So Arthur came to my apartment on official business twice in one day, and he brought another detective with him this time, or maybe she brought him. Lynn Liggett was a homicide detective, and she was as tall as Arthur, which made her tall for a woman.
I can't say I was afraid right then. I was confused at the label apparently addressed by my father, I was indignant that someone had tried to trick us into eating something unhealthy, but I was sure that with poisons being so hard to obtain, whatever was in the candy would prove to be something that might have caused us to have a few bad hours, but simply couldn't have killed Mother or me. Arthur seemed pretty grim about the whole thing, and Lynn Liggett asked us questions. And more questions. I could see the lapel pin on Mother's jacket heave. When Detective Liggett bagged the candy and carried it out to Arthur's car, Mother said to me in a furious whisper, "She acts like we are people who don't live decent lives!"
"She doesn't know us, Mother," I said soothingly, though to tell the truth I was a little peeved with Detective Liggett myself. Questions like, "Have you recently finished a relationship that left someone bitter with you, Mrs. Teagarden?" and "Miss Teagarden, how long have you known Mr. Crusoe?" had not left a good taste in my mouth either. I'd never before been able to understand why good citizens didn't cooperate with the police - after all, they had their job to do, they didn't know you personally, to them all citizens should be treated alike, blah blah blah, right? Now I could understand. Jack Burns looking at me like I was a day-old catfish corpse had been one thing, an isolated incident maybe. I wanted to say, Liggett, romantic relationships don't figure in this, some maniac mailed this candy to Mother and dragged me into it by addressing it to me! But I knew Lynn Liggett was obliged to ask us these questions and I was bound to answer them. And still I resented it.
Maybe it wouldn't have bothered me if Lynn Liggett hadn't been a woman. Not that I didn't think women should be detectives. I certainly did think women should be detectives, and I thought many women I knew would be great detectives - you should see some of my fellow librarians tracking down an overdue book, and I'm not being facetious.
But Lynn Liggett seemed to be evaluating me as a fellow woman, and she found me wanting. She looked down at me and found me smaller than her "every whichaways," as I remembered my grandmother saying. I conjectured that since being tall must have given Detective Liggett problems, she automatically assumed I felt superior to her as a woman, since I was so short and therefore more "feminine." Since she couldn't compete with me on that level, Liggett figured she'd be tougher, more suspicious, coldly professional. A strong frontier woman as opposed to me, the namby-pamby useless stay-back-in-the-effete-east toy woman. I know a lot about role-playing, and she couldn't pull that bull on me. I was tempted to burst into tears, pull out a lace handkerchief - if I had possessed such a useless thing - and say, "Ar-thur! Little ole me is just so scared!" Because I could see that this had little to do with me, but much to do with Arthur.
Getting right down to the nitty-gritty, Homicide Detective Liggett had the hots for Burglary Detective Smith, and as Detective Liggett saw it, Detective Smith had the hots for me.
It's taken me a long time to spell out what I sensed in a matter of minutes. I was disappointed in Lynn Liggett, because I would have liked to be her friend and listen to her stories about her job. I hoped she was a more subtle detective than she was a woman. And I had to answer the damn questions anyway, even though I knew, Mother knew, and I believe Arthur knew, that they were a waste of time. Robin stayed the whole time, though his presence was not absolutely necessary once he'd told his simple story to the detectives. "I ran into Roe Teagarden in the grocery, and asked her if I could come over here to relax a little since my place is such a mess. When the candy came, she seemed quite surprised, yes. I also saw the hole in the bottom of the piece of candy when Mrs. Teagarden held it up. No, I didn't know either Roe or Mrs. Teagarden until the last two days. I met Mrs. Teagarden briefly when I went by her real estate office to rendezvous with the lady who was going to show me the apartment next door, and I didn't meet Roe until the Real Murders meeting last night." "And you've been here since when?" Arthur asked quietly. He was standing in the kitchen talking to Robin, while Detective Liggett questioned Mother and me as we sat on the couch and she crouched on the love seat. "Oh, I've been here about an hour and a half," Robin said with a slight edge. Arthur's voice had had absolutely no overtone whatsoever (Liggett was not quite that good) but I had the distinct feeling that everyone here was following his or her own agenda, except possibly my mother. She was certainly no dummy when a sexual element entered the air, however, and in fact she suddenly gave me one of her dazzling smiles of approval, which I could have done without since Detective Liggett seemed to intercept it and interpret it as some kind of reflection on her.
My mother rose and swept up her purse and terminated the interview. "My daughter is fine and I am fine, and I cannot imagine that my former husband sent this candy or ever intended to hurt either of us," she said decisively. "He adores Aurora, and he and I have a civil relationship. Our little family habits are no secret to anyone. I don't imagine our little Christmas custom of a box of candy has gone unremarked. Probably, I've bored people many times by talking about it. We'll be interested to hear, of course, when you all find out what is actually in the candy - if anything. Maybe the holes in the bottom are just to alarm us, and this is some practical joke. Thanks for coming, and I have to be getting back to the office." I stood up too, and Lynn Liggett felt forced to walk to the door with us.
My mother got into her car first, while Arthur and Lynn conferred together on the patio. Robin was clearly undecided about what he should do. Arthur throwing out his male challenge, in however subdued a way, had struck Robin by surprise, and he was squinting thoughtfully at my stove without seeing it. He was probably wondering what he'd gotten into, and if this murder investigation was going to be as much fun as he'd anticipated.
I was abruptly sick of all of them. Maybe I hadn't been a big dating success because I was a boring person, but possibly it had been because I had limited tolerance for all this preliminary maneuvering and signal reading. My friend Amina Day loved all this stuff and was practically a professional at it. I missed Amina suddenly and desperately.
"Come have lunch with me in the city Monday," Robin suggested, having reached some internal decision.
I thought a moment. "Okay," I agreed. "I covered for another librarian when she took her kid to the orthodontist last week, so I don't have to go in Monday until two o'clock."
"Are you familiar with the university campus? Oh, sure, you went there. Well, meet me at Tarkington Hall, the English building. I'll be finishing up a writer's workshop at 11:45 on the third floor in Room 36. We'll just leave from there, if that suits you."
"That'll be fine. See you then."
"If you need me for anything, I'll be at home all day tomorrow getting ready for my classes."
The phone rang inside and I turned to get it as Robin sauntered out my gate, waving a casual hand to the two detectives. An excited male voice asked for Arthur, and I called him to the phone. Lynn Liggett had recovered her cool, and when I called, "Arthur! Phone!" her mouth only twitched a little. Oops, silly me. Should have said Detective Smith.
I watered my rose trees while Arthur talked inside. Lynn regarded me thoughtfully. The silence between us was pretty fragile, and I felt small talk was not a good idea, but I tried anyway.
"How long have you been on the force here?" I asked.
"About three years. I came here as a patrol officer, then got promoted." Maybe Detective Liggett and I would have become bosom buddies in a few more minutes, but Arthur came out of the apartment then with electricity crackling in every step.
"The purse has been found," he said to his co-worker.
"No shit! Where?"
"Stuffed under the front seat of a car."
Well, say which one! I almost said indignantly. But Arthur didn't, of course, and he and his confrere were out the gate with nary a word for me. And I'll give this to Lynn Liggett, she was too involved in her work to look back at me in triumph.
To keep my hands busy while my mind roamed around, I began refinishing an old wooden two-drawer chest that I'd had in my guest bedroom for months waiting for just such a moment. After I wrestled it down the stairs and out onto the patio, the sanding turned out to be just the thing I needed. Naturally I thought about the candy incident, and wondered if the police had called my father yet. I couldn't imagine what he'd think of all this. As I scrubbed my hands under the kitchen sink after finishing, I had a new thought, one I should have had before. Did sending the candy to Mother imitate another crime? I went to my shelves and began searching through all my "true murder" books. I couldn't find anything, so this incident wasn't patterned after one of the better-known murders. Jane Engle, my fellow librarian, had a larger personal collection than I, so I called her and told her what had happened. "That rings a faint bell... it's an American murder, I think," Jane said interestedly. "Isn't this bizarre, Roe? That such things could happen in Lawrenceton? To us? Because I really begin to think this is happening to us, to the members of our little club. Did you hear that Mamie's purse has been found under the seat in Melanie Clark's car?"
"Melanie! Oh, I can't believe it!"
"The police may be taking that seriously, but Roe, you and I know that's ridiculous. I mean, Melanie Clark. It's a plant." "Huh?"
"A club member was killed, and another club member is being used to divert suspicion."
"You think whoever killed Mamie took her purse and deliberately planted it under Melanie's car seat," I said slowly.
"Oh, yes." I could picture Jane standing in her tiny house full of her mother's furniture, Jane's silver chignon gleaming amid bookcases full of gory death. "But Melanie and Gerald Clark could have had something going," I protested weakly. "Melanie could really have done it."
"Aurora, you know she's absolutely head over heels about Bankston Waites. The little house she rents is just down the street from mine and I can't help but notice his car is there a great deal." Jane tactfully didn't specify whether that included overnight.
"Her car is here a lot too," I admitted.
"So," Jane said persuasively, "I am sure that this candy thing is another old murder case revisited, and maybe the police will find the poison in another club member's kitchen!"
"Maybe," I said slowly. "Then none of us are safe."
"No," Jane said. "Not really."
"Who could have it in for us that bad?"
"My dear, I haven't the slightest. But you can bet I'll be thinking about it, and I'm going to start looking for a case like yours right this moment." "Thanks, Jane," I said, and I hung up with much to think about, myself. I had nothing special to do that night, as my Saturday nights had tended to run the past couple of years. Right after I ate my Saturday splurge of pizza and salad, I remembered my resolution to call Amina in Houston. Miraculously, she was in. Amina hadn't been in on a Saturday night in twelve years, and she was going out later, she said immediately, but her date was a department store manager who worked late on Saturday. "How is Houston?" I asked wistfully.
"Oh, it's great! So much to do! And everyone at work is so friendly." Amina was a first-rate legal secretary.
People almost always were friendly to Amina. She was a slender brown-eyed freckle-faced extrovert almost exactly my age, and I'd grown up with her and remained best friends with her through college. Amina had married and divorced childlessly, the only interruption in her long, exhaustive dating career. She was not really pretty, but she was irresistible - a laughing, chattering live wire, never at a loss for a word. She had a great talent for enjoying life and for maximizing every asset she'd been born with or acquired (her hair was not exactly naturally blond). My mother should have had Amina for a daughter, I thought suddenly.
After Amina finished telling me about her job, I dropped my bombshell. "You found a body! Oh, yick! Who was it?" Amina shrieked. "Are you okay? Are you having bad dreams? Was the chocolate really poisoned?" Amina being my best friend, I told her the truth. "I don't know yet if the chocolate was poisoned. Yes, I'm having bad dreams, but this is really exciting at the same time."
"Are you safe, do you think?" she asked anxiously. "Do you want to come stay with me until this is all over? I can't believe this is happening to you! You're so nice!"
"Well, nice or not," I retorted grimly, "it's happening. Thanks for asking me, Amina, and I will come to see you soon. But I have to stay here for now. I don't think I'm in any more danger. This was my turn to be targeted, I guess, and I came out okay." I skipped my speculation with Arthur that maybe the killer would go on killing, and Jane Engle's conjecture that maybe we would all be drawn in, and cut right to Amina's area of expertise.
"I have a situation here," I began, and at once had her undivided attention. The nuances and dosey-does between the sexes were Amina's bread and butter. I hadn't had anything like this to tell Amina since we were in high school. It was hard to credit that grown people still engaged in all this - foreplay. "So," Amina said when I'd finished. "Arthur is a little resentful that this Robin spent the afternoon at your place, and Robin's trying to decide whether he likes you well enough to keep up the beginning of your relationship in view of Arthur's slight proprietary air. Though Arthur is not the proprietor of anything yet, right?"
"And you haven't actually had a date with either of these bozos, right?"
"But Robin has asked you to lunch in the city for Monday."
"And you're supposed to meet him at the classroom."
"And Lizanne has definitely discarded this Robin." Amina and Lizanne had always had a curious relationship.
Amina operated on personality and Lizanne on looks, but they'd both run through the male population of Lawrence-ton and surrounding towns at an amazing rate. "Lizanne formally bequeathed him to me," I told Amina. "She's not greedy," Amina conceded. "If she doesn't want 'em, she lets 'em know, and she lets 'em go. Now, if you're going to meet him at the university, you realize he's going to be sitting in a classroom full of little chickies just panting to hop in bed with a famous writer. He's not ugly, right?" "He's not conventionally handsome," I said. "He has charm." "Well, don't wear one of those blouse and skirt combinations you're always wearing to work!"
"What do you suggest I wear?" I inquired coldly. "Listen, you called me for advice," Amina reminded me. "Okay, I'm giving it to you. You've had an awful time. Nothing makes you feel better than a few new clothes, and you can afford it. So go to my mom's shop tomorrow when it opens, and get something new. Maybe a classic town 'n country type dress. Stick to little earrings, since you're so short, and maybe a few gold chains." (A few? I was lucky to have one my mother had given me for Christmas. Amina's boyfriends gave her gold chains for every occasion, in whatever length or thickness they could afford. She probably had twenty.) "That should be fine for a casual lunch in the city," Amina concluded.
"You think he'll notice me as a woman, not just a fellow murder buff?"
"If you want him to notice you as a woman, just lust after him."
"I don't mean lick your lips or pant. Keep conversation normal. Don't do anything obvious. You have to keep it so you don't lose anything if he decides he's not interested." Amina was as interested in saving face as any Japanese. "So what do I do?"
"Just lust. Keep everything going like normal, but sort of concentrate on the area below your waist and above your knees, right? And send out waves. You can do it. It's like the Kegel exercise. You can't show anyone how to do it, but if you describe it to a woman, she can pick it up." "I'll try," I said doubtfully.
"Don't worry, it'll come naturally," Amina told me. "I have to hang up, the doorbell is ringing. Call me again and tell me how it goes, okay? The only thing wrong with Houston is that you aren't here."
"I miss you," I said.
"Yeah, and I miss you, but you needed me to leave," Amina said, and then she did hang up.
And after a moment's disbelief, I knew she was right. Her departure had freed me from the role of the most popular woman's best friend, a role that required I not attempt to make the most of myself because even the best of me could not compete with Amina. I almost had to be the intellectual drab one. I was sitting thinking about what Amina had said when the phone rang while my hand was still resting on it. I jumped a mile.
"It's me again," Amina said rapidly. "Listen, Franklin is waiting for me in the living room, but I ran back here to my other phone to tell you this. You said Perry Allison was in that club with you? You watch out for Perry. When he was in college with me, he and I took a lot of the same courses our freshman year. But he would have these mood swings. He'd be hyper-excited and follow me around just jabbering, then he'd be all quiet and sullen and just stare at me. Finally the college called his mother."
"Poor Sally," I said involuntarily.
"She came and got him and I think committed him, not just because of me but because he was skipping classes and no one would room with him because his habits got so strange."
"I think he's beginning to repeat that pattern, Amina. He's still holding together at the library, but I see Sally looking worried these days." "You just watch out for him. He never hurt anyone that I know of, though he made a bunch of people nervous. But if he's involved in this murder thing, you watch out!"
"Sure, 'bye now."
And she was gone, again to enjoy herself with Franklin.
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