Read The Diva Wore Diamonds Online

Authors: Mark Schweizer

Tags: #Singers, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #North Carolina, #Fiction

The Diva Wore Diamonds (3 page)

Cynthia looked confused. “So…you’re saying…”


It’s easy,” I said. “We’ll just quit giving tickets to cars with out-of-county tags. No law against
not
giving out parking tickets.” I gave her a palms-up shrug. “We don’t advertise it. We just don’t do it.”


I’m beginning to understand,” said Cynthia. “The system really
doesn’t
work.”


Never has, never will,” said Pete.


Miss!” barked the obnoxious Floridian. “Hey you! The waitress sitting down!”

Cynthia stood with a sigh. “Could you give those bozos one last parking ticket just for my sake?”


Tell you what, Madam Mayor,” said Nancy, with an evil grin. “I’ll light ’em up on their way out of town. They’ll be speeding. I can tell just by looking at them.”

Chapter 2

The smell of grilling hamburgers greeted me as I came in the kitchen door. Hamburgers and onions, Swiss cheese, potato chips, cole slaw, and a cold bottle of Ringwood Old Thumper Extra Special Ale. Of course, this all might be just a case of wishful smelling. I was sure about the hamburger, though, and I knew I had a few bottles of Old Thumper left in the fridge.

I walked up behind Meg and put my arms around her waist.


Glad you could make it,” she said without turning. Her black hair was pulled up high on her head, and I buried a kiss on the back of her neck.


I wouldn’t miss ‘Hamburger Night.’”


This isn’t ‘Hamburger Night.’ We don’t have ‘Hamburger Night.’ I just happen to be fixing hamburgers.”


At night.”


Yes,” she laughed. “At night. But it’s not… oh, never mind.”


I just love ‘Hamburger Night,’” I said, opening the refrigerator door and rooting around until I came up with Mr. Thumper. Before Meg and I got married, my fridge contained beer, knockwurst, sauerkraut and some dead mice. The dead mice were for Archimedes, the barn owl who came and went as he pleased, and was an endless fascination to both of us. Archimedes used a window above the kitchen sink equipped with an electric-eye, and it wasn’t unusual to wake up in the morning, walk into the living room, and see him perched on the head of the stuffed buffalo. Now my refrigerator contained humus, low-fat yogurt, some kind of salad that tasted like nettles, fava beans, free range quail eggs, and who knew what else. Luckily there was still room for a couple of brews. I kept the mice in the spare fridge in the garage.


Save one of those beers for dinner,” said Meg. “It’ll be ready in fifteen minutes.”


Just enough time to finish my chapter.”

I took my beer out of the kitchen and into the den. I’d had this house built when I moved to St. Germaine, and it was designed around an old log cabin that I bought, dismantled and moved from Kentucky. The original cabin, a twenty by twenty, two-story structure crafted in 1842, comprised the den, but the rest of the house was mountain chic. Meg had a house in town. That is,
we
had a house in town, as well as the one up here in the hollers. Ruby, Meg’s mother, lived in that house, and Meg, like the good daughter she was, spent the occasional night in town to keep her company.

I clicked the remote to the stereo, a WAV system coupled with a 100 CD changer, and listened as the music of Edward Elgar filled the house. Then, sitting at my desk and reading the few sentences on the paper still in my typewriter, I put down the beer, stuck an unlit cigar between my teeth, put on my writing hat, and started banging on the old keys.

•••

The Diva Wore Diamonds

Chapter One

In the beginning there was God, but then there was some trouble in the Garden of Eden, and then a scooter crashed into the front of a bar, but I’m getting ahead of my story.

Praise and Worship pastor Wiggy Newland was dead—dead as Sunday night church. He had a reputation as a ladies’ man; a real looker with a mullet, more gold chains than Mr. T’s pawn shop, and enough hair on his chest to make a coat for a very small Hungarian, but his pearly-gate smile belied a heart as black as the hand-stitched ostrich skin cover of his Mel Gibson Study Bible, not like its First Corinthians with its “love is patient, love is kind,” but the part in Deuteronomy where God smites you with hemorrhoids.


You know this mug?”

The voice belonged to Detective Jack Hammer, a bull that had been on the job so long that he could remember Preparation A and was as tough as a boiled owl. Me? I’m a Liturgy Detective. Duly licensed by the Diocese of North Carolina and accountable only to the Bishop. That’s what it said on my card and, with the economy what it is, I was inclined to agree.


Gimme an answer, flatfoot,” Hammer said.


Yeah, I knew him. Wiggy Newland.”


Know who would want to kill him?”

Hammer reminded me of one of the Three Stooges, either Curly or Larry—you know, the one who goes “woo woo woo.” I lit up a stogie. “Sure. Everyone that met him.”

Hammer snorted and frisked the body with the deftness of Sarah Palin skinning a baby moose. “So, why are you here?”


The bishops sent me over. Gotta keep a lid on this one,” I said. “Wiggy had the goods on a few of the higher-ups.”


They care who killed him?”


Nope,” I shrugged. “Probably glad he’s dead. They want his files.”


Not a chance,” grunted Hammer. “Evidence.”


Only if you find ‘em before I do,” I muttered.

•••


Supper’s ready!” came the call from the kitchen. “And leave that cigar on your desk.”

I collected my beer and followed my nose into the kitchen. Meg was already sitting at the table.


Nice music,” said Meg.


Nice burgers,” I replied.


Holst?”

I shook my head. “Close. It’s Elgar.” I hefted the burger. “Moose?”


Close. It’s cow.” said Meg. “Where am I going to get moose in St. Germaine?”


At the Piggly Wiggly?”


Oh, sure,” said Meg. “I forgot about the giant hooved herbivore section at the Piggly Wiggly.” She took a sip of her beer. “Listen, mister, if you want mooseburgers, you go shoot a moose. But I want it delivered to the house frozen and in patty form. Now, before you tell me about your very busy day, enlighten me about the music.”

Meg had a good ear for music although her only training consisted of a couple of classes of music appreciation and several years of choir singing under the direction of yours truly.


The Dream of Gerontius
, an oratorio by Edward Elgar written around the turn of the last century. His
magnum opus
, if you will.”


Sounds serious. That tenor is working hard.”


Well, he’s on his deathbed. Tenors never die quietly. Fear not, fair one. He’ll be dead by intermission.”


Then?”


Then his soul sees God, is judged, and ends up in purgatory.”

Meg laughed. “A happy ending then.”


Well, it’s not exactly Amy Grant, but it has a certain charm.”


Anything happening at the church?”

I raised my eyebrows. “You should know. You’re the senior warden.”


Yes, but I like to get my intel from my spies.”


Nothing new,” I said, digging into Meg’s famous potato salad. Potato salad was always preferable to chips and cole slaw. Also, my earlier vision of Swiss cheese had been replaced by the reality of extra-sharp cheddar. I was right about the onions, though.


I talked with Father Tony this afternoon. He said you talked him into staying until the fall, but only part-time. He’s making plans for his second retirement. The congregation’s going to have to step up and take some pastoral responsibility until we get another full-time priest.”

Meg nodded and swallowed a dainty bite of her burger. “Has Bev found anyone to do the Christian education job?”

I shook my head. “Not yet. I think she interviewed someone last week, though. The problem is that the position doesn’t pay very much. Not enough to move for, anyway. It’ll probably have to be someone from Boone. We’ve run out of volunteers.”

Bev Greene was the church administrator. Father Tony Brown, our “retired” and much beloved ex-priest, agreed to assume the reins until the building project was complete, but only on a very limited basis. That is to say, he promised Meg that, if he was in town, he’d come in on Sunday morning, dust off one of his old sermons, and preside over the Eucharist. When he wasn’t in town, we’d have to schedule a morning prayer service. Until there was a new rector at St. Barnabas, the vestry had put Bev in charge of the day-to-day operations and that included hiring a new Christian ed director. St. Barnabas hadn’t had a lot of luck with that particular position in the past.


And the organ?”

I smiled. “Almost there.”


Have you decided what to play on the first Sunday back?”


Not yet. Whatever it is, I can guarantee it’ll be loud.”

•••

The next morning, I stopped by Eden Books to pick up a copy of
Crogan’s Vengeance
, a graphic novel that I’d ordered for Moosey’s birthday. It came highly recommended and purportedly featured pirates, a good story and some first rate cartooning. Moosey spent all of his time in the classroom drawing (much to his teacher’s dismay) and currently had a fascination with all things piratical. School was out for the summer at the end of the week, and I figured the book was just the ticket.

Eden Books had been taken over by Georgia Wester when the former owner, Hyacinth Turnipseed, was sent to the state lockup in Raleigh. She’d pled guilty to “depraved indifference to human life” and “mutilation of a corpse” in a plea agreement that sentenced her to five years. She’d be out in three, but she wouldn’t be back to St. Germaine. Georgia bought the existing stock for a song, and since she already owned the building (Hyacinth had been renting the space), she was happy to keep the bookstore open. On this beautiful morning, she was opening boxes and filling a shelf with books by North Carolina authors.

The door buzzer announced me, and she looked up over her half-glasses.


Morning, Chief,” she called.


Good morning to you.”


Your book came in yesterday. I have it behind the counter. Just a sec.”


No rush,” I said. “I don’t mind looking around.”

In my opinion, the bookstore was much better since Georgia had taken over. When Hyacinth owned it, it had a distinctly occult feel to it—a lot of dragony knick-knacks, crystals, sword and sorcery stuff. It was heavy on Harry Potter and vampire chick lit. Now that Georgia was in charge, there were the best-sellers, of course, but also a good selection of regional fiction, mystery, crime, religion, the classics—everything you’d want in a cozy little bookstore.

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