Setup: Bea Emerson (pen name B.R. Emerson) was present when a famous author died, autographing a book for Bea at a writer's conference. Bea is almost poisoned during an outing and the next morning she has breakfast with the detective in charge of the case.
Aqualung chimed from my handbag. “Saved by Jethro Tull,” I muttered, pulling out my cell phone.
“You couldn’t call me? I have to hear from your friends that you’ve been poisoned, were near death and are once again involved in murder?”
I sagged back. “Hey, Ma,” I said, trying to keep my voice low. Mavis was pissed, I could tell. She didn’t do her Jewish mother imitation unless she had a full head of steam. “You didn’t call Barb and Sadie, did you? They were probably trying to sleep in, we got back late last night.”
“I certainly did call them once I heard on the Today Show that Jim Quinn, the famous author, was murdered. You weren’t anywhere nearby, I hope.”
I looked up as Eleanor joined us and was introduced to Remarchik by Dora, who was obviously happy with my diversion. “It’s kind of not a good time right now.”
“You couldn’t call? Another writer dies, for heaven’s sake. He wrote such good books, too. Did you get his autograph?”
My mother, ever practical. I suppose she figured I could sell anything autographed now that Jim was dead. Then I felt awful for having such a mercenary consideration. I’d barely given Jim Quinn a thought all morning. From the little I knew of him, he was a nice guy. He probably had a wife and kids and a regular life. Nobody deserved to die the way he did. For a brief instant I remembered the sight of his ruined, bloody face. The food in my stomach compacted into a lump. I pushed the image away and focused on my immediate problem— my mother, the eighty-year-old snoop.
“It was late when I got in.” Remarchik was settled back in his chair but I wasn’t fooled. He was tilting his head to one side as though interested in what Dora was saying, but it was angled toward my conversation and me. “I really can’t talk right now, I’m with the detective who’s in charge of the case. We’re—”
“Put him on this phone right now.”
Oh, God. She was using her ‘Beatrice Raphaela Emerson, I raised you better than that. You didn’t grow up with trailer trash’ tone of voice. “Mom, he’s busy —”
“WHAT KIND OF POLICE DEPARTMENT DOES ABILENE HAVE THAT THEY CAN’T PROTECT ONE POOR WOMAN FROM MURDERERS?”
I pulled the phone away from my ear. “Ow.”
Remarchik turned. “Is that call for me?” Before I could stop him, he pried the phone out of my hand. “Detective L.J. Remarchik here.”
Where was a black hole when you needed one? My mother, Mavis the Terrible, was berating Remarchik, who was nodding his head, his brown eyes intent on my bloodshot baby blues. “Yes, ma’am,” he said. Long pause. “I would have to agree with that, yes.” Pause again. I heard Mavis babbling as Remarchik nodded, his silver-gray curls catching the morning light and shining like a halo. He smiled, his mustache twitching like he was just this close to bursting out laughing but politeness prevented it. I revised the halo imagery. The look in his eyes was more devil than angel. “Ma’am, I wouldn’t say that. She may be impulsive but—” More babbling erupted. “Yes, ma’am. I will.” Babble babble babble. “Yes, I surely will. I appreciate that.”
He extended the phone to me. “Your mother invited me to meatloaf dinner at her house the next time I’m in Washburn Creek, Iowa.”
“I’ll tell her not to start rattling the pots and pans just yet.” I snatched the phone away from him. “I can’t believe you did that,” I whispered to Mavis.
“He seems like a nice person. Is he married? How old is he?”
“How would I know?” I longed to beat the phone against the table but restrained myself. There was no need to give Dora even more fodder for her gossip mill.
“It wouldn’t hurt to find out if he’s married.”
“It doesn’t matter if he is or not, this is Abilene, remember? I live in Minnesota.” I caught a glimpse of Remarchik’s interested look. I shifted in my chair, trying to attain a modicum of privacy. “I’ll call you later.”
“Did you call Brian?”
“Yes, I called Brian.” Once again I could sense Remarchik’s radar reach out. “Well, no, I didn’t, he called me. But I talked to him.”
“So am I. I’ll talk to you later.” I folded the phone before she could demand that I get more marital info on the local male. Mavis was determined to see me “happily settled before she could pass on to a better life” as though my single status was the only thing preventing her from being bodily assumed into heaven. She’d even signed me up for a dating service, answering the “seventy questions to perfect love” in my name. Two Harley bikers interested in a ménage, a professional circus clown, an Episcopalian minister and a retired soldier contacted me before I got my name removed from their list. Only God knew what answers she gave to the questions. I certainly didn’t.
“So what workshops are you going to today, ladies?” Remarchik asked.
Eleanor immediately pulled out the conference program from the gigantic book bag on the floor at her feet. “I’ve got all of the interesting ones marked.” She handed him a program festooned with Post-It notes.
He took it and glanced at me. I shrugged. “I downloaded the program to my Palm. I marked the ones that looked fun.”
“I’m focusing on Craft, this year.” Eleanor’s tone of voice indicated that certain others at the table might benefit from a similar focus.
“I thought I’d try to get to the workshops that talk about plotting,” Dora Jane said, pulling out her own much-thumbed program summary to show us the pink highlighted paragraphs that described the different workshops. “There are so many, it’s hard to choose.”
“What are you focusing on?” Remarchik asked me as he flipped through the ten-page program summary.
“Staying alive.” I downed my cold coffee in one gulp.
“That’s my job.” He handed the program back to Eleanor. “Let me do it.”
My Palm chimed its merry little reminder that it was time to go.
Once again, I was saved by the bell.