HOLIDAY HOMICIDE

By Margi Desmond


When the doorbell chimed she wanted to blow her brains out. Instead, Daniela Kennedy closed her eyes and counted to three before opening the door for her in-laws. She plastered a smile across her face and greeted the road-weary Florida retirees as they stood shivering on the doorstep.

“Laaaaaaance!” Barb bellowed for her only child and pushed past Daniela.

Lance’s father stood, hunchbacked, with the wind blowing his hair sprayed comb-over to the other side of his head, like a lid opening the top of his skull. “Hey, sugar.” He stepped forward, lips puckered, and attempted to kiss Daniela, a line of mucous from his nostril running precariously close to his upper lip.

Daniela wormed out of his reach.  “Please, Nate, come in.”

“I better see if Beanz needs to take a poopy-doop first.”

“Beanz?”

He produced a miniscule, trembling dog from within his coat. The dog focused its bulging eyeballs on Daniela and started snarling.

“Wow, he’s small.” She made a kissy noise and offered her hand for the dog to sniff. It tried to bite her.

“It’ll take a while for him to warm up to you. He’s real protective of me and Barb.” He placed the pet on the ground. Beanz twirled around once, strained, and took a steaming dump on the doormat. “That was fast. Good boy.” Nate scooped Beanz up in the crook of his arm and shuffled into the living room.

“Don’t worry. I’ll clean that up,” Daniela muttered. She closed the door and headed to the bathroom for some toilet paper to pick up Beanz’s “poopy-doop.”

“Where’s our son?” Barb asked.

“He drove to the convenience store. He should be back any second,” Daniela called over her shoulder while scooping up the dog’s waste. She flushed it down the powder room toilet, washed her hands, and strode into the living room to join her in-laws.

“Lance had to fetch something you forgot on the shopping list?” Barb asked, still wearing her coat, looking around the room.

“Beer. Lance drank it all last night while watching football. ” Daniela held out her hands. “May I take your jacket?”

Barb shivered. “Heaven’s no. It’s freezing in here. I’m going to catch my death of a cold.” She blew into her hands like she was trying to survive frostbite on Mount Everest. The fifty-degree weather in Raleigh, North Carolina apparently felt like being in the artic for oldsters used to sizzling in the Sunshine State.

“Lance set the thermostat on seventy, knowing how you tend to be on the chilly side.” Daniela was sweltering, but Lance had insisted that his parents be comfortable during their visit.

“There it is.” Barb walked to the thermostat and cranked it up to eighty. “Just until our blood thaws.”

Daniela bit her lip and headed back to the kitchen to check on dinner.

A few minutes later, Barb ran to the front door and wailed, “He just drove up. Nate, come here! Lance pulled into the driveway.”

Daniela walked to the door in time to see the reunion. Parents greeting sons back from the war in Afghanistan displayed less emotion than what she witnessed. Tears streamed down Barb’s face as she clutched Lance and gave him a big smack on the puss. Nate wept silently and patted his son’s back. It had been a whole three weeks since they’d gathered for Thanksgiving in Florida.

Daniela returned to the kitchen to finish dinner. The homemade lasagna’s aroma smelled delicious and would be ready soon. She spread garlic butter on fresh Italian bread and slid it in the oven with the main dish.

Lance walked into the kitchen with his parents hanging on to him like possum babies clutching their mother. He slid the case of beer into the refrigerator. “When did you get here?”

“A few minutes ago,” Nate answered.

“You already unload your luggage?”

“Daniela didn’t offer to help, and you know your father’s bad back. We had to wait for you, son,” Barb said.

Lance glanced at Daniela. “I told you about Dad’s back.”

“They just arrived, and I’ve been cleaning up dog crap,” Daniela said through clenched teeth. She poured herself a glass of wine and busied herself in the kitchen while Barb and Nate accompanied Lance. After unloading enough luggage and presents for ten people, the trio joined Daniela in the kitchen.

“Whew, I need a brewski after that,” Lance said and started to take off his coat, but Barb grabbed his arm.

“You sure you want to do that just yet, son? It was an icebox in here when we arrived. I turned up the heat, but it may take a while.”

Lance looked at Daniela. “Did you turn the heat down?”

“No.” She tossed the salad, wishing she could toss something else…out of the house.

“I think I’ll be okay, Mother.” Lance took off his coat, prompting his parents to do the same.

Barb grabbed the men’s garments and shoved all three coats at Daniela. “Here, dear. Why don’t you hang these up for us?”

Daniela shot her husband an impatient look, but he ignored it. She hung the coats in the foyer closet. On the way back to the kitchen, she noticed a frantic motion on the couch. Beanz was humping one of the throw pillows. She grabbed it from the little dog seconds before he snapped at her. He continued to snarl and bark in protest.

“What’s going on? Widdle pumpkin?” Barb had managed to tear herself away from her son to check on Beanz.

“He’s mad because I took the pillow from him.” Daniela placed it on a chair, away from the horny bug-eyed creature on the couch.

Barb grabbed her pet. “That wasn’t very nice, was it Mr. Beanz?” She kissed him, and he licked her on the lips.

Daniela grimaced. “He was humping the pillow.”

“So what? It’s only natural.”

“I lay my head on it when I relax on the sofa,” Daniela said to Barb’s back as she trod to the kitchen with her dog.

The oven timer beeped and Daniela announced that dinner was ready. Everyone gathered at the dining room table as she served tossed salad, lasagna made according to her mother’s delicious recipe, and garlic bread. Lance’s parents declined the wine Daniela had selected as an appropriate pairing with the food. Instead, they chose to drink beer with their son. Before even tasting one bite of the meal Daniela had prepared, all three diners heavily salted their food, a practice considered highly offensive by chefs worldwide, and something that irked the hell out of Daniela.

“Where’s the ranch dressing?” Barb asked.

“I tossed the salad with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and fresh spices grown from my little herb garden in the sunroom,” Daniela said.

“We always have ranch dressing.” Barb said.

Lance scooted his chair back. “Maybe we have some in the fridge.”

“No, we don’t,” Daniela said. “Don’t bother looking.”

“Who doesn’t have ranch dressing on hand? It’s like not having ketchup or mayonnaise,” Barb said.

Lance gave his mother a sympathetic look and resituated himself at the table. “I’m sorry, Momma.”

“There’s nothing for you to be sorry for, dear.” Barb patted him on the hand.

“What’s this green stuff in the salad?” Nate asked. “It tastes like I’m eating the yard.”

Barb smirked and raised an eyebrow.

“It’s baby spinach leaves,” Daniela said. “They’re much more nutritious than regular iceberg lettuce.”

“Spinach? I ain’t never seen spinach like this before. It’s usually all limp and slimy.”

“You’re referring to canned spinach. Fresh spinach looks like this.”

“Yuck. Watch this.” Nate held a small spinach leaf in front of Beanz’s face. The dog took a sniff, sneezed, and backed away a step. Nate, Barb, and Lance laughed. “Even poor old Beaner don’t want it.”

“He’d probably try to choke it down if there was some ranch dressing on it,” Barb said.

“If the salad is not up to the standards to which your palate has become accustomed, then please, by all means, do not eat it,” Daniela said.

“At least you tried, dear,” Barb said. “I’m sure you did your best.”

Lance nodded and smiled at his momma.

“The lasagna is good, though,” Nate said through a mouthful of masticated food. Beanz whined and Nate chucked a piece of bread at the dog.

“Mmm.” Lance nodded his head in agreement.

Barb picked at her plate and said, “You know who makes a really good lasagna? Papa Cinelli. You can get them in the frozen food section, and they’re reasonably priced. I don’t know why anyone would waste their time making it from scratch when Papa Cinelli’s is so much better.” She set Beanz in her lap where he strained to get at her plate, his tongue stretching and darting to and fro like a lizard’s in an attempt to make contact with the hunk of lasagna. “No, widdle pookie-bear, this will make you sick.” Barb pushed the plate out of the dog’s reach.

Nate finished shoveling food into his mouth and slid his plate toward the middle of the table. Swallowing one last wad, he leaned back in his seat and rubbed his belly. “That was pretty good. Thanks, Daniela.” A burp rumbled from deep within his gastrointestinal tract, and he blew it out, subjecting everyone to its vile odor.

Daniela jumped from her seat before she gagged. “Lance, why don’t you clear the dishes while I prepare dessert?”

“Heaven’s no,” Barb said. “Let the men talk. I’ll help you with dessert. I’m sure you could use a hand.”

“It’s banana cream pie,” Daniela said. “The frozen one you told me was your favorite last year.”

“That’s wonderful, dear. Hard to mess up dessert when all you have to do is thaw it, right?” Barb put the kettle on to boil water. “Did you remember to buy Sanka?”

“No, we can use the coffee maker. I have whole beans stored in the freezer. The grinder is—”

“That’s okay. I brought a big jar. It’s in my suitcase. I’ll be right back.” Barb trotted to the guest room leaving Daniela to clear the dinner table and load the dishwasher. Conveniently after the kitchen cleanup was complete, Barb moseyed back with the largest container of Sanka Daniela had ever seen. “They were on clearance at Big Buck’s Superstore. I’ll leave it here for when you entertain other guests.”

“Gee, thanks, Barb.” Daniela took the pie out of the refrigerator while Barb prepared mugs of Sanka.

As the group sat at the table, eating pie and slurping Sanka, Barb updated everyone on the latest gossip from the Happy Palmz retirement community. Daniela’s mind wandered during Barb’s lengthy, detailed health updates on every old bat from her craft group.

Finished with his dessert, Nate emitted a loud fart, interrupting Barb’s narrative regarding her friend’s “suspicious mole” biopsy. “Oh, sorry, ya’ll. Sanka gives me the trots. ‘Scuse me.” He headed to the bathroom, unbuckling his pants along the way.

 

* * *

 

That night Daniela went to sleep with the bedroom windows wide open, only a sheet covering her. Lance stayed up late with his parents watching Christmas Vacation and drinking eggnog, their Christmas Eve family tradition. A rustling noise at the side of the bed woke her up at midnight. Lance was opening a new package of pajamas.

“What’re those?” Daniela asked.

“I opened one present like we always do on Christmas Eve.” He stripped naked and donned the new pajamas—a red fleece onesie with faux-fur white trim.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Daniela was surprised they came in adult sizes.

“Momma specially ordered them from a website.”

“Of course she did.” Daniela rolled over and closed her eyes.

“Please be patient with Momma and Daddy. I’m an only—”

“ ‘I’m an only!’ ‘He’s an only!’” Daniela sat up in bed. “How many friggin’ times do you guys have to play ‘the only’ card as an excuse for your psychotic behavior? And what’s up with letting your mother kiss you on the lips?”

“We’ve always done that.”

“Well, it’s disgusting. She’s your MOTHER!”

“It’ll hurt her feelings if—”

“You’re thirty-five years old for god’s sake! Every damn holiday I have to suffer through a dysfunctional love fest. One time. One friggin’ time I’d like to go to my parents’ for Christmas. Is that so much to ask?”

“Your parents have your sister and her husband. My parents have nobody. If we didn’t spend it with them, they’d be all alone.”

“They have Beanz.”

A yelp came from the hallway. Lance and Daniela ran from their bedroom and saw Barb in front of the linen closet, towels and blankets at her feet. “Momma, are you okay?” Lance ran to her.

Barb stood, eyes wide, mouth gaping, searching for words. “I, uh, I was so cold and afraid I’d catch pneumonia. I, uh, was looking for an electric blanket when all this clutter fell like an avalanche on me.”

Daniela shuffled back to bed, a smile on her face. The booby-trap had worked. Tired of Barb nosing through all her closets and drawers, Daniela had set up little treats to scare the hell out of the nosy-rosy snoop.

 

* * *

 

Daniela woke on Christmas morning, alone in the bed, and heard muffled voices coming from the vicinity of the living room. She showered and dug through her summer clothes. She changed into a lightweight top and capris and put her hair in a ponytail. She felt ridiculous, but if she’d be cooking in the kitchen all day with the thermostat on eighty degrees, she’d need to be dressed in something cool. She exited her bedroom and, in her bare feet, stepped in a wet spot right outside the doorway. She slid across the hardwood floor, barely managing not to fall. She grabbed a wad of toilet paper from the master bathroom and wiped up the yellow liquid—a present from Beanz, no doubt. She washed her feet once again before joining the family in the living room.

They were situated side-by-side on the sofa, sipping Sanka. Lance, Barb, and Nate each wore red corduroy pants, Christmas sweaters, and Santa hats. Beanz sat beside Barb and chewed the corner of the throw pillow he’d made love to the prior evening.

“Well it’s about dang time,” Nate said. “Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas,” Daniela said.

“We already ate while waiting for the lady of leisure to rise and shine,” Barb said. “Now let’s open presents.”

“You can start without me,” Daniela said. “I need a cup of coffee.” She padded to the kitchen.

“The Sanka is on the counter,” Barb called from the living room.

Daniela rolled her eyes and retrieved the coffee beans. She pulverized them in the grinder, its noise drowning out the “oos” and “ahs” from the other room as the Christmas clowns unwrapped presents. Daniela returned to the spectacle with a steaming cup of coffee. “What?” Her mouth dropped open as she saw the array of inflatable Christmas yard decorations.

“Honey, look. Momma and Daddy bought us the entire life-size nativity collection,” Lance said.

“Even the bonus—the wise men’s camels. All three!” Nate said, beaming.

“Not only that, but enough icicle lights to run across the edge of the house on all four sides,” Lance said and pointed to boxes of lights.

Beanz hopped off the couch and cocked his leg on the Christmas tree. He made eye contact with Daniela and bared his teeth.

“Open this one next.” Barb shoved a package at Lance.

Defeated, Daniela sat on a chair across from the happy threesome and watched as her husband opened an outdoor speaker system.

“That’s so you can play Christmas music to go with the nativity in your front yard next year,” Nate explained. He turned to Daniela. “Oh, hon, don’t feel left out. Here’s one for you.” He handed her a package.

She unwrapped a housecoat that smelled of Barb’s perfume. “This looks comfortable”…and familiar. She remembered her mother-in-law wearing it in the hospital when they visited during her recovery from bunion surgery in 2010.

Lance opened the latest XBOX and a zillion games to go with it. Daniela received a pair of Spanx. Lance got a two thousand dollar gift certificate to Vintage Games so he could start collecting refurbished arcade games. Lance and Barb agreed the dining area would serve as an excellent game room. After all, how often did they really entertain guests?

Daniela received The Dolt’s Guide to Cooking.

Lance opened an autographed, framed poster of the 2013 Miami Dolphins. “I won it at the Happy Palmz raffle to benefit colorectal cancer research,” Nate said. “But I know how you love to collect sports memorabilia, I thought you should have it, Son.”

“Thanks, Dad,” Lance said.

“You could hang it right here.” Barb pointed to the wall behind the couch where a watercolor landscape currently hung.

Daniela unwrapped a gift certificate for a makeup consultation at Meryl Norman. “Those gals do wonders,” Barb said. “They’ll show you how to camouflage all sorts of flaws.”

“Can they help get rid of old bags?”

“Huh?”

“Nothing.” Daniela stood. “I’d better put the turkey in the oven.”

“No,” Lance said. “We’re going to fry it this year.”

“That way it won’t be all dry and tasteless,” Barb said. “It’s really for the best.”

Beanz dragged his ass across the area rug. “Looks like it’s ‘bout time to get his anals expressed,” Barb said.

Daniela went to the kitchen to spike her coffee with Bailey’s.

 

* * *

 

“Dear Lord,” Barb said, head tilted to the sky, eyes closed, hands clutching her son’s and husband’s hands. “We thank you for this food and for being together.” Her voice wavered with deep emotion. Daniela took a large swig of wine and watched “Reverend Barb” bite her lip and soldier on with the blessing. “I don’t know how much longer I have on this earth, but I count my blessings and cherish every second I have with my beloved son.”

After the “Amens” were said, everyone shoveled the Christmas feast on their plates, and per habit, dumped salt on every bit of food. This time Daniela smiled, not irritated in the least. Barb dominated the conversation, Nate interjected with mouthfuls of food, bits flying out of his mouth, and Lance nodded and agreed with everything his dear momma said. It only took a few minutes before they suspected something was wrong, and by that time it was too late.

Daniela had laced the salt with rat poison. She sipped her wine as she watched them clutch their throats and gag. Eyes bulging, tears running down cheeks, foaming at the mouth, vomiting…convulsions…and, finally, peace and quiet.

“Mustn’t forget you,” Daniela said to Beanz and placed Barb’s plate of food on the floor.

 

* * *

 

“Daniela, Daniela!” Lance said.

“Huh?”

“I said, ‘Pass the green bean casserole.’” He gave her an odd look. “What’s wrong with you? You totally zoned out.”

“She’s had too much wine,” Barb said.

“I’ve had too much something, that’s for damn sure.” Daniela rose from the table and walked into her bedroom. She took the divorce papers from her dresser drawer and placed them on Lance’s bedside table. Sometimes it’s better to walk away.


Margi Desmond has written more than 100 articles and short stories. She’s a member of the Mystery Writers of America, serves as a selector and judge for the annual Colorado Book Awards, and serves as a judge for the annual Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence. Margi’s website is available at http://www.margidesmond.com or check out her Facebook Author Page

This is Ms. Desmond’s eighth story to be published on omdb! online. Home Sweet Gnome” (March, 2012), “Till Death Do They Part” (November, 2012), Big Brother” (January, 2013), “Oblivious (July, 2013), “Going PostAll” (July, 2014), and “Goodbye, Cruel World” (October, 2014).

She also contributed “iMurder to our “Solve-it-Yourself” Mini-Mysteries.


Copyright 2014 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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