Callie Valentine's mama Ruby Nell has gone and entered herselfand her hunk-a-geriatric-love dance partnerin a Memphis mambo contest, hoping to shake, rattle and roll her way to stardom. But someone at the competition is determined to step on a lot of blue suede shoes. First, a serial monogamist in a bright pink gown does a fatal swan dive from the top of the hotel. Then Callie finds an overdressed diva floating in a famous fountain.
With help from Jack, the mysteriously reappearing ex Callie just can't get over, and her delusional dog Elvis, Callie and her cousin Lovie are going to have to track down some answers before mayhem strikes again. And with Ruby Nell in the killer's sights, they'll need a little less conversation and a lot more action if they want their family waltzing home in one piece. . .
"Webb writes purely funny scenes, with wacky characters getting into ridiculously silly situations, and all with a southern flair."Booklist
"Wacky. . .Elvis continues to be the saving grace of this cozy series." Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Peggy Webb is the bestselling author of more than sixty novels. A former adjunct lecturer at Mississippi State University, she has won numerous writing awards, composes blues songs on her vintage baby grand and shares her home in Tupelo, Mississippi, with her chocolate Lab and a quirky muse who channels Elvis.
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ELVIS and the Memphis Mambo Murders
By Peggy Webb
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2010 Peggy Webb
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHairdos, Famous Ducks, and Double Trouble
Wouldn't you know? When we registered for the competition, the first dance Mama signed up for was the mambo. Most women her age would be content with the waltz or a sedate two step. But naturally, Ruby Nell Valentine wants to shake herself all over the floor—with Mr. Whitenton, no less.
I wish she wouldn't encourage him. He's already acting like more than her dance partner.
Thinking about it drives me crazy, so I'm going to be like Scarlett; I'll think about it tomorrow. Right now I've got to unpack my bag.
Lovie and I are sharing a room on the fourth floor of the grand old Peabody Hotel. While I arrange my cute designer shoes on the closet shelf—my only extravagance unless you count the gazillion tons of cat and dog food I buy to feed my rescued menagerie—my rabble-rouser cousin and loyal-to-the-bone best friend is throwing her things into the closet in messy wads.
"Lovie, your clothes will get wrinkled."
She strikes a pose. "With this body? I've got enough curves to fill out every wrinkle in the Grand Canyon." She continues to toss clothes into the closet, ignoring hangers.
I don't know why, but this comforts me. Lovie will never change. She'll always be the lovable, irascible, outrageous woman who can make me laugh, comfort me when I'm blue, pick me up and carry me when I stumble and fall.
"Do you think Mama and Mr. Whitenton are doing anything besides dancing?"
"I hope so. Aunt Ruby Nell's got it and I hope she's flaunting it."
Strike comfort me.
"If you're trying to worry me, you've succeeded."
"You worry too much. Loosen up. We're here for some fun."
Maybe she is, but I'm here to watchdog Mama. It's not the little things I worry about—gambling with my money and dancing with the wrong man. It's the big ones—letting the wrong man steal her farm as well as her heart.
My phone rings and it's Mama. I swear she can read minds.
"Callie, come up to my room and make me beautiful."
"Mama, you're already beautiful." I'm proud to say that's true. And though she gets into trouble with aggravating regularity, I'd rather have a mother who is fit and feisty than one who sits home feeling sorry for herself. "I just colored and cut your hair yesterday."
Mama changes her hair color more often than I change my Airwick room freshener. It's easy for her since I own the best little beauty shop in Mooreville—population slightly less than the size of the Calvary Baptist Church's congregation over in Tupelo. But don't let size fool you. I pride myself on giving my customers New York styles.
Actually, the bank and I own Hair.Net, but that's a whole 'nother story.
There's a dead silence at the other end of the phone line.
"Mama, are you still there?"
"I'm here, Callie, and that's all right." Mama's tone says she means just the opposite. "If you don't want to fix my hair, I can make an appointment downstairs and get on the dance floor wearing a Memphis hairdo."
Like the gamblers in the old Westerns Lovie and I watch, I know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. I say to Mama, "I'll be right there," then hang up the telephone and rummage in my bag for my hair styling tools.
"Here, you'll need this." Lovie tosses me a bag of potato chips from the stash she's storing in the closet. The amount of food she travels with would be mind boggling if you didn't know she loves to cook. Her state of the art kitchen is always filled with goodies, even when they're not for some posh event she's catering in Tupelo.
Plopping onto the bed nearest the door, she opens a bag for herself. "What kind of blackmail did Aunt Ruby Nell use?"
While I tell her, I rip into my chips, never mind that we had big chunks of her chocolate cherry cake after we checked in less than an hour ago. To celebrate the beginning of our girls' weekend out, Lovie said, though I don't know how much celebrating I'll have time for. I'll be too busy making sure Mama's dance partner keeps his hands where they belong.
Not that Thomas Whitenton is a bad person. But Mama has hardly looked at another man since Daddy died. I don't want her throwing away twenty-seven years of caution on a man who smacks his lips at the end of every sentence.
Elvis stands at my feet and gives me such a mournful look, I relent and hand him a chip. One won't wreck his diet. And he is irresistible.
"Lovie, are you going to stay here or do you want to go up with me?"
"And let Rocky think I have nothing better to do than hang around in hotel rooms?"
"I don't think he's like that. Didn't he tell you to have a good time on this trip?"
"Which is exactly what I intend to do. But wait till word filters down to Mexico I'm the sensation of Memphis. He'll change his tune."
I'd ask Lovie how word is going to filter to Rocky on an archeological dig in the depths of a jungle, but I already know. She's the one who will do the filtering.
I wish she'd settle down and realize he's crazy about her, even if he is too old-fashioned to find her Holy Grail (her words, not mine). But who am I to give love advice? My own love life is as tangled up as kudzu on a ditch bank.
"What are you going to do while I'm gone?" I ask her. Nothing as ordinary as shopping, I can guarantee.
"I thought I'd take Elvis to the lobby to watch the parade of the Peabody ducks."
The parade of ducks began in 1930 when the general manager of the Peabody Hotel returned from a hunting trip and put three English ducks in the Grand Lobby's fountain as a prank. They were such a hit that the twice-a-day parade of ducks was initiated and became a tradition. The duck master leads his charges from their penthouse pond to the elevator where they ride to the lobby. With a John Philip Sousa march playing and crowds cheering, the ducks stroll across a red carpet and walk a tiny duck staircase to the beautiful travertine marble fountain that makes the lobby in this grand old hotel look like a small piazza in Italy.
"Keep him out of trouble, Lovie. It took an act of Congress to get him here."
The Peabody Hotel has a strict no pets policy. After begging and pleading to no avail, I was getting ready to leave Elvis at home with Uncle Charlie, but all of a sudden the hotel manager called and said they were making an exception.
Uncle Charlie told me it was Jack's doing, though I'd have figured it out. Everything that gets mysteriously straightened out, fixed up, and smoothed over is Jack's doing.
I have never known exactly what my almost-ex does. If you ask his profession, he always says international consultant, which tells exactly nothing.
I confronted him the night before I left for Memphis (and he left for heaven knows where). We were in my bedroom. A huge tactical error on my part. He'd just broken and entered, but don't think I'm fixing to work up a wad of guilt over that. We are still husband and wife. Sort of.
"Where do you get all your power, Jack?"
"A hundred push-ups a day. Do you want me to show you again?"
"You stay on your side of the bed, Jack Jones." It's hard to be huffy when you're not wearing clothes. "I just want to know what you do."
"You're the only woman who does, Callie."
"Oh, hush up." I grabbed my robe and prissed myself to the other side of the room. It helped, but not much. "I mean what you do for a living."
"I've told you."
I got so mad I said a word (only not the kind Lovie would say). If you want to know the truth, I said poot, which made Jack laugh and made me feel guilty. What if I had been pregnant and my unborn child had heard? I'd feel like a toad, not to mention an unfit mother.
"I mean it, Jack. I want to know the truth."
He grabbed his jeans, and I thought he was going to walk out without a word. Instead he stalked over and put his big hands on my shoulders in the way that makes me feel fragile and protected and vulnerable all at the same time.
"You deserve the truth, Cal." His favorite ploy to sidetrack me is a kiss, so I braced myself. Instead he said, "I work for The Company, and that's all I can tell you."
He headed toward the door and I knew I wouldn't get another word out of him. I didn't press the issue, but I didn't let him get the last word, either.
"You can forget what happened tonight, Jack. I want you to sign those divorce papers, and I mean it." He didn't even answer.
As soon as I heard the front door slam, I looked up The Company on the Internet but I didn't find a single reference. I sat in front of my computer for a long, time feeling chilled, and it had nothing to do with fall.
For goodness sake, even with leaves littering the ground, October in the Deep South still feels like summer.
Now I grab the tools of my trade and head for the elevator and Mama's room on the tenth floor. She's sitting at a gorgeous Queen Anne desk filing her fingernails.
"Where's Fayrene?" I ask.
The words are no sooner out of her mouth than the connecting door opens. I'm all prepared to greet Fayrene, but who should stroll in? None other than Thomas Whitenton. Holding a pair of Mama's shoes. I could spit.
He's so proud of himself he doesn't even see me sitting there like a gathering storm.
"Ruby Nell, where do you want me to put these?" When he notices me, he has the good grace to turn red. Only good Southern upbringing keeps me from snatching the shoes and telling him to keep his mitts off Mama and her stuff.
"In my closet." Mama doesn't blink an eye, just sits there like he's not holding evidence of hanky panky. If I think about it too much, I'm liable to get my first gray hair, so I don't. As a stylist, I strive to set the standard for hair beauty.
Mr. Whitenton mumbles something that sounds like hello but could be goodbye, then hurries back to his room. A guilty action if I ever saw one.
But I'm not even going to ask what he's doing with her shoes and why they have connecting doors. When Mama wants to keep things from you, you could put her through the Spanish Inquisition and she still wouldn't tell you the truth.
I decide to take the roundabout approach. "Why aren't you rooming with Fayrene?"
"That's my business."
I'd beg to differ since I'm the one subsidizing her trip, but I'm partial to peace. I just take out my natural bristle brush and start brushing her hair.
The upside is that Mama's dancing habit is much cheaper than her gambling habit. At the rate I'm saving money, I can hire a manicurist, at least part time. The only problem is finding somebody to fit smoothly into Mooreville society. Translated, that's my beauty shop, Mooreville Feed and Seed, the video store, and Gas, Grits, and Guts—our one and only convenience store, owned by Fayrene and her husband, Jarvetis Johnson.
Another reason I don't confront Mama about the telltale connecting door is that I really would like a peaceful weekend. I need to sit back and breathe, relax, and think about which direction I'm going.
It's funny how I can be so certain of the future of Hair.Net (first a manicurist, then a tanning bed and spa) and so uncertain of my personal future. I know what I want: a home, a husband and children to love. The problem is, I don't know how I'm going to achieve that ideal.
A part of me wants to go backward and try to fix whatever went wrong with Jack. (How do you forget seven years of marriage?) But another part wants to move forward with Champ. He's uncomplicated and totally reliable and very good looking in a burnished blond sort of way. All the things Jack is not.
Not that Jack's not handsome. He is, but in a dark, dangerous way.
You'd think the choice would be simple. But it appears I'm the kind of woman who can't resist putting her hand in the fire.
"Callie, do you think this color makes me look younger?" Mama fluffs her hair and turns to view herself in the mirror. I'm relieved to be jerked out of my problems and into Mama's vanities.
"At least fifteen years," I tell her, which is no lie.
Mama hugs me, and I figure you can't get a better start to a relaxing weekend than that. After wishing her good luck at tonight's dance competition, I head toward the elevator to join Lovie and Elvis in the lobby. If I'm lucky I might catch the tail end of the duck parade.
I'm just getting in the elevator when my cell phone rings. It's Lovie.
"Callie, come quick. Elvis is in the fountain."
Is he hurt?"
"No, it looks like he's trying to steal the show from the Peabody ducks. But hurry. He's creating a sensation and I can't get him out."
So much for my quiet weekend. When you think about it, though, tranquility is highly overrated.
Chapter TwoMemorable Performances, Mama's Mambo, and Murder
I hurry from the elevator hoping to get Elvis out of the fountain before the manager notices and throws us all out. A huge crowd hampers my progress. Fortunately I'm tall enough to see over many of them, especially in my red Kate Spade sling-back heels.
Listen, just because I've been traveling is no reason to let beauty and style slip. I'm in an elegant, historic national landmark as well as one of the ritziest hotels in the South—Tennessee's answer to the Paris Ritz and the London Savoy. I'm not about to let anybody say folks from Mooreville, Mississippi, population 651 and suburb of the King's Tupelo birthplace, don't know style from a cow patty.
Craning my neck, I search for Lovie. She's usually easy to spot. A hundred-and-ninety-pound bombshell with abundant red hair, she stands out. Not today, though. In this milling, chattering crowd, my dearest friend and cohort in everything that matters is nowhere to be seen.
She's probably bending over the fountain trying to coax my dog to come out. If I were the kind of woman to ignore manners, I'd barge through, stepping on toes without even apologizing.
While I'm saying Pardon me, I'm sorry for the fifteenth time, a woman shouts, "Look! She's in!" There's a spattering of applause followed by a few catcalls.
This can't be good. I burst through the wall of human flesh, then screech to a halt.
Holy cow! The duck master is wringing his hands, Elvis is paddling around wearing his basset grin, and Lovie is upended in the fountain mooning Memphis. All you can see of her are flailing legs and more black lace than even she would care to show in public.
"Hold on, Lovie," I shout. "I'm coming."
No use ruining a pair of Kate Spades. I'm kicking off my shoes when a couple of long, lanky teenage boys step into the fountain and pluck Lovie out. She comes up sputtering and says a word that threatens to shatter every piece of crystal in the Peabody.
"It's only water, Lovie." I hand her a lipstick-smeared tissue from my purse. She looks at it askance, but starts swabbing her face anyhow.
"If I'd wanted total immersion, I'd have called John the Baptist."
Leave it to Lovie to upgrade her shenanigans with religious icons. Still muttering words I hope nobody else hears, she wrings water out of her skirt while I try to coax Elvis from the fountain.
The crowd on my right parts of its own accord, which can mean only one thing. Somebody important is heading this way. My guess would be the hotel manager. The only thing worse would be Jack Jones, getting ready to seduce me on top of the lobby's player piano.
"Come on, Elvis. Let's go. Please."
He gives me his daredevil look and swims to the other side of the fountain, sending the Peabody ducks into a frenzy of flapping and squawking and the duck master into near apoplexy. The crowd claps and presses closer to see what will happen next.
I already know. The Valentine contingent and our dog who thinks he's famous are going to be tossed out on our collective ear.
I'm no pushover: I resort to bribery. "Elvis! Pup-Peroni!" He makes a sharp turn, prances down the duck ramp and strolls nonchalantly in my direction. I wish everybody would stop laughing and clapping. It only encourages him.
Excerpted from ELVIS and the Memphis Mambo Murders by Peggy Webb Copyright © 2010 by Peggy Webb. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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