Read The Diva Wore Diamonds Online

Authors: Mark Schweizer

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

The Diva Wore Diamonds (9 page)

BOOK: The Diva Wore Diamonds
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Yeah,” added Billy. “What if Elaine and me made out every time we saw each other?”


Probably do you two some good,” said Bev. She held up her empty cup and gestured toward the coffee pot. I took the cup from her hand and walked over to our new, state-of-the-art, industrial coffee maker.


Grab a cup for yourself, too, and pull up a chair,” said Bev.

Billy would be outside mowing as soon as the dew evaporated and the grass was dry enough for his crew to begin. Billy Hixon’s lawn service took care of the grounds as well as most of the other lawn care and landscaping concerns in St. Germaine. The two big contracts that kept Billy’s service afloat during the long winter months were with the city and included Sterling Park and Mountainview Cemetery. Wormy DuPont had opened his own cemetery when it became clear that Mountainview was “sold out.” If you didn’t already own a resting place and wanted to be planted in St. Germaine, your only choice was Woodrow DuPont’s Bellefontaine Cemetery, known locally as Wormy Acres. Wormy offered all the latest in perpetual accoutrements, including
Eternizak
, music piped underground into your coffin for all eternity, or at least until your credit card expired.


I’m going to have to raise my rates,” said Billy. “We’ve got that whole meditation garden to take care of now.”

The original garden had been small and unimpressive—little more than a fenced patio with some boxwoods placed somewhat inartistically along the edges of the concrete pavers; but the garden had been expanded, and its renovation included as part of our rebuilding process. There had been an old, dilapidated house on the lot behind the church, but Thelma Wingler had left it to St. Barnabas when she died, and the vestry had decided to tear the house down and use the space for a meditation garden. Now it encompassed more than an acre and was landscaped to take advantage of the mature dogwoods, poplars, and maples that Thelma never had the heart to tear down, even though they had grown huge and were too close to her house.


Fine,” said Bev. “I agree. Just give me a written quote. I’ll pass it on to the senior warden, and we’ll see what she has to say.”

Billy turned to Meg. “So, what do you say?”

Meg took a sip of coffee. “I haven’t seen the quote, but I’ll tell you one thing. Give me the real price. Not that one where you add ten percent and then give it back to the church as your tithe.”


I never did that!” said Billy. “Well…not for a while.”

I pulled out a chair, sat down, and joined the conversation. “Well, what’s the verdict?” I asked Billy. He looked at me blankly. “The diamonds. Remember?”


Oh, yeah,” said Billy, brightening. “Real. Absolutely. I called over to Appalachian State early this morning. The head of the geology department put me onto a gemologist who teaches at Lees-McRae College. I met him at 8:30 this morning.”


And?”


He couldn’t tell for sure until they’re cut, but he figures four to seven carats of finished stones. Maybe twenty to thirty thousand, depending on the quality and how they’re cut.”


Wow!” said Meg. “I didn’t think they’d be worth that much.”


St. Barnabas gets richer,” I said. “I’m going to have to start taking a salary. Twenty thousand, eh? That’s a lot of money.”

Billy and Bev laughed. Meg hid a smile behind a sip of coffee.


Hayden,” said Elaine. “Twenty to thirty thousand
per stone
. Nine stones. You do the math.”

•••


Something’s wrong,” said Ardine.

The afternoon shadows were creeping over the gravel drive and had almost reached the stoop of the old trailer, a 1972 vintage single-wide mobile home, now looking its age. I’d come by the McCollough homestead to pick up Moosey for Bible Bazaar 31 A.D.


It’s been going on for the past couple of weeks,” she added.

Ardine had been a pretty woman in her youth, but had led a hard life up in the hills. Now her face was thin and lined, and her graying hair was pulled back into a bun. She wore a loose, shapeless, cotton dress, handmade probably, and had her hands tucked into the pockets of a large cardigan sweater. She looked perpetually cold and rarely smiled.


What has?” I asked.


I don’t know, but something happened to Pauli Girl. She won’t tell me what, but I’ve been through this myself, and I know something happened.”


You think someone’s bothering her?” I asked.


Worse than that,” said Ardine. “I’ve seen it before. Hell, it happened to me!”

I nodded, waiting for more information.


She came home from that youth group meeting at the church two Sundays ago. Afterglow, they call it. She wouldn’t talk or nothin’. Just went into her room and closed the door. Then, when I asked her about it the next morning, she just clammed up. She never went back, either.”


You think it’s one of the boys?” I asked, running the roster of boys that might be in the youth group through my head.


No,” said Ardine, with finality. “Pauli Girl don’t have no problem with boys. Not that age, anyway. She’s a good girl and sure of herself. She’d laugh them to scorn or put a knee where it’d do some good if one of them ever bothered her.”

I waited.


No, it’s somebody else. An adult. She acts like she’s ashamed, but it ain’t her fault.”

I raised my eyebrows. “She never went back to the youth group?”

Ardine set her mouth in a hard line. “Nope. And she loved it.”


You want Nancy to talk to her?”


I want Meg to talk to her.”


You know who it is, don’t you?” I asked.


I’m pretty sure. You need to find out.”

•••

Bible Bazaar 31 A.D. was taking place behind St. Barnabas Church in the new garden area. Kimberly Walnut had scripted a three-day activity, taking place from four to six o’clock. Two hours of biblical fun. There were canvas canopies pitched all around the park beneath the poplars and the maples, and the garden was a beehive of activity. Children were busy being divided into the twelve tribes of Israel and being assigned tent-mothers and teenaged helpers from the youth group. They were diving into their costumes, pillowcase-like tunics with holes for their arms and heads and cinched around the waist with a rope or a colorful piece of cloth. In the far corner, a “temple” had been set up—a white funeral tent with plywood pillars in the front and benches inside for the services. In another corner of the park was the drama area where the skits were scheduled to take place. There was a four foot high “well” made out of stacked stone pavers in the center of the garden. An old wooden bucket sat on its lip.

Meg was already in her outfit, something very fetching that she’d gotten from Morocco. Not exactly biblical, but she sure won the prize for best looking tent-mother. She was busy dropping muslin sacks over the heads of squirming and excited children, but gave me a wave when she saw me. Moosey scampered over to her tent and disappeared in two blinks.

Cynthia was there, her belly-dancing ensemble tinkling with every step, happy to do her part as mayor. She was scheduled to have a belly-dancing class with the little girls after they’d strung enough beads and bells together to make some noise. I didn’t have the heart to tell them that belly-dancing, in days of yore, was the purview of prostitutes and wanton women.

Jeremiah the donkey was in a pen, along with a couple of sheep and Seymour Krebbs’ camel. Seymour was in attendance, too, holding the lead rope and wearing a faded blue bathrobe, a bath towel draped over his head and tied with a belt, and sandals with black socks. Father Tony was wandering around dressed as the high priest, complete with a long, false, gray beard. He’d be officiating at the temple service. Ian Burch had also been invited, being the only one in the area with his own shofar, a ram’s horn that was being used to call the children to the temple for the daily service and to the drama area for scheduled performances. Ian also had the wherewithall to make the horn sound like something more than a flatulent donkey—something we already had, judging from the space the children were giving Jeremiah.

The activity tents were manned with adults from all three of the churches—St. Barnabas, Sand Creek Methodist, and New Fellowship Baptist—all ready to lead the children in pursuits they essentially knew nothing about but were happy to learn along with the kids. I recognized most of the folks, but there were some who were new to me.

Shea Maxwell was helping at the sandal-making tent, Carol Sterling was getting the clay ready to be molded by young potters, and Gerry and Wilma Flemming, the herbalists, were putting fresh-cut herbs in mason jars. The herbalists were also in charge of making tea for the tent-mothers and had an electric coffee pot burbling away to provide hot water on demand. An orange extension cord snuck out the back of the tent and snaked its way to the parish hall.

Brianna Stafford was sorting the beads in the jewelry shop, and Beaver Jergenson, the armorer, would happily show the little warriors in the group how to make some basic biblical armor out of wood, leather straps, and scraps of metal. There was a candy shop where the children could spend a coin if they had one left over. They’d get their ten coins each morning from their tent-mother, and coins were required for apprenticing in the shops, petting the animals, giving alms to the beggars, making their offerings in the temple, and various other things.

Skeeter Donalson made a convincing leper, although, with all the dirty rags he was wearing, it was tough to make out his pockmarked face and permanently greasy hair.

In addition to the folks from St. Barnabas, there were some I didn’t know—a basket weaver, a carpenter, and someone who, according to the placard in front of her tent, was named Lydia, and was going to show kids how to dye cloth purple. I also didn’t know the two soldiers or the beggar. Their costumes were great, though, probably left over from an Easter pageant at one of the other two churches. I was the Roman tax collector and, hence, the bad guy.

Kimberly Walnut was scuttling back and forth like a hermit crab at the Dead Sea, checking her lists and directing adults to their appointed posts. She looked very busy, but, in fact, the tent-mothers had everything under control. Kimberly just had to get the skits running on time.

Unfortunately, the first person I ran into after I’d gotten into my tax collector outfit was Pete. This particular costume was more along the lines of John Wayne’s centurion look in
The Greatest Story Ever Told
. Short red tunic with a “pleather” overlay replete with brass-colored plastic medallions on strips that hung past my waist, sandals, and a red cape. There was a helmet as well. It was a bit small, but it more than made up for it in style, the hard plastic silver crown sporting hinged face-guards, and topped by red bristles stiff enough to sweep the floor of the Slab Café. The sword was a bonus.

Pete almost fell over laughing. “Your legs!” he guffawed. “You need to get down to Noylene’s Dip ‘N Tan.”

I stabbed him with my sword. Unfortunately, it was made of rubber.


Did you bring my sandwich?” I asked.


Yep.” Pete handed me a paper bag, still chuckling. “As ordered. One Reuben sandwich—corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing on toasted rye.”


And chips?”


Yeah. Chips.”

Moosey ran up, followed closely by Christopher and Dewey. “Hey, Chief!” he yelped. “Lookit! We’re in the tribe of Issy-something!”


Issachar,” said Christopher.


We’re the warriors!” said Dewey.


Robert’s over in the Baptist tent,” said Moosey. “He has to stay with his class. He’s a Benjamin.”

BOOK: The Diva Wore Diamonds
12.74Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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