Authors: T'Gracie Reese,Joe Reese
A Nina Bannister Mystery
T’Gracie Reese and Joe Reese
To Nancy Britton:
Who spent long hours editing the manuscript and teaching the Reeses about punctuation
THE JOY OF WORKING
Saturday morning in Bay St. Lucy.
A day like fresh cream!
Nina Bannister emerged from a tangle of dreams which, an instant or so ago had seemed so real, so alternatively aggravating and pleasurable, and which a second or so later would evaporate like bubbles on the incoming tide—and, dedicating a breath or so to pure anticipation, opened her eyes.
Doing so was hardly necessary, because on this luscious morning of June 1, with the sliding door open out upon the deck, the freshest of breezes sifting in just strong enough to rustle the curtains, the incomparable smell of salt air permeating the room, sight was the least important of all senses, and the only one which—given that one was allowed to call memory a sense which it of course was—could be completely done away with.
Still, she utilized it.
It showed her a barely lightening ocean sky, bejeweled by one single morning star glittering precisely 3 inches—which translated to a hundred million or so miles in astronomical terms, she assumed—above the horizon.
It also showed her Furl, orange, white, and comatose, sleeping/vegetating on the northwest corner of her bed, the animal’s motley flank rising, falling, rising, falling, in precise and natural coordination with the incoming and outgoing sea swells.
“Furl,” she growled.
Furl did not move.
If she chose to sleep with the sliding door open, this was what she could expect.
At least Furl had not padded across the bed, as he was sometimes wont to do in the predawn hours, to stand rigid with his nose a millimeter from hers, not saying but implying, “All right:
Boom. Wham. The gates of her conscious mind exploded open and a thousand chores rushed in disguised as thoughts.
Sort them out, sort them out!
For it was Saturday, the day for DOING DOING DOING and getting thousands of errands accomplished, errands which could never have been done at any other time than summer, gorgeous summer, summer of Big Muscle Activity!
So what was to be done, and when?
She tightened the Ninaball that was her body into an even more compact half circle, and made a schedule for the morning.
First, of course, was coffee, that went without saying.
Then came feeding Furl and rushing the beast out onto the deck, where he could shake himself one or two times, circle the wooden platform, rub up against several of the deck railings, and then go back to sleep.
There was undoubtedly a newspaper lying at the base of the stairs leading down to the oyster shell and white gravel driveway that encircled her Vespa.
She would make her way down, still robe-clad, holding tight to the rail and expecting the whole thing to collapse at every step—
––which it would not—
––and then return to the kitchen, where there would be toast, marmalade––
––what a delicious word, MARMALADE!
––one was almost tempted to ignore the sticky gooey substance and simply eat the word itself.
Coffee with cream.
Yes, this morning would be the morning when the newspaper truly surprised her:
Democrats and Republicans agreeing, no horrible acts of violence in strange countries where she had never been, no horrible acts of violence in places where she had been, all married couples spending the night together without mutilating each other, and the local high school, for the betterment of all concerned, vowing to give up football and fire all the coaches.
Of course the newspaper would probably not say such things, but there was always hope.
These procedures had become known
to her over time as The Expelling of The Furl, The Making of the Coffee, The Getting of the Newspaper, The Eating of the Toast, The Reading of the Newspaper, The Shaking of the Head, The Saying ‘My My My,’ and The Recycling of the Newspaper.
Forty minutes or so for all of that.
The sun would be rising behind the never to be extinguished lights of an offshore oil rig; the waves would be swelling-deflating and sobbing and grating and growling, and gradually ever so gradually revealing more beach, more dark shining hard-packed sand, and more infinitesimal creatures stranded until the return of the night tide.
Then to the true errands!
She had to wash the plate glass window that opened out onto the deck.
For weeks now she had been bothered by the salt film that always clouded it ever so gradually.
She could see through it of course, but it was as though through unwashed glasses. Vinegar, old newspapers, working clothes, hard labor, twenty minutes of good solid scrubbing.
It would be like looking out into a new world.
All right then, that errand done!
There were at least two loads of washing, one light and one dark, that begged to be done.
But that was routine.
This was Summer Saturday!
So this was a day to wash the sheets.
All of the sheets, especially these into which she had balled herself sowbuglike for the last two weeks, these sheets, which, while not exactly disreputable, had lost the crisp clean feel that made newly washed sheets so adorable to crawl into.
All right, so that was to be done, and then––
What then what then?
Oh this was wonderful fun!
The barbeque grill, which sat under her beach house, and upon which, three evenings last week, she had charcoal broiled fresh fish filets brought to her by Penelope Broussard, once Penelope Royale, and still at least in Nina’s mind Penelope Royale, except, impossibly, but seemingly happily, married.
To Tom Broussard of all people.
How could that be?
But, yes, the grill needed a good thorough cleansing.
She hosed it down every evening after cooking on it of course, but—why not make it shine like new!
Yes, the refrigerator! She should clean out the refrigerator!
She had been admonishing herself for months about the small clear plastic containers lying hidden toward the back of the center rack.
Containers with spaghetti like substances in them, or with strange purple fluids, or exotic mixtures of nuts and salads and—yes, go ahead and admit it—soft cheeses with smells that, even months ago, had been somewhat questionable.
Eating leftovers was commendable, of course, but the line between leftovers and refuse was so blurry—
So of course, then, the refrigerator went on the list.
This was the kind of thing, though, that Frank always loved. The hours at his law office making home life difficult, he savored those mornings when he could roll up his sleeves, prod her out of bed and exclaim, “Come on, Darling, we’re burning daylight!”
So it was perhaps, partially in his honor, this reverence for Saturday morning chores.
And what more was there?
What jobs would you have seen, Frank?
Filling the Vespa’s tank with gasoline. It was almost on empty now, and she shuddered at the thought of running out of gas along the mile-long stretch between her ocean side shack and Margot Gavin’s shop, Elementals:
From the Sea and the Earth, where she spent most afternoons helping out.
Of course there were, scattered along that mile strip, fifteen shops whose owners were close friends and where she could pop in to have a cup of coffee––
––and of course walking the distance between her place and Margot’s (ten miles an hour if she strode briskly) would have been faster than driving her Vespa at the speeds she was used to (eight miles an hour, not daring to leave second gear)—
––but still there was the principle of the thing.
One did not run out of gas in a community like Bay St. Lucy.
It showed a lack of taste and breeding.
So, gas up the Vespa.
It would be an expense of course.
Gasoline had become so expensive.
Of course the problem was eased some by the fact that the Vespa’s tank held only five gallons.
So, yes, she could do that, too!
So where was she? Furl out, coffee, newspaper, breakfast, get dressed, windows, washing, refrigerator, barbeque grill, Vespa gas…
What a morning!
WHAT A MORNING!
“Ok, Furl,” she shouted, propping herself on an elbow:
“Let’s get at it!”
Furl lifted his head three inches, turned slightly toward her and said, “arrrggg,” which meant, in cat, “Leave me alone.”
“Huh.” She watched him as he resumed his previous position, blended into the blanket, and re-entered hibernation.
“Stupid cat,” she muttered.
Then she glanced at the side of her bed, where her pile of mysteries lay, comfortingly, two feet away.
With an immense effort, she reached over, took the book, opened it, and read:
“Adam Dalgliesh looked into the room.
…upon reading which, she shut the book, put it back on the nightstand, hunched tighter into a ball, pulled the covers over her, closed her eyes, and went back to sleep.
THE MOTHER SUPERIOR
She finally did awake a little before noon, made herself a groggy breakfast not realizing exactly what it was while making it nor what it had been after eating it, Furled and Unfurled, and then, realizing exactly what was to happen in the night ahead, descended the stairs and unlocked the Vespa.
“Poor Margot,” she whispered to the handlebars, just before she grabbed onto them.
For tonight was the night that her best friend in Bay St. Lucy—and in the world for that matter—was to make her theatrical debut.
The St. Lucy Community Theater’s Summer Production of—
––no, she still could not think of it without having to suppress a laugh.
And Margot playing the role of—
––no, same thing.
Even worse, when one thought of it.
Best not to think of it. The whole thing was too incomprehensible.
She started the Vespa, backed it out of the driveway, noted the perilously low reading on the gas gauge, and then, offering a silent prayer to The Gods of Fuel Efficiency, puttered out onto Bayside Avenue, heading west toward the center of town and Margot’s shop.
What was she up to now? Eight miles per hour, now topping ten.
Slow it down a bit; no need to overdo.
A wave to Ann Colton, proprietor of Clay Creatures.
“Don’t go too fast!”
“See you tonight?
The big show?”
“Wouldn’t miss it!”
Was she being serious about the speed?
Hard to tell with Ann.
“Good morning, Nina!”
Maggie Davis of Maggie May’s Dress Emporium.
“Lovely day isn’t it?”
How is the gas doing?
So far so good.
Now she was making her way through the heart of the little business district that sustained and defined Bay St. Lucy.
Expressions by Claire.
The Blue Crab Gifts Gallery.
The Social Chair.
Let’s Make Up Gifts.
“Come over some time, Nina!”
“Nice day, isn’t it?
“Isn’t this wonderful weather?”
And she would of course reply to all of these greetings, allowing herself a slight head turn to the right or left depending on the street side location of the particular shop owner offering the completely meaningless and simultaneously wonderfully touching inanity of the moment.
“Certainly is, certainly is!”
How she loved Bay St. Lucy!
Although, she mused, as Margot’s shop came into view, the day itself was not as superb as it had been five hours ago.
Or would have been, had she chosen to utilize it.
No, it had grown quite warm.
Summer in the South.
She was beginning to perspire and might almost have been forced to pull off the side of the street and stop to wipe her glasses, had she been more than a quarter of a mile from her destination.
As it was, though, she made it through.
She had not run out of gas or off the road.
She slowed the Vespa.
Then she parked in Margot’s lot—a few cars here, good for Margot.
She let the engine idle.
Giving silent thanks to those travel deities who had once again protected her, she dismounted, took off her helmet, stowed it safely away in the compartment behind the seat, locked her back wheel to the metal bike rack, and walked up the stairs leading
to the shop.
Beside the door, just beneath the mail box, was an aluminum cylinder, some six inches long and perhaps an inch in diameter.
Since Margot, away buying something or attending something or simply doing nothing at all, often depended on Nina to run the shop afternoons, she frequently left written instructions concerning certain things that should be done.
Take delivery of a shipment of pottery; expect Ms. Danielson to pick up a hanging fern sometime between three and four; pay two bills lying beside the cash register—
––such things as those.
Nina peered into the tube, upon which Margot had flamboyantly and quite artistically spray painted, “Bannister Canister,” and found nothing.
That was, she mused upon opening the door, hardly surprising, since Margot herself was in the shop.
There were also two customers browsing. Neither of them seemed to bother Margot, who, holding a newspaper in front of her and moving it closer and farther from her face, seemed delighted to have an excuse to fold it and put it aside.
“So you’ve finished the big morning of chores!”
“You must be exhausted!”
“Come on…let’s go out to the garden. I made lemonade.”
She followed Margot, waving cheerfully to the dark haired teen aged girl who was now working mornings at the cash register.
“Have a seat.”
“It’s cooler out here now.
I’ve got the big fan going.”
Oh, I love the breeze!”
“Want a big glass or a smaller one?”
She seated herself in the black metallic chair, scraped it over the floor to the table, rocked back and forth a time or two, and peered into thick and hanging vines.
She did so, but only after pressing the lemonade glass against her cheek and sighing:
“Ooooh, nice and cool.”
“Yes, I thought it would be a good day for lemonade.”
“You were right.”
“Getting hotter out there?”
“Yes it is.”
“But I’ll bet the morning was wonderful.”
Margot folded herself as much as was possible into, around, beneath, and on top of, the overmatched glass top table, sipped from her own glass, and continued:
“So did you get your windows cleaned?”
“Now, what else was it you told me you were going to do?
Oh, the refrigerator!
Got that cleaned out?”
“Tough job, huh?”
“Well, you’ve got to do it sometime.”
Margot nodded and drank:
“That’s certainly true.”
The two women were silent for a time, while the rattling of the huge, storklike fan that stood two feet behind them mixed with the soft murmur of conversation going on inside the shop.
“You slept the whole morning, didn’t you?”
Just got up.”
Margot reached into the vast thing that lay on the floor beside her, resembling the mouth of a cavern more than the top of a purse. Then, taking out her lighter and a box of small cigars, she said softly:
“Isn’t that a wonderful thing to do?”
“Luscious,” answered Nina.
“So when are you going to get the windows cleaned?”
“That’s the spirit.”
Margot lit the cigar in the grand and theatrical manner expected from the Ex-Chicago Art Museum director, and blew a tunnel of grey smoke into the turbulent air currents roiling out from the fan.
Modern art formed itself in various non colors that eddied and swirled and expanded out into the unsuspecting air above them, ultimately hovering menacingly a foot or so beneath the glass ceiling.
“Are you nervous?” asked Nina.
Margot looked wonderingly at her.
“Am I what?”
Are you nervous?”
“Why should I be nervous?”
“Why should it be any different from any other night?”
The tinkly little bell that separated garden from curiosity shop—for what better name was there for the thing that Margot had put together in the fifteen months following her move from Chicago?—this bell tinkled, the door opened, and the dark haired young girl asked:
“How much is the seascape by Ramoula Peters?”
“The larger one or the smaller?”
“I believe the lady is interested in the larger.”
“That’s one hundred and fifty, Sandra.”
More smoke blown into the cloud hovering like the remains of an erupting volcano just inside the greenhouse roof.
“Margot, this is your big night.”