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Authors: Elissa D Grodin

Death by Hitchcock

BOOK: Death by Hitchcock
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Death By Hitchcock
An Edwina Goodman Mystery


Elissa D. Grodin

“We all go a little mad sometimes, haven’t you?”

Norman Bates,



I would like to thank Aubrey Elliott Andersen and Dennyse Gunts, who read the manuscript in its early days, and gave invaluable suggestions.  Richard Martini provided technical advice for a scene involving film editing.  And Howard Eison, MD, FCCP, FACP, offered me critical assistance of the most ghoulish and murderous kind.

Chapter 1


Two women sat at a corner table, huddled in conversation over a pot of rosehips tea and a plate of small cakes.  Judging from their ages, they might have been mother and daughter, but upon closer look they bore little resemblance to one another, except perhaps for evidence of a tendency to overindulge in food.  The middle-aged woman wore a baggy, mohair sweater with a handmade look, and each of her hands showed a slight tremor. Her ample hips and thighs strained the seams of a tweed skirt, and she wore a pair of gardening boots caked with dirt. Thin tendrils of hair had loosened themselves from the long braid down her back, and hovered like wisps of smoke around her pleasant face.  The younger woman listened intently and seemed to hang on the older woman’s every word. The listener’s shiny, auburn hair framed a pretty, but troubled face.

“Mary, dear,” the mohair-clad, middle-aged woman said, leaning in conspiratorially, “strictly speaking, it’s not absolutely necessary to be precise with the measurements.  A pinch, more or less, here or there, won’t hurt.”

The speaker impaled a coconut petit four with her fork, devoured it in one bite, and emitted a soft groan of pleasure.

“What is important, however,” she continued, dabbing at the corners of her mouth with a napkin, “is regular ingestion. The herbs must be administered habitually, so that

“So that they have a chance to build up over time?” the younger woman said eagerly.

“That’s right, my dear, and if that doesn’t work, I have something else in mind.  Not to worry,” she said, smacking her lips over a glazed lemon square, “we’ll get the stuff in her system, one way or another!”


The new teashop opened its doors to instant popularity when it took over the ground floor space on Main Street from a sweets shop, owned for decades by a corpulent, ill-tempered Frenchwoman who made delicious chocolates with ingredients like coriander and chile peppers until a week before she died at the age of eighty-two. Despite her egregious lack of personal hygiene and churlish disposition, Clotilde Davenport had enjoyed a faithful following of customers who could not resist her sublime confections. 

The tearoom’s young and amiable namesake, Olivia Mason, made a refreshing change from the truculent Madame Davenport.  Full of cheerful energy, and eager to make a success of it, Olivia Mason had decorated the tearoom with loving care, first painting the grey walls a butter cream color, then lightening the dark, hardwood floors with a pickled oak stain.  A smattering of tables and chairs with polka
-dotted tablecloths lined the front window. The gleaming display counter tempted customers with platters of tarts and cakes, cookies and tea breads, alongside trays of savory sandwiches on fat slices of fresh baked bread.  It seemed Olivia Mason had thought of everything to make her patrons feel welcome. 

But if, on occasion, conversation among some of her regulars should take a dark or subversive turn, it could hardly be expected of Olivia Mason to keep abreast of such things, to nip it in the bud. After all, no one was breeaking any laws.

Not just yet.

Chapter 2


Dressed against the morning chill in a wool beret and fleece zip-up jacket, Assistant Professor of Physics Edwina Goodman bicycled to work through the quiet, tree-lined streets of New Guilford, inhaling the sweet, smoky fragrance of burning oak in the air. Smoke puffed gently from chimneys and stovepipes along her route.  She hummed to herself, and gazed at the crisply sculpted cumulus clouds pinned across the cornflower blue sky.  The rhythmic sound of the motion from her bicycle pedals loosened a few lines of a favorite childhood poem from memory.


The owl and the pussycat went to sea

In a beautiful pea green boat

They took some honey, and plenty of money

Wrapped up in a five pound note


Edwina recited the rest of the poem under her breath, and locked her bike outside the new tearoom. She took in the warm baking smells and the delicate sound of china cups clinking onto their saucers, and gazed appreciatively at the splendid transformation from the old chocolate shop. 

A pine hutch stood at one end of the main room, displaying a colorful mixture of china cups and plates in a pleasing jumble of different patterns.  A collection of teapots marching in the same direction sat along the top of the hutch.  Hands buried in the pockets of her well-worn jeans, Edwina hovered over the display case gazing back and forth, finally deciding on a wedge of gingerbread, and a large cup of double bergamot tea.  She brushed aside her overgrown bangs in a reflexive gesture.

On her way out, Edwina recognized the plump-ish, middle-aged woman sitting at the corner table, but not her companion, who was, at that moment, digging into a square of frosted spice cake. Since the two were absorbed in conversation, Edwina decided not to interrupt them by stopping to say ‘hello’. 

Outside, Edwina unzipped a side pocket of her backpack and placed the wrapped gingerbread inside.  She braced the tea carefully inside the bicycle basket, wedging it securely next to her backpack, so it would not spill out of its covered lid.  She rode the rest of the way to campus, locked her bike, and gathering up her backpack and tea, bounded up to the third floor of the Physics and Astronomy Department, taking two steps at a time.  She would save the gingerbread until after the meeting.

The airy conference room on the top floor of Sanborn House hummed softly with conversation. Its tall sash windows overlooking the college green, and high, decorative ceiling with its ornate plaster moulding created an ambience of classical grandeur.  In a corner, preserved in a glass and mahogany box, dressed in his best suit of clothes, department founder Theodore Asa Sanborn (1778-1859) regarded Edwina as he always did––with a flirtatious smile.  Professor Sanborn had bequeathed his family fortune to Cushing College, stipulating in his will that he be present at all future department meetings.  Accordingly, he was wheeled out in his glass box for monthly meetings. An eminent figure in the scientific community in his day, Sanborn was mostly remembered these days for the remarkable number of illegitimate children he sired.


She looked up to see Professors Lois Lieberman and Seth Dubin, sitting together with Paolo Rossetti, motioning her over.

“Sit here,” Paolo said, moving over one seat to free up a chair for her. “You coming to the house for Gianni’s very first birthday party on Sunday?”

“Of course!” Edwina said.  “I wouldn’t miss it for the world.  Already did my birthday shopping––I hope he can use an eighty-millimeter refractor telescope,” she laughed.

“Check this out,” Paolo said excitedly, pulling a phone from his pocket. 

Edwina, Lois, and Seth huddled to watch a video on Paolo’s phone. It was of baby Gianni Rossetti, a meltingly beautiful boy with dark, curly hair. He smiled broadly and laughed as he walked a few steps, plopped down, walked a few steps, and plopped down, etcetera.  The group cooed appreciatively at this darling little fellow.

“Want Seth and me to pick you up on Sunday?” Lois Lieberman said.

“Yeah, great, thanks,” Edwina replied.


Cushing College was the kind of place a person could form a violent attachment to. Its sprawling campus, situated on hundreds of rolling acres at the foot of New England’s White Mountains, was like a much-admired landscape painting come to life––achingly serene in its ever-changing light.  The place had been Edwina’s home for some years now.  Her fondness for the physical landscape of the place was nearly equaled by her growing attachment to the friends she had made there.  She felt a great spirit of place there.

Head of Department, Professor Helen Mann, finally took her place at the front of the conference room.  Impeccably dressed in a couture suit of charcoal wool boucle, Professor Mann projected confidence and self-assurance. An angular, imposing-looking woman, she stood over six feet tall in high heels. As she peered
keenly around the room, her shining, black eyes and crepey neck, reminded Edwina of a giant turkey vulture.  

“Good morning!” Helen bellowed, bringing conversations to a halt.  She threw her head back and laughed heartily at a private joke, displaying an unusual number of sharpish teeth.

“Let me begin by saying, there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’!” she announced, silver bangle bracelets jangling loudly on her bony wrist. 

“That is to say, it’s all about working together for the good of the Department, and for the good of the college.  Let’s keep that in focus
––you all with me?” she rallied.

Professor Mann paused for dramatic emphasis, putting her large hands together in prayer fashion under her chin. Her engaging speaking style
––occasionally peppered with off-color jokes––was well known. The one about the cosmologist and the wormhole was still being repeated around the department.

“I can honestly say that Cushing is close to being able to boast the best physics and astronomy department in the country. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize and continue to roll up our sleeves!” 

“There may be no ‘I’ in ‘team,” she emphasized,  “but there’s definitely a ‘YOU’ in ‘revenue,’ and, based on the work that goes on in this department––thanks to all of you––this fiscal year we hope to achieve the biggest capital campaign ever!” 

Helen allowed her announcement to hang in the air for a few moments of imagined glory before she continued. Her eyes glistened like those of a holy roller.

“Now, then. I’m hearing some grumbling about course assignments,” she continued. “The deal is, we rotate teaching the lower level courses.  It goes with the territory; you all know that by now. These classes are as important as the graduate courses, folks. Our students have got to learn to crawl before they can walk––look, we’d all rather be playing with the particle accelerator, for chrissake! But the kids here at Cushing have got to be able to do calculus in their
before they go chasing after eigenvectors!”

This last remark drew mild chuckles from the audience.  Helen laughed heartily. 

Along with everything and everyone else, Helen Mann was not exactly as she appeared to be.  Sizeable fault lines in the foundation of her formidable persona had given way to a sudden leave of absence recently, after a visiting professor from Cambridge University (in fact an old paramour of hers) was found murdered on the Cushing campus.  Before his untimely death, Helen had hoped to rekindle the affair, but the murdered man’s return to America did not turn out that way.  In the end, it was Edwina Goodman who was instrumental in helping the New Guilford Police Department catch the killer.  Edwina who solved it.

Helen had returned from her medical hiatus stronger and more determined than ever. Indeed, her psychiatrists at the hospital had been amazed by her rapid recovery after the breakdown.  Helen cherished her position at the helm of Cushing’s Physics and Astronomy Department.  It would take a lot more than a psychotic episode to cut her tenure short. 

Like other theoretical physicists Edwina’s most productive time was spent thinking, and as usually was the case during Department meetings, her mind began to wander.  As Helen related details of the construction on the new lab building, Edwina hummed quietly, and pondered an endgame scenario to the universe known as The Big Crunch. Cosmic expansion would eventually stop, and gravity would slowly pull back in on itself. The universe would collapse under its own weight, at which time all matter would revert to primordial soup.  By and by, expansion would start all over again.  

Helen was chatting away. Edwina’s stomach growled. She thought of the scrumptious piece of gingerbread waiting for her. Maybe later she would take a walk into town, and have the excellent navy bean soup at Earl’s Cafe. Maybe she would run into Will Tenney there, the police detective she had worked with during the murder investigation.  Edwina and Will had seen each other a few times since then, but they hadn’t been in much touch recently. He seemed to pop into Edwina’s thoughts with some regularity.

Edwina’s mind continued to wander as Helen held forth about Department business. Very unexpectedly, Edwina found herself suddenly thinking about Helen Mann’s hair. As Professor Mann flitted around the conference room with remarkable agility, there was no sign of energy dispersion in her coif––indeed, it seemed to defy the laws of entropy. Its shape was perpetual, neither deflating nor shifting with movement.  Everything else in the universe was moving toward chaos, but not Helen’s hair, Edwina thought, smiling.  She wondered how such a consistent hairstyle was possible, if perhaps Helen wore some sort of helmet-like device when she slept that kept every hair in place.  Hairspray, of course, but what about a hair net––did women still wear hairnets? Or maybe Helen slept on her back, resting her neck on one of those wooden blocks so her head never actually touched the bed.  Edwina tried to imagine what Helen’s hair would feel like to the touch. Would it be sticky?  Smooth?  Brittle?  Would it crack or weaken if you jabbed it with a pencil? She had a terrific desire to conduct a spontaneous experiment, by throwing something at it just to see what would happen.

In the middle distance outside the conference room windows the unlikely sight of a rusted hubcap lodged in the branches of a chestnut tree diverted Edwina’s attention.  She peered at it curiously, squinting her eyes.  Imagining various scenarios that might have landed the object there, she began to estimate what the hubcap’s force and speed of impact would be when it eventually fell from the tree and hit the ground. Testing out different values in an algorithm for gravitational pull, Edwina made a mental prediction for the hubcap’s rate of wobble and spin upon impact.      

A silent vibration interrupted her calculations. She eased the phone out of her pocket. Paolo Rossetti peered over, and made out the following text message:


The Hitchcock Festival starts Friday night.  Want to go?


Edwina’s eyebrows rose, and she flicked her bangs to the side.


Dinner first?
she replied.

Meet you at Earl’s at 6,
came the response.


Edwina looked at Paolo.  He was grinning from ear to ear.

BOOK: Death by Hitchcock
6.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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