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Authors: Rita Mae Brown

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BOOK: Riding Shotgun
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They waved merrily, and Cig waved back good-bye, a
smile frozen on her face like dried glacé. Her shoulders sagged as soon as they crossed the threshold.

Troy had used her car phone every five minutes. The Bill would be more than her mortgage. He assured her he’d pay, he’d simply forgotten his cellular phone. Cig believed such promises when the check cleared the bank. Her experience was that often people with the most money were the most insensitive to others’ need for it—on time.

She headed back to the office, turned on the radio and listened to twenty ads in the half hour it took to get back to the Boar’s Head complex. As she clicked off the radio she knew she wasn’t a true American because she didn’t buy Chevrolet, America’s truck; she’d never be beautiful because she didn’t use the antiaging compound touted by Princess Marcella Borghese; and she didn’t really know how to have a good time because she rarely drank an ice-cold Bud. Funny that women’s voices never sold beer on the radio. Would men switch brands if they heard a woman’s voice pitching the sudsy brew? She gladly would have grabbed a beer at that moment despite the antifemale bias of brewers, anything to wind down, but the day was far from over.

An avalanche of pink message slips spilled out of her office mailbox. Tiffany, the receptionist at Cartwell and McShane, known lovingly among the women realtors as Slutbunny, never folded message slips for anyone—they were just stuffed into the wooden cubicle—except the messages for Max Cartwell, the head broker and company owner. His messages were delivered personally. Why anyone would want to name her child after a Yankee jewelry store mystified Cig, but then why anyone would keep Tiffany as a receptionist also mystified her. If she’d been the girl’s mother she would have wrapped her lunch in a road map.

As she picked up her messages—two already from Troy and Lizbeth—Tiffany flounced by.

“Roger Davis called. I’ve been so busy I just didn’t have time to write it down.”

No, but she’d had time to do her nails. Plum today. Went
nicely with the magenta silk blouse and the black skirt clinging just above the dimpled knees.

“Thanks.”

“Oh, Mrs. Blackwood, I have a video of my cousin singing at the Foxfield Races. She was the entertainer for the Mobile Phone Company’s annual picnic. Do you think Mr. Benedict would look at it?” Her impulse was to flirt, but since that rarely worked with women, Tiffany’s approach had an uneven quality to it.

“No. He ran a film company. You need to send the video to a record company.”

“What about the music in movies?” Tiffany was either very loyal to her family or getting a percentage of the action.

“The producer selects the composer. It’s a closed circle, Tiffany. You need a record producer.” Cig, while not an expert on media responsibilities, knew the basics.

She eyed the mountain of paper on her desk as an annoyed Tiffany sashayed off. On top of the pile was an article cut from the tabloid paper that Jane Fogleman insisted on bringing to work every morning to read aloud over everyone’s second cup of coffee. Jane should have been on
Entertainment Tonight
because her rendition of aliens turning Granny into a sex-crazed rap goddess filled the office with screams of laughter.

The attached note read,

“Cig, you were out with the mogul at the crack of dawn, so I saved this clipping for you. P.S.: Do you need me to whip in or should I just whip Roger instead?”

Being Master of the Jefferson Hunt, a full-time job, unpaid, was a labor of love for Cig. There were too many times recently when it provided the only happiness she enjoyed. As the Master of Foxhounds, she assigned the task of assisting the Huntsman to keep the hounds moving in the right direction. Called whippers-in, these wild riders were the unsung heroes of foxhunting. Actually, fox chasing was the more accurate term. Jefferson Hunt did not want to kill foxes.

The clipping saved for her benefit was about a twenty-five-year-old woman living in Milwaukee who claimed to have the Bible tattooed on her eyelids. This way she would never close her eyes on the Word of God. She also had the Bible tattooed on her other parts; there was something spiritually uplifting about seeing the Lord’s Prayer disappear into considerable cleavage only to reappear on the sumptuous right bosom. One would have to part the protuberances to fully read the prayer. Then again, that may have been a sacrament of the good woman’s form of worship.

Cig held up the clipping just as Jane popped her head in the door. “Her temple is a body open twenty-four hours a day for worship.”

“Three points.” Jane made an imaginary basketball toss at Cig. “Sell any property?”

“They like Hardtack Manor. But then again, Lizbeth feels a deep emotional pull toward Cloverfields. The walls speak to her.”

“And what do they say?”

Cig dropped her voice to a hollow whisper. “‘
Spend money
…’ Course it’s been vacant for five years,” she continued. “Today I heard about Lizbeth’s struggle for self-esteem. She snorted too much white powder and her breasts were too small, past tense, I assure you. Her search for meaning encompassed everything from channeling to a macrobiotic diet to Prozac followed by week-long fasts. And let’s not forget Freudian analysis five days a week. I think I would have liked her better if she’d gotten drunk and rolled in the gutter with those sex-crazed Martians. I don’t know, Jane, either it’s too late to force-feed people manners or I’m a callous bitch. I don’t want to hear this shit.”

“M-m-m. You have your moments but I don’t believe confession substitutes for conversation. It’s different for us. We’re connected over time, our families knew one another. Out there no one is connected to anything. Maybe they think if they vomit up these intimacies they’ll feel close to one another.”

“No. They’ll just have a mess to clean up.”

“You’ve got a mess to clean up no matter what you do,” Jane said matter-of-factly.

“Would be super if the Benedicts would buy Hardtack Manor and restore it. Remember the barn dances old Miz Amorous used to give when we were in high school? She’d tell us about her seven husbands, or was it eight?”

“I think some were unofficial, which was why Andy’s mom kept her away from the sauce. She thought it would fry our innocent ears. Andy, to his credit, is the male version of his grandma. He never met a woman he didn’t like.”

Jane clapped her hands together. “Harleyetta West is reported to have had lunch with Andy yesterday. Now that is a truly fascinating prospect.”

“Who did the reporting?” Cig, prepared to dismiss the gossip, challenged.

“A reliable source.”

“There is no reliable source in Charlottesville.”

“Your sister, Grace.”

“Oh.” Cig’s voice dropped. “Well, just who was she having lunch with?”

“I forgot to ask her that.” Jane leaned against the doorway. “How long are the Benedicts in town?”

“I don’t know.” Cig sighed. “We must all seem like repressed snobs to them because they sure seem like three-dollar bills to us.”

“We are repressed snobs, Cig. And if we’re not snobs we’re still insular. That’s part of our charm, we’re so parochial.”

“Call for you on line six, Miz Fogleman.” Tiffany yelled when she could have easily buzzed. Except that she had never completely mastered the switchboard.

“Hell. Want me to whip?” she called over her shoulder.

“Yes.”

That welcome intrusion over, Cig again stared at the pile of papers. She heard the beep of the fax machine down the hall in the office machine room. After the beep came the odd grinding noise the fax made as the page slowly appeared, the machine sticking out its paper tongue. Her colleagues
said they didn’t know how they had lived before the fax. She did. She had liked it just fine.

The beeper, the fax, the Xerox, the computer, the cellular phone, and whatever interactive media would be invented and merchandised soon—these technologies supposedly simplified life but all they did to Cig was add more pressure, especially the fax’s implicit demand for instant replies. If Cig acted in haste she wasn’t as concise or precise as if she’d had time to collect her thoughts. Lately, she wasn’t sure she had any thoughts to collect.

She checked her watch. Four thirty. She gathered up brochures, messages, notes, and standardized forms, shoving them into her tote bag.

Her younger child, Laura, aged fifteen, was waiting to be picked up from field hockey.

Laura, dark, intense, and athletic, looked a great deal like Cig’s younger sister, Grace, a stunning beauty with jet black hair and electrifying cobalt blue eyes. People who didn’t know the family often mistook Laura for Grace’s daughter.

As Cig dashed through the office foyer, the senior partner in Cartwell and McShane, a University of Virginia graduate in 1969 who never got over it, strode out of his office.

“How’d it go?” Max Cartwell gave her a hearty slap on the back.

“Good. They love the area.”

“Well, close that sale, Cig. A big commission in this one.” The shine of profit glowed on his reddish skin.

“Evermost on my mind,” Cig truthfully replied, although she lacked that ruthless instinct that makes a successful realtor close a sale even when knowing the property is dead wrong for the buyer.

“Oh, we changed the in-house meeting to Tuesday at four.”

“Okay. As long as you don’t ask me to be in charge of training the new recruits, I’ll be there.”

His face wrinkled. “But you’re so good at it.”

“Max, it’s fall. The Jefferson Hunt is one of the things that makes this area so attractive. I’ll train recruits in the spring.”

“Forgot. Forgot. You’re right.” Max, a golfer himself, appreciated
the sporting attractions of Albemarle County. “Say, you think this Benedict guy could get us a high-definition television? Wasn’t his company bought out by Sony?”

“No, that was Columbia Pictures.”

Max snapped his fingers. “Damn.”

“The right deal will come your way, Max.” And you’ll milk everyone you know in the process, she thought to herself.

In the car she remembered she hadn’t called Roger Davis. She picked up her cellular phone. It was heavy and too fat for her hands. She punched in his number, the digits making beeping sounds of different pitches.

“Roger, it’s Cig. Sorry I missed your call. I’m picking up Laura. I’ll leave the car phone on. I’ll be at the barn in forty-five minutes. It’s now almost five.” She pressed the “End” button but not the “Off.” Roger was punctual about picking up his messages.

The high school parking lot, still filled with cars, hove into view in ten minutes. Without traffic it would have taken five but Charlottesville, like so many small attractive cities, had outgrown its road system, a fact that was painfully obvious at rush hour, especially with the weekend starting.

Laura, fuming because her mom was a few minutes late, waited at the side of the field, her best friend, curly haired, adorable Parry Tetrick at her side.

“Hi, Parry.”

“Hello, Mrs. Blackwood.” Parry smiled, which only enhanced her sweet demeanor.

“Mom, you’re always late,” Laura groused.

“Next year you can drive. Let’s see how on time you are.”

“Parry, need a ride home?”

“Uh—”

“She does.” Laura threw her gear in the back of the Wagoneer, as did Parry. Their hockey sticks clattered together as they both climbed into the back seat.

Cig smiled—a limo service. She handed the cellular phone to Parry. “Do you need to call your mom and tell her you’re on the way?”

“No.” Parry handed the phone back up front. “Mom’s cool.”

The two girls fell into a conversation about school, about their coach shifting people into different positions and that old standby of gossip: who was dating whom. Cig pulled into the Tetrick driveway.

“Thank you, Mrs. Blackwood.”

“You’re quite welcome, Parry. Come out and visit us real soon.” Cig liked Parry. She was a level-headed kid.

Parry stared a moment at Laura then hurried to the front door.

“Are you moving up front or am I that boring?”

“Huh?”

“Laura, are you to the left of Pluto or what?”

“Sorry, Mom.” Laura hopped out. “Shotgun.” She slid into the passenger seat closing the heavy door behind her. “The only time I get this seat is when Hunter’s not in the car.” Laura gazed out the window as they left the manicured grounds of the Tetrick residence.

“Not true.”

“Is so.”

“Unh-uh.” Cig shook her head.

“It is, Mom. Hunter’s a real pig about riding shotgun.”

“Hunter’s driving that ancient truck so he’s hardly ever in this car.”

“Ah,” Laura pounced on this, “but for the first fourteen years of my life he always took the shotgun seat. I’m damaged forever. I think I’ll go on talk shows, Mom. It’s child abuse.”

“Tragic.”

A long silence ensued. “Made an A on my pop quiz in English.”

“Goody.”

“And Donny Forbush asked me to the Harvest Dance.”

“And?”

“I said no.” Laura turned her beautiful blue eyes to search her mother’s face. “I like him, but—I don’t know.”

“He’s a nice fellow, Donny Forbush, and very popular,
but if you aren’t wild about going to the dance with him, okay by me.”

“Uncle Will won’t like it.”

“Uncle Will doesn’t run this family.”

“Well, he’s trying to since Dad died.”

“You leave Uncle Will to me.” Cig smiled.

“Mom—he’s so concerned about social stuff, like Donny’s father being our state representative. Uncle Will wants me to brownnose the Forbushes.”

“Like I said, leave Uncle Will to me.”

“Harleyetta gave me the color test. I’m a winter complexion.” Laura jumped to another subject, a habit of hers, disconcerting, like her father’s.

“Harleyetta should stick to nursing.”

“But Mom, it’s true. I borrowed Hunter’s dark green shirt and everyone told me I looked great.”

“Hunter know you borrowed his shirt?”

“No, I ran home and washed and ironed it before he even knew it was missing.” A smug smile crossed her full lips. “Guys don’t care about clothes.”

“Your father cared more than I do. No more borrowing your brother’s shirts unless you ask. Hear?”

BOOK: Riding Shotgun
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