Bigger Fish
The Curse of the Lady Bug
The Man in the Moon
The House on the Corner

The Curse of the Lady Bug
by Michele Briere
Summary: A party is a-buzz with odd  happenings.

Languid guests lounged, draped, and otherwise arranged themselves in poses that were meant to be relaxed, nonchalant. Most people were grinning their white caps through the pain of screaming muscle cramps. Everyone was too self-important to notice their own mirrored images in the other posers.

All the men wore penguin suits, most in black and white, a few in all black, and a couple of men in all white. The men in white regretted their choice of white every time a drop of wine was spilled. These men were clearly too new to the social scene to have known better; there was a reason black jackets were worn to meals and cocktail hours. Tipsy ladies needed an arm to hold themselves up.

The ladies were slightly more daring in their sequined cocktail dresses with plunging backs and sides slit up one thigh or the other almost to the top of their stockings. Some of the women stayed in one place throughout the evening, smiling at the eager men whenever she wanted another drink. The reason the ladies didn't lift a finger to summon a waiter was because they feared the movement would unbalance their carefully balanced body on high heels that were so uncomfortable that only a sadistic man could have invented them.

The evening's entertainment was not the pianist and his svelte lounge singer who was attempting to be sultry as she warbled notes above her range while draped across the grand; no, the evening's entertainment was the undercurrent of gossip by the rest of the ladies in the room as they made mental notes of everyone's jewelry and whether or not they could remember said jewelry being worn the previous season. No one bothered to mention the embarrassment of having a favorite piece missing from private collections because who wanted to admit that their homes were not secure from the riff-raff?

There was tittering and tisking at the prominent display of Mrs Highcup's diamond tiara, not because it was more ostentatious than the hostess's tiara, but because Mrs Highcup was seen just the month before in a lower east side jeweler's abode, a jeweler who had a reputation for making exacting copies of whatever someone brought in, the original of which was then sold at a pawn shop next door to the jeweler's. What no one had caught onto, yet, was the fact that Mr Harvey, the jeweler, over-charged the price of the duplicate, and Mr McKinney, the pawn shop owner, under-bid on the original, re-sold it at a famous auction house for more than its actual worth, and thus kept themselves quite comfortable in their shared duplex. About every six months, they raised a toast to dear Mrs Highcup.

Mrs Oh, (her first name is Jackie), kept herself in new and imaginative jewelry which was gifted to her by Mr Oh, a droopy-faced middle-aged man with watery eyes, every time she had to claim him from the police after he had gotten himself picked up at a park. He felt he had done nothing wrong at any of those twenty-five plus citations and arrests. It wasn't his fault that women walking their dogs made him shove his hands into his pant pockets or into the deep front pockets of  his London Fog and rub furiously. The bus stop, which happened to be next to a sidewalk cafe he frequented, was even less his fault, he stressed; that beautiful, doe-eyed Basset Hound kept licking his shoes. What was a man supposed to do in such situations? Thankfully, he managed to stay away from dogs who were playing with their child guardians. He wasn't THAT kind of man!

Mrs Carpenter, a white hat with netting hanging over half her face, was the talk of the evening. She came not in a cocktail dress, but in a white pantsuit. From the way Mr Carpenter kept plucking at his upper thighs, everyone was fairly sure who wore the stockings the family. Every once in a while, Mrs Carpenter would take out a pen to make a note in a tiny notebook or on a cocktail napkin. Mr Carpenter would flinch and then resign himself. She would flick the pen, he would jump, his eyes gazing over, she would flick the pen closed, and he relaxed. A few people had asked to use her pen, which she gave with a gentle smile, and they, too, would flick the pen to make a note, usually of a phone number or some such thing. Mr Carpenter would squeak and jump, the pen borrower would frown at him, take a step away, flick the pen closed, and hand it back to Mrs Carpenter. Each person took their cell phones from their pockets, checking for messages; they were sure they had heard a faint humming sound.

When the doors opened to admit Ms Coccinelle, in a sparkling, sequined black evening gown with ruby red fringes and a red pin in her styled hair, the ladies had to converge on her to see the new hair pin up close. It was a beautiful ladybug made of rubies and black onyx. It was quite lovely, they all exclaimed. Unfortunately for everyone, the pin was recognized by Mrs Highcup who immediately pronounced Ms Coccinelle a thief.

Ohhhh, this was better than anything the evening had offered so far! The surrounding women didn't move an inch.

Ms Coccinelle said, quite casually, that the pin had been in her family for generations. She had photos of her great-grandmother wearing the pin almost 100 years ago. Everyone looked at Mrs Highcup.

Mrs Highcup declared her a liar; she had photos of herself wearing the pin at last winter's Christmas party. People gasped. Who would wear such a thing during the winter season?! They looked at Ms Coccinelle.

Someone suggested that maybe more than one pin of that design existed. All the women stopped the person from uttering another sound by looking at the man, Mr Wishwell, a man old enough to know better. He apparently did, as evidenced by the snapping of his jaw as it closed. He backed away from the fangs of death.

Mrs Highcup declared she had taken the pin from the Clamsted Estate Sale after the unfortunate incident of a fire which left the home in ruins. She had allowed Mrs Clamsted to borrow the pin for a to-do in honor of her son's Bar Mitzvah. Considering the beauty of the pin, and its obvious worth, the other women congratulated her on her generosity and trust. She had been lucky the pin survived the fire.

A second unfortunate thing happened at this exact time. The monstrous teenagers of the hosts, Mr and Mrs Gadfly, ran into the parlor with several of their friends who were spending the night. The teenagers were all dressed in Halloween costumes. They ran through the crowd of people, confusing guests and wait staff alike, and plucked jewelry from wherever they could, and dropped it all into the tinkling fountain of pink champagne. The evil-doers immediately ran back up the stairs, locked themselves into the large playroom, and shucked off their costumes which they then dropped out the window.

One of the boys complained of a pricked finger as he sucked the tiny blood drop on his way to the bathroom. When he didn't return to the taunts of babyhood, another boy poked his head into the bathroom. Shocked, he called the others over. The whiner lay passed out on the floor. They all laughed at him having fainted from a tiny drop of blood. Pictures were taken with whatever outrageously expensive phones they happened to have on their persons.

Downstairs, the annoyed guests retrieved their jewelry as it was all gently rinsed, patted dry, and handed back to the owners. One of the waiters jumped, shook his hand, and glared at the offending drop of blood that had been rudely forced from his body by an evil pin. A moment later, he fell to the floor. 

Mrs Highcup stepped over the downed man, mashing fingers of the people trying to help the man up, and snatched the ruby ladybug pin from the floor. She, too, immediately fell to the floor when she pricked her skin in her haste to secure the pin deep down between her generous bosom. Unfortunately for the wounded waiter, she fell on him.

Ms Coccinelle clicked her teeth in disapproval as she leaned down to take her pin. She carefully reattached it to her hairdo, which was now slightly askew.

Upstairs, the fallen boy was waking from his faint. There was more laughter from the other teens as the boy, clearly in a state of confusion, found a red sheet, tossed it around his shoulders, and made buzzing sounds as he ran around the room. He jumped to the ledge of the open window, and, much to the shock of the other teens, he jumped out. They ran to the window and looked down. The boy had landed safely on the pile of Halloween clothes, got up, spread his 'red wings' and 'flew' away across the lawn. The teens watched for a moment, looked at each other, and laughed.

Mrs Highcup was on her feet, swaying. Someone handed her a cloth which had been dampened with cold champagne. She dabbed it to her temples and throat. Behind her, the wait staff struggled with the waiter she had fallen on. He had pulled a red table cloth from a nearby table, yanking it out from underneath the silver and china with only a few breakages, and flung it around his shoulders. The buzzing sound he made caused a few people to look toward Mr Carpenter who had the grace to flush and hang his head.

Resisting the strange urge to find the red fox cape that she noticed the butler carrying off when she had arrived earlier in the evening, she lifted both her chins and marched up to Ms Coccinelle, yanked the pin from her hair, and declared it her property. Expecting a melee, the women backed up.

Ms Coccinelle considered the situation and then smiled, telling Mrs Highcup that if it meant that much to her, please keep the pin. With her blessings. Mrs Highcup, unsure of the new game rules, pushed her chins pugnaciously into Ms Coccinelle's face, suspicious, demanding to know why. Ms Coccinelle gave an elegant shrug and told her because she wanted to offer the pin in a gesture of continued friendship. Still suspicious, Mrs Highcup carefully pinned the ruby ladybug to her dress. Her aim was a little off. Her left breast quickly developed a leak and shrank a full cup size. Face as flushed as brightly as Mr Carpenter's, she lifted her chins, spun on her heels, and imperiously demanded her frock from the butler who didn't bat an eye at the oddly sized bosom.

In her car, she patted her pin, making sure it was still safely on her dress. The ruby ladybug had dried from the unexpected multiple soakings in the evening, and was now resting against her D-cup. The C-cup was kept in the shadow of the car, cloaked behind the red fox wrap that belonged to Mrs MacElroy. She ignored that voice inside which reminded her that although she did allow Mrs Clamsted to borrow it, she had previously 'borrowed' it herself during a dinner at Ms Coccinelle's residence. She did mean to return it, and almost thought she did when she had been unable to find it earlier in the day as she prepared for the evening's cocktail party. How DID that pin end up with that dratted woman, anyway??

Her driver informed her of a detour ahead. Doesn't look like anything serious, he told her, just garbage cans in the road and what looked like cats jumping from car to car, setting off alarms as they escaped the nets of the animal patrol. After another quarter mile, she was told that the local TEA Party was apparently skinny-dipping at the municipal pool. He was pretty sure that was the mayor and the police chief being quickly blanketed by policemen and hustled into cars, but he didn't tell her that. As they passed the pool park, trays of what looked like baked goods were being placed into evidence bags. Someone who couldn't possibly be the school board superintendent reached out and snagged a lump of something dark from a tray and quickly scarfed it, giggling as a police officer tried to stop him. Mrs Highcup shook her head, refusing to remember her own youthful experimentation. She would never support that man in an election again!

Upon returning home, the driver held open her door and she exited gracefully. With the ends of the red fox in hand, she prepared to fling the longer end around her throat. Instead, she took both ends of the red fox wrap, spread her arms, and began to prance around the lawn, skipping in her heels, calling out for her children to come and fly with her. The door of the house opened, and her son, Getty Highcup, shook out his red sheet and ran around the lawn with her.

The driver, suspecting poison, called 911. The EMTs took one look at mother and son, and made a phone call. Eight firemen were run ragged over the Highcup grounds, chasing after the two. Neighborhood dogs sat on the sidewalk and watched. The animal control truck stopped when the driver spotted the dogs. The dogs barked and ran onto the property, getting tangled up in human feet. It wasn't helping that the air was becoming thick with flying insects, causing the firemen to flap their arms to clear their faces. Pleased at seeing them at least making an effort to fly, Mrs Highcup renewed her efforts.

Marty Bogman, the animal control specialist, scratched his head as he watched the commotion. He went to the back of his truck, took out a small gun, loaded a feathered syringe, took aim into the crowd, and fired. The boy jumped and patted his rear end. He stopped and looked at the feathered dart. The world tilted and he went to his knees. Another pop was heard, and Mrs Highcup let out a screech. She also went down.

The firemen, and four police men who had showed up (and were behaving a little strangely themselves as they giggled at the display), stopped running. They bent over, hands on knees as they caught their breath. The Highcups were searched for drugs, none were found, although the police did find it strange that the teenage boy had two diamond rings and a woman's gold watch in his pockets. The police recognized the boy in the red sheet as having run through the streets earlier in the evening, poked his head into the TEA Party meeting to inform them that they were all ladybugs, and continued his flight through town until he arrived at home. Since no harm was done, the police had let him run it off. Whatever IT was.

Smelling smoke, the firemen quickly looked toward the house. A small wisp of smoke was coming from the open front door. They quickly went in, found dogs running through the house knocking over candles that the boy had lit and set on the floor in a circle around a pile of jewelry, china, and small silver and gold items. The small fires were put out. Just to be sure, they continued their inspection of the home.

In the morning, when the police chief read the report and the inventoried list of items that were on the floor in the Highcup home, he shook his head, trying to remember something. He took two aspirin, gave it ten minutes, then looked at the list again. He brought up a list of missing items on his computer. As he read through the list, matching one item after another to what was inventoried at the Highcup estate, he sat back, stunned.

Across town, Ms Coccinelle went downstairs to the dinning room for breakfast. Laying across the doorway to the kitchen was Max, her Golden Retriever. He gave her a wide doggy smile, his tail polishing the wooden floor. He gave her his paw when she bent to greet him, and she felt something between his toe pads. Seeing what he tracked in, she exclaimed what a good boy he was, and put her ladybug into the lapel of her dressing gown.