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Authors: Tamar Myers

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BOOK: Death of a Rug Lord
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“Yes, but Jonathan Dearborn said that I looked like a drag queen doing Liza Minnelli—a
Liza Minnelli.”

“Jonathan only wishes he could do half as good a job.”


“Sorry, Mama. How about we go shopping for something new?”

“Can we go now?”

“Mama, I've got to get to my own shop and check on Wynnell. Besides, don't you even want to know about the body in the rug?”

My minimadre patted her pearls. “Of course, dear. I've merely been trying to stall the unpleasant. Did you really know her?”

“Yes, I'm afraid so. You did as well; it was Gwendolyn Spears, the lady from Pasha's Palace.”

The pearls began a slow rotation. “Oh my! And you said she was such a nice young lady, even though she did reek of alcohol.”

“Yes, and that's not all. The rug she sold me for C.J. and Toy's wedding was worth ten times what I paid for it.”

“Do you think she was trying to tell you something?”

“It would appear that way.”

The pearls twirled until they were a blur. “Abby, you're going to involve yourself in another murder investigation, aren't you?”

“I haven't decided yet, Mama. And I don't mean to get you upset; I'm just trying to be honest. Last time, you complained that I didn't trust you enough to confide in you.”

“No, you're doing the right thing,” Mama hastened to assure me. “Have you called Greg?”

“Mama, you know he's such a worrywart. He'll tell me to mind my own business. Then he'll have the police put a tail on me which, in the end, won't do any good. Instead, it will tip off whomever I'm investigating, only making it that much more dangerous for me.”

“You get your stubbornness from your daddy's side of the family, you know.”

“There was never any doubt.”

She nodded, bravely accepting the inevitable. “Well,” she said at last, “I suppose I could resurrect that beige jacket dress I wore to Mindy Coatweiler's coming-out party last year.”

“I hadn't a clue she was a lesbian. But now that I think of it, I do remember her giving me a very thorough once-over in the locker room at the club.”

“She came out
at a cotillion, dear.”


“Abby, so now we know what I'm going to wear, but what about you?”

Oh, Mama, it's so sweet of you to bring me along as your date, but it's really not necessary. You know what they say: when you've met one pseudoroyal, you've met them all.”

“Who says that?”


“Which folks?”

“Folks who've met them, of course.” I tossed back my head and attempted a royal, yet casual, laugh. It was something the queen might do while on a family picnic. Unfortunately, I sounded more like a very small member of the parrot family whose foot had been stepped on by a water buffalo.

Mama took no notice of the strange sound I'd produced. She reached under her seat cushion and withdrew a thick, cream-colored envelope with scalloped edges. It smelled cloyingly of musk, with undercurrents of cardamom and sage.

“Then I suppose you want me to toss this in the rubbish bin?”

“Rubbish bin? Since when did you turn British? Oh my stars! Is that—it
, is it?”

Mama was on her feet. She didn't have to answer. We held hands and like fools jumped around the room shrieking. Then, when we'd calmed down enough so I could drive, we drove around Charleston in a frenzy until we'd both gotten ourselves new outfits for the biggest night on our social horizon.

ob Goldburg, who is the second most handsome man in all of Charleston, was my date that night. Meanwhile,
most handsome man, my darling husband, Greg, was stuck on his shrimp boat along with Booger Boy, due to a faulty engine. As for Mama's date, he was due to show up any minute.

Mama and I had been surprisingly successful with our dress hunt. Right off the bat Mama stumbled upon a rack of vintage dresses in petite sizes, including one “exactly like the one worn by Lucille Ball on the
I Love Lucy Show
.” Of course that show was filmed in black and white, so Mama can't be sure of the color, but in any case, hers is buttercup yellow. I, on the other hand, was not
so lucky. At four-foot-nine, I am almost never able to find a dress straight off the rack that doesn't need altering. But I was quite successful in finding the perfect bolt of cloth.

Emerald green is Greg's favorite color, and over the years it has become mine as well. Recently the stores have been swamped with the bluish shades of aqua green and springlike yellow greens that Greg, never
one to mince words, refers to as puke green. But emerald green, forest green, and Kelly green, are all as rare as real, flawless emeralds. When I saw that bolt of perfect green I hefted it over to Mrs. Wolfowitz, my Russian seamstress, and in three days she created a dress that looked as if it might have been purchased from one of the finest New York boutiques.

“Abby, you look stunning,” Mama said.

“So do you, Mama.”

“You really think so? I thought maybe it needed another crinoline.” Already her voluminous skirts stuck straight out like a beach umbrella.

“Mozella,” Rob said, “if you gild that lily any more, I shall be forced to turn hetero, sweep you into my arms and kiss the living daylights out of you. Who knows, perhaps even I might be so overcome that I find myself losing control altogether and making mad passionate love to you. Think of the ammunition that would give the Bible thumpers.”

Mama giggled flirtatiously. “Oh Rob, you can be so naughty. I say let's give the Bible thumpers what they want: a little show. I'm reading this romance called
Patty Needs a Plumber
. We could reenact the cover. Abby, do you have a toolbox? Robby, dear, take off your tux jacket and your shirt, and tuck a wrench in your cummerbund. Then—”

She was beginning to flush with excitement; it was time to put a stop to the nonsense. “Mama, Rob is interested in
side plumbing, not
side. Remember?”

“A girl can dream, can't she?”

Fortunately for all of us the doorbell rang, but when I opened it, I nearly keeled over backward with sur
prise. The man on the porch grabbed my wrist and steadied me.

“Howdy ma'am. Fancy meetin' you here—except that we already done met.”

“Big Larry?” Mama trilled. “Is that you?”

Big Larry? Big
was more like it. Where on earth did my social-climbing mother, bless her heart, meet someone as uncultivated as the giant who'd literally plucked me from the crowd by the harbor?

Mama tried to push me aside with her slips, but I stood my ground. “Actually, we haven't met. You skedaddled before we had a chance to formally introduce ourselves. I'm Abigail Washburn.”

Washburn,” Mama said over my shoulder. “Abby's my little girl.”

“I'm Big Larry McNamara.”

“The Big is really part of his name,” Mama said, “on account of he weighed fifteen pounds at birth.”

“Which is what Abby weighs now,” Rob said from over Mama's shoulder.

Big Larry emitted a laugh that no woman should be forced to listen to while sober, but trapped between two loved ones and a behemoth, what was I to do? Make myself faint? I'd only been able to do that once. That was the time my first mother-in-law forced me to listen to a family history she'd written, beginning with Great-great-great-grandpa Titus Beauchamp Timberlake. I held my breath when, by page thirty-seven, she'd only reached the patriarch's birth.

When Big Larry was finally through braying I piped up immediately. “Mr. McNamara,” I said, “I'd invite you in, but we were just about to step out.”

“I know, ma'am; I'm your little mama's escort for the evenin'.”

I wiggled into an about-face. “‘Lucy, you have some 'splaining to do.'”

Mama giggled. “I know, dear. I'll give you one minute in the powder room. Then it's off to meet their royal highnies.”

I grabbed both her hands, and pushing past Rob, half dragged her into my downstairs hall bath. I was able to slam the door behind me with a dyed-to-match emerald green pump.

“Mama, have you been drinking?”

“You poured the glass of wine yourself, and I only had a few sips.”

“That's it?”

“You know I don't drink; it gives me migraines.”

“Then why are you acting so giddy? Giggling all the time? And where did you meet Goliath?”

“Abby, don't be rude. His name is Big Larry. We met three weeks ago, if you must know, at the Shepherd's Center. He was giving a program on torturing trees.”


“You know. Like the Japanese do.”

“It's an
called bonsai, Mama; it's not torture.”

“Have you ever seen it done? Big Larry brought in this shrub he'd bought at Home Depot and set it on a table. Then he lopped off half the branches. As for the others, he twisted them like pretzels after wrapping them in wire. And that's not all; he sawed away a good chunk of the root ball and crammed the remainder into a pot so small it made me wince. It was like watching a Chinese lady get her feet bound.”

“How many times have you done that, Mama?”

“You know what I mean.”

“Well, for the record, the Chinese no longer do that. But with your graphic description of bonsai techniques, you've totally diverted the story away from Larry. Mama, you really are a pro.”

“Thank you, dear.”

“I'm not sure you're welcome.”

We stepped back into the living room, and even though the men appeared not to have moved, I swear I saw Big Larry's left ear retract like a telescope being closed. At any rate, he soon made it clear that he'd overheard our conversation.

“Mozella's right,” he boomed, “it is kinda like torture—funny, but I ain't never thought about it that way. Ya cut, and ya snip, and ya twist—it shore ain't natural, and all so that something young will look old. That ain't the way of things normally.”

“It may not be one of our traditions, sir, but it's long been respected in the East.”

“Right you are, Abby. May I call you that?”

“Must you?”

“Abby!” Mama snapped.

“Very well then,” I said, “if you
.” I snatched my Moo Moo pocketbook from the bench by the door, grabbed Rob's jacket sleeves, and somehow managed to maneuver him outside.

Kitty Bohring lives along White Point Gardens, which is an easy walk from my house. The trick at night is to avoid stepping on the palmetto bugs that scurry across the sidewalks from every direction. Don't let their exotic name fool you: they are nothing
more than palm-dwelling roaches.
roaches. (I have heard that New Yorkers run screaming in terror when they first see them.) Palmetto bugs are so big, in fact, that by strapping two of these creatures to each shoe, one might expect to be propelled by a new means of locomotion—except for one thing: they are reportedly darn hard to steer. At any rate, I sure as shooting wasn't going to ride, or walk, with Big Larry.

“Abby!” Rob called, running to catch up. He too sounded reproachful.


“Why were you so rude to that man?”

“Because he infuriates me, that's why.”

“In what way specifically?”

“That's just it; I don't know. Earlier this week he was so helpful. He literally picked me up and then set me down on the business side of a police barricade. But he's conning us—he's conning Mama. That accent! Have you heard anything so awful since Gomer Pyle went off the air?”

I was born and raised in Rock Hill, South Carolina, up in the Piedmont. Rob was born and raised in Charlotte, not thirty miles from me, and this was all the way back in the days when Charlotte still had a recognizable Southern accent. Neither of us, however, talked like we had a mouth full of marbles.

“It is pretty bad,” Rob agreed. “Where did he say he was from?”

“He didn't—not to me. I never gave him a chance. You know me and my big mouth.”

“But a very shapely mouth.”

“Thank you. Is Bob hurt because I invited you to fill in for Greg, instead of him? And please be honest.”

“You really want honesty?”


“Well, uh, both Bob and I received our own invitations, so Bob, figuring you'd get one too, decided to take a mercy date to the big doings.”

date? Who?”

“But you can't breathe a word of this. Promise?”

“Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.”



“Do you know another?”

“But what if I
gotten invited?”

“Believe me, Abby, we would've known. All of Charleston would have known.”


We walked in silence, enjoying an evening fit for the gods. If there is a place on earth more beautiful than Charleston in early April, then the person who has seen it is very lucky, for he, or she, has survived a near-death experience.

For it is in this short span of just three weeks (the last two weeks of March, and the first week of April) when the best of nature's blessings are bestowed upon this city by the sea. The last of the camellias have yet to fade, the azaleas are in full flush, the jasmine adds its perfume to the gentle sea breeze, the wisteria swings from the trees like Japanese lanterns, and the bright yellow Carolina jessamine tumbles over courtyard walls and fences, illuminating the dark corners of
secret gardens and knitting together hundreds of years of history.


Light spilled from every window of Kitty Bohring's vast mansion, and the sounds of a full orchestra flowed through the open French doors that led to the balcony off the second floor ballroom. Anyone who was
in Charleston—in fact all of the Lowcountry—was queuing up to get past the two burly security guards posted at the wrought-iron front gates. Anyone who was
anyone watched enviously behind a velvet rope.

Every now and then one of the unlucky hoi polloi—usually a tourist—would try to bluff his, or her, way into the royal reception, only to be bodily carried into the street by another two security guards. The crowd would cheer or boo, depending on how vigorously the manhandled person struggled.

In front of us in line was an Olympic gold medal figure skater who lives on nearby Kiawah Island. She had brought her mother, and both were pleasant enough. Standing in line three couples behind us was a movie star who is not from anywhere near the Southeast coast, nor does he own a home here to my knowledge. But this wasn't just any old movie star; he was also a director, and a writer, and who knows what else.

“Rob, bend down so I can tell you something.”

Rob bent, but he kept his eyes on the burly guard at the left gate. “Yes madam?”

“You're never going to believe who's behind you.”

“It's who's in front of me that has me intrigued.”

“Stop it, Rob; you're a happily married man.”

“I look but I don't touch—and that's more than I can say for a lot of straight people. So, who's the star?”

“Let's just hope he doesn't hand Kitty Bohring a bag of poop.”

Rob swiveled long enough to draw the same conclusion I had. “Abby, darling, this can't be good.”

“But this evening might be dreadfully amusing after all,” I said in an English accent.

Little did I know.

BOOK: Death of a Rug Lord
8.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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