Alicia Martin scurried up the walk as fast as her bulk would allow. Her chest rattled as she fought for breath. Patsy feared she would have a heart attack. She was right behind her and they almost collided as they tried to get through the gate together. Adele Pendergast, on her knees by the flower bed, knew exactly what they were going to tell her.
Alicia exclaimed, “Adele, have you heard? It’s just awful–that makes four now! Four murders!”
Patsy jiggled her perm up and down in agreement, “And you’ll never guess who it was, Adele. You know her! Remember Simone Ducharme, that pretty teenager that used to walk Red for you? It was just a few blocks away! Isn’t it too horrible? The police–“
Alicia, not to be outdone, cut in. “The same way, too,” she stated solemnly, making a slicing motion across her throat.
Adele sighed, pocketed her shears, and stood up, brushing the dirt from her knees. She had never been termed “delicate” at six feet tall and one hundred and ninety pounds. She mentally crossed “pruning” from her list; might as well invite them in for tea, though she hated to. Anastasia, her white Persian, detested company of the people variety. Adele couldn’t blame her. Philomena, on the other hand, was not as snobby as her sister, and while Adele put the kettle on and set the table, she purred and rubbed against Patsy’s legs. The kittens had to be tucked away in the bedroom, since they usually had free course to walk over the table. The parakeets also had to be caged. Red, a very old setter, was fine, curled up on the rug, though every one had to step over him.
Alicia and Patsy rehashed all the old and new tidbits. This was the fourth murder in one month in their small town. Traditions of peaceful, quiet living were utterly shattered; a serial killer was in their midst.
“I just grieve for the Pattersons,” Alicia was saying, “losing both of their boys like that. Nicest boys too, just playing out at the quarry like always. Not safe now, not at all.”
Adele snorted. “Nice boys! I caught them torturing a stray dog out at that quarry. Certainly not a safe place for the dog. It had to be put down.”
Patsy exchanged glances with Alicia. Everyone knew how Adele felt about animals: seven cats, two dogs, five parakeets and every stray anything that needed a home. Still, mean as the boys had been in life, one didn’t mention that now.
“Adele, dear, how has your new boarder settled in?” Alicia asked, trying to steer the conversation closer to their real purpose.
“Aren’t you afraid he might be the murderer?” Patsy blurted.
Alicia gave her a warning look. “What Patsy means, dear, is how much do you really know about him? Considering the circumstances, we all need to be very careful, until that man is caught–“
Adele pursed her lips and set her cup down firmly. “I am quite capable of taking care of myself, thank you. Do you think a murderer would have an easy time sneaking up on me?” she asked.
“Well, he did get a man, as well as the boys–and Simone…” said Patsy.
“Look, Barney was only five foot four and weighed ninety pounds soaking wet, I’m sure. I am not helpless, plus I have two watch dogs. My boarder is a nice quiet teacher at the college. Besides, he came three weeks ago, and the first murders were a month ago. Now, if that is all, ladies, I really must be getting to my laundry or I won’t have a boarder to worry about.”
After they had left, Adele gathered Roy’s things and began to sort them in the basement. She chuckled. Roy, the murderer! He was so quiet. She hardly ever saw him; he had classes in the evenings as well as during the day. Friendly too, when he had the time. They’d had a few nice chats in her living room; he sure loved a nice cup of tea and her home-made peach pie, though he preferred to take his meals by himself. She didn’t even have to clean for him. He had told her he would arrange that himself, since he had several projects on the go and didn’t want them disturbed.
“You needn’t worry about things growing up there,” he’d laughed, “I really am clean.”
She hummed as she sorted his white lab coats into the whites pile–then stopped dead. Slowly she turned a sleeve over. She had not been mistaken; it was smeared with blood. She could feel the heat prickle up the back of her neck. Then she heard the door slam upstairs. She jumped–he must be home!
This was nonsense. Those two silly women had only rattled her, that’s all. Roy was a teacher. A…science teacher, that was it. Science.
Thoughts about dissecting suddenly popped into her mind. Oh no! He must do dissecting–all those poor creatures: mice, frogs… She shuddered.
“I’ll just ask him myself,” she thought. There must be some explanation for the blood. It couldn’t be the other thing.
Firmly, she mounted the steps and entered the hall where she saw him hanging up his coat.
He looks too young and boyish to be a teacher.
“Hi, Adele. Looks like we might be getting some rain later; the wind is starting to pick up.” He pushed his sandy hair out of his eyes. “Whew, what a day! I’m beat. Glad I don’t have any classes tonight. How about a cup?”
Adele managed to look him in the eye and not wince. “Certainly. Would you like a seat in the living room? I’ll be right in.”
He couldn’t, he just couldn’t…
When they were seated together, holding mugs of steaming tea, Roy chatted on about his day. Adele took several calming breaths, and tried to make her usual remarks. She wondered how she would bring up the subject of the blood.
Her head started to hammer.
Was the blood from dissecting, or–No! Get a-hold of yourself, Adele.
“…And those students are so funny to watch,” Roy was saying, “They think it’s such a hoot when we do the frogs. The girls all squeal, and act finicky, but they’re fascinated, I can tell. The boys try to act so macho, but when they see the blood, they’re not all so brave, let me tell you. “
He paused. His eyes took on a sparkle.
He enjoys it. He really enjoys it!
Her hands felt clammy. She wanted to go and open the window, let in some air, but she couldn’t move. Beads of sweat started to gather under her hairline.
Roy set his cup down. He looked at her intently.
“The first slice is the most important. It has to be clean. You can’t hack the victim,” he said.
He drew the fine scalpel from his coat. “Would you like to see what we use?”
Adele stood so abruptly, her mug clattered to the floor.
“I must, um, get something– I…I–“ She stumbled to the kitchen, shaking. She knew what was going to happen. Yanking the drawer open, she grabbed a bread knife. He wouldn’t overpower her! She would be prepared.
The scene that the police had to photograph in Adele’s kitchen was gruesome. There was blood everywhere. The victim had not gone quietly this time. People were aghast when the news of this latest murder reached them. Many of them knew Adele.
Patsy and Alicia devoured the news. They came to the house to view the scene. As if Adele could still hear them, they whispered together on the sidewalk.
There wasn’t much to see; the police had sanitized the area and Roy’s body had been removed.
Adele was in custody, of course, charged with the murder of five people.
“Cruelty to animals,” Alicia shook her head. “Who would ever have thought she would kill people for their cruelty to animals?”