A Secret Grave 109: Big Cojones

 

The minute I saw the blood drain from Betsy’s face, I knew who Janet Fairchild was: her sister whom she’d deserted twenty-nine years ago and whom she certainly didn’t want to see now. The sister who’d been emailing me off and on for months, Janet K. Johnson, only with a different last name. I studied her face: fine-featured, actress-pretty, smart as a fox. As I watched, she smiled at Betsy who barely acknowledged her.

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sexy lady

Janet Fairchild/ Johnson

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What the hell was she doing here? Last I’d heard, she was in Miami working for a pharmaceutical company. That was maybe three weeks ago and she’d said nothing about showing up at a mental health benefit in Austin. “I’m Janet,” she said, introducing herself to the table. “Sorry to be late.”

Seated beside her, newspaper columnist Michael Barnes asked what her connection was to the event. “Oh,” said Janet, glancing hard at Betsy who did not return her look, “I work for Andrews & Giles Pharmaceuticals. We sell a lot of our product to doctors treating clinically depressed and also schizoid affective patients.” She had one of those soft, halting voices that drifted like fog through a conversation, each sentence ending with a question mark. Michael Barnes seemed enthralled. “You live here in Austin?” he asked.

“Funny you should ask that,” said Janet with another meaningful look at Betsy. “My company just moved me here, which is great because I have family in Austin and now I’ll get to spend time with them.”

Oh boy. Across the table from Janet, Betsy looked as if she was about to have a heart attack. “You okay, darling?” Malcolm asked.

Betsy took a quick sip of wine. “Yes, of course. It’s just the work of putting an event like this together.”

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angry socialite

Betsy

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“I’m sorry,” said Janet, leaning toward Betsy across the table, “I didn’t catch your name.”

Man, she had balls, sitting there in a navy blue silk gown, drifty-voiced and looking as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.

“It’s Betsy Shapiro,” Betsy said, looking her straight in the eye for the first time. She didn’t introduce Malcolm, who sat beside her, patting her hand, elegant and youthful in his evening jacket. The keynote speaker was introduced just then and the table fell silent. Michael Barnes took the opportunity to slip away, as was his habit at these occasions, and test the social waters at another table. He had no idea of the giant, opera-worthy drama unfolding right beneath his nose at his assigned table, two sisters seeing each other for the first time in twenty-nine years, one black, the other passing as white, and not a single person in the whole world knowing their secret but me.

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Michael Barnes Statesman

Michael Barnes, Arts & Culture Writer for the Austin American-Statesman

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To be continued…

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Cover photo ~ http://www.fotosearch.com/photos-images/steel-balls.html

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