Home > Blue Christmas (Weezie and Bebe Mysteries #3)(2)

Blue Christmas (Weezie and Bebe Mysteries #3)(2)
Mary Kay Andrews

“The old-fashioned way,” I said. “Inherited. I heard Manny had a much older lover down in Florida who died two years ago. He had a start-up telecommunications company, and when he died, Manny got everything.”

“Except good taste,” BeBe said. I shot her a grateful look. She really is the world’s best best friend.

“All righty then,” I said, wiping my hands on the seat of my jeans. “I’m gonna head over to Hardeeville. I should be back by about four. There’s plenty of change in the cash register. Prices are marked on everything. Anything brown or orange should be considered Thanksgiving merchandise, and you can mark it down fifty percent. And if you see Manny or Cookie lurking around outside, trying to steal my decorating ideas, just sic Jethro on ‘em.”

“Jethro?” She sighed heavily.

At the sound of his name, Jethro the shop dog poked his nose out from under the worktable where he’d been hiding, hoping I’d perhaps drop a sausage biscuit along with all that runaway fruit.

“He adores you,” I told BeBe. “And he’s great company.”

“He sheds,” BeBe said. “He drools. He farts.”

“At least he’s consistent,” I said, heading out the back door to my pickup truck.

Chapter 2

It was one of those winter mornings that remind you why you live in the south. Sunny, with a hint of coolness in the air. Despite the fact that we were less than two weeks away from Christmas, the thick grass in Troup Square was still emerald green, and Spanish moss dripped like old lace from the oaks surrounding the iron armillary in the middle of the square. And on this beautiful winter morning, I was just as thankful for what wasn’t as I was for what was: no gnats, no blistering heat, no suffocating humidity.

I should have been headed in the opposite direction, but instead I turned my beat-up old turquoise truck around the square. Just a quick drive by Babalu, I promised myself. Just to reassure myself of how superior my decorations were. But my heart sank as I slowed my roll.

The three-story shrimp pink exterior of Babalu had been transformed. Twining vines magically covered the façade. A pair of towering palm trees in rococo concrete urns flanked the shop’s front door, which itself was wreathed in a fabulously elaborate swag of moss, boxwood, smilax, and cedar. Everything, including the palm trees, had been painted flat white, then sprinkled with glitter. Hundreds of cut-glass chandelier prisms dangled from the white vines, and sent crystal refractions of light onto the sidewalk. It was a winter wonderland.

And standing right there on the sidewalk, directing the man in the bucket of the cherry picker, was the Snow Queen himself, Manny Alvarez.

“No, darling,” he called, cupping his hands to be heard. “You’ve got the lights all bunched up there on the right side.”

The bucket-truck had traffic blocked in front of the shop, and I had no choice but to stop behind it. My truck’s brakes made a grinding noise, and Manny whirled around to see where the noise was coming from. A smile lit his face when he spotted me.

“Eloise?” he said, one eyebrow lifted. “Checking on the competition, are we?”

I gritted my teeth. “Hello, Manny. Looks like your side of the square has had some unusual weather for Savannah.”

“You know me,” he said airily. “Fantasy is my life. And really, that whole nuts and fruits and berries thing all the locals down here seem to be clinging to is so five minutes ago. Don’t you agree?”

“The historic commission’s guidelines specifically call for using natural, vernacular design elements,” I pointed out. “I guess that’s why the ‘locals’ as you call them tend to follow the guidelines.”

“Oh, guidelines,” he said, shaking his head. “Boring! Cookie and I believe in following our muse, in order to allow the full range of creative expression in our work.”

“How nice,” I said. “It’ll be interesting to see what the judges think of stylized white palm trees in the context of an eighteenth-century historic district.”

“Won’t it though,” he said.

Chapter 3

Trader Bob’s Treasure Trove Auction House is a grandiose name for what is, in reality, a converted chicken house on a dead-end street on the outskirts of the tiny town of Hardeeville, South Carolina, just across the Talmadge Memorial Bridge from Savannah.

Because Trader Bob, aka Bob Gross, doesn’t usually believe in wasting time or money on a catalog or advance flyer, a Trader Bob auction is always an adventure. Some days he’ll have a container load of fine English or Dutch antiques, mixed in with odd lots of tube socks and bootleg videos bought from distressed merchandise brokers. More than once I’ve arrived at Trader Bob’s to find him hammering down cases of half-thawed frozen pizzas and slightly dented cans of off-brand pineapple.

But on this December morning, the parking lot, nothing more than a mowed cornfield, was only half full of the usual assortment of dealers’ vans and trucks, which was fine by me. Fewer dealers should mean lower bids and better deals.

I was greeted at the door by Leuveda Garner, Bob’s sister and business partner, with a friendly nod and a proffered cardboard bid paddle.

“Hey, Weezie,” she said. “Long time, no see.”

“Merry Christmas, Leuveda,” I said. “Got anything good today?”

“Are you in the market for refrigerated dairy cases? Bob bought out a Piggly Wiggly grocery store over in Easley. We’ve got a bunch of old fixtures and display racks. There’s a couple good cash registers you might be interested in.”

“I was thinking more of antiques. Is everything going to be store stuff?”

“Not all of it,” she said quickly. “We got everything from the owner’s estate, too. Some furniture, dishes, linens, all the junk from the attic and basement, and from a couple of barns on the property too.” She wrinkled her nose. “Old crap like you like, Weezie. Better go find a chair. Bob’s starting early today because he’s driving to Hendersonville tonight to pick up a load of furniture, and we heard there’s rough weather in the mountains.”

Sure enough, as my eyes got accustomed to the dim light of the chicken house, I saw Bob standing at his podium, microphone clipped to his shirtfront, holding aloft a life-size cardboard cutout of the Birds Eye Jolly Green Giant.

“All right now,” Bob chanted. “I need a giant bid to start us off. Folks, this is vintage advertising art. Whadya give now? Whadya give? Gimme a hundred. Let’s go, ho, ho, ho. Get it?”

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