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Authors: Katherine Hall Page

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BOOK: The Body in the Wardrobe
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She ducked into a stall to check her phone—it wouldn't do to have one of the parishioners see her scrolling through her cell at such a time. Niki and Tricia were handling a holiday luncheon at one of the Historic New England properties. Faith was sure all was well, but it always made her feel better to check. They would also have to get everything loaded into the van later for
an exhibit opening at Aleford's Ganley Museum this evening. She'd added more staff than they needed for the event in case she wasn't able to get away.

Nothing from work, but there were ten missed calls from Hancock and a text from Amy that said, “
Where r u? Call school!

Students were strictly forbidden the use of their phones during school and had to leave them in their lockers. Amy's elementary school principal had told Faith she'd ban them outright, but the parental backlash would not be pretty. They needed to know where their kids were 24/7.

Faith began to panic. She'd told the kids at breakfast where she would be. It had to be serious if Amy was trying to get ahold of her.

She quickly texted back.
“R u sick?”

The reply was immediate
. “No. In trouble.”

Faith flushed the toilet for authenticity and went out the church's side door to make the call. It was freezing. She was wearing her funeral dress, a black Lauren with three-quarter sleeves that she'd bought years ago. After it had served for occasions like this too many times, she could never wear it anyplace else. While she waited for the school to answer, she gazed at the old cemetery that divided the parsonage from the church and tried not to feel her fingers getting numb.

“Hancock Middle School.”

“Hello, this is Mrs. Fairchild. You've been trying to reach me?”

“Yes, would you hold for Principal Frazer, please?”

Worse and worse.

“Mrs. Fairchild?” Anthony Frazer had the kind of voice perfectly suited for his job—authoritative, stern, with a hint of empathy. Thinking this, Faith thought her description could fit a good Merlot as well and wished she had a warming glass.

“Is Amy all right? What's happened?”

“I'm afraid we're going to have to suspend her for the rest of the day and possibly longer. She left school without permission using an emergency exit that set off a fire alarm. One of the aides
was outside and was able to bring her back into the building. However, as the alarm had been triggered, we of course had to clear the building and valuable classroom time was wasted.”

Faith tried to match her own voice to his and remain calm.

“Why was she trying to leave?”

“I'm afraid”—Faith was already tired of hearing the words and doubted very much that he
was
afraid—“we have not been able to learn that from Amy.” The hint of empathy was totally absent, replaced by a dash of irritation.

Her poor little girl. Whatever happened, it had to be big to make her rush off, ignoring the emergency exit sign. Faith pictured the flight and then what? Tackled by the aide? She was sure of one thing, though. The incident must have been triggered by some kind of bullying.

“Unfortunately,” she said, “I am at the funeral of a dear friend and parishioner at my husband's church. I can't get Amy for some time yet, but I will ask Mrs. Miller, who is listed as our emergency contact, if she can do so.”

“I think that would be best and perhaps you could give me a call when you are free?”

“Yes. I'd like to talk to my daughter now, please.”

“Fine. Good-bye, Mrs. Fairchild, and tell Mrs. Miller that Amy will be waiting in the front office.”

“Hi, Mom.” Amy's voice was barely a whisper. Faith knew it was her “I'm trying not to cry” voice.

“Don't worry, darling. Pix will come get you. I'm at Mr. Frawley's funeral. Everything will be okay.”

“I don't think so.”

“Well, we'll work on it. I love you.”

“You too.”

Faith went back inside, took a moment to allow her circulation to resume, and then went in search of Pix. Maybe Amy would tell her what had happened. Having raised Samantha, Pix might have some
advice, advice the Fairchild family desperately needed. She closed her eyes and pictured Amy in graduation robes. Many years hence.

“You'd think it would be easy to find time for lunch, what with us working in the same place.” Ruth Stafford laughed. Sophie had made the suggestion a week ago and it had taken this long to find a time when they were both free.

They had ordered at the counter of the Jepson Center's attractive café and were told a server would bring the food to their table. They'd chosen one overlooking the museum's atrium. When Sophie had walked in she was stunned by the architect Moshe Safdie's soaring space—all white marble and a wall of glass. The staircase was the showpiece, leading up to each floor in an unbroken progression, as if it also were a piece of sculpture the museum was displaying.

“I know I'm in Savannah, because I can see out to Telfair Square, but this is pretty different from what's usually on the city's menus, except for the deviled eggs, and even those have curry today,” Ruth commented.

“There are lots of places with eclectic and ethnic menus, but so far everyone seems to want me to enjoy all the local specialties,” Sophie said. “I've loved them, but this is a fun change. That's why I ordered the
banh mi.
I used to eat them in New York. There was a great little Vietnamese place near my office.” Although, Sophie reflected, she had been inside it only once, sending her secretary out for the sandwich so as not to waste a second of those billable hours.

The food arrived. Ruth's was the Jepson's take on a BLT: sliced prosciutto, tomato-bacon jam, herbed goat cheese, and greens on a ciabatta roll. It looked delicious. Sophie resolved to order it next time, although her sandwich was almost as good as the ones she remembered.

“Everyone has been so nice,” Ruth said after a mouthful. “I
really didn't know what to expect. I've never been out of Illinois. No, I take that back. We went to Disney World when I was a kid. I plan to take mine—hope to have a bunch—way more than once!”

Sophie was intrigued. “What brought you to Savannah?” She'd realized after she invited Ruth that she didn't know much about her other than assuming she wasn't from the South. There wasn't even a hint of a “y'all” in her accent.

“A lot of things. I'm the youngest. My brother and sister went to college, got married to people my parents approve of, have produced grandchildren—done everything right. Kind of the opposite of me. I just couldn't seem to find someone—or rather an acceptable one—or something, either. I'm not real academic, but I turned out to be good at word processing, IT, so always had a job. All the happy family stuff and the freezing cold were getting to me. You can't imagine what it's like in Chicago in the winter.”

“I've seen the TV footage. Brrrr! So you decided to get away and get warm?”

Ruth nodded. “There was a show about Savannah on the Travel Channel and I decided what the heck, I'd give it a try.” She took a swig of her iced tea. “So far, so good. Would I be having a cold drink now back home? No way.”

“Everyone keeps saying wait until summer, but I'm with you. This is my first warm winter as well.”

“I know. Your husband's family has been great. Inviting me to lunch and helping me find an apartment. I saw the ad for an office manager online and came down for an interview with Randy, I mean Mr. Watson, except he keeps saying to call him Randy, and Carlene says to do the same with her.”

“It's an informal firm, and I hope you'll call me ‘Sophie.'”

“Big change from up north. And I guess my family, too. Nobody was begging me to stay. It's going to be a little weird without snow for Christmas, but not weird enough for me to go home. Besides, I might get stranded.”

Ruth was pretty, tall with a runner's body. She'd told Sophie
she'd joined a running club, the Savannah Striders, and got up to run before work. She'd had a decent finish in November at the city's 5K Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. Her light brown hair was sun streaked whether by nature or art, and her brown eyes, large and luminous, were her best feature.

“When I told Randy where we were going for lunch he said to be sure to finish the meal with some of their homemade truffles,” Ruth said.

“That sounds like excellent advice.” The problem, Sophie soon found, was selecting. She picked dark chocolate honeycomb, and it was so rich she had them pack up her other choice—salted caramel—to savor later.

Outside, Ruth asked if they had time to walk back by way of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. “Everyone keeps telling me the Christmas decorations are the best in the city and I've never been inside.”

“Why not?” Sophie said. The lunch had been fun. She hadn't had this sort of “girls” outing in years—it had a “Let's go shoe shopping” feel—but looking inside the church, which Sophie also had yet to do, was a better idea. She'd been feeling more and more Christmassy as each day passed.

As they walked, Sophie thought back to the weekend. The tree was up in time for Will's arrival home Friday, and it looked beautiful. He'd arrived with a heavy cold and offered no resistance to being packed off to bed. By Sunday he was better and told his wife the whole nurse thing had been a total turn-on. She'd been plying him with hot toddies and teased him that must be what was creating all their heat.

While she was sorry he'd been sick, once he felt well enough to sit with her before the fire, the tree shining next to them, she'd been happy for the time alone together. Savannah had swung into full holiday party mode and they'd had more invitations than they could accept. Calling to let people know they couldn't make it, she heard genuine regret in the hosts' voices and thought once more
how nice people were down here. Not that Northerners weren't, but there would be undercurrents about the numbers not being balanced in the case of a dinner, having to square things with the caterer, and so forth. Savannahians were simply way looser.

Sophie had also thought that once word got around about her wardrobe/corpse encounter, she might be someone to avoid—“that crazy Yankee.” But word reached her through Carlene that it was just the opposite. Having seen a ghost she was flavor of the month and everyone wanted her on the guest list. They always wanted Will, even though he wasn't single anymore. He was a universal favorite for his easygoing sense of humor, like his stepbrother's. And Will's occupation as a PI added a soupçon of glamour—although according to Will it was mostly tedious fact-checking and legwork.

The only fly—or gnat, this being Savannah—in the ointment was a visit from Patty Sue on Saturday morning. When Sophie answered the door, her sister-in-law was standing outside holding a large shopping bag. “I just came by with a care package for Will. I hear he's feeling poorly.”

Sophie took her into the living room where Will was stretched out on the couch, covered in a blanket. He'd been dozing until the bell woke him up. At the sound of Patty Sue's voice, he'd roused himself and urged her to take a seat.

Patty Sue put the bag on the floor next to him. “I stopped at Back in the Day—best bakery in the universe, Sophie, and right here—for cinnamon rolls, since it's Saturday, and I couldn't resist the red velvet cupcakes. Some of their bourbon bread pudding, too.”

It might not cure Will's cold, Sophie had thought, but the sugar rush would pep him up. She'd offered Patty Sue something to drink, assuming coffee or tea, but the young woman had said, “Could go for a glass of wine. White if you have it.”

Will had chided her, “Hair of the dog?” and she'd laughed.

The wine had disappeared fast and when Sophie walked her
out, Patty Sue had turned to her and whispered, “He really
is
sick!”

“Well, yes. Running a temperature and a very sore throat on top of his stuffy nose,” Sophie said, a bit shocked. Did Patty Sue and the rest of the family, as well as friends, think they were making it up? An excuse to miss the festivities scheduled for the weekend? “He didn't want to give it to anyone. I'm hoping he'll wait until Tuesday to go back to Atlanta. Please let everyone know how sorry we are to miss seeing them. He says he'll definitely be better by next weekend.”

Patty Sue had managed to leave Sophie with a parting shot. “I'll tell Laura. She's been
very
worried.”

All thoughts of Miss Laura, Patty Sue, and even her beloved Will promptly disappeared as Sophie walked with Ruth into the cathedral. St. John's two tall spires were a familiar landmark and had been helping her find her way for weeks, but she'd had no idea of the splendor within. She recognized the late 1800s Gothic Revival style that drew the eye toward heaven up the slender columns to the fan vaulting and deep blue starry ceiling. The sun was streaming in the richly colored stained glass windows, creating new patterns on the decorative flooring. The church was indeed bedecked for Christmas—wreaths down the nave, a tall poinsettia tree and more bright poinsettias and cyclamen at the altar. Everywhere Sophie looked her eyes took in red and gold.

“Let's go see the crèche,” Ruth whispered. She appeared as awestruck as Sophie.

It was magnificent and Sophie was swept back into childhood memories—going with Babs to see the carved Neapolitan crèche figures and angel tree at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. These were every bit as lovely. She sat down in a nearby pew to gaze on them, turning to see the organ and spectacular rose window. She must come to a service, she thought, recalling, too, that this had
been Flannery O'Connor's church. Savannah was turning out to be a good fit, she realized, and said a quick prayer of thanks.

Ruth joined her and after a while they both left quietly. Outside Sophie said, “Thank you so much for thinking of this. It was the perfect thing to do.”

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