Barbara Jaye Wilson's
MURDER AND THE MAD HATTER
Brenda Midnight returns for another wacky offbeat adventure
 
 
 
 
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MURDER AND THE MAD HATTER
Chapter One
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"I do."

Chapter Two

You didn't!

I sure as hell did.

I might as well get it over with, come right out with the brutal truth, and fess up to the fact that I, Brenda Midnight, being of relatively sound mind, really did get married to Lemon (Lemmy) B. Crenshaw.

And yeah, I figure I know exactly how you're going to react to this bit of news. You'll shake your head in disbelief. Too polite to question my sanity while I'm in the room, you'll come up with a diplomatic question like "How could you go and do a damn fool thing like that?"

Don't worry. The marriage won't last. It was never meant to.

So how come I came to do the old I-do with my ex-boyfriend's slimeball agent?

My ex, as you probably know, is Johnny Verlane, star of the formerly top-rated recently canceled Tod Trueman, Urban Detective television series. Although I often refer to Johnny as my ex, that's somewhat misleading. Our on-and-off relationship has been oning and offing so long it has achieved a hard-as-rock solid base. It is the most long-term, most stable relationship-or whatever-either of us has ever had. It's just that Johnny and I aren't much for talking about this kind of stuff. Or acting on it.

Despite our best efforts at sabotage, whatever it is between us refuses to curl up and die. It hovers in the background like a dark cloud or a silver lining or a wasp poised to sting-the most apt metaphor depends on my mood. And my mood lately-thanks for asking-has been pretty great, that is, until goddamned Lemmy Crenshaw came along and screwed it all up.

I'm a milliner. I make gravity-defying, mostly one of a kind, couture hats. Last year, for the first time ever, my Greenwich Village shop, Midnight Millinery, actually ended up a few beans into the black. That's not to say I'm rolling in dough, but I was able to sock away some cash, enough to get me through a lousy season, an artistic crisis, a fashion misforecast, and still make the rent and feed myself and my five-pound Yorkshire terrier, Jackhammer.

The best part is that I didn't have to sell my soul and crank out inferior product to succeed. It's so rare that artistic integrity leads to profits. I consider myself extremely lucky in that regard.

I know I've veered off the explanation of how I managed to end up married to Lemmy. Unlike millinery, Lemmy is one mighty tough subject. The thought of that man and what he did to me makes me so mad I can barely speak.

When Johnny's TTUD show got canceled, his acting career took an immediate nosedive. He was typecast, with a colossal, high-profile, prime-time failure under his belt. Nobody wanted him.

As Johnny's agent, Lemmy had as much to lose as Johnny. He swung into action in a desperate attempt to resurrect Johnny's career. You know those comedy clubs where anybody with guts can stand up and do their three minutes? Johnny did that. And got heckled. He appeared in quiz show audiences and even did the karaoke circuit, anything to keep his face in front of an audience.

The strategy this summer was to send Johnny to a small town in Massachusetts to do dinner theater. He failed to get the lead role, although he ended up with it anyway after the star, another of Lemmy's clients on the skids, surfaced with a fourteen-year-old girlfriend and a tragic drug habit. Johnny stepped into the lead and rescued the production. Audiences-women especially-loved him, and the performances sold out so fast the producers added more shows, which meant Johnny was constantly busy and I almost never heard from him.

This, in our relationship, was good.

It was during the time Johnny was away in Massachusetts that Lemmy dropped by Midnight Millinery unannounced.

The bells on the door jangled, and he burst in, a tight little bundle of energy in an ill-fitting shiny green sharkskin suit, reeking of too much citrusy cologne. The hot summer sun beamed in through the open door and gleamed off Lemmy's fresh-shaved head when he bent over to give Jackhammer a friendly scratch between the ears.

"Hiya, squirt," he said, "how's it going?"

Jackhammer wagged his tail stub in response. He had no problem with Lemmy.

I barely glanced up from my work, acknowledged Lemmy's presence with a grunt, and said, "Shut the door, will you?"

He kicked it shut, then sauntered over. He stood before me, hands clasped together prayerlike. "I'm inna jam, Brenda. You gotta help me out."

"Uh-huh." So what else was new? Lemmy, a hothead, often found himself in some kind of jam. He also had a tendency to catastrophize.

Racing the clock to finish a tiny pale-peach silk-satin pillbox for a very important client---one who always paid all cash up front-I was in the middle of handstitching the head-size band to the inside of the hat, tricky work because of the small diameter. I kept jabbing the number five needle into my thumb. So far, I'd managed to keep my blood drops off the fine silk.

"I'm kinda busy right now," I said.

"They're after me," said Lemmy.

Nobody ever said Lemmy Crenshaw wasn't paranoid.

The bells on the door jangled again, and Brewster Winfield, a lawyer acquaintance of mine and sometime partner of Lemmy's in several slightly sleazy money-making schemes, glided into the shop, elegantly outfitted in summer-weight cashmere. He was a big, round-faced black man, with shoulder-length medusalike dreadlocks and an amazingly warm smile, which he had turned on full force.


MURDER AND THE MAD HATTER
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