For as long as I can remember my Aunt Sadie and I have been the proverbial black sheep of the great family that is the Lennox clan. Perhaps that is the reason why I am the only person present at the Yardsdale's bus station awaiting the return of my beloved great aunt and guardian after her five year imprisonment in the Denton Hospital for the Mentally Ill.
'That old witch was supposed to have gotten 10 years.' My great uncle William Lennox III had stated venomously speaking ill of his own kin.
Sitting in the overly uncomfortable cold plastic chair I couldn't help but think back on that large yet at the same time thin face and solid squared frame, usually covered in a simple pale colored ankle length dress, off set by a bold or bright colored slash or belt, a trade mark in her fashion. Her dark pepper colored hair in tight curls framing her face. Everyone who meets her for the first time always says the same thing about her, she looks like a sweet old girl at her tender age of fifty four that is until she gives her dark and sour scowl, a look that turns her 'cute' grandmotherly face into that of an old witch's.
I was fortunate throughout my youth that that scowl that gave her the label of hag, witch, and crone, was never once directed in my direction that was unless she was scowling at someone else behind me.
The dull roar followed by the squeal of breaks and a hiss alerted me to the bus's arrival drawing me out of my thoughts. I stood and approached with joy and anticipation. I was standing here five whole years earlier than was originally set.
Five years ago my aunt had been found guilty of poisoning her second husband. The truth was that yes the organic ingredients that she used for cooking and her homemade drinks had traces of poison, and that she had been cooking that way for years and years (a court ordered test on her own blood and myself had proven that to be true) but it was only deadly in large doses. Not to mention she always made something that contained a counteractive ingredient as long as you ate everything on your plate and did not eat too much.
Her second husband had quickly married her for the fact he thought that she would be loaded due to the fact she was a part of the well known Lennox family. To his dismay he realized that the money did not flow in my Aunt Sadie's direction and never would given how my Aunt refused my uncle's 'charity' in which she called pity. But he stayed in the marriage figuring that she would have some sort of inheritance and had taken to taking a mistress here and there to withstand it.
Aunt Sadie, you may say is of the traditional and old fashion sort of woman. A woman was queen and ruler of her household despite what the men may think. A lady did not cuss or smoke, there was no drinking on Sundays, Sunday was church and cleaning day, if you put it on your plate you had better eat it, and the like.
Aunt Sadie was the queen of her house and everyone must obey the queen, a simple enough rule to follow.
Unfortunately her husband number two did not believe this and on one fine Sunday while Aunt Sadie and I were out of town at the farmer's market and for some other shopping needs he had brought his mistress to the house and served them both a drink from my aunt's prized wine cabinet and served it from her strictly decorative gold rimmed flutes, and that there was his downfall. These flutes had been meticulously cleaned to a crystal clear shine made possible through a special cleaner that was very strong and pure poison.
When we had returned they were both dead and my aunt was tossed into a mental hospital for 10 years, after an appeal to reduce her sentence and good behavior she was out in five.
Really how can she be blamed? She did tell him not to drink from those glasses.
The doors to the bus opened and a few people I did not care to notice trotted off in that roar weary manner that made them appear very pleased to say the least to be of that bus. After ten people finally stepped off my dear Aunt finally appeared.
Five years of strictly portioned food had knocked off a few pounds, but she was still thick and squared swinging her weight about in an authorizing manner, even coming off a dirty old bus she still managed to look like a mighty queen dressed as she liked in a long pale blue dress with a bright red belt around her waist.
"Auntie!" I cried out rushing to her and flinging my arms around her shoulders hugging her as if I had not seen or communicated with her in her five year imprisonment.
"Marcy, it's so good to see you?" She beamed hugging me tightly.
Once she had released me she looked around, "Are you my one woman welcome home parade?" She asked with a sarcastic scoff, I guess she knew the outcome of her merry return. "Good, I don't think I could deal with those little snide bastards."
Okay, over the years the policy that a lady should not use such language had faded, colorful words made a spicy point in the statement.
"Now then, since that old fart had allowed my home to be taken where am I going to live?" She asked. "And I'm not about to go to some halfway house, God knows I can't handle that right now. And I know William will not be in the mood to house me."
I smiled as we gathered her few belongings all packed away into trash bags and headed towards my car. "Don't worry, you've taught me well you know that I'll handle things. It took a little convincing but you can stay there for at most a month. But it won't take that long, and before you protest please come, I need you there." I stated quickly giving her a desperate pleading look.
Aunt Sadie sighed before finally giving in. "Why do you need me there?"
"This month is his 68th birthday and of course because I'm living there taking care of him everyone expects for me to get everything together, the cooking, the organizing, all of that, and in the end the cleaning." I said with a weary roll of my eyes.
Auntie nodded in understanding before opening the passenger side door and taking her seat while I hoisted her bags into the trunk.
For my aunt I would do just about anything, after all she had practically raised me. My mother had passed away two weeks before my seventh birthday due to the debilitating affects of an STD I was not aware of. Because my mother had given birth to me out of wedlock the rest of the stuffy Lennox family had looked down upon me as some poor man's bastard who might have contracted her mother's disease and all turned a blind eye when the social services had questioned if any of them were willing to take me in.
Aunt Sadie had marched into the social worker's office with a determined stride in her steps making the hem of her long pleated skirt sway madly from side to side.
'Is this my niece, Eleanor Lennox's baby?' She had asked pointing a thick nail-gnawed finger towards me.
Surprised the little woman merely nodded. Aunt Sadie gave a quick nod of her head, grabbed a pen and signed her name where needed to the sheet of paper sitting on the desk. Tossing the pen down she took my hand and walked me out of that dull office unheeding of the cries of social worker for us to return.
From then on, up until her arrest, I had been living happily with my Aunt learning valuable life lessons. Such as our family had no imaginations and was very predictable and greedy. Telling the truth was far easier than telling a lie. And you had to be smart with enough common sense to get through life.
When she was incarcerated I was forced from the home we had lived in when it was seized and made myself my great uncle's caretaker which required that I move in with him.
Coming onto the large Victorian styled mini-manor that was William Lennox's home Aunt Sadie and I quickly traveled to her room and unpacked. Her release couldn't have come at a more hectic time.
The night before my uncle's birthday came quickly and so did the guests my other mooching relatives. First to arrive was my cousin James Tosse, related to the family through his mother, and his current girlfriend, a small framed brunette with some assets God surely did not give her by the name of Sandi with an 'I'. She had told us this with a breathy voice as she shook our hands.
"One eye or two?" Aunt Sadie joked.
"Oh one." Sandi with an 'I' smiled.
Staring at her for a brief moment we then looked to nearly leather tanned James in his Polo shirt and khaki slacks one hand shoved in his pocket the other wrapped around Sandi with an 'I's hip. He avoided our questioning glances by giving her a slight push. "Baby why don't you help Sadie with setting the table and stuff, I'll help Marcy with the cooking."
In the kitchen I looked over the recipe for the party's Seafood Newburg while making the night's braised pork chops, I knew how to make it by heart but not in the quantity I would need for at least a dozen people. James chopped the vegetables haphazardly and carelessly before chucking them in the perforated pot for steaming.
"Mars, you've been here long enough. I mean you do everything around here, the cooking the errands, and the cleaning right?" James questioned trying to segue what he needed of me into his conversation.
"Yes," I replied dully feeling reminded that I was more of the maid here than a relative.
"Well, you know the bar's not doing so well."
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes and tell him of course it wasn't given the people he booked, his cheap choice of alcohol and overall location was around a community of elderly people who did not take to that scene. But I only looked to him with concern.
"I'm sorry to hear that, but what does that have to do with anything?" I questioned.
James shrugged. "Well I'm sure you've seen his will floating around here and there right?"
I calmed up and went back to my pork chops.
"Mars, I know you have." He stated grabbing my shoulders and turning me around. "Please just tell me if I'll get anything that will help me?"
Taking a deep breath I looked up at him, the little brat that when I saw him would mock my position in the family and pull my hair just to make me cry. "Yes, you're in it and from what I've read you'll get enough money that you don't have to worry about the bar." I whispered to him honestly.
"Thanks Mars, you're a doll." He kissed my cheek and grabbed a bottle of oil that would be tossed on some angel hair pasta that would accompany the dish.
"No!" I cried out snatching it away from him. "That's peanut oil; you know uncle's terribly allergic to peanuts." Taking the unopened bottle I tossed it into the back of the pantry to be forgotten.
Next to arrive was Daniela, nicknamed Danny, with her small family her two bratty and untamed children William (so named to get on my uncle's good side) the hyperactive twelve year old, and Michelle the already superficial and materialistic eight year old. From the kitchen I did not see her husband with her, Philip pronounced the French way although there wasn't anything French about it was the vice president or something of the sort of a publishing company, a currently failing publishing company. Because of this Danny found her lifestyle of being a housewife with a maid in danger of being revoked.
Waving and giving a strained smile to Sadie and Sandi with an 'I' in the dinning room she ushered her children to the living room to watch TV before waltzing into the kitchen.
"Marcy!" She cried out her voice making my name sound more like she was shouting Mercy instead. Catching me into a hug she took me by my arm and pulled me away. "Jamie boy you can watch the food for a bit, I need to talk with Marcy." She beamed.
Danny was always the bossy one growing up, and the one to always get her way. She had begun to chat my ear off her way so easing into the matter of hand and I did not have the time to beat around the bush with her. "Darling I need to ask you something." She finally stated but it was a bit too late.
"Danny, can't this wait? James can't cook to save his life and I'm not about to let over a hundred dollars of pork go up in smoke!" I screeched. When I returned barely three minutes later as I had thought James had abandoned his post to go flirt with Sandi who one second look looked like she was about eighteen with the twenty night year old man and with the dress she was wearing a practicing stripper.
Sighing I finished dinner and was in the process of serving it when the last of our guests arrived, Vincent Lennox, my uncle's second born grandson and his favorite out of all of us accompanied by his wife, and Alexia who opted to bring only her current boyfriend which was pleasant given last year she had surprised us all by bringing her girlfriend then announcing loudly that she was a proud bisexual. Always one to get attention, even as a child she would cry and do things just to make sure all eyes were on her.
With that dinner was served. As sad as it seemed we were all that made up the remaining Lennox family, at least the part of the family that mattered to Uncle William, the rest in his opinion could all burn in hell. Old and gray uncle with his cane had hobbled down from his study and took a glance at all who had made it glaring at some of us, mainly my aunt, then beaming proudly at Vincent, the semi self made man and lawyer.
Sitting down he looked down at the food then pointed a finger, "Did that poisonous witch do anything to our food?" He asked.
Everyone who had began to dig in paused in shock having totally forgotten about Aunt Sadie's past. "No Uncle, all she did was set the table, I took care of the food as always, and no she did not do anything to the silverware or glasses but set them Sandi was with her and watching her." I said before putting a fork full of the steamed vegetables and pasta into my mouth and swallowing.
With this everyone watched me as I ate and drank, when I did not fall out dead they breathed easier and began to eat.
Dinner went well.
It was 4 AM and after cleaning the dishes and making sure everyone was settled into their rooms I was happily dreaming in my comfortable bed when I felt something settle on my bed. Something pinched my leg jolting me up for my pleasant dreams. Turning on the light I was nearly startled to death upon seeing Alexia and Danny staring down at me.
"What the hell are you two doing?" I demanded angrily. I had only two more hours to sleep before I needed to get up to make breakfast.
"You avoid us all night; James told us you saw the will."
Groaning I fell back down on the pillows. "Yes, I have what about it?"
"Tell us what we get." Alexia demanded poking me with her skinny little fingers.
"Look do you know how long it took me to get to sleep with James one room over with Sandi? That girl is so horrible at faking but she's so loud about it."
"You're both in the will okay, since Vincent is his favorite he'll get the most but you'll each get all the money you could possibly need. But Uncle Will has a clean bill of health, the doctor said he's got at least twenty more years on him." I grumbled. "Now you've heard it so go away so I can sleep before they wake up and go at it again!"
With a satisfied smile the pair left me to my peace. Twenty minutes later James and Sandi were at it again.
I had managed to get breakfast done and out with little table and took my plate out onto the porch to eat with Aunt Sadie.
"My poor dear you look like hell." She stated handing me a glass of iced tea.
"I was tormented by the hell spawn all night."
"I see. Well did you know that little Alexia is having problems?"
"I don't even keep up with Alexia, what is her deal?" I questioned.
Aunt Sadie smirked. "Well you know she was an amateur model right? Nothing much or anything that would really get her noticed, just a few ads here and there but it along with her trust fund got her through. But she fancies herself one of those high class models and developed high class taste."
"So her money's all gone?"
"Just about. And she's not one the menu for what people want now. So now she's desperate. I told her mother before that her looks alone can't get her through life."
I nodded in understanding while sipping my tea, so that explained Alexia's prodding for the will.
The night of the party came quickly and I rushed to make the Newburg. First I made the rice nice and sticky so it could be molded into mounds and so that I could pour the creamy medley of shrimp, clams, mussels, scallions, lobster, and fish over top and around it. Alexia had kindly taken the children with her to get the cake from the bakery before it closed.
Sandi once again helped Aunt Sadie to set the table.
Danny and James helped me in the kitchen, Danny tossing the salad and James set to work doing odd jobs. Upstairs Vincent and Uncle were bonding as they always did playing a game of chest.
Suddenly there was a shout from behind me and Danny pointed to the stove where the Newburg sauce had begun to boil over, the creamy sauce pouring over the sides into the high flames as it bubbled. James lunged forwards grabbing the handle with his bare hand only to pull back quickly hissing in pain as he burnt himself. Grabbing a potholder I whisked it away from the heat and turned off the eye.
Taking James by his hand I held it under some cold faucet water. "James you were supposed to be watching it." I whimpered knowing that I would have to make more.
"Sorry, I was busy cutting these little onion things." He stated.
Sighing I turned away from them toward the refrigerator to grab more cream, milk, butter, and the eggs. Turning back to them both looking towards the burnt pot I scowled, "You've done enough, I don't need you here anymore get out." I commanded then set to work once more. "James go do something about your hand, the first aid is in the bathroom."
After assuring everyone once more that Aunt Sadie had nothing to do with the food and was under close supervision we ate. The salad was delicious with baby spinach, mushrooms, and cucumbers with walnut raspberry vinaigrette. Uncle praised me for once. With Vincent around he was in a much more jovial mood. Then came the main course Seafood Newburg. Everyone dug in with vigor stating how it was beyond delicious it was in fact heavenly. And I for once basked in their comments.
My happy moment was short lived as William coughed loudly while beating upon his chest. His face was red and blotchy, soon the coughing stopped as he gasped for breath. Vincent shot up and patting him on his back, "He's choking!" He shouted.
"No, it's poison!" Michelle screeched and pointed a finger to Aunt Sadie, "She's poisoned us!"
"Why I never!"
"Shut up!" I commanded rushing over, "Alexia call 911 quickly, he's having an allergic reaction."
It all happened very quickly, Danny and the other ushered Aunt Sadie into the living room all still convinced it was an act of poisoning, while Vincent under my instructions began CPR. When the EMT arrived less than 20 minutes later my uncle was dead.
Since my Aunt Sadie had a record of poisoning although it was no fault of her own everyone pointed the finger towards her. But thankfully Sandi with an 'I' proved most useful in quickly silencing everyone by admitting that she had been instructed by Vincent and James to keep a very close eye on her and she did absolutely nothing to any of the dishes, in fact to insure it she had switch out the dishes when Sadie had gone upstairs to get dressed.
With a little investigating Alexia, her boyfriend, Vincent's wife and the kids were eliminated since they had arrived just as I was setting out the salad.
"And," I pointed out watching as they wheeled his corpse from the house. "I know the difference between poisoning and food allergy, that was an allergic reaction and he's only allergic to peanuts."
"How do you-"
"I've been his caretaker for five years, after doctor visits and the like I know more about his health than my own. Vincent made sure that I kept close tabs on him, nothing's too good for his grandfather." I smiled kindly to my cousin who admitted to practically talking me into and hiring me to be William's care.
"So who handled and served the food?"
I pointed to myself then to Danny and James. "We did. I did most of it. But I'm very careful, I've taken everything that contains peanut or was even packaged in a plant with peanuts from this house." I exclaimed. "Wait, except for that peanut oil I bought the other day, the bottles are right next to each other in the store so you could see it's easy to make a mistake." I explained.
The detective had a close eye kept on Danny and James as he asked for me to show him where the bottle was now. I escorted him to the pantry to find to my dismay the bottle gone.
With expressed permission from Vincent the lawyer for them to search the house and my own to be questioned further the bottle was found in the kitchen waste basket one quarter empty.
My uncle's death had gone from accident to murder. And it was narrowed down to three people. James and Danny both desperate for money and me the girl rose by a woman who was famed for poisoning her husband.
"Print these three." The detective commanded. "It will take a few days for us to get all of the prints and analyze all of the evidence." He went on turning to Vincent who was very cooperative for a lawyer.
"Do we need to go into holding?" I asked frightful. "Or can we all just stay here?"
That was when Vincent became a lawyer and negotiated so that we would all remain in the house the police could stand watch to make sure that no one tried to leave.
The few days it took to get the prints and process all of the evidence was to my joy pleasant, it was my first real break, no cooking, no cleaning, nothing but sitting around with Sade as everyone else paced and discussed the murder. Sandi with an 'I' and Alexia were getting rather chummy speaking to one another about their careers. And how Sandi knew some people who would love to hire Alexia. Young William and Michelle complained and whined about wanting to go home since Uncle William did not have a computer and the only connection to the internet was either mine or Vincent's laptop which neither of us was about to lend to them.
On the third day the detective returned with all of the proper paper work, not that we minded the first time when he had all of our expressed permission. He sat down and showed us the now empty bottle within a sealed bag. On the sides and surface were black fingerprints.
"Miss Lennox." He looked at me and pointed to the body of the bottle. "These are your finger prints from where you had picked it up in three different places, but your prints aren't on the cap. But Mr. Tosse's prints are on there as are Mrs. Hunt's." He turned his eyes towards Danny and James. "Mrs. Hunts are on the cap and seal."
All eyes turned to Danny. "But Danny wouldn't have known where I tossed the oil, she'd get lost in the pantry." I commented.
"Really, care to explain Mrs. Hunts?" The detective questioned turning an eye to Danny.
"It was James' idea!" She shouted a sob before pointing her finger to James.
James jumped up and moved to launch at big mouthed Danny, a wave from the detective told the police to take them away.
As it turned out James and Danny had the idea to murder Uncle William when they had learned about the will. Knowing about his allergy and a source of peanuts in the house they had put the plan together to put the oil into the food when my back was turned. They figured they would be able to get away with it because Aunt Sadie was present and the first thing anyone would have done as everyone did was blame her for poisoning him. With her past no one would have thought otherwise and no one would have asked for an autopsy.
What they did not think about was that I would immediately recognize it as a sever allergic reaction and have the police immediately called before they would have the chance to hide what they have done and plant evidence on Auntie.
With that they were arrested and escorted via cop car to jail and everyone else gathered around Vincent and me telling us to inform them of the funeral plans before leaving. I wasn't very surprised when Sandi with an 'I' got into the car with Alexia and her boyfriend. Vincent took Danny's children and was gone.
Uncle's funeral was two days away, he would be buried in the Lennox family plot and the will would be read soon after.
Sitting on the patio in the back yard Auntie and I enjoyed a calming cup of coffee with some small finger cakes and pastries.
"So my dear, how did you do it?" Auntie questioned sipping the coffee from her pink and white china cup.
Looking over to her I raised a questioning brow, "Whatever are you talking about?"
"That old bastard, how did you do it?" Auntie persisted with a knowing smirk.
"Auntie you must be going senile, I did nothing, Danny and that stupid James did."
"Oh, but I've taught you to be a smart girl."
"And you've taught me well. All I will say is that people with no imaginations are so predictable." I sighed drawing out my words to truly express my boredom. "All you have to do is set the stage and even the most impromptu actors will eventually do as you want with the props."
"Yes, like with your husband, you knew eventually he'd show off to his girlfriend and mess with those glasses didn't you?" I asked already knowing the truth to that.
She laughed and sipped her coffee. "Go on."
"Well I merely had to tell them about their share of the inheritance; which I did not lie about, they were going to get enough to solve their problems, but that's all it would have done. The rest is going to that arrogant suck up Vincent, as I told them. But because of what they've done they're officially out of the will, Vincent will see to that."
"So then what will become of their half?"
"Well, with the way the old bastard did it Vincent's part of the inheritance is set in stone. The rest is to be divided equally, and since they are now out we will get it. Their share of the money…and the estate."
"The estate too?"
"Oops did I forget to mention that part?" I asked placing my hand to my cheek in mock shock. Smiling at her lovingly I took her hand into mine, "I promised you I'd take care of things."
You see my dear aunt taught me very well, she taught me that telling a lie is just too complicated when all you have to do is tell the truth. Though you can't be blamed if you leave a few bits of information out, and you can't be blamed for how people interpret the truth. Given how busy Vincent is and how it tends to procrastinate with personal matters I'm sure I can speak with spoiled and rebellious Nathaniel before his father could alter his will. As I said my greedy family is so predictable. But I don't think I will, you see it isn't about the money for me, but for revenge, for my mother they rejected in her time of need, for my aunt who they abandoned, and for my own behalf.
I'll wait and decide about Vincent later.
A/N: I am taking the suggestion of others of taking a break from my other stories and write some new short stories to clear my mind of them and refresh myself. I have been reading mystery stories lately that combines my two loves, mysteries and cooking, Diane Mott Davidson is my favorite in that genre and I suggest you read some of her books.