Authors: Mary Kay Andrews
Tags: #Mystery, #Thriller, #Suspense, #Woman Sleuth
The Family Jewels
Mary Kay Andrews, writing as Kathy Hogan Trocheck
Copyright © 199
9 by Kathy Hogan Trocheck
First printed in
MORE MURDER, THEY WROTE (Berkley, 1999)
First electronic edition
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each reader. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook store and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
"Them's my mama's diamonds," she said, nodding for emphasis. "Bet you never seen nothing like that before, have you, Miss Julia Callahan Garrity?"
"No ma'am," I said truthfully. "I never have, Miss Loudene."
She dumped the jewelry on the battered Formica kitchen table. "Go ahead and look, girl," she insisted. "Real. Sure are."
The kitchen was dark and airless. It was early October, and still hot in Atlanta, but Miss Loudene kept the windows locked tight, with yellowed shades pulled out against the sunlight and "thievin' neighbors."
I went to the window and pulled up the shade. Miss Loudene glared but kept her seat
I picked up a choker with a diamond and sapphire brooch shaped like a peacock's feather. It was a period piece, from the 1920s, probably, the kind of thing a flapper might have worn. There were earrings to match and a bracelet too. The jewelry bespoke the high life; an era of bathtub gin and ostrich feathers and sleek cars. How had such stuff ended up here in Atlanta, Georgia, in a weather-beaten mill village shack owned by 70-year-old Loudene Jenkins, who owned neither a car nor a telephone nor a washing machine?
Miss Loudene pointed to a delicate lady's watch. It had a platinum mesh band and an octagonal face rimmed with diamonds. "My granddaddy give mama that for her 18
th birthday. See that stone on the watch stem? That there is a yellow diamond. Granddaddy bought that at Tiffany's Jewelry Store up there in New York City. You ever seen the like?"
There were eight pieces in all, besides the peacock set and the watch, a long string of pearls, two rings, each set with circlets of half carat diamonds, and a gold brooch in the shape of a snarling tiger, with emeralds for eyes and a string of diamonds outlining its curving tail. I'm not a jeweler, only a former cop and a sometime private investigator, but even my untrained eye knew this was the goods.
"This stuff must be worth a lot of money, Miss Loudene," I said. "Are you sure you don't want to put it in a safe deposit box at the bank?"
She shrugged, and the moth-eaten brown sweater slipped from her bony shoulder. "Banks cost money. Anyway, Mama always kept the family jewels in a lard can in the pantry. Reckon that's good enough for me."
"How did your mama come to have such fine jewelry?" I asked. Edna would have scolded me for nosiness, although she'd been wondering aloud on that very subject, ever since she'd discovered Loudene's loot.
"Mama came from money," Miss Loudene said grandly. "Lived in a fine big house up there in Cincinnati, Ohio. My granddaddy was the Chevrolet dealer up there. Mama, she went off to college over there in Michigan, and that's how she come to meet up with trouble. This particular trouble went by the name of Louis D. Jenkins."
She saw the look of surprise in my eyes. "Yes. My Daddy. Trouble looking for a place to light The mill had done sent him up there to Michigan to crate up some big looms they was buying for this here Scottdale Mill. They met on a Saturday and by Monday, Mama had packed up all her stuff and followed Louis D. Jenkins down here to Scottdale, Georgia."
Miss Loudene fingered the diamond watch. "Granddaddy tried to take her back home, but mama, she wouldn't go for nothin. And when she told Granddaddy they had done got married in the Baptist Church, that was the end for him All Mama's kin was hardshell Methodist."
She scooped the jewelry up and slid the pieces into a faded pink flannel bag. Tying the drawstring, she inserted the bag into a rusted Sno-White Lard can, which she then placed on the top shelf of the tiny closet otherwise occupied by a mop, a broom and two shelves
full of potted meat, roach spray, and stewed tomatoes.
Edna had warned me it might go this way. My mother had been treated to exactly the same exhibit only two nights earlier, after Miss Loudene, flush from winning a $16 jackpot at the VFW Bingo Hall, had invited her into her home for a toasted cheese sandwich and a warm Nehi orange soda.
Bingo was the bond my mother shared with Miss Loudene. They were both regulars at the Tuesday night Decatur VFW game, and had become fast friends over their united hate for a large black woman named Onie, who drove a MARTA bus, and took up a whole table with the 32 cards she played for each game. Somehow, Edna had gotten snookered into taxiing her new friend to the VFW and the Stone Mountain Elks Lodge, for their Thursday night bingo, and to the bank to help Miss Loudene cash her social security check.
Only two nights earlier, she'd tucked her winnings into the lard can, and, after only the briefest hesitation, proudly shown Edna her inherited finery.
Edna, of course, had put me on immediate alert.
"That old lady is gonna get herself killed over that jewelry, Callahan. Living over there in Scottdale, who knows what kind of people in and out of those old mill houses. Why, a strong wind could knock that front door slap off its hinges. I said, "Loudene, my daughter Callahan is a former police detective. She's a private investigator. She knows about such stuff.' And Loudene, that impressed her. I want you to go over there and talk her into locking that stuff up in the bank. Or better yet, she ought to go ahead and sell it, move into a decent apartment."
Edna had been right about the neighborhood. The old mill village had seen better days. The cotton mill, closed for a dozen years, had recently been razed. There was talk of a new apartment complex, of a shopping center, and fine new stores. So far, it was just talk. Scottdale's oldest residents, the men and women who'd moved to Atlanta from the Appalachians, worked the mill and taken pride in their tiny wooden "shotgun" houses, were dying off and moving away. The neighborhood had gone transient There were raucous parties, open-air drug deals, streets lined with empty beer bottles and discarded fast food wrappers.
Miss Loudene's was the only house on her street without at least two cars jammed into the driveway. Hers was the only one with flowers and a neat little green lawn and a mailbox painted bright red. She was 70, a shrunken gnome who weighed less than most of the dogs I'd seen chained to nearby porches. She lived alone, without a phone or a car. And she had a lard can stuffed with diamonds.
"Your mama sent you over here to make me lock up my jewels, ain't that right?" Miss Loudene said, jutting her chin stubbornly. "But there's a lot Edna Mae Garrity don't know about me."
She went to the window, pulled the window shade down again. She put a liver-spotted hand to my ear, and whispered. "I'm fixin' to sell some of
mama's jewelry. My sister nor none of her kin know that. And it ain't none of their business."
I looked up in surprise. Miss Loudene's colorless lips stretched into a conspiratorial grin. "Mama left it all to me. Got somebody coming over here tomorrow. Knows all about jewelry. Says I can get me enough from that peacock set to buy me a fine set-up over there at the senior highrise in Decatur. Get me a stacking washer-dryer and cable television. What you think about that?"
"That's fine, Miss Loudene," I said, patting her hand, relieved to be off the hook. "This person, is it a jeweler, something like that?"
"It's a fine Christian-type individual," Miss Loudene said. "Gonna take me shopping for my washer-dryer soon as we get the money for my jewelry." She stood up, clearly done with our conversation. "Tell your mama Thursday night, pick me up early, we'll eat some supper at the Piccadilly Cafeteria. My treat
* * *
Edna's face was ashen. "She's gone, Callahan. Something bad happened in that house. I just know it."
My mother had left the house at 5 o'clock Thursday, to take Miss Loudene to supper and the VFW Bingo. Thirty minutes later, she was back, alone, shaking like a leaf.
Edna held a wad of envelopes in her trembling hand. "Her mail. It's got her social security check. Loudene knew to the minute when that check was coming. She'd had her checks stolen twice, so she always waited for the mailman at the first of the month. Met him at the door."
I took the packet of mail from my mother, tried to calm her down.
"Was the house broken into?"
"It was locked up tight."
"How do you know she wasn't in there—taking a nap maybe? Or sick?"
"I have a key," Edna said. "When she didn't answer, I thought she could have fallen or something. But the house was empty. Bed made up, coffee cup rinsed out in the dish drainer. But the mail was in the mailbox. And that's when I knew."
I thought of that hot, airless house. Of the yellow shades at the kitchen windows. Of the roach spray and the potted meat. And the lard can full of jewelry.
Edna's eyes met mine. "I checked. The can was there. Empty."
The police were skeptical, but Edna kept insisting her friend was dead. I could have told them. My mother is never wrong about these kinds of things. Three days later a backhoe operator found the body in a pile of brush and construction rubble near the old mill's foundations, a block away from Miss Loudene's tidy yellow frame house. The back of her head had been bashed in, and she was fully dressed, but missing one shoe.
The detective in charge of the case was an acquaintance from my days on the Atlanta Police Department He gave me a courtesy call when they found Miss Loudene, and I met him over at the old mill site.
Miss Loudene's body was just being wheeled away on a gurney when I arrived. The wind swept through the red clay field and I pulled up the collar of my jacket against the sudden, unexpected chill.
The detective's name was Bayles. Larry Bayles. "No sign of that jewelry your mother told us about," he said, reading over his notes. "No ID found on the body at all. But we did find a pocketbook." He pointed a few yards away, toward a pile of brush and broken bricks. He picked up a large plastic bag containing a cheap brown leather purse. "You recognize this?"
"Not really," I admitted.
"She didn't have much. A handkerchief. A little change purse with three bucks. Some Bible tracts. Oh yeah, and a lottery ticket. Be something if the old girl hit, wouldn't it?"
I gave him a sour look, but I don't think it registered. "Anybody around here see anything?"
"Girl lives across the street, says maybe she saw a car in the driveway, the day the victim disappeared."
"A car? That's all? No description of a driver?"
It was Bayles' turn to look sour. "A white man. Apparently, they're on the endangered species list around here."
I repeated what Miss Loudene told me about selling her jewelry, about the "fine Christian individual" who was going to get her set up in her new apartment.
"They set her up all right," Bayles said. "Set her up for a dirt sandwich."
I took a sketch out of my pocket and handed it to him. I'm a lousy artist, but I'd made a rough drawing of the peacock brooch and the tiger pin. "Maybe whoever killed her will try to sell the jewelry," I suggested. "She said the watch was from Tiffany. Yellow diamond. If it was worth killing over, it must be worth selling."
Bayles folded the drawing and tucked it into his notebook. "If it was me, I'd just pry the diamonds, sell the loose stones."
"The antique settings are at least as valuable as the stones," I pointed out. "Let's hope the killer knows that."
The funeral notice said Loudene Jenkins was survived by her sister, Nell Witherspoon, two nephews and two great-nephews. I showed the notice to Edna. "Did you know she had family?"
Edna nodded. "She used to talk about a sister. I gathered they weren't close. She said her sister was uppity, sort of a religious fanatic. 'Full of God-talk'. I gather the sister didn't approve of gambling."
On the second Wednesday night of October, Edna and I drove over to the F.J. Moody Memory Chapel in Scottdale. The regulars from the Moose Lodge and the VFW Bingo were thankful that Miss Loudene was being buried on an "off night
”. Even the odious Onie had agreed to sacrifice a shot at the $10,000 jackpot at the Lithonia Moose Lodge, in order to give Miss Loudene a proper send-off.
Edna pointed out the regulars, her "bingo babes," in a loud, raspy whisper. "That's Miz Mumbles. Nobody sits at her table because she mumbles to himself. And that's Bernie. She wears that safari hat for good
luck. She knew Loudene from back before the American Legion burned down. And right there, that lady with the walker? That's Hey-Hey."
"She gets so excited when she thinks she might hit a bingo. She stutters. 'Hey, hey. Hey, hey. B-b-b-Bingo!"
"Who's the man?" He sat with the bingo babes, wearing a MARTA uniform, his hands folded soberly in his lap, not young, not old.
"Onie's son, D'Andre," Edna said. "He comes to all the bingo halls. Doesn't play, just helps Onie keep track of her cards."
Bayles was there too, wearing a sober coat and tie. There was only one other man among the dozen or so mourners. He was young, neatly barbered, with a blue suit, a wispy blonde mustache and red-rimmed pale blue eyes. He sat beside a lumpy old lady in a flowery dress, the two of them slightly apart from the others, over near a large flower arrangement in the shape of a horseshoe. "GOOD LUCK LOUDENE" read a gold scripted banner draped across the carnations and chrysanthemums.