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Murder On The Eightfold Path

A.J. had managed to hobble down the hall when Elysia opened the front door. She could see two uniformed officers-looking very uncomfortable-and, behind them, Jake.

Elysia greeted them coolly. Ah, Inspector. Did you bring your leg irons?

For the record, Mrs. Alexander, Im not enjoying this.

A.J., hanging onto the wall for support, joined the tableau at the door. Jake, this is ridiculous, she protested.

Jake moved past the uniformed officers and Elysia stepped back haughtily, but Jake was not reaching for her. His grip on A.J.s arms was hard but supportive. Look, I dont want to do this. Its my job, all right?

No, its not all right. Youre arresting my mother!

He threw a look at the waiting officers, and lowered his voice. I know exactly who she is. I dont have a choice here, honey.

Honey. Disconcertingly, it undermined her anger.

Elysia said briskly, No need to fuss, Anna. Call Bradley and tell him to exercise option B. To Jake, she said disdainfully, Ill be out from behind bars by lunch.

Jake said shortly, Its already past lunch.

Elysia ignored this.

Ill call him, A.J. said. She freed herself from Jakes hold, shuffling toward the phone in the hall as she threw back, And youd better not handcuff her!

Ooh, kinky, Elysia bit out.

Jake said wearily, Elysia Alexander, were arresting you on suspicion of homicide

A.J. watched Elysia stalk down the porch steps followed by the bemused officers. Jake hesitated in the doorway, waiting for A.J. to say something or at least acknowledge he was still there. A.J. knew it, yet couldnt quite bring herself to soften toward him-largely because she was struggling to maintain her composure.

Then Mr. Meagher came on the line, and when A.J. next glanced around Jake was gone and the front door was closed.

Her heart sank, but there was no time to worry about what this disaster was doing to her relationship with Jake. She hastily filled Mr. Meagher in on the latest developments, and he grimly reassured her he was on the case.

A.J. hung up the phone and tottered back to the bedroom, shoved her barely touched brunch tray and Aunt Dianthas manuscript out of the way, and eased flat on the mattress once more.

She had no doubt that Mr. Meagher would get her mother out of the slammer in short order, but then what? If Jake had gone so far as to arrest Elysia, the evidence piling up against her must be fairly damning.

A.J. wasnt given to panicking, but the situation seemed bleak, despite Elysias casual attitude. It was unbelievable to think her mother might actually go to trial-even be convicted-but unfortunately she had spent too many years married to a man who adored television crime drama not to know that these things happened in the best of families.

Let alone in eccentric clans like her own.

Monster came to the side of the bed and snuffled her face. What are we going to do? A.J. asked him.

His recommendation seemed to be that A.J. let him have her lunch if she wasnt going to eat it. A.J. vetoed this, and he climbed creakily on the bed, circled twice, and settled with a doggie hmmph.

If only she wasnt stuck flat on her back. A.J. swallowed hard as she recognized the direction her thoughts were turning. She had solemnly promised Jake not to dabble in anymore amateur sleuthing-it had nearly wrecked their relationship once. But she could hardly stand by, or even lie by, while her mother went to jail for a murder. And it was a cinch that Elysia was not going to patiently wait for Jake or anyone else to prove her innocent, in which case A.J. might be the stabilizing influence.

Except that her own stability was a little rocky at the moment. Of all the times to injure her back! Still she could use the phone and she could use her laptop. Maybe she could do a little checking into Dicky Massri-

She became aware that the doorbell was ringing. Monster jumped off the mattress and trotted down the hall, woofing. A.J. commenced the long and painful process of getting off the bed and on her feet. She had made it to the doorway of her bedroom when she heard a key in the front door lock. Her heart leapt thinking that it might be Jake.

That thought was instantly dismissed as highly unlikely and replaced by relief that her mother must have already been released-although a quick glance at the bedside clock indicated Elysia would barely have had time to be booked.

The door swung open, and the short, stout figure of Stella Borin appeared framed in the front hall.

A.J.? she called tentatively.

Right here.

Stella was A.J.s nearest neighbor. She lived about a mile down the road in the farm bequeathed to her by A.J.s aunt. In addition to farming, she supported herself as a psychic, and although A.J. did not put a lot of stock in things like tarot cards and s'eances, she had to admit that Stella had, on one or two occasions, seemed to display an uncanny ability.

According to Andy, A.J.s ex, the most uncanny thing about Stella was her dress sense, and this afternoon was no exception. She was wearing what appeared to be polka dot pajama bottoms beneath a plaid jumper, giving her the impression of a badly dressed piggy bank. Her gray hair was bound in two fat, short braids that seemed to stick straight out of the sides of her head, confirming A.J.s long held conviction that no woman over the age of ten should wear braids. Stella eschewed makeup, and her hands looked as battered as a potters.

Jake called and told me what happened. He thought you might need some help this evening, at least till Bradley Meagher bails your ma out.


Hard to imagine a term that less suited Elysia, but all A.J. really noticed was the kindness of Stella running to her rescue-and that Jake had been looking out for her, even if he had tossed her mum in the hoosegow.

Oh, you didnt have to do that, she said, hobbling down the hall.

Stella raised her bushy brows but didnt point out the obvious. It occurred to A.J., and not for the first time, that when she had lived in the big city she had barely known her neighbors, let alone relied on them in times of trouble. There was a lot to be said for small-town living-even if the cable did go out on a regular basis.

Did Jake say anything about? A.J. wasnt even sure what she was asking. She knew that Jake would hardly confide anything about the case against Elysia to Stella. She was grasping at straws, hoping that someone was going to reassure her that this was all a big misunderstanding.

But Stella must have read her correctly, because she said in her gruff way, Dont you worry. Jake Oberlin is a good cop. Hell get to the bottom of this.

A.J. nodded. She was leading the way, slowly, to the front parlor, ignoring Stellas advice to return to bed.

Im going crazy, lying there worrying about this.

A.J. stretched out on the sofa. Stella asked if shed like a cup of tea, and she assented, staring up at the ceiling. At least it made for a change of scenery.

Stella brought in a tea tray and A.J. sat up. Stella had found the frosted animal cookies that A.J. had been hiding from herself in the back of the pantry. A.J. took her cup of tea and sipped gratefully. There was something very comforting about a hot cup of good, brewed tea.

Stella selected a frosted white bear and remarked, Just like your ma. She always did like her cuppa.

And her glassa. But thankfully those days were in the past. Elysia had been sober for over a decade now. A.J. gave in and chose a pink elephant cookie from the plate before her.

She asked, Stella, can I ask you what happened between you and my mother?

When what happened? Stella chewed rapidly, her expression blank.

A.J. clarified, Whatever it is that happened, happened. What I mean is, Im wondering about your history. Because Ive sensed over the last year that there is one.

Stella picked up another cookie and crunched away. A.J. thought she would simply decline to answer at all, but at last she said, Youd have to ask Elysia.

I have asked her. She always brushes it off.

There you go, Stella said. Nothing to worry about then.

Was it something to do with Aunt Di? With her leaving you Little Peavy Farm? That was hard to imagine. Elysia enjoyed her worldly goods as much as the next material girl, but her infamous acting career had left her comfortably off in addition to the bundle she had inherited from A.J.s father, a successful business entrepreneur. But perhaps Elysia felt that Stella had somehow taken advantage of Dianthas generosity? Or spiritual beliefs? Although that was also hard to imagine because Aunt Di had been nobodys fool.

Noooo, Stella said thoughtfully. Nothing like that.

A.J. sipped her tea and frowned over it, but although it was hard to accept, perhaps it wasnt any of her business. She changed the subject and said, Did you happen to know this young man shes accused of shooting?

Elysia and I dont travel in the same social circles.

Im not sure Mother and this Dicky Massri traveled in the same circles.

Stella made a sound somewhere between a snort and a laugh.

I think he was younger than me, A.J. said. Aunt Di did the same thing-started a relationship with someone young enough to be her son. I dont understand it.

Stella eyed her thoughtfully. Thats because youve never been lonely.

Ive been divorced, thats pretty lonely.

I mean years of being lonely.

Stella spoke so matter-of-factly that A.J. barely registered what she was saying. When she did, it was with a sharp tug of sympathy that she felt instinctively would make Stella uncomfortable. She hated to think of Stella being lonely, and she hated even more to think of her mother being lonely.

But surely there was a medium ground between senior bingo nights and Egyptian gigolos?

I just dont understand why she couldnt have found someone more her own age. She wouldnt be in this mess now.

Stella said patiently, Because falling in love is scary. Hot sex with a man toy is just tiring.

A.J. blinked at the idea of Stella having hot sex with anything, let alone with tiresome man toys. She said at random, Mr. Meagher is really worried. He seems to think the police might be able to build a strong enough case to go to trial.

Stella selected another cookie, crunched in that same meditative way-like a thoughtful squirrel-and said, I guess its occurred to you that your ma really might have killed him?

Three | Murder On The Eightfold Path | c