A fatal april shower, p.1
A Fatal April Shower, page 1
A Fatal April Shower
A Mt. Abrams Mystery
Copyright © 2017 by Dee Ernst
All rights reserved.
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All the characters in this book are the product of an overactive imagination. Any resemblance to a real person, living or dead, is a tremendous coincidence.
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Also by Dee Ernst
My mother’s birthday was April twentieth. Some years, we could celebrate out on my front porch, wrapped in light sweaters, and look at the faint blush of spring green spread around the lake. Some years, it rained so hard we could have taken a boat from my porch to the lake. And some years, we couldn’t go farther than the front room of her assisted living facility, The Fairview Manor, because the snow was too deep.
That was New Jersey for you.
This year, she was turning seventy-five, and I was throwing her a party, inviting all her friends from the old neighborhood, as well as those from The Manor, as she liked to call it. My brother, Ted, and his partner were flying in from Chicago. I had rented out the Lake Abrams clubhouse, and arranged for a very new and chichi party-planning company, Luxe, to take care of everything—food, set up, clean up, even the bartender.
Leona Rocca was going to have quite a party. Small, but mighty.
After going over the plans—again—with Vincenza Biondi, co-owner of Luxe, I was convinced that the entire affair would go off without a hitch.
Unless, of course, a foot or two of snow fell the day before.
Or there was a small flood.
Or my mother forgot who I was and refused to get in the car with me.
Or, once she arrived at the clubhouse, forgot who the event was for and started asking to be taken home early.
And she could always think that Marc and I were still married and ask him embarrassing questions, like, is it true you beat up my daughter? And, why are you sitting with that brazen hussy instead of your wife?
To be fair, my ex-husband’s new girlfriend did have a certain look about her that, to a person of a certain generation, screamed FLOOZY. And, in the past, Lou Lombardi had a reputation of going through men the way some of us went through cheap pantyhose.
But still. I was hoping for the best.
* * *
Vincenza looked exactly like a woman named Vincenza should look, with thick, dark hair, perfect makeup, a roman nose, and a body with more curves than the track at LeMans. She arrived wearing sunglasses despite the cloudy day, red stilettos, and wrote in a hot pink notebook with a flashing gold pen. She had taken a quick tour of the clubhouse and found it to be, in her words, a friggin’ delight.
Her voice was deep, almost masculine, a stark contrast to her very feminine appearance. She also had what I like to think of as the generic Movie New Yawk Accent. Possibly Brooklyn or Staten Island. Maybe the Bronx.
“Call me Enza,” she said. “And Ellie, honey, let me tell you, this place is perfect, and my staff is on top of this. Just get her here, and we’ll do the rest. You have nothing to worry about. Besides, this little town is like a Rockwell painting. I almost tripped over over a friggin’ red wagon walkin’ up here, swear to God. How can you even think that somethin’ could go wrong in a place like Mt. Abrams?”
Oh, Enza. If you only knew.
I walked every morning—weather permitting—with my good friends, Carol and Maggie. My best friend, Shelly, had gotten her hours changed at work and didn’t have the time in the morning to walk with us anymore. That’s what she told us, and we all nodded and said of course. We also knew she was lying, and why she was lying.
The man she had left her husband for had murdered Beth Graves, his ex-wife, by running her down in a blizzard. He would have gotten way with it, too, if I hadn’t been walking down the same road and realized that his story about not seeing Beth because it was too dark was a total line of BS. When I showed my boyfriend, Sam Kinali, who just happened to be the homicide detective working the case, what I had found, Sam called him on it. James Fergus could have turned himself in and gotten a good lawyer. He might have even been acquitted. But instead, he ran.
Shelly blamed me. Then, she didn’t, and she cried and said how sorry she was.
But things hadn’t been the same.
I missed her. After twenty years of practically living out of each other’s pockets, it was hard getting through the days knowing we were never going to be that close again.
Carol Anderson, tall, thin, gracious, and the head librarian at the Mt. Abrams Library, was particularly sensitive to the whole issue, and neither she nor Maggie mentioned Shelly once the weather broke, and we got back into our routine. But she wasn’t the type of person to pretend something didn’t exist just because it might be unpleasant.
“So, tell me about your mom’s party,” Carol said as we started out.
This particular April morning was cold but sunny, and the ground was hard and dry. Boot, the most spoiled cocker spaniel on the planet, was delighted to have growing things to smell again and sniffed every sprouting weed. “Well, about forty people, which is manageable, and the planner seems to be in complete control. Thank God for Ted, pitching in to help pay for this. She did not come cheap.”
Maggie, whose hair was dark pink right now, was doing some sort of arm-swinging routine as she walked. “They were written up in NJ Monthly, I think. Luxe Affairs? Very in demand right now.”
“Yep, that’s them. The owner, Enza, is right out of one of the Godfather movies. I mean, I’m Italian, but I’ll never be as Italian as she is. I kept waiting for her to give me her grandmother’s recipe for Sunday gravy. She lives in Morristown now, but grew up in Brooklyn, and it shows.”
“Did she have a driver named Vinnie?” Carol asked, smiling.
“No. She drove her own little black Mercedes. She seemed very nice and very competent, which is going to be a good thing. I’m going to be juggling too many personal things to be worrying about when the dessert gets served.”
“So, did you invite Shelly?” Carol asked.
Maggie stopped swinging her arms.
“Yes,” I said. “She says she can’t come, because she has the boys this weekend.”
“She had the boys this past weekend,” Maggie said.
“I know.” I heard the anger in my own voice and tried to tamp it down. “I saw them up at the mall. She didn’t see me, though.”
“And just how long is this going to last?” Carol asked. “Seriously. Do you two need an intervention?”
“We’re fine. We talked, and she understands why I had to tell Sam, and she understands that Sam could never not do his job, and she thanked him for giving James a chance to make it right—”
“Which he didn’t,” Maggie said. “What a jerk.”
“Yeah,” I said shortly.
We walked around the lake in silence. We were coming up on the Mitchell house, and noticed that the For Sale sign was down.
“It sold?” I said in surprise.
“Yep,” Maggie said. “Viv told me it’s a young couple with a newbor
“That’s nice,” Carol said. “Babies are always good for a neighborhood.” She looked sideways at me. “I’m going to say something to Shelly.”
“Please don’t. That will only make things worse.”
“No, dear. I don’t think so, because I can’t imagine things getting any worse. She went off the rails when she met James, and she needs a kick in the butt if she ever wants her life to get back to any kind of normal.” She sniffed. “I understand that you can’t give it to her. But I can.”
We’d stopped, and Boot tugged at the leash towards home.
“I don’t think we’ll ever get back to normal,” I said.
She leaned forward suddenly and hugged me tight. “Don’t worry,” she said as she stepped back. “I’ll get her to the party. You can take it from there.”
Maggie threw her arms around me as well. “Oh, Ellie. It’ll all come right in the end.”
I didn’t think so, but I didn’t say.
Boot tugged again, and I turned and walked home.
* * *
My brother, Ted, was an architect, and lived in Chicago with his partner of twelve years, Cal Winthrop, a very charming, WASPy man who was a professional photographer with lots of money. That wasn’t why Ted was with him, of course, but it sure didn’t hurt, because it meant that when he flew to Newark for our mother’s party, he flew first class and arrived in a great mood.
Ted looked just like me—dark eyes, short, dark, thick hair, and a bit more weight around the middle than was comfortable. Cal looked like a Winthrop—tall, almost willowy, with fair hair and pale blue eyes. They were both dressed as though they were traveling to the Arctic, in green parkas and furry boots from L.L.Bean.
“Is it snowing in Chicago?” I joked as I hugged Ted.
“Yes, as a matter of fact,” he said. “We got out just ahead of a blizzard.”
Cal stooped to give me a kiss. “Not really a blizzard,” he said. “Just eight or ten inches.” Cal grew up in the Midwest and needed at least a two-foot snowfall to be impressed.
They had matching carry-on bags in rich, dark leather, with a significant logo stamped discretely on the side.
“Well whatever it is, it better not make its way here, or we’re going to have a complete disaster on our hands,” I said. We went out the glass doors of the terminal and into the parking garage.
Ted took a deep breath. “Nothing smells quite like Jersey,” he said with a smile. “God, how I’ve missed it.”
We got in the car, out of the lot, and swung onto Rt. 78. “So, tell us about the party,” Cal said.
He wasn’t being shallow. He didn’t have to ask about my girls or work, because he listened in on my weekly calls to Ted and was up to date on all the latest.
“Thirty-seven RSVPs so far, which is pretty much the whole list. Aunt Rose and Aunt Gloria, of course.”
“Ah, the maiden aunts. Do they still live in Newark?” Cal asked.
My mother grew up in a small Italian section of Newark, NJ, and her two sisters, who never married, still lived in the same two-bedroom apartment where they’d all grown up. I’d been there several times as a kid and had loved their block—tree-lined and quiet, with brick four-family houses up and down the street. Despite the many changes Newark had gone through, their little neighborhood remained relatively unchanged.
“Yes, they do. In fact, remember Mr. Silvio, who lived next door to them? He’s coming, and I think another couple from the old neighborhood. Of course, Uncle Al and Aunt Emily, and their kids. The cousins from Bayonne, the cousins from Lyndhurst. The Calvaris, they were our neighbors growing up, remember them?”
Ted snorted. “My God, old home week.”
“A bunch of people from The Manor, and some Mt. Abrams people.”
“Will we meet Sam?” Cal asked.
I nodded. “Yep. And Marc’s new girlfriend. And Cait’s boyfriend. Man, you two haven’t been out here in a while.”
Ted sighed as he looked out the window. “Over a year, I guess. It gets away from you.”
I glanced at him. “That sounds pensive and thoughtful, two things you usually aren’t.”
He shrugged. I’m getting old, Ellie. I’ll be forty-five this year.”
“Ah. Yes. Then you begin the long, slow slide to fifty.” I grinned. “Once you get there, it’s not all that bad.”
From the back seat, Cal chuckled. “That’s what I keep telling him.” Cal was ten years older than Ted.
We pulled up to Lake Abrams just as the sun was reflecting off the water at a perfect angle, causing both men to sigh with happiness. I pulled into the drive and stood with them and watched the light play on the water.
“I’d never get used to that,” Cal said at last.
“I see it every day,” I told him, “and I’m always impressed.”
Once inside, after Boot went from stranger danger to happy recognition, we sat at the kitchen table and talked until Tessa came home, bubbling with excitement at the thought of her favorite uncle staying for the next five days. Then Cait came home, and I made cornbread to go with the chili that had been brewing in the Crockpot all day, and we ate and laughed, and I felt so good I almost forgot that my heart had been broken.
* * *
Since I would be picking up Mom on Saturday for her party, I had not planned on our weekly Friday lunch, but I did go with Ted and Cal to see her at The Fairview Manor the next day. The Manor had been quite a stately mansion when it was first built, right after WWI. It had been rehabbed, reshaped, and added on to until it was a top-notch assisted living facility that still managed to look like a grand country estate. Calling it The Manor was not out of line.
I didn’t know what Ted’s phone conversations with Mom were like. I knew that mine were always first thing in the morning, and only if she was having a good day, and her memory was somewhat intact. Some of our conversations had a slightly unreal aspect to them, like when she asked me about how I was feeling (because she thought I was pregnant), and why was I still commuting to New York everyday for work (I’d been working from home for years). My visits were also something of a crapshoot. Lately, she assumed I was a social worker, there to help her pack up and go back to the home she had sold years ago.
But when she saw Ted, she was right as rain. She was almost her old self, introducing Ted to everyone in the common room and flirting just a bit with Cal. Ted had been there before, of course, and pretty much all the residents who could remember him did, but Mom put on quite a show anyway. She was very proud of Ted, and made sure everyone knew it.
It’s an Italian thing. Sons are golden.
But when we sat down to lunch, things got strange.
My mother leaned in and lowered her voice. “Do you see that man over there? Sitting next to Justine?” She spat out the name Justine, her archenemy, although the poor woman was a helpless little thing that had done none of the things my mother enjoyed accusing her of.
Cal leaned in in solidarity. “Yes, Leona. What’s up with him?”
“He says his name is Dominick Tolino. I think he’s going to try to kill Roberta.” She leaned back, stabbed a carrot with her fork, and calmly put it in her mouth, chewing slowly.
Cal raised an eyebrow. “Oh? Who’s Roberta?”
He shouldn’t have been encouraging her, but I knew he was just trying to be the good guest.
“Roberta Dombrowski,” Mom said in a low voice. “The blonde at the last table.”
Of course, we all looked. Roberta looked ageless, with few wrinkles, hair tastefully done in pale ash blonde, and lots of gold on her fingers.
“Why?” Ted asked.
Mom glanced around. Now that the hubbub of Ted’s arrival had died down, we were pretty much being ignored by the other residents in the dining room. “He’s a retired gangster,” she whispered, “and Roberta knows his real name.”
I looked again at the accused. He could
“Mom,” I said. “Just because he’s Italian doesn’t mean he was in the mob.”
She rolled her eyes. “Of course not. My goodness, Ellie, do you take me for an idiot? That’s not what put Roberta on to him.” She speared another carrot, chewed, and swallowed slowly for effect. “It was the gat she found in his room.”
Ted frowned. “Gat?”
“Shh!” Mom waved at him to lower his voice. “Yes. Gat. You know. Gun. A 9mm, Roberta thinks.”
She looked smug.
“Ah, and what,” I asked slowly, trying to keep my voice from shaking with laughter, “was Roberta doing in his room in the first place?”
Mom turned slightly pink. “Well. They’ve been having sex for a while now, you know.”
No, I didn’t know. I kept my eyes on my chicken and bit my lip.
Ted cleared his throat. “Well, it’s nice to know that a healthy sex life doesn’t end at sixty. Or seventy.”
“Hush,” Mom said. “Don’t talk about sex at the table.”
“But. Mom,” Ted choked, “you’re the one…”
“Hush,” she repeated. I finally looked up. She was now beet red and cutting up her chicken with great care. “Justine is very jealous, of course,” she continued in a low voice. “I imagine she and Dominick are going to do it together.”
Justine was in a wheelchair and on oxygen. “What could Justine possibly contribute?” I asked. I know I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t resist.
“She can hide the gun in her lap and hand it off to him when the time comes,” Mom said, with an air of certainty.
by Dee Ernst have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes