I've always been fond of telling everyone Beatrice Lulu is the name I was born with, the name I'll depart this life with, and the name I expect to be addressed as. Well everyone except my husband Edgar Leroy Eberhart. Not that I call him that. No one does. We call him Ed and he calls me Bea-among other affectionate names.
Never thought I’d find a husband. Wasn't even looking. Being single and an old maid – that’s what people call women my age who aren't married – didn’t bother me a bit. Didn’t need a man in my life. Course, now that I've met Ed, well that’s a different story. Don’t know what I'd do without him. The love of my life for sure.
Never will forget the day we met. Was at some kind of family gathering. Our family has a lot of them. What Ed was doing there or who invited him I've no idea. But there he was, standing and looking like he wanted to devour me. He called me pretty. Never had a man call me pretty before. Hell, no one ever called me pretty. I wasn't fool enough to think I was cute, let alone pretty. Oh no, the mirror don’t lie. My nose is too big, my eyes too beady and good Lord above, my shape… well, let’s just say I have a wide girth. Never was slender, not even as a kid.
So, I was quite taken aback when he asked my name. Needless to say, I was a bit tongue-tied, too. For me that’s saying a lot. Never been tongue tied a day in my life. Always spoke my mind. Got me into trouble a time or two, but that was me. Take it or leave it.
But, Ed, and the way he stood there looking at me and calling me pretty, well hells, bells, I couldn't think of a thing to say. Ain’t never had a man look at me that way before. Rattled me good, it did.
When he called me sweetheart, that did me in. Never liked people going around calling me honey or sweetheart. Course Ed, well, he didn’t pay my rudeness no mind. Oh no, he got right in my face and demanded to know my name. So I told him.
And he laughed. Told me how silly I was expecting people to call me by my full name. Then he did something that took my breath away. He kissed me, right on the lips in front of everyone. Been kissed a few times in my life. Hell, you don’t live to be fifty-three and never get a kiss, no matter how bad you look. Used to date a bit back in the day. But ain’t no one ever kissed me like that before. Lordy, I not only lost my breath. I almost crumpled to my knees. That man can kiss. The rest, as they say is history. We’ve been inseparable ever since.
Well, almost inseparable. I do have an existence away from Ed, a few friends, and my three sisters of course. They’re my best friends. So, yes, I do partake of life without Ed, and I wasn’t about to give it up for anyone. Not even Ed. My sisters, Lottie, Ethel, and Lillian are a big part of my life. We’ve always done things together. And of course, there’s my brother Clyde, but he’s never been part of our mischief. Not that he hasn’t reciprocated a few times, but usually it’s my sisters and me who play the tricks. Clyde’s been the beneficiary several times of our entertaining activities.
Our latest thing is helping Callie, my niece and the new police chief of our little town. People think just because we live in a small town everyone knows everyone. Seriously? How can you possibly know two thousand people? Granted, we know a good many, but those are the ones who live in the town proper, run a business, or attend our church. But that’s neither here nor there.
Callie’s a pretty little thing. Can’t imagine how or why she became a policewoman and then the chief of our town. You’d think she’d want to get married and have kids. She’s Lillian’s daughter, and Lillian’s not always part of our expeditions. Like when our mother got kidnapped. Ethel, Lottie, and I knew if we told Lillian, she’d put a stop to our plan. Good thing we didn’t too, because if it wasn’t for us, they probably wouldn’t have found our mother. Or if they did, Lord knows what condition she’d of been in. I shudder to think. So, for the most part, it’s just the three of us – Lottie, Ethel, and me.
Lillian’s probably the most somber and sagacious of us. Not that we’re not all sensible, we’re all pretty intelligent, but Lillian’s always been the one to put a kibosh on our plans. She’s always been apprehensive about getting into trouble and such. Big spoilsport, that’s what she is.
So mostly, we just leave her out. Besides, she has other fish to fry. She still works and doesn’t have time for “our nonsense” as she puts it. She must take after our father, because our mother is just like us. Mama’s the biggest practical joker around. Loves to play tricks on people. Our father was a bit more solemn. I guess opposites do attract. Mr. Sensible, that was Dad. Not that he didn’t get a kick out of Mama’s shenanigans. I think that’s what attracted him in the first place. Mama’s a judge, by the way, so she does have a serious side. Maybe that’s why she loves to play jokes and tricks, she sees too much of the gloomy stuff in life. But I have a feeling she was like that even before she became a judge. Got it from her mother if memory of Gram serves me. Always laughing and singing. Wonderful sense of humor.
But I digress. As I started to say Callie’s the new Chief of Police for our little town of Symtheville. She went off and lived in the big city for a time like so many youngsters do now days. And like so many of them found out the grass isn’t always greener. So now she’s back. Finally married, too, thank goodness. Was no easy feat getting her together with someone. My goodness, I introduced her to so many eligible bachelors to no avail. Again, I digress.
So Callie came back and took over Chief Landry’s job, although he works a couple days a week and if she has a big case, he helps her out. Not that there’s many big cases in this small town, but it has its share. My mother helped break up a drug ring, and Callie solved a missing persons, kidnapping, and a murder. We don’t have many murders around here. Mostly it’s drunk and disorderly or people creating a disturbances.
I remember this one time, Ed and I bought a cabin. Sure was a mess. Needed a ton of work. But Ed assured me he could do it, and I seldom doubt Ed. Wasn’t like it was far from here, only a half hour drive. But it was set on a pretty lake and Ed loves to fish. Besides, we thought it’d be nice to have a place to escape my crazy family. Not that we escape often because we usually ended up inviting the family along. Anyways, Ed and I went up there right after we got the keys. I needed to start cleaning, and Ed took stock of what work needed done and what supplies he needed to order.
So there we were looking around and it was kind of chilly.
“What do you think, Bea, feel like a fire?”
“Only if we’re going to be here for a while and from the looks of this place, it’s going to be quite a while. Do you think that fireplace is safe?” I didn’t want to take any chances of burning the place down now that we bought it.
So Ed opened the flu and stuck a wire brush inside to make sure nothing was jammed.
“What the hell?” Ed jumped back. I turned around in time to see something fall.
“What’s that?”Whatever it was shook Ed up. He pushed me across the room.
“You don’t want to see that. Come on, let’s go in the kitchen.”
Well dog gone it, no one tells me what to do, not even Ed. Leastways not all the time. I pushed him aside, went to the fireplace. “What the hell is that?” I bent down for a closer look.
An arm, in tattered red flannel soiled with soot, lay on the grate. I reached out to pick it up, and a finger fell off. I jumped back. “What the hell is an arm doing in our fireplace?”
I wondered if it was real. Sure looked it. I reached over to pick it up again to make sure. Another arm fell, brushing my elbow. I fell back, screamed and brushed ashes off my shirt. Far be it for me to be afraid of anything, but that spooked me. Gave me the willy-nillys for sure. I couldn’t help it, the scream just escaped. I turned away, covered my mouth and gagged. I could hardly catch my breath. Ed helped me up and led me to a chair in the kitchen.
“Get it out of here, Ed. Take it away.” Barely able to look, I pointed toward the other room. God, I’d never get that vision out of my mind.
“Well, now I’d like to do that, Bea, but I’m afraid I have to call Callie.” Ed handed me a glass of water.
“Callie? What you need to call her for? Just get rid of it. Get it out of my house.”
“It pains me to say this, but it might be a murder victim.”
“A murder victim. Bushwa. Who stashes a body in a chimney? Murder victim, that’s the craziest damn thing I’ve ever heard. I don’t want that thing in my house.”
“Be that as it may, Bea, those arms belonged to someone.”
Before I could reply, a clattering noise came from the living room. I jumped. “What the hell was that?”
Half afraid to look, but having a curious nature – some called it nosy –I hurried to see what the racket was about. Body parts slid out of the fire place, landing on the hearth. A strange sound came from my mouth. I must have passed out because next thing I knew, I was on the floor, and Ed was leaning over me.
“That a girl, Bea, open those pretty eyes.”
I sat up and of course the first thing I saw was a skull, its eyes rolled back in the sockets. “Call Callie, Ed, and tell her to get over here right quick.”
Ed pulled his cell phone from his pocket and punched in Callie’s number.
I couldn't stay in the house, not with that thing in there. Oh, I know it used to be a human being, but now it was nothing but a pile of bones. And that skull. That was the worst part. I've seen skulls before, but they were Halloween skulls, not the remains of God knew who. Oh no, I wasn't staying there, and no way Ed was gonna make me. Not that he tried. Ed knows me well enough to know when I make up my mind about something, there’s no changing it. So I went outside. Figured I may as well explore the ground until Callie arrived and got rid of that thing.
Fortunately, I didn't have long to wait. Callie pulled up, got out of her car, and kissed me hello. She didn't much like me, but always minded her manners. Oh yeah, I knew. She couldn’t fool me. That was okay, we’d come to terms since she married that nice young man. Now if she’d just start a family. Since I was too old to have my own children, I sort of adopted my sisters’ kids and their grandchildren. Callie didn't know it, but she was my favorite. God only knew why. That girl rebelled against everything. Poor Lillian had her hands full with that child. From the minute Callie could walk and talk, she was insolent, seditious, and stubborn as all get out. Lillian managed to instill some manners in her, and Callie knew better than to disrespect me. Not that she disrespected any of her aunts, but she didn’t obey them either. Now I, on the other hand, never had a problem with her. Maybe I scared her. But lately, she’d become persnickety. Probably had something to do with her job. I didn’t much care for the attitude.
But, I digress again. Callie went in the house and I, being the inquisitive person I am, followed. I wanted to hear what she had to say. I stayed back, not wanting to get in the way, but mostly because I didn’t want to look at that thing again.