Friday, October 10, 2014
One lazy August afternoon, when the Ducote Sisters think they'll have a quiet few weeks cat-sitting with Diesel, their doorbell rings, and their old sorority sister, Rosabelle Sultan, is on the doorstep...
“I’m so happy to find you both home,” Rosabelle said, sounding tired. “I’ve been driving for such a long time. I’m just glad I remembered the way.”
“Wasn’t that lucky?” An’gel murmured. She raised her voice at the parlor door. “Dickce, you’ll never guess who it is. Rosabelle Sultan.”
Dickce’s gaze locked with her sister’s, and her mouth twisted in a brief grimace. An’gel gazed stonily back. They would find out soon enough what their former sorority sister wanted. Then, with a smile, Dickce stood to greet the visitor. “My goodness, Rosabelle, what a surprise this is.”
“Dickce, I declare, you are just as darling as ever. I never did know how you and An’gel managed to keep your figures.” She dropped her purse on the floor and plopped down beside Dickce. “I always felt like such a lump around you two.”
An’gel could have told her how, but good manners precluded her telling a guest that she always ate like a pig at a trough. She eyed their visitor critically. Perhaps Rosabelle had reformed her habits, or had been seriously ill. She was thinner than An’gel ever remembered seeing her. Her dress was at least two sizes too large, and it had surely come off a bargain store rack. The hem of the skirt was unraveling on the right side, and the material had the threadbare look of a long-used garment. Rosabelle must have fallen on hard times. An’gel took a deep breath. She and Dickce were going to be hit up for money—money that would never be paid back, if the past loans were anything to go by.
“Would you like some sweet tea?” An’gel recalled her duties as a hostess. “Or something else?” Like leech repellent, she added silently.
“Sweet tea would be fine.” Rosabelle leaned back and closed her eyes. “That might revive me.”
“I’ll go,” Dickce said. “You rest there, and I’ll be back in a minute.” She frowned at An’gel as she headed toward the door. “Where is Diesel?”
Startled, An’gel glanced around. “He was with me in the hall. He didn’t go outside. Maybe he went to see Clementine.”
Dickce glanced at their visitor, who still had her eyes closed. She pointed at Rosabelle and pinched her nose before she left the room.
“What brings you all the way to Mississippi from California?” An’gel resumed her seat. “I can’t believe you drove all that way by yourself.”
Rosabelle’s eyelids fluttered open, and she blinked at An’gel. “Oh, dear, I fell asleep for a minute there. I am plumb worn down to the bone from all that driving.” She covered her mouth as she yawned. “It took me several days to get here, but I had to come.”
“Do you have business here? I didn’t know you still had family in the state.”
“Nobody in Corinth anymore,” Rosabelle said, her eyes tearing up. “Everyone left years ago. No, I came because I had to get away from California.”
An’gel waited a moment but Rosabelle did not continue. “We haven’t had a word from you in several years, I reckon. Last we heard, though, you had remarried.”
“That was my second husband.” Rosabelle nodded. “Tom Thurmond. He was a dear man, but he died seven years ago. I married again not long after Tom passed.” She sighed. “Antonio Mingione. Handsome as the devil, but a rat. A complete and utter rat.”
“A rat? Where?” Dickce sounded alarmed as she arrived with a silver tray bearing a glass of tea and a pitcher. “Maybe Diesel will catch it for us.”
“Not that kind of rat,” An’gel said. “A two-legged one. Rosabelle’s current husband.”
“My goodness, how awful.” Dickce handed their visitor the glass and took her place on the sofa.
Rosabelle sipped at the tea. “I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to be back here, where people know how to make sweet tea.” She drained the glass, and Dickce refilled it for her. “Thank you, so kind, like you always were. I could always rely on the Ducote sisters for their kindness.”
The sisters exchanged wary glances.
“We’ve always done our best.” Dickce patted the woman’s arm. “Sounds like you sure are in need of some kindness.”
“Kindness and sanctuary,” Rosabelle said. She burst into tears.
An’gel had seen this act before. No doubt the rat of a husband had run through her funds and left her destitute. The only way to deal with her was to be firm. “Buck up, now, and tell us what’s wrong.”
Rosabelle stared at her two hostesses in turn through streaming eyes. She looked so intentionally tragic, An’gel wanted to smack her.
“Come on, now,” Dickce said gently. “Whatever it is can’t be that bad.”
Rosabelle sniffed loudly and groped in the pocket of her dress for a tissue. “Oh, yes, it is. It’s murder.”
“Murder? What on earth are you talking about?” An’gel said.
Dickce spoke at the same time. “Who’s been murdered?”
Rosabelle glanced at each of them in turn. She drew a deep breath. “Me. I’m going to be murdered.”