Is this Callahan Garrity?"
I'd probably heard that voice thousands of times over the
years. Heard that high, gutsy contralto pining for lost
love in the sixties girl group hits that made her a star.
And later, after the songs ran out in the early seventies
on those sappy BurgerTown radio jingles. But now, on the
phone, she sounded like just another pain in the butt.
Of course, the two-pack-a-day Kools habit had laid the
sandpaper to the vocal cords, and the hot-and-cold-running
Dewar's had done the rest. So when she identified herself
as Rita Fontaine, the name meant nothing. "Yes," I said
impatiently. "What's this in reference to?"
What pays the bills around here is House Mouse, the
cleaning business my mother and I run. We get a lot of
women calling looking for work, but I already had all the
mice I could handle. I just assumed Rita Fontaine was
looking for a cleaning job.
"I'm Vonette Hunsecker's cousin," she said, as though that
made everything okay. She obviously didn't know that
Vonette was not on my hit parade. Vonette is the exwife of
an old friend and the wife-in-law of the old friend's
second wife, Linda Nickells, who is a good pal of mine.
"Vonette said you could help," Rita said. Her voice said
she doubted it. "You're the private detective, right?"
"That's right," I said warily. "Just exactly what kind of
help do you need?"
She let out a long wheezy sigh. "You never heard of me, of
Rita Fontaine, have you?"
"Afraid not," I said. "Should I have?"
"That depends. Ever hear of the VelvetTeens?"
Who hadn't? I'd been a little kid the year when the
VelvetTeens hit it big with "Happy Never After," but I can
still remember watching their first early appearances on
Platter Party, a locally produced teen dance show that ran
on WSB-TV, and then later, of course, on The Ed Sullivan
Show, and American Bandstand. Since they were from
Atlanta, like me, the VelvetTeens were hotter than the
Chiffons, the Shirelles, or any of those other mix-'n'-
match Motown inventions as far as I was concerned.
Now it came back to me. She was the lead singer. Of
course, that voice. Then I had a brief vision: long skinny
legs, mile-high beehive, odd almond-shaped eyes fringed by
inch-long fake eyelashes.
I said it before I could stop myself. "I thought you were
"Me too," she said.
What do you say to something like that? "I didn't know
Vonette had a famous cousin," was all I could think of.
"Vonette was famous too," she said. "You didn't know she
was a VelvetTeen?"
All I knew about Vonette was that she was hell on wheels
if you crossed her. Before she and C.W. split up, she'd
cut out the crotch of every pair of pants the man owned.
If Rita Fontaine was Vonette's cousin, famous or not, she
probably meant trouble.
"Uh, no," I said. "Listen, what kind of help is it that
you need? See, I don't know if Vonette mentioned it, but
my real job is running a cleaning business. I just do the
private investigation thing once in a while. And right
now, I've got. . . "
"Forget it," she said. "I'll find someone else.- And she