Authors: Nora Deloach
“Grace, aka Mama Covington, the Miss Marple of
this mystery, is a case manager for
Social Services, a fabulous cook,
and a canny sleuth.”
from the Poisoned Pen
The answering machine picked up. My father’s frightened voice filled the room.
“Simone, for God’s sake, if you’re there, pick up the phone!”
I ignored Cliff’s scowl and snatched up the receiver. “Calm down, Daddy. What’s the matter?” As I listened, my stomach began hurting, a pain that moved from the top to the bottom like somebody had a knife in my gut. “Okay, we’ll be there as soon as we can,” I said, then gently put the phone back onto its receiver. My hands were icy cold and trembling.
Cliff gave me a direct look, his brown eyes soft, gentle. “What’s wrong? Simone, what’s happened?”
“Mama has been poisoned,” I whispered, unable to believe my words.
Cliff’s eyebrow arched, his mouth opened.
“She’s in Otis General Hospital fighting for her life.”
“A woman’s voice—specifically Mama’s—is clearly
heard and answered in the mystery novels
of Nora DeLoach.”
—American Visions Magazine
This edition contains the complete text
of the original hardcover edition.
NOT ONE WORD HAS BEEN OMITTED.
MAMA STALKS THE PAST
A Bantam Book
Bantam hardcover edition/December 1997
Bantam mass market edition/October 1998
All rights reserved.
Copyright © 1997 by Nora DeLoach.
Map by Laura Maestro.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 97-10117.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in
any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopying, recording, or by any information
storage and retrieval system, without permission
in writing from the publisher.
For information address: Bantam Books.
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To my wonderful family, who lovingly support me!
Thanks to my editor Kate Miciak, the master of all editors, whose help was invaluable. I could never have presented
as the sophisticated lady she is without Kate. Thanks to Amanda Clay Powers, Kate’s Editorial Assistant, whose charm and assistance made it an easier task, and special thanks to my agent Denise Stinson, who aided in Mama’s debut.
The temperature was thirty-eight, the wind-chill eighteen; gusts snatched my breath from my throat. With my gloved right hand I pumped gas; my left I tucked inside my coat to warm my tingling fingers.
Five minutes later I was crossing Wesley Chapel, my eyes following a plane that kissed the only thing on the November horizon, a thin cloud that looked like it had been sketched across the sky. A blast of frigid air through my Honda’s window told me that I’d crossed the Interstate and pulled into the McDonald’s drive-through. I took a deep breath before ordering black coffee.
A few minutes later, I was making a sharp right onto Interstate 20. I slipped in an Anita Baker CD, got caught up in her mood, and watched gold, brown, and rust leaves dance across the highway.
Let me introduce myself—My name is Simone Covington. I live in Atlanta and work as a paralegal. My boss, Sidney Jacoby, is a defense lawyer who dresses impeccably and whose entire domain is in absolute order except for one thing: Dandruff falls from his hair like soft new snow. Everybody who knows him feels obliged to flick the stuff from his very expensive jackets.
My reason for not being tucked under my new downy comforter this gray November day was that I was driving to Otis, South Carolina, to visit my parents. For two months I had been working sixteen-hour days on the legal defense of a young man Sidney was representing, the son of an Atlanta minister. Sidney had finally pulled together a case that he felt good about, so I asked him for three extra days to be added to my weekend.
He’d agreed. So I called Cliff, the guy I’ve been dating for the past few years. Cliff is a divorce lawyer who is working hard to become a partner in his firm. I don’t know if that has anything
to do with it, but he always ends up with the client who wants her lawyer to fly all over the United States whenever she suspects she’s getting the short end of the detachment stick.
Anyway, when I told Cliff about my extra long weekend, he was elated. He, like me, was beginning to think that we might be losing what we had. Five days alone together was exactly what we needed.
Less than an hour later, however, things had soured. Cliff was flying to New York. His client, Mrs. Zwig, insisted that he come; she wanted to renegotiate a clause because she’d learned that Mr. Zwig’s live-in secretary was pregnant: Mrs. Zwig was determined to use the baby as leverage.
Tired, disappointed, and as I said earlier, pissed, I was in the middle of trying to figure out what to do with my five days off when Mama called.
My Mama, whose name is Grace but who is called Candi by everyone because of a golden-brown complexion the color of candied sweet potato, promptly said, “Come home!”
“Rest,” she said.
I took a deep breath. “I’d planned to do something more exciting with my time, thank you,” I replied.
Mama’s laugh had a mock to it. “Without Cliff, the most exciting thing you can do, Simone, is to rest!”
I took another deep breath. “Don’t rub it in,” I muttered, thinking of the things I’d planned for me and Cliff to do.
Mama’s tone moderated as if she understood my frustration. “Really, Simone, your father and I haven’t seen you in over two months.”
She was right. My work with Sidney had not only cut into the time I would have spent with Cliff but my trips to visit my parents as well. “And you’re dying to see me this weekend, right?” I said, still not willing to view visiting Mama and Daddy as a substitute for being with Cliff.
“James did say that he’d like to see you, yes.”
Mama’s voice was nondefensive. I had to concede that the only other thing I could think of to do with my five glorious days of freedom was to go to Lenox Mall. Sidney pays me a very good salary but whenever I’m depressed or harried, I spend money like the government, more than I earn. What served as a deterrent to me now was the slip from NationsBank on my desk. It was a twenty-six-dollar overdraft charge, which meant that even though I’d had trouble seeing Cliff and my parents during the past two months, I hadn’t failed to find the time to spend a lot of money.
Mama was right, it would be wiser for me to come home to Otis than to go to Lenox Mall—at least not until my next payday.
When I arrived in Otis and walked into Mama’s kitchen, I knew instantly that I’d made the right decision. Mama had done her thing.… The enticing scent of sweet potatoes, cinnamon, nutmeg, eggs, vanilla, and sugar blended enticingly with the hard, cold afternoon air. I would be easing a blade through a newly-baked pie in less than thirty minutes.
No sooner than I’d hugged Mama and taken off my coat, there were short anxious rings on the doorbell. Mama, who was filling the coffeepot with filtered water, looked at me. I could tell from her expression she knew I wasn’t in the mood for company. The next ring was a long sharp siren. Some moron was leaning on the bell. I bolted into the foyer and snatched open the door. Nat Mixon and a woman stormed past me and headed into Mama’s kitchen. When I caught up with them, Nat was squared off in front of Mama, his raisin-colored finger pointing in her astonished face. “You’re a wicked woman, Miss Candi! A
woman who took advantage of my Mama!”
Nat stood six feet tall with broad shoulders.
His wide nose was pierced; a tiny ruby sat on his nostril like a semiprecious booger. His short hair sprouted like uncut grass. He was dressed in a pair of jeans and a tan sweater jacket that had holes in each elbow. He had a thin scar, the result of a fight in which he took a nasty cut from a switchblade; it ran from his left cheek to the base of his neck. His smell was a mixture of old sweat and cheap cologne.
The woman with him wore what looked like a dark brown wool dashiki over a pair of slacks. Her hair was finger-sized shoulder-length cornrow braids. She stood behind Nat rubbing her arm, her eyes glued to Mama’s face.
Mama lost her look of surprise. “Don’t you talk to me like that, Nat Mixon,” she snapped. “And take your dirty finger out of my face!”
Nat’s hands waved. He breathed heavily and a muscle twitched beneath the scar on his cheek. “Sugarcoated words ain’t for the likes of you, Miss Candi! You ain’t no good. And I’m gonna tell the whole town what kind of woman you
“Nat Mixon,” Mama retorted, “I know you’re troubled, your mother dying and all, but there’s no call for you to spread lies about me!”