Oh, DISASTER! All the momentum I had gained in cracking the cold case of who murdered Walt Deeds—and what became of his wife, Louise—has been utterly SAPPED. Why? Patrick Lyonnais, my co-detective, is in a terrible SNIT! He heard that Paul Wilmot and Bob Colacello have been tapped to consult on Ryan Murphy’s Halston mini-series for Netflix. I don’t even know if that’s true, but Patrick’s indignation came through loud and clear over the phone: “Paul and Bob, Lansy? Paul and Bob? They barely even knew Halston! They never saw the boudoir of 101 East 63rd! They never lovingly cut his coke with Ovaltine!”
“Calm yourself, Patrick,” I said. “Imagine how I felt not to get a consulting call for the Versace series. And then they got Donatella ALL WRONG. If you ask me, they should’ve had Penélope Cruz and Terry Sweeney switch roles.”
My reassurances did nothing to console Patrick. With the almighty fury of an aging drama queen who still uses a landline, he slammed the receiver of his phone into its cradle, making a loud ker-RACK! sound that nearly burst my eardrum. I gathered myself, logged onto the site of Patrick’s local ganja dispensary, Theory Wellness in Great Barrington, and browsed. Their daily menu included a strain called, I kid you not, Wedding Cake. Its qualities are described thusly: “Providing calming and slightly sedative effects, this may be a great choice for those looking to relax after a long day.” Well, I got into my Kia Soul, drove to Great Barrington, bought an eighth, and left it on Patrick’s doorstep with a note on my old Mademoiselle stationery that read, “I am Wedding Cake—eat me up, yum yum!”
Fingers crossed that it does the trick.
With the almighty fury of an aging drama queen who still uses a landline, he slammed the receiver into its cradle, making a loud ker-RACK! sound.
It is now the night after the day in which I wrote the above. At 10:30 p.m., while I was binge-streaming Vera through Britbox on my iPad (Yes, Graydon, I have become both a CORD CUTTER and a Brenda Blethyn STAN!), my phone rang. Guess who. The voice on the other end was drowsy, but happily so. “Wedding Cake. Nice. SO preferable to the Sylvia Weinstock variety,” he said.
“Does that mean you’re back in your happy place, Patrick?” I asked.
“You mean, at Aldo’s Bar at Le Sirenuse, with Matthew Macfayden in a wet Jack Adams swim thong, feeding me red prawns by hand? Sadly, no.”
But that was all I needed to hear. My boy was back. We made plans for him and his dreadful Subaru Forester to visit me in Slattern the next day.
Patrick was keen to meet Haven Deeds, the poor young meatcutter who was left orphaned by his parents’ murder-disappearance in the 90s. P. wanted to figure out what the parents were arguing about in the Slattern Ridge Tavern the night before Walt’s murder, and if the Deedses were acquainted with any of the itinerant farmhands who found winter work picking Cushman’s Honeybells in Florida.
We found Haven behind the butcher counter of the A-OK market, hunched over a row of sorry-looking plucked chickens. “I have to part up these broilers and then I clock out,” he said. “You can wait in my house if you want. Key’s in the Skoal tin under the rock by the back door.”
His house in Slattern Ridge was a run-down little cape with moss overtaking the roof and one of those aluminum screen doors with—and I couldn’t BEAR to look at it, Graydon, I had to AVERT MY EYES—a scallop-edged window. But inside was a surprise: paints, drop cloths, an easel, and, everywhere, PAINTINGS! All of them depicting mundane settings, like strip malls, dollar stores, and the town transfer station … but populated entirely with naked people! Men in trucker hats gassing up their pickups at the Kwik Fill, potbellies and penises hanging as slack as the fuel hoses. Women with pendulous bosoms and fleshy arms, sweeping Little Debbie Swiss Rolls off the shelves into their shopping carts.
“This is the good kind of outsider art,” I whispered to Patrick, “like Henry Darger rather than … ”
“Dubya Bush?” he offered.
Inside was a surprise: PAINTINGS! All depicting mundane settings, like strip malls, dollar stores, and the town transfer station … but populated entirely with naked people!
Just then, Haven arrived. Without his butcher’s apron and paper cap, his honey-brown hair falling about his face, he looked much more handsome—or, rather, pretty—than he ever did at the A-OK or the Kwik Fill. If only we could do something about the drawstring sweatpants, the earring, the rattail, and the chin-strap beard. Graydon, I wanted to Queer Eye the HELL out of him right then and there! But Patrick and I had no time to lose. I’d already sold my Majolica butter pats in order to buy us airfare from J.F.K. to West Palm, and also booked us an Airbnb in the south end of Palm Beach, on the stretch of Ocean Boulevard that the old-money snoots call the Gaza Strip—lined as it is with bright-white condo buildings full of deeply tan Moskowitzes, Levines, and Goldbergs. I think it’s O.K. for me to say such things because my dearly departed ex-husband, Paul, was himself Jewish. (Though of the London variety. It’s from him that I picked up my beloved Britishisms; e.g., “loo,” “arse,” “Bob’s yer uncle,” and “Jezbollah Corbyn.”)
“We were admiring your work,” Patrick told Haven.
The boy blushed. “These?” he said. “They’re just, uh—me getting out my feelings, I guess.”
Turpentine and Tobacco Juice
Haven, we soon learned over pull-tab cans of Utica Club (that’s a BEER, Graydon—my first since a Watneys at Claridge’s in 1978!), was living in his parents’ old house, of which he legally took possession at 21. It had sat uninhabited for all the years since the unfortunate business with his mom and dad, while he lived around the corner with his landscaper cousins. Now he’d cleared it out and turned it into a sort of hayseed-artist’s loft—turpentine in one bucket, tobacco juice in the other. “This is my rightful home,” Haven said, “but it just always feels spooky to me.”
An elbow suddenly invaded my rib space, nearly puncturing a lung.
“Patrick,” I gasped, unable to mask my irritation. “WHAT?”
“That painting over Haven’s head, Lansy—look! I know that place!” he said.
It was a painting of naked people in sun visors and ball caps, milling about in front of a low-slung building dwarfed by palm trees. “That,” Patrick said, “is the old Cushman’s fruit stand! The one that used to be on Forest Hill Boulevard in West Palm! Haven, were you ever there?”
Haven rotated his head slowly, like a box turtle in pain, to regard his own work. “That? No, sir. I just painted that from a photo in one of my mom’s albums. It’s upstairs. I’ll show you.”
A moment later, Haven returned with a ring-binder photo album of pebbled faux leather, filled with Instamatic-style snaps. “That is it! Cushman’s!,” Patrick exclaimed, his finger on the photo that Haven had painted from.
“I just took that for my setting, is all. Then I added my Love People,” Haven said flatly.
A Poor Man’s Michael Shannon
Patrick was too absorbed in the photo album to react to this peculiar turn of phrase. “Hang on,” he said, pointing to a picture on a different page. “Who is THIS?” Now his finger was on a photo of a cute couple in their 20s: a poor man’s Michael Shannon with his arm wrapped around a snub-nosed gal who looked like Sissy Spacek. Graydon, I won’t call her a poor man’s Sissy Spacek because Sissy Spacek ALWAYS looks poor.
“That’s my folks, from before I was born,” Haven said. “Sitting right where you’re sitting. Though this room is all different now.”
Patrick turned to me. “Lansy, do you see what I see?”
I regarded the photo for a moment. “A pageant of high-waisted denim?,” I said.
“No! On the shelf behind them. That’s a Gabriella Crespi tea service, early 1970s. Do you have any idea what that’s worth? Haven, where the hell is it?”
“No earthly idea,” said Haven. “I ain’t never drunk tea.”
I packed my smallest Rimowa roller with my Palm Beach essentials: five vintage Steven Stolman sheath dresses; a small tub of Kiehl’s hydration masque; and, per André Leon Talley’s advice, a new Sabre stun gun—the miniature version, in pink. “You’re sticking your nose into some dangerous business, Lansy,” said André. “And even in Palm Beach, Floridians still act like Floridians.”
Aboard JetBlue Flight No. 2153 to West Palm, I laid in further provisions: all the free packets of Terra Chips and PopCorners that my Anya Hindmarch tote could hold. Patrick and I, wedged into seats 23 B and C, had much to discuss. The improbable Crespi tea set. Haven’s “Love People.” (?!?) The Cushman’s connection, whatever that might be. Patrick had done some research. Cushman’s was no longer a going concern, having been bought out some years ago by Harry & David, the titans of luxury gift-fruit purveyance. Coincidentally, the couple I was renting our Airbnb from was also named Harry and David.
“You’re sticking your nose into some dangerous business, Lansy,” said André. “And even in Palm Beach, Floridians still act like Floridians.”
Upon landing, Patrick and I went our separate ways. He was keen to visit some “contacts” of his on Antique Row in West Palm, tout de suite. I was EXHAUSTED and eager to get to our Airbnb. By the time my Uber delivered me to the Reef, the modernist condo complex where we were staying, it was dark.
As I was turning the key in the door of our temporary digs, I felt a sudden BLOW to the back of my head that knocked me to my knees. André had been too right: Florida is a VICIOUS state! And my stun gun, thanks to the T.S.A.’s persnickety rules, was still stowed in my Rimowa roller.
Then came ANOTHER blow! And another. And another.
This is how I die, thought I.
But, somehow, the repeated blows caused me no injury. And each came accompanied by a sawdusty voice shouting, in a West Country English accent, “You cahn’t Airbnb here! You cahn’t Airbnb here!”
While still kneeling, my hands in the air, I managed to swivel myself around to face my attacker: a small, wiry man in Comme des Garçons camo pajamas. He was as stunned to recognize me as I was to recognize him.
“Lansy?” he said.
Mr. Doonan lowered his “weapon,” such as it was: an OXO extendable duster with a fluffy microfiber head. “If only I’d known it was you,” he said. “Harry and David are the worst neighbors. But this time, and only this time, I shall not report them to the board of the Reef. Now, let’s you, me, and Jonny have a Fresca.”
SO much more to come.