Goldstein, Debra H.
Peter Wabbit wanted a carat. Not just one carat, twenty to be exact. As he walked through the Louvre’s Gallerie D’Apollon, he merely glanced at the peached colored Hortensia diamond before going to stand before the case housing the white 140.5 carat Regent diamond. Too many carats. Too ostentatious for his taste.
He stared at the custom-made vitrine in which the Regent was displayed, knowing that when the museum had the cases in the Gallerie D’Apollon redesigned, fiber-optic lighting and more sophisticated alarm systems were installed. It made sense. After all, these cases held the French Crown Jewels.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it, Peter?”
Peter jerked his head in the direction of the woman’s voice. He hadn’t heard the uniformed security guard come up behind him. “I agree, but I think it’s a little too big to reset as an engagement ring, Gwen.”
Gwen held up her left hand. Together they looked at her long-tapered fingers.
“I guess you’ll just have to settle for something more mundane,” Peter said.
“And find someone to give it to me.”
He felt a warm sensation rise up his neck. Not only had his mother saddled him with the name Peter to go with the last name of Wabbit, but he’d also gotten his tendency to easily blush from her. At least she’d shared her knowledge of how to pick any lock with him. Watching his mother fade away slowly during her last illness, Peter had learned patience. He didn’t particularly miss her, but occasionally he acknowledged the skills he’d gained from her—the ones that made him one of the best diamond thieves in the world.
His heists were planned with precision. He didn’t just break into jewelry stores and grab whatever was in the showcase. Rather, he specialized in high end diamonds. Consequently, he immersed himself in every detail of a job before executing it.
Two years ago, when Peter decided the five-sided Hortensia diamond was his next target, he managed to get himself hired in the finance department of the museum. Between his skill with languages and the pedigree background he created for his resume, Peter was the perfect choice for his mid-level job. His pasty skin, non-descript features, and hair that matched his thick-rimmed black framed glasses, let him blend in with the other bookkeepers, but his Peter Wabbit name was unforgettable.
People, especially Gwen, were used to seeing him spend his lunch hour in the gallery peering at the jewels and the Louis IV precious stone vases. Periodically, he took one of the museum’s guided tours. Peter also knew exactly how many steps and how much time it took to get out of each Louvre exit, walk to either the Palais Royal – Musée du Louvre Métro or the Louvre-Rivoli stations, and immediately board a train.
The problem was Gwen. She was different. She was the first person he had a desire to share a diamond with. They’d both begun working at the Louvre around the same time. He couldn’t remember who spoke first, but Peter imagined it was Gwen. There was something about her independence, her love of life, and her sense of humor that attracted him. When she wasn’t on stroll-around duty, Peter hung around her office a bit while he found a way to make a wax copy of her boss’s master display case key. Gwen and he had gone out for dinner here and there. She was fun and didn’t seem to have any interest in them delving into each other’s pasts.
Although he tried to keep her at arm’s length, like he did everyone in his life, she snuck into his very being. There were times he felt her green eyes peered into his soul, rather than seeing his Peter Wabbit Louvre persona. Being honest, Peter enjoyed their conversations and flirting almost as much as handling a perfect diamond. Still, he knew he’d never put a ring on her finger. Once the heist was done tomorrow, he’d be gone.
He regretted that while he would get away, lose his glasses, change the color of his hair, and receive a tidy sum when he presented the Hortensia to its private buyer, Gwen would be stuck with the fallout of what he’d done. Not only would their personal involvement raise questions, but there invariably would be criticism about how she neglected her guard duties while helping chase the mice he planned to release.
The mice, those furry rodents with their pointed snouts, small rounded ears, and body-length scaly tails, were going to be the distraction that provided him just enough time to grab the diamond during the public tour. Peter already could feel an adrenaline rush thinking about tomorrow. It saddened him knowing, when the confusion of the moment settled, the scurrying mice would tip Gwen off immediately that he wasn’t who she’d thought. He hadn’t meant to introduce her to his fancy mice, but on one occasion, when he’d been running late to meet her for dinner, he’d forgotten to take a little white mouse out of his pocket. When the mouse poked its snout up, Gwen recoiled. Peter had had to take the mouse from his pocket and educate her about it, while he stroked its soft fur.
“A fancy mouse like this is a domesticated form of the house mouse. It really is considered a pocket pet. That’s why I forgot about it.”
“You have a mouse as a pet?”
“Several. They don’t take up much room, are easy to feed, and are fun to watch on their little exercise wheels.”
Gwen shuddered. “Somehow I don’t think of mice as being my idea of the pet of the week.”
“Lots of people disagree with you. There are clubs all over the world who host shows for mice.”
“You’re pulling my leg.”
He smiled and shook his head from side to side. “If you don’t believe me, look them up. Some of them in the United States include the FMBA or Fancy Mouse Breeders' Association and the American Fancy Rat and Mouse Association, which is also referred to as AFRMA. In England, mouse fanciers like me can belong to the National Mouse Club.”
Gwen hadn’t believed him, but the next day, when he visited the gallery during his lunch hour, she’d sidled up to him and admitted, “I went home and read up on the clubs you told me about. You weren’t kidding me.”
Peter could still picture how he turned toward Gwen and their gazes locked. “I would never do that.” He meant it then and he still did, but he hadn’t promised that he wouldn’t hurt her. His thoughts continued weighing on him the next day while he prepared for the hoist. As Peter dropped each mouse into the pocket of the specially created vest he wore, it cuddled toward the warmth of his body. He’d spent hours walking around his apartment acclimating the mice to the vest, his body, and movement. Whether they napped or nibbled the cheese he’d placed in the bottom of each lined pocket, the mice were still enough that with a slightly oversized untucked shirt and his sport coat covering the vest, they weren’t noticeable either on the metro or when he reached the museum.
Entering through the employees’ entrance, despite it being his day off, he greeted the guard on duty. “Hey, John.”
“Hello, Mr. Wabbit.” John scanned the list on his clipboard. “I don’t have you as working today.”
“I’m not officially. The boss asked me to look at one report, so rather than waiting for Monday, I thought I’d check it out today and then take the tour. Is that a problem?”
“No, sir. We all know who you are. Go on in.”
As Peter passed by him, he hoped John wouldn’t lose his job on Monday, especially when the powers that be discovered Peter’s empty desk and realized his workspace had been wiped clean of fingerprints. Putting John out of his mind, Peter veered to the main desk and bought a tour ticket. He spent a little time visiting his favorite exhibits, including a moment to engage the device in his pocket to use high-pitched ultra sound waves to disarm the Hortensia diamond’s alarm, before returning to the entrance of the Gallerie D’Apollon to meet up with the tour guide.
He looked around, but didn’t see Gwen. Strange, she usually worked during this tour. Peter hoped there was nothing wrong. Too bad he wouldn’t have an opportunity to find out. Once the tour began, Peter kept his eye on the guard who was working in Gwen’s place while he listened carefully as the tour guide explained about the precious stone vases and the various jewels on display. While the guide extolled the beauty and size of the Regent diamond, Peter held back a few steps from the group. With a flick of his wrist, Peter pulled the string that released the pockets of his vest. Standing still, he felt the falling mice slip to the ground. Free, they scampered in all directions.
It only took a few seconds before a scream or two of “Mouse!” filled the room. As people moved in all directions, Peter went quickly to the case he’d previously disarmed and slipped the key he’d made from the wax image he’d taken of Gwen’s boss’s key into the lock. He didn’t immediately open the case. Instead, Peter took a step away from the case and pointed across the room while he yelled, “Be careful, over there! There’s a group of mice!”
It was only when heads turned, women screamed, and people bumped into each other as they tried to avoid the mice that he slipped open the case and removed the Hortensia diamond. Pocketing it, he walked swiftly out of the Louvre and to the metro. Keeping one hand on his pocket, he glanced at his watch. He was right on time for the next train.
Peter willed his heart not to race as he calmly walked down the steps and onto the platform. He peered over his shoulder. Nobody was following him. The train arrived and when the doors opened, he stepped into the filled car. He felt a moment of relief as the doors closed. Against the train's forward lurch, he kept his balance by holding the strap above his head tightly.
Three stops and he’d be safe.
At the first stop, people bumped against him as those leaving jostled those getting on. He automatically shifted his body to protect his pocket. As the doors closed, he looked out at the platform and saw Gwen. She held something up in her hand, blew him a kiss, and then was gone in the crowd. His mind whirled. Could she have?
Peter reached into his pocket. Slowly, he pulled out a rabbit’s foot keychain. Attached to it was a paper mouse cut-out. He read the message. “Maybe you’ll get lucky next time, Wabbit.”
The Dinner Gift
Debra H. Goldstein
This story received Honorable Mention in the 2018 BWR Short Story Award
Kara clutched the gold ticket and stared at the castle etched on it. With her love of history and architecture, she couldn’t believe she hadn’t known such a magnificent structure existed so near her home. Leave it to David, her husband of thirty-five years, to have found the perfect gift for her.
“Hand that ticket to the doorkeeper. He’s expecting you.”
“Aren’t you coming with me?”
“I’ll be there for dinner, but exploring castles is your kind of adventure.” His lips brushed against her forehead and he was gone.
Frozen in the middle of their apartment, she stared at the ticket and pre-packed suitcase David had left her with. She glanced at her watch and realized she only had twenty more minutes to freshen up before the car he’d ordered arrived. It was just like David to surprise her, without checking whether she had other plans. Kara smiled. Life with David was never boring. She stuffed lipstick and a brush into her purse, checked for her wallet and was ready when the driver honked.
She barely remembered the drive - she must have dozed - but it wasn’t long until she opened her eyes as the car approached the castle’s entry. While the driver retrieved her bag, Kara stepped back to take in the massive size of the building. At least the equivalent of four stories of her apartment house, the solidity of its over-sized wooden double doors and gray stone walls was broken up only by a random assortment of miniature peepholes she realized must have been used to fire weapons through when the castle was defended. She craned her neck, but barely glimpsed multi-colored flags fluttering above the castle’s turrets.
Eager to inspect the interior, Kyla reached for one of the lion-headed knockers. The door swung open before her hand connected with its iron ring. Off balance, Kyla stumbled. The doorman caught her arm.
“I’m sorry. Are you okay?”
Kyla nodded at the tall man clad in medieval garb. She knew everyone supposedly had a doppelganger, but he couldn’t have been closer to the spitting image of her late Uncle Charlie had he tried. Of course, Uncle Charlie would never have been caught dead in red and green crushed velvet with a white plume sticking out of his hat.
“I really am sorry. I keep forgetting to give people the opportunity to knock. Oh well, let’s see, do you have your gold ticket?”
She handed her ticket to him and he stepped aside, allowing her to enter a great hall. Always cognizant of her diminutive stature compared to David’s lanky six feet, she wished he was here to share the sensation of being dwarfed by the hall’s wood-beamed ceiling.
Kyla shuddered. Perhaps it was the lack of heat or the hall’s sparse décor. Other than a check-in desk, marble stairwell, and an equally massive door opposite the one she’d been dropped off at, nothing softened the interior of the gray rock walls. “When did this castle open to the public?”
“Oh, it’s been around forever, but your questions will need to wait.” He pointed at the wooden entrance on the far side of the room. “Dinner has started.”
“But I need to check in.”
“Mr. David and your gold ticket already took care of that.” He took her suitcase from her. “I’ll make sure your bag gets to your room.”
“Thank you.” She opened her purse for money to tip him, but he waved her off.
“No tipping. Everything’s been taken care of. Come along now, luv.” He ushered her across the hall, past a line of people waiting to check-in. She followed him, her eyes glued on the white feather bobbing on his hat. When they reached the wooden door, he pushed the iron bar running across it. As the door opened, he held his arm out in the universal “after you” gesture.
She crossed the threshold in front of him. When she turned back seeking guidance where to go in the banquet hall, she realized he was gone. Uncertain, she moved forward. The room was filled with long tables and people wearing clothing from all centuries and walks of life. She looked down at her own outfit. It hadn’t changed since she left the apartment. That was almost as much of a relief as hearing David’s voice. “You made it.” He took her hand. “Our seats are on the other side of the room.”
He finally stopped in front of two empty chairs at an otherwise filled table. He pulled one out. After she sat, he pushed the chair in for her. “Give me a minute to get our drinks.” David kissed the top of her head. “I’m glad you’re here. I’ve missed you.”
“Silly, I just saw you an hour ago.”
His hand lingered on her shoulder. “Whether an hour or an eternity, I miss you.”
She looked up and met his gaze. It had been too long since she stared into his soft brown eyes. As he went to get their drinks, she shivered. The words “I missed you, too” tumbled from her mouth in the direction of his disappearing back.
Without David distracting her, she glanced around her table. A white linen cloth covered as far as she could see. At least four times in that distance, the table was set in a repeating pattern of a platter of food, a six-armed candelabra. Each platter appeared to be piled high with chicken breasts, cooked carrots, and fingerling potatoes. She couldn’t believe the quantity of food being served. Surely, the castle had a high amount of waste.
In front of her, and every other guest, gold-rimmed china dinner plates sat on gold chargers. On either side of the charger were three carefully placed forks, two knives, a teaspoon and a soup spoon. She picked up a knife. Heavy. Real silver. She imagined the shiny silver water goblets also were made of the precious metal.
Kyla laughed at herself. True to her nature as an accountant, she not only was worried about whether the castle was keeping its food costs in line, but she wondered if silver walked resulting in more losses after each meal. If there was as much shrinkage as she feared, she questioned how they could stay in business. Then again, she didn’t know how much David had paid for their package. Maybe their losses were incidental.
The noise level wasn’t. A charged buzz from the various conversations reverberated off the walls. With the decibel level drowning out individual words, she focused on the people sitting near her and their costumes. The detailed outfits were true to all time periods and geographic locations. At her table alone, a few seats to her right, was a dead ringer for Eleanor Roosevelt. A Mother Teresa clone sat the same distance to Kyla’s left. Both were engaged in what appeared to be lively give and take with the people near them. Judging by the food on their plates and the forks waving in the air, these clusters were taking full advantage of the banquet.
The same couldn’t be said about the two men seated across from her. Neither appeared to be enjoying themselves or to be eating. The one who wore an awful Attila the Hun costume met her gaze with such a glare, she averted her eyes and glanced at the man beside him. She decided his swashbuckler costume was more believable than Attila’s, but he, too, sat stiffly. His hands were at his side, his gaze focused on the food platter in front of him.
Rather than engaging either in conversation while she waited for David, Kyla checked out the rest of the room. She was surprised at how well folks had succeeded in using make-up and costumes to create realistic characters from the past.
One table, which she dubbed “the presidents,” had a recognizable Kennedy, Lincoln, Reagan, and John Adams, as well as a few she remembered as having had more dubious careers. She couldn’t hear what “the presidents” were saying, but she took their laughter and the dent they’d made in the family-styled portions as a sign they were enjoying themselves. As she watched, she noticed only a few were serving all the others. It took her a moment to realize the the presidents she’d been taught to respect in school were hosting the ones, like Grant and Harding, whose terms in office were tainted with scandal.
Curious, Kyla focused on her own table. Although she’d noticed how engaged everyone was, she hadn’t looked at each guest carefully. She’d only zeroed in on the Eleanor Roosevelt and Mother Teresa look-a-likes. Now, she watched Mother Teresa serve a person dressed as a leper and another made up as a dirty beggar before taking food for herself. Kyla turned toward the part of the table presided over by Mrs. Roosevelt. Like Mother Teresa, Mrs. Roosevelt offered food to a potpourri of people dressed as prison inmates, protesters, and politicians before serving herself.
The more Kyla looked around, she realized that except for where she sat, everyone was engaged in conversation and eating. She glanced across the table. Why weren’t her dinner companions eating? Were they waiting for David and her? Could it be that she was the one who needed to offer these men food? She didn’t want to. After all, what kindness did Attila the Hun deserve? His crimes were heinous. And what if the pirate was Blackbeard? She couldn’t remember the details of his story, but knew he was notorious. Still, it wasn’t in her nature to let anyone go hungry. She made a judgment call and reached for the serving utensils. “Gentlemen, would you like something to eat?”
They nodded their acquiescence.
Using two forks, Kyla picked up a chicken breast. As she placed it on Attila’s plate, there was a flash of yellow light. The serving utensils clattered to the floor as she dropped them and grabbed for her chair while the room spun around her. She missed and landed not far from where the utensils had fallen. And then it was over.
Kyla struggled to stand, but couldn’t. She didn’t know what had happened. If this was her end, she wished she could at least have said good-bye to David. Too late to say a prayer, she squeezed her eyes shut. When she opened them, David knelt by her side. Her good, sweet, but as she now remembered, dead David.
She stared at him. It couldn’t be, but it was. He took her hand and helped her to her feet. “It’s over. You’ll forever be here with those you loved.”
Kyla shook her head trying to clear the voices she heard – her mother, her father, and other voices of family and friends long gone. “Where are we? Where was I? How did you come for me?”
David stroked her hair and held her to him. “I was your guide to the middle, but only you could choose your destination. Your fate was sealed when you gave to others, even though their behaviors repulsed you.”
She backed away. “And Eleanor Roosevelt and Mother Teresa? They were real?”
“As real as you and me. Though the castle was only temporary. A setting for you. It’s gone now.”
This time she clung to him. “But you’re not.”
“No. Never again.”
Judge Debra H. Goldstein is the author of the recently released One Taste Too Many, the first book in Kensington’s new Sarah Blair cozy mystery series. Her prior novels include Should Have Played Poker and the 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue. Debra’s short stories, which have been nominated for Anthony and Agatha awards, have appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Black Cat, Mystery Weekly, Bethlehem Writer’s Roundtable and numerous anthologies. She is president of Sisters in Crime’s largest chapter, the Guppies, serves on the SinC national board, and is vice-president of the Southeast Region of Mystery Writers of America.
Find out more about her writings at her website: www.DebraHGoldstein.com or like her facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/DebraHGoldsteinAuthor/ . One thing about Debra and her writings, "It's Not Always a Mystery."
A Political Cornucopia
Debra H. Goldstein
(Featured, November 2013)
It was nearing Thanksgiving 1969. America had put a man on the moon in July, Kennedy had been dead six years, Nixon was president, and for most of us, it was the Age of Aquarius. For me, after graduating Alabama and spending months banging on doors in New York, I'd come back home and was covering the political beat for my dad's paper, the Wahoo Times.
At 83, the incumbent mayor had decided not to run again. The two main contenders for his job were Sheriff Tom Eden and City Councilman Bob Foster. Ms. Sadie Mae Jones was also running, but as she had been on every election ballot for the past twenty years, the only ink the paper devoted to her was mentioning her name.
Eden and Foster were different. They hated each other and their followers respectively had names like McCoy and Hatfield. Over the years, each had won his job the old fashioned way – by kissing babies, eating barbecue, and buying votes.
Buying votes in Wahoo County is a simple process. Someone the candidate trusts parks a car about twenty yards from the voting station and pops his trunk. The trunk has a bag filled with singles, fives, tens, twenties, and a stack or two of rubber-banded hundreds in it. People come up to the car and negotiate how much it will take for them to vote for the candidate. Once a deal is struck, there’s a handshake and a young guy, like me, walks the voter into the polling place. The agreed amount is handed over once the ballot is marked.
I used to wonder why voters didn’t shop between the open trunks, but I’ve learned that once a going rate is established, there isn’t much wiggle room. Besides, it wouldn’t be considered honorable. Honor is a big thing in Wahoo.
Honor is why Sheriff Eden called a press conference in early October. He stood on the steps of Wahoo’s City Hall with his gun and holster prominently displayed against the expanse of his belly. With the microphone echoing his words, he talked to the gathered crowd. “This mayoral election is important to you, the people of Wahoo. You need to elect the man who can get the job done the way you want.” Pausing to let the applause die down, his eye was caught by Ms. Sadie, who was standing at the edge of the crowd twirling the parasol she used to protect her pale skin from the sun. He corrected himself to ‘’person” before continuing. “That’s why I’m announcing today that I will not tolerate anyone buying votes on my behalf. I’m running on my record.” His hand glided over the top of his gun. “I challenge my opponent to do the same.”
Applauding, I did what most of the crowd did. I looked over to see if Bob Foster was going to respond. Sure enough, he already was hoisting himself up the stairs. His immaculate white linen suit highlighted his equally white beard and bushy eyebrows. He paused on the steps only when he stood a head above the six-foot Sheriff. Slowly, he leaned forward toward the microphone. “Unlike some, I’ve never had to buy a vote in my life. So, not only will I not have anyone buying votes for me, I’ll offer $1,000 if anyone catches me tampering with your right to vote. Of course,” he said, tipping his fedora to the crowd, “I’d be much obliged if you did cast your vote for me.” His supporters roared.
Sheriff Eden, not to be outdone, thrust his hand out as he stepped up even with Councilman Foster. He bent back down to the microphone, clasping Foster’s hand as the two locked eyes, and said, “Same for me.” Then, letting go of Foster’s hand, he turned back to where Ms. Sadie stood and, palm upward, extended his hand toward her. “Sadie, will you join us in this pledge?”
Ms. Sadie didn’t miss a beat. Moving carefully, making sure not to hit anyone with her open parasol, she joined the two on the steps. “I don’t need a pledge to do what’s right, but I’m glad you boys have seen the error of your ways.” She ignored the matching glares Eden and Foster gave her. “This is Thanksgiving season and win or lose, we should, like our forefathers, give thanks for our bounty. I think the three of us should host a community Thanksgiving luncheon on election day to thank God for the favor bestowed upon all of us.”
She fluttered her hand toward the crowd. Sheriff Eden tried to argue that Thanksgiving wasn’t for weeks and we shouldn’t tamper with its official date, but Ms. Sadie had them over a barrel. By the time she explained that it wasn’t until 1863 that President Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving be held on the final Thursday of November, and that federal legislation didn’t mandate the fourth Thursday celebration until 1941, everyone’s eyes were glazed over. No one had the strength to argue with her when she said Wahoo needed its own day of thanks plus the traditional one.
The next morning, the Wahoo Times ran a picture of the three mayoral candidates hanging a wicker horn of plenty, overflowing with fruit and ears of grain, by the stage in the Baptist Church’s social hall. Its caption read, “A New day of Celebration - Turkey Eating Substituted for Buying Votes.” My editor father had whittled my story about the agreement to not buy votes, the $1000 pledge, the discussion about what to serve, and the candidates joining together to hang the cornucopia as a sign of the abundance of good in this election to a picture and a caption.
If Dad had run my story, people would have known how the three agreed the luncheon needed to be in the church hall so people could eat and vote in one stop. Sheriff Eden had felt if it was at the church, the ladies auxiliary could be coaxed into making pumpkin pies. Councilman Foster had argued it would be cheaper, especially if the community helped out, if the three of them embraced the first Thanksgiving’s idea of fowl by serving chicken, but Sheriff Eden reminded him “Everyone looks at it as being turkey day, turkey.”
Ms. Sadie had pooh-poohed their main course ideas, suggesting they embrace the historic tradition of lobster and vegetables. When the men challenged “lobster,” she started into another history lesson about how seafood rather than turkey was what the first celebrants had served, but Sheriff Eden interrupted her.
“Sadie, I’m allergic to shellfish,” Sheriff Eden said. “Besides, lobster would drive the cost of the election sky high.”
“How? You can each use the money you would have used to buy votes.”
“Not exactly,” Sheriff Eden said. He looked over at Bob Foster, who was shaking his head slightly from side to side.
“That money’s pretty much tied up,” Councilman Foster explained. Ms. Sadie didn't question it further. Instead, she suggested they compromise by each bringing something different for the main dish.
Election day, the church hall was divided almost down the middle. One side had voting booths while the other had round tables set for lunch. Against the far wall, long tables were already piled with big bowls of salad, squash and sweet potato casseroles, cranberry sauce, individually-plated slices of pumpkin pie, and sweet tea, but there still was room to squeeze in the bounty from the courtyard.
In the courtyard, three spits were slow cooking the plumpest turkeys I’d ever seen, under the watchful eye of Sheriff Eden. Word was that a few of the county’s finest had donated the birds. I couldn't see into the closed grills Councilman Foster and some of the other council members were tending except when they’d open them for a moment to baste their chickens with barbecue sauce. Ms. Sadie was making trips back and forth from her car using a kitchen tray to bring in her little casserole dishes. A number of times, she was helped by some of the voters, who would carry a tray for her, wave “Hey” as they went in to drop off the tray and vote, and then come back outside to salivate at the smell the grills and spits were giving off.
With kids playing on the jungle gym and swings, folks sipping tea and talking, and everyone eager to help bring in the main dishes, the churchyard, just before lunch, reminded me more of a trip to the circus than election day. But election day it was, and when the food was finally in and set up and most of us had filled our plates, Sheriff Eden motioned Councilman Foster and Ms. Sadie to join him on the social hall’s stage. Figuring this might be my story or that at least I could get a picture of the three standing under the ostentatious horn of plenty, I put my plate of turkey on the ledge behind the piano, where I could retrieve it later, and moved forward with my camera and notebook in hand.
“I want to thank you all for voting and for joining us in this Thanksgiving celebration today,” Sheriff Eden began, holding up his plate so that everyone could see he had filled it with turkey, chicken, and Ms. Sadie’s casserole. “Ms. Sadie, I was the first to think this was a ridiculous idea, but it truly has brought Wahoo together in a time of thankful celebration.” He recited a short prayer of thanks. When he finished, Ms. Sadie smiled. She took the plate and held it steady so I could get a picture of the three of them under the cornucopia each holding a fork over the plate, but she didn't move to take the microphone like Bob Foster did.
I don’t know what really happened right after that. Sheriff Eden had just swallowed a piece of turkey followed by a generous forkful of Ms. Sadie’s casserole and Councilman Foster was saying something about it being a fair and positive election when someone yelled out, “Fair? While you guys were cooking, she was buying votes left and right every time a tray of casseroles was carried in.”
Someone jumped the guy who was yelling because even if he was telling the truth, it wasn't an honorable thing to share with this crowd. A table went over and the fight was in full force when Sheriff Eden grabbed his holster and pulled out his gun. I thought he was going to shoot into the crowd but he began flaying it around as his free hand went to his throat and he started gasping for air. He must not have had the safety on because when he hit the floor, the gun went off. I heard a whoosh and then a clank as Commissioner Foster dropped the microphone when the overflowing wicker cornucopia dropped like lead onto his head.
Dad ran my eyewitness story of how an abundance of lobster instead of turkey casserole combined with a Thanksgiving decorated cornucopia killed two men and made Ms. Sadie Mayor of Wahoo. The wire services picked it up and wouldn't you know it, my first published story got nominated for a Pulitzer.
This is Where I Buried My Wives
Debra H Goldstein
“This is where I buried my wives,” Biff said. He stared beyond the two marked graves down the hill at the orchard and lush pasture that divided the land between a few worn chicken houses and the newly fenced horse ring that abutted the main house.
“Present company excepted, I hope.”
“I certainly hope so.” He drew Julie closer to him with the arm that wasn’t carrying their picnic basket. “To me, this is the prettiest spot on the farm. I know it may seem morbid, but I come up here when I need to think or bounce an idea off someone. There aren’t a lot of people in these parts and sometimes I just need to talk things out.”
Julie raised her head and kissed his rough cheek. “You won’t have to talk to the dead anymore. You’ve got me now.”
She took the picnic basket from his hand and bent down to smooth out their blanket, positioning it so their backs would be to the graves. She pulled some flowers from the basket and arranged them on the side of the blanket. As Julie set out napkins and utensils, she paused and looked up at the sky. “It feels like there should be a big tree shading this hill.”
“There used to be a giant elm back there. Some disease got it right around the time Margie died.” Biff plopped onto the blanket. He accommodated his six-foot frame by extending his booted legs onto the grass. Julie snuggled against him.
“Margie brought me up here shortly after we met.” Biff hesitated. “It was her favorite place in the world, so it seemed only right to bury her on the hill. Besides, if it hadn’t been for her leaving me all the land you can see between here and the main house,” he said, pointing, “I’d still be living by those egg houses.”
Julie’s eyes followed his finger to the small parcel on which the chicken houses sat. It was definitely a tiny space compared with the rest of the farmland. She put her hand on his arm. “Was that the land your family owned?”
“No, we squatted on that small patch and were tenant farmers to Margie’s grand-parents on the rest of it.” He watched Julie’s face. “Like I told you, Margie was married and lost her husband and daughter well before I came to work for her. She may have been getting on in years, but somehow we clicked. I like to think I made those last few years of her life happy.”
“You’re making my life pretty happy.” Julie handed him a sandwich. “Turkey and parsnip.” He made a face, but took the sandwich and bit into it.
“I want you to know everything,” Biff said. “You’re going to hear people say some mean things like Margie was old enough to be my mother and …”
Julie hushed him by pressing her hand against his lips. “I won’t listen to them as long as you don’t pay attention if someone talks about me being eighteen years younger than you.”
“Heck, I’m proud to have a trophy wife.” Biff grinned and hugged her. “Just so you know, I never asked for this farm. I was as shocked as anyone when I found out Margie left it to me. “He glanced behind him. “I buried her up here because she loved this place.”
“It probably also reminds you of how far you’ve come.” Julie noticed that the smile lingered on Biff’s lips, but was no longer in his eyes. She quickly added, “Not to mention how lonely having this big a farm must have been without someone to share it with. I’m so glad you decided to take another chance on FarmDatesR4U.”
“Me, too.” He raised his shoulders and turned his head toward the second grave marker. “I almost didn’t. After Annie and I got together, I didn’t think I could ever be happier. I can’t begin to tell you how thrilled I was to find a city slicker willing to give up the big city for life on my farm. When our time together turned out to be so short, I was scared to try again.” He finished his sandwich and sidled closer to Julie.
“You don’t ever have to worry,” she said. “I may only have spent a few summers on my grandparents’ farm, but the experience ruined me from ever being a pure city dweller. I can remember riding my granddad’s tractor as he did the planting, feeding slop to the pigs, rocking on the porch at night with granny, and best of all climbing a tree like the elm you told me was here. I’d sit in the crook of that tree, looking out as far as I could see, unaware of how perfect my world was.” She kissed him again. “Thank you for giving me my farm life back.”
Biff leaned back on his hands. “What happened to your grandparents’ farm? Did they sell it?”
Julie turned to rummage in the picnic basket. She pulled out a tin with dessert in it. “Apple pie?” She cut Biff a large slice.
“You didn’t answer me,” he said, gobbling down the pie.
“Oh, there isn’t much to tell. Like her mother before her, my mom had me when she was sixteen. Dad enlisted to pay their bills. Until she died when I was seven, we lived wherever the Army assigned him. After her death, Dad sent me to spend a few summers with my grandparents, but once he remarried, I went to boarding schools and camps. My grandfather died and somewhere along the way, my grandmother gave away the farm.”
Julie brushed a crumb off Biff’s shirt. “Like I’ve told you, try as I might, I wasn’t meant for the bar scene, concrete sidewalks, and cars and people everywhere. A friend told me about FarmDatesR4U.com. I debated it for a few months, but as a twenty-sixth birthday present to myself I signed up for a two-week trial subscription. Your profile popped up on the thirteenth day.” She waved her hand all around her. “And, as they say, the rest is history.”
Biff tried to kiss her again, but she blocked his efforts by putting both hands on his chest. He sat back. “Biff, one thing we never talked about. Our relationship and marriage happened so quickly. I mean, it was only a matter of months between our first messages, your proposal and my moving out here for good.” She paused before the words rushed out. “Your profile was online for a lot longer time than mine. Were there any other girls you dated?”
She swallowed. “Were you serious with any of them? Did you bring any of them to this hill?”
He looked away from her toward a pile of rocks near the bottom of the hill. “You don’t really want to go there.”
“I do. I want to know.” She moved away from him.
Biff ran his hand through his hair. “That’s what Annie said. Why can’t we simply be happy as we are?”
Julie pulled her knees close to her and put her arms around them. She tried to wait him out and finally said, “Biff, I need to know.”
Biff again glanced at the pile of rocks and back at Julie. “A few came to the farm, but they weren’t like Annie or you. Oh, they said the right things about being willing to try farm life. And, at first, they admired the wide-open spaces, the crops and animals, and the stream running through our property, but then they started complaining. They refused to help with the chores and couldn’t appreciate the songs of the coyotes. One didn’t like the smell of the egg houses, another refused to throw slop in the pig trough, and a third said planting in the sun wasn’t good for her delicate skin. I realized pretty quickly that none of them would ever be able to earn a place on the top of this hill.”
“So, they had to stay at the bottom?”
“That’s right. I thought you were going to be different.”
“Oh, I am,” Julie said. “I’m not going to end up at the bottom of the hill.”
“No, you’re not.” Biff stood and took a step toward her, but stumbled. He sat back down on the blanket and held his head. Julie inched a little further away from him as he attempted to stand again. He tried to focus his gaze on her. “Julie, what’s going on?”
“Nothing a farm boy can’t understand. You should have looked at the parsnip a little more closely. We city slickers sometimes confuse parsnip and hemlock. Sorry.”
He reached for her, but missed. “You might want to lie still,” Julie said, as he grabbed his stomach and doubled up from a wave of pain. Turning away from him, Julie took the cut flowers she had left on the blanket and walked up the hill toward the two graves. She placed all but one on Annie’s grave before moving on to Margie’s spot at the top of the hill.
Carefully, Julie knelt and put the remaining single white rose in front of the simple white marker. She ignored the sounds behind her, but spoke loudly enough that her words carried downhill. “I never stopped loving this farm or you, Granny. When Dad took me away, I told you I’d come home one day. I’m sorry I was too late, but I’m making up for it now. You don’t have to worry, I’ve made sure the farm is back in the family.”
Top Ten ...
Top Ten List
by Debra H. Goldstein
Because I tend to be shy, sharing things with readers through a top ten list was harder than writing the featured story. So, I enlisted my friends’ ideas through a Facebook posting. Here's what they suggested:
1. Give them cooking tips. Make reservations.
2. What about top uses for a kitchen? I had our kitchen remodeled, and installed every type of pull out, space saver or modern device I could find. After the contractors left, I neglected to mention to my husband, for about four weeks, that the kitchen was operational. When I finally admitted the workmen were done, Joel asked, “If you weren’t going to use the kitchen, why did we spend so much money remodeling it?” My answer: “To make a nice path from the garage to the den.”
3. How to host a party. In the dorm you had all sorts of snacks, and I think coffee–even when we had no money? True, I always had things for us to nosh on, but I think it is the Kahlua she is remembering. It went well with everything.
4. The finer points of setting a table. Silver looks lovely with the heavy white (other colors available but white is preferred) plastic plates. It also makes for easier clean-up as you can pass a bowl in one direction for the silverware and a garbage bag in the other for the plates.
5. You eat out so much, list your top ten foods to order. Anything that doesn’t bite me. As long as I don’t have to make it, I’ll try just about anything–maybe there is a television show in my future.
6. Most embarrassing moments in a restaurant? On our first day in China, our group of four went to a restaurant recommended for Peking duck. No one spoke English, so pointing at pictures we ordered what we thought were fish appetizers and two orders of Peking duck. The appetizers were full meals and the ducks were brought out on two carving tables each manned by a chef. Our fish appetizers turned out to be full meals. Diners around us snickered as we worked through the dinner for eight–but at least the entire bill was only $74.52.
7, Tell them about you and cake. I'm not a big cake fan, but every media piece for a fundraiser I did at my former high school mentioned that “ there will be cake.” It was even handwritten on posters. When I walked into the event, there was the most gorgeous two-tiered cake replica of my book cover. The town’s top wedding cake baker donated it: chocolate and vanilla – divine.
8. Things About Joel – he is a great guy! He is kind, generous, a good father, a loyal husband, but he also is out-to-lunch periodically, over-enamored of exercise, messy, and has blood that runs Crimson.
9. Funny incidents observed as a judge. As I finished a hearing shortly after Maze in Blue came out, I asked “Is there anything else?” The attorney replied, “No,” but his client said, “Yes.” I looked from the client to the shrugging attorney and back to the client. “I just want to tell you, yourhonor, no matter how you rule, I’ll still buy your book.” Bet he didn’t.
10. Ways you appreciate fans, family, and friends. With sincere gratitude.