MURDER: A LEAGUE OF ITS OWN


By S. Furlong-Bolliger



Death could sometimes be a blessing...

I glanced across the room of well-coiffed heads and zeroed in on Doris Dunkelheimer — a bent little woman with sharp features and a billowing cloud of gray curls — and told myself that this was definitely one of those times. Besides, at ninety-three, Doris had already lived a full life. More importantly, she had something I needed — a membership to the most prestigious club in my social circle, The Thirty-Seven League. The club's name referred to the number of members allowed at any one time —thirty-seven; no more, no less. A new member was only admitted upon the death of a former member. So, it was simple...the old bird just had to move on.

"Love your gown, Elizabeth," Margaret Fitzpatrick's sappy voice interrupted my thoughts. She was leaning in and speaking to me over the resonance of polite applause. We were attending one of the many fundraisers sponsored by The Thirty-Seven League and the first speaker of the evening had just finished. "But you should really change dry cleaners," she added.

I raised my brow. What was she talking about?

She gave me a once over, the corners of her mouth turning down in disapproval. "They obviously shrunk it. It seems quite snug through hips."

Leave it to Margaret to try and ruin a perfectly good evening by slinging insults. I sighed, the Rawlings were always targets for such snideness. Mother had always told me that being blessed with money and status had its challenges, namely women like Margaret who let petty jealousy stand in the way of good manners. Oh well, I wasn't going to let that insolent witch spoil my evening. I patted my evening bag and knowingly smiled — with Doris out of the way, my impending induction to The Thirty-Seven League was just around the corner.

Speaking of Doris, I stole another glance across the room, where the grand dames of The Thirty-Seven League were seated at the head table. Doris was busy nursing a Manhattan, probably not her first of the evening. Everyone knew that the reason the old bat had made it this long was because Vermouth ran through her veins.

My table companions must have noticed me staring. "Would you just look at that Doris Dunkelheimer," one of them said.

"Isn't she something? Why, she must be nearing a hundred years old," another commented.

"Ninety-three," I corrected.

"Can you believe she's still going?" Margaret added.

One of the ladies leaned in and whispered, "I wish she would just get on with it. I'd love a shot at her membership."

We all giggled, sipping at our drinks and contemplating the day when Doris would finally give up her membership. We were all Thirty-Seven League wannabes, each and every one of us. Only everyone knew, whether they admitted it or not, that I was the one that stood the most chance of gaining that membership upon Doris's death. After all, I was a Rawlings. My family's name was synonymous with class and good taste. There was no else that stood a chance against me.

I could barely contain my excitement as I smugly regarded my table companions and listened to their idle banter about The League. Little did they know that with a little help from me, Doris Dunkelheimer, was about to pass out of The League and onto her final resting place. I felt no regret about what I had planned; Doris had been on the verge of dying for several years now. What would it hurt to help her along? In fact, her family would probably be grateful to be rid of her. I'd heard whispers that several of the Dunkelheimer offspring had already made plans for their inheritance.

A hush settled over the table as everyone turned their attention to the podium where Edith Gottleib, the club president, was preparing to introduce a speaker.

"Doesn't Edith look good?" It was Margaret leaning in and hissing into my ear again. For crying out loud, didn't that woman ever shut up? I turned my shoulder, hoping that would deter her.

She persisted. "Her lift looks so natural, doesn't it? I can give you the name of her plastic surgeon if you'd like. I bet he could do wonders for you."

I continued to focus ahead, ignoring the comment. The nerve of that Margaret Fitzpatrick! Who did she think she was insulting me like that? But what could I expect from someone that came from a family that had earned their money in some unsavory pharmaceutical business. Although, to hear Margaret talk about her family, you'd think they owned Walgreens, for Pete's sake. Truth was, Fitzpatrick Pharmacy didn't even have a good reputation. Even my late husband, Harold, — God rest his soul — had always told me to avoid Fitzpatrick's Pharmacy.

Simply put, the Fitzpatricks were not in the same league as the Rawlings. Although, rumor was that Margaret thought she deserved the next open membership in The League. A preposterous notion! Why, just the thought of someone like Margaret Fitzpatrick in The Thirty-Seven League was laughable.

Excitement settled over the room as The League's secretary took the podium and began discussing the bidding rules for the evening's silent auction. The League, one of the community's most philanthropic organizations, was raising money to benefit the local woman's shelter. I shuddered with pride just thinking of all the good I could do once Doris was out of the way and I was a part of this prestigious organization.

"Did you hear that, Elizabeth?" I refocused my attention. Margaret was at it again. "The Secretary just announced that one of the items up for auction was a spa day at Rodolfo's. You ought to bid on that. You could really use a day at the spa."

I sucked in my breath and regarded Margaret with a sharp look. I briefly considered several nasty retorts, but in the end, my refined upbringing shone through. Instead, I took the opportunity to excuse myself. A crowd had started to form around the auction display tables and since everyone only had thirty minutes to place their bids, I didn't have any time to waste.

I made a quick detour by the bar and ordered my own Manhattan. Then, sipping and smiling my way through a couple groups of acquaintances, I made my way to a deserted table in the corner of the room. Setting down my purse, I slyly removed a small envelope and carefully emptied the contents into the drink. Glancing around, I breathed easier. No one was even looking my way. So far, so good. How ironic that the medicine that had kept my poor Harold's heart ticking for so long was now going to stop Doris's heart in its tracks? And, there would be no need for an autopsy. She was an old woman, after all. Even if foul play was suspected, no one would trace the poison to me. Harold had been gone for several years and he was such a proud man, no one ever knew that he took heart medicine.

As luck would have it, Doris was making her way along the auction tables studying each item discernibly with a drink in hand and spectacles perched on her nose. "Doris!" I sidled up next to her and offered a couple of air kisses.

"Do, I know you?" she asked, regarding me with milky eyes.

"Elizabeth, Elizabeth Rawlings."

"Oh yes, of course, dear. How are you?"

"Fine, Doris. Are you seeing anything worth bidding on?" Of course she wasn't. She had cataracts the size of Chicago.

"Well, there's this —"

"Isn't it lovely?" Rose Marconi interrupted, coming along and inserting herself into our conversation. "Tony and I donated that. It's authentic Ginori." she said, pointing at the rather gaudy flowered vase before us. It looked like cheap kitsch to me, but what did I know about Italian pottery?

To my delight, Doris set her drink down and picked up a bid slip. "It is lovely, Rose. I was just about to place a bid on it. Can you help me, dear? I'm afraid that with my arthritis the way it is, no one will be able to read my bid."

Rose practically squealed with delight. "Of course I can help you with that, Doris."

While they were busy coming up with a bid, I placed the spiked drink next to Doris's and picked up her drink, took a sip, and moved it closer to me, leaving the deadly drink in its place.

Glancing over at Doris and Rose, I let out a sigh of relief — neither seemed to notice what I had just done. Rose was too busy trying to convince Doris to increase her bid.

"Believe me, it's worth that price," Rose said, leaning into Doris and attempting a whisper, although Rose Marconi never really whispered anything. She was probably the loudest, most obnoxious woman I knew. But what could one expect from someone married to a man named Toni Marconi. His name sounded like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, for heaven's sake.

"Don't you want to place a bid, Elizabeth?" Rose asked, turning to me.

I glanced at the gawd-awful vase with a forced smile. "Of course," I replied, setting down my drink and reaching for my own bid slip. After all, what could it hurt to be polite?

I was just getting ready to slide a ridiculously low bid into the box when that pesky Margaret Fitzpatrick showed up and cut in front of me. "I've been eyeing this vase all evening," she stated, getting between me and the table and snatching up her own bid slip. Then, turning to Doris and Rose she gushed, "I'm bidding high. I simply must have it, besides the proceeds are going to such a good cause. Don't you agree, ladies?"

Doris and Rose nodded in unison. Rose more adamantly than Doris, but then this was probably the most attention that ugly vase had ever garnered. What was the deal anyway? None of these ladies had a single ounce of good taste.

I was trying to maneuver around Margaret when the high pitched screech of the microphone cut through the buzz of the crowd. I wheeled around to see Edith back at the podium. "Ladies, please finish up your bidding and take your seats. Dinner will be served shortly."

"Excuse me," I said, bumping Margaret out of the way and sliding my bid into the box. She was so annoying.

I grabbed my drink and headed back to the table congratulating myself on a brilliantly executed plan. Everything had gone off without a hitch. Now it was just a matter of waiting. I wondered if it would happen immediately or take some time. Whatever the case, I would soon have my chance to be a part of The League. I felt like a kid at Christmastime, giddy with excitement.

While dinner was served, I kept one eye on Doris's table, where I noticed the old bat was working away at her drink. It wouldn't be long now. A few more sips and...

"You're not eating much, dear." I turned my gaze back to my own table where Margaret was eyeing my still full plate. I glanced down. Beef tips in burgundy sauce. Usually one of my favorites, but for some reason I just didn't feel hungry — probably all the excitement. I looked longingly at the head table — a long exquisitely adorned table where thirty-seven of the community's most revered woman sat. At the next event, I would be seated among them. I could hardly wait.

I peeked discretely at Doris. What was taking her so long to die? She was laughing and carrying on like it was nobody's business. Didn't the article on the internet say that the poison was supposed to act quickly? Maybe I didn't use a large enough dose.

"I heard a rumor about you the other day, Elizabeth."

I refocused on my surroundings where Margaret had captured everyone's attention. For some reason her comment made my stomach turn. Come to mention it, my stomach wasn't feeling well at all.

"Yes, and what was that," I asked, my patience running low with this woman.

Margaret's eyes seem to sparkle as she reached over and patted my hand, "No need for worry, dear. This was a good rumor. It concerns The League."

All ears at the table preened at the mention of The Thirty-Seven League. Mine included. Only suddenly, a sickening feeling rose from my stomach and overtook my body. I began to tremble. What was wrong with me? I glanced around the table. No one seemed to notice my discomfort. They were all laughing at some joke Margaret was telling. What was she saying? Something about me —"

I couldn't wait around to find out. I jumped up and made a mad dash for the restroom.

I barely made it there before becoming violently ill.

"Not feeling well, Elizabeth?"

I looked up to see Margaret standing in my stall, holding out a wet paper towel. I took it gratefully and dabbed at my face. "I don't understand what is wrong with me," I said, feeling like I was on fire.

"Why of course you do." A slow smile crept over her face. "Nausea, vomiting, perhaps even a tight feeling in your chest. Any involuntary convulsions yet?"

My heart lurched. "What?"

"You don't have much time, you know?" she continued. "Oh, of course, had your scheme worked, it would have probably killed poor old Doris in minutes, an old body like that. But you? I'm estimating that you have some time. In fact, with the right treatment, they might even be able to save you. Unless, of course, you used something more powerful than digitalis." She waved off the thought. "No, I'm pretty sure what I saw you pour into Doris's drink was digitalis. I'm guessing that you used some of your deceased husband's leftover medication."

I blinked — a slow painful blink. "How...how did you —"

She tilted back her head, an evil little cackle emitting from her lips. "How did I know? My family is in pharmaceuticals, remember? And, although old Harold was loaded with money, he did love a good deal. He preferred to get his medication at rock bottom prices. I was his best supplier...of medicine and...other things."

Other things? What was she talking about? Harold would have never done business or anything else with people like the Fitzpatricks. At least I didn't think so? Would he? I was so confused. Why couldn't I think straight?

"An ambulance...I need an ambulance," I said, reaching for my bag, but suddenly remembered that I had left it back at the table. My cell phone was inside.

"Need one of these?" Margaret's long lacquered nails were wrapped around my only hope for survival. I reached out, but she whisked the phone away and laughed. I was too weak to fight her for it...too weak to even crawl out of the stall.

Margaret brought the phone to her heart in mock sympathy. "An ambulance? Well, I could do that; but then they'd find out that you ingested digitalis. And, how would you explain that?"

I stared in disbelief.

She continued, her eyes flashing with triumph. "Think about it, Elizabeth. They'd eventually figure out that you botched poor Doris's murder."

My heart raced. "What do you mean? They wouldn't have to know that." My voice came out in small raspy spurts as waves of pain rolled over my body.

Another cackle. "Yes they would. I would feel...uh...obligated to tell them about having seen you put something into Doris's drink."

Of course she would.

"Then, I'd have to explain how you must have got the drinks mixed up and ended up poisoning yourself. It's actually quite pathetic, if you ask me."

I squeezed my eyes shut, thinking back to the bidding table with Rose and Doris. Of course, Margaret had butted in for one reason only — to switch the drinks. I shook my head in defeat.

She held the phone out so I could see her fingers move over the numbers. 9...1... "Now, you have to make a decision. Think about it Elizabeth. I can call an ambulance, but then everyone will know what you did. Or —"

"You can't let me die, Margaret!"

"Can't I? You see, Doris is another client of mine. I have her complete medical history at my fingertips and I just happen to know that she's not in the best health. In fact, I would be surprised if she made it through the month." She shrugged, a grin tugging at the corner of her lips, leading me to believe that she had a plan of her own to ensure Doris's quick demise. "And, the truth is that I want that spot on The Thirty-Seven League as badly as you do. With you out of the way, it's mine."

I felt like the world was closing in on me. Suddenly I noticed my legs trembling. The realization that I couldn't control them sent me into a panic. "But...I don't want to die. Please, please don't let me die!"

"Don't worry, Elizabeth, I'm not going to let you die."

Relief swept over me.

"No," she continued. "You're going to make that decision. The way I see it, you'll either choose to die, or go to prison. Either way, the position in The League is mine. So, it's completely up to you. However, if you choose to live, you'll have to face public humiliation. Just think; a woman like you — wealthy, prestigious — attempting to murder someone over a club membership. The press will crucify you. And, a story like that will more than likely make national news. Why, the Rawlings reputation will be ruined." She sighed for emphasis. "And, I know how important that reputation is to you. You've always prided yourself on being a Rawwwlings," she taunted.

She was right.

"So, I could call the ambulance, or I could take you home. I'd even set it up to look like you intended to take the digitalis."

"Suicide?"

"Oh, I know dear. People will whisper about that for some time after your death. But, really, isn't suicide better than going down in society's history as a murderer, and a stupid one at that?"

I clenched my stomach. My whole body had begun to tremble. My chest was tightening, my breath coming in short spurts. However, even through the cloud of pain, my mind was clear enough to reason that I really didn't have much of a choice. I knew what I had to do. I was a Rawlings, after all.

"Home," I whispered.

I could only hope that I would die quickly.


S. Furlong-Bolliger has published several non-fiction articles in national magazines such as Country Magazine, Traditional Bowhunters Magazine, and Countryside Stock Journal. The author also freelances as an academic writer publishing hundreds of short biographies through Ebsco Publishing and has worked on a team of writers for the compilation of various editions of Mosby's Medical Dictionary. S. Furlong-Bolliger [sfurlongbolliger@yahoo.com] has recently published several short mysteries through the Fingerprint Mystery Line of Untreed Reads, Woman's World magazine, Pill Hill Press and OMDB!.

"Mustard's Last Stand" appeared online in omdb! September, 2011.


Copyright 2012 S. Furlong-Bolliger. 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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