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"I tell you, Patricia Anne, I'm sick and tired of always being some man's sex slave." Mary Alice shut the kitchen door firmly and headed for the stove. "Is this fresh coffee?"
I looked up from the morning paper and nodded. I also grinned. My sister is sixty-five years old, six feet tall, and admits to weighing two hundred fifty pounds. The idea of her as a sex slave is mind-boggling.
"You look like a jackass eating briars," she said. "But I'm telling you the truth." She got a cup from the cabinet, poured her coffee, and helped herself to a muffin from a plate on the counter. "What kind are these?"
She took a second one and came to the table in the bay window where I was reading the paper and having a second cup of coffee. "What are you doing?"
"Reading Omar Sharif's bridge column."
"Oh, God, I love that man. Those daffodils!"
"I know." For a moment it was not December in Birmingham, Alabama, but springtime in Russia with "Lara's Theme" soaring. "How many times have you seen Dr. Zhivago?" I asked.
Mary Alice took a bite of blueberry muffin. "Maybe twenty. I still keep hoping they'll get back together."
"But they did in a way."
"Don't be ridiculous. He dies every time. Splat. Right there in the street." She took another bite of muffin. "You know, being his sex slave wouldn't be so bad. Unless he plays bridge all the time."
I folded the paper. "Why don't you pull off your coat? And what is this sex slave bit?"
I 'I'm just staying a minute. And it's what all of us women are. You. Me. Working our butts off to please some man."
I could have pointed out that myhusband, Fred, was at work while I was sitting in the kitchen in my bathrobe reading the paper, but I decided not to push my luck.
"We iron their clothes, cook their food, mop their floors, and do God knows what just to please diem."
"Sister," I said, "I think a sex slave is used sexually."
"That, too," she said.
I decided not to pursue this line of conversation. "You want some more coffee?" I asked.
Mary Alice shook her head no. "Mouse," she said, using her old childhood nickname for me, "I want to show you something, but you have to promise not to laugh."
"Sure," I agreed.
She stood up and unbuttoned her coat but still clutched it around her. "Swear."
"I told you I wouldn't laugh-"
She pulled her coat off and all promises were off; I laughed like hell. Mary Alice was Mrs. Santa Claus, complete with a short red skirt, red leggings, and a white knit shirt decorated with the words "Mrs. Santa" that flashed sporadically with lights that apparently were beyond Sister's power to control.
"I knew you would laugh," she said morosely. "There's a wig that goes with it, though." She reached into the pocket of her coat, brought out what looked like a dead white poodle, and placed it over her own short pinkish hair. "You think anyone will recognize me?"
"Oh, Lord," I laughed. "I have to go to the bathroom."Well, maybe they won't," she called as I rushed down the. hall.
When I got back to the kitchen, she had her coat on again and, except for an occasional giggle, I was in control. "What's this about?" I asked.
"Bill's got a job as Santa Claus down at the Rosedale Mall. They wanted a couple. It's supposed to keep the kids from being so scared." Mazy Alice shrugged. "See? I told you I was a sex slave."
Seventy-two-year-old Bill Adams is Sister's current "boyfriend." He has lasted for several months, probably because he can dip her when they dance. Or at least that's what Fred and I thought. There just might be more to the relationship if she was willing to go along with him on this.
"Rosedale Mall's on the other side of town," I assured her. "You won't see a soul you know. Besides, what does it matter? You're being a good sport."
"You think so?"
"I know so. Just think of all the kids you'll make happy."
"That's true." Mary Alice looked at her watch. "I've got to go. I just wanted to remind you of the gallery opening tonight. It's from five until eight, drop in, and I won't get off work until six, so I won't pick you up until seven. Okay?"
"Why don't I meet you there?"
"The way you drive? Don't be silly. And wear that sweater I gave you last Christmas, the off-white with the pearls on it."
"And which skirt should I wear?" Mary Alice is immune to sarcasm, which can be both a blessing and a curse for a sister.
"The off-white, of course. And for goodness sakes don't wear those shoes you bought that are supposed to be 'winter white.' I can't believe you were suckered like that."
"One every minute," I said, grinning again.
"I'll see you at seven." Mrs. Claus picked up another muffin on her way out.
"See you." Sooner than she thought. I had a date for lunch at the Rosedale Mall.
As soon as Omar Sharif made his impossible six no-trump bid, I threw on some sweats and went out to take my old Woofer for his walk. It was a beautiful morning, crisp but not cold, and though it was just three weeks until Christmas, a few pink geraniums still bloomed in the containers on the deck. Woofer was sleeping late. The year before, I had paid a fortune for an insulated doghouse that looked like an igloo, but it had been money well spent. The problem was getting Woofer out of it...Murder on a Bad Hair Day. Copyright © by Anne George. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.