Authors: Anne George
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Suspense, #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #Mystery & Detective - Women Sleuths, #Mystery Fiction, #Mystery, #Mystery & Detective - Series, #detective, #Fiction - Mystery, #Women Detectives, #Crime & mystery, #Contemporary Women, #Sisters, #Mary Alice (Fictitious character), #Patricia Anne (Fictitious character), #Alabama, #Investment clubs, #Women detectives - Alabama
A Southern Sisters Mystery
For my friends, Malu Graham and Fran Boudolf,
whose words help shape my world
The way my sister Mary Alice got us arrested was…
This was November, so to explain exactly how we got…
When I walked into the house, Fred was already stretched…
“It’s me!” Mary Alice called the next morning as she…
“I’m telling you, I’ve still got the shakes. I came…
When we got home, I suggested to Lisa that she…
If Fred had thought he was coming home for a…
“Sorry, Mama,” Lisa said as I stuck my head into…
I cooked some spaghetti and opened a jar of Prego…
Fred had gone to work when I woke up, and…
After Mitzi left, Sue came over to sit by me
Dawn comes slowly in September. I hadn’t gone back to…
“You go on, Mama. I’ll be here when Mrs. Phizer…
The University of Alabama’s medical center in Birmingham is an…
Arthur and Mitzi came back for supper. The apartment, they…
The next few days were fairly uneventful. The good late…
Andrew Cade went to sleep on the way home. I…
Arthur was feeling better the next afternoon when I called,…
“My butt hurts like hell.” Arthur waddled in and sat…
Fred and I went out for brunch the next day
The apartment looked exactly the same as it had the…
Which brings us to why Mary Alice hit Alcorn Jones…
he way my sister Mary Alice got us arrested was simple enough; she hit the president of the bank over the head with my umbrella. Grabbed it right away from me and “thunk” let him have it. I think he was more surprised than hurt. There was hardly any blood, and everyone knows how much head wounds bleed. There wasn’t even a very big knot. Probably wouldn’t have been one at all if he’d had any hair. But he screeched like she’d killed him and the security guard came rushing in, saw Mr. Jones staggering around holding his head, and pulled a gun on us. He looked like Barney Fife, the guard did, and chances were the bullet was in his pocket, but you just don’t take a chance on things like that. At least I don’t. Sister said later that she might have hit the guard, too, at least knocked the gun out of his hand, if he hadn’t looked so pitiful standing there shaking like a leaf. She also said she was surprised that Alcorn Jones,
being a bank president, didn’t have a higher threshold of pain.
This sounds like my sister is aggressive, and she is, a little bit. For sixty-six years (she says sixty-four) she hasn’t bothered a lot of times to knock on doors. Things like that. But she’s not aggressive as in going around hitting bank presidents with umbrellas aggressive. Not usually. In fact, the whole time we were waiting at the jail for my husband, Fred, to come get us, she was worrying about whether or not the ladies of the investment club would think she was common as pig tracks for having hit Alcorn. I assured her that they would consider her a heroine, a true steel magnolia who had been protecting her honor.
“You reckon?” she asked, looking up hopefully.
“Absolutely. You were protecting the club, too. After all, he was doing all of us wrong.”
“That’s true.” She was beginning to look downright cheerful. “He got what he asked for.”
I didn’t know about that. It had landed us in the Birmingham jail. I had lived for sixty-one years with nothing but one speeding ticket on my record and here I was, incarcerated.
“Mouse,” Sister said, “let’s ask the lady that put us in here for some stationery. We could write Haley a letter from the Birmingham jail. She’d love that.”
She probably would. Haley is my daughter who is currently living in Warsaw, Poland, with her new husband. She’d think it was funny that her mama and Aunt Sister had landed in jail.
“All sorts of famous people write letters from the Birmingham jail,” Mary Alice continued.
“We’re not famous.” I was beginning to wish for my purse and some aspirin; I rubbed my temples. “Why do you think the police took our purses?”
“They have us on a suicide watch.”
I looked at my sister in amazement. I swear she’s half a bubble out of plumb. In fact, if our mother and father hadn’t sworn that we’d been born at home, I’d have been willing to bet that we had been mixed up somewhere. We don’t even look anything alike. Mary Alice is six feet tall (she says five twelve) and admits to two hundred fifty pounds. I’m a foot shorter and weigh in at a hundred five. She used to be brunette with olive skin; I used to be what Mama called a strawberry blonde, more wispy blonde than strawberry. Mary Alice also used to be five years older than I am, but she’s started backing up. This day in the Birmingham jail, she was Beach Blonde and I was more gray than strawberry. But I still had better sense.
“Why would they have us on a suicide watch? They don’t even have us locked up.” This was true. A very nice police lady had put us in a small room and closed the door with a “Y’all want anything, just holler.”
“That’s what they do routinely.” Mary Alice sat down across from me at a small table and looked around. “If these walls could only speak.”
“Lord.” I rubbed my temples harder. “You know you broke my umbrella.”
“I’ll get you another one.”
“But that was my kitten one. The one where you could see the kittens like they were looking through stained glass. Fred paid thirty-eight dollars for it at Rosenberger’s just because I was admiring it so.” Tears welled in my eyes. “We were eating supper at Chick-Fil-A and I spotted it in Rosenberger’s window.”
Sister sighed. “I wish I had a Chick-Fil-A chicken salad sandwich.”
The door opened and a policeman came in holding a clipboard. “Patricia Anne Hollowell?”
I looked up. “Yes.”
“And Mary Alice Crane?”
“Your lawyer is here.”
“My husband’s coming to get us,” I said. “We don’t need a lawyer.”
“Oh, yes you do.” Debbie Nachman, Sister’s daughter, stood in the door, looking very lawyerly in spite of the fact that her briefcase was clasped over a significantly pregnant belly. “What have you two done now?”
“It’s all your mama’s fault,” I said without a moment’s hesitation and with no guilt.
“I don’t doubt that a minute.” Debbie laid her briefcase on the table, sat down, and pulled her shoes off. “Lord, I think my feet are swelling already.”
Mary Alice didn’t miss a beat. “My feet swelled like balloons before you were born. I had to stay in bed for the last two months.”
Debbie grinned. “Point taken, Mama.” She pulled out a legal pad. “Now how about y’all tell me what happened.”
“It’s a long story,” I said. And it was.
Sister grabbed my arm. “Just the highlights, Mouse. I’m starving.”
his was November, so to explain exactly how we got into this predicament, I would need to back up a couple of months, probably to an early September afternoon when I was sitting in the den practicing smocking. I had signed up for a class at the Smocking Bird, thinking I would smock dresses for Debbie’s two-year-old twins for Christmas. Christmas trees and little drummer boys. I love hand-work, but I’d never had the time to do much of it when I was teaching and raising a family. Now that I was retired, though, I was going to dress every child in the family with beautiful embroidered clothes. Of course the kids would rather have jeans, but that was beside the point.
So I was practicing happily on an old soft blouse of mine, smocking and thinking about spending Christmas in Warsaw with Haley, which Fred, Mary Alice, and I were going to do, when Mitzi Phizer knocked at my back door. Mitzi
is my next door neighbor, has been for almost forty years. She’s also one of my favorite people, a pretty woman with no pretense about her. We’ve helped each other through a lot of things during those years.
“Hi,” I said. “Come on in and tell me what you think of these stitches.”
Mitzi pushed her bifocals up on her nose and examined my work. “Looks good.”
“Come on in the den. Oprah’s fixing to tell us what to read this month. You want some tea or something?”
“It’s Milo’s. I bought a jug of it yesterday at the Piggly Wiggly. Sweetened.”
“Sounds good. But I just need to talk to you for a few minutes.”
“Sure. Anything wrong?”
“No. Everything’s fine.”
Oprah was holding up a book. I jotted the title down and turned the TV off. “What’s up?” I asked.
“You remember Joy McWain?” Mitzi sat on the sofa, reached across to the coffee table and took a lemon drop from the candy jar.
“The name’s familiar.”
“Connie Harris’s cousin, the pretty blonde one who used to work at Rich’s cosmetic counter. Married the McWain fellow who owns the Chevrolet place in Alabaster. She made a commercial for him once. She was a cheerleader.”
“In the commercial?”
“I’m surprised you don’t remember it. She’s got great big thighs. I mean really out of proportion. Those saddlebag things.” Mitzi sucked on the lemon drop thoughtfully and then pushed it back to her cheek. “I don’t think she did another one.”
Sometimes Mitzi has to be encouraged over the finish line.
“What about her?” I asked.
“She wants to start an investment club. You know, like the Beardstown ladies. She called Connie, and Connie thinks it’s a great idea. She’s the one who called me. She said they’re going to get about fifteen or twenty women that they know they can depend on. I told her I’d love to get in something like that and could I ask you, that you’re dependable. And she said sure.” The lemon drop came back to the middle and Mitzi pursed her lips.
“Sounds good,” I said. “I don’t know a thing about the stock market but I’d love to learn. As long as we don’t have to invest much.”
“You think Mary Alice might be interested?”
“Hell, Mitzi, she already owns the stock market.” An exaggeration, but thanks to being widowed by three husbands who were all rich as Croesus, Mary Alice is not wanting in the money department.
“But she might help us out with which stocks to buy. Tell us what her brokers are advising.”
“I’ll mention it to her,” I said. “But she needs an investment club like she needs a hole in her head.”
“But you’re definitely interested.”
“Absolutely. Just let me know when to show up for the first meeting.”
“We’ll go together,” Mitzi promised. She stood up and stretched. “I’ve got to go to the store. God knows what I’m going to fix for supper. Arthur has suddenly decided he should be a vegetarian, says it’s better for his health. It probably is, but, Lord, sixty-four years old and Mr. Bread and Potatoes becomes a vegetarian.” She smiled. “I told him I’d help him, but it’s going to be as hard for him as giving up smoking. Chances are he’s at Burger King right now downing a Whopper.”
“I got some fresh asparagus at the Piggly Wiggly yester
day. Cost an arm and a leg. Came from Mexico. But it was delicious.”
“That sounds good.” She stood in the back doorway for a moment. “You’re so lucky, Patricia Anne, to have Fred. He’ll eat anything.”
I took this as a compliment. “And you’re lucky to have Arthur even if he is a vegetarian. More veggies would be good for all of us.”
“I know.” She gave a little wave and went down the steps.
I watched her cross the yard, a plump, pretty woman who looks younger than her sixty-four years. Something about the way she had said, “I know,” hadn’t sounded quite right. For a moment, I wondered if everything was all right next door. But then I shrugged and went back to my embroidering. Of course it was.
I was smocking happily a few minutes later when the back door opened and Mary Alice called hello.
“In the den,” I called back.
“I’m getting me some tea.”
When she came into the room, I was surprised to see she was dressed in a cream colored pants suit that I had never seen.
“You look good,” I said. “I like that outfit. Where’ve you been so dressed up?”
She sank down on the sofa. “To Elmwood Cemetery. It’s Roger’s birthday.”
Roger Crane was husband number three. “Did you take flowers to all of them?” I asked.
“Of course I did. I wouldn’t want one of them to get their feelings hurt.”
Mary Alice’s three husbands are buried next to each other. And, like she says, it’s convenient and they haven’t complained.
“That’s why I’m dressed up,” she continued. “I like to think it makes them feel better.”
And I’d like to think she was kidding, but I didn’t think she was. She ran a paper napkin over her forehead. “I’m sweating like a whore in church, though. Damn it’s hot this year.”
“It’s September. What do you expect?” I handed her the blouse I was embroidering. “How does that look?”
“Strange. How come you’re putting Christmas trees on an old blouse?”
I snatched it back. “I’m practicing. I’m going to make your granddaughters Christmas dresses.”
“Oh. Well, that’s nice.” She turned up her tea and chug-a-lugged half the glass. “Lord, I’m hot. I took Bear Bryant some flowers, too.”
“I just hadn’t taken him any in a while.”
This was not as off-the-wall as it sounds. If you’re from Alabama, a visit to the Bear’s grave is like a pilgrimage.
“How was the Bear?”
“Dead, Mouse. Just like he’s been for twenty years.”
“Only his body, Sister. His spirit lives on.”
Mary Alice looked at me appraisingly to see if I was serious, decided I was, and said, “True.”
“Mitzi Phizer was just here,” I said, getting back to my sewing. “She wants to know if we’d like to get in an investment club some friends of hers are starting. I told her I would, but I didn’t know about you.”
Sister finished the tea and put the glass on the coffee table. “What kind of investment club?”
“You know. Like the Beardstown ladies. We pool a certain amount of money and invest it in the stock market. Everybody studies the market and makes suggestions.”
“Coca-Cola’s done fine by me,” Sister said. “Tell them to buy Coca-Cola.”
“Tell them yourself. It would be great to have someone in there who already knows something about the market.” Actually, I knew that Sister didn’t know diddly about the market, but her broker was sharp.
Sister seemed pleased. “Who all’s going to be in it?”
“Mitzi said it’s a woman named Joy McWain’s idea. A friend of Mitzi’s, Connie Harris, called Mitzi.”
“Joy McWain with the big thighs?”
I put the smocking down, looked at my sister, and asked her a simple question: was I the only one who missed out on things like big thighs in commercials?
“Probably. Those thunder thighs were hard to miss, Mouse. And the woman had on a cheerleading outfit, a short white pleated skirt and red satin underpants. Lord. Cheering for used cars.” She reached over, got a piece of ice from her glass, and popped it into her mouth.
“Don’t you dare chew that.”
“I’m not.” Mary Alice smiled. “Mercy, you sound like Mama sometimes.”
“That’s not bad.”
I picked up my sewing again. I heard a suspicious crunching sound and Sister reached for another piece of ice. I swatted at the air since I was too far away to reach her. “Quit that! What’s the matter with you?”
“Nervous, I guess. I’ve got a blind date who’s picking me up in—” she glanced at her watch—“two hours and fifteen minutes.”
“How come that’s making you nervous? You have blind dates all the time.”
“But this one’s really blind. As in can’t see.”
“You mean he’s visually impaired?”
“No. He’s blind as a bat. He said so himself. When he asked me out, he said, ‘It’ll take a little getting used to, Mary Alice, I’m blind as a bat. But I’d love to take you out to
night.’” Sister reached for another piece of ice. “His name’s Judson Murphree. I met him at a benefit party for the museum. He’s a sculptor.”
“Well, he sounds great. Sounds like he’s got his act together.”
Sister nodded. “He’s also forty-three and handsome.”
“Crunch” went another piece of ice. I got up and took the glass away from her. I was beginning to get the picture here.
“How old did you tell him you are?”
“Well, when I found out he was really blind, I sort of lost my head. I said I was forty-five.”
“I said that I was tall and blonde, but that’s the truth, Mouse.”
“And he asked you out.”
“Well, of course he did. A forty-five-year-old slender blonde with a good personality? Of course he did.”
“He’s blind, Mouse. Like I said, I sort of lost my head.”
“And now your conscience is hurting you?”
Mary Alice looked at me, puzzled. “Of course my conscience isn’t hurting me. I’m just worried that I’ll say something about remembering World War Two.”
I swear talking with Sister is like playing ping-pong. I returned the serve. “Why would you say something about remembering World War Two?”
“Because I’m worried about it. I’ll for sure say something like, ‘Remember the air raid drills during World War Two?’”
“Why would you do that? How many dates do you ask if they remember the air raid drills during World War Two? Get real. It just doesn’t usually come up in a conversation.” I paused. “You really shouldn’t have lied to him, though.”
“I know. But it was such an opportunity.” She flicked
something from her pants leg. “I think that was a flea. Has Woofer been on the sofa? Or Muffin?”
I jumped to the defense of my old sweet dog and of Haley’s cat, Muffin, who was staying with us while our newly married daughter, Haley, was in Warsaw. “Woofer and Muffin don’t have fleas. If it was a flea, you brought it with you.”
“Bubba doesn’t have fleas, either.”
Which was probably true. Sister’s cat spends most of his time snoozing on a heating pad on her kitchen counter. A normal flea would want a more challenging environment. I got back to the subject at hand.
“About the investment club. Are you interested?”
“Sure. I’ll bring Shirley Gibbs.”
“The one I’ve told you about. She’s the one who told me to buy Intel stock when it first came on the market.”
“She’s a professional, Sister. The fun of the club is that it’s a bunch of amateurs learning about the market, talking about the stocks and reading about them. Of course we could check it out with her later about the stocks we’ve chosen. I doubt she’d want to come anyway.”
“Sure she would. We could decide what stocks to buy and Shirley could just nod yes or no. Besides, we’re going to need someone to buy the stocks when we decide.”
“That’s true. I’m not sure how these things work. I’ll check it out with Mitzi.”
That answer seemed to satisfy Sister. She got up to leave. “Okay, but did I tell you about the condoms?”
“Shirley was recommending condom stocks back when everybody thought they were just for emergencies.”
Condom emergencies? I decided not to pursue it. “I’ll mention it to Mitzi,” I promised.
I put down my sewing and followed her to the back door. “You have a good time tonight.”
Frown lines appeared between her eyes. “Do you think I ought to offer to drive?”
“Play it by ear.”
I stepped outside into the sunlight and watched Sister drive away. The large crape myrtle tree in the Phizers’ backyard was still in late summer bloom, the color of watermelon. The smocking could wait, I decided, and reached behind the kitchen door where Woofer’s leash hung. A good walk was what we both needed.
Woofer’s igloo doghouse is the best of things and the worst of things. I purchased it for peace of mind. Woofer is nobody’s spring chicken and I worried about him in his old doghouse. If the weather was very hot or cold, I’d bring him into the house which he really didn’t like very much. Woofer’s a yard dog. He can’t dig holes or bark at squirrels in the house. So, after reading the brochure about the igloo with its promise of warmth and heat, I was sold. So was Woofer. He moseyed in, sniffed around, figured he’d found dog heaven, and settled down. Even on beautiful sunny mild days, he has to be coaxed out, and for a few minutes he acts as if I’ve insulted him. So I don’t have to worry about him getting cold or hot. I have to worry about him forgetting how to move.