Home > Savannah Blues (Weezie and Bebe Mysteries #1)(15)

Savannah Blues (Weezie and Bebe Mysteries #1)(15)
Mary Kay Andrews

Merijoy sighed. “The neglect. The ruin. I could weep. I really could. Look at that mantel.”

I tore myself away from the cupboard and walked over to the mantel enclosing the fireplace. It was highly carved, with bas-relief nymphs and caryatids and all types of doodads.

“Nice,” I murmured. I wasn’t really into Victoriana. I kept glancing over at the corner cupboard. It was calling me, seducing me.

“It’s horrid!” Merijoy exclaimed. “So tacky! And it’s all wrong for this house.” She poked a pencil into the wood, which seemed to crumble like stale cake. “And it’s riddled with termites.” She snapped another photo.

She stamped her foot on the floor. “I hate it when the owners fool around with an old house like this. There should have been a cypress mantel here. Or marble, maybe. Not this.” She flicked her hand over the carving. “Grotesquerie.”

“Maybe the original is up in the attic someplace,” I said. “Or in one of the outbuildings. I saw a barn and what looks like a smokehouse outside. And that building right next to the house. A summer kitchen. All those sheds are probably packed with old stuff.” I looked around the room, at the dusty piles of books and papers, the boxes of linens and kitchen utensils, glassware and photo albums. “I don’t think the Mullinaxes ever threw anything away.”

“Maybe,” Merijoy said, unconvinced. “Of course, the rest of the house could be a pile of sawdust too—just like this mantel.

“Let’s go, Weezie,” she said, catching my sleeve in her hand. “It’s too depressing to look around anymore. Just from what I’ve already seen, it could take hundreds of thousands to restore Beaulieu. Millions, maybe.”

I took one last, longing look around the room. At the cupboard. It was what had drawn Lewis Hargreaves and his pocket camera into this room.

Fortunately, the main parlor was nearly empty, because we were both a mess. My hands were dirt-streaked, my dress a network of wrinkles. Merijoy looked like someone had swiped her favorite toy. Her elegant black linen was smudged, her hair mussed. She’d bitten off all her lipstick.

“That woman, Caroline DeSantos,” Merijoy said. “Is she really living in your house with Tal? Right under your nose?”

Uncle James saved me from any more questions about our unusual living arrangement. He strolled up with Mr. and Mrs. Loudermilk trailing in his wake. He looked pleased with himself. Spencer Loudermilk looked happy too, for a petrified person.

“Weezie,” James said, “I believe you already know Mr. Loudermilk.”

I held out my hand to shake his withered little claw. “Your granddaughter BeBe is a good friend of mine, Mr. Loudermilk. She’s told me a lot about you and Mrs. Loudermilk. And Mr. and Mrs. Loudermilk, this is Merijoy Rucker. Merijoy is quite active in preservation.”

Lorena Loudermilk squinted up at me from behind a cloudy pair of eyeglasses that had been patched in two places with duct tape. She was bent nearly double with the most pronounced dowager’s hump I’d ever seen, but her pale skin was smooth and pink, her teeth still even and white.

“I know you,” Mrs. Loudermilk said, nodding at Merijoy. “You married that Rucker boy.” She hardly paused. “My husband, Spencer, has got a clamp lodged in his lower intestine. This lawyer boy here is gonna sue the pee-diddly out of Candler Hospital.”

Spencer Loudermilk looked like a liver spot with legs. He beamed and patted his abdomen. “That’s right. You should see what I do to those metal detectors at the airport.”

Merijoy’s one-track mind refused to be derailed for long. “Weezie and I were just catching up on old times.” She turned to James and gave him a dazzling smile. “Mr. Foley, you’re an attorney. Have you heard any scuttle-butt about what’s to happen with Beaulieu?”

James has a very good poker face. My father says it’s because he was educated by the Jesuits. Daddy blames everything bad that’s ever happened with the Catholic Church or modern civilization on radical left-wing Jesuits.

“Haven’t heard a thing,” James said blandly. “Excuse us, please, would you all? Weezie and I have an urgent appointment back in town.”

He bowed and I said pretty good-byes, and as we walked out onto the front porch of Beaulieu, somebody grabbed my wrist. Caroline. Fine beads of perspiration dotted her upper lip. “What was Merijoy Rucker talking to you about?” she demanded.

“Preservation,” I said. “She’s very interested in preserving old houses.”

I tried to pull away from her, but Caroline’s nails dug deeper into the flesh of my wrist. The dark eyes were mere slits. “If she thinks she can turn Beaulieu into a museum house, she’s sadly mistaken. We’ve got a deal with the paper company. Airtight. And if she tries to raise some stink about it, we’ll raze this old rattrap to the ground. In a single morning.” She released my hand. “Tell her that, why don’t you? Tell her how single-minded I am.”

I looked down at my wrist; there were red claw marks in the flesh.

“You don’t know Merijoy Rucker, do you, Caroline? Well, I’m sure you’ll get acquainted very soon. The two of you actually have a lot in common. It’ll be interesting.”

Chapter 9

Weezie was shaking and milky-pale by the time she got to James’s car. Jethro stuck his head out the window and barked enthusiastically at the sight of her, but Weezie gave him only a halfhearted nod.

It worried James, seeing Weezie’s moods shift like this. Moments earlier, she’d gleefully pounced at the opportunity to give Caroline a small measure of misery. Now she looked positively ill. Goddamn Talmadge Evans III.

“There was certainly a lot of old stuff in that house,” he said, trying to sound enthusiastic. “Good loot—right?” To him the place looked like a hideous moldering pile of garbage, but then, as Weezie often reminded him, he didn’t know shit from shinola when it came to that kind of thing.

“It’s fabulous,” Weezie said, picking at a bit of lace on the hem of the odd, drooping dress she was wearing. “Just in those three rooms I saw, there was enough for ten estate sales.”

James started the car and busied himself with sliding a disk into the CD player. He turned around and asked, politely, for Jethro to please take his tongue out of James’s ear.

The CD was the latest Clancy Brothers release. James sighed. It was a gift from one of his Florida parishioners.

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