Yellow Mama Archives II

Elena E. Smith

Acuff, Gale
Ahern, Edward
Allen, R. A.
Alleyne, Chris
Andes, Tom
Arnold, Sandra
Aronoff, Mikki
Ayers, Tony
Baber, Bill
Baird, Meg
Baker, J. D.
Balaz, Joe
Barker, Adelaide
Barker, Tom
Barnett, Brian
Barry, Tina
Bartlett, Daniel C.
Bates, Greta T.
Bayly, Karen
Beckman, Paul
Bellani, Arnaav
Berriozabal, Luis Cuauhtemoc
Beveridge, Robert
Blakey, James
Booth, Brenton
Bracken, Michael
Burke, Wayne F.
Burnwell, Otto
Campbell, J. J.
Cancel, Charlie
Capshaw, Ron
Carr, Steve
Carrabis, Joseph
Cartwright, Steve
Centorbi, David Calogero
Cherches, Peter
Christensen, Jan
Clifton, Gary
Cody, Bethany
Costello, Bruce
Coverly, Harris
Crist, Kenneth James
Cumming, Scott
Davie, Andrew
Davis, Michael D.
Degani, Gay
De Neve, M. A.
Dillon, John J.
Dinsmoor, Robert
Dominguez, Diana
Dorman, Roy
Doughty, Brandon
Doyle, John
Dunham, T. Fox
Ebel, Pamela
Fagan, Brian Peter
Fillion, Tom
Fortier, M. L.
Fowler, Michael
Galef, David
Garnet, George
Garrett, Jack
Graysol, Jacob
Grech, Amy
Greenberg, KJ Hannah
Grey, John
Hagerty, David
Hardin, Scott
Held, Shari
Hicks, Darryl
Hivner, Christopher
Hoerner, Keith
Hohmann, Kurt
Holt, M. J.
Holtzman, Bernard
Holtzman, Bernice
Holtzman, Rebecca
Hopson, Kevin
Hubbs, Damon
Irwin, Daniel S.
Jabaut, Mark
Jermin, Wayne
Jeschonek, Robert
Johns. Roger
Kanner, Mike
Karl, Frank S.
Kempe, Lucinda
Kennedy, Cecilia
Keshigian, Michael
Kirchner, Craig
Kitcher, William
Kompany, James
Kondek, Charlie
Koperwas, Tom
Kreuiter, Victor
Larsen, Ted R.
Le Due, Richard
Leotta, Joan
Lester, Louella
Lubaczewski, Paul
Lucas, Gregory E.
Luer, Ken
Lukas, Anthony
Lyon, Hillary
Mannone, John C.
Margel, Abe
Martinez, Richard
McConnell, Logan
McQuiston, Rick
Middleton, Bradford
Milam, Chris
Miller, Dawn L. C.
Mladinic, Peter
Mobili, Juan
Mullins, Ian
Myers, Beverle Graves
Myers, Jen
Newell, Ben
Nielsen, Ayaz Daryl
Nielsen, Judith
Onken, Bernard
Owen, Deidre J.
Park, Jon
Parker, Becky
Pettus, Robert
Plath, Rob
Potter, John R. C.
Prusky, Steve
Radcliffe, Paul
Reddick, Niles M.
Reedman, Maree
Reutter, G. Emil
Riekki, Ron
Robson, Merrilee
Rockwood, KM
Rollins, Janna
Rose, Brad
Rosmus, Cindy
Ross, Gary Earl
Rowland, C. A.
Saier, Monique
Sarkar, Partha
Scharhag, Lauren
Schauber, Karen
Schildgen, Bob
Schmitt, Di
Sesling, Zvi E.
Short, John
Simpson, Henry
Slota, Richelle Lee
Smith, Elena E.
Snell, Cheryl
Snethen, Daniel G.
Steven, Michael
Stoler, Cathi
Stoll, Don
Surkiewicz, Joe
Swartz, Justin
Taylor, J. M.
Temples. Phillip
Tobin, Tim
Traverso Jr., Dionisio "Don"
Turner, Lamont A.
Tustin, John
Tyrer, DJ
Varghese, Davis
Verlaine, Rp
Viola, Saira
Waldman, Dr. Mel
Al Wassif, Amirah
Weibezahl, Robert
Weil, Lester L.
Weisfeld, Victoria
Weld, Charles
White, Robb
Wilhide, Zachary
Williams, E. E.
Williams, K. A.
Wilsky, Jim
Wiseman-Rose, Sophia
Woods, Jonathan
Young, Mark
Zackel, Fred
Zelvin, Elizabeth
Zeigler, Martin
Zimmerman, Thomas
Zumpe, Lee Clark

My Affair

By Elena E. Smith


“I know why you’re here. You want to know about my affair with Paul. It didn’t start out like one. I know that’s what everyone says. But this was different. I’d been married for almost twenty years.

“I used to work in a law firm, and I hated it because I got tired of hearing everyone talk about their personal life and their opinions about everyone else’s personal life, so Alan said it would be okay if I quit. He made enough money to pay our bills and keep us in this nice little house in the Rancho. He understood that I was sick of knowing the schedule of my co-workers’ menstrual periods. That was my husband’s best quality and his worst quality: he was so busy working at the recording studio that he gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted.”

Detective Marks watched the way Mary folded her hands in her lap. She tried to look relaxed, but she wasn’t.

“It was alright at first. I did some freelancing. I cooked, cleaned, and gardened. Then I found out I could get everything done plus exercise our two horses and still have a few hours left over. And even though I’m not a ‘people person,’ there is such a thing as spending too much time alone.”

“Then, things changed at home. Alan said I was acting ‘needy.’ You know, before we got married, he couldn’t get enough of me. In our premarital counseling, we scored over ninety percent on compatibility, even though we were total opposites. Alan was a live wire, competitive. He had to be the best at everything, make the big bucks, win awards. The high point of his life was meeting Mick Jagger in a London nightclub, and Jagger recognized him.”

Mary was a nice-looking lady around forty years old with blonde permed hair and round blue eyes, but Marks got the impression she didn’t know how attractive she was. She was very self-focused. Inward, dreamy, possibly not aware of how others perceived to her.

“I was happy for his success, but there was no place in his life for me. That is, there was a place, but it wasn’t a place I wanted to be. Alan thought of me as either a personal assistant or a trophy wife, depending on the situation. So, our home became, like, ‘Mary’s Boarding House,’ the place where he ate and slept in between work assignments. We hadn’t ridden our horses together for over a year!

“And that’s how my affair got started. Only it wasn’t really an affair because nothing ever happened. Well, something happened but not what you’re thinking.”

She sat back in her chair, immersed in her story with a dreamy look on her face.

“One day, Smokey came up lame. He was in a pipe corral in our back yard. Our regular vet was in surgery, so someone recommended Paul. The minute he answered the phone I knew I would like working with him. His voice was comforting, like he was just waiting to hear all my problems and offer solutions to them.”

“So, I decided to try him out. He was available, and his rates were fair. I didn’t notice too much the first time I saw him. He had sandy hair, in a nice cut, and an easy smile. He wasn’t the kind of guy you would call handsome. But in the long run, things like that never matter. He treated me like I was someone special. He was personable and easy to be around. Not like Alan, who was always ready to explode. I called him ‘The Volcano’ behind his back.”

“Anyway, Paul looked at Smokey’s hoof and said he had thrush and when he walked to his truck for a treatment I saw his uneven gait. That’s when I knew he hadn’t always been a vet. He’d been a bull rider or a trainer at the track or something exciting. When he came back, he looked tired, so I invited him in for some iced tea while I wrote out a check. He came into this tiny kitchen that was an add-on to the original cottage and sat at the dining table. You see how small it is—our knees almost touch.”

It was a cute place, Marks thought, but it didn’t compare to the ranch house he and his wife had, with enough room for three kids. But people like Mary and Alan, with the rock star lifestyle, probably didn’t think of things like that.

“His hand was shaking when he wrote the bill and once he dropped his pen. I didn’t think much of it at the time. Most of the people I know are over fifty and have all kinds of little maladies. It didn’t occur to me that I was making him nervous. I mean, I’ve been told I’m cute, but I stopped thinking about attracting men a long time ago.”

She sat up straight and looked Marks in the eye as if she’d answered his questions. She hadn’t.

“That’s all I remember about the first time I met him. He talked himself up, the way men do when they want you to like them—he told me all his best qualities and his beliefs and the way he sees life, and we joked around a little. That day, I didn’t notice the chemistry, but soon after I realized how much I wanted to see him and hear his voice. His calm tone made me think of that Bible story about Saul and David, and the way David’s harp lifted Saul’s depression. Paul’s voice was like that for me.”

Mary stopped talking, gathering her thoughts. She glanced around the cottage where she and Alan had lived for so long, with its hunter plaid furniture, its shabby chic lamps and Craftsman bookcases. The maple wood paneled walls, stained to a soft golden brown, reflected the sunset glow from outside as the light filtered through the Chinese elm and danced in spots on the faded grayish carpet. It was a modest home, but Alan was too inflexible to agree to the kind of remodeling needed to improve its value. He always said, “It’s fine the way it is.”

Now, she stared back at the detective, who was studying her face, sizing her up. He was young, probably early thirties, with short dark hair and nondescript features. He perched awkwardly on one of the green farmhouse dining chairs. She wondered how he saw her, haggard from lack of food and sleep. All she could think about was Paul and what happened to him. Would things have turned out differently if she hadn’t been married? There was a choking feeling in her throat. She knew the rims around her eyes had turned red. They always did when she was about to cry.

“Do you need a minute?”

She shook her head. Her voice broke as she continued, “I admit, I started thinking about Paul after his second visit. It had been so long since I’d just passed the time with someone pleasant. He made me feel alive. And I realized—I had been dead for years! And I was walking around the house thinking about that when I suddenly noticed—,” her voice caught in her throat somewhere between a chuckle and a sob, “—that he left his wand.”

“His wand?” The detective stopped writing and looked up.

“You know that little metal thingy that comes with a cell phone or a palm pilot?”

“A stylus.”

“It was resting near the edge of the table, where your hand is. I guess he used it for something and just forgot to put it back in his phone. So—this meant I had to call him.

“I didn’t think he left it on purpose. But—when he picked up his wand, he forgot his receipt book. Then, when he picked up his receipt book, he forgot his palm pilot. You see what I mean? He kept having excuses to come over every day. If it had ended right there, you wouldn’t be here now.”

“This went on for months. Paul would make a follow-up visit or drop by to advise me about teeth-floating or sheath-cleaning, or even a good supplement. And I didn’t want to discourage him. Getting attention from a friendly man felt good. And when I mentioned him to other people in the Rancho, they all knew him and liked him.”

“It was euphoric and it was pathetic. We acted like junior high kids, calling and texting each other, sneaking half hours here and there to meet up. He’d leave his calendar open in front of me so I’d know which barn he’d be at, then I would run into him ‘by accident.’ Or he would drop by the house to tell me something, and—it was embarrassing—he’d be coming in the front door as Alan backed out the driveway to go to the studio.”

“I kept wondering when I would get caught, but Alan never noticed. That was Alan. Anything that didn’t have a rock star attached to it was invisible. One night, he just casually says to me, ‘Did I see the vet driving up when I left for work the other day? What’s up with that?’ I tell you, my heart stopped. How could I explain how often the vet came by when there were no vet bills?”

“After a couple of months, though, Alan found out. One night last week, he was sitting at the table with a hoof pick in his hand, just kind of tapping it on the table, on the edge, right there. If I didn’t have a guilty conscience, I would have bitten his head off for having something that nasty at the dining table. But I didn’t say anything because of the look on his face. When Alan was mad, the skin underneath his eyes would turn almost black right before he exploded. So, I assumed he finally knew.”

“I thought he would confront me, but he didn’t. He just sat there tapping the pick against the table, and he knew that I knew that there was something more going on. He was staring me in the eyes, and I just stood there in the kitchen with the dishrag in my hands, staring back at him. And then he said, in a very even tone, ‘I hope I don’t find out that someone else has been riding my horse.’ Just like that. Then he lifted up the hoof pick and threw it right at the corner of the window. See? There? That’s where it hit. The glass is cracked.”

“What do you suppose he meant?” asked the detective.

“About what?”

“That he hoped someone else wasn’t riding his horse?”

“All I can tell you is the truth, mister: Paul never rode his horse.”

“Go on.”

“From that night on, it was tense at home. Alan would try to get my goat by complaining. The salad had too much dressing on it; the salad didn’t have enough dressing on it. Every day, he brought up some frivolous issue. When I stood up to him, he liked it because it gave him an excuse to yell at me. Yelling made him feel alive.”

“When he went back to the studio to do the night shift, I would call Paul. I was so glad he was single because I could call him any time. And I’d just listen to his voice, as soothing as a cup of warm milk at bedtime, as he gave me suggestions about what to do.”

“Have you ever heard that poem, I think it’s by Shakespeare, where it says, ‘the eyes are the window to the soul’? I never knew what that meant. But now I do because I saw into Paul’s soul. I know, you’re looking at me like I’m some kind of kook, but it was like this: he had these big blue eyes, and when we talked, he would get a white flicker, like the flame at the tip of a candle, dancing, weaving back and forth in his eyes. I’d never seen anything like it before, but that’s how I knew we were soul-mates.”

Suddenly, she burst into tears. “I miss him so much!”

As the sun set, the detective watched her cry into her hands. It was half past eight on this dry, dusty August night. He had been at many tables like this one, listening to similar stories, though each one was unique.

Mary heaved a deep sigh and began again, speaking more slowly, with less intensity. “So, after the hoof pick incident, I knew that I would have to be more careful about meeting Paul. But things got worse a few nights ago. I came to the dinner table wearing shorts, and Alan noticed that I had shaved my legs. I had forgotten to put long pants on before I served him dinner. It’s just one of those marriage-issue things: I don’t like to shave my legs because it hurts and I get a rash. When I was dating Alan, I shaved them all the time, but after years of marriage, I stopped.”

“When he saw my legs were smooth he was really mad. He got the volcano look, pushed back his chair, stood up and said, ‘I’m not hungry,’ and left for work, slamming the door as hard as he could. My heart thumped so loud I was sure they could hear it all the way down the street at Viva’s Restaurant. My mind went into overdrive. Should I ask Paul to come over and get me? Should I just pack some stuff and go to his house?”

“Mister, it was the worst night of my life, and I know that’s why you’re here —you want a record of everything that happened. I didn’t mean to get carried away, but I panicked. It was dusk, and I called up Paul, but he didn’t answer, which was unusual for him. So, I waited ten minutes then called again. Well, it seemed like ten minutes, but I probably just kept auto re-dialing the phone. And … nothing.”

“So, I decided to go to his place. He lived in a little cottage in front of a local stable called The Rose. I’d never been in his house before, but I knew where it was. When you live in the Rancho, you pretty much know where everybody lives, if they have anything to do with horses.”

“I went outside to the carport and found out that Alan had taken the Mercedes and left me with the Dodge dually. It was new, and I didn’t like driving it, especially at night, but, you know, this time I didn’t have a choice.”

As Mary described that evening, the detective watched her re-live it. “When I turned in to the dirt parking lot in front of The Rose, Paul was outside already, and at first I thought he was waiting for me, so I slowed down into the turn, but then he threw open the door of his Ford Ranger, jumped inside and started the engine. I couldn’t figure out what he was doing. He fishtailed around and was driving right toward me. I waved through the window, because I kept forgetting that with the window tint, and with the cab being so high up, you really can’t see inside. His truck scraped past me so close that he clipped Alan’s taillight, something else I’d get in trouble for.”

“The Dodge was hard to maneuver, so I had to pull all the way into the dirt lot to make a turnaround, then I turned right onto Riverside Drive, following after him. I thought it was beginning to make sense—he had an animal emergency. I decided to follow him, find out where he was going, and wait in the truck until he was done, even if it lasted a few hours. Then, I would tell him everything, and we would figure out what to do.”

“He was driving erratically, and a few times I honked the horn and flashed my lights so he would know it was me, but it didn’t help. He turned south and headed into Griffith Park, accelerating. I thought it was odd, but I remembered there’s another little section of barns at the south end of Los Feliz, and I thought that must be where he was going, so I just kept following him, trying hard not to lose control of the truck. You know, it’s ironic that almost every time I drive that stretch of Riverside Drive there’s a cop lurking around to give you a ticket for going 26 instead of 25, but that evening we were both doing at least 50 and there wasn’t even a forest ranger in sight.”

“So, I kept the pace up and by the time we were coming down the last little hill—,” she stopped and looked up, painfully remembering every detail of that night. “He couldn’t stop fast enough. He just sailed into the intersection against the light and—kabam—that was it.”

“It just happened so fast. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have my cell phone on me. I was caught at the light and couldn’t run out into the street on foot—it would have been too dangerous. There were cars piling up, and I saw someone calling for help. I—I just pulled a u-wee and started back to the Rancho. I know it was wrong because I was a witness. And I know that’s why you’re here. I am responsible in some way for his death.”

The officer stared back at her, saying nothing. It was now past nine-thirty and Mary was fading. The adrenaline she’d started her story with was gone and she was completely drained, slumped in the green wooden chair, staring at the wall as she re-lived the night her loved one raced into a head-on, fatal collision. The detective looked at her with sympathy.

“I’ll come back again in the morning,” he offered.

* * *

“Who’s Paul?” Detective Howard asked Detective Marks, back at the police station.

It was 10:30 p.m. Each had a notepad, a file jacket and a cup of hot coffee. They were seated in an office with metal desks, no windows, and cinder block walls painted a greasy taupe. Marks, the younger detective who’d interviewed Mary, was a family man with brown hair, brown eyes and a stocky build. Behind his back, he was called “The Bear,” because of his teddy-bear personality. Howard, a blond man, was taller, thinner and older. He’d been on the force long enough to ruin two shaky marriages and to earn the nickname “The Interrogator.”

“I found this,” Marks volunteered, handing over a newspaper clipping from the L.A. Times. The bold headline read, “CRASH,” and the subhead announced, “Massive car pile-up near Griffith Park when driver runs red light.” Neither could look at the graphic color picture for long, despite their years of experience.

Howard tapped his pen. “What did she say about Alan?”

“Not much. She called him ‘a volcano.’”

Howard’s eyebrows shot up. “Was he beating her?”

“Nope,” said Marks. “I ran his profile. He’s clean. We’ve never had any calls to the house. They’ve lived there almost twenty years.”

Howard sighed. “So, what’s your take on it?”

“She’s an odd one. She’s so far into her own head she’s not even aware of the ramifications of what she’s saying. You know, she’s the kind of person who’s so squirrely she could get accused of something she didn’t do and not even see it coming.”

“So, you don’t think she’s lying?”

“Actually, no. I think a liar’s story would make more sense. I’m going back tomorrow.”

“I’ll go with you,” said The Interrogator.

* * *

“What’s in the shed?” Howard asked Mary.

“This?” She pointed to a tall, rectangular wooden structure. “That’s the tack room.”
“Can we see inside?”

“Sure.” Mary couldn’t imagine why they’d be curious.

She unhitched the door latch so it swung open on its hinges. Inside were two cleaned and polished saddles, carefully positioned on wall-mounted racks. On another wall, hooks held an assortment of bits, bridles, and reins. Across from it, neatly arranged on wooden shelves, were several rows of horse products.

“What are these?” Howard asked.

“Well—anything from hoof polish to mane de-tangler. Supplements, medications.”

Howard picked up a bottle of betadyne and looked at it, then looked at Marks. “Any of them prescription?”

“There are some things here you can only get from a vet—,” her voice caught in her throat as she remembered Paul standing near her, gently instructing her.

Again, the men looked at each other. Mary was quietly sobbing. Finally, Howard spoke. “Are any of them poisonous?”

“Uh, there is one…” Mary fumbled through the assortment of bottles and jars looking for the smallest one. “Here.” She pulled it from the back of the shelf and handed it to the officers.

“Why do you have this?” Howard asked.

“It was just a brief treatment. That’s all left-over.”

“And you were warned that it was poisonous?”

“Oh, yes!”

Paul’s words came back to her, caressing her ears. ‘Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with hot water and soap after using this one. It won’t hurt a horse, but if it gets in the human system, it can kill you. It absorbs through the skin and gets into the blood stream. I once knew a guy who forgot to wash his hands, and he died of a heart attack within six hours.’

‘Really?’ she’d asked.


‘Well then I’d better hide it from Alan because he never washes his hands.’

Marks wrote something on a tablet as Mary watched sadly, defeated by her loss. She pulled a red-and-white bandanna from her jeans pocket and dabbed at her eyes.

“We’ll let you know if we have any more questions,” said Marks.

“Don’t leave town,” said Howard.

Mary watched them walk down the driveway. One of the horses nickered, hoping for a carrot. Slowly, she closed the tack room door and stood in front of it, squinting her eyes at the small pipe corral, remembering Paul cradling Smokey’s hoof between his knees, and the faint scraping sound as he worked on it.

* * *

When the phone rang at three-thirty in the afternoon, Mary was on the sofa. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been sitting there, or if she’d eaten recently. She picked up the phone, and it was Detective Marks.

“Just a few quick questions, Mrs. Todd,” he said. “Did Paul and Alan know each other?”

“I’m not sure.” She thought for a minute. “They never met, that I’m aware of. But this is the Rancho, and here everybody pretty much knows everybody. If they don’t know you, they know who you are.”

“On that last day,” he said carefully, “were you aware that there were several calls between them, and that they were seen talking in front of Paul’s house?”

After the detective hung up, Mary was worried. She knew that if Paul and Alan had talked, there was only one thing they would have talked about, and it wasn’t horses or vet bills. They’d talked about her. If Alan had threatened him, it would be easier to understand why Paul had driven away from her so recklessly that night. He may not have seen her through the tinted windows and assumed he was being chased by Alan in the Dodge dually. She sighed and choked out another sob.

* * *

“Well, if it isn’t the Rancho hottie,” said Denny.

Mary was not ready to speak to the lanky man with the angular face and dark curly hair. He was the barn manager at The Rose, where Paul had lived. She didn’t like him, but he’d never noticed.

It was 4 p.m. and it was another warm dry day. Denny was perched on top of a sturdy white corral fence, conducting a riding lesson, but paying little attention to his pupil.

“What do you want?” asked Denny.

Her lips pursed in a straight line. ‘I want Paul back!’ she wanted to scream, but she said, “I was just wondering…” —he looked at her intently— “…the other night, when Paul … got in the accident… was Alan here that day?”

“I saw them talking that afternoon,” said Denny, “and I’ll tell you the same thing I told that nosy cop. Alan came over and banged on the door. Paul came out. They started yelling about something. Paul went inside and came back out with a small jar of medicine and showed it to him. They seemed to reach some kind of agreement then they shook hands and Alan left. Then, Paul threw the medicine bottle away. Say, when did Alan get that big Dodge dually?”

“It’s recent,” said Mary. Thinking about the small jar, she looked toward the trash bin.

Denny followed her gaze and surmised what she was thinking. “The trash men came yesterday,” he said, before she could ask the question.

“What did the detective want?” she asked.

“Beats me.” He turned his attention to his student. “Okay, let’s see a side pass. Good work, Stephanie.” To Mary, he said, “I let him in the place and he just snooped around, picking things up and putting them down. He didn’t seem to know what he was looking for. But the way he was acting, you’d think it was a murder investigation. Got anything you want to tell me?” he asked snidely.

She knew what she wanted to tell him but held back. Denny, who was rarely aware of others’ feelings, tried to sound sensitive. “I know it’s too soon,” he said slowly, “but when you’re ready, I’d like to take you out some time.”

Mary suppressed her gag reflex, smiled weakly, and turned on her heel to where she’d tethered Smokey. Mounting him gracefully, she entered the dirt trail that meandered behind the stables and homes, pulling gently and rhythmically on his reins, forcing him to maintain an even gait as they made their way home.

* * *

“This will be our last visit,” said Detective Marks, as Mary stood aside to let both men into the house early that evening.

“That’s good,” she said, “because I don’t know what else I could possibly tell you.”

The two men exchanged looks.

“There’s a lot you can tell us,” said Howard, The Interrogator. “We’ve been investigating, and we now know that Alan didn’t die from a heart attack.”

The blood rushed from her face so quickly she had to sit down. “He didn’t?”

Marks said gently, “Mrs. Todd, do you remember the first time I interviewed you? You told me all about Paul’s accident, but you didn’t say a word about your husband’s death.”

“What were you expecting me to say?”

“Most new widows mention something—”

“Well, I did! I told you my marriage had been dead for years, and I was in love with Paul.”

“Yes, I know, but… didn’t it seem like more than a coincidence that Paul and Alan died within a few hours of each other?”

The rims around Mary’s eyes turned bright red. “Look, I’ve been spending the last couple days getting phone calls from all the people who knew Alan, making funeral arrangements, helping write a press release, and other than you and a few close friends I can’t even talk about Paul, and that’s who I was in love with! I don’t know what you expect from me! And now—what do you mean Alan didn’t die from a heart attack?”

“We think he was poisoned,” said Howard.

“Poisoned?” Mary spat out the word.

“That medication you showed us in the tack room—it’s highly poisonous to humans. You knew that. And we think the toxicology report will show traces of it in his bloodstream.”

“You don’t think—?”

“We don’t know what to think,” said Marks. “That’s why we need you to help us. See, what we’re wondering is this: you told me that you had fallen in love with Paul. Did you intend to marry him?”

“I was hoping…”

Howard took over. “How much do you think a large animal vet makes in a year?”

“Oh, I don’t know.”

“But you must have some idea.”

“No, not really.”

“Well, if you married Paul, what did you think you would live on?”

“I don’t know; I hadn’t thought about that.”

“Are you saying you didn’t know that a large-animal vet makes one-fifth

of what your husband, Alan, was earning as a recording engineer?”

“No. I hadn’t thought that far ahead. I just thought that, you know, we were in love and we would work it out. That’s how Alan and I started. He wasn’t making anything when I married him.”

“We don’t think that’s what you thought, Mrs. Todd.”

“What are you saying?”

“We think that you and Paul had a plan. You couldn’t leave Alan because he was the kind of guy who would take everything in the divorce. But if he died of an apparent heart attack, then by the California laws of community property, you would get it all. You could sell this house for well over a million dollars and live off the proceeds.”

“No!” she protested. “I wouldn’t—”

“You know,” Marks said in a low, warning tone, “we have already talked to Tabitha Shields, and she remembers discussing your home’s value when you went trail riding with her a few days before Alan’s death.”

Tabitha Shields, blonde and tan, was the Rancho’s most prominent local realtor, especially when it came to horse properties.

Mary sat in a daze, horrified by what she heard. She was facing two cops who thought she’d murdered her husband. She ran through the scenario in her mind. Paul, confronted by Alan, an unpredictable man with a temper, a man who could be capable of murder. Paul, handling a poisonous substance then transferring it to Alan with a handshake at The Rose. Alan, dying several hours later of an apparent heart attack. Paul, a man who was capable of murder.

Now that she understood what had happened, she had no idea how she would defend herself. She began to cry helplessly as the men moved toward her, recited her Miranda rights, and snapped open a pair of silver handcuffs. As they led her outside, bypassing a few neighbors who’d gathered to watch the commotion, Mary yelled as loud as she could, “Alan never washed his hands! He didn’t wash his hands!”

Elena E. Smith is a quirky noir writer who grew up in Arizona, then spent many years in Los Angeles. She has had three short stories published in Coffee House Writers Group anthologies, with upcoming publication of: Everything (Sept. 2021, Sisters in Crime Love Kills anthology); Bench, and Service Providers (BOULD 2021 Awards anthology) and "My Affair" in the October issue of Yellow Mama. Follow her on Facebook and join her Facebook group, MAHUENGA.

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