To read Volume I of "Murder Monday," go here.
While Carole King was recording "Tapestry," Elle McConn was christened Eleanora Thisbane McConn by a near-sighted mother in a small town worthy of a Flannery O'Connor short story. By the third day of Kinder Care, Eleanora was shortened to Elle. And in the ways of the small town, it stuck.
Her mother had been Gretchen Millicent Thisbane, of the third generation of Thisbanes that had helped to found the crossroads on an isolated corner of the state map. Eleanora's father had been deputy Mayor when a freak accident involving a squirrel and a bicycle left Gretchen Millicent Thisbane McConn a widow.
And so it was that Elle McConn grew up tutored by the stacks in the library, of which her mother was head librarian. Before she knew of the grammar that structured the stories held in dusty volumes, Elle had plumbed the depths of the Dewey Decimal system in all its ordered glory.
To say that Elle wore a contemplative expression as unique as the Russian brooch her mother wore would oversimplify her nature. Eleanora Thisbane was much more observant than the harried parents of loud children in the library gave her credit for. She was tranquil. She was measured in speech and graceful in movement. If Elle had a nagging fear, it would be settling into the stale. But her quick mind made that fear only a spectre.
Not one prone to making rash decisions, Elle thought long and hard before deciding to stack her sweaters and skirts, trousers and shoes in an old-fashioned steamer trunk. Her penchant for boxes and purses, scarves and earrings from days long past had led her to barter the antiques dealer down on the sturdy but worn trunk. She was one of the very few people she knew who regularly bought antiques to use them.
Elle arrived in Oakford one October, fitted in an A-line wool skirt, heavy brown cardigan, and J. Crew shoes that she had snatched up on clearance. It had taken courage to sign for a mortgage solely on her own steam, but as she was allergic to cats, she felt relatively free of the vices of singledom.
The tree-lined street sat quietly waiting to welcome her to the tiny one-story house that had captured her heart. The front porch, freshly painted, displayed two doors: one into an entry hall, the other directly into the sunny living room. The entry hall, floored with time-worn oak, expanded into a dining space that cushioned the living room from the kitchen.
It was the kitchen that grabbed Elle and didn't let her leave the property without promising to return: a red and white parquet floor shone. Though she worried a bit about the refrigerator that should have been described as an "ice box," the realtor quickly assured her that the house was recently rewired.
With a small bathroom featuring a giant claw-footed tub, and two tiny bedrooms opening from the dining area, the inside of her domicile was complete.
The lawn was well-kept but unadorned - like many Easterners she'd met - but a quick search of the yard yielded a sagging tool shed hidden in the northeast corner. After tearing away a tenacious vine, she found the outdoor faucet promised by the realtor. All winter, Elle planned to scour gardening catalogues, sketch flower bed plans, and choose which tomatoes to start indoors. The thought delighted her.
Now, with a body found a few doors down from her idyllic setting, Elle found herself examining locks on the front and back doors, checking windows for security, and exploring the root cellar. She thought about the merits of a dog, but had never managed to keep anything larger than a goldfish alive for very long. And attack goldfish aren't very helpful, she mused.
On this fall day, Elle stretched out on the porch swing, savoring a day off, her eyes landing on the pumpkins she'd placed on the porch steps. Bother the spoons, she thought. At least the porch didn't need unpacked. A couple of mums and she was harvest-ready. Elle was ready to jump into autumn baking, but that would necessitate unpacking the tower of cardboard resting on the kitchen parquet. Her tranquil eyes followed a mini-van down the street until the corner of her living room blocked her view - but not before she noticed twinkling brake lights.
Casually, Elle bent down to straighten a pumpkin on the steps, her eyes slyly catching a figure climbing from the van. A man cruised purposefully towards the ribboned yellow line around The Murder House, as she had come to think of it. Her mind worked quickly.
"Hello? Hi. I'm Elle, a neighbor. Sorry to bother you, but I haven't seen an obituary yet and don't know where to send flowers."
The man she addressed was eclectically dressed in plaid cotton shorts, a linen smock that made Elle think of India, birkenstocks, and a golf cap. He also seemed to be in a very great hurry. But then, she pondered, most men who drive mini-vans are.
His reply was more startling than his outfit: "Wellemshoreitllgitthersoonererlater."
"I'm sorry, what was that?"
Elle tried again, a bit exasperated. "It's just that I would like to send flowers."
Finally, he reached under the caution ribbon, grabbed a paper coffee cup left by one of the officers, and spit.
Elle's stomach lurched, but she leaned forward, ready to listen.
"I SAID, I'm sorry ma'am, but that 'bituary may hafta a wait abit. The corner's doin' an autotopsy and I ain't about to spring for so many lines in the Observer until I know jus' exactly when that funeral'll be. And I ain't acting before the corner's done."
"Oh, ah, were you related to - (polite cough) - the victim?"
The man took off his golf cap, revealing a shock of twisted red hair streaked with grey, scratched his scalp, and looked confused. "Ain't been here long, haveya?"
Elle didn't think it wise to disclose how few people actually knew her and would miss her if she suddenly disappeared. "Oh, well, you know, what with work and all, I just don't know my neighbors as well as I'd like."
"Then I'll tell you what ever'body else around here knows: whatever she was, my aunt whaddn't no victim, now, nor any time in her life, fer that matter."