Perfect for Framing
by Maggie Bishop
Petula rose from her lover’s bed, paraded naked to the vanity mirror, and finger combed her hair so
it fell over one eye.
"Your bruises are almost gone," the man said.
She smiled at him then studied herself in the mirror. "The lipo doctor did a thorough job. He took six pounds
and three inches off my mid-section. I wish these numb spots would go away."
"Give it time, Pet. Your face is almost healed." He propped himself up with her pillow and reached for his
"I hope I’ll look better than this soon," Pet said, still studying herself in the mirror. "I thought
you gave up those things."
"After this one. I’m down to a couple a day. Besides, you said the same thing after your face lift –
no more plastic surgery."
"A lady has a right to change her mind," she called as she stepped into the shower.
By the time she was dressed and had put on makeup, he had his jeans back on. "I’m still mad you let
someone buy that lot I wanted to build on," he said as she emerged from the dressing area in her guest house. He pulled on
a crumpled polo shirt.
"Don’t you worry. I’m in the perfect position to make their lives miserable. Didn’t I make
it too tough for the last owners to build? I wasn’t President of the POA a couple of years ago when you wanted to put
your modular on that lot. Now I have the other homeowners in my grip. If you can’t build there, no one can."
He dropped the butt into the beer can and hugged her, resting his chin on her head. He said, "Revenge can
be so sweet. Maybe you can bankrupt the POA with a lawsuit." He let her go and sat down to tie his sneakers. then asked, "What
are you doing with that situation with your husband? Any progress?"
"Don’t you worry about that either. I’ll end up with the house and a big alimony settlement. Then
it’ll be just the two of us."
"That’s outrageous even for Madam President," Karen said into the phone. "She’s going to get herself
killed one of these days. Come to think of it, that might be a relief to a lot of us."
At the mention of a murder, Jemma’s measuring tape clattered to the floor as she stared at her customer.
Jemma Chase wasn’t eavesdropping, exactly.
"She must be getting a kick out of playing god again, lording over your land, teasing you with delays. The
power-hungry little demon. Murder by hanging would be too easy for her." Karen Harmon grinned into the telephone. After a
moment she laughed, then said, "Maybe she could be in a horrible car accident, complete with head through the windshield,
destroying the doctor’s latest work. Would serve her right for using a Florida plastic surgeon who gave her that uneven
hair line." Karen glanced at Jemma who quickly closed her mouth. Karen winked before continuing her phone conversation. "She
deserves a spike through her heart, if she had one. She has the sculpted look of a cemetery angel and the attitude of a pit
bull. There’s not enough Botox and filler in the world to plump up her shrunken heart."
Karen snapped her gum as she hung up the phone. "Our illustrious POA President is at it again," she said to
Jemma. "Honey, give a petty person a little power and they’ll abuse it every time."
Jemma nodded and retrieved the tape measure, her dream of playing CSI faded. Her fantasy of being a Crime
Scene Investigator wouldn’t bring in money, only trouble, as Detective Tucker was so fond of pointing out. This energetic
little lady wanted more cabinets and a breakfast bar in her kitchen and Jemma was eager to use her carpentry skills on something
besides decks and porches.
"You don’t live in Hickory Hills so this doesn’t matter to you," Karen dropped her wrist and snapped
her gum, "but Mrs. POA Windsor has started to make building a new home in our subdivision a nightmare. Just living near her
sets my pulse racing like Junior Johnson with a load of moonshine, or like Ringo on steroids." She laughed at her own joke.
"Ringo Starr?" Jemma re-measured the space to re-direct attention to the work at hand. She chomped at the
bit to get on with the task at hand. Carpentry and photography had been occupying her time during the ranch’s off season,
but she still managed to ride her horse Brandy most evenings.
"They were before your time. Come to think of it, they were before mine."
"What’s a POA for anyway?"
"Property Owners Association. This one started at fifty dollars a year to plow the roads after snow storms
and for re-graveling in the spring. We’d have a pot-luck lunch in the spring and a quick budget review in December.
That was it."
"When the original president died and the treasurer moved away three years ago, nobody wanted to do the little
work that was involved, including me. We had a house plan review board but the only things we enforced were minimum square
footage and no trailers. Later that was expanded to keep out modular homes. Petula agreed to be president and we were happy
that someone cared enough to volunteer."
"And now? How did she get elected more than once if she’s so hard to deal with?"
"Petula charms the men and talks of increasing home values. They love being on her board and don’t miss
a meeting. She’s the only woman on the board, a mistake we women hope to remedy at the meeting coming up. She turned
our friendly mountain into her own soap opera, starring herself. Maybe she was never in charge of anything before and this
makes her feel powerful. Honey, even her husband stays out of her way in POA matters. He’s never even attended a meeting
since she took over. My guess is that things are calmer at home if he lets her loose on us. Of course I don’t let my
husband attend the meetings, either – our home is certainly calmer if he stays away. Anyway,
lately she’s been pushing for a special assessment of seven thousand dollars per owner to pave the road. That’s
a shopping trip to her but a lot of cash to most of us."
About twice that of her own savings account, Jemma thought. "The road is fine to me even with the couple inches
of snow we got yesterday."
"Right, honey. She claims safety issues, as if the fire department or the sheriff couldn’t travel almost
as fast on the gravel we have. We have snow plowers on contract. Her latest focus is for houses in here to befit her image
as mistress of the mountain." Karen emptied an ash tray with a single butt into the trash can. "My husband still has one after
we cuddle, if you know what I mean."
Jemma nodded and tapped the paper with her pencil as a signal she wanted to get back to work. As she looked
down at the tiny woman, she wondered if Karen knew her hair had a flat spot right on top.
"She’s turned down Ann’s plans again claiming they don’t meet the square footage –
but they do. The plans are for twenty-six hundred square feet and the POA minimum is for twenty-two hundred. She can’t
change the requirements until they are voted on at the meeting in two weeks." Karen opened the refrigerator and pulled out
a diet soda. "Want one?"
Jemma shook her head. "The romance of living in these mountains includes live and let live, rugged individualism
and all that. How does she get away with playing with people?" Jemma tugged on the flannel shirt she’d found in the
men’s section of the thrift shop. Blouse sleeves were always too short, same with pant legs.
"You’ve never met Petula Windsor, have you?" Karen poured the soda in a glass and took a big swallow.
"No, the name’s not familiar." A development had to have a strong grapevine. Doing a good job for Karen
could boost her reputation for carpentry work.
"Her husband is Ward Windsor, the Executive VP at Allgoode Bank. They moved to town fifteen or sixteen years
ago. This’ll be her third year as POA President. She’s an agitator, likes to keep things stirred up. She treats
us like we’re her hive and she’s queen bee. Honey, she’ll get stung one of these days." Karen’s eyes
widened at her own pun, then she tittered. "Anyway, she complained about people dumping grass clippings and leaves in the
woods behind their own houses, oh, and a man walking his dog on a leash before eight in the morning. Now she’s bugging
an owner wanting to build on the lot across the street. That’s my friend, Ann. Come on, I’ll show you."
Jemma gave up on rushing her customer. Karen led Jemma to a picture window in the living room, which had a
view of the neighboring snow covered ridge through the leafless trees. That view could disappear if a house were built directly
across the road. If the house were set to the left, though, where there was already a clearing, Karen would still see for
"See where they’ve cleared the trees? Madam President even complained about that. She ran off the contractor
and slapped a law suit on the owner. That law suit could cost the POA tens of thousands of dollars if it goes to court."
"Can’t the other property owners do anything about her?"
"Short of murder?" Karen again snapped her gum. "I’ve been making good use of talking while shopping
with some of the wives. Surprises may be coming Petula’s way at the meeting."
"Whose property is it?" Jemma looked across the road at the lot and the relatively level spot for a house,
an usual occurrence in the mountains.
"Ann Dixon, she was behind me at Watauga High by uh, a couple of years. "She always was a feisty little girl."
Karen told Jemma about the June meeting.
"She knocked her down? A grown woman?"
"Petula would have called the police, but enough of us saw her grab Ann’s arm –
and the marks her nails left – that she didn’t dare. I called it self-defense."
"So, the trouble-maker has met her match?" Jemma grinned, enjoying the mental image the China Doll up against
the Mountain Woman on one of Alma’s WWF TV shows.
"Not as a brawler. Ann owns Perfect for Framing, an art gallery in downtown Boone, she promotes local artists
and photographers. One of her clients had a photo on the cover of Our State magazine."
"Photography." Jemma tapped the paper again. "I’ll have to visit the shop. I take a few pictures myself."
Great idea. She hadn’t thought of putting her photographs up for sale anywhere besides the family guest ranch. Suppose
her photos were seen by an influential person, a celebrity. Her reputation could grow, she could be asked to do photos for
National Geographic or Atlantic magazines. She could be paid to travel...
"Yes, do visit the gallery. You’ll like Ann, I promise." Karen glanced around as if just realizing she
had been holding up the project. "Thank you for agreeing to build these cabinets on such short notice." Karen walked back
to the kitchen. "Your Aunt Alma said you worked in the cabinet business before moving here."
"It’s been a while since I’ve built anything requiring finesse but don’t worry, it’ll
all come back to me." What was she thinking? Working with wood was her primary interest, or was it solving crimes? What happened
to the application she’d submitted to the Watauga Sheriff’s Department last week? How long does it take to process
an application? When would she be called for an interview? Would Tucker, some called him her detective, give a good
recommendation? Ti-ti-tat went her heart when she thought of him, even after three months of long phone calls and weekend
"Are you sure?" Karen asked with a touch on Jemma’s arm and Jemma realized she had been daydreaming.
"Alma can be pretty persuasive."
"That she can be. But I can handle it, really. Alma said you wanted the new cabinets to match what you already
"That’s right. These cabinets were custom-made when we built the house, and I love them. But now I want
an island separating the work space from the eating area and a matching corner cabinet in that wasted space by the door, and
the craftsman who made them isn’t available."
"Are these antique glass for the corner cabinet?" Jemma knelt and examined two heavy panes of beveled glass
leaning against the wall.
"Maybe not antique, but they are for the corner cabinet. Ann found them in the framing shop when she rented
it. We were talking about what I’d like to do with this room and she gave them to me."
"She’s a good friend."
"She certainly is, so it just make me mad to see her treated this way by Ms Petula President." Karen snapped
her gum and ran a hand down the door of one of the upper cabinets. "This is special heritage wood. Do you think you can get
the same thing?"
Jemma pulled open one of the drawers and peeked underneath at the back of the drawer front. Oak with a clear
finish was attractive and durable, but not hard to duplicate. The style was very plain, what some might call ‘Shaker’.
"I’m sure I can. I recognize it. The style is something I can handle too." Jemma cleared her throat. "If you want to
think about it, I can come back another time. There’s no obligation, just because you know Alma."
"No, no. I’m sure you’ll do fine," Karen said without hesitation.
"When do you want me to start?"
"Now. Honey, the sooner the better. I want to have a celebration on December 31st."
"To ring in the new year?"
"More than that. I’ve invited the whole subdivision, excepting one or two, if you know what I mean.
I’ve something in the works to stop Petula Windsor. Keep your fingers crossed."