HUBBARD HAS A CORPSE IN THE CUPBOARD
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
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MOTHER HUBBARD HAS
CORPSE IN THE CUPBOARD
Callie Parrish Mystery
Author: Fran Rizer
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. Exscuse me. I didn't mean James
Brown, the man. First, he's dead and buried somewhereI 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 impairedextremely
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
"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
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
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
"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,
"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
"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
"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 smallmore
like a clinic or infirmary. Most major cases are transferred to larger
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
"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 Gardenthe 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 Indiannot 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
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."
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
101appropriate touch is calming. When working with the bereaved,
pat them on the shoulder and say, "Now, now," in a comforting
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"What won't fly in Jade County?"
a familiar voice asked from behind me as a comforting hand patted my shoulder.
©2013 Fran Rizer