Nightmare in Shining Armor (3 page)

BOOK: Nightmare in Shining Armor
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They ignored me, although the smoke alarm eventually listened.

“Y'all can hear me now!” I screamed again. “The party is over!”

Alas, no one paid attention to the harried O'Hara.

“Greg, do something,” I begged.

My fiancé didn't hear me because he was too busy singing a duet with Barbra Streisand. I turned to Rob for assistance, but he was so jealous of Greg—quite needlessly, I might add—he didn't even know I was there.

“C. J.!” I wailed. “You're my friend. Make them listen.”

But C. J. was still coupled with Sergeant Bowater in the stallion costume, and obviously still quite in character. She neighed and pawed the air with a rubber hoof, which only provoked fresh peals of laughter.

I was at my wit's end. I had no choice, therefore, but to resort to drastic measures.

'm not proud of what I did. But as I see it, I really had no choice. At any rate, the Charlotte police were very responsive and arrived within five minutes of my call. The second the two young officers strode into my great room, the ruckus ceased. The rumblings, however, persisted well into the night.

“I can't believe you did that, Abby!” Mama had tied one of my aprons around her waist, the skirt to the back. Strangely, she looked more provocative that way than she had with her derriere exposed.

“I warned y'all, Mama. What else could I do?”

“You could try treating your little old mama with respect.” Mama flipped a strand of the coarse wig away from her face and in the process inadvertently hit me in the eye again. “Come on,” she said to the others, without bothering to apologize to yours truly. “The party is reconvening at my house.”

You would have thought by their responses that each of my guests had won the lottery. They flocked around Mama, cheered her, and Greg, who didn't
know what was good for him, hoisted her back onto the hokey horse.

Then the crowd—and there were far more present than the aforementioned—danced out of my house in a joyous procession. As the merrymakers passed me, more than a few paused just long enough to assault my ears with vicious accusations.

“You're a real spoilsport,” Moses said gravely. “I drove all the way up from Charleston and spent good money on a motel for tonight. Don't expect me to return the favor next year by inviting you to my party.”

I nodded, on the verge of tears.

The Rob-Bobs, good friends that they were, didn't even notice my vulnerable state. Bob boogied past me without making eye contact, but Rob gave me a pitying look.

“This could be bad for your business, Abby,” he said. “Really bad. That couple in the dice costumes are Jerry and Lizelle Wentworth.”

The tears began to fall as Rob rejoined his partner in what was virtually a conga line. The Wentworths were one of the wealthiest, if not
wealthiest, of the many nouveau riche families the Charlotte economy had spawned in the last several years. Not having inherited any antiques from their blue-collar ancestors, the couple was buying up area antiquities like they were shares of Microsoft stock.

Mama, seeing my tears, bade her steed to halt momentarily. “Abby, your mascara is smearing.
You better fix it before you start looking like a panda bear.”

“Mama! Don't you have anything comforting to say?”

Apparently she didn't, because she whacked Sergeant Bowater with her crop and the traitorous trio galloped on into the foyer.

Lynne Meredith, whose fins had fanned the fire, and who was therefore partly responsible for the debacle, had the nerve to verbally accost me next. “You've seen the last of my business,” she snarled. “I can't recall the last time I've been treated so rudely. And I thought you Southerners were gracious.”

“We are!” I wailed. “We just don't like having our new homes destroyed.”

“Sherman had the right idea,” she whispered behind a webbed hand.

I reeled with shock.

“Scrooge,” Neptune said as he whisked the mean mermaid away before I could recover enough to retaliate.

“Wrong holiday!” I shouted after the aquatic duo.

The Larkins, who had lived in the South long enough to learn good manners, proved not to be apt students. Geppetto stood passively by while Pinocchio punched the air with a faux wood finger as she delivered each scathing word.

“You owe your mother an apology, Abby. I can't imagine throwing mine out of my house. For shame, for shame, for shame!”

“Does your mama show up at parties in a nude body suit?” I demanded.

Before the pushy puppet could reply, Ireng Cheng, the woman who had started the fire, stepped between us. Her crown was askew, her book bent, and her robe smudged. Her torch, thank heavens, was still extinguished.

“Abby, do I still have my job?” It sounded more like a demand than a question.

I tried to glare at Lady Liberty, but lacked the spirit. The woman might be a menace at a costume party, and is as stubborn as a room full of two-year-olds, but she is a very competent shop assistant. If I sacked Irene, I was going to have to hustle more than I cared to, or else break in a new assistant. The latter was a prospect about as daunting as my impending marriage.

Don't get me wrong, I'm eager to wed Greg. It's just that I'm set in my ways, both at home and in my shop. And while I may be only in my late forties, I've grown accustomed to the luxury of a slower-paced life that only good help can bring. Did I really want to get up each morning in time to open the Den of Antiquity, and if I didn't, was I willing to live with the lost revenue?

“You have your job,” I said through clenched jaws. “But I have half a mind to garnish your wages for the damage you did to my carpet.”

Irene had the temerity to smirk. “Which you wouldn't do, of course, on account of it was not a work-related accident.”

“It wasn't an
of any kind,” I snapped. “I
told you to put the flame out before you came in. But of course you wouldn't listen, so not only did you ruin my carpet, you ruined my party.”

Irene rolled her eyes. “I didn't dump the punch on it. Moses did.”

“To put out the fire

Irene adjusted her crown in the mirror behind me. “My, aren't we shrill.”

“Shrill?” I shrieked. “Do you want to hear shrill?”

“Hey, Abby,” Greg said, “take it easy.”

I stared up at my intended. “I think I'm taking it very easy considering the circumstances. Heck, I'm practically comatose.”

“Kicking everyone out is hardly taking it easy.”

“It isn't your house that's been ruined. And you had no business encouraging Mama.”

“I didn't.”

“You put her back up on that silly horse, didn't you? What do you call that?”

“Abby, simmer down.”

“Don't tell me what to do, Greg.” There was enough ice in my voice to push the season forward by two months. Irene Cheng, along with the rest of the conga line stragglers, wisely took a clue and slipped out the door.

My fiancé spread his large hands in a gesture of mock compliance. “Hey, I'm only trying to appeal to your reasonable side.”

reasonable side? If you had a shred of loyalty you would have stuck up for me. I wouldn't have had to call your buddies in blue if you'd
helped tone things down a bit. But oh no, you had to belt out a Streisand tune at the top of your lungs while—”

“Abby,” he said sharply, “I've had enough of this for tonight. When you're ready to discuss things calmly, give me a call. I'll be at your mother's.”

“Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn,” I said and gently pushed Rhett Butler out the front door.


I didn't have the energy to clean up the mess that night. Instead I took two aspirin and—okay, so it wasn't aspirin I took, but Xanax. But it was just one very small .5mg pill. I don't normally take drugs to help me sleep, but this was, you'll have to admit, a special occasion. The medication was, by the way, left over from a small dosage prescribed by a doctor two years ago when I found a body in an armoire.

At any rate, still dressed as Scarlett I teetered in to check on Wynnell before going to bed. To my surprise, I found the room empty.

“Well, if that doesn't beat everything,” I said aloud. “First Mama, then my boyfriend, and now my best friend.”

“What about me?”

I whirled, and in the process lost my balance. The fancy little jig I did to stay upright was a wonder to behold.

“You scared me half to death!” I said between gasps.

“I only went to the bathroom, Abby. Say, where is everyone?”

“They, uh, they went home.”

Wynnell yawned and glanced at the dresser clock. “So early? You mean I missed the entire party?”

“I'm afraid so, dear. Only you didn't miss much. It was more like a trade union protest than a party.”

Wynnell sat on the bed and rubbed her head. “You mean it got rowdy?”

“You might say that. Mama came as Lady Godiva. C. J. was her horse. Take it from there.”

“And the

Perhaps I only imagined the special significance she attached to that word. But then again, perhaps not. I decided it was time to bring things out into the open. If my friend turned on me for doing so—well, maybe the Xanax would help.

came as Little Bo Peep. Even brought a live sheep with her.”

The hedgerow brows raised in unison. “She who?”

“Tweetie. It's all right, dear, I know everything.”

Wynnell sat silent for a moment. “I thought I could trust them,” she said finally. “Apparently not.”

“What about me? Do you think you can't trust me? Is that why you didn't tell me?”

Wynnell shook her head, and then grimaced at the pain it caused. “I wanted to spare you, Abby.”

“Spare me what?”

She stared at me, as if willing me to read her thoughts. “You know.”

“No, I don't.”

“Tweetie,” she said. If words were fingers, hers were holding a stranger's dirty lingerie.

“Ah. You thought that if you told me, it would stir up painful memories.”

Wynnell blinked. “Does it?”

I shrugged. “Not really. It's been a while and—well, to be absolutely honest, I pity her more than anything else.”

“Abby, how can you of all people say that? The woman's a—”

“A witch?”

“That's putting it politely. She's a slut and a home-wrecker too. I only hope that someday she gets what's coming to her.”

“Well, it isn't Ed.”

Wynnell seemed to rally. “Expound,” she said.

“Ed doesn't want Tweetie—not really, and I daresay she doesn't want him.”

“But then why did he sleep with her?”

“Ask him. Maybe he was feeling lonely.”

Wynnell nodded slowly. “Maybe. I haven't exactly been there a lot for him lately—if you know what I mean.”

“Spare me the details, please, but yes, I do know.”

“That still doesn't make it right.”

“Of course not. Ed's a skunk.” I counted to three. “But he's still a keeper.”

“You think so?”

“Definitely. It would be too much trouble to train a new husband, right?”

Wynnell laughed. “Abby, he's not a dog. He's a skunk.”

“Same thing. Beside, you've been together now—how long?”

“Thirty-one years.”

“You see! Think of all that shared history wasted if you two were to go your separate ways.”

She studied her nails. “But you didn't forgive Buford.”

“Well, at least not for a couple of years. Then I realized my hate was hurting me more than him. Anyway, it's not the same thing. Ed's dalliance with Tweetie was a onetime thing. Buford—well, he married her, didn't he?”

“So are you saying I should just turn the other cheek?”

“Not at all, dear. Thrash him soundly, within an inch of his life, if you're up to it. At the very least make him grovel. But in the end, forgive. You'll feel better for it.”

“Maybe you're right.”

“I know I am—and, oh, this incident should be worth at least a cruise.”

“Abby, you are so bad!”

“Right again as well. Hey, you want to stay the night? It will make him worry.”

Wynnell grinned. “Sure.”

“I took a Xanax,” I confessed, “so I might start
feeling a little draggy, but if you want, we could bring the leftover food up here and watch TV in my room. I taped
All My Children

“Abby, you know I don't care for soaps. Isn't there something else we could watch?”

“Well, I think there's a chick flick on Lifetime.”

“That Julia Roberts movie? I've seen it twice. Abby, don't you have anything a little more

I thought for a moment, and then flushed. “Buford bought me a tape once. I don't know why I still have it. Anyway, he said he thought it might improve our—well, sex life. It's called
Stan Does Seattle

“Bingo!” Wynnell clapped her hands in glee.

I couldn't help but smile. If watching a tawdry video made her feel like she was getting back at Ed, I was all for it. Very few sexual diseases get transmitted through VCRs, and viewers almost never get pregnant.

“Okay,” I said gamely. “Stan it is. Just let me get out of this costume and—”

Dmitri, whom I'd not seen since Wynnell had scared him out of his wits at the front door, came barreling into the room and dived under my skirt. His tail was even bushier than my friend's brows.

“It wasn't me who scared him this time,” Wynnell said. “He didn't even look at me.”

“I know, but something's obviously spooked him.” I looked around for a hard, heavy object. In the old days I would have grabbed one of Buford's
golf trophies. Now the best I came up with was a pair of bronze bookends. I picked up one, a trumpeting elephant with its foot raised to crush a lion. “Come on, let's go check it out.”

BOOK: Nightmare in Shining Armor
9.15Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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