Authors: Tamar Myers
t was Big Bob againâor whoever the stranger was. It certainly was not God.
“Uhâ¦sir, I really appreciate what you did before, but this time it feels like you're stalking me.”
“No, ma'am, I ain't doing no such thing. It's just that you being a Charlestonianâwell, I was wondering if you could show me some of the sights. And I mean that totally legit, ma'am, I assure you. I am a Christian, born and bred.”
A Charlestonian! Ha, I wish. While I happened to live in Charleston, I was by no means a Charlestonian. To be a Charlestonian, one's forbears must have arrived on the scene before the Late Unpleasantness, and if you had to ask when that was, you were automatically disqualified. Although there is one very prominent family residing in the areaâwhich I shall not nameâthat arrived a tad after the Late Unpleasantness, and which tries very hard to get around this very basic qualification by getting as many things stamped with the family name as possible. But, to paraphrase the Bard, a rose is just a rose is just a rose.
To be top drawer Charlestonian is to be a descendant of French Huguenot rice planters who arrived no later than 1730. There are other drawers near the top, but the best were closed by the Revolution and, with the aforementioned exception, all had been nailed shut by the time the War of Northern Aggression rolled around.
“Whether or not you are a Christian,” I said, “is not a concern of mine. One of my best friends is Jewish and he is no more, nor less, upstanding than my Christian friends. The thing is, I am not a tour guide; I am an antiques dealer. The City of Charleston has one of the best tourist offices of any city its size. I'd be happy to drop you off there if you like.”
“Ma'am, I'd be much beholden.”
Who the heck talked like that these days? The giant who'd come to my rescue was certainly charming, I'd give him that. What harm could there possibly be in driving him a couple of blocks north to the tourist center?
“Sure thing,” I said. “I'm parked over there along the Battery. And just so you know, my husband, Greg, used to be a detective for the city of Charlotte.”
He laughed loudly and, frankly, far too long. “Is that so? Can't say as I blame you for saying that, seeing how you're just an itty-bitty thing.”
“Yeah, well some days I feel ittier than others, and this just happens to be one of those days.”
“Good one, Abby.”
“Wait a minute! How did you know my first name?”
“Detective Tweedledork used it.”
“That would be funnyâif she had. But she didn't. She never uses my first name, because that would be
showing me a modicum of respect. Detective Tweedledee lives to humiliate me.”
“Okay, Abby, you busted me. My name isâExcuse me, ma'am.” With that, he leaped into the street and began chasing a slow moving tourist bus.
What a peculiar way of running he had. I'd never seen anything like itâexcept perhaps on
. That's it! He loped; he didn't run. He loped like a giraffe.
“Geez, what a weirdo.”
I whirled. Normally I don't allow judgmental statements like that to go unchallenged, but it was my dear friend Bob Steuben who was doing the judging. He kissed me on both cheeks.
“The new manager of Pasha's Palace was found dead in the harbor,” I said.
“I heard; your mom just called. Is it true that she was wrapped in a rug?”
“Unfortunately, Mama wasn't blowing smoke rings this time. Anyway, that evil Detective Tweedledee let me go right up to Miss Spears so I could examine the rug; my thinking was that it might hold a clue as to who killed the poor woman, and why.”
“And I'll never get used to death, that's what; it makes you sick to your stomach every time. This girl was so youngâbarely more than a college student. Plus she looked so pale, especially with that long amber hairâBob, if I tell you a secret, you've got to swear you won't tell anyone.”
“Of course I won't tell anyone, Abby. You insult me.”
“Sorry. Anyway, the rug was an Ispahanâ
“Yes, way. Even soaked with seawater, it is probably the most beautiful carpet I have ever seen.”
“But that doesn't make sense.”
“Go see for yourself, if you don't believe me. Good luck, however, dealing with Detective Tweedledee.”
Bob blanched. If there is one person in Charleston that the detective dislikes more than me, it is the gay antiques dealer from Toledo.
“Abby, I believe that it is what you say it is: a silk Ispahan carpet from Persia. I'm just saying it doesn't make sense to throw something that valuable away. So how much is it worth? Thirty thousand?”
“This one had to be worth twice thatâmaybe as much as seventy thousand. No, I can think of at least two clients right off the bat that would pay upwards of eighty for that rug in excellent condition. In exceptional conditionâ¦shoot, I wouldn't feel bad asking a hundred grand for it.”
He nodded. “Well, it's obviously murder. Did you see any blood on the carpet? That could explain why the killerâor killersâdumped it into the harbor, along with Gwendolyn Spear's body.”
“No. But I only examined one corner. I couldn't bring myself to look at Miss Spears, even though I'd only met her once, and that was at the Palace.”
“I don't blame you,” he said, and put his arms around me. We stood embracing for several long minutes. Perhaps we gave the impression of lovers caught up in a May/September romance (I being the Virgo), but I didn't care. He was the first to let go.
“Abby, if you have a second, I need to talk to you about Rob's mother.”
“Sure. What's up?”
“I have a plan for how to get rid of her.”
“It's not going to be pretty.”
I giggled. “The uglier the better.”
Mama's been frozen in a time warp since July 4, 1958. (That's the day Daddy died in a boat accident that involved a sea gull with a brain tumor the size of a walnut.) Mama, who at five feet is three inches taller than I, is a miniature June Cleaver. She wears only dresses with cinched waists and full skirts; her feet are always clad in pumps, even at home; and she feels utterly naked without a string of pearls around her still slender neck. But although she's as odd as a three dollar bill, she's not senile. Not by any means.
“Abby, sit down!”
“In a minute, Mama. I want to put away my purse and grab a soda first.”
“Darling, those things can wait; this can't.”
She sounded too ebullient for it to be bad news, so I obediently walked over to the nearest chair, which just happened to be a Louis XIVâa
Louis XIV, by the way, one that had remarkably never been recovered. His Majesty's royal bottom had actually connected with the yellowed silk fabric. Perhaps His Majesty had evenâ
“Abby, are you even listening?”
“Of course, Mama.”
“Then what did I say?”
“It didn't have anything to do with Louis XIV farting, did it?”
“Why Abigail Louise Wiggins Timberlake Washburn! You know how I hate the F word.”
“Mama, everyone does it.”
“Yes, Mama, even Daddy did it.” Over the years my daddy's pedestal has grown so tall that were he ever to resurrectâeven just for a secondâhe would be overcome by vertigo, fall off, and die all over again.
“Abby, I will not allow you to drag your father's name through the mud. Your father was as close to a saint as ever walked this earth, and that's the end of this conversation. Besides, you're ruining my surprise.”
“Sorry, Mama.” I meant it too.
“So guess what I'm going to be doing Saturday night?”
“It's something to do with church, right?”
“Wrong!” Mama sounded positively giddy.
“Don't tell me! You and Connie Beth have finally got up the nerve to visit that new biker bar up in Myrtle Beach. Mama, please don't. It may be called Arnold's, but it's not
. That was only a television show. Not every biker is as sweet as Fonzie.”
“Abby, you must think I've got a head full of stump water. I have no intention of
going into a biker bar; I just like to talk about it. No, what I'm doing Saturday is quite the opposite. I'm getting presented to royalty.”
We both waited patiently while this sunk in. There are many reasons to visit Charleston: it is beautiful, historic, the winters are mild. But even taking those factors into consideration, it seems to get more than its
fair share of aristocratic visitors. Mama and I had been residents for only three years, and even we lowly peasants from “off” (anyplace other than Charleston) had already been invited to several functions where the guests of honor were in possession of titles. (Although to be honest, the last big reception was thrown by a “Scottish Lady” who'd bought one cubic foot of land over the Internet for ten thousand dollars, and with it, the right to put on airs.)
“Who is it this time?” I asked.
“The Duke and Duchess of Malberry,” Mama said. “He's eighty-seventh in line to the throne.”
“I don't know; she didn't she say. England, I should imagine.”
“Kitty Bohring. She's a cousin of a cousin of a cousin of one of the duke's stable hands, so you see, Abby, she's
kissing cousins with the queen herself.”
Using Mama's logic, since I enjoy watching Colin Farrell movies, and there aren't even any pesky cousins to come between us, he and I are practically having an affair. And along those lines, I own a coffee mug that once belonged to Truman Capote. I bought it at the celebrity gift store at MGM Studios in Disney World. Everytime that hot coffee passes over the rim and through my lips, I like to imagine that fame and fortune does as well; I certainly couldn't expect any infusion of the writing muse. When you think about it, Truman and I had a lot of things in common: we both grew into diminutive adults; we both were nurtured by the South; and both our mothersâ
“Abby, there you go again; you're off your own little world.”
“Mama, I'm trying to work up enthusiasm, for your sake, I really am. But a distant cousin of a stable boy is hardly royalty. Why would a duke be visiting Miss Bohring?”
Mama glanced around the room, and seeing no one, not even my cat Dmitri, lowered her voice anyway. “You know.”
“Because she's richer than God?”
Mama giggled. “Abby that's awful, but it might be true.”
Kitty Bohring, and I hesitate to speak ill of the dead (which she is from the neck up), is Charleston's most ambitious social climber. She blew into town shortly after Hurricane Hugo, purchased a heavily damaged mansion for a song, and then poured a large fortune into refurbishing it. Because Kitty was scrupulous in following the historical guidelines, no one could find fault with the finished product. What had been an eyesore was now a local showpiece. She then furnished the house with as many pieces made by local artisans as she could, before going abroad to get the rest.
In addition to the money she pumped into the economy through jobs, Kitty donated staggering amounts of cash to every charitable organization she saw listed in the yellow pages and a dozen others that crept out of the woodwork. Suddenly she was everybody's darling, as well as everyone's favorite person to hate.
I didn't hate her, mind you. In fact, I was very pleased when she purchased a rice planter bed in my shop. I will, however, admit it annoys me that she hon
estly believes she can buy social standing in this town simply because of her vast resources, that she can be the one exception. And no, not for a second do I believe that the fact she is from Michiganâwell above the Mason Dixon lineâwill have anything to do with her ultimate rejection.
The highest tiers of Charleston society are forever closed to unmarried persons from “off,” divorced Charlestonians, and of course Charlestonians who are decidedly of the other color (a few venerable families are known to sport deep tans the year round, but as they are truly old families, no one dares question their status).
African Americans from “off” are usually surprised to discover that Charleston African Americans maintain their own multitiered society that is as rigid as white society. Their cotillions are every bit as elegant, and take up just as much room on the society page of the
Post and Courier
, as do those of white Charleston. Black Charlestonians are expected to attend church on Sundays. The uniform for men is dark suits; for women it is white dresses and elaborate white hats, referred to fondly as crowns of glory. The services last for at least three hours, sometimes four, and are followed by a promenade down to the Battery.
“You've been sitting there in a daze. Are you going to answer my question or not?”
“Dear, that answer might work on some, but I was there when you were born, remember? You are forty-
six, and not a day younger.” She shook her head. “But how I can be your mother and still not be fifty? Now
a miracle. My question, however, is what on earth am I going to wear Saturday night?”
“How about that yellow dress with the cap sleeves and bell skirt you like so much?”
like it until Denise Ayerston told me I looked like a tulip.”
“I know it's a little late in the year to be wearing velvet, but that midnight blue gown you wore to meet the Contessa d'Porquesville was gorgeous. You got a million compliments.”