lunch with the ladies

by Susie Applegate

There are only a couple of places in town to get lunch, if you don’t count The Germaine Cafe, which carries pre-packaged sandwiches and burritos. They’re not so bad, but it’s hardly the kind of place you gather a group of women for a private gab session. That leaves the Old Paiute Pub and Brewery and the stodgy Hotel Germaine, where one might run into Vanessa Van Bibber, or the prying ears of Thelma Louise McCoy. So, the only actual choice is the brew-pub. Shaherazade would be with us, of course, but minors are permitted during the daylight hours, and she would be with her mom.
 
    The gathering was Shaherazade’s idea. She thought that getting her mother and Faith Chastity together might generate some clues, or at least help us fill in the story of Charles Sevigny LaFontaine. She also knew that Rita would appreciate the opportunity to talk to the mother of Uncle Charlie’s child, and perhaps the last person to see him alive. Aside from his killers, that is.
 
    The temperature outdoors this morning as I walked to the brew-pub hovered in the high teens, but the wind-chill must have pushed it down to near zero. Snow still dusted the streets from the last storm, and by the time I arrived I was certain I would succumb to hypothermia. Almost three years after returning to Germaine from sunny California, I still haven’t re-acclimated to my home town winters.
 
    The Old Paiute was warm and inviting, its oversized fireplace crackling in the center of the room. The owners of the pub are transplants from Portland, and the place has taken on a bit of a yuppie atmosphere, with lots of potted plants and bland artwork. In the city I despised this sort of thing, but in Germaine I think it adds a touch of diversity, so I try to tolerate it.
 
    Rita and Shaherazade were waiting when I arrived. I could immediately see the eagerness in Rita Budreau’s face.
 
    “So glad to see you again, Ms. Applegate.” She beamed at me.
 
    “Hello, Rita. Please call me Susie. And Shaherazade.”
 
    “Well Susie,” said Rita, “I have been meaning to tell you how much I appreciate what you’ve done for Shaherazade. She has become a completely different child over the past few months.”
 
    Shaherazade looked at me with uncharacteristic shyness, clearly embarrassed, as any young girl would be, to have her mother talking about her.
    “Shaherazade has been a great help to me. I think she has the potential to be a fine investigative reporter,” I said. I couldn’t help noticing the pride in Rita’s smile. I asked, ” And how have you been, Rita?”
 
    “We’re getting by just fine, Susie. People here have been real good to Hugo. He’s been getting all kinds of jobs and all.” I could feel the unspoken, “but…” But…they just found the bones of my Uncle Charlie in a ravine, murdered by some racist hicks, or but…it’s been a year-and-a-half and our home in Biloxi is still a shambles and the government hasn’t got its head out of its ass yet.
 
    Maybe I should have dug a little, but I didn’t. That was about when Faith Chastity Applegate walked in.
 
    Faith marched right over to us, brisk and unfaltering, as though she were still the young woman who sang throaty blues ballads over the riffs of Charlie LaFontaine’s sweet alto sax. “Ms. Budreau,” she said, offering Rita her hand, “I’m so glad to meet you.”
 
    “And I you, Ms. Applegate,” Rita replied.
 
    “Of course, dear,” said Faith, “and Susie, Shaherazade, thank you so much for bringing us together. I have so much to talk about…Charlie…and Rochelle…and the good people of Germaine.”
 
    Through Faith Chastity’s poise and dignity I could see her lips pucker and curl ever so slightly at the lingering bitterness when she mentioned the citizens of our fair town. It was something you wouldn’t even have noticed if you didn’t know the story. If you didn’t know the impossibility of it not being there.
 
    So, Faith took her seat alongside of us, and we ordered lunch, and what was said is the subject of our next installment.

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