Climate Change: A Nina Bannister Mystery (The Nina Bannister Mysteries Book 7) (10 page)

BOOK: Climate Change: A Nina Bannister Mystery (The Nina Bannister Mysteries Book 7)
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“Aren’t they so cute!” said Harriet Crossman.

“The Hersheys?” asked Margot.

“No, the cats. I just love to see them interact!”

This is,
thought Nina,
going to be a disaster
.

She was beginning to imagine the various ways in which it was going to be a disaster, when Harriet Crossman continued:

“Our biggest order of business, of course, as you undoubtedly know, is going to be the national television production. This will be a multi-million dollar affair. Each of our authors will be interviewed by the network representative—and by the way, Ms. Duncan hasn’t arrived yet, I take it?”

“No,” said Margot, shaking her head. “No, she’s supposed to get here sometime tomorrow morning, I think about ten-thirty.”

“Ah. Well, at any rate, her decision is going to be the making or breaking of one cozy author’s career. But, of course, it will affect all of us. The national publicity connected with a major series of this nature will send sales through the roof. So we will be monitoring her interviews with great interest.”

“I see. Well, you certainly have full plates and much work to do in the next days. Please don’t hesitate to come to me or the staff with any questions. We’re at your disposal, as is the entire plantation!”

“Thank you! Thank you ever so much! Well, now I must go fetch Hecuba and set about finding a roommate. Ta ta for now!”

“Ta ta!” answered Margot.

“Ta ta!” answered Nina.

Then:

Thousand one, thousand two––

Harriet Crossman out of hearing distance.

Margot, whispering:

“Nina, you’ve got to get into town. Take one of the trucks. I could send one of the men but I don’t trust them. We’ve got no time, no time at all, and this is one errand that has to be done right!”

Margot had taken from her massive leather purse a ball-point pen and note pad, upon which she was madly scribbling.

“Take that red Ford pickup over there. The keys will still be in it. You can drive a stick shift, can’t
 
you?”

“I used to be able to. I think it will come back to me.”

“All right then. Drive right into town until you cross Main Street. Take a right, go a quarter of a mile, and you’ll come to Jarrod Wilson’s General Store. Jarrod can get anything, and from any of the other stores in town, even the big Wal Mart on the Southside. He’s become a good friend of Goldmann and me. Give him this note, tell him to put everything on our tab, and tell him he’s got to hurry.”

Nina looked at the note.

“Oh,” she said, understanding now the importance of her errand.

“You understand?”

“I understand.”

“Good.”

So saying, Margot whirled and walked-ran toward the house.

The truck was old and ramshackle, and the gear shift was a stick extending up from the floor. But she’d driven such a vehicle when she was teen-ager, and had delivered prescriptions from the pharmacy owned by her father. It took only a short time for her to remember how the thing worked, and memories of her childhood and her parents came flooding back to her as she and the truck rattled across the entrance bridge over a small stream, then made their way out through the dense woods and turned onto the highway into Abbeyport.

She turned on the truck’s radio, scanned the various channels as she had the day before on the trip up from Bay St. Lucy.

“What I hate—and I think the whole country hates—about the liberals is that––”

“Marsha, I think what these right-wing conservative groups have forgotten to take into account is that––”

Blaaah de blaaah de blaaah.

Until:

“One cautionary piece of advice for the people of south Texas and Louisiana:
 
Hurricane Clarence is picking up steam, but he seems to have altered his course slightly. Rather than heading for Matagorda Island south of Houston, he seems to be making his way farther north and east, with probable landfall 34 hours from now in the area around Beaumont. At this point wind gusts up to––”

Keep scanning.

Beaumont.

That would be hard rain indeed for Bay St. Lucy.

But Beaumont was Beaumont and not southern Mississippi.

Nothing to worry about.

Not really.

And so she drove on, mind alternating between the hazy golden years of high school and the strange group that awaited her upon return to Candles.

Cozy writers.

Cats.

Well, at least they were not, as Amidon Phillips had said, real writers.

At least they were not Tom Broussard.

Thirty Tom Broussards.

No wonder the staff had quit.

Of course, it must be said, this group did not consist entirely of little old ladies, either.

But still, how much trouble could they be?

So pondering, she pulled into the outskirts of Abbeyport, drove past the obligatory fast food restaurants, turned onto Main Street, parked, located the black and red neon sign that said “Jarrod’s General Store,” and walked into it.

There was a musty air about it, and she savored the look and feel of the dark-stained hardwood floor, the copper ceiling, the slightly too close together aisles of disparate this and that, slightly related and barely useful but fun to look at that and this.

Power tools.

Plates.

A small display of clocks.

“Yes, Ma’am, how can I help you, Ma’am?”

A white-haired older man with a white apron leaned across the store’s main counter and peered over his gold- rimmed glasses:

“Welcome to Jarrods’!” he went on, smiling broadly. “Whatever you want, well, we probably got some of it!”

Nina made her way around two aisles and approached the counter.

She took from her pants pocket the note Margot had scrawled for her, opened it, and said to the counter-man:

“I want four hundred and fifty pounds of cat litter.”

He stared back at her.

Finally, he asked:

“I beg your pardon?”

She repeated:

“I want four hundred and fifty pounds of cat litter.”

He continued to stare for a time, finally asking, quietly:

“What kind of a cat have you got?”

She shook her head:

“It’s difficult to explain.”

Another man approached from the back of the store and stood beside the first.

This man was a bit shorter, a bit ruddier, and wore no glasses.

But the aprons were the same.

“What’s the trouble?” he asked.

The first man looked at Nina, then at his associate, and said:

“Fred—Fred’s my brother, ma’am––this lady wants four hundred and fifty pounds of cat litter.”

“She wants how much?”

“Four hundred and fifty pounds.”

Fred stared at her for a time, then asked:

“What kind of a cat have you got?”

She shook her head again:

“It’s difficult to explain.”

The first man was speaking now, but, as the conversation wore on, it became a first-one-and-then-the-other kind of thing.

“This is not for one cat?”

Nina.

“No. Thirty.”

Second man.

“You have thirty cats?”

“Not exactly. It’s just that my friend Margot was not expecting––”

Both men leaned upon the counter, four eyes widening simultaneously:

Both said:

“You mean Ms. Gavin out at Candles?”

“Yes. She had a last minute booking by––”

The first of the two men shook his head:

“Doesn’t matter. If it’s Ms. Gavin and those artist people she brings in there—no, we’ve learned not to ask. There are seven places here in Abbeyport that sell cat litter. Fred here will take the truck. Give us half an hour and you’ll have your four hundred and fifty pounds. Just promise me:
 
you can’t use cat litter to make methadone, can you?”

“I don’t think so.”

“No, I don’t either, or the kids would have found out by now. Wouldn’t be an ounce of the stuff to be had on the shelves. So then:
 
give Fred and me half an hour, we’ll have you fixed up.

She did.

And they did.

CHAPTER SIX:
 
MARGOT AND NINA MEET THE COZY WRITERS

Her return to the plantation house was an occasion of great joy, even exultation, and, as she pulled the truck into the driveway, the cab was swarmed by people who seemed as though they might have been shipwrecked sailors clambering aboard a Red Cross relief vessel.

“Here! Give me that sack!”

“No, I need it for room fourteen, and I need it now!”

“I need two sacks! Two sacks!”

In little more than two minutes, the truck’s back end was emptied of cat litter, and a dozen or so staff people had disappeared into Candles.

She got out of the cab, looked around, saw no one wandering the grounds, and assumed that the house itself had subsumed the writers who were to inhabit it for the next few days.

She wandered inside, looking here and there for Margot, and realizing that her search was likely to be fruitless.

There were a thousand places that Margot might be, and another thousand errands that her friend might be occupied with.

And so she simply wandered, turning down a corridor here and a passageway there, sighting now and then a cluster of writers who were wrestling luggage up flights of stairs and into half-opened doorways.

Finally, she turned a corner and entered a room at random, drawn at first by the strange and yet pleasant half- light emanating from it, and only aware some seconds later that it was a library.

Not a large room but an elegant one, with a reading desk sitting patiently at one windowed wall, orange glow of sunset filtered through the beveled glass.

She had taken two steps into library before she realized she was not alone.

A figure stood to her right. A man. Not a tall man, but still imposing somehow, with long black hair that swung in a kind of horse’s tail back and forth over his forehead as he rocked back and forth. His attire matched his hair:
 
black, leathery, and not to be trusted.

He had not, apparently, noticed Nina’s entrance, for his attention was riveted to the books, which he was fingering, one volume at a time, while whispering:

“Crap.”

The book back in its place.

Another book fingered.

Another whisper:

“Crap. Senseless crap.”

The book back in its place again.

Yet another book out.

Another verdict hissed out:
 
“Drivel.”

Finally, he turned, perceived Nina’s presence in the room, stared at her for a few seconds, and prepared to speak.

I’m not, she found herself thinking, looking forward to what he’s going to say about me.

But he said nothing about her.

He asked, instead:

“So. Is it ready now, for God’s sakes?”

She knew nothing to answer to this, and so said nothing at all.

He took a step toward her, glowering as though he had caught a prowler in the silverware.

“I asked you if it was finally ready! Is everybody in this house crazy? Or is it a house at all? Have I been taken by mistake to an asylum, and are all of you inmates?”

Anything to say to that? Anything springing to mind?

Nope. So why not just continue to stand perfectly still and be mute?

Why not indeed?

A silent, icy stare, followed by the same hissing tone that had been reserved only a few moments earlier for the books:

“I’m going to give you a few more seconds; and then I swear to God, I’m calling my agent. Do you want me to do that?”

Anything to say to that? No, so then––

––Wait!

There
was
something to say to that, after all!

“I don’t care who you call.”

And voila!

The perfect answer!

Of course, it was not exactly a conciliatory answer.

Because it changed the hissing into roaring:

“You don’t
what
?”

“Care who you call.”

The dark man before her suffered a minor stroke, got over it, found a few of his nearly paralyzed facilities again, got them together and made them ask:

“Do you know who I am?”

Nina shook her head:

“I haven’t the faintest idea who you are.”

The command of language had returned now, and he was even able to achieve the noble and straight posture necessary to accompany the anthem entitled:

“I am Garth Amboise!”

Nina nodded:

“Nice to meet you. I’m Nina Bannister.”

Her reply had the effect of following “America the Beautiful” with a dirty joke.

A name such as hers—little rattrap thing that it was—had been inserted, WITH HIS, into the same five second span of time, as though her soiled underwear had been stuffed down into his gazpacho.

“I beg your pardon?”

“I said, ‘I’m Nina Bannister.’”

“And why is this supposed to mean anything to me?”

And there it was again, a statement that simply hung in the limp library air and failed to invoke a response.

Just good old silence was probably the best thing after all.

And so the two of them stood there for ten eleven twelve thirteen seconds that seemed like forty-seven years and still counting until a door on the side wall that had hitherto been invisible sprung open and Margot sprung though it, saying:

“Mr. Amboise!”

Garth Amboise ripped his stare out of Nina’s stomach, pulling several inches of entrails along with it. She watched blood droplets trickle over the carpet while he managed to turn his head and say:

“Please tell me that this horror story is ending.”

Margot stepped into the room, nodded and said:

“We have your room ready.”

He inserted the stare that had partially disemboweled Nina into Margot’s stomach and allowed his voice to trickle over it like sulfuric acid.

The air between the two of them was smoking.

“It is, I trust, a private room?”

“It is.”

“You knew of that stipulation beforehand, did you not?”

“We had a––”

“At least my agent assured me that you did. You must have. He wired you thirty-four hours ago!”

“There have been some breakdowns in communication.”

“I think that is probably an understatement!”

“We’re sorry for the inconvenience.”

“As am I, I can assure you. Now, if you will have some of your people get my bags––”

“That’s being taken care of as we speak.”

“My God, something is actually being done right for a change!”

“Again, we’re sorry if––”

“JUST SHUT UP! And stop your yammering! I don’t care in the least what you’re sorry about! Don’t you understand that I have writing to do tonight? There are people in New York waiting for chapter—but why should that mean anything to you? I need to be taken to my room, I need to unpack, and I need to be undisturbed for the entire evening. Is that understood?”

“Yes. We serve dinner at––”

“You serve dinner in my room, or didn’t my agent make that clear either? Fields, Edelstein and Morgan, they’re the top agency in New York City. But somehow they didn’t seem to make their wishes clear, now did they? All right, then I shall get down a few levels lower:
 
ALL OF MY MEALS, BREAKFAST, LUNCH, AND DINNER, are to be served IN MY ROOM! Is that clear?”

At this point, Nina said something obscene.

It was under her breath, so that even she could barely hear it. It was also not a very creative obscenity, and could have been heard thousands of times every hour in any construction site, football practice, or teachers’ grading session.

It was not a Penelope Royale obscenity.

Oh where, oh where, was Penelope Royale when one really needed her?

But it was the best dirty word—phrase actually, when one thought about it—that she could come up with, and she gamefully threw it out there into the room, where it disappeared.

“I think now,” Margot was saying, “we are aware of all stipulations. We’ll try to have your meal up around seven. Tommy here––”

She gestured to a young blonde boy who stood some steps behind her in the corridor.

“Tommy will take you up. The luggage should be there by now.”

Garth Amboise did not answer, but simply strode across the room and disappeared behind the boy who’d been assigned to lead him.

For a while then, there was silence in the library.

This silence was broken by Nina.

“I hate him.”

Margot nodded.

“I know.”

Nina:

“I hate him so much. I hate him more than I hate Hitler.”

“Well, Hitler was pretty bad,” answered Margot.

“Not so bad, really, when you compare the two people. Let’s go get a picture of Hitler, and I’ll put it in my room, and––”

“Stop.”

“Who IS that s––”

“Don’t.”

“Quit talking to me in these little one word orders of yours.”

“You’re not any good at swearing.”

“Oh, but I can learn, I can learn.”

“It’s not worth it.”

“All right, all right. Then who is that—that—that ‘person who now occupies a position of low rank in my esteem?’”

“Come on.”

Margot gestured.

“Come on where?” asked Nina.

“Let’s go into the reception office. It’s been the command center for the last half hour. It’s where we’ve been checking everybody in, pairing up roommates, handing out keys, getting to know the guests a little bit––”

“––are they all like this?”

“No. Most of them are pretty nice, I think.”

Nina followed.

In two minutes, the two women were seated in the small office space that served to check in guests, hand out keys, etc. Margot handed her a cup of coffee and a sheet of paper which she soon recognized to be the ‘bio’ of Garth Amboise.

“This came by special post last night, but I guess we were already asleep, so they just slid it under the door.”

BOOK: Climate Change: A Nina Bannister Mystery (The Nina Bannister Mysteries Book 7)
8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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