Chilled in Chattanooga (A Trixie Montgomery Cozy Mystery Book 4) (4 page)

BOOK: Chilled in Chattanooga (A Trixie Montgomery Cozy Mystery Book 4)
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CHAPTER EIGHT

“Y
ou’ve got that right, Kiddo.” A booming voice emanated from the phone. “What’s going on in the town of Chattanooga? How’s the article coming?”

“Whoa, Harv. Look, I can’t talk right now; I’m in a restaurant. I’ll call you back as soon as I can.” I pictured my boss at his desk sucking on a cherry Tootsie Pop. After a scare with his ticker, he’d traded in his ever-present cigars for the sweet treat. I rarely saw Harv at the office without the new vice.

“Okay, but don’t take too long. I want an update of that murder story you’re working on. Just because you’re at a writer’s conference doesn’t mean you can slack up on your work.” I’d found early on that Harv was a sheep in wolf’s clothing. His size alone could be intimidating, let alone his booming voice. But underneath the gruff exterior was a heart of gold. He gave this rookie a chance when no one else would. Yes, he expected my best, but I knew he’d look out for me.

“I promise I’ll call you later.” I knew when Harv found out I’d discovered a dead body he would jump on the story like a dog on a biscuit. We said our goodbyes and I hung up. With the help of another server, Jenny brought out our food and placed it on the table. The next few minutes were quiet, except for the licking of fingers and the smacking of lips.

When we’d eaten enough to satiate our appetites, Nana probed me again about my harrowing experience. “Spill the beans, Missy.”

I took a long swig of sweet tea, then wiped my mouth. “Oh, Nana, it was terrible. I got hungry during the night, so I ventured downstairs to find a snack. I noticed what looked like a sash hanging out of the deep freeze. Of course, I opened it. You know what they say…”

“Nothing more than a corps-ical in the middle of the night?” Nana quipped. Her snark broke the tension. Heads turned as laughter rang from our table.

Her gallows humor actually helped me recall the details with more clarity. “Anyway, I opened the lid and there was Annie Henderson surrounded by ice cream and frozen vegetables.”

“Oh, Trixie,” Dee Dee leaned over and hugged me, “how awful for you. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to comfort you. What happened after you found the body?” Dee Dee poised her fork ready to take another bite of potato salad while I explained.

“Detective Bianca Sams showed up, as well as her assistant Sergeant Gary Sargent.” Grins broke out on Nana and Dee Dee. “Before y’all say anything, I know it’s a funny name, but be careful. She’s very protective of her Sergeant Sargent.” I stifled a giggle.

“Anyway, she questioned some of us and the sergeant questioned the others. The process seemed routine until Detective Sams asked me to wait after the others had left.”

“What did she want with you, Trixie?” Nana tried to scrape more stew from an empty bowl.

Nana wasn’t the only one with a healthy appetite. I finished off my sliders, and wondered how I could eat at a time like this. But no matter how dire the circumstances in our life, we still had to eat.

“She said that the house staff, Ladonna, heard Annie and me arguing. We weren’t though. Annie was talking and she got louder and louder – it wasn’t arguing. I guess it seemed that way to her. Anyway, the detective asked us to stay in town. They’re working on the crime scene, so we can’t go back to spend the night. I guess you girls are stuck with me.”

The waitress walked up and refilled our tea glasses. “Could I get you ladies a dessert?” It was a unanimous “yes.” After much discussion we decided on homemade bread pudding drizzled with caramel sauce and served with a scoop of ice-cream.

I’ve been told “stressed” spelled backwards is “desserts” so it must mean we should eat desserts in time of stress. We were out to prove that point. We dug into the delicious treat and said little while we savored the wonderful flavors.

Dee Dee shook her empty spoon in my direction. “Trixie, I’m thankful you’ll be staying with us. Maybe this Detective Sams will have all this sorted out in no time.”

I hoped Dee Dee was right. “In the meantime, I have this article I’m working on that needs to be finished. If y’all don’t mind I’d like to do more research on this Mr. Ghoston. He lived up on Lookout Mountain. I’d like to go back and interview the local historian.”

Nana’s eyes popped wide open. “Of course we don’t mind.” She wiped her mouth with her cloth napkin. “Let’s go.”

I should have known she’d be up for an adventure. I didn’t know if taking on this research was in my best interest right now, but I had to get my mind on something other than seeing Annie’s body in the freezer. I knew Harv would expect a report when I called him back tonight, and I wanted to be ready to share I was working on the story.

“Hey, I need to go to the ladies’ room. Anybody want to come with me?” Dee Dee used to go to the bathroom at the drop of a hat. But since she’d been wearing
the patch,
her trips had been cut in half. It was nothing short of a miracle.

“I’ll go with you,” Nana said.

“Y’all go ahead while I call the lady I want to interview and see if she’s available. We’ll meet in the lobby when you’re through.” I placed a call to Tilly Andrews. She assured me she’d be home.

We took off in Dee Dee’s rented car. And I mean
literally
took off. Dee drove like she was in a race on the Talladega Speedway, dodging in and out of cars at a speed leaving you dizzy. We almost clipped a Mercedes when she changed lanes. “Slow down, girl. We’re not going to a fire.”

“You’re just a worry wart, Trix. I’ve been driving a long time. Who has all the speeding tickets from Vans Valley?” She guffawed at my expense.

Nana had to get in on the fun. “Yeah, Missy. Isn’t that the kot calling the pettle black?” Her tongue twisted around the words of the common cliché. We burst into laughter. I glanced over to the car next to us. They stared at us like we’d grown extra heads. I told the girls, which triggered another bout of laughter. It was good to let go of the tension for a little while.

We drove through the little village of St. Elmo’s at the bottom of Lookout Mountain. I took in the charming area of antique stores, restaurants, and ice cream shops.

“Stop!”

“Dee pull over! Something’s wrong with Nana.”

CHAPTER NINE

I
turned around to discover the reason for Nana’s outburst, my heart pounding like a jackhammer. Was it a heart attack?

“Nana, what’s the matter? Do we need to take you to the emergency room?” She wasn’t holding her chest. Good sign. What was that big smile doing on her face?

“Oh, I’m fine sweetie. I just saw the incline and wanted to take a ride. Wouldn’t that be fun?”

“Nana, you are going to be the death of me yet.” That is, if I didn’t kill Nana first.

“Come on, Trixie. Let’s grab life by the horns and make a spur-of-the-moment decision.” Dee Dee pulled over to the side of the road and turned toward me. “It’ll be fun.”

I looked at the incline car and followed the tracks straight up to the top of the mountain. It didn’t look like fun to me, but Dee Dee was right. Why not? “Okay, let’s do it.”

“I knew you’d break, Trixie.” Dee Dee laughed with Nana like that was the funniest thing anyone had ever said.

Standing in the cold, waiting for the incline to arrive was not my idea of fun. I buttoned my coat and tightened my scarf. I withdrew the pamphlet from my pocket and read about the railway.

During the railroad boom of the 1880’s, a luxury hotel resort was developed on the mountaintop that was serviced by a simple narrow gauge railway. However, in November of 1895, a new, broader gauge passenger railway simply known as “The Incline” opened to easily whisk residents and visitors up and down the steepest part of Lookout Mountain.

Built by John Crass and the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway Company, The Incline is a technical marvel that at its extreme, reaches an incline of 72.7%, making it one of the steepest passenger railways in the world. The original coal-burning steam engines were replaced by two 100-horsepower motors in 1911, but other than that the railway hasn’t changed very much in its more than 100 years of operation.

By the time the ride was over, I couldn’t wait to get my feet back on level ground.

“Admit it, Trixie, wasn’t that fun?”

“About as much fun as having a gynecological exam.”

“Well
, it depends on how good looking the doctor is,” Nana quipped.

“Nana!” Where Nana had the ability to make me blush or want to hide my head in the sand, Dee Dee was able to take her like a trooper.

“Oh, Nana. You’re too funny.” She drew her into a big bear hug encompassing most of Nana. “I love you.”

Nana turned to me and smirked. “Well, I’m glad somebody loves me.”

“Oh, Nana. I love you, too.” It was my turn to give Nana a hug. “Come on ladies, we have to get up the mountain if we want to make it to my appointment on time.”

Dee Dee zoomed around the curves as fast as she could without leaving the road. My stomach lurched as the butterflies tried to escape. I had a death grip on the door-handle and my knuckles had turned white by the time we arrived at the top of the mountain.

“What’s the name of the street, Trix?” I wondered how Dee Dee could talk so calmly, but when I glanced her way she was as cool as a cucumber. “Isn’t the snow beautiful? This is my kinda snow – when it sticks to the ground and not the roads.”

When I gathered my wits, which were scattered all over the car, I looked at my note. “It’s Mountain Way, Dee.” The GPS lead us right to the door of Tilly Morrison, a long-time historian of Lookout Mountain and Chattanooga. She lived in a cute little cottage built to look like a log cabin.

I hoped three strange women – I mean strangers – standing on her doorstep didn’t scare her. I failed to mention I’d have company with me. A little sprite of a lady opened the door. “Come in, come in out of the cold.” She grabbed Nana’s arm and practically dragged her inside.

“I assume one of you is Trixie Beaumont?” Her laughter filled the room. “I guess I should have found out for sure before I welcomed you into my house.”

“Don’t you worry one bit Tilly. If I may call you Tilly.” Dee Dee stuck out her hand and Tilly reciprocated with a handshake. “I’m Dee Dee Lamont and this is Trixie.” She pulled me up beside her. “And this is her great-aunt. We just call her Nana.” Nana stepped up and offered her hand.

“Please, have a seat.” The living area of Tilly’s cottage contained furniture consistent with a log cabin theme. The sofa and chairs boasted rustic pine log frames. A fire crackled in the fireplace. The warmth and the glow of the fire made the room cozy and welcoming.

We removed our coats and made ourselves comfortable. I wasn’t sure where to start. There were a lot of blanks to fill in on this case and I hoped Tilly would be able to fill in the missing pieces.

“Wait just a minute while I get the research material I’ve found.” Tilly went into a study to retrieve what she needed, and returned with full arms. “This is a case I’ve been keeping up with over the years. It’s not often we get a famous member of the Dixie Mafia living in our little community. I hope it will be the last – his murder left a dark shadow on our mountain.” She spread the contents of her laden arms on a coffee table made of the same heavy wood as the rest of the set.

“That’s what I’d call a passel of information,” Nana said.

“You can say that again.”

I could tell right off these two were going to be a lot of help. Then again, maybe not. I rolled my eyes automatically. Not a good idea.

“I saw that, Missy. I may be old, but I’m not stupid.” It never failed Nana could pick up on my eye-rolls and would call me on it every time. If truth be told, I get impatient with Nana more often than not. I thought of all the adult children taking care of their parents and wondered how they kept their patience. I sent up a quick prayer for them and Mama.
Lord, please give these brave souls the patience and love they need to care for their parents. Help them remember the love their parents showered on them.

“Sorry, Nana.”

I turned and addressed Tilly to get the topic back on track. “Tilly, what can you tell us about Bobby Lee Ghoston?”

CHAPTER TEN

B
obby Lee grew up here on the mountain,” Tilly said with confidence. I remember his parents – good people. He got into a little trouble as a teenager, but nothing serious. He hung around with another local youngster, Tad Hopkins. When those two got together it spelled t-r-o-u-b-l-e with a capital T.”

“Were they ever arrested?” Since Dee Dee had helped with several of my articles, she felt comfortable asking questions. I didn’t mind. She not only helped me with work, she helped me get my feet back on the ground when Wade’s indiscretion knocked me flat on my back. Her strong faith during the sudden death of her husband was a never-ending example to me. My faith had grown under her care, but I strove to have the kind of faith Dee Dee possessed.

“Yes, they were, but I don’t remember what it was for. Since they were teenagers at the time, I doubt you’d be able to find out. After they graduated from high school, they settled down. Both of them got married and they opened a furniture store together. Nobody was surprised when they became business partners.”

“Where was their business located? It wasn’t on the mountain was it?” I took notes and recorded the conversation for later reference.

“No, there’s not much room on the mountain for businesses. It was located in Rossville outside of Chattanooga. Are you familiar with Highway 27 North?” I nodded. “It’s located along that road.”

Anyway, they seemed to be doing well. Both of them had nice, and I do mean
nice
houses. Tad and his wife had one child, a daughter, and Bobby Lee didn’t have any children.” Tilly leaned forward and looked around the room as if someone else might hear our conversation. “You know what the sad thing is?”

We shook our heads.

“She was barely a teenager when her father died of a heart attack.” Tilly hung her head. “It was a shame because her mama had run off with someone and left Tad to raise her. She didn’t have a mama or a daddy.”

Nana took her turn at questioning, “Oh my, what happened to her?”

“Ladies, before I continue, I’ve been a terrible hostess, how about some tea and homemade cookies?”

My tummy was quite full, but Dee Dee spoke up. “I’d love some cookies.”

“Me, too, if it’s not too much trouble,” Nana chimed in.

I swanny I sometimes wondered if Nana had a tapeworm. That woman could eat more than Dee Dee and me together and she never gained an ounce. I hated to whine but, no fair.

Tilly gave me a questioning look. “Sounds lovely.” She went to the kitchen to prepare our snack.

“We just ate y’all.” I like to eat as much as the next person, but I needed to finish my interview.

“Lighten up, Trix. It’s rude not to accept food when offered in someone’s home.” Dee Dee smiled to soften her words.

“You’re right. What’s a few hundred more calories?”

“Well, I know any calories that go through my lips are going to wind up on my hips, but I don’t want to live life worried to death about being a little overweight.” That statement was so Dee Dee. She strived to live life to the fullest and instead of wallowing in worry she looked at problems as challenges. What she couldn’t handle she gave to the One who could. The one time I thought she wouldn’t come out of the doldrums, was when she was accused of murder in Dahlonega, Georgia. I was so happy when Dee Dee was absolved of any involvement.

She hit the target more often than I did though. I tried, but I still enjoyed a good pity-party every now and then. I have to admit, since I’d reconnected with Dee Dee my ability to handle difficult situations had become easier and my faith had grown in the process.
Thank you God, for good friends.

“Here ya’ go!” Tilly interrupted my musings when she returned holding a tray laden with cookies and a teapot. I jumped up to help.

“Those cookies do look good, Tilly.” Suddenly I was hungry again. She served everyone then resumed her story.

“Now where was I? Oh yeah, I was telling you about Tad’s death that left his poor daughter without a caring parent.”

“Do you remember her name?”

She gazed at the ceiling as if she’d find the answer written there. “Don’t hold me to it, but I think it’s Tabitha.”

I wrote as Tilly continued.

“Well, Bobby Lee stepped up and took over as her guardian. He and his wife raised her just like they would their own. She never lacked for anything. I heard she was hard to handle for a while during her teens. I suppose those years aren’t easy for any of us. Anyway, she went off to college until the unbelievable happened.”

“What was that, Tilly?” Dee Dee and I asked in unison.

Bobby Lee’s murder. It was terrible. They found him in one of his warehouses and I heard it was not a pretty sight. You’ve heard of people losing their heads. Well, he definitely lost his.” A little shiver shook her body.

“And they never found out who committed the murder?” The sleuth inside me was intrigued.

“No they didn’t, but the rumors flew. People were saying he was part of the Dixie Mafia, and they were cashing in on a payment.”

I wondered if I’d gotten myself in deeper than was safe, and wondered what Beau would say about this new twist.

“What do you think, Tilly?”

“I guess anything is possible. One thing I know for sure is they lived high on the hog. The best of everything, nice house, new cars and that young’un had everything her heart desired. I’ve wondered from time to time if the furniture business was that lucrative.” She shook her head in wonderment.

Dee Dee looked at her Minnie Mouse watch. Her clothes more likely than not, matched her personality – bold and colorful. Today she wore black pants with a bright red sweater covered in snowflakes. With the Christmas season arriving, she’d wear a holiday-themed outfit until the New Year arrived. I’d love to dress as bold, but I usually stuck to my brown, beiges, and pastel colors. I didn’t like to draw attention to myself, but that was a lost cause with Dee Dee and Nana in tow.

She pointed to her timepiece. “We’d better be going if we want to get off the mountain before it gets dark. Do we need to go by the B&B to pick up your things?”

“No. I’ve got enough for tonight, I just need to check in and let Detective Sams know where I’ll be staying. We can go by tomorrow and gather my luggage and car.”

I hoped and prayed Nana hadn’t ordered the Elves to tuck us in tonight. I didn’t think I could handle them. “Thank you so much Tilly for taking the time to talk with us. You’ve been the perfect hostess. I’ll be sure and let you know when the article’s published, and I’ll give you credit for your help.”

She raised her hand. “It wasn’t anything. I’m glad I could help.” Tilly gathered the material spread out on her coffee table and returned it to a box. “Here, Trixie, you can take this with you and go through it at your leisure.”

I took a few pictures of Tilly and we said our good-byes. We were going out the door when Nana’s foot slipped on a patch of ice. She straightened her arms to cushion her fall. I heard a sickening crack when she hit the ground. A shrill scream pierced the evening air.

BOOK: Chilled in Chattanooga (A Trixie Montgomery Cozy Mystery Book 4)
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