Cover image for The southern belles of Honeysuckle Way
Title:
The southern belles of Honeysuckle Way
Author:
Bruckheimer, Linda.
Personal Author:
Edition:
[Large print edition].
Publication Information:
[Waterville, Me.] : Wheeler, [2004]

©2004
Physical Description:
600 pages ; 25 cm
Language:
English
Geographic Term:
ISBN:
9781587246548
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Sisters Rebecca and Carleen, with their daughters, are headed for Blue Lick, Kentucky, where they look forward to reuniting with their baby sister, Irene, for their mother's seventy-fifth birthday. But what begins as a road trip becomes a journey of the heart as the sisters put the pieces of their lives together before the big celebration. And their feisty mother, Lila Mae, may still have a surprise or two in store for her lively progeny.


Reviews 2

Booklist Review

The Wooten family returns ( Dreaming Southern0 , 2000) in this tale of a small town fighting Wal-Martization. Irene Wooten was too young to remember much about Blue Lick Springs, Kentucky, when her family left for California in the 1950s, but the town still exerts a powerful hold over her older sisters, Rebecca and Carleen. When Rebecca learns that a mysterious company called Castleco is buying up and razing old buildings there, she launches a land grab of her own--until her determination to reclaim the old family estate, Rosemont, brings her into a head-to-head struggle with Castleco. Meanwhile, Carleen stands up to her philandering husband, Irene moves in with her grandmother, and the whole town prepares to celebrate Lila Mae Wooten's seventy-fifth birthday. There are too many subplots, and the quirkiness of Blue Lick Springs sometimes veers uncomfortably close to parody, but this is an engaging, fast-paced novel. Bruckheimer plays many of the skirmishes between pro- and antidevelopment forces for laughs, but she is serious about the threats to the economic health and character of American small towns. --Meredith Parets Copyright 2004 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

In a plodding second novel, Bruckheimer (Dreaming Southern) revisits the familiar Down South iconography of her debut as two sisters retrace a cross-country trip made decades before with their flighty mother, Lila Mae. Their destination is Blue Lick Springs, Ky., their long-forsaken hometown, and the trip's raison d'etre is Lila Mae's 75th birthday. But once they get to Blue Lick, Rebecca and Carleen (joined by third sister Irene, who arrives by Greyhound bus) become embroiled in various plot lines. The novel relies heavily on local color, but clich?d scenarios and scene-setting foil the author's attempts to bring Blue Lick to life. Though Bruckheimer's prose strains for lyricism, the logjam of metaphors and similes in almost every sentence is tiresome and distracting. "The man... was a five-foot pipsqueak with lollipop-pink skin and a mouse-brown hairpiece that sat on his head like a fried egg." Dialogue aiming to recreate Southern parlance misfires ("Ya done good, girl, ya done rilllll good") and slows the narrative. What little plot the author constructs is camouflaged by shopworn sentiment: "My nerves are drawn tight as the strings of a Stradivarius. But, there is magic in the night, and I am infused with excitement, as if the wings of some exotic bird were flapping inside me." Some readers may manage to make it to the end of this poorly organized novel, but it's unlikely they'll be infused with anything but irritation. Agent, Lynn Nesbit. (Apr. 12) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Excerpts

Excerpts

Prologue Rebecca Somewhere Out in the Wild Black Yonder AUGUST 1999 It is way beyond midnight, an oven-hot August evening, and I am drifting along a strand of Louisiana asphalt that I canít quite locate on any map. The wisp of a road bounces across an alligator-infested swamp, and the air is thick with the stench of stagnant water. Fluttering before the windshield like poison jewels and disappearing into the bayou are glowing, snapping insects. Several miles behind me was the last vestige of civilizationóa weathered gothic church with a sign saying: FREE TRIP TO HEAVENóDETAILS INSIDE. The skyscape around me, though, is cloaked in summer finery: The Big Dipperís silver stars twinkle above the oak trees. A huge Japanese lantern of a moon illuminates the night. And thereís the Milky Way, trailing across the sky in misty, billowy tufts like miles and miles of bridal veil. An ordinary motorist would admit they were lost, or at the very least, misplaced or off-kilter. Lila Mae, my wayfaring mother and a utopian traveler, would simply call the situation ìthe scenic route.î It is true that I donít know where I am at the moment. It is even, as an old song put it, a little worse than that: ìI donít know where Iíve come from, ícause I donít know where Iíve been.î Or so the lyrics go. If the accounts Iíve heard from gas station attendants and tollbooth operators are to be believed, it is not an opportune time to be drifting. Percolating somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico is a hurricane, one thatís threatening to sweep ashore. Because of this, my nerves are drawn tight as the strings of a Stradivarius. But, there is magic in the night, and I am infused with excitement, as if the wings of some exotic bird were flapping inside me. Sprinkled like melting snowflakes along this lonely trail and causing me to pause every few miles or so are the remains of Louisiana plantations, their Corinthian columns rotten, and the majestic allÈes of old, mere petrified soldiers of twisted bark. In the age-old grapple between purity and evil, their limbs climb upward as if reaching for the heavens, while their long arthritic roots burrow deep into the clay earth. Corroded iron gates lean in the wind; bits of their broken curlicues are hidden in the tall grass like Easter eggs. I am both fascinated and repelled by this region, the Old South in its glory days of magnolia blossoms and bloodstained ground, where soiled Confederate gray and the boom of cannons still pierce the night. If I close my eyes, from some ancient crevice comes the tinkle of banjo music and the crackling of burning sugar cane and the rat-a-tat-tat of a thousand dancing belles. Decades before, I wandered through similar fields and picked pearls of cotton, which I tucked into the pocket of my pink toreador pants, a trinket of my home turf to keep my dreams squirming with life. Perhaps these mansions, these ash ghosts that rattle the cages of my memory, are the exact houses that caught my girlish fancy as I wished on stars and conjured images of the perfect future. Officially, this current adventure is nothing more than a means to an end. My younger sister, Carleen, and I are on our way to Kentucky from California, where we will join Irene, our Baby Sister, Miss Olive, our grandmother; plus dozens of friends and relatives to celebrate Lila Maeís seventy-fifth birthday. Unlike the others who have chosen the lickety-split friendly skies, we have opted to leave a few weeks early, wending our way across the American landscape in a caróthe scenic route, if you willóthe exact route (if such an absurd thing is even possible) that Lila Mae, our discombobulated mother, and her four young children took several decades ago when our family set out for California on Route 66. The object of our desire is a glimpse of the good old days, before progress and the bulldozer ambushed our heritage. Simple as this task sounds, Carleen and I might as well be on all fours, scraping around for a misplaced gold doubloon. At my side, darting in and out of consciousness, is Carleen. Cradling an assortment of road maps and nestled in bittersweet dreams, her blond head is tipped against the car frame. A tiny fractured robin, she is, with her feathery hair blowing across her face and the disappointment of her life somehow settling in her wings. She shifts and slides and twitches her mouth into a tortured smile. Every once in a while, she will bolt upright and say, ìWhere are we, Rebecca?î Sound asleep in the backseat are our teenage daughters, Ava and Cassie, or, as Carleen and I refer to them when we donít think theyíre listening: Lolita Number One (mine) and Lolita Number Two (hers). They are adorned in grape nail polish, tank tops, and hoops that pierce various parts of their bodies, all of which clash with the notion that Carleen and I coddle of ourselves as strict mothers. I roll down all the windows, turn on the CD player and select Johnny Cash. His voiceógravel spliced with black velvetófills the air as he sings ìFolsom Prison Blues.î A second wind sweeps through the car as Carleen jumps up and the girls stir. We turn up the music and sing along, our lungs bubbling with the Southern humidity. I hear the train a cominí itís rolling round the bend, and I ainít seen the sunshine since I donít know when Iím stuck in Folsom Prison, and time keeps dragginí on But that train keeps rolliní on down to San Antone. ìSing, Johnny, sing!î Carleen yippees and churns the dial until the speakers thunder. If I had eyes in the back of my head, I would see that the girls, now wide awake and trussed in headphone wires, are plugging their ears and flashing their eyes to the heavens. Donning their metal headbands, they listen to CDs while Carleen paws the floor, searching for the Styrofoam cooler of Coca-Colas. She flips one open and hands it to me, our normal symbol of armistice when weíve been bickering and want to reseal our sisterly bond. Weíve grown up believing that all rifts can be chinked with a Coca-Cola. For the past few days, we have had beaucoup unfinished business, stemming from what is commonly known as ìthe sweating skull incident.î The skull is nothing spectacularóan amateurish drawing on a concrete wall of a skeleton with beads of sweat flying from it, an ice bag and a sign that says: WARNINGó700 MILES OF DESERT. It is flabbergasting, even to me, but the sign was the number one item on my list of things to see on this trip. Because Carleen read the map wrong, we looped around with the last streaks of daylight above us, ending up nowhere near the skull. Missing it, I badgered Carleen, was tantamount to traveling to Egypt without seeing the pyramids, or Paris sans the Eiffel Tower, or Peru minus Machu Picchu. On and on I ranted, ending with one of my Homeric, ìend of civilization as we know itî speeches. Fed up with my harangue, Cassie finally hollered, ìGosh, Aunt Beck, itís ONLY a sweating skull!î Through the day, I have lambasted Carleen for taking after the Stalkers, our motherís side of the family, who have the sense of direction of an amnesiac hummingbird, and she has crucified me for being high strung and demandingóWooten tendencies. Had she only known, Carleen informs me, ìthat the Queen of Sheba would make me the reader of maps, pumper of gas, dispenser of junk food, snapper of photos, and tracker of funnel clouds, I would have taken the blasted plane to Kentucky.î The two Lolitas amuse themselves with their electronic paraphernalia, and drive us crazy with the incessant chant, ìHow far are we from the Smithsonian?î Unsuspecting bystanders might be impressed by the budding culture vultures, but in truth our young lasses have other interests at heart: seeing Sonny and Cherís bell-bottoms and linking up with two teenage boys they met at the El Tovar Lodge at the Grand Canyon who are now summer tour guides at the Washington, D.C. museum. Suddenly, a panel of storm clouds moves across the sky. The wind tickles the willows, making a sound like the rustling of taffeta ball gowns. A bolt of heat lightning springs to life every few seconds, something that causes Carleen, a world-class scaredy-cat, to gasp and shriek. ìGo back to sleep,î I tell her. As unlikely as it is, Carleen has spotted a vagrant and slams her foot against an imaginary brake pedal. Nobody else can even see the man, but from yards away in the black night, Carleen swears he is the Night Stalker. ìIím not kidding!î she insists. ìItís him!î I assure her that Richard Ramirez, the Los Angeles serial killer nicknamed the Night Stalker, had been sentenced to prison long ago. (It deserves mention that today alone Carleen has already spotted a grizzly bear, a wild dingo, a Gila monster, three funnel clouds, and yet another rambler who was Charles Mansonís double!) But, regardless of these far-fetched notions, Carleen, much like our mother, has a knack for getting everybody all riled up. In spite of ourselves, we begin talking about Martians, Tasmanian devils, and the killer nobody ever found who had strangled the schoolgirl in the lime green socks and left her by the wayside. Imagine, I think, if we were on a movie screen with an audience watching us, traipsing across the treacherous open road, two young daughters under our protective charge. Perhaps at this very moment, knowing thereís a villain waiting to pounce, they are shouting warnings: Stop! Wait! No! Itís possible, too, that they are snorting to themselves, ìMorons, what did they expect when they hightailed it across country by themselves?î Hovering over the treetops like a crown of rosebuds is the glow of an approaching town. In an empty field our headlights illuminate a white-robed Jesus standing like a lonely hitchhiker. PREPARE TO MEET THY MAKER, it warns. The Savior, crackled like an Italian fresco, stretches his arms east and west and stares us down with eyes pricked with bullet holes. We zoom along the highway, passing motels with kidney-shaped swimming pools and coin- operated palominos. We pass roadside stands selling spiced pecans and a fireworks shack named Big Daddyís , which even in the wee hours, has a sizable crowd purchasing Black Cats and Killer Bees. ìTURN AROUND,î the girls holler. ìSTOP!î Carleen gives in, rummaging through her wallet to find change. But I press the accelerator, making them pout, ìWe never do anything fun!î When I tell them we canít keep stopping for this and that and the other, Carleen chuckles, ìYou sound just like Mom,î an observation that makes me wince. With that, from a peephole of my memory, I see our last innocent decade. It is 1959 and there is a rickety Packard filled with four screaming meemies and a starry-eyed woman enveloped in Arpege. Above us are the Texas stars as bright as Christmas ornaments and on the radio Elvis is singing ìAll Shook Up.î Behind the wheel Lila Mae is begging her unruly kids to cut out all that racket, irked that ìthe Queen of Shebaís too busy with them movie magazines to pitch in!î All the while, there is talk of fresh starts and dreams of gold-cobbled streets. When that trip, which should have taken several days, took several months, Lila Maeís explanation for the delay came in a windfall of verbiage: I got waylaid, I was sidetracked, as if the expressions themselves were the culprits that had ensnared her, not her own bad decisions. Through the decades, Carleen and I have toiled in the gardenóhoeing, tilling, pulling all suspect matter by the roots, searching for proof that we are not our motherís daughters. But, we are obviously trapped in Lila Maeís gypsy footprints. As behind schedule as we are, Carleen and I are easily coaxed, often pulling to the roadside simply to marvel at the freight trains and summer thunderheads. We stop for chili dogs in the Gator Cafe, a diner with an enormous alligator perched on the roof like a bizarre bonnet. We stay in the Valdosta Arms, where every room has a velvet painting of Martin Luther King, Jr. For hours, we travel behind a grass-green Volvo that bounces like a covered wagon, staring at the bumper sticker: VISUALIZE WHIRLED PEAS. With the wind velocity approaching ìferocious,î and dawn looming before us, we enter St. Johnís Parish, checking into the Magnolia Plantation Lodge, an inn with faux Greek columns and a crystal-chandeliered lobby. The female employees wear crinolines and the night clerk, a marble- white man named Bud Coffey, is dressed as Rhett Butler. Soon enough, we are in our room with its frizzy carpeting and chenille spread and a rackety swamp cooler. But, at least there is a television that will give us an update on the hurricane. I open my travel book, thinking I will scout the pages for interesting sights along our path, but I am drowsy. With the moonlight blanching the drapes, I drift to sleep, remembering places we stayed years ago, wondering if this might even be one of them. When I close my eyes, I still canít shake the image of Lila Mae, one that blinks to me from a movie screen in another galaxy. She is a chatterbox in deep conversation witha truck-stop waitress, then sheís a confused figure hooked over a road map, a helpful filling station attendant at her elbow. I see the wind sweeping her print dress around her legs as she stands by an isolated roadside, waving a hankie, hoping for someone to help us with a flat tire or broken radiator. She is trying to avoid serious trouble, when all the while we suspected we were already in it. Thinking her arthritic knee would slow us down and her singing would drive us crazy, Carleen and I have left her behind in California, cushioning our farewell with assurances and avowals: ìSomeday, youíll have to come along with us, Mom. It would be so much fun,î I said to her, never explaining why she couldnít come on that particular trip, never defining when ìsomedayî might turn out to be, acting as if the decision to stay behind had been her idea, even though the choice to come with us was never presented to her in any formal fashion. ìOh, honeeee! I would love that!î She makes two fists and pumps them as if rooting for her favorite ball team. In the Los Angeles sky is a froth of coral smog and a hazy sun. Lila Mae stands shadowed by the crepe myrtle and a swing from my grandmotherís porch and cheers, ìI really would love that!î ìWe should do it then, right, Carleen?î I say. ìAbsolutely!î she replies. Everybody realizes that this is a now-or-never trip, and we also know that there is still time for Lila Mae to packónot in her usual way of taking every item she ownsóbut certainly enough notice to gather the basic essentials. Butm we remain dead silent, careful not to prompt her into actually joining us. Even as the tide of promise rises and buoys our spirits, sadness envelops me. We all know a trip of that sort is never to be. ìDonít forget to call me, girls. And you take good care of my little grandbabies,î she laments. She is wearing the morose gaze of a convict facing the electric chair. ìWho knows, this could be the last time we ever see each other again.î When I tell her to cut out the dramatic stuff, that sheís fit as a fiddle, she retorts, ìWell, for someone who almost had both legs amputated, I suppose Iím doiní okay. Wonít you be surprised if I DO kick the bucket!î In her eye is a decoy of a thought, one that sheís surrounded with velvet ropes. ìYou might not be celebrating my birthday after all . . . you could be gathering for my FUNERAL!î She folds her arms and tilts her head in a queenly pose, thrilled to have the last disturbing word. ìWhatever . . .î Cassie drawls out a bored response. But my Ava, a delicate soul who is distressed by Lila Maeís possibilities, protests, ìPlease donít say that, Grandma! Weíll see you at your birthday party. Love you!î ìYeah,î I remind them all, ìletís donít get too choked up, weíll be together in a couple of weeks.î I take a good look at Lila Mae in her early-morning disarray-the matted pearly white hair, the supermarket bedroom slippers. This is certainly not the mother I thought I wantedóan empress in coronet braids and fox fursóa mother, who with one wave of her kid-gloved hand, could build castles and destroy kingdoms. Lila Mae is another storyóa pastiche of ordinary traits and mind- boggling contradictionsóa housewife whose own shadow frightens her, yet whose desk drawers contain correspondence from famous criminals and whose den walls are wallpapered with autographed eight by ten glossies of Leona Helmsley, O.J. Simpson, even the Boston Strangler. ìNow you girls have emergency supplies, donít ya?î She flashes us an impish grin. ìI wouldnít want Metal Fang to get aholt of ya!î Cassie snatches the bait, asking Lila Mae who the heck is Metal Fang. Lila Mae answers coyly, ìOh, just some foreign killer with one of them hook arms they never caught . . . You ask yer mothers. Yes, if Fangís out there, youíll need flashlights and flares and the like.î ìMother! What are we, six?î I gripe with a huff and a spin of my eyes. ìAnyway, donít you think Iíve thought of all that?î Even as I protest her nagging, I realize that Ióa Miss Lifetime Achievement for Organization award recipient, someone who spends hours quadruple checking my list of things to doódid not bring an emergency kit. Instead of thanking Lila Mae, whose efficiency annoys me, I chastise her, then make a mental note to stop at a hardware store before we get too far away. ìNow you girls call me by Toos-dee; Iíll worry myself to pieces if you donít,î she calls to us as the car slides a few inches down the steep driveway. ìThereíd be nothing left, if I lost my girls. Nothing at all!î ìThere she goes with the dee business,î we joke. ìHave a nice dee! What dee is my doctorís appointment again?î We even start crooning: ìNight and dee , you are the one!î ìWell . . . you girls.î She looks hurt and misunderstood. ìIíll just shut my dumb trap, I guess.î ìOh, donít be so touchy,î I tell her. ìCanít you take a joke?î I release the brake and the car leaps backward. We blow Lila Mae a kiss and promise to say hello to the Old Highway for her. Weíll belt out her favorite songs, ìOld Man Riverî and ìTennessee Waltzî; weíll rub the fenders of the Cadillacs stuck in the ground outside Amarillo, Texas. Weíll give our regards to the Big Blue Whale in Catoosa, Oklahoma. Moments before she disappears from view, she lifts her sapphire-veined hand. Like an actress taking an unexpected curtain call, we see her pink fingertips as she waves another goodbye. I yell, ìSee you in Kentucky!î although Iím not sure the words get through. But, now, as the cheap motel blanket scrubs my cheek and I listen to Ava and Cassie horsing around through the plaster wall that separates our rooms, I wonder why we didnít bring Lila Mae along with us. Her lonely figure in the garden waving goodbye, the eucalyptus trees shifting and swaying overhead, and the curve of her smile, produce a haunting brew of emotions. I wonder why, just a mere week after saying goodbye to her, my brain is playing tricks on me, telling me how oh-so-easyóeven funóit would have been to have her traveling with us. I call the desk clerk and ask for an early wake-up call; then I snap off the light. In the bed next to me, Carleen tosses and turns. I stare at the phosphorescent shadows against the ceiling and rejoin the words that still have me in their grip: Well, if they freed me from this prison, if that railroad train was mine I bet Iíd move it on over a little, Farther down the line, far from Folsom Prison, thatís where I want to stay, and Iíd let that lonesome whistle blow my blues away. Unless Metal Fang or Charlie Manson gets us or we actually bump into the killer who murdered the schoolgirl in lime-green socks, we will be seeing Lila Mae in a few weeksí time. Most of the loves of her past and current life will be gathered in a big crepe-papered room. We will play her special tunes and sweep across the dance floor in slow waltzes and lively polkas. And we will feast on her favorite dishes: fried chicken and coconut cream pies. We will lift our spirits with crackling cold Asti Spumante. And in the dark morning hours before the Kentucky sun rises, we will sift through photo albums and swap Lila Mae stories, doubling over in laughter or shaking with tears, and there will be much celebration and merriment. This isnít the way it really happened, but this is the story anyway. óóRebecca Jean Wooten Hamilton Mariani St. Clair Chapter One Rebecca The Queen of Sheba MAY 1999 A mere two months after the grand opening of Miz Beckyís BBQ Shack in Blue Lick Springs, Kentucky, Rebeccaís secretary, in total hysterics, pounded on the door, interrupting an important meeting with Rebeccaís husband and their business managers. The girl was talking in such circlesóheaving and waving her arms this way and thatóbut, finally, they got it out of her that Jimmy Buzz Burkle had just called. Burkle, the restaurantís manager, said that two men with pantyhose pulled over their headsóone fellow long and rough like a corn stalk, the other as thick and square as a butcher blockóhad showed up around closing time and tried to stick the place up. ìIt was an armed robbery!î Tiffany, the secretary, kept repeating. Her bunny-rabbit-pink eyes blinked and enlarged as if adjusting to the shock of the information. ìSomething youíd expect in New York City, but in such a small town? Itís just horrible beyond belief!î Normally, Rebecca would have prayed for any disruption to a meeting where the big topic of conversation was the ungodly amount of money sheíd been spending. But Miz Beckyís was the ultimate touchy subject. The robbery was also the sort of mishap she feared would happen when she and David got the harebrained idea to open the restaurant, a business they knew nothing about (one that was twenty-five hundred miles away from their Los Angeles home to boot) an undertaking that even successful restaurateurs advised them to keep away from. She told the girl theyíd get the lowdown in just a second and tried to shoo her away. But Tiffany was as stubborn as a mule. She continued to stand in the doorway, the shadows from the blinds slashed across her linen suit like prison bars. ìI mean, this is really a shock, especially after the way you built Kentucky up . . . shouldnít I try to reach Mr. Burkle?î With so many people in the room, Rebecca was in no position to do what she really wanted to do, which was to double up her fist and threaten the girl. The secretary had been given specific instructions to hold Rebeccaís calls, plus, it was the second time that day alone that sheíd gone out of her way to do the exact opposite of what sheíd been told. Earlier, Tiffany had dropped the first bomb, informing Rebecca that the developer whoíd been buying up property right and left in her hometown had his eye on her grandmotherís farm. Tiffany knew the subject was one that struck panic in Rebeccaís heart, but with a shudder of her skirtís kick pleat, she had dashed away, leaving behind just enough information to make Rebecca nauseous at a time when she had meetings and couldnít get to the bottom of things. The worst part about the situation was that Tiffany had already managed to get some key players riled up. David, Rebeccaís husband, took a deep breath and gave his head an irritated shake. ìGreat,î he let out a puff of air. ìJust what we need . . . St. Valentineís Day Massacre!î Since he was the very definition of stability, a man who didnít jump to conclusions, his response was peculiar, especially since the massacre was an expression Rebecca herself always used to get her point across. Besides, nowhere in Tiffanyís informationóas earth-shattering as she tried to make itówas there anything suggesting the stickup was as drastic as all that. As perturbed as David was, it was nothing compared to their business manager, Reginald C. Peepers, Jr. He and his associates at Peepers, Peepers and Fishbein were on hand for the monthly, and ghastly, financial meeting. After hearing the robbery news, Peepers, whose eyes were now all lit up like high-beam headlights, gave the table a hearty slap. ì Just what I predicted! î he bellowed. ìJust what I predicted!î The man, or Little Peep as everyone called him behind his back, was a five-foot pipsqueak with lollipop-pink skin and a mouse-brown hairpiece that sat on his head like a fried egg. ìYes, yes, we were afraid of something like this. One way or another the restaurant business will absolutely kill you. And donít say I didnít tell you so!î ìThatís right, Boss Man! Itís the toughest damned business going,î On cue, Phil Bustamante, Peepersís chief yes-man, chimed in. ìNine out of ten joints are shut down within six months.î The rest of Peepersís posseóa lachrymose batch of sycophants and henchmenóhad their ears pricked in curiosity like anxious German shepherds. They made grunting noises and shifted in their chairs as the stench of triumph wafted over their table. Since Rebecca had been on the hot seat the entire afternoon justifying her business decisions in general, and Miz Beckyís BBQ in particular, the timing of the robbery couldnít have been worse. Just as they did once a month, Little Peep and his lynch mob had marched into Davidís office with attachÈ cases, all bulging with financial reports and charts. Peep, passing out statements to each participant, had just spent the last hour reviewing every line and column. They had already pored through the stock portfolio, the household account, and the commercial investment statements. There had also been a review of the redecorating budget of Davidís corporate offices, a Spanish Inquisition that involved every piece of furniture and art in his voluminous facility. Peepersís eyesócynical, investigative sicklesóhad wheeled around the room, taking in the Brazilian mahogany desks, the modern abstract oils, and the Art Deco bronzes. Moving his finger in a rainbow shape, he said, ìItís attractive, all right, but expensive.î Because Rebecca had overseen the project, he automaticallyóand erroneouslyóassumed it was an extravagant debacle. After that, they spent the next thirty minutes staring at Little Peppsí Grand Scheme of Things economic planósome program that had them living like the Amish for decades then leading the life of Riley when they were eighty or ninety years old. It was propped up on an easel, a big multicolored chart, sectioned off like a pie and filled with arrows and stars and other symbols that were all Greek to Rebecca. To make it workóLittle Peep always stared at her at this pointóshe had to cut her expenses by seventy-five percent. ìEspecially your Kentucky interests.î He had glared at her with his pinball eyes at halfmast and added, ìI am dead serious.î Probably to torture her, he saved the worst topic for last. This was the moment of truth Rebecca had been dreading since the previous meeting. A sheaf of papers an inch thick, the heading said: MIZZ BECKYíS BBQ SHACK: PROFIT AND LOSS STATEMENT. Rebecca made a mental note of the misspelling of Miz, somethingóas minor as it wasóto use against Peepers if he got uppity. Little Peep had cleared his throat the way he usually did when he was paving the way for a bombshell and said: ìThe firm has run the numbers for the barbecue restaurant and, just as I imagined, it is NOT a pretty picture. In fact, as any fool can see, itís an unqualified disaster.î ìWhat kind of picture do you expect after such a short time: the Mona Lisa?î Rebecca, her arms plaited at her chest, had refused to give Peep the satisfaction of even glancing at the report. Besides, the man was like a broken record with his ìrun the numbersî diatribe. ìWeíve run the numbers and Iím afraidóî ìWeíll get back to you after weíve run the numbers,î blah, blah, blah. ìI certainly donít expect miracles,î Little Peep blared out, ìnot from this project! What I do expect is numbers that reflect promise. You could keep Miz Beckyís open until doomsday and it still wouldnít matter!î Little Peep extracted a monogrammed handkerchief and mopped his sweaty forehead. When he was anxious or excitedóusually when there was somebody elseís bad news to discussóhis system sizzled and wheezed, as if you were hearing the motor running for all his organs. ìMy advice?î he roared, ìCut your losses now . . . dump it.î Rebecca, horrified and panicky, hopped up and said, ìOver my dead body!î defending the newly opened business as one that would ìpractically run itself,î was in highly capable hands, and would be less trouble than all of their other business ventures put together. ìKentucky is not like Los Angeles. It has a completely different work ethic!î All this was uttered before she knew anything about the robbery and was accompanied by a Byronic speech singing hosannas in the highest to her beloved home state. Miz Beckyís wasnít one of his typical cold business deals, Rebecca reminded him. Families were involvedómostly relatives and old friends from the Blue Lick Springs crowd, whom you couldnít just abandon overnight. ìIf you ask me, we havenít given the restaurant a decent chance,î she protested. ìItís only been a couple of months, for crying out loud!î ìAll the same . . . all the same . . . itís a couple of months too many. The handwriting is on the wall . . .î Little Peep lurched forward in his chair and said, ì Close it! î Not only did Little Peepís speech take gall, it was pure, unadulterated gobbledygook. First of all, he kept insisting that only a sentimental idiot would have invested in a rural town, a spot he assumed was draped in cobwebs and despair. If that was true, then why was CASTLECO, a huge development company, swooping up property right and left? Plus, Peepís current position was the diametrical opposite of the advice he usually gave them. Time after time, he had convinced Rebecca and David to make one investment or another, then later, he and his accountants would march in with counterfeit smiles, swinging their Halliburton briefcases and making a million excuses why their bum-steer stocks or limited partnerships hadnít skyrocketed yet. ìStay the course!î he would bark like a determined shipís captain. ìYou canít expect miracles overnight.î Now Little Peep had the nerve to demand that Miz Beckyís, a brand-new restaurant, was supposed to be making money hand over fist, but the thousands they gave him to invest was supposed to be given the same treatment as a Mt. Everest climberósomething you wished well, but figured you might never see again. Rebecca positively refused to allow some weasly accountant to dictate what she and David should do with their own money. With her jaw clenched and her eyes set in a dark smolder, she announced, ìIím sick of these dotcom investments that weíre stuck with until kingdom come. Theyíre just worthless pieces of paper. At least Miz Beckyís is something tangible.î Rebecca wasnít sure David, who ordinarily played referee between her and Little Peep, felt the same way about it, but he was on the telephone, which was the main reason why she was getting by with the bickering to begin with. ìIf we end up in the poorhouse,î she continued, ìthen Iíd rather be the one who put us there, and I want the fruits of our bankruptcy efforts surrounding us!î ìIf thatís your aim,î he hollered, ìthen trophies and Dom Perignon are in order. Youíre the fastest horse on the track, a Triple Crown winner!î Although Rebecca could tell the blue-cheeked Peepers was furiousóhe was all puffed up like a tuba player struggling to hit a high noteóhe did manage to avoid calling her Secretariat. According to his bookkeeper, this was Rebeccaís code name in interoffice memos. ìInvestments should be made with your head , not your heart .î Peepers plucked his suspenders with an exultant snap and added, ìJust look at the numbers we ran. Youíll see for yourself.î ìHuh,î she retorted, ìthereís more to life than numbers.î ìActually,î he said coolly, ìThere isnít. If it doesnít work on paper, it doesnít work. He rapped his knuckles against the desk with the finality of a judgeís gavel, turning right and left to include his cohorts. ìThis is a hopeless case!î Even if Rebecca talked to the men until she was blue in the face, she had a feeling that it was Peepers, Peepers and Fishbeinónot Miz Beckyísówho were actually the hopeless cases. What did the fuddy-duddy accountants know about dreams and visionary plans anyway? When they made every point by referring to columns and graphs, they dismissed as rubbish any project that didnít make money galore, and denigrated all purchases that were driven by emotions or instinct. Unfortunately, the latter described perfectly all the love children of Rebeccaís investment philosophyóthe antiques, artwork, old buildings, and property she collected like charms on a bracelet. She was attracted to feel-good and pride-of-ownership projects, three-dimensional items that could be touched, admired, or passed on to future generations. If you did it Peepersís way, youíd be living in a shabby apartment in the slums with a slew of eye- popping bankbooks and financial statementsóone of those human-interest stories highlighted on the evening news. After youíd kicked the bucket, neighbors would say, ìWhy, we always thought they were as poor as church mice!î Truthfully, Rebecca hadnít seen eye to eye with any of their business managersóthere had been dozens of themóbut Little Peep took the cake. David wasnít crazy about him, either, but he claimed the man was a brilliant economic analyst and, therefore, a necessary evil. As the CEO of a corporation with divisions as far-flung as film, publishing, and cosmetics, David was the last person whose business judgment Rebecca would question. But, as far as she was concerned, Peep would have to be Einstein, Galileo, and Socrates in one to justify putting up with him. Rebecca knew it was way too much to ask that her husband would defend the barbecue business in public, particularly since the robbery news, but she lobbied him for support anyway. ìDavid,î she had pleaded, ìarenít you going to say anything?î The way he had eyed her, youíd have thought heíd forgotten that the barbecue restaurant had actually been his idea. ìIt canít be as bad as everyoneís making it sound.î ìIt might not be,î Davidís fingertips gingerly drummed the incriminating report as if tapping hot coals. ìBut it sure isnít good.î As usual, crisis galvanized all the angles and colors of his face to some stratospheric level of appeal; the muscles beneath his Italian suit were racing with adrenaline, the wheels were turning, the mental gears were shifting. ìWell,î he sighed, ìwe knew it was going to be risky.î It didnít take much to picture the scene unfolding in Blue Lick Springs: The tiny Mayberry of a spot would be all atwitter with purring telephones and revved up hot rods. The American Gothics and tobacco farmers would gather their toddlers and grandmas alike to flock to Main Street. Pappy Bagler, the areaís Paul Revere, would sputter down Hot Bottom Road on his electric lawn mower, shouting, ìThereís been a robbery! A BIG ROBBERY!î Instead of doing what she usually didówhich was to turn ordinary issues into uproar and uproar into cataclysms, Rebecca tried to add some positive angle to the mess. ìNow, now, we know how ultradramatic Jimmy Buzz can be. Itís possible that the robbery was nothing. Besides, we couldnít be in better hands. After all, he is the sheriff.î ìSheriff? Nobody ever told me that!î Peepers, his eyebrows like two eagles in flight, turned to Bustamante for verification. ìDid you know about this, Phil?î ìHell, no! Nobody told me a thing about it.î Phil Bustamante shoved the air, his hands like two stop signs, as if to say, ìHey, donít pin this on me.î ìThis isnít exactly high treason, is it?î Rebecca boomeranged the dirty looks right back to the two men. ìAnyway, havenít you ever heard of someone with two jobs?î ìItís not the number, itís the type for Godís sake.î Little Peepís bright red bow tie bobbed at his throat. ìBarbecue and bullets? Quite a combo if you ask me.î Now that she knew how Little Peep felt about two jobs, she wasnít going to mention Burkleís third: He played the washtub for the Kornkob Mountain Pickers, a local bluegrass band. Anyway, they were stuck with Jimmy Buzz since it was his ìworld-famousî barbecue recipe Miz Beckyís was using. ìIs there a reason why weíre stalling?î asked Little Peep. ìGet Mr. Burkle on the phone. We could have total pandemonium on our hands.î You could tell by the way he was talking that havoc was just what he was hoping for. ìIíd be shocked if that was the case,î said Rebecca, stopping to rustle around in her purse as if the robbery was the least of her worries. ìVery shocked, actually.î ìWell,î said Tiffany, ìthatís not the impression he gave ME. He said it was urgent, extremely urgent!î The only thing going Rebeccaís way was that they couldnít get through to the restaurant. ìAll circuits are busy,î the woman on the recording made the announcement sound as if she were imparting good news. ìPlease try your call later.î Peep yanked at his shirt sleeve and checked his platinum Cartier watch. Seeing the hour, he flipped his palms into the air and fumed, ìHow can the circuits be busy? Are the Hatfields and McCoys at it again? Does anything in the sticks work?î While the minutes ticked by and Little Peepís momentum mounted, Rebecca was in the advanced stages of hyperventilation. David still wasnít saying much, except ìJust keep dialing the phone,î but he didnít have to. Although they had an ironclad rule to maintain a harmonious appearance in public, she was familiar with the aura of catastrophe. A typhoon was brewing in her husbandís eyes, turmoil that turned them a ferocious turquoise. They were not exactly boring holes in her, but they were telling Rebecca the losses were so drastic, the general situation so dire that, if she would just hold her horses and listen to reason, she would draw the same conclusion. In other words, he looked like he wanted to brain her. It was too good to be true that the phone would stay busy or that Little Peep would finally get fed up and leave or that Tiffany, who was tsk-tsking like an officious Mother Hen, would rush off to a hot date. Nor would David, running late for another appointment, suddenly say, ìIím outta here,î and tell Rebecca to fill him in later. No, no, the fortuitous scattering of the witnesses would not happen. In a matter of minutes, the sheriff would be on the line and all the bloody details, like worms after a torrential rain, would come bobbing to the surface. While everyone was preoccupied with red ink, Rebecca made a fast getaway into her husbandís private bathroom. As she stood under the blue light, staring at the mirror, her chest heaved up and down in a struggle for composure. It was a pretty dismal sight: Her eyes were two olive nuggets suspended above cheeks as pale as lily petals and her hair, reddish brown and usually lustrous, was a droopy mop. The henna rinse, which was supposed to brighten and lift her face, could only do so much. After all, it was a hair dye, not a crane. Overall, it was a look that would have sparked her grandmother to say, ìWhar the devil ya goiní lookiní lak that? Ragpickerís alley?î Dumping the contents of her cosmetics bag on the counter, she grabbed her lipstick and the vial of Chanel No. 5, daubing behind each earlobe. Good old Chanel, she thought, her lifesaver. Two swipes of Russet Moon, a whisk of seashell-pink blush and a fragment of allure reappeared. Trying to repair her mussed hair do, she took her brush, giving her hair one hundred, very deliberate strokes. She noticed that the lightbulb was flickering; plus, they were low on hand lotion and jasmine room spray, so she searched for a notepad, making a list of items for Tiffany to pick up. She opened every drawer and scrutinized every shelf in the medicine cabinet, ending up with all sorts of things to buyócologned soaps and hair tonicsóand even more reminders to call the painter to touch up the floorboard, the tile man to regrout the backsplash, and an electrician to install a dimmer switch. She must have lost track of time, because David jiggled the doorknob and said, ìRebecca, are you okay?î She fibbed and said she was fine, although she was anything but. There was an excellent reason why Rebecca was dawdling, why calamitious thoughts in two languagesócoup de grace and final nails in her coffinósprinted through her head. Somehow, she had gotten involved with three new businesses besides Miz Beckyís, ones that her husband and Little Peep knew absolutely nothing about. None of themónamely a barbershop, confectionery, and bowling alleyówere actually off the ground yet, but the trio of skeletons were thumping the closet door. So, it would be a total disaster if Sheriff Burkle filled them in on the robbery and accidentally spilled the beans. Since all lives in Blue Lick were an open book and nobody in town honored the psychological warfare of husbands and wives and accountants, this was not only possible, but highly probable. Rebecca could hear it nowóall the particulars about the shipment containing the antique barber pole and the decorative bowling trophies. There would be exclamations of disbelief about the flood of candy shop employment applications . . . and oohs and ahhs over the big, expensive marble counter being installed. And, if bad karma and Lady Fortune were really in cahoots against her, Burkle could even start blabbing about Rosemont. For the past several months, Rebeccaíd been driving everyone crazy with questions about the Greek Revival plantation and nobody ever had the scoop. This would probably be the one time sheíd get the unabridged lowdown. Rebecca hadnít actually purchased the house yetófor the single reason that it wasnít for saleóbut she wasnít going to let such minor details keep her from exploring the possibility. Rebecca wasnít a fool; she knew David and Little Peep would find out about all the new activity sooner or later, but she wanted to dole out the information in her own good time and at opportune moments like the split second after the Wall Street Journal announced record profits for Davidís corporation, oróbetter yetóafter she and her husband shared a bottle of Pauillac and a moonlit walk on Malibu Beach. Until then, she had no choice except to tell David and Little Peep the same thing she always told the U.S. Customs officer: ìI have nothing to declare.î At the moment, the mere suggestion that she was contemplating more activity in the one-horse Kentucky town could trigger Armageddon . . . well, she didnít think it would be THAT bad, but it would be tiptop mayhem all right. But the two men couldnít be any madder at her than she was at herself. She had played up the town as heaven on earth, only to have gun-toting hoodlums make her into a liar. She had even brushed aside her grandmotherís and uncleís comments. ìOh, Blue Lick ainít as perfect as ya think! We got our problems, too, yessireebob!î Olive would poke her hickory cane into the freshly mowed grass and say, ìWe got hooligans lak everíone else.î As usual, Rebecca had taken their comments as the high-pitched fits of small-town dramatists. ìTheir idea of a crime is a couple dollars missing from a vending machine,î Rebecca assured David, ìor a few stolen hubcaps.î All the romantic beach outings in the world wouldnít guarantee Davidís support for a project as ill- fated as the one Peep described. And she could lobby all night long about the barbecue restaurant being Davidís bright idea, but Rebecca had much more at stake, since Blue Lick Springs was her hometown. While they waited to reach Sheriff Burkle, Peepers and his associates were already making more noise than the ringing of a Christmas Eve cash register. Bustamante was punching a laptop computer, some guy named Conklin was running numbers on his pocket calculator, and Little Peep was dictating a memo on his tape recorder. He kept fiddling with the financial reports, shuffling and fanning them around like a Las Vegas blackjack dealer. The last thing he said before they dialed Sheriff Burkle again was, ìYes, yes, we should take immediate steps to shut the place down.î When Rebecca didnít jump up and scream bloody murder, Peepers added, ìIím talking first thing tomorrow morning!î ìWeíll see about that, wonít we?î she muttered defiantly. She swiped a look at the despicable Peepers. He was holding a Montblanc ballpoint pen in his hand like a billy club. He beat out the Dragnet theme against the table and gave her an amused, deadeye stare. For all her big talk about Little Peep not having the upper hand and for all her threats about wrapping his pretentious satin bow tie around his neck and choking him until his tongue popped out, there was no denying that he was going to be very tough to deal with, very tough indeed. Excerpted from The Southern Belles of Honeysuckle Way by Linda Bruckheimer All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.