Chapter One: What’s That Piece of Scum Up to Now?
“That sure is a mighty fine house ya’ll live in,” the cab driver said to me as we pulled in front of the whitewashed Greek Revival with black wrought iron railings leading up to the big white front door. “One of the prettiest in town and that’s going some for a city like Savannah.”
“It’s called High Cotton.” I helped unload suitcases from the trunk. “My two aunts own it. It was built in eighteen-hundred something, but got its name during Prohibition. There’s still a hatch door leading down to a once-upon-a-time speakeasy. It’s now my aunt’s beauty shop.” I nodded at The Backroom Hair Saloon sign swaying in the spring breeze. “My great greats served up bootlegged hooch, fine Cuban cigars right off the boat, and played High Cotton into the wee hours of the morning. The aunts still host charity parties from time to time.”
“We’ll I’ll be, my mamma’s been to one or two of those events. I do believe the police got called in. Something about stealing a trophy, dealing from the bottom of the deck and who bribed who to get crowned High Cotton queen.” The cabbie laughed and added, “That there’s some spicy gene pool you got going on, missy.” He pushed his cap to the back of his head. “Though, if you don’t mind me saying so, you don’t exactly look the part.”
“I know,” I said as I watched the cab blend in with the one-way traffic circling Monterey Square. I turned my back to the park with the Pulaski Monument in the middle, huge live oaks draped in Spanish moss now turning silver in the afternoon sun, and pink and white azalais big as a bus this time of year. I stared up at the house that I’d called home since I was twelve and my mother had died in bed. Unfortunately, it wasn’t Kitty Loves’ own bed, and the wife of the senator she shared the bed with took great exception to Kitty Love being there.
At High Cotton I didn’t have to worry if the rent was paid, if the electricity came on when I flipped the switch, if there was something besides tequila and Twinkies in the fridge. And I had a room all to myself, meaning I didn’t share space with those damned New Orleans cockroaches.
It’s not that FrancieAnne Cottonwood, aka Kitty Love, was a bad mother, she just lived life on her own terms and took me along for the ride. Her self-written obituary went something like bawdy, redheaded, talented, gregarious grifter who arrived in the Big Easy at age eighteen and fell in love with bayous, bourbon, and burlesque and not necessarily in that order. Her hobbies were pier fishing, rolling joints and buying dirty magazines. She died knowing Monty Python and the Holy Grail was the best movie ever, Bruce Springsteen the best recording artist, Clint Eastwood the baddest man on the planet. She had few regrets including that she never quite mastered pole dancing, or making a good martini, and no videos exist of her prowess on stage or in the bedroom.
OK, not everyone memorizes eulogies. I figured this one was worth the effort. And it explained a bit about who I am today, content to be dull as boiled fish.
“Well, you gonna stand out here gawking like a preacher in a whore-house,” came a voice behind me, “or come on down to the shop and help gussy up some pitiful looking ladies in desperate need of a new hairdo.”
“I’m home ten minutes and you’re already putting me to work?” I spun around to Aunt Flossy in a bright pink flowered shirtwaist dress, shiny red lipstick, and long blonde wig trailing under a wide brim straw hat.
She held up a shopping bag in each hand. “I needed a few things from House of Beauty supply over there in Garden City. I’m just now getting back. This morning I gave a talk on the theater at the high school. I was aiming for Blanche DuBois in Streetcar Named Desire. I’m losing my touch.”
“You? Never! You look perfect.” Growing up at High Cotton there were no guarantees as to who exactly would be fixing dinner or cleaning house. It could be my dear Aunt Flossy, but if she happened to be starring in a play at the Savannah Theater, I’d get Juliet or maybe Jean Brodie or sometimes Lady Macbeth. Lady M was always a special treat with Out, damned spot as she vacuumed or did laundry. Aunt Flossy was serious about her profession. As she said, you don’t choose the theater, the theater chooses you. Aunt Flossy was all about keeping in character.
Aunt Adaline, auntie number two, was an ace at constructing stage sets. She even won a Back-Stage Garland Award for her scenery creation in Oklahoma. A chandelier from The Phantom of the Opera hung in her bedroom, and a skull from Hamlet sat on the dresser next to a fireproof box that looked like a copy of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (and where she kept love letters from someone special long ago). There used to be a helicopter from Miss Saigon in the side garden, until the Savannah zoning commission had a hissy. You can take the girl off the stage but not really if she lives at High Cotton.
I wrapped my arms around Aunt Flossy’s slight shoulders and hugged tight. “So, how’s Aunt Adaline really doing? Your last text said she was more confused, and she fell and sprained her arm. I’m worried, really worried.”
“I’d say so since you dragged your sorry self all the way here from Atlanta without it being Christmas, Thanksgiving, or the promise of a pecan pie in the oven.” Aunt Flossy shook her head, the wig tendrils swaying about her neck. She glared up at the veranda. “Adaline’s sitting on the side porch now with that skunk of a husband, or whatever you call a man you’re still legally married to but hasn’t lived under the same roof for thirty years. The two of ‘em are having tea. I’m sure his cup is laced with a double shot of my Wild Turkey. Now that I think about it, I’d like to give him a double shot, right between his beady little eyes.”
Her frown morphed into a smile. “But what I really want to know right now is how will Sterns, Masters, and Linkletter ever manage without their best legal eagle for the next few days?”
“I’m just a real estate attorney, Aunt Flossy. My superpower is filing papers at the courthouse, authorizing signatures, and telling clients don’t buy that property, it’s a piece of crap. Not that they ever listen.”
“Are you sure that’s all you’re good at?” Miss Mamma sauntered our way, looking as if her hair got caught in one of her own food processors. “Any daughter of Kitty Love must have a drop or two of wildness in their veins and a bit of lipstick and some face color sure wouldn’t hurt.”
Miss Mamma hooked her arm through Aunt Flossy’s. “And what are you doing out here shooting the breeze when I got an appointment at four o’clock on the dot? Tifa Darlet’s brunch is tomorrow, my roots are wider than a squashed skunk out on the four-lane, and this here is the only time I got free to set things right. When I’m in my own kitchen, I wear my red head scarf so folks know not to be pestering me while I’m creatin’ something special. Out on the job, I need to look right smart. Now you best shake a leg and make me beautiful and don’t be giving me any of that sass about being a beautician and not a magician.”
Miss Mamma laughed hard while she, Aunt Flossy and I headed for the Backroom Hair Saloon entrance nestled under the front porch of High Cotton. “I don’t care diddly for Tifa, mind you,” Miss Mamma added, “but when she has a party, Mamma’s Menu does the catering, like it or not. These days I don’t like it much at all.”
“Then just tell her no,” I said as Aunt Flossy unlocked the door to the salon. “I’m home for a few days, I can offer some support.”
Miss Mamma added another laugh that sounded more fake than real. “What Tifa Darlet wants, Tifa Darlet gets, and woe betide anyone who gets in the way, including the likes of me. I don’t need none of her commotion in my life and that there woman is commotion to spare.”
I hitched my black lawyer-appropriate handbag on to my shoulder. I picked up my luggage and tagged along. Except for the usual updating, Backroom hadn’t changed much since I started sweeping floors and folding towels all those years ago. Like Dolly Parton says, If you want the rainbows, you gotta put up with the rain. Translated that means High Cotton was a house of beauty and distinction to be sure, but if you lived here, you did your bit to keep the place up and going.
There was yellow stripe wallpaper now. Floral curtains framed the big windows facing out to the garden complete with a new gardener. The old wood floors were stained a modern light gray. There were still two white styling chairs in front of oval gilded mirrors, two dryers, and a washing station with fluffy towels that no doubt smelled of lavender. A blue velvet loveseat sat under a large gold-framed picture of patron saint Dolly. A little coffee station with yellow mugs was to the left. Everything was situated close, so no one missed a word being said. Cutting, curling, coloring, and the occasional manicure were essential parts of the shop for sure, but the latest gossip is what put Backroom on the map.
“So, you fixin’ to stay here in Savannah for long?” Miss Mamma asked me. She took a seat at the washing station, and Aunt Flossy hunted up the dye concoction for skunk roots. “Or did you just drop by for some honest to goodness Southern cookin’ like mine instead of that make-believe stuff they serve up in Atlanta? Or maybe...” Miss Mamma batted her eyes in my direction, “You’re fixing to find yourself a nice Savannah gentleman and get hitched.”
“I don’t need a man in my life to be happy.” Kitty Love’s unplanned demise taught me that in spades.
“’Course you don’t,” Miss Mamma called after me while I parked my purse and luggage in the back closet. “You need a man to remind you how sweet it is to be a woman and not have to deal with getting paunchy, going bald, and shaving the daylights out of your face every darn day. Maybe there’s something special going on in Atlanta that you haven’t told us about?”
I peeled off my black suit jacket, unclipped my hair and let my curls spring free. “Let’s see,” I said with the scent of shampoo, conditioner, and hairspray along with a hint of old perm washing over me, reminding me that I was truly home. “I’m invited to the zoning director’s seventy-fifth birthday party, I’m godmother to the paralegal’s son, and I had my mail forwarded to the office since I spend more time there than my apartment.”
I grabbed a yellow smock that matched Aunt Flossy’s and headed for the washing station. “I’m just here visiting for a bit.”
“Wouldn’t have anything to do with Adaline now, would it?” Miss Mamma asked. I swished a cape over Miss Mamma’s ample frame, the sign of a truly good cook. Her blue dress was lightly spotted with red that no doubt came from her special hot sauce. Word had it that she kept the recipe locked in a wall safe in her bedroom. There were bars on the windows for extra protection, or so people said. Hot sauce is serious business in Savannah.
“I saw Payton’s big Caddy parked at the corner in front of a blue convertible that was cute enough to make me consider taking up driving even after all these years,” Miss Mamma went on. “And if that man calls her dingbat or my little dunce one more time, I’m going to knock his head clean off his shoulders. If he calls her those things when we can hear, just imagine what he’s saying when no one’s around.”
“Why didn’t Aunt Adaline divorce Payton years ago?” I asked. “Why did she ever marry him in the first place for that matter. They’re nothing alike.”
Aunt Flossy and Miss Mamma exchanged knowing looks, and Aunt Flossy said, “Adaline tried for a divorce, but the jackass wouldn’t have any part of it. My guess is that way he could go catting around with half the female population of Savannah and not get cornered into marriage. And maybe being married to Adaline gave him a claim to High Cotton? He always loved that place.”
“Well, he’s never getting High Cotton,” I said, remembering how I’d personally set up the aunts’ wills.
“As for marrying,” Aunt Flossy went on, “Jackass is what we around here call a forty-niner. The man’s a professional gold digger, though none of us knew that at the time they married. He thought Adaline was swimming in money. Adaline was on being-in-love rebound and easy pickings. Jackass ran through Adaline’s inheritance faster than a rat up a rope.”
“And,” Miss Mamma added in a hushed voice, along with making the sign of the cross, “he even sold the Masters Tournament tickets that were passed down in the Cottonwood family since the fifties.”
Because golf was part sport, part tradition but mostly religion, Aunt Flossy and I repeated the sign of the cross out of respect. “When he said they couldn’t afford kids and she should go and have herself fixed,” we all made another sign of the cross, “that’s when Adaline bounced one of the Wedgewood hummingbird vases I’d given them for a wedding present, off his receding hairline and moved back in here at High Cotton with me.”
“But that was a long time ago,” Miss Mamma sighed.
“Not near long enough,” Aunt Flossy added in a quiet voice while stirring the bowl of hair dye.
Dead quiet filled the room, and Miss Mamma’s gaze met mine in the oval mirror as she said, “OK, what in blazes is going on now? Like Dolly says, No one cries alone in my presence, and we’ve all been friends since we volunteered together at that Savannah bookfair a bazillion years ago. You and Adaline lent me money to get Mamma’s Menu off the ground. Even my dear brother chipped in, God rest his soul. I need to know if there’s trouble brewing.”
“I think Jackass might...” Aunt Flossy gave a few more stirs and swallowed hard, “have something sinister planned for Adaline. It’s just a bad feeling, mind you. The kind you get in the garage when things are too still, and you know there’s a big ol’ snake hiding in a corner and up to no good and--”
The door banged open, framing KiKi Vanderpool--who taught half the population of Savannah how to hip-hop, foxtrot and waltz--in the threshold. She ruffled red hair that seriously rivaled Miss Mamma’s skunk condition. “What’s this I hear about being up to no good?”
KiKi parked herself on the edge of the blue velvet couch under Dolly and hunched forward. “So, tell me, is this about Henry Wheeler and his mail-order bride who turned out to be his mail-order groom, much to his and everyone else’s surprise? Is it John Freemont? Evidently what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas if you’re dumb as dog dirt and use a credit card. Or is it Lester Dobbs and his stash of little blue pills? Word has it Senior Manor is now Sexy Manor.”
After putting the finishing touches on Miss Mamma and her roots, squeezing in two more walk-ins needing beautification for Tifa Darlet’s garden party, and Miss KiKi telling us more about Henry, John, and Lester than I ever wanted to know, Aunt Flossy flipped the little sign on the door from Open to Closed. We each grabbed a suitcase.
“Poison-green luggage doesn’t exactly fit that lawyer image you got going on.” Aunt Flossy laughed. “I think it’s a bit of the wild Cottonwood side of you peeking out.”
“I think we both know the wild Cottonwood side skipped right over me.” Aunt Flossy and I stepped out into the twilight, dragging in a deep breath of fresh air. A warm gust hinting at the summer to come played through the trees and sent daffodils and tulips dancing.
“Business is good?” I asked.
“Good enough to help keep things afloat.” Lights in the Mercer House across the square blinked on. Couples strolled down sidewalks bathed in a soft golden glow from old lamps nestled in overhanging trees draping across cobblestone streets.
Aunt Flossy rolled her shoulders to relax tired muscles. We lugged the cases toward the stairs leading up to the front door with palladium windows, thick moldings, and an ornate brass mailbox that had probably been there since they built the place. “As long as Savannah’s got juicy gossip,” she added, “we got business. And that’s a good thing. There aren’t many parts for seasoned thespians these days.”
She added a wink. “That’s the polite way of saying that parts for old broads like me are few and far between. We got investments of course, but using High Cotton to host events for charities goes a long way to paying bills around here. Last week, we had a Mystery Card Party to promote the Savannah Theater. In two days, we’ve got A Night on the Town event to benefit the animal shelter. Next week it’s a fund raiser for the rose garden going in at Forsythe Park and-- Goodness me, what is this I see?”
Aunt Flossy stopped and nodded over the porch railing. “That’s Jackass’s car. Why in the world is that man still here?”
We dropped the suitcases and leaned across the edge, peering down at the Caddy, streetlight reflecting off the shiny black hood. “He never hangs around this long. Fact is, the man never came around at all unless he snuck in to steal something, until we got cameras installed. Now he brings healing herb tea and blusters on about Adaline’s failing health.”
“Maybe he has Aunt Adaline’s best interest at heart?”
“Believe that, Sweet Pea, and I’ve got some mighty fine swamp property to sell you.” Aunt Flossy snorted. “Lordy, what is that piece of scum up to now?”
We snatched the luggage and Aunt Flossy turned the brass knob. She nudged the door open with her shoulder and called out, “Adaline?”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Chapter Two: How to Survive When Crazy Shit Happens
Aunt Flossy and I stepped into the entrance hall with crystal chandelier, hand plastered ceiling and a five-generation-old Duncan Phyfe side table. We parked the suitcases by the wide staircase that I’d slid down more times than I can remember...except for the crash landings. I remember the crash landings.
A soft humming echoed from the kitchen at the rear of the house. “Is...Is that Ding Dong the Witch is Dead?” I asked Aunt Flossy.
“Sister?” Aunt Flossy called out. “Are you alright?”
“If I was any happier, I’d be twins.” Aunt Adaline sauntered into the hallway, a grin on her face lined with wrinkles of worry from Payton, the antics of Kitty Love, the hassle of last-minute stage designs, and raising a tweenager who suddenly landed on her doorstep. Aunt Adaline’s blue blouse was wrinkled, plaid skirt askew and her arm was in a sling. But her curly gray hair was pulled back neat in a clip, and she stood straight, instead of hunched over like I’d seen on occasion.
“And, oh my goodness, Nola is here.” Aunt Adaline’s eye danced. “Now she can celebrate with us.”
Little hairs on the back of my neck, that stood straight up when things were about to go crazy, were now at full attention.
“I’m putting together a nice batch of High Cotton cocktails like Granddaddy taught me to make all those years ago,” Adaline went on. “With my sprained arm I had a bit of trouble cutting the peaches and couldn’t quite remember how much vodka was needed. So, I whacked the peaches with a meat clever. One of the seeds just flew off and slid under the fridge, and I emptied the whole vodka bottle into the pitcher. I think that’s a right fine solution to my problems.”
“Where is Jackass?” Aunt Flossy asked, a hit of uneasiness in her voice. We followed Aunt Adaline into the kitchen of white cabinets, granite countertops and island with little cane stools. A framed window with built-in breakfast nook overlooked the neat backyard except, for an overgrown magnolia. That tree was big as me when I arrived, but now brushed the second-floor windows. “His car’s still out front.”
“Oh, you know Payton.” Aunt Adaline sing-songed.
“Unfortunately.” Aunt Flossy groused.
“He’s out there on the porch, resting himself all peaceful like. He was due for a good snooze, has been for some time now.” Aunt Adaline giggled then nodded toward the veranda off the kitchen. She nudged the tray laden with martini glasses and chunky peach slices. “Take these out right quick or we’re likely to miss a lovely sunset and the bells chiming over at St. John’s Church.”
Looking wistful, Aunt Adaline placed her hand to her heart. “Those bells have always been so special to this fair city. They remind us all that work’s done for the day, and it’s time to get on with enjoying life and maybe fooling around a little, if you get my meaning.”
Aunt Flossy didn’t budge. “Jackass is never peaceful, Adaline.”
“He’s had a smidge of assistance.”
Aunt Flossy snatched up the pitcher of High Cottons and hustled across the kitchen. I followed with the glasses wobbling precariously on the tray. Flossy elbowed opened the screen door to Payton, sitting in one of the white, wicker armchairs nestled around the matching table.
“His eyes are closed,” I offered. “And he is looking peaceful. Really...peaceful.”
Aunt Flossy put the pitcher on the table between the blue and white teacups, and I added the tray. She poked Payton’s shoulder with her index finger and his head wobbled, slumped forward, his chin thumping heavily against his barreled chest. Aunt Flossy felt for a pulse in his neck.
“Sleeping?” I asked in a high, squeaky voice I didn’t know I had.
“Adaline attack.” Flossy pointed to the back of his head. “A dent.” She peered closer. “Make that crater.”
“With one hand?”
“A determined woman.”
Aunt Adaline whirled through the door. “It seems Payton’s tweed jacket that he likes so much caught most of the blood, so it didn’t get on the new Pottery Barn rug we just got and ruin it outright. First time that man’s ever done anything nice for me in his whole worthless life.”
She poured a splash of High Cotton into the glasses, added peach chunks, and raised her drink. “Here’s to the orneriest man on the planet.” She tilted her head. “Well, I suppose we’ll have to forget the planet part, won’t we. The devil himself will have to deal with the old fart now.”
Aunt Adaline chomped at the peach, gulped the drink, smacked her lips in approval and poured out another. Aunt Flossy snatched Adaline’s glass right out of her hand and slammed it down on the table with the vodka mixture splashing over the rim.
“Waitaminute! Waitaminute!” Aunt Flossy held out both hands as if stopping traffic. “This is serious, Adaline. Payton’s dead.”
“Whatever did you do?”
“Kissed him on the cheek and said ‘Well, bless your little black heart.’”
“Adaline! You killed a man.”
“Maybe, but he was a down-right ornery, mean as a caged rat kind of man.” Adaline tapped her forefinger to her lips in concentration. “Let me think how this all happened. It’s a little fuzzy, but the outcome is clear as a bell. Payton poured the tea and dripped some on the tablecloth.” Adaline pointed to the little brown dots. “The man has no idea how hard it is to get tea spots out of a white tablecloth, or he would have been more careful. Then we had a discussion about High Cotton and how he likes the place. I went in to get a bit of sugar.”
Adaline scrunched up her face. “Or did Payton go in for the sugar? That’s what usually happens so he can help himself to the liquor cabinet. He’s not much into tea.” Adaline shrugged, a little grin at the corners of her mouth. “Then he just up and died.” She cast her eyes toward the sky and made the sign of the cross. “Butter my butt and call me a biscuit, I’m a free woman.”
Aunt Flossy bit her bottom lip. “Did you hit him over the head?”
“There’s his cap over in the corner. Nice of Payton to take it off and offer up a more precise target.”
“What did you hit him with?”
“Whatever was handy, I suppose, don’t rightly remember the particulars.”
St. John’s bells chimed, and Adaline reclaimed her glass just as, “Yoo-hoo, Miss Adaline. It’s DeeDee,” came from below the veranda. “I got your Amazon package here.” She waved it in the air. “Want me to drop it on the steps, or do you want to come down and fetch it? I think it’s those little pink and green napkins you showed me for your wine tasting parties, the ones that say, ‘Corks are for quitters.’”
The three of us peered over the railing to an Amazon delivery van and a smiling, forty-something woman in faded jean shorts and red Georgia Bulldogs cap. Aunt Adaline did a pope wave in return and held up her High Cotton glass. “That is mighty sweet of you, honey. Why don’t you just come on up here for a little drinkie. We’re doing some rejoicing.” Aunt Adaline nodded at Payton. “Well, some of us are rejoicing and--”
Aunt Flossy and I exchanged quick looks and together blurted, “No!” With Aunt Flossy having sense enough to add a cough and say, “What we mean is, I seem to be coming down with a bit of a cold and surely don’t want you to be catching it. You know how spring colds are the devil to get over.”
DeeDee shook her head, the ponytail dangling from the back of her cap swinging side to side. “Sorry about the cold and I can’t be drinking on the job anyway. But it looks like Mr. Payton is feeling a mite poorly as well. Must be something going around. He’s sort of...droopy.”
When Payton didn’t respond DeeDee tilted her head, squinted, and peered hard. “Maybe you should be getting the man to the doctor?”
“Oh, I think it’s much too late for that.” Aunt Adaline held up her drink in salute, and I added, “Uncle Payton’s just having a little nap.”
DeeDee smiled in satisfaction then put the package on the steps. “You all have a good night. And do be thinking serious about that doctor. I hate to say it, but Mr. Payton’s looking like death warmed over.”
As DeeDee drove off in the van, Aunt Adaline gave Payton the bird--I didn’t know my sweet aunt was capable of such a thing. “Been waiting thirty years to do that.”
Aunt Flossy mumbled something about Lord take me now and flopped down hard in the chair. She ate all the peach chunks and didn’t seem to even notice the juice dripping down her chin. “What in blazes are we going to do now. DeeDee saw Jackass here on the porch looking dead. It’s only a matter of time before she realizes he's MIA and where she saw him last.” Aunt Flossy puffed out a big breath of air. “I suppose there’s nothing to do but to be calling the police. How did this ever happen?”
“Happily,” Aunt Adaline giggled. “Try and keep up, sister dear.”
Aunt Flossy rubbed her forehead. “Anyone can see that Adaline’s confused, and we all know she’s not really herself these days. No one’s going to convict her.” Aunt Flossy cut her eyes my way. “Right?”
“Trials are a total crapshoot. You never know which way things will go. But no matter the outcome, there’ll be doctors poking and prodding. Aunt Adaline could very well wind up in an institution of some kind.”
Aunt Flossy and I studied Adaline, sitting in the wicker chair, sipping her drink and happier than she’d been in years. “She’ll never hear St. John’s bells again,” I said with a hitch in my voice. “Or ever again have High Cottons with us on this porch.”
“It can’t be helped.” Aunt Flossy swiped away a tear. “There’s no bringing Payton back to life, so there’s nothing we can do to get out of this here mess.”
I gazed out over Pulaski Square, to the quiet and serene I’d held dear for twenty-one years. I heaved a sigh, sat down, and drummed my fingers on the table. “You know, back to life’s not a bad idea.”
Aunt Flossy folded her hands tight, leaned in close across the table and said in a hushed voice, “Are you talking about Margarite? The woman has powerful juju to be sure. Harriot Bundy says that Margarite saved her Penelope from marrying Peter Hastings and taking on his gambling debts. Annabelle Dumont found her horndog husband dead in the garden after he’d been doing the deed with Janice Spurlock for weeks. Annabelle swears Margarite served up justice, but I personally think Annabelle did the serving up--though that’s a topic for another time.”
Madam Margarite presently resided at Bonaventure Cemetery and had been there for the last hundred-something years. Folks in need of whatever leave gold coins, eggplant, rum, and good whiskey at her gray granite tombstone, now heavily dripped with candle wax. I never did get the eggplant thing, but when failing chemistry, I dumped three shots of Aunt Flossy’s Wild Turkey in an empty Coke bottle and made the pilgrimage. I wound up with a C. Margarite’s got my vote. “Maybe later.”
I held Aunt Flossy’s hand. “You and Aunt Adaline saved me when I needed saving. You didn’t have to take me in, but you did. You took care of me, watched out for me, loved me, made French toast with cinnamon and powdered sugar every Saturday morning and didn’t pitch a fit when I broke that Louis-the-whatever French vase in the library, and I said the dog did it even though we didn’t have a dog.”
I poured out the last of the High Cottons and passed glasses to Aunt Adaline and Aunt Flossy. I downed my High Cotton in one gulp, then snagged Aunt Flossy’s drink and downed it too.
Here’s the thing, I was a wallflower and content to be that way, except New Orleans was not exactly wallflower territory. New Orleans was life on steroids and rubbed off on everyone who lived there, including self-proclaimed wallflowers. Kitty Love would never have won aa Mother of the Year award, but she was a really good dancer...a talent I did not inherit...could bake up a frozen pizza with the best of them...something I did inherit...and her special superpower...even though she never married...was that she had great taste in guys. They were nice to me, babysat from time to time, and they taught me stuff, good stuff, the kind of stuff you read in those how to survive when crazy shit happens books.
This was a crazy shit moment if ever there was one. More to the point, this was a WWHD moment, a What Would Harry Do moment. Harry was short, a little on the plump side, took me to ballet lessons, protective as a German Shepherd, made spaghetti sauce to die for, and he knew the law backward and forward. Harry was a New Orleans cop.
“Here’s what we’re going to do,” I said to Aunt Flossy and Aunt Adaline. “Lord only knows where the murder weapon is, but there’s no getting around Aunt Adaline being a suspect. She’s Payton’s wife, they had issues for years, it wasn’t the love match of the century. We need to generate confusion, mix things up. We need to invent a story.”
Aunt Flossy stared at me open mouthed. “Where is this coming from? This isn’t like you, Nola. You’re a sitting in your room, eat Twinkies, and watch reruns of Perry Mason kind of girl. You’re a real estate attorney.”
“I...learned a lot from watching Perry Mason.” Now was not the time for a WWHD confession. “So, we need to fib a little. Well, we need to fib a lot. We need to lie our asses off about what happened here today.”
“You mean like in Dial M for Murder?” Aunt Flossy beamed.
“Sort of, except this is for real, not a theater play. And, unlike Dial M for Murder, we’re going to get away with it.”