Authors: Deborah Malone
nnie clutched her stomach. “Trixie, I think I’m going to have to cut our meeting short. I don’t feel up to company right now.” In a few minutes, her face had turned from a healthy pink to the white of a new fallen snow.
“Is there anything I can do for you Ms. Henderson?” Ladonna looked as worried as I felt.
“Annie, I’d be glad to sit with you for a while.” I didn’t mind staying if she needed me. “Perhaps we should call a doctor.”
“No, no you girls go on. I’d rather be by myself, I’m a private person. I’m just going to lie down for a while.”
I returned to my room, worried about her. She’d turned ill so suddenly. An ulcer perhaps? She did seem pretty tightly wound.
I wanted to get to my article, but first things, first. I should call Nana and Dee Dee and see how they fared all day. If I knew Nana, and I knew Nana, she’d run Dee Dee ragged.
Dee Dee answered on the second ring. “Hey Trix, how ya’ doing? Getting much done?”
I could hear Nana in the background begging Dee Dee to hand her the phone. “I haven’t done much yet, but I plan on putting the pedal to the metal tonight. Remember that unsolved murder on Lookout Mountain I told you about?”
“The one about Mr. Ghoston?”
“That’s the one. Well, our teacher told me I could work on it for tomorrow’s assignment. I’m itching to get on it. I need to study the photos and separate them into categories.” I could see Nana in my mind’s eye jumping up and down with anticipated excitement of telling me about their day’s adventure. “Let me speak to Nana before she loses her knickers.”
“Okay, but I want to talk with you before you hang up.”
The next voice I heard belonged to a little lady I’d come to dearly love over the past few years. “Hey, Trixie. You aren’t going to believe all we did today.” If it involved Nana, I’d believe it. “We went to the Chattanooga Aquarium. I’ve never seen so many fish in all my life.”
“That’s great, Nana.”
“Wait a minute, honey. I’m not through. Then we rode the Duck. I’ve never had so much fun. I can’t wait until tomorrow. I want to go on a carriage ride and maybe visit the History Museum.”
I was exhausted just listening to Nana’s itinerary. We talked a few more minutes as she told me about her eventful day.
God love Dee Dee.
When I came back to Vans Valley after Wade’s little tryst, lower than a snake’s belly, I couldn’t see how I would ever regain my self-esteem. Not only that, I’d acquired a large chip on my shoulder that grew every day as I continued to add bitterness to it until it felt like a boulder. The one thing that bothered me the most was the hit my faith took. I was one sorry mess.
An angel, in the form of Dee Dee Lamont, came to my rescue. As soon as she found out I’d returned home, she insisted we renew our friendship where we’d left off in high school. Dee Dee was no stranger to pain. Her husband, Gary, had died a year earlier of a sudden heart attack. Her faith and strength were an example I strived to follow. With her guidance I not only regained my self-esteem, but my faith grew stronger and stronger. Yes, I still dealt with old doubts and bitterness sometimes, but I found it a lot easier to recover from those bouts of doubt and uncertainty. I hoped I could be as good a friend to Dee Dee.
“That’s wonderful, Nana. Could I speak to Dee Dee again? I need to get back to work.”
“You sure can. Sorry you’re missing all the fun, but maybe you can join us later.” A cackle came through the phone. She didn’t sound upset over my absence.
“Hey, Trixie. I guess Nana filled you in.”
“She sure did. How in the world did you keep up with her? She has more energy than a grasshopper on steroids.” I couldn’t wait to give Dee a big hug for her help.
“It wasn’t easy, but I managed. I’m just glad we’re back in our room to take a break for the rest of the day. I’m so tired I wouldn’t even mind if the elves tucked me in tonight.” Dee Dee never failed to produce a laugh from me. “Your mama is a saint. I don’t know how she does it day after day.”
“I always say she’s a direct decedent of Job. I guess I need to go and get busy on my article. I hope you get a good night’s rest and Nana doesn’t pull any of her stunts tomorrow.”
I worked on my manuscript until my eyes crossed and then crawled into bed, grateful for the cool, dark room and firm mattress.
Sleep came quickly, but a growling stomach woke me up. The digital clock read 3:45a.m.
I tried to go back to sleep without much success. I gave up and slipped into my robe and slippers, and headed downstairs to find something to satisfy the hungry beast within. I cat walked downstairs hoping I wouldn’t wake anyone.
Moonlight shone through the window enough for me to find the light switch. When I flipped the switch, light flooded the kitchen. I headed to the industrial-sized stainless steel refrigerator and found some cheese and grapes. Popping in a juicy red seedless, something odd caught my eye. A length of fabric hung out of the freezer door. Worried the compromised seal would spoil the perishables inside; I opened the freezer to see a pink length of fabric, like a sash, that had gotten caught in the door.
It wasn’t the sash that stole my breath away. What laid me flat on the floor was the body attached to the other end.
s. Beaumont.” The recognition of my name transported me back to the present.
Detective Biance Sams mirrored Dee Dee’s image with the exception of her dark brown skin. I’d met several detectives recently, but she was the first female. This could be a good thing – or not. “If you’ll please follow me, we’ll get started with your interview.”
She led me to a quiet office, grabbed a swivel chair and sat down across from me. Detective Sams possessed the same scrutinizing stare that was common among investigators – a mind-numbing gaze that urged you to confess to a crime whether you were guilty or not. “Now, tell me the sequence of events that led you to find Annie Henderson.”
I relayed how I’d gone to meet with Annie and encountered Tippi “with-an-i” outside of Annie’s door. Then I talked with Annie about combining my article from work with the article we were to write for her. She told me it would be fine and then Ladonna, the housekeeper, brought some towels in for Annie. Then she told us her stomach was killing her and asked that we leave her alone so she could lie down.
Boy, she wasn’t kidding when she said her stomach was killing her.
I stopped to take a breath.
Detective Sams looked a little dazed when I finally slowed down. “That’s fine, Trixie. Now tell me why you went downstairs.” She straightened up in the chair, accentuating her full-figured body. Hers was a formidable presence.
I told her I wasn’t able to sleep very well, and went down looking for something sweet – maybe ice-cream or popsicles. I looked at the Detective, “You know how that is. Don’t you?”
She got this far-away look in her eyes like Dee Dee does when we discuss chocolate. “Yes, I sure do.” She suddenly seemed to realize we weren’t here to deliberate sweets. She cleared her throat and her eyes snapped back to the present. “Okay, let’s get back to the freezer.”
I told her about the sash, and then the image of Annie lying crumpled in the small freezer was more than I wanted to remember. I felt light-headed, nauseous and then it became more difficult for me to breath. I heard a distant voice say, “I’ll be right back.”
Next thing I knew I was breathing into a brown paper bag. My breaths became slower and my head didn’t feel like it was going to explode. When my thoughts became clearer than mud I saw Detective Sams, about six inches from my face, looking at me with maternal concern. Maybe that was a good sign.
“Feeling better, Trixie?”
“Yes, I am. Thank you.”
The detective flipped her notebook closed, “I have what I need for now.” She replaced her pen in her pocket and said, “Let’s go back and meet with the others. I have a few things I need to discuss with the group.”
We met in the sitting room. Someone had lovingly furnished this bed and breakfast with antiques: a roll top desk, wingback chairs, leather sofa, and a fireplace with a clock sitting on the mantle. I wished I could enjoy my surroundings, but that wasn’t going to happen right now.
I looked around. Bodene stood by the fireplace, flanked by Tippi and George Buchanan in wingback chairs. Lori sat on the couch and Ladonna stood in front of the fire warming her hands. I was relieved to see an empty chair and headed straight toward it. Detective Sams entered the room behind me. “We’re waiting on one more person,” she said.
“Everyone needs to listen real close to what I have to say.” She surveyed the room, eyeing each of us to make her point. “For those of you who haven’t met him, this is Sergeant Gary Sargent.”
I guess my nerves got the best of me and I laughed out loud. Everyone stared at me.
Especially Sergeant Sargent. “Ms. Beaumont.” Suddenly I went from Trixie, to Ms. Beaumont. “If you’ve settled down now, I’ll continue.
“We are considering this a murder and I’m asking – no telling you – that you must remain in town for the next several days while we continue our investigation.”
Oh my goodness! What is Beau going to say?
The first time I’m away from Beau since we’d been married and I discover a dead body. The nerves cranked up and a little laugh tried to escape. I fought it back. Fairly sure Detective Sams wouldn’t appreciate another interruption, I put my hand over my mouth to control any outbursts.
The detective wasn’t finished. “I want all of you to give your personal information to,” she looked directly at me before saying, “Sergeant Sargent. I need you to make other arrangements for the night, but you can come and go, as long as you are in touch by cell phone. The crime scene is off-limits for the rest of the day while we investigate. You’re dismissed.” I stood up, ready to make my escape, so I could call and check on Dee Dee and Nana. Then the detective pulled another rabbit out of her hat. “That is except for Ms. Beaumont.”
h boy, I’m in trouble now.
“Detective Sams, I’ve told you all I know.” I had the urge to hide under a piece of furniture. Life could be overwhelming at times and surely finding a frozen body would qualify as one of those.
This couldn’t be happening to me
. I thought when I married Beau life would be beautiful and full of happy endings. I guess just because you’re in love doesn’t mean you’ll be without trials. That thought triggered an example of a Christian life. It doesn’t mean we won’t have trials, it means we’ll have the strength we need available to face our challenges head-on and come out smelling like scented laundry detergent.
“Let’s go back in the office, Trixie.” The detective’s voice shook me back to the present. “I have some information I want to share with you.” I followed her back into the same room we’d been in a few minutes earlier. “It seems you were the last person to see Annie Henderson alive. Ladonna told me she heard raised voices coming from behind closed doors and when she knocked, you were in the room with Ms. Henderson.”
She motioned me to wait. “I’m not finished yet. And you discovered the body. This doesn’t look good for you. We still have the crime scene to investigate, and more questioning to do, but I’m letting you know you need to stay close by in case I need you.” She looked directly in my eyes and lowered her voice, “Do you understand?”
“Yes, ma’am, but I want to explain.”
“You’ll have enough time to explain later. The sergeant or I will be meeting with you again as well as the other guests. You have my word we’ll leave no stone unturned. If you’re not guilty then you don’t have anything to worry about.”
Yeah, sure. Easy enough for you to say
Detective Sams stood directly in front of me. “I’ll have Sergeant Sargent accompany you to your room so you can grab a few things. Please leave your information with him and when you find out where you’ll be staying be sure and let us know.”
“Okay.” I swallowed a lump in my throat. After the sergeant left I hurried to my car so I could have some privacy to call someone who loved me. I longed to call Beau, but I knew he couldn’t drop what he was doing and run to my rescue.
My best friend picked up in two rings. “Hello.”
“Oh, Dee Dee.” I stifled a sob.
“What’s the matter, girl?”
I managed my next words through a veil of tears. “You’re not going to believe what happened.”
“What did ya’ do? Wait, let me guess, you found a dead body.” Raucous laughter shot through the phone.
Dead silence filled the air waves. “Oh – my – goodness. You did find a dead body. Trixie I’m so sorry. Where are you? We’ll come pick you up.”
I heard Nana in the background, begging Dee Dee to tell her what happened. Guilt riddled my thoughts. I loved Nana dearly, but I didn’t know how I was going to get through this and deal with Nana, too. I knew once she heard about the murder she’d want to get involved.
Detective Sams appeared to be capable of doing her job without my help. I had no desire to get involved, but I knew that once my editor, Harv, found out I’d discovered another corpse he’d insist I cover the story. Harv’s fascination with murder and mayhem guaranteed I’d become
Georgia by the Way’s
police reporter by default before long. I shuddered.
The gray day matched my mood. The bed and breakfast that had appeared stately, now seemed forlorn – a place destined to host death. I waited anxiously for Dee Dee and Nana to show up until they zipped up in a green Ford Fiesta. The little car stuck out like a lime in a basket of lemons.
Dee Dee exited the little car and scooted inside the passenger side of my P.T. Cruiser. “Brrr, it’s cold enough out there to make a snowman shiver.” She slammed the door and looked at me with her brown hang dog eyes. “Oh, Trixie, I’m so sorry. Come get in my car, it’s already warmed up, and you can tell us all about it.” She grabbed my camera and pocketbook, “Is there anything else you need?”
“No, I can come back later for more things. Where in the world did you get that car?”
“Don’t worry, the color grows on ya’. It was the only one left at the rental place. You ought to see all the looks thrown our way. Nana loves it – she waves at all the men, but I’m not sure if they’re seeing her or wondering if we’re advertising Vlasic pickles. Knowing Nana she probably thinks they’re staring at her. I didn’t tell her any different.” Dee Dee offered me a silly grin. I appreciated the attempt to cheer me up.
Nana sat in the front seat, so I slid into the back. My knee ached, so I gave it a brisk rub. The cold didn’t help. Nana turned around, and called me her pet name that drew more tears. “Sugah, I’m sorry this happened. Now tell us what we need to do.” Because we’d helped solve three previous murders, Nana had bragged to her friends that now we qualified as full-blown detectives. “Start from the beginning and don’t leave anything out.”
“How about we go get something to eat first? I haven’t had anything since last night. I could eat a bear.”
“Are you up for Sticky Fingers?” Dee Dee threw the pickle-mobile into gear.
“I’m not very hungry, but I’m sure I could eat a little,” Nana said.
“I think she was asking me, Nana.” When it came to food, Nana could out eat both of us.
We drove through beautiful downtown Chattanooga toward Broad Street. The historic buildings stood towering over the city. Even though it was a cold day, tourists strolled the sidewalks of downtown. We were lucky to find a parallel parking space close to the famous restaurant.
Couples holding hands, and families bundled in coats and scarves wove in and out of the various stores and restaurants. Children held treasures they had acquired from the gift shops that lined the streets. I turned my head at the clip-clop of hooves on pavement to see a horse drawn carriage with a young couple snuggling in the back seat. The pit of my stomach felt emptier; my distance from Beau greater than before. Yes, I was hungry, but this ache came from missing Beau.
“Ugh!” I bumped into someone as solid as a bear.
“Hey, why don’t you watch where you’re going,” yelled my victim.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to run into you.” His eyes shot daggers at me.
“Well, he didn’t have to be so rude,” Dee Dee said.
Nana grabbed my elbow. “Let’s get off the street where you’re a menace and find out why you keep turning up dead people.”
Heads turned at her remark, and we hastily entered the restaurant behind a family with four small children. They were having a little trouble keeping the active youngsters in tow.
The hostess approached. “How many please?”
“Three. How long is the wait?”
The young girl awarded us with a broad smile revealing a set of shiny braces. “You won’t have to wait at all.” She grabbed three menus and packs of tableware and motioned for us to follow her. “Come this way. Your waitress will be Jenny. Could I take your drink order while you wait?” It was unanimous. Sweet iced tea all the way around.
After she left, Nana leaned in conspiratorially. All right, Missy, tell us all about the murder.”
I agonized over how much to tell Nana. I knew she’d want to get involved when she found out what happened. I started to relay my story when Jenny, our waitress, approached.
“Ready to order?” We weren’t, but we opened our menus and hurriedly picked out what we wanted. We decided on the $7.99 menu. Nana opted for a bowl of Brunswick stew and half a turkey sandwich. Dee Dee ordered a barbeque sandwich and I chose the brisket sliders. As soon as Jenny left, I started to tell my story again when a phone shrilled. We scrounged through our pocketbooks in unison. I was the winner.
I read the caller I.D. with trepidation. “Harv?”