Never a Dull Moment

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

It was two days before Thanksgiving, and the cozy kitchen at Crabapple Farm was filled with activity. Trixie, three days from her due date and officially on maternity leave from the Sleepyside Detective Agency, watched as Helen and Diana expertly danced around each other with the long practice of two women who had spent hours working in the same kitchen.

“I just don’t get it,” she commented, after observing them for a few minutes. “You’re working on entirely different things. How do you manage not to get in each other’s way?”

The two women shared a glance, then chorused, “Practice!”

“Except for the year the twins were born, I’ve helped with the open house every year since Mart and I got married,” Di explained. “It’s actually weird with them in school today. I’m used to them being here under foot.”

“They only have half a day tomorrow,” Helen reminded her. “And Alicia’s also supposed to arrive at some point during the day tomorrow, so we should try to get as much done today as we can. Trent and Brent are no problem, but I really suspect that Mr. Lytell will show up as soon as he thinks it’s decent once Alicia’s here.”

“What’s up with them?” Trixie asked. “Has she said? Are they together, or still dancing around each other, or what?”

Helen shrugged. “I suppose they’d call it courting. He’s been down to see her a couple of times, and from what she said, he calls her just about every night.”

“Courting?” Di chuckled. “Do people still do that?”

Helen laughed. “Alicia still would. She always has been old-fashioned, and expected things to be done just so.”

“No wonder Mr. Lytell was attracted to her,” Trixie grinned.

“Yes, well, I have to say it worked to her advantage even in Philadelphia. You do know she was a Gibbs girl, don’t you?”

Both of the younger women looked at her in confusion and shook their heads.

“The Katherine Gibbs schools are a chain of secretarial schools that you don’t really hear much about anymore. Back in our day, well, even then they were starting to lose popularity, but when we were little girls, they were the top school for women to train as secretaries. They had a certain mystique, and they were very rigorous. If you had Katie Gibbs on your resume, you had a huge advantage over the other applicants. It wasn’t just the actual courses that made it unique. They really emphasized manners and appearance. Students had to dress just like they would if they were working in a formal office setting, and back then, there was no business casual. Nice dresses, and even white gloves, were absolutely required for women. I suspect the gloves have gone by the wayside now, but back then, they meant something. Alicia took their two year course when she first moved to Philadelphia. She’s still at the same firm that hired her when she graduated.”

“I can see where she’d thrive in that sort of environment,” Trixie admitted. “Even if it really wasn’t what she wanted to do with her life.”

“True, but she made lemonade out of the lemons. She’s had a very successful career, but I admit I don’t know what she wants now. I just really hope that she and Mr. Lytell can really make it work if that’s what they still want. They’ve been waiting on each other way too long.”

“I hope so, too,” Trixie echoed. She bit her lip, then added, “Look. I know this isn’t my place, but please tell me you don’t call him Mr. Lytell when you’re talking to her.”

“I’ve honestly never really thought about it. I’ve just always called him that. Why?”

“You’re her sister,” she explained. “If she gets all of the flak I did when I started dating Dell, she needs someone to confide in without it making it feel weird by emphasizing the age difference all the time.”

Di looked stricken. “I’ve never thought about that, either, Trix, but I probably should have. I just never thought of your husband as anything other than whatever title or rank he’s had at the time. Did Honey, at least?”

“Once in a while she manages, but it’s not a big deal now. It’s kind of funny, but Bobby is the only one of all of you who can call him by his first name without it seeming forced.”

“He was also only thirteen when you and Dell started dating,” Helen pointed out. “And since he didn’t have the same experiences you older kids had with him in his official capacity, I think it made it easier for him.” She sighed. “You do have a good point. I just never even realized it, but I can see where it would make a difference.”

Trixie smiled. “Thanks. I know that I can probably relate to some of what she’s probably going through more than anyone, but there’s no way I could ever call Mr. Lytell by his first name!”

“I don’t even know what it is,” Di complained.

“Frank,” Helen supplied. Her blue eyes twinkled mischievously. “What about Uncle Frank? Think you can manage that?”

Both of the younger women choked. “That was cruel, Moms,” Trixie protested, once she caught her breath. She sighed. “But a fair point. Somehow I can’t see him wanting us to call him that, though.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Di shrugged. “He’s been full of surprises lately. I still can’t believe he hired someone to help him in the store.”

Trixie giggled, remembering her surprise the day she had stopped in Lytell’s after work to find someone else behind the counter for the first time in her entire life. “Probably wanted more time to court Aunt Alicia.”

Di nodded. “Yep. That’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it.” She glanced at the clock, then at her mother-in-law. “Not to change the subject, but if we’re going to start the turkeys today, we should probably get going on them.”

“Today?” Trixie asked, her brow wrinkled. “Isn’t it too early for that?”

“Yes, today,” Helen replied. “Trust me. No one will ever know they were cooked ahead of time and reheated, and with five turkeys and three hams, we need all the oven time we can get. Especially when we factor in rolls, pies, and everything else.”

“I feel like I should have known that,” she muttered. “Just how much have I missed the last few years?”

“Not that much,” Di assured her, as Helen turned the oven on to preheat, then took a large turkey from the crowded refrigerator. “Some things are just tradition.”

“Traditions that go back to your great-grandmother,” Helen added. “Although I’m glad that we’ve streamlined it quite a bit. Some of her old recipes actually started with ‘First, pluck and clean the turkey.’ I’m thankful I can buy frozen ones in the supermarket.”

She set the plastic-covered bird on a tray in the sink and smiled her thanks as Diana set a roasting pan on the counter ready for her to use. She removed the netting and the packaging, but froze as she looked inside the cavity. She took a deep breath, then gingerly stuck her hand inside. “Trixie? Come here please.”

She struggled to her feet, surprised by the sudden strain in her mother’s voice. “What’s wrong?”

“Tell me I’m not imagining things,” Helen requested, gingerly removing a black and silver-colored pistol from the bird.

“Uh, no, you’re not,” she said, blinking in surprise. She stared at it for a moment, then grabbed a paper towel from the roll by the sink and used it to carefully take the gun from her mother. “Okay, I doubt they can get any fingerprints from this, but it’s covered in raw turkey, and I’d still rather not risk it.”

“What is it?” Di asked. “I mean, I can see it’s a gun, but how did it get there?”

Trixie shrugged. “It was sealed, so it would almost certainly have to be an employee of the processing plant. No idea if he or she was trying to dispose of stolen property or get rid of evidence of a crime, but either way, we have to report it.” She washed her hands, then picked up her phone and pushed the button to call her husband.

“Trix? Are you okay? Is the baby coming?” he asked as soon as he answered.

She sighed, idly rubbing her back. “Yes, I’m okay, and no, not yet. But we do need you at the Farm. Moms just found a surprise in the Thanksgiving turkey. A Bryco Arms .380.”

A long moment of silence followed, then, “What was that?”

“A Bryco .380 pistol. Somehow, I don’t think it got there on its own.”

“Me either. I’ll come check it out. Be there ASAP.”

He broke the connection, and she put her phone back in her pocket. “Moms? Are the other turkeys thawed? If so, we should probably check them before he gets here.”

Helen slowly nodded. “Yes. They’re in the refrigerator out in the garage.” She made no move to leave the kitchen, and Trixie realized she hadn’t spoken since the initial discovery.

“Okay. New plan. I don’t think I should bring them in by myself right now, so go in the bathroom and wash your hands. I’ll get you a cup of tea. Di and I can check the others.”

“That’s a better plan,” Helen replied, then she slipped out of the room to follow her daughter’s advice.

“She’s rattled,” Trixie whispered to her sister-in-law, then set about filling the tea kettle with water and putting it on to heat.

“Most people would be!” she reminded her with a sigh. “I am, too. I’m very grateful that you and Honey are licensed and carry when you need to, but I’m not that used to guns – except for when we always seemed to be on the wrong side of them as teenagers. And I know this is going to sound stupid, but I really don’t like sticking my hand inside chickens and turkeys anyway. Even when I know it’s just giblets, it just feels gross. Now I’m going to be wondering if there’s something like this inside, too.”

“It’s extremely unlikely,” she reassured her. “I’m sure the chances of finding one are astronomical, let alone finding another one!”

“I may regret this, but I’ll go get the others, Trixie. But you’re going to check inside them for me!”

She giggled. “Sure.”

As she had predicted, the remaining turkeys contained nothing but giblets and the gravy mix packet that Helen always threw away in favor of making her own. By the time Dell arrived, Di had one of them in the oven, one in the kitchen refrigerator awaiting its own turn to be cooked, and the other two back in the garage refrigerator. Helen sat at the table with a cup of hot tea, and Trixie stood at the counter, staring at the pistol as she rubbed her aching lower back.

She smiled as he greeted her with a quick kiss on the cheek. “Can you believe we found a Saturday night special in my mother’s turkey?”

He gently patted her stomach, then said, “Believe it or not, I’m glad it was you that found it. It would have been easy for someone else to just convince themselves they’d gotten an early Christmas present. I suspect that’s actually what someone was counting on. Where is it now?”

“I used a paper towel to put it in the roaster after Moms took it out of the turkey. I’m sure it’s still pretty sticky, so her prints will show up. No clue about any others, though.”

He nodded and turned to his mother-in-law. “Helen, I’ll need you to come down to the station at some point today so that we can get your fingerprints on file. I don’t know what we’ll get off of this, but I don’t want to miss anything.”

The tea had helped calm her nerves, and Helen nodded. “That makes sense. I’ll need to go out and try to find a replacement turkey anyway. No way am I cooking this one now. I just hope I can find a fresh one. I don’t have time to thaw another frozen one.”

“I’m sure we can find one somewhere,” Diana assured her. “If the supermarket in town is sold out, I can have Mart check the stores in the City when he leaves work.”

Dell carefully put the pistol in an evidence bag, then put the wrapper in a second one. Di sighed. “We all touched that at some point.”

He grinned. “This was probably touched by everyone from the turkey plant, to the distributor, to countless employees and customers at the supermarket. There’s no way we’d get any usable prints from it. The information on here, though, will help give us a starting point for the investigation.”

“Eww,” Di shuddered. “I think I’d rather have not thought about that.”

“It’s okay,” Trixie reassured her. “The plastic is thick enough to protect it from contamination. You don’t have to worry about that as long as it’s sealed. Like we talked about earlier, it’s still a better system than having to kill, clean, and pluck our own.”

“True,” she agreed, looking somewhat mollified.

Dell raised his eyebrows. “Do I even want to know?”

Trixie laughed. “Moms’s old recipes from Grandma. Step one is plucking the bird.”

“Ah. My mother still has cookbooks like that, too, that were passed down from her grandmother. We should ask her to show them to Erica at some point after the baby’s born. For now, though, were you able to find out anything about the gun?”

She shook her head. “No. I called you as soon as we found it, and since then, I haven’t really had a chance to do any more than look at the packaging to see that it came from a plant upstate, somewhere near Rochester, I believe. Not sure if that helps narrow it down or just widens the net. I know Brycos are still pretty common, despite the company’s bankruptcy.”

“Why would they go bankrupt if they’re so common?” Di asked. “That doesn’t make sense.”

“They lost a lawsuit,” Trixie explained. “The way I understand it, it was almost ten years ago that a young boy was shot when someone was trying to unload one. A jury found that the gun was defective and awarded a huge settlement. Personally, I’m convinced that there were all sorts of things wrong with the scenario. The gun was left in an unlocked desk drawer, and the one unloading it was a so-called family friend who shouldn’t have been touching it, especially with two children nearby. Ours stay in a locked safe when we’re not carrying them, and even then, Erica knows not to touch them. She’s been taught gun-safety all her life, just like the baby will be. This boy lived, but is paralyzed. It’s sad, because even if the gun truly was defective, it’s still a tragedy that could have been prevented with some common sense.”

“Which isn’t too common anymore,” Di sighed. “That’s just sad all around.”

“Yes, it is,” Trixie agreed. She turned back to her husband. “But yeah. That’s all I know at this point.”

“Helen, do you remember when and where you bought the turkey?” Dell asked.

“A few weeks ago at the A&P in town. We have enough room in the freezer, so I try to buy them before the stores get picked over.”

He made a note of it. “And it’s been in your freezer until you thawed it and started to prep it today.”

She nodded. “If it helps at all, I can verify that the package was still factory sealed. I would have noticed if it had been tampered with at all.”

“I know,” he assured her. “Just need to establish a chain of custody for it. I can get the distributor’s information from the manager at the A&P and go from there.”

“I feel bad about leaving Di alone,” Trixie admitted as she and Helen drove into town not long after Dell left the Farm. “I know someone had to stay with the oven, but still, I feel like we’re just dumping it on her.”

“She’ll be fine,” Helen assured her. “It’s not unusual for one or the other of us to have to make supermarket runs during prep every year. No matter how much we plan ahead, we always seem to run out of something or think of something else we need.”

“I am so thankful she’s been willing to help. I feel guilty, too, that Honey and I usually aren’t able to. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve helped since the year the twins were born.”

Helen took a deep breath. “Listen, sweetie, there’s no need to feel guilty. About anything. You were an invaluable help to me when you were growing up, but I don’t expect you to close the agency to help out. But now I feel guilty. I should have talked to you several years ago, but you’ve probably figured out by now that Di’s going to inherit the open house at whatever point I give it up.”

Trixie grinned, remembering how nervous Di had been when she had imparted the same news a few years earlier. “Di told me a while back, Moms. Assured both me and Honey that she’s not trying to leave us out, and that we’re always welcome to help if we can. To be honest, it was a relief. I mean, seriously, have you ever really thought that I wanted that responsibility?”

Her mother giggled. “Not really. I just should have told you myself when we first talked about it. I really wasn’t trying to keep it from you.”

“Not a big deal,” she assured her. “I never expected it, anyway. Hasn’t it usually been a Belden-by-marriage thing? I mean, you took over from your mother-in-law, who took over from hers. It’s never really passed down to a daughter.”

“True. And it’s possible that at some point Bobby’s wife may want to share it. In my case, Andrew never married, and Harold’s wife was never interested.”

“Living in Idaho may have had something to do with that.”

“Being Eleanor had more to do with it. I can easily see you and Honey helping out when you’re able to. It’s just that Honey’s just as busy with the agency as you are, so it made sense for Di to take it on. Assuming Bobby and Bethany stay together, I have no idea what she plans to do after finishing school. I’m sure Di will make her feel welcome if she ever wants to help or even share the responsibility. She’s already volunteered to help out after school tomorrow and as long as we need her on Thursday.”

“That will be good.” Trixie sighed. “I’m sorry, but I suspect I’m going to just find a chair and sit most of the day. ”

Helen reached over and patted her arm. “Everyone will understand, sweetie. Just please try not to go into labor on Thursday. Either have the baby before tomorrow night or wait until at least Friday.”

“I’ll try,” she giggled. “No promises, though. It’d be just my luck to have my water break right right in the middle of the open house.”

“Well, we do have a plan in place if it does,” Helen assured her. “So don’t worry if it does happen. Do you still want Erica at the hospital the whole time you’re in labor?”

She sighed. “Not really, but I think she needs to be. She’s alternating between excitement over a sibling and worry that something is going to happen to me or the baby. It’s going to be easier for her to be with you and whoever is in the waiting room seeing that you’re not concerned, than it is for her to be somewhere else not knowing what’s going on at all. Mrs. Molinson flipped when I told her I’d promised Erica she could be there, though. She thinks it’s bad enough that Dell’s going to be in the delivery room with me.”

“Things were done differently when he was born,” Helen reminded her gently. “Men weren’t allowed in the delivery room back then. I’m grateful that your father was with me when all of you were born.”

“Jean told me she complained that he was in the delivery room when Erica was born, too.” She looked tentatively at her mother. “She promised me she won’t let her cause a scene in the hospital, but could you help her with that? If she needs it, I mean?”

“Of course. I really doubt she’ll say anything in public, but we’ll take care of it if she does.”

The police station was relatively quiet when Trixie and Helen walked in a few minutes later. Trixie greeted the rookie sitting at the desk closest to the door, then noticing that Dell’s office door was closed, she asked, “Any idea if my husband is busy? He asked us to come by so that Moms can be fingerprinted.”

“Don’t most police officers dream of hauling their mothers-in-law into the station?” Sleepyside’s newest police officer joked. He smiled apologetically at Helen. “Sorry. I’m getting married in a few months, and I’ve heard so many mother-in-law jokes lately it’s not even funny. I’m Tim Nelson.”

“Helen Belden. I gather you know Trixie.”

Trixie grinned as she sat down on the nearby bench. “We met last month, soon after he was hired.”

“And I followed her cases all through high school,” he admitted sheepishly. “Went to Peekskill, but she still got quite a bit of press even there. But at any rate, the Chief just went in there and closed the door. Not sure how long they’ll be, but you’re welcome to wait. Otherwise, any of us could go ahead and take your fingerprints.”

Helen looked at Trixie uncertainly. “What do you think?”

“It’s up to you,” Trixie assured her. “You can go ahead and get it over with if you want. The booking room is kind of small, so I’ll just wait here until you’re done. If Dell gets done with his meeting, I may be in his office instead.”

“Booking room?” she repeated, her eyes suddenly wide.

Dan roamed over. He had heard the exchange, and grinned at Helen as he pointed towards the room in question. “Just where we keep the equipment – right over there. I promise there’s no need to panic. It’s painless, and only takes a couple of minutes.”

“I swear, Dan, if I’d known this was going to happen, I’d have bought the Butterball….”

Trixie laughed as Dan led Helen through the station. “So, Tim, I suppose you heard what we found.”

“Yep. At least it was something unexpected. Better than the shoplifting we’ve been dealing with lately.”

“So you know why the turkey was arrested?”

“Because we suspected it of fowl play.”

Jake Barlow overheard and burst into laughter. “Oooh. He’s good! Beat you at your own game!”

She wrinkled her nose. “No, it just means someone else appreciates a good joke.” Her eyes twinkled as she turned to Tim. “That mother-in-law crack, however….”

“Sorry, Trixie. Your mom wasn’t upset with me, was she?”

“I doubt it. She’s a pretty good sport. Just rattled right now with the gun business, and of course, trying to get ready for Thanksgiving.”

“So spill it,” Jake said. “Just how old is she? I know there’s an age difference between you and the captain, but seriously, she looks way younger than I’d expected.”

“So did I when we first met, if I remember correctly,” she reminded him with a laugh. “And for the record, she’s a little over a year older than Dell, which also means he’s only three years younger than my dad. And yes, it’s made for some awkward moments over the time we’ve been together.”

“I can’t even imagine,” Jake commented. “But since I can’t even seem to get a second date with anyone, I’m not going to talk.”

“Eh. You’ll get there,” Tim told him. “And when you do, it’s worth it. Marriage jokes aside, I’m looking forward to being able to go home to my wife every night once we’re married.”

“Or every morning, or afternoon, or whenever your shift ends,” Dell said, joining them.

“True. But she knows it’s not going to be predictable, and she’s marrying me anyway,” he said with a grin.

Trixie reached out her hand so that Dell could help her off the bench. “Dan’s taking care of Moms’s fingerprints. Do you have a few minutes while I wait for her?”

“Just a few. I have a call in to the chief in Rochester, and I need to get some files together for our chief. He asked me to brief him on the cases I’m currently involved in. Seems to think I’ll be taking some time off in the near future.”

She grinned. “You better be. You are not going to miss your child’s birth!”

“Not if I have anything to say about it,” he assured her. “So are you headed back to the Farm for the afternoon?”

“Moms and I need to stop at the supermarket, but after that, yeah. I’ll probably stay at the Farm until time to pick Erica up from school, then we’ll head home and get dinner going. Any special requests?”

He shook his head. “Why don’t I pick up something and bring it home? That way you won’t have to worry about it.”

“That sounds good. I know I’m really not doing that much at the Farm, but still.”

“Anything in particular?”

“Worstenbroodjes?” she asked hopefully.

He laughed. “I should have known. I’ll call in the order before I leave here.”

Suddenly the lower back pain that had been plaguing her off and on all day intensified and radiated to her abdomen, and she grimaced. “On second thought, how does the hospital cafeteria sound? I’m pretty sure that was a contraction.”

Chaos reigned. Jake sprinted to fetch Dan and Helen. Tim went to find the chief, and Dell gently urged her back onto the bench. “Are you sure?” he asked.

She closed her eyes and leaned against him, resisting the urge to make a sharp retort. “Yes. It was the first one, though, so we should still have plenty of time.”

He shook his head. “I know we’re supposed to wait, but we need to get Erica and pick up your bag. I came this close to putting it in my car this morning.” He grimaced. “Then we’re getting you to the hospital. I don’t want to risk the baby coming too fast and being born on the way.”

Helen’s eyes were wide as she ran up to them. “Are you okay, sweetie?”

She nodded. “Just one contraction so far. It’s early, but we’re going to head to the hospital. If I call Joeanne, could you pick Erica up from school?”

“Of course. I just need to call Di and let her know, then your dad. Anyone else I can call for you?”

Trixie met Dell’s eyes with a question, and he answered. “I’ll call my mom once we get there. You could call Jean and Dave, though. They want to be there, too.”

“I’ll start the Bob-White phone chain,” Dan said. “It may be after work before most of us can get there, but I’m sure we’ll all be by as soon as we can. White Plains General, right?”

“Right. No rush. It’s probably going to be hours.”

“Mangan.” Chief Brodie interrupted. “You in the middle of anything you can’t turn loose?”

“Nothing that Jake can’t handle. What do you need?”

Another contraction hit, and she gasped as she squeezed Dell’s hand. “Hospital? Now?”

He winced. “Yes. Now. We’ll call Joeanne on the way.”

“Go with them, Helen,” the chief said. “I’m on Erica’s check-out list, too, so Dan and I will go pick her up. Dell, give me your keys. We’ll drop by your house and pick up the bag. You just focus on getting your wife to the hospital.”


Meanwhile, in Philadelphia…

While Alicia’s original plan had been to take the Wednesday before Thanksgiving off of work so that she could get an early start for Sleepyside, it had been easy for Mr. Lytell to talk her into taking the Tuesday as well so that they could have a day all to themselves.

It wasn’t the first time he had visited her since they had rekindled their romance, but it was the first time she felt restless as she waited for him to arrive. She knew that it would be at least mid-morning before he would be there, but she still found herself unable to settle down. She baked a batch of blueberry muffins and took a long shower before staring hopelessly into her closet. She eventually settled on a pair of navy slacks with a powder blue cashmere sweater, then returned to the living room to try to lose herself in the novel she was reading.

It didn’t work, however, and by the time he arrived, she was puttering around the living room looking for specks of dust where she had just dusted the night before. She made herself wait until she heard his car door close before starting to the door, but she still flung it open before he was halfway up the walk.

His soft smile made the morning’s wait worth it, and she didn’t complain as he set the roses he carried on the porch and wrapped her in an embrace that would have had her neighbor’s tongues wagging had any of them seen. Once inside, she set the flowers on the mantel in her living room, then went into the kitchen for the basket of muffins and two mugs of coffee.

“Is there anything in particular you’d like to do today?” she asked once they were seated on the sofa. “When we made plans for you to come down, I wasn’t sure if you’d want to stay in or go out and sightsee.”

“You know what I’d really like to do?” he asked.

She shook her head. “We still have most of the day. We can probably do just about anything you want.”

“The weather is pretty good for November. Why don’t we go for a drive?”

“You’ve already had a long drive,” she gently teased. “Anywhere in particular?”

He reached for her hand. “Oh, I was thinking Connecticut would be pretty….”


“Sure. We could probably make it to Darien in about three hours, if that infernal traffic has settled down at all. If we leave here in an hour or so, we could be there early afternoon.”

She blinked in surprise, although her heart started pounding. She had been a few weeks shy of her eighteenth birthday the first time he suggested going to Darien. No waiting periods or blood tests made it an attractive option for quick wedding ceremonies, and her ultimate refusal had always been one of her biggest regrets.

“Alicia, you know I’m not one for fancy words or flighty talk. And I know it’s only been a few months since we reconnected, but I never stopped loving you.”

“I never stopped loving you, either,” she whispered. “I never will.”

He drew a velvet jeweler’s box from his pocket and carefully got down on one knee. “Will you marry me?”

She didn’t hesitate to seize the second chance she had been given. “Yes. Yes!”

He opened the box and slid a ring onto her finger. Tears filled her eyes as she recognized the diamond solitaire he had bought for her so many years earlier. “You kept it!”

“Of course I did,” he told her, reaching up to wipe the tears from her cheeks. He stood, then settled down with her on the sofa and took her in his arms. “Look, baby. I know our situation is different now, and I know you probably want a real wedding with your family there. I also know you have responsibilities here. Don’t feel like you have to marry me today. We can take as long as you need.”

“Any ceremony that marries us is a real wedding to me,” she told him. “I don’t need or want a large event.” She turned slightly away, embarrassed, as she added, “Honestly? I’ve spent thirty years wishing I could go back and have just you, me, and a justice of the peace.”

He gently put his hand under her chin and turned her head back towards him. “Name the day, Alicia. Today, tomorrow, next week, next year. I meant it when I mentioned Darien. I made some calls yesterday, and there’s still no waiting period there. The clerk can recommend a justice of the peace once we get our license. There’s even a nice inn nearby where we could spend the night, then drive back to Sleepyside tomorrow or even Thursday morning. But are you sure that’s what you want?”

She nodded. “I know we have things to discuss and decide. Where we’ll live, what I should do about my job here if we’re going to live in Sleepyside, but we can figure all of that out together. I’m already packed for Helen’s, but I should put a few things for tonight in my suitcase. Then I want to change into a nice dress and get my camera. I’m sure we can find someone to take a picture for us.”

“I’m sure we can,” he assured her. “And yes. Don’t worry about that right now. We’ll figure all those things out together.”

“I like the thought of that,” she whispered, kissing him gently one more time before going to get dressed for her wedding. It was strange, she thought, that the nervous energy she had felt all morning had fled, and now, when she should be nervous, all she felt was joy and a sense of peace.


White Plains, the next morning

Despite its strong beginning, Trixie’s labor had been long and hard, and it wasn’t until two-thirty Wednesday morning that Chloe Alicia Molinson entered the world. Dell, who had not left Trixie’s side the entire time, had proudly gone out to announce the birth to the family and friends still waiting in the maternity ward’s waiting room, and after a brief glimpse of the infant, most of them had left to get what sleep they could before their alarms went off all too soon.

It was almost eleven o’clock when Hazel Molinson returned to the hospital. Although Helen had assured Trixie that the older woman had been on her best behavior the night before, she had been back only a few minutes before complaining, “I still can’t believe you went into labor at the police station.”

Dell, almost asleep and leaning back in the room’s sole arm chair with Erica ensconced in his lap, opened his eyes. “And I still can’t believe I was almost born at the Cameo. I’m just surprised you didn’t name me after John Wayne.”

“Your dad put his foot down,” she admitted, her frown softening. “You were two weeks early, and we thought we could get away for one last date night before you were born.” She looked hesitantly at Trixie, who held the baby snugly in her arms. “May I?”

Trixie gently handed her daughter to her, somewhat surprised at the unspoken apology in the request. “Of course.”

Hazel lightly stroked Chloe’s cheek. “She has her grandpa’s eyes. Not the color, but the shape.”

“And your nose,” Trixie pointed out softly.

“And she’s beautiful despite it,” Hazel told her with a rueful laugh. “That’s one feature I never cared for.”

It was a rare moment of camaraderie for the two women who were so often at odds. “I much prefer your nose to my freckles,” she admitted. “I’m really hoping she won’t get those when she’s older. It’s too soon to say whose coloring she’ll really have.”

“Probably yours. Erica was born with a head full of black hair.”

“I remember that.”

“Did you see me when I was born?” Erica asked.

“You were just a few hours old when I saw you for the first time,” Trixie informed her. “Aunt Honey and I brought flowers to your first mom. You were just as beautiful as your sister is.”

“I’m glad,” she answered with a small smile. “I like knowing that you’ve known me my entire life.”

“Me, too.”

“I still haven’t figured out how you two found out so quickly,” Dell commented.

“We had our connections, even back then.” Trixie’s grin turned into a giggle as she took her daughter back from Hazel and settled her into her arms. “I honestly don’t remember why, but we’d stopped by the station for some reason or another. Detective Lightman was there. Told us the chief was at the hospital with you and Heather.”

“Ah. That would explain it.” He suddenly frowned. “Oh, sh… oot. I never did give Bill the rundown of my cases he’d asked for yesterday.”

“I’m sure he understands,” she told him. “Anything important is in your notes, and he knows where to find them. But why don’t you run by the station for a few minutes and brief him? Then go home, have some lunch, and get some sleep. You know we probably won’t be released until morning, and you and Erica both could use some rest. It’s your last chance in a quiet house until this little one learns to sleep through the night.”

“Erica definitely needs sleep,” Hazel informed them. “She dozed on and off in the waiting room with us, but not enough to say she slept.”

“I’m fine,” Erica protested. “I don’t want to leave.”

“We let you stay while your sister was being born,” Dell reminded her. “But they’re right. We should both go get some sleep.” He looked again at Trixie. “Are you sure you’ll be okay, baby? I don’t really want to leave you, either.”

“I’ll be fine,” she assured him. “Dr. Barnes will be by soon, and you’ve seen Mariellen has been in and out frequently. I’ll probably need to feed Chloe soon, and then she’ll take her back to the nursery if I get sleepy.” A soft knock on the door drew her attention, and she smiled as Honey walked in with an arrangement of pink and white carnations. “Good timing. I just told Erica about the flowers we brought when she was born.”

She took a closer look at the mass of blossoms her friend sat on the window ledge. “And thank you. Those are beautiful.”

“You’re welcome.” Honey bent down to coo at the baby, then leaned against the wall.

With barely a glance at Honey, Hazel turned to her granddaughter. “Erica, why don’t you come home with me for a few hours? Then your dad can go into work if he needs to.”

“Up to you, Erica,” he told his daughter. “Either way, we’ll both be back this evening after we sleep a while.”

“I’d rather go home,” she admitted. “Now that we know Chloe’s a girl, I want to put some of my Beanie Babies in her room for her. I know she can’t play with them yet, but I want them there when she comes home.”

Trixie motioned to her, and she came and sat on the edge of the hospital bed. With Chloe nestled snuggly in one arm, she put the other around Erica. “That’s sweet, munchkin, but you really don’t have to give her your things. You know we’ll get her her own toys.”

Erica nodded, reaching out to gently stroke her sister’s arm. “I know, but I want to. I don’t mean all of them, but I want her to know I love her, too.”

“She’ll always know that,” Trixie assured her. “I have no doubt about that.”

“So how are you doing?” Honey asked, claiming the room’s only chair once the others had left the room. “I can leave if you need to sleep, or go get you something if you need anything.”

Trixie shook her head. “I had an epidural, then I actually slept a few hours after everyone left. So I’m doing better than I’d expected. Sore, and still a little wobbly when I get up and walk, but Mariellen said that’s not unusual.”


“Used to be Hanrahan. You remember her. She was a Volunteen with us back in high school. She’s my nurse today.”

“Oh, yes. She’s the one who had a huge crush on Brian.”

“Seriously? I never picked up on that!”

“No, you wouldn’t have. You kind of had this blind spot where your brothers were concerned,” Honey teased. “Never understood girls liking them.”

“I still don’t,” she grinned. “But obviously her crush wasn’t reciprocated, and she’s now married, so you don’t have anything to worry about.”

“I know,” Honey said with a soft, peaceful smile. “No doubts that Brian loves me, and only me.”

Chloe whimpered softly, then scrunched up her face and let out a full-fledged wail. Trixie began to rock her gently and reached for the call button beside her bed. Before she could press it, however, Mariellen entered the room with a prepared bottle for her.

“Thank you!” she said gratefully, smiling as the baby eagerly opened her mouth and began to drink.

“No problem. I was already headed down this way with it when I heard her make her request,” the nurse said cheerfully. She greeted Honey, then slipped away as another infant began crying down the hall.

“So, tell me what I’ve missed,” Trixie requested. “Did you go into the office today?”

She shook her head. “No. I barely managed to wake up long enough to call Bobby. Had him go in long enough to put a sign up and change the answering machine message to say we’re closed until Monday. Then I slept for another two hours, before going to see if your mom needs extra help today.”

“Did she?” Trixie asked. “As thankful as I am that Chloe’s finally here, I know this was horrible timing.”

“Do not feel guilty,” Honey told her. “Your mom has everything under control. Di’s there, and Bethany will be there once school’s over at noon. Plus, she put Bobby to work when I didn’t need him at the agency, so she has plenty of help right now. Di even went out this morning before I got there and found a replacement turkey for the one you forgot to tell me about yesterday.” Her eyes twinkled. “Granted, your attention was elsewhere, so I suppose I can forgive you this time.”

Trixie grinned down at the baby. “Hear that, Chloe? Never forget to tell your Aunt Honey about anything mysterious. Actually, never forget to tell me or your dad, for that matter.” She turned back to Honey. “Was Aunt Alicia at the Farm yet? I’m hoping she’ll manage to come by here at some point.”

“No. Apparently she called last night while everyone was here and left a message that she won’t be in town until tomorrow morning instead. Does she know about her namesake?”

“No idea if she knows she’s been born, but yes, she knew that if Chloe turned out to be a girl her middle name would be Alicia. Even though she knew we didn’t know for sure, she was thrilled when I asked if she’d mind.”

“Why on earth would she have minded?”

“We didn’t always get along when I was younger,” Trixie reminded her. “It wasn’t until Moms finally told me about Mr. Lytell that I finally felt like I understood her better. But if it wasn’t for that, I suspect Moms and Dad would have freaked over me and Dell, so it’s really thanks to her that I have both Dell and peace with my parents. I wasn’t sure if she’d be concerned with anyone figuring out that connection. I suspect it helps, though, that he’s back in her life.”

Chloe pushed the bottle away, and Trixie set it on her bedside table before positioning her daughter over her shoulder and gently patting her back until she burped.

“You make that look so easy,” Honey commented, somewhat wistfully.

“I used to beg Moms to let me feed Bobby when he was a baby. She’d hover over us, but she’d put him in my lap in her rocking chair and hand me his bottle. Of course, you helped with feeding Dodgy and even Erica when we’d babysit her.”

“She was past the burping stage by then, though. And I was always petrified with Dodgy, even though I tried not to show it.”

“Oh, I’m nervous, too,” Trixie admitted. “But just so glad she’s finally here. Feels like I’ve been pregnant for years! And Hon, I know I’ve told you before, but I do really appreciate you handing the office for the next few weeks. If there’s any way I can make it up to you, let me know. Even if you just want to take a few weeks vacation at some point once I’m back.”

“I may need one by then,” she giggled. “But seriously, I’m glad I’m able to do it for you. Isn’t that what friends are for?”


Meanwhile, near Rochester…

Thomas “Tommy” Parrott finished his shift and clocked out, not sparing anyone a glance as he shrugged on his threadbare jacket and started his walk home. “Eccentric,” his coworkers called him. “Slow.” “Handicapped.” They barely acknowledged him on the production line or in the break room, and he wondered if anyone would even notice when he didn’t appear on Friday.

He thought briefly of his supervisor and knew that she would. Amy had hired him without a second thought after his assurance that he would do the best job he could, despite the objections of his coworkers, and she had made it known that she would deal harshly with anyone who ridiculed or hurt him. Then again, he thought, she had known him before.

“I was a smart man once,” he muttered, glaring at the dirty green van that splashed slushy snow up onto the sidewalk. “I was.”

It no longer mattered. “In the wrong place at the wrong time,” they had said. He had known it wasn’t the best of neighborhoods, but thought he was being careful as he had stepped out of his car and locked it. He made it only a few feet before a gang of teenage thugs appeared around the corner. Five against one had not been a fair fight when they jumped him, beating his head in with a baseball bat before taking his wallet and leaving him for dead. At least, that was what Vince told him had happened, and he had no reason to doubt it, even though locking his car was the last thing he could remember of that night.

After all, Vince had saved his life. He had come out of a nearby bar just in time to see the teenagers fleeing the scene and called 911. He had gone with him to the hospital and stayed by his side until his father arrived hours later. Tommy had always been grateful that the police had found him since all of his identification had been stolen. It helped that the car had been in his father’s name.

He kicked a rock out of his way and checked his watch. He wondered if the police would be waiting for him when he got home. His stomach churned. If not today, they’d definitely come tomorrow. Thanksgiving. For all the fifteen years since the attack, Thanksgiving had been his favorite holiday. He was thankful that Vince had found him in time. Thankful that he’d saved his life. Thankful for the turkey and stuffing his mother still made every year, just as she had when he had been a little boy.

Tears pricked his eyes, and he tried to blink them back. Even if he somehow got out of this, Thanksgiving would never be the same, and he wished that Vince had never found him. Maybe he really would have been better off dead.

Then Vince would still be alive. This would be the first year since the attack that Vince would not be sitting at the Thanksgiving dinner table with him and his parents – the first year that they wouldn’t help his dad hang Christmas lights after watching the football game.

He wondered if anyone would help his dad with the lights this year. Maybe the police would wait until Friday to come. That would be best, he thought. Thanksgiving would still be hard, but he could still help with the lights and pretend everything was as normal as it could be.

He sighed. Would his dad even want to put up lights without Vince there? They had often claimed that Vince was like another son to them, since he had saved their own.

It was three o’clock when he got home, and he kissed his mother on her cheek just as he always did. It was best to pretend that everything was normal; there was no sense in making her worry before she had to. After all, there was a slight chance that the police wouldn’t come after all.

“Hey, Ma. Anything you need me to do?”

“Throw that ratty old jacket in the trash?” she suggested, reaching up to pat his cheek. “I don’t know why you still wear that thing. It’s not like you don’t have a better one in your closet.”

“I don’t want my good one to smell like the plant,” he told her yet again. The issue of his jacket was an ongoing debate between them. “No one even notices what I’m wearing.”

“I do,” she told him. “It’s getting colder. Either wear a warmer one, or I’m going to start driving you and picking you up everyday.”

“Aw, Ma. The guys really would make fun of me if they saw that,” he reminded her. “Besides, walking is good exercise.”

“Like you need it,” she sighed.

He almost smiled, but didn’t manage it. He might not have full use of his brain anymore, but Vince had helped him work out and taught him self-defense over the years. He knew he wasn’t a match for anyone armed, but if it was hand-to-hand fighting, there was a good chance he’d come out on top.

“Is Dad home yet?”

“He got home just a few minutes ago. He’s watching tv out in the den. Go change clothes, then go on in there with him. My boys need to rest after a long day at work.”

“Thanks, Ma. Love you.”

“Love you, too,” she told him with a smile.

He took the time for a shower before changing into a clean pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. He wondered if it would be his last shower at home, and he savored the hot water a little longer than he usually did.

“How was work?” he asked when he eventually joined his dad in the den.

“Not bad,” the older man replied. “Glad to be off for a few days, though. It’s too bad you have to work Friday. We could have done something together. Maybe invited Vince along.”

“Yeah,” Tommy agreed uncomfortably.

“Have you heard from him at all lately? I’m really surprised we haven’t seen him around, especially with the holidays coming up. You know how he loves your ma’s pumpkin pie.”

He shook his head. “I know. But no, haven’t heard from him in a few weeks.”

“Maybe he’s just been busy. Ah well. He knows what time Thanksgiving dinner is tomorrow.”

“He won’t be here.” The words slipped out before he could stop them.

“Why not?”

He quivered inwardly under the sharp look his father gave him. “I don’t think he’ll be able to come anyway. He’s never stayed away this long before.”

“I hope we didn’t upset him somehow. We owe him so much.”

“I don’t think you did.” Despite his best efforts, a tear rolled down his cheek, which was immediately noticed by the older man.

“What’s wrong, son? Did you two have an argument?”

The concerned tone and hand on his shoulder were hard to fight against. He wanted to tell his father, but he was scared.

“I’m sure you can work it out.”

“No, we can’t.”

“As long as there’s life, there’s hope. You two have been friends too long. After all, he saved your life, you know. I’m sure he’ll come around.”

“As long as there’s life, there’s hope” was one of his father’s favorite sayings, but hearing it caused the tears to start in earnest.

“He met a girl. Well, woman. She’s around my age, I think.”

“But that’s good. He needs to meet a nice girl and settle down. Have you met her?”

“A time or two. And she’s really nice.”

“Then what was the problem?”

“Delana – that’s her name – was married. She’s not anymore, though. Got divorced before she met Vince.”

“You know your ma and I don’t believe in divorce, but it’s common enough these days. Not like when we were young. Does she have any children?”

“A little girl. Vince said she’s five. Wanted her to be his daughter when they got married.”

“Did you tell him it was too soon to think about getting married? They can’t have known each other that long.”

He shook his head. “He said he loved her. Loved both of them. He didn’t like that Delana’s husband took the little girl sometimes. Said he was scared she was going to go live with him again.”

He wiped his tear-stained face on his shirt sleeve. It didn’t matter anymore. He decided he would rather have his father hear the whole story before the police got there.

“He told me he’d saved my life, and I owed him one. You know I’d always told him I’d do whatever I could for him.”

Mr. Parrott nodded.

“He gave me a gun. Showed me how to use it. I don’t know where he got it. He took me and showed me where her husband lived. Told me I owed him one. Showed me a key under the mat. Told me I owed him one. He told me to go back that night after he’d gone to bed. Said it would be easy to go in and kill him. Then Delana would be all his. Told me I owed him one. I couldn’t kill him, Dad. I know I owed Vince, but I couldn’t do it. That man never hurt anyone.”

“And so you told Vince no, and that’s why he’s not coming around. I’m proud of you, son. Did you warn Delana? We should call the police and let them know.”

“He got mad at me. Told me he saved my life, and I owed him one. Said if I didn’t do it, he would, but I wouldn’t give him the gun back. I didn’t want him to kill him, either. He tried to take it away from me, Dad. We were wrestling for it, and he held my arm so that the gun was pointed at me. He was going to kill me. Said it would look like an accident, and you’d be sad he hadn’t saved my life a second time. I got away from him, Dad. I didn’t want to kill him. I didn’t. I told him to go away and leave me where we were. That I’d find a way home. He didn’t. He tried to take the gun again, but I’d pointed it at him. I didn’t think he’d try to take it if my finger was on the trigger!”

“Sounds like self defense to me,” his dad told him. “Why didn’t you call for help?”

“I was scared. I didn’t want to kill him. I didn’t know what to do. He hid his car way back in the woods behind that neighborhood. We’d gone back there after he’d shown me the house. I couldn’t carry him back to the road. I took the gun and cleaned it up the best I could before I got rid of it.”

“Where is it now?”

“Vince had said it’d be funny to put it in one of the turkeys down at the plant. Said it’d go miles and miles away and someone would think they won a prize. Just like in a box of Cracker Jack.” He turned miserable eyes up at his father. “I didn’t know what else to do with it. And now it’s Thanksgiving, and someone’s going to find it in their turkey. I know I’m not smart, but the police are. They found you when I was hurt. They’re going to show up any minute and take me away.”

“Listen, Tommy. I’m going to call a friend of mine, Mr. Harper. He’s a lawyer, and he’ll help us. Then we need to go to the police station.” He took him in his arms. “Look son. I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but everything’s going to be okay.”

He kept repeating his dad’s words to himself throughout his ordeal at the police station. Miranda warnings, taped confessions, signed statements all made his head swim, and he kept expecting to be handcuffed and taken to a cell at any moment.

It was to his great surprise that he was eventually released into his parents’ custody with a warning not to leave the jurisdiction. Someone called a prosecutor would have to decide whether to file charges and what charges should be filed, but that wouldn’t happen until at least Friday. That meant he would have Thanksgiving at home with his parents, and he could still help his dad put up the Christmas lights. Maybe, just maybe, he could even talk his ma into putting up the tree early so that he could be sure to help decorate it.


Trixie and Dell’s home, Thanksgiving night

As Trixie had predicted, she and Chloe were released on Thanksgiving morning. She and Dell decided it was too soon to expose the newborn to the crowds that would be at Crabapple Farm for the open house, so Diana offered to bring dinner to their house after cleanup was done. She arrived with not only dinner, but also most of the extended family, including Alicia, who was followed closely by Mr. Lytell.

Chloe, asleep in her father’s arms as he gently rocked her in Trixie’s rocking chair, opened her eyes and stretched as Alicia made a beeline towards them. “My namesake, I presume?”

Dell smiled as he handed the baby to her. “Yes. Chloe Alicia, meet your Aunt Alicia.” His smile grew wider as he caught sight of a diamond solitaire nestled snugly against a gold wedding band on her left ring finger. “You’ll have to ask her about her last name.”

Alicia laughed softly as she cooed at Chloe. “Well, I still have to change it with social security and the DMV, but it changed just a few hours before you were born.”

“What?” Trixie exclaimed, her eyes wide. “Why didn’t anyone tell us?”

“We didn’t tell anyone,” she explained. “I had taken Tuesday off, and Frank came down to Philadelphia. We’d planned to have a nice quiet day to ourselves, but well, we decided we’ve wasted enough time. Drove up to Connecticut just like we’d talked about when we were young.”

“Just like we should have, you mean,” Mr. Lytell teased. “About time you succumbed to my charms.”

“And you to mine,” she retorted with a grin. “At any rate, we eloped just like a couple of teenagers.”

“Congratulations!” Trixie finally managed. “What are you going to do now?”

“Well, my apartment at the store was fine for just me, but I’m not going to have my bride living there. We’re staying at the Glen Road Inn for the weekend,” Mr. Lytell answered, happier and more relaxed than Trixie had ever seen him. “Then I’m going to spend some time in Philadelphia while she works out her two week notice.”

“It’s only right,” Alicia said. “That company has been good to me over the years, and I can’t just leave them in the lurch. But yes, then we’ll be living in Sleepyside. At least, once we find a suitable house. I’m tentatively thinking I’ll probably go through a realtor or property management firm to rent mine out, but of course, it’s too early to say for certain.”

“That would be wise,” Mart told her. “You don’t have a mortgage, so it would be a nice income stream for you.”

“Not sure what you’re looking for,” Trixie said, “but there are still several houses in this development up for sale.”

“I don’t even know what we’re looking for yet,” Alicia admitted. “But I’m sure we’ll find something.”

Mr. Lytell nodded. “We will. Everything will all work out.” He put one arm around his wife’s shoulders, then reached out to touch Chloe’s cheek. She reached up and clutched his finger in her tiny fist.

Tears came unexpectedly to Trixie’s eyes as she watched them. Their chance at happiness had most likely come too late for them to have a family of their own, but she was glad that they were finally together.

It had been a long day for everyone, and the crowd began to thin after the last of the leftovers was put into the refrigerator. There were knowing smiles and blushes when Alicia and Mr. Lytell were the first to leave, but eventually, the Crabapple Farm contingent of Peter, Helen, Bobby, and Knut were the only guests to remain.

Helen claimed both the rocker and Chloe, and Erica curled up beside Trixie on the couch. Despite her best efforts to stay awake, she was soon sound asleep with her head on Trixie’s shoulder.

Once he was certain she was likely to stay asleep, Dell quietly said, “Bill Gillespie called me this afternoon. He had a long talk with the chief of police in Rochester this morning. Found out where the gun came from.” With all eyes on him, he told the story as he had heard it from the police chief.

“So what’s going to happen to him?” Helen asked after he finished.

“Depends on what the prosecutor decides. I’d honestly be surprised if he’s charged at all. Even if he was charged and found competent to stand trial, I really don’t see a jury convicting him. It looks like a clear-cut case of self-defense.”

“I’m just glad I didn’t have to go with the detectives to find the body,” Trixie grimaced. “After two months in the woods….”

“I don’t even want to think about it,” Bobby shuddered. “Actually, I’d really prefer not to have to find any more dead bodies. Fresh or not.”

“Hopefully you won’t have to,” Trixie sighed. “Theoretically, one of the advantages of being a private investigator is being able to leave that up to the actual police, but given our cases, who knows.”

“Could be worse,” Knut teased. “Just think how many bodies you’d find if you were like the amateur detectives in the cozy mysteries Gloria used to read. From what she said, the life expectancy for any newcomer or visitor to town was almost as bad as that of a red shirt on Star Trek. Come to think of it, as a recent newcomer myself, I’m glad I’m not in one of those books. I’d have been a goner by now.”

Bobby laughed. “Bethany likes those, too. I’d rather be like Sherlock Holmes.”

“He certainly had to see more than his share of dead bodies,” Trixie reminded them.

“Okay, that’s enough of corpses,” Peter interjected. “Let’s not give ourselves nightmares tonight. I do feel bad for that young man, though. Even if he’s not charged, I’m sure he’s going to have to find a new job. Tampering with food is in itself a pretty major offense.”

“True. He’s not going to have an easy road ahead whatever happens,” Helen sighed.

Knut shook his head. “No, he won’t. But I’m living proof that it is possible to start again from scratch. Hopefully he will have people to help him like you helped me.”

Chloe began to cry, waking Erica up. She sat upright, and Helen handed the baby back to Trixie. Trixie checked her diaper, then gingerly stood up. “This young lady needs to be changed. I’ll be right back.”

Alone in the nursery with her youngest daughter, she grinned as she took a fresh diaper from the drawer and removed the soiled one. “Guns in turkeys, stories of dead bodies, aunts suddenly eloping, well, Chloe, I never promised you that your life would be peaceful or uneventful. Your big sister can certainly tell you that.”

Once the baby was clean and diapered, she took a moment and snuggled her to her chest, breathing in the scent of newborn baby – her newborn baby. “I do promise you, though, that you will always be loved and protected. You’ve got me, Daddy, and Erica, and a whole slew of family and friends.”

She turned as Dell entered the room. “Trix? Your family’s getting ready to leave. Did you want to come down and say goodnight?”

“Yes, we’re coming. I was just warning her that life is never dull around here…”

He laughed and wrapped his arms around the two of them. “Your mom’s right, pumpkin. I don’t think I’ve had a moment’s peace since I met her.” He dropped a kiss on her tiny forehead. “But you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.”


Author’s notes: Portions of this story were inspired by Lilian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who Said Cheese and, to a lesser extent, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Blue Carbuncle.

I also have to admit to some artistic license with Alicia’s schooling at Katie Gibb’s. The actual branch in Philadelphia (technically Norristown) didn’t open until 1977, however, in my universe, it opened at some point prior to Alicia enrolling there in 1970…