Home > Savannah Blues (Weezie and Bebe Mysteries #1)(7)

Savannah Blues (Weezie and Bebe Mysteries #1)(7)
Mary Kay Andrews

As for the puppy, the vet said he was part beagle, part German shepherd, and mostly mutt. It cost me two hundred dollars for all the shots and the deworming medicine. He’s the only dog I’ve ever owned. Daddy would never hear of a dog, him being a mailman and everything. I named him Jethro, for Jethro Tull, the rock group, and Jethro Bodine, the Beverly Hillbillies hunk.

Tal called his lawyer and then my lawyer the first time he glanced out the back window and saw Jethro lift a leg on a camellia bush in his half of the walled garden.

“That crazy bitch is keeping animals,” Tal yelled. (James played the message-machine tape for me.)

“Weezie’s not a tenant,” James reminded him when he returned Tal’s call. I was sitting right there listening in, of course.

“Look at the property settlement papers,” James told Tal. “The judge awarded Weezie the carriage house. She can keep elephants and giraffes if she wants to. So if I were you, I’d keep quiet about the dog. No telling what she’ll come home with otherwise.”

We were almost at the gates to Beaulieu. I could feel my dress wilting like week-old lettuce. The temperature inside the truck was at least ninety. I pulled the truck off right where the crushed-oyster-shell driveway began, directly under the open Beaulieu gate, leaned over, and rolled the window down. Jethro is just tall enough to see out the passenger-side window. He stuck his head out, sniffed, and gave one short, appreciative bark. I believe that dog can smell an antique.

I gave myself a quick glance in the truck’s rearview mirror. My short, dark red hair was plastered to my head and my face was almost as red as my hair from the heat. My brown eyeliner had started to run in the corners, like Pagliacci.

I was dabbing at my melted makeup when a white Mercedes pulled up beside me and tooted the horn.

James. The electric window on the passenger side glided down. “You better ride the rest of the way with me,” he called.

“Jethro too?” I asked.

He looked over at Jethro, who had jumped into my lap and was trying to stick his head out my window to say hello to his old buddy James.

“Will he stay in the car and not chew up the upholstery?” The Mercedes had been a retirement gift from James’s parish in Florida. I call it the pimpmobile, but James says he gave up his vow of poverty and intends to start making up for all those years of driving Chevys.

“He’ll be good,” I promised.

James’s car was divinely cool. It smelled like new leather and Beech-Nut chewing gum. I held my damp head in front of the air-conditioning vent and pulled my fingers through my hair to try to get it dry.

“I didn’t know you knew Anna Ruby Mullinax,” James said, one eyebrow raised, the way he does.

“I didn’t,” I said. “But this may be the only chance I ever get to go inside Beaulieu. Mama says that’s sacrilege.”

“Your mother’s an expert on sacrilege,” James said.

“But you knew Miss Anna Ruby,” I said. “Janet told me.”

“Did she tell you how we met?”

“Don’t think so,” I said.

“It was a long time ago,” James recalled. “The year I helped start that little church in Metter, Christ Our Hope. Must have been 1978, something like that. Miss Mullinax called me, said she’d heard through some of ‘her people’ that we were building a new church.”

“I thought the Mullinaxes were Episcopalian,” I said, interrupting.

“They were. By ‘her people’ she meant the black folks who’d been family servants. Slaves, originally. But people like the Mullinaxes didn’t like to call it slavery after civil rights got fashionable. A whole crowd of those black folks were living up there in Metter. Most of them Catholic, most of them in my new parish.”

“What did she want?” I asked.

James smiled. He has the Foley family jaw, long and squared off, and when he smiles, which is frequently, it makes creases all the way up to his eye sockets.

“She wanted to give us something for the new church. In memory of a woman named Clydie. Clydie Jeffers. She’d been Miss Anna Ruby’s housekeeper until she died at the age of eighty-eight. So I came out here, to Beaulieu, and we talked, and Miss Anna Ruby ended up donating the pews for Christ Our Hope. Had them made out of cypress trees they cut out here on the property. And a little brass plaque said they were placed there ‘In loving memory of Clydie Jeffers.’ No mention of the donor. Miss Anna Ruby strictly required anonymity.”

A slight breeze stirred the moss from the trees overhanging the shell drive. The live oaks were spaced sentinel style, ten yards apart on both sides, their bases covered with a creeping carpet of ivy, their canopy nearly blotting out the blazing blue sky overhead.

I squinted, and up ahead, at the end of the tree tunnel, I could see the shape of the house, rising over the treetops. I sat up and waited for the house to come fully into view. I’d waited a long time to see Beaulieu.

“She was nice?” I murmured, keeping my eyes on the house.

“Different,” James said. “She was dressed in pants, I remember that. I’d never seen such an old lady wearing pants. And barefoot! Your grandmother Foley never went barefoot outside her own bedroom, let alone walked around in front of a stranger, and a priest, at that. Miss Anna Ruby was her own person, and careful with her money.”

By then I wasn’t listening. We were there.

Three-story-tall Doric columns, twelve in all, stretched across the front of the house, supporting a carved balustrade, and above that were three gables, and beside that, there was a one-story wing on each side. The house was raised up, on a foundation made of tabby, the crushed-oyster-shell masonry you find on old houses along the coast in South Carolina and Georgia.

There was a double stairway winding from the entry porch to the portico. Not white, like the Hollywood version of a Southern plantation house, Beaulieu was painted a pale golden pink, with black-green shutters on the wide six-over-six windows. It was imposing and breathtaking—and it was crumbling.

Paint hung in shreds from the columns, whose bases were chipped and rotted, like a bag lady’s teeth. A fine sheen of green mold had worked its way from the foundations up the front of the house, and the wooden slats of the window shutters had rotted and fallen away. One of the gable roofs had collapsed, the portico sagged, and the only windows not gray and cobweb-streaked had missing panes of glass.

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