Read Riding Shotgun Online

Authors: Rita Mae Brown

Riding Shotgun

The blood drained from Cig’s face. “What year do you think it is?”

“The year of our Lord sixteen hundred and ninety-nine. November third, and just think, Pryor, it will soon be a new century. The eighteenth century. I can scarcely believe it.”

Cig could scarcely believe it either. One of them was nutty as a fruitcake.

“1699—Margaret?” She half-whispered.

“Indeed.” Margaret shook her head, the glossy curls spilling out from under her mobcap.

“It’s 1995,” Cig stated firmly.

Margaret appeared solemn for a moment then squeezed Pryor’s arm. “You always were one for japes. If it were, what, 1995, I’d be dead and as you can see I am very much alive.”

“Maybe I’m dead?” A cold claw of fear tore at Cig’s entrails.

Margaret laughed as she thought Cig was joking…. “You’re home in your own bed now. Sweet dreams.”

Cig, eyelids heavy, mumbled, “You don’t have a telephone, do you?”

Books by Rita Mae Brown

THE HAND THAT CRADLES THE ROCK
SONGS TO A HANDSOME WOMAN
THE PLAIN BROWN RAPPER
RUBYFRUIT JUNGLE
IN HER DAY
SIX OF ONE
SOUTHERN DISCOMFORT
SUDDEN DEATH
HIGH HEARTS
STARTING FROM SCRATCH:
A DIFFERENT KIND OF WRITERS’ MANUAL
BINGO
VENUS ENVY
DOLLEY: A NOVEL OF DOLLEY MADISON IN LOVE AND WAR
RIDING SHOTGUN
RITA WILL:
MEMOIR OF A LITERARY RABBLE-ROUSER
LOOSE LIPS

Also by Rita Mae Brown
with Sneaky Pie Brown

WISH YOU WERE HERE
REST IN PIECES
MURDER AT MONTICELLO
PAY DIRT
MURDER, SHE MEOWED
MURDER ON THE PROWL
CAT ON THE SCENT
SNEAKY PIE’S COOKBOOK
FOR MYSTERY LOVERS

And look for

OUTFOXED

Coming soon in hardcover from Ballantine

With love
to
Herbert Claiborne Jones, Dr. Foxhunting

AUTHOR’S NOTE

Flopping on my butt and sliding over an entire acre, the ice six inches thick, caused my mind to speed along as fast as my body. During the winter of 1993, the power died: no heat, no hot food, no hot water… and no light except for candles during those long, dark nights.

As I searched my shelves for something to read, I passed on my Greek and Latin books. After all, I was struggling enough trying to keep the farm going during the hammering storms. Did I really want to conjugate irregular verbs?

Then I thought about improving my German. That might require a miracle beyond study.

I pulled out
Das Kapital
, put it right back with a big “ugh.”

The worn spines of
Tom Jones, War and Peace
, all of Jane Austen, and all of Turgenev greeted me, but I’d read them many times. I wanted something new, something to take me away.

It wasn’t just the ice storms battering me, I’d lost a chunk of my timber crop to the pine beetle; acres and acres of fine, healthy trees quickly devastated; and not a hint of
relief from Washington. Between that and the Tax Reform Act of 1986, I was feeling like the tail end of bad luck.

I tried to look on the bright side. None of my horses or cattle had died in the storms. No tractors or trucks had been smashed. No one had broken any bones, and the fences were still standing, despite the battering.

Still, I wanted something to read to escape my troubles, small when compared to some of the truly awful things that can happen, but troubles nonetheless.

Travel was impossible for a week during the worst storm. I couldn’t cruise into town and pick up a new novel. So I wrote one.

Riding Shotgun
was started with a pen and yellow tablet while I sat in front of the fireplace surrounded by cats, dogs, and one abandoned puppy. The winds howled, rattling the windows, the snow swirled with each gust.

Whenever and wherever you pick up this novel, I hope the weather will be kinder, and whatever troubles you may have will vanish for an hour or two.

Rita Mae Brown, M.F.H.

Afton, Virginia 

Contents
PART I

1

Cig Blackwood was stuck the entire day with a middle-aged couple from L.A. who were bent on fleeing that unstable basin. It wasn’t just the earthquakes they wanted to put behind them, it was everyone else in the Los Angeles basin, all three million of them squeezed into a crescent once paradisial and now parasitic.

The husband, Troy Benedict—though that could hardly be his real name—wore a burgundy silk shirt buttoned so high up on his neck Cig wondered if his Adam’s apple might not be pressed into a cherry. A dark, swirling-patterned tie, a pair of perfectly pressed khaki pants, and crocodile Gucci loafers completed what he perceived as his country outfit. His Schaffhausen watch cost more than the car in which she was carrying them. The wife, Lizbeth, must have been on her second facelift because her eyebrows were poised midway between her eyes and her hairline. The hair itself had been crimped so that it exactly resembled a Hereford’s tail. And it was about the same color, too.

Lizbeth, Versace all the way, wished to share her innermost feelings with Cig as they drove through the emerald
rolling hills of central Virginia. Each time they stopped to inspect an elegant estate, nothing under a million and a half, Lizbeth would discover some resonance of her childhood or her first marriage or the three films she’d acted in during the late 1970s—“B.T.” as she said. “Before Troy.” These confidences, registered in a lowered, breathy voice, must have been a form of big-city female bonding, Cig thought. To her a bond was what the dentist stuck on your teeth, or if you were a little kinky, something you did in bed with black leather.

During these intimate exchanges, Lizbeth probed Cig’s own psyche while Troy inspected the heating system or put his hands—no callouses—on the basement walls searching for dampness, unaware that dampness and central Virginia were synonymous. If you want dry, she longed to tell him, go to the Sahara.

Lizbeth, when not wrenching treasures from her deepest self, breathed Troy’s name every third sentence. This cast a spell on him as though his name were a mantra that belonged on the lips of his wife and, Cig suspected, on other women’s lips as well.

Cig, trapped in her aging Wagoneer, which guzzled gas like rednecks guzzle beer, heard how Troy, president of Mecca Studios for fifteen years, a miracle of survival in that business, had been forced out in a conglomerate takeover.

Lizbeth embellished her story. “Troy, poor darling, used to drag home from meetings with ungrateful producers and egotistical directors—they were the absolute worst—and he’d say, ‘When I grow up I’m going to be a farmer.’ And here we are. The takeover by those dreadful people was a blessing in disguise.”

Cig thought to herself, Yes, indeed, farming in a two-thousand-dollar Versace scarf.

At three in the afternoon she dropped the Benedicts at Keswick Hall, just east of Charlottesville. It was the only hotel that approached their comfort zone, a phrase Lizbeth repeatedly used.

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