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The Mex Mysteries, Book 6

Susan Corso

A Shulamith Burton Book

New York

Gypsy Chicks is a work of fiction.

Names, characters, places, and incidents

either are the product of the author’s

imagination or are used fictitiously.

Any resemblance to actual persons, living

or dead, events or locales is entirely

coincidental—if you believe in that

sort of thing.

© 2017 Susan Corso

2nd Edition

All rights reserved.

ISBN 978-1-937233-34-1

No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or

distributed in any printed or electronic form without

permission of the publisher. Please do not

participate in or encourage piracy of

copyright materials in violation of the author’s

rights unless you know how to swashbuckle.

SELECTIONS FROM “GYPSY”

Lyrics by STEPHEN SONDHEIM Music by JULE STYNE

© 1959 (Renewed) STRATFORD MUSIC CORPORATION and

WILLIAMSON MUSIC CO.

All Rights Administered by CHAPPELL & CO., INC.

All Rights Reserved

Used by Permission of ALFRED MUSIC PUBLISHING CO., INC.

Copyright Page is deemed

continued following

the Gypsy Chicks Gratitudes

at the end of the book.

The lapel pin that Mex sports in Gypsy Chicks is based on a gorgeous pink suede shoe that I found on Edible Playground by the once again (and always) stellar Suzanne Rhodes. The rosette, so glad to report, is entirely hers.

Table of Contents


Dedication

Endorsement from Tempest Storm

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

Chapter 64

Chapter 65

Chapter 66

Chapter 67

Chapter 68

Chapter 69

Chapter 70

Chapter 71

Chapter 72

Chapter 73

Chapter 74

Chapter 75

Chapter 76

Chapter 77

Chapter 78

Chapter 79

Chapter 80

Chapter 81

Chapter 82

Chapter 83

Chapter 84

Author Note

A Note on the Text

More Mex Mysteries

Wikipedia Synopsis of Gypsy

Reader’s Guide

Gypsy Chicks Gratitudes

Copyright Page Continued

About Susan Corso

Connect with Susan Corso

Sneak Preview Something Wicked

In memoriam

M. Stephen Falk—

a room in my heart

is full of Daddy

Chapter 1



Live and let live, as they say in AA. Judgment is the great gift and the great bugaboo of the human experience. How irritating is that? I’m over judging other people for the most part, knowing full well where that lands me. Oh no, it’s not judging others that’s the problem. It’s judging (and damning) myself that’s on deck for serious soul-searching. Ouch is the short form.

The afternoon was drowsy, humid. I sat on the crimson sofa half in and half out of nap, meditation, an alpha state. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. And I had an ache in my heart.

My lover Veronica had asked me every day for months if I would be her bride. I hadn’t told her yes or no because I couldn’t get clear. Then, ten weeks ago, she died. But before she did, she pointed out that my new friend Seraphim—actress extraordinaire—was to fill that role in my life. My every cell still ached for my Veronica.

As if on cue, sturdy spark plug Seraphim stuck her head through the front archway of the living room. “There you are,” she said.

“Here I am,” I agreed.

Acting the role of King Sextimus in Once Upon a Mattress had been the easy part of the summer, believe me. A shockingly long interval elapsed whilst I recovered from the show and began to feel like my usual femme self again. At one point I’d wondered if Veronica’s death had meant the death of the Ur-femme as well; she wasn’t totally dead but she had been archived for a while. Besides, I was changed. Playing King Sextimus had made me search deep for the inner masculine in myself.

No mistakes that his name is King Sextimus the Silent. The masculine in me had been silenced for way too long. Or, compartmentalized, if you prefer.

Once the show closed, then I ached to finish The Pink House. It’s the details, you know. The throw pillows, the vases, the tchotchkes, and the artwork. I think architect Mies van der Rohe said, “God is in the details.” It’s true. Goddess too. It bears noting that Ambrose Bierce said, “The Devil is in the details.” I guess it all depends upon your perspective.

I stayed in The Pink House for the rest of the summer. Moving pillows, vases, tchotchkes, and artwork. Then, moving them again. Reading. Meditating. Getting to know Xennie, my new Gypsy housekeeper. Visiting the puridai, the Gypsy matriarch, who often pretended to be on death’s threshold but then, like Art Buchwald, would rise like the Phoenix.

“Sleepy?” asked Seraphim.

“More daydreaming.”

The front doorbell rang. “I’ll get it,” Seraphim said, loudly enough for Xennie to hear her. Oh, one other thing. Seraphim Groves, the Guest Artist at the Camp, had become my dear friend as well as houseguest for the rest of the summer.

I watched her go through the process of directing college kids in a show not exactly suited to their ages. Night of the Iguana. Tennessee Williams at his finest, outlining the emotional dissolution of a clergyman, name of T. Lawrence Shannon. At the opening, despite the age problem, the company acquitted themselves admirably. The show, like Mattress, was sold out for the entire run, and a group of sixty-odd college students had their first taste of a hit, twice. Seraphim enjoyed directing. I acted as her sounding board, and savvy business operator. Her innocence is part of what lets her be a stunning performer. It made me feel useful.

Speaking of useful, I helped Gareth do the cases he’d taken for the summer, and I continued to reject all comers. Veronica, my lover of a number of years, was dead. I was raw, raw, raw. I needed space, time, stillness. Unstructured being time, to heal, to reflect, to question, to wonder. I sat with Spirit daily.

Spirit. How to explain her? I suppose she’s the name I use for my own inner spark of divinity. When she got her name, she became a flame inside me. Isn’t that what divine sparks are for? Growing into flames? They are. Hence, Spirit. She runs my life when I listen to her. When I don’t, I don’t like to think on it.

We had arrived at Labor Day weekend. The last hurrah of summer. Iguana had closed. The beginning of school is embedded in our cells. Or mine in any case. I loved school. Correction: I love school. To this day, I consider a day when I haven’t learned something a waste. It’s all learning on this green marble called Earth. No, maybe not all. There has to be teaching if there’s to be learning.

I did both: learning, as always, about myself, and teaching, often. Mostly teaching Gareth, my remarkable assistant rapidly rising to associate, to investigate à la Mex Stone. This means intuitively. I am no ordinary investigator, nor am I a detective. I am an intuitive investigator. Between me, Spirit and Gareth, we tend to get things done in a completely unorthodox way, but who wants to be orthodox anyway? Not me.

It had been two months since Veronica had eaten a poisoned apple (for real) and died of mercury and arsenic poisoning. Bless her. I missed her still, sometimes unbearably, but grief, in time, has a way of easing. For me, it doesn’t exactly go away but the spaces between the missing grow longer as the quality of daily ongoing takes over. Grieving is for the living, not the dead. They have already gone on.

I was more volatile these days than I’d ever been in my life. Something like living on a PMS roller-coaster all the time, although it wasn’t PMS. It was partly hormones, not pre-menstrual though, post-. Partly emotion. Partly a lot of things. My task for the summer had been to let go, lighten up and not try to figure it out. Instead I had to let whatever I felt be. Don’t judge, don’t draw conclusions, don’t (whatever you do) take action. Just be. As in, don’t just do something, sit there.

I am intimate with grief. In fact, I might even say that I’m an expert, although it’s a dubious credit. Prudence, my white long-haired kitty, bathed, as usual, in my lap. Money, my black short-hair, drowsed on the cool hearth of antique Moroccan tiles lining the mammoth fireplace in the living room. I thought of the many deaths I’d seen. In cases, in my family, with friends, AIDS, terrorism, the list went on and on.

Where does this familiarity with grief source, Spirit?

She’s available 24/7 with no advance warning.

Generally? Or for you?

For me.

In childhood.

I needn’t have asked her. I got where it originated. A place of murky stories, small oddments, convoluted ideas, strange memories too, maybe. What happened to my daddy? I’d wanted to know since the age of five and no one had ever told me the whole thing all in a row. I’d made a note to self for years that I needed to hire myself and make my father’s death a case. Perhaps this fall was the right time.

Gareth was on his way up from the City. Seraphim was usually to be found somewhere in the house. Xennie’s rich contralto hummed a muted Gypsy chorus. The girls were purring and accounted for. Contentment was available if I chose it. Did I?

We were expecting company for the holiday weekend. Susannah, my friend and design consultant, was on her way to do her final consultation on the interior of The Pink House combined with a long-overdue visit. She would bring her husband, Oliver, one of my favorite people in the whole world. He is funny and bright and interested in everything besides being a fount of information on all material theatrical. They have two astounding daughters who had gotten better offers for the holiday weekend rather than to accompany their mother to finish a job.

Seraphim’s best friend in the world would join us on Sunday. I’d not met her. She’d been away for the summer, I think in Nebraska, directing. An accomplished theatre director named Patience, we’d spoken on the phone, and emailed a couple of times. I was nervous to meet her. Don’t know why except that as Seraphim and I got to know one another, it appeared that a romance was in the offing. I wondered if Patience would give a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down vote on the subject of moiself, to quote Miss Piggy.

So, we would be six and Xennie too, who insisted on never being included in the guest list though she could have been. Xennie, short for Xenobia, was my Gypsy housekeeper who had signed on in the early summer. I felt as if I’d known her my whole life. She behaved like she’d known me my whole life. My granny was a Gypsy so Xennie made sense to me. Her son, Daniel, would join us for a meal or two. When he did, I’d have to insist that Xennie sit with us at the table and let us take turns serving.

The heavy front door swung open. It not only has its own doorbell, it has its own creak. Seraphim said, “What the hell . . . ? Oh.” She staggered in through the archway with a very heavy box.

“What is it?” I asked.

“A box,” she panted.


Chapter 2


A Sharpie, I could smell it, had been used very recently to print my full name (alarm bells) and address, in block letters, mostly unidentifiable to those of us who play at graphology.



That was creepy. It had no address. No return address either. No postal mark. Like Harry Potter with his letter of acceptance from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry addressed to him in the Cupboard under the Stairs.

“Did you see anyone?” I asked Seraphim.

“No.”

“Any motion? A vehicle?”

“No.”

“Is it ticking?” I teased.

Seraphim bent over and put her ear to the top of the box. “No.”

“Well, that’s good.”

“It is.” She wore her owl face, read: solemn.

I moved Prudence gently to the sofa, and stood. “I wonder who would address a box with my full name?” At a silent query from Seraphim, I said, “You know I don’t use it, and I don’t let other people use it either.”

Listen up. I’ll do the Name Dance, but only once. Mex Stone is an abbreviated form of my much longer handle. Mexicali Rose was my mama’s signature song when she was a cabaret singer. No one knows why. Whenever I’d asked her when she was alive, she always waved away the question with one of her beautiful hands. Granny never told me either. No matter, my friends call me Mex. You can do the same unless I tell you otherwise.

“Do you want me to open it?”

“Yes, and no,” I groaned. “Do I want to know what’s in it? Only sort of. What I want is already to have opened it, gotten over the surprise, good or bad, and be done with it.”

Seraphim laughed sympathetically. “Can’t help you there, babe.”

Baby is my favorite love-name; she was almost there. It gives me a bubbly belly. “I know,” I said giving her a moué. “Oh, go ahead.” I flung myself further into the crimson velvet. Prudence ventured a tentative white paw onto my black-skirted lap, presumably in order to return to her bath. If you’re a white cat, there’s no better place to bathe in the world than on a black skirt. Unless it’s a black cashmere bathrobe.

The tape came off easily at Seraphim’s tug. Either it hadn’t been on there for very long or, conversely, it had been on there for a long, long time. The things investigator mind tracks.

She crouched on the floor, opened the flaps and peered into the box. “It’s papers.”

I sat primly on the crimson sofa. “What kind of papers?”

“Old ones, I’d guess,” the subdued reply.

I sank into the cushions and closed my eyes. I didn’t want to know what was in the box. I had enough to think on. “Subject?”

“Um.”

“I need more information.” Opening my eyes slightly, I considered Seraphim.

“Mex, when did your daddy die?”

Body wisdom seized me. My heart began to race. I was aware of my own pulse in my ears. I lifted my head from the sofa. “1963. Why?”

“Because I think these old papers, at least the ones in the top folder, concern him.” She sat on her heels.

“What?” I willed myself calm. “Let me see that folder please.” I moved. Prudence was annoyed with me.

Seraphim held the folder out for me to reach as the front door opened. A powerful air current drew toward the rear of the house because the outside library door was ajar for the sake of cross-breeze. The folder flew open. In it, a stack of newspaper clippings. Yellow with age, crumbly, gathered with a metal paper clip.

“Darlings, I’m ho-ome,” sang a warm baritone. Gareth B. Hawkins, wonderful assistant, had arrived from the City in Nessarose, his Nissan.

“We’re in here,” called Seraphim.

Gareth’s handsome face popped into the living room from the long central hallway in The Pink House. It’s flanked by not one, no, why have one when you can have two, yes, two, spiral staircases? The Pink House is over the top, but it is also the Queen Anne Victorian I have dreamed of since age four.

“Whatcha doin’?” he asked, departing from his usually pristine speech.

Neither of us spoke, basically because we didn’t yet know what we were doing.

“That important?” he continued.

“We don’t know yet,” enjoined Seraphim.

I held the open folder and perused the article on top. No doubt about it, my daddy. The picture of him I’d seen since childhood. At twenty-two, handsome as all get-out, wearing a tuxedo. It’s hard not to look handsome in a tux.

Gareth soldiered on, “You don’t know what you’re doing? That’s odd, dears.”

“We’re checking into this box,” I didn’t recognize my own voice, “which was delivered. ... We think by hand. Anonymously.”

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

More to myself than Gareth I said, “I might have done.”

He peered over my shoulder at the photo in the folder. “That’s Stephen Stone, isn’t it?” I nodded, not trusting myself to speak. “Your papa?” I concurred again. “Where did the box come from?”

Seraphim waited a beat for me to answer Gareth. When I didn’t, she said, “We don’t know. A half hour ago the front doorbell rang. This box was on the mat.” Gareth wound up to pitch the questions I’d already asked, but Seraphim barreled on, “No, I caught sight of no one. No, no movement. No vehicle either.” Then she added for good measure, “It wasn’t ticking.”

“That’s a relief.” Gareth gifted us with his prep school-perfect smile.

“Maybe,” I said. I got more in control of my feelings. I felt like the five year old I’d been when he’d been killed in a plane crash. “Maybe not.”

“Mex,” Gareth said, being the stellar assistant he is, “I’ll be glad to go through the papers.”

“I know,” I said smiling at him full on, “I know you would, but don’t you see? It’s time I made this a case. No wonder I’ve been saying no all summer. I have to know the truth about my daddy.”

“We’ll help you.” Seraphim watched me carefully. I was off-balance. Not that it required much these days. Veronica’s death still rattled me. “It’ll work out.”

Gareth sent an ocular signal to Seraphim. They had a rapport, those two. I had no idea how they’d developed it. Maybe soul recognition. Anywho, a secret communication system allowed them to understand one another without words. I think he meant for her to be still. She was. So was he. They were waiting to see where I’d land.

My emotions ran undomesticated at that juncture. Not only could I not control them, I didn’t know what they were, but they were tsunami in size and the only way to ride out the wave was to hold still. I’d arrive on the shore one way or another.

“Susannah just called,” Xennie said tentatively entering in to the tension in the room. “They’re going to miss dinner because they discovered they have to leave very late. A small crisis with the girls. She says she’ll see you in the morning.”

We broke out of suspended animation. “Thanks, Xennie,” I said. “Then only the four of us for dinner.”


Chapter 3


“Four?”

“You, me, Seraphim and Gareth,” I said.

“Oh, fine. Whenever you’re ready,” her equanimitous reply. Very little flaps Xennie.

Seraphim’s cellphone sang out. Its ring-tone is a synthetic variation on a classical number. I learned it for Music 100 at Smith with the lyric “Mozart’s in the closet, let him out, let him out, let him out.”No idea what the actual song is called; there is no lyric.

Her agent. She hmmed and yessed and walked toward my turret office for a piece of paper and a writing implement. “Starting when? . . . Oh . . . Well, I don’t see why not. What a great part. I’ve always wanted to play it. Who’s the director? . . . Cool. Yeah, cool . . . . Thanks, David. Yeah, a nice holiday weekend to you too. Fire Island? Duh. Later.”

“Well, I’ll be damned,” she said more to herself than to us, closing her phone. “I finish one gig and the next one shows up. Not early. Not late, right on time. Cool.”

“Oh?” I said, interest piqued. The change of subject (read: distraction) was most welcome.

“A part I’ve wanted to play since I was a kid.”

“What part?” asked Gareth.

“Rose Thompson Hovick.” She lingered over the syllables dreamily.

“Momma Rose?!” Gareth is a gay man from New York City. He knows her real name. Seraphim beamed. We both pounced on her at the same time.

“That is ab fab, darling, absolutely ab fab!” exclaimed Gareth.

“Seraphim, that’s wonderful,” I said a tad more sedately.

“It is,” she agreed. “My friend Trude is directing. No audition. She wants me to do the part. An actor’s dream come true.”

I put down the folder and hugged her.

Gareth hugged us both. “We must celebrate. I’ll go tell Xennie.”

I needed to clarify one thing, “Momma Rose as in Gypsy, right?” I asked Seraphim.

“The very same.”

“Who’s Trude?”

“My friend Trudy Lively. This is an all-star one-shot. It’s the finale of a week of fundraising events for raising awareness of . . . something. I can’t bring to mind every detail.”

In what seemed like a non sequitur, I said, “I want to meet him,” referring to Seraphim’s agent, David Kalodney. He’s a mucky-muck at the William Morris Agency. Actually, I thought I had met him. He’d gone to Amherst, my daddy’s alma mater, I thought, whilst I was in college.

She cocked her head to one side. “You will,” she said, “as soon as we get to town and get life going again. This is what it is to know an itinerant arts worker, babe. We go where there’s work.”

I liked her expression: itinerant arts worker. “It’ll be nice tonight, the four of us. We’ll celebrate. Let’s put the box into my turret and forget it for the nonce.”

Seraphim is a perfect gentleman when she wants to be. I didn’t have to touch the box. She put the folder away, closed Pandora in it, and the box miraculously disappeared into my turret (this is what turrets are for) to be dealt with another day. Nothing like a good old case of procrastination to put things off. I had had a relatively dire case of Scarlet O’Hara-itis for most of the summer.

Xennie and Gareth returned in grand spirits with champagne and caviar. Four flutes sat on the tray. I don’t drink any more, but they always include me so I can say no. It reaffirms my sobriety. Always good.

“To Momma Rose!” saluted Gareth.

“To Momma Rose!” Xennie and I echoed as we toasted Seraphim. I drank the elixir of the goddesses, Diet Pepsi. To each her own.

“Alright, so what do you know so far?”

“It’s a benefit for . . . I can’t remember what he said. Dammit. I think maybe something in the entertainment world.”

“C’mon, Seraphim, try!” I said.

After a beat, she said, “Nope. Sorry. At any rate, there’s a society lady ... somebody Goldman?—is that right?—doing a whole bunch of events, and Gypsy is the grand finale. It’s a staged concert version at the Palace Theatre which used to be a vaudeville house.”

“Oooh, oooh,” I said, “Seraphim’s going to play the Palace. I’m awed.”

“The Palace!” from Gareth. Xennie and I were good at the echo effect.

“Yeah,” said Seraphim, understating the case, “the Palace. Cool. Very cool.”

What with one thing and another, we had dinner later than we’d expected. Neither Seraphim nor Gareth nor, for that matter, Xennie, was feeling any pain. I was the sober one. Halfway through our repast, Gareth raised the box. His veritas, investigator curiosity, got the better of the vino.

“Mex, we must investigate your mysterious box.”

“Not tonight.”

“As you wish.”

I had reached that stage in my grieving for Veronica wherein I was waiting. Waiting for the cloud to lift. Waiting to feel better. Waiting to be nabbed no longer by colognes, post-its, or penmanships. Her things were out of our room in The Pink House. Daniel, Xennie’s adult son, had taken over her studio workshop for I didn’t know what projects.

We had been together off and on for four years. Since we’d only had a brief time in The Pink House, the memories there were fresher, the habits less entrenched, so both were easier to slough off. I was tired of the country and at the same time didn’t relish returning to the City.


The next two days kept us occupied doing Susannah’s bidding. For the most part, she loved the choices I’d made in the house. A number of things, however, simply would not do, according to her lights, and she used us like hired hands. Me, Xennie, Gareth, Oliver and Seraphim. We scampered at her every syllable, and come Sunday night, we had only the living room left.

Xennie excused herself to prepare a cool summer supper. The rest of us collapsed on the screened-in porch mainlining iced tea and imbibing miniature cold, fried crab cakes in a luscious, Xennie variation on tartar sauce. Gareth played butler. We inspected our hammer-tormented digits and marveled at the amount of work we’d done. The Pink House is three stories.

“Only one more room,” said Susannah with both satisfaction and regret.

“Not tonight?” Oliver begged his taskmistress wife.

“Indeed, tonight! I gave Mex my word we’d be finished by Labor Day. That’s tomorrow. And we will be, by God!”

This was my cue to let her off the hook, but I didn’t want to. I wanted The Pink House done in a bad way. The renovation had taken for-bloody-ever and I’d had enough. Long past time to have my home completed so I could get on with the other clamoring demands of my life.

Ever-sane, Gareth mitigated matters. “After dinner.”

Oliver groaned. “Must we?”

“We must,” I said as Xennie appeared behind the screen into the dining room.

“Dinner is served,” she said in her usual understated way.

We gathered our aching limbs together, rose and skipped the two steps into the formal dining room. The stunning, hand-hewn, birds-eye maple table lay startlingly empty.

“Xennie?” I asked.

“Dinner is in the Gazebo tonight,” she said.

“Come, friends.”

I led them in an impromptu parade through the butler’s pantry, into the kitchen, and down the eight granite steps to The Park which had been transformed by Lesley and Jax into a real Garden of Earthly Delights. The pink, purple, green and yellow gingerbread gazebo sat outside the formal garden on a gentle slope of rich, emerald green grass.


Chapter 4


Xennie had, as usual, outdone herself. Fried chicken without a speck of grease, no idea how she did that. Red potato salad, German potato salad, corn on the cob, a huge green salad, homemade biscuits with creamery butter. A plate of fudge brownies demanded ice cream for dessert. For an instant, contentment overwhelmed me.

“Xennie,” I said, “thank you, as always.”

“No thanks necessary, Ma’am.”

“Oh, but it is,” I said as I watched these people, the family I had been slowly choosing since Mama died, fill their plates with food and appreciation. I was last, after Xennie. They knew me well enough to know that I never eat that I don’t pray first.

“Mother, the cook!” Public orisons are short orisons in my book.

We tucked in.

Xennie surprised us with homemade vanilla and chocolate ice creams as well as real whipped cream to create our brownie sundaes. To her pleasure, her handsome son, Daniel Sullivan Kaldera, arrived to share our sweets.

“Daniel, what do you do in the valley when you’re not eating brownies?” Oliver is interested in everything and everyone.

“He’s a horse whisperer,” contributed Gareth.

“That’s not all.” Xennie’s maternal pride shone through.

“Do tell.”

“I work in law enforcement,” Daniel addressed Oliver.

“Like Mex?”

“Um, not exactly.” Daniel glowed at me. We’d shared wonderful conversations about our Gypsy heritage over the summer. He was a veritable fount, and, to my eternal benefit, he’d kept every one of the stories he’d heard of his roots. My memory was sketchier, so I loved to listen to him tell Gypsy stories. Now that I’m spitting distance from fifty, I made a point of storing the stories.

“He works for the Feds,” I said. After that daunted the assembled company, I added, “On top secret things.”

“You make it sound so intriguing, Mex,” Daniel said. “It’s not, at least not most of the time. Mostly it’s painstaking, meticulous grunt work that only sometimes yields results.”

“Speaking of painstaking, dears,” Susannah said, wiping off the last of her wine-colored lip gloss. “It’s time to get to work.”

“Work?”

We recognized fresh blood at the same instant. “Oh yes, Daniel,” I said, “and could we use your help.”

“No problem, Mex.” He was such a nice man. “Whatever you need.”

Susannah tucked her capable bicep against his and steered our reluctant, rag-tag procession toward the living room. Gareth stayed behind to help Xennie tidy the detritus. We don’t leave our leftovers outside. We’d attract a veritable zoo if we did.

The rest of us, knowing what we were in for, followed silently, eying each other dubiously. The living room was a huge room, oblong, with draperied French doors which led to the wraparound porch suitably attired at long last in frothy asparagus ferns, and white wicker with jewel-toned, tasseled harem cushions. This was the room I spent the most time in because my office had grown into and out of the spacious, octagonal turret on this floor.

Susannah had made a huge fuss over the drapes. They were floor-to-ceiling flame, and they showed off the reconstituted Victoriana I preferred for my northern abode. A crimson plush sofa across from a mammoth Moroccan-tiled fireplace, a real davenport, occasional tables, Deco and Victorian lamps. I loved this room, but the artwork, which was what we were focused on, had me stymied. I didn’t know what to hang where. The spot over the marble and malachite mantel begged for a big something, and nothing I had was right.

In the middle of the room stood an alarmingly large crate. Addressed to me.

“What’s this?” I asked fending off a flashback around what I’d labelled The Box.

“You’ll see,” replied Susannah smoothly.

Gareth entered the central archway of the room. “Ohhh, it’s here,” he said enigmatically.

“What’s here?” I got annoyed. Lately, surprises haven’t been my favorite things.

“Daniel, would you do the honors?” Susannah asked.

Gareth hand-delivered a small pink toolbox with a flourish which promptly made me cry. (The box, not the flourish.) Veronica had given it to me years earlier. My Femme Toolkit, she’d called it. Used to this, Gareth tendered the box to Daniel and offered me his white cotton handkerchief in one smooth motion. Everyone focused on the crate as Daniel, in his usual way, moseyed around it to investigate the best way to uncrate whatever was in it.

“This shouldn’t be too hard,” he said rolling sleeves over strong browned forearms. Gareth licked his chops. A beautiful man is a beautiful man, straight, gay, or any variation on a theme. I was sure Daniel played on the straight end. The rest of us, glad of a new team member to do the heavy lifting, collapsed into the furniture. We’d done our share.

In twenty-five minutes, the lid and the interior bars were removed. Another ten released a rococo frame which had been attached to the crate by its stretcher bars. I intuited without asking that it was an Angelo Caldo. I’d never heard of another artist who shipped his or her work the way Angelo does. He uses a mystery medium which cannot be touched by shipping materials. The surface of the work could be compromised and that was thoroughly, completely, unadulteratedly unacceptable.

Gareth helped Daniel so he got the first glimpse. “Wow.”

“I’ll say,” said Daniel.

“Wow what?” My tears had dried by then, and my curiosity, along with the petulance, thrummed.

“Daniel,” said Gareth, “you take the left, and I’ll hold the right.”

They swung themselves away from the gilt frame like two doors on a triptych. Susannah and Oliver flanked me on the crimson sofa. Prudence and Money, my white and black cats, snuzzled between flanks. Xennie stood in the archway. Seraphim sat on a footstool.

The front doorbell rang.

Seraphim sprang to her feet. “That has to be Patience.”

I sat straight slowly, mesmerized by the image in front of me. Prudence and Money, aware of their kitty mommy, did likewise.

A voice I didn’t recognize spoke from the front archway into the living room. “That’s gorgeous.”

“That’s Mex,” said Seraphim.

“In point of fact,” corrected Susannah, “that’s Diva.”

I didn’t have to see the signature. The rococo frame held an Angelo Caldo portrait. Of me. A voluptuous woman with great green eyes looked both into herself and out of the painting at the viewer. Her red hair was high on her head with cascading curls. She wore a three-carat diamond earring, a mink coat, and nothing else. Angelo is my ex-husband and dearest friend.

“Yow,” said the kitty chorus. We howled.

“Susannah, how did you . . . ?” I started.

“I called Angelo the day I first saw the house. That fireplace begged for a portrait, and I thought . . . .”

Tears spilled down my face again, but this time they were tears of joy.

Fortunately, my habit of manners showed its genteel face.

“Patience, welcome. Come in, and meet everyone. Xennie, is there tea or coffee? Patience, have you had dinner? Xennie will fix you a plate if you’re hungry. Gentlemen, prop Diva against the fireplace; we’ll hang her in a minute.”


Chapter 5


Unbelievable. Justly unbelievable. Never, in the years I’d sat for Angelo, had I seen such a piece of exquisite beauty. I didn’t look a thing like the woman in the painting, but she did look a lot like me, if that makes any sense. Angelo had painted the true spirit of me.

He did.

Spirit speaks. She’s the voice that runs my life. Lately, she’d been more of a comfort than anything else. I was strung out. She spoke soothing words of reassurance in meditation and stopped me from doing anything exceptionally crazy during my period of mourning.

We all have Spirit inside of us. It’s the voice of the truest self, the self that doesn’t mourn or hurt or moan. In my case, I listen to mine, but she could as easily send me pictures or sensations or whatever I needed. The thing is, we have to make time for Spirit to make itself known to us. Usually, this requires slowing down.

“Who painted that?” Patience wanted to know.

“Mex’s ex-husband, Angelo Caldo,” said Seraphim. “It’s lovely, Mex.” She communicated more with her eyes.

“You were married to Angelo Caldo?”

“Yes, a long time ago. By the grace of God, we stayed friends,” I said.

“I like his work,” said Patience. This was huge kudos from her, although I would only figure that out later.

“I do too,” I said. “Susannah, what did he charge you for Diva?”

She hesitated. “It’s a gift for your new home. It came with a request for an invitation to visit.”

“I need to call him. Did he know we’d open it tonight?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Excuse me, everyone.” I bowed out of the living room and into my turret office.

He wasn’t home. Was he ever? The gad-about.

“Angelo, darling, it’s Bella.” It means beautiful in Italian, and he’s called me that since we were married. “The piece is stunning, gorgeous, wonderful. I love it! The invitation is proffered officially and you may come to visit any time whether I’m here or not. Mi casa es su casa. I love you. Call me when you can. Bye, darling.”

Gareth and Daniel hefted the none-too-light piece in its antique frame to the perfect height above the mantelpiece.

“There,” said Susannah.

The grandfather clock, by no mistake genuinely made by my grandfather, which stood proudly in the front hallway, tolled midnight.

“Happy Birthday, Oliver!” I crowed. Xennie produced a two-tier yellow cake with butter-cream vanilla frosting, his favorite. Crowned with candles, it read Best Wishes in emerald green and red icing. Gareth dimmed the lights. We sang the world’s worst rendition of the world’s most-maligned song. Oliver made a wish, gusted out the candles, then thanked me.

We each inhaled a diminutive slice of cake whilst the macho men hung Diva where she belonged. The rest of the artwork leaped to its places on the walls practically on its own. Isn’t that the way of it? Put the right thing at the center and the rest of life takes care of itself.

Susannah and Oliver planned to leave bright and early to return to the City and beat the traffic. Gareth too. Seraphim and I would spend Labor Day with Patience, and the kitty girls, then return to town on Tuesday.


The girls always slept with Veronica and me until Seraphim arrived on the scene. Then, Money, that sass, began to sleep with Seraphim. Prudence, loyal femme-cat that she is, slept with me. Regardless, once I fluttered an eyelash, Prudence knew I was awake, and that meant breakfast, breakfast, breakfast, now, now, now, Mommy. And, if Pru knew I was awake then so did Money.

I tiptoed downstairs around four. The sun was already above the horizon and it struck the surface of Diva as my pink chenille-robed self wandered past. If I don’t do this, I get no snuggle time. Their default position is such a caterwauling that it’s not worth it to try to skip the Feed Me step. I left them happily crunching in the kitchen with its original, primary color-flecked linoleum and stood in the archway to gander at my spirit self. Susannah was right. The piece was perfect. A focal point for the whole room.

The thing that amazed me most was that someone alive on earth saw me like that painting. I started to cry again. Tears of gratitude for Angelo.

Don’t cry, Mexy. Rejoice. He’s not the only one.

I know, Spirit.

Do you know who else?

No, maybe, I don’t know.

Guess.

Gareth?

That’s one.

Are there more?

Many.

Kelley?

Sure. Seraphim?

Does she?

Ask her.

She went into silence. Usually this means there’s something she wants me to get and she’s not telling me any more unless and until I get it. I didn’t get it so I tabled the matter and went back upstairs to bed. All would be revealed in good time.

Seraphim lay curled on her side underneath my sheets. She gathered me into her arms, half asleep, and nuzzled the nape of my neck. We did this. We do this. Since Veronica died, we’d been getting closer. Friends, not lovers, although indications were that we were probably headed in that direction. We fell to sleep tangled together. The girls joined us when their tummies were full.

When we arose for the day, the sun shone, the resident population was considerably diminished, and I was to get to know and be known by Patience McPhee, friend to Seraphim for over thirty-seven years. I was more than slightly nervous.


Chapter 6


I thought it a strange reaction, but based upon what Seraphim had told me of Patience, I understood that she was a person given to instant and strident judgments. A theatrical classicist, and purist, Patience was a regional theatre director meant to be the artistic director of a company whose proper place in the world of theatre hadn’t yet welcomed her.

Seraphim and Patience started at the beginning of her latest production, known in the trade as Marat/Sade, but which proper title is The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade. Is it any wonder they use the abbreviated version?

I ate fresh, fresh orange slices, buttery English muffins and relished both the smell and taste of rich, hazelnut-creamed coffee as I listened to their dissection, the only word for it. Regulation surgical. To hear the detail Patience reported was to have been right there amidst the Nebraska corn husks. I might not have been sitting at the table, so focused were they. I took the opportunity to make my own observations of Patience.

She was beautiful in a Nordic way. Blonde, blue-eyed, slim yet solidly built. The love between the two friends was as obvious as their respect for one another’s artistry. Every time Patience came down hard on herself for one or another infraction, Seraphim would speak calmly in her friend’s behalf and let whatever came down come down more gently.

Patience is a perfectionist. I clocked it to myself.

You don’t know the half.

Their postmortem completed, Patience and Seraphim focused on me. We were about to embark on the getting-to-know-you conversation. I didn’t have the oomph.

“Forgive me, ladies, please, if I excuse myself. I need to see to a few things before we go tomorrow and best to do them whilst I have the steam. Seraphim, why don’t you show Patience The Park? I won’t be long.” With that, I swept from the room hoping she wouldn’t think I was rude. I couldn’t bear being on display.

Grief is like this. It’s capricious. I let it make me moody, which I pride myself on not being, but there you go. I was moody that summer. I was aware of it, too. Well enough that I also knew that if I didn’t let it happen, it would ambush me later in a bigger, much worse way. Seraphim had gotten used to my wicked vacillations, and so had dear Gareth.

I ascended the stairs and repaired to the turret in my room. Delightfully, the turret rises the entire altitude of The Pink House, three stories. Octagonal, with a curiously-shingled witch’s hat roof, I loved it. Off my second-floor bedroom, it made a happy meditation cum sitting room.

I didn’t have that much to do. Gareth and Xennie had organized everything that had to return to the City with us. Fortunately for me, Gareth prized efficiency as much as I did. He refused to schlep things from City to country so he spent much of the summer duplicating whatever was needed in both places. Most of what I had in my City office appeared in the country as a result. He even duplicated particularly favored items of clothing when he could so I only had to bring a small overnight bag with various favorites du jour to and fro.

This is what comes of being financially comfortable. It happened right when I met my little black sassy cat, Money. Not the way I would have chosen but oh, well. Granny died. My wonderful Gypsy granny who could always make everything alright died. And left me set for life. A few years ago Mama died and left me doubly set. I’d bought The Pink House in cash, the brownstone in Chelsea too.

A quiet knock at my bedroom door. “Mex?” Seraphim.

“Come in.”

“You cool?”

“Yes. Out of sorts. I hope Patience didn’t think I was rude.”

“I told her about Veronica. She understands.”

“Good,” I said.

“Are you going to stay secluded all day, Miss Garbo?” Seraphim pulled me into her arms. “Or will we be graced with your presence later?”

“I should say that you may expect a later Garbo-esque grace.”

“Good. I’ll leave you be then.”

She’s such a dear. She’d been around for the summer and become a part of the fabric of my days. I genuinely liked her. She amused me no end. Her talent was enormous. Her heart, made of gold. I wondered what it would be like to be kissed by her. And that made me feel guilty over Veronica.

Veronica had been dead for less than three months. Seraphim hadn’t pushed me by any means and I didn’t understand what I really wanted. Was it comfort? Sex? Cuddling? We did that. Often we slept together the whole night through, but not every night. Others, we didn’t. Sometimes, we cuddled in the early morning. We napped together, but it hadn’t gotten sexual between us. Instead, we played it by ear. She respected my mourning.

I left my turret, collected my book and skipped down the spiral staircase. Near the pink marble basin that framed the burbling sacred spring, Seraphim and Patience read under large colorful umbrellas; three of them, yellow, orange and red. I planned to repair to a literary reality in eighteenth century England under the tutelage of Diana Gabaldon in her Lord John books. Seraphim read the libretto of Gypsy, and Patience marked an identical text.

“Are you part of the Momma Rose gig?” I asked as I settled in a chaise.

“I am,” she said over egg yolk yellow half-moon glasses. “I’m supervising the book scenes, and our friend Trude is directing the songs. We split it into pieces for fun.”

“That does sound like fun.”

“Yeah,” she said, “Serri and I haven’t done a show together since we did Godot in Manhattan.”

“Forgive me for this morning, Patience.”

“Oh, it’s fine,” she said. “I understand. My stepfather died recently.”

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

“It’s okay.”

“No,” I spoke gently, “it’s not, but it will be.”

Patience eyed me with more interest. “You’re right. It isn’t. And it will be.”

I was very comfortable sitting outside reading in silence with these two friends. That surprised me. Few people sit together well in silence. We three did, and I enjoyed that. Afternoon advanced into evening and supper (and wonderful, organic getting-to-know-you conversation) and bedtime, and soon enough, the morning traffic was over and we piled into various vehicles with overnight bags, kitty angels, and fortifications from Xennie, who was possibly hoping that we would starve without her, to return to my 49th Street abode and office where Gareth and Goddess knew what else awaited me.


Chapter 7


There is a traffic window from the Hudson River Valley into Manhattan, right between commuting and oh God, here come the truckers, that allows one to sail into town. The issue is catching it. We got lucky. Forty minutes. (I drive the speed limit.) Always. The first year I drove a car, I’d had five car accidents, mostly because I wasn’t capable of paying the appropriate attention to driving. None of them were life-threatening, but I got serious about driving a car after that. I go the posted speed limit. It makes Seraphim crazy. Veronica had never even considered letting me drive. Truthfully, I enjoy it. It means that when I’m with Seraphim, she drives, which I prefer.

As I pulled in front of my building on 49th Street, three things happened simultaneously. First, my cellphone rang. Second, Prudence sneezed, again and again and again. Third, I was smacked upside the head by a recurring vision from childhood.

My cellphone. I carry one because I’m expected to carry one, but I often forget I have it, and so forget to use it. I still don’t know how to operate the call waiting so I’m forever cutting people off. Gareth and Kelley come to mind. Gareth you know. Sergeant Michael Ryan Kelley is my technomentor and surrogate papa; he’s one of the Blues, my name for New York’s finest, the NYPD.

Seraphim calling; she uses her cell the way they’re supposed to be used, and clever girl, the last four digits of her number are the same on cell and at home. Very smart.

I hit the brakes rather harder than I’d intended because Prudence’s sneezes are a cause for particular worry. Since 9/11, she’s had respiratory issues. We spent months less than five miles away from the burning plastic. I have medication for it and it calms her down immediately but we were eleven flights below said emolument. If she wasn’t given her meds within a very brief time, she’d go into respiratory distress and it wouldn’t have been the first time I’d had to rush her to Kitty Emergency.

I glanced up the eleven slate steps in front of my building to see if Charley, the doorman, was there either to help me with the girls or to call Gareth to come down. My eyes landed upon one of the few neighbors I know in my building. Her proper name is Chastity but her friends call her Chas and she giggles at her name, particularly in light of her profession.

I let Seraphim’s message go to Voice Mail, called to Charley to help with the girls, got out of the car to greet Chas and only then discerned that she was weeping her heart out. I sat on the step next to her and pulled her into a one-armed embrace.

“Chas, what gives?” I asked softly.

“Oh, Me-ex.” Chas was born with a slight southern accent; lately, however, she can out-southern Jasper, Alabama, and that’s sayin’ somethin’, darlin’. It works for her professionally. She had raccoon eyes, smudged for days with enough mascara to put Tammy Faye to shame.

“What is it?” I pursued.

“Oh, Mex, it’s so sad.”

By then Charley had taken my girls out of the car, set them on the top step, added the small bag and my purse, and lifted the car keys so as to park Esmeralda, my red Miata, in the garage across the street to avoid a midtown ticket which is a costly little thing.

You already know I have an aversion to conversations with no proper nouns.

“Chas, what is it in that sentence?”

“She’s dead. I cain’t believe it, but she is. I witnessed it with mah own eyes.”

“Who, Chas? Who’s dead?”

My cellphone trilled again. Gareth, already at the rescue, (Charley must have rung him) scooped it out of my mitt, all the while spraying Prudence’s throat with kitty respiratory soother.

“Come on, Chas. Tea,” I said, standing. “Come on.” I pulled her into a leaning-on-me position. Prudence’s wheezing stopped. Gareth managed the cats and the bags, held the elevator, and attempted to signal me that Kelley needed to speak ASAP. The elevators arrived in their sweet-ass time, as usual. Otis prototypes, they.

We arrived on eleven and staggered along the horrendous hallway, a motley crew, to put it mildly. Chas sniveled, Prudence and Money yowled to get out, out, out of the damn cat carriers, Mommy. Gareth made indecipherable pantomime signals, winks and other facial contortions. We clomped into the long entry hall of my apartment and the telephone rang. Gareth released the girls from their carriers and they promptly began a session of Kitty Aerobics. I passed Chas off to him and escaped down the hall to answer the phone.

“Mex Stone’s office.”

“Mexy.”

“Michael Ryan Kelley.”

“Coffee. Now.”

“Can’t.”

“Why? You just got home. Who got to you first?”

“Chas. Give me fifteen, no, seventeen. I’ll call you.” I disconnected without saying good-bye, a distinctly Kelley habit that I learned to like, especially when I used it on him. My inner picture of him staring, puzzled, at the receiver, amused me.

Gareth downloaded a limp Chastity into My Chair, black Italian leather, comfortable for two for some things, and went to the wall that stood for kitchen to make tea. Chas, generally a sweet southern belle, was a lot the worse for wear. Upset didn’t flatter her.

I knelt beside her. “Alright, Chastity, spill it.”

She fell into sobs again.

The phone will insist upon interrupting.

“I’ll return whoever it is,” I said as Gareth dived for it.

“Chas . . . .” I was getting impatient.

“Mex, it’s too gruesome.”

“Young lady, there is a benevolent cause behind the fact that we met on the stoop!”

Chas pulled herself together. “A friend, an acquaintance of mine, has been murdered. She was a showgirl, and that’s sad enough but the real thing that’s making me cry,” she dissolved again like Alka-seltzer in water, “is that she left behind a little girl.”

My heart constricted in my chest. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

“No husband, no father?”

“Nope.” Providing information dried Chas out a bit, “a single mom. There’s lots of them in the life.”

“Chas, I thought you said she was a showgirl.” Gareth eyed me from across the room.

“I did, but . . . ,” Chas replied. “Ohhh, you thought I meant a gypsy.”

A gypsy is a name used for chorus dancers on Broadway. A Romani Gypsy is what my granny was, and what I am on part of the heritage front. And, you may recall, Gypsy is the show Seraphim is starring in, which is a benefit for some charity or another.

She shook her head in the negative. “An exotic dancer. A stripper.”

Oh.

“Chastity, drink your tea lest it get cold. I have to call Kelley before he has another heart attack. I didn’t particularly enjoy the first one.”

“Neither did he,” muttered Gareth as he doctored his own tea.

“Kelley.”

“Mexy.”

“Coffee?” He was whiny.

“Kelley, do you happen to be calling me about the stripper?”

“Mex, how in the name of the saints of God do you know that?”

“A petite . . . southern . . . birdie told me.”

We decided to skip coffee, delay our rendezvous, and meet at the Algonquin Hotel for my welcome home fest. They serve my favorite seafood salad year round.


Chapter 8


“Well, little birdie,” I said to Chas, “do you want to brief me or shall I wait for Kelley to do the honors?”

She was slightly more her usual self. Tea has that effect. “Mexy, did you know that there’s a sort of informal union for sex workers?”

“Is there?”

“Well, no. Not a union for real, but I don’t know what else to call it. It’s not about wages or benefits, it’s working girls sticking up for working girls.”

“And boys?” asked Gareth.

“Oh yeah, boys too,” said Chas.

“And?” I said.

“And, one thing we’re mindful of is single parents. Boys or girls,” she added to Gareth. “It’s hard to be a sex worker and be a single parent. Daycare, or rather, night-care costs a fortune. It’s not always safe. You know the drill.”

“I might,” I said. I felt better than I had all summer. Work does this for me. It’s a gift to know one’s purpose on the planet. Not cosmic purpose, which is to learn and grow into the best version of your Self that you can, but specific purpose which is often called one’s mission. “So tell me about this soul sister of yours.”

“I only met her once,” retorted Chas defensively.

“Then why are you so upset?”

“Because of her baby. I met her too. She’s three and she’s the prettiest little thing. And it’s so sad. She has no mama. She has no papa. She’s alone in the world,” Chastity wound up herself, “and I cain’t stand it! I want to do something for her.”

I fought my own lachrymosity and won.

“What’s the baby’s name?”

“Rosie. Her mama said that Rosie was the perfect pink rosebud.” Chas cried again.

“Who’s got her now?”

“Almond Joy told me her auntie has her.”

Almond Joy is a colleague of Chas’ from Singapore.

The phone rang again. I was ready to pull the cord out of the wall.

Seraphim, checking that I’d gotten in safely. Gareth understated the case, “Oh yes, but things have hit the fan since. I’ll have her call you later.” It made me feel warm and fuzzy to think that there was someone checking in on me.

“Does anyone know who her auntie is?”

“A society dame.”

“Chas, what was Rosie’s mama’s name?”

“I met her as the Queen of Sheba.”

“Chas, leave this with me for a few hours, would you?” She was reassured like a kid whose mommy had taken charge, and skedaddled down the stairs to her seventh floor pad. Her ... um ... office was on the second floor. In her kind of shoes, convenience is everything.

“Gareth, what happened to my cellphone?”

He pulled it from his pocket, determining which was mine and not his.

“Want to have lunch with Kelley and me at the Algonquin?”

“To hear the actual genesis of a case—finally? Yes, Ma’am. Wouldn’t miss it.”

I called Seraphim on the way and asked her to put a call into whomever might know for whom this benefit tolled. I had a funny feeling about the society dame.

“Is this how it always happens, Mex?” Gareth asked.

“You mean as a convergence of disparate events?”

“Yes.”

“Not by a long shot, dear. What is the likelihood that Chastity, Kelley and Seraphim are all about the same business? Slim, I’d say.”

“I’ll say,” agreed Gareth.

We’d not seen Kelley since he and Monica had come north for Mattress and Veronica’s memorial service. He appeared good, happy, healthy. I, on the other hand, by his lights, looked peaked.

“Michael. Do I have to remind you that Veronica died recently?”

“No, Mexy, but you’ve got to get on with it. At this rate, you’ll waste away.”

Veronica had said something exactly along these lines after I ended my hospital vigil for Kelley’s heart attack.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “I’m not seeing anybody.”

“What of Seraphim?” Kelley asked innocently.

I inhaled my Diet Pepsi.

You see, I’d not had The Conversation with Kelley detailing my sexual proclivities—you know, in English, with nouns, and I thought he knew, but it wasn’t for sure, or at least he didn’t know explicitly from me. His wife Monica, on the other hand, knew in a flash the moment she met Veronica.

“Michael?”

“Mexy?”

He wasn’t giving an inch but from the expression on his much-beloved face, he was enjoying himself immensely. I squirmed. Gareth tried to save the day.

“Mex, Kelley. Is this the time?”

Kelley gave Gareth the once-over. “What better, Gareth?”

I had no choice. “Kelley, it’s probable that Seraphim and I will connect in a romantic way but it’s not a romance yet.”

My godda . . . .

Mex!

I sacrificed swearing for Lent ten years ago and Spirit, all by herself, made it permanent.

Allow me to rephrase, Your Honor. My god blessed cellphone rang.

“Mex Stone. What’s the lady’s name? I see. That’s fascinating, dear. What are you doing for dinner? Does seven work for you? We’ll order in Chinese.” I flipped the techno-thing closed and stuffed it as far into the bottom of my purse as I could. “That was Seraphim.”

“Speak of the devil,” quipped Kelley.

“That’s enough, Michael.” I smoothed my hair. It frizzed in the early September humidity. Then I couldn’t resist. “Did you know?” I asked sedately.

“Whaddaya think, Mexy?”

I wanted to slap him and kiss him at the same time. He’d known all along. This is what it is to confront one’s own homophobia. The worst kind.

“Well, I’ll be.” I borrowed this expression from my granny. Mama would have said, Oy. He let me change the subject.

“So Kelley, was there something you wanted to tell me?”

“Yeah. We’ve got a strange case going and the A.D.A. suggested that we bring you in.”

“The A.D.A.?” Gareth was duly impressed.


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