Fiction

Story: Blueberry Season

By T.Y. Euliano

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Physiology, pharmacology, toxicology…kill-me-now-logy. First year of medical school finally over, Emily left Boston with a full brain, empty pockets, and a desperate need for salt air and decompression. Her parents still in Europe, she had the house in Bar Harbor to herself. Next week she would start work at Mount Desert Island Hospital, as a scribe in the ER, for the experience, and the money. But this week was for reconnecting, with her friends, her dog, herself.

Jillian came squealing from next door before Emily could pop the trunk. Just like old times. “You’re here. I’m so glad you’re here.” The embrace felt like old times, too. Best friends since childhood, no one had filled Jillian’s warm and comfortable shoes.

“I’ve missed you.” They broke the embrace and Emily glanced up at Jillian’s house. Had it always been so small? “How’s your mom?”

“She’s hanging in.” But her smile wasn’t a Jillian smile, too thin-lipped, regretful. Her bright blue eyes, dimmed. Cancer was ruining her mother’s final months, ruining Jillian’s current months.

Emily pulled a cardboard box from the back seat for her. “It’s heavy.” She’d picked it up from Jillian’s husband, Brian, the day before.

“Thanks for being our courier. Brian’s aunt insists Mom’s cancer herbs can only be grown in this fertilizer.” She hefted the box. “He’s so tired of making the drive up.”

“And of being wifeless, I imagine.”

She shrugged. Similar to Brian’s response yesterday. The couple that shrugs together…? Doubtful.

Emily followed Jillian next door, where Riley shot from the barely open door and nearly knocked Emily backward. “Hey boy. I missed you, too.” Tail wagging, he whined a greeting, rubbing against her legs, begging to be pet over every inch. “Looks like he’s feeling better.”

“Yes, it was a quick recovery, poor guy. Just lasted a day or two.”

“I hope he didn’t … stain anything.”

“No, he made it outside every time.”

“And Chaos didn’t get sick?”

Jillian shook her head, petting her black lab’s boxy head as he sat obediently at her side. Show off.

They unpacked the car in minutes, Riley a constant shadow, or obstacle. Returning to Jillian’s sunny yellow kitchen, they sipped coffee at the same table where they’d shared innumerable gallons of Koolaid fifteen years before. White curtains over the sink billowed in the soft afternoon breeze.

“How are you holding up?” Emily asked.

Jillian stared into her coffee. “It’s hard, watching her waste away.”

“I hope you’re getting some time to yourself. Are Roger and his wife helping?”

“Ha. You wouldn’t even know he and Molly live on the island.” Her brother was a jerk, had been since Emily turned him down the summer after graduation. He had been like a brother to her, now an estranged brother, even to his real sister. “Once Mom changed her mind about moving to Boston with us, they pretty much disappeared.”

“She was going to come to Boston?”

“Until she learned she was terminal, even if she moved to the healthcare mecca. She wanted to stay home.” Jillian shrugged. “Brian’s been good about it, but it’s been months.”

“What about your painting?” Jillian’s career was just taking off.

“I pay old Mrs. Simpson to sit with Mom a few hours a day so I can work.”

“Mrs. Simpson’s still alive? She was ancient when we were kids.”

“Sometimes I wonder who’s watching whom.” Jillian’s face brightened. “I have a great commission. Painting the view of Bar Harbor from Cadillac Mountain at dawn, midday and dusk. It’s an amazing study in light and shadows. So challenging, just what I need right now.”

Shuffling behind a walker, Mrs. Barstoke entered the kitchen. Emily recognized her only by deduction – it was her kitchen. She stood and hugged bony shoulders, then pulled out a chair for her.

“Join us for lunch,” Jillian said to Emily, pulling a salad from the refrigerator.

Emily declined, anxious to get organized.

Mrs. Barstoke placed a blue-veined hand on Emily’s and said in a loud voice, “Please stay.”

Emily looked past her discolored skin and thinning hair, into her blue eyes, bright like her daughter’s, and at last saw something familiar. The second mother of her childhood, who baked cookies and muffins, and bandaged skinned knees. Of course she would stay.

Jillian dished out the salad – field greens with carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers.

“Did you grow all this?” Emily asked, modulating her voice for Mrs. Barstoke’s benefit.

“No, not these. The garden’s struggling this year, except for the blueberries.”

“You don’t even like blueberries.”

“Go figure, those and Mom’s herbs are the only things growing.” From an unlabeled glass jar, Jillian sprinkled what looked like ground grass clippings, over her mother’s salad.

“My anti-cancer herbs,” Mrs. Barstoke said loudly. “What do you think of them Doctor Emily?”

Emily swallowed her bite of salad early. “I’m not a doctor yet.” And certainly not the root and berry kind.

“Mom, don’t put her on the spot. Only one of your half-dozen doctors believes in them.”

“And they work.” She pointed a shaky fork at the bottle. “I’m still here aren’t I?”

Jillian smiled her odd smile again. “Can you handle the fork today?”

Annoyance gave way to embarrassment. Mrs. Barstoke opened and closed her hands. “Pins and needles from the chemotherapy.”

Emily nodded. One more indignity for a dying woman.

Over the next couple of days, Emily took Riley for long walks, stocked the refrigerator with (mostly) healthy foods, and attended employee orientation at MDI.

Already certified in Basic Life Support, she had the last afternoon free. She and Riley hiked up Cadillac North Ridge Trail. It wasn’t her favorite, or the most scenic ascent, but Riley enjoyed jumping through the granite formations, and the open scenery at the summit was worth the steep climb. They reached Jillian’s outcropping around two, out of breath with thighs burning. Jillian had her canvas clipped to a board against the incessant wind. The image she’d painted of Bar Harbor and the Porcupine Islands beyond took Emily’s breath away, again. “You’re amazing.”

Jillian turned. “Oh, hey, you made it.” She petted Riley while Emily blocked the make-shift paint stand from a grievous tail-wagging disaster.

“It’s gorgeous.” And it was. Realistic, but not like a photo. Better, really.

Riley allowed several dogs to pass without his careful examination, but his patience ended with a yellow lab mix who marked a spot a bit too close. Emily’s time was up. “I guess we’re heading down.”

Jillian glanced at her watch. “Do me a favor?”

“Of course.”

“Can you make sure Mom took her afternoon pills? They’re in the labeled bin by the fridge.”

“No problem.”

With Riley and gravity providing forward momentum, they made it down the trail and back to the house in record time. Riley drank long and messy from his water dish while Emily downed her own bottle of water and walked through the back gate to Jillian’s. Her knock went unanswered, but the key still hid under the cement bunny on the stoop.

“Hello. It’s Emily.” No answer. “Mrs. Barstoke? Mrs. Simpson?” As she passed through the kitchen, she saw the day’s pill container, still full. She carried it into the darkened front room. Light filtered through the closed blinds in thin strips. On the sofa, Mrs. Simpson lay snoring softly.  Emily shook her gently by the shoulder. The woman’s eyes popped open and she sat upright with surprising speed.

“Who are you? How did you get in here?”

“It’s okay. It’s Emily from next door.”

She squinted her rheumy eyes, her gray hair flattened on one side. “How –?”

“Jillian asked me to check on you guys. Where’s her mom?”

“She’s napping.” Her hand trembled as she reached for her glasses on the small side table. “Goodness, you scared me half to death.”

“Sorry about that.”

The odor hit her half way down the hall. Foul, like stool, but also metallic, like blood. Emily quickened her pace. Mrs. Barstoke lay on her back, a pool of bloody diarrhea soiling the sheets around her. Emily fought the urge to turn back, or retch, and instead called on her BLS training. Unresponsive, breathing, pulse fast but weak. And that was pretty much the extent of her medical knowledge. Humbled, she dialed 911 and opened a window.

Jillian didn’t answer her phone. Must still be on the mountain.

The paramedics evaluated Mrs. Barstoke, placing a breathing tube, since she was unresponsive. In the ambulance, Emily held her limp hand, surprisingly rough for someone so feeble. She gardened, but Jillian used to call her a glove-Nazi. White lines crossed the nails on thin fingers. Chemo?

Despite her soon-to-be employment status, Emily was not invited into the evaluation room. The waiting room was full of chairs, but empty of people. She paced, waiting for Jillian or her brother. A young family entered, the child moaning, holding her stomach, then she vomited with impressive force for one so small. Emily brought the child a cup of cool water, alerted the clerk to the mess, and stepped outside.

Unfortunately, Roger arrived first, with fire in his eyes and his voice. “What the hell’s going on?”

“Your mom was unconscious. They resuscitated her and –.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know what happened. I found her –”

“No, why was she resuscitated? She has a Living Will.”

Emily was silent. Stupid. Of course she had a Living Will.

“It’s on her bedside table. Did you even look?”

“Shut up, Roger.” Jillian had arrived. “It’s not her fault.” She went straight to the receptionist’s desk, introduced herself, and the door buzzed open. She grabbed Emily’s hand and pulled her through. Roger followed.

Mrs. Barstoke’s room resembled all other ER rooms, institutional and drab. A ventilator wheezed and clunked, causing the thin sheet over her chest to rise and fall. The monitor displayed blood pressure – low, heart rate – high, oxygen saturation – normal. Emily was less sure of the ECG tracing across the screen.

Jillian held her mother’s hand, leaning to speak directly in her ear. Statements of love and encouragement, surely. Roger, on the other hand, approached the ventilator as if looking for the power switch.

“Roger’s here, too, Mom,” Jillian said. When he turned, his face softened. His hand moved toward his mother’s, but the gesture was interrupted when the door swung open. Roger’s face returned to brimstone.

A young doctor in green scrubs strode in. With round glasses on a thin face, topped with jet black hair, he looked not much older than Emily’s classmates. “I’m Dr. Green,” he said. “Are you her family?” He offered his hand to Jillian first. She shook it while Roger began his Roger-thing.

“Turn off the ventilator,” he said. “She signed a Living Will. She didn’t want to be intubated or resuscitated.”

“We don’t know what’s going on yet,” Jillian said. “Maybe it’s something easily treated and she’ll recover.”

“She won’t recover, Jillian. She’s dying of cancer.”

Dr. Green looked from one to the other. “We were unaware of the Living Will, but at this point, she’s stable. We’re still investigating what caused the decompensation. Are either of you her health care surrogate?”

“I am,” Jillian said, unshed tears sparkling as she looked to Emily.

Roger spun away.

Emily approached Jillian’s side and put an arm around her shoulders. “Why not wait until they figure out what happened. If it’s easily treated, without worsening her quality of life –“

“What quality of life?” Roger said. “Look at her.”

“How would you know.” Jillian’s voice rose in volume, but dropped in pitch, with a gravelly quality that added menace.

She cleared her throat, apologized to Dr. Green, and said, “Please find out what’s going on and keep me posted.”

Roger stormed out, taking the room’s tension with him.

Dr. Green came closer. “There’s nothing on X-ray, but we’ll look in her GI tract to figure out what’s bleeding. Her labs are abnormal, even more so than several months ago.”

“Which ones?” Emily asked, before she could stop herself.

“Sorry,” Jillian said. “I didn’t introduce my friend. This is soon-to-be-Dr. Emily Jenkins.”

“Not that soon.” She shook Dr. Green’s proffered hand. “I’m just a first year.”

“Second year,” said Jillian.

He nodded and smiled a different smile, one of knowing? Welcoming?

“Our new scribe?”

She nodded.

“Her liver enzymes are up and she’s very anemic, actually pancytopenic.” His eyes quizzed Emily.

“It means all her blood cells are low. White cells and platelets, too.”

He nodded appreciatively. “What do you think about her ECG?”

Crap.

“We haven’t done ECG yet, but it doesn’t look right to me. Kinda wider than normal.”

“Good enough. Yes.” He pointed out several features on the monitor, but she caught only “long QT interval.” That term she recognized, as long as he didn’t quiz her on it.

He mentioned other signs and tests to be run. Emily mostly nodded and committed the terms to memory to look up later.

“We’ll move her to an ICU bed, and should have more information in a few hours.”

“Thank you.” Jillian squeezed her mother’s hand again.

Dr. Green stretched an arm toward the door, an invitation to depart. Outside the room, he wrote down Jillian’s phone number.

The women rode home together, each in their own thoughts. In Jillian’s dark driveway they embraced. “Thank you,” Jillian said. “For saving my mom.”

On the short walk home, Emily wondered about that thanks. If she had arrived later, Mrs. Barstoke’s torment might be over now. And Jillian’s. She could return to her husband and get on with her life.

Riley’s exuberant greeting was a welcome, if brief, distraction.

Sipping coffee at her kitchen table the next morning, Emily reviewed causes of a long QT interval on the ECG. Riley ran to the back door and gave a single bark, tail wagging furiously. Soon Jillian appeared. “I come bearing gifts.” Emily opened the door wide for her friend, and the food.

“Mmmmm. They smell incredible.” She accepted the small basket of warm blueberry muffins, and two large bottles of Gatorade.

“I got the wrong flavor. Thought you might like it.”

“Ah, thank you. Any news?”

“She’s stable, whatever that means.”

Emily poured coffee. “Can I get you anything else?”

“No, I’m fine. I can’t stay.” But she sat and sipped coffee while Emily ate a muffin. Jillian’s eyes downcast, she seemed near to tears. Emily had started on the second muffin when Jillian stood to leave.

“Are you okay?” Emily asked.

“I am. I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what? You brought me muffins.”

The tears spilled over. “Sorry for ruining your vacation. Sorry for adding my baggage –“

Emily pulled her into a hug. “The only thing you should be sorry for is only bringing me two muffins.”

Jillian pulled away, wiping her eyes on her sleeve.

Riley walked them to the door, then nudged his leash. “Alright boy, I’ll put my shoes on.” She offered him the other half of her muffin, but, to her surprise, he declined. Too focused on the run. She tossed it in his empty bowl, changed clothes, and they were jogging down the sidewalk fifteen minutes later.

An hour later, Emily cut the run short when her stomach began to rumble uncomfortably.  Back home, she rushed to the bathroom and vomited, like the child last night. Great. No good deed…. Or maybe it was her omelet that morning. The eggs weren’t in a carton.

She showered, but threw up again after, so she returned to bed, Gatorade nearby. She awoke to her phone ringing. Jillian.

“Hey, sorry I’m not there. How’s your Mom?”

“No change, but you sound terrible.”

“No, I’m fine. Just food poisoning I think.”

“Oh God, from my muffins?”

“No, no. Probably from my eggs.” She shifted the pillows to sit more upright. “The Gatorade’s coming in handy.”

“Let me know if I can bring you anything.”

When Emily next woke, it was to a dark room and horrible abdominal cramps. She rushed to the bathroom. Bloody diarrhea. What the hell? Was Mrs. Barstoke contagious?

She made it through the night, largely in the bathroom, waking on the cool tile floor, her neck stiff, but her stomach no longer cramping. She drank handfuls of water from the tap, showered, and returned to bed, waking several hours later, a new woman.

Downstairs, she re-hydrated and nibbled dry toast while she looked up causes of her symptoms. It was a long list. Food poisoning fit the bill, though likely from the day before, and not Mom’s leftover eggs.

Riley nudged her arm. He’d not had breakfast, or dinner for that matter. “Sorry buddy.” The half-muffin still sat in his dish. She replaced it with dog food that vanished in less than a minute. She gave him a second scoop.

Rejuvenated, Emily joined Jillian at her mother’s bedside, wearing a mask, just in case. “You look pale,” Jillian said.

“Yeah, but I feel much better. Any news?”

“Not really.” Her eyes filled again. “Maybe Roger’s right?” It was a question, but Emily had no answer.

They sat together, sometimes talking, sometimes quiet. Emily watched her friend caress her mother’s limp hand, bones outlined by taught, blotchy skin and tiny blue veins. White lines crossed her fingernails – ‘Mees’ came to mind. Why? She’d seen it recently. Emily googled the term on her phone. “Mees’ lines typically appear after a person experiences poisoning from arsenic …” Poisoning? “They can also appear in patients undergoing chemotherapy…” More likely.

Arsenic poisoning: diarrhea – check, vomiting – check, nerve damage, hair loss, stomach pain, lungs, skin, kidneys, liver. Holy crap. Could it be? Was Mrs. Barstoke being poisoned? Or was it the Med Student curse – diagnosing some relative with every disease studied.

She glanced out the glass to the nurses’ station and Dr. Green. “I’m going to go walk the dogs,” she said to Jillian.

“Thanks, I’ll be home later.”

Emily removed her mask and reintroduced herself to the doctor. “I know this sounds crazy, but did you test Mrs. Barstoke for arsenic poisoning?”

His head angled down, a thin smirk on his lips.

“Wait. Hear me out.” She ran through the symptoms, her speech accelerating as his eyes grew wide.

“Arsenic?” He logged into the computer and invited her to read over his shoulder. “Interesting.” He dialed the phone and asked about the testing procedure.

Emily shivered.

“Let’s keep this between us for now.” He took down her cell number.

His text came soon after she returned home from the walk. “Toxic arsenic levels. I have to call the authorities.”

Was this really happening? “Can I bring in some samples to be tested?”

“Sure.”

She grabbed Ziploc bags and went in search of possible sources, Riley at her heels.  The ‘cancer herbs’ from Jillian’s kitchen, and from the garden. Soil from around the herbs and the adjacent …blueberries.

Hurrying to her own house, she put the left-over half-muffin from the trash into another bag and delivered the samples to the pathologist, Dr. Muerte, at the hospital. She stifled an unprofessional smile at his name.

Back home, she scrubbed Riley’s dish, as well as the table, and the bathroom. The mirror was squeaking against her ministrations when Riley began barking.

Emily glanced through her bedroom window to find a black sedan and police van in Jillian’s driveway. Downstairs, she recognized one of the men from high school, Lowell something. But his partner took the lead. “I’m Detective Abbot, this is my partner, Detective Lowell. Are you Emily Jenkins?”

“I am.” Lowell angled his head in recognition, but said nothing.

“We have a warrant to search the premises of Marilyn Barstoke.” He flashed papers from his pocket, but was already instructing his team. “Start in the garden.” He strode around the house toward the back gate.

“Sorry about that,” Lowell said. “He’s not the most personable.”

“I already sent some samples–”

“Yes. But we have to do our own. Chain of custody and all.”

“Of course. Does Jillian know about this?”

Lowell nodded. “She’s on her way.” He handed Emily his card. “Just in case.”

Emily returned to her house and watched from the back porch. Riley growling through the screen door, anxious to join the fun. The detectives took samples from all over the garden, then opened the old wooden potting shed. The weathered door protested with a screech and Detective Abbot disappeared inside. Moments later he passed a large canister to Lowell – the fertilizer Emily had brought from Boston.

Jillian appeared on her own back patio. Emily wanted to go to her, to apologize, but the detectives were already approaching. It began to rain.

Hours later, Emily sipped hot cocoa in her kitchen, trying to make sense of things. Jillian called from the hospital, the conversation stilted. “It wasn’t me, Emily.”

“I know.”

“Then why didn’t you tell me what was going on?”

“Dr. Green asked me not to.”

 Riley growled and moved to the back door.

Emily cupped her free hand to the glass and looked out. A light beam played across Jillian’s back yard. “There’s someone in your back yard.”

“My yard? What are they doing?”

“Going to the shed. Hang on.”

“Wait, no.”

But Emily ignored her. She owed it to her friend. Slipping the phone into her pocket, she quietly opened the door. But Riley darted past, barking wildly over the fence. Ah, stealth. The dark form ran toward the front and out the gate. An engine turned over and a car accelerated away. Some detective.

She heard her name, muffled, and pulled the phone from her pocket.

“What’s going on?”

“She ran away.”

“She?”

She? Why a she? “I don’t know, actually, could have been a man, maybe.”

“I’ll be right there.”

Emily called Detective Lowell. Twenty minutes later, all three looked through the house and yard, the grass still damp. Other than the gate standing open, nothing seemed amiss. Lowell approached the gate, scanning the ground with his flashlight. “You said it was a woman?”

“I think so,” Emily said. “Something about the way she ran.” She hated how sexist that sounded.

He squatted and shone his flashlight on the dirt near the gate. Emily and Jillian approached, but stayed back. Lowell took pictures with his cellphone. “A few decent footprints in the mud here.” He called for an evidence team to collect the print. “Good call, Dr. Emily. Definitely too small for a man.”

After Lowell and his team departed, Jillian sagged into a kitchen chair. “What the hell is going on? Someone’s poisoning my mom? Breaking into my house?”

Emily opened her friend’s refrigerator on a mission. Wine. A colander of blueberries sat on a shelf. She poured them down the drain.

Jillian’s brow furrowed, then her eyes widened. “Oh my God, I did poison you.” Her head fell in her hands. “And your dog.”

Riley? “He didn’t eat the muffin … he ate blueberries in the garden again, didn’t he? That’s what made him sick last week.”

She nodded.

“That’s why he wouldn’t touch the muffin.” Emily handed Jillian a box of tissues. “He’s fine now, and so am I. Maybe he’ll stay out of your garden now.”

She laughed through a sob.

Emily poured two glasses of white wine and sat beside her friend, like old times.

“If it’s in the fertilizer, someone’s breaking into the shed to add it,” Jillian said.

“Not necessarily.” Emily said it slowly, warily, watching Jillian.

Her eyes rounded, as did her mouth. “Brian. He insisted on the fertilizer.”

“We don’t know anything yet. The shed’s not locked. Someone could have doctored it, like whoever I saw tonight. Can you think of a woman who might want your mother dead?”

“Molly.” No hesitation. “Once Mom’s gone, the house is theirs. Rumor has it she already hired someone to remodel the kitchen.”

“But you –“

“I live in Boston with Brian. Roger has to buy out my half, but he gets the house.”

“Sounds like several people have a motive.”

“Including me. Saddled with caring for her.” Her added false drama. “I’m a crappy daughter.”

“How can you say that? You’ve given up your life –“

“And hated every minute of it. Surely she feels my resentment.”

“Stop. You don’t think she resented us when we painted smiley faces in her shower with fingernail polish?”

That earned a grin.

“Or when we left a twelve-pack in her new car at the beach, and it exploded?”

That earned a laugh.

“No question she’s a burden, just like we were.”

“What goes around, comes around?” Jillian cradled her wine in both hands. “But you believe me?”

“You’d be a crappy murderer to insist on a workup, or to send me to check on her. And Brian might want you home, but do you really think he’d …”

Jillian stared silently at the table.

The next morning, Jillian phoned early. “Dr. Green called us in. I can’t face Roger alone. Can you come?”

Roger brought Molly, a bottle-blonde in a too-tight shirt topping a too-short skirt. But at least she wore too much makeup. Uncharitable, but they were in a hospital for heaven’s sake.

Dr. Green explained that Mrs. Barstoke’s brain had swelled, impeding blood flow. She was essentially brain dead. “I recommend we withdraw life support and let her die in peace.”

Emily wanted to smack the satisfied smirk from Roger’s face, except it wasn’t there. His eyes brimmed with tears. At his side, Molly’s face was a mask.

Arm around Jillian, Emily said, “Do you want to wait for Brian? He’ll be here in an hour.” She nodded, and for that hour Jillian held her mother’s hand and reminisced. Some of the stories featured Roger. Before he’d become … whatever he’d become. Each time the corner of his mouth turned up, or a tear threatened, his eyes darted to Molly and his face molded back to a glower.

Brian arrived, pulled Jillian into an embrace, and nodded to Emily. Roger, he ignored. Someone in a short blue coat flipped the switch on the ventilator, which squawked in protest, then fell silent. The nurse turned off the monitor while blue coat gently removed the breathing tube. Then they were left alone.

Emily tried to shrink back, but Jillian insisted she stay. Grasping her mother’s hand, Jillian nodded for the group to form a circle. Emily reached for Molly’s hand. It was rough in hers, like Mrs. Barstoke’s. She glanced down. Bright white lines cut across each nail bed.

A sob from Jillian brought Emily’s attention back to the bed. One breath, two, the sheet barely moved with the third, then it was over. So quickly, quietly, peacefully.

Dr. Green entered, placed a stethoscope on her chest, nodded respectfully and left. Soon after, the circle broke. Jillian leaned down to kiss her mother’s cheek, caressing her gray hair. “I love you, Mom.” Brian kept his hand on his wife’s back, and welcomed her into his arms when she turned from the bed.

Roger remained even after Jillian pulled away. Tears streamed as he stared at his mother’s face, so like his own. Those blue eyes Emily had so often coveted. “I’m so sorry, Mom,” he whispered.

“Don’t make a scene.” Molly grabbed his free arm. He pulled away, and lifted his mother’s hand in both of his. He kissed her hand, and placed it back on the bed.

Emily left the room first, wiping her eyes. As each mourner followed, she surreptitiously eyed their hands, grasping them in condolence if necessary. She had to see their fingernails. Only Molly’s were marked.

In the hospital lobby, Detective Lowell approached the sad procession. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but we need to talk.”

“Now?” Molly’s voice grated like fingernails on an extra-annoying chalkboard.

“I’m afraid so.” Detective Abbot approached from the information desk, and led the way to a nearby conference room. Lowell offered quiet condolences to Jillian and Roger, then apologized for the Miss Marple routine they were about to endure.

Once everyone sat around the large laminate table, Detective Abbot directed his initial comments to Jillian and Roger. “First, Detective Lowell and I are very sorry for your loss.” Jillian nodded. Roger only stared. “As you know by now, her death was not a natural one. It was hastened by arsenic, ingested through the herbs in her garden, and more recently, through the blueberries. Toxic levels were also identified in the open can of custom fertilizer from the shed.”

Jillian stiffened.

“But not in the unopened can with its seal intact.”

Jillian relaxed.

“In addition to Mrs. Barstoke’s home, we searched the home and vehicles of Roger and Molly Barstoke this morning.”

Molly’s face paled. Roger’s remained grim.

“In Molly Barstoke’s closet, we found shoes that match the prints taken from the back yard last night. In her car we found women’s gloves that tested positive for arsenic. We also found a can of rat poison in her trunk.” He nodded to his partner, who moved to Molly.

“In my trunk?” she shrieked, staring daggers at Roger.

“Molly Barstoke, you are under arrest for the murder of Marilyn Barstoke, and the poisoning of Emily Jenkins.”

Roger faced his wife, eyes narrowed to slits. “You? You killed my mother?”

“What? It was your idea.” She whirled on the officers. “It was him. He made me do it. She was dying. We helped her.” Lowell cuffed her wrists in front. She stared at them, a look of bewilderment on her face. “Roger?” The detectives escorted her out, reciting the Miranda warning over her shouted arguments. All of it mercifully quieted as the door swung closed.

Roger smiled at his sister, who, to Emily’s horror, smiled back.

###

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