to the Mop
by Barbara Colley
“Is this Charlotte LaRue with Maid-for-a-Day?”
Charlotte barely suppressed an impatient groan. Why, oh, why had
she answered the phone? She should have ignored it, or, at the very
least, she should have checked the caller I.D. before answering it.
Besides, today was Sunday, for Pete’s sake; she didn’t
work on Sundays. She figured that if even the good Lord Himself had
seen fit to rest one day a week, then who was she to question His
But ignoring a ringing phone had never been easy for her. She had
always been just a bit superstitious that the very call that she
ignored would be an emergency call informing her that something had
happened to a member of her family.
So, now that you know it’s not, just hang
up the receiver.
The temptation was strong, but she just couldn’t
do it. With an impatient sigh, she finally said, “Yes, this
“Charlotte, my name is Emily Rossi, and I need
Charlotte sighed again and drummed her fingers on
the desktop. The one thing she didn’t need was another customer.
As it was, she had more work than she could handle. Besides, any
her family would be coming through the door expecting Sunday lunch,
and she still needed to carve the roast and put the food on the table.
Be nice, Charlotte, her conscience chided. Hear the woman out.
You can always say no.
Charlotte took a deep breath. “What kind of
help do you need, Ms. Rossi?”
“Just the general stuff, you know--dusting,
Charlotte glanced down at the envelope in front of
her on her desk. The return address on the envelope belonged to
one of her full-time employees. She’d received the envelope
Friday, but hadn’t opened it yet, and, in fact, had put off
opening it, dreading the contents, since she was fairly certain that
it contained Cheré’s resignation letter.
Charlotte tapped the envelope with her forefinger.
Then there was Nadia. In addition to being her nephew Daniel’s
wife, Nadia was also another full-time employee. Any day now Charlotte
to get a resignation letter from Nadia as well. Not that Charlotte
blamed either of the women for her decision.
Cheré had been slowly but surely working her way through
college. She’d graduated from Tulane in December and had been
actively seeking other employment that fit her business degree.
Nadia was still on maternity leave, but she’d
been dropping hints about staying home with her new baby permanently
returning to work. And why not? As a well-respected attorney, Daniel
made more than enough money to support his new family.
Charlotte had figured that she and Janet Davis, her
only part-time employee, could pinch-hit for a while, filling in
for Cheré and
Nadia until she found replacements for the two women. Anticipating
the resignations, she’d gone ahead and placed an ad in the
newspaper in hopes of hiring another full-time employee. As a result,
she’d already received several résumés that looked
good. Even so, she still had to interview them and . . .
“Ms. Rossi, I’m really sorry. Right now I’m booked
solid and am shorthanded. I just can’t take on any new clients.”
A frustrated sound from Emily Rossi whispered through
the phone line. “Not even temporary ones?” she asked. “I’m
not looking for full-time, permanent help,” she hastened to
add. “Only temporary help, just a few days, until Jennifer—she’s
my regular maid--can work again. My friend Bitsy--Bitsy Duhe--says
you’re the best in the city. She’s had a family emergency—Jennifer,
not Bitsy—and she isn’t sure when she can come back to
When Emily Rossi paused, Charlotte frowned. Either the poor woman
was on the verge of a nervous breakdown or she was as scatterbrained
“Sorry,” Emily finally said. “I’m probably
not making sense. It’s just that I’m at my wits’ end,
and Bitsy, bless her old heart, assured me that not only were you
the best, but you were trustworthy and-and discreet.”
Discreet? Charlotte had to bite her bottom lip to
keep from laughing out loud. She supposed she should be flattered,
and she would have
been had the compliment come from anyone but Bitsy. Bitsy Duhe was
the worst gossip in all of New Orleans and didn’t know the
meaning of the word discreet.
“You see,” Emily continued, “my husband and I
are giving a Mardi Gras party Friday night. We thought that would
be the best time since the Endymion Parade and Ball is Saturday evening,
and of course no one wants to miss Endymion. Of all times for Jennifer
to take off, this is the worst. Not that she can help it,” Emily
hastened to add. “Believe me, I understand about family emergencies.
I’ve had a few of my own. Anyway, I only need you to come in
on Thursday, half a day on Friday before the party, then clean up
on Saturday and possibly Sunday after the party. Hopefully Jennifer
will be back by the following Monday. And before you say no, I’m
prepared to offer you two hundred dollars a day for all four days.
Even the half day,” she added.
Charlotte blinked and her breath caught in her lungs. Two hundred
dollars a day? Emily Rossi had to be desperate indeed to offer that
kind of money. Talk about an offer hard to refuse.
After Charlotte remembered to breathe again, she
once more glanced down at the letter on her desk. “Ah, you did say ‘temporary’?”
“Yes, just those four days. Really, just three and a half
days,” she added quickly. “Eight hundred total. So, do
you think you can do it?”
Charlotte’s mind raced. If, as she suspected, the letter on
the desk was Cherè’s resignation and if Cheré gave
the requisite two-week notice, then Charlotte figured that she could
do it. She’d already resigned herself to the fact that once
Cheré left she’d have to give up her own two days off
each week until she could find a replacement. Working for Emily Rossi
just meant giving them up earlier than she had planned.
Taking the temporary job would also mean that she’d have to
work for almost two weeks straight, but it wouldn’t be the
first time she’d done so and she was sure it wouldn’t
be the last. Besides, she could use part of the money to finally
buy paint for her house. The outside of the century-old Victorian
double was beginning to look a bit shabby, and she’d been intending
to repaint it now for the past two years. Any money left over could
be added to her retirement account.
“Hello? Ms. LaRue? Are you still there?”
Emily Rossi’s words were barely above a whisper, and the desperation
in her tone tugged at Charlotte’s heart. She’d been desperate
a time or two in her life as well and knew how it felt.
I’m still here, Ms. Rossi.” Charlotte swallowed hard.
So much for just saying no. She’d always been a sucker for
a sob story. Yeah, and the money ain’t bad either. Ignoring
the irritating voice in her head and telling herself that the money
was not the only reason she was going to accept the offer, she said, “Okay,
Ms. Rossi, what’s your address? And what time would you like
for me to be there on Thursday?”
“You’ll do it? Oh, thank you, thank you!
And please, just call me Emily.”
“Okay, Emily, but only if you call me Charlotte. Now, what’s
You’re such a hypocrite, Charlotte. Again Charlotte
ignored the pesky voice and scribbled down the address and time.
again reassuring the poor woman that she would be there on Thursday
morning, she hung up the receiver.
Charlotte stared at the small stack of file folders
placed on the corner of her desk. Good thing she’d run that
help-wanted ad, she decided. Now all she had to do was find a time
to interview the prospects she’d chosen from the responses
Two hundred dollars a day. Unbidden, Emily Rossi’s offer came
to mind again, and Charlotte’s gaze slid over to the envelope
from Cheré. Ignoring the letter wasn’t going to make
it go away. With a sigh, Charlotte picked up a letter opener and
the envelope, slid the tip of the opener beneath the flap, and ripped
Maybe she was being a bit of a hypocrite about the
money, but so what? For more years than Charlotte wanted to count,
she had worked
in the exclusive, historic Garden District, one of the wealthiest
neighborhoods in New Orleans. Her regular clients paid her well,
but this was the first time that she’d ever been offered that
much money just to clean someone’s house. With a shake of her
head, she pulled out the one page letter from inside the envelope
and began reading.
Just as she had thought, Cheré was giving notice, but only
one week’s notice. According to the letter, she’d been
hired by an accounting firm in Atlanta and would be reporting to
work in two weeks. When Charlotte read the last two lines of the
neatly typed letter, her throat grew tight and tears blurred her
I love you, Charlotte, and I’ll miss you. You’ve been
like a mother to me, and I’ll never forget all that you’ve
done for me.
Though Charlotte had often thought of Cheré as
family, until now she had never realized that the bright, energetic
had considered her family as well.
Outside, a car door slammed.
Charlotte’s gaze flew to the window. “Oh, no,” she
whispered. They were here and she wasn’t ready. Charlotte dropped
the letter and hurried to the front window. Peeking out of the window,
all she saw though was her neighbor across the street.
“Whew! False alarm, Sweety Boy,” Charlotte
told the little green parakeet inside the birdcage next to the
The parakeet squawked and chirped as he sidled over
to the edge of the cage. Charlotte smiled. “Yeah, yeah, what
do you care, you little scamp?”
Turning away from the cage, she hurried back to the kitchen. For
years she and her sister Madeline had taken turns hosting the family
for lunch after church services on Sunday morning; it was a tradition
that they had started when their children were young, and surprisingly
enough, even now that their children were all adults, everyone usually
The family was growing by leaps and bounds, she thought
with a smile as she grabbed two hot pads. From the oven she removed
the huge roast
she’d baked earlier that morning before she went to church,
and carried it over to the kitchen cabinet. With her son Hank’s
recent marriage to Carol, her nephew Daniel’s marriage to Nadia,
and her niece Judith’s ongoing relationship with Billy Wilson,
and NOPD patrolman, not to mention Daniel and Nadia’s two little
ones, her sister Madeline and herself, the body count was up to ten.
Charlotte gingerly peeled back the foil from the steaming roast.
Using an electric knife, she began slicing it. Everyone in the family
had a partner now, everyone but Madeline . . . and everyone but her.
Unbidden, bittersweet memories of the past tugged
at her emotions. She’d been engaged once, but thanks to Vietnam, the love of
her life had not come home alive. But she’d had one night with
him, the night before he’d left, and she would forever be grateful
for it. Without that one night she wouldn’t have the precious
gift of her son, Hank, who had proved to be the joy of her life.
A commotion at the front door jerked Charlotte back to the present.
“Mom?” a deep voice called out.
“Speak of the devil and he shall appear,” Charlotte
murmured. And from the sounds of things, everyone else was following
“In the kitchen, son,” she called out.
Minutes later, the women were scurrying around setting out the food
on the kitchen table buffet-style. From the living room, Charlotte
could hear the rumble of male voices where the men had congregated.
Charlotte would have loved to be a fly on the wall to hear what they
were talking about.
With Hank being a doctor, Daniel a lawyer, and Billy
a policeman, Charlotte couldn’t help but wonder just what
the three men had in common to talk about.
Then she heard the distinct sound of the television, and she rolled
her eyes when she recognized the voice of a well-known sports announcer
followed by the roar of a crowd.
Of course. What else? She had all but forgotten that
today was Super Bowl Sunday. Too bad the New Orleans Saints hadn’t
made it to the Super Bowl, she thought. At least this year they
it to the playoffs though, but only by the skin of their teeth.
At that moment Nadia’s four-year old son Davy burst into the
kitchen. “Aunt Chardy! Mommy! Daddy Danol says I can eat in
the living room with the guys and watch football.”
Charlotte smiled at the little boy. “Of course you can, honey.
After all, you’re one of the guys too.”
Nadia laughed as she swung baby Daniella, the newest
member of the family, up onto her shoulder to burp her. “Guess
that means us girls have to stay holed up in the kitchen.”
“Mommy! Girls don’t play football.”
Nadia smiled at her little son indulgently.
Judith walked over to Davy and knelt down in front
of him. “Girls
may not play football,” she said tapping him on the nose with
her forefinger, “but this girl likes to watch it.”
Davy placed his hands on his hips and frowned. “Aunt Jude,
I know you a police ‘tective, but Daddy Danol says it’s
a guy thing.”
Judith laughed. “That’s de-tective, you little scamp,
but even girls like football too,” she said as she stood.
The little boy puffed up his chest. “Daddy
Danol says one day I can play football too.”
“Humph! We’ll see about that,” Nadia and Madeline
said at the same time. Then everyone laughed, and even though Charlotte
was sure that Davy didn’t quite understand why they were laughing,
he laughed too.
Nadia smiled at her little son. “Sweetheart, I think Aunt
Chardy is ready for everyone to come into the kitchen for blessings
and lunch. Would you like to go tell the guys it’s time to
Davy’s face brightened, and with an excited
yelp, he ran out of the kitchen.
Minutes later, everyone gathered around the kitchen
table. Charlotte smiled and nodded at Hank. “Would you say
the blessings, son?”
Hank grinned. “Sure, Mom.” He wrapped his arm around
Carol and pulled her close to his side. “Before I do though,
Carol and I have an announcement to make.” His gaze held Charlotte’s
and a mischievous look glimmered in his eyes. “Mom, how would
you like to be a grandmother?”
Charlotte took a quick, sharp breath and tears stung
her eyes as she glanced from Hank’s smug expression to Carol’s beaming
face and back to Hank. “For true?” she exclaimed, her
heart pounding with joy.
Both Hank and Carol laughed and nodded. “Yes, ma’am,” Hank
responded with pride. “Carol is pregnant.”
Suddenly, cheers, laughter, and heartfelt words of congratulations
erupted around the table as everyone took turns hugging Hank, Carol,
A few minutes later, when everyone had quieted down
again, Hank said, “Now, if everyone would bow their heads
. . .”
Long after everyone had finished eating, had cheered for their favorite
Super Bowl team, then went home, Charlotte wandered around in a daze.
“Finally,” she whispered, savoring the warm feeling
within while she stared out of the front window at the sun sinking
behind her neighbor’s oak tree. After so many years of longing
to be a grandmother, she was finally going to have a grandchild.
On Tuesday morning, after she’d brushed her teeth, Charlotte
stared at her image in the mirror above the sink as she applied her
makeup. A grandmother. She was going to be a grandmother.
Charlotte tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. Did she look like
a grandmother? She reached up and smoothed makeup across her forehead.
Thanks to good genes, there were only a few wrinkles there. Her finger
slid down to trace the ones near the outside corners of her eyes.
Only a few there too.
After a finishing touch of lipstick, she picked up the hairbrush
and began brushing her hair. Again, thanks to good genes, what little
bit of gray she had blended with the honey-brown color.
Charlotte frowned when several strands refused to
be tamed into submission. Her usual short, no-nonsense style had
grown out a bit
longer than she liked. She’d have to add a note to her to-do
list to call her hairdresser for an appointment. Meanwhile . . .
She picked up a can of hair spray and aimed the spray at the errant
strands, then using her hair pick, she held the wayward strands down
until the spray dried.
Finally satisfied and deciding that she was being
silly about the whole appearance thing, she rolled her eyes and
left the room. Who
cared whether she looked like a grandmother or not? Certainly not
the baby. That baby wouldn’t care what she looked like as long
as it got lots of love and affection from her. Besides, she had work
to do, and standing around worrying about her looks wouldn’t
get it done.
Outside was a cold, drizzly day as Charlotte climbed
in her van and drove to Bitsy Duhe’s home. Bitsy’s
home was a very old, raised-cottage-style Greek Revival and was
located on the same
street where famed vampire novelist Anne Rice had once lived before
she moved to California.
As usual, Bitsy, with her gray-blue hair and dressed in one of her
many flowered dresses, was standing on the front gallery waiting
for Charlotte to arrive.
Charlotte unloaded her supply carrier and vacuum
cleaner, locked and slammed the rear door of the van, then trudged
up the narrow
sidewalk toward the porch. “Good morning,” she called
out to the tiny birdlike woman as she climbed the steps. “And
where is your sweater?” she added. “Aren’t you
“Oh, Charlotte, I’m too excited to be cold. You’ll
never guess what’s happened.” In true Bitsy fashion she
rushed on without giving Charlotte a chance to answer. “Bradley
has made arrangements for me to fly to California and stay with him
for two whole weeks.”
Charlotte figured that if she stopped on the porch
to talk they would both end up catching a chill, so she headed
straight for the
front door, knowing that Bitsy would follow. Only when they were
both inside did she respond. “Bitsy, that’s wonderful
news.” She set the vacuum cleaner down in the center hallway. “When
do you leave?”
Bitsy grinned from ear to ear. “Day after tomorrow. Can you
believe it? In just two days I’ll be in sunny California, and
I’ve got a million things to do before then.”
Charlotte was truly glad that Bitsy was going to
visit her son, especially after the last time Bradley had paid
a visit to his mother.
At least now Bitsy didn’t still think that her son was trying
to put her away into a retirement home.
Bitsy frowned. “One of the things on my list is to get that
girl you use to do my hair. What’s her name again?”
Bitsy nodded. “Before you leave I need you to write down her
name and phone number. I want the works this time—a haircut
and a permanent.” She patted her blue-gray hair. “And
I suppose a little color wouldn’t hurt either . . .” With
a thoughtful frown she turned her hand palm up, curled her fingers,
and stared at her fingernails. “And maybe even a manicure.”
For the remainder of the day, as Charlotte cleaned,
Bitsy followed her around chattering about her upcoming trip and
all of the things
that she hoped to see and do. Charlotte’s only reprieve was
when the phone rang and when Bitsy’s soap operas came on.
By the time Charlotte was ready to pack up and leave that afternoon,
she could feel the beginnings of a headache coming on.
“Now you won’t forget to check on my house for me, will
you?” Bitsy asked her for what Charlotte figured was the umpteenth
“No, ma’am,” Charlotte reassured
her as she knelt down to rearrange her cleaning supplies in the
“You do still have that key I gave you and the security code,
Charlotte nodded. “And I have Bradley’s phone number
and his cell phone number on my notepad,” she added, anticipating
Bitsy’s next question. Charlotte stood. “By the way,
I want to thank you for referring me to Emily Rossi and for the kind
things you said about me to her.”
Bitsy waved a dismissing hand. “No problem. Everything I said
is true.” Suddenly her face collapsed into a frown and she
slowly shook her head. “That Emily is such a nice young woman,” she
said. “And I’m glad that you agreed to work for her.
She hasn’t had an easy life, you know. Her parents died when
she was young, and she was raised by her grandmother. Then, when
Emily was a senior in high school, poor Thelma—Thelma was her
grandmother—anyway, Thelma passed away, God rest her soul,
and Emily came to stay with me. It was the least I could do what
with Thelma and me being best friends and neighbors for all those
years. Why, even after Emily graduated and went off to college, she
still came back and stayed with me during holidays and the summers.”
A sad little smile pulled at Bitsy’s lips. “Why, she’s
been like a daughter to me—at least she used to be. Of course
I don’t see her near as often as I used to, not since she married
Charlotte suddenly went stone still. Then she swallowed
hard and a feeling of foreboding came over her. “Robert? Emily’s
husband’s name is Robert?” she asked Bitsy. “The Robert Rossi?”
Bitsy nodded, and a sudden chill settled in Charlotte’s
“Now, Charlotte, just get that look off your face. You shouldn’t
believe everything that you hear about the man. I know what people
say about Robert,” Bitsy continued, “about him being
a Mafia don and all and about him being so much older than Emily.
Of course he is almost fifteen years older, but so what? My late
husband, rest his soul, was ten years older than me.”
Bitsy waved her hand. “And that other business—you know—that
gossip about Robert’s first wife and children disappearing.”
Though Charlotte knew she would regret asking, the
words just popped out. “’Disappearing?’ I don’t
remember anything about that.”
Bitsy sniffed as if it were no concern at all. “Well, there’s
two versions. Some say she ran around on Robert, got pregnant by
her lover, then took the two kids and ran away to South America with
him. Of course others say that Robert had her and the baby murdered
and stashed his two children away in a boarding school. But that’s
all just a bunch of mean-spirited gossip--a bunch of hooey, if you
ask me. Besides which, Emily is a sweet, kindhearted person, and
she wouldn’t have married Robert if she thought for one moment
that he’d done half of what he’s been accused of doing.”
Charlotte shuddered. She couldn’t believe that she hadn’t
made the connection when she’d first talked to Emily, couldn’t
believe that she’d actually accepted a job working for the
Mafia. It was well-known that Robert Rossi was one of the wealthiest,
most ruthless Mafiosi in the country.
And what if Bitsy was wrong? What if the rumors were
true and he had murdered his first wife? After all, he had been
the primary suspect
in the murder of Roberto Rossi, his own father, and that wasn’t
just gossip. In fact, it had been all over the television news and
in the newspapers for weeks. Even the national media had picked it
up. Of course, in the end, the courts had been unable to prove Robert’s
guilt and he’d been acquitted.
Charlotte shuddered again. Emily might be sweet and
kind, but according to everything she’d ever heard about Robert, he was anything
but. Regardless of Bitsy’s rose-colored opinion of Emily, Charlotte
figured that either Emily was blind, deaf, and dumb, or she just
flat-out didn’t have good sense for marrying Robert Rossi in
the first place. Charlotte also figured that she’d just made
a huge mistake agreeing to work for Emily.
“Besides,” Bitsy went on, nothing was ever proven about
his father’s murder. As for his wife and children, you and
I both know that anything could have happened. Just because they
disappeared doesn’t mean he had them killed.”
A shiver ran up Charlotte’s spine. If it looks
like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.
“But I guess I should warn you of one thing,” Bitsy
What now? Charlotte wondered.
“Because of the ugly rumors connected with the family, there
will probably be bodyguards all over the place. Don’t be surprised
if you get frisked before you’re allowed inside the house.
Humph!” Bitsy made a face. “Why, last time I visited
Emily, they even frisked me.” She suddenly chuckled. “Can
you imagine anyone thinking that I could be some kind of hit woman?"
Only if your mouth counts as a lethal weapon.
Charlotte winced and was immediately sorry for the unkind thought.
Bitsy was a terrible gossip but she was also a lonely old lady who
had nothing better to do with her time.
Thanks for the warning,” Charlotte said with a forced smile.
Since she figured she’d had enough gossip and enough of Bitsy
for one day, she picked up her supply carrier and vacuum cleaner,
then set out with purposeful steps toward the front door. “Have
a good time in California,” Charlotte called out over her shoulder
as she hurried out. Despite Bitsy’s flattering recommendation,
Charlotte suddenly wished that the old lady had kept her mouth shut
and never mentioned her to Emily Rossi.
Excerpt from Married
to the Mop
Copyright 2005 by Barbara Colley