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Death, Guns and Sticky Buns

TORI, TIME TO GET UP. ETHELIND'S VOICE entered my dreams like fingernails raking a blackboard.

I yawned and tried to bury my face back in the pillow, but my outstretched hand found Fred's soft fur, and while I rubbed his belly I thought about what had happened last night. I'd done nothing to be ashamed of, really, so why did I feel like Scarlett O'Hara in the famous morning after scene?

After that first kiss, I'd convinced Darious that wanting to ride his carousel was not a sexual metaphor, and after that he'd been a perfect gentleman. He took me into his workshop, offered me a soda, and showed me he had my picture, cut from the Chronicle, in a frame on his workbench. After that, I rode the carousel until I felt all tension and fear leave my body. Then I sat with him in the chariot and poured my heart out. I explained my worry about the upcoming biopsy, shared some of the abandonment issues I'd been going through because of Garnet's leaving, and lastly, told him of my hostess, Ethelind, and my fear that she would never leave. He didn't say much, but somehow I felt a lot better when I was through. Unburdened, I came home and slept dreamlessly. That was all there was to it.

So why did I feel so guilty about one little kiss? Well, two actually, if you count the one he gave me as I was leaving.

Tori! Are you up?

Sure am, Ethelind. I reached for the brown plastic prescription bottle beside my bed and peered at the label. Take one or two tablets if needed for anxiety. Dr. Washabaugh had reluctantly called in a prescription for two pills. I was feeling very anxious, so I took both. As I showered and dressed, I decided to put last night's escapade behind me. It had been a momentary digression. Simply an incident triggered by my vulnerable emotional state. Nothing like that would ever happen again.

Despite my anxiety, I must have fallen asleep in Ethelind's car on the way to the hospital. When I opened my eyes, I was staring at a brick wall.

We re here.

I swung my legs to the side and let myself drop down to the ground. Unfortunately, my knees buckled, and I tumbled to the pavement.

Ethelind screamed, and a security guard came out and hoisted me to my feet. What's wrong with you? he asked.

Nothing. I'm still sleepy. This is the middle of the night for me.

After that, everything else seemed to happen in a fog. I vaguely remember being led into a room, where I removed my clothes from the waist up and put on a paper gown that opened in the front. I was told to lie down on a narrow bed, where a woman opened up my gown and painted my right breast brown. Just relax, someone said. Dr. Washabaugh will be right in.

I closed my eyes. When I opened them, Dr. Wash-abaugh was standing next to me. Are you going to do it now? I asked.

It's all done, Tori. I think you might have taken more tranquilizers than you really needed this morning.

I only took two.

She sighed. I would have bet on it. Okay, Tori. Go home and sleep it off. I'll call you when I get the results.

Do I need to rest?

She laughed at me. Only until the tranquilizer wears off. After that you can do anything you want.

So when will you call me with the results?

In a few days. Try to keep busy. And don't worry.

A nurse helped me get back into my clothes, and wheeled me out to the car. After that I don't recall much of anything until I woke up, once again, in my own bed with a cat pressed tightly against either hip. They considered it their job to stay with me on the rare occasions when I was sick.

That's enough, I told them, shoving them away. You've raised my body heat to near boiling. I felt a little hungover, but was surprised I had no pain. I lifted my shirt and studied the offending area. There was nothing to see but a small Band-Aid.

I followed the trail of noise and nicotine downstairs to the library, which served Ethelind as a TV room, where she was absorbed in a talk show. She didn't notice me, so I continued on to the kitchen and dialed Dr. Washabaugh's number. I was hoping that maybe, just maybe, she already had the results of my biopsy. The phone rang a number of times, but there was no answer. Even if the office was closed, it seemed to me at the very least she ought to have an answering machine. I rechecked the number and tried again. Still no answer.

According to the kitchen wall clock, it was only a little past four. Someone should be there. Then I remembered I'd promised Cassie I would be in at ten to proof the paper. Somehow I'd managed to sleep all day. I tried calling the Chronicle to apologize but only got the answering machine referring me to my own number.

I returned to the library, where Ethelind jumped to her feet and gently led me to the sofa. There, she covered me with a wooly afghan, put a pillow behind my head, and poured me a cup of tea from her favorite Staffordshire pot.

I could get used to this, I sighed. Fred, who had assumed his favorite position on my stomach, seemed to agree.

I was worried about you, Tori. Concern showed in Ethelind's eyes.

No need, I said. Dr. Washabaugh said I could do anything I wanted to do.

I was talking about the handful of pills you took this morning. All day long, I've been checking on you every fifteen minutes to make sure you were still breathing.

It wasn't a handful, Ethelind. The instructions said to take one or two as needed. I needed two.

I'll get dinner, Ethelind said. I didn't think you'd be feeling very chipper, so I fixed something easy to digest. Boiled eggs, kippers, scones, and floating island pudding.

Yummm. My favorites! I said.

Ethelind left the room and reappeared with a tray, which she placed in front of me on the coffee table. She served us each a large helping, then settled down to noisily enjoy her kippers. I pushed the food around on my plate.

You're not eating much, Ethelind noted.

Must be the aftereffects of my surgery, I murmured, trying to sound weak.

Ethelind transferred my kippers to her plate. No point in letting them go to waste. I have to order them in.

The grandfather clock in the hall chimed four-thirty. Let's catch the early-bird news. Ethelind pointed the remote at the TV and switched channels.

and in a surprise move today, Lickin Creek police have made an arrest in the slaying death of retired Representative Edward Macmillan. Charged is Woody Woodruff, a Gettysburg entrepreneur, well known for his

I struggled to sit upright. In the process Fred tumbled to the floor.

Do you have a phone in here?

I only have two extensions. One in my bedroom, and the other in the kitchen.

I struggled off the sofa, ignoring her tirade about the phone company monopoly and its conspiracy to bankrupt the college professors of the world.

Well? she asked when I returned.

It's true. Luscious arrested him this afternoon. He said he was under tremendous pressure from the old boys network to make an arrest.

You mean the informal group of wealthy businessmen who are direct descendants of the town's founders?

I nodded. They pretty much run Lickin Creek, don't they? You can see them almost any day having lunch in the back of the drugstore. The local equivalent of the smoke-filled room. I thought for a minute about exactly who it was I'd seen there. President Godlove is one of them, isn't he.

From the look on Ethelind's face, I knew I'd hit the nail on the head.

I groaned. I know he wants to resolve this, and especially make sure nobody blames the college, but I do wish he'd talked it over with me first.

You don't think it was Woody's fault? Ethelind looked incredulous. He'd be my first choice. He was the one who loaded the guns.

That's just the point. If Woody were going to murder someone, why would he do it in such an obvious way?

He's not exactly a rocket scientist, Tori.

The phone rang again, and Ethelind went to answer it.

She came back carrying the portable telephone, which she handed to me.

Tori? Tori, is that you? I recognized Moonbeam's voice, despite the panic that pitched it an octave higher than usual. A flood of screeches and sobs came through the phone as soon as I answered.

Ohmygodohmygodohmygod! WhatamIgoingtodo? WhatamIgoingtodo?

Calm down, Moonbeam. I couldn't resist adding, Take a deep breath. You need to visit your special place.

Oh shut up, she snapped, but at least she was speaking in a normal register. Did you have something to do with this?

Me? Of course not. How can you even think such a thing?

Because the police chief said you put the idea in his head. You said the bullets didn't crawl in the guns by themselves. Ohmygodohmygod. WhatamIgoingtodo?

I had nothing to do with this, Moonbeam. What is he charged with? Murder?

Manslaughter. Will they keep him in jail?

You can post bail.

Bail? she wailed. I don't have any money. WhatamIgoingtodo?

I did my best to calm her down, but could offer no other suggestions. After a few more sobs, Moonbeam hung up.

Poor thing, I muttered. She's one of those women who's born to be victimized by men.

Ethelind refreshed the teapot and poured another round. Nothing like a cuppa to settle the nerves, she said, turning up the volume on the television.

and in late-breaking news, a local physician has been found murdered in her office today. As I watched with growing horror a camera zeroed in on a familiar doorway. The body was discovered at noon today by her assistant, Vesta Pennsinger, who said she came late because the doctor had surgery scheduled.

The camera swung to where a shocked and bewildered Vesta Pennsinger, Dr. Washabaugh's chatty receptionist, leaned against the wall. I came late today because the doctor had surgery scheduled, she said.

Why do they always tell you what you're going to hear? The doorbell rang, and Ethelind rose to her feet. Tori, are you all right? Oh my God, Dr. Washabaugh is your doctor, isn't she? The bell rang again. Who could that be? I'll be right back.

On TV, Vesta was still speaking. I smelled smoke soon as I opened the door. That's when I saw the flames and called the fire department. Vesta started to cry and the camera zoomed in for a close-up.

The body of Dr. Washabaugh, who apparently had been shot several times, was found by firemen after the fire was extinguished. The fire chief speculates that she had interrupted a burglary in process. The fire then was most likely set to cover up the crime.

A man in a fire chief's uniform appeared on screen and said, The fire was most likely set to cover up the crime.

Ethelind came back in, carrying a small box. Funny, there was nobody there. Just this pretty box with your name on it, Tori.

In a daze and still shocked from what I'd just heard, I took it from her, untied the ribbon, pulled off the wrapping paper, and lifted the lid. There was an unsigned card on top that said Get well soon. The item inside was covered with bubble wrap. I took it out, removed the wrap, and gasped. A beautiful, delicate china carousel horse sat on top of a walnut box. When I placed it on the coffee table, the tiny horse danced and twirled as the music box played In the Good Old Summertime.

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