Wynter’s Way and Murder: When One isn’t Enough were both published by BWL and are available through the company. I’m also reachable through them. All the books are, of course, available through Amazon and, in you live in Tacoma, Washington, at the Tacoma Historical society store and museum and the Northwest Shop. I love hearing from people so ‘message” me through Facebook if you want.
This is the opening to Wynters Way. I started the book in the 1990s, after a trip to Great Britain and finished it about 20 years later. I really wanted to write a gothic novel set somewhere in England but any kind of realistic dialect was beyond me. According to Google (and would it lie?) there are at least 37. The result was a vaguely rural setting in some English-speaking country.
Spirals of mist coiled up off the cobblestones and disappeared. Though barely dawn, the sun, hovered on the horizon, seeming not to want to come up. Perhaps it was tired from making August such an unusually hot month. A team of fresh horses stood patiently while a boy harnessed them and a I stood in the shade of shedding oak tree be the side of Crooked Billet Inn while my older brother, Thomas, talked to the coach driver. I had pleaded with my parents not to come and see me off but Father insisted that if they weren’t there than my brother would be.
“All set, Jane,” Thomas said. Apparently satisfied that the coachman would watch out for me, he began handing my luggage up to be loaded on top. My soon-to-be fellow passengers—two men and a woman—came out of the inn and stood at varying distances.
I hugged my brother. “Thomas, please go home now.” But he set his lips in the stubborn way I knew.
“You don’t have to do this,” he said.
“I know I don’t have to but I want to.”
We stepped out of the way to let the others board first and I hugged Thomas. “I need this; I need to find my place.”
“Your place is at home.”
I ignored the remark and took the coachman’s hand. He helped me to a seat across from the woman while the leather thorough braces supporting the carriage’s body protest. After closing the carriage’s door, he hauled himself onto the seat while a guard with a chronometer waited. I smiled and waved at Thomas as we drove out of the yard.
No sooner had we done so than I became painfully away that the vehicle’s springs were well-used. I wiggled to get comfortable and glanced at my fellow travelers. Two young men sat opposite each other each with a newspaper sheet that they spent the morning trading back and forth. A middle-aged lady sat next to one of the men and smiled and nodded at me. The men wore dusty suits and heavy boots. Neither had removed their hats. The woman had on a green straw bonnet with an abundance of ribbons, feathers and flowers, and neatly-darned gloves. Her bright blue eyes twinkled above plump, rosy cheeks. I wondered if she lived near Wynters Way.
This is an excerpt from one of my favorite chapters in A Feather for a Fan, and one I had a lot of fun writing. As I mentioned in yesterday’s Blog, I aim to be as factual as possible and Mr. & Mrs. Money had a stationary store on the wharf in Tacoma where they also did printing for the local offices of the Northern Pacific Railroad, printed their own newspaper, and raised birds to sell to the sailors. Dr. Spinning left a short memoir where he talked about sitting on people while he pulled teeth with either a key or a bullet mold.
. . . . the store’s front door opened and short, balding man carrying a medical bag came in. Before he could say a word, Mr. Money hailed him.
“Doc, doc, you gotta do something about this here tooth. I’m in a pain that even whiskey can’t cure.”
“Well, that is bad, then, isn’t it?” said the doctor with a twinkle in his eye. He put his medical bag on the counter, opened it, and took something out. “I’m just going to get right to work and I’ll have that tooth out quick as you can say John Jacob Jingleheimerschmidt.”
Mr. Money eyed the shiny object Dr. Spinning held with mistrust. “What’s that, Doc?”
“It’s a dental key. Now, sir, stay where you are and open wide so I can see what miscreant molar is causing you pain.”
Mr. Money’s eyes, wide as saucers, never left Dr. Spinning’s face, and after a few muttered ‘ums’ and ‘I sees’ the doctor tapped a tooth. Mr. Money gave a howl and sat bolt upright.
“Holy crawdad, Doc, that hurt,” he said and tears poured down his cheeks.
“I imagine it does. That there is as rotten a gnasher as I’ve ever seen. But I’ll have it out lickety-split.” He started rooting in the dental bag again and Mr. Money explored the offending tooth with his tongue.
“Well, now, mebbe it ain’t so bad after all,” he said.
“Nonsense man, the tooth’s got to come out. It’s probably septic already. Ah,” he fished out a peculiar-looking metal instrument. “Here it is.”
“It’s called a mouth gag.” Dr. Spinning turned it around in the light. “It’s mostly for lockjaw patients, holds their mouths open so I can get some food down em, but I use it for extractions, too.” He held the mouth gag where Mr. Money could see it and Hildy saw him gulp. Proud of the instrument and oblivious to Mr. Money’s horror, Dr. Spinning continued, “see the thread of the screw is reversed at its center so that when I turn the fixed wing nuts, it opens or closes both handles at the same time. I’ll just insert it in your mouth and you won’t accidently bite me. I can tell you, this has saved my fingers more times than I can count.”
He set it down and returned to his medical bag. “And this is a dental forceps.” Dr. Spinning found yet another tool and squeezed and released its handle a few times. “It’s old,” he said, “came from Italy. See how the jaws look just like an animal’s head? Quite the jokers are those Eye-ties. Now, sir, I suggest you lie down here on the floor where I can get at you. Don’t worry, won’t take but a minute—if we’re lucky.” He gave a little laugh. “Don’t like to think about it if we’re not.”
Mr. Money continued to sit in his chair, as if frozen and Mrs. Money hurried to his side. “Come on, now, dear.” She took hold of one arm. “The doctor hasn’t got all day. You’ll feel much better and I’ll make you a nice buttery sops.”
For a minute after Mr. Money lay down, it looked as if he wouldn’t open his mouth. But with practiced hands, the doctor pinched the man’s nose shut and grabbed his chin. Unable to breathe, Mr. Money had to open wide, whereupon Dr. Spinning shoved the mouth gag in place. Then he straddled his patient’s chest and applied the forceps. “Did this very same procedure just last week using a bullet mold,” he said, putting pressure on the offending tooth. Mr. Money made a gargling noise and then the molar was out. The doctor grinned with pleasure. “Nasty looking thing as I’ve seen lately.” He held the bloody tooth up for them all to see. Mrs. Money blanched and Hildy felt a little light-headed, but Mr. Money had passed out.
“Oh, dear,” said Mrs. Money, “I’ll just get some sal volatile,” but the doctor stopped her.
“Best let him as is; he won’t like this next part any better.”
He retrieved his medical bag from the counter and took out a glass tube. Then he opened a jar and fished around in it. “You ever see one of these, young lady?” He held up something black and slimy that moved between his fingers. Before Hildy could answer, the doctor said, “It’s a Dalmatian bloodsucker. Best kind there is. Now, look here, I’m going to put the little guy in this tube. Mrs. Money, you’d better get down and help me.”
Mrs. Money knelt on the floor next to her husband and Dr. Spinning handed her the tube. “You just hold this right there on the gums where they’re all red and nasty looking and the leech will eat all that bad tissue away.”
“For how long?” Mrs. Money looked pale.
“I’d say about twenty maybe thirty minutes. I’m going to hustle on down to Blackwell’s and see if Jacob Mann will give me a drink, and then I’ll be back and check up on the job.”
He wiped off his tools, put them back in the bag, and pushed open the door whistling. He stopped long enough to add, “hold on as best you can to the tube, leeches love to make a run for it right down the throat.”
“Oh.” Hildy bent over to let some blood flow back into her head. “Mrs. Money,” she said in a muffled voice, “I think I’ll go home.”
From the late 1950s until my father’s death last year, we spent a lot of time on Hood Canal near a three-building town called Tayuya, not only swimming, water skiing, digging for geoducks, and fishing, but also exploring the lakes and woods. When I wanted to write a second mystery, I set it on the Canal because there were so many places for action, i.e. the Indian Hole, the old Dewatto school house, and the logging camps and flume down to the water. I wanted to call the book Tahuya Daze but the BWL editor thought that would confuse people. Tahuya, by the way, is pronounced, Ta Who Ya. Tee-shirts sold there read, ‘What’s it Tahuya?’ A pun, get it? So the book became, Murder: When One isn’t Enough. In this chapter, the protagonist has gotten tired of her own company and headed to a spaghetti dinner at the Tahuya church.
A little before five, I changed into khakis, a navy blue tank top and a pair of jelly shoes. On the off chance the church would be cold, I grabbed a magenta, D&D Sloan cotton-velvet jacket and then remembered some Rubik’s cube earrings in my purse and added them. I turned the radio on for Jose, and replenished Porch Cat’s kibbles and water dishes. Rufus was going with me. I hadn’t the heart to leave him behind.
A five-minute drive took us to the church parking lot, a grassy field across a dead end road. The most convenient places were taken so I chose a spot under some trees away from the other cars but where the car would be cool for the dog, although that wasn’t a problem. The clouds hadn’t completely given up their load as their ominous appearance indicated. I opened the windows to give Rufus air and walked carefully across the uneven turf, dodging puddles and mole holes.
The ticket line straggled along the porch. I joined the crowd and just as I reached the cashier a voice behind me said, softly, “Pretend you’re my date and neither of us will have to sit by the bathroom.”
“Ssh. Just go along with it.
Before I could respond, the whisperer handed over his money and said to me, “Pony up, honey. You know we agreed.”
I handed the cashier a ten dollar bill and smiled. “I make a lot more money than he does.”
My unknown “date” made a funny noise and followed me down a flight of stairs.
Church members had done a good job in making the basement look festive. Red and white checkered, plastic cloths covered rows of folding tables. A large red, white and green flag—the flag of Italy—was mounted on one wall, and posters of Italian scenes were taped on others. The room’s corners had braided ropes of garlic hanging down. A man in a barbeque apron was seating people. His apron had a giant crab stamped on the front along with the words,” To Know Me is to Love Me.”
“Two in the middle okay?”
“Just fine,” said my date. “Come on, Sugar, shake a leg.”
He showed us to a table midway down the room. Four people saw us coming and took the best seats leaving us sitting across from each other and each of us next to a cement wall. One false move and my elbow is done for. Under the pretext of getting my book out of my purse, I took a look at my date and our companions.
My date was a thin man about forty. He had a scar on his chin, a nose that looked as if it had once been broken and a bushy head of brown hair. He wore a clean but threadbare, flannel shirt and had a leather jacket on the back of his chair. He saw my glance and grinned, his face falling into well-used laugh lines. Next to me were Lorraine and Babe, both wearing jeans and sweatshirts and across from them were the yachting couple, Herb and Betty. The four were still chuckling as the man who had seated us delivered their salads. He wiped his hands on his apron and turned to me.
“Did I just hear you say that your name was Armand and you’ll be our server tonight?” I asked him.
“No, I’m Bob, Armand’s better-looking brother, and you heard me asking, ‘what kind of dressing do you want on your salad?’”
“That’s what I meant to say.”
From the looks of the gleaming perspiration on his mostly-bald head, I guessed he’d already had quite a night of it. The others gave him their preference; my date was asking for Italian dressing when I heard Lorraine say, “What did you think about Alice Thorndyke? Wasn’t that something?”
“We were flabbergasted.” Betty elbowed her spouse. “Weren’t we, Herb?” He had just taken a bit of salad and could only nod so she continued. “How in the world could she have fallen in Hood Canal, for heaven’s sake? She lived up back of Dewatto.”
“Our niece, Nancy, was on duty when they brought her in. There was a nasty head wound but I guess she died from drowning. She apparently hit her head on something and fell in.”
“Or was hit on the head and pushed in.” Bob brought two baskets of garlic bread and Lorraine took a piece, tore off the end and used it to wipe salad dressing off her empty plate.
“She was an old woman. Who in the world would want her dead?” Betty was plainly freaked out.
“Did your niece say if she was raped?” Babe asked.
The other three made various exclamations of horror. “Don’t be crude, Babe,” his wife said.
“Nothing crude about it. It’s the way things are, these days. No one’s safe, especially the elderly.
While they considered his words, Bob brought my salad and another waiter filled our coffee cups.
“Just like Rasputin,” said Lorraine after the two men moved on to other tables.
“You know, Rasputin. That mad Russian monk who was buddy-buddy with the Czarina. He was bludgeoned to death and his body thrown into a river.”
“Poisoned and shot,” I said.
The four looked at me as realizing, for the first time, there were other people at the table.
“Pardon?” Lorraine asked.
“He was poisoned and shot.” I sipped my coffee. “Rasputin was given little cakes filled with cyanide and when they didn’t do the trick, the Czar’s nephew, Prince Yusupov, shot him. Even then he didn’t die so after kicking him a few times, the prince and his cohorts loaded him a carriage and drove to the Neva River. They found a hole in the ice and tossed the body in. An autopsy showed he died from drowning.”
I smiled at the four and took a bite of salad. Across the table the brown-haired man looked back and forth from me to them with sleepy-looking eyes set a little too close together. He looked a little Robin Williams.
“My God.” Betty looked startled. The other three remained silent.
“I just felt it was something that needed to be clarified.”