“Anonymous donor, my aunt Fanny. We have a right to know who’s putting up the money. What if it’s some kind of drug lord? We don’t want dirty cash in our school.”

“I suppose you’re—”

“And how can that woman bypass getting a taxpayer vote? I don’t care where the money is coming from. The parents of Tarver Elementary should be at the table for this issue.”

Her voice was stern but not strident. She was being assertive but not aggressive. The perfect balance. So of course I couldn’t help myself. “It would be nice to have a bigger library.”

Debra’s expertly made-up eyes thinned. “You’re in favor of this?”

I shrugged. “There are positives.”

“That’s not the point. None of her plans has had public approval. She can’t just forge ahead making decisions without a consensus. This is the United States.” She stood tall in her outrage. “This is Madison!”

It was Rynwood, five miles away from the hotbed of liberalism in Madison, but I didn’t say so.

“I’ll be at the next PTA meeting,” Debra said, “and I intend to speak up.” Her blond hair bounced like something out of a television commercial as she strode outside and down the sidewalk to the bank where she was a vice president. The bells hanging on the door had barely stopped jangling when CeeCee Daniels came in. “Can you believe that woman?” she asked.

“Debra?” Maybe if I paid seventy-five dollars for a haircut, my hair would bounce like that. Not that I was ever likely to find out.

“No, Agnes! She’s shoving that project down our throats. She can’t do this!” CeeCee put her hands on her hips and leaned forward. I had a premonition about the rest of my day. Tarver parent after Tarver parent would march into my store, ask about last night’s meeting, complain about Agnes, and leave without buying anything. If I were more like Debra, I’d tell people I had a business to run and could they please contact me after hours. But I was Beth Kennedy, and I’d been raised to be a Nice Girl.

“How can she do this without taxpayer approval?” CeeCee’s face was turning pink. “It’s our school, not hers!”

I nodded sympathetically and prepared myself for a long, long day.

The only customer who didn’t complain about Agnes was Randy Jarvis. Randy was one of the few male members of the PTA. He was also the committee treasurer. Why, no one seemed to know. Randy owned a gas station and convenience store two blocks away from the Children’s Bookshelf, and I spotted him parking his SUV in front of the store. He heaved his three-hundred-pound bulk down from the driver’s seat, and I opened the front door for him.

“Afternoon, Randy. How are you?”

“Middlin’, middlin’. I was passing by, so I decided to stop and chat instead of calling.” The short walk from vehicle to store interior had him out of breath.

“Have a seat.” I pushed a chair out from behind the counter.

“Hot out there,” he huffed. Sweat beaded on his forehead and dripped down his temples as he sat. From his shirt pocket he withdrew a handkerchief, which he used and replaced. He smoothed his flyaway white hair with sweat-damp hands. “Winter can’t come fast enough. Nothing like a nice cold blast from Canada to set things right.”

The bell jingled and I nodded at a customer. “What can I do for you, Randy? If you’re after the meeting minutes, I’m going to mass e-mail them tonight.”

“Fine, fine.” He unbuttoned his cuffs and rolled up the sleeves. “Good to have them out before Monday.”


“Erica is calling a special meeting. Monday at seven o’clock. Add that to the minutes.” He held out his hands and made a typing motion. “Won’t take but a minute.” He tilted his head. “A minute? Get it?”

“Good one,” I said. “Why do we need to meet on Monday?”

Randy’s bushy eyebrows went high, putting deep wrinkles into his forehead. “The addition.” Duh, his expression said.

It was hard to believe I’d first heard about the addition less than twenty-four hours ago. I’d liked life better back then. “Can’t it wait?” I heard the whine in my voice and summoned my inner Debra. “We don’t want to rush into this. Big projects take time to plan properly.”

“Agnes wants to start construction in November.”

This November?” My jaw dropped and stayed open long enough that my tongue started drying out. “The less-than-thirty-days-from-now November?”

“No time like the present. And no rest for the weary.” He grabbed the chair arms and pulled himself up. “See you Monday night.” He headed out with the lumbering gait of a bear fattened for winter.

I slumped against the counter. Another meeting. More rancor, more insults and accusations, more anger. “Thanks a lot, Marina,” I muttered.

“Beth?” Lois stood in front of me, arms full of picture books. “Are you all right?”

Not hardly. “Fine, thanks. But I could use another cup of that tea.”

Friday night there was a double knock on the kitchen door, and Marina stuck her head inside. “Can I come in?”


She laughed, sending forth a bubbling stream of cheer, and came inside with the smell of outside air clinging to her clothes. “Would it help if I promised never to talk you into doing anything ever again?”

“Wouldn’t be worth the breath it would take to say it. You’d break a promise like that inside of two weeks.” I went back to slicing up carrots. The firm noise of knife hitting cutting board echoed around the room.

“It’s not like I knew Agnes was going to pull a stunt like that.”

“My brain believes you, but the rest of me isn’t so sure.” I started in on the broccoli.

“Is this my punishment?” She waved a hand at the vegetables. “Rabbit food for dinner? And then I’ll be forced to watch Bambi.” With her fingers spread wide, she fake-choked herself.

Marina was a big believer in meat, potatoes, and action movies. Part of my mission in life was to get her to appreciate vegetables and epic historical sagas. So far her reaction had been the same as Jenna’s and Oliver’s—lots of face scrunching accompanied by a considerable amount of whining. “No better than you deserve,” I said.

“Do you realize what that could do to my digestive system? And I have it on good authority that watching Bambi after the age of forty turns your hair white.”

“Do you realize how many Tarver parents came through the store in the last two days?”

She dropped to her knees, hands clasped and raised high. “Please, forgive me. You’re my best friend, and I would never ever wish an Agnes project on you.”

“Get up, you goofball.”

“Not until you say I’m forgiven. I will stay on this floor until the crows pick me clean. I will stay until my bones are bleached. I will—”

“Okay, okay. Forgiveness is bestowed.”

She pushed herself to her feet. “Good. My knees were killing me. What are we eating, anyway?”

“Vegetarian stew.” Her eyes stretched open enough for white to be seen all around the hazel irises. I laughed. “Gotcha. We’re having chicken stir-fry, and I rented Rear Window.”

“Weenie.” She socked me on the arm. “Maybe we should call Agnes and invite her over.”

“Maybe you should keep your ideas to yourself.”

“Oh, I don’t know. Poooor Agnes.” Marina hitched herself onto a stool at the butcher block-topped kitchen island.“She looked all alone tonight. No cars in the driveway, no lights on except in the kitchen. She’s probably going to eat a frozen dinner and watch bad television.”

Agnes lived across the street and one door down from Marina. “This interest in Agnes’s personal habits is becoming unhealthy.”

“Any interest in Agnes is unhealthy.” She picked chocolate chips from a bowl of trail mix I’d set out. “Maybe she just needs a friend.”

“She’s been in Rynwood ten years.” I opened a box of chicken broth.

“Meaning what? That if she doesn’t have friends by now, there’s something wrong with her?” Marina popped

Вы читаете Murder at the PTA (2010)
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