Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thursday's Opening Scene from Requiem Murder by Janet Lane Walters #ammystery

Requiem Murder

By Janet Lane Walters

DiskUs Publishing

Chapter 1


On Groundhog day when Robespierre, my Maine Coon cat, jumped from his place on the window seat, one thought popped into my head. Company. Who? After following him to the kitchen, I watched him push his bulky, brown and black body through the hinged opening at the bottom of the door. Moments later I peered down the dimly lit stairwell. Robespierre had sprawled in the center of the third step and blocked my visitor’s progress.

“Good grief, Katherine, I hope he’s not planning to bite me again.” Edward Potter, pastor of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, glared at the cat. His voice had risen to a high pitch. “Whatever do you feed him? He’s ever so much bigger than Bitsy.”

The temptation to say my pet fed on pastors was strong. I refrained and fought to control a grin that threatened to blossom. Teasing Edward usually results in a lecture delivered in an indignant voice.

With an air of disdain, Robiesperre stretched. His back rippled in a way I envy. Then he slithered around Edward.

When Edward reached the top of the steps, he turned and peered at the cat. “He’s becoming more brazen.”

“Only toward selected guests. He ignores most people.” I turned my head and Edward brushed my cheek with his lips.

Edward is a dapper little man with an ear for gossip and a penchant for turning even the slightest event into a fiesta or a disaster. He’s astute about church politics. The coffers at St. Stephen’s are filled through his ability to cosset and cajole the elderly population of the church, mainly wealthy women. I partially fit the category, being over sixty-five, and while not rich, I’m at least comfortable.

When he entered the sunlit kitchen, the expression on his face announced a problem. He walked into the living room. Unlike most of my guests, he considered chats at the kitchen table for commoners. In the living room, he perched on the edge of a Queen Anne chair, purchased years ago before antiques became the rage. In the past twenty years, stores selling every manner of old things have spread plague-like in the business district of the Hudson River village where I live.

“You’re tense. How about a cup of mint tea?”

“Not all the tranquilizers in the world will calm me. It’s a disaster, a complete and utter tragedy.” His hands fluttered. The words rolled out like a sermon promising hell and damnation. “How will we maintain the quality of the services? Easter will be a disaster.”

My forehead wrinkled. What in the world had stirred him into this state? The last time had been when one of the altar boys had spilled the communion wine. Had there been a fire at the church? A flood? A plague? The strident fire whistles had been silent for days. What had occurred? Knowing a full and dramatic scene would develop, I wanted mint tea.

“I’ll heat the water. Then you can tell me about this tragedy.” Mint tea is my all-purpose remedy, calming nerves and stimulating the mind, bringing alertness or sleep.

I retreated to the kitchen, filled the kettle and stuffed a silver ball with an assortment of dried mint leaves. While the water boiled, I assembled the pottery mugs, sugar and spoons on a wooden tray.

“Why will Easter be a problem?” I set the tray on a Duncan Phyfe table.

“We may have to cancel the season.” He patted his thinning light brown hair.

I swallowed a laugh. “How can we cancel one of the main reasons for St. Stephen’s existence?”

“Are you making fun of me?” His voice rose in pitch. “I’m absolutely serious.” He accepted a mug. “Mary’s husband has been transferred. It’s a disaster.”

I mentally sorted through all the Marys in the congregation and tried to decide which one’s leaving would cause Edward to fall apart. Who had triggered the word of the day? On another level, the need to giggle soared. Perched on the edge of the chair and holding a tea cup with both hands, Edward looked like a child.

“There are about twenty Marys at St. Stephen’s. Which one do you mean?”

“Mary Hensen, our organist. What will our services be like without the organ and the choir? Katherine, you have to help us until we find a replacement.”

Twenty years ago I resigned my position as organist at St. Stephen’s. My husband’s sudden death had left me with a son to raise and enough money to cover three years of expenses. Once I finished my nursing course, my Sunday schedule had passed out of my control.

“Don’t you think I’m a bit old for the job?”

Edward sighed. “I knew you’d say that. I have a list of people who are willing to play, but none of them want to direct the choir. Could you at least try?”

“What have you done about finding Mary’s replacement?”

“I’ve called the Organists’ Guild. They’ll list us in their newsletter. I’ve sent notices to several colleges within commuting distance, but I really don’t want a student. Our music program is something to be proud of and I dread losing our reputation.”

Pride, I thought. “Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned from this.”

“Perhaps, perhaps, but we must have music.” He put the mug on the tray. “I’d like you to head the search committee. People respect your musical judgment.”

“And the other members?” I’ve reached an age where I don’t have to like everyone and avoiding those who annoy me has become a game. “A search committee is like a family. I won’t spend time with people I dislike.”

“Beth Logan. Judith and Martin Simpson. Ralph Greene. I believe that’s a good balance.”

Beth is a neighbor who is becoming a friend. For several years, we had worked together at the hospital. Last winter when I broke my leg, we had renewed our acquaintance. She volunteered to be my chauffeur on Sundays for church. I liked the young widow and found her six-year-old son charming.

The Simpsons are also neighbors. There’s something strange about their relationship but their fifteen-year-old daughter, Marcie, had been my piano student until she’d grown beyond my ability to teach. With a sigh, I thought of Judith’s frenetic energy and wondered how much I could tolerate.

The fourth member, Ralph Greene, was a man with a superb baritone voice. Though he took music seriously, he wouldn’t cause any problems unless the committee decided on someone musically incompetent.

“Well?” Edward asked.

“You have a committee head.”

“Splendid. We shall rise from the ashes.”

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