Authors: T'Gracie Reese,Joe Reese
“We have a lovely library. You’ll find anything you want.”
“You might start with this though. I found it lying on the balcony when I went up there to look for––whomever.”
Margot reached down into her huge cow’s belly of a purse. She wurgled in it for a while—wurgled being a word Nina had invented to signify what a woman did within her purse that was something between rooting and ferreting but neither one of these actions exactly—and finally took out a small sheet of what seemed exquisite stationary.
She laid it carefully on the table, so that it could be read in the flickering light of the tall white candle.
There were small tracings of the plantation’s main buildings in each of the upper corners.
And on the page itself, in flowing script, was written:
“I feel that we have always been sisters. Welcome to my home. Which I shall never leave, no matter what happens.”
It was signed:
ARRIVALS, THE FIRST WAVE
The following day dawned strikingly clear, bringing just a hint of fall and a hint of hurricane. The air had a sharpness to it that one might never have expected in late August, and the first light maintained that tinge of yellow that Nina always associated with trouble.
She and Margot rose, as luck would have it, about the same time. They met in the kitchen, made coffee together, and fried bacon. Margot did not know how to make grits, a shortcoming for which Nina had never forgiven her.
But she could do eggs over easy, make toast, and set out a small carton of butter, proving that people from Chicago, if they did not understand civilization in its finest sense, at least were not complete savages.
At seven thirty, the first cars began arriving.
“What is this?” exclaimed Nina, hearing the crunch of gravel outside.
“I have no idea. They’re not supposed to be here until ten o’clock.”
Nina rose from the table, walked fast to the counter, stood on tip toe, and looked through the window.
“It’s not,” she said over her shoulder, “your guests.”
“Then who is it?”
“It’s your staff.”
“Well, they’re back.”
And they were, arriving in four vehicles (two of them pick up trucks) instead of the two they’d left in, and spreading out on the driveway as though planning an ambush to be staged on the back porch.
“What’s going on?” asked Margot, making her way to the door, opening it, and stepping out onto the porch. “Mildred?”
Mildred, who like each of the other eight or nine people with her, was unloading one of the cars, turned:
“Ms. Gavin! We had to come back! We’re sorry, we really are!”
“Why do you have to come back?”
“Mr. Phillips, ma’am! He called the café late last night. Just before closing. Annabelle was just about to lock up when the phone rang.”
“Amidon Phillips called Anabelle?”
“Yes, Ma’am, he did.”
“What did he tell her?”
“The whole story, Ms. Gavin! He told how these people that’s coming ain’t really writers at all. They just a bunch of old ladies.”
“Well, they’re cozy writers. I don’t know if they’re all old ladies.”
“They don’t use no bad words?” she asked. “No fighting and killing? No naked people?”
“Who would write like that except for old ladies?”
Margot thought for a time:
“Well, you have a point there.”
“Anyway, when we heard that, we knew it wouldn’t be right to leave you out here. It’d be like making you run a rest home by yourself.”
“Well, if you’re sure––”
“It was wrong of us in the first place. We just got to remembering back in June––”
“I know. I understand how you must have felt. But what have you got there in the cars? What are you unloading?”
For the vehicles were in fact being quickly unloaded, a mélange of metal and cloth clattering on the gravel driveway.
“We called all the three nursing homes in town and made a deal to borrow some things they had in storage.”
“Things you’ll need for these old ladies, Ms. Gavin. Walkers. Chamber pots. Hospital gowns for them to sleep more comfortable in.”
“Are you sure we––”
“Oh, yes, ma’am. Several of us used to work in such homes. It’s hard work and you got to have the right equipment. Do you have enough blankets?”
“It’s August, Mildred.”
“I know, ma’am, but these old women get cold. Do you have cards?”
“Some. A few decks, I guess.”
“Well, we brought some more. They like to play bridge and such games as that, the ones that’s still able to see. And the ones that ain’t senile.”
So the unloading process continued. There were not quite enough walkers for each room, but there were enough crutches, and the younger people worked assiduously to make sure clearly labeled bottles of laxatives sat primly beside the toilettes in each private bathroom.
At one point during the process Mildred stopped Margot and Nina on the stairs:
“Have to tell you, too, Ms. Gavin, that we went by Abbeyport Methodist this morning.”
“Yes, ma’am. It’s best to be cautious. You need professionals on hand if one of these ladies has a stroke or a heart attack.”
“I suppose that’s true.”
“So two of them will be coming out at ten, when the ladies arrive. I figured you wouldn’t mind paying them some overtime. Them and the ambulance driver.”
“We need an ambulance?”
“You never know.”
And so it went.
Candles underwent, in the next two hours, a kind of transformation, while Nina did what little she could, carrying walkers, arranging wheelchairs in the large game room, placing small miniature steps beside beds, and putting in plain sight diapers for those cozy writers who might prove to be incontinent.
At nine thirty these kinds of arrangements had to be put on hold.
The first members of the press began arriving.
Two large bumblebee-like helicopters which, rotors chewing up the soft morning air and motors roar/clacking, set down in the West Pasture perhaps fifty yards from several outbuildings, whose last view of anything similar had probably been the first glimpse of Grant’s army.
Nina was standing in the driveway when the assault began, attempting to wrestle one last box of hospital gowns out of the trunk of a dilapidated Ford Escort.
“Yes, I see them.”
“What do we––”
“We go meet them. They’re from the press.”
“THE press. There’s only one.”
“What are they doing here?”
Margot, walking fast by the Escort and toward the pasture, simply shrugged:
“Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m doing here. Come on.”
“But I don’t understand––”
“Amidon probably called all the media outlets in the state. Actually, he probably called all the media outlets in the world, knowing Amidon. These are the first to arrive.”
The two women made their way through a crumbling fence which seemed to dissolve as they approached it.
They watched as two figures—unarmed, Nina noted with relief—emerged from the helicopters, and, bending low to avoid the rotors spinning over them and cow patties lurking under them, waved and smiled:
“Hello, the house!” shouted a young man.
“We’re from WRGC,” shouted a young woman.
They were glowing, radiant, blonde, well dressed, poster children of mass marketing. The woman looked like all of the women who bantered and made useless announcements from the sidelines of nationally-televised professional football games.
The man looked like she would have looked, had she been male.
“I’m Tricia Lindenwood, and this is Chip Horagan! We do the nightly news!”
“How exciting that you’ve come,” Margot answered. “Welcome to The Candles!”
Several photographers, Nina now noticed, had just emerged from the helicopter.
“You don’t mind pictures?”
“No, no! Take all the pictures you want!”
The two landing parties, one coming west from Candles and the other east from the helicopter, met, embraced, shook hands, gushed, and in general rejoiced over everyone’s existence.
Microphones were produced; cameras began whirring; an interview began, with Tricia and Chip alternately firing questions and Margot answering them:
“So are you excited about northern Mississippi hosting the AGCW?”
Nina found herself musing.
WRGC asking about AGCW.
What had ever happened to words?
“We are thrilled,” Margot lied skillfully, “that the AGCW is about to honor us!”
“Are you yourself a fan of cozy mysteries?”
“Oh, I certainly am!” lied Margot yet again. “I began reading cozies when I was just a little girl. Actually, Nancy Drew was my first favorite. But I was shy and books were my retreat. I discovered the Agatha Christie books in junior high school. Throughout all the following years I wanted nothing more than to secrete myself in my room and transport myself to some small English village where a little old lady was trying to piece together clues before the local constable could. When I think about it, I was the same way in college, and even up until today.”
, Nina soon realized,
There’s no possibility on earth that Margot Gavin has ever read a cozy mystery
She’s talking about me, Nina Bannister
“So, Ms. Gavin, who are your favorite mystery writers?”
So did Nina.
Who were some cozy mystery writers?
Which authors had most thoroughly impressed Furl?
“Well,” Nina interrupted, “you were telling me, Margot, that you’d just finished a novel about a little old retired nurse in some quaint New England village—Maggie Maplewhite, in Seacoast Cove––and after the town miser had been found dead with a gunshot wound in his chest, she had to use her medical training to solve the crime, since the bumbling old police chief couldn’t. It was called something like
Death Stares at the Stethoscope.
And there were lots of eccentric but lovable characters in it.”
“Oh yes, that one! And what else had I told you about, Nina?”
“Well, there was…”
But the interview was ending.
More helicopters were arriving.
And horns were honking back on the entrance road.
The first of a series of ponderous limousines was making its way over the bridge.
The Cozy Writers of America were here.