It’s rodeo time in Houston, Texas where I lived most of my life before I moved to the Texas Hill Country. I was never a rodeo fan, and I wasn’t too fond of the scaled-down event in Lavender either, especially when I learned that my Aunt Rowe and her friends intended to participate in the festivities.
Here’s how I discovered their plan in this excerpt from THE BLACK CAT KNOCKS ON WOOD.
An outburst of laughter drifted into Aunt Rowe's office from the screened porch. Some of her friends had gathered for brunch, and it sounded like they were having a grand time. I was happy to see her back in her usual routine now that the cast had finally come off the leg she'd broken last spring. She was exercising like a demon – doing zumba and lifting weights – and looked great. I felt like a slug around her. Devoting long hours to writing at the laptop could do that to a person.
Louder noise that I could only describe as hootin' and hollerin' came my way. Hitchcock and I looked at each other.
"Jeez, they're getting rowdy out there. Let's go investigate."
I closed the computer program I'd been using, picked up the flyer, and headed toward the noise. Music began playing, and the laughter grew even louder. No surprise that a group of four women could make a racket, but now they'd piqued my curiosity. What the heck were they up to?
The smell of biscuits and Glenda's delicious ham-and-cheese casserole baking filled the air as I made my way down the hall. Aunt Rowe's tireless housekeeper was an excellent cook, and she kept the house as well as Aunt Rowe's rental cottages spic-and-span.
As I reached the doorway to the porch, I recognized the song – "Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy" – at the same moment I saw Aunt Rowe dancing an unusual two-step while flinging one arm in a circular motion above her head. She wore a red cowboy hat with a purple feather plume and a matching purple button-down shirt. Her three friends clapped hands and stomped their feet in time with the music.
Behind me, Hitchcock had opted to stop a few feet shy of the door where he sat watching me. Smart cat.
"I'm going in," I told him and placed my flyer on a console table in the hallway. "Wish me luck."
Aunt Rowe kept up her performance for a bit, then slowed and took off her hat before wiping her damp forehead with a shirt sleeve. She caught sight of me.
"Turn that off, Helen," she told the woman nearest her who punched her cell phone. The song cut off. "What d'ya think, Sabrina?"
I shrugged. "I'm speechless, Aunt Rowe. What are you doing?"
"Practicing my lasso skills," she said.
Lasso? What the heck?
"She's gonna need a lot more practice before she's ready," said Pearl Hogan, who I knew well from frequent visits to her candy store in town, Sweet Stop. "We all will."
"Practice for what?"
"Lavender's Senior Pro Rodeo," Helen said. "Which color shirt do you like better, Sabrina? Purple like Rowe's or this red one?" She picked up a red long-sleeved shirt from the table, stood, and slipped it on over her floral blouse. "I'm partial to the red." She turned to the left, the right, then twirled to show off the shirt.
I prided myself on my cognitive ability, but they had lost me back at 'lasso.'
"What on God's green earth are you ladies talking about?" I said. "What rodeo?"
The fourth member of the group, quiet until now, spoke up. Adele Davis had attended high school with Aunt Rowe, and they'd been friends ever since. I had only recently met the woman after she returned from touring Europe with her husband. "You've never been to the Lavender rodeo?" she said.
I shook my head. Not only had I never been, but I was generally opposed to any event that mistreated animals in any way, shape or form. I couldn't imagine a rodeo as an animal-friendly place.
"Sabrina's a writer," Pearl said. "Literary types don't hang out at rodeos. They prefer bookstores, libraries, candy stores." She winked at me.
I turned to my aunt who was busy unbuttoning the purple shirt she'd tried on over her clothes.
"There's a rodeo for seniors in Lavender?" I said.
"Not exactly," Adele answered. "The rodeo has been going on for twenty years or more - every Friday night – but they're holding the first senior night three weeks from now."
"And we're going to perform," Aunt Rowe said. "You're looking at Team Flowers."
Helen, who ran a tailoring business out of her home, said, "I'm going to embroider the team name on the shirt pocket and the name of our sponsor on back. Around-the-World Cottages."
"You're doing this for the publicity, Aunt Rowe?" I said. "Wouldn't it be cheaper, not to mention safer, to buy an ad in the rodeo program?"
"Program schmogram," Aunt Rowe said. "We're in this for the fun and the excitement. Right girls?"
"Right," her friends said in unison.
I didn't want to be a spoil-sport, but these women ranged in age from mid-sixties to early seventies and would fit in better at the Red Hat Society. I couldn't imagine them performing in any capacity at a rodeo. I glanced at a near-empty pitcher on a side table and surveyed the women's drinking glasses. It was a little early in the day for Aunt Rowe's legendary Texas Tea - a potent beverage containing several types of alcohol. I decided not to ask about their drinking at the moment. I had another question on my mind.
"Are you sure the Senior Pro Rodeo isn't for seniors who performed as rodeo professionals at some point in their lives?" I said.
Pearl said, "I did some barrel racing back in high school."
What was that, like fifty years ago?
I wanted to say more, but I clamped my mouth shut. Sounded like this senior rodeo fell at the end of July – a scorching hot Texas July, with temperatures dropping to ninety at night if we were lucky. Who in their right mind would want to ride in a dusty rodeo arena under those circumstances? I'd learned enough about my aunt in the months since moving to Lavender from Houston to realize it was best to ignore the whole thing and hope she came to her senses before the date arrived.
Luckily, Aunt Rowe survived the whole affair, only to show up with a new scheme for the pumpkin festival last fall. I swear that woman has a death wish.
Kay Finch is the National Best-Selling author of the Bad Luck Cat Mysteries by Berkley Prime Crime. Though her character, Sabrina Tate, has left the paralegal profession behind to move to the Texas Hill Country, Kay still works as a paralegal at a Houston, Texas law firm. She resides in a Houston suburb with her husband and pets. Visit her at www.kayfinch.com.