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STILL LIFE IN BRUNSWICK STEW by LARISSA REINHART
Cherry Tucker’s in a stew. Art commissions dried up after her nemesis became president of the County Arts Council. Desperate and broke, Cherry and her friend, Eloise, spend a sultry summer weekend hawking their art at the Sidewinder Annual Brunswick Stew Cook-Off. When a bad case of food poisoning breaks out and Eloise dies, the police brush off her death as accidental. However, Cherry suspects someone spiked the stew and killed her friend. As Cherry calls on cook-off competitors, bitter rivals, and crooked judges, her cop boyfriend get steamed while the killer prepares to cook Cherry’s goose.
STILL LIFE IN BRUNSWICK STEW by LARISSA REINHART
They should’ve kept the mud pit.
That was my first thought when I heard another brawl had ensued, the second or third of the day by my count. This happens when festival committees get all high-brow and replace four- wheeling with an arts and crafts display. What kind of crazy wants to walk around an old cotton field to shop for macramé pot holders and corn husk dolls? Or even quality art, like my Cherry Tucker still life oil paintings. Or exquisite Raku pottery from my buddy, Eloise Parker.
That’s my opinion, anyway. Based on the fact that the Annual Sidewinder Brunswick Stew Cook-Off took place smack dab in the middle of a Georgia summer when you needed activities like mud pits to cool off the locals. Bad enough the hundred year old argument over the origin of Brunswick Stew breaks out every time you get Virginians and Georgians together. And we all know there is only one town of Brunswick with a giant iron kettle for a landmark. Which would be in Georgia.
Sidewinder’s also in Georgia, but a tenth of the size of the Golden Isle of Brunswick. Sidewinder’s not even a town. More like a spit in the road farming village that once was a plantation burned down by Sherman. My hometown of Halo is bigger, and we aren’t even big enough for a Walmart. Some might say Halo’s not big enough for my art studio, but I’m not much on what folks say.
Unless they’re customers, of course.
Eloise begged me to participate in this cook-off turned art festival, which is why I’m spending my weekend slumped in a camp chair, drinking tea by the jug, and sweating up a storm. And not selling any paintings. People come to taste stew, eat pulled pork, and watch the rednecks churn up the Georgia clay with their four- by-fours. So when the guy hawking koi ponds in the booth opposite leaned into our tent to report the newest altercation, I jumped at the chance to break my boredom. Actually, my jump was more of a sweat-soaked slide out of my seat.
“Eloise,” I asked. “You want to come and see what the fuss is about?”
“And miss the possibility of a single customer? I’m not hauling my butt out of this chair except to get more stew.” She stubbed out a cigarette. On the folding table sat her second or third bowl of the thick Brunswick Stew, brimming with shredded meat, tomatoes, butter beans, and corn. “One of my students gave me a bunch of free tickets to his family’s booth, and I plan to use them all. My Crohn’s isn’t bothering me, so I’m eating to make up for the times my stomach doesn’t let me.”
Although the stew had a lovely cinnamon color, eating it in record-breaking heat held no appeal to me. Particularly the amount Eloise had already consumed. The concoction of veggies and meat once got poor folks through hard times by tossing in whatever you could salvage. I’ve had it made from chicken, beef, pork, venison, and even rabbit. Some like to add squirrel with their pork. However in college, after enjoying a bowl with a large side of tequila shots at a Savannah bar, I vowed never to touch the stuff again. Does not taste as pleasant the second time around.
Watching Eloise eat made sweat break on my neck. “On a scorcher like today, I would think you’d rather have a Sno-Cone than a hot bowl of stew.”
“As a Sidewinder native, it is my duty to eat Brunswick Stew, particularly at our annual cook-off,” said Eloise. “I love Brunswick Stew. You should know better. How long have we been friends?”
“Let me see,” I pretended to think, not trying to hide my grin. “Seems I beat you in the Forks County Art Competition in third grade…”
“And I stole your drawing and you promptly announced it over the PA, getting me in all kinds of trouble. I still have the handprint on my behind.”
“Serves you right, you art thief.”
“I loved your drawing,” Eloise’s eyes grew misty. “I couldn’t help it. I’d never seen such a beautiful unicorn.”
“It was not a unicorn. I would never draw a unicorn.”
“I’m pretty sure there were rainbows, too,” Eloise laughed at my horrified look. “You were eight. Anyway, I recognized talent then and now. I’m lucky to have a friend like you.”
“Are you kidding? You’re the one that got me into the Reconstituting Classicism gallery show. If I can pull off something great, that crowd will pay big bucks. I’m down to my last twenty dollars and change.” At that thought, I fished in the pockets of my cutoffs to look for Sno-Cone change, disappointed to find only thirty-five cents and a few gum wrappers.
“No one around here wants a portrait made, not even one of their pet,” I moaned. “I had the hunting dog market cornered there for a while. The art well in Forks County has mysteriously run dry ever since I was snubbed by the Bransons after painting the portrait of Dustin. Then Shawna Branson became president of the Forks County Arts Council and suddenly I have paintbrush leprosy.”
“How are those classical paintings coming?” Eloise dropped her eyes to her stew bowl. She knew me well enough to avoid conversation about Shawna Branson. “Aren’t you supposed to send digital photos of the portfolio soon?”
“Week from Monday,” I said. “Plenty of time. I’m doing famous Greek statues as paintings. Except to make it edgier I’m covering the model’s body in tiny Greek letters. Head to toe.”
Eloise swatted me with her spoon. “You haven’t done them yet? Don’t make me look bad, Cherry Tucker. The show is organized by my old drawing professor at UGA. He’s still ticked I went into pottery. I’m hoping to get back in his good graces and get my own show out of the deal.”
I held one hand over my heart, the other palm up in Pledge of Allegiance mode. “I swear I would never do anything to make you look bad, Eloise Parker. You have my word. I’m just having a little trouble convincing my model to pose nude as the Dying Gaul.”
“Who are you using as a model?”
It took a moment for Eloise to regain control over her laughter. I helped her right her chair when it threatened to tip.
“Luke is the perfect model for a Greek statue,” I explained. “Tall, lean, with great muscle definition. Especially those indentations between his waist and hips.” I paused a moment in delicious ecstasy, ruminating over Luke’s V-cut. “He even has the dark curly hair and the straight nose of a classic Greek. And I don’t think he’s got a drop of Greek blood in him. Pretty sure Harper’s not a Greek name.”
“Nor Roman. You just want to paint Luke naked,” Eloise cackled. “This doesn’t have anything to do with art.”
“Of course it does. I have an eye for beauty, that’s all.”
“You got a thing for beauty, all right. As long as it’s got a—”
“You can stop right there, Eloise Parker. No need to get trashy.”
“I’m not the one obsessed with painting Luke Harper nude.”
“He never lets me paint him, nude or otherwise. I don’t get it. What’s the big deal?”
“Probably because he’s worried the criminals in Forks County will laugh at him after seeing his bare ass in a painting,” Eloise lifted her brows.
“Hard to arrest somebody when they’re laughing at you.”
Larissa Reinhart loves small town characters, particularly sassy women with a penchant for trouble. STILL LIFE IN BRUNSWICK STEW (May 2013) is the second in the Cherry Tucker Mystery Series. The first, PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY, is a 2012 Daphne du Maurier finalist, a 2012 The Emily finalist, and a 2011 Dixie Kane Memorial winner. She lives near Atlanta with her minions and Cairn Terrier, Biscuit. Visit her website, her Facebook page, or find her chatting with the Little Read Hens on Facebook.
Links to LARISSA’s website, blog, books, etc.
PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY:
STILL LIFE IN BRUNSWICK STEW:
Facebook page: facebook.com/RisWrites
Goodreads author page: goodreads.com/author/show/5806614.Larissa_Reinhart
**SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Larissa will give away an eBook (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, or iBook, reader choice) of her release, PORTRAIT OF A DEAD GUY, to one of her lucky readers who comments on either her Monday Interview or Wednesday Book Bench blogs!! Winner will be randomly selected and announced Monday, July 29, 2013. Thanks, Larissa, for sharing your stories with us!