The first of the series, Oklahoma! Hex, finds Mex on Broadway solving the murder of Oklahoma!’s pore Jud. An old flame and producer calls her into the mix, and she works with her favorite NYPD Blue a.k.a. cop, Michael Ryan Kelley. The cast of Oklahoma! is infiltrated with Santería practitioners. She ends up in Tierra del Fuego, the southern-most inhabited point in the world, as she faces down the leader of a worldwide web of evil. She meets her Divine Right Partner, Veronica, and of course, she falls in love. By listening to the inner voice she calls Spirit, Mex catches her culprit, and always learns something about herself.
Introducing The Mex Mysteries
First things first. As rules go, it’s a good one. I have perfected the art of waking in total stillness. Without this ability, I would never, but never, have one moment of mush (rhymes with push) time. Morning is my time for me to, you know, snooze, snuggle, muse, think, fly around, ponder, tune in, figure out. I like my mornings the way I like them. My longest-time companions, Prudence and Money, hold, shall we say, a dissenting opinion.
One exhale and all bets are off. They know, and I know that they know, and they know that I know that they know, I’m awake. “Awake” has an over-riding feline translation in my household. It means, Breakfast, now! The slightest eyelash flutter denotes awake, hence the developed ability to waken and be still.
Up, up, Mommy, up, up, up, now! The next tactic is usually a parade—on my bladder. In the morning, that will get me out of bed like no other thing. I’m up, I’m going. Loo first, then the kitchen isn’t far. Just down the hallway of my abode with the wall-to-wall pink carpet; it makes the white walls glow. Both girls have their own specified dishes. Miss Prue prefers all things rhinestone; the ones on her kitty dish are pink. Money is a whole lot more rough-and-tumble than Prudence; her dish is black ceramic with her name hand-painted in green. When I graduated from college, I bought into the collective belief that apartments in New York City are hard to find. I found one, and I’ve stayed for almost twenty years.
My bedroom window faces north in my eleventh-floor, two-bedroom apartment in the U-shaped building in Midtown that I call home. Oblique light patterns skim through the always partially akimbo blinds over the objects on my built-in corner desk altar. I almost always have a fresh flower in a crystal bud vase, pictures of various avatars, meaningful rocks—you know the kinds of things I mean. It’s the only place that’s consistently spotless in my apartment. Maybe it’s because I spend time in front of it every day. Or I do when I remember. My granny used to say, “Dahlink, you don’t have to dust, just blow hard as you pass by.” My housekeeper Adeline dusts my altar. I blow hard.
Kitchen, living room and office are the same room. The kitchen is one wall of the living room. In this order, a small fridge (white), the tiniest gas stove you’ve ever seen (avocado), a counter (faux butcher-block) big enough for two cat dishes and a drainer, followed by a stainless steel sink. I don’t, as a rule, do kitchen.
Which is why, after I scampered through the shower, stroked on the requisite mascara—the minimum makeup required to leave the house—junked my disobedient cloud of red curls on the top of my head, and put on my uniform (more later), I headed out the door to the deli at 50th Street and Broadway to get a cup of coffee. Not regular. Regular in the language of New York City means coffee with a lot of half-and-half and a lot of sugar. I prefer my coffee with hazelnut cream, which I have delivered from the Red Apple grocery.
As I held the brown bag of steaming brew, wondering why I ever let them put it in a bag since I only have to throw them out when I get home, I turned my focus to the newsstand outside the deli to get The Times. I almost always go out to buy the paper though I could have it delivered to my door. Moving my body is as much a part of spiritual practice as meditation.
I was pretty tired. I’d been out till the wee hours sitting on a cheating spouse in the pouring rain on the back side of the Port Authority. The Variety headline caught my eye as I handed my change through the Plexiglas window. It said, “B’way Tragedy: ‘Pore’ Jud IS Dead.” I felt a surge of annoyance. Will they go to any lengths to pan a show? The hell with them.
Sorry, Spirit. Heck.
Just then a taxi decided to douse me generously with God only knew what . . . (In another life, I would have sworn a blue streak.)
You would have. And no, you don’t want to.
With gutter detritus and rainwater now splashed on my clothes, my pager went off full decibel. I’d meant to set it to vibrate. I was on the slow program that morning, needing to ease into my day. Splash and page had not been in my original plan.
I suppose I ought to explain about Spirit. She’s the energy that qualifies me as an intuitive investigator and she also guides my life—when I let her. Spirit is my name for her. Everyone has an unadulterated center within themselves that knows. I call mine Spirit, but Harold or Hephzibah would work just as easily. There’s more; you’ll see as we go along. Oh yeah, one more thing. I sacrificed swearing for Lent one year, and Spirit has become relentless about it. Don’t ask.
You could ask, if you wanted to. The point is that swearing is gratuitous. Can you imagine me using curse words? I know you’re thinking, But there are angry gods! Hear my answer well, Beloved: Only if you think so.
I turned toward home and I disagreed with Variety. I’d seen this version of Oklahoma! I’m friends with one of the producers, and I went to college for one semester with the guy who controls the rights to the vast Rodgers and Hammerstein intellectual real estate. There’s a gig for you. He always says, “How much pressure can there be? The bosses are dead.” He has a point. Did you know that there is never a day on earth when a production of Oklahoma! isn’t being done somewhere?
Back to my pager, I checked the number. The truth is, I barely recognize my own number. It’s a total waste of brain space to keep telephone numbers in my head when they can be had in all sorts of places other than there. Oh, I retain some, but only the ones I want to retain.
Let me be clear about this pager, please. I know they seem outdated to most people. I carry one in my purse only in deference to my clients. I don’t believe in pagers, or in cellphones. Having a pager makes my clients think they can reach me whenever they want which is why I do it. I practice defensive pager. They can’t talk to it directly. They get to call me, they get to punch in the number, and then they get to wait.
Speaking of clients, I want you to know that Mex Stone works only by referral, and that no, Mex is not the whole of my name. The whole damn thing is Mexicali Rose Stone. Mama was a cabaret singer, and for some reason unbeknownst to any but the gods, she chose Mexicali Rose as her signature song. It’s a tacky old lament made famous in the 1930s by none other than that singing cowboy Gene Autry.
The bucolic October Saturday of my birth she plunked all those syllables down on me. If you were named Mexicali Rose Stone, be honest, would you let anyone call you that? Some questions are genuinely rhetorical. So. You can call me Mex. Get it? Got it? Good.
I had to change. My clothes were covered in oily splotches that smelled of something like what I thought might be Freon. My eyes were watering. No importa. I quit being irritated at things like this years ago. There’s plenty to be upset about in our world without taking on the minutiae. This is part of my commitment to God. If it weren’t for God . . . I’ll get to that.
Yes, do get to that please, as soon as you can. Postponement explains much of the difficulty you experience in your world. Now, Beloved, is the only time. Now or now or now or now. It’s your only choice.
I almost always wear the same thing on a workday, which, since I traded alcoholism for workaholism, is nearly every day. It’s standard drag, a uniform, if you will. A short, slim black skirt; it’s a custom copy of a Chanel, a white silk or cotton shirt, a brilliant, jewel-colored jacket either with a scarf or an interesting lapel pin. It makes deciding easy. The deciding thing, not always so easy for a Libra.
My pager would have to wait till I got home. What was five minutes?
Home is on the south side of 49th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. It’s on the periphery of the theatre district. Almost too far north and almost too far east, but I click with the theatre, and easy access geographically makes for easy access to the artform. When I was a kid, I was dead certain that I’d be an actress. I am, just not on the stage, Mrs. Worthington.
Home at last, after I changed, I stared out the south-facing living room/office/kitchen windows from my vantage point high above street level. You can see the ball fall from my window on New Year’s Eve. If you’ve heard the din that comes from Times Square on New Year’s Eve, you’d also be right where I always am on that over-rated occasion. At home.
There is a vest-pocket park between my building and the McGraw-Hill Building with a waterfall fountain. It makes for excellent white noise and goes with my penchant—no, that trivializes it, need is better—for silence. It is only in silence that I can hear the voice of my own spirit, the God/dess Within.
I realize that Midtown doesn’t really qualify as a residential neighborhood, but what would be the point of moving? It’s convenient. Quiet. I work out of the living room for tax purposes. It’s the biggest room, so I can take off more on my taxes. Sometimes I think I live my life for that accountant. There is a box full of receipts and … I take it to him every year. Richie says I’m the only one. What do other people do with their accountants? My box comes back to me empty with a folder bearing filled-out tax forms. What he does with the bits of paper, I don’t know. Suits me just fine. Taxes are like phone numbers—numbers.
I retrieved the number from my pager and punched it into the phone. Five minutes, in this case, was quite enough. I no longer dial. I broke down a few years ago and got a touchtone phone. I am hi-tech.
The exchange was Gramercy. I know because my granny used to have a GR phone number. The first phone number I knew by heart. GR7-7877. I always thought it meant GRanny 7. When I became an adult, I learned that telephone prefixes were connected with neighborhoods. Imagine my disillusionment. My birthday was a national holiday too until some calendar wise guy decided that Columbus Day ought always to be a Monday.
Before I opened my mouth to say the standard, “This is Mex Stone, you paged me,” a breathy female voice came through the phone, “Mex, where have you been?” And promptly began to sob. Sobbing women are not my thing, unless I am doing the sobbing. I waited. Silent. I had no clue as to who this could be.
“Mex, it’s me.” This might be my least favorite telephone habit. If I wait long enough, they always tell me. “It’s me, Charlotte. Something terrible has happened.”
Charlotte is my friend who is one of the producers on Oklahoma! She’s the one who offered me free tickets during previews. It’s a phenomenon called papering the house. Producers do it to gauge audience response and to get a buzz going. To get in, you have to know someone. In this case, I did.
“Apparently,” I said. Then I waited some more.
“Mex, have you seen the paper?”
Shit, I’d left it at the newsstand. “No.”
“It’s everywhere. I don’t know what we’re going to do.”
I have an allergy to conversations with no nouns. “Charlotte, what is it in that sentence?”
“The news about Jud. He’s dead.” The sobbing continued.
This woman was crying over a bad review in Variety? Not a good motive to page me.
Charlotte was a fling from long, long ago. She was a lovely woman if you don’t mind rich girl dilettantes. Charlotte was given a bit to Dramatics; she was, after all, in The Theatre.
“Charlotte, get a hold of yourself and tell me exactly what has happened.” Fortunately for me, she recognized the tone and was at once in control and all business.
“Mex, I need your help.”
“Alright. With what?”
“Mex,” her voice dropped to a whisper, “Jud really is dead.”
“You mean the actor? I’m sorry.”
“Dammit, not just dead! Dead in the theatre, onstage, in the middle of the first act!”
“Charlotte, honey, what are you implying?”
She nearly jumped into my ear. Charlotte is high-wire tense a lot of the time. “I am not implying anything. Do I have to spell it out for you? Where were you last night?”
“Working, although it’s none of your business.”
“Mex, I tried to call you when they called me from the theatre around midnight.”
This slightly accusatory energy of Charlotte’s was familiar. Perhaps that’s why we had no future. Some of our time together was sweet. Charlotte is a blonde. After her, I went off blondes.
“And?” I prompted her.
“Darling,” she slipped into theatre-ese, “Jud, or the actor who was Jud, was murdered.”
“How do you know?”
“I just know.”
Good enough for me. “Are the Blues on it?” The Blues is my name for New York’s Finest a.k.a. The NYPD.
“Yes, but I told my partners I’d get The Best in the Business. Darling, listen, everyone is totally jangled. You know as well as I do that the show must go on. It’s a sellout, you know. Will you take the case?”
She’s already told everyone I will. “Sure, honey. Do you know . . . is Kelley the Blue in charge?”
I know my precinct cops. I have to.
“I think so.”
“It’s 7:37. I’ll get back to you sometime this afternoon.”
Well, well, weren’t no bright golden haze on the meadow this day and Oklahoma! was definitely not O.K.
I went back down in the elevator, and walked in unseeing silence to 50th Street. The turbaned man in the window handed me The Times without speaking. Time to get more of the facts.
All lyrics from the musical Oklahoma!
Music by Richard Rodgers and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Copyright © 1943 by Williamson Music
Copyright Renewed. International Copyright Secured.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
The oh-so-perfect hat/pin is the result of (what else?) a Google search. If you ask for “pink cowboy hats,” this is one of the first images that comes up. So, of course, I fell in love with it. I found it on bluemaize.net.
Oklahoma! Hex is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental—if you believe in that sort of thing.
© 2017 Susan Corso
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission of the publisher. Please do notparticipate in or encourage piracy of copyright materials in violation of the author’s rights unless you know how to swashbuckle.