Chapter 19 - Working on it
“Well that was disgusting,” Janice relayed to Mel as they walked out of the morgue.
“You wanted to see the body,” Mel responded without sympathy.
“He was actually eating ham and cheese with mayo.“ Janice shook her head in amazement.
Mel rolled her eyes then asked, “What did you find out?”
“It looks like this electrocution was either a suicide or a murder,” Janice said as they stopped at Mel’s car. “And....“
“There’s more?” Mel asked with surprise.
“There was an unsolved murder in Greenville. . . involving a sword and a guy named Ed.”
As they drove away from the morgue, Janice looked over to Mel. “How well do you know Brian’s friend, Eddy?”
“Eddy? Why?“ Melinda asked, then realized what she was getting at. “Janice, Eddy is not capable of murder,” Melinda blurted with conviction.
“Just asking Mel. He was embarrassed in front of Christine with that river incident,“ Janice mentioned, knowing it was a long shot.
“But that was years ago. And he hardly knew Darryl . . . why would he want to drown him?“ Mel added.
Janice sighed, no closer to figuring this puzzle out.
“Do you think Christine is in danger?” Mel asked with concern.
“I don’t know,” Janice said with a sigh.
“But what do you feel?” Mel asked, surprising the archeologist, who paused before answering.
“I’d feel better if we checked on her,” Janice admitted.
“You’re telling me it wasn’t an accident!?!” Christine sat down on her couch with confusion as Janice took the liberty of searching her house.
“We don’t know if it was or not, but we think you should be careful,” Melinda explained in a calm voice.
“Janice thinks the drowning and that electrocution are related to my car blowing up?” Christine said with amazement.
“Yes. And the Greenville murder,” Melinda added.
“Greenville mur. . ? Do you know how ridiculous this all sounds? This is South Carolina, for heavens’ sake!!” Christine argued uncomfortably.
“Christine, I’ve learned to trust Janice’s instincts. She is worried . . . and when she’s worried. . . so am I,” Mel said firmly.
Christine thought a silent moment and nodded, considering it was better to be safe than dead. Changing the subject to more pleasant things, Christine eyed her friend. “So tell me . . . is there anything to discuss yet?”
“Christine Whitherspoon! We are worried about your safety and all you are concerned about is my love life!?!” Mel scolded her friend, simply amazed.
“Ah. . . so you actually have one now?” Christine asked with an amused smirk.
Melinda looked at her friend and blinked a couple times before revealing a small smile.
“Well, we’re working on it,” Janice offered softly into Christine’s ear from behind the couch.
“AHHH. . . Don’t DO that!!” Christine snapped.
Melinda chuckled and pushed up her glasses.
“I didn’t find anything unusual,” Janice reported with a sigh.
“And what am I supposed to do now?” Christine asked with irritation, looking at Melinda, whose eyebrow raised thoughtfully.
“Don’t worry, we’ll think of something,” Janice said confidently, noting curiously that a smile was growing on the tall southerner’s face.
“I must say, Miss Pappas, I like the way you think,” Janice said with a smirk, as they sat down on Christine’s couch.
After a few not-so-subtle hints from Melinda, their very good friend Christine retired extremely early that evening.
“Thought you’d approve,” Mel said with a small smile, looking around her friend’s dimly lit living room and focused the small, cozy fire in the fireplace. Though Christine had a large house, almost as big as her family’s, it felt so much more . . . homey, Melinda thought with a contented sigh.
Janice quietly studied the southerner’s profile, thankful she no longer had to hide her appreciation of Melinda’s beauty. Well, at least while they were alone, she reconsidered. And they were alone, finally, Janice considered with a smile as her eyes traced over that distinguished profile and focused on the lips covered in passion-red lipstick. A perfect color for the southerner, who didn’t need makeup, but certainly knew how to wear it, Janice admired.
Well, Miss Pappas, what now? Janice thought, waiting patiently.
They would definitely need a place of their own, the southerner thought. One where they could spend the evenings quietly together, like tonight. Perhaps after the banquet, they could go looking.
“Are you nervous?” Mel asked breaking the silence, pushing up her glasses.
“Should I be?” Janice said softly with a warm smile.
“Well . . . we haven’t had a lot of time,“ Mel pointed out with a shrug.
“Are you nervous?” Janice asked, placing a gentle hand on the southerner’s knee.
“The banquet is tomorrow . . . “
Banquet? The archeologist blinked.
“. . . . and I always get nervous speaking in front of a group. I am told I take after my mother,” Mel relayed, nervously looking down at the archeologist’s hand.
“She must have been a beautiful and intelligent woman,” Janice said softly and withdrew her hand.
Moved by the sincerity and concerned by the retreating hand, Melinda turned to the archeologist and finally whispered words she had been afraid to say aloud.
“Kiss me, Janice.”
The archeologist’s intense gaze quickly captured the southerner’s. Mel waited what seemed an eternity before Janice moved . . . to gently take the lady’s hand.
Ever so slowly, the archeologist raised Melinda’s hand to her lips.
Mel’s heart melted at the charming act, performed by plenty of courteous gentlemen before, but never had she experienced such tender reverence. The mesmerized southerner took in a surprised breath when moist lips touched a part of her anatomy that, until now, she had never considered erotic.
Melinda quickly reconsidered.
As Janice pulled the southerner’s hand to her lips a second time, Mel’s eyes widened at the unexpected jolt of arousal when a warm tongue traced over the fleshy juncture between her fingers just before lips once again pressed firmly against her knuckles.
Melinda strongly suspected she would never be able to offer a gentleman her hand again.
Surprised by her body’s intense reaction, Mel wondered how she would respond to increasingly intimate touches. She waited for the next kiss with anticipation, eager to find out.
The archeologist lowered the southerner’s hand, looked into her eyes, and waited.
The southerner blinked a few times, then realized Janice was letting her lead. A prospect that both terrified and thrilled her.
“I suppose . . . ,” Mel said and cleared her dry throat, “you require a little more direction,” the southerner said with uneasy levity, raising her eyebrow at the archeologist, whose gaze held no room for humor. It was already full . . . of pure desire.
The archeologist simply nodded.
The simple, vague command made Janice grin slightly. Turning Mel’s hand over with infinite care, Janice placed a tender kiss at the base of her palm.
Mel exhaled silently, never before feeling such a need to be touched . . . or to touch. She curled her fingers of her freshly kissed hand and caressed Janice’s cheek.
Feeling the gentle warmth of the southerner’s hand against her cheek, Janice closed her eyes. She took a deep breath, unsure how much longer she could keep this intimate dance slow. When her eyes opened, she was rewarded with a gaze of love that made her reaffirm her promise not to rush.
Once again, Mel whispered “higher.”
Janice looked down at the rapidly beating evidence of the southerner’s excitement. Pulling her wrist to her lips, the archeologist savored the pulsing flesh. The moist teasing made Mel thankful she was sitting.
“Higher . . . please,” Melinda urged, immediately finding her back pressed against cold couch pillows and the warm archeologist pressed into her. Faithfully responding to the plea, Janice’s wet exploration jumped to the highest pulse point.
Mel’s arms slipped around the archeologist, her fingers instinctively kneading the smaller woman’s back. Mel didn’t know whether the soft low moan, which reverberated through the archeologist’s kisses right down to the southerner’s toes, or the caressing hand, now against her breast, had more of an effect on her. She really didn’t care. She just didn’t want the sensation to stop.
Slower. Slower. Slower. Janice scolded herself, struggling with her promise and her breath as she kissed her way to those passion-red lips. Slow, Janice told herself again as she lightly brushed her lips over the southerner’s, which parted invitingly. An invitation impossible to refuse.
The planned gentle exploration exploded in intensity, mirroring Melinda’s boldness, which successfully undermined the archeologist’s already weak resolve. Like water to thirsty women, the women eagerly drank kisses.
The overwhelmed archeologist suddenly pulled back from the soul-consuming kiss, and blinked with amazement.
The southerner searched Janice’s eyes through her fogged glasses as the insidious self-doubt crept back.
Seeing the concern in Melinda’s face, Janice managed to utter an inarticulate but important question.
Mel nodded vigorously.
As Janice shut out the world from their guestroom, she turned to find her back pinned against the door as she was hungrily kissed. Surprised but dauntless, Janice rose to the challenge. When they broke to breathe, the archeologist reminded Melinda of their destination.
Hearing a grunt, Janice found herself herded to the side of the bed. Urgent southern hands pulled the shirt from her pants and moved to unbutton Janice’s shirt. After the second button, Mel exhaled with impatience, seriously debating whether Janice really needed those buttons.
So much for slow, the archeologist considered as her shirt fell from her shoulders. As the southerner resumed kissing her, Janice felt skillful southern hands busy at her back. Her bra quickly followed.
Mel’s urgent actions suddenly halted when she glanced over the exposed archeologist. Her eyes quickly dropped from the beautiful shoulders, sculpted from years of hard labor, to the beautiful, round breasts and nipples that stood erect . . . because of her touch.
Mel stood in silent awe as an incredible new sensation washed over her - a feeling of sexual power. Amazed by that powerful aphrodisiac, Mel looked up, into the eyes of the woman who had given her that feeling and so many others . . . , including her current ache that demanded attention.
“Oh, don’t tell me you are having second thoughts,” Janice moaned wearily, bringing a satisfied grin to Mel, who pondered whose ache was greater.
“No. . . . I’m still on my first.”
The archeologist rewarded her answer with a fiery kiss. Wanting the southerner’s skin against hers, Janice attempted to unbutton Mel’s blouse. Needing both hands to undo the tiny, damn buttons, she pulled back from the kiss, with a groan of frustration. “I need help here,” she said, looking angrily at her bandaged hand, then the southerner.
“My pleasure,” Mel said softly, easily caressing away the frustration in the archeologist’s face. “but sit,” she instructed in a low tone which resonated throughout the archeologist. “. . . and watch,“ Melinda added, pleased with the resulting surprised look.
Janice nodded and dutifully sat on the edge of the bed.
Mel grinned slightly. This new-found control over the archeologist was not only exciting, it was . . . incredibly arousing.
Her inability to unbutton the tall woman’s blouse was a blessing in disguise, the archeologist quickly concluded. Janice watched, mesmerized by the southerner’s deliberate movements as she reached up and took down her hair. When Mel shook out the black tresses over her shoulders, Janice took a deep breath.
Janice’s eyes intently followed Mel’s hand as it moved to take off her glasses. When the long fingers placed the spectacles next to the lamp on the night stand, Janice prayed Mel’s shyness would not return and the lamp would continue to illuminate this private performance.
The archeologist’s prayers were answered when the elegant left bypassed the lamp and joined the right to slowly pull the tucked blouse from the confines of the southerner’s skirt.
With the blouse bottom freed, Melinda reached for the small buttons and, in what Janice considered torturously slow motions, released each one from its eyelet. After the last button was liberated, the southerner let her blouse slide over her broad shoulders and down her long arms. Soon, her skirt joined the shirt and Melinda Pappas stood before the archeologist, wearing a silk slip.
Janice swallowed hard and looked over the tall beauty. She loved silk. She loved slips. And the woman she loved . . . stood before her . . . in a silk slip.
Mel looked down at herself then up at the focused archeologist, who was unable to sit still any longer and stood.
“I’m not finished yet,” Mel gently scolded Janice, who rolled her eyes.
“You’re killing me,” Janice softly complained as her hand traced over the silk-covered hip before her arms wrapped around the tall woman.
“But . . . I’m not finished,“ Mel said again, involuntarily let out a sigh at the attentive kisses against her neck and chest. However, she was determined not to be sidetracked, wanting Janice’s skin against hers.
“Well, finish,” Janice mumbled reasonably into the southerner’s collarbone.
“It’s . . . “ Mel began, receiving another kiss on her neck. “rather . . . “ Mel continued, as her neck continued to be peppered with kisses while the archeologist tightly held the tall woman against her. “hard . . . to undress when you have your arms around me,” Mel managed to relay between the kisses and caresses.
“Of course, if you don’t want me to undress . . . ,“ Mel added with a grin, feeling the archeologist immediately freeze.
Silently, Janice let go, took a deep breath, and returned to sit on the edge of the bed, bringing a pleased smile to the southerner’s face.
After removing the slip, Mel reached around her back and unclasped her bra.
“Let me help,” Janice asked softly.
The southerner expected that would be the first of many requests she could not deny.
Mel stood before the seated archeologist, who slowly reached up to remove the bra straps off the tall woman’s shoulders. Her fingertips traced over the southerner’s arms as Janice allowed the garment to descend and finally join the growing collection of clothing on the floor.
“You are . . . beautiful,” Janice said reverently and leaned in to kiss the top of the southerner’s breast.
“Oh . . . my. . . .”
With all their garments finally shed and discarded to the floor, Janice pulled the tall woman into bed. As body pressed against body, each sighed with relief at the long awaited contact, eagerly submerging into each other’s warmth and soft flesh.
Janice moved on top as they kissed, placing her thigh firmly against the southerner’s drenched center.
Mel gasped at the perfectly applied pressure, which sent a powerful jolt through her body. Her fingernails involuntarily clawed into Janice’s muscled back, evoking a loud moan from the smaller woman, which was quickly muffled in the southerner’s shoulder.
“Oh . . . I’m so sorry,” Mel blurted and froze, worried she may have drawn blood. The warm smile she received from her victim surprised her.
The smile faded slightly as Janice gazed into the southerner’s eyes. Slowly, the archeologist pressed her thigh against Mel with a purposeful stroke, evoking a southern moan and successfully demonstrating that not all moans were bad.
Janice grinned and covered the southerner’s mouth with hers.
After the deep kiss, Janice began to steadily repeat her thigh’s thrusts, intently watching for any signs of discomfort, physical . . . or emotional. However, the fingers burrowing deeper in her back, the substantial wetness against her thigh, and the unmistakable desire in Melinda’s eyes, gave Janice a strong suspicion her touch was welcome.
Keep it slow, Janice silently cautioned herself as she fought the profound desire to claim the southerner and her virginity. Not yet, she thought and began to kiss the Melinda’s neglected shoulder and neck.
“Harder . . . ,” Mel gasped in Janice’s ear as she held on. The archeologist quickly complied.
“oh . . . yes. . .”
Christine turned the page in her novel and sighed. She glanced at the night-stand clock which read eight-thirty. She rolled her eyes.
“You look tired, she said” Christine muttered with annoyance. She had never gone to bed that early . . . well at least not alone, she considered with a smirk.
“Mel had better appreciate this,” Christine muttered, flipping a page with irritation.
“Ohh . . .Janice!”
The loud cry from the guestroom drifted upstairs, causing Christine to look up from her book with surprise.
“More. . .p . . .please. . .OHHHH!!!”
“Well, she’s appreciating something,” Christine mused with a grin.
The phone rang, startling the hostess. Christine sighed as she closed her book and got out of bed. As she descended the stairs, she heard a long, quivering “oh” emanating from the guest room and chuckled. Good thing her closest neighbors were a mile away, she considered as she picked up the receiver.
In a most pleasant voice, Christine answered “Whitherspoon residence.”
“Christine, this is Victoria Pappas.”
Christine’s eyes widened. “Well hello Mrs. Pappas, how are you?” She said melodically.
“Very well, thank you. I understand Melinda and Dr. Covington are staying with you this evening.”
“Yes, they are. Thank the lord. I was feeling a bit unnerved by the recent murder and being alone and all . . . “
Another loud moan from the guest room made Christine’s eyes widen with panic and quickly cover the receiver with her hand. Maybe granny didn’t hear. . .
“What was that, child?” Mrs. Pappas asked with alarm.
“Uh. . . “ Christine succinctly responded as she picked up the phone and moved it as far from the guest room as the cord would allow. “. . . I’ve been having a nasty time with the neighbor’s . . . cats. . . in heat you know.” Christine rolled her eyes.
“I see. May I speak with Melinda for a moment?” Mrs. Pappas asked.
“Uh . . . Well, she . . . she just went into the ladies’ room,” Christine mentioned quickly with a cringe. “Should I have her call you when she’s done?” Christine asked.
Christine’s eyes widened when a new cry, this time from Janice, emerged from the guest room.
“Good Lord, child. How will you get any sleep with all that racket?”
“Well. . . . uh. . . perhaps they will get tired. . . .“ Christine weakly offered, glancing back at the room, from which another loud moan emerged. Perhaps not. . . .
“Have you tried throwing water on them?”
Christine blinked. “Uh . . . no. Perhaps I’ll give that a try,” Christine responded with a thin smile.
“You’ll have Melinda call?” Victoria reminded her politely.
“Certainly, have a good night, Mrs. Pappas,” Christine said sweetly.
“You too, dear.”
Christine breathed with relief after the older woman hung up. Then she realized she had to get Melinda to call her grandmother. Sighing heavily, Christine hesitantly went to the guest room door.
Another moan, this time from Melinda, pierced through the door and echoed in the hallway, making Christine grimace at the upcoming intrusion. Since there was no good time for this, she just took a deep breath, held it, and quickly knocked.
Christine knocked again. “Uh, Melinda?” Christine said, cringed, and bit her lip.
“Yes?” Mel called out uncertainly from the bed, looking between the door and Janice, who was between her legs.
The archeologist paused her attentions to Melinda’s womanhood to look up. With a smirk, Janice gazed at her with amusement as she slowly leaned down and planted a kiss on Melinda’s thigh. Mel’s eyebrows furrowed with helpless concern as Janice’s kisses slowly progressed up her thigh to her . . . .
“Your grandmother called,” Christine informed her through the door, abruptly halting the archeologist’s devilish campaign.
Janice sighed heavily. Their home would not have any phones either, she thought bitterly.
“I told her you’d call her back. . .”
Melinda looked at Janice apologetically. Glancing at the door then the southerner, the archeologist gave a soft groan.
“Keep the bed warm,” Melinda whispered with soft promise. Janice gently smiled and caressed Melinda’s face before softly kissing her.
“. . . when you got out of the bathroom,” Christine explained uncomfortably, hearing little movement in the room.
The door finally opened to reveal a disheveled Melinda, in a robe. If she didn’t feel so guilty for breaking up her old friend’s amorous rendezvous, Christine may have giggled at the unusually untamed raven mane.
“Uh, thank you,” Mel said, awkwardly closing the door behind her. Pulling her robe more neatly around her, the tall southern lady attempted to regain some sense of dignity.
Instead of the expected amused smirk, Melinda found a warm smile from her friend, who turned to leave.
The hostess turned back to her friend.
“Thank you,” Melinda said with soft gratitude, and glanced back to the guest room.
“Good night, Mel,” Christine grinned and proceeded upstairs.
After calling her grandmother, Mel returned to the guest room to find the archeologist as she left her - in bed, naked, and waiting for her. Mel paused to admire the sight.
“You two have a nice conversation?” Janice asked with a thin smile.
“Unusual would be more like it,” Mel sat on the bed with a sigh. Janice moved next to her and gently stroked her back as she helpfully untied the robe’s sash.
“Unusual, how?” Janice asked as she slid the robe off and kissed the bare shoulder. Mel closed her eyes and took a long breath at the pleasant attention.
“She had nothing to say, really. Just wanted to know I was here . . . and stared talking about the neighbors’ cats for some reason. As I said, unusual,” Mel sighed.
“She’s worried. . . .“ Janice said flatly, surprising the southerner.
Janice shook her head no.
“Then what would . . . ?” Mel asked then looked down at her partner’s breasts and blinked. “Ah . . . ,“ Mel said with an understanding smile, then reached out and slowly traced her fingers down Janice’s chest.
“You do realize that your rep. . . . uh,“ Janice started to explain between distracting caresses, but southern lips completely derailed her thoughts.
Chapter 20 - The Big Day
The three friends got out of Melinda’s car and looked across the tree framed grounds called the ‘horseshoe.’ The University’s impressive museum, McKissick, sat at the peak of the brick walkway.
“Daddy used to bring me here for different functions. Though this is the first time I’ve ever been here as a speaker,” Mel said uneasily.
“You still nervous?” Christine asked through a yawn.
“Well . . . “ Melinda sighed and pushed up her glasses. “Yes. But what could go wrong?” She said with forced optimism.
Janice smiled. “Lots, but try not to think about it,” the archeologist responded as she straightened the dress Mel insisted she borrow from Christine.
“Thanks, so much,” Mel rolled her eyes.
“Just remember, if you get nervous, just imagine the audience in their birthday suits,” Christine offered helpfully, then yawned again.
Mel’s eyebrows furrowed. “And how, exactly, will speaking in front of imaginary naked people help?” She asked indignantly, making them chuckle.
“Don’t know about you . . . ,” Janice informed them as she slowly glanced over Mel’s long frame. “But I’d find that way too distracting,” she added and headed towards the building.
Christine smirked and followed Janice.
Mel sighed heavily, pushed up her glasses, and followed . . . with a pleased grin.
Melinda nervously glanced over the room full of people, some of which she knew. Reverend Hammond, Reverend Baylor, William, and Brian, stood with Victoria, by the buffet table, at the back of the room.
“Oh my. Look at all these people.”
“Are you ok Mel?” Janice asked the uneasy southerner, who looked pale and responded with an unconvincing smile.
“Melinda!” Mrs. Pappas called out and walked over to them, with the Reverends and the Colonel in tow.
“Janice, you look beautiful,” Wayne said, looking down approvingly at the dress. The kind of dress a reverend’s wife would wear, he considered with a large smile.
“Christine used to look nice in that dress too,” Mrs. Pappas said with a polite smile, drawing a glare from Melinda.
“Quite a turnout,” Reverend Baylor mentioned, glancing over the crowd. “Reverend Hammond helped spread the word of your talk,” he mentioned with a smirk at the suddenly embarrassed look from the smitten young man.
“Well, I hope we don’t bomb then,” Janice said with a laugh. “I wouldn’t want to get the congregation upset with you.”
“I know you’ll be wonderful, Janice,” Wayne gushed.
Being a lady and a good Christian, Mel refrained from whacking him.
“Mel, you want to go over a few things before we start?” Janice asked, touching her elbow.
Mel’s eyes broke from their glare of the young reverend and focused on Janice. “I’d love too,” she smiled and sighed.
“If you’ll excuse us,” Janice said with a polite smile.
Mrs. Pappas’ eyes narrowed as she watched Janice take Mel away.
As they entered the ladies room, they silently watched as a woman powdered her nose, tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, pulled out a lipstick and opened it . . . and slowly looked at two women staring at her.
With and uncomfortable smile, she returned the lipstick to her purse and left the two women alone.
“I’m going to kill him.” Mel finally blurted, starting to pace. “After my grandmother.”
Janice grinned and stroked her chin thoughtfully. “Well, that’s one way to keep your mind off the large crowd.”
Mel shook her head. “That remark about the dress was completely uncalled for!”
“Well, I’m sure Christine does look good in this dress . . . ,“ Janice offered, looking down and inspecting it objectively.
“And Wayne . . . he’s crazy about you!“ Mel noted, clearly irritated.
“What matters to me, Mel, Is how you feel,” Janice said, smiling at her partner, who stopped pacing, looked at her, and bluntly answered.
“Jealous, angry, and queasy.”
“Okaaay. Well, there’s absolutely no reason to be jealous. Trust me on that,” Janice smirked, making Mel blush a bit.
“The anger . . . well, you can choose your friends but not your family, and the queasy part . . . just let me know if you’re going to get sick . . . so I can get out of your way,” Janice said with a serious look.
Mel chuckled and shook her head.
“You know what?” Melinda asked with a loving gaze as she stepped towards the smaller woman.
The ladies room door opened and two older women entered, halting the southern advance.
“You hate crowds?” Janice guessed softly, getting a weary nod from the southerner who rolled her eyes.
“. . . perhaps you should get a dog, “ Mrs. Pappas was advising a yawning Christine as the two reentered the hall and joined them.
“Are you getting a dog?” Melinda asked with surprise, getting a blank look from her old friend.
“Are you ready, Dr. Covington?” Mrs. Pappas asked with a thin smile.
“Sure. How about you Mel?” Janice asked, surprising the Pappas matriarch.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be ready. So we might as well start,” Melinda said wearily.
“Just remember my advice,” Christine supplied helpfully, making Mel roll her eyes.
“Are going to go up there too?“ Mrs. Pappas asked Melinda, uneasily.
“We’re a team,“ Janice interjected firmly and added, “I couldn’t do it without her.”
“Actually, you could . . . ,“ Melinda offered with a weak smile.
“Nuh uh. That was part of the deal. . . remember?” Janice grinned.
Mrs. Pappas stood at the podium and glanced over the murmuring audience of about one-hundred people, including the few she invited personally. The Pappas matriarch recognized all but a few faces. She glanced over at the table where Janice and Melinda sat. Her brow furrowed as Janice leaned over and said something in Mel’s ear. A large smile grew on her granddaughter’s face, Mrs. Pappas noted. Melinda never seemed happier . . . or more oblivious, the matriarch considered sadly.
Determined to save her granddaughter from the biggest mistake of her life, she cleared her throat and tapped the microphone. The room quieted and the audience turned to the podium.
“Thank you all for coming to the Historical Society’s lecture series, your donations will benefit the University’s history department,” she began with a warm smile.
“We have a real treat in store for us today. Dr. Janice Covington has graciously agreed to speak to us about the latest developments in her work on the Xena scrolls. Would you warmly welcome, Dr. Covington,” Mrs. Pappas smiled and weakly clapped, initiating a polite round of clapping.
As Janice passed the older woman, Victoria stopped her. “After your lecture, I need to speak with you in my office down town,” she said and added so there was no confusion, “Privately.”
“All right,” Janice said neutrally, strongly suspecting it was not to welcome her to the family. Janice’s eyes darted to Mel, who looked at her curiously. The archeologist would endure anything for that woman, she considered, including her disapproving grandmother. Smiling warmly at Melinda, who returned a smile that always buoyed her spirits, Janice continued to the podium.
“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I’d like to introduce my partner, Miss Melinda Pappas,” Janice said with a pleased smile at Mel and motioned for her to come up.
Melinda exhaled heavily, pushed up her glasses, and joined Janice at the podium with a nervous smile.
“As we go through the talk, if there are any questions on the translations, I’d like to direct those to Miss Pappas, who is the real expert,” Janice mentioned, gaining a few surprised looks from the audience, including Mrs. Pappas. “I basically dig in the dirt and find things. But, I think I have more fun,” she explained with a smirk, causing a few chuckles from the audience.
Melinda smiled broadly, ready to argue that point.
Mrs. Pappas’ eyebrows furrowed. Mel was simply putty. . . .
“I’m quite surprised at the turn out. Especially since the Xena scrolls have not attracted any academic interest since we found them. However, I’ll be happy to share what we’ve found so far and point out the inconsistencies which have plagued us from the start. Perhaps with the talent assembled in this room, we could solve some of those puzzles.”
Mrs. Pappas looked over the audience, surprised how well the archeologist spoke. There were many smiles in the audience of egotistic academics at the last comment.
Smooth, Dr. Covington. I’ll give you that, Victoria considered. Did you use the same charm on poor Alice? She wondered with narrow eyes as she returned her gaze to the podium. Her granddaughter stood tall next to the archeologist and now seemed relaxed . . . and happy. Mrs. Pappas sighed with worry, knowing her granddaughter’s happiness would not last after she found out the truth about that woman.
Janice spoke for about forty-five minutes. It seemed to go very well, Melinda considered, especially since she did not have to say a word yet. She expected that to change when Janice opened the floor up to questions.
A distinguished looking man in a three-piece suit raised his hand. Janice nodded to him. “Doctor, what makes you think these scrolls are real?”
Mrs. Pappas smirked, ready to enjoy the day.
“Well, I can show you one if you want,” she said sarcastically, holding up a scroll, gaining a few chuckles. “We had some of the scrolls reviewed by Drs. Engel and Worthington at Oxford, who considered them authentic . . . though not historically significant enough for university financing,” Janice said bluntly, surprising Mrs. Pappas, who noticed some of the audience members nodding thoughtfully.
“If you couldn’t get university funding, how did you and your father fund your research?” Another, bearded man asked, stunning the audience. Many were aware of Harry Covington’s creative financing but would never have mentioned it in public.
Mel quickly stepped closer to Janice and spoke up.
“I do not see what that has to do with the talk today,” Melinda challenged crisply.
Colonel Pappas smirked, pleased at her spunk.
“Private backers,” Janice answered vaguely, her face without emotion. Her eyes drifted over to Mrs. Pappas, who smiled thinly. An uncomfortable murmur flowed through the audience.
“The chronological inconsistencies in themselves should prove they are fake,” the first man continued, antagonistically.
“Not true,” Janice countered firmly. “There are many historical documents which have inconsistencies in them, yet we believe them to be legitimate.”
“Like?” The bearded man asked.
“The bible,” Melinda offered quickly. A small smile crossed Janice’s face as she looked at her tall champion, standing by her.
“The bible!?!” Reverend Hammond spoke out, greatly disturbed about the accusation against the word of GOD. Janice eyed him curiously.
“Calm down, son, and just listen,” Reverend Baylor spoke softly, temporarily soothing the man.
“Yes, Reverend,” Melinda responded confidently. “For example, there are a number of inconsistencies between the books of the Gospel. Matthew and Mark agree Jesus’ last words were, “My God my God, why have You forsaken me.” Yet, the last words according to Luke were “Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit,” and the last words according to John were ‘It is finished.’ One would expect that the recorded accounts of such a significant event in human history would have been, at least, similar. However, that is not the case for two of the gospels.”
Janice’s eyes followed Wayne as he stood up and left the room. The reverend appeared extremely irritated by Mel’s discussion about the bible, the archeologist noted. Good thing he never cornered me about my thoughts on the bible, Janice considered with a smirk.
“Miss Pappas, are you trying to say the Xena scrolls are as significant as the bible?” Another man jumped in.
Mrs. Pappas was not pleased her granddaughter was being put on the spot.
“If you had listened to what was said earlier, you would have remembered Miss Pappas was asked for an example of a historical document with inconsistencies yet was still believed to be the truth,” Janice countered crisply, deciding not to mention that to her, the Xena scrolls were far more significant.
Murmurs filled the audience with the start of many side discussions.
Melinda looked at Janice with sadness, not expecting such antagonism. Janice deserved more respect than this, the southerner thought with growing irritation. The archeologist smirked as her hand covered the microphone. “Hey, at least they are not armed,” she whispered.
“And HOW do you know that?” Melinda challenged, making Janice chuckle.
“So, Dr. Covington, what brings you all the way to South Carolina?” A blond woman asked loudly, silencing the chattering audience, which waited for an answer.
Melinda watched the blood rapidly drain from the archeologist’s face. Janice’s eyes immediately darted over the audience and found the woman who asked the question.
“Janice?” Mel asked with concern, glancing at the broadly smiling blond.
Attempting to regain her composure to respond, Janice swallowed and plastered a polite smile on her face.
“Mrs. Wright. . . . I could ask you the same thing,” Janice smiled thinly, her eyes traveled from one poisonous woman to another. She found Mrs. Pappas smiling, obviously pleased. “Would you believe, I heard about the famous Southern Hospitality and had to see for myself?” Janice said with a smile, returning her gaze to the audience, which chuckled and applauded approvingly at her answer.
“Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today,” Janice said numbly, her smile left her face when she left the podium.
The murmur in the audience grew as people grouped together to discuss the lecture. Mrs. Pappas and Brian glanced at each other and stood up to leave.
“Where are you going, dear?” Colonel Pappas asked his wife.
“A few things to tie up at the office, dear. I’ll see you at home?” She asked with a kiss on his cheek.
He nodded and watched them leave. Wanting to tell Melinda how proud he was of how she stood up to the grilling, he saw her quickly leaving the room to follow Janice. He sighed and scratched the back of his head, finding himself awkwardly standing alone in a room full of academics. Time to leave, he concluded quickly, looking at his watch.
Melinda quickly caught up to the archeologist. “Janice? What is going on?” She asked with concern.
Janice looked at the southerner with an incredibly tense brow. Before Janice could answer, a booming voice echoed through the hallway.
“Janice, sweetheart! Aren’t you going to kiss me hello?” Alice asked with a grin, enjoying the surprised look on Melinda’s face. She noted with disappointment that Janice’s face was blank. ‘Ah, Janice, you always did have such a good poker face,’ Alice considered, wondering what buttons she could push to make that face crack.
“So you can suck the life out of me? Not this time, Al,” Janice said evenly with a thin smile.
“And you must be Melinda,” Al grinned and looked her over, thoroughly. Mel felt surprisingly violated.
“Back off, Al,” Janice snapped, stepping between them.
Jackpot, Alice thought with a broad smile, amazed at how easy that was. Janice must be in love . . . again. Though a looker, she did not seem at all like Janice’s type, Alice considered. Instead of heading the archeologist’s warning, Alice, of course, continued. She was rather curious about this tall woman.
“You must be careful, Melinda,” Alice said, seeing the vein in Janice’s temple bulge. This really is too easy, Alice considered with amusement.
“That’s enough, Al,” Janice growled.
“Oh, and why is that?” Melinda asked the blond with feigned indifference. Janice looked up at Mel with annoyance she was playing her game.
“Janice will break your heart,” Alice said with nearly convincing sincerity. “She did mine,” Alice pouted.
“What the hell are you getting out of this, Al?” Janice barked. Mel looked at Janice with concern, never having seen the archeologist so unsettled by someone.
“Me? The question, Janice dear, is what are you getting out of this? I hear Miss Pappas is quite the catch. . . .”
“Speaking of catches, Mrs. Wright, how’s your husband, Richard?” Melinda asked politely, surprising Janice and Alice. Alice smiled at the brunette opponent with appreciation.
“How should I know? Left him home with the brat,” Alice responded with a slight chuckle.
That poor child, Janice thought with profound sadness. Needing air and to talk with a certain grey-haired bitch, Janice gladly turned and headed towards the door.
“Leaving so soon?” Alice called out melodically at the retreating woman as she left the building.
Mel glared at the amused woman before following the archeologist.
“Janice . . . ,“ Mel called out, causing the angry archeologist to stop.
“I need to be alone,” Janice snapped without turning. “Please, Mel,“ she added firmly.
Melinda felt helpless as she watched the archeologist storm away.
That feeling of helplessness was quickly replaced with anger. The southerner turned and marched back inside to face the blond source of that anger.
When Mel returned, she was surprised to find Christine waiting. “That bitch left,” Christine told her. “Are you all . . . ,“ she started to ask her friend, who headed back into the nearly empty hall. “Why are you going back in there?” She asked with surprise.
“To ask my grandmother who invited her,“ Melinda said crisply, already suspecting the answer.
“Well, she left too,” Christine mentioned.
Mel’s eyes shot up to the heavens as she sighed heavily.
Mrs. Pappas looked out her office window and sighed seeing Janice entering the building. This wasn’t going to be pleasant but it had to be done, she believed, looking at her grandson with a tight smile.
“I’m here for you, Grandmother,” Brian said with a weak smile, hoping he wouldn’t be needed. His nose was still healing and the round bruise on his stomach just started to fade.
Without bothering to knock, Janice barged into the office, startling the two inside.
“Please . . . sit down,” Mrs. Pappas said professionally and motioned to the chair. As she sat down at her desk, she noticed Janice remained standing. Trying to ignore the uncomfortable cold glare, Victoria added, “Or stand. Either way, this shouldn’t be long.”
“Tell me something, Mrs. Pappas, how much did you pay Alice to be there?” Janice asked. She glanced to the corner of the office to find Brian, who cleared his throat nervously as he tried to appear intimidating.
“Not nearly enough for what you put her through,” Mrs. Pappas spat.
“No doubt you believe what she told you,” Janice said, finally sitting down.
“Based on what I have found out about you, Dr. Covington, yes. I had you investigated,” she said as she pulled out a large file from the desk drawer and placed it down on the table.
“If you had questions, Mrs. Pappas, you should have asked. You could have saved yourself some money,” Janice said neutrally, though her pulse raced with anger.
“Money is not important, Dr. Covington. The truth is. Am I to believe you would have told me all the sorted details I dug up on you? Like, for example, your relationship with Mrs. Wright?”
“I never had a relationship with MRS. Wright,” Janice responded with irritation, making Mrs. Pappas raise an eyebrow in surprise. “Alice dumped me for . . . Mr. Wright. I don’t pursue married women,” Janice informed her bluntly.
“Really? So what was Margaret Redding?” Mrs. Pappas countered with amusement, tapping her fingers on the large folder in front of her. Janice sighed heavily.
“A woman with whom I had a relationship, then found out she was married. Should I make a list for you so we can compare notes? Or perhaps you should just get to the damn point, Mrs. Pappas, and save us both some time,” Janice snapped angrily.
“You already know my point, Dr. Covington. Leave Melinda and this family alone. I know about you and your father’s illegal business dealings to finance your digs . . . and I know your financial situation is abysmal.”
“I thought you said money is not important, or is that only if you have it?“ Janice countered with a smile, making the woman angry.
“You think me a fool, don’t you?”
“Ignorant, perhaps, but not a fool. . . “ Janice admitted evenly, causing the older woman’s lip to twitch in anger.
“My granddaughter is an impressionable young woman who happens to be one of the wealthiest in the South. I will not allow you to ruin her reputation or her finances.”
“Mel has never done anything she didn’t want to do,” Janice countered with deliberate vagueness, but the older woman’s heart fell. “And I have never asked Mel for anything, especially money,” Janice said crisply.
“Perhaps not directly,” Mrs. Pappas responded as she pulled out a few sheets from the large folder and placed them out for the archeologist’s inspection. “I am aware that persuasion comes in many forms, Dr. Covington,” Victoria said with a thin smile. “I’ve found that she has put quite a bit of money into your last dig. Now why do you suppose she would do that . . . if you didn’t encourage her?”
The last dig? Janice thought blankly, the accusation taking a moment to sink in. When it did, she abruptly stood, causing Brian to jump with fear. He worried he’d have to try and protect his grandmother. Seeing Janice grab the papers and frantically scan them, he sighed with relief.
Her eyes stopped at the words ‘Tulliby and . . . Associates.’
Melinda Pappas was listed as one of three Associates. Janice read the name again and blinked. In black and white, the truth was there . . . and obvious, had she not been so blind. Mel had financed her dig.
“I never asked for it,“ Janice said in a pained whisper as numbness filled her. Mel knew how she felt about taking money. But the southerner just went behind her back. The one person, for whom she risked her heart again for, lied. Always the fool, aren’t you, Covington?
“I will make this easy for you. I won’t press charges . . . if you leave now and never return.”
“Charges?” Janice repeated absently as she wondered what else Melinda lied about, concluding the worst. Al had told her she would never be more than a last fling of excitement for a lover - before they left her to settle down. Since her last fling was in financial jeopardy, Mel footed the bill, Janice concluded, wishing she had listened to Alice’s harsh warning. Her heart may have been spared.
“I have good lawyers, Dr. Covington. I am sure we could find enough to have you put away. And if not, you already know I can make your life, at the very least, uncomfortable. So don’t test me, Dr. Covington. I’ll do whatever I have to,” she warned the archeologist, who blankly looked up into the older woman’s face.
“There’s no reason for me to stay,” Janice said quietly, staring through the woman.
Mrs. Pappas smiled at her success. “I thought you would see it my way.”
Janice weakly shook her head no.
“I’ll never see things your way, Mrs. Pappas,” Janice said calmly, though the overwhelming pain of betrayal washed over her. “But I do see things much clearer now,” Janice said, looking at the older woman with dead eyes.
Chapter 21 - Buses, Cigars, Broken Hearts, . . . and ED
“Are you sure you don’t want me to wait with you? How will you get home?” Christine asked her old friend, who was seated in the banquet hall, empty except for them and two floor sweepers, one of which kept glancing over at her.
“I’ll call Robert or take a cab. I think she’ll come back here after she calms down,” Melinda said, thinking Janice didn’t have a purse or money on her and she couldn’t have gotten too far in those shoes.
“Cheer up, honey. Even with all the rude questions, the talk went really well. I think the academics were impressed. Especially Dr. Dyer. He sounded very enthusiastic after the talk. You and Janice should be proud,” Christine said warmly, noticing her disturbed friend staring at the floor.
“She was very beautiful, wasn’t she?” Mel said uneasily, looking up with a furrowed brow. Christine frowned sympathetically.
“Honey, Janice put her in the past. You should too,” Christine said sincerely.
With a nod and sigh from Melinda, Christine gave her a peck on the cheek and left.
Janice stared absently out the window of the Greyhound bus as the Southern scenery rolled by. She was headed West . . . , or at least that’s what the man sitting next to her said when she finally decided to ask. She had climbed on the first bus she found, not caring where she was going, just as long as it was away from Columbia, South Carolina.
She tried not to think as she watched another road sign for another tiny town pass. But the more she tried not to think, the more she thought.
It helps to cry, they say. But she never could. Harry used to tell her that it was because she used up all her tears when her mother left. She didn’t even cry when he died. And he had been the only one that had always been there for her. She smirked, recalling how he would try to cheer her up by inviting her to a poker game, some new dive, or to sit down with him, smoke a cigar, and just talk.
He meant well, Janice remembered with a bittersweet smile, missing him now.
When they smoked their cigars, he’d eagerly teach her all sorts of interesting things. Things that young girls didn’t normally learn from their fathers. How good cigars are rolled, how bad barkeepers watered down their whiskey, how artifacts are smuggled properly.... He told her, went it comes down to it, there are only three things to remember in life - keep your eyes open, use your head, and be prepared to pay the price if you screw up.
She sighed heavily. She seemed to forget all three of those things when it came to the women in her life. But he never did teach her about women, she recalled with irritation. It wasn’t because he disapproved of her preference . . . far from it. He said she’d be better off with a woman. But the fact he couldn’t keep one made her think he probably didn’t know much beyond what he had told her.
The Covingtons were probably destined to be alone, she considered. Denny was still single the last time she saw him. For him to get a partner, he’d have to completely change or find a Saint. Neither was likely, she considered.
And Burt . . . , Janice thought and rolled her eyes. Her ‘marriage’ was not exactly the kind that kept you warm at night. Janice shook her head with a smirk, wondering what Mel would say about her sister being a . . . sister.
Damn it, she silently cursed as her thoughts returned to Melinda. The woman had almost convinced her she was ‘the one.’
But you wanted to believe that about Alice too, she reminded herself, rubbing her eyes. Ah, Covington, you are such an idiot when it comes to women, she silently moaned.
‘You might have thought I’d have an advantage in that department, Harry,’ she considered glancing up to the heavens. Her eyes dropped down as she sighed, “What the hell was I thinking?”
The bus pulled into a small station after a couple hours on the road. Janice had a few minutes to wait as the bus discharged and picked up passengers so she took the opportunity to stretch her legs.
As soon as her feet hit the dirt, she pulled out a cigar. As she bit the tip and spit it out, she reached in her other breast pocket for her silver Zippo. She felt a couple of stares as she flicked open the lid. With a smirk, she lit her stogie.
‘Harry, Harry, Harry,” she thought as she puffed, glancing at the engraving on the trusty lighter. ‘To Jan, Luv, H.’
‘What the hell kind of world do we live in that doesn’t let a person just enjoy a cigar when they want to?’ She thought, placing the lighter back in her left breast pocket, closest to her heart.
‘A goddamn self-righteous, tight-ass populated, hell-hole’ she could almost hear him say as she blew a smoke ring.
She grinned and strolled around the station, smoking her cigar. She expected to get a few glares but was surprised when one startled woman pulled her young son close to her. Janice smirked, wanting to whisper in the pretty woman’s ear that she found her far more interesting than a young boy. However, the archeologist didn’t feel like fighting the large husband that quickly rejoined his family and protectively led them away.
She couldn’t blame the man for being protective over his family, she thought with a sigh and took another puff.
She really couldn’t blame Mrs. Pappas, either. She didn’t have to like her, and in fact, she didn’t . . . but Janice couldn’t blame her.
Finished with her cigar, she tossed the small butt down and ground out the embers with her booted toe. With a heavy exhale, she looked at the bus as the passengers started to board. Glancing around the bus station one last time, the station sign finally caught her eye.
“Greenville,” Janice said with surprise.
Wayne vigorously knocked on the Pappas’ door until Ruby answered it.
“Reverend Hammond,” she said, without the usual exuberance.
“Ruby, is Dr. Covington in? I have some church business to discuss with her,” he said briskly.
“Uh . . . no,” the house keeper said uncomfortably, remembering how the woman came back, got her bags, and left . . . without a single word. When Mrs. Pappas arrived home, she announced that Dr. Covington was not coming back.
“Reverend, please, come in,” Mrs. Pappas said graciously, smiling warmly from ear to ear.
“Where’s Dr. Covington? I need to discuss something important with her,” Reverend Hammond said evenly, growing alarmed at the uneasiness of the housekeeper and disappearing smile on the benefactor’s face.
“Come into the living room, Reverend. I’m afraid I have some disturbing news about Dr. Covington.”
Reverend Hammond’s eyes narrowed.
A middle-aged woman opened her front door and sighed heavily at the unexpected visitor, who had interrupted her favorite radio show.
“I’m sorry, Miss, I’m not buying anything,” Betty said, eyeing the two bags by the visitor’s feet. With a polite smile, she started to close the door.
“Good thing I’m not selling anything,” Janice responded with a small smile, removing her hat.
The woman stopped her retreat and curiously looked at the masculine attired, red-headed woman.
“Are you Mrs. Betty Everett?” Janice asked. “The former employee of Mr. Mobly?” She continued, not needing an answer when she saw the color drain from her face.
“I’ve already talked to the police and the press,” she said coldly.
“They haven’t caught ED yet, have they?” Janice asked, getting an agitated look from the woman.
“I’d like to.“
The surprised older woman stared at the odd visitor a moment. “You’re serious,” Betty concluded with amazement. “Or crazy,” she added, with a touch of concern.
“Well, I can’t really argue with either of those descriptions, ma’am,” Janice said with a shrug, getting a smile from the older woman.
“Who are you?” Betty asked.
“Janice Covington,” Janice said and paused, half-expecting Betty to say Melinda wrote to her. Attempting to push the thoughts of the tall southerner away, she continued. “May I come in and ask you a few questions?”
The woman’s hesitation made Janice almost wish Mel had written her. Most everyone Mel wrote to warmly welcomed her, Janice considered. Damn it, Janice scolded herself for thinking of her again and glanced down to the ground.
Betty sighed, feeling bad for the dejected looking young woman.
“I don’t know what I could tell you that I haven’t already told the police,” she exhaled.
Janice looked up and smiled when the door opened wider and the woman invited her inside.
Melinda shifted as she slowly regained consciousness. Her stiff body started to feel the hard, cold floor beneath her. As she took a long breath, she heard faint sounds in the distance. Voices.
The voices were getting louder.
“Mark my words, you’ll be in back in those jail cell of yours if you don’t release us this very instant!!”
Melinda’s eyebrows furrowed hearing her grandmother’s barking. She blinked as a door opened and people entered the room.
“Get your dirty hands off . . . Dear Lord!” Victoria gasped, seeing her granddaughter on the ground.
Victoria and Ruby called to Melinda, as they were shoved into the unfinished room of the church wing.
“What have you done to my granddaughter?” Mrs. Pappas snarled, turning angrily to the large Everson boys, who looked blankly at her and retreated from the room. Shaking his head, Tommy shut the door, locking the three women in the second-floor classroom.
“Melinda, honey,” Ruby said as she knelt down by the young woman. “Are you ok?”
“Uh . . . Ruby?” Melinda blinked groggily, slowly focusing on the black woman’s face. “Where are we?” Mel asked, sitting up with the help of her housekeeper. She absently touched her temple, realizing her glasses were not there.
“The new wing,” Ruby said, looking around the floor and spotted the glasses. “Here you go, honey,” Ruby said softly, handing the spectacles to her.
“Reverend Hammond is insane!” Victoria blurted, nearly hyperventilating.
“What happened?” Mel asked calmly, placing her glasses on and looking up at her grandmother.
“He has completely snapped!!” Victoria answered with panic while Ruby helped Melinda up.
Melinda looked questioningly at her grandmother and then Ruby, who suddenly couldn’t look her in the eye.
“What happened??” Melinda asked more firmly.
Victoria took a nervous breath. “I . . . I told him about Dr. Covington,” she said uneasily.
Mel blinked a moment before her eyes narrowed. “What . . . about
. . . Dr. Covington?”
“I had her investigated and found . . . ,“ Victoria admitted.
“You what!?!” Melinda gasped in disbelief.
“Now, Melinda, I had to, she’s no good . . . ,“ Victoria quickly added, wishing she had her large folder of proof with her.
“How DARE you!” Mel’s voice boomed, echoing in the unfinished room. “You invited Alice Wright here too, didn’t you??”
“Melinda . . .“ Victoria informed her, cringing as she stepped back from her angry granddaughter. “I was only trying to protect you from a huge mistake!“
Melinda closed her eyes and sighed heavily, trying to regain her composure. They had more pressing problems at the moment, she thought. When she reopened her eyes, she glared at the older Pappas.
“So, I gather, Reverend Hammond didn’t want to hear what you had to say, either?” Melinda asked coldly.
“Uh . . . No . . . ,“ Victoria answered, somewhat relieved at her granddaughter’s calmer tone. “He said only GOD had the right to judge Dr. Covington and started quoting Luke. ‘Judge not, and ye shall not be judged; condemn not, and ye shall not be . . . “
“AND??” Melinda interrupted.
“. . . . Then he had those ex-convicts come inside my home and physically remove us from the premises! I want to know who in heaven’s name does he think he is?? And what on Earth does he think he is DOING!!” Victoria spued indignantly, then quieted when she noticed Melinda ignoring her and pacing.
“What is it, honey?” Ruby softly asked Melinda, concerned with the worry on her face.
“He was upset with me when I said the Gospels conflicted . . . Grandmother,“ she said and glanced at Victoria with irritation. “. . . upset him when she sat in judgment of Janice . . . but what did Christine and Darryl do?” She asked rhetorically as she thought through the puzzle.
“What are you talking about?” Victoria asked nervously.
“More tea?” The southern woman asked her guest politely, lifting up the pot to pour herself a cup.
“Thanks,” Janice said, watching the woman pour the steaming brew into the fine, rose-covered, china cup.
“Another cookie?” Betty asked with a smile, pushing the matching china plate full of sweet treats toward her guest.
“Thanks,” Janice smiled, appreciative of the hospitality for a complete stranger, and took another cookie. “So why was the town so upset with Mr. Mobly?” She asked and bit into her cookie.
“He had bought a large plot of land, North of town. It was a really good investment. Especially after his surveyors discovered the plot extended further South than everyone thought. Into town actually,” she said, pausing to sip her tea.
“He was going to build a few large homes, a couple of stores, and a community center on it.”
“Sounds like that would be good for the community,” Janice noted curiously.
“Yes, that’s what I thought too,” she shook her head.
“But the town was upset with him?”
“Yes. Most of the town was. On that land was a very popular diner. People would come from all over to eat there. When Mr. Mobly told them they had to leave, there was a huge uproar from the loyal customers. They didn’t want the diner to move but they couldn’t afford to buy him out, so that Greasy spoon along with that Baptist Church had to go.”
“That’s crazy,” Victoria responded, unable to believe that Reverend Hammond could possibly be behind all of the things Melinda suggested.
“We are in trouble,” Ruby moaned, believing the younger woman’s suspicions.
“Don’t worry, Janice will come and save us,“ Melinda said with complete faith, surprising the two women.
“We are in deep trouble,” Ruby moaned again, getting a curious look
“Honey, she left,” the housekeeper added uneasily.
Victoria looked around the room nervously, alarming Melinda more than Ruby’s words.
“What do you mean . . . left?” Melinda asked tightly.
“Well, I spoke with her . . . and she agreed it was best for everyone if she left,” Mrs. Pappas said reasonably. Mel stared at her in silent disbelief.
“I saw her take her bags and leave, Miss Melinda,” Ruby added uncomfortably.
“Janice wouldn’t just leave,“ Melinda responded with irritation. “What did you say to her?“ Melinda growled at her grandmother, who cringed.
“Melinda, I just pointed out the truth. She was using you,” Victoria argued.
“She has NEVER used me,” Mel snapped angrily. “She never would,” Mel added with fierce conviction.
“Look at how much money you’ve already spent on her. That last dig alone cost you more than a year’s salary for most people, Melinda. A woman like that won’t stop until she takes it all.“
“You . . . you told her I financed the last dig?“ Melinda gasped. Oh Lord no, she thought with panic.
“Of course I did. She actually had the gall to say she never asked for any money,“ Victoria said righteously.
“She never did,“ Melinda said with a pained exhale. “She was too proud to . . . ,” Mel added absently, dreading what the proud archeologist must be thinking now. Oh Lord, Mel thought in panic, she thinks I’ve betrayed her trust. And I have, Mel silently admitted as a sick feeling washed over her.
“Melinda . . . ,” Victoria said with concern and reached out for her disturbed granddaughter.
“Don’t,” Melinda snapped angrily, avoiding the unwanted touch.
Victoria looked at Ruby with concern as Melinda walked to the window and an uncomfortable silence fell in the unfinished class-room.
Finally acknowledging that Janice left, Melinda faced them.
“Ruby was right. We are in trouble.”
“Yes, a Baptist church, where Reverend Jamison preaches. He is still there. Mr. Mobly’s plans for development were never carried out,” she informed the archeologist.
“Did you know a Reverend Wayne Hammond?” Janice ventured uneasily.
“Oh, not very well,” she responded, greatly disturbing Janice, who now knew he was involved . . . somehow.
“I’m a Methodist. But from what I do know, he was a very passionate man. He came into the office with Reverend Jamison a number of times pleadin’ for Mr. Mobly to allow them to buy the land. But they simply didn’t have the money it was worth. So the church and the diner were goin’ to be torn down.”
Janice’s heart pounded with suspicion, but she still couldn’t put all the pieces together. “So Mr. Mobly was killed by a man named ED?” She asked, knowing this was the biggest puzzle piece. If Wayne did it, why would he call himself ED . . . .
“Yes, he gasped the killer’s name. . .Ed. . .” Betty repeated slowly in her thick southern accent, shivering at the memory.
Janice’s eyes widened as one piece of the puzzle finally crashed into place. “Do you have a bible, Mrs. Everett?” Her question surprised the woman.
“Yes . . . of, course, “ she said hesitantly. Retrieving the book, she curiously offered it to Janice, who took it and flipped to Judges.
“Could read this passage for me?” Janice asked the southern woman, pointing to the page.
“Please? Judges 3:15,” Janice asked again. Betty sighed with a shrug before starting to read.
“. . . But when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised them up a deliverer, Ehud, the son of Gera, a Benjamite, a man. . . “ She paused and looked up at the archeologist, startled. Betty quickly continued, skimming through the passage. “And Ehud . . . took the dagger . . . and thrust it into his belly.”
“Dear God,” Betty gasped.
Janice found ED.
Chapter 22 - Judgment Day
“Yes, I know they haven’t been gone twenty-four hours, but it’s dinner time,“ Colonel Pappas complained in the receiver as Brian stood by.
“Damned police,” he slammed down the phone and eyed Brian. “Go make yourself useful and cook something,“ he ordered his grandson.
“What? Me?” Brian said, nonplused.
“You don’t expect ME to cook, do you?” The colonel said indignantly.
As the sun set, the two older women paced anxiously as Melinda looked out the window.
“I wonder what they are doing,” Ruby asked, shivering as the evening chill started to creep under her skin.
“A few more people are going into the church,” Melinda noted. Her eyes finally drifted to the side of the wing. She couldn’t believe her luck. Scaffolding was still erected, a few feet away from her window. Using the gutter to get her over to the scaffolding, she could climb down to the ground . . . it could work, she considered.
“What are you looking at?” Victoria asked with interest, seeing the spark of hope in Melinda.
“A possible way out. There is a guard at the door and on the grounds, but nobody is guarding this window,” Mel explained. “Now that it’s night, I might be able to. . . “
“You’re not telling me you are thinking of jumping out a second story window!?!“ Victoria gasped, looking down with concern.
“No grandmother, while you may make me want to jump to my death, I was intending on getting Ruby out of here first,” Melinda said coldly and started to open the window. “I was planning on climbing down,“ she added with a thin smile.
“Do you hate me that much?“ Victoria whispered with hurt.
Melinda turned to the older woman, pausing a thoughtful moment before answering.
“I made a mistake with Janice, and I pray I’ll see her again so I can explain and ask her to forgive me,” Melinda explained firmly.
“She is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Janice has supported me, encouraged me, and loved me. Instead of getting to know her and find out all those things for yourself, you had her investigated, did everything you could to humiliate her, and threatened her to make her leave.”
Mrs. Pappas had never seen such anger in her granddaughter’s eyes.
“I am sure you can understand my displeasure with those actions,” Melinda said with a dangerously polite smile, which unnerved the older woman more than an emotional outburst would have.
“I want to make one thing perfectly clear. I will not tolerate any more interference from you in my life. I have spent far too long listening to your backhanded compliments, outright insults, and unwanted opinions about how I should live my life and with whom. Thanks to Janice, I know how I want to live my life and with whom. And I’ll be damned if I’ll let anyone get in my way,” Melinda blurted with a threatening glare, daring the two mesmerized women to speak. They didn’t.
With a polite smile returning to her face, Melinda added, “If you’ll excuse me, I have an escape to attempt.”
“Lord, hear our prayers,” Reverend Hammond spoke to the small congregation of trusted followers that almost filled two pews. They repeated his words and looked up to him for guidance.
“Brothers and sisters, I am gravely troubled. Our community has been infiltrated by an evil so insidious, even I was fooled by their cloak of goodness. This evil guised itself as upstanding citizens and friends of the church,” Wayne said with amazement, greatly disturbing the small congregation.
“But today, I witnessed the horrible truth. Evil lurks within the hearts of trusted family. Today, a member of the Pappas family attacked, the very foundation of our faith,” Wayne held up the bible. “Attacked the sacred word of GOD,” he spat angrily. “Dear Lord, hear our prayers,” he cried loudly, his voice ringing throughout the church.
“Hear our prayers,” the small congregation murmured with concern.
“Please bring the sinners to the altar as we pray for guidance,” he said, looking to the Everson brothers, who nodded.
As Melinda shimmed down the gutter, she seriously wished she had worn slacks. Finally climbing onto the scaffolding, she cringed when she inadvertently knocked off a two-by-four that clanged against the pipe frame as it fell to the ground.
“Dear Lord,” Ruby gasped and covered her mouth as the two women watched nervously from the window.
Melinda continued her descent down the scaffolding and stepped on solid ground. With a sigh of relief, she straightened her skirt, pushed up her glasses, and turned, right into the barrel of a revolver.
The phone rang and Colonel Pappas quickly answered it. “Victoria?”
“It’s Janice Covington. I’d like to speak with Melinda,” Janice said neutrally into the radio receiver of the Greenville police car that was flying down the highway. Behind them were two other police cars speeding through the traffic with their lights flashing and sirens blaring.
The embarrassed Greenville police department was very interested in finally apprehending ED. Janice prayed they would before another attempt was made on Christine’s life . . . or a new attempt on Mel’s. She kept remembering Wayne’s angry departure from the banquet and knew Melinda was on his list.
“What the hell is that sound? Are you in trouble?” The colonel said with concern.
“No sir. Is Melinda there?”
“No. It’s the damnedest thing. It’s dinner time and nobody’s home,” he said with irritation.
“Nobody?” Janice repeated into the receiver, looking at the Greenville police chief with concern.
“Except for Brian, who doesn’t even know how to boil a goddamn pot of water,” he said with irritation. “What’s wrong?”
“I demand to see Reverend Baylor!” Victoria spued as she was easily hauled to the altar by the largest Everson boy, Chuck. “Unhand me this instant!!”
Ruby came a little more willingly and did not have to be carried.
Already at the altar at gun-point, Melinda observed the Reverend’s congregation with odd curiosity. She was relieved to find no one she knew well, among the small group. However, she had met a few of them. What surprised her most were the fearful glances cast her way. Were they afraid of her?
Mel glanced at the front doors which were guarded by two ushers. The two side doors were also blocked with ‘ushers.’ The fact they were dressed in suits and ties didn’t help to alleviate her fears. If she were alone, she would have tried to make a break for it. But she wasn’t, she sighed with frustration as her eyes returned to her grandmother and housekeeper.
Her grandmother was not doing so well under pressure, she concluded
as she watched the panicked woman continue to bark threats and try to squirm
out of Chuck’s firm hold.
Reverend Hammond stood at the altar in deep prayer, seemingly oblivious to the commotion. “Yes Lord, I understand,” he said with a long breath and opened his eyes, gazing sadly over the surprised three women.
“The Lord has spoken,“ he announced to his small congregation. “It is not our place to judge the sins of these women,” he said to the relief of Victoria, who stopped squirming and calmed a bit.
“It is certainly not!” Victoria agreed indignantly.
“The Lord wishes us to send these sinners to St. Peter, who must perform that duty,“ Wayne added sadly.
“What? What are you saying?” Victoria said uneasily.
“Grandmother, he’s going to kill us so St. Peter can judge us,” Melinda explained calmly and slowly.
“So, tell me, Grandmother, do you still think he’s a good catch?” Melinda whispered to Victoria with a thin smile.
“Take them to the truck. . . “
“Please, Reverend,“ Mel interrupted earnestly. “Before you send us to St. Peter to face our sins, I ask that we may receive communion.”
Moved by the request, Wayne looked down at Melinda with compassion. “Of course, my child. The body and blood of Christ is for all.”
Colonel Pappas looked through his binoculars at the church and sighed. “Looks like the Everson brothers are taking turns patrolling the area,” he mentioned to his small group.
Brian, Larry, Gerald, and Robert, all huddled behind a couple of bushes, looked at each other with concern.
“You think they’re armed?” Larry asked, squinting at the church as he held the Colonel’s rifle.
“I’d bet money on it,” Colonel Pappas responded with a sigh.
“Does really it matter? They’re huge!” Brian moaned with concern.
“Colonel?” A female voice whispered in the dark. “Colonel?” She stood conspicuously in the open as she looked for them.
“Get your ass behind this bush right now, Christine,” Colonel Pappas ordered, causing Christine to cringe.
“What the hell is she doing here?“ Brian snapped with concern.
“Janice called me,” Christine responded with irritation as she joined them.
“Oh GOD,” Colonel said, shaking his head at his odd little army.
“Well thanks a lot!” Christine whispered with annoyance. “I suppose nobody wants the sandwiches I brought,” she said, holding up a picnic basket.
“Sandwiches?” Colonel Pappas and Brian repeated with interest.
Chapter 23 - The Day of Reckoning
Crouching his older frame behind a big bush, Robert scanned the church grounds with the binoculars, still seeing Chuck Everson now patrol the area.
“Janice should be here with the police by now,” Colonel Pappas asked Robert as he looked at his watch impatiently and finished the last sandwich.
“I am,“ Janice said with a smirk, startling the group. Especially Brian, who discretely increased the distance between them when he noticed that on her belt was a pistol . . . and a whip.
“Miss Janice,“ Robert said warmly. Janice nodded and looked at him with concern.
“They have Mel, Ruby, and Mrs. Pappas inside,” Janice informed the group.
“You’ve been inside?” The Colonel asked with surprise.
“No, just looked in a window,” she said. “The Greenville police have surrounded the area and are waiting for my signal,” Janice informed them, gaining more respect from the retired army Colonel.
“Nice whip,” Christine quickly mentioned with a grin. “So, what’s the plan?” She asked eagerly.
Janice looked at Christine with an amused smirk.
“Kick some Baptist butt.”
“Take, eat, this is my body, do this in remembrance of me,” Wayne said as he lifted the wafer to show the congregation and presented it to Melinda.
As the tall southerner took the wafer, a loud crash sounded outside. A cautious smile grew on Mel’s face as she hoped the noise was caused by a short, very annoyed archeologist.
Wayne’s brow furrowed as he looked at Timmy, who nodded and turned to check on the noise.
Janice looked between the broken two-by-four in her hands and the still standing man with concern. “Shit,” she said, backing up through a door into the church wing.
Colonel Pappas lowered his binoculars. “Come on,” Colonel Pappas said to his small group behind the bushes, who quietly rushed to the aid of the archeologist.
“You are trespassing on church property,” Chuck Everson announced with a pleased sneer and lunged at her.
Dodging his lunge, she grabbed onto his arm and redirected him into the wall, causing the new plaster to dent about the size of a hard head.
The rescue party arrived and watched, stunned when Chuck shook the plaster off his head and lunged again. Janice moved swiftly, deflecting the large man’s hands. Hurling her fist towards his face, she hit him squarely on the jaw, snapping his head abruptly to one side from the force.
Janice became alarmed when he turned to her with an amused smile on his face. Suddenly, his eyes rolled back and he collapsed unconscious.
The group looked at each other then the archeologist with amazement as she passed them on the way out of the wing.
“Glass jaw,“ she mentioned with a shrug.
“Chuck?” Timmy called out, standing outside of the church as he looked over the grounds for his brother. He scratched his head not seeing anything. However, he did hear the loud crack of a whip, just before he felt his legs pulled from beneath him.
“What was that?” Victoria asked softly.
“A whip,” Melinda informed them with a broad smile.
Victoria’s eyebrows furrowed with concern.
Ruby glanced between the happy young woman and the front door. Dr. Covington was coming to get them just like Miss Melinda said she would, Ruby thought with a relieved smile. A smile that faded when guilt surfaced. Ugh oh.
Falling on the ground hard, Timmy gasped. He realized what was happening when he was grabbed by his shirt and pulled into a sitting position just before a small, but powerfully accurate, fist hit his startled face.
Brian’s eyes widened at the punishment the archeologist swiftly handed out. He glanced over to Larry and Gerald, who were struggling to quietly lug an unconscious Chuck to the police car and the officer, who rushed to help them. She could have really killed me . . . he thought, swallowing hard.
“Shouldn’t we help?” Robert asked, scratching his head.
“We’d probably get in the way,” Colonel Pappas smirked with amusement, content to watch the younger woman do the hard work as he tapped his fingers on the unneeded rifle.
Wayne grew more unsettled each moment he didn’t hear from Chuck or Timmy. He finally motioned for the ushers by the front door to go outside. They nodded and pulled out pistols that were discretely hidden beneath their blue blazers.
When the first usher opened the door, he tripped forward when it swung open. His eyes widened when he watched it abruptly swing back at him, hitting him in the head.
As the first man stumbled backwards into the church, the second usher pointed his gun towards the dark shadow outside the doorway. Before he could pull the trigger, he felt something wrap around his gun and yank it from his hand.
With a whip in one hand and the newly acquired gun in the other, the fedora-capped archeologist finally entered the church.
Mel smiled broadly.
Without much effort, Janice dodged the dazed usher who charged at her. She elbowed the second usher in the gut and back-fisted him into unconsciousness. Before he fell, she pushed him into the dazed usher. They fell between the pews in an unconscious thud.
Victoria and Ruby glanced uneasily at their would-be-savior, then each other.
Looking at the usher’s gun, then Wayne, Janice asked, “Collections getting harder these days, Wayne?”
“Janice, what are you doing!” Wayne called with alarm.
“Trying to stop you from making another mistake, Wayne. Or is it Ehud?” She said as she placed her whip on her belt and slowly walked down the aisle towards the altar. She eyed Tommy, who had a pistol trained on the three women. He could get off a clean shot at any of them before she could take it away, she sighed.
“Who’s Ehud?” Victoria asked with concern. “The murderer in Greenville,” Mel responded with a proud smile, which faded when Janice didn’t acknowledge her correct deduction. Janice didn’t even look at her.
A couple of the small congregation debated whether to try to detain her but decided against it when she glared at them as she passed. Instead, most of them decided to leave.
“WAIT my Children!” Reverend Hammond shouted out then looked at Janice with great hurt.
“So who are you today, Wayne?” Janice asked flatly.
“I am whomever the Lord tells me to be. I am whatever the Lord needs me to be,” Wayne explained, wanting her to understand.
“And that includes a murderer?” Janice asked with sadness, recognizing Wayne believed what he said.
“I am a deliverer,“ he responded defensively.
“You say tomato. . . “
Despite the gravity of the situation, Victoria Pappas had to grin.
“Janice . . . “ he rushed to explain. “The Lord tells me what needs to be done. The Lord has told me these sinners should be taken to St. Peter.”
“Why,” Janice asked simply, standing between Melinda and her grandmother with crossed her arms, waiting for an answer.
“This sinner . . . , “ he motioned towards Melinda, who noticed Janice was still avoiding eye contact with her.
“Has blasphemed the word of GOD. She has spread evil lies about the scripture, making people question the very foundation of our faith. The Lord does not tolerate such blatant disrespect.”
Mel sighed and pushed up her glasses.
“I can understand that,” Janice said simply, getting surprised looks from the three sinners. Wayne smiled warmly and thanked the Lord she understood.
“I agree lies should not be tolerated, especially since they undermine a very sacred thing . . . like trust,” Janice said coldly, gaining a pleased nod of agreement from Wayne.
“Janice,“ Melinda whispered uneasily.
“Excuse me, but Wayne and I are talking,” Janice said harshly, still not looking at her. Mel took in a hurt breath and took an uneasy step back. Victoria stepped towards her granddaughter, but stopped when Tommy raised his pistol at her and shook his head no.
Victoria sighed heavily and eyed Dr. Covington with great annoyance.
“What about Mrs. Pappas?” Janice asked with a shrug, stepping closer to Wayne but stopped when Timmy redirected the pistol at her. “Did she bounce a check to the church, or something?” Janice smiled thinly, still looking directly at Wayne. She could feel the older woman’s hateful glare. But Janice really didn’t care anymore.
“I’m afraid it is far more serious than that, Janice. It involves vicious lies . . . about you,” he said uncomfortably.
“Janice, it isn’t necessary to repeat the heinous accusations,“ he said.
“Wayne, if the GOOD Lord wants someone killed on my behalf, I have the right to know why. Tell me.”
“She called you a sinner of the most abhorrent crimes. She said you’ve stolen, she said you’ve been in jail, she said . . . she said you’ve . . . ,“ he paused uncomfortably.
“Spit it out, Wayne.”
“She said that you’ve lain with women,” he spat in horror.
“I see. You know, not many people are willing to defend my honor like this, Wayne.” Janice said honestly. “But, while I appreciate the thought, we’ve got a small problem.”
“Janice, I must carry out GOD’s will . . . “
“Even if he’s wrong?”
“I’ve done those things. And more,” Janice said bluntly, placing her hands on her hips and on her whip.
“You’ve lain with women?” He gasped in shock.
“Yes. I’ll be the first to admit they were big mistakes, but yes, I’ve had sex with women,” Janice said coldly, not looking at the tall southerner, who blinked back tears.
“No . . . No, this isn’t right . . . ,“ Wayne uttered in shock. Not his Janice.
“Mel, sweetheart, why don’t you take Miss Vicky and Ruby outside now,” Janice said, her eyes fixed on a pacing Reverend. “And baby, do it quickly,” the archaeologist spoke, rudely, making Melinda feel . . . cheap. The attitude, more than the words, cut deep.
Recognizing the opportunity, Ruby grabbed onto Melinda’s and Victoria’s arms, pulling the stunned women to the front door.
“No!“ Wayne exclaimed. “This is all wrong,” the flustered man bellowed.
When Tommy glanced at the Reverend with concern, Janice snapped her whip at his hand. It wrapped around his gun and she yanked hard causing it to fly out of his hand. The large man charged straight for her.
“STOP it!” Wayne yelled, helplessly as Tommy tackled her into the side of a pew.
“Ugh,” she gasped as the wind was knocked out of her, but moved in time to avoid his punch. She grabbed his arm and twisted it as she tossed his large body into the floor.
Ruby and Victoria stood with gaping mouths.
Tommy quickly moved and gabbed onto her leg, causing her to fall to the floor. He smirked as he overpowered the smaller woman and raised a hand to strike her. His smirk disappeared when he felt a dull thud on the back of his head.
He turned with surprise to find the tall southern lady hovering over them holding a hymnal in two hands, just before she wacked him with it a second, more successful time in the jaw. He blinked at her and fell over.
“Glass jaw,” Mel mentioned, lowering her weapon as she looked at the unconscious man then Janice with a shrug.
Janice looked up from the floor with mixed emotions. One of which was concern when Melinda’s eyes widened. Janice glanced over to the altar to find Wayne now nervously holding the gun.
“Why?” Wayne asked. “Why are you doing this?”
Janice sighed and got up, discretely motioning for Mel to get the women out of there. Reluctantly, Mel started to slowly retreat with the two women.
“The devil made me?” Janice offered with a smile as she touched her split lip and stepped closer to the frantic man.
“You were supposed to be the one . . . ,“ Wayne cried out angrily, pointing the revolver between Janice and the three women who stopped their retreat.
So close, Ruby sighed, looking between the front door that was only a few feet away and the revolver in the reverend’s hands pointed at them.
“Damn it, Wayne, you’re not the first person to be disappointed,” Janice said bitterly. “And I know it hurts like HELL. But this has got to end. NOW. So why don’t you put the gun down or just shoot me . . . and put me out of MY misery. Cause, I’m really tired of all this SHIT,” Janice spat angrily, wiping the blood from her split lip with the back of her bandaged hand as she stepped closer and startled him.
He pointed the shaking revolver at her as she wanted.
“Janice . . . ,“ Mel called out with concern. Janice was acting almost as crazed as Wayne.
“Damn it Wayne, put the gun down . . . or shoot me. . . but do somegoddamnedthing!” Janice cried out.
The impact of the bullet hitting her chest hurled Janice backwards.
Her arms flew away from her body as she fell back and hit the aisle, hard.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 - Conclusion |