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Authors: Joanna Campbell Slan

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BOOK: Photo, Snap, Shot
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She had the good grace to turn red as she remembered my husband’s peccadillo.

“But making out in the balcony? Geez Louise, Maggie, we’re talking high school kids here. Practically babies!”

She rolled her eyes.

I hate it when people roll their eyes. My nana always said your eyes could get stuck back in your head. She might be right.

“I know we’re talking high school kids. Of course, it’s inappropriate behavior. Didn’t you have a boyfriend in high school?” She pointed a finger at my chest.

No, I didn’t. Sign me up as an official Late Bloomer. I had my first real relationship in college, though, and we broke up. That night I went to a frat party and got drunk for my first time. Which was how I wound up pregnant. Which was how I happened to marry George, Anya’s father. But I wasn’t up for sharing these personal tidbits.

“The school acted responsibly by keeping the door locked. A couple of faculty members have copies of the key.” Maggie tucked both hands under her armpits and looked away. I was staring at the Giro logo on the back of her helmet when she continued, “That’s when faculty started having trysts in the balcony.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“It’s human nature.” My friend gave me a withering look. “Don’t act so shocked.”

The private school system in St. Louis is its own little universe. And from this unusual solar system comes a greeting peculiar to our city: “What high school did you go to?” The answer can tell the inquisitor your neighborhood, your religion, your IQ, your economic background, and your social standing.

I rubbed my eyes behind my sunglasses. A quick glance at the computer on my bike told me we had less than a half an hour before getting back to the girls. “Let me get this straight. Faculty members were playing doctor with each other in the balcony. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘Show Time,’ doesn’t it?” I ignored her scowl and went on, “Are you suggesting that Sissy Gilchrist was in the balcony with a playmate when she got bashed in the head?”

Maggie sighed. “It’s possible.”

“With who?”

“You mean ‘with whom’ and I shouldn’t say.” Abruptly, she turned away from me.

“Maggie! I tell you everything.” That was an exaggeration. We’d met three years ago at a scrapbook crop and kept loosely in touch since.

“Her son Christopher is one of my kindergarteners. I need to stop talking.” Maggie threw a leg over her sissy bar and pedaled back toward our cars, leaving me sprinting to catch up.

I wouldn’t give up on finding out more from Maggie. Not yet. One of my best attributes is my ability to encourage people to say more than they should. I have a baby face, blonde curls, and I look a lot stupider than I am. Therefore, with a bit of judicial coaxing and indefatigable efforts on my part, most people open up.

We pedaled to the overpass where Spirit of St. Louis Boulevard meets Chesterfield Airport Road. I put a foot down on each side of the bike and touched the ground for balance. “Thirteen and a half.” Or so said the computer mounted on my handlebars. Since we had begun riding together, we’d improved our average speed by a half a mile an hour. “Give me a high five, girlfriend.”

“Lance Armstrong averages more than thirty-two miles an hour,” pouted Maggie after slapping my palm.

“Lance Armstrong has no excess body fat and weighs his pasta every evening.”

“Obviously he’s not responsible for getting a meal on the table for his family.”

“Obviously. At least we’re moving up in the world. The bike world that is.”

Off came Maggie’s gloves. Bike gloves, that is. “I will say this about Sissy Gilchrist. If someone else hadn’t killed her, I would have cheerfully done the job myself.”

Kiki Explains How To Do Theme Albums—Fast!

If you need to make an album fast, and you don’t know the recipient well, these tips will help:

1. Pick a neutral solid paper with a textured surface for all your backgrounds.

2. Choose a simple image, such as a flourish or a flower or a symbol. Repeat this in varying sizes and colors on all the pages to pull your album together.

3. Decide on a single color and use it for all your mats. (This will also save you paper.)

4. Select a single typeface of letter stickers, or rubber stamps, or a computer typeface. Use that in varying sizes throughout your project.

5. Divide your photos into topics. Group like photos together on the pages.

6. Create a thumbnail—a small sketch—of each page. Graph paper works well for this. Figure out where your photos will go before you start assembling your album.

Sissy Gilchrist wasn’t exactly
model parent material. Nor was she a co-worker whom people enjoyed. And she wasn’t much of a teacher either, according to Maggie. In fact, she would have been unemployed had her father, Quentin Gilchrist, not been a Class of ’60 graduate and a generous donor.

“But kill her? Maggie, that’s cold,” I said as my friend loaded her bike onto her car rack.

“She beat kids down,” said Maggie. “Emotionally. She teased them, made fun of them, and generally eroded their self-esteem. Matt was a straight A math student. He’d attended an accelerated math program for years. The first day of class last year she made fun of him for going to get ‘extra help.’”

Maggie went on, “Matt’s had problems fitting in. His acne doesn’t help. But he’s always been proud of his math skills. Then Sissy made fun of him. Stripped him of the one area he was confident.”

“Could that be why she was killed? I mean, maybe she did that to other kids as well.”

“The Mama Bear Syndrome,” we chorused. When mothers become overly protective of their young, they can be dangerous to others.

“All I know is my son loved math. It was Matt’s best shot at a college scholarship, and Sissy Gilchrist nearly ruined it for him.” She grumbled a moment. “He quit his outside studies. He refused to participate in class discussions. Didn’t turn in homework. He started saying math was only for geeks and losers.”

Sending Matt and Tilly to CALA put a financial strain on the Earhart budget. Maggie’d once told me, “We spend money on CALA thinking it will help our children get into better colleges. Our fingers are crossed the kids will get scholarships later.”

“I’m worried. My friend Detective Detweiler thinks our daughters might have seen the murderer.”

“Oh, no,” Maggie groaned. “That makes sense, though. The girls were in the hall when Mrs. Selsner screamed. Who knows what they saw? But we don’t really have a choice about sending them back, do we? What are our options? Transfer them to a public school? Try home-schooling? Like your mother-in-law would stand for that! Get real, Kiki.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. “I don’t know what my choices are. Or yours. The jerk who killed George is still on the loose. Now this. I wish I could get into a witness protection program somewhere. I feel like my fanny is sticking out in the breeze—and my kid is at risk.”

“Mine, too. But here’s the good news: the school shares our concerns. Before I left, I got an interoffice e-mail. Administration outlined our new security measures. We’ll have guards walking the halls, new security cameras installed, and gates blocking all the parking lot entrances. All by Monday. Money may not make the world go round, but it sure can buy you a first-class trip and a set of designer luggage.”

___

Our golfers finished later than usual. The coach gave practice instructions while the girls poured water on their necks. St. Louis is known for beastly extremes of weather. This fall had been gorgeous with cool days and cooler nights. The golf course nestled on the south side of the Missouri River, with only a small levee standing sentinel over the reclaimed bottomland. Players always came away from the fields coated with dust. Spackles of dirt covered Maggie and me. We leaned against our cars and talked.

“Why didn’t you ask to have Matt moved to another math teacher?”

“We tried. By the time a transfer was in the works, we didn’t have to. After Christmas break, Sissy Gilchrist changed. Or at least she seemed to. Matt said she was being nice. I waited for her to revert to type. But it never happened.” Maggie plucked at her sweaty hair with thick fingers. Every part of Maggie was solid. You could take her to the bank and a teller would hand over her weight in gold.

“Wow. What was it? A warning from CALA administration? A religious conversion? Massive medication? Hmm?”

Maggie smirked. “Something more prosaic. She fell in love.”

___

I plugged my phone into the car charger. Anya’s rang as we pulled onto Highway 40 to make the journey back home. She handed it over.

“Come by my house,” said my mother-in-law. “It’s Shabbas.” And she hung up.

How very, very Sheila. No “please,” no “would you,” no nothing but her directive.

I couldn’t go directly there; I had to let my Great Dane out for a piddle or I’d come home to Lake Mini-Pee-Pee.

I raced in, let out Gracie, watched her do her business, and mulled over my choices. They were none and none. Sheila’s wish was my command. I knew when she loaned me money that she’d extract her pound of flesh. I also knew she’d take it one postage stamp square at a time.

I gritted my teeth. Is it any wonder my dentist Dr. Wallace told me I need to wear an “appliance”? Sounds like a washer-dryer combination, but he assures me it’s really a mouth guard like boxers use. I probably need one. The dental tech noticed I’m wearing down my molars. Which probably explains why I’ve been getting headaches and popping Advil like they are jelly beans. “Stress,” said Dr. Wallace.

“Sheila,” I muttered to myself.

Anya was half-asleep by the time we pulled up at her grandmother’s. I roused her by shaking her shoulder. I followed my child in after Linnea, Sheila’s maid, opened the door. Sheila took one glance at sweaty, stinky me and said, “Not on my furniture, you don’t. Come back to the kitchen. You can sit on a stool.”

Wasn’t that special?

She directed Anya to go upstairs and take a shower. My daughter has her own bedroom at Sheila’s. I “sort of” have a guest bedroom there, which I guess counts under the heading “making progress.”

St. Louis County Police Chief Robbie Holmes didn’t care. He greeted me with a hug as I pulled up a seat on the far side of the granite countertop. Linnea slid a huge glass of frosty lemonade toward me and a plate of cheese and crackers. Despite the Oreos, I was famished.

“Don’t eat that,” said Sheila, moving the plate out of my reach. “You’ve gotten positively pudgy, Kiki. Robbie and I were discussing what happened today at CALA,” said Sheila. “It was irresponsible for you to be unavailable by phone with that happening.”

I sighed. I was learning—slowly—not to respond to her jabs. Linnea took the plate from her employer and gave me a small “what can you do” shrug.

“Chief Holmes, will Anya be safe going back to school on Monday?”

His weathered face nodded. He had this expression of tiredness, brought on I was certain, by all the horrible scenes he’d witnessed. Yet, his eyes were incredibly warm and concerned. In many ways, he was proof that opposites attract because Sheila’s blue peepers could be so ice-cold. “We should be making an arrest here shortly.”

“What’s the holdup?” Sheila raised a perfectly shaped and shaded eyebrow.

“We’ve yet to locate the murder weapon.”

Sheila sniffed. “How hard can that be? A gun at CALA? That would seem obvious.”

I noticed Linnea struggling not to make a face behind my mother-in-law’s back. She slid the plate of cheese and crackers back in front of me. To cover my corresponding grin, I lifted my glass and winked at Linnea.

Good old Sheila. The world was such a simple place to her: She had all the answers and by golly, you were a dope if you didn’t.

Chief Holmes smiled at my mother-in-law, who picked up the plate and took it away from me. That man was totally besotted and it showed. He gave her an indulgent little hug. “Sheila, darling, not every murder is committed with a gun. This was a brick.”

I added, “Wow. If you’re ready to make an arrest, you’ve been moving right along.”

He shrugged. “Everyone connected with CALA wants to get this behind them as fast as possible. But to your question, Kiki, of course, there are safety concerns.” He reached past Linnea, grabbed the plate of cheese and crackers and set it back down in front of me.

He continued, “The school is following our suggestions on a variety of procedures. Some public. Some not. And we have our eye on a person of interest. More importantly, I’m concerned about Anya. How’s that little sweetheart doing?”

“She sure had a shock.”

“Of course she did! It was irresponsible of you to take her out golfing,” said Sheila. She reached past Police Chief Holmes, picked up the plate of cheese and crackers and handed it back to Linnea. “She should have been seen by a doctor and given a tranquilizer.”

Chief Holmes shook his head at Sheila and ruffled her hair. He had incredibly huge hands, ham hocks really. “Sheila, calm down.”

Wow.

I nearly fell off my seat. No one touched Sheila’s hair. No one. It was always a perfect coiffure, and now it stuck out every which way.

“Sheila, my darling,” he said. He grabbed the cheese and cracker plate and set it back in front of me. “Fresh air and exercise are good for the child. Believe me, when you’ve seen something like this, you need every distraction you can get. This way she’ll sleep well tonight. You don’t want to start her on pills. Kids and pills are a bad mix.” He tossed a smile my way and then said to her, “I think you’re being a little hard on your daughter.”

Double wow.

“Daughter-in-law,” said Sheila.

Chief Holmes bent her head to his to give her a quick kiss on the cheek, which caused Sheila to flush with pleasure. (Meanwhile I stuffed a cracker and a wodge of cheese into my mouth. I also slipped two crackers down the pocket at the back of my bicyclist’s shirt.) “Kiki’s your daughter. She stood by your son. She’s the mother of your grandbaby. To my mind, you couldn’t have done better in the family lottery if you’d had access to the Almighty’s own insider knowledge. Kiki’s a keeper.”

Okay, triple wow. I was now officially in love with Robbie Holmes. What a nice guy.

Sheila did settle down a little. “Daughters are so much more trouble than boys. That Sissy Gilchrist has done nothing but break her parents’ hearts. She was a sweet little girl and then something happened. Her poor mother, Paula. If it hasn’t been one thing, it’s another with that child.”

An image of Sissy’s body popped into my head. Child? Sissy was a woman and dressed the part. Her corpse had been wearing a low-cut knit top, a dramatic push-up bra, and pants so tight the seams screamed for mercy.

“Something happened to Sissy?” I focused on Sheila’s remark. That resonated with me. My daughter had grown increasingly moody. I worried it was the onset of puberty, and I took every opportunity to learn about what to expect. I’d been a very compliant child. But then, I’d grown up scared.

Sheila sniffed. “Something to do with a horse. Or horses. The Gilchrists didn’t have the money to buy one for her when she was younger so she rode at …” and my mother-in-law snapped her fingers trying to recall the name. “Red Leaf Stables. On the way to St. Albans. The owner was the principal in the accounting firm where Quentin Gilchrist worked. Before Quentin made partner.”

“Her personality changed because of a horse?” Chief Holmes sounded as incredulous as I felt.

Sheila brushed away his comment with a wave of her hand. “Not exactly. But something happened. Some drama about a horse. I remember how upset Paula was. Next I heard how Sissy was acting out. She became attracted to inappropriate men.” Sheila glanced pointedly at Linnea, who had her back to us.

“Inappropriate? In what way?” I couldn’t believe what Sheila was implying. Especially when Linnea was standing two feet away. But, I was fairly certain Linnea knew all Sheila’s faults. Probably much better than I did because she was with the woman eight hours a day.

My mother-in-law’s jaw tensed. “In every way. Unsuitable in their professions as well. She married outside her station.”

Like my husband had. I bit back the angry words forming storm clouds in my mind. Sheila could be so mean-spirited and small-minded. How she’d ever raised a wonderful son like George was simply beyond me. Not for the first time did I wonder if Harry Lowenstein should have been canonized as a saint. But Jews don’t have saints, so there you go.

A tight chuckle came from Chief Holmes. “Sheila, Sissy Gilchrist married a policeman, didn’t she?”

I could see the hurt in his eyes.

And Sheila did, too.

BOOK: Photo, Snap, Shot
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