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Authors: Rita Mae Brown

The Purrfect Murder

BOOK: The Purrfect Murder
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Dedicated to
Fred and Doris Duncan,
two remarkable people who know
that Nature provides the nuts;
you've got to crack them yourself.

Cast of Characters

Mary Minor “Harry” Haristeen
—Formerly the postmistress of Crozet, she now is trying to make a go of it with farming. She turned forty in August, doesn't seem to mind.

Pharamond “Fair” Haristeen, D.V.M.
—Harry's husband is an equine vet, and he tries to keep his wife out of trouble, with limited success.

Susan Tucker
—Harry's best friend since cradle days often marvels at how Harry's mind works when it works. The two of them know each other so well that they could finish each other's sentences.

Mrs. Miranda Hogendobber
—Miranda observes a great deal but keeps most of it to herself. She's in her late sixties, devoutly Christian, and mothers Harry, who lost her own mother in her twenties.

Marilyn “Big Mim” Sanburne
—The Queen of Crozet sees all and knows all, or would like to, at any rate. She despotically improves everyone's lot but is good-hearted underneath it all.

Marilyn “Little Mim” Sanburne, Jr.
—She's finally emerging from her mother's shadow, which displeases her mother while it pleases everyone else. Most especially pleased is her new husband, Blair Bainbridge.

Jim Sanburne
—The mayor of Crozet, his daughter is the vice mayor; he's accustomed to being in the middle of wife and daughter. Jim is a regular guy, which puts him in sharp contrast to Big Mim, who was born with a silver spoon in her mouth.

Aunt Tally Urquhart
—This wild woman, in her nineties, must be a devotee of the god Pan, for she's in her glory when pandemonium reigns. She's Big Mim's aunt and delights in shocking her prim niece.

Deputy Cynthia Cooper
—She's smart, in her late thirties, and Harry's neighbor. She, like Fair, tries to keep Harry out of trouble when she can. She likes law enforcement.

Sheriff Rick Shaw
—He's the dedicated public servant, insightful but by the book. He wearies of the politics of his position, but he never wearies of bringing criminals to justice. He likes Harry, but she gets in the way.

Olivia “BoomBoom” Craycroft
—She was widowed in her early thirties and, being quite beautiful, always trailed troops of men behind her. One of them was Fair Haristeen, who had an affair with her when he was divorced from Harry, whom he's since remarried. BoomBoom can be forceful when necessary.

Alicia Palmer
—A great movie star, now in her late fifties, she's thrilled to be back on the farm in Crozet. She's also thrilled that she's found BoomBoom, for they truly connect.

Tazio Chappars
—This young architect finds herself in terrible trouble and she can't remember what happened.

Paul de Silva
—He's Big Mim's stable manager and in love with Tazio. When she's carted off to jail he's beyond miserable.

Dr. William Wylde
—Respected, responsible, and good-natured, this OB/GYN delivered half of Crozet.

Benita Wylde
—Will's wife is an avid golfer and learns some painful lessons about life. She rises to the occasion.

Margaret Westlake
—She manages Dr. Wylde's office.

Sophie Denham
—She is the senior nurse in Dr. Wylde's office.

Kylie Kraft
—She is the junior nurse in Dr. Wylde's office and is known for going through men like potato chips.

Dr. Harvey Tillach
—This physician loathes Will Wylde.

Mike McElvoy
—Every county has at least one building inspector. Albemarle County has two, but Mike is the one who sets everyone's teeth on edge.

Carla Paulson
—She's a good-looking middle-aged lady and is building a new house. Tazio Chappars is the architect, and Mike McElvoy is the inspector. This makes for a sulfurous triangle.

Folly Steinhauser
—She also built a huge house within the last two years and has learned to detest Mike McElvoy. She's quite rich and not unwilling to challenge Big Mim. Her husband, Ron, is possessive but slowly failing, as he's a lot older than Folly. He misses a lot these days.

The Really Important Characters

Mrs. Murphy
—She's a pretty tiger cat with brains, speed, and a reasonably tolerant temperament. She knows she can't really keep Harry, her human, out of trouble, but she can sometimes get her out once she's in a mess.

Tee Tucker
—This corgi, also devoted to Harry, has great courage and manages to live with two cats. That says a lot.

Pewter
—The gray cannonball, as she does not like to be known, affects disdain for humans, but she loves Harry and Fair. However, if there's a way to avoid a long way or trouble, she's the first to choose the easy path.

Simon
—Living in the barn with all the horses pleases this opossum, who also likes Harry, as much as he can like humans. She gives him treats.

Flatface
—Sharing the loft with Simon, the great horned owl looks down on earthbound creatures, figuratively and literally. However, in a pinch, Flatface can be counted on.

Matilda
—She's a big blacksnake and the third roommate in the barn loft. Her sense of humor borders on the black, too.

Owen
—Tee Tucker's brother belongs to Susan Tucker, who bred the litter. He doesn't know how his sister can tolerate the cats. When in feline company, he behaves, but he thinks the cats are snobs.

Brinkley
—This smart yellow Lab loves and adores Tazio.

Since Mrs. Murphy, Tucker, and Pewter live on a farm, various creatures cross their paths, from bears to foxes to one nasty blue jay. They love all the horses, which can't be said for some of the other creatures, but then, the horses are domesticated. Pewter declares she is not domesticated, merely resting in a house with regular meals.

1

M
orning light, which looked like thin spun gold, reminded Harry Haristeen why she loved September so much. The light softened, the nights grew crisp, while the days remained warm. This Thursday, September 18, there was only a vague tinge of yellow at the tops of the willow trees, which would become a cascade of color by mid-October.

The old 1978 Ford F-150 rumbled along the macadam road. The big engine's sound thrilled Harry. If it had a motor in it, she liked it.

Her two cats, Mrs. Murphy, a tiger, and Pewter, a gray cat, along with her corgi, Tee Tucker, also enjoyed the rumble, which often put them to sleep. Today, all sitting on the bench seat, they were wide awake. A trip to town meant treats and visiting other animals, plus one never knew what would happen.

Harry had just turned forty on August 7, and she declared it didn't faze her. Maybe. Maybe not. Fair, her adored husband, threw a big surprise birthday party and she reveled in being the center of attention, even though it was for entering her Middle Ages. She wore the gorgeous horseshoe ring her husband had bought her at the Shelbyville Horse Show. She wasn't much for display or girly things, but every time she looked down at the glitter, she grinned.

“All right, kids, you behave. You hear me? I don't want you jumping on Tazio's blueprints. No knocking erasers on the floor. No chewing the rubber ends of pencils. Tucker.” Harry's voice kept the command tone. “Don't you dare steal Brinkley's bones. I mean it.”

The three animals cast their eyes at her, those eyes brimming with love and the promise of obedience.

Tazio Chappars, a young architect in Crozet, won large commissions for public buildings, but she also accepted a healthy string of commissions for beautiful, expensive homes, most paid for by non-Virginians. The houses were too flashy for a blue-blooded Virginian. However, Tazio, like all of us in this world, needed to make a living, so if the client wanted a marble-clad bathroom as big as most people's garages, so be it.

As Harry parked, she noticed a brand-new Range Rover in the small lot. It had been painted a burnt orange. She walked over to admire it.

“Good wheels,” she muttered to herself.

Good indeed, but the closest dealer was ninety miles away in Richmond, which somewhat dimmed the appeal. If that didn't do it, the price did.

Before she reached the door, a stream of invective assaulted her ears. When she opened the door, the blast hit her.

“Wormwood! I don't care what it costs and I don't care if termites get in it. I want wormwood!” An extremely well cared for woman in her mid-forties shook colored plans in Tazio's face.

“Mrs. Paulson, I understand. But it's going to slow down the library because it takes months to secure it.”

“I don't care. You'll do what I tell you.”

Tazio, face darkening, said nothing.

Mrs. Paulson spun around on her bright aqua three-hundred-dollar shoes to glare at Harry. Harry's white T-shirt revealed an ample chest, and her jeans hugged a trim body with a healthy tan. Mrs. Paulson paused for a minute because, even though not of Virginia, she had divined that often the richest people or the ones with the oldest blood wore what to her were migrant-labor fashions. Carla Paulson wouldn't be caught dead in a white T-shirt and Wranglers. She couldn't fathom why Harry would appear in public looking like a farmhand.

She knew Harry in passing, so she switched into “lunch lady” mode.

Tazio stepped around her drafting table. “Mrs. Paulson, you remember Harry Haristeen; her mother was a Hepworth. Her father, a Minor.” Tazio knew perfectly well that Mrs. Paulson didn't know the bloodlines, but the simple fact that Tazio recited them meant “important person.”

Not that Harry gave a damn.

Extending her hand, radiating a smile, the well-groomed woman purred, “Of course I remember.”

Harry politely took her hand, using the exact amount of pressure all those battleaxes at cotillion drilled into her year after year. “I can see you've hired the most talented architect in the state.” She paused. “Love your new wheels.”

“Isn't the interior beautiful? Just bought it last week.” Carla Paulson brightened. She checked her diamond-encrusted Rolex. “Well, I'll call later for another appointment. Oh, before I forget, Michael McElvoy said he'd be out at the site tomorrow at eleven.”

Tazio wanted to say she had an appointment then, which she did, but if one of the county building inspectors was going to be at the construction site, then she'd better be there, too. Michael lived to find fault.

“Fine. I'll be there.” Tazio smiled and walked Mrs. Paulson to the door, while Mrs. Murphy and Pewter jumped on the high chair and onto the drafting table. Those pink erasers thrilled the cats. Tazio even had special white square ones that squeaked when bitten.

Brinkley, a young yellow lab rescued by Tazio during a snowstorm at a half-completed building site, chewed his bone. Tucker lay down in front of the wonderful creature and put her head on her paws to stare longingly at the bone.

Once Carla Paulson exited, Tazio exhaled loudly.

“Murphy, Pewter, what did I tell you?” Harry warned.

Murphy batted a square white eraser off the table. Both cats sailed after it.

“Don't worry about it. I have a carton full of them back in the supply closet. In fact, I'll give you one.” She took another breath. “That woman is plucking my last nerve. I thought Folly Steinhauser was high-maintenance and Penny Lattimore a diva, but Carla is in a class by herself.”

“I can see that.”

Tazio slyly smiled. “The diamond Rolex watch is so over the top.”

“Better to wear plain platinum. Worth more and not showy. In fact, most people think it's steel.” Harry leaned on the drafting table. “But if Carla owned a platinum Rolex, she'd have to tell everyone it wasn't steel and ruin it, of course.”

“Harry,” Tazio laughed, “you're so Virginia.”

“Oh, look who's talking.”

“I'm from St. Louis, remember.”

“Doesn't matter. You mentioned that gaudy watch. I didn't.”

Tazio was half Italian, half African-American, and all gorgeous. Her family, prominent in St. Louis, had provided her with the best education as well as a great deal of social poise, since her mother was on every committee imaginable. From the time she was small, her mother had marched her to different parties, balls, fund-raisers.

“I'm worn out, because she keeps changing her mind. Well, I'll grant, she's been consistent about the wormwood, but every time she changes something the cost spirals upward. It's not my money, but you move a window an inch and either Orrie”—she named the head of construction by his nickname—“or I have to call the building inspector. Michael McElvoy, as you heard.”

Harry started to giggle. “Lucky you.”

“Oh, well, everyone has their problems. You came to pick up the numbers on the different heating systems for St. Luke's. Got 'em.” She walked back to her large, polished mahogany desk, about ten feet from the drafting table. Picking up a folder, she said, “Here. Digest it, then let's go over it before the next vestry meeting.”

Harry flipped open the folder. “Jeez.”

“Lots of choices, and each one has pluses and minuses.”

“Herb have a copy?” Harry mentioned the pastor of St. Luke's, Rev. Herb Jones.

“I thought we should put our heads together first. Anyway, he's on overload because of the St. Luke's reunion next month.”

The reunion would be Saturday, October 25. Each October, St. Luke's held a gathering of all its members. Many who had moved away from central Virginia returned, so the numbers ran to about three hundred.

“Okay. I'll get right on this. Be nice to have this installed before the reunion, just in case the weather does turn cold.”

“With luck the old boiler ought to hold out for another month or two. First frost usually hits us mid-October. We'll make it, I hope. You know, that old furnace is cast iron. A welder will need to dismantle it to get it out of there. That will take days. They don't build things like they used to,” Tazio said with a big grin.

Harry finally noticed Tucker. “What did I tell you?”

Tazio walked back to the supply room, returning with a dog treat called a Greenies. She handed it to a grateful Tucker. “Made in Missouri.”

“Well, then it has to be good.” Harry laughed. “Come on, kids.”

“I want the eraser.”
Mrs. Murphy carried the item in her mouth.

Harry had reached down to pluck it from those jaws when Tazio said, “Keep it. Really. I have a carton.”

“Thanks. You spoil my buddies.”

“You don't?” An eyebrow arched over one green eye.

“Well…”

“If you spoiled Fair like you spoil these three, he'd be fat as a tick.” Tazio mentioned Harry's husband, who was six five, all muscle.

“You know, I don't think Fair will ever get fat. For one thing, if he doesn't work it off, he'll worry it off.”

“He doesn't strike me as a worrier.”

“Maybe not in the traditional sense, but he's always thinking about the future, investigating new technology and medications. His mind never stops.”

“Neither does yours. That's why you were made for each other.”

“Guess so. All right, madam. I'll get back to you.” She paused. “Speaking of made for each other, you and Paul seem to be.”

Tazio shrugged and blushed.

Harry opened the door and the three happy friends scooted out ahead of her. She got in the Ford, ran a few errands, then turned west toward the farm. Once down the long driveway, she could see her field of sunflowers, heads straight up to the sun, her quarter acre of Petit Manseng grapes ripening. How perfect.

BOOK: The Purrfect Murder
3.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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