Book excerpt

The KenKen Killings

A Puzzle Lady Mystery

Puzzle Lady Mysteries

Parnell Hall

St. Martin's Press


Cora Felton jumped in the air and clicked her heels together, a perilous undertaking since she was wearing high heels and had put on a little weight.
“Good Lord! What is it?” Sherry Carter said.
“Chester T. Markowitz is dead.”
“My husband.”
“Your husband?”
“You have a husband named Chester T. Markowitz?”
“Not anymore.”
“But you did?”
Sherry sighed. Her aunt’s loopy behavior could be frustrating at times, and this was one of them. “I give up. I assume you’ll tell me about it when you’re good and ready.”
“I’ll tell you about it when I know myself,” Cora said. “But I’m as much at sea as you are.”
“Oh, for goodness’ sakes. Do you or do you not have a dead husband?”
“I have several.” Cora shrugged. “As to this one, I really couldn’t say.”
Sherry grabbed the letter out of Cora’s hand, looked it over. Her eyes widened. “According to this, you not only have a dead husband, he seems to have left you a bit of money.”
Cora beamed. “Yes. Isn’t that nice?”
“Not if it’s a mistake. Not if the money is supposed to go to someone else.”
“Who?” Cora said. “If some scheming hussy got her claws on poor Chester—”
Sherry cut her off. “Can we go outside? You’re making a scene.”
Sherry and Cora were in the Bakerhaven Post Office. Like most town residents, they got their mail delivered. This morning there was a notice in the box saying that Cora had a registered letter. That did not bode well. Usually registered letters meant lawsuits, unpaid bills, late tax returns, and the like.
Cora Felton had all the business acumen of a hyperactive Labradoodle puppy, and Sherry was used to rescuing her from one financial crisis after another.
Sherry wrestled her aunt outside, looked around to see that no one was within earshot. “Okay. Now you can talk without fear of making the National Enquirer. Who the hell is Chester T. Markowitz?”
Cora smiled, the trademark Puzzle Lady smile that graced the crossword puzzle column that Sherry wrote for her. Cora couldn’t construct a crossword puzzle with a gun to her head. Her niece was the real cruciverbalist. When Sherry created the column, she used her aunt’s image to hide from her abusive ex-husband. It hadn’t occurred to her that the Puzzle Lady would become nationally famous, do breakfast cereal commercials, and be stuck with the pretense forever.
“It’s simple,” Cora said. “Since I quit drinking, there are parts of my life I can’t remember. The eighties, for instance. It’s entirely possible I married this gentleman, though I can’t recall him at all.”
“But what?”
“You had other husbands. You were married and divorced. Several times.”
“What’s your point?”
“If Mr. Markowitz was living, those marriages weren’t legal.”
“You collected alimony. You inherited from some of them.”
“Oh, I doubt if they’d mind. Particularly the dead ones. Anyway, what’s the big deal? Some lawyer says I’ve got some money coming. You think I’m not going to take it?”
“I’m sure you are. It’s just something we should do without a brass band. From a public relations angle.”
“Oh, who could possibly care?”
“The kids who eat breakfast cereal. More to the point, the parents of the kids who eat breakfast cereal. If Granville Grains finds out they hired a bigamous spokesperson, they’re not going to be happy.”
“Oh, you’re just an old worrywart. I came into an inheritance. Let’s stop by the candy store, pick up some chocolates.”
“You sound just like a kid.”
“I feel like a kid,” Cora said. “Yesterday I was a spinster aunt.” She smiled. “Today I’m a widow!”

Copyright © 2010 by Parnell Hall

PARNELL HALL lives in New York City.