Read Death on a Silver Platter Online

Authors: Ellen Hart

Tags: #Mystery & Detective, #Women Sleuths, #General, #Fiction

Death on a Silver Platter

To my buddies in the Minnesota Crime Wave: Carl Brookins,
Deborah Woodworth, and William Kent Krueger.
Thanks for your constant friendship and
all the ridiculous good fun.

“Grub first, then ethics.”

—BERTOLT BRECHT

“You first parents of the human race . . . who ruined yourself for
an apple, what might you not have done for a truffled turkey?”

—ANTHELME BRILLAT-SAVARIN

Praise for Ellen Hart
and her Sophie Greenway
mysteries

DIAL M FOR MEAT LOAF

“This is a hearty, satisfying meal of a mystery, with chunks of good characters and more than a dash of wit.”


Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine

SLICE AND DICE

“The pace quickly bubbles from simmer to boil. . . . The complexity of Hart’s novel is admirable.”


Publishers Weekly

THIS LITTLE PIGGY WENT TO MURDER

“Strong characters and a rich Lake Superior setting make this solidly constructed mystery hard to put down. Another winner for Ellen Hart!”

—M. D. LAKE

FOR EVERY EVIL

”Another splendid specimen of the classical mystery story, nicely updated and full of interesting and believable characters.”


The Purloined Letter

Praise for Ellen Hart
and her Jane Lawless series

HALLOWED MURDER

“Hart’s crisp, elegant writing and atmosphere [are] reminiscent of the British detective style, but she has a nicer sense of character, confrontation, and sparsely utilized violence. . . .
Hallowed Murder
is as valuable for its mainstream influences as for its sexual politics.”


Mystery Scene

VITAL LIES

“This compelling whodunit has the psychological maze of a Barbara Vine mystery and the feel of Agatha Christie. . . . Hart keeps even the most seasoned mystery buff baffled until the end.”


Publishers Weekly

STAGE FRIGHT

“Hart deftly turns the spotlight on the dusty secrets and shadowy souls of a prominent theater family. The resulting mystery is worthy of a standing ovation.”


Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine

A KILLING CURE

“A real treat . . . Secret passageways, a coded ledger, a mysterious group known only as the Chamber, experimental drugs, blackmail, sexual assault, betrayal: all the ingredients of a good whodunit.”


Lambda Book Report

A SMALL SACRIFICE

“A smart and shocking thriller.”


The Minnesota Daily

FAINT PRAISE

“Packed with mystery and scheming characters,
Faint Praise
is one of the year’s best. It’s no wonder Ellen Hart is everyone’s favorite author.”

—R. D. ZIMMERMAN

CAST OF CHARACTERS

BRAM BALDRIC: Radio talk-show host at WTWN in St. Paul; Margie’s father; Sophie’s husband.

MARGIE BALDRIC: Bram’s daughter.

NATHAN BUCKRIDGE: Chef; owner of Chez Sophie.

MICK FRYE: Tracy’s boyfriend.

SOPHIE GREENWAY: Owner of the Maxfield Plaza in St. Paul; restaurant reviewer for the
Minneapolis Times
Register; Bram’s wife.

DR. WALTER HOLLAND: Retired doctor; old friend of the Veelunds.

ROMAN MARCHAND: President of KitchenVisions.

HENRY TAHTINEN: Sophie’s father; original owner of the Maxfield Plaza.

PEARL TAHTINEN: Sophie’s mother; original owner of the Maxfield Plaza.

ALEXANDER (ALEX) VEELUND: President and CEO of Veelund Industries; Danny and Elaine’s brother; Millie’s son.

CARL VEELUND: Founder of Veelund Log Lodges; Millie’s husband; Elaine, Danny, and Alex’s father.

DANIEL REED VEELUND: Writer; Millie and Carl’s son; Ruth’s husband; Elaine and Alex’s brother.

ELAINE VEELUND: CEO of Veelund Log Lodges; Tracy’s mother; Danny and Alex’s sister; Millie’s daughter.

MILLIE VEELUND: The Veelund family matriarch; owner and chairman of the board of Veelund Industries; Elaine, Danny, and Alex’s mother.

RUTH VEELUND: Danny’s wife.

TRACY VEELUND-WILLARD: Elaine’s daughter.

GALEN ZANDER: Millie Veelund’s personal assistant.

Pearl’s Notebook
March 29, 1972

I couldn’t write a single word after it happened. That
was two weeks ago. Even now, my hand is shaking. God
forgive me, I should have seen the disaster coming,
should have acted to prevent it, but I didn’t put all the
clues together until it was too late. It’s not my fault. But if
it’s not, why do I feel so guilty?

I arrived at the party all decked out in my new blue
evening gown, my husband and daughter by my side. I
came for Carl’s sake, to honor a man I’d loved and admired since I was sixteen years old. I thought we’d all
have a good time. Instead, the celebration became a turning point, one of those rare moments in a life when a
small action might have changed everything, spun the
world in a different direction. But I was afraid—afraid of
my feelings, of putting my needs above others. I wasn’t
raised like that—to put feelings before my responsibilities—so I kept my thoughts to myself, tucked my emotions
deep inside, and, like watching a ball roll out of my open
hand, let the tragedy occur.

It all started so innocently. Henry, Sophie, and I had
been invited to a housewarming party at Carl and Millie
Veelund’s new home. This wasn’t just any old house, but
a mansion, one that Carl’s company had built to his
exact specifications. Carl had inherited the family lumber company when he was twenty-six, but he’d made his
fortune in construction, as a builder of log homes.
Veelund Log Lodges had become one of the hottest new
names in the industry. In just six short years, his fortune
had grown into the millions. This house was to be his
masterpiece.

The celebration that night was my first opportunity to
see the place firsthand. Carl had told me all about it, how
it would combine traditional concepts with the latest
technology. Western red cedar logs. Three stories high
with twenty-five rooms. He called the house Prairie
Lodge. It was a gift to his children, whom he adored beyond all reason, and his wife, for whom his feelings were
more complex.

That evening I danced with Henry, then with Carl, and
finally with Carl’s handsome eighteen-year-old son,
Alexander, the one everyone calls Alex. I laughed at all
their jokes, all the while sensing that something was
terribly wrong. Carl should have been on top of the
world. This was the culmination of years of hard work.
But instead of euphoria, I sensed a deep anxiety in
him. He seemed distracted, distant, worried. I didn’t
understand.

Carl’s wife, Millie, was in her usual high spirits, presiding over the affair like the belle of the ball. Millie was
born on the Iron Range in Northern Minnesota, just like
me. She’d grown up in a small miner’s house, wearing
hand-me-downs, just as I had. But unlike me, Millie had
serious pretensions. She’d gotten lucky when she married
Carl Veelund. Her life was lived now on a silver platter. It
was apparent to me that Carl had left the interior decoration to Millie. Carl’s tastes were far more simple.
Millie, on the other hand, had social and cultural “aspirations.” Her bedrock conservatism was always at war
with her need to be considered “modern.” She was a difficult woman with a prickly nature. She always rubbed me
the wrong way. But then, that was to be expected, I guess.
I don’t claim to be a saint.

Almost as soon as I’d walked in the door, Millie
dragged me aside and confessed that she’d hired two
housekeepers—two!—and was thinking of hiring a full-time gardener. This revelation was accompanied by
world-weary sighs and shrugs of despair. Behind the act,
it wasn’t hard to see the sparkle in her eyes, the pride, the
dream of a dirt-poor little girl finally coming true. Oh,
and Millie had also hired a cook, a man who’d worked at
the Pillsburys for many years. She dropped the name as if
she had dinner with them every Friday night. Construction on the tennis court would start in July, and Carl was
dickering with several companies over installing a swimming pool—for the kids, of course. As long as it was for
the kids, Carl would agree to anything.

Millie feels superior to Henry and me because she
knows we bought an old clunker of a hotel in downtown
St. Paul a few years ago and are still struggling to make
a go of it. She never fails to ask me how business is. She
allowed herself an amused smile when I lied and said that
it was good.

The truth is, almost everything we earn is put back into
the hotel’s restoration, so things are pretty tight right
now. But I knew they would be, and that’s okay by me.
Henry was incensed that the city fathers would even think
of tearing down the historic Maxfield Plaza. The art deco
architecture alone should have kept it standing. When I
tried to explain all this to Millie she sighed and patted my
hand, commenting that men were men, and women were
their unfortunate pawns. It never occurred to her that I
might share my husband’s dream—the desire to one day
see an artistic and historic landmark returned to its former glory.

I’d never been a stranger to hard times. But more
important, I knew the real score between Carl and Millie.
Millie could feign happiness all she wanted, she could
pretend to be the Queen of England for all I cared. I
knew her marriage to Carl had been a disaster from
day one.

As the night wore on, I noticed that Carl was drinking
more than usual. His face had taken on a rosy glow as he
walked his youngest son, Danny, around the room, introducing him to business associates and potential clients.
My daughter, Sophie, and Carl’s middle child, Elaine,
have been friends since they were nine, so I assumed their
absence meant that they were off somewhere in the nether
reaches of the log mansion trying on Millie’s makeup or
plotting to overthrow the government. At fifteen, both of
them seem to swing wildly between attacks of hormones
and attacks of intellect.

It was just after ten when I noticed a waiter, one who
had been hired for the evening, enter the living room and
walk over to Carl. He carried a silver tray. On top of it
was an envelope. Carl picked it up and dismissed him. He
looked around for a couple of seconds until he spotted his
wife—she was talking to several men by the fieldstone
hearth—then he tucked the letter inside the jacket of his
tux and left the room.

I know I had no business following him, but I did.
Something was up and I wanted to know what it was. Carl
cut swiftly into a back hallway that led to a room at the
far end of the house. During the home-tour part of the
evening I’d learned that this was “Mr. Veelund’s” study.
Carl closed the door, but it didn’t shut all the way. Standing as quietly as I could outside the room, I watched him
sit down behind his desk, switch on a reading lamp, then
rip open the envelope.

“Damn you,” he said after a couple of seconds. His
face blanched. “Damn you!” he said again, dropping the
note. He picked up a crystal paperweight and hurled it
across the room.

I wanted to go to him, wanted to read the note, have
him explain to me why he was so upset. But his anger
frightened me. Carl was a powerful man, with powerful
friends and enemies. He’d been “my Carl” once upon a
time, my love and my lover, but that was a long time ago.
He was a different man now. I was a different woman. To
intrude at this moment seemed far too intimate an act,
filled with its own dangers.

I stayed by the door and watched him crush the letter
in his fist and plunge it into the trash by his desk. He
looked like a man in agony. I had to talk to him, but I hesitated. And it was during that moment of hesitation that
he got up. Fearing that he’d find me, I twisted backward
and ducked into another room just as he burst into the
hallway. I waited until his heavy footsteps had died away,
then entered the study and retrieved the letter from the
trash. I felt brazen and guilty, intruding on his privacy
like that, but I couldn’t stop myself.

I smoothed the piece of cheap stationery against the
desktop and read the message. I read it again and again,
shaking my head, trying to make sense of it.

Finally, realizing that I’d never know what it meant if I
didn’t talk to Carl, I folded the paper back up and slipped
it into my evening bag. Finding my courage at last, I left
the room.

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