Sunday dawned warm and rainy. A breeze swooped over the fence and rustled my rose trees. It was not a morning to eat breakfast on the patio. I fried bacon and ate my bakery sweet roll while listening to a local radio broadcast. The mayoral candidates were answering questions on this morning's talk show. The election promised more interest than the usual Democratic shoo-in, since not only was there a Republican candidate who actually had a slim chance, there was a candidate from the - gasp - Communist Party! Of course, this was the candidate whose campaign Benjamin Greer was managing. Poor miserable Benjamin, hoping that the Communist Party and politics would be his salvation. Of course the Communist, Morrison Pettigrue, was one of the New People, one of those who'd fled the city but wanted to stay close to it.
At least this would be a unifying election for Lawrenceton. None of the candidates was black, which always made for a tense campaign and a divisive one. The Republican and Democrat were having the time of their political lives, giving sane, sober answers to banal questions, and thoroughly enjoying Pettigrue's fiery responses that sometimes bordered on the irrational. Bless his heart, I thought sadly, not only is he a Communist but he's also very unappealing. I'd made a point of looking for Pettigrue's campaign posters on the way back from the grocery store the day before. They said nothing about the Communist Party (just "Elect Morrison Pettigrue, the People's Choice, for Mayor") and they showed him to be a grim-featured swarthy man who had obviously suffered badly from acne.
I listened while I ate breakfast, but then I switched to some country and western music for my dishwashing. Domestic chores always went faster when you could sing about drinkin' and cheatin'.
It was such a nice little morning I decided to go to church. I often did. I sometimes enjoyed it and felt better for going, but I felt no spiritual compulsion. I went because I hoped I'd "catch it," like deliberately exposing myself to the chicken pox. Sometimes I even wore a hat and gloves, though that was bordering on parody and gloves were not so easy to find anymore. It wasn't a hat-and-gloves day, today, too dark and rainy, and I wasn't in a role-playing mood, anyway.
As I pulled into the Presbyterian parking lot, I wondered if I'd see Melanie Clark, who sometimes attended. Had she been arrested? I couldn't believe stolid Melanie truly was in danger of being charged with Mamie Wright's murder. The only possible motive anyone could attribute to Melanie was an affair with Gerald Wright. Someone... some murderer, I reminded myself... was playing an awful joke on Melanie.
I drifted through the service, thinking about God and Mamie. I felt horrible when I thought of what another human being had done to Mamie; yet I had to face it, when she had been alive the predominant feeling I'd had for her had been contempt. Now Mamie's soul, and I believe we do all have one, was facing God, as I would one day too. This was too close to the bone for me, and I buried that thought so I could dig it up later when I wasn't so vulnerable.
I made my way out of church, speaking with most of the congregation along my way. All the talk I heard was about Melanie and her predicament, and the latest information appeared to be that Melanie had had to go down to the police station for a while, but on Bankston's vehement vouching for her every move on the evening of Mamie Wright's death, she'd been allowed to go home and (the feeling went) was thus exonerated.
Melanie herself was an orphan, but Bankston's mother was a Presbyterian. Today of course she was the center of an attentive group on the church steps. Mrs. Waites was as blond and blue-eyed as her son, and ordinarily just as phlegmatic. But this Sunday she was an angry woman and didn't care who knew it. She was mad at the police for suspecting "that sweet Melanie" for one single minute. As if a girl like that was going to beat a fly to death, much less a grown woman! And those police suggesting that maybe things weren't as they should be between Melanie and Mr. Wright! As if wild horses could drag Melanie and Bankston away from each other! At least this awful thing had gone and gotten Bankston to speak his mind. He and Melanie were going to be married in two months. No, a date hadn't been set, but they were going to decide about one today, and Melanie was going to go down to Millie's Gifts this week and pick out china and silver patterns.
This was a triumphant moment for Mrs. Waites, who had been trying to marry off Bankston for years. Her other children were settled, and Bankston's apparent willingness to wait for the right woman to come to him, instead of actively searching himself, had tried Mrs. Waites to the limit. I would have to go pick out a fork or salad plate. I'd given lots of similar gifts in a hundred different patterns. I sighed, and tried hard not to feel sorry for myself as I drove to Mother's. I always ate Sunday lunch with her, unless she was off on one of the myriad real estate conventions she attended or out showing houses.
Mother (who had spent a rare Sunday morning at home) was in fine spirits because she'd sold a $200,000 house the day before, after she'd left my apartment. Not too many women can get poisoned chocolates, be interrogated by the police, and sell expensive properties in the same day.
"I'm trying to get John to let me list his house," she told me over the pot roast.
"What? Why would he sell his house? It's beautiful." "His wife has been dead several years now, and all the children are gone, and he doesn't need a big house to rattle around in," my mother said. "You've been divorced for twelve years, your child is gone, and you don't need a big house to rattle around in either," I pointed out. I had been wondering why my mother didn't unload the "four br two-story brick w/frpl and 3 baths" I'd grown up in.
"Well, there's a possibility John will have somewhere else to live soon," Mother said too casually. "We may get married."
God, everyone was doing it!
I pulled myself together and looked happy for Mother's sake. I managed to say the right things, and I meant them, and she seemed pleased. What on earth could I get them for a wedding present? "Since John doesn't seem to want to talk about his involvement with Real Murders right now," Mother said suddenly, "why don't you just tell me about this club?" "John's an expert on Lizzie Borden," I explained. "If you really want to know about his main interest, apart from golf and you, it's Lizzie. You ought to read Victoria Lincoln's A Private Disgrace. That's one of the best books about the Borden case I've read."
"Um, Aurora ... who was Lizzie Borden?"
I gaped at my mother. "That's like asking a baseball fan who Mickey Mantle was," I said finally. "I didn't know that a person could not know who Lizzie Borden was. Just ask John. He'll talk your ear off. But if you read the book first, he'll appreciate it."
Mother actually wrote the title in her little notebook. She really meant it about John Queensland, she was really serious about getting married. I couldn't decide how I felt; I only knew how I ought to feel. At least acting that out made my mother happy.
"Really, Aurora, I want you to tell me about the club in general, though I do want to discuss John's particular interest intelligently, of course. Now that you and he are both tied in with this horrible murder, and you and I got sent that candy, I want to know what the background on these crimes is." "Mother, I can't remember when Real Murders started... about three years ago, I guess. There was a book signing at Thy Sting, the mystery book store in the city. And all of us now in Real Murders turned up for the signing, which was being held for a book about a real murder. It was such a funny coincidence, all us Lawrenceton people showing up, interested in the same thing, that we sort of agreed to call each other and start something up we could all come to in our own town. So we began meeting every month, and the format for the meetings just evolved - a lecture and discussion on a real murder most months, a related topic other months." I shrugged. I was getting tired of explaining Real Murders. I expected Mother to change the subject now, as she always had before when I'd tried to talk about my interest in the club.
"You told me earlier that you believe Mamie Wright's murder was patterned on the Wallace murder," Mother said instead. "And you said that Jane Engle believes that the candy being sent to us is also patterned like another crime - she's trying to look it up?"
"You're in danger," my mother said flatly. "I want you to leave Lawrenceton until this is all over. There's no way you can be implicated, like poor Melanie was with that purse hidden in her car, if you're out of town." "Well, that would be great, Mom," I said, knowing she hated to be called 'Mom', "but I happen to have a job. I'm supposed to just go to my boss and tell him my mother is scared something might happen to me, so I have to get out of town for an indefinite period of time? Just hold my job, Mr. Clerrick?" "Aren't you scared?" she asked furiously.
"Yes, yes! If you had seen what this killer can do, if you had seen Mamie Wright's head, or what was left of it, you'd be scared too! But I can't leave! I have a life!"
My mother didn't say anything, but her unguarded response, which showed clearly in those amazing eyebrows, was "Since when?"
I went home with a plateful of leftovers for supper, as usual, and decided to have a Sunday afternoon and evening of self-pity. Sunday afternoons are good for that. I took off my pretty dress (no matter what Amina says, I do have some pretty and flattering clothes) and put on my nastiest sweats. I stopped short of washing off my makeup and messing up my hair, but I felt that way. What I hated to do most was wash windows, so I decided today was the day. The clouds had lightened a little and I no longer expected rain, so I collected all the window washing paraphernalia and did the downstairs, grimly spraying and wiping and then repeating the process. I carried around my step stool, even with its boost barely reaching the top panes. When they were shining clearly, I trudged upstairs with my cleaning rag and spray bottle and began on the guest bedroom. It overlooked the parking lot, so I had a great view of the elderly couple next door, the Crandalls, coming home in their Sunday best. Perhaps they'd been to a married child's for lunch ... they had several children here in town, and I recalled Teentsy Crandall mentioning at least eight grandchildren. Teentsy and her husband Jed were laughing together, and he patted her on the shoulder as he held open the gate. No sooner were they inside than Bankston's blue car entered the lot and he and Melanie emerged holding hands and smoldering at each other. Even to me, and I am not really experienced, it was apparent that they could hardly wait until they got inside.
As a crowning touch to a feel-sorry-for-yourself afternoon, it could hardly be beat. What did I have to look forward to? I asked myself rhetorically. "60 Minutes" and heated-up pot roast.
I decided I'd take Amina's advice after all. I'd be there when her mom's shop opened at 10:00 the next morning. With luck and my charge card, I could be ready for my trip to the city to have lunch with Robin Crusoe. Then I decided that there was, after all, something I could do with my evening.
I picked up my personal phone book and began dialling.
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