Authors: Deborah Malone
hat, how, why…?” I sputtered.
“Of course I can’t divulge any pertinent information,” Detective Sams said. “She’s going to be all right though. That’s the good news.”
“I swanny they’re dropping like flies around here. Sounds like being a writer can be a dangerous occupation.” Nana walked over to the detective’s desk. “By the way what are you writing in that little notebook of yours?” She leaned over and gandered at the tablet. “I hope it isn’t anything about my niece, Trixie. You know she’s going to solve this murder.”
I could feel my face turning red. Being easily embarrassed had been something I’d dealt with since childhood. Hanging around Nana didn’t help my condition.
“I don’t want Trixie involved in solving this case. As you can see it can be very dangerous.”
Dee Dee gently guided Nana back to her chair. “Detective, do you think the two cases are connected somehow?”
“We don’t know at this time, but it wouldn’t surprise me. That’s why it’s important you stay out of the way. I think the stakes have just been raised.” She stood and walked around to the front of her desk and leaned against it. “Y’all can go now, but I want you to stay away from Tippi’s house. It is now a crime scene.” She turned toward me. “And I’ll be checking with George about the information you gave me.”
Okay, she left the path wide open for me to contact Tippi. The detective said stay away from her house. I had no intention of going there, but she didn’t say anything about not going to the hospital. I didn’t bring up the fact that I thought Tippi was really Tabitha. I’d find out for sure before I approached her with the information.
Detective Sams walked us out to the front room and reminded me not to leave the city. She made it clear I was still the main suspect in Annie’s murder. What did this new incident mean? Was there a connection between the two women? I needed to get over to Erlanger and question Tippi. I knew Mama was resting, so I decided to take Nana with us. I hoped I wouldn’t regret it.
Dee Dee grabbed my arm. “Why didn’t you tell Detective Sams about the picture?”
“I wanted to give Tippi a chance to explain before I did.”
“I hope she has a good explanation,” Dee Dee said.
The GPS took us to Lee Highway then we hit Highway 27. It took us about ten minutes to arrive at Third Street. A sweet little gray haired lady sat behind the information desk. “Could you tell me what room Tippi Colston is in?”
She looked on the computer and wrote the number on a small piece of paper and handed it to me. “She’s in room 424.”
“Thank you.” I took the paper and shoved it in my pocket.
“Isn’t it about time for supper?”
Dee Dee’s laughter echoed in the elevator. “Come to think of it, I could use a little sustenance.”
“All right ladies, when we finish talking with Tippi, we’ll pick up Mama and get something to eat.” Nana responded with a smile.
We stopped on the second floor where a tall, dark, and handsome doctor boarded the elevator. Nana and Dee Dee giggled like schoolgirls as they ogled Dr. Hunky. Okay, I admit, I stole a quick peek, too. Dee Dee pulled out her hot flash fan and then they broke out in full laughter. The doctor turned around and smiled at them. I thought of Beau and wished he was here with me. He said he’d come as soon as he could – I hoped it was sooner than later.
The elevator stopped at the third floor and the doctor exited. “Girls, behave,” I said.
“Aw, Trixie, we were just checking out the menu,” Dee Dee said. “And I remember it hasn’t been too long ago when you would have done the same thing. Just because you’re married now doesn’t mean Nana and I can’t appreciate a nice dish.” The girls broke into another gale of laughter.
“Touché.” They had me there.
Nana shook a bony finger at me. “Yeah, if you hadn’t hitched up with Beau I’d still be trying to marry you off.”
“Well I did, so you can hang up your bow and arrow, Cupid.” The elevator opened at the fourth floor and we got off.
We stopped outside Tippi’s door. “All right, let me take the lead.”
Tippi was lying in the bed looking like death warmed over. Her bright red hair accentuated her pale face. Dark circles beneath her eyes stood out like a wart on a pretty nose. She’d obviously been through a lot.
“Hi, Tippi.” She looked at me and squinted.
“Can you hand me my glasses? They’re on the bedside table.” She put them on and the light bulb of recognition went off.
“What are you doing here?” The fire she’d shown the other day had been extinguished. “I hope it’s not to gloat over my misfortune.”
“Of course not, Tippi. I’m sorry someone shot you. Do you have any idea who it was?” I wondered if she’d tell us if she did.
“No. I don’t. I have to tell you I’m scared. With Annie being murdered and me getting shot I wonder if they’ve targeted those in the class.” She looked at me like she was seeing me for the first time. “Weren’t you the last one to see Annie before she died?”
“Yes, she was. That lady detective’s out to get her. She thinks Trixie’s the killer.” Nana just couldn’t help but blab whatever thoughts were churning around in her brain.
Tippi’s pretty blue eyes widened. “What do you want from me?”
“I need you to look at something and tell me if you recognize this young girl.” She gazed at the picture and her eyes widened. I’d been right all along. Tippi was Tabitha Hopkins.
“It’s you isn’t it?” She nodded. “Why would you take on an assumed name?”
It’s a long story,” she said. “Everyone around Lookout Mountain knew my family. I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors that my dad was in the Dixie Mafia. Well, they weren’t rumors – he was. When I decided to write for a career I took on a pen name. I didn’t want to deal with the backlash of who my family is.”
Dee Dee stepped in with her own question. “Did you know Trixie was writing an article on Mr. Ghoston’s murder?”
“Yes, I did. Like I said, Lookout Mountain is a small area and news travels fast. I knew who you were the first day I met you at the writer’s workshop.”
“Is that why you were so…reserved?” At least there was a reason why she treated me like moldy cheese.
“Yes. I didn’t want you stirring up old ghosts. The police suggested Bobby Lee’s death was a botched robbery.” She took a drink of water. “Maybe even somebody from the Mafia. I just wanted to get on with my life. I guess that sounds heartless, but I’d been through enough chaos over the years.”
I didn’t understand why she wouldn’t want the killer of her guardian found and prosecuted. Mostly, I didn’t think she’d killed Bobby Lee Ghoston, but there was a little niggle in the back of my mind that kept me wondering if it could have been her. She gained so much from his death.
We talked a little longer until the nurse came in and shooed us out of the room. It was obvious Tippi or Tabitha or whoever needed her rest. We left the hospital and traveled back to the hotel to pick up Mama. We decided to return to Sticky Fingers for supper. Mama hadn’t been there before so it was a treat for her.
We discussed the latest events and tried to figure out who’d want Tippi dead. Did it let her off the hook if someone tried to kill her? Or was this someone warning her off from her newly discovered writing career? I tried to recall what she’d told me about her family being involved in organized crime, and chills ran up and down my neck. What had I gotten myself into this time?
s usual, Nana woke up before the roosters crowed. She was dressed in Christmas green jogging pants with a white turtleneck shirt. I just knew somewhere, there would be a green jacket to top off the outfit. “Let’s go! Today’s a new day and I’ve already made out a list of fun things to do to keep ourselves busy.”
There was a chorus of groans. “Nana, it’s not even eight yet. Can’t we sleep in just one morning?” I wanted to pull the covers over my head and make this whole nightmare of a trip go away. But, I knew we’d never solve the case staying in bed all day so I gave up.
In a little over an hour, we were dressed and ready to face the day. A trip to IHOP for pancakes cheered everyone up. Nana pulled out her itinerary of fun things to do to take our minds off the seriousness of my situation. First on the list was the 3D IMAX Theater located next to the Chattanooga Aquarium.
There were two films playing. Nana chose the
Great White Shark
. We stood in line with rambunctious youngsters waiting to get in. Excitement shone on the children’s faces as they fidgeted beside their parents.
Dee Dee suggested we get popcorn and Coke. So there we were, with our 3D glasses and refreshments, standing in line with the other kids. Mama and Nana had never been to a large screen movie. I couldn’t wait for them to see the spectacular scenes. Finally allowed in, we flowed with the crowd to our seats.
The hostess appeared and provided us with interesting tidbits of information on the theater. It boasted the largest commercial screen ever invented. The IMAX screen is 4500 times larger than the average television and the screen is designed to include the peripheral vision.
The lights went down and the sound came on. Everyone scrambled to put on their glasses. The crowd gasped with wonderment at the beautiful ocean scenery. Colorful fish swam through the water as vegetation gently swayed.
I had to admit this was a great idea and I sat back to enjoy the movie. Next thing I knew a shark, jaws wide open, leapt from the screen into our laps. Nana jumped and popcorn flew onto her neighbor. Nana apologized, and blamed it on the shark.
We settled back and I was enjoying the movie when I noticed Nana’s arms reaching out toward the screen. First they started slow, then they sped up and she was wildly swinging her arms. Nana’s gesturing dislodged the glasses of the now disgruntled man next to her. I heard a few expletives from the irate movie-goer.
I laid my hands over Nana’s for the rest of the movie and we made it through without any more catastrophes. When the lights came on the surly man shot daggers at Nana, but she only shrugged. “Sorry, I was really caught up in the reality of it.”
Her apology diffused the tension and a smile appeared on his lips.
“Oh, that was so much fun. I’m so glad I added that to my list.” I wished I had half as much spirit as she did. I glanced at Mama and noticed she looked like someone had stolen the color right off her face. She was as white as a newly painted picket fence.
“Mama, what’s the matter?” With all the attention I’d been paying to Nana, I hardly noticed what mother was up to during the movie.
Dee Dee supported her from the other side. “Betty Jo, what is it?”
“I’ll be okay. I just got a little seasick. Let me sit for a few minutes.” We guided her to a bench. Nana sat beside her and grabbed her hand.
“Want some Coke, Betty Jo?” I could feel the genuine love between Nana and Mama. When her parents were killed, Nana took in Mama. Now that Nana’s getting older, Mama’s showing the same love and care for Nana.
“I think I need to go back to the hotel,” Mama said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I think I’ll feel better if I can rest for a while.” She looked so pale.
“The action and movement can cause queasiness, Mama, that’s no problem. We’ll be glad to take you back so you can lie down.”
She straightened, but still held a hand to her forehead. “No way. I won’t have you sitting with me. You take Nana and finish up that list of things she wanted to do. I’ll hear of nothing else. I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure, Betty Jo?” Dee Dee handed Mama a Coke and sat down on the other side of her. We gave her a few more minutes, then dropped her off at the hotel and tackled the next stop on Nana’s list.
We were lucky to find a parking spot right in front of the Creative Discovery Museum downtown. As soon as we walked in, and I saw the hands on exhibits, I knew Nana would be determined to experience each and every one. Cute little twin girls stood beside her as they dug for miniature artifacts in the dirt. Nana squealed when she found a replica dinosaur bone. I wasn’t sure which of them had more fun.
While she was busy, Dee Dee and I sat and talked. “Hey Dee! Look over there.” Dee turned in the direction I pointed. “That’s Amanda Holbrook with her friend we met the other night on the Riverboat,” I said. They were next to a round cement bowl, I couldn’t imagine what it was for.
It was odd to see them there. We hadn’t run into any of my other classmates, but this was the second time we’d ended up in the same place as Amanda.
“I wonder if they’re following us.” Dee Dee said what I thought.
“Aw, probably not.” I decided it was just coincidence. Why would she be following me?