Authors: Deborah Malone
manda Holbrook sat beside a woman, their foreheads so close in conversation they almost touched. Before I could look away, she noticed and pointed in my direction. The other woman looked my way. I poked Dee Dee. “Don’t look now, but there’s a woman over there, Amanda Holbrook, from my writer’s class.”
“We should go talk to her,” Dee Dee said, and before I could stop her, she was headed over. I gave up resisting, and followed Dee Dee. Maybe the entire night wouldn’t be lost.
Amanda’s eyes widened as we approached. I thought for a minute she might bolt from the room. “Hi, Amanda. Do you remember me?”
“Of course I remember you. You were in my writer’s class.” She moved a little closer to her friend. “Aren’t you the one Detective Sams spent so much time interviewing?”
I pulled Dee Dee closer. “This is my friend, Dee Dee Lamont.”
Amanda gestured. “This is Bethany Smith. She encouraged me to get out and have a little fun. I never dreamed we’d run into you here.”
“Well, I’m glad we did. I’d like to talk to you about Annie’s death.”
“You mean her murder,” Amanda said.
“Yes, Detective Sams stated as much.” I had this strange feeling I’d seen her somewhere else. I just couldn’t place where. “Have we met before?”
“No, I don’t think so. What do you want with me anyway?”
“Look Amanda, the truth is, Detective Sams told me I’m a person of interest because I was the last person to be with Annie before she died. I’m questioning everyone in the class to see if I can discover some helpful information. Do you mind if we join you for a few minutes and ask some questions? You know, we have a lot in common. I had a no good, low down, scum sucking husband, too. I know what it’s like to be betrayed by the one you love.”
I must have hit close to home because her bottom lip quivered and her eyes pooled with unshed tears. “I never thought it would come to this. I gave him everything I had and he just tromped all over my heart. It’s broken into so many pieces it feels like its being held together with Band-Aids.” She looked me square in the eyes. “To tell the truth, if I was going to kill someone it’d be my ex-husband. I didn’t have anything against Annie.”
“Did you know Annie before the workshop?”
She averted her eyes. “No, no I didn’t.” She sniffed and wiped her nose with her napkin.
I got the feeling she was hiding something.
“Can you tell me anything about the evening of the murder that might help me?” Any tidbit of information could help solve the crime.
“Let’s see. My room was down the hall from Annie’s, but I don’t remember anything out of the ordinary.” Her eyes lit up. “Wait a minute, I remember hearing voices outside my door and I cracked it enough to see. You were in the hall with Tippi” – she made finger quotes – “with an i”. You were discussing something, but I couldn’t hear what. After that, I decided to work on my assignment. I went to sleep in the chair and didn’t wake up until after midnight when I went to bed.” Amanda’s friend handed her a fresh napkin.
“I told the detective about seeing Tippi in the hall, but I wasn’t sure she believed me. Now I have your word to back me up.”
Dee Dee wrote feverishly, this was the first tidbit of information in my favor and Dee took her job seriously.
“One more question, Amanda. Do you know where any of the other participants are staying?”
“Actually I do. Bodene Tate informed me he’d be staying with a cousin of his. I believe his name is Bubba Tate and he lives in Rossville. Bodene was bragging about some invention his cousin made millions on.”
“Do you mind if I ask where you’re staying?”
“I-I’m staying with Bethany.”
Bethany held out a business card for me. I gave my card to Amanda and urged her to call me if she remembered anything else or if she just wanted to talk. I recalled the loneliness I’d experienced after my divorce.
Nana was back on the dance floor with a new partner. I turned to Dee Dee. “After this dance we need to grab Nana and take off before she draws any more attention. I want to get back to the hotel so I can call Beau. I miss him so much.”
“I know you do, Trix.” A big smile appeared on Dee Dee’s face, but it didn’t reach her eyes.
“I’m sorry, Dee,” I reached over and gave her a shoulder a squeeze, “You must miss Gary, too.”
“I do Trixie, but I have to admit, since you’ve come into my life our adventures give me something to look forward to. And of course, I have Antiques Galore. We help each other.”
“Isn’t that what friends are for?” The band struck the last chord and the dancers clapped their appreciation. Nana returned, her face glowing. I swanny, she looked ten years younger. How did she do it?
“Whew, that was fun.” Nana slipped off her shoe and rubbed her foot with her good hand. “The night is young.”
“Nana, the night might be young, but I’m not. I feel like I’ve been run over with a monster truck. I think we need to call it a night.” I looked at Dee Dee and winked.
“Have you got something in your eye, Trix?” I should have known better, I’ve tried this trick several times with Dee Dee and it never works.
“No, Dee, I don’t have anything in my eye, but my eyeball.” I’d try the direct approach. “Don’t you think we need to call it a night?” The light bulb finally flicked on.
“Oh, yeah, that’s right, I’m bushed.” Dee Dee stretched and yawned playing the part well.
After returning to the hotel it wasn’t long before Nana faded out. I went into the bathroom seeking a little privacy, making the long awaited call to Beau. At the sound of his voice, my stomach did a somersault.
i, Babe. How are you?”
The waterworks poured, “Oh, Beau it’s terrible.” So much for not worrying him.
“Trixie, what’s the matter. Tell me what’s
.” My heart broke at the sound of his concern.
“You’re not going to believe what happened. Please don’t be mad at me.” I dreaded telling him I was the main suspect in a murder case. Would he abandon me like Wade?
“Honey, I’m not going to be mad unless you don’t tell me what’s going on. Is everyone all right? Is Nana okay?”
Beau loved Nana like his own aunt. I couldn’t prolong his agony any longer. I reached over and grabbed a wad of toilet paper and blew my nose. “Beau, I’m a person of interest in a murder case.” I thought I’d soften the blow by using that expression. Being in law enforcement, though, it didn’t fool him.
“You’re a suspect in a murder case? How? Why?” Beau sputtered, hardly able to get his words out.
“I found our teacher, Annie, in the deep freeze. I didn’t mean to.” Well, what a stupid thing to say, of course, I didn’t mean to. The words poured as I told Beau the story. “I was hungry and I went downstairs to get something to eat. I found a pink sash hanging from the freezer door so, of course, I wanted to see what it was. Beau, it was attached to Annie.” The tears flowed again.
“Babe, that’s horrible, but finding the body shouldn’t land you on the suspect list.
“I wish it were that simple. Detective Sams, she’s the lady detective on the case – you ought to see her Beau – she’s Dee Dee’s twin except for her skin tone. Anyway, she said they found my fingerprints on her teacup and teapot. Of course they did. I visited her earlier in the evening and she asked me to look at the set. My fingerprints were all over them. On top of that, I was the last one to be alone with her.” I grabbed a fresh wad of paper to wipe my eyes.
“Slow down honey, let me think about this. What does the teapot have to do with anything?” I knew his criminal justice mind was working overtime and hoped he could piece together the facts so I could prove my innocence.
“Detective Sams said they found poison in her tea. Oh, I forgot they found some of the tea in my room. It’s a rare blend of tea that she ordered off the internet. Beau, I think I’ve been framed. I don’t have any other explanation for the tea showing up in my room.”
“It sounds that way to me, too.” He paused a beat. “You do need to prove your innocence.”
At the same time as his comment made me feel better, it also set my heart to a panicked flitter. I’d hoped he would reassure me that it didn’t look all that bad, but now he was agreeing I was in real trouble.
“Let me make some calls for you, and as soon as I can get someone to cover, I’ll come over there and do what I can to help. It might take a day or so.”
“I’d really appreciate that, honey.”
“How’s Nana taking all this?”
“You know Nana, she’s ready to take on the world for me. She fell night before last and broke her arm, but she’s doing great. She’s sporting a hot pink cast and asking everyone to sign it.” She wouldn’t have any room left before long. “She even asked the waitresses to sign it. I’ve never seen anyone so proud of a broken arm.”
The door squeaked open a little. Speaking of Nana, a little gray head peeked around the frame. “Trixie, you finished in there? I’ve got to use the lady’s room.”
“Just a minute, Nana, I’m talking to Beau.” Oops, I spoke before I thought.
“Beau! Let me speak to him.” She threw the door wide open. There she stood decked out in her footy pajamas.
I heard Beau’s voice drift from the phone. “Trixie, is that my best girl?” He called Nana his best girl and she loved the nickname. That’s how I met Beau. He was Mama’s next door neighbor and helped her out with yard work, and when Wade stepped out on me, she invited Beau over for barbecue ribs and potato salad, and told me to bring a lemon meringue pie, and the rest is history.
He’d always been a help to Mama and Nana long before I’d moved back home. I’d forever appreciate what he’d done for them. And that was just a small indication of what kind of man my Beau is. I listened to the two catching up.
“Hey, Beau. You ought to see my cast. Sure, I’m doing fine. Can you believe the mess Trixie’s gotten herself into? Don’t you worry one little bit. Dee Dee and I are going to help Trixie find the real killer. We’ve already interviewed a couple of people and have more lined up. What? Oh, I love you, too. You want to speak to Trixie now.” Nana handed me the phone with a smile plastered on her face. You’d think she was the one married to him.
We talked a few more minutes with Beau assuring me he’d come to Chattanooga as soon as he could. “Everything will be okay. God only knows why you’re a magnet for dead bodies.” I could hear the worry in his voice even as he spoke encouraging words to me.
I went into the bedroom and let Nana have the bathroom. Dee Dee propped up on her elbow. “What’s going on?” She looked at Nana’s empty bed. “Nana, okay?”
“Yeah, she’s in the bathroom. I just finished talking to Beau. He’ll be here in a few days.”
Nana returned. “And I told him all about how you and I were gonna’ help Trixie.” A smile crept across her face. I failed to see the humor.
“Good for you, Nana. I’m sure he felt a lot better knowing you and I were on the case.” Talk about being facetious. Dee Dee won the prize.
I yawned, then Nana copied me. “It looks like these detectives better get some shut-eye if we’re going to get up early and interview Bodene tomorrow.” Within minutes I heard a symphony of snoring, but I couldn’t sleep. The glowing red numerals on the clock read one, and I still tossed and turned.
dozed fitfully all night. Images of Detective Sams, Sergeant Gary Sargent, elves, and Annie in her pink bathrobe danced in my head. Nana’s voice invaded my dreams. “Get up, Trixie. The sun’s already up.” Why was she telling me to get up? Then I felt someone shaking me. I waded through the thick fog of sleep and realized Nana was not part of my dream.
“What is it Nana?” I peeped at her with one eye.
“Come on lazy-head. It’s eight already and you’re not even dressed.”
Nana was decked out in a matching ensemble. She wore hot pink jogging pants and jacket over a white tee shirt. I had to admit she was cute. Fortunately, her cast came to just below her elbow making it possible for her to dress herself. She must be feeling a lot better.
“Naaaana. It’s too early to get up; I didn’t sleep good last night.” I pulled the covers over my head hoping she’d go away.
She pulled them right back off. “Oh no you don’t. We have some detectin’ to do today.”
“Hey, what’s going on over there?” Dee Dee sat up in bed. “My goodness, Nana, you’re dressed already.”
“Yep, we’ve got a job to do. We’re not going to prove Trixie’s innocence staying in bed all day.” Nana put her hands on her hips and struck a serious pose. I couldn’t help but chuckle, and Dee Dee joined in the levity.
“What’s so funny?”
“Aw, Nana, you know we love you.” Dee Dee tucked her feet into her kitty slippers, padded over and gave Nana a hug.
“Come on girls, get dressed so we can go get something to eat.” This started another round of laughter. This time Nana joined in. It was good to laugh.
Less than an hour later we sat in an IHOP eating a stack of pancakes. I knew this wasn’t the healthiest nutrition around, but it was comforting. I totally got
I was pleasantly surprised when I found Bubba Tate’s address. I called him up to ask if I could interview him on his invention. I filled them in while Nana dredged her bacon through a puddle of maple syrup. “He knew all about the magazine and was thrilled to be the center of attention.” I felt bad for using him to get to Bodene, but I had to find a way to talk to him.
“What are you going to do if Bodene isn’t there?” Dee Dee drizzled warm blueberry syrup on her pancakes.
“Let’s just hope he is.” I topped off my coffee and grabbed the sugary liquid. It looked delicious dripping down the sides of Dee’s pancakes.
Our waitress approached the table. By the wrinkles etched on her face, she’d lived a lifetime and a half already, but she was probably only in her thirties. “I brought a fresh pot of coffee.” She replaced the carafe sitting on the table.” Is there anything else I can get ya’?”
“Dee Dee and I said “no thanks,” but Nana asked for a couple more pancakes. Nana possessed a metabolism any woman would covet.
“Girls, we need to find a church to attend this morning. The Lord knows we could use all the help we can get. And I feel like the need for a good dose of spiritual food. ” Nana wiped a drop of syrup off her chin.
“What a wonderful idea. We could stop at one on the way to Bubba’s,” Dee Dee said.
“I agree.” We waited on Nana to finish her short stack and set out on our expedition. I was thankful for the short walk to the car. My new knee had taken more punishment the past few days than it had since surgery.
We followed the GPS towards Bubba’s, looking for a church on the way. We weren’t far from the Tate’s when Dee Dee yelled. “There! It looks like we’re just in time.” Dee Dee read the name, “Southern Church of Faith, Deliverance and Restoration.”
I swung a hard right and pulled into the gravel parking lot. There stood the classic Southern church building. An old wooden structure, painted white, with a steeple standing guard. A mountain of steps led to the double doors. I grabbed my camera from the car and took several shots.
As we climbed the steps, the strains of Rock of Ages drifted to greet us. I used the rail to pull myself up while Dee Dee assisted Nana. I opened the door to a sea of heads. The a cappella choir sounded like angels. If this was a rehearsal of heaven’s welcome, then I couldn’t wait.
A few heads turned as a young man ushered us midway up the aisle. A young couple scooted over to make room for us. We sang a few more songs before the preacher took his place behind the podium. About fifteen minutes into the sermon he nodded toward a couple of young men. They left only to return quickly with a long wooden box.
I nudged Dee Dee and whispered. “What is it?”
She shrugged. The preacher sprinted down front and opened the box. What was that rattling sound? Oh-my-goodness, recognition dawned like the morning sun. We’d walked in on a snake handling service. I looked at wide-eyed Dee Dee – she’d figured out what was in the box, too.
I grabbed her arm and squeezed. The pain in my chest felt like a hippopotamus jumping up and down. I looked around for an escape. I wondered if we could get out the door without making a commotion. I might just be going to heaven a little sooner than I thought.
The preacher held one of the snakes high overhead for the congregation to see. He continued preaching, something about having the faith to take up a snake, but I was faltering between planning my exit and keeping Dee Dee from moving more than an inch from me. Several people stood and headed down front. They each seized a snake from the box.
My heart beat faster than a jackhammer. Dee Dee tried to pry off my fingers from her forearm, but I wouldn’t let go, my deathly fear of snakes paralyzed me. When I was growing up our neighbor had lost one of his fingers to a copper-head bite. He never overlooked a chance to show me his missing finger and tell me the story – over and over again. Thanks to Mr. Beadle I would forever be frightened of the slithering reptiles, no matter the species.
The leader cajoled again, “Who else has the faith? I feel it. There are others with us today that have the faith to embrace this wonderful creation of God.” He held the wriggling reptile overhead and I swallowed, hard.
Events took a turn for the worse when I noticed Nana’s empty seat. Where was she? I looked behind us to see if she was high tailing it out the door. No Nana. Surely she wouldn’t do the unthinkable. Oh, yes, she would. I swiveled to face the front where the box was located. People, young and old alike, clapping and praising God, surrounded the wooden chest. The cluster of parishioners parted like the red sea and there in the center of the mass was Nana, grasping one of the snakes.
She shoved the serpent towards me as it wrapped a tail around her pink cast. “Here, Trixie, it’s not so bad.” I pushed Dee Dee aside, and held up my hands in protest. The last thing I remember was Nana’s goofy grin as she thrust the slimy thing toward me.
Death came quickly.