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First Editition
5.5"x 8.5" Trade Paperback
Retail $14.95; 252pp
ISBN 978-1-62268-050-4 print
ISBN 978-1-62268-051-1 e-book
LCCN 2013953699

 

 

 

 

A CORPSE UNDER THE CHRISTMAS TREE
A Callie Parrish Mystery
Author: Fran Rizer

 

Chapter 1

"You don't have to be Santa to come on Christmas Eve."
    My brother Mike sang those words as Daddy and my brothers played the melody to an old Ernest Tubb country song, "You Don't Have to Be a Baby to Cry." Daddy had been singing it when Mike butted in with, "Keep pickin' but let me sing. I've got a Christmas version of that tune."
    I confess I whapped Mike across his bottom with Mortuary Cosmetology News, the magazine I'd been reading while Daddy played my banjo. Hardly an adult action, though I'd been trying really hard to behave like a true Southern lady recently, even with my brothers. The music stopped.
    "Why'd you do that?" Mike whined and rubbed his behind. "I was referring to relatives visiting on Christmas Eve."
    "Oh, no, you weren't. You were making up one of those smutty little songs you love to sing. It's Christmas night. I've had a wonderful day without anyone being a total redneck, and now you sing something like that! Why do you always have to do something trashy when we get together?" I began gathering up the presents my family gave to Jane and me.
    "What are we doing?" Jane asked. She's blind and couldn't see me.
    "Going home. I've had enough family for one day." I stuffed my last package into a big Santa Claus gift bag.
    "Calamine, will you leave your banjo here for me to play?" Daddy asked.
    "Of course," I agreed. After all, the valuable pristine prewar Gibson had been a birthday surprise from him.
    "Or I can make these boys behave if you want to stay," he offered while he tuned the banjo again. "Michael was out of line to sing that in front of you."
    The Boys are all older than I am, and those capital letters aren't a typo. I refer to my brothers collectively as The Boys because I don't think there's any hope they'll ever grow up.
    I'm thirty-three years old, been married and divorced one time each, and Daddy still thinks I'm his little girl. He forbids my brothers to tell risqué jokes in front of me and won't let me drink beer in his presence either. He's the only person in the world who calls me by my given name—Calamine. Everyone else calls me "Callie" or sometimes "Calaparash" all smushed together into one word the way folks here on the coast of South Carolina do double names.
    "Jane and I need to head out anyway."
    I claim I never take nor give guilt trips, but I realized my reaction to Mike's song had been kind of strong. "I'm probably extra touchy because I'm tired. This has been one of the best Christmas Days ever—even if my family does act a little redneck at times."
    "We aren't as bad as 'Merry Christmas from the Family' by Robert Earl Keen." My brother Bill has been argumentative as long as I can remember. He picked up the magazine I'd dropped when I swatted Mike. "And we might be redneck, but we aren't always stuck in a mystery book or a magazine about dead people. This stuff is gross to the rest of us." His wife Molly headed to the kitchen, which fits her routine of leaving the room whenever any of my brothers disagree with anyone.
    "I'll have you know that's a professional magazine. I could lose my job if I don't keep up with current trends." I glared at him. "I'd rather be expert at what I do than act like one of you."
    "Who's got lights all over the outside of her building as well as a monster decorated tree on the front porch? That's a little redneck," Frankie broke in. He'd been relatively quiet since Jane and I arrived that morning. Today was the first time he'd seen Jane since she broke off their engagement.
    "Don't you dare insult that tree!" I scolded him. "It's beautiful, and it didn't look half as big when I found it in the woods. One of you could have told me it wasn't going to fit through my front door."
    "You wouldn't have believed us if we'd told you," Mike snapped. Daddy ignored all of us and began picking out a tune on the banjo.
    I didn't bother to argue, just went to the kitchen, told Molly good night, and grabbed a bottled Diet Coke for me and a can of Dr Pepper for Jane from the refrigerator. Daddy had a dish of shelled peanuts on the table, so I took a handful of those and dropped them into my drink bottle.
    As Jane and I left Daddy's house, I heard Mike singing "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer."

* * *

Driving my vintage 1966 Mustang toward home, I glanced over at Jane. She had her waist-length red hair tied in a ponytail she'd draped across her left shoulder and over her dark green sweater. Her more than ample bosom made the embroidered Santa Claus into an even chubbier jolly old elf than usual.
    "Are you working tonight?" I asked her.
    "Not until late. Why?"
    "Big Boy's still at the vet's, and I missed him something awful last night. I thought we might visit for a while."
    "You and that dog! When can you pick him up from the vet?"
    "Tomorrow."
    "Well," Jane acquiesced, "come on in, but you can't stay late. Tonight will be a good night for Roxanne. Holidays always are."
    Jane claims Roxanne is her stage name. She also refers to her job as being a fantasy actress. To call a spade a flipping shovel, Jane's a telephone sex operator. She pays her own bills and doesn't have to rely on anyone for transportation to and from work. She just answers the second landline, which is designated as Roxanne's, in her apartment and assumes a low, sexy voice.
    "Did you take all those cookies you made to Daddy's?" I asked.
    "No, I kept some. I don't know how you can still be hungry after that feast your family called Christmas dinner, but you can have all the cookies you want." She laughed. "So long as you don't put them in your drink."
    I drove and drank my Coke while Jane sang, "Jingle Bell Rock." Suddenly she quit singing.
    "You've got peanuts in your Coke again, haven't you?" she asked. I don't know how she knew that, but she did. I didn't think I was smacking, and even if I was, she shouldn't have heard me over her loud singing. "Don't you remember almost choking on a peanut in your drink that time? I think you should make a New Year's resolution to give it up."
    "I've been putting peanuts in Cokes all my life and I only choked once."
    "Once is enough. If you'd died that night, I would have been left with a dead body until 911 came."
    Jane has a morbid fear of anything deceased. I work in a mortuary, and death is not so traumatic to me. "I gave up my bad habits," she continued. "When will you give up yours?"
    "I don't consider liking peanuts in Coke a bad habit," I protested. "You gave up breaking the law when you quit shoplifting and scamming stores out of free merchandise, but how can you compare that to something innocent like putting peanuts in Coke?"
    "How many times have I told you that putting those peanuts in your drink isn't just a Southern custom like you claim. It's redneck—pure tee redneck. I swear, they ought to call you Callie Boo Boo. I've given up my bad habits. You need to give up a few of yours." She laughed. "My bad habits. Your bad habits. Who's to say which is worse? Shoplifting didn't almost kill me. Maybe we should both make some resolutions. Give up our bad habits, eat better, and get healthier this year."
    Jane and I have been friends since ninth grade, and like all BFFs, sometimes we disagree, but I didn't feel like fussing with her right then. Besides, how can anyone argue against getting healthy?
    "It's Christmas. We've had a wonderful day, and I refuse to discuss stealing versus eating peanuts with you." I giggled. Okay, I know that sounds like a thirteen-year-old, but I still giggle sometimes. We rode in silence until we were almost home.
    "Callie," Jane said. "Tell me when you can see our tree, okay?"
    Three of my five brothers had cut down a tree I picked out in the woods near Daddy's house and brought it to my apartment for me. It wouldn't fit into my place, so they stood it on the wide porch that stretches across both front doors of the duplex where Jane and I live beside each other. We'd put so many lights and decorations on it that hardly any green showed through.
    "I see it," I said when I turned onto Oak Street. "The timer worked. The lights are on, and it's beautiful!"
    Jane's voice became pensive. "You know, Callie, I've never felt sorry for myself for not being sighted, but right now I wish I could see our tree."
    "I do, too, but you 'see' more with your ears and heart and brain than most sighted people do with their eyes." I opened my mouth to begin describing the tree to her for what felt like the hundredth time but closed it again when Jane began belting "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree" at a deafening volume.
    I pulled into my side of our circular drive, parked, and gathered up several large gift bags of presents. No need to guide Jane to the steps and into her apartment. She had her mobility cane and knew the way.
    Glancing up at the porch, I saw a red and white bundle pushed up beside the tree.
    "Hey, Jane," I shouted, loud enough to be heard over her singing. "Someone left us a big present on the porch."
    I took the gifts into Jane's apartment, planning to separate mine from hers before I went next door to my place. I piled everything on her couch and then went back out to get the package. Wondering if it was for me or Jane or for us together, I reached down to lift it and realized the red and white thing appeared to be a mannequin dressed in a Santa Claus suit.
    "Bad news, Jane," I began, but she interrupted from her open doorway.
    "Do not tell me you see a body somewhere. I am sick and tired of you finding dead people every time we're having a good time. Today was too perfect for me to deal with that again." She trembled. "I don't even want to think about it." She headed toward the kitchen, calling, "I'm going to make fresh coffee, or would you rather have hot chocolate?"
    "Coffee," I called and turned my attention to the bundle under our tree. "The package doesn't appear to be a present for us," I called back to her. "I think it's a Santa Claus dummy, probably meant to be dropped off down the street for that man who runs the costume shop in town."
    I nudged the red and white cloth with my toe. It didn't feel right. I leaned over and pulled the fake white beard away from the face. I work at Middleton's Mortuary as a cosmetician/girl Friday. I know dead when I see it. The "present" on our front porch was a real person—a man with a very effeminate face or a woman with no makeup—a lifeless human in rigor mortis with a bluish purple complexion which might be bruises or livor mortis where the body had lain face-down after death.
    "Change that coffee to hot chocolate," I told Jane and closed the door to her apartment. Standing on the porch, I shivered as I pulled my cell phone from my bra. I keep it there because I've found it's the only way I could stop losing it.
    "911. What's your emergency?" the dispatcher asked.
    "There's a body on my front porch," I answered.
    "What kind of body?"
    "A human corpse."
    "Is this Callie Parrish?"
    "Yes, it is." Dalmation! I silently said my favorite kindergarten cuss word at the thought that a report of finding someone deceased made the sheriff's department think of me.
    If I'd been on a landline, the dispatch equipment would have shown my name and address, but calling from my cell meant I had to give him all that info. When I'd finished, he said, "I have someone on the way. I'd like for you to stay on the line until authorities reach you."
    "Listen, I'm on the front porch. I'm cold, and my friend Jane is in her apartment wondering what's going on," I complained. "Can't I hang up and wait inside? Tell Sheriff Harmon to knock on Jane's door when he gets here."
    "You're on a cell phone. Take it into your friend's place."
    "She'll freak out if she hears me and knows there's a body on the porch. Just tell the sheriff to knock on Jane's door."
    "It won't be Sheriff Harmon. He's off duty, and if there's a body on your friend's porch, how long do you think you can keep it a secret from her?"
    "This is a murder. Don't you think you'd better call him?" I ignored the dispatcher's question.
    "How do you know it's murder? Is there a knife or gun wound?"
    "Not that I know of, but why would there be a corpse on my porch if it's not a murder?"
    "Come to think of it, Callie, if you found a body on your porch, it probably will turn out to be homicide. It's policy for me to keep you on the phone. Can't you just wait there with this line open?"
    I was prepared to argue my case, but the discussion ended abruptly when the wailing of a siren announced a patrol car that wheeled into my drive. I disconnected the phone, and James Brown burst out singing "I Feel Good" immediately. I'd been planning to change my ringtone for weeks.
    In answer to my "hello," my brother Mike said, "Pa wants me to let you know John and his family are headed up here from Georgia. They should arrive in a couple of hours. Pa wants you and Jane to come for supper tomorrow night while they're here."
    "I thought they were spending the holidays with Miriam's family this year."
    "They were there when John got a call from Miss Lettie, Jeff Morgan's mom. Jeff's been killed in a car wreck, and she's having him brought back to St. Mary for the services."
    "Good grief!" No, not "good" grief. Horrible news and grief are seldom good in any way. And on Christmas! Working at Middleton's Mortuary, I know that people die every day of the year, but this struck home.
    Jeff Morgan, a businessman in Charlotte, North Carolina, had been a close childhood friend of my oldest brother John. The two of them and Sheriff Wayne Harmon had been like the Three Musketeers—the ones in the story, not the candy bar. Those three weren't sweet. They were usually in trouble through high school, but Wayne had become an honorable law man and John a financially successful family man in Atlanta, Georgia.
    "I'll plan to be there for supper," I told Mike. "Gotta go now."
    Since I know a lot of Sheriff Harmon's deputies, I was surprised when the tall, lean man who stepped out of the cruiser was a stranger to me. He was handsome in a striking, but stern, way with chiseled features, and blue eyes. I couldn't see his hair color because he was in a Sheriff's Department uniform, including the hat.
    "Hello, are you Callie Parrish?" he asked.
    "Yes, who are you?"
    "I'm Detective Dean Robinson, Homicide, Jade County Sheriff's Department." He walked up the steps and looked down at the red and white bundle. "Is this what you called about?"
    "Yes, he's dead."
    Robinson pushed the body's fake beard over and checked the carotid artery. "I'd like for you to move off the porch so you don't continue to contaminate the scene." He gestured toward the steps.
    "I need to go inside. I'm cold, and my friend is probably . . ."
    No need to continue. At that moment, Jane opened the door and asked,     "What's going on?"
    "One of Harmon's detectives is here," I answered. "I'm coming inside with you."
    "Unless there's a back door, she needs to come outside," the detective said. "I'll be putting crime scene tape around this porch."
    "Crime scene tape?" Jane screeched, totally losing it like she always does when there's a corpse involved.
    "She has a back door," I said and stepped toward Jane.
    "I don't want either of you in there anyway. Both of you come outside. We'll need to check the inside of those apartments to be sure that's not the place of death." He paused. "And to find out if this person was here on a B and E."
    "B and E?" Jane questioned.
    "Breaking and entering," I explained. I read so many mysteries that I know what most of the terms mean. Dalmation! A hundred and one dalmations and shih tzu! I'd realized that Jane and I would be sleeping somewhere else that night—somewhere away from our apartments—because this man would have forensics techs go over the entire building and then probably ban us from our own homes with that yellow tape.
    Courteous but firm, Detective Robinson walked us to his car, opened the rear door and said, "Sit here until I'm ready to take your statements."
    "We'd rather sit in the Mustang," I said.
    "No, get in the cruiser." His authoritative tone left no room for discussion.
    We sat in the back while he sat up front and called for CSI and the coroner. He got out of the car and closed the door.
    "What's he doing now?" Jane asked.
    "He's putting crime scene tape all around the front of our porch."
    "Is it a dead man or woman this time?"
    "I didn't look close enough to tell. The body's wearing a white wig, false beard, and Santa Claus suit. No makeup, but the face is kind of feminine-looking."
"I hate this, Callie. I just hate it."
    "I know you do. I'm not exactly fond of finding decedents away from work either."
    "Won't they let us back in if they see that no one has been inside while we were gone?" Then it hit me. I hadn't opened my door before I found the dead Santa Claus. Could the Santa have come to our place to rob us and died on the porch after trashing my apartment? The thought of cops searching my home wasn't pleasant even if there had been no invasion, and I hate cleaning up black fingerprint dust.
    What's the likelihood Santa was at our place to steal from me or Jane? Not much, I answered myself. Neither Jane nor I have any real valuablesnot much real jewelry or silver or anything like that. Even our electronics aren't the current high-dollar kind. The most expensive thing I own is my Gibson banjo. Thank heaven it's at Daddy's.
    "What cha thinking about, Callie?" Jane asked.
    "Just wishing Wayne was here. I'd be a lot more comfortable with him than this new guy."
    Sometimes hopes do come true, because just then Sheriff Wayne Harmon arrived, hopped out of his car, and went up to Robinson. I watched Wayne nod a few times before he came over, opened the back door of the cruiser, and slid in on the seat beside me.
    "Merry Christmas," the sheriff said.
    "Yeah, a real good end to the day," Jane answered. "Callie here found another body."
    "I know. I assume you met my new detective, Dean Robinson. He'll be heading up homicide investigations, including this one, but you girls know you can call me any time."
    Girls! Wayne thinks of me as a child just like my daddy does.
    "How long do we have to sit here?" I asked.
    "We'll need to get statements, and I'll want you to look inside both apartments to see if there are signs you've been burgled."
    "I guess then you'll expect us to go to Daddy's to spend the night, but John and his family are on the way here. It'll be awfully crowded if the four of them are there along with Daddy, Mike, and Frankie." I paused and then asked, "Did you know Jeff Morgan was killed in a car accident?"
    "Yes, I was over at his mom's home when I heard about this. Miss Lettie is completely shattered. You know Jeff was her only child and his daddy died in Vietnam right before he was born. She went all to pieces when Jeff left St. Mary, moved to Rock Hill, and went to work right over the state line in Charlotte. You can imagine what she's like right now. Jeff's body will be brought from Rock Hill to Middleton's in the morning. When Otis or Odell picks up Santa Claus off the porch to take it to Charleston for the autopsy, I'm going to tell them I think it would be a good idea if you're there tomorrow when Miss Lettie makes the plans for Jeff's funeral."
    "You know I don't usually sit in on planning sessions unless there's a question about clothes or hair."
    The sheriff smiled at me. "I know that, but an elderly lady like Miss Lettie would probably appreciate having a female with her."
    "So, knowing Daddy's house will be full, how long will you keep us locked out of our homes? I've been in Jane's apartment, and there didn't seem to be anything out of place."
    "How long will depend on whether there's any evidence inside." He smiled.     "Callie, since you found the victim, did you recognize him?"
    "I moved the beard, and I didn't recognize the face, but I couldn't tell if it's a man or woman. Skin's discolored and the features are feminine if it's male, a little coarse if it's female."
    "That's interesting. I just assumed it was a man. I guess because of the Santa Claus suit. Hadn't thought of Santa being a woman, but we'll know when the coroner gets here."
    Jane shivered, and I asked, "Could Robinson turn the heater on in here? It's cold."
    Wayne checked out my knitted red dress from shoulder to right above my knees where it ended. "That red looks pretty on you, especially now at Christmas, but you girls should wear coats when you go out in December." I didn't say anything about his calling us girls again, but I didn't like it. Instead, I tried to explain why neither Jane nor I had worn a coat.
    "We went straight to Daddy's, and then right home. We've got heat at his house, our apartments, and in the car."
    "Think about it, Callie. Your car is a 1966. Yes, it's a classic, and in great shape, but it could break down, and you two girls would be outside walking."
    "Why do you call us girls?" He'd aggravated me. "We're both over thirty."
    The sheriff laughed. "What do you want me to call you? Ladies? You don't always act like a lady."
    "How about women?"
    "How about I tell Robinson to turn on this car and give you women some heat?  I'll send one of my deputies for coffee for everyone."
    "There's a tin of homemade Christmas cookies inside my place," Jane offered.
    "Did you or Callie make them?" Wayne asked and winked at Jane, though she couldn't see it.
    "Jane did," I said. Everyone knows that even though Jane can't see, she's a far better cook than I am.

* * *

Unfortunately, the activities of the next couple hours were old hat to me. I say "unfortunately" because this was not the first time I've discovered a corpse. Jane and I were more comfortable since Robinson had started the heater and another deputy brought us coffee and doughnuts. Jane entertained herself singing every Christmas song I've ever heard, some of them multiple times. That wasn't too bad because she does have a nice voice. I amused myself watching the law enforcement officials work the scene—photographs of the Santa as well as every inch of the porch from all angles. They also walked a grid in the yard, apparently looking for footprints. I doubted they found any because our yard is covered with grass that turned brown after the first frost.
    I couldn't see as well when the coroner arrived because too many deputies blocked my view, so I was getting not just tired and sleepy, but also bored. I know that sounds bad, but I've been through this far too many times both as a part of my job and as an unwilling finder of dead people.
    When the sheriff returned to the car, he said, "Jane, give Callie your back door key. You stay here while Callie and I check out your apartment." He coughed and I thought, Maybe the sheriff needs a heavier coat himself.
    "Callie, come with me," he added. "I'm surprised you haven't been throwing a fit about getting in your place to take your dog out."
    "Big Boy's not home. I finally took him to the vet to be neutered, and she found a small tumor in his abdomen. He had surgery day before yesterday, and I can bring him home tomorrow." I felt silly when a tear formed in my eye. "You have no idea how much I miss him."
    I followed Wayne to the rear of Jane's side of the building. He checked her door before we went in, and there was no indication of illegal entry. Jane might have been a neat freak regardless, but because of her blindness, she's very particular about everything always being in the correct place. Her ceramic Christmas tree stood in the exact center of her round dining table. Jane's very proud of that tree. It was one of the smaller ones, a little less than a foot tall, but she'd painted and glazed it herself when we went through a crafts period several years back. Not too many visually handicapped people do ceramics, but Jane's always been amazing, and that tree is quite an accomplishment. I'd helped her with other Christmas decorations—red and green place mats on the table and live poinsettias in each room, but I'd never touched that tree. She always handled it herself. Wayne checked every room and closet. No sign of anything disturbed. On the way out, he picked up the Christmas tin of cookies.
    A totally different picture next door. I'm not the best housekeeper under any circumstances. There are too many other things I love to do, like read a good book or change my hair color or try out a new makeup, whether for my face or for my job cosmetizing at the mortuary. I'd gotten up early that morning, but I hadn't finished wrapping the gifts for my family, so I'd needed to do that. Then I drank several cups of coffee and ate a MoonPie while reading the latest copy of Mortuary Cosmetology News. I hadn't finished with it by the time to go, so I'd taken it with me. I'd had to rush to be ready on time.
    I watched Wayne stare at my dirty coffee cup along with dishes from the previous night still on my kitchen table though he didn't say anything. When the apartment was remodeled after a previous misfortune, I'd made a guest room out of the second bedroom, but it had rapidly filled up again with books and things that I didn't want to throw away. My bedroom wasn't as cluttered, but the bed was unmade and my nightgown lay crumpled on the floor.
    "I can't tell," Wayne said. "It appears trashed, but then your place usually looks like this." Wayne Harmon was my older brother John's best friend when I was a kid, so we're comfortable with each other. I didn't take offense at what he said because it was true, although I would have said "cluttered" instead of "trashed."
    After looking in the places where I hide the little bit of jewelry I own, which consists of some earrings I was able to trade my wedding rings for after my divorce, I found nothing disturbed. I assured the sheriff, "Nobody's been in here since I left this morning."
    "Good. I'll tell Detective Robinson that you and Jane can go in and out your back doors and have use of your apartments. It appears the corpse was dumped on your porch."
    "Or murdered on it," I commented.
    "Jed Amick thinks the body has been moved since death. That would make your porch a secondary crime scene, but we won't know until the complete medical examination in Charleston." Wayne laughed. "My new homicide man's already told Jed that since it's so obvious that Santa's beyond rescue, the body should be transported with all clothing in place so the pathologist can remove it layer by layer while looking for evidence. Apparently he thought Jed had planned to disrobe Santa, but Jed's okayed us to call Otis and Odell to pick it up."
    Amick is our tall, lanky Ichabod Crane of a coroner, which in Jade County is an elected official who isn't required to have a medical degree. Exams in unexplained or illegal deaths are performed at the medical university about an hour and a half drive away in Charleston, and Middleton's Mortuary where I work has the contract to transport individuals to and from Charleston. One of my bosses, Otis or Odell Middleton, would pick up Santa from my porch in a funeral coach (Funeraleze for hearse) when the forensics team and Amick okayed moving the body.
    My mind locked in on that exam. Regardless of what Robinson may have assumed, when the person is indisputably deceased, Amick doesn't unclothe the body at the scene. He didn't need to be told that clothing would be removed layer by layer and photographed in case there are clues during the postmortem in Charleston. I'm not freaky, but I'd like to see Santa Claus unclothed. Did I really say that? What I mean is I wish that the corpse on my porch could have the Santa suit removed and see if anyone recognized who it was. At least, see if there was any identification on the body or even if it was a man or woman.
    Robinson met Wayne and me on our way back to the cruiser where Jane still waited, and Wayne told him about letting Jane and me use our apartments.
The detective frowned but replied, "Yes, sir." He paused for a moment. "I understand that the body will be transported to Charleston for the medical exam. I observed autopsies of my homicide cases in Florida, and I plan to attend this one."
    "That's fine. Contact information for the medical center is at the office. They're usually pretty prompt for me on these things, so you'll want to check with them tonight or first thing tomorrow to see when it's scheduled. Ask Middleton to tell them we'll be sending someone when he delivers the body."
    "Yes, sir." Detective Robinson walked back toward the front porch.
    "When did you hire him?" I asked.
    "Only a week ago. He's heading up the new homicide unit, and this will be his first case for us."
    "Does St. Mary really need a department just for murder?"
    "Gonna need two of them if you keep finding dead people." Wayne chuckled. Some folks might be offended that he was joking at a crime scene, but law enforcement is like mortuary science. Without a touch of dark humor at times, the job would be unbearable.
    Jane and I were both happy when we'd finished giving our statements and were okayed to go into our apartments. I knew that the deputies would be busy interviewing neighbors, taking fingerprints, and investigating the scene as long as possible with their bright portable lights.
    "Callie said you brought my tin of Christmas cookies out," Jane told Wayne.     "You can have them."
    Wayne's grin spread all across his face.
    At our back doors, I asked Jane, "Do you want to come in and visit for a while?"
    "No, and unless you're feeling needy, I'd rather you not come in with me. It's getting late, and Roxanne needs to work tonight."
    Back inside my own place, I grabbed a box of MoonPies from the cabinet and a Diet Coke from the fridge. The apartment was lonely without Big Boy even though I could hear activity still on the front porch and I knew Jane was next door burning up her Roxanne phone line. I no longer have a landline in my home, so I pulled my cell phone from my bra, curled up on the couch, and took my first bite of MoonPie for the evening while dialing my friend in Orlando. Please note that I spell MoonPie without a space between Moon and Pie. I do that because that's the usual way the company in Chattanooga does it in their ads, on their website, and on most of their boxes.
    I refer to Patel as my "friend," but I think he's turning into a "boyfriend." I met him a couple of months ago when the Jade County Fair was here. His real name is Jetendre Patel, but I call him Patel rather than his nickname of "J.T." When the fair left town, I was afraid I'd never hear from him again, but we talk almost every night by phone and plan to get together either here or in Florida after New Year's.
    "Merry Christmas," his smooth voice answered. "I've wanted to call you since I awoke this morning, but I knew you were at your family's house, and I didn't want to bother you. Have you had a good day?"
    "It was great but I had a bad evening. I found a body on my porch."
    When I finished telling him about the dead Santa, he consoled, "What a horrible way to end Christmas day! I wish I was there to comfort you."
    Now, in the South, "to comfort" has several meanings, including what some folks call "making love," "bonking," and "getting laid." My mind immediately went to my empty love life, and a little comfort that night would have been wonderful, but there were too many miles between us. No, I wasn't tempted at all to turn the conversation into phone sex. That's Roxanne, not me.
    By the time Patel and I disconnected, I'd eaten almost a box of MoonPies. Better watch that or I'll be busting out of my jeans as well as the black dresses I'm required to wear at work.
    Lying in bed, I could hear a murmur through the wall. Roxanne busy working while I tried to read myself to sleep to escape thoughts of why corpses follow me around.

copyright@2013 Fran Rizer

 

 

 


A CORPSE UNDER THE CHRISTMAS TREE
A Callie Parrish Mystery
Author: Fran Rizer
First Editition
5.5"x 8.5" Trade Paperback
Retail $14.95; 252pp
ISBN 978-1-62268-050-4 print
ISBN 978-1-62268-051-1 e-book
LCCN 2013953699

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