Miss Julia Lays Down the Law

BOOK: Miss Julia Lays Down the Law
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Also by Ann B. Ross

Etta Mae’s Worst Bad-Luck Day

Miss Julia’s Marvelous Makeover

Miss Julia Stirs Up Trouble

Miss Julia to the Rescue

Miss Julia Rocks the Cradle

Miss Julia Renews Her Vows

Miss Julia Delivers the Goods

Miss Julia Paints the Town

Miss Julia Strikes Back

Miss Julia Stands Her Ground

Miss Julia’s School of Beauty

Miss Julia Meets Her Match

Miss Julia Hits the Road

Miss Julia Throws a Wedding

Miss Julia Takes Over

Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind

VIKING

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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New York, New York 10014

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penguin.com

A Penguin Random House Company

First published by Viking Penguin, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2015

Copyright © 2015 by Ann B. Ross

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

LIBRARY OF CO
NGRESS CATALOGING-IN
-PUBLICATION DATA

Ross, Ann B.

Miss Julia lays down the law : a novel / Ann B. Ross.

pages ; cm. — (Miss Julia ; 16)

ISBN 978-0-698-15799-6

1. Springer, Julia (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Murder—Investigation—Fiction. 3. City and town life—North Carolina—Fiction. 4. Women—North Carolina—Fiction. 5. Widows—Fiction. 6. North Carolina—Fiction. I. Title.

PS3568.O84198M5655 2015

813'.54—dc23

2014038543

P
UBLISHER’S NOTE

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

Contents

Also by Ann B. Ross

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

To all the readers who turned the first Miss Julia book into a series, this sixteenth one is for you.

Chapter 1

Holding my coat against the wind, I walked across the brittle grass of the Clayborns’ sloping yard to my car, paying no attention to the other women coming out of the house behind me. No one spoke—all the pleasantries and other closing remarks had been said inside, and everyone was anxious to leave, no one more so than I. I bent against the wind as I hurried toward the cars parked in the drive and along the street. The strong November breeze with a nip in it swirled off the mountain—another reason not to linger.

I slid into my car and closed the door, then, with shaking hands, rammed the key into the ignition.

Why hadn’t I said something?

Driving a little less carefully than was my wont, I hurried home, shivering occasionally as remnants of the startling lecture flashed in my mind—rural blight, complacent people, unsustainable economy, ugly mismatched storefronts, and on and on, until I’d thought I’d explode with outrage at the tongue lashing.

I hadn’t wanted to go to Connie Clayborn’s house for coffee, had thought of half a dozen reasons not to go, had almost called that morning to offer my apologies.

Yet I had gone because what else does one do when graciously invited, but graciously accept? As had a dozen or so women—many of whom were my close friends, and others, if not close, well known to me. It should have been a pleasant occasion, full of talk about the approaching holidays, the state of the weather, children, and grandchildren, as well as that of the nation. We were a fairly well-read and well-informed group.

I should’ve gotten up and left
.

During the social hour, I had listened attentively to the comments of almost everyone there over the fact that Sam had lost the election for state senator a few days before. He’d lost, but not by much—he’d given Jimmy Ray Mooney a run for his money—yet a miss is as good as a mile in politics as well as in horseshoes, and we had to live with that. Hearing remarks from some who were sincerely sorry was hard enough, but I’d also had to attend to those pious souls who could hardly bring themselves to offer their regrets, but who had commiserated for the sake of politeness. That was probably why I hadn’t wanted to go in the first place, yet better to face it than to avoid it.

They were all eager to see how I was taking the loss—would I be angry, disgusted, bitter? None of the above. I had smiled, even laughed occasionally, saying, “We always deserve whomever we elect, don’t you think?” and let them interpret it as they pleased.

After pulling into my own driveway and parking, I strode into a quiet house, recalling that Lillian had said she’d be grocery shopping. With no one to talk to, but still on edge, I immediately went upstairs to change my clothes. I had worn a powder blue woolen princess-style dress with a double strand of pearls under a matching coat with my diamond brooch on the shoulder. After putting the jewelry away, I hung up the outfit and donned an everyday dress and a cardigan. Then, slipping into low-heeled shoes, I sat down in one of the easy chairs in front of a window that looked out over Polk Street, determined to compose myself after enduring a piercingly critical review of my shortcomings, as well as those of every other resident of Abbotsville, North Carolina.

Why had we put up with it?

Connie Clayborn had invited us to a coffee—the term we use for a morning social occasion in which coffee and hot tea are served along with an array of finger food. Such an occasion gave the hostess an opportunity to use her silver, her best or second-best china—depending upon whom she’d invited—and to display by the centerpiece her skill in flower arranging. And, of course, to show off her home.

I had been to hundreds of such gatherings over the years, but never to such a one as I’d been subjected to that morning. Let’s get this straight right at the beginning: it had
not
been a social occasion. The invitation to a coffee had been a ruse to get us to attend, and, being polite people, we had accepted even though Connie Clayborn was a newcomer to the town and barely known by most of us.

What had been the matter with us?

In hindsight, though, I realized that she had known us. She’d invited the cream of the crop, so to speak, knowing that if one of us accepted, the others would follow suit. Mildred Allen had been there, and so had LuAnne Conover, Emma Sue Ledbetter, Helen Stroud, Callie Armstrong, Sue Hargrove, and several other leading women of the town. Interestingly, though, neither Hazel Marie Pickens nor Binkie Enloe Bates had been there, perhaps because one was married to a private investigator and the other to a sheriff’s deputy—too blue collar for Connie, I supposed.

Which proved that Connie didn’t know us quite as well as she thought. Binkie, for instance, was one of the most successful lawyers in town, and Hazel Marie was the mother of Lloyd, the child of my late husband, Wesley Lloyd Springer, which meant that Lloyd and I shared the largest estate ever probated in Abbot County. Neither Binkie nor Hazel Marie would ever go hungry, so Connie Clayborn didn’t know everything about us.

As I went over in my mind the ones who had been invited, I realized that Connie had selected the most obviously wealthy and influential women in town either by virtue of their husbands—doctors, lawyers, or executives—or because of inherited wealth, plus one or two who’d made it on their own. But that didn’t explain the presence of Emma Sue Ledbetter, the wife of the minister of the First Presbyterian Church of Abbotsville, because I knew what we paid him. I now realized, however, just why Emma Sue had been invited—it was because she was so
active
and involved
. Especially if whatever she did could be counted as another good deed to be chalked up.

I’d also thought that Connie had made a mistake with Helen Stroud because Helen had lost her financial standing when she’d lost her husband. But on second thought, perhaps Helen had not been a mistake, because if anything needed to be organized, supervised, and done right, she was the one who could do it.

But let me tell you about Connie. First of all, she was a little younger than some of us—late forties, I would venture, although about half of the guests had been in that age group. But none, I realized, had young children at home—we could all have been seen as women of leisure.

Connie and her husband, a top executive at the local plant of an international plastics company, had built a glass and stone house in the first and, so far, the only gated community in the county. I didn’t know what the plastics company made, but Connie had taken pains to let us know that they had lived in Switzerland, New Jersey, Chicago, and Boston during her husband’s climb to the top. It had occurred to me that being transferred to Abbotsville might indicate some slippage from those heights, but who knew?

I can’t believe we just sat there and took it.

The first time I’d met Connie, which had been a couple of weeks before at a reading by our local poet at the library, she’d walked up to me, held out her hand, and said, “Did you, by chance, go to Vassar? You look so familiar.” A claim that was patently unlikely to begin with, there being such a difference in our ages.

“No,” I’d replied, “I went to Winthrop.”

“Oh?” she asked with a lift of her eyebrows. “Where is that?”

“Rock Hill.” Then as she frowned, I said, “South Carolina.”

“Well, that explains it,” she’d said. “I don’t know the South very well.” Meaning, I surmised, that she’d never heard of the school or the town, and I realized that her motive in asking had been to let me know that she was a Vassar graduate. Lot of good that would do her in Abbotsville twenty years later.

Still, it probably explained why she dressed in twin sweater sets and pleated skirts, complete with heavy, clunky shoes. Though quite tall, she was not an unattractive woman, but, then, I wouldn’t call her especially attractive, either. She had dark brown hair, deep brown eyes, and an olive complexion that was prone to a sprinkle of dark moles. With her serious demeanor and black-rimmed eyeglasses, she seemed to me to be projecting
intellectual,
which, if she had to work that hard at it, probably meant she wasn’t.

She did, however, impress a number of people. Like Emma Sue Ledbetter, for one, who was thrilled to have such a superior being among us.

“Julia,” she’d whispered to me at the coffee, “Connie is
unchurched,
can you believe it? I invited her to Sunday services, and she said she’s a rationalist who depends on the positive energy of the universe to guide her life. I don’t know what that means.” Emma Sue added, frowning, “But it really hurt me to hear it. Isn’t she just the kind we want to reach? I mean, she’s so intelligent that she’ll see the truth if it’s presented to her. I think she’s ripe for evangelizing, so do whatever you can to reach her.”

“Well, Emma Sue,” I said, balancing a teacup on a dessert plate, “if she asks, I’ll be happy to respond. But I’m not much for bringing in the sheaves against their will.”

Emma Sue’s eyes automatically filled at that, but she said, “I know you don’t mean that, Julia. We must always be on the lookout for the little lost sheep.”

Later, as we’d mingled before Connie surprised us by calling us to order, Mildred Allen had sidled up to me and said, “Guess what? I really shocked our hostess by telling her that I, too, went to Vassar. I don’t think she knew that any Southern girl had even heard of it.” Mildred sipped from her cup, then, with an arched eyebrow, said, “Then I told her I’d left before finishing the first semester. Came back down south where people have manners. I think that makes me one up, if anybody’s counting, and I think someone is. She went and stayed. I went and left, having found it lacking.”

“Did you mention that you’ve also been to New York?”

Mildred sputtered, then laughed. For a heavy woman, she had a remarkably light heart.

Just as I was about to head for the guest bedroom to retrieve my coat, Connie began to herd us all into her large vaulted-ceiling living room, saying that she had something important to tell us. Then when we were seated around the room, on sofas, in chairs, on footstools, and on a bench, she stood in the middle and began to tell us what was wrong with us and what she had planned that would set us right.

The nerve of the woman!

BOOK: Miss Julia Lays Down the Law
8.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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