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Authors: Krista Davis

The Diva Serves High Tea (19 page)

BOOK: The Diva Serves High Tea
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“Don't go getting excited. I just think we should find out more about this mysterious Rosie and the notes.” And then
I told them all about Kevin. “It seems Elise had an affair with Robert. Did you find any mention of her in his stuff?”

They dashed up the stairs faster than I had ever seen them move. They had already emptied most of the drawers in his desk. Still, I poked around. It was an antique rolltop. “Did they put hidden drawers in these things?”

Francie and Velma crowded in. We removed every drawer, checking the bottoms in case Robert had taped something to one of them.

We didn't find anything of interest. While I reinserted all the drawers, Velma gushed over a framed photograph.

“This must be the day they opened the store in Charlotte. Robert has big scissors in his hand.”

“You look a lot like your sister,” said Francie.

“You think so? She was so delicate. I always felt like a rhinoceros around her,” said Velma.

I peered over their shoulders. “There's definitely a family resemblance. Robert looks very distinguished.”

They chattered on but I saw something that made my skin crawl.

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

Dear Sophie,

I'm so confused. At the grocery store, I found parsley tea, lemongrass tea, and (I'm not joking!) spinach tea. Hello? Those aren't real teas, are they? What happened to plain old tea?

—Where's My Tea? in Parsley, West Virginia

Dear Where's My Tea?

Unless they have black or green tea added, those would fall in the category of herbal teas. Spinach might even be a vegetable tea. Black tea is what most of us grew up with and it's probably still in your grocery store, though you may have to hunt for it.

—Sophie

“Francie, Velma, take a closer look at that picture. Do you recognize anyone?”

They peered through their reading glasses. Velma gasped first. Francie slapped a hand over her mouth seconds later.

“So I'm correct in thinking that's Callie over there on the right?” I asked. She stood apart from the jolly group cutting the ribbon.

“To think that we've been walking by this picture hanging on the wall, and we never noticed.” Velma took another look. “What does this mean?”

“What it means is that our beloved Callie murdered Robert!” Francie said.

“Francie, don't go jumping to conclusions,” I said. “But it certainly means she knew Robert before she ever showed up in Old Town.”

Velma staggered to a chair and fell into it as though her knees gave way. “That's why he moved here. To be with Callie! Oh my. That little trollop never said a word.”

“Did your sister mention suspecting Robert of having an affair?” I asked.

“Not a thing. She always was the one with the stiff upper lip, though. She might have perceived that as a failure on her part somehow. Or maybe she never knew!”

Francie leapt to her feet. “I believe it's time to pay Callie a visit. Let's go. Her place is practically next door.”

“Wait a minute, Francie.” Velma frowned at us. “I never saw her going into Robert's house. Or him into her house, for that matter.”

“We couldn't watch day and night, you know. And he had a back door. Maybe she visited him that way. Come on, let's go!” Francie said.

“Won't she be working at The Parlour?” I asked.

“Even better!” Velma recuperated quickly.

I hadn't expected to be back at The Parlour so soon.

Martha greeted us when we walked in. “You ladies are just the best! We had a little flurry of takeout this morning, but it's been dead since then. Hunter hasn't even been in today. Would you mind sitting by a window again? Maybe that will encourage other people who walk by.”

Velma picked a location, and we settled into the comfy chairs and love seat. Callie arrived with the serving cart immediately.

Velma and Francie stared at her.

To break the awkwardness, I said, “What service! You're so prompt.”

Martha hurried over. “Callie, everything is on the house today for our good friends. It's the least I can do to thank you for coming. I have a little errand to run. Think you can handle the bustle in here?”

We thanked Martha profusely and she left.

Callie was her usual cheerful self, chattering as she set the table with lavish china. “I hoped Hunter would be by. He likes this china.”

Dark red, pink, and apricot roses adorned the china. Gold accented the rims and the handles of the cups. They were beautiful.

Breaking out of her funk, Francie said, “This is his favorite pattern? I'd have expected him to like something more masculine. Of course, Royal Albert Old Country Roses is one of the most popular china patterns of all time.”

“I'll never tell his secrets.” Callie said it flirtatiously.

I couldn't help looking at all those roses. “Callie? What do you mean by Hunter's secrets?”

“I was just teasing. Sophie, I can't believe I got so lucky. He's about the most decent man I've ever met.”

“Did you know that he grew up in Forest Glen?” I asked.

“I think that's kind of cool. The two of us lived in towns a half-hour drive from each other. We went our separate ways and now we've met up. Actually, I think that's what attracts me to him. We grew up with the same kinds of things. The same values, you know?” She set a tiered server on the table. It was loaded with scones and sandwiches, little cakes and fruit tarts. “We like to garden and love the countryside. And he's got the sweetest tattoo on his upper arm, which proves his gentle nature. It's a rose. Doesn't that mean he's tenderhearted?”

I shuddered a little. Roses were very common tattoos, I
reminded myself. It didn't mean anything. Still . . . Callie might think he was a great guy, but given what she'd said about her previous relationships, she was obviously a terrible judge of character. I wanted to like him. He'd been so nice to Velma. He didn't have to pitch in and help her. Maybe I was just imagining things. But why had that man called him Eddie?

“Since the cat's away, won't you join us?” asked Velma, finally coming to life.

As soon as Callie was seated, Velma pulled the framed picture from her giant purse. I hadn't even realized that she brought it with her. Velma showed it to her. “Look what we found when we were cleaning up Robert's house.” She passed it to Callie.

I held my breath.

“How nice! This must be Robert's old store—” Her voice faltered, and she looked up at us with fear in her eyes.

“You knew Robert, didn't you?” asked Francie.

“Oh, Velma,” Callie said. “I know how you admired him. I'm so sorry, but Robert was not a nice man. That man I was runnin' from in Charlotte? It was Robert.”

That was way different than I had expected. I sat back with my teacup. “Why don't you tell us what happened?”

“When I lived in Charlotte, I got a real good job working as a receptionist in a furniture factory. I went to school at night and was eager at work, and I moved up in the company. So when my boss was leaving to open his own furniture store, he asked me to come with him.”

“Robert.” I said it as a fact. I didn't have to ask.

“Right. I took the job, that's why I'm in the picture. For a long while, he was as nice as everybody thinks. He was polite and considerate, and he paid me well. Velma, honey, I don't know if you should hear this.”

Velma sat up straight. “I want to know the truth, Callie. Even if you did something wrong.”

“One afternoon, Robert and Livy were supposed to sign some papers. I called them, and Livy asked if I could bring the documents out to their house. I'd been there before when
they hosted parties for their employees, like at Christmas.” She looked at me and Francie when she said, “They lived out in the country a bit, off a little windin' road.”

Callie closed her eyes and shuddered. When she opened them, she took a deep breath, as though the memory was disturbing. “I guess she didn't tell Robert I was coming, 'cause he sure didn't expect me. Nobody answered the front door. I thought I heard voices, so I walked around back. Robert's wife was kneeling on the ground, pulling weeds from her garden and talking with some woman. Robert walked up behind her. She looked around, and he bashed her in the head with a rock. I'm so sorry, Velma.”

“He killed my sister? Robert? I don't believe this.” The horror on Velma's face turned to anger. “It's not fair to malign a dead man. He can't defend himself. Why would you lie to us, Callie?”

Francie watched her friend with concern. “Velma, I'm terribly sorry. And you were so good to Robert, too.”

Velma closed her eyes a moment and opened them when Callie spoke again.

“I can't forget the shock on her face. That poor woman never saw it comin'.” Callie's voice petered to a bare whisper.

Velma moaned. “My Livy! Do you think she suffered?”

“She fell to the ground and was so still. I'd never seen anybody die instantly like that before. I could tell. I knew she was dead.”

Callie took a moment to compose herself. “But Robert and the other woman had seen me. He ran toward me, and I guess I was in shock. I stood there a few seconds too long until he got close enough for me to recognize the hatred in his eyes. It was the same madman look that my two husbands used to get right before they commenced beatin' on me. So I ran like the dickens but I swear he was so fast that it was like the devil himself was standin' in front of me.”

She paused and gulped tea as though she was fortifying herself. “I knew it was wrong then, and I know it now. Please don't judge me. They call it survival instinct. And I got it real strong. I knew better than to fight him. We were all
alone out there, the three of us. I would be as dead as his wife if I wasn't careful. Two against one is not good odds. He made me help him move her a little to make it look like she fell. I guess the woman had gone in the house because I didn't see her anywhere. Velma, I checked—your sister didn't have a pulse. Robert made me pick up the rock he used to kill her. And then he laughed at me and said what a dope I was because if I didn't keep my mouth shut, they now had
my
fingerprints on that rock, and they would say
I
was havin' an affair with Robert, and that
I
had killed Livy to get her out of the way.” A shuddering sigh escaped from her mouth.

“When he turned for a minute, I took my chances. I was still holding that rock thinking I could use it as a weapon against him, and I ran for my life. I barely made it into the car, locked the doors, and gunned the engine. I didn't care if I ran over him.”

“What about the woman?” I asked.

“I only saw her from a distance. I could see her in the rearview mirror as I pulled onto the road. Well, I didn't know what to do. I drove straight back to the store because I knew the other employees were there, and I wouldn't be alone. I had to hide that rock. He was sure to come after me when he noticed it was gone. We had the ugliest piece of furniture for sale. Mostly we sold new stuff but Robert always liked antiques, so he'd pick them up now and then at estate sales and whatnot. It had real pretty carved fruit on it but there was a devilish face in the middle.”

“The sideboard!” I exclaimed.

“Right. My granny had one just like it. What Robert didn't know was that they were made to protect your valuables. That was the reason for that mean face carved into it. It was meant to ward off evil. On the right and left sides, when you opened the doors and removed the shelves, if you reached all the way in and pressed just so, a back panel opened up. That's where folks kept their gold coins or silver platters or pistols. It was a right sizeable space. So I hid the stone there. Insurance, you might call it. But then I realized
how stupid I was to even be at the store. Where could I go? I knew I had to run or I would live in fear every day of my life. I went home and packed what I could fit in the car. But I saw his car parked outside my place almost right away. I had figured on a couple of hours while they notified 911 but I guess they left her lyin' there, 'cause he was watchin' me.”

Tears rolled down Velma's perfect makeup. She dabbed at them with a napkin. She might not have wanted to believe that Robert killed her sister, but Callie's story was too detailed not to be true.

“So I called the local police and told them kids were ridin' in our neighborhood slamming bats against mailboxes. We had a real problem with that. Sure enough, a squad car came rolling along and Robert took off. I didn't dare take the time to go back to the store to get the rock. He woulda killed me if he got me alone there. I hopped in the car and disappeared from his life.”

“But, Callie, why didn't you report him?” asked Francie.

“I know how it works. I'd been through it twice before. You report a guy. They take him in for questioning, and a few hours later, he's on the street lookin' for you.”

Callie unbuttoned the top of her blouse and pulled it aside to reveal a long, horrific scar. “I've been through it twice. And I've got the scar to prove it. Nobody was gonna save
me
.”

“I'm so sorry.” It wasn't adequate, but I didn't know what else to say. She'd had a terrible life.

“Well I liked to have died the day he walked into The Parlour. And right across the street, a big ole sign was goin' up that said
Robert Johnson Antiques
. I mean, really, what were the odds of that? A year had passed. I thought I was done with him and home free. I managed to shake two husbands, but Robert found me. It was a major miscalculation on my part. You see, I had gotten away from two mean drunks. It's hard to make sense when you're drinkin'. It never occurred to me that Robert was different from them in an important way. He wasn't a drunk, he was just evil. One of them wolves in sheep's clothes. I didn't know what to do. He
let me know he was watchin' me again. He followed me home so he knew where I lived. And I started thinking about runnin' again. And then I said to myself,
Callie, he found you once, he'll find you again
. To be honest, I'm getting tired of runnin'. I like Martha. I love baking. I even like my teensy little apartment and Old Town. About that time, Hunter turned up, and I thought,
Callie, you finally have a chance at dating a decent guy.
Probably for the first time in my life! So while I was packing, I changed my mind. I wasn't gonna let another man run me off. I'm older, and smarter, and I've had it with men who beat up on women.”

“You're braver than I am,” I said, wondering what I would have done. My instinct would have been to turn him in. But would I have felt the same way if I had a five-inch scar, courtesy of my ex-husband?

“I'm not that brave. In life we all do what we have to, you know? But I started wonderin' whatever happened to the sideboard where I hid the rock? Maybe I could control him with the knowledge that he didn't have it. But where had it gone? I could not believe my own eyes when I saw it in his store! He brought it up here with him because he never did sell the ugly thing.”

BOOK: The Diva Serves High Tea
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