By Sharon Love Cook

Edith Bicknell heaved a sigh of relief when the last of the mourners said their goodbyes. She had instructed Florence to help the elderly guests with their wraps. Now she watched as the woman buttoned coats, tied scarves and all but pinched their withered cheeks before sending them out into the January twilight.

The old dears probably enjoy the attention, Edith reasoned. She returned to the kitchen to make sure the caterers didn't make off with the good silver. Nonetheless, when Florence hadn't returned in ten minutes, Edith decided to search. Although the cleaning woman was a hard worker, she was easily distracted.

After hanging up her apron, Edith exited the kitchen, passing the big, empty dining room. Outside the den, she stopped. Mr. Smithwick sat inside the dimly lit room, his white head sagging forward. Was he asleep or merely resting after the long afternoon? At the cemetery, he'd looked ready to topple over, cane and all.

She placed a hand on his shoulder and he looked up with reddened eyes. "What is it, Edith?"

"Pastor Chittick and the guests are gone, Mr. Smithwick. Why don't you go on up? Florence and I will finish down here."

He nodded. "Yes, I think I'll do that."

She stood aside as he struggled to his feet and shuffled to the staircase. At the bottom, he looked up. The sadness on his face was painful to see and she hurried from the room, continuing her search.

She finally discovered Florence outside tossing rock salt over the flagstone path. "I need you in the kitchen," Edith said.

"In a minute, " Florence said, her breath making white clouds in the night air. "A couple old birds almost went ass-over-teakettle out here. Mr. Smithwick doesn't need a law suit on top of losing his wife."

Edith pulled her sweater closer. "That's enough, Florence. Let's finish up inside and go home." As she spoke, a light shone upstairs in the big house. Mr. Smithwick's pale face appeared briefly at the window before the curtains closed.

"Poor thing," Florence said. "He'll miss her. That was a marriage made in heaven."

"Amen," Edith said. "Now let's get inside."

* * *

The following day, Edith arrived at noon. She found Mr. Smithwick in the den wearing a bathrobe over pajamas. Although the TV blared, the old man appeared to be dozing. When she lowered the volume, he woke with a start.

"It's just me, Mr. Smithwick. I'll fix you something nice for lunch."

"I'm not hungry, thank you."

"Have you eaten today?"

"I'm going upstairs," he said, reaching for his cane. When she moved to help, he waved her away.

"If you want anything special for dinner, leave me a note on the dining room table," she said. "I'm scheduled to work three days this week."

"There's nothing I want," he said, shuffling to the stairs.

* * *

That afternoon, Edith bustled about the kitchen. She was stirring a pot of lentil soup when the doorbell rang. "Better not be another florist," she muttered, wiping her hands. The living room was crammed with flowers. With Mr. Smithwick's approval, she'd take some to the local nursing home. Let others enjoy them, she thought. Mr. Smithwick hadn't even opened the cards.

* * *

A middle age woman in a tweed suit stood on the steps. Her copper-colored hair blazed in the winter sun. In her gloved hands she held a pie. After a brisk, "Good afternoon," she pushed past Edith into the foyer.

"Excuse me," Edith said, eying the nervy stranger. "What can I do for you?"

"Are you the housekeeper?" the woman asked, her eyes taking in the wall of old family portraits in gilded frames. "I made this especially for Mr. Smithwick." She handed Edith the pie.

"I'm the cook," Edith said. "Who are you?"

"I'm Sandra Flint, an old friend of Mrs. Smithwick's, from the church."

"St. Agatha's?" Edith said, surprised. Mrs. Smithwick's church friends had been older and more...reserved than Sandra Flint.

"Right. I was new to the community when dear Marjorie took me under her wing." She dabbed at her eyes. "Now I'd like to pay my respects to Angus, I mean, Mr. Smithwick."

"He's resting."

"I see." She opened her purse and removed an envelope. "Please see that he gets this."

Edith watched the woman leave, teetering in high heels on the snowy walkway. She got into a low-slung sports car and roared off, her tires kicking up flumes of snow. Edith stared down at the pastel pink envelope with Angus scrawled across the front.

* * *

It was an overcast Wednesday when Edith returned to the Smithwick house. Upon entering the pantry, she spotted Florence crouched at the kitchen door. "Florence, are you snooping?"

The woman spun around, a finger to her lips. "Shh, he's got a visitor in the den."

"Who's got a visitor?"

"Mr. Smithwick. Some dame in a short skirt's reading to him."

"I don't meddle in my client's affairs," Edith said. "That goes for you as well."

"You're the boss," Florence said, reluctantly closing the door. "I'll be upstairs if you need me." Ten minutes later when she returned, Edith was occupying the spot she'd vacated. "So, who's the dame?" she asked.

Edith spun around. "Don't creep up on me like that." She straightened her apron. "Her name is Sandra Flint. She was here Monday with a pie she claimed was home-made although I found a receipt stuck to the bottom of the pan."

"Are they still in the den?"

Edith nodded. "She's reading to Mr. Smithwick. I can't hear what it is."

"Why don't we walk past?"

"Too obvious." Edith frowned, thinking hard. "How about if we gather the funeral arrangements in the living room? Mr. Smithwick said it was okay."

"Let's go," Florence said.

"Now remember," Edith said, "don't gawk at them."

"You're the boss."

* * *

The women stopped outside the den. Inside, Mr. Smithwick, in pajamas and bathrobe, sat on the sofa next to his visitor, whose sheer stockings gleamed in the light from the table lamp.

"Excuse me, Mr. Smithwick..."

He looked up. "Yes, Edith?"

"If you don't mind, we'll collect the flowers to take to the nursing home."

"Take whatever you need."

Working silently, the pair soon filled the trunk of Edith's car. Back in the kitchen, she put the kettle on. "Let's have some tea to warm up."

"What's that she's reading?" Florence asked, scooping sugar into her cup.

"Scripture," Edith said.

"I don't know beans about Scripture," Florence said, "but I know mischief, and that dame is mischief wrapped in a skirt."

"Let's not jump to conclusions," Edith said. "The woman's a member of the church. Perhaps it's nothing more than Christian kindness."

Florence snorted. "Maybe you didn't notice but the last time we passed the den, her skirt was hiked up higher."

Edith sighed. "I noticed."

"Listen, tomorrow I clean for Mrs. Wigglesworth. She was a good friend of Mrs. Smithwick. I'll ask her about Sandra Flint. "

"And I'll have a talk with my nephew, Roland," Edith said. "We're meeting for dinner. Roland's head of security at the college...a resourceful lad."

* * *

Roland Bicknell ladled duck sauce over pork fried rice and handed the bowl to his aunt, sitting opposite him in the booth. "Personally, I think Mr. Smithwick should be left alone," he announced.

"He's not himself," Edith said. "The man relied on his wife for everything. He's lost without her, and it breaks my heart."

"If he's that rich he won't be lost for long," Roland said. "He'll find some nice widow."

"That I wouldn't mind," Edith said. "it's Sandra Flint that's got me worried. I don't trust her."

Roland smiled. "Now Auntie, you said she's only visited twice."

"True, but something tells me she's moving in — like a black widow spider. Will you look into her background?"

"Aunt Edith, you don't understand. The college security database is limited to students. That doesn't include Sandra Flint."

"I see," she glanced down. "I guess I'll have to tell Florence there's nothing we can do for poor Mr. Smithwick."

"Wait. I've got a cop friend who owes me one after I got him a pass to the fitness center. Let me talk to him."

She took a slip of paper from her bag. "Here's Sandra's license plate number."

* * *

Later, after dinner, the waiter set a tray containing two fortune cookies before them. Edith broke hers open and read the message: "Tend to your needs first before the needs of others."

"Appropriate," he said. "You're always fretting about me. Now it's Mr. Smithwick."

"I don't fret about you, Roland. I promised my dear brother on his death bed I'd look after you. Were you involved with someone unsuitable, I'd feel obligated to intervene." She bit into the cookie. "By the way, are you involved with anyone?"

"No, and you'll be the first to know."

"Good. Now I must be going. Don't forget your promise."

On Thursday, Edith was surprised to find Mr. Smithwick in the living room fully dressed, his coat over his lap. "Going out, are you?" she asked. "The car's been garaged so long I'm afraid the battery may be dead."

"I won't be needing it," he said. "Someone from the church is picking me up. We're visiting a granite company up north. I've decided to commission a memorial bench for my wife."

"What a lovely gesture," Edith said. "Is it your idea?"

"No, it was Ms. Flint's and frankly, it's a corker."

The doorbell interrupted them.

"I'll see who it is," Edith said.

He stood up. "I'm going upstairs to grab a handkerchief."

Sandra Flint, in a form-fitting red suit, stepped uninvited into the foyer. She glanced into the living room. "I thought you took all the flowers to the nursing home."

"Not all. Mr. Smithwick wanted some as a reminder of his wife."

"Yes, they are rather dry, aren't they?"

Before Edith could respond, the old man appeared and warmly greeted his visitor. "Will you be returning for lunch?" Edith asked,

"We'll probably stop someplace for a bite." Turning to his companion, he said, "If that's all right with you, Sandra. I don't want to monopolize your time."

"Nonsense, Angus. The memorial bench project is my priority as well."

Edith watched them walk arm in arm to the car. From a distance, Mr. Smithwick didn't look that old at all...

* * *

The following week she was surprised to find him dressed and sitting at the dining room table. "You're up bright and early, sir."

"I was hoping for a bowl of your porridge."

"Certainly. Cream and brown sugar?"

"Fine, and while you're at it, fix another place setting. Ms. Flint is joining me for breakfast."

"I see," she said. "I'm glad your appetite's improved."

* * *

Florence pounced on her the minute she stepped into the kitchen. "That's not the only thing that's improved," the woman said. She reached into her apron pocket and pulled out a thin gold hoop. "Look at this."

"What is it?" Edith asked.

"An earring. Wanna know where I found it?"

"I'm afraid to ask..."

"Upstairs. In his bed."

"Oh no." Edith clamped a hand to her mouth.

"That dame works faster than a flock of sea gulls at a clam bake. Let's contact Mr. Smithwick's son and tell him what's happening."

"It won't do any good. Elliott's off in the Galapagos on a research ship. By the way, did you speak to Mrs. Wigglesworth?"

"Uh huh. When I asked if Sandra Flint had been a friend of Mrs. Smithwick's, the old dame looked like she smelled something bad. 'Hardly,' she said."

"I'm not surprised," Edith said. "Now I've got to get to work. Her ladyship's coming for breakfast."

When Edith returned with a breakfast tray, Sandra Flint was already seated in the dining room. "That smells delicious," Mr. Smithwick said. "Sandra, you must try Edith's marvelous porridge."

"Just toast for me, " she said.

Edith nodded and moved to the pantry. There she heard Mr. Smithwick ask, "What was the name of that drink you made last night?"

"It's called 'Peaches & Dreams.' Did you like it?"

"Loved it. I hope I didn't nod off. You must find me terribly dull."

Edith waited for a response and hearing nothing, opened the door a crack. She spotted Sandra Flint leaning across the table to kiss the old man's cheek.

* * *

After breakfast, the couple donned their coats.

"Will you be back for lunch, Mr. Smithwick?" Edith asked.

"Probably not," he said, turning to his companion. "Where are we headed today?"

"Portsmouth, New Hampshire," she said, smoothing his coat lapels.

"We're visiting another granite quarry," he said, "tracking down the finest stone."

As Edith watched the couple drive away, she wondered if Florence was also observing them. Her suspicions were confirmed by a loud clatter on the stairs followed by Florence racing into the room. "We gotta call the Coast Guard, find that ship Mr. Smithwick's son is on."

"It's thousands of miles away. The only communication is ship-to-shore radio."

"Damn! What about your nephew, Roland? Did he learn anything?"

"He left a message. Apparently the background check is taking longer than expected."

"In the meantime that dame's got Mr. Smithwick wrapped tighter than a canned ham."

Edith nodded. "I can't argue with that."

* * *

The following week Edith worked in the kitchen, stocking the freezer with home-made soups and casseroles, all carefully labeled. As Mr. Smithwick was often out, they communicated through notes. His last read: Please prepare something special tonight — dinner for two.

On Wednesday, her day off, Edith attended a matinee in Boston. Arriving home, she found a message from Florence on her answering machine telling Edith to call the minute she got in.

"Is something wrong?" Edith asked when Florence answered the phone.

"I'll say. She's taking him out of the country!"

"Calm down, Florence, and tell me what happened."

"Well, I was dusting downstairs when I heard them talking in the den. She was going on about Nova Scotia, how they got the best granite in the world. So he says, 'Let's go there,' and she got all upset, saying it'd ruin her reputation at the church if Pastor Chittick found out. I swear, listening to that dame is enough to gag a maggot."

"Go on," Edith said. "What did Mr. Smithwick say?"

"He goes, 'Would you feel better if it was our wedding trip?'"

Edith sank into the chair. "I feared something like this."

"Listen, tomorrow I'm cleaning for Mrs. Wigglesworth. Should I say something to her? Her husband, rest his soul, was Mr. Smithwick's best friend."

"I don't know. She might think we've been eavesdropping."

"I'd never do that," Florence said, indignant. "Yet it kills me to stand aside and do nothing. Can't Mr. Smithwick see through that phony?"

"Apparently he's besotted by her."

"His wife must be spinning in her grave," Florence said.

* * *

Thus Edith was not terribly surprised when Mr. Smithwick took her aside the following week to break the news: "...a simple ceremony and reception here...mostly people from the church..."

"Don't worry, Mr. Smithwick, I'll plan a special menu."

"Nothing elaborate; we want to keep it low-key."

"Certainly. Will your son be attending?"

"I've decided to tell him after the wedding. It was Ms. Flint's suggestion. Elliott is so far away, he'd feel obligated to attend."


"After we return I'll write him a letter. He'll appreciate knowing I spent my honeymoon in Nova Scotia searching for material for his mother's memorial bench."

"If you say so, sir."

* * *

"Which one comes with the little pancakes," Edith asked her nephew, "Moo Goo or Moo Shi?"

"Moo Shi," Roland said, from behind his menu.

"That's what I'm ordering." She put her menu aside. "You look a little tired, dear."

"I'm training a new secretary — and before you ask, she's married with three children."

"It never occurred to me to ask, dear. I'm much too anxious to hear the results of your police friend's report on Sandra Flint."

"When I asked him to look into her background, I figured it wouldn't amount to more than a few parking tickets." He reached into his breast pocket and removed a folded a sheet of paper. "I was wrong."

"Does that mean she's got a criminal record?"

"Not exactly, though her last two husbands died under questionable circumstances. Although she wasn't a suspect, the police told her to stick around. None-the-less, in both instances she left town."

"Husbands? How many does she have?"

"Let me read the report." Roland slipped on a pair of glasses and read:

'In 1990, Sandra married Lawrence Smedlie, a wealthy 77-year-old widower from Wilsonville, Nebraska. Soon after, the couple were vacationing at a lakeside villa in Arizona. One day, late afternoon, the Smedlies were in a paddle boat in the middle of the lake when the boat capsized, throwing them into the water. Mr. Smedlie drowned. When police questioned the other vacationers, they claimed they'd heard a man shouting. Sandra said her husband was shouting for help. What's interesting is the fact that Mr. Smedlie's two adult children brought a wrongful death claim against their father's widow."

"Good for them," Edith said.

"Sandra, however, was exonerated for lack of evidence."

"Of course," Edith said. "I imagine she's very cautious."

Roland continued. "In 1998, she married Chester Huddleston, 80 years old, from Steubenville, Ohio. Mr. Huddleston had only been widowed eight months when he married Sandra. He died on their honeymoon in St. Croix."

"On the honeymoon? Dear me, what happened?"

"Apparently Mr. Huddleston had planned to scatter his late wife's ashes from a cliff. The elderly couple had visited the spot many times in the past —"

"Don't tell me," she said, closing her eyes.

"According to the police report, while attempting to open the urn, he lost his balance and fell to his death."

"No witnesses?"

"Just his bride, Sandra, who left the island after being questioned."

Edith gave him a baleful look. "That's where she's taking Mr. Smithwick — to the cliffs, the granite cliffs of Nova Scotia."

* * *

Three weeks later, Edith was arranging shrimp puffs on a platter when Florence burst into the kitchen. "Mrs. Wigglesworth wants some sherry."

"The ceremony starts in 40 minutes," Edith said. "If we serve alcohol now, the guests won't be standing."

"Mrs. Wigglesworth always has a morning sherry," Florence said.

"Fine, but don't tell the others. How many people are out there?"

"About ten. Pastor Chittick's upstairs helping Mr. Smithwick with those things men put in their collars."

"Stays. Why doesn't the bride help him? She's right down the hall."

"Don't you know it's bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the ceremony?"

"Oh good grief," Edith said. Before she could comment further, a loud rapping sounded at the service door. "Get that, will you Florence? It's probably the ice delivery."

Seconds later Florence rushed back to the kitchen. "It's a policeman," she said in a hoarse whisper, "and he wants to speak to Sandra."

"Did you tell him she's about to get married?"

She shook her head. "I got too flustered when he flashed his badge."

"Very well then. Take him up the back stairs and point out which one's her room. And don't mention it to anybody. We don't want to upset Mr. Smithwick on his wedding day."

Minutes later Florence returned. "I did like you said. What do you suppose it's all about?"

"I have no idea," Edith said, "but we've got 20 guests to care for, so get out there."

* * *

When Florence left, Edith turned and stared at the door to the stairs. Before long she heard pounding footsteps followed by the crash of the service door slamming. She took off her apron, hanging it on a hook in the pantry. Then she opened the door and slowly climbed the narrow back stairs.

At the top, she stopped to catch her breath. It was quiet upstairs. Midway down the corridor, a bedroom door was open. She approached and peered inside. The room was a mess: dry cleaner bags, panty hose and coat hangers lay tangled on the bed. Strewn across the bureau were hair curlers, cosmetics and tissues. She studied the message written in lipstick on the mirror above: Angus, I'm sorry, Sandra.

At least she's got the decency to apologize, Edith thought closing the door behind her. She went downstairs, moving through the kitchen to the living room. It was filled with elderly guests all talking loudly. Off to the side, two young women from the church, hired for the occasion, served tea from a big silver pot.

Pastor Chittick dozed in a wingback chair. Edith gently shook his arm.

"Pastor, where's Mr. Smithwick?"

"What? He's still upstairs in his room." He squinted at his watch. "I suppose I should get him down here."

"Wait a moment, will you?" she scanned the room until she spotted Mrs. Wigglesworth. The elderly lady was perched on the piano bench, sipping sherry. Edith took her aside and quickly filled her in on the latest development. She didn't seem surprised. "That gal did Angus a favor," she said. "You want me to break the news to him?"

"If you would," Edith said. "You've known him longer than anyone."

"More than fifty years," she said, swaying slightly. "Let me talk to the old fool."

Edith watched the white haired woman disappear up the stairs. Then she rushed into the kitchen and pulled bottles of champagne from the refrigerator. While she was opening them, Florence appeared.

"Why are you opening the champagne now? It'll go flat."

Edith filled her in on the bride's hasty retreat.

"She's flown the coop?" Florence shrieked. "That cop must have put the fear of God into her. I wish I knew what he said."

"We'll discuss it later," Edith said, handing her a champagne bottle and two glasses. "Take this upstairs to Mr. Smithwick's room. I have a feeling he can use it right now."

Florence stared at her. "You mean you're not calling the party off?"

"Why? I've got three dozen crab puffs, two gallons of lobster bisque and enough salmon mousse for an army. It will not go to waste."

"But —"

"Just tell people there's been a change in plans."

"You're the boss," Florence said, with a shrug.

* * *

Later, when she returned to the kitchen, Edith was in the process of cutting the wedding cake. "Look," Florence said, "the little bride and groom are missing from the top."

"I removed them," Edith said, "under the circumstances."

"You saving them for someone?" Florence said, nudging Edith.

"Yes, for my nephew Roland. One never knows."

"I'd like to meet him sometime," Florence said. "He got the story on that dame."

"Maybe you will," Edith said. There was no need to tell Florence she'd already met Roland earlier when he appeared at the back door and flashed his badge. Initially her nephew had refused to go along with Edith's plan — impersonating a cop. But Edith had talked him into it. She knew that the sight of a badge would so completely unhinge Sandra that she wouldn't realize that the badge said Campus Safety.

* * *

Now she handed Florence a knife. "Don't just stand there, help me cut the cake. We've got guests to feed."

"Whatever you say, boss."

Sharon Love Cook is a cartoonist, columnist, short story writer and recently, novelist. Her mystery, A NOSE FOR HANKY PANKY, was published in 2010 by Mainly Murder Press. The book's setting, Granite Cove, a "sleep fishing village" is based on Glouchester, Mass., Cook's hometown. She now lives in nearby Beverly Farms with her husband and assorted cats.

Copyright 2011 Sharon Love Cook. 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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