty steed—my 2003 hundredth anniversary Harley Hugger. I wore a rented Vera Wang floor-length silver gown, matched by four-inch sandals and shoulder-length silver earrings. I'd had my normally wild dark hair blown out, and it hung down my back in long silky perfection. My green eyes were fully lined and mascaraed, and my normally bare, raw nails were painted Princess Pearl. Damned if I didn't look like my former incarnation of myself—a Boca Babe ne plus ultra.

What's a Boca Babe, you ask? Well, that's a two-part question. First of all, the town of Boca is located between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach and has been called the Beverly Hills of the East. Just like that other place, Boca's got its balmy breezes, plentiful palm trees, mind-boggling mansions, serious shopping, and beaucoup bucks. So much money that Boca ranks as the second wealthiest municipality in Palm Beach County, just behind the island of Palm Beach, which is in a whole different class. Think Monte Carlo and St. Tropez. Or, Palm Beach is old money elite and Boca Raton, tacky nouveau riche. And most of the Boca-ites' new money seems to come from some pretty shady dealings.

Now as for Boca Babes, here are some clues: if it costs you $200 to get your hair cut and another $250 to get it colored, you might be a Boca Babe. If you don't talk to anyone who doesn't own anything made by Prada, then you just might be a Boca Babe. If your boobs are a size 34DD and your butt is a size zero, then you are probably a Boca Babe. If you live in a house the size of a jumbo jet hangar, then you are likely a Boca Babe. But if you don't have a husband who's a doctor, lawyer, investment banker, or developer raking in over a million a year, then you're definitely not a Boca Babe. And if you're all of the above but have hit the big 4-0, you're no longer a Boca Babe—you're now a Botox Babe.

I shed my Boca Babe persona like a snake shedding its skin the day I shed (okay, shot) my husband, and I've never looked back. Now I'm a hog-riding, ass-kicking, swamp-dwelling, private eye making a fine living busting the very people I used to wine and dine with. So my temporary reversion to Babeness gives you some sense of the supreme sacrifice I was making for my friends.

But even though I'd transformed myself for the day, a part of the real me still came through, like the rose tattoo on my left boob that peeked out of my low-cut dress, thanks to the strapless push-up corset that I'd spent a small fortune on. Between that and a pair of my old Gucci high heels, I was in some serious discomfort. After all, I wasn't 21 anymore. This whole hottie act does not get easier with time. I was ready for this show to get on the road so I could disrobe.

The proceeding seemed to be taking its sweet time, though. So as I waited, I gazed out at the guests. Right up front was Enrique's mama from Panama, decked out in a lime-green chiffon gown with a matching broad-rimmed hat. She was absolutely beaming at the prospect of her baby boy finally settling down. As Chuck's family had long since disowned him due to his perceived sin against God and Nature, his surrogates were there. There was my mother, Stella Celeste Kucharski Horowitz Fleischer Steinblum Fishbein Rosenberg, who had recently unofficially adopted Chuck as her honorary son, which made him, I guess, my honorary brother. Mom was all gussied up, as usual, in a butter-yellow cocktail dress with her hair perfectly coiffed in a helmet around her face. She'd beamed with approval when she'd arrived at the church and seen my reclaimed Boca Babe look. I guess she figured my titty-baring getup would finally snag me a man to replace her late, unlamented son-in-law. Of course, she had failed to consider that I had no interest in a replacement, and even if I had, many of the guys at this gathering were batting for the other team.

Next to Mom sat her new squeeze, Leonard Goldblatt, in a white summer suit with a gray tie to complement his gray brush cut. They had met on a cruise a couple months previously. Leonard was a former CIA agent, and as such, I'd initially had my suspicions about his intentions toward Mom. But then I'd actually met him and my guarded apprehension turned to grudging appreciation. Yeah, okay, maybe I'd been guilty of premature evaluation. But wouldn't you feel the same if your own mother's vulnerable feelings and fortune were at stake? As it had turned out, Leonard was good for my mother. But forget about that; the man was good for me. His relationship with his own grown children was of the supportive and noninterfering variety, and some of that had rubbed off on Mom.

On Leonard's other side was Boca's big-time benefactress, the Contessa von Phul, who sat regally, dressed in her usual Chanel suit and pearls, her sleek mahogany pageboy completing the picture of a perfect seventy-year-old Botox Babe. I'd recently solved a murder case for her, during which she'd met Chuck and Enrique and wangled an invite to the big event. Never far from her side, the contessa's Chihuahua, Coco, sat primly in her lap, all duded up in a pink rhinestone collar.

Next to the contessa was Guadalupe Lourdes Fatima Domingo. Lupe, as she was known, was a cultural anthropologist who also had had a role in the contessa's case, and in the process had become a good friend of mine. Today she wore a traditional Mexican embroidered dress, and her salt-and-pepper hair was elaborately swept up with multicolored ribbons. The outfit was an homage to her hometown heroine, the late artist Frida Kahlo.

Beyond the front row sat an assortment of Chuck and Enrique's friends and acquaintances, including their gay matchmaker, who savvily saw this event as a supreme marketing opportunity and brought along all his clients. There were also all the straight bad boy bikers from Chuck's maintenance shop, the Greasy Rider, and from the local biker bar, Hog Heaven; and all Enrique's coworkers from the Boca Beach Hilton, where he was the hotel dick, that is to say, the chief of security.

Outside, I heard the unmistakable rumble of Harleys. Ahhh . . . the day's musical entertainment had arrived in the form of the Holy Rollers Motorcycle Club and Gospel Choir, a group of five black drag queens whom I had met at the rehearsal dinner the previous evening.

I knew they rode their hogs in full riding gear, so it would take them a while to change into their wigs, makeup, bras, girdles, gowns, and all. So I would be standing here in my misery a while longer. I tried to take a deep breath to send some healing oxygen to my aching back and feet, but my chest wouldn't expand beyond the rigid steel cage of the corset. I coughed and staggered, drawing all eyes to me. Great. Like I really wanted to be the center of attention here. Apparently, my cough provided some kind of permission to the assembly to engage in similar behavior, as there followed a flurry of throat clearing, foot shuffling, seat adjusting, and other expressions of discomfiture.

Finally, the nuptial procession started with the entrance of the first of the Holy Rollers, Cherise Jubilee. She came down the aisle in a red, sequined clingy sheath and a headdress piled high with fake cherries, à la Carmen Miranda.

She was followed by Virginia Hamm, wearing—you guessed it—a pink gown crisscrossed with brown threads and studded with what looked suspiciously like cloves. May the Gender-Free God help us. Next came Keisha LaReigne, wearing an egg yolk-yellow caftan streaked with reddish-brown strips and a bejeweled golden tiara nested in her bouffant hair. Close on her heels was Lady Fingers, in a vanilla-colored off-the-shoulder number that split into separate panels from her waist down to her knees.

The four Holy Rollers lined up next to me at the altar, awaiting the arrival of their final member, Honey du Mellon, before they would launch into their harmony. But she was nowhere to be seen. Nervous titters passed through the assembly as we waited. Finally, she rushed in, out of breath. She'd managed, miraculously, to prop up a set of knockers the size of . . . well, honeydew melons. If her supporting infrastructure was anything like mine, I could see why she was out of breath. But apparently that wasn't the reason. Arriving at the altar, she puffed, "So sorry, loves. My hog had some mechanical trouble on the way over. I just got here and changed as fast as I could. Okay, ladies, let's rock and roll!"

With that and a nod to the organist, they launched into "We Shall Overcome." Now, this particular selection, as I understood it, was an homage to the Church of the Gender-Free God and its founder, the Reverend LaVerne Botay. The good reverend had grown up attending the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, in the fifties, listening to Martin Luther King, Jr. preach the social gospel of service to the world's oppressed. Like the late great martyr, she'd rejected religious fundamentalism in favor of the Golden Rule.

Now, personally, I wasn't a particular believer, being the progeny of my dearly departed Jewish daddy and my very present Catholic mom. The only thing I'd gained from that interfaith union was a double dose of guilt. However, I respected the hell out of the Reverend Botay's message and mission. As the Holy Rollers sang out their souls, tears came to my eyes.

But they weren't because of the words. They were because of the organ. The damn thing was way out of tune. In fact, it was downright bloodcurdling.

The Rollers were rolling their eyes at each other. I decided to roll with the punches. After all, every wedding has something go wrong. It would all be a fond memory in our collective future.

As the Rollers launched into another spiritual, Chuck and Enrique came gliding down the aisle, hand in hand. Dark-eyed, dark-haired, clean-shaven Enrique was his usual slick and dapper self in his Armani tux. No surprise there. But Chuck . . . Well, any description would only be a gross injustice, and as I said, this whole celebration was about justice. So suffice it to say he was in an identical tux, all 250 redneck pounds of him. His graying goatee lent him a distinguished air, and his bald pate gleamed with what I chose to believe was pure delight, not nervous perspiration.

As the happy couple reached the altar, the Rollers, with perfect timing, ended in glorious harmony: "Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last."

Yes! Thank God Almighty I would be free at last of this sartorial straitjacket, not to mention the grinding organ noise. Just as soon as the Reverend Botay arrived, the vows would be exchanged, the blessing bestowed, and we'd all be outta there and off to the reception at Hog Heaven.

So, okay . . . where was she? Minutes passed as we all looked nervously at each other. Okay, I know I said all weddings have snags, but enough was enough. I'm an investigator, after all. With a "don't worry, I'll take care of this" nod to a baffled-looking Chuck and Enrique, I set off to investigate.

I headed past the altar where a door led to the back rooms. The door to the reverend's office was halfway open. Just as I was about to rap on the door, I saw her. The poor woman was crumpled behind her desk, her violet-and-white vestments flowing about her petite body. Rushing over, I could see clear as day her skull had been smashed in and her black hair was matted with blood. The murder weapon was lying right next to her, also covered with blood. A big metal organ pipe. No wonder that monstrosity was emanating those bloodcurdling screeches.

Bile came up my throat. I ran into the adjoining bathroom and dry heaved in the toilet. I couldn't believe it. The last two weddings I'd attended had both ended in murder. Maybe marriage really was a dangerous proposition. Yeah, okay, so I'd been the perp last time, blowing away my husband at a friend's wedding reception. But how could this be happening to me again?

Then my conscience, always a little slow on the uptake, came on line. What the hell was I doing feeling sorry for myself? A good woman, a woman of peace, had been savagely slain.

It was time for Dirty Harriet to take charge. I pulled out my cell and called the cops.

Chapter 2

I COULDN'T leave the scene until the police arrived, so I had no choice but to call Enrique on his cell and brief him on the situation. God, how I hated to do this to him and Chuck on their big day. Enrique handled it with perfect calm, composure, and decisiveness, just as I knew he would, security pro that he is, which is why I'd chosen to call him instead of Chuck. Although Chuck looks awful mean and imposing and outweighs Enrique by a good hundred pounds, in reality he's a teddy bear and it's Enrique who's the rock in the relationship.

Enrique said he'd handle everything in the church sanctuary while I stayed at the crime scene. Frankly, I thought I got the better end of the deal. I could just imagine the hysteria that would ensue among the guests when they heard the news. I'd rather be alone with a dead body than with a bunch of drama queens—male or female.

Naturally, while waiting for the police to arrive and begin their official investigation, I began my unofficial one. I looked around the room. The office walls were covered with plaques and certificates honoring the reverend's many charitable deeds for the community. There were no signs of struggle. Apparently, the reverend had been attacked unawares. Her desk bore the usual materials one might expect: desk pad, pen holder, telephone. There was a bible with an accompanying concordance and prayer book. A red velvet binder contained the homily for today's wedding ceremony. A pair of reading glasses, undisturbed, rested beside it.

I returned to the bathroom that adjoined the office, but nothing was amiss. Then I stepped outside the office door, which opened onto a corridor. I took a few steps out, staying close to the office door so that no one could enter without my seeing them. The room to the left of the office was a kitchen, and on the right was a small meeting room containing about ten chairs arranged in a circle. This was where the Holy Rollers and I had changed from our biker gear into our ceremonial wear. I had draped my own street clothes over the back of one of the chairs, and I saw that the Holy Rollers had done the same. Except only four of their outfits were there. One was missing. What was that about?

Taking a final quick look around the room from the doorway, I saw something I hadn't when I'd been there earlier. A panel on the back wall had been slid open, revealing the huge pipes of the organ. So the instrument backed up to this room. I could see where one of the pipes had been yanked out. That must have taken a lot of strength. Maybe the kind fueled by rage. Then, apparently, the killer had gone to the reverend's office and bashed her head in, probably while her back was turned.

At that moment several uniformed and plainclothes police officers arrived at the reverend's office door with a heavy clomp of footsteps. I went over to meet them. One of the plainclothes, a stocky, ruddy-faced man, seemed to be in charge.

"I'm Detective Reilly," he introduced himself. "You're the one who called this in?"

"Yes. Detective Harriet Horowitz."

"Excuse me?"

I handed him one of my business cards that identified me as the sole proprietor and operator of ScamBusters Investigations. They Scam 'em, I Slam 'em, read the inscribed motto.

Reilly glanced at the card, then back up at me.

"Right," he said, somewhat sarcastically, I thought. "Now you wouldn't be harboring any ideas about interfering with an official police investigation, would you?"

"Of course not. You see right there, I'm a scam specialist, not a murder maven." Hey, that was a perfectly true statement. Yes, I'd solved a homicide case for the contessa, but one murder does not a maven make.

"Right," he said again. "Okay, Ms. Horowitz, I'm going to ask you to step into another room so I can interview you while my officers secure the scene and collect evidence."

"Fine," I replied and stepped back.

"I take it the scene has been undisturbed since you discovered it?"

"Of course."

"Good. Webster!" he called out. "Set up the crime-scene tape. Martinez, start taking pictures. Duchamp, get the forensics going and call the medical examiner. Now, Ms. Horowitz, I understand there's a large gathering of people in the chapel?"

"Yes, that's right."

"Hernandez, Tomaso, start the interviews in there," Reilly barked. Then to me he said, "I see there's a kitchen over there. I could use some coffee. Why don't we go sit in there?"

"Fine," I said again. I was being uncharacteristically agreeable. But then, there was nothing for me to be disagreeable about. That is, until we entered the kitchen and Reilly looked at the empty coffeepot, then looked meaningfully at me. Did this dude seriously expect me to sashay over and make coffee for him? Yeah, right. I looked meaningfully right back at him. He walked over to do the job himself. Hey, at least we understood each other.

When the coffee was done, he asked, "Would you care for some?"

"Sure," I said. "Black. No frilly stuff."

He poured each of us a cup, and we sat down. Now this was more like it. Being served by a man was my idea of gender equality.

"So, tell me what happened," he began.

I told him, omitting, of course, my own snooping activities. When we were done, he said, "Okay, Ms. Horowitz, thank you for your statement. You may join the others in the chapel. If we have any questions for you later, we'll be in touch."

He rose and then he even took the coffee cups to the sink and rinsed them out. I was impressed. Maybe under his leadership the cops could solve this case all by themselves without the aid of my own spectacular investigative acumen . . . Nah.

I returned to the sanctuary, where the guests were all now seated apart from each other in separate pews. Two officers were interviewing Keisha LaReigne and Cherise Jubilee in separate corners of the large chapel. Apparently, they'd ordered all the guests not to leave and not to speak to each other while they grilled each one.

Chuck and Enrique slumped a few feet apart in a pew, looking utterly defeated. My mother, drama queen extraordinaire, was sobbing hysterically. Leonard looked at her helplessly, unable to console her since talking was prohibited. The contessa sat quietly but ramrod straight, stroking Coco's ears. She—the contessa, not Coco—was one cool cucumber. Lupe was fingering a rosary and chanting to herself. I knew she was a bruja, or Mexican witch, so I figured she was attempting to infuse positive energy into the macabre affair.

We all sat there for two hours until the officers had talked to every single one of us. Then Reilly came in and announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, you are all free to go. Except for Mr. Harrison."


Then we watched in amazement as Reilly walked over to Honey du Mellon, slapped a pair of handcuffs on her, and said, "Trey Harrison, you are under arrest for the murder of the Reverend LaVerne Botay. You have the right to remain silent . . ."

The rest of the Holy Rollers started screaming,

"Lord have mercy!"

"Sweet Jesus, save this poor soul!"

My mother wailed, "Leonard, Harriet, do something!"

Chuck collapsed into Enrique's arms and sobbed, shaking convulsively.

The contessa and Lupe clasped hands and stared at the floor in silence. Coco leaped off the contessa's lap and ran between the pews, yelping and whining. The church sanctuary boasted several large glass sculptures by the renowned artist Chihuly, and the little bitch ran right into one of them. It teetered precariously on its edge before one of the biker guests made a sudden dive, saving the Chihuly from being chipped by the Chihuahua. The contessa yelled for Coco to come to her side.

The commitment pageant had turned into complete pandemonium,

"Ladies and gentlemen, calm yourselves!" Reilly ordered. "We will not tolerate public disorder. Those who are unable to peacefully leave the premises will be taken into custody."

As I said, this guy was good. Silence descended like a mourning shroud.

"Now, since you will all find this out soon enough from the media," Reilly said, "I'll advise you now that we have sufficient probable cause to arrest Mr. Harrison. We found his street clothes in a Dumpster just outside the church. They were covered in blood. Our preliminary crime-scene tests have determined that the blood is the same type as the victim's. Mr. Harrison has admitted that he was wearing a pair of Tommy Hilfiger chinos, a Ralph Lauren polo shirt, and a leather motorcycle jacket and boots this morning."

A cop spewing off fashion-designer labels. Only in Boca.

"Yes!" Honey screamed. "But I'm innocent! I changed from my street clothes in the little meeting room just like everyone else. I left my clothes there with everyone else's and came in here!"

"Shut up, Honey," Virginia Hamm snapped.

"But I didn't do it! Can't you see I've been framed?"

"Zip it!" yelled Lady Fingers.

But Honey wasn't listening. "What about fingerprints? You know mine aren't on the murder weapon!"

"Not that we are obliged to share any details of the investigation," said Reilly, "but there are no prints on the weapon. It was wiped clean. So that does not exonerate you. Furthermore, there were no witnesses to your claimed actions."

"Of course not, you nimwit! I told you arrived late because of bike trouble, so no one saw me change."

By this time the contessa had corralled Coco, and now she came up to Honey and stood regally before her, clutching the cowering canine.

"Ms. du Mellon—I mean, Mr. Harrison—you will now cease to speak. Mr. S. Lee Dailey will be paying you a visit in the county facility shortly. All your future communications will come solely through him."

Yowza! The contessa's poise and power never ceased to amaze me. S. Lee Dailey was Palm Beach County's most notorious criminal defense attorney. He had gotten off one lowlife who'd grabbed a little old lady's handbag and dragged her to her death with his car as she'd hung on to the bag for dear life. Another of his clients was acquitted in the murder-for-hire of his socialite wife. In other words, S. Lee Dailey was a total sleazeball completely devoid of morals and ethics. Exactly what you wanted in a defense lawyer.

Evidently, while everyone else had been in hysterics, the contessa had gotten Dailey on the horn and gotten him to agree to see Honey. Apparently, Honey was as impressed with the contessa's actions as I was because she did finally shut her trap. The police hauled her off.

Now I had a dilemma. Among all the distressed wedding-party members and guests, whom should I calm down first? Chuck and Enrique? My mother? The Holy Rollers?

The hell with prioritizing, I thought, and made an executive decision.

"Everybody, please be seated," I stated loudly.

There must have been something in my tone because miraculously they all obeyed. I climbed up the altar to the lectern and faced the congregation. Then this alien, authoritarian, ministerial personality took charge.

"Let's have a moment of silence for the deceased," I said. Again they obeyed, after which I resumed my oration.

"Dearly beloved, we were gathered here today to celebrate the love of our cherished friends. Now an atrocity has shattered our joy and plunged us into sorrow. But in our shock and grief, we must not compound this horrific act by relinquishing that quality that has brought us together today—our compassion for each other. Although Chuck and Enrique's ceremony has been disrupted, their love will endure. And all of us, too, must endure."

I was picking up wind and sailed right on.

"While I did not know the Reverend Botay very well, I knew her well enough to feel confident in saying that she would want all of us to go forth and live her message of the trifecta, um, I mean triumvirate: hope, charity, and faith. Faith that her killer, whoever it may be, will be brought to justice. So please, go in peace and honor the reverend's memory through reflection on her good works and through comforting ministration to each other in this time of despair."

With that I stepped down from the lectern.

"Amen, sister!" Cherise Jubilee cried out.

"Hallelujah!" Keisha LaReigne chimed in.

The congregation lined up to give their condolences to Chuck and Enrique.

After the guests filed out, I went over.

"I'm so sorry, guys," I said.

"Hell of a speech, Harriet," Chuck said. "But now what are we gonna do?"

"We'll reschedule the ceremony," Enrique said matter-of-factly. "Nothing can tear us apart."

"What about our honeymoon?" Chuck said, as fresh tears pooled in his red, swollen eyes. "We were supposed to leave tomorrow for a week in San Francisco, and the tickets are nonrefundable."

"You know what?" I asked. "I think you guys should go on your honeymoon. It will do you good to get out of town. Go and comfort each other. When you get back, you can start making new wedding plans."

"I think you're right," Enrique said. "Come on, Chuck, let's go tell Mama, then we'll take her home and pack. She's catching her plane back to Panama City tomorrow, too."

Chuck rose silently, his head hanging. Enrique and I stood, and I hugged them both goodbye and wished them a healing journey. Apparently, I was still possessed by the minister's spirit. Then I hugged Enrique's mother, the contessa, Lupe, and each of the Rollers.

Finally I went over to Mom and Leonard.

"Harriet, that was such a touching oration," Mom said, dabbing a Kleenex to her eyes. "Why, I could hardly believe that was my daughter speaking. I'm very proud of you."

Great. I undergo a total personality transformation and now my mother is proud of me. Thanks, Mom.

Leonard's eyes met mine, and he gently touched Mom's elbow.

"Let's go home, Stella," he said.

"Yes, all right, honey. Harriet, come with us. You shouldn't be alone at a time like this."

"No, I'm okay, really," I said. "You two go on."

I gave her a reassuring hug, and they departed.

I collapsed on the altar steps. Damn, I didn't know what had possessed me. But now that I was dispossessed, I was drained.

Finally, I took my own advice and collected myself to depart. I went back to the small meeting room to change so I could ride home. The whole corridor was cordoned off with yellow crime-scene tape, and two cops were standing guard.

"I just want to get my clothes," I told them.

"Sorry, ma'am," one replied. "We can't release them. They're crime-scene evidence."

Great. I'd have to ride my low-rider in this low-cut outfit. I didn't like the idea of riding practically nude, but at that point I just wanted to get home.

I stepped outside the church. Immediately, I was assaulted with a burst of camera flashes. What the hell? Blinded, I grabbed at the handrail on the church steps. When my eyesight returned, I saw that a throng of media vultures and curiosity seekers had gathered. Ignoring all the yelled requests for comments, I walked toward my hog in the parking lot. On the way, I saw a big white van labeled Crime Scene Investigation.

"Hey!" somebody yelled. "Are you with the TV show?"

That stopped me.

"Huh?" I asked.

"CSI: Miami. Didn't you know that's what they're filming here? We're looking for David Caruso. Have you seen him?"

"Huh?" I repeated. "What are you talking about? Caruso's been dead for almost a century."

"Not the opera singer, silly!" some old bag with a ton of makeup on her wrinkled face giggled. "David Caruso, that hot actor? Get with the times, chickie!"

Okay, so I wasn't up on the latest shows and celebrities. That happens when you don't own a TV. But this was unbelievable. "This is not a TV set, you morons!" I snapped. "This is a real crime scene!"

"Really?" somebody whined. "Bummer. We were so hoping to see him."

With that the crowd dispersed, grumbling in disappointment.

I couldn't take any more. I pulled my dress up to my crotch, mounted my hog, and put on the helmet that I stored in my saddlebag. I turned on the ignition, shifted into gear, and roared off toward my tranquil swamp abode. I just had to get the hell out of Boca, that weird twilight zone where reality and fantasy collide, where truth really is stranger than fiction.

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