Tuesday, February 7, 2023

"Broken Hearted Killers" - Chapter Six

The following blog entry is one chapter in “Broken Hearted Killers,” a serial novella written by 16 Writers Who Kill. To read the complete story, please begin with Chapter One, published on the WWK blog on February 2, 2023.

By Margaret S. Hamilton

Helen stepped back. “Do come in.” Concerned about the young woman’s health, Helen ushered Betty to a seat at the dining table and offered the realtor a box of tissues.

Betty sniffled and dabbed her forehead and cheeks.

Nella gave Betty a tall glass of ice water. “You might be dehydrated. Drink this and then I’ll give you a glass of juice.” Nella mouthed to Helen, “Text Renee for help.”

Betty drank the water, growing calmer with each sip.

Helen discretely texted Renee Peabody. Betty’s symptoms could be due to stress, hypoglycemia, or some kind of drug interaction, all symptoms her students had exhibited during her teaching career. Best to have Renee give Betty a quick screening.

“May I call you Betty?” Helen asked. “Iris and I were old friends.”

“Were?” Betty asked. “What do you mean?”

Helen took Betty’s hand. “I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Iris is dead. The police consider it a suspicious death.” Helen glanced at her entrance door, half-expecting Iris to open it and sweep through, making her usual dramatic entrance.

“Iris can’t be dead,” Betty wailed. Mascara ran down her cheeks. “Her two-million-dollar offer was accepted on the Harrison-designed villa yesterday.”

“What time was her offer accepted?” Helen asked.

“Late…late afternoon. Iris came up with a last-minute all-cash offer, which the owners accepted. They’re strapped, headed for bankruptcy. Iris’s money will keep their creditors away for a few months.”

“Did Iris sign the sales contract?” Helen clasped her hands. “She was a widow with, I assume, no heirs. Her estate needs to go through probate.”

“What do you mean no heirs?” Betty’s mouth dropped open. “Iris told me she was a newlywed. She showed me a framed photograph of her second husband.”

“Did he have a name?” Helen asked.

Betty shook her head. “I don’t remember. Nice enough looking, though, with a full head of silver hair. Iris intended the villa as his wedding present.”

“Was Iris anxious to move?” Helen asked. “I assumed she was happy at Oak Haven. Her condo has a gorgeous view and lovely upgrades—engineered hardwood floors, quartz countertops, and a wood-burning fireplace.”

Betty nodded. “Yeah, much nicer than this place.” She blew her nose. “Sorry, no offense.”

Helen smiled. “None taken. I’m quite comfortable living here.” She gazed at the stack of library books on the windowsill, including the latest edition of Wildflowers: Friendly and Toxic, which she was anxious to finish reading.

Nella asked, “Ready for some juice or herbal tea? It’s Helen’s special blend.”

Betty rubbed her eyes. “Just ice water, please.”

Helen jumped when the doorbell rang. She was ready to yank the durn contraption out of the wall. “It must be Renee.”

 “Betty, I’m a nurse.” Renee entered the room. “Helen was concerned about your symptoms and asked me to drop by.”

“Sure, why not?” Betty asked. “My life can’t get any worse. I busted my backside getting Iris’s last-minute offer accepted, and, with her dead, I’ve got nothing to show for it.”

Renee checked Betty’s blood pressure, took her temperature, and clipped an oximeter to her finger. After Renee shined a penlight in Betty’s eyes, she patted the realtor on the shoulder. “You check out. Any pain, nausea, or dizziness?”

Betty shook her head. “Guess I’ll live to sell another house.”

Renee mentioned an urgent errand and said goodbye.

Betty scrolled through her phone. “Anybody know Charles Fairweather? Iris told me he would handle the paperwork for her offer and the closing.”

“Sure do,” Helen said. “Want me to call him?” Charles had a mane of silver hair, as did Philip Seaforth and Gus O’Boyle. Three local candidates for Iris’s framed photo of her new husband, real or imagined.

Betty tapped her flamingo pink nails on the table. “Iris’s will is none of my business, but because she told me she was married, her estate may be responsible for the villa purchase. I already have a buyer lined up for her condo, too.”

Helen considered the situation. “Never hurts to ask. I’ll call Charles.”

“Do it now before you-know-who comes back with more questions,” Nella said.

“Care to share?” Betty asked.

“Detective Diego Torres from the Granite Falls Police,” Helen said.

Betty slid her phone into her pebbled leather handbag. “I’m out of here.” She handed each woman a business card. “It’s been a pleasure. Let’s keep in touch regarding your real estate needs.”

“Betty, do you have a key to Iris’s condo?” Helen asked.

Betty unzipped a side pocket on her handbag and slid a key attached to a plastic tag across the table. “Not anymore.”

Helen watched Betty open the door, scurry the length of the building hallway, and dart through the fire door. Why was Betty anxious to avoid the police? Drugs? Fraud? Had she conned Iris into making the all-cash offer on the villa? Or was Iris involved in a money-laundering operation? And who was Iris’s new husband?

The elevator doors opened, and Detective Torres stepped out.

“Ms. Hornsby, have you seen Renee Peabody? She hasn’t returned my calls.” Detective Torres eyed the video surveillance camera mounted on the wall near the elevator. “We checked. All the cameras are operational.”

 “Renee was just here,” Helen said, “and then she left to run an errand.”

“And the young woman who said she was a realtor?”

Helen glanced at the camera. “The concierge referred Betty August to me. Nella gave her a glass of ice water and we shared the sad news about Iris.”

“No further questions.” Detective Torres punched the elevator button.

Helen’s hand closed around Iris’s key, tucked in her jeans pocket. If she could circumvent the video surveillance camera in the hall outside Iris’s front door, she would be able to search Iris’s condo.

# # #

Margaret S. Hamilton has published over twenty short stories in various online publications and anthologies, including “Black Market Baby” in Masthead: Best New England Crime Stories. She is querying her debut traditional mystery, Curtains for the Corpse, a Daphne Mainstream Mystery finalist. Margaret lives in Cincinnati with her husband and two standard poodles. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.


  1. Will we find clues in the unfortunate Iris's apartment?

  2. Love the way this is developing.

  3. Another riveting chapter! Keep ‘em coming!

  4. Kathleen, I suspect we will! At least our amateur sleuths are spared rappelling down the outside of the high rise building.

    Kait, I agree. So many clues and red herrings.

    Lori, at least we only have to wait a day between each chapter.

  5. The plot thickens. Another great chapter. Can't wait till tomorrow.

  6. Whoa! This Helen is one sneaky sleuth!

  7. Margaret, you’ve woven a lot into this chapter. Now, to watch Helen make sense of it!