Charlie Ann stuffed the money in her pocket and ran out back.
You guys are not going to believe this, she started, then gasped. Bennett had swung the garden hose like a jump rope, its fat nozzle aimed at Rick who crouched in a corner, between a smelly compost heap and a water barrel. For the love of Pete, Bennett, STOP! she yelled.
Bennett dropped the hose. Aw, we were just fooling, he said.
Charlie Ann pursed her lips and plonked her hands on her hips. Get inside and watch the shop, she said. God forbid we miss a customer. That was the deal, remember?
Bennett pushed past her into the shop. Rick stood up. Charlie Ann nodded towards the garden gate. Go out that way.
It took all their strength to tug the wooden gate out of its frame. Once free, it sagged at a 45-degree angle. It was missing its top hinge. Charlie Ann swore. Rick looked at her, askance.
Charlie Ann tilted her chin. Get out of here, she said. Go see if I can turn this dump into a parking lot without paying an arm and a leg for the zoning varience.
Are you going to be all right with that Rick nodded towards the shop.
I can handle him. No sweat. But right now, Ive gotta go see Aunt Shug.
Ill be half an hour, she called to Bennett, as she strode through the shop.
Where are you going?
Aunt Shugs. Have I got news for her!
Charlie Ann was reversing onto Main Street when she heard a rustle in the back of the car. Someone hissed Pssst in her ear. She stopped reversing, turned round. Whos there?
Who the hells Norm? And where the hell are you?
Tut, tut. Language, Ms. Huckabee. Im your guardian angel.
Guardian angel! Big help youve been! Where were you when the sh*t was flying at Fulcrum? And why didnt you stop me buying this pig in a poke? Charlie Ann flung a hand towards the shop and banged her knuckles on the door frame. Ouch! She sucked her fingers.
Norms voice was sulky. You did bettern your aunt and a whole lot bettern Glenda. And you got good severance from Fulcrum. I engineered that for you.
What are you talking about?
I take it Bennetts never mentioned that worthless time-share he inherited.
No, he hasnt. And I can do without your help, thank you very much. Im supposed to have free will, arent I? Well, thats what I choose. Go be guardian angel to someone else.
Norm coughed. Oh, well. Your choice. Maybe the Big Guy will assign me to someone whos not so much of a challenge.
Charlie Ann pulled up in front of the Huckabee Guest House. As she climbed out, a smartly dressed man carrying a briefcase trotted down the porch steps and headed for the expensive car parked beside hers. He glanced her way, gave a quick wave to Aunt Shug standing on the porch, squeezed into his car (Charlie Ann hadnt left him much room) and drove away.
Charlie Ann walked towards Aunt Shug. Who was that?
Honest to God, thats his name. Hes my attorney.
Whats he here for?
Hmmm! Nosey this morning, arent we? Aunt Shug led the way indoors. If you must know, he brought more papers for me to sign. The new owners want to start renovating as soon as poss. Theyve already got clients signed up to move in.
Charlie Ann followed her aunt into the small office leading off the hall. Oh, Aunt Shug, she said. Willoughby wont be the same without your guest house. She blinked back tears.
Pull yourself together, woman! snapped Aunt Shug. She flapped a long white envelope towards her niece. He also brought my new will, duly signed, sealed and executed. Of course Ive left everything to you, seeing youre my last living relative, but dont expect to get rich on the pickings. She tossed the envelope into a drawer and sat back in her chair. So why are you here? If youre hoping to borrow money for that fool flower shop
Charlie Ann hung her head. I made a big mistake there, Aunt Shug. I should never have bought it. I dont know what possessed me
Dont feel so bad, girl, Aunt Shugs voice was grim. Join the club!
What do you mean?
I mean that when Im gone youll be the proud owner of a 50-acre pig farm in Georgia that set me back fifty grand. That blasted father-in-law of yours! He means well but he knows zilch about real estate. More fool me for being talked into buying it.
Pig farm? Fifty grand? But you said
Not me. He said it all. But he had to come up with something, didnt he? Oh, the lies that have rolled off that silver tongue of his. He must have kissed the Blarney Stone.
You mean, he didnt con you out of that money? Cant you do anything about it?
Too late now. Ill just chalk it up to experience. Dont you even want to know where he is?
Not particularly, now Ive got my car back. Thought Id seen the last of that. Why? Do you know where he is?
Er, yes. Hes staying with Miss Caroline.
Caroline! Aunt Shugs eyes bulged and she jerked back in her chair.
Then she started to chuckle. C-Caroline! she spluttered. Oh my, oh my. Ha, ha, ha, ha. Hell have his way with her, he will. Ha, ha, hoo, hoo, hoo. Tears streamed down Aunt Shugs face. She flung her head back and guffawed loudly again. The scab on her top lip split and blood spurted. Oh my, oh my. She started rocking backwards and forwards, gasping for breath between laughs. Suddenly she stopped and clutched her heart. Her lips turned blue. So did her face. Her eyes rolled crazily and her breath came in noisy wheezes.
Charlie Ann grabbed the phone and punched 911. Ambulance! Ambulance! she cried when a distant voice answered. Ambulance to Huckabees Guest House, Main Stree What? Whos this? Charlie Ann Huckabee. My aunts having a heart attack. She needs an ambulance.
Aunt Shugs arms dropped and hung limply, like a rag dolls. A long noisy raspberry blew between her blue lips. Her head lolled to one side and her eyes stared vacantly upwards.
Please hurry, Charlie Ann begged. Oh, oh! I think its too late. I think shes gone She dropped the receiver and ran round the desk. This wasnt supposed to happen, she sobbed.
Thats what comes of choosing free will.
Charlie Ann spun round.
Norm? What you doing here? Dont say youre Aunt Shugs guardian angel, too?
Er, no. He got a pink slip. Cos of that skateboarding.
Pretty inept lot, arent you?
I dont know what youre complaining about. Looks to me youve got a lot to be grateful for.
How dyou work that out?
Well, thanks to the severance I wangled for you, youve got a shop you didnt have to pay for. Then theres those fifty acres in Georgia coming your way. They dont have to stay a pig farm. Youve got lots of potential there. Plus your aunt never got to spend a penny of the proceeds of selling this place. Play your cards right, and youre gonna end up pretty rich.
Id sooner have Aunt Shug alive and well.
Come on, kiddo. Shes had a good life. And you can have one too, if you change your mind and let me string along. Youve got no idea what this is going to look like on my record.
Ive made up my mind. Ill take it from here, Norm.
You sure? Absolutely, positively sure?
Sure Im sure.
But you never know when youre gonna need
Im gone! Im gone!