Read The Body in the Wardrobe Online

Authors: Katherine Hall Page

The Body in the Wardrobe

D
EDICATION

For Meg Katz, Sandy Kay, and Valerie Wolzien

My Savannah Trio

E
PIGRAPH

All shall be done, but it may be harder than you think.

—C. S. L
EWIS
,
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

A
CKNOWLEDGMENTS

Many thanks to the following for help from a broad area of expertises: Faith Hamlin, Ed Maxwell, Dr. Robert DeMartino, Luci Hansson Zahray (The Poison Lady), Katherine Nintzel, Danielle Bartlett, Maria Silva, Marguerite Weisman, Jean Fogelberg, Michael Epstein, Ann Walker, and Savannah chef extraordinaire Joe Randall.

Some liberty has been taken with the geography of the city of Savannah as well as with what may or may not be underground in this work of fiction.

C
HAPTER
1

When Sophie Maxwell became engaged to Will Tarkington Maxwell (the surnames a happy coincidence), she assumed she would be acquiring a number of new kin, but during her first visit to Savannah, Will's hometown, she was startled to discover she was soon to be related to roughly half the population of Georgia. Introductions such as “My mother's cousin Jack's sister-in-law” and “Aunt Nancy's son's second wife” spilled from Will's lips with bewildering speed at an equally bewildering number of gatherings—Savannahians liked a party. Rather than even begin to try to remember everyone, Sophie smiled—and smiled again.

She had met Will the previous summer on Sanpere Island in Maine's Penobscot Bay. Will had accompanied his great-uncle, Paul McAllister, to Paul's late wife Priscilla's “cottage,” The Birches—said cottage more like those of a similar name in Bar Harbor and Newport. Priscilla had been Sophie's great-aunt. It was Paul's difficult job to decide which of his wife's nieces and nephews should inherit the valuable property.

It was far from love at first sight for Sophie and Will. He assumed she was as money grubbing and devious as the rest of
the contenders. She found him arrogant and crude. They sniped at each other incessantly and, of course, fell madly in love. After Will saved Sophie from the clutches of a murderer, their troth was definitely plighted. And, having come through such danger, they didn't want to wait too long for their happily-ever-after. At the end of the summer Will, a private investigator, had to return south to his practice. Sophie went from Sanpere to her childhood home in Connecticut to plan the fall wedding. She'd grown up in a large beautifully restored Victorian overlooking Long Island Sound. The restoration had been accomplished over many years, and many husbands, by her mother, Babs. Sophie thought her mother had finally found a keeper in Ed Harrington, who was a sweetheart. Since he played a great deal of golf in many locations, the marriage was succeeding. Babs liked her space and was of the “For Better or Worse, but Not for Lunch” School.

Sophie had assumed Babs would want a lavish wedding for her only child. Plus Babs had a wealth of experience planning trips down the aisle to draw upon. Resolved to agree to whatever her mother wanted, mentally drawing a line, however, at the release of a flock of white doves, Sophie was surprised, when they sat down to talk, to find that her mother was proposing exactly what Sophie herself had envisioned.

“Smallish,” Babs had said. “About a hundred total? And the ceremony outdoors with the double parlor's doors opened up to create an indoor room as backup. A best man for Will and some sort of maid or matron—really, these labels are so archaic—for you. Delicious food, that goes without saying, and plenty to drink. The reception and dancing in the barn. So glad we redid it for Ed's birthday party last year. And a Jenny Packham dress for you, love? Something Pre-Raphaelite, but beaded. We can run over to London, choose, and they'll send a toile. Time is short, but they'll rise to the occasion.”

Sophie had shuddered at the last suggestion. Less than a year
ago she had given up her corner office in a prestigious Manhattan law firm for what she mistakenly thought was the real thing, moving to London to be with her English beau.

Babs had picked up on the reaction immediately. “Oh, darling, you can't rule out the UK forever just because of one rotten banger in the mash. No matter. Such fun to go to the bridal salon at Bergdorf's instead. My first and third.”

“It sounds perfect, Mother. Exactly what Will and I have talked about. We hoped the wedding could be at Sanpere, but impossible at this time of year. Are you sure this is what you'll be happy with, too? Something simple? I thought you'd want to go the whole nine yards. I only intend to do this once.” Realizing that could be interpreted as a dig, she'd clapped her hand over her mouth and muttered, “Sorry!”

Babs had laughed. “I was an old-fashioned girl if you can believe it. I married them. Not like the young nowadays. All this hooking up.”

It had been Sophie's turn to laugh at her mother's easy use of the slang phrase. And her mother was like a younger woman in other ways, particularly her appearance. Babs was not yet fifty, or not admitting it, and looked forty—late thirties on a good day—thanks to discreet vacations at a Costa Rica resort-cum-clinic.

“Thank you. It will be everything I've ever dreamed of,” Sophie had said, kissing her mother. “Do you think we can shoot for a date in early November?”

“Darling girl, I could pull this whole thing together for next Saturday. Call Will and let's get going!”

It was only later that Sophie realized one of her mother's reasons for the small guest list was to limit the invitations for the groom's family. Georgia was a good-size state.

And so it was that on November 8, a brilliantly sunny Saturday, Sophie and Will exchanged vows with the glistening waters of the Sound as a backdrop. Uncle Paul gave Sophie away, Will's
stepbrother, Randall, was Will's best man, and Sophie's cousin Autumn Proctor was her self-styled “best woman.” There were no doves, but there were other white birds: terns and seagulls circled overhead, their cries reminding Sophie of Maine—and the way Will and she had met. She'd squeezed her husband's arm as they were showered with rose petals, making their way across the broad front lawn to the reception. In her other hand, Sophie clutched the nosegay bouquet Babs had designed: soft peach roses, mock orange, stephanotis, and shiny deep-green magnolia leaves. The only beading she wore was a Juliet cap of seed pearls on her dark hair. The long-sleeved ivory satin gown ended in filmy lace cuffs, its sole adornment. Will's preferred attire was casual veering toward grunge, but he wore a tux today and had even agreed to socks. What was it with Southern men and bare feet? Sophie had wondered throughout her Savannah visit. Not a bad look for most, but still . . .

Firmly rejecting her friend and caterer Faith Fairchild's offer to provide the comestibles—insisting she be a guest—Sophie
had
accepted the offer from the Reverend Thomas Fairchild, Faith's husband, to perform the ceremony, which he had done so beautifully most eyes were moist. As a teen on Sanpere Sophie had babysat for the Fairchild children, Ben and Amy, now teens themselves. The dramatic events of last summer had forged the friendship into a lifelong bond, one especially tight between Sophie and Faith.

A week later Sophie Maxwell Maxwell was again walking side by side with her beloved—on Georgia's Tybee Island beach at dusk, marveling that it was November and she didn't need a jacket. She'd be getting out the down coat designed by a Michelin Man were she still up north.

It was the last night of their honeymoon. Having taken the whole summer off, Will needed to catch up on work and suggested Tybee,
a short thirty-minute commute from downtown, as an alternative to somewhere far away. Sophie had readily agreed. They had their whole lives for trips farther afield. And it had been a magical week. She fell in love with Tybee the moment she drove across the bridge past the shrimp boats and long marshes surrounding the tidal inlets. The feeling grew as Will drove by the island's brightly colored houses, lush tropical yards filled with eclectic artwork—and cars never besmirched by salted icy roads. Will had eagerly pointed out favorite spots and kept up a running commentary on the island's history, starting with his grandparents' stories of how they used to take the train out for dances at the old pavilion on the beach.

“Tybee is synonymous with a way of life around here. I guess it's a lot like the good part of the 1960s. Tybee people march to a different drummer. Always have and I hope always will.”

Uncle Paul had given them his treasured vintage sports car, a 1973 Triumph Stag. It had supplied the occasion for their first meeting and it was only fitting that this should be the honeymoon car now. They hadn't had to put the top up once since Will had steered them into the driveway of one of the island's raised cottages. It looked like a house on stilts, something out of a folktale, Sophie thought.

While her new husband went into work, Sophie spent her days exploring, but first, at Will's insistence, sharing an early breakfast at The Breakfast Club on Butler Avenue, Tybee's main drag. Each morning Will tried to entice his bride into trying his favorite, “Helen's Solidarity AKA The Grill Cleaner's Special”: diced potatoes, house-made Polish sausage, green peppers, and onions tossed on the hot griddle; two scrambled eggs, topped with melted Monterey Jack and American cheese; grits; and toast. Sophie had opted for other choices, twice the French toast made from the kitchen's own cinnamon raisin challah bread. Will had had to finish her helpings, even after his plate was clean. He was what was known as a “big, hungry boy” and never seemed to put an ounce on his tall, lanky frame.

Will had taken today off, their last day before heading back
to the start of married life for real. They'd slept in, then not slept in, finally getting out of bed to lounge on the screened-in porch that overlooked the yard and was surrounded by live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Sophie thought it was the most romantic plant she had ever seen, soft cascades like veils—maybe more Miss Havisham's than the Duchess of Cambridge's and even more mysterious at night filtering the moonlight. The moss was an “air plant” Will told her: it fed itself and wasn't a parasite like kudzu, or bittersweet in New England. When she had started to gather some to bring inside to arrange in a basket, he'd laughed and told her while harmless itself, it could harbor spiders, mice, and other critters Sophie might not want around.

Reluctantly leaving the house that had become home in a short period of time, they'd spent the rest of the day at the black-and-white-striped Tybee Lighthouse, towering far, far above the palm trees, and at the nearby Tybee Museum at Fort Screven—both things Will had planned for them to do that they hadn't gotten around to so far. After Lucile's Fish Po' Boys at Sting Ray's, another item on his list, they headed back and packed a basket for the beach. By the time they got there, the late afternoon sun was waning and the tide was turning. They kicked off their flip-flops and walked across the sand toward the incoming waves. By Maine standards the water was balmy, but Savannahians weren't swimming much this late in the year, and they had the beach to themselves.

“Happy, darling?” Will asked, pulling Sophie close.

She kissed him in reply, marveling at how comfortable she felt with this man—and safe. She kissed him harder and ran her hands up the back of the loose linen shirt he was wearing. His skin was warm. She felt her body respond, embracing him even closer, wanting to melt into him. He lifted her into his arms and ran back to the blanket they had spread out in a sheltered part of the beach. In the growing darkness, neither needed to say a word.
Later, as she reached for her hastily discarded clothes, Sophie said, “In answer to that question of yours,
very
happy, darling.”

Will popped the champagne they'd brought and they watched the moon begin to rise.

“I wish we could stay longer,” Sophie said. “Somewhere in the neighborhood of forever. I love the house in the treetops.”

“We can come back soon. There are more pretty cottages we can use when they're not rented. Gloria's late husband's family was very savvy when it came to real estate and got in early out here and in town.”

Sophie knew this and was grateful. Gloria was Will's stepmother, and a cousin of hers had offered the Tybee house they were using. Further, until the newlyweds found their own place, they'd be living in a house near the river in the historic district that Gloria herself owned and was renovating for resale.

Will hadn't wanted to tie themselves down with a rental lease. He wanted his bride to get to know the area before deciding where they should live. “Doesn't have to be in the heart of town,” he'd said. “Maybe out on Skidaway Island. I kind of like the notion of crossing the Moon River to get home.” He'd hummed a few bars of the Johnny Mercer classic and Sophie thought how much luckier she was than Holly Golightly. Forget breakfast at Tiffany's; grits and eggs at The Breakfast Club was what she preferred. Breakfast anywhere—just so long as it was with Will.

Faith Fairchild had read somewhere that as you got older time seemed to pass faster, which didn't make sense—wouldn't time slow down as
you
did? But as she approached a milestone birthday (happily still not until spring) time
did
seem to be passing more quickly. For instance, what happened to fall? There were still things in the ironing basket from the summer on Sanpere. And—to be absolutely truthful—at the bottom, there were kids'
things in the basket that only her future grandchildren would be able to fit into, as well as several damask tablecloths and napkins that she kept meaning to get to. Now, with the autumn months almost over, the Fairchilds were once again lurching into the holidays. This was always a tough time for clerical families, as Faith well remembered from her own childhood. Like her father, the Reverend Lawrence Sibley, Tom was in constant demand, not only for all those extra services that went with the gig, but also to tend to the members of his flock suffering from depression and loneliness, intensified by the jollity of the season.

Have Faith, Faith's catering firm, was also busy, swamped with jobs. In addition to her longtime partner, Niki Theodopoulos, Faith had hired her part-time assistant Tricia Phelan to work full-time until January. Thanksgiving was still a week away, but they were busy making hors d'oeuvres that froze well, like phyllo triangles with various fillings, bite-size crab cakes, and both veggie and nonveggie pot stickers. As for Turkey Day, that was a meal Faith always loved to cook, and this year with her mother-in-law, Marian, fully recovered from heart surgery, Faith would be offering up more than her usual hearty thanks for the blessings in her life as she passed around her chestnut stuffing, giblet gravy, mashed potatoes, and the brussels sprouts with toasted walnuts that she had managed to convince her father-in-law to eat by not telling him what they were. “Love these cute little cabbage things,” he'd announced after his first taste of the much-maligned vegetable. In addition to the Fairchild clan, neighbors Patsy and Will Avery with their children, Kianna and Devon, had been joining them for the last several years. Besides the excellent company they provided, Patsy brought her sweet potato pie (see
recipe
), which was everyone's favorite dessert, trumping apple and pumpkin. Patsy had had to bring two last year, along with plenty of her special family recipe for the caramel pecan sauce to pour on top.

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