“Brown has some of the same effervescent yet secure trust in her local characters that Eudora Welty feels for hers...when history nicks them, they slap right back.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A lively and very lovely book.”—Publishers Weekly
No matter how quirky or devilish, Brown’s people cavort in an atmosphere of tenderness....It is refreshing to encounter this celebration of human energy.” —Chicago Sun-Times
From the Publisher
"Joyous, passionate and funny."--The Washington Post . --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Back Cover
About the Author
Sneaky Pie Brown, a tiger cat born somewhere in Albemarle County, Virginia, was discovered by Rita Mae Brown at her local SPCA. They have collaborated on fourteen previous Mrs. Murphy mysteries: Sour Puss; Wish You Were Here; Rest in Pieces; Murder at Monticello; Pay Dirt; Murder, She Meowed; Murder on the Prowl; Cat on the Scent; Pawing Through the Past; Claws and Effect; Catch as Cat Can; The Tail of the Tip-Off; Whisker of Evil; and Cat’s Eyewitness, in addition to Sneaky Pie’s Cookbook for Mystery Lovers.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
I bought Mother a new car. It damn near killed Aunt Louise. Those two have been fighting like banty roosters since 1905, the year Mom was born. The first big blowup that both recall involved a multicolored hair ribbon, 1909. Juts (Mom) says Celeste Chalfonte gave it to her because she was such a pretty, sweet little darling. This made Louise jealous. Things have been sliding downhill between them ever since.
Louise trumpets a different version of this earth-shattering event. She says Celeste Chalfonte made a present of the ribbon to her because she was such a pretty, sweet little darling. Juts, that jealous devil, snatched it clean off her head, getting some hair by the roots in the bargain. Being seven, Louise refrained from beating her younger sister to a pulp. Instead she reported the theft to their mother, Cora Hunsenmeir, in the hopes she’d do it. Cora, justice personified, returned the ribbon to Louise. Ever since that day Juts has been eaten up with green envy. Louise swears this for a fact.
In May of 1980 I still can’t untangle victor from victim. It changes regularly like night and day as each sister revolves around the other. The front door just slammed. It’s Aunt Wheeze (Louise).
“Juts, you steeping pickled eggs, I see.”
“You see fine. Want one?”
“No, you put in too much sugar. I like my eggs a bit more tart.”
“Hells bells, I can’t say anything around you—or that damn kid you picked off the streets in 1944.”
“Louise, she’s my daughter sure as if I bore her.”
“Ha! You never will know what it is to be a mother. You have to give birth. Blood of your blood, bone of your bone. It’s all so mystical and spiritual—but then I don’t expect you to understand. You wouldn’t listen to me in 1944 and you won’t listen to me now.”
“Piss on your teeth! Walking around like a bloated toad don’t make no woman a mother. Mothering’s in the raising up of the child.”
“Well, a fine job you did of it. Nickel left the church, left the town, left you, and now she writes books that disgrace the whole family.”
“If you don’t want no one to know your business, keep your mouth shut.”
“How was I to know that brat would remember everything?”
“Wheeze, the last thing to die on you will be your mouth. You don’t just tell Nickel stories—you now got a goddamned CB radio and tell anyone who tunes in.”
“Liar, liar, your pants are on fire!”
I can’t stand it. I’m going out to referee. “Are you two at it again?”
Aunt Louise whirled around to greet me. “You got gall, Nicole Smith, showing your face in this house.”
“Why? It’s Mom’s house.”
“Writing stories that make fun of me, Grand Regent of the Catholic Daughters of America for the Great State of Maryland. I’m so embarrassed I could die.”
“I doubt we’ll be that lucky.”
“Nickel, don’t you talk that way to my sister.”
“Jesus H. Christ on a raft.”
“See, Juts, see—that’s what comes of her leaving the church. Just throwing Jesus’s name around like it was salt.”
“Your Aunt Louise is right. Show a little respect.”
“I am going back to the sunroom. You two are impenetrable. Mom, can I have a pickled egg?”
“Get it and get out. Me and Louise are talking business.”
As I shut the door behind me I heard Louise ask in a deafening whisper, “Impenetrable? What’s that mean—that we’re dumb?”
“I never know if I’m being insulted or not. It’s hell having a daughter that went to college.”
Two pairs of feet hurried over to the big dictionary Mom keeps stashed under the coffee table. I heard the pages rustling.
“Louise, look under i, not e.”
I can picture those gray heads bending over Webster’s. Once they find “impenetrable” they’ll soon start in on each other with renewed vigor. Seventy-five years is a long time to love and hate. MARCH 6, 1909
Celeste swirled in the kitchen like a fragrant tornado. Louise and Julia Ellen looked up from their picture book.
“The birthday girl! Julia Ellen, here is something for your pretty head,” Celeste handed the child a bright ribbon.
“Thank you, Miss Chalfonte.”
“Miss Chalfonte, don’t forget my birthday’s in three weeks.” Louise wanted to make sure.
“I know. How was school today?”
“Yashew Gregorivitch got a whipping.”
“How exciting.” Her right eyebrow arched upward. “You two play. Mother will be here as soon as she’s done with the silver.” Celeste disappeared through the kitchen door, leaving her scent behind.
Julia attempted to tie a bow smack on top of her head, toothache style, but her little fingers weren’t nimble enough. “Wheezie, help me.”
Once the ribbon was secure in her hand, Louise began trading. “I’ll tie you the best bow ever if you let me wear this to school tomorrow.”
“I’ll let you play with my glass beads.”
“No. Gimme my ribbon.”
“Don’t grab, Julia. It’s so unladylike.”
“You tie a bow or gimme my present back.”
“I am not selfish. It’s my birthday.”
“Think how happy you’d make me if I can wear this tomorrow.”
“You can be happy on your own birthday. Gimme my ribbon.” Julia grabbed Louise’s arm and rubbed her hands over it to make a burn.
“Gimme my ribbon.”
“Don’t you know nothing? We’re Christians. That means we gotta share.”
“Gimme my ribbon.”
“Do you want to go to hell and have a red tail stuck on your heinie?”
This threat caused Julia to let go. “On my heinie?”
“A bright red tail like the devil.”
“Louise, you are making that up.”
“I am not. Ask Mother.”
Julia tore out the kitchen door and found Cora polishing the last of the forks.
“Mother, Louise says if I go to hell I’ll have a red tail stuck on my heinie!”
“Are you planning on leaving anytime soon?”
“Is it true? Do people have red tails?”
“Child, don’t worry me with this stuff. How do I know what fashions are in such a warm climate?”
Perplexed, Julia walked back into the kitchen. “She don’t know.”
Louise seized the moment. “Because she don’t know don’t mean it ain’t true. You don’t want to go there, do you?”
“No—now gimme my ribbon back.”
“You’ll go straight to hell. Let me wear it tomorrow.”
“No.” Juts went for her again. Louise dodged.
“You gotta share. It’s Christian.”
Reinforced by theology, Louise spied a knife by the sink. Before Julia could stop her, she cut the lovely ribbon neatly in half. “There, I’ve saved you from eternal torment.”
Juts took the pathetic remnant held out to her. She sat right down on the floor and cried. Her anguish reverberated throughout the cavernous house.
Cora, with purpose, strode into the kitchen. “What goes here?”
“Wheezie stole my hair ribbon.”
“Liar, liar, your pants are on fire.”
“Stop that, Louise. Did you steal her hair ribbon?”
“No, Mother, look—she has it in her hand.”
“Such as it is.”
“Waagh. She cut it in half.”
“What’s that behind your back? Gimme that hand.”
Louise reluctantly volunteered her hand.
“Open your fist.”
There in the middle of her palm rested the other half of the ribbon, wrinkled.
“Mother, Jesus said: ‘Ask and it shall be given unto ye.’ ”
“What does Jesus have to do with your sister’s birthday present?”
“I asked and she wouldn’t give it to me, so I took half. This way Julia won’t get in trouble with God.”
“The Lord moves in mysterious ways, Louise Hunsenmeir, but I don’t.” Cora walloped her bottom. “There, smartypants. That’ll teach you to spoil your sister’s birthday. Since your birthday’s coming up in three weeks, I’ll divide everything in half between you and Julia Ellen.”
“No! No!” Louise screamed.
“It is better to give than to receive,” Cora calmly pointed out to her.
Juts, refreshed from the sight of Louise’s discomfort, threw her ribbon at Louise. “Momma, she got all my ribbon. Now can I have all her birthday presents?”
Louise emitted a piercing squeal. “Never!”
“My God, you’re as bad as the other one. I’m done with both of you. Now get your coats on. We’re going home.” MAY 21, 1980
What the hell’s she doing out there?”
Juts sauntered over to the window to see what her sister was bitching about. “Turning cartwheels in the dandelions.”
“That girl’s thirty-five, ain’t she?”
“Be thirty-six come November.”
“Juts, call her in here before the neighbors see.”