Oliver Harrington II was one of the most beloved members of Crestwood's community. Despite being the picture of health at age 52, he died from a sudden heart attack, leaving behind the family mansion on a sprawling piece of property. His twin sister Adele returned to the town she despises to claim her brother's home, intent on turning it into a B&B. And she's hired Po Paltrow and the Crestwood Quilters to craft quilts for the guest rooms.
But Adele is not the only one interested in the future of the Harrington estate. A developer wants to put multiple houses on the land. The townsfolk just want their neighborhood to retain its small-town charm and not become a tourist trap. But when an autopsy reveals that Oliver was actually poisoned, suspicion falls on his sister. Po doesn't believe Adele is guilty, leaving her determined to discover who else harbored deadly designs on the Harrington home . . .
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News of Ollie Harrington's death caused a ripple of sadness through the Canterbury University community and the neighborhood where his family had lived for generations.
But a larger ripple — nearly a tidal wave, Po Paltrow thought — occurred almost immediately after when Ollie's twin sister, Adele, elegant and self-assured, swept down upon the small town of Crestwood a day Ollie Harrington died.
Shades of Isadora Duncan, Po thought that day when she spotted Adele Harrington speeding down Elderberry Road in her long elegant Cadillac convertible, a yellow scarf tied around her neck and flying in the autumn breeze. A veritable whirlwind. But the thought that Adele's arrival would cause a chaos of rather momentous proportions — at least for Crestwood Kansas — was beyond Po's imagination. Not then. Not when people were still able to conjure up sympathy for a grieving woman who had lost her twin brother.
Adele's years away had made her an unfamiliar figure to most residents, but in the space of two days she had quickly and efficiently taken over the Harrington mansion, disturbed quiet neighbors with strident demands to trim trees and keep children away from her property, and alienated nearly everyone else in town, including the family's lawyers and especially the police.
Even the group gathering in Selma Parker's quilt shop on Elderberry Road was affected by the woman who had come to bury her brother.
"Like who would have imagined a quiet man like Oliver Harrington would have a sister like that!" said Phoebe Mellon, the youngest member of the group, as she looked around the cluttered table, searching for a pair of scissors.
Eleanor Canterbury handed them to Phoebe. "It's a shame. Adele may have come back to bury her brother, but she's doing damage to the Harrington name with her demands and rude manners." A rare note of displeasure crept into the lively voice of the Quilters' only octogenarian. Eleanor picked up a square of flowered red fabric and examined it through her bifocals to see if she had left any stray threads hanging. Doing all her piecing by hand — mostly because it was portable that way and she could take it with her to Paris or New Guinea or wherever she might be headed — was tedious but practical, and as Eleanor herself said in her perfectly gracious voice, "I am damn good at it." The crazy quilt table runner she was finishing bore testimony to her words.
"But you have to admit that she's adding some excitement, El," Phoebe said. "Even moms in my twins' playgroup are gabbing about her. Word has it she eats three-year-olds."
Po laughed at Phoebe's irreverent comment, the kind they'd come to expect from her. She looked to the end of the table at Selma Parker. "Selma, what do you think is up with Adele? I remember her, certainly, but mostly from events when she'd come back to town to visit family. Did you know her?"
"I knew her mother," Selma said. She wet one finger, then touched the iron to be sure it was hot. The Saturday quilt group had met in the back of Selma's fabric store for as long as anyone could remember, beginning back when Selma's mother ran the shop. Members changed as life ran its course, daughters and granddaughters and sometimes friends of original members taking their place. And Selma loved it all — especially the present group, an unlikely mixture of women with an age span of nearly sixty years, anchored on either end by Phoebe and Eleanor. Though the group had begun as quilting companions, their lives had become as intricately entwined as the strips of fabric they deftly fashioned into works of art.
Satisfied that the iron was hot and the sewing machine was ready to go, Selma looked back at Po. "Adele didn't stick around Crestwood long, as you probably remember. She came back for a short while after graduating from Smith College. But she couldn't settle down. I remembered her own mother urging her to go back east. Encouraging her to leave. She told her that Crestwood wasn't big enough for her. There seemed to be some tension in the family, but it was never talked about, of course. Walter Harrington was a pompous, arrogant, man —"
"Aha," Maggie Helmers interrupted, "it's in the genes, then."
"Well, Ollie sure didn't inherit them. He was a very lovely man. Simple, but at the same time, oh-so-smart," Po said. "He would sometimes walk by our house when Bruce and I were out in the yard, and he'd walk up the drive, telling Bruce about something he had learned in science class, talking quickly and continuously about whatever it was that had captivated him. I think he figured that as president of Canterbury College, Bruce would know everything."
"That's really sweet," Kate Simpson said. "I kind of remember that, although I was nothing but a squirt when Ollie hung around."
"I'm sure he seemed a little different to you kids, Po said. "I don't think he fit in with his peers as much as with adults."
"Well, it's no surprise he stopped at your house, Po," Maggie said. "People like you and Bruce would make anyone feel comfortable. People, cats, dogs, hermit crabs."
Po laughed. "Well, I think Ollie made a place for himself here in Crestwood."
"But not his sister. I remember Adele not liking Crestwood much, especially once she got a taste of the East Coast." Eleanor said.
"Apparently that hasn't changed," Kate said. She pushed her chair back from the table and took a drink of coffee, trying hard not to spill it on the mounds of fat quarters piled on the table. "The neighborhood kids are already calling her the wicked witch of the north. But I feel kind of sorry for her. This can't be easy for her, coming back to bury her twin brother. Maybe this is how she handles grief, keeping people at arms' length on purpose. She's probably not so bad." Kate had come back to Crestwood to bury her own mother several years before, and the memory was still fresh, though cushioned now as sweet memories filled in around her loss.
"Bad? Kate, she's downright nasty," Maggie said. "She brought her dog into my clinic yesterday. The waiting room was packed because Daisy Bruin's beagle was hit by a car. He's fine now. But anyway, Adele elbowed her way to the counter and demanded that Emerson be seen immediately. She was so rude. And then —" Maggie's hands gestured while she talked, and she waved several pieces of freezer paper onto the floor. "And then when Mandy — my new technician — tried to calm her down and explain why she'd have to wait, Adele told her she had bad breath and should see a dentist."
Po shook her head. No matter how badly Adele was acting, her grief was still fresh. She picked up a finished block of her quilt hanging and held it up to the light to check the hand stitching on the abstract design. She was trying something new — piecing together bright oranges and yellows and minty green strips in wavy swooshes. She would put it in the upper hallway, she thought, where it would brighten up the interior space. "I agree with Kate. Imagine all that she's dealing with. Figuring out the service, the burial, and what to do with that enormous house. It's difficult —"
"So you haven't heard?" Leah asked, her brows lifting in surprise.
"What?" Maggie, Phoebe, and Kate asked in unison.
"People at the university went over as soon as Adele arrived. Professor Fellers suggested the college help with the memorial service for Oliver. Jed Fellers was Ollie's mentor, you know, and he spent a lot of time with him. Ollie was such a sweet guy — a little different like you said, Po — but he loved the library and learning and the college. He even sat in on some of my classes once in a while. Anyway, Adele said no to Jed's offer."
"Why?" Po asked. "That was such a generous offer. And appropriate. The college was Ollie's world. That and the galaxy."
Leah took a breath, then filled in the rest of the story. "Her brother's body was already gone when she arrived."
"Gone where?" Phoebe asked.
"Probably to the funeral home," Maggie said. "If Adele came in a day later, maybe whoever takes care of their estate matters had the body removed."
"No," Leah said. "It was gone because the police had it moved to the morgue and are arranging for an autopsy."
"What?" Eleanor asked. "Why? He had a heart attack, right?"
"But Ollie was in great health. And sometimes in cases like that, an autopsy is done — even though it's entirely possible he did die of a heart attack. Apparently, whoever made the decision was new to the police department and thought Ollie had no family, so no one got Adele's permission to move the body. She was furious about the whole thing, the way it was handled. Everything. Perhaps that's why she's been less than civil to people."
"I'm not sure I blame her," Po said. "Having your twin die unexpectedly is an awful thing. But they can still help her plan a memorial. It will just be slightly delayed."
Leah shook her head. "According to university officials, she doesn't want anything. No memorial. No funeral. Ollie will be cremated as soon as they allow her to arrange it."
The group fell silent, massaging the news by concentrating on the beautiful pieces of material in front of them. The cotton squares of color, vibrant enough to light up a dreary day.
"Do you suppose Adele will leave soon, then?" Phoebe asked. "What will happen to the home on Kingfish Drive? My in-laws say it's worth zillions."
"It's a magnificent home," Po said. "I remember going to parties there when Adele and Oliver's parents were alive. And I stopped by now and then when I saw Ollie around, just to say hello, to take him some cobbler or bread. He'd always been a bit of a loner, but we had good talks. I was fond of him."
"Did you know that the house is haunted?" Phoebe asked. "Shelly Rampey at my kids' playgroup told us all about it. But that can be, like, good, depending on the ghosts, I guess. Shelly said that her yoga teacher is wanting to buy the place for a retreat house for busy moms — a place they can go to refresh their spirits. I said, 'sign me up, sister.'"
"Phoebe, if your spirit were any more refreshed, we'd have to tie you down," Po said.
"I wish you'd been alive to watch Goldie Hawn on an old TV show, Laugh In," Esther said as she laughed right along with Phoebe's contagious sound. "You laugh just like her. And even look a little bit the same."
Po laughed too, agreeing wholeheartedly. "But about that property — Phoebe's in-laws are right. It's priceless. Neighbors are already concerned that it might be sold to the wrong party."
"What's that mean?" Kate asked. She reached behind her and grabbed a pastry from the side table.
"Well, it's almost too big for a single family, at least nowadays. And the neighbors don't want anything that will bring traffic, that sort of thing. That's understandable. And there are so many beautiful old magnolias and oaks and pines on that property — the thought of a developer tearing it down and putting up condos is very sad. I think it's one of the oldest houses in Crestwood. It needs to be taken care of properly."
"Do you think Adele Harrington will care about any of that?" Eleanor asked, her tone of voice conveying her own opinion clearly.
"The house has been in the family for over one hundred years. Adele will surely consider that and do the right thing." But Po frowned as she spoke. The "right thing" was a very relative term in cases like this.
"Well, the controversy surrounding that beautiful old home is waking up a sleepy Crestwood," Esther said.
"That's for sure," Kate said. "I ran by it this morning and there's all sorts of activity going on — cars, a couple trucks, people walking around the front taking pictures. It was crazy and noisy. I wondered why the neighbors weren't out protesting it all."
Esther had driven by too. "I noticed Tom Adler's Prairie Development truck moving like a drunk snail past the place."
"He's been after 210 Kingfish Drive for years," Po said.
"And I'm not sure I share your confidence in Adele's sense of doing what's right, Po," Selma said. "She doesn't live here, after all, and doesn't give a hoot about the town." Selma sat with her back to the main room of the store, one ear on the customers being helped by two college girls who helped out on Saturdays. "There's so much money at stake. If you ask me, that's what will decide what happens to that beautiful home — money. Mark my words. And let's just hope it helps the town, not hurts it."
"Why, Selma Parker," a new voice floated into the mix. "Who would ever dream of hurting this little town?" Heads moved in unison and all eyes focused on the tall, commanding figure standing in the wide doorway, directly behind Selma.
The woman smiled slightly, acknowledging them as a group. Then her gray eyes focused on Selma, and she took a step into the room. "Please, don't let me interrupt, ladies. Go on with your chitchat. I find your conversation quite amusing."
Selma stood and wiped the palms of her sweaty hands down her rumpled slacks. Then she held one hand out in greeting and forced a smile. "Hello, Adele," she said. "It's been a long time."CHAPTER 2
Adele Harrington brushed pastry crumbs off the table and set down her Balenciaga bag.
"Yes, it has, Selma." Adele turned her angular face toward Po. "And Portia Paltrow, you've aged agreeably, I see."
Po felt the tension in the room but forced a smile to her face. "We're all sad to hear about your brother, Adele. He will be missed."
Adele waved her long fingers through the air as if dismissing Po's thought. "Death happens. Perhaps Oliver would have lived longer if he hadn't shut himself up in that house like a damn monk. He was a genius, you know." Adele looked around the table. She looked at Phoebe for a long time and finally shook her head. "Who are you, young lady? And what did you do to your hair?"
Phoebe waved away the reprimand. "My name is Phoebe Mellon."
"Mellon?" Adele said. Her voice indicated she was about to argue with Phoebe about her name.
"Yes. Those Mellons. You might know them. I'm married to their son."
Adele frowned, as if unable to accept that a woman with a pixie haircut could be a part of a notable Crestwood family.
Phoebe raked her fingers through her shorn hair, which she had clipped down to an inch or two once Jude and Emma were born. "It's not exactly a debutante cut but it sure helps when you have twin toddlers." Her tone was just like her pixie haircut — friendly and happy.
Adele's hand had risen to her shoulder-length hair, smoothing it as she stared at Phoebe's head. "So you're married to that Mellon boy," she said, as if those were the last words she had heard.
"Is there something you wanted, Adele?" Selma asked, dismissing the moment and hoping Phoebe wouldn't run for her FlowBee haircutting device and offer to cut Adele's hair too. Phoebe wouldn't allow herself to be pushed around for too long. "Would you like a cup of coffee? There's a plate of Marla's pastries over on the side table. These must be difficult days for you."
Adele was silent for a moment, as if considering the coffee question, then she looked over at Phoebe again. "I like your spunk. It will fare you well with that family."
She turned back to Selma, her face softer. "And yes, I'd like a cup of coffee."
Po wondered what Adele had done in her years away from Crestwood. Offering opinions certainly came easily to her. She poured a cup of coffee and handed it to her. "Cream and sugar are on the table."
Adele nodded her thanks and sat down next to Po. "I'd like to talk with all of you."
A befuddled look passed among the women at the table as they fiddled with needles and pieces of fabric.
Selma touched the iron to see if it was hot. "This is a quilting group, Adele. You're welcome to stay, but we'll want to continue finishing up our —"
"I know what this is, Selma. My mother was a member of this group, lest you forget."
Eleanor smiled from her corner chair, remembering. "Of course she was. Dolores Harrington was an excellent quilter and a very lovely woman."
Po watched Eleanor's face and held back a smile, reading her friend's thought. And how in the world did she bear the likes of you? But Eleanor, thankfully, held her silence.
Adele looked over, noticing the elegant gray-haired woman for the first time. "Eleanor Canterbury?" she said. "Good grief, are you still alive?"
Eleanor's delicious laughter floated above the cluttered table. "I suppose that's a matter of opinion, Adele. But yes, I believe I am. Would you like a pinch?" She held out her arm. Dangly gold bracelets chimed against one another.
Adele stared at Eleanor for a moment. "Amazing." She shook her head. "My mother liked you, if I remember correctly."
"Your mother liked everyone, Adele," Eleanor said. "And everyone liked her."
"You're right about that, Eleanor." Adele smiled for the first time. "Please go on with your work, but I'd like to tell you why I'm here."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Bias for Murder"
Copyright © 2019 Sally Goldenbaum.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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