Saturday, July 4, 2015

Happy 4th of July!

I'm celebrating the 4th of July with an excerpt from Murder & Mayhem in Goose Pimple Junction. Small towns are known for their festivals and celebrations, and GPJ is no exception. So grab a glass of sweet tea and sit down a spell for a visit to Goose Pimple Junction and the town's 4th of July celebration. And don't miss the special on Heroes & Hooligans in Goose Pimple Junction. Buy it now through July 6 for just $0.99.



Tess and Jack walked the few blocks to the town’s Fourth of July celebration, commenting on all the homes’ patriotic decorations. 

“The town sure is decked out,” Jack commented.

Flags hung on utility poles and street lamps that dotted the street, and every home leading in or out of town had a big American flag posted either on the house or lawn.

“I’ve never seen so many decorations in all my life.” Tess looked first one way and then the other, trying to take it all in.

“The women’s club sponsors a contest, and people really get into it, decorating houses in any way imaginable, ranging from tasteful to downright tacky.”

To prove his point, they passed a house where window boxes with red, white, and blue flowers spilled out over the sides and mini American flags sprouted among the foliage. Several houses had red, white, and blue bunting hanging from covered porches. Small flags lined the sidewalks leading up to some of the houses. Streamers decorated trees in one yard; in another, mini versions of the stars and stripes were attached to tree limbs, making them look like leaves. Tess was so engrossed in a lawn’s solid sea of mini Old Glories, she wasn’t watching where she was going and almost tripped over a dog. Jack caught her arm, and she silently dared him to comment.

“Do the businesses have a contest, too?” she asked, looking around the town square.
“Oh, yeah, each one has to outdo the other.”

Every business was in full regalia, with streamers, bunting, flags, or balloons decorating their storefronts. Some had red, white, and blue lights surrounding the doors. Almost all had a sign in their window wishing America a happy birthday.

Tess smelled the mingling scents of hot grease, barbecue, and popcorn, and saw five men dressed as Abe Lincoln and two as George Washington. Jack pointed out two people dressed as the Statue of Liberty wandering around. Crazy, creative homemade patriotic hats and glasses were on more heads than not. How someone could wear glasses with little flashing light bulbs, and walk straight, Tess couldn’t understand. She had never seen so much red, white, and blue in such a condensed space. No one dared wear any other color that day. Even Pickle sported a red T-shirt, this one with the words, “Lock Up Your Daughters!”

Jack saw Pickle’s shirt. “I’m not even going to touch that one.”

After waving to all of the parade participants, Tess and Jack meandered through the various booths, sampling barbecue, hot dogs, potato salad, and fried apple pies.

“Tess, I’m full as a tick on a fat dog,” Jack said. “Let’s go find a seat. I think the winner of the Miss Goose Pimple Junction Contest is about to be announced.”

Tess was too full to walk another step when they took seats next to Lou, who was dressed in red, white, and blue, and wore a headband with glittery red and blue stars on springs that looked like antennae.

“Well hi, y’all!” Lou said, reaching out to pat each of them. “Hireyew?”

“Lou, if I was any happier I’d be twins,” Jack said.

“Well, set yourselves down and get ready to feast your eyes, Jack,” Lou said with a wink. Looking at Tess she added, “And you?”

“I’m too pooped to pop,” Tess complained, adding, “How are you?”

“Aw, honey, I couldn’t be better. It’s the nation’s birthday, my family is here, and I’m having a good face day.”

“Yes, you are, Lou,” Tess laughed, “yes, you are!”

“What are you talking about, woman? You always have a good face day!” Jack said.

Lou took a break in the joking to lean toward Tess’s ear, whispering seriously, “You know what you’re doing, right?” Tess gave her a questioning look and Lou’s eyes went to Jack.
Their conversation was interrupted when a thirty-something brunette and a young girl, who looked to be about ten years old, sat down on the other side of Lou. The woman had brown hair and eyes that were so brown they were almost black. She had a pretty face, but her body was shaped a little bit like a pear. The little girl looked just like her mother, minus the pear shape.

“Aw, here are my babies now. Tessie, meet my new roommates. This is Martha Maye, my daughter, and this here is Buttabean, my granddaughter,” Lou proudly said. “Girls, this is Tess and Jack.”

Martha Maye leaned over her mother to shake hands and said, “Don’t worry, I didn’t actually name my child ‘Butterbean.’ That’s just our special name for her. Feel free to call her Carrie.” She smoothed Butterbean’s hair back. “I’m happy to meet you both. I’ve heard so much about you.”

“I’m glad to meet you, too, Martha Maye . . . and . . . ” Tess hesitated, while Lou looked expectantly at her, until Tess finished, “. . . Butterbean.” Lou punctuated her approval with a head nod and flashed a satisfied smile.

“May I ask why you call your beautiful granddaughter Butterbean?” asked Jack.

Lou and her daughter looked at each other, exchanging a meaningful glance. Finally, Martha said, “It’s a special name because it’s what Mama was called as a child.”

“And this little Buttabean is a special child.” Lou’s eyes suddenly glistened with tears.
“Even though any grandmother would say that, I have to agree with her.” Martha Maye combed her fingers through the little girl’s long brown hair.

“Lou, are you gonna do your usual commentary on the contest?” Jack asked, changing the subject.

“Well, honey, I don’t know if I should. Tessie here’ll think poorly of me if I go shooting my mouth off as usual.”

Tess looked to Jack for an explanation.

“See, Miss Goose Pimple Junction is not chosen on talent, looks, or brains, but more or less on popularity,” Jack explained. “Of course, whichever contestant’s father glad-handed the most voters might have something to do with the outcome, too.”

“What do you mean?” Tess asked.

“The contest is a parliamentarian’s nightmare. You saw the voting over at the Piggly Wiggly grocery store all last week, right?” Tess nodded. “Well, did you know anyone could vote each and every time they visited the store, if they wanted?”

Tess shook her head.

“It’s true,” Jack continued. “And the best seat in the house for the announcing of the new Miss Goose Pimple Junction is sitting next to Lou. She won’t sugarcoat anything, she’ll give you a commentary on each contestant, and she’ll entertain you while she’s at it.”

“In that case, Lou, please don’t censure yourself on my account.”

“All right, if you’re sure . . . ” Lou looked like she might need some more prodding, but the music started, and the mayor appeared on the makeshift stage.

“Afternoon, everyone. And Happy Birthday, America!” The crowd applauded. “Let’s warmly welcome the lovely ladies, our fine contestants for Miss Goose Pimple Junction.” Buck swung his arm out toward the women, who were walking onstage to applause and whistles.
“These beautiful young women don’t need an introduction, but it’s protocol, so I’m duty-bound to do it,” he continued. “Our first contestant is Araminta Lee.”

Araminta stepped forward, twirled around, in model fashion, and stepped back.

Lou put her hand up to the side of her mouth and whispered to Tess, “She looks like she made an ugly pie and ate every slice.” Jack leaned in, and Tess whispered Lou’s line to him.

“Cornelia Crump,” the mayor said into the microphone. Cornelia proceeded to step up and twirl.

“Land sakes, she can’t help that she’s ugly, but she could’ve stayed home,” Lou whispered.

“Julia Cole,” was the next contestant called. She stumbled a bit as she stepped forward.

“Bless her heart,” Lou said, “she’s so tall if she falls down she’ll be halfway home.”

By now, Jack was leaning over Tess’s lap so he could hear Lou’s commentary straight from her, since Tess had her hand over her mouth, trying not to laugh out loud.

“Nellie Baker.”

“Mmm mmm, look at her.” Lou shook her head. “She’s so buck-toothed she could eat an apple through a picket fence.”

“And last but not least, Frona Walker.”

“Aw, it’s not right to say what I think of poor Frona.”

“Lou, you can’t stop now. This is the last one,” Tess begged.

Lou took a deep breath, put her hand up to partially cover her mouth, and whispered, “She’s so ugly they had to tie a pork chop around her neck to get the dog to play with her.”

“And the winner is . . . Julia Cole.”

Lou leaned over Tess’s lap and whispered, “I know Julia’s mama is so happy. She was so ugly when she was born, her mama used to borrow a baby to take to church on Sunday.”

“Lou, you outdid yourself this year. Excellent work.” Jack patted her on the back, as the audience dispersed.

“I don’t understand,” Tess said, confused. “Why aren’t these women more . . . beauty queen-like?”

“Well, now see, there’s your problem. You’re thinking Miss Goose Pimple Junction’s a beauty contest. No, honey. This contest isn’t about how you look, it’s about who you know. Social prestige and power. That’s why I don’t mind making fun of the girls. There’s not a one was in it on account of their beauty or brains or talent, like a contest should be. It’s all political now. It’s just a crock of . . .  ”

“Mama!” Martha Maye interrupted. “Little pitchers have big ears.” She hitched her head toward Butterbean.

“Oh yeah, sorry, honey. Anyway, it’s all in good fun. Well,” she said, looking past Martha Maye. “Hidee, Henry Clay. I figured you’d be around.”

Henry Clay Price had quietly walked up to the group and was standing right behind Martha Maye. He had a wide smile on his face and a campaign button on his shirt that said, “Henry Clay Price for Governor.” Martha Maye turned, saw him, and promptly wrapped him in a friendly hug.
“Henry Clay. How long’s it been? It’s so great to see you.”

Henry Clay’s face turned bright red, but he looked extremely pleased to see Martha Maye, too. “What are you doing here, Martha?”

Lou jumped in and said, “It’s nice to see you, Henry, but we were just headed up to the watermelon seed spitting contest. Martha Maye, you and Buttabean are coming, too, ain’tcha?”

“Mama, y’all take Butterbean and gwon ahead, I’ll catch up directly. I wanna talk to Henry Clay a minute.”

Tess looked at Jack. He leaned into her ear and said, “She said go on ahead, and she’ll catch up directly.” He enunciated the words.

Tess nodded.

They all strolled off, leaving Martha Maye and Henry Clay behind. As they walked, Lou brought Tess and Jack up to date on her daughter and the candidate for governor.

“Martha Maye and Henry Clay — isn’t that cute how that rhymes?” She shook her head. “Anyway, they grew up together. He’s been sweet on her long’s I can recollect. They even dated, against my better judgment, the summer she was home before her last year in college. But it was right about then that she met Lenny, and he swept her off her feet and away from Henry Clay.” Her face grew hard. “That Lenny could charm the dew off of honeysuckle, let me tell you.”

“Did Henry Clay ever marry?” Tess asked.

“Oh, yeah. But his wife ran off with the mailman. Or something like that. I think it broke his heart when Martha Maye got married, and he married on the rebound. You wanna hear a funny story about your mama?” She looked down at Butterbean, who nodded her head. “When they were in junior high school, Henry Clay came up to her one day, out on our driveway. He handed her a note that said, “Will you be my girlfriend?” Well, she didn’t know what to do, so she said, ‘Wait a minute, I gotta go ask my mama.’ And in the house she ran. She asked me what she should do. I told her to tell him she already had a boyfriend. So she went running back out and told poor old Henry Clay, ‘My mama said I’m already seeing somebody and I can’t see two boys at once.’”

Everyone laughed at Lou’s story, and Tess said, “He seems like a nice enough fellow.”
“Henry Clay’s a banker, aspiring to be the governor. He’s made a good living for himself. He just worries me a little about getting on with Mart. He’s a nice boy, but he don’t have the sense God gave a chigger. He’s got too much book-smarts, and not enough common sense. And he’s a typical politician.” She stopped and looked at her granddaughter. “Buttabean, you wont a sno-cone? Hare,” she gave the girl some money, “go gitcherself one. It’s hotter ‘n a fritter out here.”

Just as Butterbean skipped away, Buck headed for their group and Lou scowled. “Now that’n’s one who could give Lenny a run for his money. Beauty’s only skin deep, but ugly goes all the way to the bone.” She sounded meaner than Tess thought was possible out of Lou. “I don’t have much use for either of them.”

“And a marvelous fourth of Joo-lye to y’all,” a jovial Buck said.

Then, just as soon as the cloud had come on her face, she brightened again, as Butterbean rejoined them, already sporting blue lips from the blueberry sno-cone she was sipping. “Let’s stop by and take a look-see at the baking contest. They shouldoughtta have the winners by now.”

“I noticed you took my suggestion and entered a pie, Miss Tess,” Buck smiled down at her, and Jack moved closer to her.

“Good idea, Louetta. Buck, if you’ll excuse us.”

They went to look at the myriad display of baked goods. Lou didn’t know that Tess had entered her apple pie. When she saw Tess’s name next to the blue ribbon, she exclaimed, “Well, butter my butt, and call me a biscuit!”

“I won?” Tess was shocked. A big smile came over her face, reality sinking in. “I won!”
“And look here, Granny, your peanut butter cookies won, too!” Butterbean said, with a blue mouth.

“And your fudge,” Jack said, moving down the line, “and your coconut cake, Lou. You two gals cleaned up!”

After reveling in their victories, they watched Clive and Earl battle it out in the watermelon seed spitting contest, with Earl being the victor. The next event was one for fathers and daughters.

“What do you say, Butterbean? Want to sneak in with me?” Jack asked.

They watched as some of the fathers in town, and Jack as a substitute father, donned goggles and had their faces lathered with shaving cream. The children were given squirt guns, and at the count of three, the race was on to see who would be the first to squirt their daddy’s face clean. Jack and Butterbean didn’t win, but they had a ball.

Just as Jack predicted, as they made their way through the crowd that day all of the ladies fawned over him, young and old. Tess was introduced over and over again, to some women who were clearly jealous, and others who were glad to see him “with such a nice girl.”

At dusk, Jack grabbed Tess’s hand and led her away from the heart of town and the crowd of people to a grassy hill where they’d be able to watch the fireworks alone. Tess protested, but Jack was persistent. She wasn’t sure the other night had been a good idea. Maybe she’d let her guard down because of the martini, but she pledged anew to keep her distance from Jack. There was still that matter of him cheating on his wife.

As Jack settled onto the cool grass at the very top of the hill, Tess towered over him. “Jackson Wright! What are you doing?”

Lying down, he put his hands behind his head and scowled up at her.

“I do believe you could start an argument in an empty house, Mary Tess.”

“Jack, what are we doing up here? People will think we’re being anti-social.”

“You wanted to spend time alone with me,” he said, now looking up at the sky with a serene look on his face.

“What?” she screeched.

“Well, that’s what you said . . . ”

“I said no such thing and you know it!”

“Oh. Maybe it was me who wanted to spend time alone with you, then,” he grinned, reaching out to pat the grass beside him. “Come on in, pretty lady. The water’s fine.”

“Jackson, I can’t believe — ”

“Shh, shh . . .  now just simmer down. Stop arguing and sit down and relax.” He looked up at her. “Please?”

Nothing was said as she sat down next to him, bringing her legs up to her chest and wrapping her arms around her knees.

“How’s the book coming?” he asked, scooting toward her.

“I haven’t had much time to work on it lately. Between the bookstore and researching Lou’s family . . . ”

“Hey! I meant to ask. Did you look any further online? Did you find anything?”

“Yes and no.”

“Yes and no?”

“Yes, I looked, and no, I didn’t find anything,” she explained.



“So what’s our next move?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t figured that out yet.”

“Do you still think we shouldn’t approach Lou about it?”

“Yes, I have a hunch it’s still too painful for her even all these years later.”

“Hmmm. Maybe we could discreetly talk to Martha Maye. She might know something.”

“That’s a good idea.” Tess was genuinely enthused at the idea.

“Yep, I’m full of good ideas.” Again, he moved closer to her until their thighs were touching.

Just then a burst of vibrant white crackled and popped in the sky, raining down twinkling embers as it dissipated. They heard a thwomp thwomp thwomp sound signaling a second round of fireworks would follow the first, this one more brilliant and colorful. Tess couldn’t decide whether to look at the sky or at Jack. They were equally spectacular.