Starting on 11/28 WWK presents original short stories by some of our authors. Here's our lineup:

11/28 Debra H. Goldstein, "Thanksgiving in Moderation"

12/5 Annette Dashofy, "Las Posadas--A New Mexico Christmas"

12/12 Warren Bull, "The Thanksgiving War"

12/19 KM Rockwood, "The Gift of Peace"

12/26 Paula Gail Benson, "The Lost Week of the Year"


If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.














November Interviews
11/6 Barbara Ross, Nogged Off
11/13 Lena Gregory, Scone Cold Killer
11/20 Lois Winston, Handmade Ho-Ho Homicide
11/27 V. M Burns, Bookmarked For Murder

Saturday Guest Bloggers:
11/2 V. M. Burns
11/9 Heather Redmond
11/16 Arlene Kay

WWK Bloggers: 11/23 Kait Carson

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Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Don't miss Shari Randall's "The Queen of Christmas" available on at Amazon. Shari's holiday story for WWK was too long so she published it for our enjoyment. It's available for 99 cents or on Kindle Unlimited for free!


KM Rockwood's "The Society" and "To Die A Free Man; the Story of Joseph Bowers" are included in the BOULD Awards Anthology, which was released on November 19. KM won second place with a cash prize for "The Society." Congratulations, KM! Kaye George's "Meeting on the Funicular" is also in this anthology, which can be bought for 99 cents on Kindle until November 30.


Paula Gail Benson's story "Wisest, Swiftest, Kindest" appears in Love in the Lowcountry an anthology by the Lowcountry Romance Writers available 11/5 in e-book and print format on Amazon. The anthology includes fourteen stories all based in Charleston, South Carolina.


Kaye George's "Grist for the Mill" was published in A Murder of Crows anthology, edited by Sandra Murphy on October 9th.


Lyrical Press will publish Kaye George's Vintage Sweets mystery series. The first book, Revenge Is Sweet, will be released in March. Look for the interview here on 3/11.

Shari Randall will be writing again for St. Martin's, perhaps under a pseudonym. We look forward to reading Shari's Ice Cream Shop Mystery series debuting next year. Congratulations, Shari!

Susan Van Kirk's A Death At Tippett Pond was released on June 15th. Read E. B. Davis's interview with Susan.

Warren Bull's Abraham Lincoln: Seldom Told Stories was released. It is available at: GoRead: https://www.goread.com/book/abraham-lincoln-seldom-told-stories or at Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/ydaklx8p

Grace Topping's mystery, Staging is Murder was released April 30. It is now also available in audio.

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Thursday, December 5, 2019

Las Posadas—A New Mexico Christmas



“I’m fine,” Rose Bassi told her sixteen-year-old daughter. “You and Logan go and have fun.”

“You’re not fine, Mom. You haven’t been fine for days.”

When had Allison become so observant? Rose gazed out the window at their newly adopted home of Aztec, New Mexico. “I need to be alone.”

“It’s Christmas Eve. ‘Alone’ is the last thing you need to be.” Allison’s voice turned whiny. “Come on. Everyone in town will be at Las Posadas.”

The neighborhood was decked out in the same types of Christmas decorations as back in their native Pennsylvania. Tinsel. Strings of lights. Reindeer and Santa figures. Nativity scenes. But set against a backdrop of adobe houses without a towering pine or spruce tree to be seen—except for the cut ones imported for sale—she felt homesick. She missed the pungent fragrance of pine, the heavily wooded hillsides…

She missed Ted. This would be her first Christmas without him. And in a couple of weeks, she’d face the one-year anniversary of the night he’d died.

“Miguel will be there.” Allison replaced the whiny voice with a lilt. “Emily’s going to lead the procession through town.”

The mention of Miguel Morales, the San Juan County deputy sheriff who’d become a good friend, almost brought a smile to Rose’s heart. The thought of his five-year-old daughter taking part in a tradition Rose had heard so much about succeeded in lightening her mood. Briefly.

Miguel had been working a missing person’s case. Poor old Mr. Alvarez with his full white beard had gained the nickname Santa, not only because he looked the part but acted it as well. And not just in December. Mr. Alvarez had been known to deliver meals to the homebound, pay an outstanding bill for families about to have their power cut off, or bring toys to kids whose parents couldn’t afford them. He’d disappeared two days ago. No one had seen or heard from him. He wasn’t answering his phone.

Making matters worse, the weathermen on the TV station out of Albuquerque were calling for a huge snowstorm to hit the Four Corners that evening.

“Are you listening to me?”

Rose blinked. “I’m sorry, baby. What’d you say?”

Allison gave an impressive eye roll. “Never mind. I’m gonna go talk to Logan. Maybe he’ll pay attention.”
 
Rose watched her daughter stomp off in search of her brother and breathed a sigh. Thank goodness her kids had each other. And thank goodness she had them. She knew they ached from losing Ted too, but somehow, they handled it better.

Her doorbell rang, snapping her out of her reverie. She caught a glimpse of the green Sheriff’s Office SUV through the window before she opened the door to her favorite deputy. “Miguel. What are you doing here?”

He stepped inside, out of the cold dry winter air. “I was in the neighborhood.”

“Right,” she said sarcastically. “Can’t you be more original than that?”

“I’m serious. I had to question one of your neighbors on the next street, who thought they spotted Mr. Alvarez.”

From Miguel’s expression, the news wasn’t bad. “You know where he is?”

“No. She said he was over by the Ruins. We’ve had a couple of reports of sightings over there, but apparently, they hired a Santa to entertain the kids. I’ll follow up, but I’m pretty sure that’s who she saw.”

“Oh,” Rose said, disappointed.

“Are you coming to Las Posadas tonight?” Miguel asked.

“Aren’t you working?”

“Yes. But you and the kids can go without me.”

She lowered her gaze. “Allison and Logan will be there. I’m not feeling very festive this year.”

Rose felt him studying her. “That’s exactly why you should go,” he said. “Besides, I want you to experience our customs. This is your first New Mexican Christmas.” He curled a finger under her chin to tip up her face. “When in Rome…”

A rush of longing surged through her. She could so easily fall in love with this man. But she still felt like she was cheating on Ted by even admiring the shape of Miguel’s lips. “I’ll think about it.”

“Think hard.” He brought his face closer to hers as if going to kiss her. Then he backed away, tugged his cap back on, and glanced toward his vehicle. “You have more company. And I have to get back to work.”

She looked past him to the old extended-cab pickup and the dark-haired young man who climbed out.

Miguel waited as the Navajo approached “Yellowhorse. How are you?”

Billy “Pony Boy” Yellowhorse touched his belly where he’d taken a bullet a little over a month ago. “I will live.”

“Glad to hear it.” Miguel lowered his voice. “By the way, I meant what I said. You’d make a helluva sheriff’s deputy. I’d be happy to put in a good word for you.”

Billy gazed into the distance. “I am giving it consideration. I have filled out the application for your police academy.”

“Good.”

“Have you located the white-bearded one?”

“Not yet.”

“I will watch for him.”

Miguel nodded at him. “Appreciate the help.” With a glance back at Rose, he strode toward his vehicle.

Billy bowed his head in greeting. “Hello, Flame Woman.”

Rose smiled at the name he’d given her in honor of her red hair. “Please come in.”

He frowned. “We should go. We don’t want to be caught out on the Rez when the snow comes.”

“On the Rez?”

Allison bounded into the room wearing her coat and carrying Rose’s. Logan trailed behind, also bundled for the outdoors. Allison shoved Rose’s coat at her. “Here. Put on your boots.”

“What’s going on?” Rose looked to Billy for an answer. His face was unreadable, but she noticed the twinkle in his dark eyes.

“We’re going to take gifts to Pony Boy’s grandmother,” Logan said. “I told you the other day. You must’ve not been paying attention.”

Rose glared at her eighteen-year-old son. He most definitely had not told her.

Allison forced Rose’s coat into her hands. “You can’t back out now, Mom. That would be rude.”

Rose studied the three faces staring back at her. She knew a conspiracy when she saw one. But she also recognized the honor being bestowed upon her.

#

They headed south to Farmington and turned west toward Shiprock. The landscape became more desolate. Miles of nothing but rock, sand, and a few scrub trees.

Billy slowed the pickup. “Look.”

A pair of San Juan County Sheriff’s SUVs were pulled off the road next to an old, battered station wagon.

“That is Mr. Alvarez’s car,” Billy said.

Rose leaned over, gazing out the window. “And there’s Miguel.”

Billy parked clear of the official vehicles and climbed out. “Wait here.”

Rose ignored him as did her two teenagers. They piled out and trailed after him.

Miguel spotted them and approached, cutting them off before they reached the station wagon. “You need to stay back.”

Rose looked at the car. She dreaded what she was thinking. “Is Mr. Alvarez—?”

“The car’s been abandoned,” Miguel said. “His phone’s in the glove box. Otherwise, there’s no sign of him.”

Rose’s relief didn’t last. She looked around. Not a house or a business to be seen.

“How can I help?” Billy asked.

Miguel shook his head. “Air One is on its way. More units are en route. If he’s out there, we’ll find him.”

Billy faced the direction they were headed. “We are on our way to my grandmother’s. The white-bearded one had been very kind to her and our people. I will ask if anyone has seen him.”

“Please. That would be a big help.”

Overhead, the thwap, thwap, thwap of the county’s helicopter rotors grew louder.

“Gotta go.” Miguel started to turn away, then turned back. “Be careful. This storm is moving in fast.” He looked from Billy to Rose. “You have precious cargo with you, you know.”

“I will protect them with my life.”

Miguel slapped Billy on the shoulder. “I know you will.” He strode away as two more SJCSO
cars approached from the east.

“Poor Mr. Alvarez,” Allison said when they were once again in the pickup. “I hate to think of him out there in the cold and snow.”

“Yes.” Billy’s voice was solemn. “The Rez is not a good place to be in a car. It is much worse on foot.”

#

Almost an hour later, under a darkening gray sky, Billy pulled into a rutted dirt driveway leading to a small, plain house. A spindly bush had been decorated with colorful Christmas balls and topped with a wind-battered star that appeared to be homemade. A small herd of sheep grazed on the sparse clusters of grass in a nearby pen. A black and white dog ran to Billy’s truck, barking.

“Do not worry. He will not bite,” he told Rose. “Unless you are a coyote.”

A woman stepped out of the house and gestured for them to come. They piled from the pickup, and Billy spoke to the dog in Navajo. It quieted and raced back toward the sheep. He and Logan reached into the pickup’s bed to retrieve a large cloth sack of Blue Bird flour and three bundles wrapped in colorful paper. Billy slung the flour over his shoulder and directed each of them to take a package.

The old woman’s smile widened as they approached. “It is good to see you, Grandson. And you as well, Helper Boy.” She wrapped Logan in a hug.

The affection shown by this woman toward Rose’s son warmed her.

Billy gestured toward Allison and Rose. “Grandmother, do you remember Helper Boy’s sister? And this is his mother.”

“Little Sister, yes. Welcome.” She nodded at Rose. “Your son is a good man. He has done much work to make my home comfortable.”

Logan blushed.

They stepped inside the house to a room warmed by a fireplace.

“I’m afraid we cannot stay long,” Billy said.

“Yes.” Grandmother nodded. “The sky promises snow. A blessing. But not when you must drive.”

She noticed Rose gazing at the woven rugs and tapestries covering the floor, the sofa, and hanging on the walls. “My grandson and his cousins try to make me comfortable,” Grandmother said. “They built me this house.”

“We wanted her to move into town.” Billy’s lips pressed into a frown.

“I do not belong in town. Who would take care of my sheep? I use their wool to make rugs. I could not do that in town.”

Billy shook his head and deposited the sack of flour on the kitchen table.

His grandmother eyed the other packages, her dark eyes gleaming with the delight of a child. “What have you brought this old woman?”

Logan nudged Allison, who carried the smallest package. “Give her yours first.”

Grandmother accepted the gift and ripped off the wrapping to reveal several bags of sugarless candy. “My favorite.” She added her thanks in Navajo.

Logan’s bundle contained a heavy winter coat.

“My old coat has many holes,” Grandmother said and draped the new one over her bony shoulders. She accepted the final package from Rose and unwrapped it to reveal a beautiful Pendleton blanket. “This is so lovely. It will keep me warm at night.”

Billy folded his arms. “Are you sleeping in your bed now?”

“Yes.” She grinned.

“I bought her a mattress,” he explained, “and for a year, she still slept on the floor.”

“The bed makes my bones weak,” she protested. “My grandson argues with me, so to make him happy, I sleep on it now.”

Billy grew serious. “Grandmother, have you seen the white-bearded one?”

“Not for several days. My neighbors have been worried. It is not like him.”

“You know Mr. Alvarez?” Rose asked.

Grandmother nodded. “He offers rides to town for our people. Or brings supplies to the old ones who do not wish to make the trip. Has something happened to him?”

Billy handed the bag of candy to her. “Do not be concerned. I am sure he is fine.”

Her grandson’s words and bribe of candy didn’t appease her. “It is not a good night to be away from your people.”

#

Once off the Rez, they regained cell service about the same time the first wind-driven snowflakes started to swirl.

“Mom, call Miguel and ask if they’ve found Mr. Alvarez,” Allison said.

Logan half-turned from the front seat and fixed Rose with the same imploring gaze as her daughter. Billy’s dark eyes reflected in the rearview mirror completed the trifecta.

Rose pulled up Miguel’s number.

His voice carried an edge when he answered. “Sergeant Morales.”

“It’s me. We were wondering if you’ve—”

“No. We haven’t located Mr. Alvarez. Did you find out anything on the Rez?”

“Billy’s grandmother said no one’s seen him. We’re on our way back to Aztec. Is there anything we can do?”

“Keep an eye out for him. His car was out of gas. One of the locals reported it’d been there for a couple of days, but no one saw him walking along the road. And no one at the nearest gas station has seen him.”

Rose tried to not sound disappointed when she asked, “Are you going to miss Las Posadas
tonight?”

“Afraid so. Unless Mr. Alvarez turns up alive and well.”

#

The winds died down by late afternoon, but the snow continued to fall in fat flakes. Rose, Logan, and Allison joined the Aztec community in the church parking lot.

Allison spread her arms and did a pirouette. “I feel like I’m in a snow globe.”

Rose searched the crowd for familiar faces, especially Miguel’s or Mr. Alvarez’s. While she recognized some of her neighbors, her favorite law officer and the missing man weren’t among them.

Billy’s pickup truck rolled into the lot, pulling a small stock trailer. Allison drifted in his direction.

Logan slung an arm around Rose’s shoulders. “You okay?” he asked.

Had she become that transparent. She forced a smile. “It’s Christmas Eve, and I’m with both my kids. Of course, I’m okay.”

The look he gave her said he wasn’t buying it.

“Come on. Let’s catch up with Allison.”

Billy had climbed out of his truck. He opened the latch on the trailer’s door and swung it open. A small brown and white burro stepped out as he caught the lead rope attached to its halter and looped over its neck.

Allison let out a squeal and clapped her hands. “Can I ride it?”

“It is for the girl selected to play Mary,” Billy replied.

Logan draped his other arm around his sister’s shoulders, drawing both Bassi women close.

“Hey, Dweeb, you can’t ride a burro anyway. Remember Donkey Basketball?”

“Shut up,” Allison muttered.

“Faceplant right there in the middle of the gym floor,” Logan said and laughed.

“I said, ‘shut up.’”

Rose smiled at her kids’ good-natured bickering.

Children and parents pressed in around them, reaching toward the burro. Small and large hands touched its thick coat and scratched its long ears.

Allison tugged on Rose’s coat. “Hey, Mom. Look over there.” She pointed.

Rose gazed in the direction Allison indicated and spotted a small, dark-haired girl dressed in white, wearing wings. “It’s Emily.” The five-year-old held hands with her father. Miguel.

Logan gave Rose a gentle push. “Go. We’ll catch up to you.”

She gave her kids a smile and weaved her way through the crowd.

“You made it.”

Miguel spun toward her. “And so did you.” He scooped up his daughter. “My ex got called to work at the hospital. Emily’s had her heart set on leading the procession, so I decided to head up the search here in town.”

Rose straightened the girl’s angel wings which brought a giggle. To Miguel, Rose said, “No sign of Mr. Alvarez?”

“None.” He grew somber, looking skyward. “They’re saying this might be the biggest snow we’ve had in a decade. I hate to think of that old man out there.”

By five o’clock, Las Posadas began. Emily Morales carried a candle and led the way. A teenaged boy portrayed Joseph led the burro. Unlike the bucking donkey from Allison’s basketball game, the animal plodded along with “Mary” astride. The crowd carried candles and followed. Rose caught sight of Allison linking arms with Logan on one side and Billy on the other. Miguel kept one eye on his daughter while remaining vigilant, searching the faces in the crowd. As they approached the first house, the group began singing carols.

Just as in the Christmas story, the “innkeepers” at the first stop told the teenagers there was no room for them. They continued down the street, through the snow, lifting voices in song. House after house, they were told the same thing. No room at the inn.

Rose marveled at how the entire town came together to stage Las Posadas, the designated stops, the songs. When they started singing the strains of What Child is This, Rose’s heart ached. Ted’s favorite carol. He would have loved being here.

By the time they reached the final stop at the town’s largest church, more than an inch of snow covered the ground. Emily led the way into the parish hall followed by “Joseph” and “Mary” on the burro. Inside, straw had been spread on the floor. A pair of sheep flanked a manger. Rose watched in awe as the group surrounded the living nativity and sang their final carol, Away in a Manger.

When the song ended, the party began. Church parishioners wheeled out carts of treats and urns of hot chocolate. Billy and Logan collected the burro and sheep and led them outside.
Miguel had disappeared into the crowd to collect his daughter, leaving Rose alone to take in the celebration.

“Mom?”

She looked up as Allison approached with two steaming cups and a plate heaped with what looked like sugar cookies.

“Wasn’t that awesome?” She handed one of the cups to her mother.

“It was beautiful.”

“Are you glad we talked you into coming?”

“Yes, I am.”

Allison held out the plate. “Have some bischochitos.”

Rose gave her a questioning look.

“They’re the official cookie of New Mexico. Take some. They’re really good.”

Rose bit into one and had to agree with her daughter. “They remind me of shortbread but taste a little like your grandma’s pizzelles too.”

“Um-hmm,” Allison mumbled around a mouthful of cookie.

Miguel returned, carrying his angel, who pointed excitedly at the men hanging a piñata. “I see you’ve discovered my favorite part of the evening,” he said, nodding at the plate.

Allison offered it to him and Emily.

“What do you say, mija?”  

“Thank you,” Emily replied shyly.

“I’m gonna get some more.” Allison bounded away.

Miguel edged closer to Rose. “How do you like our New Mexican Christmas?”

She gazed around the room. The Nativity. The treats. The kids eager to take a crack at the piñata. Familiar enough to feel comfortable. Different enough to ease the ache of what was missing in her life. “Very much.” She looked up at him. “I think I could get used to this.”

He leaned over, brushing his lips over her cheek, and whispered in her ear, “I’m glad.”

The children in the room had turned toward the door. “Look!” someone said.

“Ho, ho, ho!”

Rose turned to see Santa shuffling into the hall. His voice wasn’t as robust as most of the Santas back home. And his red suit hung on a gaunt frame. But the white beard was the real thing. Billy and Logan trailed behind him, smiling broadly.

“Well, I’ll be da—” Miguel caught himself, glanced at his daughter, and said, “darned. It’s Mr. Alvarez.”

Rose looked from Miguel to Santa. And laughed. “Yes, it is.”

Billy and Logan jogged over to them as Santa Alvarez was swarmed by kids. Emily squirmed in her father’s arms.

He set her down, and the little angel raced off to join the other children.

“Did you see who I found?” Billy asked.

“Where’s he been?” Miguel asked.

“His car broke down, so he walked cross-country all the way to Bloomfield where he has a friend. He has been there until today. He said he did not know anyone was looking for him.” Billy grinned. “He said he was not lost. He knew exactly where he was.”

Miguel chuckled. “I guess I better call the Sheriff’s Office and tell them to call off the search.” He excused himself and headed for the door.

“I am going to get some bischochitos,” Billy said.

“Bring me a plate,” Logan told him.

“You could have gone with him,” Rose said.

Logan draped his arm around her shoulders again. “I’d rather stay here with you.” He eyed her.
“Are you okay?”

Why did people keep asking her that? “I’m fine.” She smiled at the children, some of whom gathered around Santa Alvarez, some of whom were taking turns being blindfolded and swinging a stick at the piñata. “This is—” Her voice broke and a rush of unexpected tears flooded her vision. Maybe she wasn’t so fine.

“What’s wrong?”

She shook her head. “Nothing. I just…” She brushed a hand across her eyes. “I wish your dad was here.”

Logan hugged her tighter. “Mom, don’t you know? He is here.”

Rose slipped both arms around her son’s waist and rested her head on his chest. She closed her eyes, picturing Ted’s smile as he watched over her and their family. In that moment, she felt the warmth of his love and acceptance fill her heart and knew he’d approve of this new life they’d made. “You’re right,” she said to Logan. “He is.”



 






Thursday, November 28, 2019

THANKSGIVING IN MODERATION by Debra H. Goldstein (a short story)



Thanksgiving always has been a good time for weddings – especially second and third or in
this case, the fifth time around. Alicia, my sister, gladly ticked the benefits of a Thanksgiving Day wedding off on her fingers each time for my mother and me. “One, the entire family already is together so I won’t get stuck buying extra plane tickets for my fiancé’s or own kids; two, nobody can complain about what I serve because the turkey, dressing, greens, yams, and pumpkin pie menu is set, plus I save money because everyone brings a dish; and, three, my husband never has an excuse to forget our anniversary because no matter what the actual date of our wedding is, we’ll always celebrate it on Thanksgiving Day.”
Somewhere between numbers two and three, our now eighty-five year old mother, who often lacks a filter, suggested Alicia would be better off sleeping with the men she dates rather than marrying them. Unfortunately, Alicia believes that living together without benefit of holy matrimony, like Bob and I do, is a mortal sin. I bet all three of her surviving ex-spouses raise a glass to her every Thanksgiving.

Eleven years ago, Paul, her first husband, had a massive coronary and left her with eight-year-old twin girls and a small fortune. Up to now, as her legal advisor, I’ve managed to protect her by insisting she have each would-be hubby sign a pre-nuptial agreement with a gigolo clause. The gigolo clause gives a husband who lasts one day over three years a flat $100,000 if there are divorce proceedings. The three stooges, as I refer to Harry, Larry and Carlos, each fled Alicia days after becoming eligible for their $100,000 payoffs.
Tonight, after we eat Alicia’s daughter’s pumpkin pie, Alicia plans to make Philippe her fifth husband. She giggles and blushes whenever he whispers “Je t’aime” or other French tidbits into her ear. I snicker. French with a Mississippi accent is a bit difficult for me to swallow. Somehow “moan cherry” doesn’t do it for me like it does for Alicia.

I’m also finding it difficult to swallow the fact that this time she’s refusing to let me draft a prenuptial agreement. She keeps telling me, “Philippe is my perfect soul mate. We’ll be together forever and a day.”

Maybe I’m a cynic, but I’m not as optimistic as Alicia. The private detective I hired reported that Philippe or actually Philip West walked out of his Mississippi delta home one night twenty years ago to buy cigarettes and never came home to his wife and toddler daughter. They divorced and he opened a small antiques store in Jackson, Mississippi. According to my detective, West remarried once, but she died from injuries sustained in a fall at the antique store. Because they had no children and she had no other family, he was her only heir.
His adult daughter is here tonight to celebrate Thanksgiving and the wedding nuptials. They reconnected this past year when he reached out to her just before he had surgery to replace a leaky heart valve with a pig valve. The time of his surgery is also when Philippe and Alicia met.

Alicia volunteers one day a week as a pink lady on the cardiology wing she donated in memory of Paul. Last year, she was pushing a magazine cart to the different patient rooms a week after Carlos was granted his divorce. One of the rooms she visited was Philippe’s. They clicked. Finding out he would be going home to an empty apartment, she insisted he move into her home where she could tend to his needs. Apparently, he liked her hovering. Other than to pick up his clothes, he never went back to his apartment.
When Paul, her first husband, was alive, our extended family celebrated Thanksgiving Norman Rockwell style at their house. Paul fried a turkey, Mom made a yam casserole smothered in marshmallows that was to die for, Alicia and her daughters made the desserts, and if I do say so myself, I did a pretty good job on the greens. After Paul died, things got a bit funky. We moved the dinner to my house and Mom, Bob and I assumed most of the cooking responsibilities.

None of us are too happy about this wedding, but we’ve been working together to prepare an over-abundant Thanksgiving and wedding feast. At Mom’s insistence, we added another ham and turkey breast to accommodate Philippe’s seemingly insatiable appetite. Besides showing her concern about how much food we’re going to need, mom repeatedly has tried to reason with Alicia. From, “you have my blessing to simply live with him” to “Why be trussed like a turkey to a man closer in age to me than you?”
 Alicia’s daughters and Bob also expressed their doubts and tried to rein her in, but she refuses to listen to anyone except Philippe. He’s been gung ho for a wedding almost from before he got out of the hospital.

I’ve done everything I can think of to slow down their wedding plans, but without any success. Out of desperation, I even attempted to build a friendship with Philippe by bringing him lunch for the past six months during my sister’s weekly hair appointment.

My sister would have her own heart attack if she realized that instead of quinoa, chicken, and vegetables, I’ve been feeding him well-seasoned steak, all my greens recipes trimmed out with bacon or pork, and the other things prohibited by his post-heart procedure diet. Bless his heart, he loves my food, but he won’t reconsider signing a pre-nuptial agreement even with a sweetened dangling $200,000 clause.

So, I’ve given in and decorated my house for Thanksgiving and their wedding. Although nobody is thrilled, the family cooks are trying, for Alicia’s sake, to make this a special Thanksgiving meal. As Mom suggested, when her efforts at logic failed, we owe it to Alicia and Philippe to each make a killer Thanksgiving dish.
Some people, like Alicia’s daughter, Sarah, can bake up a storm for Thanksgiving desserts
while others are known for making a specialty item like Paul’s fried turkey. I’m the family’s greens queen. A greens dish can be made with any leafy vegetable. Some of my favorites include spinach, kale, collards, cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, and parsley. At some point during Philippe’s recovery, I served him all of these things in my different recipes. Tonight, I’m introducing a new béchamel and greens dish at our almost extended family Thanksgiving dinner.
We’ve gathered around my equally extended dining room table. Besides all of my leaves, I’ve added two card tables so we can sit together. I evened out the various tabletops by putting some of my favorite mystery books by Carolyn Hart, Margaret Truman, Kaye George, and Alan Bradley under the extra tables’ legs. Depending upon their publisher, a given author’s books tend to be about the same amount of pages so by mixing them, I got a perfect table height.

Bob normally sits at the head of the table while I take the other end seat so I can get in and out to replenish our family style platters, but Philippe, with a few glasses of wine under his belt, usurped my chair. His daughter had left him a seat between Alicia and her, but when he ignored it while she was getting him a wine refill, she quietly moved to the one closer to Alicia. I slid into her vacated seat as she leaned over to put another full glass of wine in front of her father.

At Bob’s request we joined hands for a prayer of Thanksgiving, but Philippe broke the chain because he was too busy whispering something to Alicia and holding her hand under the table as if we couldn’t see what they were doing. Based on her giggling, he must have been whispering in French. Bob got as far as “Heavenly Father,” when his youngest granddaughter, Betty, jumped up, almost knocking her water glass over.

“I learned a new Thanksgiving prayer!” Getting a nod of approval from Bob, Betty proudly shouted: “Rub a dub dub, and thanks for the grub.”
We barely said “Amen” before we stabbed serving forks and spoons into the mounds of food on the table. I couldn’t help but picture us as naked vultures swooping and diving up and down over the table – especially when two of the adults almost got into a fistfight over who grabbed the wishbone first.

I was pleased to see everyone except little Betty, who declared my greens to be “smelly,” taste them. Philippe loaded his plate high with my béchamel and greens. Between bites, he said, “You’ve got to share this recipe with Alicia. It’s delicious.” He took a swig of wine, even though Alicia made one of her disapproving faces.

“Oh, it’s very simple, you can use chard, kale or spinach as your base, but I chose kale and some accent parsley from the greens we grow out back in our organic garden. Of course, I had to wash the slugs off first,” I said. “Slugs are pretty slippery things, but I think I got all of them.”
My mother and Alicia put their forks down on the tablecloth. Philippe kept eating. “I coarsely chopped the greens and stems, steamed them until cooked through, and then squeezed them dry in cheesecloth. This really is a simple recipe. Alicia, even you could make it for Philippe.”

“I can’t wait,” she said, turning toward Philippe. As he picked up his wineglass, she quietly asked, “Don’t you think you’ve had enough greens and wine? She turned toward me. “He’s still taking a blood thinner so his cardiologist wants him to do things in moderation.”

Philippe winked at me. “This is a holiday. I can be moderate tomorrow.” He pawed at Alicia’s hand again while he used his free hand to shake extra salt over his second helping of greens. It was nice to see him eat with such gusto.
Years ago the ratio of time and effort I put into preparing our Thanksgiving dinner against the time it took my family and friends to devour it bothered me, but I learned to accept the fact that we make a pretty darn good meal. The smiles as everyone polished off dinner and the compliments I received on my greens felt rewarding. For a minute, but only a minute, as I began to clear, I forgot about the impending nuptials.

My mother and little Betty immediately rose to help. We quickly established a system of them bringing the dishes from the dining room to the kitchen while I scraped and emptied any food remnants down the garbage disposal before loading my dishwasher. Our efficient clean-up done, I sent my helpers back into the dining room with plates and forks for dessert. Pausing only to turn on the dishwasher, I followed them back into the dining room with the pies Alicia’s daughter Sarah had made.
“Pecan pie, please,” Bob said.

Not to be outdone, six-year-old Betty piped up, “Pumpkin.” As I sliced a small piece for her, she said: “I learned a new song for Thanksgiving at school. Do you want to hear it?” Without waiting for an answer, Betty launched into a rendition of “America the Beautiful.”

Philippe stared at the sliver of pumpkin pie being passed to Betty, who still was busy singing. “I need a bigger piece than that,” he said to me. I glanced at Alicia who shrugged and mouthed the word moderation. Ignoring her, I cut him a chunk of pumpkin pie. He was halfway through it before I served everyone else.
“Some adults have no manners,” my mother mumbled. I almost didn’t hear her over Betty’s shouting of the chorus, especially when all the pumpkin pie eaters, except Philippe, began gagging and grabbing their goblets of water or wine.

I took a bite of the pumpkin pie and spit it back on my plate. “Sarah,” I sputtered, after swallowing some water. “You used salt instead of sugar!”

Tears welled in her eyes. “I don’t know how that happened,” she said. Before I could reply, there was a noise from Philippe’s end of the table. I looked toward the noise and was surprised to see Philippe standing and shaking, clutching the table to stay upright.”

Alicia reached toward him. “Philippe, are you okay?” Philippe turned his head in the direction of Alicia’s voice, but I could see his eyes weren’t focusing on her. Alicia and I both rose from our seats. Philippe fell to the floor convulsing and gasping for air.
I felt for a pulse as Alicia cradled Philippe’s head and everyone else sat stunned. I yelled over my shoulder “Call 911.” One of Alicia’s daughters whipped out her cellphone, dialed and then looked up to ask the address of the house.

By now, Bob knelt on the floor with me, trying to pry Alicia away from Philippe so we could turn him over and administer CPR. From the floor, I grabbed the napkin Philippe had dropped and wiped away the white foam coming from his mouth. Then, I bent his head back and began CPR chest compressions. I processed the sound of my mother taking Betty from the dining room still singing and of people letting the paramedics in, but I kept my attention focused on pushing on Philippe’s still flat chest.

Time blurred as the paramedics started an IV and someone declared Philippe gone. I can’t remember if they took him away or if the detective came first. All I know is I cleared the dessert dishes and then found myself in the living room with the rest of the shell-shocked guests not believing what had transpired.

“He seemed fine during dinner,” Mom said. “He ate like a pig.”

“Probably a result of his new heart valve.” I laughed. I couldn’t help myself.

“He’s dead because of me,” Philippe’s daughter said. She walked over to the bar and poured herself a glass of scotch. “He told me he wasn’t supposed to drink, except in moderation, and I kept his wine glass filled throughout dinner.”

“Don’t flatter yourself,” my mom replied. “You might have helped him have a headache tomorrow,
but you didn’t kill him.”

“But his meds and the wine.”

“Unless he was an alcoholic…,” the detective began.

“Oh, he wasn’t,” Alicia interjected. She sat down on the loveseat, unable to hold back her tears.

“Then, one night of overdoing it didn’t kill him,” the detective said.

Sarah walked over to sit on the couch next to Alicia. She covered her mother’s hand with her own, but looked up at the detective. “I’m the guilty party. I didn’t want my mother to waste her time or her money marrying such a jerk so I killed him by putting salt in my pumpkin pie instead of sugar.”

I must have sucked my breath in and made a sound because Sarah glanced at me. “You know I’m too good a baker to make that kind of stupid mistake.” She turned back toward the detective. “I knew he was on a low salt diet, so I made sure he had way too much salt today and would retain fluid.” She held out her hands to be handcuffed.

The detective let out a groan, but kept a straight face. “One day of retaining fluid and breaking his
low salt diet wouldn’t have killed him any more than one day of not drinking in moderation. You may have contributed to whatever happened, but neither of you,” he said, pointing at Philippe’s daughter who was raiding my bar without any thought of moderation. “caused his death.”

The detective turned to ask another question of all of us, but little Betty planted herself in front of him. He bent down to her level. “Don’t tell me you’re going to confess, too?”
“What’s confess? I just wanted to tell you Mr. Philippe ate the smelly greens.” The detective glanced around the room.

I waved at him. “She’s talking about a new béchamel and greens dish I served. It was for everyone, but especially for him because he’s always loved my greens,” I noticed the detective’s jaw tighten, so I hastened to add, “I ate a large portion of my greens as did most of the guests except Betty.”

“Would you like me to sing my new song again,” Betty asked the detective.

“No,” my mother said. She took Betty by the hand and started toward the kitchen, but turned back to the detective and pulled herself to the top of her five foot two inch height. “You’re wasting your time. None of us was particularly fond of the man.” Alicia stirred but mother stared her down. “Well, most of us weren’t fond of the man and weren’t thrilled my foolish daughter was going to marry him, but we didn’t kill him.”

The detective and I followed mother and Betty into the kitchen. The dishwasher was humming. Other than the stacked dessert plates and dirty glasses, nothing was out of place. “How can you have had Thanksgiving dinner and everything be so cleaned up?”

“We worked as a team.”

“And does the team know how Philippe or Philip West died?”
“Of course,” mom said. “The glutton killed himself.” The detective waited for mother to continue. “I’ve taken a blood thinner for years and whether he was taking Coumadin, Plavix, aspirin or whatever after receiving his new valve, his doctors would have made it clear that he needed to minimize his salt, alcohol, and leafy green intake. He wouldn’t have had enough today to harm him, but he’s been pigging out since he got his pig part. So, I think he’s to blame for his own death.”

“We won’t have the autopsy results for a few weeks, but I’m inclined to agree with you.” He looked at his watch. “I think, if I hurry, I can make it to my daughter’s house for Thanksgiving dinner.”

“You do that,” Mom said. “Have a happy Thanksgiving.” I started to show him to the door, but mother rested her hand on my arm. “Betty will show him out.” Once we heard the front door close, my mother turned toward me. “It didn’t happen tonight, but I must say the final timing of the cumulative effect of all those green dishes you’ve been making for him was most convenient.”
I didn’t respond. I stared back at Mom, but didn’t dare say a word. “I’m thankful how this Thanksgiving played out,” she said, “But remember, I believe in moderation, can live without greens, and read the fine print on the drug handouts I get with my prescriptions.”



Thanksgiving in Moderation was included by Untreed Reads Publishing in The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fourth Meal of Mayhem short story anthology in October 2014.