an excerpt >>>
larger view of cover
buy the book
5.5"x 8.5" Trade Paperback
Retail $14.95; 252pp
ISBN 978-1-62268-050-4 print
ISBN 978-1-62268-051-1 e-book
UNDER THE CHRISTMAS TREE
Callie Parrish Mystery
Author: Fran Rizer
don't have to be Santa to come on Christmas Eve."
My brother Mike sang those words as Daddy and
my brothers played the melody to an old Ernest Tubb country song, "You
Don't Have to Be a Baby to Cry." Daddy had been singing it when Mike
butted in with, "Keep pickin' but let me sing. I've got a Christmas
version of that tune."
I confess I whapped Mike across his bottom with
Mortuary Cosmetology News, the magazine I'd been reading while
Daddy played my banjo. Hardly an adult action, though I'd been trying
really hard to behave like a true Southern lady recently, even with my
brothers. The music stopped.
"Why'd you do that?" Mike whined and
rubbed his behind. "I was referring to relatives visiting on Christmas
"Oh, no, you weren't. You were making up
one of those smutty little songs you love to sing. It's Christmas night.
I've had a wonderful day without anyone being a total redneck, and now
you sing something like that! Why do you always have to do something trashy
when we get together?" I began gathering up the presents my family
gave to Jane and me.
"What are we doing?" Jane asked. She's
blind and couldn't see me.
"Going home. I've had enough family for one
day." I stuffed my last package into a big Santa Claus gift bag.
"Calamine, will you leave your banjo here
for me to play?" Daddy asked.
"Of course," I agreed. After all, the
valuable pristine prewar Gibson had been a birthday surprise from him.
"Or I can make these boys behave if you want
to stay," he offered while he tuned the banjo again. "Michael
was out of line to sing that in front of you."
The Boys are all older than I am, and those capital
letters aren't a typo. I refer to my brothers collectively as The Boys
because I don't think there's any hope they'll ever grow up.
I'm thirty-three years old, been married and divorced
one time each, and Daddy still thinks I'm his little girl. He forbids
my brothers to tell risqué jokes in front of me and won't let me
drink beer in his presence either. He's the only person in the world who
calls me by my given nameCalamine. Everyone else calls me "Callie"
or sometimes "Calaparash" all smushed together into one word
the way folks here on the coast of South Carolina do double names.
"Jane and I need to head out anyway."
I claim I never take nor give guilt trips, but
I realized my reaction to Mike's song had been kind of strong. "I'm
probably extra touchy because I'm tired. This has been one of the best
Christmas Days evereven if my family does act a little redneck at
"We aren't as bad as 'Merry Christmas from
the Family' by Robert Earl Keen." My brother Bill has been argumentative
as long as I can remember. He picked up the magazine I'd dropped when
I swatted Mike. "And we might be redneck, but we aren't always stuck
in a mystery book or a magazine about dead people. This stuff is gross
to the rest of us." His wife Molly headed to the kitchen, which fits
her routine of leaving the room whenever any of my brothers disagree with
"I'll have you know that's a professional
magazine. I could lose my job if I don't keep up with current trends."
I glared at him. "I'd rather be expert at what I do than act like
one of you."
"Who's got lights all over the outside of
her building as well as a monster decorated tree on the front porch? That's
a little redneck," Frankie broke in. He'd been relatively quiet since
Jane and I arrived that morning. Today was the first time he'd seen Jane
since she broke off their engagement.
"Don't you dare insult that tree!" I
scolded him. "It's beautiful, and it didn't look half as big when
I found it in the woods. One of you could have told me it wasn't going
to fit through my front door."
"You wouldn't have believed us if we'd told
you," Mike snapped. Daddy ignored all of us and began picking out
a tune on the banjo.
I didn't bother to argue, just went to the kitchen,
told Molly good night, and grabbed a bottled Diet Coke for me and a can
of Dr Pepper for Jane from the refrigerator. Daddy had a dish of shelled
peanuts on the table, so I took a handful of those and dropped them into
my drink bottle.
As Jane and I left Daddy's house, I heard Mike
singing "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."
my vintage 1966 Mustang toward home, I glanced over at Jane. She had her
waist-length red hair tied in a ponytail she'd draped across her left
shoulder and over her dark green sweater. Her more than ample bosom made
the embroidered Santa Claus into an even chubbier jolly old elf than usual.
"Are you working tonight?" I asked her.
"Not until late. Why?"
"Big Boy's still at the vet's, and I missed
him something awful last night. I thought we might visit for a while."
"You and that dog! When can you pick him
up from the vet?"
"Well," Jane acquiesced, "come
on in, but you can't stay late. Tonight will be a good night for Roxanne.
Holidays always are."
Jane claims Roxanne is her stage name. She also
refers to her job as being a fantasy actress. To call a spade a flipping
shovel, Jane's a telephone sex operator. She pays her own bills and doesn't
have to rely on anyone for transportation to and from work. She just answers
the second landline, which is designated as Roxanne's, in her apartment
and assumes a low, sexy voice.
"Did you take all those cookies you made
to Daddy's?" I asked.
"No, I kept some. I don't know how you can
still be hungry after that feast your family called Christmas dinner,
but you can have all the cookies you want." She laughed. "So
long as you don't put them in your drink."
I drove and drank my Coke while Jane sang, "Jingle
Bell Rock." Suddenly she quit singing.
"You've got peanuts in your Coke again, haven't
you?" she asked. I don't know how she knew that, but she did. I didn't
think I was smacking, and even if I was, she shouldn't have heard me over
her loud singing. "Don't you remember almost choking on a peanut
in your drink that time? I think you should make a New Year's resolution
to give it up."
"I've been putting peanuts in Cokes all my
life and I only choked once."
"Once is enough. If you'd died that night,
I would have been left with a dead body until 911 came."
Jane has a morbid fear of anything deceased. I
work in a mortuary, and death is not so traumatic to me. "I gave
up my bad habits," she continued. "When will you give up yours?"
"I don't consider liking peanuts in Coke
a bad habit," I protested. "You gave up breaking the law when
you quit shoplifting and scamming stores out of free merchandise, but
how can you compare that to something innocent like putting peanuts in
"How many times have I told you that putting
those peanuts in your drink isn't just a Southern custom like you claim.
It's redneckpure tee redneck. I swear, they ought to call you Callie
Boo Boo. I've given up my bad habits. You need to give up a few of yours."
She laughed. "My bad habits. Your bad habits. Who's to say which
is worse? Shoplifting didn't almost kill me. Maybe we should both make
some resolutions. Give up our bad habits, eat better, and get healthier
Jane and I have been friends since ninth grade,
and like all BFFs, sometimes we disagree, but I didn't feel like fussing
with her right then. Besides, how can anyone argue against getting healthy?
"It's Christmas. We've had a wonderful day,
and I refuse to discuss stealing versus eating peanuts with you."
I giggled. Okay, I know that sounds like a thirteen-year-old, but I still
giggle sometimes. We rode in silence until we were almost home.
"Callie," Jane said. "Tell me when
you can see our tree, okay?"
Three of my five brothers had cut down a tree
I picked out in the woods near Daddy's house and brought it to my apartment
for me. It wouldn't fit into my place, so they stood it on the wide porch
that stretches across both front doors of the duplex where Jane and I
live beside each other. We'd put so many lights and decorations on it
that hardly any green showed through.
"I see it," I said when I turned onto
Oak Street. "The timer worked. The lights are on, and it's beautiful!"
Jane's voice became pensive. "You know, Callie,
I've never felt sorry for myself for not being sighted, but right now
I wish I could see our tree."
"I do, too, but you 'see' more with your
ears and heart and brain than most sighted people do with their eyes."
I opened my mouth to begin describing the tree to her for what felt like
the hundredth time but closed it again when Jane began belting "Rocking
Around the Christmas Tree" at a deafening volume.
I pulled into my side of our circular drive, parked,
and gathered up several large gift bags of presents. No need to guide
Jane to the steps and into her apartment. She had her mobility cane and
knew the way.
Glancing up at the porch, I saw a red and white
bundle pushed up beside the tree.
"Hey, Jane," I shouted, loud enough
to be heard over her singing. "Someone left us a big present on the
I took the gifts into Jane's apartment, planning
to separate mine from hers before I went next door to my place. I piled
everything on her couch and then went back out to get the package. Wondering
if it was for me or Jane or for us together, I reached down to lift it
and realized the red and white thing appeared to be a mannequin dressed
in a Santa Claus suit.
"Bad news, Jane," I began, but she interrupted
from her open doorway.
"Do not tell me you see a body somewhere.
I am sick and tired of you finding dead people every time we're having
a good time. Today was too perfect for me to deal with that again."
She trembled. "I don't even want to think about it." She headed
toward the kitchen, calling, "I'm going to make fresh coffee, or
would you rather have hot chocolate?"
"Coffee," I called and turned my attention
to the bundle under our tree. "The package doesn't appear to be a
present for us," I called back to her. "I think it's a Santa
Claus dummy, probably meant to be dropped off down the street for that
man who runs the costume shop in town."
I nudged the red and white cloth with my toe.
It didn't feel right. I leaned over and pulled the fake white beard away
from the face. I work at Middleton's Mortuary as a cosmetician/girl Friday.
I know dead when I see it. The "present" on our front porch
was a real persona man with a very effeminate face or a woman with
no makeupa lifeless human in rigor mortis with a bluish purple complexion
which might be bruises or livor mortis where the body had lain face-down
"Change that coffee to hot chocolate,"
I told Jane and closed the door to her apartment. Standing on the porch,
I shivered as I pulled my cell phone from my bra. I keep it there because
I've found it's the only way I could stop losing it.
"911. What's your emergency?" the dispatcher
"There's a body on my front porch,"
"What kind of body?"
"A human corpse."
"Is this Callie Parrish?"
"Yes, it is." Dalmation! I silently
said my favorite kindergarten cuss word at the thought that a report of
finding someone deceased made the sheriff's department think of me.
If I'd been on a landline, the dispatch equipment
would have shown my name and address, but calling from my cell meant I
had to give him all that info. When I'd finished, he said, "I have
someone on the way. I'd like for you to stay on the line until authorities
"Listen, I'm on the front porch. I'm cold,
and my friend Jane is in her apartment wondering what's going on,"
I complained. "Can't I hang up and wait inside? Tell Sheriff Harmon
to knock on Jane's door when he gets here."
"You're on a cell phone. Take it into your
"She'll freak out if she hears me and knows
there's a body on the porch. Just tell the sheriff to knock on Jane's
"It won't be Sheriff Harmon. He's off duty,
and if there's a body on your friend's porch, how long do you think you
can keep it a secret from her?"
"This is a murder. Don't you think you'd
better call him?" I ignored the dispatcher's question.
"How do you know it's murder? Is there a
knife or gun wound?"
"Not that I know of, but why would there
be a corpse on my porch if it's not a murder?"
"Come to think of it, Callie, if you found
a body on your porch, it probably will turn out to be homicide. It's policy
for me to keep you on the phone. Can't you just wait there with this line
I was prepared to argue my case, but the discussion
ended abruptly when the wailing of a siren announced a patrol car that
wheeled into my drive. I disconnected the phone, and James Brown burst
out singing "I Feel Good" immediately. I'd been planning to
change my ringtone for weeks.
In answer to my "hello," my brother
Mike said, "Pa wants me to let you know John and his family are headed
up here from Georgia. They should arrive in a couple of hours. Pa wants
you and Jane to come for supper tomorrow night while they're here."
"I thought they were spending the holidays
with Miriam's family this year."
"They were there when John got a call from
Miss Lettie, Jeff Morgan's mom. Jeff's been killed in a car wreck, and
she's having him brought back to St. Mary for the services."
"Good grief!" No, not "good"
grief. Horrible news and grief are seldom good in any way. And on Christmas!
Working at Middleton's Mortuary, I know that people die every day of the
year, but this struck home.
Jeff Morgan, a businessman in Charlotte, North
Carolina, had been a close childhood friend of my oldest brother John.
The two of them and Sheriff Wayne Harmon had been like the Three Musketeersthe
ones in the story, not the candy bar. Those three weren't sweet. They
were usually in trouble through high school, but Wayne had become an honorable
law man and John a financially successful family man in Atlanta, Georgia.
"I'll plan to be there for supper,"
I told Mike. "Gotta go now."
Since I know a lot of Sheriff Harmon's deputies,
I was surprised when the tall, lean man who stepped out of the cruiser
was a stranger to me. He was handsome in a striking, but stern, way with
chiseled features, and blue eyes. I couldn't see his hair color because
he was in a Sheriff's Department uniform, including the hat.
"Hello, are you Callie Parrish?" he
"Yes, who are you?"
"I'm Detective Dean Robinson, Homicide, Jade
County Sheriff's Department." He walked up the steps and looked down
at the red and white bundle. "Is this what you called about?"
"Yes, he's dead."
Robinson pushed the body's fake beard over and
checked the carotid artery. "I'd like for you to move off the porch
so you don't continue to contaminate the scene." He gestured toward
"I need to go inside. I'm cold, and my friend
is probably . . ."
No need to continue. At that moment, Jane opened
the door and asked, "What's going on?"
"One of Harmon's detectives is here,"
I answered. "I'm coming inside with you."
"Unless there's a back door, she needs to
come outside," the detective said. "I'll be putting crime scene
tape around this porch."
"Crime scene tape?" Jane screeched,
totally losing it like she always does when there's a corpse involved.
"She has a back door," I said and stepped
"I don't want either of you in there anyway.
Both of you come outside. We'll need to check the inside of those apartments
to be sure that's not the place of death." He paused. "And to
find out if this person was here on a B and E."
"B and E?" Jane questioned.
"Breaking and entering," I explained.
I read so many mysteries that I know what most of the terms mean. Dalmation!
A hundred and one dalmations and shih tzu! I'd realized that Jane
and I would be sleeping somewhere else that nightsomewhere away
from our apartmentsbecause this man would have forensics techs go
over the entire building and then probably ban us from our own homes with
that yellow tape.
Courteous but firm, Detective Robinson walked
us to his car, opened the rear door and said, "Sit here until I'm
ready to take your statements."
"We'd rather sit in the Mustang," I
"No, get in the cruiser." His authoritative
tone left no room for discussion.
We sat in the back while he sat up front and called
for CSI and the coroner. He got out of the car and closed the door.
"What's he doing now?" Jane asked.
"He's putting crime scene tape all around
the front of our porch."
"Is it a dead man or woman this time?"
"I didn't look close enough to tell. The
body's wearing a white wig, false beard, and Santa Claus suit. No makeup,
but the face is kind of feminine-looking."
"I hate this, Callie. I just hate it."
"I know you do. I'm not exactly fond of finding
decedents away from work either."
"Won't they let us back in if they see that
no one has been inside while we were gone?" Then it hit me. I hadn't
opened my door before I found the dead Santa Claus. Could the Santa have
come to our place to rob us and died on the porch after trashing my apartment?
The thought of cops searching my home wasn't pleasant even if there had
been no invasion, and I hate cleaning up black fingerprint dust.
What's the likelihood Santa was at our place
to steal from me or Jane? Not much, I answered myself. Neither Jane nor
I have any real valuablesnot much real jewelry or silver
or anything like that. Even our electronics aren't the current high-dollar
kind. The most expensive thing I own is my Gibson banjo. Thank heaven
it's at Daddy's.
"What cha thinking about, Callie?" Jane
"Just wishing Wayne was here. I'd be a lot
more comfortable with him than this new guy."
Sometimes hopes do come true, because just then
Sheriff Wayne Harmon arrived, hopped out of his car, and went up to Robinson.
I watched Wayne nod a few times before he came over, opened the back door
of the cruiser, and slid in on the seat beside me.
"Merry Christmas," the sheriff said.
"Yeah, a real good end to the day,"
Jane answered. "Callie here found another body."
"I know. I assume you met my new detective,
Dean Robinson. He'll be heading up homicide investigations, including
this one, but you girls know you can call me any time."
Girls! Wayne thinks of me as a child just
like my daddy does.
"How long do we have to sit here?" I
"We'll need to get statements, and I'll want
you to look inside both apartments to see if there are signs you've been
"I guess then you'll expect us to go to Daddy's
to spend the night, but John and his family are on the way here. It'll
be awfully crowded if the four of them are there along with Daddy, Mike,
and Frankie." I paused and then asked, "Did you know Jeff Morgan
was killed in a car accident?"
"Yes, I was over at his mom's home when I
heard about this. Miss Lettie is completely shattered. You know Jeff was
her only child and his daddy died in Vietnam right before he was born.
She went all to pieces when Jeff left St. Mary, moved to Rock Hill, and
went to work right over the state line in Charlotte. You can imagine what
she's like right now. Jeff's body will be brought from Rock Hill to Middleton's
in the morning. When Otis or Odell picks up Santa Claus off the porch
to take it to Charleston for the autopsy, I'm going to tell them I think
it would be a good idea if you're there tomorrow when Miss Lettie makes
the plans for Jeff's funeral."
"You know I don't usually sit in on planning
sessions unless there's a question about clothes or hair."
The sheriff smiled at me. "I know that, but
an elderly lady like Miss Lettie would probably appreciate having a female
"So, knowing Daddy's house will be full,
how long will you keep us locked out of our homes? I've been in Jane's
apartment, and there didn't seem to be anything out of place."
"How long will depend on whether there's
any evidence inside." He smiled. "Callie,
since you found the victim, did you recognize him?"
"I moved the beard, and I didn't recognize
the face, but I couldn't tell if it's a man or woman. Skin's discolored
and the features are feminine if it's male, a little coarse if it's female."
"That's interesting. I just assumed it was
a man. I guess because of the Santa Claus suit. Hadn't thought of Santa
being a woman, but we'll know when the coroner gets here."
Jane shivered, and I asked, "Could Robinson
turn the heater on in here? It's cold."
Wayne checked out my knitted red dress from shoulder
to right above my knees where it ended. "That red looks pretty on
you, especially now at Christmas, but you girls should wear coats when
you go out in December." I didn't say anything about his calling
us girls again, but I didn't like it. Instead, I tried to explain why
neither Jane nor I had worn a coat.
"We went straight to Daddy's, and then right
home. We've got heat at his house, our apartments, and in the car."
"Think about it, Callie. Your car is a 1966.
Yes, it's a classic, and in great shape, but it could break down, and
you two girls would be outside walking."
"Why do you call us girls?" He'd aggravated
me. "We're both over thirty."
The sheriff laughed. "What do you want me
to call you? Ladies? You don't always act like a lady."
"How about women?"
"How about I tell Robinson to turn on this
car and give you women some heat? I'll send one of my deputies for
coffee for everyone."
"There's a tin of homemade Christmas cookies
inside my place," Jane offered.
"Did you or Callie make them?" Wayne
asked and winked at Jane, though she couldn't see it.
"Jane did," I said. Everyone knows that
even though Jane can't see, she's a far better cook than I am.
the activities of the next couple hours were old hat to me. I say "unfortunately"
because this was not the first time I've discovered a corpse. Jane and
I were more comfortable since Robinson had started the heater and another
deputy brought us coffee and doughnuts. Jane entertained herself singing
every Christmas song I've ever heard, some of them multiple times. That
wasn't too bad because she does have a nice voice. I amused myself watching
the law enforcement officials work the scenephotographs of the Santa
as well as every inch of the porch from all angles. They also walked a
grid in the yard, apparently looking for footprints. I doubted they found
any because our yard is covered with grass that turned brown after the
I couldn't see as well when the coroner arrived
because too many deputies blocked my view, so I was getting not just tired
and sleepy, but also bored. I know that sounds bad, but I've been through
this far too many times both as a part of my job and as an unwilling finder
of dead people.
When the sheriff returned to the car, he said,
"Jane, give Callie your back door key. You stay here while Callie
and I check out your apartment." He coughed and I thought, Maybe
the sheriff needs a heavier coat himself.
"Callie, come with me," he added. "I'm
surprised you haven't been throwing a fit about getting in your place
to take your dog out."
"Big Boy's not home. I finally took him to
the vet to be neutered, and she found a small tumor in his abdomen. He
had surgery day before yesterday, and I can bring him home tomorrow."
I felt silly when a tear formed in my eye. "You have no idea how
much I miss him."
I followed Wayne to the rear of Jane's side of
the building. He checked her door before we went in, and there was no
indication of illegal entry. Jane might have been a neat freak regardless,
but because of her blindness, she's very particular about everything always
being in the correct place. Her ceramic Christmas tree stood in the exact
center of her round dining table. Jane's very proud of that tree. It was
one of the smaller ones, a little less than a foot tall, but she'd painted
and glazed it herself when we went through a crafts period several years
back. Not too many visually handicapped people do ceramics, but Jane's
always been amazing, and that tree is quite an accomplishment. I'd helped
her with other Christmas decorationsred and green place mats on
the table and live poinsettias in each room, but I'd never touched that
tree. She always handled it herself. Wayne checked every room and closet.
No sign of anything disturbed. On the way out, he picked up the Christmas
tin of cookies.
A totally different picture next door. I'm not
the best housekeeper under any circumstances. There are too many other
things I love to do, like read a good book or change my hair color or
try out a new makeup, whether for my face or for my job cosmetizing at
the mortuary. I'd gotten up early that morning, but I hadn't finished
wrapping the gifts for my family, so I'd needed to do that. Then I drank
several cups of coffee and ate a MoonPie while reading the latest copy
of Mortuary Cosmetology News. I hadn't finished with it by the
time to go, so I'd taken it with me. I'd had to rush to be ready on time.
I watched Wayne stare at my dirty coffee cup along
with dishes from the previous night still on my kitchen table though he
didn't say anything. When the apartment was remodeled after a previous
misfortune, I'd made a guest room out of the second bedroom, but it had
rapidly filled up again with books and things that I didn't want to throw
away. My bedroom wasn't as cluttered, but the bed was unmade and my nightgown
lay crumpled on the floor.
"I can't tell," Wayne said. "It
appears trashed, but then your place usually looks like this." Wayne
Harmon was my older brother John's best friend when I was a kid, so we're
comfortable with each other. I didn't take offense at what he said because
it was true, although I would have said "cluttered" instead
After looking in the places where I hide the little
bit of jewelry I own, which consists of some earrings I was able to trade
my wedding rings for after my divorce, I found nothing disturbed. I assured
the sheriff, "Nobody's been in here since I left this morning."
"Good. I'll tell Detective Robinson that
you and Jane can go in and out your back doors and have use of your apartments.
It appears the corpse was dumped on your porch."
"Or murdered on it," I commented.
"Jed Amick thinks the body has been moved
since death. That would make your porch a secondary crime scene, but we
won't know until the complete medical examination in Charleston."
Wayne laughed. "My new homicide man's already told Jed that since
it's so obvious that Santa's beyond rescue, the body should be transported
with all clothing in place so the pathologist can remove it layer by layer
while looking for evidence. Apparently he thought Jed had planned to disrobe
Santa, but Jed's okayed us to call Otis and Odell to pick it up."
Amick is our tall, lanky Ichabod Crane of a coroner,
which in Jade County is an elected official who isn't required to have
a medical degree. Exams in unexplained or illegal deaths are performed
at the medical university about an hour and a half drive away in Charleston,
and Middleton's Mortuary where I work has the contract to transport individuals
to and from Charleston. One of my bosses, Otis or Odell Middleton, would
pick up Santa from my porch in a funeral coach (Funeraleze for hearse)
when the forensics team and Amick okayed moving the body.
My mind locked in on that exam. Regardless of
what Robinson may have assumed, when the person is indisputably deceased,
Amick doesn't unclothe the body at the scene. He didn't need to be told
that clothing would be removed layer by layer and photographed in case
there are clues during the postmortem in Charleston. I'm not freaky, but
I'd like to see Santa Claus unclothed. Did I really say that? What I mean
is I wish that the corpse on my porch could have the Santa suit removed
and see if anyone recognized who it was. At least, see if there was any
identification on the body or even if it was a man or woman.
Robinson met Wayne and me on our way back to the
cruiser where Jane still waited, and Wayne told him about letting Jane
and me use our apartments.
The detective frowned but replied, "Yes, sir." He paused for
a moment. "I understand that the body will be transported to Charleston
for the medical exam. I observed autopsies of my homicide cases in Florida,
and I plan to attend this one."
"That's fine. Contact information for the
medical center is at the office. They're usually pretty prompt for me
on these things, so you'll want to check with them tonight or first thing
tomorrow to see when it's scheduled. Ask Middleton to tell them we'll
be sending someone when he delivers the body."
"Yes, sir." Detective Robinson walked
back toward the front porch.
"When did you hire him?" I asked.
"Only a week ago. He's heading up the new
homicide unit, and this will be his first case for us."
"Does St. Mary really need a department just
"Gonna need two of them if you keep finding
dead people." Wayne chuckled. Some folks might be offended that he
was joking at a crime scene, but law enforcement is like mortuary science.
Without a touch of dark humor at times, the job would be unbearable.
Jane and I were both happy when we'd finished
giving our statements and were okayed to go into our apartments. I knew
that the deputies would be busy interviewing neighbors, taking fingerprints,
and investigating the scene as long as possible with their bright portable
"Callie said you brought my tin of Christmas
cookies out," Jane told Wayne. "You
can have them."
Wayne's grin spread all across his face.
At our back doors, I asked Jane, "Do you
want to come in and visit for a while?"
"No, and unless you're feeling needy, I'd
rather you not come in with me. It's getting late, and Roxanne needs to
Back inside my own place, I grabbed a box of MoonPies
from the cabinet and a Diet Coke from the fridge. The apartment was lonely
without Big Boy even though I could hear activity still on the front porch
and I knew Jane was next door burning up her Roxanne phone line. I no
longer have a landline in my home, so I pulled my cell phone from my bra,
curled up on the couch, and took my first bite of MoonPie for the evening
while dialing my friend in Orlando. Please note that I spell MoonPie without
a space between Moon and Pie. I do that because that's the usual way the
company in Chattanooga does it in their ads, on their website, and on
most of their boxes.
I refer to Patel as my "friend," but
I think he's turning into a "boyfriend." I met him a couple
of months ago when the Jade County Fair was here. His real name is Jetendre
Patel, but I call him Patel rather than his nickname of "J.T."
When the fair left town, I was afraid I'd never hear from him again, but
we talk almost every night by phone and plan to get together either here
or in Florida after New Year's.
"Merry Christmas," his smooth voice
answered. "I've wanted to call you since I awoke this morning, but
I knew you were at your family's house, and I didn't want to bother you.
Have you had a good day?"
"It was great but I had a bad evening. I
found a body on my porch."
When I finished telling him about the dead Santa,
he consoled, "What a horrible way to end Christmas day! I wish I
was there to comfort you."
Now, in the South, "to comfort" has
several meanings, including what some folks call "making love,"
"bonking," and "getting laid." My mind immediately
went to my empty love life, and a little comfort that night would have
been wonderful, but there were too many miles between us. No, I wasn't
tempted at all to turn the conversation into phone sex. That's Roxanne,
By the time Patel and I disconnected, I'd eaten
almost a box of MoonPies. Better watch that or I'll be busting out of
my jeans as well as the black dresses I'm required to wear at work.
Lying in bed, I could hear a murmur through the
wall. Roxanne busy working while I tried to read myself to sleep to escape
thoughts of why corpses follow me around.