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Halloween Morning

Death, Guns and Sticky Buns

FRIDAY WAS MUCH BUSIER THAN USUAL AT THE Chronicle. We had to toss out the entire front page to make room for articles about Mack Macmillan's suicide and Darious DeShong's murder. Cassie also reminded me that the mayor wanted something in the paper about Woody and Moonbeam rescuing me from sure death. Now that he had been cleared by the D.A. and was not waiting to go to trial, the mayor had decided to honor him at a ceremony at The Accident Theatre next weekend.

President Godlove called to ask me if I'd suffered any ill effects from tumbling over the balcony. Was it my imagination, or did he sound very cool? Maybe he would have preferred to let Woody take the blame. It probably would have looked better for the college if the chairman of the board of trustees had been the victim of a stupid accident rather than a suicide.

We proofed, we pasted, we moved, we inserted, and we deleted. And finally, in the late afternoon, the Chronicle was ready to go to the printer. Due to Cas-sie's valiant efforts on the telephone, we were down only a handful of subscribers, and with any luck, in a week or two even they would forget what they'd been angry about and resubscribe.

When I arrived home, I was ready to collapse from exhaustion. After feeding the cats, changing their litter boxes, and eating half of a can of chili I found in the refrigerator, I checked the doors and windows to make sure all were locked and climbed the stairs to my bedroom on the second floor.

There, I ripped off my clothes, tossed them in the direction of the chair, and pulled on my Tin Woodman nightshirt that said IF I ONLY HAD A HEART. My jeans missed the chair and landed on my dresser, jiggling the little carousel-horse music box Darious had given me, which began to play In the Good Old Summertime. I practically flew across the room to turn it off. I'd never be able to listen to it again. In fact, it was going to the Salvation Army thrift shop next week. I covered it with my sweater so I wouldn't have to look at it, and went to bed with my cats.

I slept sporadically. The events of the past few days danced through my head as if I were viewing them through a kaleidoscope. A vision of Darious sitting in his golden chariot with a horrendous gash in his neck that nearly separated his head from his body kept floating through the dreams. Sometimes the pieces almost formed a picture that made sense, then they would break apart into a meaningless jumble. As I dozed off at sunrise, I was thinking there was something about Dari-ous I needed to remember. Something he'd done? Something I'd seen at his barn? What was it? Fred's paw stroking my cheek woke me, and I jerked to a sitting position, groped for the clock, and nearly had a panic attack as my foggy brain tried to deal with how late it was and what I should wear to this afternoon's wedding.

Much to my chagrin, yesterday I'd learned that Woody had not called me Monday evening to ask me out on a date. The real reason for that call, which I never gave him time to get to, was to invite me to his and Moonbeam's wedding, to take place this very afternoon on the Gettysburg battlefield. When Moonbeam had called yesterday afternoon to make sure I was coming, she'd been very surprised that I knew nothing about it. As if she needed to convince me to come, she read off the names of about two dozen guests she thought I knew who had already accepted. I assured her I wouldn't miss it for the world.

The occasion deserved my good black silk suit with the sequined collar and cuffs. I'd bought it in a nearly-new shop two years ago, and despite the designer label's having been cut out of it, I knew what it was. I thought it made me look a little thinner than I really was, and in New York it often went to the theater with me. It hadn't yet had an outing in Lickin Creek.

I found my black heels in a box in the storeroom, and when I put them on I was surprised at how uncomfortable they were after many months of wearing nothing but sandals and sneakers. Oh well, I'd soon grow accustomed to wearing them again. I tottered down the stairs, hanging on to the railing for dear life and hoped that would happen soon.

There were cats to feed and water and mail to gather from the hall rug where it lay after having been dropped through the slot in the front door by our stubborn mailman, who refused to come to the back door. I've always delivered it here, and I'm not going to change now was his answer when I pointed out the perils of the front porch roof. Lickin Creek natives had two phrases I heard over and over. The first was It's the way we've always done it, and its evil twin was We've never done it that way.

In the kitchen, I heated a cup of yesterday's coffee in the microwave and tried to make some sense of the thoughts and dreams that had come to me during the night. By the time I'd finished drinking the coffee, I came to the conclusion that I knew who killed Darious DeShong. But I didn't know why. I called Luscious to ask him a couple of questions about the crime scene that would prove me right. The nitwit on the end of the line told me she thought Luscious was out.

You think he's out? You're only five feet away from his desk. Can't you look?

In a minute she was back. I was right. He's out. You want I should take a message?

I told her what I wanted to know and waited while she looked for a pencil to write it down. Tell him to call me later this afternoon, after four at I had to think for a minute. At General Pickett's Restaurant in Gettysburg.

Okeydokey. What did you say your name was?

Tori Miracle! I slammed the phone down.

If I was right, I would confront a killer this afternoon. If I was wrong well, I'd been wrong before. It's embarrassing but not the end of the world.

I tossed the advertising circulars into the trash, put the bills on the kitchen table, and thought about quickly fixing something to eat. Not enough time. Instead I grabbed a Snickers bar from the refrigerator to eat on the go.

Come on baby, turn over, I muttered furiously at my car, and after a few grunts of protest, it started.

While Halloween might seem like a strange choice for a wedding day, Moonbeam and Woody had truly beautiful weather for their special occasion. The weather was crisp, the sky clear, and if sunshine was a good portent, then the bridal couple was destined for happiness.

I got around the traffic circle with no trouble, and then consulted the little map Cassie had drawn for me. At the Lutheran Theological Seminary, I turned down Confederate Avenue and drove along Seminary Ridge, which became a one-way street on the battlefield. I drove past several beautiful monuments and nearly missed seeing the tiny brown-and-white sign on my right that said AMPHITHEATER. I left my car next to a statue of General Longstreet, which looked strange standing on the bare ground instead of being raised on a pedestal as the other statues were. Someone, I noticed, had tucked a miniature Confederate flag into a space under the general's arm. The area smelled of mold and decay, and the ground beneath my feet was oddly spongy. I walked past a row of green SaniPots and down the hill to where benches built of landscaping timbers faced an odd-looking A-frame building with a small stage in front.

By the time I reached the wedding party, I was hobbling and wished I hadn't worn high heels. I also wished I hadn't worn the black suit. No matter how sophisticated and stylish an outfit is, there are right places and there are wrong places for everything. And this was definitely the wrong place for black silk and sequins. Nobody had told me I'd be sitting in the sun, or that most of the guests would be wearing Civil War costumes. Once again, Tori Miracle was dressed wrong for the occasion.

Among the hundred or more guests seated on the benches, I recognized many. It pleased me that several nodded and waved when they saw me.

Gloria Zimmerman, who was the maid of honor in a gray silk hoopskirted gown, stepped onto the stage. I guessed this meant something was going to happen soon. At least I hoped so. I was anxious to ask her about her relationship with Darious, but I figured I could do that at the reception. While the overhanging roof of the A-frame provided Gloria some shade, the rest of the guests were not so lucky; they were busy fanning themselves with little pieces of paper. Those of us who arrived late, and there were many, had to stand in the sun, which seemed to grow bigger and hotter with every passing minute.

Charlotte Macmillan stood alone on the edge of the crowd, dressed in what my friend Murray Rosenbaum always called mother-of-the-groom beige. I was surprised, at first, to see her there but then I realized that Moonbeam must have invited everybody in town. I tried to edge closer to her. But I was sidetracked by a reenactor who saw by my suit I was an outsider and was determined to tell me everything there was to know about staging a Civil War-era wedding.

Janet Margolies and Lizzie Borden had taken shelter under a tree, far off to the right. They waved at me. I tried to squeeze through the crowd to get to them, but it was an impossible task. The two women standing next to me took it upon themselves to tell me who the other wedding guests were. Their own names were Maybell and Grace. They looked identical except Maybell had purple hair while Grace's was snow-white. Grace was grumpy; rather than assume she was always that way, I blamed it on the heat.

Can't imagine why anybody would want to get married in a place where so many men died, she grumbled.

Whatever floats their boat, Maybell said with a wicked grin.

Grace sniffed and pointed out the tall, handsome middle-aged Asian gentleman pushing Ken Nakamura's wheelchair. That's the bride's ex-husband. Probably here to celebrate the end of his alimony payments. She snickered.

President Godlove was also present, surrounded by a half-dozen professors from the college, including Helga Van Brackle. They're not really friends of Moonbeam's, Maybell, of the lavender hair, told me. They're just here because of Professor Nakamura.

More people were arriving every minute, most of the men in uniforms while the women wore hoopskirts, feathered hats, and crocheted gloves. If the pace kept up, soon there would be more people in the amphitheater than had fought at the Battle of Gettysburg. Vesta Pennsinger, in a long gingham gown, glanced my way but pretended she hadn't seen me. At least she had the good sense to look embarrassed.

They're coming, someone called, and the crowd surged forward. Maybell put a restraining hand on my forearm and held me back.

You'll be able to see from here, she informed me.

Sure enough, the crowd separated into two parts, and a covered wagon drawn by a team of beautiful horses rode into the center of the parking lot. Woody, wearing a blue dress uniform, sat tall on the bench beside a young man in a black suit and flat straw hat who reined in the horses. When they came to a halt, Woody jumped to the ground with unexpected agility for a man of his size. He straightened his sword, adjusted the tilt of his hat, tightened the gold sash around his waist, then walked around to the back of the wagon and lifted the canvas revealing

The guests gasped. And so did I, for Moonbeam Nakamura was not only the most beautiful bride I'd ever seen, she was also the most unusually dressed. For her grand occasion she'd chosen a cloth-of-gold sari and had twisted ropes of gold in the single blond braid that hung down her back. Instead of a veil, she wore a gold tiara with a red jewel in the center. A delicate nose ring and a small green stone glued between her eyebrows completed the bride's ensemble. Tiny bells on her anklets tinkled as Woody lifted her from the wagon and set her on the ground.

If Captain Woodruff of the Federal Army of the Potomac found anything strange in his bride's clothing, it did not show in his face. He looked at her with such love and admiration that my cheeks burned with discomfort at witnessing the private moment.

They slowly walked down the aisle to the shelter and stepped onto the platform, he in polished boots, she with bare feet. There they were joined by their attendants, several young women in long cotton gowns and three men in blue wool uniforms.

The minister wore a normal-looking white cassock, and the ceremony was traditional and not at all what I had expected when I first saw Moonbeam's wedding outfit. But Moonbeam didn't disappoint me. After the minister stepped aside, Tamsin Nakamura, radiant in a flowing white robe, walked toward the stage, gently pounding a tambourine. From somewhere in the crowd, a woman's voice began to chant, and soon others joined in. The ceremony that followed was an interesting and quite original blend of Zen, Tao, goddess worship, Native American shamanism, Hinduism, and Tibetan spiritualism. And it climaxed with a performance of didgeridoo music played by an Australian aborigine. He's from Baltimore, Grace shouted in my ear.

A woman turned around, looked at me, and said, Shhh.

When the female shaman used a turkey feather to fan sacred smoke in their faces, the couple kissed, officially ending the ceremony.

The audience had been stunned into silence throughout the unusual ceremony, and now a few nervous giggles signified relief that it was over. Woody ignored them, stepped to the edge of the platform, and held his arms high over his head until he had everyone's attention.

Moonbeam and me want to thank you'uns for being here and sharing our happiness. Now we want all of you'uns to make up a car parade and follow our wagon to General Pickett's All-U-Can-Eat Buffet Restaurant.

A roar of approval rose from the assemblage. Grace whispered in my ear, All you can eat is the magic phrase here in south-central Pennsylvania.

So I've noticed, I said. I think I've gained five pounds since I've been here, just from breathing the air.

Two lines of Union soldiers formed a tunnel of sword blades for the newlyweds to walk through, while the ecologically correct guests tossed breadcrumbs, instead of rice, at them. The last soldier in line swatted Moonbeam on the rear end with the flat side of his sword, and she giggled. Gloria followed closely behind the couple, and I pushed forward and tried to catch her attention. She noticed me and waved.

Gloria, I need to talk to you, I yelled.

Later, Tori. I've got to get out of these seven layers of clothing before I melt, and she was gone.

Maybell and Grace were swept away in the rush to the cars, while I walked in a dignified manner, very slowly, on blistered feet. Every guest but me had worn sensible flat shoes. But then they had probably known in advance it was going to be an outdoor wedding with limited seating. As soon as I got home, I vowed, the high heels were going in the garbage-not even the Salvation Army bag. I didn't want to be responsible for any other woman suffering similar agony.

By the time I'd managed to stagger to my car, the parking lot was nearly deserted. I dug vainly in my purse trying to find my car key, then spotted it where I'd left it-in the ignition switch, in the on position. I turned the key and said my usual little prayer, but this time the Automobile Goddess wasn't listening. P. J.s car had come to the end of the road.


Thursday Morning | Death, Guns and Sticky Buns | Halloween Afternoon