Nice girls dont bite the.., p.24
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       Nice Girls Dont Bite Their Neighbors, p.24

         Part #4 of Jane Jameson series by Molly Harper  
Page 24

  Author: Molly Harper

  “So, what does that mean?” I asked. “Bars? Bingo halls? Parking lots of shady roller rinks?”

  “Well, I haven’t heard a bad idea yet,” Zeb said. “But I think you need to think outside the coffin, so to speak. Where is he getting his money? Where would he spend his time? He just got out of prison. What’s his favorite food, the first place he’d head for a pig-out?”

  “I don’t know. It’s not like I can find enough information on him to create a dossier. I have secondhand gossip from my mama. ”

  “Do you think she knows anythin’ else?” Jolene asked. “Maybe you should call her?”

  “I’m doing pretty well keeping Mama off my back with all the wedding stuff, thanks to Iris’s brilliant maneuverings. I don’t think I should tempt fate—”

  “Hi, sweetie!” I turned to find that my mother was bustling through my front door, carrying an enormous three-ring binder covered in pink Chantilly lace.

  “What have you done?” I hissed at Jolene.

  “Maybe a million dollars should drop out of the sky?” Jolene said, peering at the front door.

  “Oh, sure, for that, your evil powers don’t work,” Zeb muttered.

  Mama kissed my cheek and set her binder on the coffee table with a thud. Gabriel and Jamie had emerged from the kitchen to say hello to Zeb and Jolene, but seeing my mother, they simultaneously turned on their heels and used their vampire speed to disappear. I definitely liked it better when they weren’t getting along.

  “Mama, what are you doing here? With binders?” I waited for her to look down into her binder and said, “I thought Iris had all this stuff at her house to protect it … er, keep it in one place. ”

  “Oh, I found her address and dropped by earlier to pick up some information I needed. ” Iris had an unlisted number, lived in the middle of nowhere, and regularly took four different routes home to keep her clients from finding her house. Clearly, I had underestimated Mama’s resourcefulness. Again.

  Maybe I should have asked Mama to find Ray McElray. She’d have him hogtied in the back of her car in time to go home and watch Law and Order.

  “You didn’t break into her house, did you?”

  Mama ignored the question, instead wedging herself between Jolene and me on the couch and plopping a sheaf of magazine pages onto my coffee table.

  “Sweetie, I have a very important question for you,” she said, her tone solemn. For a brief, horrifying moment, I thought for sure she had figured out the whole “Grandma Ruthie haunting” problem and was going to ask me just to play nice with Ruthie for eternity, for the sake of family harmony.

  Mama took a deep breath. “What are you thinking as far as wedding favors?”

  “I have to say, I haven’t been thinking of them at all, really. ”

  “Well, I think those little packs of Jordan almonds are becoming sort of passe. And no one does the tiny bottle of bubbles anymore. I was thinking little white plastic caskets filled with candy. ”

  “No,” I said, shaking my head very slowly. “Not a chance. ”

  Jolene added, “One of our fancier cousins was really into Frisbee golf, so he and his wife had nice monogrammed Frisbees made up and gave them as favors. ”

  “You want to put Dick next to an open bar and then hand him something he can throw at us?” I asked.

  “Well, we can table this discussion until we get some better ideas,” Mama said. “Oh, and I wanted to go over the menu for the reception with you. I know you don’t eat, but you know how your uncle Dave can be if his blood sugar gets low. So I think we need to double the variety of appetizers distributed during the photos. ”

  I sighed, reminding myself that photos were the only traditional wedding folderol that Mama was absolutely insistent on. She figured that this was the only wedding she was getting out of me, so she wanted it to be well documented. And serving appetizers while people waited around for us was just the polite thing to do.

  “By his blood sugar getting low, do you mean he has too many beers and starts griping about Aunt Vi’s addiction to QVC?” I asked.

  “Exactly,” she said, pulling a page ripped from a bridal magazine out of her binder and handing it to me. “What do you think of these?”

  “Mini-cheeseburgers?” I asked, passing the burger pictorial to Jolene. “Are we going to let White Castle do the catering? That’s an idea I can actually support. ”

  “Don’t be silly. ” She chuckled, pulling out another spread on the virtues of mini-quiches. “But your daddy would be thrilled. He just wants to make sure we have Swedish meatballs. ”

  “Why is all the food miniature?” Jolene whispered, clearly horrified. Werewolf metabolism ran ridiculously high to help fuel their change. They had to scarf down calories all day just to sleep all night, like a little hibernation. Thanksgiving in a werewolf clan was like a full-on farm livestock massacre. And major celebrations like weddings were the sort of horrifying tale that barnyard animals might whisper to their children to keep them in line.

  Zeb muttered. “There’s going to be a full dinner afterward. Calm down. ”

  “Look, I don’t think you need to worry about all this,” I said. “Pick whatever’s going to make you and Daddy happy. ” Jolene cleared her throat, so I added, “And Jolene. ”

  “But honey, you know what a nightmare it can be to make your aunts happy, meal-wise. Aunt Lyla’s on Atkins again. Aunt Gladys refuses to eat anything but tuna from the can—”

  “I really don’t see anybody from the family coming to the wedding, Mama. I haven’t spent any time with them since I came out. I don’t think they’re going to be comfortable around me. ”

  “Oh, Jane, now you’re really being silly,” she said. “You spent Christmas with the family this year. ”

  “I spent Christmas with you and Daddy this year, after the other relatives left for dinner at Aunt Tootsie’s. ”

  “Well, that’s because you couldn’t join us for lunch!” She sniffed. “Now, let’s be serious, Jane. About these mini-quiches—”

  Rather than face a cheese-versus-spinach debate, I blurted out, “Hey, Mama, do you remember Ray McElray?”

  Mama made a clucking noise in her throat and claimed Joe from Jolene. She sighed and nuzzled the head of the closest thing she’d ever get to a grandbaby. “Poor Velma never could get those grandsons of hers straightened out. It just broke her heart, right up until the end. I’m just glad she passed before that no-account Bud had his hunting accident. ”

  Jolene raised her eyebrows at me, questioning. I gave an imperceptible shake of the head, and she pressed her lips shut.

  “And then Ray being sent to prison over something as silly as lotto tickets? I say, if you’re going to go to jail for thieving, be a man about it and rob a bank. Go big or go home. ”

  “Sometimes your mom is freaking brilliant,” Zeb marveled.

  Mama preened. “Thank you, Zeb. ”

  “But no one’s heard from him since he got out of prison?” I asked.

  “Not really. I mean, I know he went by Margie Nash’s florist shop to make sure the flowers on Bud and Velma’s graves are changed every two months. Margie mentioned it at the quilt shop the other night. She said he seemed really torn up over Bud dying while he was in prison. ”

  “I don’t suppose he left a billing address?” I asked.

  Mama shook her head, a perplexed expression creasing her brow. “You know, it’s funny, Margie said he refused to give her one. ”

  “Credit-card information?”

  “Jane, what on earth is going on with you? Why are you asking all of these questions about someone you barely know? Oh, my Lord, is this another one of those vampire things? When did Ray get turned?”

  “No, Mama, Ray’s not a vampire. Did Margie say she saw him during the day?” I asked. When she nodded, I said, “OK, so he’s still alive. I just need to talk to him. And I’m having a hard time tracking him down. That’s all. ”

  “Talk to him about what?” Mama demanded.

  Shit. I was drawing a total blank. Why had my verbal incontinence chosen this moment to abandon me?

  “She owes him money,” Jolene piped up. I shot her an incredulous look. Jolene, proud of her quick thinking, added, “Well, actually, she owed Bud money. He did some yard work for her right before he died, and she was never able to pay him. She’s felt guilty about it, and she wants to pay Ray instead. ”

  OK, I had to admit that was pretty impressive. Zeb beamed at her.

  “You gave Bud McElray work, Jane?” Mama asked, her head tilted at me with this strange, unfamiliar expression on her face—pride. “That was very sweet of you. I hope he didn’t take advantage. ”

  “Oh, no,” Zeb said, grinning. “Bud’s work really blew Jane away. ”

  I glared at him and mouthed, “Too far. ”

  “So, if you see him, Mama, could you call me?” I asked. “Right away? And don’t approach him or anything. I’d like to talk to Ray about it myself, with him being so torn up about his brother and all. ”

  “Sure, baby,” she said, smoothing my hair back from my shoulder and patting my head fondly. “Oh! I almost forgot. I need to see your dress. ”

  Mama bustled out of the living room, leaving me to chase her up the stairs to the master bedroom. I abused my vampire speed to get around her and clean up any incriminating items that might have been lying around our room. “I just want to match the ribbons to the gray of your dress, honey. I think you’d call it Colonial Pewter, but Iris thinks it’s more of a Silverstreak. ”

  “What in the hell are you talking about?” Mama held up a color wheel from the ribbon manufacturer, and I groaned. “You have to be stopped. ”

  “Just get the dress out of the closet, smart-ass. ”

  “Mama. ” I gasped, downright proud that she’d called me a mildly foul name. I pulled the garment bag out of the closet. I knew that something was off the moment I pulled it free. The bag’s weight was distributed in a weird, bottom-heavy fashion, and the zipper was undone. I was paranoid about Gabriel sneaking a peek at the dress. There was no way I would leave it open like that. “That’s weird,” I muttered, carefully taking the hanger out of the bag.

  Mama gasped. I was holding what looked like a burial shroud. The bodice of my dress was just a central location for the fluttering wisps of gray silk, the scraps left of the sleeves and skirt. It hadn’t been cut, it had been torn, viciously, over and over, until all that remained were shreds.

  On the closet floor, amid the pile of gray scraps, I saw a pair of long silver sewing scissors. They’d belonged to one of my great-aunts, who’d been a quilting enthusiast. I’d hidden them from my grandma Ruthie when I was ten, after she’d made me one too many sailor dresses. I’d spirited them away to the attic and stuck them behind a loose panel in the wall. Clearly, Grandma Ruthie had found them.

  Just behind my right ear, I heard it. Cold, hissing laughter. My grandma’s laughter. Disembodied laughter was probably all she was capable of, considering the effort she’d put into tailoring my dress.

  My head swam as the slips of silky material fluttered through my fingers. My dress. My dress was destroyed. The only thing I’d actually liked about this whole wedding thing, beyond spending eternity with the man I love and all that hoo-ha, was the dress, and now it could have been used as a costume of a particularly slutty zombie.

  “Jane?” Mama said apprehensively. I heard her step out into the hallway and call for Gabriel.

  “That is it!” I screamed. Gabriel never told me exactly what I yelled after this, because it was sort of a high-pitched audio blur that made Fitz come running into the room. But in Jamie’s estimation, from two floors away, it was something along the lines of “Damn it! That is the absolute limit! It’s not enough that I have a teenager running around my house, drinking all my blood and reminding me how old I am. I have a crazy person trying to turn my fiance into a pin cushion. I’ve got to pick out food I can’t eat to feed people I don’t like and pretend that I’m some sort of sacrificial virgin just so I can sleep with someone who’s already living with me. And now I’m not even going to be well dressed while I do it, because some crazy-ass spirit decided to play Edward Scissorhands with the only bridal dress in the state of Kentucky that doesn’t make me look like a desperate hooker!”
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