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If Prissy Parnell hadn't married Buster Jones and left Cadillac, Texas, for Pasadena, California, Marty wouldn't have gotten the speeding ticket. It was all Prissy's damn fault that Marty was in such a hurry to get to the Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society monthly meeting that night, so Prissy ought to have to shell out the almost two hundred dollars for that ticket.
They were already passing around the crystal bowl to take up the voting ballots when Marty slung open the door to Violet Prescott's sunroom and yelled, "Don't count 'em without my vote."
Twenty faces turned to look at her and not a one of them, not even her twin sister, Cathy, was smiling. Hell's bells, who had done pissed on their cucumber sandwiches before she got there, anyway? A person didn't drop dead from lack of punctuality, did they?
One wall of the sunroom was glass and looked out over lush green lawns and flower gardens. The other three were covered with shadow boxes housing the blue ribbons that the members had won at the Texas State Fair for their jalapeño pepper entries. More than forty shadow boxes all reminding the members of their history and their responsibility for the upcoming year. Bless Cathy's heart for doing her part. She had a little garden of jalapeños on the east side of the lawn and nurtured them like children. The newest shadow box held ribbons that she'd earned for the club with her pepper jelly and picante. It was the soil, or maybe she told them bedtime stories, but she, like her mamma and grandma, grew the hottest jalapeños in the state.
"It appears that Martha has decided to grace us with her presence once again when it is time to vote for someone to take our dear Prissy's place in the Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society. We really should amend our charter to state that a member has to attend more than one meeting every two years. You could appreciate the fact that we did amend it once to include you in the membership with your sister, who, by the way, has a spotless attendance record," Violet said.
Violet, the queen of the club, as most of the members called it, was up near eighty years old, built like SpongeBob SquarePants, and had stovepipe jet-black hair right out of the bottle. Few people had the balls or the nerve to cross her, and those who did were put on her shit list right under Martha, aka Marty, Andrews' name, which was always on the top.
Back in the beginning of the club days, before Marty was even born, the mayor's wife held the top position on the shit list. When they'd formed the Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society, Loretta Massey and Violet almost went to war over the name of the new club. Loretta insisted that it be called a society, and Violet wanted it to be called a club. Belonging to a club just sounded so much fancier than saying that one belonged to a society. Loretta won when the vote came in, but Violet called it a club anyway and that's what stuck. Rumor had it that Violet was instrumental in getting the mayor ousted just so they'd have to leave Grayson County and Loretta would have to quit the club.
Marty hated it when people called her Martha. It sounded like an old woman's name. What was her mother thinking anyway when she looked down at two little identical twin baby daughters and named them after her mother and aunt-Martha and Catherine? Thank God she'd at least shortened their names to Marty and Cathy.
Marty shrugged, and Violet snorted. Granted, it was a ladylike snort, but it still went right along with her round face and three-layered neck. Hell, if they wanted to write forty amendments to the charter, Marty would still do only the bare necessities to keep her in voting standing. She hadn't even wanted to be in the damned club and had only done it because if she didn't, then Cathy couldn't.
Marty slid into a seat beside her sister and held up her ballot.
Beulah had the bowl in hand and was ready to hand it off to Violet to read off the votes. But she passed it to the lady on the other side of her and it went back around the circle to Marty, who tossed in her folded piece of paper. If she'd done her homework and gotten the numbers right, that one vote should swing the favor for Anna Ruth to be the new member of the club. She didn't like Anna Ruth, especially since she'd broken up her best friend's marriage. But hey, Marty had made a deathbed promise to her mamma, and that carried more weight than the name of a hussy on a piece of paper.
The bowl went back to Violet and she put it in her lap like the coveted jeweled crown of a reigning queen. "Our amended charter states that only twenty-one women can belong to the Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society at any one time, and the only time we vote a new member in is when someone moves or dies. Since Prissy Parnell got married this past week and moved away from Grayson County, we are open for one new member. The four names on the ballet are: Agnes Flynn, Trixie Matthews, Anna Ruth Williams, and Gloria Rawlings."
Even though it wasn't in the fine print, everyone knew that when attending a meeting, the members should dress for the occasion, which meant panty hose and heels. Marty could feel nineteen pairs of eyes on her. It would have been twenty, but Violet was busy fishing the first ballot from the fancy bowl.
Marty threw one long leg over the other and let the bright red three-inch high-heeled shoe dangle on her toe. They could frown all they wanted. She was wearing a dress, even if it only reached mid-thigh, and had black spandex leggings under it. If they wanted her to wear panty hose, they'd better put a second amendment on that charter and make it in big print.
God Almighty, but she'd be glad when her great-aunt died and she could quit the club. But it looked like Agnes was going to last forever, which was no surprise. God sure didn't want her in heaven, and the devil wouldn't have her in hell.
"One vote for Agnes," Violet said aloud.
Beulah marked that down on the minutes and waited.
Violet enjoyed her role as president of the club and took her own sweet time with each ballot. Too bad she hadn't dropped dead or at least moved to California so Cathy could be president. Marty would bet her sister would get those votes counted a hell of a lot faster.
There was one piece of paper in the candy dish when Beulah held up a hand. "We've got six each for Agnes, Trixie, Anna Ruth, and two for Gloria. Unless this last vote is for Agnes, Trixie, or Anna Ruth, we have a tie, and we'll have to have a run-off election."
"Shit!" Marty mumbled.
Cathy shot her a dirty look.
"Anna Ruth," Violet said and let out a whoosh of air.
A smile tickled the corner of Marty's mouth.
Saved, by damn!
Agnes was saved from prison.
Violet was saved from attending her own funeral.
The speeding ticket was worth every penny.
Trixie poked the black button beside the nursing home door and kicked yellow and orange leaves away as she reached for the handle. She heard the familiar click as the lock let go and then heard someone yell her name.
"Hey, Trixie. Don't shut it. We are here," Cathy called out.
Trixie waved at her two best friends: Cathy and Marty Andrews. Attitude and hair color kept them from being identical. They were five feet ten inches tall and slim built, but Cathy kept blond highlights in her brown hair and Marty's was natural. In attitude, they were as different as vanilla and chocolate. Cathy was the sweet twin who loved everyone and had trouble speaking her mind. Marty was the extrovert who called the shots like she saw them. Cathy was engaged, and Marty said there were too many cowboys she hadn't taken to bed to get herself tied down to one man.
Marty threw an arm around Trixie's shoulder as they marched down the wide hall. Trixie's mother, Janie Matthews, had checked herself into the nursing home four years before when her Alzheimer's had gotten so bad that she didn't know Trixie one day. Trixie had tried to talk her mother into living with her, but Janie was lucid enough to declare that she couldn't live alone and her daughter had to work.
"Congratulations, darlin', you did not make it into the club tonight. Your life has been spared until someone dies or moves away and Cathy nominates you again," Marty said.
"Well, praise the Lord," Trixie said.
"I know. Let's string Cathy up by her toenails and force-feed her fried potatoes until her wedding dress won't fit for even putting your name in the pot." Marty laughed.
"Trixie would be a wonderful addition to the club. She wouldn't let Violet run her around like a windup toy. That's why I keep nominating her every chance I get," Cathy said. "Anna Ruth is going to be a brand new puppet in Violet's hands. Every bit as bad as Gloria would have been."
Trixie stopped so fast that Marty's hand slipped off her shoulder. "Anna Ruth?"
"Sorry." Cathy shrugged. "I'm surprised that she won and she only did by one vote."
Trixie did a head wiggle. "Don't the world turn around? My mamma wasn't fit for the club because she had me out of wedlock. And now Anna Ruth is living with my husband without a marriage certificate and she gets inducted. If she has a baby before they marry, do they have a big divorce ceremony and kick her out?"
"I never thought she'd get it," Cathy said. "I don't know how in the world I'm going to put up with her in club, knowing that she's the one that broke up your marriage."
Trixie paled. "Who's going to tell Agnes that she didn't get it again? Lord, she's going to be an old bear all week."
"That's Beulah's job. She nominated her. I'm just damn glad I have a class tonight. Maybe the storm will be over before I get home," Marty said.
Cathy smiled weakly. "And I've got dinner with Ethan back at Violet's in an hour."
"I'm not even turning on the lights when I get home. Maybe she'll think I've died." Trixie started walking again.
"You okay with the Anna Ruth thing?" Marty asked.
Trixie nodded. "Can't think of a better thing to happen to y'all's club."
"It's not my club," Marty said. "I'm just there so Cathy can be in it. I'm not sure Violet would let her precious son marry a woman who wasn't in the al-damn-mighty Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society. I still can't believe that Violet is okay with her precious son marrying one of the Andrews' twins."
Cathy pointed a long slender finger at her sister. "Don't you start with me! And I'm not the feisty twin. You are. I can't see Violet letting Ethan marry you for sure."
"Touchy, are we? Well, darlin' sister, I wouldn't have that man, mostly because I'd have to put up with Violet." Marty giggled.
"Shhh, no fighting. It'll upset Mamma." Trixie rapped gently on the frame of the open door and poked her head inside a room. "Anyone at home?"
Janie Matthews clapped her hands and her eyes lit up. She and Trixie were mirror images of each other-short, slim built, light brown hair, milk chocolate-colored eyes, and delicate features. Trixie wore her hair in a chin-length bob, and Janie's was long, braided, and wrapped around her head in a crown. Other than that and a few wrinkles around Janie's eyes, they looked more like sisters than mother and daughter.
"Why, Clawdy Burton, you've come to visit. Sit down, darlin', and let's talk. You aren't still mad at me, are you?"
Marty crossed the room and sat down beside Janie on the bed, leaving the two chairs in the room for Cathy and Trixie. It wasn't the first time Janie had mistaken her for Claudia, the twins' mother, or the first time that she'd remembered Claudia by her maiden name, either.
"I brought some friends," Marty said.
"Any friend of Clawdy's is a friend of mine. Come right in here. You look familiar. Did you go to school with me and Clawdy?" Janie looked right at her daughter.
"I did," Trixie said.
Janie's brow furrowed. "I can't put a name with your face."
Janie shook her head. "Sorry, honey, I don't remember you. And you?" She looked into Cathy's eyes.
"She's my sister, Cathy, remember?" Marty asked.
"Well, ain't that funny. I never knew Clawdy to have a sister. You must be older than we are, but I can see the resemblance."
"Yes, ma'am, I didn't know you as well as"-Cathy paused-"my little sister did, but I remember coming to your house."
"Did Mamma make fried chicken for you?"
"Oh, honey, I've eaten fried chicken more than once at your house," Cathy said.
"Good. Mamma makes the best fried chicken in the whole world. She and Clawdy's mamma know how to do it just right. Now, Clawdy, tell me you aren't mad at me. I made a mistake runnin' off with Rusty like that, but we can be friends now, can't we?"
Marty patted her on the arm. "You know I could never stay mad at you."
"I'm just so glad you got my letter and came to visit." Janie looked at Trixie and drew her eyes down. "You look just like a girl I used to know. It's right there on the edge of my mind, but I've got this remembering disease. That's why I'm in here, so they can help me." She turned her attention back to Marty. "You really aren't mad at me anymore?"
"Of course not. You were in love with Rusty or you wouldn't have run off with him," Marty said. They had this conversation often so she knew exactly what to say.
"I did love him, but he found someone new, so I had to bring my baby girl and come on back home. How are your girls?" She jumped at least five years from thinking she and Claudia were in school to the time when they were new mothers.
"They're fine. Let's talk about you," Marty said.
Janie yawned. "Clawdy, darlin', I'm so sorry, but I can't keep my eyes open anymore."
It was always the same. On Wednesday nights, Trixie visited with Janie. Sometimes, when they had time between closing the café and their other Wednesday evening plans, Marty and Cathy went with her. And always after fifteen or twenty minutes, on a good night, she was sleepy.
"That's okay, Janie. We'll come see you again soon," Marty said.
Trixie stopped at the doorway and waved.
Janie frowned. "I'm sorry I can't remember you. You remind me of someone I knew a long time ago, but I can't recall your name. Were you the Jalapeño Jubilee queen this year? Maybe that's where I saw you."
"No, ma'am. They don't crown queens anymore. But it's okay. I remember you real well," Trixie said.
Less than half an hour later, Trixie parked beside a big two-story house sitting on the corner of Main and Fourth in Cadillac, Texas. The sign outside the house said Miss Clawdy's Café in fancy lettering. Above it were the words: Red Beans and Turnip Greens.
Most folks in town just called it Clawdy's.
It had started as a joke after Cathy and Marty's mamma, Claudia, died and the three of them were going through her recipes. They'd actually been searching for "the secret," but evidently Claudia took it to the grave with her.
More than forty years ago, Grayson County and Fannin County women were having a heated argument over who could grow the hottest jalapeños in North Texas. Idalou Thomas, over in Fannin County, had won the contest for her jalapeño cornbread and her jalapeño pepper jelly so many years that most people dropped plumb out of the running. But that year, Claudia's mamma decided to try a little something different, and she watered her pepper plants with the water she used to rinse out her unmentionables. That was the very year that Fannin County lost their title in all of the jalapeño categories to Grayson County at the Texas State Fair. They brought home a blue ribbon in every category that had anything to do with growing or cooking with jalapeño peppers. That was also the year that Violet Prescott and several other women formed the Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society. The next fall, they held their First Annual Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society Jubilee in Cadillac, Texas.
The Jubilee got bigger and bigger with each passing year. They added vendors and a kiddy carnival with rides and a Ferris wheel, and people started marking it on their calendar a year in advance. It was talked about all year, and folks planned their vacation time around the Jalapeño Jubilee. Idalou died right after the first Jubilee, and folks in Fannin County almost brought murder charges against Claudia's mamma for breaking poor old Idalou's heart. Decades went by before Claudia figured out how her mother grew such red-hot peppers, and when her mamma passed, she carried on the tradition.
But she never did write down the secret for fear that one of the Fannin County women would find a way to steal it. The one thing she did was dry a good supply of seeds from the last crop of jalapeños just in case she died that year. It wasn't likely that Fannin County would be getting the blue ribbon back as long as one of her daughters grew peppers from the original stock and saved seeds back each year.
"If we had a lick of sense, we'd all quit our jobs and put a café in this big old barn of a house," Cathy had said.
"Count me in," Marty had agreed.
Then they found the old LP albums in Claudia's bedroom, and Cathy had picked up an Elvis record and put it on the turntable. When she set the needle down, "Lawdy, Miss Clawdy" had played.
"Daddy called her that, remember? He'd come in from working all day and holler for Miss Clawdy to come give him a kiss," Marty had said.
Trixie had said, "That's the name of y'all's café-Miss Clawdy's Café. It can be a place where you fix up this buffet bar of southern food for lunch. Like fried chicken, fried catfish, breaded and fried pork chops, and always have beans and greens on it seasoned up with lots of bacon drippings. You know, like your mamma always cooked. Then you can serve her pecan cobbler, peach cobbler, and maybe her black forest cake for dessert."
"You are making me hungry right now just talkin' about beans and greens. I can't remember the last time I had that kind of food," Marty had said.
Trixie went on, "I bet there's lots of folks around here who can't remember when they had it either with the fast-food trend. Folks would come from miles and miles to get at a buffet where they could eat all they wanted of good old southern fried and seasoned food. And you can frame up a bunch of those old LP covers and use them to decorate the walls. And you could transfer the music from those records over to CDs and play that old music all day. You could serve breakfast from a menu and then a lunch buffet. It would make a mint, I swear it would."
That started the idea that blossomed into a café on the ground floor of the big two-story house. The front door opened into the foyer where they set up a counter with a cash register. To the left was the bigger dining area, which had been the living room. To the right was the smaller one, which had been the dining room. What had been their mother's sitting room now seated sixteen people and was used for special lunch reservations. Their dad's office was now a storage pantry for supplies.
Six months later and a week before Miss Clawdy's Café had its grand opening, Trixie caught Andy cheating on her, and she quit her job at the bank to join the partnership. That was a year ago, and even though it was a lot of work, the café really was making money hand over fist.
"Hey, good lookin'," a deep voice said from the shadows when she stepped up on the back porch.
"I didn't know if you'd wait or not," Trixie said.
Andy ran the back of his hand down her jaw line. "It's Wednesday, darlin'. Until it turns into Thursday, I would wait. Besides, it's a pleasant night. Be a fine night for the high school football game on Friday."
Trixie was still pissed at Andy and still had dreams about strangling Anna Ruth, but sex was sex, and she was just paying Anna Ruth back. She opened the back door, and together they crossed the kitchen. He followed her up the stairs to the second floor, where there were three bedrooms and a single bathroom. She opened her bedroom door, and once he was inside, she slammed it shut and wrapped her arms around his neck.
"I miss you," he said.
She unbuttoned his shirt and walked him backward to the bed. "You should have thought about that."
"What if I break it off with Anna Ruth?"
"We've had this conversation before." Trixie flipped a couple of switches, and those fancy no-fire candles were suddenly burning beside the bed.
He pulled her close and kissed her. "You are still beautiful."
She pushed him back on the bed. "You are still a lyin', cheatin' son-of-a-bitch."
He sat up and peeled out of his clothes. "Why do you go to bed with me if I'm that bad?"
"Because I like sex."
"I wish you liked housework," Andy mumbled.
"If I had, we might not be divorced. If my messy room offends you, then put your britches back on and go home to Anna Ruth and her sterile house," Trixie said.
"Shut up and kiss me." He grinned.
She shucked out of her jeans and T-shirt and jumped on the bed with him. They'd barely gotten into the foreplay when a hard knock on the bedroom door stopped the process as quickly as if someone had thrown a pitcher of icy water into the bed with them. Trixie grabbed for the sheet and covered her naked body; Andy strategically put a pillow in his lap.
"I thought they were all out like usual," he whispered. "If that's Marty, we are both dead."
"Maybe they called off her class for tonight," Trixie said.
"Cadillac police. Open this door right now, or I'm coming in shooting."
Trixie groaned. "Agnes?"
Andy groaned and fell back on the pillows. "Dear God!"
And that's when flashing red, white, and blue lights and the mixed wails of police cars, sirens, and an ambulance all screeched to a halt in front of Miss Clawdy's.
Trixie grabbed her old blue chenille robe from the back of a rocking chair and belted it around her waist. "Agnes, is that you?"
"It's the Cadillac police, I tell you, and I'll come in there shooting if that man who's molesting you doesn't let you go right this minute." Agnes tried to deepen her voice, but there was just so much a seventy-eight-year-old woman could do. She sounded like a prepubescent boy with laryngitis.
"I'm coming right out. Don't shoot."
She eased out the door, and sure enough, there was Agnes, standing in the hallway with a sawed-off shotgun trained on Trixie's belly button.
The old girl had donned her late husband's pleated trousers and a white shirt and smelled like a mothball factory. Her dyed red hair, worn in a ratted hairdo reminiscent of the sixties, was crammed up under a fedora. Enough curls had escaped to float around the edges of the hat and remind Trixie of those giant statues of Ronald McDonald. The main difference was that she had a shotgun in her hands instead of a hamburger and fries.
Trixie shut her bedroom door behind her and blocked it as best she could. "There's no one in my bedroom, Agnes. Let's go downstairs and have a late-night snack. I think there are hot rolls left and half of a peach cobbler."
"The hell there ain't nobody in there! I saw the bastard. Stand to one side, and I'll blow his ass to hell." Agnes raised the shotgun.
"You were seeing me do my exercises before I went to bed."
Agnes narrowed her eyes and shook her head. "He's in there. I can smell him." She sniffed the air. "Where is the sorry son-of-a-bitch? I could see him in there throwing you on the bed and having his way with you. Sorry bastard, he won't get away. Woman ain't safe in her own house."
Trixie moved closer to her. "Look at me, Agnes. I'm not hurt. It was just shadows, and what you smell is mothballs. Shit, woman, where'd you get that getup, anyway?"
Agnes shook her head. "He told you to say that or he'd kill you. He don't scare me." She raised the barrel of the gun and pulled the trigger. The kickback knocked her square on her butt on the floor, and the gun went scooting down the hallway.
"Next one is for you, buster," she yelled as plaster, insulation, and paint chips rained down upon her and Trixie.
Trixie grabbed both ears. "God Almighty, Agnes!"
"Bet that showed him who is boss around here, and if you don't quit usin' them damn cussin' words, takin' God's name in vain, I might aim the gun at you next time. And I don't have to tell a smart-ass like you where I got my getup, but I was tryin' to save your sorry ass so I dressed up like a detective," Agnes said.
Trixie grabbed Agnes's arm, pulled her up, and kept her moving toward the stairs. "Well, you look more like a homeless bum."
Agnes pulled free and stood her ground, arms crossed over her chest, the smell of mothballs filling up the whole landing area.
"We've got to get out of here in a hurry," Trixie tried to whisper, but it came out more like a squeal.
"He said he'd kill you, didn't he?" Agnes finally let herself be led away. "I knew it, but I betcha I scared the shit out of him. He'll be crawling out the window and the police will catch him. Did you get a good look at the bastard? We'll go to the police station and do one of them drawin' things and they'll catch him before he tries a stunt like that again."
They met four policemen, guns drawn, serious expressions etched into their faces, in the kitchen. Every gun shot up and pointed straight at Agnes and Trixie.
Trixie threw up her hands, but Agnes just glared at them.
"Jack, it's me and Agnes. This is just a big misunderstanding."
Living right next door to the Andrews' house his whole life, Jack Landry had tagged along with Trixie, Marty, and Cathy their whole growing-up years. He lowered his gun and raised an eyebrow.
"Nothing going on upstairs, I assure you," Trixie said, and she wasn't lying. Agnes had put a stop to what was about to happen for damn sure.
Trixie hoped the old girl had an asthma attack from the mothballs as payment for ruining her Wednesday night.
"We heard a gunshot," Jack said.
"That would be my shotgun. It's up there on the floor. Knocked me right on my ass. I forgot that it had a kick. Loud sumbitch messed up my hearing." Agnes hollered and reached up to touch her kinky red hair. "I lost my hat when I fell down. I've got to go get it."
Trixie saw the hat come floating down the stairs and tackled it on the bottom step. "Here it is. You dropped it while we were running away."
Agnes screamed at her. "You lied! You said we had to get away from him before he killed us, and I ran down the stairs, and I'm liable to have a heart attack, and it's your fault. I told Cathy and Marty not to bring the likes of you in this house. It's an abomination, I tell you. Divorced woman like you hasn't got no business in the house with a couple of maiden ladies."
"Miz Agnes, one of my officers will help you across the street." Jack pushed a button on his radio and said, "False alarm at Miss Clawdy's."
A young officer was instantly at Agnes's side.
Agnes eyed the fresh-faced fellow. "You lay a hand on me, and I'll go back up there and get my gun. I know what you rascals have on your mind all the time, and you ain't goin' to skinny up next to me. I can still go get my gun. I got more shells right here in my britches' pockets."
"Yes, ma'am. I mean, no, ma'am. I'm just going to make sure you get across the street and into your house safely," he said.
Trixie could hear the laughter behind his tone, but not a damn bit of it was funny. Andy was upstairs. The kitchen was full of men who worked for him, and if Cathy and Marty heard there were problems at Clawdy's, they could come rushing in at any time.
"Maiden ladies my ass," Trixie mumbled. "I'm only thirty-four."
Darla Jean had finished evening prayers and was on her way back down the hallway from the sanctuary to her apartment. Her tiny one-bedroom apartment was located in the back of the old convenience store and gas station combination. Set on the corner lot facing Main Street, it had served the area well until the super Walmart went in up in Sherman. Five years before when business got too bad to stay open, her uncle shut the doors. Then he died and left her the property at a time when she was ready to retire from her "escort" business. She had been worrying about what to listen to: her heart or her brain. The heart said she should give up her previous lifestyle and start to preach like her mamma wanted her to do back when she was just a teenager. Her brain said that she'd made a good living in the "escort" business and she would be a damn fine madam.
The gas station didn't look much like a brothel, but she could see lots of possibilities for a church. It seemed like an omen, so she turned it into the Christian Nondenominational Church and started preaching the word of God. Main Street ran east and west through Cadillac and north and south streets were numbered. The church sat on the corner of Fourth and Main streets, facing Main. Straight across Main was the Cadillac Community Building, and across Fourth was Miss Clawdy's Café.
She hadn't even made it to her apartment door when the noisy sirens sounded like they were driving right through the doors of her church sanctuary. She stopped and said a quick prayer in case it was the Rapture and God had decided to send Jesus back to Earth with all the fanfare of police cars and flashing lights. The Good Book didn't say just how he'd return, and Darla Jean had an open mind about it. If he could be born in a stable the first time around, then he could return in a blaze of flashing red, white, and blue lights the second time.
She pulled back the mini-blinds in her living room. The police were across the street at Miss Clawdy's. At least Jesus wasn't coming to whisk her away that night. There was only one car in the parking lot, like most Wednesday nights, and she knew who drove that car. Hopefully, the hullabaloo over there was because Trixie had finally taken her advice and thrown the man out.
God didn't take too kindly to a woman screwing around with another woman's man. Not even if the woman had been married to him and the "other woman" wasn't married to him yet. Maybe it was a good thing that Jesus wasn't riding in a patrol car that night. She'd hate for her friend Trixie to be one of those left behind folks.
"Got to be a Bible verse somewhere to support that. Maybe I could find something in David's history of many wives that would help me get through to her," she muttered as she hurried out a side door and across Fourth Street toward the café.
"Holy Mother of Jesus, has Marty come home early and caught Andy over there and murdered him?" Darla Jean mumbled.
Had the cops arrived in all the noisy fanfare to take her away in handcuffs?
Then she saw a policeman leading Agnes across the street. So it hadn't been Marty but Agnes who'd done the killing. That meant Trixie was dead. Agnes had never liked her, and she'd threatened to kill her on more than one occasion. Now the policeman was leading her across Main Street to her house, probably so she could get out of that crazy costume and back into her regular clothes. Lord, have mercy! The twins were going to faint when they found out.
It looked like an old man, but it had to be Agnes. There wasn't another person in the whole town of Cadillac that had red hair like that. Darla Jean stopped so quick in the middle of Fourth Street that she pulled the toe piece out of a flip-flop, got tangled in the rubber strap, and fell right on her butt, with the fall leaves from the trees around Clawdy's blowing all around her. She shook her head and didn't blink for several seconds. What in the world was Agnes doing in that getup? It wasn't Halloween for another three weeks.
The minute the police were out of Clawdy's kitchen, Trixie melted into a chair and slapped both hands over her ears. Was she doomed forever to hear pigs squealing every time her heart beat? A shotgun blast in the small confines of a hallway was worse than the noise from the local boys' souped-up stereo systems in their fancy little low-slung pickup trucks chasing up and down Main Street on Saturday night.
"Shit!" she mumbled, but even that word sounded like it came out of a deep dark tunnel.
When she looked up, her ex-husband was standing at the bottom of the stairs wearing a sheepish grin. He was fully dressed in his dark blue policeman's uniform, gun holstered, radio on his shoulder, and bits of her last scrapbook paper job stuck to his shiny black shoes. His hair was a nondescript brown and he wore it short; his eyes hazel with flecks of gold; his build solid on a five-foot-ten-inch frame. He'd missed being handsome by a frog hair, but he made up for it in pure sex appeal and charm. When he walked into a room, he brought a force with him that said, "Look at me and just wish you were with me," and when he poured on the charm, there wasn't a woman in the world who wouldn't drop her under-britches for him.
She bent down and swiped the paper remnants from his shoes. Anna Ruth would go up in flames if he tracked paper into her perfect house.
"You could vacuum," he said.
"Yes, and you could have been a good husband and not cheated on me." She followed him to the back door, picking more paper from the butt of his uniform.
He brushed a kiss across her forehead. "See you next week," he whispered before he slipped out the back door and quickly blended into the mass of milling men in uniforms.
"What happened around here? I was on my way home. Heard it on the radio. Parked over in the church lot since everything was full here," Andy asked Jack.
Jack shook his head slowly. "Agnes thought she saw someone up there fightin' with Trixie, but it wasn't nothing. Agnes told my officer that she could see shadows behind the window shades and the man threw Trixie down on the bed and was raping her."
Trixie made out every word even though it was muddled. So it had been the candles that had brought the mothball queen across the street with her fedora and shotgun. Lord, Agnes Flynn was a meddlesome old witch. Claudia Burton Andrews had taken care of Agnes like she was her mother instead of her aunt, and she'd passed the legacy of looking after her on down to Cathy and Marty. But Trixie damn sure hadn't taken on the job of taking care of the nosy old toot, so she could keep her red hair, stinky getup, and shotgun across the street.
"She wasn't defending a damn thing for me. She was just making sure nobody was getting something that she couldn't. If it had been a rapist, she would have probably insisted I share with her," Trixie muttered.
Next week she was buying black-out drapes. No telling what would happen if Anna Ruth, Andy's live-in girlfriend, found out he spent Wednesday nights in Trixie's bed. And if Agnes ever discovered it, heaven help everyone, because the whole town of Cadillac, all 1,542 people, would know about it by breakfast the next morning. Agnes had a gossip hotline that worked faster than a sophomore boy his first time.
Trixie heaved a sigh of relief when all the cop cars and the ambulance were finally gone. She'd deal with the shotgun and the hole in the ceiling later. Right then she needed a good stiff drink. She pushed the chair back, rustled around in the cabinet, and found the whiskey. She poured two fingers of Jack Daniels in a jelly glass, added one ice cube, brushed plaster dust from her chenille robe and hair, and sat back down at the table. It was a poor substitute for a bout of good old passionate sex, but at least it warmed her insides.