“Two to get Ready”
A short-short story by Barbara Workinger
There she was again! It seemed like Amelia Hibbard turned up everywhere I went. If she didn’t stop getting in my way, I would never be able to kill Clyde Barlow.
As she strode towards Fae’s Café, I hunkered lower in my parked car trying to look like I was casually waiting to pick up someone.
Amelia was like a bloodhound once she scented something unusual. Not that she had anything better to do since the library board ruled she had to retire at 65. The place had been her life for forty years. She still made daily visits there to volunteer for the children's story hour, and to let her gentle, black and white cat, Dewey, visit his former home where he roamed the children’s section, delighting the small patrons.
The remainder of Amelia’s time was spent marching around town like an eager sparrow gleaning tidbits of news from the cracks of Cranberry Corners’ sidewalks.
If Amelia had known what I was up to, I don’t imagine she would be too sorry. Almost everyone in town had reason to hate the town’s banker and most powerful citizen, Clyde Barlow. But no one had a better reason than I did for wanting him dead.
Before I could formulate my plan for his untimely death, I needed to know his daily schedule down to the minute. Luckily for me, Clyde was a creature of habit. Unluckily for me, so was Amelia, and their schedules were amazingly alike.
Each morning, exactly at seven, Clyde emerged from his tightly shuttered house, like a grouchy groundhog awakened too early to see his shadow. Bundled under layers of woolens, he crunched down Main Street to Fae’s where he thawed out his feet, if not his heart, with exactly three cups of steaming coffee. Amelia was there, observing everything while she ate her bird breakfast of toast and tea, or bustling about helping her friend, Fae, refill customers’ cups. From the muffling warmth of my steamed-up car I watched Clyde go into the café. Suddenly there was a sharp rap on my passenger window. I jumped with the overactive reflexes of a guilty conscience.
I mopped out a porthole to see. It was Amelia. What on earth did she want from me? I opened the door, shivering as much from the blast of arctic air as from the farfetched notion that Amelia knew why I was there.
Her breath punctuated the icy air with white staccatos. “Meg, I must talk to you,” she said, in a whisper perfected by decades in the library. She got in and fastened her seat belt as if she planned to go somewhere with me. “I know what you are up to, dear, and it’s no good.”
I sat there with my mouth agape.
“You simply cannot kill Clyde, Meg. You are the first one they would look for. Besides, I have a much better reason for wanting him dead. I will take care of killing him.”
Later in the cozy warmth of my still-closed bookstore, Amelia and I talked.
“You are right,” I said. “I would be the most likely suspect. Clyde foreclosed on my father’s bookstore. Dad was so distraught he ‘accidentally’ drove into a truck and was killed. I know it was so I could collect the insurance money and get the store back. What better reason could there be to want Clyde dead?”
“Mine,” the gentle-faced librarian said, softly. “It is not only that Clyde forced the board to make me leave the library. I have let it be known I welcomed retirement, even though I secretly hate it. No, dear, the reason goes back a long way. No one knows about this, but Clyde Barlow killed my baby.
“Long ago when I first came to this town, Clyde was a dashing fellow and I was as about as naive as they get about men. He said he loved me and I believed him. When I became pregnant, not only wouldn’t Clyde marry me, but he wanted me to have an abortion. I wouldn't do it and went to Boston to wait out the birth. Clyde found me, we argued and he hit me,” she said with a faraway look in her eyes. “The next day I gave birth to a stillborn little girl. She would be older than you, now, Meg.”
“So,” Amelia continued, briskly, “I’ve waited a long time for this. Now that I’ve been forcibly retired, I have no reason to wait any longer.”
I had to admit she did have a better reason, and as she explained, she had the means. Since Dewey no longer spent the night at the library, the basement had been invaded by rats. Clyde, as president of the library board, ordered arsenic rat poison be put out in the basement, which was off-limits to any of the library patrons. And, as Amelia said, Dewey was too intelligent to eat a poisoned rat, so it wasn’t any danger to him on his brief daytime visits.
It would be easy for Amelia to sneak out small amounts of the poison and slip it into Clyde's morning coffee.
The next morning Amelia stopped by the bookstore with Dewey in his padded carrier. While Dewey visited with Aggie, the bookstore cat, Amelia and I talked about when to put her plan into action. We were still alone when the door jangled open. It was Chief of Police, Jim Murphy. Even though he stopped by most days to say hello, today he looked grim when he approached us.
“Ladies,” he began. “I need to talk to you both. I am afraid I have some bad news. Clyde Barlow is dead!”
Amelia and I shot each other questioning looks, followed by almost imperceptible shakes of our heads.
Amelia was the first to respond. “Did you say Clyde was murdered, Chief?”
“Oh, no, Ma’am, Mr. Barlow wasn't murdered. It was an accident, a terrible freak accident. Seems he tripped over a dead rat, halfway up the stairs from the library basement. Mr. Barlow fell all the way back down the steps and broke his neck, poor devil.”
Neither Amelia or I spoke, but Dewey’s purr was loud and clear.