- Pub. Date:
A tryst with a deadly twist.
All I'd wanted to do back home in Otis, South Carolina, was whip up a wonderful thirty-fifth anniversary party for my parents. But we'd hardly picked the baker before Mama found herself volunteering her services for the one thing she did nearly as well as cook. And that is sleuthing.
You see, Ruby Spikes was found dead in a motor inn with a gun in her hand, a suicide note, and a certified check receipt to a man no one ever heard of--not even the trio of Otis gossips who are Mama's rock-solid source of information. Neither they nor Mama, despite Ruby's tormented diary, were convinced she went to her reward willingly. But this was a young woman with an outsize bundle of secrets and enemies. And when Mama starts sorting them out, and sudden death makes a return visit, it looks like she'll uncover the truth only by making herself--and me--a killer's next target....
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I was on a mission.
It was dark, rainy; a dreary dawn. I felt like it was only three A.M. and I owed my body another four hours' sleep. But the clock on the dashboard read six-thirty. I made a left, heading south onto Highway 20 off Wesley Chapel. I was driving to Otis, South Carolina, to visit my parents.
My mama, whose name is Grace but who is called Candi because of her golden-brown complexion, had firmly declined the suggestion of my brothers and me to throw her and my father a wedding anniversary party. It was their thirty-fifth, their jade anniversary, and my mission on this last Saturday in July was to change her mind!
"James and I don't need a party to celebrate our togetherness," Mama had informed me firmly when I told her of our plans in a recent telephone conversation. "We do that every day."
"Mama," I'd replied, trying not to sound exasperated by her reluctance, "you and Daddy celebrate every day, but your children want to celebrate the thirty-fifth year of your marriage with both of you!"
Mama's voice brightened. "Then come home and I'll cook."
"We don't want you to cook!"
I'd said the wrong thing. . . . There was a dead silence.
"Mama," I explained hastily, "I'm not saying that we don't want you to cook for us. You and I know that most people who've tasted your cooking would crawl on their hands and knees to get just a morsel of--"
"Simone, you're exaggerating," Mama interrupted.
"Mama, we want to do something special for you and Daddy on your anniversary," I persisted. My mother isn't the only stubborn one in the family. "You're always doing things for us."
"Like cooking," I said, hoping to convey that we knew that she was doing something very special whenever she cooked for her family.
"I don't like parties," Mama snapped.
I decided to ignore her tone. "I'll get Yasmine to help. My girlfriend is not only one of the best beauticians in Atlanta, but she also throws fabulous parties after hair and fashion shows. And, honest, Mama, Yasmine's got a real flare for--"
"Simone, I said no," Mama cut in.
"Will and Rodney want to come home to throw this party for you, Mama," I continued, knowing that using her sons as bait was one way to at least get her attention. That's not to say that Mama thinks more of her two boys than she does of me; I've never once felt that way. It's just that my brothers don't go back to Otis as much as Mama would like, and a visit from all three of her children at the same time is something that really turns her on.
"No." Mama's tone told me that she knew exactly what I was trying to do--I guess I'd used that technique too many times before.
"Okay," I said, deciding to switch gears. No matter her objections, I wasn't about to give in to her on this. You see, I work in the law office of Sidney Jacoby, a prominent Atlanta defense attorney. I'm a paralegal in the Research Department. My job requires me to grab onto a tiny bit of information that Sidney has unearthed and pursue it further. Usually, I'm like a pit bull, not letting go until I come up with something that Sidney can use. I guess what I'm saying is, I know how to be persistent. Most of the time, though, I don't try this routine with Mama--that's because most of the time I know that no matter how much time I put in trying to get her to change her mind, Mama's wishes always prevail.
On the subject of this anniversary party, however, I was as determined as my mother can be when she makes her mind up. I'd already told Cliff, my boyfriend, a divorce lawyer who is on a partnership track in his law firm, that we were going to give Mama and Daddy the best anniversary party Otis had ever seen. "I'll make a deal with you," I now said to Mama in a more compromising tone.
"No deals, Simone," Mama said. Her tone didn't change.
I took a breath. "Mama, let me at least tell you what I had in mind."
"Why should I?"
"Because you're an open-minded woman," I said as sweet as I could.
Whether Mama fell for it or not, she said, "Go ahead."
I smiled, thinking I'd inched a little closer to convincing her. "If you let us have a party for you and Daddy," I wheedled, "I'll let you--"
Mama pounced. "You'll let me!"
"I mean"--I hastily changed my wording--"you can make all the arrangements. That way, the party will be just the way you like it."
"Simone, I don't--"
"Let me finish," I urged, taking advantage of the fact that her tone had become softer.
A sigh. "Go ahead."
"You'll pick the person who will do the cooking and someone to do the baking. I know you won't find anybody who's as good of a cook as you are, but at least you'll know that the food is acceptable."
"Think about it," I added quickly, praying her silence suggested that I'd pried open a tiny possibility. "I'll come home on Saturday. We'll talk about it then, okay?"
"If you insist." She still sounded unconvinced. "But--"
"The party will be wonderful, exactly the way you want it to be," I promised. "There will be no surprises."
"What time can I expect you to come in on Saturday morning?"
"That's late for breakfast."
"Save mine," I said.
"James is going to North Carolina on an all-day fishing trip," she said.
"Then it'll be a good day for us to spend together," I told her. "Just the two of us. Mama, I love you," I added.
"Love you too," Mama replied before she hung up, her voice sunnier now that she knew that I was coming home again.