Till Death Do They Part


By Margi Desmond



Detective Mercer pretended to take notes while the old bat prattled nonstop.

"I'm not one bit surprised. Nope, not one bit. I'm a firm believer in karma and knew that awful woman would come to a violent end. Alexandra Rothschild was a despicable person. What comes around goes around. Uh-huh. I knew she'd get her comeuppance." Berna Newton shook her head in disapproval, arms folded across her flat chest as she paced in front of the young detective seated on an ancient, tangerine-colored Naugahyde armchair in the knick-knack cluttered living room.

He exhaled in frustration and looked up from his notepad. "You've already told me that, Ms. Newton. Now what I need to know — "

"You've got your job cut out for you." Berna stood over him; fists perched atop her boney hips. "I'm sure that evil woman made plenty of enemies the way she treated people like dirt. Boy, you're going to have to sift through a whole bunch of suspects. All those interviews... whew!"

"That's what I'm trying to do, Ms. Newton." Detective Mercer motioned Berna to the sofa. The fifty-year-old spinster — who didn't look a day over seventy — sat on the edge of the faded plaid couch and gave her full attention to the officer. Satisfied, he said, "You stated that the last time you saw Mrs. Rothschild alive was yesterday evening at approximately twenty-three hundred hours."

"Huh?"

"Eleven o'clock in the evening."

Berna pursed her lips and gently rubbed the large brown mole resembling a raisin protruding from the side of her face as she thought for a moment. "Yes, Mrs. Rothschild went to the symphony and dinner with friends while I stayed with little Harrison."

"Mrs. Rothschild attended with friends, not her husband?"

"Yes. Dr. Rothschild was working his rounds at the hospital."

"He usually works long hours?" A parakeet flapped past the detective's face. On instinct, he jumped up and unholstered his gun.

"No!" Berna screamed.

Her pet bird swooped around the room and perched on her shoulder. "That's my widdle boo boo." She planted a lips-to-beak kiss on the creature. "The big mean policeman scared my widdle baby, didn't he?"

Detective Mercer looked on in disgust and returned his gun to his hip. "Before we were interrupted, I asked you if the doctor usually worked long hours."

Berna rolled her eyes. "Well, of course. He's the head cardiologist at Memorial. He's muy importante," she said in an attempt to impress the detective with her bilingual talents.

"These friends — did you know them?" Detective Mercer waved a loose feather away from his face as the parakeet flew into the bathroom.

"Not personally, thank goodness. A carousing bunch of Good Time Charlies is what they are."

He raised an eyebrow. "Why do you say that?"

"They'd often come back to the house with Mrs. Rothschild. Drunk, loud, and obnoxious. The wife of a prominent physician should know better than to act like a common tramp." Berna shook her head in disapproval. "It's to be expected with a silly May-December romance."

"How long have you been employed by the Rothschild family?"

"Since Harrison was a wee thing — only a few months old. Mrs. Rothschild was a spoiled narcissistic woman. She certainly wasn't going to devote all her time to care for someone other than herself. God forbid she missed a manicure appointment to care for her son."

"So you've been the nanny for..."

"Three years. Three very long years, I might add. If it wasn't for that poor child and dear Dr. Rothschild, I would've quit long ago." Berna picked up a framed photograph of herself and a young boy dressed in a sailor suit. "I never had children, Detective Mercer. It's a shame the way some women who have no business being mothers easily get pregnant, then other women, well, things don't turn out as they plan." She gazed at the photograph and handed it to the detective. "That little Harrison, he's a beautiful boy, isn't he?"

The detective glanced at the photo. "Yes, adorable. Now if I could — "

The doorbell rang; Berna sprang off the couch and trotted to the door.

"My dear Berna, I came as soon as I heard."

"Olive! It's been so traumatic!" The women hugged each other.

Berna shut the door as a matronly woman clad in a floral dress, support hose, orthopedic shoes, and smelling of fried foods shuffled into the room. "Olive, this is Detective Mercer. I'm helping him with his investigation. Detective Mercer, this is my best friend since elementary school, Olive Monahan."

"Charmed," Olive said, fluttering her eyelashes and smoothing her greasy pageboy haircut. "I've always had a thing for authority figures." She giggled and nudged Berna.

Detective Mercer swallowed hard. Olive looked past him, into the dining area and spotted a gift basket. "What's this?" she asked, pointing to the pink foil-wrapped present.

"My friend, Lynn, from my knitting group gave it to me," Berna said, taking Olive's hand and guiding her into the dining room. "It's a stress relief basket."

Olive peered through the foil. "Lavender bath salts, lotion, sachets...how lovely."

"I know. Lynn is such a thoughtful young woman." Berna envied her friend, the wife of a wealthy executive.

"Excuse me ladies," Detective Mercer said.

Berna and Olive strode back to where the detective sat.

"Yesterday I was a simple babysitter; today I'm a celebrity. Everyone wants to talk to me." Berna grabbed Olive's hand and gave it a squeeze. "My creative writing group wants me to give a presentation tomorrow on what it's like to be interviewed by the cops."

"How exciting." Olive flashed a flirtatious buck-toothed smile at Detective Mercer.

He started towards the front door, calling behind him, "I'll be back."

"But we haven't had tea yet." Olive rushed after him; however, the door slammed shut before she reached the foyer. "Dang," she said under her breath.

* * *

Olive placed a tray of tea and cookies on the coffee table in front of the sofa where Berna reclined with her feet up and head propped on decorative pillows. "You'll love these cookies. They're the fancy shmancy ones that come in the little paper cups. Classy, eh? I found them on clearance at the factory remnant store off I-40."

Berna sat up to make room on the sofa for Olive, grabbed a cookie, and took a bite. "They're stale," she said, crumbs dusting her dry, cracked lips. She washed the mouthful down with a gulp of tea and tossed the rest of the cookie back on the plate. The parakeet swooped from the ceiling and landed on the edge of the plate, eyeballing the array of treats.

"You're already turning into a diva," Olive said. "A tiny taste of fame and you become a cookie snob." She waved the bird away from the food.

"I guess I am sort of famous now. Did you see the story in the paper? They mentioned me right here." Berna grabbed the newspaper and read, "Bla, bla, bla...let's see...here it is: 'Berna Newton, the Rothschild family nanny, stated that she's both shocked and saddened by the tragic demise of Mrs. Rothschild.'" Olive rolled her eyes and Berna scowled at her. "Well, I couldn't say I thought the witch deserved it." Berna bopped Olive on the top of the head with the paper. The parakeet whistled from the light fixture above.

Olive shuddered. "It's scary. There's a vicious killer on the loose. I'm not leaving my apartment after dark, that's for sure."

"Oh, please," Berna said. "You don't have a thing to worry about. Nobody wants to kill you. Mrs. Rothschild finally crossed the wrong person and she got what she deserved."

"Berna!"

"Well, it's true. Dr. Rothschild worked hard to provide for his family, and all Mrs. Rothschild did was spend his money and carouse with her drinking buddies. She fooled around on the Internet too. I bet she flirted with a bunch of nasty men on those raunchy dating websites. It wouldn't surprise me in the least."

"Oh, Berna," Olive said, "Are you sure?"

"Women like Mrs. Rothschild are high maintenance. Never satisfied." Berna finished her tea. "Dr. Rothschild deserves a woman who appreciates the handsome hardworking cardiac surgeon that he is."

* * *

Berna emerged from her creative writing group presentation feeling like a superstar. She'd barely finished her prepared presentation on index cards before everyone bombarded her with questions. She was thrilled to be considered an expert on police interview procedures. Sure, she slightly exaggerated her role in Mrs. Rothschild's murder investigation, but fiction writers were used to embellishing facts. What was the harm, really?

Energized by the successful meeting, Berna spent the afternoon shopping before returning to her apartment and pouring herself a small glass of port. When the doorbell rang, Berna figured it was Olive and said, "Come in. The door's unlocked."

The door remained shut.

"Oh, for heaven's sake," Berna said and hoisted herself off the sofa. "Olive, you're going deaf." But when Berna opened the door she saw a beautiful flower arrangement sitting on the stoop. She brought the bouquet into the house and read the accompanying card:

Roses are red

Violets are blue

Keep blabbing your mouth

And I'll kill you too!

* * *

"Berna!" Olive grabbed Berna's shoulders and gave her a shake. "Berna, how much of that port did you drink?"

"Huh?" Berna blinked and focused her gaze on her friend. "Olive, how did you..."

"The door was ajar; I walked in and saw you sitting here like a zombie."

"My bird!"

Olive pointed to the coat rack by the front door. "He's right there."

"Oh, that's a relief." Berna realized she was still holding the threatening poem and stuffed it between the seat cushions before Olive noticed. Berna knew the note would terrify her friend, prompting her to call the police. Olive didn't want to talk to the police again, at least, not yet. "It wasn't the port. I...uh...I guess all the stress from the past couple of days has taken its toll." Berna grabbed her glass and took another sip of the port. The sweet concoction eased her nerves.

"What's this?" Olive grabbed the shopping bags Berna had left in the foyer earlier. "Let's have a look."

Berna jumped up and tried to grab the bags from Olive. "It's nothing, really."

"Oh, come on. I want to have a look-see." Berna pulled out a black brassier. "What's this?"

"It's a water bra." Berna poured herself another glass of port.

"A water what?"

"A water bra. It'll make me a whole cup size bigger and has the look and feel of a natural breast."

Olive pulled out a bottle of pills. "And these?"

"They're herbal enhancements. You take three of those pills before meals and they make you bigger."

"Bigger?"

Berna looked down at her chest. "You know, bigger."

"Have you lost your mind?" Olive looked at Berna with a raised eyebrow. "Why'd you buy this junk? Geeze." Olive tossed the breast enlargement products on the table and looked in the next bag. "Oh, isn't this sexy!" She pulled out a slinky black dress. "Who's this for?"

"Who do you think?" Berna took another toot of port.

"I dunno."

Berna rolled her eyes.

"Wait." Olive glanced at Berna. "You honestly think..." Laughing, with tears streaming down her face, she said, "Oh, Berna, you kill me!"

"Olive, you're giving me a headache. Don't you have somewhere you need to be?"

Berna's best friend stood and smoothed her dress. "Actually, I came over here to get those cookies. It's my turn to host my scrapbooking club and since you didn't like them — "

"You're going to serve those stale old things?"

"I'll throw them in the oven for a few moments to crisp them up."

"Ugh." Berna shook her head. Olive's tightwad habits were embarrassing.

* * *

Clad in her new water bra and slinky dress, Berna played her Celine Dion CD and danced around the living room to her favorite song, "All by Myself," while pretending to be on the dance floor at the Colonnade Room with Dr. Rothschild. Swaying to the music, she sang along with Celine's angelic voice:

All by myself

Don't wanna be

All by myself

Anymore...

Oh, Dr. Rothschild, you're at a loss, wondering how you're going to manage as a single father. Worry no more, my love. Berna will be there for you. Yes, you can count on me.

Sauced on port, Berna found the courage to implement her plan of seduction. She sat at her computer and typed:

Dear Dr. Rothschild,

You are in my thoughts and prayers, and I want you to know that I am here for you anytime, anyplace. I'm willing to do whatever I can to help ease your pain.

Mrs. Rothschild was a beautiful woman, yes, but she was so young and immature. I could tell you weren't happy.

I want you to know that I didn't tell anyone that you came home early from the hospital that night. I didn't mention that you were resting in the bedroom when Mrs. Rothschild's friend dropped her off.

Let's get together for a quiet dinner — you and I — perhaps at the Colonnade Room to discuss the investigation. Detective Mercer keeps asking me questions and I want to be on the same page with you so he won't get suspicious. You and I know you are in the business of saving lives, but cops can be ignorant. I think we can...

The doorbell rang before she could finish her thought. And like he'd read her mind, there stood Dr. Rothschild when Berna opened the door.

"May I come in, Berna?" the doctor asked in his heart-melting baritone voice.

Berna moved aside and motioned him in. A whiff of his cologne as he strode past her took her breath away. "Would you...would you like some port?"

"Berna," he said, turning toward her. "We need to talk."

"Yes! That's exactly what I was thinking. In fact, I was just writing you an email."

"Have you sent it yet?"

"No."

"Let me see it."

Berna hesitated. "The computer's in my bedroom."

"That's fine."

Berna's heart pounded. She was going into her bedroom with Dr. Rothschild. Breathe in. Breathe out. For goodness sake, don't faint! "See, it's right here. I was thinking we could go to the Colonnade Room."

Dr. Rothschild scanned the document, his face reddening. He deleted Berna's unsent email, looked at her up and down, and shook his head. Berna self-consciously held her hands to her chest. "It was just a suggestion..."

"You stupid old fool. Can't keep your mouth shut, can you?" the doctor growled between clenched teeth. "The detective, your half-wit friend, those losers at the writing group — you insisted on blabbing like an idiot to anyone who'd listen. 'She was an awful wife. He was so unhappy. He's better off.' Why didn't you take out an ad in the newspaper? Just take out an ad and plaster my motive all over the place? You wrinkled miserable..."

Dr. Rothschild lunged toward her with a knife, nicking the water bra as the parakeet flew into his face. "What the hell?" he screamed as water shot from the pierced brassier into his eyes and the bird flapped and pecked at his head. Stumbling blindly forward, hands waving above his head in an attempt to shoo the bird away, Dr. Rothschild tripped over Berna's shopping bags and fell onto the knife.

"My love!" Berna dropped to her knees.

Gasping for breath, Doctor Rothschild whispered, "You — "

"No, my dear. Don't talk." She gently cradled his head in her lap. He struggled to speak but she put a finger to his lips. He closed his eyes and his body grew limp. It had taken fifty years to get a man in her bedroom and Berna planned to enjoy it for as long as possible.


Margi Desmond is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and the Royal Society of Literature. She earned a career diploma in Private Investigations in 2010 while conducting research for her first novel length manuscript, Driven to Murder. Ms. Desmond has written more than 100 articles for eHow/Demand Studios and Suite 101. The ezine 69 Flavors of Paranoia published her first short story "Customer Satisfaction" in Menu 13 (August 21, 2011).

Ms. Desmond's short story "Home Sweet Gnome" was published on omdb! in March, 2012.


Copyright 2012 Margi Desmond. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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