Authors: Elaine Macko
Tags: #An Alex Harris Mystery
I had rearranged the tray of hors d’oeuvres about twenty times. I caught Sam’s eye and knew she knew I was listening to the conversation so I thought I might as well just jump right in.
“So you’ve been here for several years. Are you here permanently?”
Tom stood next to his wife’s chair with his hand still resting on her shoulder and the other one holding a glass of Coke. “We’re not sure, Alex. We have some plans in the works that might take us back to the states. If they don’t work out, we’ll be here indefinitely.”
“Don’t be so modest, Tom. My husband is up for a promotion. We should be hearing any day now whether he gets it or not, though I can’t see any reason why he wouldn’t.”
“Really, Jobeth. Nothing is final yet,” he said with an edge to his tone. “I’m afraid, Alex, my wife has an over-inflated sense of my worth. You see, the church is looking for someone to head up the West Coast branch of our world mission program and the talk is I’m the most likely choice.” Tom’s chest inflated just a bit, with pride or gas from the Coke, I couldn’t be sure.
“What religious affiliation are you associated with?” Jobeth asked, looking from Sam to me.
I feared a sermon would be coming next if I told Jobeth I didn’t go to church anymore so I simply said we were Catholic. Which was the truth, after all. I had been raised Catholic, did the communion and confirmation thing, and hadn’t Meme taken me to play bingo in the church’s basement when I was little almost every weekend? That had to account for something.
Jobeth sighed, the disappointment on her face showing slightly. “I see. Well, how long are you planning on being in town? Perhaps you and your husband and you, too, Sam, might like to come to one of our services.”
“Well, we’re pretty much booked up. So much to see and do.” Sam swung her head from side to side. “And my sister is on her honeymoon. I’m not sure she’d like to spend it in church.”
“Well, you’re always welcome. Here’s one of our cards. The address is right there,” Jobeth pointed with her pudgy finger. “I hope you’ll be able to come by and hear Tom speak before you leave. His sermons are very powerful.”
Sam and I excused ourselves.
“Jesus. What was that about me being on my honeymoon?”
“Well, you are.”
“And I can’t go to church?”
to go to church? It was the first thing I could think of.”
“Okay. Thanks,” I said with a smile. “You’re right. I don’t want to go to church. Honeymoon or not.”
“Who are all these people?” Sam looked around at the backyard which seemed to be filled with wall-to-wall people.
“Mostly people Bill works with. It’s a regular United Nations. His company must be very international. There are two Belgian couples and a couple from the Netherlands and I think two are English. The rest are Americans. I’ve been talking with Malcolm and Jane Tillingsworth,” I said with an exaggerated English accent. “Most boring! Don’t know it though. He’s okay, I guess, but she’s a snob. And a
weird dresser. Oh, no! Here she comes. Have fun! Ta ta.” I took off in search of my husband and something to eat.
Several hours later a group gathered on the lawn in an attempt to burn off the calories of the grilled chicken and Belgian sausages by playing a vigorous game of volleyball. Volleyball was never a game I enjoyed playing. Or watching. Actually, I wasn’t a sports fan by any means. So for the second time today I found myself sitting next to Martine Cassé.
“You do not play dis game?” The young Belgian nodded toward the group.
“No, I’m afraid it’s not my cup of tea.” I had noticed Martine earlier sitting alone eating her meal, her husband preferring to eat elsewhere. Obviously, they hadn’t sorted out whatever was bothering them. As a matter of fact, Martine didn’t seem to be very popular with anyone. Both Donna Parmelee and Jane Tillingsworth had exchanged words with her earlier that most definitely were not warm greetings. I would have to ask Wanda about it. Not that it was any of my business, but I happen to be nosy, so I figured this justified my sticking my nose in other people’s business.
Martine and I sat in silence watching the game for a few minutes before I spoke again. “Martine, forgive me if I’m overstepping my bounds, but I can’t help notice something is terribly wrong. Would you like to talk? Sometimes it helps.”
Martine stared out into the yard for so long I was afraid I had offended the young woman. I had to remember Europeans were not so open, especially with someone they’d just met.
“You are very kind, but no.” She sat there a few minutes more before sighing and looking back at me. “I’m sorry to say dat Americans are not dah only ones to suffer marital discord no matter what your divorce rates might indicate.”
“Divorce. Martine, I’m so sorry.”
“Do not be. It is not a certainty. But we have many dings to work at. It’s difficult, no, being married?”
“Well, I wouldn’t know. You see, actually, I’m on my honeymoon. John and I just married last weekend,” I said trying to conceal my obvious happiness at a time when someone else was so distraught.
“I am very pleased for you. I’ve been watching dah two of you and your happiness is very evident. I wish you a long and happy marriage.” Martine gave me a small smile before looking back to where her husband and Tom Mulberry were conferring on the next shot. “Sometimes I wish I never met him. I’m sorry, Aleex, you’ll have to excuse me.”
Martine jumped up and ran into the house. I wasn’t sure if I should follow but decided to let her be. Instead I went in search of Wanda and a few answers.
The kitchen of the huge house faced the backyard and through the large window I saw Wanda standing by the sink. As I approached, I saw Donna Parmelee standing next to her. Donna’s voice was raised and I could hear perfectly if I leaned against the outer wall to the side of the window, which of course, I did. From this vantage point, neither woman in the kitchen could see me.
“I can’t believe you invited Martine, Wanda. Whatever were you thinking?”
“I’m sorry, Donna, but she does work for Bill and he would’ve thought it a bit odd if I had asked him not to invite her, don’t you think?” Wanda said with a consoling tone to her voice.
“Then you haven’t told him?” Donna asked then, her tone returning to normal.
“Of course not! I promised you.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry. I just hope she leaves soon. If I have to look at her too much longer, I think I’ll kill myself. Or maybe her.”
I heard the sound of footsteps coming from the kitchen and turned to walk away but ran smack into Jane Tillingsworth.
“Alex, not playing? Don’t blame you there. It seems a rather pointless game.”
“Yeah, kind of like cricket and billiards,” Sam said as she came up behind us.
Jane pushed a strand of hair from her face, though from the looks of one of the oddest haircuts I had ever seen, it probably belonged right where it was. Jane wore a black and white checked blouse with a pair of red and white striped pants. Though she wasn’t fat, her face was very round and could be quite pretty if she chose to get rid of the scowl.
“What my sister means,” I gave Sam a disapproving look, “is we don’t understand English sports.”
“No, I would imagine you wouldn’t. Not barbarian enough for Americans, I should imagine. Well, maybe before you leave I can give you a few lessons on our more refined sport.”
“And maybe we could give you a few tips on manners,” Sam said.
I rolled my eyes. I was about to intercede before an international crisis broke out, when we were joined by Paul Cassé.
“Excuse me. Have you seen my wife?” He glared at Jane. They stared at each other for a few seconds before Jane shook her head in disgust and walked away.
“I was speaking with her a while ago,” I volunteered. “I think she went into the house about fifteen minutes ago.”
“Thanks. I’ll go check. Perhaps she’s resting.”
“Now what was that all about?” Sam asked.
“I’ve heard the French and English don’t get along well, but these two seem to really hate each other. And I don’t think Jane is fond of Martine, either. I saw them talking earlier and it didn’t seem to be a pleasant exchange.”
“Not that. What were you doing listening to Wanda and Donna?”
My face flushed. “Damn. I didn’t want anyone to see me. I’ll tell you later. Come on. I think the Dutch couple is leaving. Let’s go say good-bye. And Sam,” I added, “Try not to say anything disparaging about tulips.”
A short while later we stood saying our good-byes to the Westlakes and thanked them for a wonderful day.
“What’s that smell?” Wanda asked, sniffing at the air.
But before anyone could answer, Paul Cassé ran out of the house, screaming something in French.
“What on earth.” Wanda left the group and went over to Paul. “Calm down! What’s wrong, for heaven’s sake?”
But the man kept yelling in French despite the fact his English was perfect. Another Belgian couple walked over to Paul and looked at Wanda. “He says to call dah police! His wife has been murdered!”
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” I said getting the evil eye from Jobeth.
At the word
, my husband, John Van der Burg, sprang into action. I could almost see a small smile on his face. Geessh. What did I get myself into marrying a cop? First, he ran around the house into the front where the Parmelees were just pulling out. He told them to come back inside, sure the local police would want to talk with everyone present at the cookout. Second, he went into the house with me following to the small powder room where Paul had found his wife. Martine lay on the hard tile flooring with one leg up resting over the edge of the toilet, her foot dangling in the water. Both her hands were up around her neck as if clutching at something. Her eyes were open and she stared directly up at the ceiling. She had a red welt across her face and deep red marks across her throat, indicating she had been strangled, but other than the cord on the blinds covering the small window above the toilet, nothing else in the small room looked as if it could have been used to strangle the young woman.
“John, the police have been called. They should be here shortly.” I tried not to look at Martine. “It’s true, isn’t it? She’s been murdered?”
John turned and closed the door behind him. “Yes, it’s true. She’s been strangled or maybe her throat’s been cut. I can’t tell and I don’t want to move her. It’s not a pretty sight.”
My eyes misted. “I spoke with her just a while ago.”
“Come on. Let’s go wait for the police.” John put a protective arm around my shoulders. We walked out to the back where the remaining members of the cookout sat.
“What the hell is going on?” Bill asked, his loud voicing taking on new dimensions.
“Martine has been murdered. I think we should all wait here until the police arrive.”
“But we were just leaving,” Donna Parmelee protested.
“I’m sorry, you have to wait for the police.”
“Excuse me, mate. But what gives you the right to tell us when we can or cannot leave?” Malcolm Tillingsworth asked.
“He’s a police detective. He knows about these things,” Wanda said. “Why don’t I go make another pot of coffee and some tea?”
“I’ll help,” I offered.
“Me, too.” Sam followed us into the kitchen where Wanda slumped against the counter and buried her head in her hands. “I can’t believe this! Who on earth kill Martine?”
Before I could form an answer and a few questions myself, mainly about what Donna and Wanda had said earlier, a fight broke out in the backyard. We went to see what was going on.
“Which one of you killed my wife!” Paul, who had been sitting alone across the yard, screamed.
“Us?” Jane asked. “You were the last one to see her. We have only your word she was already dead when you found her!”
“Calm down! Please.” John stepped between Jane and Paul. “The police should be arriving at any time now. We’ll get to the bottom of this soon. Please. Everyone. Why don’t we just sit and wait.” John turned toward me. “How about that coffee?”
The thoughts of the silent group sitting around the patio were broken by police sirens. I heard several car doors being slammed. Bill went around to the front of the house and a few minutes later came back with what seemed like an army of men.
Bill introduced the man in charge as Inspector Gerard Willix. The inspector was a portly man of about forty-five with a rounded face and a rather large nose. He had a head of rapidly receding hair but despite his appearance and the seriousness of the situation, he looked like a man who liked to have fun—and a few beers judging from his waistline.
“Gerard Willix, Willix. Why does his name sound familiar?” John asked me in a hushed tone.
I looked at him and whispered back, “I don’t know. Unless you came to Belgium without me, I don’t know how you would know him,” I said absently, trying to focus on what was going on.
“Inspector Willix, this is John Van der Burg. He’s a friend visiting from America. He’s a police detective in his home town in Connecticut,” Bill said by way of introducing the two men. “He’s kept everyone away from the crime scene.”
“Connecticut. Yes, I know this place. I have good friends in Massachusetts.”
“Of course. That’s how I know you. You’re a good friend of Ken Clark.”
“You know Ken?” asked the inspector looking amazed.
“I worked with him up in Boston for about ten years. I worked on a case last year involving smuggled diamonds and—”
“That was you?” Inspector Willix asked in awe. “
! You were very instrumental in helping us to conclude one of our own long-standing cases. I cannot believe this!” The inspector put one hand on John’s shoulder and pumped his hand with the other. “What a small world this truly is!”
“I say, if you don’t
.” Malcolm Tillingsworth walked over to the two men. “We’ve been waiting quite a while and would like to go home.”