The Barefoot Summer

By: Carolyn Brown


Black showed respect for the dead, so Kate Steele wore red to her husband’s funeral that Saturday. It seemed fitting that she would bury him on the first day of July, the same day he’d come into her life fourteen years ago. It brought everything full circle—right back to the afternoon that she’d met him in the cemetery when visiting her father’s grave. Six months later they were married. A year after that, the marriage went to hell in a handbasket.

Conrad Steele had definitely conned her, but she’d be damned if he would win.

Would the preacher go on forever? Maybe those other people sitting in the chairs at the other end of the single line appreciated what he was saying, but Kate had trouble listening to nice things about the son of a bitch. One thing for sure—that preacher didn’t know jack crap about Conrad or he wouldn’t be talking about him being among the angels in heaven. If he conned his way past Saint Peter at the pearly gates, then the angels best lock down those streets of gold.

Sweat streamed from her neck to puddle between her breasts. Not even with all Kate’s money could she buy, beg, steal, or borrow a breeze that afternoon, and there wasn’t a shade tree in sight. She eased a hand down beside her chair to fish out a few tissues to discreetly stuff into her bra. But she’d left her purse in the car. She brushed a strand of her shoulder-length blonde hair away from her sweaty neck and uncrossed her long legs. One little gust of wind to cool her thighs would be worth a fortune.

Her mother, Teresa, sat ramrod straight right beside her. No one could ever say that she wasn’t a lady. Not even the Texas heat was a match for Teresa Truman. She’d face off with the devil on his best day. Legs encased in black panty hose, properly crossed at the ankles, a black silk suit tailored to her long, thin body, gray hair styled that morning, and a wide-brimmed black hat with only the hint of a thin veil dropping down from the front, she was a true force to be reckoned with.

Only God, Kate, and Teresa knew that the whole funeral was a show. Kate didn’t care if they rolled him up in a used dog blanket and tossed him in a hole. Teresa insisted that they had an image to uphold, because, through Kate, his name was associated with the family oil company. And God—well, Kate would like to be a mouse in a corner when God got a firm grip on Conrad’s soul.

An antsy feeling that something was wrong crept up the back of Kate’s neck, making all the fine hairs stand on end. She glanced over her shoulder to see Detective Waylon Kramer standing behind a tombstone about ten yards to her left. The handsome detective had asked her to identify the body. He’d even told her right up front that the spouse was usually the first suspect, but she’d provided a rock-solid alibi. So why was he attending a funeral in the broiling Texas heat when he didn’t have to? Did he think she’d throw herself on the casket and confess to having her husband killed because he was a bastard?

Since he was there, he could be a gentleman and move up closer. With his height and broad body, he could provide some shade for her. It would make him good for something other than suspecting that she’d had Conrad killed.

“Stop fidgeting,” Teresa hissed from the side of her mouth.

“This is such a sham,” Kate whispered.

Teresa shot her a dirty look from under that fancy little veil.

Kate sat up straight and pretended to pay attention. But with sidelong glances, she studied the four women and the child sitting at the other end of the row of folding chairs. Thank goodness for big sunglasses so she could stare as long as she wanted and not get caught.

Two women and a child who were definitely Hispanic hovered first in her peripheral vision. The older one was as stone-faced as a statue, and for a while Kate began to think maybe the old gal had succumbed to the terrible Texas heat right there in the cemetery. Just as Kate was about to yell at the detective to call an ambulance, the woman let out a long sigh. Kate could relate. She would have gladly doubled whatever the preacher charged the funeral home for his services if he would cut his sermon short and let everyone get out of the scorching heat. The minutes ticked off at the rate of one every hour.

The dark-haired lady beside the older woman must be quite a bit younger, most likely the mother of the little girl with big brown eyes who, for the most part, looked confused. Poor little thing probably would have rather been home playing in a kiddie pool or watching cartoons on television than sitting at a funeral in the middle of a Texas heat wave.