Nora pushed up her sleeves, like Popeye getting ready for a fight. “These ladies are going to bust some chops if that shipment doesn’t get here before Father Innocent leaves.”
Dora was more diplomatic, “We can’t wait much longer, you know. That nice young Father Augustine has already come to take his place. Nora thinks he’s too young, wet behind the ears, you know,” she tried to stifle a giggle, “but I think he’s real handsome. Clever, too.”
Rudy leaned over the counter and patted Dora’s arm, “Now don’t you ladies get your blood pressure up, we’ll get them samovars in time.”
They all turned around as the door flew open again, and the bell jingled furiously. A whale of a woman with bright red hair, wearing a caftan covered in red and gold swirls, huffed and puffed as she lumbered into the crowded antique shop.
Belle Pepper was three hundred and seventeen pounds of pure drama. She took a crumpled hankie from her purse and mopped her damp forehead. “I just came from the Russian church,” she gulped, trying to catch her breath as her multicolored bosom heaved up and down. “He’s dead! The priest is dead!”
Nora and Dora stared at her with open mouths. They chorused, “Father Innocent? Dead?”
Belle shook her head wildly. “Not Father Innocent. Father Augustine! He’s been murdered. Right there in the church.”
With that, Belle collapsed on one of the antique settees in the middle of the store and Goldie held her breath, praying it would support her mother-in-law’s weight.
A stocky woman walked across the room, carefully avoiding a pool of blood. She craned her neck to get a better look at the crumpled body lying face down in the middle of an Oriental carpet. Her tweed jacket, calf-length skirt and sensible shoes were in sharp contrast to the elegant fashions worn by the other guests. The lights flickered ominously, then went out, plunging the drawing room into complete darkness.
The woman rummaged around in her plain black handbag and produced a flashlight. As soon as she clicked it on, everyone gasped. The body was gone!
Flossie Silver snorted. “Looks like this one’s going to be a load of hogwash, Godiva. Who thinks up such goofy plots?”
Godiva Olivia DuBois threw her hands in the air. “Oh calm down, Mom, give her a chance. You know they always open with something dramatic. They need a real zinger so they can wind up to that ‘aha’ moment when Mabel figures it all out. That’s what makes it so much fun.”
Flossie clicked her tongue. “Fun, schmun, I don’t buy it. The lights were out for less than a minute. Are we supposed to believe someone got in there and hauled the body away that quick?”
“Making that body disappear in a minute isn’t such a big deal,” Sterling Silver grumbled. “When we did our magic act, my brother Harry made you disappear every night.”
“Yeah, but I was alive! Dead people don’t cooperate that well, Smarty Pants.”
Sterling grabbed the remote and turned up the volume. “Pipe down, old girl. How are we supposed to see if this thing is worth watching if you keep yapping? Isn’t that right, Godiva?”
Whenever they watched Mabel McBride’s Murder and Mayhem, Godiva’s eighty-year-old mother and uncle bickered and badgered each other as they analyzed the plots and unmasked the villains. Even Godiva, who wrote a syndicated advice column, couldn’t come up with a good suggestion for harmony in her own family.
While Mabel McBride poked around the drawing room looking for clues, Flossie, Sterling, and Godiva settled back in their cushy leather armchairs, eyes focused on the big screen TV in one corner of the massive family room. Just as the British detective located a scrap of torn fabric, Godiva’s son Torch blasted in.
“Whoa! Are you three still watching that show? I thought it was only on for an hour. I swear, you guys are addicted to those stuffy British mysteries.”
“It’s a Murder Marathon, honey. Four in a row. This is the last one. Grandma and Uncle Sterling are having a hot debate about whether this one has any merit.”
Torch shrugged. “I know the answer to that one.”
The commercial came on and Sterling turned off the sound. “You have no appreciation for good old-fashioned acting. If things don’t crash or burn or blow up, then they’re just not worth anything to you.”
“You got that right, Unk. Face it, I’m an FX man. That’s how I make my living. You, of all people, should appreciate that. After all, you gave me my nickname.”
“Damn near burned the garage down when you were a kid. It’s hard to believe they pay you to do that now.”
“Yeah, if you told me when I was a kid that setting fires would earn me big bucks, I wouldn’t have believed you. Now I’ve got this great contract with Las Vegas Blowout and I’ve made enough money to actually buy my own place there. Imagine, a ritzy condo in the High Rollers Plaza—fantastic views of the Strip and most of my neighbors are hipsters from Hollywood. Add that to being the Special Effects Director on a hit TV show, and I’m floatin’ on cloud nine.”
“Oh, boy,” Flossie sighed, “with all that excitement, you’ll probably never come home to see your boring old family.”
“Actually Grammy, I’m gonna miss living here on the ‘old homestead’ with you guys, but you’ve gotta go where the job is. I promise to come back here to visit when I can.”
Before heading out, he looked around lovingly at the Beverly Hills mansion built by his late father, self-made millionaire Max DuBois.
He winked at Godiva. “Well, Mom, the last of my stuff is loaded. I just wanted to say goodbye before I take off.”
She kissed him on the cheek, sensing her son couldn’t wait to hotfoot-it out the door and begin his life as a swinging bachelor.
Sterling turned the sound back on, but Flossie grabbed the remote and turned it off again. She looked at her grandson and smiled sweetly. “So, tottelah, your Uncle Sterling and I will be there in two, maybe three days. You know your uncle is afraid to fly so we’ll just tune up the Caddy tomorrow and be on our way.”
“Whaa—” Torch stared at her blankly.
“Torch, honey, you’ll need help getting things in order, and no one does that better than your Uncle Sterling and me. I’ll set up your closets and kitchen and cook some good Jewish meals for your freezer and Uncle Sterling can putter around and help you hang pictures and do little odd jobs.”
Torch looked to his mother in desperation.
Flossie jumped up and tweaked him on the cheek. “Look, Sterling, he’s so happy we’re coming, he’s speechless. Good thing you bought a three bedroom. I guess we’ll stay for three or four days. Who knows, maybe longer if we get lucky. Magic acts are big in Vegas again.”
Sterling punched the remote and turned up the sound on Mabel McBride.
Torch choked out, “Mom-m-m—”