Home > Savannah Blues (Weezie and Bebe Mysteries #1)(3)

Savannah Blues (Weezie and Bebe Mysteries #1)(3)
Mary Kay Andrews

Once, when I was a teenager, a boyfriend took me for a boat ride on the Skidaway River and pointed out the ruins of the plantation’s old slave quarters, barely visible through the green-and-gold swath of marsh grass that separated Beaulieu from the river. There had been a long dock once, stretching out over the marsh to a landing on the river, but all that was left by the late eighties were rotted pilings populated by giant brown pelicans who sat in the sun and blinked and yawned in the relentless heat.

It was high tide, so we ran the boat up on the gray mud riverbank and snuck onto the property. The boyfriend’s name was Danny Stipanek. We only lasted three months as an item, mostly because Danny, who was nineteen and getting ready to enlist in the Marines, was perpetually horny, whereas I was afraid of getting pregnant, or worse, in Savannah, getting a bad reputation. That day, though, something came over me. Not the terminally tumescent Danny Stipanek, but the cool, velvet beauty of Beaulieu.

I didn’t get pregnant, just sunburned and chigger-bit in the worst possible places. Danny Stipanek drifted out of my life and into the Marine Corps just as it was time to start my senior year of high school in the fall. I always think of him now when I see those television recruiting commercials for the Marines. The few. The proud. The horny.

My father always calls the obituaries “the Irish sports page.” The day after BeBe’s phone call, I saw the funeral notice for Anna Ruby Mullinax. Just as BeBe had promised, there were no survivors. And as she’d promised, there’d be a memorial service at Beaulieu. A chance for an advance showing.

That Friday, I slipped my best dress into a plastic dry-cleaner’s bag and hung it carefully over the passenger seat of the truck. I thought of the dress as my homage to Zelda Fitzgerald—buttercup yellow ankle-length silk voile, with a matching silk underslip. I’d found it in a plastic garbage bag full of old clothes a year earlier when workers were tearing down an old Victorian house on East Thirty-eighth Street.

Dressed in my favorite baggy khaki shorts, faded T-shirt, and sneakers, I made my usual Friday-morning rounds. I’d circled four estate sales in the classifieds of the Savannah Morning News but only one turned up anything worth buying. After the sales, I hit the Goodwill store on Victory Drive, the St. Vincent DePaul Thrift Shop, and finally, the This N’ That.

Mr. Meshach Greenaway runs the TNT. It’s a homely little concrete block box that used to be a lawn mower repair shop, until Mr. Greenaway discovered he could make more money hauling away white people’s junk than he could fixing black people’s busted Snappers.

The TNT is over in what my mama calls “the quarters”—one of her typical euphemisms for Roosevelt Park, a modest, mostly black neighborhood a few miles from my parents’ own all-white suburban ranch-style neighborhood.

Mr. Greenaway saw me coming. He opened the door and cracked a smile, his blue-black face dripping with perspiration. He pointed toward a towering pile of boxes that blocked the entire front of the shop.

“Been waitin’ for you, Weezie,” he said, taking a sip from his ever-present plastic foam cup of ice water. “Take a look over there, girl. That there’s all the attic and garage of Mr. Arnold Lowenstein of East Forty-sixth Street.” He lowered his voice, in case of spies.

“Mr. Lowenstein, he the one owns Low-Low Liquors. Used to anyway. He dead now. Got that big old redbrick house with the hedge around it, over on the corner of Atlantic Avenue.”

The address he’d mentioned was prime territory, a wealthy settled neighborhood, big houses, and old money.

Mr. Greenaway nudged me. “Take a look.”

Oh, the junk!

The Low-Low Liquor Lowensteins were prominent in all the right circles in Savannah, and they’d had four kids. They were big wheels at Temple Mickve Israel. Cissy Lowenstein had been a grade ahead of me at St. Vincent’s Academy, Walter a year behind me over at Benedictine. In case you’re wondering, the way it works in Savannah, rich WASP kids go to Country Day School and working-class Catholics and rich Jews go to the parochial schools.

Anyway, the kids would have taken all the “good” stuff, I knew. So there was no sterling silver, cut glass, or bone china, nothing with an English pedigree or a French accent. It was just a good old bonanza of baby-boomer Americana.

The Lowensteins had been savers, bless their hearts. Practically nothing had been thrown away since Mr. Arnold had gotten back from World War II. Of course, none of it was stuff my local dealers would touch.

There was a whole carton of Fire-King jadeite dishes, with sectioned luncheon plates, matching coffee mugs, cereal bowls and chop plates, enough to stock a small 1950s diner.

Another box yielded mint-condition magazines from the thirties and forties; Field and Stream, Boys’ Life, Argosy, Collier’s and Vanity Fair. The covers were original color illustrations by the biggest names of the era. The Field and Streams alone would bring fifteen dollars a pop from my antiquarian book guy in Charleston.

I pawed through the boxes like a woman possessed, rejecting thirty years worth of National Geographic s and all Mr. Lowenstein’s banking records from the 1950s, but separating out a stack of hemstitched Irish linen bedsheets and pillowcases, yellowing lace curtains, and a pile of women’s satin and silk slips, nighties, and peignoirs. When I opened a metal foot-locker containing Mr. Lowenstein’s World War II army uniforms, I knew I’d found something good. Stashed under the uniform was a fabulous cache of forties and fifties pinup girl calendars, playing cards, and magazines. As soon as I spotted the first Vargas girl calendar, I began to appreciate the fact that Arnold Lowenstein had been a true connoisseur of nudie art. I loved him more when I found the first issue of Playboy, dated 1951, and the subsequent issue that featured the famous Marilyn Monroe pictorial.

After an hour, I was filthy, smudged with dust and mildew, my clothes littered with dead silverfish. I reeked of mothballs, but I was happy.

I sat back on my heels and looked up at Mr. Greenaway, who’d been pretending to read the newspaper.

“How much?” I asked, gesturing toward the pile I’d accumulated.

He sucked his teeth, closed his eyes, took a pencil stub, and scribbled numbers on the margin of the newspaper page.

“Look like a hundred seventy-five to me,” he said. “And that’s ’cause you a regular.”

I felt a stab of Catholic guilt coming on. The stuff was worth at least four hundred dollars, even buying wholesale, which I was doing. I was fairly sure I could make at least three times that, if my usual dealers were in a buying mode and if I hadn’t made any stupid mistakes. But I had exactly two hundred dollars in cash on me, and I was trying to budget my buying to free up enough cash for the upcoming Beaulieu sale.

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