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Tuesday Morning

Death, Guns and Sticky Buns

MORE COFFEE, DEAR? ETHELIND SMILED AT ME across the table, revealing large, stained teeth. Fred sprawled on her lap as if he didn't even notice the poisonous nicotine fumes rising from her fuzzy green bathrobe.

At least Noel showed better taste. She lay across my knees, with her little white paws tucked neatly beneath her, and allowed me to scratch the space between her ears.

No thank you. I didn't really care for her private blend of Kona and tobacco.

Ethelind had happily had me all to herself last evening. I'd had enough Shakespeare, Parcheesi, sweet sherry, and chamber music to last a lifetime.

I went upstairs to get ready for my doctor's appointment by shaving my legs and showering. Somewhere, I read that women are more apt to shave their legs for a visit to the doctor than before a date; that was definitely true for me.

Before I got dressed, I called Cassie to make sure I was wearing the appropriate apparel for whatever she had arranged for me to do today. No more showing up at funerals looking like a clown or a gypsy queen in orange and gold.

Everything's under control here, Tori, she said. I'm going to contact all our advertisers this morning to try to convince them not to cancel their contracts with us. There's really no need for you to come in; I can easily cover the YMCA swim meet this afternoon. Dr. Godlove called this morning to thank you for going to the funeral. He wants to know how you're coming along with the investigation.

What does he think I am-a PI?

It wouldn't hurt for you to find out what went wrong, Cassie said. It might even help your reputation-and the Chronicles. I've got Luscious's police report here on my desk, Tori. He and the coroner are calling it an accident.

Accident my foot! That ammunition was deliberately switched.

Why don't you find out how?

I will! After I hung up, I realized I'd been manipulated again.

Dr. Washabaugh's office was located outside of Lickin Creek on the Gettysburg Road. The middle-aged receptionist put aside her harried frown to greet me as if we were old friends with a cheerful Hi, Tori.

Hi, yourself. Sorry, I don't remember your name.

It's Vesta. Vesta Pennsinger. I'm from Lickin Creek too.

I liked the way she said too, as if she regarded me as a native. Then she ruined it by saying, Guess the Chronicle's in a lot of trouble. Do you think you're gonna be sued?

What on earth for?

She shrugged. I don't know. Seems like every time someone gets killed, someone else gets sued.

I hadn't even considered the possibility of legal action being taken against the paper. No wonder Cassie was worried.

The door to the inner sanctum opened and Dr. Washabaugh stuck her head out. Tori? You're late.

No I'm not. It's only nine-thirty.

My office hours start at eight. Come in, please.

Yes, ma'am. Just as if I'd been summoned to the principal's office, I hung my head and shuffled through the door. Behind me, I heard a snicker from Vesta. Dr. Washabaugh looked sharply in her direction and squelched any more hilarity.

She took forever to open my file folder and read through it. I swung my foot nervously and chewed the cuticle off my little finger until it bled.

All your lab tests were fine, Tori. Your cholesterol was a little high, 210. She regarded me over the top of the folder. Nothing that you have to worry about. Maybe you could watch your fat intake and lose a few pounds.

Hatred and loathing of Dr. Washabaugh nearly overwhelmed me. Lose a few pounds indeed! According to all the charts, I said, my weight is perfect. I'm just four inches too short.

Her lips didn't even twitch. She must have missed the lecture on dealing with patients humor during med school. She resumed flipping through the papers.

Look, Doctor, you didn't call me in here at dawn to tell me I needed to lose a few pounds. Why don't you get to the point?

This time a trace of a smile crossed her face. You call nine-thirty in the morning dawn? I made hospital rounds this morning before I opened this office at eight. That's dawn! Okay, Tori, here's what we need to talk about. Your mammogram

So much blood rushed through my ears that I couldn't hear anything she said after that.

What are you trying to tell me? I gasped. That I have cancer?

Didn't you hear anything I said? Probably not. But there is a suspicious mass that we need to check out. I recommend a biopsy.

While I sat in a near stupor, she explained it would be a simple outpatient procedure under local anesthesia. If I wanted, she'd give me a tranquilizer to take before I came in.

And if you find something?

There's no need to worry about that now. We'll have to wait and see.

I rubbed my right breast. It felt fine to me. Mastectomy?

Even if I find a malignancy, I don't know if anything that drastic will be needed. There are options

Cut my breast off?

Stop it, Tori. You're letting yourself get all upset for no reason. It may be something as simple as a cyst. If it's cancer, we could possibly get by with a lumpectomy, followed by chemo. I'll check with the hospital for a date, then call you.

Bye-bye, now, Vesta called as I staggered out of the office. I didn't answer, for my head was spinning, full of the frightening words I'd just heard. Suspicious lump, cancer, mastectomy, biopsy, operation, chemo. To those words, I added the unspoken ones. Disfigurement, nausea from chemotherapy, and quite possibly an early death. If I hadn't put my checkup off for five years, would this have happened? One thing I knew for sure, I'd never let another year go by without one.

Somehow I found myself sitting in the front seat of my car with no recollection of walking from the building to the parking lot. There was no way I could go on like this until I heard from the doctor. I had to find something to do to keep myself from worrying about it.

Back in Lickin Creek, I drove directly to the Lickin Creek College for Women. Getting back into the investigation of Mack Macmillan's death might be what I needed.

Instead of parking miles away in the visitors lot, I took a chance and parked in the faculty lot adjoining the administration building. After all, I figured, I was here on semi-official business.

I rode the clanking elevator to the attic and entered Lizzie's office, where I found her working at the computer. Morning, she said. Cuppa coffee?

I remembered her coffee from Sunday. No thanks. What are you working on?

Press releases. The college expresses sympathy to the widow of Representative Macmillan on the occasion of his tragic accidental death-blah blah blah. When I'm finished with them, I've got to go through all these newspapers and clip any mention of the college for the scrapbook. Three more students left this weekend. You'd think we had a psycho serial killer on campus from the panic this has generated.

Sorry to hear that. The paper isn't doing too well, either.

One good thing came out of all this, Lizzie said. At least Professor Nakamura won't be retiring soon. He's everybody's faculty favorite.

What made him change his mind?

He announced his retirement when Mack became the chairman of the board of trustees. Said he couldn't work with the man. Now he won't have to.

Do you know why he felt that way?

Lizzie shook her head. Uh-uh. He never said why- just that it was personal. We all thought it was kind of odd, him being a Quaker and all. I thought they were supposed to love everybody.

I made a mental note to talk to Professor Nakamura soon. So-let's do something. Can you show me the storeroom where the guns were kept?

Sure. She reached in her top desk drawer and pulled out a key ring. Janet had the keys with her when she went to the hospital, but her husband brought them back yesterday.

I headed toward the elevator, but Lizzie stopped at the head of the stairs. If you don't mind, she said, I really don't trust that thing.

By the time we reached the basement, my knees were shaking. Lizzie looked okay, though, so I didn't complain. She clicked a switch, but the single bulb hanging from the ceiling didn't do much to light our way.

Watch your head, she warned. Some of these pipes are really low. She ducked a few times, but I didn't have to. It was one of the few times being vertically challenged was an advantage.

At the end of a long hallway, she stopped before a metal door. Some yellow police tape lay on the floor. Here we are, she announced. Nothing happened when she turned a key in the lock.

Just like Saturday, right? I said. Woody told me Janet had to try two keys to open the door. Lizzie nodded as she shoved with her shoulder as she again turned the key, but the door still didn't open. Hang on, I'll try the other one. This time the door opened without a hitch.

Let me see those keys, I said. She handed me the ring with two keys on it. They looked very similar, the one that had worked and the one that hadn't; they were from the same manufacturer, were the same brass color, and basically were the same shape. But when I put one against the other, it was obvious there was a slight variation.

I wonder how that happened. We've never had a problem before not until Saturday The day of the reenactment.

When I pointed out to her that they were both Kwik-set keys, she said, That's not surprising. The college has a contract with a local locksmith, Lucy Lock-It. That's probably the type of lock she always uses. See, here's the key to our office-it's a Kwikset too.

Let me try that one.

You can, but there's no way it could be the storeroom key. See-it's silver-and the storeroom keys are brass.

I tried it anyway, but she was right. It didn't even go halfway into the lock.

Told you so, Lizzie chortled.

We entered the storeroom, hardly more than a closet, with metal shelves along each wall. There were no other doors, nor was there a window. The floor, walls, and ceilings were of solid concrete. Whoever had replaced the blanks with real bullets had come through the door. Lizzie showed me where the guns had been left overnight. We looked on and under every shelf, but there was no sign of anything unusual, nor was anything out of place.

Lizzie grabbed a box of ballpoint pens from a shelf before she locked the door behind us.

Now what are you going to do? she asked as we walked down the hall.

I should talk to the widow, Mrs. Macmillan. Can I get her address at the front desk?

You can, but she's probably here at the college today. You'll find her at the stables.

She wouldn't be here the day after her husband's funeral, would she?

Sure she would. Horses are her life.

We climbed the stairs to the first floor, where Lizzie waved good-bye before continuing her upward trek. I was more than grateful I didn't have to go to the attic with her. If there ever was a next time, I'd make an excuse about a bad knee or something and take the elevator.

Outside, I asked a young man dressed in Desert Storm combat gear, right down to the combat boots, if he could tell me how to find the stables.

Yes, ma'am, go down the hill across the creek, turn right and follow the signs.

When he answered, I realized he was a young woman. Hanging around the campus was making me feel older by the minute. Next thing you knew, I'd probably be saying things like In my day

As I crossed the foot bridge spanning the Lickin Creek, I paused, as I had a few days earlier, to admire the view. But today the mountain ridges loomed darkly against the sky and there were no ducks on the water, only a Styrofoam cup bobbing along on the surface. A little voice in my head kept repeating over and over, The world's never going to look beautiful to you again, because you've got-

Shut up, I said sharply, startling two young women who were passing me. The voice quieted and I continued on my way, smelling the stables several moments before I actually saw them. It wasn't an unpleasant odor, but a mixture of warm earth and straw. A group of girls worked outside the longest building, painting, hosing down the sidewalk, and deadheading geraniums.

Charlotte 's inside, one of them said in response to my asking where Mrs. Macmillan was.

Don't you find it odd that she's here so soon after her husband's death? I asked the girl.

She looked surprised that I would ask such a question. Of course not. We have a competition coming up in a few weeks. She's got to help us get ready for it.

I entered through the open door and recognized Mrs. Macmillan immediately. Even though I'd seen her only briefly at the funeral, the elastic mask covering her face was unforgettable. My imagination conjured up visions of Vincent Price in House of Wax and Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera. What was she hiding under it? Since she was without the veil she'd worn to the funeral, I could see some shiny blond hair swinging loose around her shoulders. Today she wore faded blue jeans, white T-shirt, and a bedraggled beige cardigan. She looked no older than the college girls around her. Ivy Leaguer, I'd bet my life on it.

When she noticed me standing by the door, she excused herself and approached. Is there something I can do for you? she asked.

I'm Tori Miracle. President Godlove has asked me to look into your husband's uh accident.

Don't beat around the bush. My husband is dead. You can say the word. Her blue eyes looked calmly at me through the holes in her mask.

I decided right then I admired her for her forthright-ness. Okay, I'm sorry. I've been asked to look into your husband's death. Try to find out exactly how it occurred.

I'm so glad to hear that. That new police chief seems to think labeling it an accident is going to put an end to my questions. I want to know how and why this happened. Someone was to blame, and I want to know who!

Do you have any ideas? I pulled my notebook out of my purse and opened it.

I certainly do. Those men from Gettysburg who loaded the guns. I think you ought to begin with them.

I didn't tell her I already had. That's a good idea, Mrs. Macmillan.

Please call me Charlotte.

Charlotte, do you know why Professor Nakamura disliked your husband?

That's news to me. We had very little contact with him. As a matter of fact, I've been teaching here for a year and can only remember talking to him once, at the president's Christmas party. What gave you the idea he didn't care for Mack?

I was told he turned in his resignation when your husband was named chairman of the board of trustees.

She smiled wryly. Ken Nakamura has got to be seventy-five or eighty. I'd say it was about time he retired.

Were you at the reenactment when your husband was-

Killed? You can say that word, too. No, I was at Penn National. That's the racetrack near Hershey. A friend of mind had a horse running, and she asked me to go along with her. We were planning to be there from Friday afternoon until Sunday. But of course I came home Saturday as soon as I heard what had happened.

What is the name of your friend? I asked.

Minta Sue- She stopped and put her hands on her hips. Good grief, young lady, are you asking me for my alibi? Are you suggesting I had something to do with my own husband's death? Well, I can assure you I was at Penn National, Friday and most of Saturday. There are plenty of people who can tell you they saw me at dinner and the parties afterward. And the stable hands will tell you that Minta Sue and I spent the night in the stable with her horse. A few tears stained the front of her mask. Now look what you made me do, she snapped, dabbing at the elastic with a tissue. It's going to be all spotted. Shall I give you some names?

Yes, please. At times like this, when I had to break into other people's private tragedies, I hated myself and the entire journalism profession. At times like this, I wish I'd done what my mother suggested and gone to library school.

She rattled off a bunch of names. Sorry I don't have their phone numbers memorized, but Do you ride?

I nodded, a little surprised at the sudden change in topic.

Then why don't you come over to my place Saturday and ride with us? Some of them will be there. You can talk to them then. She sniffed once or twice, but the tears seemed to have stopped.

What about the stable hands you mentioned?

She sighed and snapped out a few more names, which I wrote down in my notebook.

She looked down at the tiny gold watch on her wrist. Excuse me, I have to get changed for my class.

One thing I could do today was interview the second reenactor, Darious DeShong. I had his address in my notebook and some typical Lickin Creek directions on how to find the Hostettler farm where he lived. Head west, till you get to the fruit stand, the one what sells the good peaches not that other one, turn right at the second or third stone house, drive a couple of miles and after you pass the place where the dairy used to be, turn left Surprisingly, I'd actually become accustomed to following directions like these and figured I'd have little trouble finding the place. It would have been nice to have been able to call ahead to make sure he was there, but Woody had made it clear Darious didn't have a phone. I'd just have to chance it.

When I returned to my car in the nearly empty faculty lot, I found it had been ticketed by the campus security police for illegal parking. I jammed the ticket into my purse. President Godlove owed me something for roping me into this. At the very least, he could fix a parking ticket.

Monday Morning | Death, Guns and Sticky Buns | Tuesday Afternoon