“She certainly doesn't mind whom she steals from, does she? The only line from Shakespeare she didn't rewrite was ‘Double, double, toil and trouble.’”

“Perhaps she should have,” Ginnie said with a smile. “They did rather resemble the three witches, didn't they?”

“That reminds me,” I said, “doesn't the word wyccan refer to a modern-day witch?”

“Haven't the foggiest. But then I'm a little behind on my feminist readings.”

“I haven't seen the little goddess in the yellow house-dress before,” I said. “The one with the unfortunate name.”

“In my opinion, they all have unfortunate names,” Ginnie replied with a grin. “But I assume you mean Weezie Clopper.”

That name again. “Another Clopper? Is this one married to the borough manager?”

Ginnie nodded. “Unfortunately for her, yes. I understand Jackson is a real tyrant. Word about town is he doesn't want her to associate with Oretta-partly because of the family feud, and partly because he and Matavious are fighting over some family property. That's why she had to sneak out to be in the pageant. If-I mean, when Jackson finds out, she'll pay dearly. I've seen her with some nasty bruises.”

“That surprises me,” I said. “As borough manager, he's in a very public position.”

Ginnie snorted with indignation. “You know damn well abuse happens anywhere.”

“Some life for a goddess!” I commented. “If there's such a grand feud going on between the two branches of the Clopper family, why doesn't Matavious insist that Oretta stay away from Weezie?”

Ginnie exhaled something between a laugh and a whinny. “Can you imagine Matavious making Oretta do anything?”

I couldn't, and we both chuckled at the preposterous idea.

At that moment Oretta bore down upon us. “Corey, I hear you're an animal lover.”

“It's Tori, Mrs. Clopper,” I said firmly, “and I do have two cats-”

“As you must know, I'm president of the Lickin Creek Animal Rescue League,” she interrupted. “Sometimes I need a temporary home. Can you help me out?”

I guessed that it was animals that needed temporary homes and not Oretta. “I don't think I can… You see, I'm just house-sitting…”

“That's grand,” she said. “You'll be hearing from me, Victoria.” She swept away, leaving me spluttering unheard protests.

“I know how you feel about your name,” Ginnie said with a sympathetic smile. “She calls me Virginia all the time. Wrong name or not, you should feel flattered that she's approved you to be a temporary care provider. Not everyone is so honored.”

I groaned. One more animal was all I needed. “Maybe nothing will come of it,” I said hopefully.

“Not a chance,” Ginnie's look told me.

“How about us two outsiders getting together some time soon?” Ginnie suggested. “We need to stand united against the closed circle of Lickin Creek's high society.”

I thought a minute before answering. Ginnie's sense of humor was caustic, her snobbery was appalling, and her dedication to gossip was shameful, but I had to admit I found her amusing, perhaps because she was so different from most of the people I'd met in Lickin Creek. She reminded me of Alice Roosevelt, who also loved gossip and said, “If you can't say anything good about someone, sit next to me.”

I'd already come to the conclusion that I needed to reinvent myself-be more sociable, not so much a loner. For most of my life, I'd moved about with my foreign service family, and friendship always meant saying goodbye. It had been easier to be aloof than to continually suffer the heartbreak of separation. In recent years, I'd worked at opening my heart to others, like my neighbor and good friend in New York, Murray. And then there was my budding relationship with Garnet Gochenauer-one of the two reasons I'd moved to Lickin Creek.

The other reason, of course, was Alice-Ann, who'd been my best friend since college. It was because of her I'd first visited Lickin Creek, and she was a major factor in my decision to stay in town for six months as temporary editor of the Chronicle.

Ironically, after I committed myself to moving closer to the two people I most loved, Garnet accepted a position with the foreign service, leaving me alone in Lickin Creek for at least six months.

And I was truly alone, because something had come between Alice-Ann and me. She unreasonably blamed me for the loss of her fiance last fall, and we'd gone from sharing our deepest feelings to barely nodding when we passed on the street.

I missed her dreadfully, and that's the real reason I decided to pursue a friendship with Ginnie. It would be nice to have a someone, once more, to do things with.

“Sounds like fun,” I finally answered. “Want to do lunch someday this week?”

“You sound like a typical New Yorker, Tori. I'd love to ‘do lunch,’ as you put it, but I'm on the high-school substitute-teacher list and can't make any plans ahead of time. Say, I've got an idea-since I moved here I've become quite fond of playing bingo. How about going to a game with me one night?”

Bingo. It would be a new experience. “Sounds like fun. Uh-oh, the rehearsal's starting up again. I think I'll sneak out while I can.” At last I could get home to my cats and the evening I'd planned.

The kitchen stools were at center stage once more. Oretta perched one hip on hers and tapped her foot impatiently while the others took their places.

Ginnie reached for my coffee cup. “I'll call you.”

I went up front to collect my coat and camera.

The ladies were on stage and Oretta began to speak. “This day is called the feast of Christ, he's born this day and comes safe home.”

Bernice continued. “We'll stand a-tiptoe when this day is named, and rouse him at the name of Christ.”

Weezie said, “I will be brief, the noble son is…” Her voice trailed off as the double doors at the back of the hall burst open. All heads turned toward the dark, menacing giant filling the door frame, and who resembled the monster in the movie Frankenstein-the good, classic version starring Boris Karloff.

The creature stepped inside, peeled off a heavy quilted blue down jacket, and became Luscious Miller, the town's only full-time policeman, and now, in Garnet's absence, acting police chief. His tall, scrawny frame had been enlarged to enormous proportions by the ill-fitting jacket. He was breathing hard and opened and closed his mouth several times as though struggling for air. I figured he was probably exhausted from doing his rounds on that new bicycle the borough council had decided he should ride to save the town money.

When he finally managed to catch his breath, he squawked, “Emergency! Folks, we got a real big emergency on our hands!”

After the squeals of surprise and exclamations of astonishment died down, Marvin Bumbaugh, who was the president of the borough council, moved forward and guided the gawky policeman to a chair. Luscious pulled off his knit cap and replaced three long strands of blond hair over his bald spot with shaking hands. We gathered around him in a semicircle.

“What's up, Luscious?” the council president asked.

“Missing kid, Marv. Playing with his cousins in the woods above Stinking Spring. Wandered away from them a couple of hours ago. When they came back alone, they said they thought he'd come home by himself. His mom called me 'bout ten minutes ago. Said she'd been all over the hills looking for him.”

Oretta uttered a gasp and clutched at my arm. “My God! How dreadful! Who is it?”

“Name's Kevin Poffenberger. He's only five years old.”

Oretta's fingernails dug into my skin, but I hardly noticed the pain. My thoughts were with the five-year-old boy, alone and terrified in the snowy woods. He was the same age my brother Billy had been when he'd wandered away from me during that minute when I was inattentive-so much can happen in a minute. Would the child's cousins suffer guilt for the rest of their lives as I did?

Murmurs from the crowd pulled me back to the present. Marvin looked from one face to another. “Anybody know him?”

There was some discussion. Finally, one man said, “I do maintenance out to the Iron Ore Mansions Trailer Park near Stinking Spring. There's three or four trailers full of Poffenbergers out there. They got lots of kids 'tween them.”

Вы читаете Death, Snow, and Mistletoe
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату