Murder by Arrangement (Edna Davies mysteries Book 5)

 

 

 

 

 

Murder
by Arrangement

by

Suzanne
Young

 

 

Sybown Press

 

 

Cover Designer: Karen Phillips

 

 

All rights reserved

 

 

Names, characters
and incidents depicted in this book are purely fictitious and the products of
the author’s imagination. The author has also taken the liberty of placing
fabricated homes in the middle of actual neighborhoods. Any resemblance to
actual persons or places is coincidental and unintentional. Places of interest
and historic references are real.

 

No part of this
book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including
photocopying, recording or electronic transference without written permission
from the author.

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by Suzanne Young

 

 

Sybown Press

9028 West 50th Lane, #1

Arvada, CO 80002-4441

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This book is dedicated

to Diony and to Bill

with my love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other books in the Edna Davies series

 

Murder by Yew, 2009

Murder by Proxy, 2011

Murder by Mishap, 2012

Murder by Christmas, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

 

“What do you
suppose has upset Irene?” Edna Davies stroked Benjamin’s ginger fur as she
spoke the thought aloud. One thing about having a cat, he made an excellent
confidante and knew how to keep a secret.

This early
February morning, she had finally finished addressing valentines to everyone on
her Christmas list. Tending to Albert, recovering from an injury, had prevented
her from sending yuletide greetings to friends and family at year’s end. “I
hope hearts are as welcome as holly for those who hear from us only once a
year,” she had said to Benjamin as she applied the last self-stick postage
stamp. She had then invited the cat onto her lap just as the telephone rang.

“I’m glad to
catch you at home,” Irene said. “If you’ll be in today, would you mind if I
drive down to talk to you? It’s about a family matter.”

She sounded
untypically serious, so Edna answered immediately, “I’m off to the post office
this morning, but I’ll be here for the rest of the day. Why don’t you come for
lunch? The forecast is for snow again, but not until later this afternoon.”

After hanging
up, she sat stroking Benjamin’s back for a few minutes as she tried to imagine
what might be so worrisome that her daughter-in-law would make the forty-minute
drive from Warwick to South County on such a cold and dismal day. Giving up the
mental exercise as fruitless, she turned her thoughts to planning a lunch menu.

Since she and
Irene were both perpetually trying to lose an extra ten pounds, Edna decided to
make carrot soup and serve it with homemade soda crackers. She’d warm some
applesauce and put out one cinnamon sugar cookie each for dessert. Diet or no,
they needed a little sugar to balance the meal.

Irene arrived
shortly before noon. At five and a half feet, she was an inch taller than Edna
with a pleasant round face and ready smile. This daughter-in-law was married to
Edna and Albert’s eldest child Matthew. Edna found it hard to believe that
Matthew and Irene’s first born, Joseph, would graduate from high school in
another few months. David, their second child, was two years younger, followed
by twelve-year-old Allison and nine-year-old Amanda. Edna always smiled with
pleasure whenever she thought of the energetic and enthusiastic brood, feeling
with some pride that it spoke well of the parents.

“Brrr,” said
Irene, stepping into the front hall. “I’m ready for spring.”

“Are you
regretting that you didn’t go to Florida with Matthew and Albert?” Edna asked.

“Maybe only
because of the sunshine, but I’m no fisherman. No sea legs, I’m afraid.” Irene
grimaced as she removed her coat, hat and gloves and set them on a nearby
chair.

“Me either,”
Edna said as she thought with dread that she would also have had to board an
airplane, had she accepted the half-hearted invitation to join “the boys” on
their fishing trip to Miami--“the boys” being her husband Albert, son Matthew,
son-in-law Roger and Roger’s father Ken Marlstone. They had flown south for a
week of fishing with Roger’s brother, Patrick, who captained his own trawler.
Patrick had recently acquired a second boat for his local business and invited
the family on its maiden voyage.

The trip had the
added advantage of Florida’s sunny weather where Albert could exercise his leg
without fear of slipping on ice or being housebound by yet another snowstorm.
He still hadn’t fully recovered from having fractured his kneecap shortly
before Thanksgiving. This accident was why Edna was sending valentines in place
of the Christmas cards she’d had no time to write in December.

 “Besides, I
really couldn’t leave with Amanda being off this coming week.” Irene’s voice
broke into Edna’s wandering thoughts and recaptured her attention. “I don’t
know why the schools can’t all plan spring break for the same time. Joseph,
David and Allison’s is the week
after
Amanda’s. With a nine-year-old
hanging around the house all day, I couldn’t ask my mother to come and stay
while I went off to play on the beach.” Irene’s smile slipped when she added,
“I’m afraid Mother’s showing her age lately. I think she no longer has the energy--or
the patience--to put up with four children for a week, even if they are
self-sufficient.”

Detecting a
catch in Irene’s throat, Edna reached over to gently squeeze her forearm. “I
know it has to be hard for you, dear. I’m here to help whenever you need me.”
As the younger woman’s eyes misted, Edna thought a change of subject would be
wise. She didn’t want to dwell on a topic that neither one of them could
control and which was bound to reduce Irene to tears. “Albert phoned last night
to say they had an uneventful flight and were settling into the condo. He and
Matthew have a couple of side bets going as to who will catch the first fish
and the biggest fish.”

That made Irene
laugh as she used her fingertips to swipe beneath her eyes. “Yes, Matt called
us, too. Joseph and David wanted so badly to go along, but I put my foot down
about them missing school. It’s a shame Patrick couldn’t have rescheduled for
week after next, but he’d already booked a sizeable group for those dates.”
After hanging her coat in the closet, she turned to follow Edna into the
kitchen, saying as she did so, “All that aside, I might have caved in and gone
if Diane had been able to. It’s probably a good thing she’s working next week.”

Edna chuckled at
the thought of her second oldest child, a registered nurse who worked part time
for a home health care provider. “She phoned Tuesday evening while Roger was
packing. She confessed to being sorely tempted to accept her brother-in-law’s
invitation and probably would have quit her job, if you had agreed to the trip.
It’s hard to pass up a vacation south when we’ve had such a cold and snowy
winter.”

 The two women
continued to chat amiably while Edna arranged crackers on a plate and Irene
ladled soup into bowls and placed them on the kitchen table. As they ate, Irene
brought Edna up to date on the activities of her children. When they were
nearly finished with the soup, she came to her youngest, but hesitated as if
she didn’t know what to say.

“What is it,
dear,” Edna prompted. “You said on the phone this morning that you wanted to
discuss something. Does it have to do with Amanda?”

Irene pushed the
remains of her soup around the bottom of the bowl with her spoon. She was quiet
for so long that Edna was about to speak again when Irene looked up with
worried eyes and nodded. “She has a new best friend. A girl who moved into the
neighborhood last month and is in Amanda’s third-grade class.”

“You don’t
approve of this new friendship?” Edna guessed.

“It’s not that.
Not exactly. Violet--or Lettie, as she’s called--is a nice girl, extremely
well-mannered. If anything, she might be almost too quiet for a nine-year-old.”
Irene paused, then took a deep breath. “It’s her family situation that has me
spooked.”

“Spooked?” Edna
wondered at Irene’s choice of word. “How so?”

Irene sat
forward, suddenly animated. “Do you remember that scandal a couple years ago?
It was all over the news … that financial advisor who was found dead in his
townhouse. It happened right here in South County.” She kept adding details as
if to jog Edna’s memory. “Heart failure, but questionable circumstances. You
don’t remember?”

Edna frowned,
trying to recall, but finally shook her head. “It’s not sounding familiar.”

“It was about
two or two and a half years ago.”

“No, dear, I
don’t remember. That was around the time Albert retired and we were exploring
the east coast to see where we might want to live, before we found this place.”

Irene’s face
fell, apparently disappointed that Edna hadn’t known about the story. “That’s
right. You were gone for a good part of the year.” She sighed, seeming resigned
to filling Edna in on some background. “The man’s name was Gregory Haverstrum.
He was found dead in his townhouse. They said it was cardiac arrest, but rumor
was that he had been poisoned.”

Edna’s interest
was piqued, but she thought Irene might be straying from the subject. “And this
has something to do with Amanda?”

Irene pushed her
plate aside and rested her forearms on the table, leaning forward and lowering
her voice as if imparting a secret. “Amanda’s new friend is Gregory
Haverstrum’s daughter. His wife was Rose Haverstrum, but she took back her
maiden name. Beck. She goes by Rose Beck now, or actually, she prefers to be
called Rosie.”

A memory that
had been nagging at Edna’s subconscious suddenly came into focus. “I think I
remember my friend Tuck mentioning this. There was quite a sensation because
Rose … ah, Rosie … is from a prominent family. Her mother, Lily Beck, is a
member of Greenthumbs, our local garden club.” Edna paused, then frowned. “I
don’t recall Tuck saying anything about poison, though.”

Irene looked
down briefly at her folded hands before lifting her eyes to Edna’s again. “I
guess nothing was ever proven, and nobody was arrested, but Rosie was
questioned repeatedly over a period of several months. She and her husband had
separated about a month before it happened. That’s why he was living in a
townhouse and was alone when he died. It was a couple of days before he was
found.”

“She was
questioned but never charged with anything?”

Irene shrugged.
“Suspicion surrounded his death, but nothing was really clear from the news
reports. There was some mention of burns around his mouth, but nobody ever
determined if they were relevant to the cause of death or just some sort of
medical condition associated with his illness. At the time, Rosie was working
in one of the local greenhouses and had access to any number of toxic
substances. Not just plants, but pesticides, too. That might’ve been why they
thought she could have put something in his food, but investigators couldn’t
prove anything. She was called in and questioned over and over, but she was
never charged with murdering her husband. Unfortunately for her, nothing was
found to build a case for suicide either.”

“And Rosie Beck
is your new neighbor?”

Irene nodded.
“She moved into our neighborhood right after Christmas, one street over.”

Edna tried to
remember what she’d heard of Lily Beck’s family. “Rosie wasn’t living in South
County before that, was she?”

Irene shook her
head. “She sold their house down here and his condo and moved to East
Providence after his funeral. Now, she’s moved again and in the middle of the
school year. That’s hard on a child.”

Edna said, “How
do you know all this? Have you talked with her?”

Irene waggled a
hand. “Sort of. Lettie came to Amanda’s birthday party last month. Rosie
brought her over so she could meet us. Very properly. I would have done the
same. You know, we being strangers and all. Since then, I spoke to her once at
the grocery store, and again at the school’s parents’ night last week. You
know, just sort of brief ‘how-do’s.’” Irene’s eyes widened. “I kept thinking
she looked familiar but the name threw me. It kept bugging me, so I searched
for her on the Internet. I would have remembered about the scandal right away
if she was still going by Haverstrum.”

Irene sat
silently for a moment, frowning at the table top as if organizing her thoughts.
Eventually, she began to speak again, slowly at first, as she lifted her head
to look at Edna. “Last night, she phoned to invite Amanda to spend some time
with Lettie at her grandmother’s. I knew from rereading the online reports that
Rosie’s mother lived near here, so I told Rosie I’d let her know tonight. I
wanted to talk to you first, since I thought you might know the mother. I can’t
wait until Matt comes home to give Rosie an answer, and, besides, it would be
hard to explain my feelings to him over the phone, long distance.” She sighed.
“I thought, if you knew Lily Beck, you could give me your opinion of the family
and this whole scandal. Am I being unreasonable if I discourage Amanda’s friendship
with Lettie?”

Edna brought an
image of the older Mrs. Beck to mind. “As I said, Rosie’s mother and I belong
to the same garden club, so I have met her, but I haven’t spent a lot of time
in her company. She’s pretty reclusive. Doesn’t have much to do with anyone
except an occasional meeting with members of Greenthumbs. She has one of the
best gardens in the area and can’t help showing it off. I was among the lucky
ones to be selected last month to view some of her winter blooms. I took
pictures and thought I’d sketch either her Christmas Rose or the Lily of the
Valley bush as a ‘thank you’ present.” When Edna noticed that she was losing
Irene’s attention, she hesitated. “But you don’t want to know about my garden
club, I’m sure. What exactly do you wish to know?”

“To be frank,
Edna, I wonder if Rosie
did
kill her husband. You know what they say
about no smoke without fire.”

“Oh, my.” The
bluntness of Irene’s statement startled Edna. She thought back to when they’d
just moved to southern Rhode Island and she’d been suspected of poisoning her
handyman. She remembered how upset and humiliated she’d been to realize her new
neighbors and friends dared not eat anything she prepared. Many even refused to
come to her house. Silent rejection is hard to fight. “Do
you
think
you’re being unfair? After all, she was never charged with anything, and you
said yourself that poison was only a rumor.”

“I’d rather be
accused of unfairness than have anything happen to one of my children. How
could I live with myself if I exposed Amanda to a murderer?”

Edna considered
her daughter-in-law’s concern. “But what if Rosie is innocent? Gossip and
innuendos can be very destructive.”

Irene shrugged
and lowered her head, not meeting Edna’s eyes. “I suppose so.”

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