Charleston, South Carolina
It was an event, there was no doubt about it. Not that funerals were, as a rule, events, but when someone of Leland St. John's stature bit the dust, it became one. The seven-piece string band playing in the downpour, per one of Leland's last wishes, had turned it into an event regardless of what else was going on in the world.
Then there was the tail end of Hurricane Blanche, which was unleashing torrents of rain upon the mourners huddled under the dark blue tent and only added to the circuslike atmosphere.
"Will you just get on with it," Toots Loudenberry mumbled under her breath. She continued to mutter and mumble as the minister droned on and on. "No one is as good as you're making Leland sound. All you know is what I told you, and I sure as hell didn't tell you all that crap you're spouting. He was a selfish, rich, old man. End of story."
Toots's daughter leaned closer to her mother and tried to whisper through the thick veil covering her mother's head and ears. "Can't you hurry it along? It's not like this is the first time you've done this. Isn't this the seventh or eighth husband you've buried? I'm damn glad that preacher said his name, or I wouldn't even know who it is that's being planted. I gotta say, Mom, you outdid yourself with all these flowers."
Toots rose to the occasion and stepped forward, cutting the minister off in midsentence. "Thank you, Reverend." She wanted to say his check was in the mail, but she bit her tongue as she took a step forward and laid her wilted rose on top of the bronze coffin. She stepped aside so the other mourners could follow her out from under the temporary tent, which was open on all four sides. She stepped in water up to her ankles, cursed ripely, and sloshed her way to the waiting limousine, which would take her back home. "That's just like you, Leland. Why couldn't you have waited one more week, and the rainy season would have been over? Now my shoes are ruined. So is my hat, as well as my suit. Too bad you don't know how much this outfit cost. If you did, you would have waited another week to die. You always were selfish. See what all that selfishness got you. You're dead."
"What are you mumbling about, Mom?"
Toots slid into the limousine and kicked off her sodden shoes. Her black mourning hat followed. She looked over at her daughter, Abby, who looked like a drowned rat, and said, "Of all my husbands, I liked Leland the least. I resent having to attend his funeral under these conditions. He was my only mistake. But one out of eight, I suppose, isn't too bad."
Abby reached for a wad of paper napkins next to the champagne bottle that seemed to come with all limousines. "Why didn't you just crisp him up?"
Toots sighed. "I wanted to, but Leland said in his will that he wanted to be buried with that damn string band playing music. One has to honor a person's last wishes. What kind of person would I be if I didn't honor his, even if he was a jerk?"
"Don't you mean if you didn't honor those last wishes, what's-his-name's money would have gone to the polar bears in the Arctic?"
"That, too." Toots sighed.
The woman born Teresa Amelia Loudenberry, Toots to her friends, stared at her daughter. "How long are you staying, dear?"
"I have a four o'clock flight. I left Chester with a sitter, and Chester does not like sitters. There's just enough time for me to grab something to eat at your post feast, change into dry clothes, and get outta here. Can't you hear California calling my name? Don't look at