Have Your Cake And Kill Him Too

A Blackbird Sisters Mystery

By Nancy Martin

My sister Emma blew into the country club dining room and conned the waiter into bringing her a bloody New York strip. Then she planted her elbows on the pink table cloth and laid down the conversational ground rules.  She said, “I’ll choke the first person who brings up carbohydrates as a topic of serious discussion.”

Which caused the fur-and-facelift ladies to take their coffee cups and flee our table at the Daffodil Luncheon, leaving the three of us alone for a sisterly squabble.

“Oh, Em,” said Libby, who had called us together to mend fences. “You couldn’t have worn a decent pair of shoes?”

Emma had obviously come from the barn, because her riding boots were caked with a spring-scented substance that she was gracious enough to disguise by lighting a cigarette--against club rules, of course. “At least I wore a brassiere. You, on the other hand, look like a Playboy bunny who spent the winter binging on Krispy Kremes.”

Libby sported a snug mohair sweater with a neckline that plunged down the ski slope of her bosom. The décolletage was edged in a perky white fur obviously intended to distract the eye from the few pounds of loveliness that had crept onto her figure in the last year.

“At least I didn’t come with a Band-aid on my nose,” said Libby. 

“Let’s not make a scene,” I said, having already decided not to mention Emma’s dubious fashion statement, no doubt the result of some barnyard accident.

At the front of the room, local blonde network affiliate newsreader Bebe McCarthy took the microphone and sent an electronic shriek bouncing around the room. As Bebe began her thanks-to-the-committee speech, Libby said, “You’re right, Nora. Some of us must reserve our positive mental ene rgy for more important issues.”

“Yes,” I said.

“It’s not a diet, of course,” Libby explained for the third time. “It’s a healthy lifestyle change. And you’ll benefit, too. It’s time to take off those few pounds you put on lately.”

Emma made a noise like a cat with a hair ball, and I sighed.

 Libby ate the last crumb of slivered almond from her spinach salad with dainty precision. “I understand completely. Like you, I refuse to be made to feel inadequate as a woman, enslaved by current fads in body image or temporary ideals established by a punitive fashion industry that actively destroys a woman’s confidence simply to sell their products. I’m perfectly happy with myself. Delighted, in fact. But a few changes once in a while make life interesting.”

Emma pushed back her plate, picked up her cigarette from where she’d left it balancing on the rim of her saucer and asked, “What’s for dessert?”

Libby dabbed her napkin to her lips. “Why don’t we split the mixed berries? A few raspberries would satisfy me.”

Emma blew a seductive smoke ring up at the waiter as he bent to refill her coffee cup. “How about finding me a chunk of chocolate cheesecake, big boy? Extra whipped cream.”

“Em,” I said. “Let’s be supportive.”

She noted my untouched plate as the waiter whisked it away, and she frowned.  “What’s the matter with you?”

“I’m fine.”

Libby patted my hand. “I appreciate your support, Nora. I’m glad you’re taking control of your food issues.”


“Let’s hear why we’re really here.” Emma flicked ashes into the centerpiece. “What’s the story, Lib? You didn’t invite me to the Daffodil Luncheon just to cheerlead your diet. What do you want?”

“Can’t I simply enjoy the company of my sisters as we prepare to welcome spring?” Libby looked prettily affronted. “After our little argument, Emma, I thought we’d join Nora at her social engagement in the spirit of sibling—“

“You and Em argued? About what?”

Emma checked her watch, clearly not allowing the subject to be re-opened for discussion. “I’ve got things to do this afternoon.”

“Anybody we know?” Libby asked tartly. She checked her lipstick in the mirror of her compact. “Someone you met at work, perhaps?”


Since the festive night our parents threw their last cocktail party and pulled a disappearing act with the last of the Blackbird family fortune, our situation had pulled my sisters and me together rather like desperate souls clutching the gunwales of a fast-sinking lifeboat. While Mama and Daddy enjoyed their tax evaders world tour, the three of us took turns wrestling with the impulse to throw a sister overboard.

Emma and I both suppressed the urge to give Libby the heave-ho unless she revealed her agenda pronto. The post-luncheon fashion show music began, but the two of us glared meaningfully at Libby.

She snapped shut her compact. “Oh, all right! You know I’m a founding member of the Erotic Yoga Society.”

“That bunch of nut cases,” Emma muttered. “I’d never seen so many loons in one room until you invited us to your Christmas party.”

Libby bristled. “Our group is firmly committed to the sensual melding of mind and body for the—“

“We’ve heard that crackpot mission statement before and it still doesn’t make any sense,” Emma said. “What happened? Somebody sprain his privates while saluting the sunrise or something?”

Sensing the imminent arrival of a headache, I intervened. “What’s going on with the Erotic Yoga Society, Lib?”

“We lost our lease.” Libby ignored Emma and focused on me. “For years we’ve been meeting in the basement of Larry’s Laundromat, but Larry’s pipes burst over the winter, and there’s been terrible water damage. All our mats are mildewed, and—well, it was a total catastrophe. The feng shui has been permanently compromised.”

I asked, “What are you going to do?”

“We need to raise some rent money for a new location.  Larry always let us use his basement for free, so—“

“Hold it,” Emma said. “You mean Larry Wolmeister? The owner of the Dungeon of Darkness?”

Libby’s face went slack. “Larry owns the Dungeon of Darkness?”

“Of course he does!”

“Well, you would know, I suppose. Has he given you a raise lately?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact. I’m Employee of the Month.”

“What’s the Dungeon of Darkness?” I asked. “One of those stores that sells Hobbit games for teenagers? Is that your new employer, Em?”

Libby glared at Emma. “Just because Larry happens to own that den of—of— who knows what doesn’t mean he can’t operate a legitimate business, too.”

“The Dungeon is a legitimate business,” Emma said. “Do you know how much people pay to get inside?”

“How much?” I asked.

Libby sniffed. “Do you run the cash register now, too?”

“I do lots of stuff for your pal Larry. All of it legal. Maybe you should stop in to check out the scene?”

“Is anybody going to tell me what’s going on?” I asked.

“No,” they said together.

“Is this what you’ve been arguing about? Em’s job?”

“Yes,” in unison.

“And I’m still not allowed to know about it?”

“It’s no big deal,” Emma said, but she and Libby were seething at each other like boxers before a title match.

“All right, then, let’s get back to the Erotic Yoga Society.” I was determined not to let either one of them make me crazy. “How are you going to raise the rent money, Lib?”

Libby delicately laced her fingers together and created a hammock for her chin as she turned to me again. “Larry is very a generous soul who appreciates the nature of our spiritual quest. He suggested creating a calendar to raise the rent money. The volunteer firemen did one and made a fortune last year. They bought a new truck with their profits.”

“Photographs,” I said. “Of what?”

“Who,” Libby corrected. “Of our group members. We’re all posing.”

“Aha,” said Emma. “I knew there was a reason for the diet.”

Libby’s eyes blazed. “It’s not a diet! It’s a healthy lifestyle —“

“Exactly what kind of photographs are we talking about?” I asked.

Libby stopped glaring at Emma and took a cleansing breath. “We are the Erotic Yoga Society, after all. So naturally, the photos are supposed to be … well, natural.”

“You mean naked.”

Emma laughed. “I saw the fireman calendar. Those guys squirted their muscles with so much Pam they could barely hold onto their hoses.”

“Our calendar will be tasteful. And I’m the month of June. Maxine Peeples already grabbed July, which is right on the staple, damn her.  It’s the month everybody will look at right away. The centerfold! Thing is, she’s got a twin. And they’re posing together.” A peeved frown appeared between Libby’s brows. “You’d think Maxine had invented twins, she’s getting so much attention. And she’s not nearly as attractive as she thinks she is. Her bottom looks like cottage cheese, which I presume is genetic, so together they’re going to look like--“

I had already completed the mental equation and began to shake my head. “I’m afraid not, Libby.”

“I haven’t even suggested anything yet!”

“We’re not posing for naked pictures with you,” Emma said. “No way, no how.”

You object?” Libby demanded. “You, of all people, who rents your body out for sushi parties, not to mention your latest--”

“I only did the sushi thing once,” Emma snapped. “The caterer paid me three hundred dollars to lie on a table with raw fish all over me. What’s your beef?”

“You were stark naked then, too!”

“There was seaweed!”

“Libby,” I said. Their raised voices had begun to attract shushes from nearby tables. “The point is, Emma and I aren’t even members of the Erotic Yoga Society. And we’re not as—as photogenic as you are.”

“Of course you are! You just need to firm up a bit, and Emma needs a couple more pounds to round off her edges. Most men like to be able to hold onto a woman, not dodge lashes from her whip.”

“What does—“

Emma said, “We’re not posing for pictures.”

“Nora will, won’t you? I’ve already scheduled a preliminary session with the photographer Larry suggested.”

“Larry suggested a photographer?” Emma cried. “Are you nuts?”

“I’m told he’s very accomplished and artistic!”

“I work for Larry,” Emma snapped. “And his idea of artistic is changing the letters on the marquee.”

“Lib,” I said as calmly as I could manage, “I’m sorry.  No matter who the photographer is, I just don’t see myself becoming Miss July.”

“June. Look, I know you’re reluctant to show your body. I can help! I’ll be your diet coach! It will be fun!

“No,” I said.

“Dieting doesn’t have to be painful. Here, I’ve brought you a little present! See? It’s a notebook to write down everything you eat. Isn’t it pretty? Handmade by Navajo tribeswomen.”

She handed over a small notebook decorated with plastic beads. I looked at it suspiciously. “Is this something you picked up on your trip to the Grand Canyon a few years ago?”

“The point is, you keep track of your food for a few days and voila! The pounds just slip away.”

“I don’t think that’s quite how it works, Lib.”

“I recommend the Cabbage Soup Diet,” she continued. “You eat nothing but cabbage soup. I’m told it’s a miraculous diet. I’m not crazy about cabbage, so tomorrow I’m going to make a big pot of potato soup instead. Shall I make extra for you?”

I lost control. “Libby, I’m not posing naked!”

Heads turned. Disapproving looks were cast my way.

Libby pouted. “I thought spending time with the Mafia Prince might have loosened you up a bit. I thought he was revitalizing your sensual side.”

“Yeah,” said Emma.  “Doesn’t the Love Machine make you take off your clothes while he opens the beer with his teeth?”

“I’m not seeing Michael anymore,” I said.

Both my sisters forgot about their differences and blinked at me. “What?”

 “That relationship is over.” My on-again, off-again romance with Michael Abruzzo had escalated to the live-in stage over the holidays, but imploded. I was a single woman again. “Oh, Nora, I wondered why you look so awful! What did he do? Was it

disgusting?” Libby seized my hand. “Tell us everything!”

“It wasn’t—Look, I don’t want to discuss this.  It’s over, and that’s the way it is.”

“It’s about time, of course.” Libby patted me gently. “Despite a certain animal magnetism, Mr. Abruzzo was not right for you, Nora. I spent three terrifying days with him after that misunderstanding I had with the police, and I’ll never forget my brush with death while under his protection.”

“Brush with death?” Emma said. “You got a back stage pass to the ultimate testosterone festival, and you didn’t like it?”

Libby sniffed. “I believe Nora needs someone with more polish than That Man. Someone who can be taken out into polite society now and then.”

“A court-sealed criminal record would be a plus, too.”  Emma stamped out her cigarette. “You serious this time, Nora?  You gave Mick the boot?”

For some reason, my throat had begun to swell shut, so I reached for my glass of ice water, conscious that my sisters were watching me for signs of hysteria.

I was saved from further cross-examination when Libby’s cell phone chirped from the depths of her handbag. She rummaged through a jumble of nutrition bars before snatching out the phone.

“Hello?” she asked with a musical lilt. Then her expression hardened into the face of a woman with five children. “No, Lucy, you may not paint the living room carpet.”

While Libby conducted détente with her six-year-old daughter, the waiter came with Emma’s cheesecake, looking relieved to see she had extinguished her cigarette. Emma tapped her fork on the table, staring meaningfully at me until the waiter went away.

“Well?” she said, keeping her voice down so Libby couldn’t overhear.

“Well, what?”

“You hardly touched your lunch. You turned green at the slightest whiff of salad dressing. It’s official, isn’t it?”


“Just because Mick’s out of the picture now doesn’t mean you weren’t doing it like bunnies all winter. You’re pregnant.”

The word simply spoken aloud made my heart seize. Around us, the fashion show froze. The luncheon lurched. It had taken three pink strips to convince me of the irrevocable truth, and even weeks later, I hadn’t been able to bring myself to speak the name of my condition. And now that Emma had said the word, I had no choice but to kill her.

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