Authors: Murder Runs in the Family: A Southern Sisters Mystery
Tags: #Crime & mystery, #Genealogists, #Mary Alice (Fictitious character), #Fiction, #Women Sleuths, #Crime & Thriller, #Mystery & Detective - Women Sleuths, #Contemporary Women, #Women detectives - Alabama, #Mystery fiction, #Sisters, #Large type books, #Mystery, #Mystery & Detective - General, #Women detectives, #Patricia Anne (Fictitious character), #Mystery & Detective - Series, #Alabama, #Detective, #Mystery & Detective, #Fiction - Mystery, #General, #Suspense
Mary Alice has spared nothing for her only daughter's wedding -- from seventy-five yards of bridal train to gourmet food for over three hundred guests and enough glittering elegance to make Mary Alice think about finding herself a fourth rich husband to pay for it all. Practical Patricia Anne has put away her aunt-of-the-bride blue chiffon and settled back into domesticity when fun-loving Mary Alice calls to say they have a post-wedding date with a genealogist from the groom's side of the family. Lunch is a fascinating lesson on the hazards of finding dirty linens in ancestral boudoirs that ends abruptly when their guest scurries off with the local judge, leaving the sisters with their mouths open -- and finishing their luncheon companion's cheesecake -- when the police arrive. Their mysterious guest has taken a plunge from the ninth floor of the courthouse building -- an apparent suicide. But given the scandals a nosy genealogist might have uncovered, the sisters are betting that some proud Southern family is making sure their shameful secrets stay buried. . .along with anyone who tries to dig them up.
MURDER RUNS IN THE FAMILY by Anne George.
Pukey Lukey is here," my sister Mary Alice murmured as she was ushered into the front pew beside me. She turned and gave the groomsman a little wave.
"Did she say Pukey Lukey's here?" my husband Fred whispered into my left ear.
I nodded. Luke is our cousin from Columbus, Mississippi, who always went to the beach with us when we were children. His car sickness was so epic, it has become a family legend.
Handel's Water Music soared to the vaulted ceiling of Birmingham's St. Mark's Episcopal Church.
"You look great," I whispered to Mary Alice. And she did. She actually looked rather regal with her usually pink hair calmed down to an ash blonde, and the tunic top of her lavender dress knocking off about thirty pounds. Which still left her at well over two hundred. "Five twelve and pleasingly plump," she describes herself.
"Hmmm," Mary Alice said, checking me out. "You look good, too, Patricia Anne." Rare praise. I smoothed the blue chiffon skirt I had bought at The Petite Shoppe, size six. Mary Alice and I are asked all the time if we are really sisters. Mary Alice sometimes asks what they mean by "really," which confuses the questioner. I tell her that's tacky, that God knows, after sixty years, she should be used to the question and just answer yes.
"What's on your hair?" she asked.
"Roux Spun Sand. It'll wash out."
"That's a shame."
"Tell her I like your gray hair," Fred whispered.
I thought about this a moment. Then, "Fred likes my gray hair," I relayed to Sister.
Handel's Water Music fortunately blanketed my answer.
Mary Alice looked around. "Do you think the flowers are too dark a pink?" she whispered.
"Absolutely not. They're beautiful."
"I cannot believe Debbie is having a wedding like this."
I couldn't either. Mary Alice's daughter, my niece Debbie Nachman, is a successful thirty-six-year-old lawyer, the single mother of two-year-old twin daughters. When she and her fiancé, Henry Lamont, announced at Christmas that they were being married in March, none of us had expected Pomp and Circumstance. But they fooled us. Which was how we ended up in the first row of St. Mark's with at least three hundred people in the pews behind us.
"That stained-glass window doesn't look much like Jesus," Sister muttered.
"What did she say?" Fred asked.
"She said that stained-glass window doesn't look like Jesus."
"She should know. Probably knew him."
"What did he say?" Mary Alice asked.
"Nothing." I raised my eyebrows at Fred. At sixty-five, Mary Alice is only five years older than I am. Two years older than Mr. Smart Alec on my left.
"Yes, he did. He said something about how old I am."
"What did she say?" Fred whispered.
The organ segued into "Ode to Joy," and the crowd rustled expectantly. The side door opened and Henry, the groom, and our son Freddie, the best man, followed the minister out. They looked so handsome, I opened my purse and started looking for a Kleenex.
"Oh, God. They're both chewing gum," Mary Alice hissed.
"What did she say?" Fred asked.
"They're chewing gum, Fred!"
The men turned to face the audience. Freddie smiled at us, and all three of us made chewing motions madly. For a second he looked surprised, and then we saw his Adam's apple disappear as he swallowed. He poked Henry with his elbow, and in a minute Henry's gum went down, too.
"Good," Mary Alice nodded.
Our daughter, Haley, was the first down the aisle. The rose-colored bridesmaid dress, while not practical, was very becoming. Its Basque bodice made her waist look incredibly tiny, and the color gave her olive skin a pink glow.
Mary Alice's daughter, Marilyn, was her sister's matron of honor. Almost six feet tall and brunette, she was so much like her mother had been at that age, it was eerie. To see her standing by my five-one, reddish blond Haley was to see Sister and me thirty years before.
The organ crashed into a fanfare that brought everyone to their feet, and the bride swept down the aisle on her cousin Philip Nachman's arm. Really swept. Her dress would have put Princess Di's to shame.
"My God," Fred said. "That much virginal white could damage your retina."
"Shut up." I punched him with my elbow as we sat back down.
"Dearly beloved," the minister began. Mary Alice and I both got out Kleenex.
It was a traditional ceremony. Debbie, this most independent of women in her thirties, who had been making it on her own for years and doing a fine job of it, thank-you-ma'am, and who, when she decided she wanted children, had been inseminated at the University sperm bank, was "given" by her cousin to Henry Lament, who was seven years her junior. A wonderful man, granted, but without the proverbial pot to pee in. A temporary condition. Henry was going to be one of the great American chefs. We all knew it.
After the vows were exchanged, Debbie and Henry knelt for a prayer, and then the organist blasted out the recessional. They stopped to kiss Mary Alice and an elderly cousin of Henry's who had sat in the mother's place on his side. The wedding party rushed by, grinning, and then Philip Nachman escorted his Aunt Sister out while Freddie collected Henry's cousin.
"Well, that's it," Fred said.
People were getting up, talking, laughing. I wiped my eyes one last time.
"That was a sticking wedding," I said.
"You know. You can just tell some couples are going to stick together."
We worked our way out into the aisle.
"Didn't you tell me Mary Alice promised old Philip to raise Debbie as a Jew?" Fred asked. "I wouldn't exactly call this place a temple. Maybe a cathedral."
The "old" Philip that Fred was referring to was Debbie's father, Mary Alice's second husband. He was also the uncle of "young" Philip Nachman, his namesake, who had given the bride away. "She said she forgot to," I explained.
"She forgot to?" Fred laughed, really laughed, was still laughing as we went out the church door. And I realized I hadn't heard that deep chuckling laugh of his in quite some time. A pinprick of worry tingled for a second. But only for a second, as we were caught up in the crowd of friends and relatives that milled around the front of the church.
"Patricia Anne!" Pukey Lukey hugged me. He is a distinguished-looking multi-millionaire insurance executive in his sixties. He is married to a lovely woman and is the father of a member of the House of Representatives. In short, he has led an exemplary life, been a shining star in the family pantheon. Mary Alice still hates him.
"There was puke in his eyelashes!" she says. "It's one thing to be car sick, but he just exploded. Ruined every vacation we ever went on."
Sister remembers these early excursions to the beach better than I do. I like Luke, though I tend to keep my distance—just in case.
"Luke," I said, moving back, "how nice to see you. I know Sister will be thrilled you're here."
He looked pleased. I think he still harbors the hope that Mary Alice will forgive him some day. After all, it has been sixty years.
Luke shook hands with Fred, and I hugged his wife Virginia.
"Such a beautiful wedding," she said. "Minnie says it's the prettiest one he's ever seen."
Minnie is Virginia's nickname for Luke. She confessed to Sister and me at another family celebration where she had singularly downed a bottle of Gallo Rhine that it was short for "Minute Man." A confession that brought pure joy to Sister's heart. Poor Luke.
"It was beautiful," I agreed.
"And Haley looked like a doll. And Freddie and Alan were so handsome."
I beamed. My children might not be in the House of Representatives, but they are, indeed, very nice, beautiful people.
"And the flowers were gorgeous. That pink! And Debbie's dress was fantastic. And the groom is so cute I could eat him with a spoon."
I cast an appraising eye at Virginia, who kept on babbling. She had started her celebrating early, I realized.
"Patricia Anne!" My friend Bonnie Blue Butler had worked her way through the crowd. "Wasn't that some wedding?"
I agreed that it was and introduced her to Luke and Virginia.
"You're from Columbus, aren't you?" she said, shaking Luke's hand. "Mary Alice talks about you all the time."
Luke looked pleased. "That's nice to hear."
"Does anybody need a ride to the reception?" Virginia asked.
"No!" we chorused.
"We need to go on ahead because we can't stay long."
"We'll see you there," I said.
"Pukey Lukey is a fine-looking fellow." Bonnie Blue watched them walking away.
"He's nice, too. I'm just glad he doesn't live closer to Sister. She'll never forgive him." We thought about that a minute. "She still hasn't forgiven me for losing her Shirley Temple doll." We thought about that a minute, too. "Fifty-five years."
"You want to ride with us to the reception, Bonnie Blue?" Fred asked. "We'll bring you back here."
"I'll go get the car. You ladies have on heels."
"That's a fine-looking gentleman, too," Bonnie Blue said as Fred left. I couldn't have agreed more. At sixty-three, Fred still has a young man's walk. I pushed my bifocals down and watched him. Nice!
The crowd was in no hurry to disperse. A warm March sun made it pleasant to stand in front of the church and chat. No doubt about it, Debbie had lucked out on the weather for her wedding day. In March, anything can happen weatherwise in Alabama. And usually does. Birmingham's only recorded blizzard roared through several years ago on March 13, leaving eighteen inches of snow and 500,000 traumatized people, most of whom had never seen more than a dusting of snow in their whole lives. But today was glorious. Happy the bride the sun shines on.
"You look mighty festive," I told Bonnie Blue.
"Big, Bold, and Beautiful Shoppe," she said. "Look at this." She turned so I could see the back of the cream-colored suit. The jacket was cut in a modified "V" in the back, and the skirt had a long kick pleat that mirrored the "V" of the jacket.
"Thanks." Bonnie Blue grinned at me. "I like your outfit, too. I trust they didn't charge you full price for something that little."
"A bundle," I admitted.
Several people called hello or stopped to speak. Traffic was inching by, but the sun felt warm and I was in no hurry to leave. Bonnie Blue yawned.
"My feelings exactly," I said. "I didn't sleep much last night. We didn't get back from the rehearsal party until after twelve and then I couldn't go to sleep."
"But we got them married."
"We sure did."
Bonnie Blue Butler is one of my favorite people. I first met her at the Skoot 'n Boot, a country-western bar that Sister bought, swearing it was a wise investment, since line dancing was the hottest thing since the jitterbug. Bonnie Blue was working there, running the place actually. The first time I saw her, I remember thinking she and Mary Alice looked like each other's negative. The same size, the same way of walking, the same mannerisms. They even carried identical purses. But Bonnie Blue was about fifteen years younger and her skin was a beautiful coppery chocolate.
But it was our shared love of Henry Lamont, today's groom, that really made us fast friends. Bonnie Blue had worked with him and I had taught him, and I think he was as dear to each of us as a son.
Now we stood together waiting for the car that was moving about a foot a minute. The car in which we could see Fred tapping his palms on the steering wheel.
"Debbie better make that Henry happy," Bonnie Blue said. "That's all I got to say about it."
"Amen," I agreed. Then I remembered Debbie was my niece and that I loved her. "I hope they make each other happy."
"Amen. You and Fred have been married how long?"
"Forty years. Forty happy years."
The car pulled up in front of us and Fred leaned over and opened the car door. "Dammit! Next time you walk."
The reception was held at The Club. This is a beautiful private club on the crest of Red Mountain. Not much imagination went into naming it, but a lot went into the design of the building. Every room has walls of windows that afford spectacular views of the city of Birmingham on one side, and on the other Shades Valley and Shades Mountain.
There are two things that always startle people who are visiting Birmingham for the first time. The first is that the terrain is mountainous, the rolling last gasp of the Appalachian chain, rich in ore. The second is the statue of Vulcan, the god of the forge. The largest iron statue in the world, it stands on the crest of Red Mountain close to The Club where the reception was being held. Visible from anywhere in downtown Birmingham, it makes getting lost almost impossible. Head toward it, you're going south. If it's on your left, you're heading west. So it does serve a navigational purpose as well as being a symbol of the iron industry that the city was built upon.