Nuts and Buried

Chapter One

That night I dragged myself, in noose and shroud, out of my dusty white pickup in front of the Wheatley mansion. I put the keys into the hands of a disgusted looking man who waited to park it, or hide it, behind all the shiny brand-new pickups covered with chrome and expensive gun racks, and all the big Cadillac Escalades parked on a fitful lawn, back toward a wall of low, honey mesquite trees.

It wasn’t because I expected a murder at the party that I looked the way I did. My costume was a protest because I didn’t want to go to Elizabeth and Eugene Wheatley’s gala to begin with. They were throwing it to introduce Eugene’s new wife, Jeannie, to the “elite” of Riverville, Texas—or at least to a good number of the best and oldest citizens. I didn’t want to be one of those citizens. My friend, Deputy Hunter Austen of the Riverville Police Department, a man who protected all those rich people, wasn’t invited and if he wasn’t good enough to be asked to their costume party, then I wasn’t either.

I was mad at the Wheatleys and all my family, the Blanchards, and just about anybody who might get in my way that night.

“COME AS A FAMOUS TEXAN,” the invitation shouted, and I knew it was all Elizabeth Wheatley’s idea, due to her expertise in Texas history, as she was eager to tell anybody and everybody since I first knew her back when I was in high school and she was already in college. She was Eugene’s sister, so I put up with her bragging and strutting and putting on airs because, after all, they were Wheatleys of the oil Wheatleys of Dallas, but living in Riverville for no good reason I ever got out of Eugene.

It was no skin off my nose if she wanted to play lady of the manor. Yet . . .

“I’m not going,” was what I first told Mama and Miss Amelia, my grandmother, the day before the party.

“The hell you’re not going,” Mama said and finished off her breakfast of scrambled eggs and Texas toast, picked up her coffee cup, and gave me one of her long stares that told me I was going to lose this battle.

My meemaw was saying, “Watch your mouth, Emma,” to Mama, which made Mama get red in the face and steam the way I was steaming. My younger sister, Bethany, saw what was coming and got up, dumped her dishes in the sink, and headed out to the event tent where she saw to weddings and showers and graduation parties under our tall, old pecan trees. Justin, my older brother, who took care of Rancho en el Colorado, the pecan farm we lived on, grunted something about meeting up with his men for spraying and was out of there.

I liked Mama’s steaming because she was wrong, and it felt good puffing up like a pigeon because I was right. “I’m a grown woman and I can decide for myself whether I want to go to some awful costume party. You know Hunter’s my best friend. They could’ve asked him.”

“There’s always somebody has to be left out, Lindy. A house can only hold so many people.”

“Then let it be me. Anyway I feel cramps coming on. And I don’t have a costume. And some man from some European lab was coming to look at my trees. And . . . I just don’t want to go if they snub Hunter.”

Mama leaned back from the breakfast table, stretched her arms over her head, and then ran fingers through her cropped blond hair. “Me and your grandmother are Hastings—and proud of it. But here in Riverville we are also Blanchards—all of us. We’re invited to a party given by old friends where we have to dress up as a famous Texan. You a Texan or not?” she demanded, her hair now standing on end making her look kind of wild. Who can take a woman seriously when she looks crazy and she’s your mother, but you are grown and should be able to do what you want to do in life?

My meemaw cleared her throat and knocked her clasped hands together on the tabletop. She had something to say and when Miss Amelia made a pronouncement it was somewhere up there near treason to go against her. Miss Amelia’s seventy-six, tall, stately (like our pecan trees) and sweet as an angel to customers in the Nut House, our store in town where she sells everything pecan, and sweet to everybody in the family unless she comes at you with a “Bless yer heart” and “Why you dear thing you—” That’s when the knife comes out and you better watch your back.

“Why, my sweet girl,” she said and the hair on my neck stood up. Right then I knew I ‘d lost, but I wasn’t going to make it easy on anybody. I knew who I’d go as and figured it would be the one costume at the party that would shock the devil out of all of them.

Chipita Rodriguez. That’s who I picked. Born in 1799, in Mexico. The only woman ever hanged in Texas; accused of killing John Savage with an axe, then hanged from a mesquite tree with her last words being “No soy culpable!” “I am not guilty.” After I got my shroud together—old gray burlap wrapped around me and sewn, in places, to my jeans and T-shirt underneath—I tied my noose from a nice hefty rope and put it around my neck. I floured my face and wild hair then drew red grease pencil under my eyelids. I planned to walk around their big old ballroom intoning “No soy culpable,” but I knew I’d lose my nerve after Mama got a look at me.

I almost fell over the noose as I crossed the gravel drive circling in front of the huge old mansion. I hefted the noose higher, wishing I’d gone for a shorter, lighter rope.

Brave woman that I am, I was already feeling dumb and wishing I’d come as Barbara Bush with a string of pearls around my neck instead of a noose. I walked slower and slower toward the heavy front door standing wide open. I could hear music from the back of the house.

My bravado was kind of failing me. Nobody would know my costume was a protest against anything—like Texas hanging a woman, I told myself. They’d think it was just me, Lindy Blanchard, making a stubborn fool of myself though I was twenty-eight, had two degrees from Texas A&M, and was deep into biotechnology—genome selection—so the pecan trees on our ranch would grow and bloom and produce even in drought years. “A selfless deed,” I always told myself though I loved doing the work just for the doing. But wasn’t I helping my family and all our neighbors? And I was keeping a promise to my Daddy, who’d been proud of me back then, before he got killed out on his tractor, mowing under those big old trees.

Naw, when they got a look at me they’d all say I should’ve known better.

The argument with myself was short. Too late. I took the rope and wrapped it around my upper arm a couple of time. I tried to smooth down my hair and brush a lot of the white flour off my face. Couldn’t do a thing about the shroud.

I walked across the portico with tall Ionic columns and through the open double doors that looked like every doorway to disaster from every scary movie I’d ever seen. In the grand front hall I was met by a butler holding a silver plate, waiting for my invitation. I knew the butler as Roy Friendly, an old cowboy who hung out at the Barking Coyote Saloon. Roy looked embarrassed when I raised my eyebrows at his tux. He was smiling, though his rough and grizzled cheeks barely moved as he asked for my invitation. I said I didn’t have one because Mama came ahead of me and she had it.

All Roy did was shrug and pull uncomfortably at the collar of his white shirt.

“I gotta ask, Lindy,” he said while giving me the once-over. “What in hell’s name you come as? Is that Davey Crockett after the Alamo?”

He snickered and picked at his tongue as if he felt tobacco there. I ignored him and headed back toward the music. I wanted to see my family, make sure they knew I’d been there, say “Hi” to a few folks, and then get the heck on home while I had at least a little dignity left.