Read The Diva Wore Diamonds Online

Authors: Mark Schweizer

Tags: #Singers, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #North Carolina, #Fiction

The Diva Wore Diamonds (2 page)

BOOK: The Diva Wore Diamonds
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Pete Moss and I go way back. He was my roommate in college, and I was best man at his first three weddings. We’d both graduated with music degrees; then Pete headed for the Army Band while I added a master’s degree and another in Criminal Justice to my resumé. After his stint in the military, Pete came home to St. Germaine, opened his café and rose to the respectable office of mayor. It was from this exalted position that he called me and offered me the post of police chief, a job I still have, even though Pete has since been deposed and relegated to the lowly status of just another tax-paying citizen with a grudge against the government.

The cowbell hanging on the door of the Slab jangled. Nancy Parsky came in, followed closely by Dave Vance—the other two dedicated crime fighters on the St. Germaine police force. Nancy was wearing her uniform, a contrast to my standard faded jeans and polo shirt. Dave was in his khakis and button-down blue oxford, sleeves rolled up in deference to the summer season. They wasted no time in pulling up a couple of chairs and diggng into the biscuits and gravy.

Good morning to you, too,” said Pete.

Mmph,” said Dave.

I second that,” said Nancy, swallowing her bite in a hasty gulp. “I agree with Dave. Mmph.”

The bell clanked again, and Cynthia Johnsson rushed in, tying her apron behind her as she headed for the kitchen. “Sorry, sorry, sorry…” she said, disappearing behind the swinging door.

Pete shook his head. “I tell you, you just can’t get good help anymore.”

Cynthia reappeared with a coffee pot in her hand. “Sorry, sorry,” she muttered, filling the cup in front of Nancy. She offered a thin smile to Pete, gave his gray ponytail a playful tug, and kissed him on the top of his balding head. “Sorry, honey. I just don’t know where the time went.” She poured Dave a cup and topped mine off before heading to a table of out-of-town patrons who were glaring angrily at the menu and looking pointedly around for someone to take their order. People from south Florida who visit St. Germaine in the summer for our climate do not take kindly to being made to wait for their breakfast. They are used to being in a hurry and having many important things to do. That they normally don’t mind waiting in traffic for two hours on any given day to drive to and from work is immaterial. That there really isn’t anything to do in St. Germaine before nine a.m. hasn’t occurred to them yet.

Did Noylene leave already?” asked Dave.

I expect she’s out back taking her break,” said Pete. “She’s not off until ten, but she needs at least three smokes per shift, and nothing’s going to stop her.”

Cynthia Johnsson, our tardy waitress, is also the current mayor of St. Germaine and Pete Moss’ significant other. Being mayor doesn’t pay very much—certainly not enough to live on—and Cynthia is a first-rate waitress, having served at all the fine eating establishments in town at one time or another. During the summer months, she holds down the eight to twelve shift at the Slab, the twelve to three shift at The Ginger Cat across the square, and the five to closing shift at the Bear and Brew. Every day except Mondays. She’s off on Mondays. Cynthia’s also a professional belly-dancer, available for parties and individual instruction.

As soon as Noylene comes back in, we can have our meeting,” I noted. “We really should wait for the mayor to finish pouring coffee.”

Pete snorted.

I hear y’all are back in the church this Sunday,” said Nancy.

Nope. A week from Sunday,” I said. “It’s been a long nineteen months.”

St. B looks the same as it did before the fire,” said Dave. “Any fancy improvements?”

Like what?” I asked.

You know…big screens that lower from the ceiling. Maybe a hydraulic platform for the praise band.”

You’re an idiot,” said Nancy. “Pass me another biscuit.”

There are security cameras now,” I said. “A whole security system, in fact. And we have some solar panels on the roof. Very green. Very environmentally conscious.”

The insurance pay for that?” asked Pete.

Nope. But the building committee felt we could afford the upgrade. The solar panels won’t provide enough electricity to run the church, but they’ll help.”

I affirm their greenyness,” said Cynthia as she passed by the table, still pursuing her quest to make sure everyone’s coffee cups were full. “As mayor, it’s my solemn duty—”

Miss! Hey! Miss!” called one of the excessively tanned Floridians from across the restaurant. He rattled his cup rudely on the table top. Cynthia gritted her teeth and headed his direction.

There are other things, of course,” I continued. “The offices have been rearranged. Bathrooms moved. Stuff like that. But, all in all, the church looks very much like the old St. Barnabas.”

How about the organ?” asked Nancy. “Have they finished it yet?”

Not yet. There’s still about a week of installation to do, then the final voicing. It should be ready for the first Sunday we’re back. If not all of it, enough to make a noble noise.”

I’m privy to this inside knowledge because, in addition to being the police chief of St. Germaine, I’m also employed as the organist and choir director at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. It isn’t a job I need. It’s a job I like. In fact, I like both my jobs, demonstrated by the fact that I’m still doing them. If I didn’t enjoy working, I’d be sitting in my fancy log cabin on my two-hundred acres, counting my money, a task that would take a long time because I have a lot of it thanks to a little invention I patented about fifteen years ago and a very wise and sexy investment counselor. So sexy, in fact, that I married her. Meg is the best in the biz and even after the downturn in the market, I was still sitting pretty.

I can’t wait to hear it,” said Nancy. “The King of Instruments.”

It’s a beaut!” I said. “Almost a year and a half in the making.”

I had called the Baum-Boltoph Organ Company within a few days of the fire. They’d done the rebuilding of the organ ten years ago, and I’d made some fast friends, including Michael Baum, the owner. After the new organ committee visited five of the instruments the company had designed and built and had seen Michael’s presentation, Baum-Boltoph was the unanimous choice to build our new organ. It took a bit of doing to move up on their list, but what are friends for? Now, almost a year and a half later, the organ had been completed, and the installation was well underway. Since the fire, the church had been meeting in the rotunda of the courthouse, and I’d been playing a grand piano that the church bought and moved in for the services. The piano would end up in the parish hall, and I was ready to get back behind the console of an instrument that the congregation could complain about. “Could the priest please do something about the organ? It’s too loud.” Loud? They hadn’t
loud. Not yet.

I looked out the plate glass window of the Slab and across Sterling Park to where the new St. Barnabas Church stood. The mason’s helpers were meandering to and fro, cleaning up the remnants of the stonework. Old scaffolds were being unbolted and stacked in beat-up construction trucks. A painter was working on the front door, applying the second or maybe third coat of dark red paint—red: the traditional color of church doors offering sanctuary to any offender. There were some landscapers in front as well, putting in the sprinkler system and making a general mess of the lawn. Most of what was left to be done, though, was the finish work on the inside. The pews were due to arrive from New England in the next couple of days, the light fixtures for the nave were on a truck somewhere between St. Louis and Asheville, and the sound system wasn’t working. The contractor would be scrambling to get everything finished in two weeks.

Cynthia, seeing Noylene come through the swinging kitchen door, plopped down at our table with a huff.

I swear…” she grumbled. “I’m starting to hate tourists.”

You’re the mayor,” said Pete with an evil grin. “You must embrace the tourist trade. Take them to your bosom, as it were.”

My bosom is not up for company,” said Cynthia.

All bosoms aside,” I said, “now that we’re all here, what’s on the agenda for the week?”

Pete took a sip of his coffee and raised his eyebrows. Nancy shrugged. Dave helped himself to another biscuit.

Well, that’s it, then.” I started to get up.

Hang on,” said Cynthia. “We have the referendum coming up on Sunday beer and wine sales. The Bear and Brew wants to sell beer on Sunday afternoon and evening during the football games. Right now, there’s a city ordinance against it. You can buy beer at the Piggly Wiggly, but you can’t buy it in a restaurant. How silly is that?”

I sat back down.

I agree,” said Pete. “But there’s no sense worrying about it now. It’s on the ballot.”

When’s the vote?” asked Nancy.

A week from tomorrow,” said Cynthia. “Shouldn’t I be making speeches or something?”

Anything else need voting on?” I asked.

Annexation of about five hundred acres to include the Blueridge Furs and Camp Possumtickle. They both asked. They’d like fire and police protection and don’t mind paying the extra taxes. The City Council was all for it, but it has to be voted on.”

You mean Camp Daystar,” said Dave. “It’s still a Christian nudist camp.”

Not a very exciting election,” said Nancy. “I’ll bet we don’t have three hundred people vote on Tuesday.”

Have you advertised the liquor referendum?” I asked.

The listings come out in the paper tomorrow morning. One week before the election. That’s what our city charter says.”

So,” said Pete with a grin, “no one knows about it yet.”

Well, obviously the council knows. Maybe others. I don’t know for sure, but it’s not a secret.”

I expect you’ll be pretty busy starting tomorrow,” I said. “Nothing like liquor and nudists to get folks riled up.”

Oh, man,” said Cynthia. “I’m doomed. Any good news? How about the parking ticket problem?”

Taken care of,” said Nancy. “Here’s our plan. We’ll continue to give out tickets, and people will continue to throw them down in the street. Then, after a while, we’ll send them a bill, and they’ll ignore it. After a few months, we’ll delete it from their record.”

It’s called the ‘circle of life,’” said Dave.

But what about the revenue?” asked Cynthia.

We really don’t need it,” I said. “Property taxes are so high that we run a surplus every year anyway. It’s not like we’re in a budget crisis. The City Council has a couple of million dollars in the coffers.”

It’s the principle of the thing!”

I have a suggestion,” said Pete. “Why not declare an unofficial moratorium on parking tickets and let these tourists park where they want during the summer? They’re here to spend money. No sense in making them mad.”

Fine with me,” said Nancy. Dave nodded.

Don’t I need to bring this to the City Council?”

You certainly can if you want,” said Pete. “But by the time they’ve finished discussing it, talking to their constituents, floating a few trial balloons, and deciding how to vote to make the least number of people mad, it’ll be March of next year before they do anything. Even then, they’ll probably decide we need to give
parking tickets. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—democracy just doesn’t work.”

BOOK: The Diva Wore Diamonds
2.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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