No Way to Kill a Lady

A Blackbird Sisters Mystery

By Nancy Martin

When a long-lost relative bequeathed us a fortune, I found myself locked in an epic battle with the most fearsome adversaries any woman can face.

My sisters.

“It’s not as if I’m going to buy breast implants with my share of the money,” my sister Libby said over brunch at a sun-splashed table at the Rusty Sabre in early November. “I’m blessed in that department already, of course. But I need investment capital, Nora. I have a plan.”

Our great-aunt Madeleine Blackbird had died at the age of seventy-five or eighty-two, depending upon whose story you believed, and not at her Bucks County mansion in the mahogany cannonball bed given to the family by Ben Franklin for reasons best swept under the rug of history. No, she died during an Indonesian volcanic eruption that blew her luxury tepee off the side of a mountain—according to the obituary page of the Philadelphia Intelligencer.

Libby said, “And I promise I won’t run off to some exotic island with a cabana boy. Although nobody would blame me if I did. My children are driving me bonkers, and the best cure for motherly frustration is an exciting new relationship, right?”

My biggest fear for my sister Libby was that she was going to end up featured as the lead character in a tabloid sex scandal. I was pretty sure it was an item on her bucket list.

My sister Emma had been the lead character in a scandal, but the NFL hushed it up to save one of their players from looking very silly. Nowadays, though, she was looking less like a sex bomb than usual. She sat across from me at the table in grubby riding breeches, muddy boots and a large sweatshirt that strained over her pregnant belly, not caring if the other, more civilized restaurant patrons cast disapproving glances at her disheveled appearance. Her short auburn hair stuck out at all angles, as if she’d just rolled out of bed.

Deadpan, Emma said, “You’d probably kill a cabana boy, Lib.”

“Well, yes, endurance is key.” Libby had taken her compact out of her handbag and was checking her plump décolletage in the mirror. She wore a low-cut red

paisley frock that gave her the look of a Playmate on her way to a royal wedding. “I need somebody strong, but sensitive, too. I have very complex needs. All my followers say so.”

The sisterly bond may be the most trying one that a woman can have with another human being. There’s love, of course—the kind that ties you together for eternity and certainly while washing mountains of dishes after Christmas dinner. But if there’s a sister alive who has never suppressed the urge to bash a sibling over the head with a Barbie doll or the Rusty Sabre’s fresh fruit plate—well, she’s not related to me.

Emma looked up from her ricotta-stuffed French toast with sliced peaches and whipped cream. “Your followers? What, are you running a cult now?”

“My followers on PitterPat, that new social media thingie.” Libby put her compact away and dug into the clutter of her enormous handbag to come up with her new cell phone. “My followers are all wonderfully supportive now, in my time of need.”

I refolded the obituary page and put the newspaper on the tablecloth. “Your time of need?”

“Yes, of course. I’m devastated about Aunt Madeleine. She was an inspiration in my formative years.”

“Only because she had a lot of affairs,” Emma said. “Remember that Norwegian man who always had candy in his pockets?”

“Lemon drops, covered with lint,” I recalled.

“Yeah, him. Gave me the creeps.”

“He was Russian, not Norwegian,” Libby said. “But he knew wonderful nuances of Scandinavian massage. Always rub in the direction of the heart. Did you know that? Preferably after a hot sauna. It’s wonderfully sensual.” When we stared at her, she blinked at us. “What? I was mature for my age! Aunt Madeleine’s lovers always intrigued me. Which is why I’m devastated now. I identified with her.”

“If anyone should be devastated by Aunt Madeleine’s demise, it’s Nora,” said Emma.

“Me? I barely knew Aunt Madeleine,” I said. The last thing I wanted that morning was to be dragged into another disjointed argument with my sisters. Those always ended with somebody getting offended and me getting stuck with the check.

“But Aunt Madeleine loved you.”

“She had a funny way of showing it. Despite her Madcap Maddy reputation, she scared the bejesus out of me.” The frustrations of the morning boiled over, and I said, “Really, Em, if you’re going to eat like a lumberjack, the least you could do is share the coffee.”

“Who lit your fuse this morning, Crankypants?”

If I had a fatal flaw, it was probably that I was too polite—too unwilling to rock the lifeboat of social harmony even as the waves of disaster crashed over my head. I

longed to push Emma’s face down in her peaches. But I refrained.

“She’s missing That Man of Hers,” Libby guessed. “Not to mention Lexie Paine. Have you heard from dear Lexie, Nora? Has she settled into the pokey, now that she’s been sentenced?” Abruptly, Libby jumped, and she dropped her cell phone. “Ow! Emma, stop kicking!”

Emma gave her a meaningful stare. “We’re not going to talk about Nora’s situation, remember? We’re just going to be supportive this morning.”

I’d spent the last week embroiled in the hearing of my dearest friend. Lexie Paine had pleaded guilty to a horribly publicized charge of voluntary manslaughter. Despite a parade of character witnesses—including me—the judge had sentenced Lexie to four years in prison for pushing a man out a window. If he hadn’t been threatening someone at the time, she’d have been accused of first-degree murder, so there was something to be thankful for. I was still reeling for her. And for our lost friendship. She might never forgive me for the role I played in her loss of freedom.

I looked down at the ring on my left hand. The diamond my sisters called the Rock of Gibraltar reminded me that although I was also physically separated from Michael at the moment, at least I knew he still loved me. And he wasn’t going to spend the next several years in prison, as Lexie was. His sentence was considerably shorter.

Libby glared back at Emma. “I wasn’t going to bring up anything upsetting. And you’re not helping the least bit. We could die of starvation while you stuff yourself. Why aren’t you as big as a house? I used to swell up like a hippo as soon as I conceived. Aren’t you seven months along now?”

“Seven or eight, depending on which doctor I see at the clinic.” Emma splashed coffee into my cup. “I don’t get it, either. I eat like a horse, but never seem to gain any weight—except for Zygote here.” She patted her distended belly that stretched her faded sweatshirt to its limit.

I tried to suppress the twinge of jealousy that sprouted in the back of my mind at the mere mention of Emma’s impending arrival. For ages, I’d been hoping for a family of my own. It was hard enough that Libby already had five children —despite their homicidal tendencies, they were a lovable lot—but Emma’s accidental pregnancy made me feel even more like a failure in the motherhood department. Two miscarriages had shaken my firm belief that I’d soon have a brood of my own.

But I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind to fester with all the other unpleasantness of late. There was no sense wallowing in the swamp of my own maternal shortcomings.

Libby said to Emma, “At least now you’d be able to afford to keep that child in potato chips, if you decide to keep it. Don’t you think it’s terribly exciting we’re the ones to inherit Quintain? I’ve hardly been able to sleep since we heard the news!”

Our great-aunt Madeleine Blackbird had been a great beauty who—like most of the Blackbird women—was widowed more than once. She had been luckier than most of us and inherited two fortunes along the way. Her great wealth enabled her to indulge in her

pleasures and travel to exotic locales. Madcap Maddy sent lavish gifts and brought home colorful friends from St. Petersburg and various cities that had all but disappeared behind the Iron Curtain. She even rode camels along the dunes of the Sahara before finding her bliss on a faraway mountain. But after word came around the globe that an Indonesian mountain blew its top and took our aunt with it, we were even more stunned when her lawyers announced she had bequeathed her Pennsylvania estate . . . to us.

Specifically, her will read, “To Eleanor Blackbird and her sisters.”

Nothing could have astonished us more.

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