Preview of Short Story

Aunt Reba and The Donut Do-Over
Nor­ma Huss

Aunt Reba, do you have any ten dol­lar jobs that need to be done?” When I didn’t reply imme­di­ate­ly, Bon­nie added, “It’s a dire emer­gency. If you don’t have any jobs now, I could work it off. How about I, ah, mow your lawn for two weeks?”

Leav­ing aside that we had a lawn ser­vice and invent­ing jobs to aug­ment the finan­cial short­falls of nieces and nephews who are well into their teens was begin­ning to stretch my imag­i­na­tion, I said, “Oh, that sounds seri­ous. What is the dire emer­gency?”

Pool par­ty Sat­ur­day, and I’ve been wear­ing the same two swim­suits so long, and I have almost enough mon­ey for the cutest swim­suit. And, ah, I asked them to put it aside for me.”

My sib­lings were pro­lif­ic, their delight­ful chil­dren kept our oth­er­wise child­less home hop­ping, and their needs were def­i­nite­ly get­ting more expen­sive. It was a project I’d been think­ing over for a bet­ter answer.

Yes, I’d do it.

It’s time to begin Aunt Reba and Com­pa­ny, and you could be my first employ­ee,” I said. “How would you like to apply for the posi­tion of assis­tant to the pres­i­dent with duties to include any and all of those nec­es­sary accord­ing to your abil­i­ty? Pay will be, oh, let’s say, ten dol­lars a week while we are plan­ning the com­pa­ny.”

Ah, what’s Aunt Reba and Com­pa­ny?”

Aunt Reba is me, nat­u­ral­ly, and the com­pa­ny will be you and any of your cousins and sib­lings who are inter­est­ed. Our busi­ness will be cater­ing. Our office will be my kitchen where we will make food for our clients.”

You mean you’ll give me ten dol­lars for ah, plan­ning? Like, not actu­al­ly doing any­thing?”

My sib­lings weren’t rais­ing any dumb bells. She quick­ly noticed my expres­sion and has­tened to add, “Aunt Reba, I under­stand you are look­ing for an able employ­ee for your com­pa­ny. I would like to apply for a posi­tion.”

I adjust­ed my glass­es, in order to look down my nose for effect. “Please state your qual­i­fi­ca­tions. I require some­one who knows or is will­ing to learn about prepar­ing, serv­ing, and clean­ing up after­ward of inno­v­a­tive food for clients. Both busi­ness and sell­ing knowl­edge is a plus for any new enter­prise.”

Aunt Reba, you are so fun­ny.” Bon­nie gig­gled, then stood with hands clasped and a blank expres­sion on her face. “Ma’am, I have many years expe­ri­ence as assis­tant cook, serv­er, and dish wash­er in my home. And clean­er up. Just yes­ter­day I made three grilled cheese sand­wich­es for myself and the twins.”

You’re hired. And I think I may have an idea what our first job will be.” I accept­ed my imme­di­ate hug, reached for my purse, and added, “When you bring your new swim­suit to show me, plan to stay an hour for your first train­ing ses­sion.”

When I explained the sit­u­a­tion to my hus­band, Char­lie wasn’t too sure about the whole thing.

You have one com­pa­ny already,” he said, refer­ring to the pho­tographs I sold to mag­a­zines and recipe books. “Or, maybe you want an even larg­er kitchen?”

Heav­ens, no! I’ve already got the kitchen space. And the serv­ing dish­ware,” I said. “And cer­tain­ly a future crew, with a nephew in col­lege, and Bon­nie and all of her cousins in, or near high school age, not to men­tion all the cousins on your side. And I have a great idea for our first client. Didn’t you men­tion a meet­ing com­ing up soon?”

No new kitchen, but a silent part­ner?” I smiled sweet­ly. He final­ly nod­ded. “They serve cof­fee and some­thing sweet. I’ll ask some­body tomor­row.”

I hand­ed him the tele­phone. “Okay, today,” he added.

After he made a few phone calls and pulled a few strings, we were in busi­ness. A week from Thurs­day Aunt Reba and Com­pa­ny would pro­vide donuts and cof­fee for the Liars’ Club com­mit­tee to com­plete plans for a neigh­bor­hood sto­ry fest.

But Char­lie wasn’t through. “You know I’m pro­gram chair this year.”

Yeah,” I said, men­tal­ly reject­ing visions of serv­ing cof­fee with song and dance. “So?”

So we serve up a sur­prise. A lit­tle some­thing unex­pect­ed.”

Turned out, song and dance wasn’t the vision of the Liars’ Club. Antic­i­pat­ed enter­tain­ment for any event could include some joke played on the assem­bled mem­bers. “How about donuts that don’t taste like donuts?” he asked. “Still tasty, of course, but some­thing com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent. Noth­ing with nuts, of course . One of the men is aller­gic to cashews.”

What could I say? “You got it.”

Bon­nie breezed in three hours lat­er with her new swim­suit in a bag and a new recruit. She and her cousin Megan had gone shop­ping togeth­er, but it was Megan’s broth­er Derek, the old­est of the cousins, who came along.

And, he applied for a job. “You don’t real­ly have to pay me,” he said. “It’s the expe­ri­ence I want. Start­ing a new busi­ness and learn­ing how to make those deci­sions will be cru­cial to a course I’m tak­ing in the fall.”

Okay, then here’s the first deci­sion,” I said. “Uncle Charles wants us to serve a fake donut, some­thing that looks like a donut but tastes like some­thing else. It will mean extra time and trou­ble, for sure. What do you say?”

Oh, absolute­ly! That’s how you grow a busi­ness, being respon­sive to your clients’ needs. Go for it. All the way.”

I nod­ded. “Ideas?”

Our one hour train­ing ses­sion turned into sev­er­al more hours over the next three days until we per­fect­ed the per­fect donut do-over. No hot pep­pers. No gar­lic. We end­ed up with a basic baked donut recipe fla­vored with brown sug­ar and cloves, stud­ded with fried bacon bits, and cov­ered with a maple syrup glaze. It was deemed accept­able.

Anoth­er of our exec­u­tive deci­sions was not to use plas­tic throw-away serv­ing pieces, but my large col­lec­tion of one-of-a-kind pieces that I’ve accu­mu­lat­ed over the years to vary my pho­tos. Which meant still more work in the kitchen as every­thing would need to be washed instead of trashed. We also agreed on serv­ing real cream in tiny pitch­ers.

And sug­ar in the raw,” Bon­nie said as she chose two sweet­en­er pack­et hold­ers.

We only need one each for cream and sug­ar,” Derek said. “After all, we are serv­ing a total of ten peo­ple.”

The kids were mak­ing exec­u­tive deci­sions. Derek said the vari­ety of cups and saucers would keep our busi­ness dif­fer­ent. Bon­nie added that using real dish­es would keep the dis­pos­ables out of the ocean. I thought of pos­si­ble break­age of my col­lec­tion and decid­ed, in for a pen­ny, in for a pound.

The meet­ing was held in the near­by com­mu­ni­ty center’s all-pur­pose room. We had more than enough donuts and cof­fee for the ten creme de la creme of liars. One hoped they used up all their lies in the pur­suit of out­do­ing oth­er tall tales, and not in their every­day lives, for they includ­ed the May­or, a Scout leader, a police offi­cer, and a cou­ple of busi­ness own­ers. Three had some­thing to do with food, so I rather feared a few lies trad­ed might touch on our cof­fee and donuts.

Although Bon­nie, Derek and I were at the Com­mu­ni­ty Build­ing meet­ing room as the com­mit­tee mem­bers arrived, they weren’t to be served until after their first half hour of meet and greet. Which was secret. Sup­pos­ed­ly. We hid out in the adjoin­ing kitchen and heard only a lot of laugh­ter.

Sup­pos­ed­ly secret, because Char­lie had prac­ticed his mini-roast on me twice, and he was the only one sched­uled to speak. As a roast, it was main­ly lauda­to­ry. Noth­ing real­ly secret at all. Every­one knew about a mix-up at the police sta­tion, anoth­er at the restau­rant where Sandra’s co-op pro­vid­ed the local food, and that George had aller­gies.

As we piled the donuts on plates, Bon­nie whis­pered, “Are we going to tell them?”

Derek answered for me. “No, that’s the big joke, you don­key. Didn’t you hear Uncle Charles asked for some­thing dif­fer­ent?”

Was don­key the new word to denote supe­ri­or­i­ty over younger cousins? I frowned at him, and he mum­bled some­thing that might have been, “Sor­ry.”

After we car­ried our refresh­ments into the room, Bon­nie yanked my sleeve. “Oh,” she whis­pered, “I’m not going any­where near Mr. Wilmer. He’s mean.”

What was that all about? So George Wilmer wasn’t the nicest man in town, by a long shot, actu­al­ly, but… Hand­ing the man a cup of cof­fee wouldn’t hurt the child. I’d deal with it lat­er.

Derek, you’ll serve cof­fee. Take the pitch­ers around and ask each one if they pre­fer reg­u­lar or de-caf. Bon­nie, keep the donuts com­ing if either of the plates runs out.”

How­ev­er, our plans fell apart. Nobody sat at the table. They clus­tered around the side table, grab­bing donuts and talk­ing.

Hey, what’s in this donut?” some­body asked.

You can count on no nuts,” Char­lie said. “The mys­te­ri­ous ingre­di­ents are part of the sur­prise I told you about. Infor­mal con­test, no prize. Acco­lades for the first cor­rect guess.”

Bacon, def­i­nite­ly bacon,” San­dra said. “Don’t you know, they put bacon in every­thing now.”

Char­lie was enjoy­ing the mini-con­tro­ver­sy. “Ah, but what else?”

Syrup,” the may­or said. “I do like my bacon with syrup. But what’s the spice?”

Cloves? Real­ly?” Fran was a food­ie, so she couldn’t be fooled. “A ham sand­wich, that’s what this is.”

You can’t use bacon and call it ham,” some­one else said.

Char­lie beamed as most of the liars laughed or con­grat­u­lat­ed him on a suc­cess­ful joke.

Derek couldn’t con­tain him­self. “All brought to you by Aunt Reba and Com­pa­ny!”

With that, we’d bet­ter sit down and start our meet­ing.” As they pulled out chairs and set­tled down, May­or Knute added, “George, you have some­thing to say about our open mic ses­sion at the sto­ry fest.”

You’re damn right I do. I say any­body who wants to tell a lie bet­ter pay for it. This idea of giv­ing back to the com­mu­ni­ty is for the birds. Why should I pay any part of a par­ty for the damn free­load­ers.”

I rather expect­ed some­one to ream him out, espe­cial­ly San­dra. But then, she’d calmed down a lot since our high school days.

Instead, it was Char­lie who answered, a real put-down dis­guised as approval. “George, you sure can out-lie the rest of us pik­ers. Imag­ine, putting on a nasty face like that.”

Knute decid­ed to go with Charlie’s com­ment. “Right. Well, George, you know we’ve vot­ed on it. And you’ve had your say, so let’s set a date.” One thing about our may­or, he could always pour oil on trou­bled waters, a major rea­son he was always reelect­ed.

At least George didn’t add any more to the con­tention. He sat arms fold­ed, half eat­en donut on his plate. The con­ver­sa­tion flowed around him as Derek went from chair to chair, pour­ing each one’s choice of cof­fee.

I stepped back and watched my crew per­form their serv­ing duties. They’d lis­tened well. Bon­nie had trans­ferred addi­tion­al donuts to the serv­ing plates using tongs instead of her fin­gers. Derek refilled the cream pitch­er.

All was well. I head­ed for the kitchen. And heard a scream.

I turned back. George Wilmer had col­lapsed with his face smashed into his donut.

What hap­pened?” some­one demand­ed.

Get his EpiPen,” Char­lie yelled.

Joe Teller, the police man, rushed to him and pressed his hand against his throat.

I’m call­ing 911,” May­or Knute yelled.

He has no pulse.” Joe yanked him onto the floor and start­ed CPR.

Was he aller­gic to any­thing else but nuts? “Don’t touch the food,” I mut­tered to my crew. Had to be a heart attack, but with his his­to­ry, they’d test the food for sure.

Def­i­nite­ly had to be a heart attack. Or a stroke. The Chief would get his heart going. Couldn’t hap­pen like this.

But what could have caused such a sud­den attack?

It was only moments before the EMTs ran in, pushed Joe aside, and start­ed doing the same thing. One of them began the ques­tion­ing.

What hap­pened here?”

Find his EpiPen,” Charles repeat­ed.

Prob­a­bly too late,” some­one mut­tered. But they did find it, and inject­ed him as they con­tin­ued the CPR.

He just, he just col­lapsed,” San­dra said. “I wasn’t look­ing at him, so that’s all I saw.”
None at the table had evi­dent­ly seen any­thing else.

I saw him,” Bon­nie said. “He sort of raised his hands. Well, one hand any­way. Then he fell over.”

Which hand?” Joe Teller asked. “Did he seem to be reach­ing for some­thing? Did his mouth move like he want­ed to say some­thing?”

Ah, ah.” Bon­nie stood there, open­ing and clos­ing her hands slight­ly. “I don’t know. Ah, like this. I mean, sor­ta like this. Ah, I didn’t see his mouth.”

Bon­nie was shy in the best of cir­cum­stances. She backed up, glanced around like she was about to run for cov­er. I did know where she had been stand­ing moments before. “You were behind him, right Bon­nie?”

Grate­ful­ly she nod­ded. “Yeah. Sor­ta.”

But Joe kept after her. “Then you didn’t see his face at all? Did you hap­pen to see any­one else’s face? Any oth­er action?”

What was it with the man? But Bon­nie answered. “I was look­ing at the plates. To see if I need­ed to add any more donuts.”

For­tu­nate­ly, two more police per­son­nel arrived and claimed Joe’s atten­tion. As the EMTs con­tin­ued to work over George Wilmer, the police atten­tion turned to oth­er things. Ques­tion­ing every­one, bag­ging all the food and the dish­es.

Hey, those dish­es are mine,” I said. “Han­dle with care, please. And be sure to return them when you’ve com­plet­ed any tests.” As he stuffed donuts in an evi­dence bag, I mut­tered. “Obvi­ous­ly the uneat­en donuts didn’t cause the man’s death.” But he con­tin­ued stuff­ing.

I began to see the ben­e­fits of using dis­pos­ables. My head was aswirl. Would our first cater­ing job be our last? Was George real­ly dead? They’d car­ried him to the ambu­lance and were head­ed for the hos­pi­tal. They’d keep try­ing to bring him back, but I’d seen them shake their heads.

Dead. Prob­a­bly dead. Sud­den­ly, for sure. Was it an aller­gic attack? Was he aller­gic to any­thing oth­er than cashews? I know we didn’t feed him any, not even cashew oil. But it sure looked like what they call ana­phy­lax­is to me. Although I’d nev­er seen such an attack, I’ve heard about them. A per­son can go into extreme shock, sud­den swelling, pos­si­bly the heart stop­ping. But who car­ries cashews around in their pock­ets to wave in someone’s face?

Which I couldn’t believe would actu­al­ly kill any­one.

Had some­one real­ly mur­dered George?

No. Def­i­nite­ly, he sud­den­ly became aller­gic to some­thing else. Cloves? No, couldn’t be. Go with the most obvious—a heart attack.

My crew and I stood by, unable to do any­thing, most­ly ignored by every­one. But so did the oth­er Liars’ Club mem­bers. The police moved them around, divid­ed them, ques­tioned them while keep­ing an eye on us as well. We were back­ground. Or, were we being held for more thor­ough ques­tion­ing while they dis­bursed the oth­ers?

One cop had the May­or cor­nered by the cof­fee urns. They must have start­ed with him so he could leave ear­li­er. He was, after all, a very busy man. But, could he have killed George? Did that accom­mo­dat­ing pose hide the vio­lence I once saw at a Lit­tle League game?

Of course not. Lit­tle boys grow up. If we judged by child­ish behav­ior, any of us could have done harm to anoth­er.

I glanced around. Most of us had known each oth­er since child­hood. George had always been con­fronta­tion­al, so he’d had his share of ene­mies. Although I was two or three years behind him in school, I remem­ber a few uproars. Let’s see. He and the May­or vied over sports posi­tions. Quar­ter­back, I think? Also, cen­ter in bas­ket­ball. Some­thing in base­ball as well. Small town schools do have a lim­it­ed amount of tal­ent.

I remem­ber some­thing even worse. Some­how, George man­aged to halt a schol­ar­ship deal for San­dra. She and my old­er sis­ter were best buds. I remem­ber the weep­ing. The angst. And, the word, kill, was flung around repeat­ed­ly. But that was at least twen­ty years ago. San­dra got anoth­er schol­ar­ship the next year. Not as good, but okay. All peachy keen since then.

No, if mur­der was done, it was done by some­one with a more recent com­plaint.

And, I’d elim­i­nate my own hus­band. I know he’s not a killer, but if he were, even he would have a motive. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, a rather strong motive. And it’s fair­ly recent. Two years ago. But, the less even thought about that, the bet­ter.

Would the police be so for­giv­ing? But, I’m sure, if George pulled that con on Charles, he must have done sim­i­lar things to oth­ers. Even more recent­ly.

How­ev­er, just maybe, I need­ed to point the cops in some dif­fer­ent direc­tion. Bon­nie said George was mean. Of course, Bon­nie wouldn’t kill the man, but she might lead me to a new sus­pect.
She sat near­by, chew­ing her thumb­nail. I approached her.

She looked up. “Aunt Reba, they told me to sit here and not clean up any­thing. They hollered at me. Just because I want­ed to emp­ty the cof­fee cups.”

They have to test every­thing, I guess.” I sat beside her. “What I was won­der­ing… You men­tioned that Mr. Wilmer was mean. Why do you say that? What did he do?”

She spat out the words. “He picks on my friend in Ven­tur­ing.”

Is that a class? But he’s not a teacher.”

Well, not real­ly a class. It’s after school and it’s sor­ta about busi­ness.”

That’s it? He picks on one per­son?”

Yeah, that’s the fun­ny part. It doesn’t mat­ter what she does, it’s always wrong.”

So he picks on a girl. Maybe a klutz. Not the answer I’m look­ing for.

But it isn’t real­ly fun­ny. Just strange. Evil. Nina is real­ly smart, and nice, and she comes up with great ideas, and when some­body else sug­gest­ed the same thing a cou­ple of days lat­er Mr. Wilmer said it was a great idea, and a cou­ple of kids start­ed treat­ing her mean, and she wants to quit, but it’s like a class, and Mr. Wilmer said if any­one quits they’ll nev­er get a job in this town, which is crazy.”

That wasn’t nice.” So, not a klutz. More like a per­son­al vendet­ta. Just maybe, the guy deserved to die. Well, not the way he did. And def­i­nite­ly not at our very first catered event.

And obvi­ous­ly, nei­ther this Nina, nor Bon­nie in sym­pa­thy, for that mat­ter, killed George. But why would any­one here kill him? How could they? If it was an aller­gy, it might have been air-borne, or some­thing he encoun­tered ear­li­er today. Break­fast at home? His wife? Had I heard any­thing about their mar­riage?

Oh, yes, but it was a few months ago. She left him, but returned after he promised… what?
“Will you sign this receipt?”

I turned to see Joe Teller wav­ing a paper in my face. “You know, for the food,” he said.

How about a receipt for the dish­es?”

They’re still mak­ing that list. We’ll get it to you. Scout’s hon­or,” he said with a grin. I signed and he left, look­ing much too hap­py for the sit­u­a­tion.

Why was he sud­den­ly so hap­py? He’d had deal­ings with George that end­ed bad­ly? Not unusu­al. He’d nev­er kill the man him­self, but… No, he wouldn’t. Not a police­man. He had respon­si­bil­i­ties, just hap­py to be able to do his job, secure all pos­si­ble caus­es of death, inter­view, ask ques­tions…

Or remove any incrim­i­nat­ing evi­dence.

No way. Joe Teller was way above any pet­ty griev­ances. I mean, nei­ther one of the men end­ed up with the girl they fought over not so many years ago. Both hap­pi­ly mar­ried with suc­cess­ful lives.

I turned back to the kids. Bon­nie sat, bit­ing her low­er lip and rub­bing her fin­gers. Derek scrolled through his cell phone.

We’ll be out of here soon, I’m sure,” I said. “Obvi­ous­ly we don’t have to wash dish­es. They’re tak­ing them all away. And they bet­ter return them.”

I won­der what they ask every­body,” Derek said.

Bon­nie mut­tered, “I won­der why we have to be last.”

Derek shrugged. “We’re kids. Besides, we nev­er even talked to Mr. Wilmer. Hard­ly any­body did. Uncle Char­lie made that joke about him, but nobody came near him.

Real­ly? No one at all?”

Not that I saw. You know, except sit­ting at the table. Hey, Bon­nie, how was the pool par­ty?”

Yeah, these cousins were good kids. He’d noticed Bonnie’s ner­vous nail bit­ing. He admit­ted he’d heard all about the par­ty from his sis­ter, but want­ed to know more. The sub­ject def­i­nite­ly took Bonnie’s mind off sud­den death over donuts before her police inter­view.

A few min­utes lat­er San­dra Hud­son, the last guest to meet with the police, came over to tell Derek he was next.

Such sad busi­ness,” she said as she col­lapsed into the emp­ty chair. “I saw them col­lect your dish­es. So use­less. I know you wouldn’t put any­thing George was aller­gic to in those cute donuts. But I’m sure glad none of the farm­ers in my coop­er­a­tive pro­vid­ed any­thing today. They’d get ham­mered by the cops. They’ll prob­a­bly try to pin his death on your new busi­ness.”

What?” She shrugged, and stared at her fin­ger­nails, like she hadn’t just sug­gest­ed I was a killer. “Not pos­si­ble. Not unless he sud­den­ly got aller­gic to some­thing else. There were no nuts at all.”

Bon­nie, obvi­ous­ly hadn’t noticed my dis­tress. “What’s Nina doing today?” she asked. “Would it be okay if I come over after they let me go?”

Sure. Why don’t you stay for din­ner? I have my famous slow-cooked roast in the oven.”

Wow! Are you hav­ing a par­ty?”

And just as obvi­ous­ly, San­dra hadn’t thought, or meant any­thing by her words to me. She laughed. “No, just decid­ed to treat the fam­i­ly for a change. Plus, I’m try­ing a new spice mix.”

Okay, get over my snit. “And if I remem­ber any­thing, you won’t be shar­ing your recipe. Any hints?”

You remem­ber me well,” she said, wav­ing off my ques­tion.

We chat­ted some more, but after San­dra left, I couldn’t wait to ask Bon­nie if she knew any­thing about San­dra Hudson’s incred­i­ble roast.

She cooks it all day, and Nina just absolute­ly drools and says she nev­er makes it unless there’s all kinds of peo­ple there, so she doesn’t get to eat more than two slices.”

I didn’t real­ize Nina was Sandra’s daugh­ter when you men­tioned her ear­li­er.”

Uh-huh. Did you ever make a roast you cooked all day? Mrs. Hud­son mix­es up a bunch of spices in oil, then she rubs it all over the meat. Real­ly makes her hands messy. But Nina wants to learn how to do it.”

And I bet she uses vir­gin olive oil instead of just plain cook­ing oil.” And what spices?

Bon­nie shrugged. “Don’t know. It’s in a lit­tle bot­tle, not a big one like my mom uses. So I guess it’s a spe­cial kind.”

Oil? Spe­cial kind? Nah, it wouldn’t be cashew oil. Not San­dra. Although she, as well as every­one else, knew about George’s aller­gy.

Derek returned from his police inter­view at the same time Joe Teller brought the receipt list­ing my din­ner ware.

As I took the fold­ed paper, Derek insist­ed, “We will check it for accu­ra­cy.”

Joe hid a smile. “Of course.”

One def­i­nite­ly must encour­age the bud­ding entre­pre­neur, so I del­e­gat­ed him to do the check­ing while the chief began my inter­view.

First I’ll elim­i­nate the obvi­ous,” he said. “Since we all know George was aller­gic to some nuts, cashews in par­tic­u­lar, were there any nuts or nut prod­ucts used in your food, or in the vicin­i­ty when you pre­pared the food.”

No. And I’ve nev­er used cashew oil, so none of my dish­es, or even my kitchen have ever been exposed to it. At least, not by me or the kids.”

Okay, now—”

They didn’t list the sug­ar hold­er,” Derek said.

What?”

The sug­ar hold­er isn’t on this list.”

Maybe, just missed it?” I asked.

Joe shook his head. “I’m sure our list is accu­rate. Let me see.” But he read it twice, the sec­ond time mov­ing his fin­ger past every line, with­out find­ing it. “Hmmp,” he snort­ed and walked away with the list, mut­ter­ing, “I’ll check this out.”

Oh, some­body is going to get roy­al­ly reamed out,” I said.

You think?” Derek added, “I def­i­nite­ly saw the sug­ar hold­er. I watched it go from one end of the table to the oth­er after some­body said they need­ed sug­ar. Sor­ta fun­ny, you know. Every­body sor­ta wig­gled their fin­gers, or wiped their hand, or some­thing after they passed it on.”

Strange.” I looked at my hands, rubbed my thumbs across my fin­gers. “Did they do that when they passed any­thing else?”

Hey, I just caught that by acci­dent. My mind was sort of wan­der­ing. You know, bored. Not that I don’t think this is real­ly excit­ing, doing an actu­al—“

”Shush, I’m think­ing.”

And I was. In a trance while my mind whirled. But every­body descend­ed on me at once. Bon­nie say­ing, “I’m through.” Joe Teller say­ing, “No, he’s sure he list­ed every­thing.” And Derek say­ing, “Aunt Reba? Aunt Reba?”

I looked up. “Just maybe,” I said, “Just maybe that sug­ar hold­er was the mur­der weapon. And just maybe, Joe, you should make every­one return so you can search their pock­ets. Or purs­es.”

What are you talk­ing about?”

They all stared at me, con­fused, ques­tion­ing, or con­demn­ing. “I under­stand even peanut breath can cause a fatal reac­tion to those with that aller­gy. Pos­si­bly George didn’t need to eat a cashew to go into shock. Say some­one rubbed a cashew all over their fin­gers, then touched the sug­ar hold­er.” I saw frowns and shak­en heads. “Or, how about oil? You know, cashew oil?”

Derek snapped his fin­gers. “That’s it! That has to be why every­body did some­thing with their fin­gers. Wip­ing oil off them. Aunt Reba, you’re bril­liant.”

Oh, no.”

I glanced at Bon­nie. She held her hand over her mouth and shook her head. “No, no, no, it isn’t.”
I had a feel­ing that I knew what wasn’t. “Bon­nie,” I whis­pered.

And she told us. She remem­bered. “Nina’s mom. Mrs. Hud­son. That’s the kind of oil she uses to rub her roast. I know she wouldn’t kill any­body.”

But they found the sug­ar hold­er in her pock­et as well as a clothe moist­ened with cashew oil.
It had been some­what a crime of con­ve­nience, but main­ly a crime of intent. The con­ve­nience part was when some­one asked for sug­ar at the far end of the table. The intent was the rag in her pock­et that enabled San­dra Hold­er to trans­fer enough cashew oil from there to her hand to the sug­ar hold­er box as she passed it up the table.

Of course, there was cov­er-up too. She man­aged to slip the box of sug­ar and sweet­en­ers into her pock­et while all the com­mo­tion was going on as George breathed his last.

The motive? San­dra had man­aged to over­come the lost schol­ar­ship when she was a teenag­er. But, George, despite hav­ing jinxed that deal back then, had nev­er for­got­ten the way she’d derid­ed him way back in high school. Mere­ly dam­ag­ing her long-ago prospects wasn’t enough. San­dra Hud­son went Mam­ma Bear when he con­tin­ued his cam­paign against her by going after her daugh­ter.

Will any jury believe she’d for­got­ten the rag in her pock­et and thought she’d reached for a tis­sue?

What else could her lawyer claim? Jus­ti­fi­able homi­cide? Pos­si­bly if the jury con­tained a few ded­i­cat­ed moth­ers…

Some, even those not an actu­al moth­er, might almost agree.

The End

As many of you know, when I asked the Chat group for name sug­ges­tions, I received quite a few. I’m keep­ing a list, but two of them I’ve already used. I’d like to thank Shirley Cochran for Aunt Reba’s name. One of Pat Pinkard’s names was Bon­nie. I’d also like to thank her for remind­ing me of a name I’d not thought of. She’s the niece in this sto­ry. (They will both get a first look at this sto­ry!)