I was thirty-four years old when it came to me that life is
one big masquerade ball, with all of the guests carefully
concealing their true selves behind elaborate disguises. Some
of us dance so gracefully in our costumes that no one ever
suspects that they only see what we allow. Now, you’re
probably saying to yourself, “I figured that out by
the time I was, oh, about…twelve.” I always have
been a late bloomer.
Looking back, I guess the epiphany had been pushing towards
the surface for a while. I had quite a few hints—a series
of incidents where people close to me let their masks slip.
But it all became clear the spring I saw Zeke Lyerly, a man
I would have sworn I knew, for the first time.
Like so many things in my life, it all started with my daddy.
Before she would let Daddy retire, Mamma insisted that he
find something to occupy his time besides sandpapering her
nerves all day. Since his two favorite pastimes were haunting
flea markets and cussin’ at the stock reports on MSNBC,
we all put our heads together and came up with the idea for
It was an old red barn several miles from Mamma’s house
that we renovated and air-conditioned to the point that you
could have hung meat in there. Daddy didn’t like to
sweat. To help pay the outrageous electricity bills, he rented
booths to a few of his cronies and the occasional bored housewife.
Near the front door, he sat vigil over the stock ticker, surfed
the World Wide Web, and occasionally sold junk.
I went by the flea market one morning late that March to see
“Mornin’ Tootie,” he called out, not taking
his eyes off the television.
Apparently, he had trouble remembering the name they’d
put on my birth certificate—Elizabeth—because
I never once heard him use it. Tootie was the latest in a
long succession of nicknames that came from the vast, unknown
frontiers of my daddy’s brain. It wasn’t just
me; he never called anyone by their actual name, or anything
that sounded remotely like it.
I hugged his neck, careful not to muss his hair. He looked
much younger than his fifty-two years and was quite vain.
There wasn’t a single gray hair in his sandy blonde
head, which was the exact same color as mine before Dori—the
town’s best beautician and only Yankee transplant who
was generally well-liked, not just politely tolerated—added
my multi-toned highlights.
“Hey, Daddy. How are you feeling this morning? Mamma
says your blood pressure’s up.”
“The whistle pigs got into your mamma’s bulbs
again last night,” he said, eyes still glued to the
The island off the coast of South Carolina where we lived
had a thriving herd of wild hogs. In the aftermath of some
hurricane or other back in the 1800’s, most of the livestock
wandered the island until fences and barns were repaired or
rebuilt. This particular gang of hogs was never apprehended.
Daddy called them whistle pigs—don’t ask me why.
I was pretty sure that whistle pig was technically another
name for a woodchuck, but Daddy never was much troubled by
technicalities. Anyway, as far as I knew, no one had ever
heard one of the hogs whistle.
They were mostly harmless, but they liked to snack on delicacies
found in flowerbeds and vegetable gardens, which made them
unpopular among the human residents of the island. It wasn’t
clear to me from his response whether the hogs had Daddy’s
blood pressure up, or if it was something on the stock ticker.
“Those things are a menace,” I said. The idea
of hogs running loose had always bothered me. I harbored the
that one of them might attack somebody, although I’d
never heard of such a thing happening. There had been a lot
of discussion regarding what to do about the infestation,
but no consensus was reached. Several of the island’s
matriarchs were too tenderhearted to hear tell of the hogs
being exterminated, and the swine were wily enough to evade
efforts at rounding them up.
I noticed Tammy Sue Lyerly frantically trying to get my attention
from across the barn. Tammy Sue had a booth in the flea market
where she sold such handmade items as purses, appliquéd
sweatshirts, and inspirational cross-stitched home décor.
Since Daddy was preoccupied and unlikely to move from his
recliner, I went on over to see what had Tammy Sue so worked
She grabbed a hold of my arm like it was a branch extended
to her while she dangled from the side of a cliff. Her other
arm clutched her ample chest, and her eyes, round with import,
darted from side to side, as if to make sure that no one was
eavesdropping. Since it was only 8:30, the only other occupants
of the barn were my daddy and his bassett hound, who were
“Liz! Am I glad to see you,” she said.
“Tammy Sue, what on earth is wrong?” I asked.
She was wound so tight, for a moment she couldn’t get
the words out. She just stood there, clutching my arm and
her bosom for dear life and shaking the biggest head of long
red hair anybody’s seen since 1980. Then, in a stage
whisper, she told me. “I am in need of your services
in a professional capacity.”
I was the only private investigator on the island. There really
wasn’t much to investigate in my hometown—most
of my business came from old-money Charleston. Within our
palm tree and live oak-lined streets, everybody loved secrets
so much that their first instinct was to share them over iced
tea on the front porch, making it impossible to hide anything.
This made it unusual for anybody to need my services. I was
“What’s going on?” I asked her.
Her chest began to heave in little spasms. I thought for a
moment she was hyperventilating. Finally, she choked out the
problem. “Zeke… has been…out cattin’ around.”
Then came the wailing.
I glanced over my shoulder just in time to catch Daddy looking
up from the TV to see where the racket was coming from. He
took in all he cared to see and quickly averted his eyes back
I tried to comfort her. “Now Tammy Sue, I’m sure
that’s not true.” I was praying to God that it
wasn’t. Zeke Lyerly’s matrimonial problems were
the stuff small town folklore was made of. His first wife
had left town, never to be heard from again, after Zeke fired
a few rounds of buckshot at her lover. From his vantage point
across the street from the Lyerly home, perched high in one
of my daddy’s live oak trees, Zeke had caught the hapless
Casanova creeping out the front door at an hour uncommon for
Stroking Tammy Sue’s back with my free hand, I probed
for more information. “What makes you think Zeke has
The wails simmered down into sniffles and heaves. “Lately,
when I get home in the evenings, he’s…clean.”
I absorbed this for a moment. “Is that unusual?” I
“Well, normally, he gets home just in time for supper,
and he still has his work clothes on. Now, as you might imagine,
working on cars all day is a grimy business. But for the last
two weeks, every day when I get home, he’s already had
a shower and changed his clothes…and he smells good.” She
dissolved into sobs.
“Maybe he’s getting cleaned up for you,” I
“No.” She shook her head solemnly. “He’s
got something on the side, I just know it. A woman can feel
I took a deep breath, resigned. “So, you want me to
follow him and see what he’s up to, is that it?”
“Would you, please? I just have to know for sure.”
I took in the rivulets of mascara running down her cheeks. “Okay,” I
said. “I’ll check it out.”
Anxious to get this particular job over and done with, I parked
myself across the street from Lyerly’s Automotive, in
the Edward’s Grocery parking lot at 2:00 that afternoon.
You might think surveillance is difficult in a lime green
Beetle, and normally, you’d be right. But since I flit
around this island most days like a butterfly, perching occasionally
here and there, folks are used to seeing me out and about.
So on the rare occasion when I actually investigate something
in town, it’s easy to hide in plain sight.
I had no sooner settled into stakeout mode—slid low
in the seat with the engine off and Jimmy Buffett on, small
cooler with Dasani and Diet Cheerwine on the passenger floorboard,
camera at the ready, and an open bag of Dove Milk Chocolate
Promises handy—when Zeke, whom people often mistake
for Alan Jackson—I swear, when he’s cleaned up
good the resemblance is remarkable—hopped in his Ford
F-350 and drove off. I pulled out behind him, and smiled and
waved as he glanced in the rearview—it would have been
rude not to. He waved back and went about his business.
He proceeded down Palmetto Boulevard, around the palm tree-lined
park that occupies the town square, and turned down a side
street a few blocks beyond the courthouse. I followed him
into one of our town’s older residential neighborhoods.
The cottage-style houses were well maintained, the yards neat.
Conveniently, my sister lived a block over, so I had a plausible
Rather abruptly, Zeke turned into Dori Tomei’s driveway
and pulled into her open garage. Immediately, the automatic
door closed behind him. The chicken salad sandwich I’d
had for lunch turned sour in my stomach. My imagination failed
me in a desperate attempt to invent some innocent explanation
as to why Zeke would visit Dori at her house in the middle
of the afternoon and hide his truck. Things were looking bleak
for Tammy Sue and coiffeurs all over the island.
Once Southern women grant a Yankee Nouveau Southern status,
it’s an ungodly mess if she proves herself to have been
unworthy of such an honor. Adultery committed with a local
boy would no doubt qualify as evidence that we native females
had been too generous in admitting Dori into our sorority,
no matter how well she hid the gray. While we might eventually
forgive one of our own for such a grievous lapse in manners
as sleeping with one of our husbands, the indigenous feminine
establishment would never grant clemency to someone who wasn’t
I drove around the block and pulled into my sister’s
driveway. She was at work, and I made no pretense of knocking
on the door. I slung my Nikon around my neck, walked through
her backyard, crossed through two neighboring yards, grateful
that they were empty, and climbed over the privacy fence into
Dori’s Garden of Eden.
In addition to being an accomplished hairstylist, Dori was
an aromatherapist and an avid gardener. Her backyard smelled
like a candle shop. Every herb, flower and tree that had a
therapeutic use was growing there. A homemade waterfall in
one corner gurgled and sluiced into a small pond where goldfish
played. The yard was full of birds happily singing, eating
from a collection of feeders and drinking from the birdbath.
Had one sat on my shoulder as I climbed out of the bougainvillea
that I landed in, it would have seemed perfectly natural.
I crept up to the back corner of the house and peered into
a window. It was a bedroom, decorated in an eclectic style
that conjured visions of belly dancers and kidnapped Arabian
princesses. No one was currently being ravished within its
draped walls. As I moved towards the French doors that stood
open to the patio, I heard voices. I froze and listened.
Dori’s nasal tones wafted through the doors. “You
want the usual, or are we getting kinky today?”
I had visited her house a few times, and knew that these doors
opened into her living room. It seemed an odd setting for
getting kinky in broad daylight, but hey, I’m pretty
much a champagne, candlelight and soft music kind of girl
myself, what do I know about kinky?
“You know how I like it, that’s why I come here.”
I wasn’t expecting romance—it’s just not
in Zeke’s nature. But his tone was so matter-of-fact
it made me scrunch up my face in that expression that Mamma
has warned me thousands of times is going to give me early
I dropped to my belly. Carefully gripping my camera in my
hands, I used my elbows and hipbones to propel myself across
the patio. I raised my camera and scanned the living room
for my subjects, sending up a silent prayer that they still
had their clothes on. Finding my targets, I brought them into
Convulsions of stifled belly laughter racked my body, making
it difficult to hold on to the camera. I caught them flagrante
delicto, all right. Just as they were preparing for a clandestine
haircut. I took a picture; I’m not sure why—maybe
it was the sheer incongruity of Zeke with the pink drape over
his work clothes—then slithered back across the patio
and sat down to mull the situation over.
Luther Baynard was the town’s only barber and he was
within shouting distance of seventy years old. He was a cantankerous
but beloved old coot who had cut the hair of virtually every
man on the island from the first time their mammas had brought
them into his shop with tears and cameras. A fashion slave
Luther was not. He cut hair the same way he always had—short—regardless
of what the client asked for. Zeke wore his curly golden locks
a couple of inches past his collar; Luther had obviously not
taken scissors to his head.
But for a guy like Zeke, sitting in the beauty shop amidst
matrons in curlers and soccer moms in foils would not be an
option. Dori had obviously been prevailed upon to give him
private haircuts. I sat there long enough to verify that a
trim was the only service he’d come for, then slipped
back to my car the same way I came.
From there I followed Zeke straight home. It was still early,
not even 3:00, and I had planned to wait around and see if
he came back out, but Daddy called me on my cell phone. He’d
gotten another computer virus—this one was displaying
random pictures of naked men and he couldn’t make it
stop—and he needed me back over at the flea market ASAP.
The next afternoon, I once again assumed my surveillance position
and waited. After two Diet Cheerwines and too many Dove Promises,
Zeke left in his truck and drove over to the town offices.
I followed, and watched him disappear inside Mac Sullivan’s
door. Mac was the town solicitor, a member of the Town Council,
and a certified pompous ass. Now here was a curiosity. There
was no chance that this was a social visit: Mackie was cocktails
on the verandah before dinner; Zeke was a Budweiser in front
of the TV with supper.
I didn’t have long to wait. Zeke was headed back to
the truck inside of five minutes. From there, he drove straight
to the brick ranch he shared with Tammy Sue across the street
from the house I grew up in, and I thought I had hit another
dead end. It was 3:45, and he was home alone. Since Tammy
usually didn’t leave the flea market until 5:30, I decided
to stick around just in case he left again. Hoping Daddy wouldn’t
have another pornography-related emergency that demanded my
attention, I pulled into my parents’ driveway and slid
down in my seat, watching the Lyerly door through my driver’s
Ten minutes later, Zeke came back out of the house, sporting
full military camouflage attire. He stole a couple of furtive
glances around and then climbed back into his truck and peeled
I followed him out Marsh Point Drive, to the northwest side
of the island. One thing was clear, unless he was having an
affair with an outdoorsy sort who favored daytime romps in
the sweetgrass—a type of woman in short supply in our
town—he wasn’t meeting a girlfriend. He pulled
down an old dirt road that led back to nothing but forty acres
of woods and a freshwater lagoon that backed up to the salt
marsh. I knew that the road dead-ended about a mile down,
so just before the last curve, I pulled over and got out for
a stroll through the woods. I slipped my Sig Sauer 9 out of
my Kate Spade bag, tucked it into the back of my Ann Taylor
capris, and made a mental note to charge Tammy Sue extra for
I waded through the dense, exotic vegetation that grows between
the pine trees and live oaks, watching carefully for snakes.
I hate snakes. After about ten minutes, I heard someone tromping
through the woods ahead of me. I made my way towards the noise,
darting behind trees for cover.
According to the legend of Zeke Lyerly, as told by Zeke Lyerly,
he was once an Army Ranger, and had spent years fighting the
drug lords in the South American jungles for the DEA. His
stories were the kind that his buddies pretended to believe
while consuming mass quantities of alcohol, but no one in
town took seriously. The only verifiable facts were that he
had been in the Army, and he had spent twenty years away from
home. If there were any truth to his tales—a possibility
I had never before entertained—he would surely pick
up on the fact that I was trailing him through the woods.
Suddenly, he was right in front of me. I crouched behind a
big oak and watched him for a moment. In his hand he held
a pistol with a silencer attached. He was creeping through
the woods, obviously stalking someone. About this time, I
started to question the wisdom of following Zeke Lyerly into
the woods. I retrieved my friend Sig from the small of my
Zeke assumed a firing stance—feet wide, arms locked
forward—and took aim. He was standing directly between
me and his target, so I couldn’t see the victim.
I cringed as I heard the pfft pfft sound of the gun being
“Gotcha, you sonavabitch!” he muttered.
I watched wide-eyed as he stuck the pistol in the back of
his pants, strode though the trees and reached down to grab
his prey. He was dragging something dead as he backed up.
As he passed not ten feet in front of me, I saw what it was.
It was a large pink hog.
I watched him drag that hog all the way over to the edge of
the lagoon, where he dropped it by the water. Then he backed
up a few strides, sat down on the bank and lit a cigarette.
He just sat there, smoking and staring at the water, as if
he was waiting on something. After a few moments, I noticed
what looked like a log drifting in the lagoon toward the shoreline.
Then, the log had eyes. In horror, I watched as an alligator
that must have been fourteen feet long opened its great mouth
and snatched up that hog. Zeke just sat there calmly smoking
The alligator retreated with its dinner, and I walked up and
collapsed beside Zeke. He didn’t even look up. It was
as if he’d known I was there the whole time.
“Zeke.” I greeted him as casually as if I’d
passed him on the street.
“Liz.” He nodded.
“What in the name of common sense are you doing?” I
asked him straight up.
“What does it look like I’m doing?” he retorted.
I thought that over for a minute. “Well, it looks like
you’re assassinating hogs and feeding them to an alligator…which
I’m pretty sure that no one else knows resides in that
“Oh, there’s a whole family of them,” he
said easily. “Nobody
ever comes out here except high school students, and they’re
too preoccupied with discovering sex to pay much attention
to what’s in the water—it’s too murky for
“So why are you feeding the hogs to them?”
“This is a covert operation,” he informed me. “I’ll
need your word that you won’t compromise it, or else
I may have to feed you to the alligators.” He grinned
amiably, as if to let me know that he was just kidding about
that last part, but I wasn’t a hundred percent sure.
He was still staring at the water.
“Okay, my lips are sealed.”
He nodded. “A small group of concerned citizens—Mackie,
your daddy, and our mayor—is paying me to transport
the hogs to the hereafter. I use a silencer so no one will
hear the gunshots. I feed the hogs to the alligators to get
rid of the evidence, and because it’s easier than burying
them or hauling them off. The idea is for folks to think they’re
dying out of natural causes.”
For the first time since I had sat down, he looked straight
at me. “Now what are you doing here?” There was
a hard edge to his voice that I’d never heard before,
one that seemed unaccountably at home on his tongue. I suddenly
realized that I was sitting beside a stranger. I felt more
mystified than threatened.
Dark currents roiled in intelligent green eyes. There was
a worldly awareness, layers of a person I had never suspected
lived inside this personification of a Southern cliché.
In retrospect, I think it must have been that while he was
stalking those hogs, he flashed back to another place and
time. He was doing familiar things, tracking his prey through
the dense forest, and in the act, he had inadvertently slipped
out of character, just for a moment. It was a revelation.
Only later would I realize how brilliant Zeke Lyerly’s
disguise was: he hid his genuine self, at least a large part
of him, behind the truth. In telling us his colorful, larger-than-life
adventures all these years, he had deliberately created the
persona of a slightly nutty but loveable, harmless good ole
boy that told unbelievable but entertaining stories.
A long moment went by as I considered how to answer his question.
Client confidentiality is important to me, but in this case,
it seemed like the best thing was to simply tell him the truth. “Your
wife thinks you’re having an affair.”
“What?” He screwed up his face in disbelief, mask
safely back in place. “Why in the hell would she think
“Apparently because you’re clean when she gets
home these days.”
“Ahhh.” His face lit with understanding.
“What am I supposed to tell her?”
“Well, you can’t tell her the truth. First, she’d
be mad as hell. She doesn’t want the hogs hurt. Second,
she never could keep a secret, and if this gets out, Mackie
will have a seizure, and he won’t pay me, either.”
We both sat there for a minute, staring across the water.
Then, I had an idea. “What if I tell her the truth,
up to a point? I’ll tell her I followed you home, and
you got there at 3:45. Then, it will be up to you to convince
her that you’re all clean and sweet smelling for some
reason other than you’ve been dragging dead hogs around
and needed to wash the stench off.” I batted my eyelashes
flirtatiously at him to drive home my point.
He grinned. “Sounds like a plan.”
“I won’t take any money from her.” I stood
and brushed myself off. Still unsettled, I was eager to leave
that isolated corner of the island with its wild hogs, alligators
and faux-redneck Rambo.
“I’ll pay you for your time,” he offered.
“No, thanks,” I said. “I’ll write
it off as research.”
“I’m writing a book on the eccentricities of the
“Don’t use my name,” he warned, some of
the earlier edge creeping back into his voice.
“Oh, don’t worry,” I assured him. “All
the names have been changed to protect the wives and mothers.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Susan M. Boyer lives and writes in Greenville, SC. Her fiction appears
in Catfish Stew, Volume IV. She is currently polishing the first in
a series of Southern suspense novels.
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