Read The Diva Wore Diamonds Online

Authors: Mark Schweizer

Tags: #Singers, #General, #Mystery & Detective, #North Carolina, #Fiction

The Diva Wore Diamonds (5 page)

Eeew,” said Tiff, from the back row of the alto section.

Wormy told me he was incontinent,” said Mark Wells. “No…that’s not right.
. He said he was ‘impudent.’ Something about volunteering for medical experiments down in South Carolina.”

Guess he’s not impudent no more,” said Varmit Lemieux. Varmit was married to Muffy Lemieux. They both worked out at Blueridge Furs, Varmit as foreman and Muffy as secretary. Muffy had a good voice, but couldn’t manage to get that Loretta Lynn twang out of her country soprano. Varmit came to choir practice to keep an eye on Muffy, as did most of the rest of the basses. Muffy was a redhead of singular comeliness and since the calendar had rolled over into June, had exchanged her signature tight angora sweaters, in various pastel shades, for her summer look: tight short-sleeved angora sweaters in various pastel shades.

How old is Noylene, anyway?” asked Elaine.

Forty, I think,” said Phil.

Not that it’s any of our business,” Meg added demurely.

Well, I’m sure she and Wormy are very happy about it,” said Bev.

Yes,” I said. “They’re very happy. Now let’s look at the Psalm for Celebration Sunday. It’s in the back of your folders.”

Have you met the new Christian education director?” asked Steve DeMoss.

She prefers to be called the Christian
director,” said Bev. “It’s the new church-speak buzzword.”

Yes, I’ve met her,” I said. “Kimberly Walnut.”

And?” said Steve.

She seems uncharacteristically qualified,” I said. “Brilliantly so.”

Bev jumped in. “And while we’re on the subject, I’m supposed to make an announcement. We need to enlist volunteers to help out with the Bible School program the week after our celebration. It’ll take place in the late afternoons behind the church in the garden. It’ll be fun!”

But more about that after rehearsal,” I said. “The Psalm…”

Where’s our detective story?” asked Muffy. “You promised.”

It’s on the back of the Psalm,” I said, my shoulders slumping. “But you can read it later. Could we maybe sing a bit?”

Well, what are we waiting for?” barked Elaine. “Get cracking! We’re not here for our health, you know!”


By the time Meg and I arrived home, it was close to nine in the evening. Too late for a big meal, but on Thursdays we always had a late lunch at the Bear and Brew and then had a snack when we came in from choir practice. A snack followed by a drink. Sometimes two, depending on the rehearsal.

Meg always arrived home first. We were in separate vehicles anyway, and I had to lock up the courthouse where we’d been holding choir rehearsals. While Meg rooted around in the fridge, I fed Baxter, put a dead baby squirrel outside on the window sill for Archimedes, and wandered into the den to put on some Mozart to cleanse my aural palate. Symphony 39 in D Major. The majestic introduction with accompanying brass fanfares filled the house, and I sat down at the typewriter.

Meg came in a few minutes later with a braunsweiger and onion sandwich on toasted Russian black bread and a cold bottle of Ommegang Abbey Ale. She set the plate on the side of the desk.

Sorry,” she said, with an apologetic kiss. “We’re out of Old Thumper.”

Old Thumper is good,” I said, “but
is the perfect beer to drink with a braunsweiger and onion sandwich on the first day of June.”

She settled onto the couch, first setting her glass of red wine on the coffee table in front of her, then cradling her plate in her lap and tucking her legs beneath her on the soft leather cushions. “I called Noylene on the way home. She’s pregnant, all right.”

I take it that this is a surprise?”

Oh, yes,” said Meg. “When they got married, both she and Wormy thought he was, in her words, ‘shootin’ blanks.’ Of course, that original test was twelve years ago.”

I thought he got re-tested right after the wedding.”

That’s what he told us. He needed to get the loan for his Ferris wheel.”

I remember,” I said. “He put his sperm count down as income. Ah, those were heady days for borrowing money. Getting a loan was as easy as lying to your banker.” I took another bite of my dinner. “This is a great sandwich. Really!”

Glad you like it,” said Meg with a smile. “But don’t talk with your mouth full.”

Yep. I was married.


Buxtehooter’s was always bustling on “Two-Dollar Thursday.” The Baroque sing-alongs had been relegated to Friday and Saturday nights since the big brawl on Pachelbel’s birthday, so the crowd was less rowdy than usual, but the beer-fräuleins were still hustling buckets of two-buck suds delivered primly on jutting chests the size of Myron Floren’s accordion. The owners had put a TV over the bar and tuned it to the local religious network — a mixture of shows that included “Are You Smarter Than A Lutheran?,” “Dancing With the Baptists,” and “CSI: Vatican.” It drew a small crowd. Unitarians mostly.

I grabbed a seat at a table and whistled at Ermentraud, my current favorite Buxtehooter’s soubrette. She sashayed over in a dirndl packed as tightly as the coach section of a 747.

Hiya, Erms,” I said. “Gimme some tonsil varnish and put a head on it.”

Ja, ja!”

And maybe we can meet later? When you’re off work?”

Ja, ja! Ich werde Sie hinter den Abfalleimern treffen, meine mollige Gans. Ich freue mich darauf, Ihr Geld zu nehmen.”

I got the “Ja, ja” part, smiled, and tucked a sawbuck into the bouquet of bills that sprouted from the top of her blouse like some kind of hydroponic, milk-fed cabbage patch. It’s good to be a detective.


Nice,” said Meg, reading over my shoulder. “And by ‘nice,’ I mean terrible. What does the German mean?”

You’ll have to look it up,
meine mollige Gans,
” I said.

I’m not sure I like the sound of that,” said Meg. She descended gently back onto the couch and picked up the biography she’d been reading. That was the thing about Meg. She never flopped. She never plopped. She descended, she alighted, she settled gracefully. It was marvelous just to watch her exist.

How is the protest going at the Bear and Brew?” she asked, without looking up from her book. She licked the tip of her finger and used it to turn a page.

I took my beverage over to the couch and plunked down beside her. Unlike Meg, I plunked.

Brother Hog is true to his word. He’s been holding a prayer meeting every morning all week long, and no one has bothered any of the patrons. So far, so good. The Bear and Brew is even letting the old people use their bathrooms.”

I think that’s sweet,” said Meg. “It’s good to have a civilized demonstration.”

But Saturday, there’ll be a whole lot more people. Most of Brother Hog’s congregation has been working during the meetings. On Saturday, they’ll be off work and out in full force.”

I’m sure you and Nancy can handle it, dear,” she said, reaching over and patting me on the cheek, her eyes still scanning the words on the page in front of her.

You know who one of the owners is?” I said, trying to draw her out of Raymond Chandler’s life story.

Russ Stafford?”

How did you know that?”

She put her book down and laughed. “He’s been in on it since the beginning. A silent partner. I’m his accountant, remember?”

No, I didn’t remember.”

Russ had been a high-roller, a real-estate developer before everything went south. After his most ambitious development, The Clifftops—a gated, golfing community eighteen miles from town—went belly-up, he’d gone to Asheville to see if he could make a living selling cars. He could and did. Russ was a born salesman. Within a few months, he was back on top, had moved back to town, and had been concentrating on his real-estate business. Even with the downturn in the economy, we all knew Russ was doing well. He was well-liked, smooth as a well-shaved eel, and along with his wife, Brianna, had even started chaperoning the St. Barnabas youth group. Together with another couple, Gerry and Wilma Flemming, they hosted a Sunday night youth get-together at their respective homes that the Staffords had christened Afterglow.

Not only didn’t I remember you were his accountant, but I certainly didn’t know he had an interest in the Bear and Brew.”

I think he owns sixty percent,” said Meg. “Something like that. Francis Passaglio has a smaller share. They don’t do any of the day- to-day stuff, though. Why do you think the youth group gets all those pizzas at half price?”

The Bear and Brew had begun life as a feed store in the 1920s. The new owners had kept the heart-pine floor boards; the tin signs advertising tractor parts, chicken feed, windmills and most everything a farmer could want from a mercantile; and the ambiance that comes with an old store that had seen four generations gather around the pickle barrel, swap stories, play checkers, and whittle untold board-feet of kindling. It had good, sturdy tables, wooden chairs, and an old 1950s juke-box in the corner, the kind that played 45’s. There was still just the hint of saddle soap and leather in the air, but mostly what the Bear and Brew had was pizza. Good pizza and good beer, a bar and a couple of sixty-inch plasma televisions. The owners thought they could sell a lot of beer on a Sunday afternoon when the Carolina Panthers took the field or if North Carolina, or Duke, or Wake Forest, or any one of a hundred other college teams was shooting hoops.

Well, either way,” I said, “it’ll all be over next Tuesday, and we can get back to normal. As normal as we get.”

Have you seen the weather forecast?” asked Meg. “We’re supposed to get a squall on Saturday. It should be a doozy. One of those summer thunderstorms.”

That could be a blessing in disguise. The protesters might stay home.”

You should be so lucky,” said Meg.

Chapter 4

Saturday morning loomed like a movie special effects spectacular, something out of
or maybe
Lord of the Rings, Part Two
. I woke at 7:30 to the sound of distant thunder—not just the occasional clap, but the rolling kind, the kind that comes in waves that make the windows rattle, the thunder that makes you think that maybe there are bowling alleys in heaven and makes you wonder if angels have their own bowling shoes or if they have to wear rentals. But maybe that’s just me.

We had our windows open, and, until this morning, the weather had been pleasant and cool. Now the air was warm and heavy and uncomfortably sticky. I gave Meg a kiss, left her to her Saturday morning dozing and headed for the kitchen to make some coffee, closing the windows along my trek through the house. Archimedes, sitting primly on the kitchen counter, greeted me with two great blinks as I walked in. He hadn’t been around for a few days, but he sensed the storm and obviously preferred waiting it out in the house. I didn’t see Baxter, but knew he’d probably taken refuge under the bed in one of the guest rooms, his usual place during a thunderstorm. Fearless in most circumstances, Baxter was a sissy when it came to thunder. I started the coffee, then went outside to the garage and fetched a couple of mice out of the fridge for the owl. Coming back in, I saw some towering thunderheads toward the southwest, huge clouds with puffed edges standing straight up. The overshooting top, that cauliflower-like bubble of cloud that peeks out of the flat top of the thunderhead, told the story. This was going to be bad. The clouds were gray and menacing and were lit almost continuously from inside by diffused lightning. The storm was still a long way off, though. I judged fifty or sixty miles.

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