by Bern Sy Moss
Enjoy this never before published Thanksgiving mystery short story!
There I was at Sam’s Club using the one-day pass I found on the internet when my backside took aim. I bent over to retrieve paper towels and bumped the shopper across the aisle bending over for paper napkins. I’m a big girl and what seemed to me like a slight bump apparently was much more to her. It sent her flying to the floor.
“Sorry,” I said as I helped her up.
“No, problem,” she said in a tone clearly implying I was a problem.
I looked down from my six-foot-three height to the exact opposite of me, a short fragile person with a skeleton like body and thin, wispy grayish blond hair. Her blue eyes, like two LED lights in her thin pale face, scrutinized me.
Hey, I know those eyes. They’re exactly like mine.
“It’s me, Amanda. It’s Suzy, your cousin,” I said.
She stared at me for a while. Granted we only saw each other at funerals every few years, my grandfather’s, my mother’s, her mother’s, and Amanda’s husband. About the only ones left in the family were Amanda, her two unmarried daughters, and me.
She kept studying my face, and I was beginning to think the only way she could recognize me was in a funeral setting, when she finally said, “Yes, Suzy it’s you. What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Shopping,” I said.
Why else would I be at Sam’s Club?
That’s it Amanda, I thought, get right to the point. Remind me I’m the have not in the family just in case I might have forgotten.
“Only fifty, same as you and…” I hesitated and finally blurted out, “no, I have my own business.”
“Really? What on earth could you be doing?”
“Well, I… I’m a private investigator,” I said.
Where did that come from?
But then I thought, it’s just a little white lie and could do no harm. I changed the subject fast, hoping I wouldn’t have to give her details.
“Haven’t seen you since Joe’s funeral,” I said. “That was really a tragic accident.”
“They killed him, they killed their own father, and now they’re trying to kill me.”
“Huh? Who’s trying to kill you?”
I knew about the money, the family fortune. The inheritance my mother and I were excluded from when that baby bump, me, could no longer be hidden, and my grandfather banished her from the house, his life, and the money. It was a different time when being unmarried and pregnant carried a stigma like a disgusting disease. Apparently, an incurable one, I was never included in any of the family functions except the funerals.
“I’m sure you’re wrong,” I said.
“No, I know. The umbrella on the stairs, it should have been on the porch. I fell but caught myself and only sprained my ankle.” She pointed down.
I looked down to her bandaged ankle.
“There are other things,” she continued. “You’re a private investigator. You can help me. Come to the house next week for Thanksgiving.”
I was astounded. I had never been in the house, the house Grandfather built. The mansion my mother would drive by lamenting what she lost, but always telling me I was worth what it cost her. My thoughts were racing, an invite to the house, but under the false pretense of being a private investigator.
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe, next time,” I said.
“There may not be a next time. I need your help now. We’re having turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and homemade cranberry sauce. I don’t like stuff out of a can. I’ll tell my daughters I bumped into you and thought it would be nice to include you. Don’t tell them you’re a private investigator. Oh, and bring a side dish.”
With that, she grabbed the handle of the shopping cart and limped toward the checkout, and I, on the other hand, strutted my stuff, as if every guy in the world was watching, and made my way to the frozen food section.
Turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and homemade cranberry sauce. Even my own mother never cooked like that, depending instead on frozen dinners to sustain us. When she died, I picked up where she left off and continued to my find my sustenance in frozen foods and take-out.
My gut said don’t do this, but my gut also said I really want to know what homemade cranberry sauce tastes like. So, Amanda was getting a little nutty. I was sure her daughters weren’t trying to kill her, but I couldn’t believe my luck. One little white lie, and I’m invited to a real Thanksgiving dinner at Grandfather’s house with my family. I was salivating at the thought of it.
I called Helen as soon as I got home. She washed dogs in the slot next to mine.
“Helen, I need help. I need a side dish. You’re the expert on Thanksgiving. You do it every year. What is the most popular side dish?” I asked.
“Three years and not anymore. I emailed them all and told them my husband has ABCD and needs quiet. Cannot be disturb,” she said.
“Oh, no, will he be ok?”
“I made it up. It takes me three weeks to clean the house after those Thanksgiving dinners. Last year, I needed to replace the carpeting and some of the furniture. I’ve had it. Thirty people, more family than I need or even want.”
“I really need help with this side dish. I’m going to spend Thanksgiving with my family.”
“Suzy, your mother is dead.”
“My cousin invited me to the house, Grandfather’s house.”
“The house your mother used to drive by all the time?”
“That’s the one.”
“Your cousin actually called and invited you to dinner?”
“No, I bumped into her at Sam’s Club, and she invited me.”
“She just invited you? After all these years? That’s weird.”
I really didn’t want to go into the details and asked again, “What’s the most popular side dish?”
“Have you got the recipe?”
“You never make candied yams or sweet potatoes to take to someone else’s Thanksgiving dinner. It’s an unwritten law.”
“But you said it’s the most popular and Amanda said turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and homemade cranberry sauce. No sweet potatoes. No candied yams.”
“It’s a given. It will be there. It’s always the hostess specialty. It would be a territorial infringement. You just don’t do it.”
“Then what do I do?”
“The second most favorite.”
“Really? That’s the second.”
“I’m sure it is.”
“How do you know?”
“I know it is.”
“Wouldn’t I tell you if it wasn’t?”
“But how do you know?”
“Because every Thanksgiving five aunts each brought a green bean casserole to my house.”
“Is it hard to make?”
“Have you got a can opener?”
“Are you capable of opening a few cans?”
“That’s alI? Really? Doesn’t sound like a lot of work. Maybe you could make it for me?”
“You can do this. Put the can opener to the metal and do it, Suzy. It’s not hard.”
And so I did.
The house looked smaller than I remembered from my mother’s drive-bys and not very well kept up. Weeds were poking through the pavers on the driveway, paint was peeling on the window frames, but I was thrilled to be there. I rang the doorbell and waited. After what seemed like a decent amount of time, I rang it again. Still no one. This time I used the door knocker. Finally, the door opened.
“I’m Suzy. Amanda invited me for Thanksgiving,” I said.
“Yes, I’m Missy. Mother just surprised me with the news a minute ago. I thought it was a delivery. Rules are they deliver in the back, and if they can’t observe the rules, well, they can just take the delivery and go. I don’t answer the front door for them.”
“Well, I’m not the deliveryman,” I said.
“I see,” she said.
We stood there checking each other out like two dogs minus the sniffing. The only other time I remember ever seeing her and her sister was five years ago at her father’s funeral when they were probably teenagers. She resembled her mother, thin and fragile, the same wispy, blond hair, and the eyes, my eyes.
“Mother said you were a cousin. How are we related?”
“My mother and your mother were sisters.”
She looked me up and down as to emphasize what she was about to say. “Amazing we could be related.”
When she opened the door wider, I could see Amanda in her robe, her ankle still bandaged.
“Suzy, you’re here. You’re so early. Well, you might as well come in,” Amanda said.
“You said two,” I said.
“No one comes on time. Don’t you know that,” she said. “Missy take her coat.”
Missy took my coat and threw it on a chair in the foyer.
I looked around at what was denied to me for fifty years. Dark wood framed everything in the foyer. A staircase ascended to the second floor, the carpeting on the stairs looked original to the house, dirty and worn. The marble on the floor was cracked and water stains marked the walls. I inhaled deeply expecting to be salivating beyond control from the intoxicating smell of a turkey roasting somewhere in the house. Instead, it just smelled like an old musty house.
Amanda bent slightly forward and placed her hand on her chest. “I seem to be experiencing a bit of indigestion,” she said.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
“Yes, just a little indigestion. What do you have there?”
“Green bean casserole,” I said.
“Yes, green bean casserole,” she said. She didn’t seemed pleased. Didn’t she know it was the second most popular side dish? The one side dish more guests bring to Thanksgiving than any other dish.
She took it from me and limped into the dining room. I followed. She placed the casserole on the dining room table.
“The caterer hasn’t come yet,” she said.
“Sit, sit,” she said to me. She waved me to the far end of the table.
“Missy, tell your sister our company has arrived. I’ll find out where the caterer is,” she said and limped away.
I sat at the solitary setting at one end, three others at the other end for Amanda and her daughters, I guessed. The tablecloth looked as though it experienced many dinners and not much in the way of washings. On it, two large candelabras lit the very long table set for four. A large knife and fork suitable for carving the turkey were next to my green bean casserole. Chipped dishes marked each place setting; the silverware, a fork, a spoon and a steak knife dumped unceremoniously on paper napkins next to the plates.
A steak knife? I thought we were having turkey.
I sat and waited. And waited. For all I knew the daughters could be killing off Amanda as I sat there. My only hope was they would at least wait until the food arrived even if it wasn’t the Thanksgiving dinner I expected.
The doorbell rang, but neither Amanda nor her daughters answered it. It rang again. Damn, I thought, I don’t care if the caterer comes through the front door or through the window. I’m going to get a meal out of this if it kills me.
I opened the door and showed him to the dining room. He unpackaged the food and laid out the turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and the homemade cranberry sauce on the table. But no candied yams or sweet potatoes.
“Nice house, lady,” he said as I let him out.
“Thank you. I’ve lived here my whole life,” I answered, “or should have,” I said under by breath.
Then I sat down and waited. I broke off a piece of the turkey and nibbled on it. I picked at the ends of the stuffing.
Where were they?
Finally, I heard them in the foyer. “You should have told us, Mother,” Missy said in what seemed to be a continuation of an ongoing disagreement.
“But I did tell you,” Amanda said, her hand on her chest again as they entered the dining room.
“Yes, when the door bell rang you told us,” Sissy snapped. She was a duplicate of her sister and her mother, the same eyes and thin on everything else.
“Well, we’ll have to make the best of the situation,” Missy said to Sissy. “I don’t think we’re dealing with the smartest puppy in the litter.”
They both turned and looked at me.
“Mother, she’s sitting in father’s place,” Sissy said.
“He doesn’t need it. He hasn’t shown up in the last five years, and I doubt very much he’ll pop out of his coffin and show up today,” Amanda said.
Amanda came around the table and reached for the carving tools. She over reached and caught herself just missing my green bean casserole. She pushed herself up and grabbed a chair to steady herself. She was breathing hard.
“Are you all right, Amanda?” I asked.
“She’s all right,” Sissy snapped.
“Sit down, Mother. I’ll do it.” Missy pushed away from the table, reached for the carving set, and began carving. Amanda sat down in the nearest chair, her face pale.
“Mother, you’re supposed to be sitting here,” Sissy said.
Amanda got up and slowly made her way around the table.
“Amanda, are you okay?” I asked again.
“She’s okay,” both Missy and Sissy snapped.
Missy was jabbing the carving knife into the turkey and chunking off pieces. Although, having never seen a turkey like this before, with its legs, wings, and everything attached, I somehow knew she wasn’t doing it right, thinking slicing meant slices should be the result not chunks.
When she finished, they passed the dishes among themselves. I got up to fill my plate since everything ended up at their end of the table, wondering if two or three turkey pot pies and a can of cranberry sauce with a rented movie would have been a lot more satisfying.
When we finished, Amanda said, “Suzy, owns her own business.”
“Really?” Sissy asked and looked to me. “What kind of business?”
I opened my mouth to answer, but stopped. Should I lie and tell them I was a private investigator. No, Amanda said not to tell them that white lie, so it was time to tell a new one.
“I own several dog salons,” I said.
“Yes, mother told us years ago you washed dogs,” she said.
Wasn’t she paying attention?
“No, I own the salons. I don’t wash the dogs.”
“Whatever,” Missy and Sissy said in unison.
I looked over at Amanda who seemed to be experiencing some difficulty breathing, but I thought, what does it take to impress these two?
“What do you two do?” I asked.
“Nothing,” Sissy said, “and somehow it takes up all our time.”
It was about then when Amanda’s face fell into her plate.
“Amanda, are you alright? Call an ambulance,” I screamed at the sisters. “Where’s the phone? I’ll call.”
“You will not,” Missy said.
“I think she’s having a heart attack. Call an ambulance,” I said.
“She is having a heart attack, and we will wait until it’s over.”
“Are you crazy? She could be dead.”
“I sure hope so,” Sissy said.
I got up and started for the foyer to retrieve my cell phone from my coat.
“Sit down,” Missy said. She picked up the carving knife and was holding it in a way that said, ‘you’re next, turkey.’
“But you can’t let her die,” I pleaded.
“What are we going to do about her?” Sissy asked Missy as she nodded in my direction.
“Suzy, you are a problem. Mother didn’t tell us about you until the doorbell rang. By then Sissy had given her the overdose of digitalis. We thought we would have our last Thanksgiving dinner together, call the ambulance when we confirmed Mother’s passing, and no one would have been the wiser. Many people die over the holidays. She had history. No one would have given it a second thought. But now there’s you,” Missy said.
“But why?” I looked from one to the other. “Why?”
Missy slammed her hand on the table, “Look around. The money is running out, and Mother has a very nice insurance policy. We really need the money. What are we supposed to do? Get a job? Wash dogs?”
“There are worse things in life than washing dogs,” I said. “Your mother said you two killed your father. She was right, wasn’t she?”
“Oh, you know about that, too, but apparently she forgot to tell you, it was her idea. The money from his insurance got us through for a while, but now it’s almost gone. We really need the money. You understand don’t you,” Sissy said.
“Sure, I understand,” I said gnawing on my bottom lip and trying to pacify them. “Look, I just came for the turkey, stuffing, pie, and oh, the homemade cranberry sauce. But I have to tell you, I am disappointed. No candied yams. That’s the most popular side dish in case you didn’t know. How about I just make myself a doggy bag and be on my way? We can all forget I was even here.”
“We can’t let her leave,” Sissy said, “but what will we do with her body? There’s a lot of her.”
“We can figure that out later,” Missy said. She stood up and started to make her way around the table to me, the carving knife in her hand raised and ready.
I slid my hand over the steak knife at my place setting. It was up to me to save myself. I threw it and hit Missy in the arm leaving a little scratch. I moved around to her place setting. She followed me around the table. I picked up her knife, aimed and threw it at her missing entirely. I came around to Amanda’s plate, but her body covered her utensils. They were both laughing at me now.
Sissy picked up her knife and handed it to me. “You know you are very amusing,” she said.
I took aim and sent it flying knowing it was my very last chance. I was aiming for her heart, but hit Missy in the neck. I didn’t care, I finally hit something. Blood was oozing from the wound and dripping on her blouse. She staggered back a few steps, hit the wall, and slid down.
Sissy ran to her and pulled out the knife. More blood.
“Look what you did. Is this how you show your appreciation for our hospitality?” Sissy screamed at me.
She pulled the carving knife from Missy’s hand and came at me. I picked up the turkey carcass and threw it at her hitting her in the head—finally hitting something I was aiming at. It threw her off balance long enough for me to rush her. I shoved her to the floor and came down on her with all of me as hard as I could. Only her head, legs, and arms were sticking out, the rest of her tiny body covered by me.
“Had enough?” I asked.
“Answer me, Sissy. Have you had enough?” I asked again.
It didn’t take me long to realize she was dead too. I pulled myself up on a nearby chair and bumped into the table. One of the candelabras teetered and fell starting the tablecloth on fire. It was beyond washing and needed to be burned anyway.
I started to run from the dining room, ran back, grabbed my green bean casserole, retrieved my coat from the foyer, got in my car, and raced home.
Later when she asked, I told Helen I didn’t go to the dinner at grandfather’s house. There were no questions from the police. No one seemed to know I was there, and that was all right with me.
It’s a year later and about a week since an attorney contacted me. He told me I’m the only surviving member of the family. I acted surprised, and I think he bought it. I’m entitled to make a claim on Amanda’s insurance. He won’t tell me how much, but apparently, it’s enough to kill for. The house was a total loss from the fire, but the property seems valuable enough for me to live a comfortable life for quite awhile.
I’m having my normal Thanksgiving dinner, three turkey potpies and canned cranberry sauce. I have a frozen pumpkin pie in the oven with a green bean casserole. I whipped up some sweet potatoes. It’s my dinner, and I’m entitled. Maybe, I’ll melt some marshmallows on top. Yes, I have become quite a gourmet cook.
The TV is on, and they’re rehashing how Amanda’s and her daughters’ murders are still unsolved noting it’s the first anniversary of that “terrible Thanksgiving,” His words not mine, but I have to agree.
“At first,” the newsman is saying, “it was thought Amanda killed her daughters, and then committed suicide by taking a fatal overdose of digitalis, but further investigations have proven this was not true. Now the caterer has come forward with additional information. He originally stated Amanda let him into the house identifying her by her unusual blue eyes.”
A news clip is now playing showing the caterer interviewed by a reporter.
“Yes, yes, I told the police a year ago a woman with eyes like blue LED lights let me in. She was very nice and said she lived in the house her whole life, but I remember something else about the woman that I didn’t tell them before.”
“And what was that?” The reporter moved in to the caterer putting the microphone closer to his mouth as if he wanted to make sure not a word was lost.
“It was about something really big,” the caterer said.
“Something really big? And that’s all you will tell us at this time?” asked the reporter.
“Yes,” the caterer said.
“Details on the news at nine,” the reporter said ending the interview.
Uh- oh! He remembered something really big!
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