Monday, September 14, 2015
“You did what?” Bryant Bell bellowed.
Beatrice Bell didn’t let the incredulous look on her son’s face impede her pride in her accomplishment. Proudly, she repeated her announcement.
“I got my P. I. license.”
“But you’re in your sixties!” Bryant croaked.
“That’s right, and I am now certified by the state of Indiana as a Private Investigator.”
“You’re kidding.” Bea’s best friend, Hattie Collier, looked as dumbfounded as Bea’s son.
Her other best friend, Connie Palmer, laughed out loud. “What other jokes do you have for us, Bea?”
“Oh, it’s a joke.” The relief in Joshua Pierce’s voice was palpable. “Thank goodness!”
Bea glowered at her handsome boyfriend. With his silver mane, athletic build and great disposition, there were times this man made her feel absolutely giddy. This wasn’t one of those times.
“No, it is not a joke,” she told him coolly.
Bea had been beside herself with excitement when she called her family and friends to invite them to her house for dinner. She told each of them that she had something important to announce. All through dinner they had bombarded her with questions about her mysterious announcement. Now that it had been made, it was being treated as a joke. That didn’t sit well with her.
The only one who seemed to be taking her seriously was Tina, the granddaughter that she shared with Connie. The girl was staying with Bea while her mother was out of town on business.
“I believe you, Grandmother,” the fifteen year old declared. She flashed a smile so like her deceased father’s that for a moment Bea lost focus. Her oldest son, James, Jr. had been married to Connie’s daughter, Ernestine. He had died from cancer years ago and his only child was the center of Bea’s life.
“Thank you, baby.” She kissed the girl softly. “At least somebody takes me seriously.” She glared at the others. “As for all of you doubters—.” Picking up an envelope off a table, she removed its contents, then held up her certificate for all to see. “Here’s the proof.” She thrust it toward her son.
Plucking it from her hand, he scanned it briefly.
“What in the hell is the Get Your Man Institute for Private Eyes? Where’s that located?”
“On the internet, and don’t you dare use that kind of language with me.”
“On the internet!” Bryant exploded. “You mean to tell me that you got your detective license on-line?”
“Yes,” Bea replied defiantly, determined not to let his reaction dampen her spirits.
She loved her son dearly. He was a wonderful man, and good looking too. Like his late father, his complexion was a warm, chestnut brown and his eyes were dark and expressive, but he was in his forties and ought to be out looking for a wife instead of meddling in her business.
“How much did all of this cost?’ Hattie inquired.
“The license fee was $150.00.”
“Is that all?” Connie’s interest was piqued.
“Yeah, girl, and all I had to do was fill out an application.”
Bryant was not impressed. “Let me get this straight. I went to college, majored in Criminal Justice...”
“But I wanted you to be an engineer,” Bea reminded him. He ignored her.
“I went through rigorous training at the police academy to become a member of the Indianapolis Police Department...”
“And I’m proud of you, sweetheart.”
“Then, after years of paying my dues, I finally get promoted and became an investigator, when I could have saved myself a lot of time and trouble by simply going on line.”
Bea shrugged. “Who knew?”
“What did you have to do to qualify for this certificate?” Josh carefully scrutinized the official looking document Bryant handed him.
“Well I had to be at least 21 years old and have no felony convictions. On top of that, I had to demonstrate the skills and knowledge on how to operate a firm and do investigations.”
“And you have experience doing this?” Josh raised a skeptical brow.
Hattie piped in. “I don’t know if Bea told you, but the three of us have solved several crimes. There was the Frank Schaffer case...”
“And the bust at the drug house,” Connie added.
“Don’t forget the incident with Miss Zelda,” Bea reminded them.
“And of course all of you must remember how I solved the mystery in Las Vegas practically by myself,” Hattie bragged.
Bea shot her an exasperated look. “This is not about you.” She turned to Josh. “And to finish answering your question, I also had to have an Indiana business license to get certified.”
“You’ve got a business license?” Hattie looked surprised.
“Yes I do, from the State of Indiana. It didn’t cost that much.”
Bryant threw his arms in the air in frustration. “Oh great! Since when did you become a business woman? You’re a retired city administrator, Mom! Retired! Remember? ”
Bea tried to remain patient. “Not any more dear. Connie owns and runs Palmer Realty. Hattie started, her funeral consultant business, Half Way Home, and now I’m the proud owner of Grandmothers, Incorporated.”
“Grandmothers, Incorporated!” Hattie and Connie screeched in delight.
“Private Investigators!” Bea took her certificate from Josh and held it high in the air. “Ladies and gentlemen, Grandmothers, Incorporated, is officially in business!”
The three women squealed with excitement, hugging and laughing exuberantly as they gave each other high fives.
“You did it, Bea!”
“Way to go, Grandmother!” Tina joined the trio, giving Bea a big hug. “I’ve got to spread the word!” She started tweeting on her cell phone.
Josh looked on in silent disapproval. Bryant made an attempt to remain calm. It didn’t work.
“Listen, Mom, while I applaud your initiative, let me remind you that I am a decorated member of IPD and I cannot have my mother running around Indianapolis playing detective. It’s dangerous, and those streets are no place for a bunch of old ladies playing games.”
As soon as the words left his mouth Bryant realized his mistake. Josh groaned in anticipation of the eruption. It didn’t take long.
“What?” Bea demanded. The look she gave Bryant was primal.
“Who in the hell are you calling old?” Connie yelled.
Hattie held her hands skyward, “Lord! Don’t let me have to hurt Bea’s child.”
Bryant had opened a can of worms. The barrage of barbs and insults came fast and furious. Hands were placed on hips, heads were rolling, fingers were wagging in his face. Tina recorded the action on her cell phone. Wisely, Josh stayed out of the fray. Bryant was on his own.
He accepted the consequences of having misspoken until enough was enough. Placing his fingers between his lips he released a piercing whistle.
“Okay! Cool it!”
The shrill sound and commanding order brought gradual compliance. Three pair of defiant eyes threw daggers his way. Bryant was humbled.
“Okay, I’m sorry. Believe me, I know that you three are far from being helpless old ladies.”
“You better believe it,” spat Bea.
“And, Mom, please don’t remind me of how you and your friends helped get me my promotion with that raid on the drug house.”
“And don’t you forget it.” Miss Hattie couldn’t resist one final jab.
“The three of you are beautiful, intelligent and more than capable of doing great things, but Mother, surely you must understand that getting a piece of paper over the internet doesn’t mean that you’re a real Private Investigator. Come on, now!”
Bea disagreed. “The State of Indiana seems to think so.”
“And they trump you any day,” Connie declared.
“Amen!” Hattie seconded.
Bryant thought it best to retreat. “I tell you what, Mom. I’m going home. I’ve got an early day tomorrow, and don’t you have to pack for that woman’s retreat the three of you are attending?”
Bea stood arms tightly folded. She didn’t feel very forgiving. Old ladies indeed! “That’s right.”
Bryant started backing toward the front door. “How many days are you going to be in those woods?”
“We leave on Thursday and we’ll be back on Sunday,” Hattie answered for Bea.
“Good, that will give both of us time to clear our heads about this P.I. thing.” Bryant took Tina’s phone out of her hand as he was retreating.
“Hey, Uncle Bryant!”
“No Facebook.” Her uncle deleted the video before handing the cell phone back to her. “Find something else to post.”
“Awww, man.” The look she gave her uncle now resembled those of the other females in the room.
“I don’t need a conference to clear my head,” snapped Bea. “My mind is clear as a bell. And I plan on engaging in quiet contemplation and spiritual growth while I’m gone.”
“How’s that supposed to happen?” Connie scoffed. “You told me that we’re going to be stuck in the woods with the worst bunch of two faced, backstabbing, blabber mouths in Indianapolis.”
Josh looked confused. “But Bea, you said the ladies volunteered for this retreat to mend hard feelings between some churches.”
“That’s right,” Bea assured him.
Connie rubbed her hands together eagerly. “And I can’t wait to see how this turns out. ”
“Connie, you’re just going to start some devilment,” Hattie chastised
“Sounds interesting.” Bryant had reached the front door and couldn’t wait to exit. “Well, have a good time all of you. And Mom, I’ll give you a call before you go on that trip with the Road Warriors...”
“The Road Wanderers.”
“I stand corrected. Who knows, maybe you ladies will have a story to tell when you come back from your trip. Love you, Mom. Good night all.”
“Love you too.” How could she help but love him. He was her baby, despite his big mouth.
Bryant hurried out the door. Bea turned to Josh, the remaining dissenter in the room. “Have you got anything else to say?”
Josh swallowed hard. His mama didn’t raise a fool.
“Just let me know what time the three of you are leaving on Thursday and I’ll pick you up.”
Several clusters of women stood in the parking lot of stately Mt. Malachi Baptist church laughing, chatting and enjoying shared camaraderie. Conversation gradually ceased when Joshua Pierce’s Aston Martin pulled into the lot and rolled to a stop. It was followed by Connie’s small sedan which parked behind them.
Necks craned to see the driver of the luxury vehicle, and when he stepped out there were murmurs of admiration. When Bea emerged from the passenger side there was a collective gasp.
Hattie and Connie got out of her car and went to the trunk to remove their luggage. Connie then walked over to where Bea stood behind Josh’s car waiting for him to remove her bag.
“Oh, oh, Bea,” she teased. “Looks like you gave the gossipers something to talk about on the trip. I told you to show Josh off a long time ago.”
“I couldn’t care less,” Bea huffed. “Let them talk. As long as these hussies keep their hands off the merchandise...”
Hattie cut her short. “Listen you two! This trip was organized to heal bad feelings, so let’s change your attitudes right now.” With luggage in hand, she stalked off to find Dorothy and Thelma.
“I guess she told us,” Connie scoffed.
“Oh be quiet,” Bea grunted. “You know doggone well you’re just going on this trip to meddle. You don’t even go to church.”
“I do, sometimes. But I have to admit that I do plan on sitting back these next few days and enjoying the fireworks.”
When Hattie reached Dorothy Riggs and Thelma Reeves she could tell that the two friends were upset. It was through their travel club that she had helped plan this trip and they wasted no time complaining to her.
“We’ve got trouble,” an exasperated Dorothy began. “Me and Thelma thought we’d have everyone sit next to a member of another church—you know, mix it up so people could get acquainted.”
“But the way these women are acting, you would think we asked them to drink poison.” Thelma gave a disgusted grunt.
Dorothy shook her head in agreement. “Lord, that’s the truth. You might call this trip a Reconciliation Retreat, but so far the spirit of cooperation ain’t working.”
Hattie frowned. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of that later. Right now we’d better get the meeting started.”
The three women moved to the front of the gathering.
“Ladies!” Dorothy tried to get their attention. The chatter continued.
Thelma tried, with an increase in volume. “Ladies!” She was also ignored.
Hattie marched over to Josh, who had stayed to see Bea off.
“Josh, could you help us get everyone’s attention?”
Many of the women were throwing admiring glances his way, leaving Josh both confused and amused by the assembly. Doing as Hattie requested, he put his fingers between his lips and let out a piercing whistle. The incessant chattering was replaced by indignation.
“What in the world?”
“Has he lost his mind?”
With a nod of thanks to Josh for focusing attention in her direction, Hattie announced, “All right, Christian women, it’s time to meet in the church dining hall before the bus arrives.”
“Follow us,” Dorothy directed. With varied degrees of compliance, the ladies did as told.
When everyone had settled in their seats inside the church, Dorothy and Thelma stood in front of the contingent. Some of the women were receptive, others appeared indifferent.
“Ladies, as most of you might know Thelma and I started Road Wanderers years ago to travel with some friends in order to have fun.”
“It seemed that many of you who had retired wanted to do more than park your carcasses in a chair, play bingo, do crossword puzzles or watch soap operas,” said Thelma, “and traveling to new places was the perfect solution.”
“With Thelma’s skills at getting cheap group rates for hotels and entertainment venues, our trips have been very successful,” Dorothy boasted.
“And hopefully the trip we’re going to take today will be the best one of all.” Thelma broke into a bright smile. “You, the members from the Church of the Living Unity of Christ’s Kingdom Missionary Baptist church or CLUCK Baptist as it is so fondly called.”
“I ain’t never been fond of it being called that,” someone in the back of the room shouted.
Thelma continued undaunted. “Twelve Disciples Christian church and Mt. Malachi Baptist have all signed up for this church retreat...”
“And we all have to thank our friend, Hattie Collier of Mt. Malachi, for this splendid idea,” Dorothy interjected. “Hattie, come join us.”
Thelma and Dorothy led the applause, joined by an enthusiastic ovation from Hattie’s friends and fellow church members as she came forward. There was polite acknowledgement from the others in attendance.
A grinning Hattie was more than glad to be recognized for her Christian contributions. “Thank you everyone, and in the spirit of the Lord and of this gathering, I know that you’ll cooperate with our trip coordinators and sit on the bus according to the seats they have...”
“Hold it, Hattie!” Once again the cry came from the back of the room.
Lucretia Martin, the seventy-something year old widow of Mt. Malachi’s former pastor, made her way to the front where Hattie, Dorothy and Thelma stood. Because the current pastor, Reverend Samuel Trees was a widower, the formidable Lucretia believed the title of first lady automatically reverted to her by default. It certainly did not belong to Hattie Collier, the woman that the present pastor was courting. Lucretia made sure to stand directly in front of Hattie.
“I’ll handle this,” she told the trio. “As you know, as a first lady, I have experience organizing.” She addressed the gathering. “Ladies, if we can each sit next to someone you don’t know or who goes to a church other than your own, it would facilitate what I feel we want to accomplish.”
Bea was standing with Josh at the back of the room, but she made certain that her comment could be heard. “We? We who, Lucretia? You didn’t have a thing to do with organizing this retreat. Hattie did.”
A member of Mt. Malachi took offense at how her former first lady was being addressed. “Mother Lucretia is an elder in our church. Have some respect.”
A CLUCK Baptist member came to Bea’s defense. “But she’s right. You would think that you’d give credit where credit is due.”
A Twelve Disciples church member spoke up. “Anyway, Miss Lucretia’s husband is dead. Why does she think she’s a first lady? Reverend Trees has been the pastor at your church for years. What’s she first lady of?”
Eyes widened and backs stiffened as malevolent glares passed between the members of the three churches represented. Rumblings of dissent began to rise. Chuckling, Josh teased Bea.
“Look what you started.”
“Oh be quiet.” She rolled her eyes at him.
“Ladies! Ladies! Raising her hands to gain their attention, Thelma tried to halt the rising rebellion, but the gauntlet had been thrown.
LaVerne Nelson, another member of CLUCK Baptist spoke up. “All I’ve got to say is that if what Bea said was disrespectful, some people must not know what respect means!”
“When did CLUCK Baptist become familiar with respect?” Pearl Mason shot back.
Hattie’s eyes slid to Dorothy and then to Thelma. The two women looked shell shocked. World War III was surely looming. Every woman in the room was aware of the feud between Pearl Mason, the pastor’s wife at Twelve Disciples Christian, and LaVerne Nelson.
When CLUCK Baptist sponsored its big “all city” church musical a couple of years ago, Laverne had been the president of the planning committee. She and Pearl had been on speaking terms then and Laverne’s committee had picked Pearl’s brain about how to pull it off and who to invite. It was well known that Reverend Mason’s wife had a great deal of influence in the city’s religious community. She could be quite charming as well as politically savvy.
Pearl also fancied herself as being a great gospel singer. Although she was in her sixties, she had dreams of launching a recording career. In exchange for her ideas and contacts Pearl was to be listed as a soloist in the program. Yet, when the program came out, not only was she not on it, but her church wasn’t invited to the event. The memory of that insult and betrayal was still fresh. Lavern and Pearl hadn’t spoken since—that is, until now.
“Lord have mercy! These women are too old to be acting like fools!” Hattie croaked. “We have to do something!” It wasn’t farfetched to think that this confrontation might end up in a fist fight.
It was the petty feuds, slights and exchange of insults that had amassed over the years between members of the three churches represented in the room that resulted in the proposal for a Reconciliation Retreat. Each of the churches was highly respected in the Indianapolis community, but the growing animosities between their members threatened to erode any influence the institutions might have, especially among young people where it was sorely needed. Something had to be done.
At this particular moment, Hattie knew just what to do. Throwing her arms skyward, she called on a greater force.
“Heavenly, Father, this is a day that you have made, so please help these people to be glad and rejoice in it.”
As the women began to realize that Hattie Collier was praying they slowly transferred their attention to her. She was known to take prayer to a whole new level. Dorothy’s cell phone rang and she stepped aside to take the call, as Hattie continued to plea her case to a Higher Power.
“Lord, we ask you to forgive these women for their uncooperative spirit. Teach them to fear you, for your wrath is mighty! Sweet Jesus, I want to see love and harmony on this trip so that none of us here will find ourselves at the fiery gates of hell for not cooperating. In your precious name, Amen.”
“Amen,” a few scattered voices echoed.
Dorothy stepped back into the room and addressed the women. “I just heard from the bus driver. He’s a block away. Now he’s not our usual driver, but I heard he was good. So, come on ladies, grab your bags and let’s go outside.”
Tension was still high as Pearl and Laverne glared at each other, but like the others they did as asked and started filing out of the room. Thelma gave a sigh of relief and whispered to Hattie, “It looks like we avoided that disaster.”
“Thank God. Let’s hope that things get better rather than worse.”
The words were barely out of Hattie’s mouth when their charter bus came barreling down the street toward the church. The big vehicle tilted as the driver made a sharp turn into the parking lot, coming to an abrupt stop with tires squealing. Several women screamed and ran for their lives.
“What the hell?” Connie was dumbfounded. “I thought Dorothy said he was a good driver!”
Alarmed, Josh pulled Bea back to safety. “If this guy drives this foolishly, I don’t know if I want you going on this trip.”
“That makes two of us,” Bea agreed.
Dorothy and Thelma approached the bus cautiously just as the doors flung open. They gawked at the dark-skinned man who stared back at them. Leaning on the steering wheel, the driver gave them a lopsided grin.
“Ladies, your chariot awaits.”
“I don’t think so!” a member of the group shouted defiantly.
“You’re not scattering our bodies all over the highway!” another one proclaimed.
“We’re not getting on that bus with him!” That declaration became the consensus. It looked as though the trip might be over before it began.
Hattie, Dorothy and Thelma coaxed, pleaded and finally compromised to get everyone aboard. If the women would get on the bus, they could sit where they wanted.
“I’m not going to be bothered with a bunch of nagging females,” the bus driver stated arrogantly.
“Excuse me.” Dorothy glared at him. “Maybe I need to call your boss for a new driver.”
“That’s exactly what we should do.” Hattie agreed.
Unnerved, the driver stared at them. After thinking about it for a moment, he tried to look as contrite as possible.
“I’m sorry I ruffled your feathers, ladies. How about we get this show on the road?”
“That’s not much of an apology. I suggest you watch your step from now on and drive like you got good sense.” Dorothy gave him a look that said she meant business.
Still grumbling, the women clambered aboard, delighted to ignore the seating plan.
“Ladies, I need your attention.” Thelma clapped her hands loudly. “Quiet please, so we can do the roll call.” She was ignored.
Tired of Thelma’s polite request, Dorothy stood up and barked, “Shut up so we can hear!”
There was instant silence—for about 15 seconds.
“Dorothy you’re not talking to a bunch of children.”
“She must be having flashbacks about driving that school bus.”
“She’s not going to talk to me like that.”
After waving goodbye to a departing Josh, Bea came to a half standing position
seek out the source of the complaints. As she studied her fellow
passengers she frowned, then leaned over to Hattie. “Where’s Miss
Fanny? Where’s your mother-in-law?”
Hattie shrugged. “I don’t know. She said that she was coming.”
A half block away, the continuous blare of a car horn could be heard. The noise came closer and closer, until a red Mercedes screeched into the parking lot and pulled beside the bus. Miss Fanny was behind the wheel.
Hattie muttered a prayer, asking for the strength to endure her mother-in-law through this weekend. She had hoped that the crabby octogenarian wouldn’t show up.
With her luggage in tow, Miss Fanny climbed aboard the bus and announced to no one in particular. “Whew! I made it! And in one piece too. Not bad for a woman in her eighties, huh?” Glancing at the man behind the wheel, she realized that he wasn’t the Road Wanderers’ usual bus driver. “Who are you?”
“I’m George Hadley, the substitute driver.”
“Oh, that’s why I had to struggle with my bag. Our regular driver, Mr. Sweeney, is a gentleman.”
“Well, Sweeney ain’t here.”
Looking him up and down, Miss Fanny griped, “Young man, I don’t think we’re going to get along.” Taking a seat, she barked, “You can go now.”