Authors: Suzanne Young
Murder by Yew
Mainly Murder Press, LLC
PO Box 290586
Wethersfield, CT 06109-0586
Mainly Murder Press
Senior Editor: Judith K. Ivie
Copy Editor: Judith K. Ivie
Cover Designer: Patricia L.Foltz
All rights reserved
Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Mainly Murder Press
Copyright © 2009 by Suzanne Young
Published in the United States of America
Mainly Murder Press
PO Box 290586
Wethersfield, CT 06109-0586
This book is dedicated to Barbara G.
and to the memory of George L.
Why do you suppose she grew so many poisonous plants and shrubs in her yard, Benjamin?”
Balanced on the upper steps of a painter’s ladder, Edna Davies clipped away at the yew tree, one of a pair that stood sentry on either side of the front door of her recently purchased house.
Benjamin idly twitched his tail, quickly lapped three times at the ginger fur of his shoulder, then settled back to nap on the sun-warmed granite stoop.
Unperturbed by the cat’s silence, Edna continued to babble in rhythm to the clack of her large pruning shears. “I might under
… if they were
… to this
She knew that some species, like foxglove or the lily-of-the-valley that spread almost weed-like beneath the equally toxic rhododendron bushes, were native to the northeastern United States; but certainly, castor beans thrived in tropical climates and the oleander and jack-in-the-pulpit were more common to the South. How Mrs. Rabichek, the property’s previous owner and the “she” in question, got these plants to grow so far north was a mystery Edna was determined to solve.
When she and her husband Albert first looked at the Cape Cod cottage several months ago, Edna was thrilled by all the plantings. On the south side of the house was a kitchen garden, filled with herbs and vegetables. Closer to the edge of the property on that same end was a rectangular, more formal flower garden. Pots and hanging baskets dotted a flagstone patio that nestled into the southwest corner of the house, protected by the kitchen and mudroom ell.
Edna had planted tulips, daffodils, marigolds and other common border flowers around their house in the city when her husband still practiced in Providence and her children were growing, but she had been too busy with the social responsibilities of a physician’s wife to devote the attention she wished to gardening.
When Albert retired last year, she and he had spent considerable time searching for their ideal retirement home, driving from Rhode Island to South Carolina and back again before finding this three-acre property in their own home state. The locale had everything they enjoyed, from beaches to farms and woodlands. In nearby Kingston, the University of Rhode Island offered educational opportunities as well as plays and concerts, and the cultural wealth of Providence was available less than an hour’s drive away—close enough to take in an occasional dinner and play but far enough so Albert wouldn’t be constantly pestered by former patients stopping him on the streets to ask for “just an opinion, if you would, Doc.”
The mowed lawn immediately surrounding their new home was bordered on three sides by a stone wall, beyond which the west end of their property had been left uncultivated with apple, pear and peach trees sharing space with maples, oaks and evergreens. A grape arbor and raspberry bushes took up a good portion of the north side beyond the garage.
At first glance, the gardens looked unkempt, but closer inspection revealed a definite plan and design. Edna couldn’t believe her luck in finding a place that fit her dreams so perfectly, but the more she studied and learned about each plant, the more she began to wonder about the peculiar selections.
Along with all sorts of gardening tools in the shed behind the garage, Hazel Rabichek had left several spiral notebooks filled with comments, insights and recipes, as well as sketches of her garden designs. Edna, unschooled in other than bulbs and border flowers, was fascinated with the new world the journals opened up and had begun experimenting with concoctions and mixtures of her own.
At the moment, she was thinking of what she wanted to do with the lemon balm and mint she’d thinned out of the kitchen garden earlier that morning before she’d gotten sidetracked and decided to trim the unruly yew trees at the front door. Temperatures were warmer than usual for the middle of September, so Edna had dressed in a short-sleeved white blouse beneath a calf-length denim jumper. Leaning toward a particularly scraggly clump at the back of the six-foot evergreen, she felt the ladder begin to move with her.
Watch out!” A shout from below, accompanied by the abrupt halt of her perch’s pitch, nearly catapulted Edna into the upper branches.
Grabbing hold of the ladder, she managed to hang onto the shears, horrified at the thought that they might have dropped onto the head of her neighbor, who had materialized below.
“You should be more careful, Edna. A woman your age …”
“Never mind my age,” Edna snapped with more humor than anger at the lanky, redheaded woman. Mary Osbourne, in her mid-fifties, was only a dozen years younger than Edna.
She turned to descend the ladder when a movement across the street caught her eye. “Mary,” she said, pausing on the step, “there’s a police car following a tow truck up to the Sharps’ house. What do you suppose…?”
“Oh, shoot, they’re already here.” Mary tugged on the hem of Edna’s jumper. “That’s what I came to tell you. Quick. We don’t want to miss this.”
What is it?” Edna hurried to keep stride with Mary as they rounded the circular drive. She was puzzled by the woman’s urgency. In the two months she and Albert had lived in the cottage, Edna had seen this particular neighbor often but still didn’t know quite what to make of her.
Dressed in brown and green camouflage fatigues with a tan safari hat topping her mass of rust-red, shoulder-length curls, Mary would have been plain but for her brilliant green eyes. Nearly six feet tall with a lean frame, she towered over Edna, who had stopped measuring herself when she shrank from five-feet-five to five-feet-four-and-a-half inches at the same time she began to expand from a size ten to a fourteen.
Come on,” Mary repeated, ignoring Edna’s question. “You’ve got to see this.” Grabbing Edna’s hand, she pulled her toward a row of laurel bushes that screened the property from a winding two-lane road and lunged through branches heavy with stiff, oblong leaves. Edna, protecting her face from slapping twigs with her left hand, tried unsuccessfully to free herself. “Shhh,” Mary hissed, finally releasing her when they reached the periphery.
Opposite them, the land sloped gradually upward from the macadam. At the top of a low hill sat a two-story, white clapboard house with black trim and a wide front porch. The police car had stopped in the driveway beside the house, and beyond the black-and-white, a man wearing a blue coverall and baseball cap was attaching cables from the tow truck to a dark green SUV.
As the women watched from the shelter of the laurel, a woman in uniform went into the house while her partner stayed on the porch, watching the mechanic. Before long, the policewoman came back out holding on to Aleda Sharp, the wife and mother who lived there. As they stepped onto the porch, the second officer took the woman’s other arm, and they escorted her to the waiting police vehicle.
What’s going on?” Edna whispered, flicking her gaze toward Mary.
They’re taking her in. Shhh.” Mary’s eyes remained riveted on the scene across the street.
By the time Edna looked back at the house, Otto Sharp and his daughter were standing on the porch, staring after the trio. He was gesturing with his right hand, his left one immobilized by the clinging, stunned teenager. Words didn’t reach the two spies across the road, but from his tone, he was angry.
As Edna watched, mesmerized, the male officer opened the rear door of the car while his partner placed her hand on Aleda’s stylishly cut dark hair, protecting her head as she sank onto the back seat. Both officers then slid into the front of the patrol car, and the driver backed out onto the road several car lengths from where Mary and Edna stood. The tow truck followed, moving slowly down the slanted driveway with its load.
When the police vehicle passed them at the side of the road, the woman in the passenger’s seat smiled and held up her hand in mock salute. Edna felt the back of her neck grow hot at having been caught prying, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the bowed head of the woman in the back seat. When both vehicles had driven out of sight, she whirled on Mary.
Tell me what this is all about.”
They’re arresting her,” said the tall redhead, pushing through the foliage back the way she’d come.
I can see that.” Edna followed, leaving enough room this time so she wouldn’t get smacked with swinging branches. “What did she do?” she asked as soon as they reached the broken-shell drive, and she could walk beside Mary.
Hit and run.”
Edna’s hand flew up to her open mouth. “What? When?” she stammered. She had met the woman only twice, but she couldn’t imagine Aleda Sharp hitting someone with her car and not stopping. Aleda seemed so … so upstanding, she finally decided mentally.
Happened a couple days ago. Claims she didn’t know she’d hit anyone. Ask me, she was probably on her cell phone at the time. She’s always on her cell phone, driving around town.”
Who’d she hit?”
Codfish?” Edna didn’t think she’d heard right. “She hit a fish?”
Not a fish—
. Codfish McKale. He’s an old fisherman … at least, he used to be until arthritis crippled him so bad he couldn’t haul the lines in anymore. He hangs around town, doin’ odd jobs and drinkin’ up his earnings.”
Was he badly injured?”
He was unconscious when they got him to the South County hospital night before last, but I haven’t checked on his condition since. I’ll find out when I go to work. I volunteer there on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I’m going in at noon today.”
How did they know it was Aleda that did it?” Edna couldn’t get the picture of the woman’s bowed head out of her mind.
Witness finally came forward. Seems like Codfish was crossing the street to the diner where he eats supper sometimes. Waitress having a cigarette break says she saw him step out from between two cars just as Aleda drove by.”
Didn’t she tell this to the police when it happened?”
Claims she didn’t want to rat out Ms. Sharp. Their daughters go to school together, and she didn’t want to get involved. Thought Aleda would go to the police herself.”
Why did the witness finally decide to come forward?” Edna had never known anyone who had been arrested before and was surprised, then felt guilty to realize she had a morbid curiosity about the whole affair.
Says her conscience was bothering her. She hasn’t been able to sleep, seeing Codfish lying in the road like he was.”
How do you know all this?”
Mary smiled self-consciously. “Friends on the force. I also listen to a police scanner. It was my father’s from when he was a volunteer fireman.”
What will happen to her?” Edna couldn’t seem to curb her inquisitiveness. “What if she’s telling the truth, that she didn’t know she’d hit someone? Could it be possible?”
Mary shrugged. “Maybe, but ignorance is no excuse. They’ll probably charge her with reckless driving, endangerment—maybe even vehicular homicide, if old Codfish dies.” Then she added matter-of-factly, “She’ll have to do jail time.”
How awful.” Wondering if Mary might be the type of person who over-dramatized situations, Edna nonetheless fell silent as she headed slowly back to her ladder beside the yew tree. The vision of Aleda in the back of the patrol car hung in her mind. The energy with which Edna had previously attacked her chore was gone, but she bent and picked up the shears from the ground where she’d dropped them in her haste.
How come you’re doing the pruning?” Mary asked. “Haven’t you hired Tom to do this?” She sat on the stoop next to Benjamin, wrapping her arms around her drawn-up knees.
Edna stepped back and studied the yew. Scraps of green branches, twigs and needles lay scattered beneath the tree. “Tom’s busy getting the window frames and shutters painted before winter,” she said, trying to decide whether to take more off the sides, then added distractedly, “I got tired of waiting for Albert to do this.”
Where is he? He missed all the excitement.” Mary stroked the cat as she looked up at Edna.
Off to the airport, early. He’s going to Chicago this weekend to a three-day conference for family practitioners. They’ve asked him to be on a childbirth panel.”
Thought he retired.”
Me, too,” Edna said as she clipped the end of a low branch, then stood back again, gazing at Mary as she warmed to the new topic. “Especially after we moved here so as not to be constantly running into his patients.”
But you’ve lived here only, what, two months? Maybe it’ll take him a while to get used to not doctorin’.”
Edna didn’t want Mary to get the idea she was unsympathetic. “He sold his practice over a year ago. That should be time enough to at least start letting go.” She watched Mary turn her attention to Benjamin and begin to scratch behind his ears. Thinking she might be boring the woman with her prattling, Edna returned to her task, trading the big shears for a set of hand clippers that she used to cut off some branch ends that still stuck out.