A Callie Parrish Mystery
Author: Fran Rizer
2013 First Editition Original
5.5"x 8.5" Trade Paperback
Retail $14.95; 240pp
ISBN 978-1-62268-032-0 print
ISBN 978-1-62268-033-7 e-book
LCCN 2013934748

read an excerpt >>>
book details
larger view of cover
buy the book

A Callie Parrish Mystery #5
Author: Fran Rizer


Chapter 1

James Brown burst from my bra just as I took a sip of Coors from my red Solo cup, the kind Toby Keith likes to sing about. Ex—scuse me. I didn't mean James Brown, the man. First, he's dead and buried somewhere—I think in Georgia. Second, my bra was fully inflated, but there would be no way to put even an action figure in there. What I meant to say is that since I tend to lose my cell phone so often, I sometimes carry it in my cleavage, and since I love James Brown's old songs, I'd loaded his voice singing "I Feel Good" for my ringtone and turned it up loud that afternoon.
     "What's that?" my friend Jane asked as she plucked a long swatch of blue cotton candy off her paper cone, crammed it in her mouth, and then drank from her Dr Pepper can. She swears that pink cotton candy doesn't taste like the blue. I'd never noticed any difference, but Jane is blind, so her taste buds are probably more sensitive than mine. School teachers, even ex-ones like I am, should be politically correct, so I'll say Jane is visually impaired—extremely so since she was born with no optic nerves. She wasn't drinking beer though we were in Mother Hubbard's Beer Garden because we weren't sure yet if she was pregnant. I had strong feelings about that, but I wasn't ready to share.
     "It's the new ringtone on my cell phone," I told her.
     Rizzie Profit, the third person at our rickety table beneath the canvas tent, is Gullah and gorgeous. Her scoop-necked black leotard top showed off voluptuous ta tas. The ankle-length skirt of red and gold African print cloth wrapped around her tiny waist with a split to the top of her thigh that revealed her long legs my brother would describe as going from the ground to heaven. Skin like Lady Godiva chocolate and eyes as black as obsidian contrasted sharply with Rizzie's wide smile and bright white teeth. She had recently stopped wearing a cloth wrapped turban style around her head and had her black hair buzz-cut to a natural about half an inch long all over. The cut set off her marvelous bone structure.
     The only woman I know who can chug Budweiser straight from a long-neck bottle and still look like a lady, Rizzie owns Gastric Gullah Grill in our hometown, St. Mary, on the coast of South Carolina. I'd had a hard time convincing her to come to the Jade County Fair for a "ladies' day out" and leave her grandmother Maum and her fourteen-year-old brother Tyrone to close the restaurant for the night.
     I removed the cell phone from its safe haven and pressed the warm plastic to my ear as I said, "Hello."
     Noise blared all around us from other customers, some of whom were well on the way to being hammered. Besides that, the canvas tent did little to block out the sounds of calliope music from the merry-go-round or the strident rock'n'roll from the adult rides. I could hear cooking sounds coming from behind Jane where a canvas wall separated the dining area of the tent from the kitchen/prep space. Servers dashed back and forth through an opening beside Jane, carrying beers, sodas, and fair food.
     "I can't hear you," I yelled into the receiver.
     "It's Tyrone," the young voice shouted. "Rizzie's not answering her phone and I need her."
     "She's right here," I said. "I'll put her on." No surprise Rizzie didn't hear her ringtone. It's soft, classical music.
     "No!" Tyrone shouted. "Don't put Rizzie on. Just tell her Maum fell, and I couldn't get her up. We're at the Jade County Hospital. Tell Rizzie to come now." At times, Tyrone seems like a full-grown man. On the telephone, he sounded like a scared little boy.
     I passed the phone over to Rizzie. She said, "Hello. Hello. Hello?" and handed it back to me. "Who was it?"
     "Tyrone," I replied. "Maum fell and he wants us to meet him at Jade County Hospital."
     Rizzie and Jane jumped up, but Jane stumbled and fell. I moved around the table to help her as she explained, "My sandal came off."
     When I bent over Jane, I saw that the canvas behind her had flipped up and lay draped over her leg.
     "Go!" I yelled to Rizzie and handed her the keys to my Mustang.
     "Aren't we going with her?" Jane asked.
     "No!" I waved Rizzie away and told her, "We'll get a ride there later. If the doctors move Maum to another hospital, call me." Where they'd taken Maum is small—more like a clinic or infirmary. Most major cases are transferred to larger facilities.
     Rizzie flashed a puzzled expression, grabbed my car keys, and ran out of Mother Hubbard's. I hoped she remembered to toss that beer bottle in a trash container before she drove the car. She wasn't risking a DUI. It was our only beer of the day, and we'd only planned on one each, but an open container is a jail offense whether a driver is drinking from it or not. Just ask my brother Mike about that. He spent a night in jail for having a beer keg seat-belted into the front seat of his truck.
     "Why aren't we going with her?" Jane asked. She did that flipping thing she does with her long red hair. I have actually sat in front of a mirror and practiced that move, but it never looks as fetching when I do it, regardless of what my hair color du jour is at the time.
     "We've got to call the sheriff," I said. "There's something on the ground near you."
     "OMG, Callie!" she squealed. "Is it a snake? If there's something behind me, why didn't you see it when I sat down?"
     "Because it was covered by the canvas behind you, but when you stumbled, you kicked the cloth up."
     "What is it?"
     "What do you think it is? We need the sheriff, and I didn't want Rizzie to see it and have to hang around answering questions when she should be with Tyrone finding out about Maum."
     Jane stepped around the table and felt for Rizzie's chair.
     "What are you doing?" I asked.
     "Getting away from whatever corpse you've found now." She flipped her hair again, and then continued, "I swear, Callie, I'm going to stop hanging out with you. You'll mark my baby with dead people." She rubbed her middle, which was as concave as ever. "That cotton candy didn't do anything for my stomach. I'm still hungry, and I smell good things like chocolate and bacon, French fries with vinegar, and those Polish sausage dogs piled high with fried onions and peppers."
     I hit 911 on my cell phone and reported a body in Mother Hubbard's Beer Garden—the one closest to the main gate of the fairgrounds.
     A shaggy-haired young man wearing jeans, a denim shirt, and a short burgundy apron with "Mother Hubbard's" embroidered on it came from the back. I beckoned to him. He scurried over and asked, "May I help you?" with a smile.
     "Yes," I said, "I want to speak to your manager."
     His expression changed to a cross between despair and anger. "Lady, don't complain about me," he whined. "I didn't know you wanted anything else or I'd have come before."
     "What I want to tell management has nothing to do with you, but since you're here, please bring my friend a sausage dog."
     "With extra peppers." Jane added.
     "If you want added peppers, you must not be having much nausea," I commented to Jane as the young man went back through the canvas opening beside her. I totally expected to hear a scream when he saw the body, but he popped right back out.
     "The manager is at another food service, but I sent for him, and I'll get the lady's order now."
     "Wait!" I confess I almost shouted though I've been taught calmness in my profession. "Didn't you see the corpse in there?"
     His turn to scream.
     "Come look," I said and motioned behind where Jane had been seated.
     The young man leaned over and peered at the body. He gagged. His eyes rolled up in his head. He keeled over, flat on the dirt floor, right beside the dead man.
     Several of his co-workers ran to us. When they saw the body beside him, they stepped away.
     "What's going on?" No mistaking the voice of authority. A tall, handsome man wearing jeans and a white shirt with "Mother Hubbard's Concessions" on the chest pocket. He looked Indian—not Native American, but East Indian. "I'm Jetendre Patel, J. T. Patel, owner of Mother Hubbard Concessions."
     "There's a body behind this table. I'm surprised your workers didn't see it inside the prep area." I couldn't stop looking at him. He was possibly the best looking man I'd ever seen.
     Patel bent over the corpse, felt the carotid artery, and looked up at me. "You're right. He's dead. My people wouldn't have seen him because he's actually lying in a space we have curtained off in the back for pantry and storage." He called another server over, motioned toward the shaggy-haired guy on the ground, and instructed, "Get a wet cloth and pat his face and hands."
     Jane gasped.
     Patel glanced at her and asked, "What's wrong with her?"
     "She's upset because she's terrified by dead people and she can't see where he is."
     "Tell her to take off those crazy purple sunglasses so she can see."
     "That wouldn't make any difference." I turned my attention to Jane and touched her hand. "It's okay. You're not very close to him, and the sheriff is on his way."
     Patel understood then. "Sorry. I didn't realize . . ." His last word faded as though he was embarrassed to state what he hadn't known.
     "Why are they going to wash off a dead person's hands and face before the cops arrive?" Jane interrupted.
     "The fellow who was getting your sausage dog fainted. The wet cloth is for him, not the dead man."
     "Is the body anyone we know?"
     "No. He must work at the fair because he's wearing a Middleton's Midway denim windbreaker." Didn't tell her that the bloody hole went right through the "e" in "Middleton's."
     "A Middleton's jacket? A mortuary coat? Did Otis and Odell order funeral home T-shirts, too? When?" Her voice took on a shrill pitch.
     I couldn't help it. I cannot tell a lie. Well, I can, but I try not to. I burst out laughing just about as loud as James Brown sings out of my cell phone. Not the best thing to do under the circumstances, but the mental image of the Middletons advertising the funeral home on T-shirts was funny. "My bosses don't have printed shirts. You know our uniforms are black or midnight blue suits for male employees and black dresses for females," I answered, still trying to calm her by patting her hand. That's one of the first rules in Mortuary 101—appropriate touch is calming. When working with the bereaved, pat them on the shoulder and say, "Now, now," in a comforting tone.
     "Middleton's Midway is the name of the company that runs the midway, the people who work running the games and rides," I explained.
     The wet cloth had roused the shaggy-haired fellow, and other employees helped him back through the opening to the kitchen area.
     "Did you say you've called the police?" Patel asked me.
     "Yes, they should be here any minute."
     "Will you help me move him out of the tent?" He reached down and grasped one of the corpse's hands. I slapped Patel's arm away without even considering that hitting a stranger could be considered assault. I was raised with five older brothers and never thought twice about popping them when I disagreed with whatever they said or did, which resulted in lots of swats when we were kids. I grew up, but I'm not so sure my brothers will ever behave like adults, which is why I refer to them as The Boys with a capital T and a capital B.
     "You can't move the body," I scolded in a tone that, even to me, sounded like a stern teacher voice. I probably shot him a severe look, too.
     "That's tampering with evidence." Same tone. Then it occurred to me that Patel's cultural heritage was probably less understanding of a woman swatting a man than the cultural upbringing of my redneck brothers.
     "All your customers know he's here, and what if the sheriff arrives while you're moving him? You could be arrested." I added, trying to convince him that his welfare was my concern.
     "What customers?" Patel asked.
     Sure enough, the clientele had rushed out, carrying their food trays, cups, bottles, and cans with them, apparently unaware that the law allows drinking alcohol at the Jade County Fair, but only inside establishments with alcohol licenses. It's illegal to walk around drinking a beer, and Sheriff Harmon's deputies won't hesitate to haul anyone guilty off to the pokey.
     "I just wanted to move the victim away from the tent. As you can see, it's not good for business," Patel defended himself.
     "The victim?" Jane yelled. "Did he say 'victim'? You mean it's not some old man or woman who had a heart attack? Is this another murder?" She burst into tears.
     "Not unless a heart attack leaves a bloody hole in a man's back." Sarcasm dripped from Patel's lips.
     Jane sobbed even harder and began touching the calves of her legs. "Do I have blood on me?" she demanded.
     I saw a reddish brown spot on her jeans near her knee, but I wasn't about to say so. If I did, she'd really go ballistic. Just then, a server placed a paper food tray with a sausage dog and vinegar raw fries in front of Jane. I picked up the bill and pulled my wallet from my jeans. Jane carries her own money and amazes me by always knowing exactly how much she has, but she was busy crying. I thought it could be her hormones, but the truth is she always cries around dead people, while it doesn't bother me as much because of my job.
     "No, no" Patel said and snatched the slip of paper, brushing my hand as he did. Well, I thought, that was almost as strong as my hitting his hand. He just assaulted me right back.
     "Let me treat the blind girl," he said as he scribbled something on the bill and handed it to the server.
     That did it. Jane exploded. "Blind girl? Blind girl? You think I can't handle my own money because I can't see?" She jumped up, tears streaming down her face. "How much is it?"
     The server read the bill to her. Jane reached into her pocket, pulled out a modest roll of paper money with a rubber band around it, and counted out the correct amount before shoving the bills back into her pocket and pulling a handful of change from the pocket on her other side. She counted out exact change, then said to the server. "He comp'ed the charges. This is your tip. When's the last time someone tipped you a hundred percent?"
     "How'd she do that?" Patel watched with amazement.
     "She can distinguish the coins by feel," I answered. "She keeps her paper money in an exact order and has a system of folding it that lets her know the value of any bill she has in her pocket."
     "Amazing," he said, then jumped when "I Feel Good . . ." shouted from my chest.
     "Just my phone," I explained and then answered it, "Middleton's Mortuary. Callie Parrish speaking. How may I help you?"
     "Callie, you're not at work," Rizzie said. "What's going on? Why didn't you and Jane come with me?"
     "Think hard and you can guess. What keeps showing up in my life?"
     I chuckled, "I wish, but first, tell me about Maum. Is she all right?"
     "No, her hip is broken. We got Dr. Redmond, the same cardiologist that treated your dad. Tests show that Maum's heartbeat is irregular and that's probably what caused her to fall, but Tyrone is convinced he should have done something to prevent it." I heard a catch in Rizzie's voice before she continued. "The heart doctor is moving her to Healing Heart Medical Center and calling in Dr. Midlands. He's supposed to be the best orthopedic surgeon for elderly hip replacement. Come when you can. I've gotta go. Maum is being put in the ambulance now, and I'm going to follow."
     "Did Tyrone drive to the hospital?" He was only fourteen, and Rizzie normally wouldn't let him drive in town although he's been driving on Surcie Island since he was ten years old.
     "The ambulance driver wouldn't let him ride with them, so he came in the Gastric Gullah Econoline. Don't worry. I won't let him drive your Mustang." I heard Rizzie sniffle and knew she'd been crying. "I have to go now."
     Patel stared as I tucked my cell phone back into my bra before returning to the topic of the dead man. "I wish you hadn't called anyone about this body. We're like old-fashioned carnies and gypsies. We take care of our own problems."
     "Buh-leeve me. That won't fly in Jade County."
     "What won't fly in Jade County?" a familiar voice asked from behind me as a comforting hand patted my shoulder.

copyright ©2013 Fran Rizer

A Callie Parrish Mystery
Author: Fran Rizer
2013 First Editition Original
5.5"x 8.5" Trade Paperback
Retail $14.95; 240pp
ISBN 978-1-62268-032-0 print
ISBN 978-1-62268-033-7 e-book
LCCN 2013934748

read an excerpt
book details
larger view of cover
buy the book >>>

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