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Bonnie pulled her white Caprice into the driveway of 430 Lombard Street at exactly twelve thirty-eightthere'd been an accident on the Mass turnpike and it had taken her over half an hour to get thereparking directly be hind Joan's red Mercedes. Joan was obviously doing very well for herself, Bonnie decided. Despite the fluctuations in the real estate market, she seemed to have survived the latest prolonged slump quite nicely. But then, Joan was a survivor. It was only those around her who perished.
This house shouldn't be too difficult to sell, Bonnie thought, squinting into the cool sun as she walked past the large sign on the front lawn that announced the open house and mounted the outside steps to the front porch. The house was two stories high and wood-framed, like most of the homes in this upscale suburb of Boston, and it had recently received a coat of white paint. The front door was black and slightly ajar. Bonnie knocked timidly, then pushed the door open farther. Immediately, she heard voices coming from one of the back rooms. A man and a woman. Maybe Joan. Maybe not. Possibly in the middle of an argument. It was hard to tell. At any rate, she wouldn't eavesdrop. She'd wait a few minutes, cough discreetly a few times, let them deduce someone else was in the house.
Bonnie looked around, helping herself to one of the many fact sheets that loan had left stacked on a small bench in the front foyer next to an open guest register. According to the information on the sheet, the house was three thousand square feet over two floors, with four bed rooms and a finished basement. A wide center staircase divided the house into two equal halves, the living room to oneside, the dining room to the other. The kitchen and family room were at the back. A powder room was some where in between.
Bonnie cleared her throat softly, then again, more loudly. The voices continued. Bonnie checked her watch, wandered into the beige and cream-colored living room. She'd have to leave soon. As it was, she'd be late getting back, miss the first part of the lecture on how today's schools had to adapt to today's teens. She checked her watch again, tapped her foot on the hardwood floor. This was ridiculous. While she hated to interrupt Joan while she was trying to make a sale, the fact was that the woman had insisted she be here before one o'clock, and it was almost that now. "Joan,'' she called out, returning to the hall, walking down the corridor toward the kitchen.
The voices continued as if she hadn't spoken. She heard snatches"Well, if this health plan is implemented . . ." "That's a pretty lamebrained assessment."and wondered what was going on. Why would peopleJoan, of all peoplebe involved in such a discussion at such a time? ''I'm going to have to cut you off, caller," the man's voice suddenly announced. "You don't know what you're talking about and I feel like listening to some music. How about the always classic sound of Nirvana?''
It was the radio. "Jesus Christ," Bonnie muttered. She'd been wasting her time discreetly coughing so that a rude radio host could finish hurling invectives at some hapless caller! Who's the crazy lady here? she wondered, losing her patience, raising her voice over the sudden onslaught of sound that was Nirvana. "Joan,'' she called, stepping into the yellow and white kitchen, seeing Joan at the long pine kitchen table, her large sable eyes clouded over with booze, her mouth slightly open, about to speak.
Except that she didn't speak. And she didn't move. Not even as Bonnie approached, waving her hand in front of the woman's face, not even as she reached out to shake her shoulder. "Joan, for God's sake. . ."
She wasn't sure at what precise moment she realized that Joan was dead. It might have been when she saw the bright patch of crimson that was splattered across the front of Joan's white silk blouse like an abstract work of art. Or perhaps it was when she saw the gaping dark hole between her breasts, and felt blood on her hands, warm and sticky, like syrup. Maybe it was the awful combination of smells, real or imagined, that was suddenly pushing its way toward her nose that convinced her. Or maybe it was the screams shooting from her mouth like stray bullets, the ungodly sound creating a strangely appropriate harmony with Nirvana.
Or maybe it was the woman in the doorway screaming with her, the woman with her arms full of groceries who stood paralyzed against the far wall, the bags of groceries glued to her sides, as if they were all that were keeping her upright.
Bonnie walked over to her, the woman recoiling in horror as Bonnie pried the groceries from her arms. "Don't hurt me," the woman pleaded. ''Please don't hurt me."
"Nobody's going to hurt you," Bonnie assured her calmly, laying the bags on the counter and wrapping one arm around the shaking woman. The other arm reached toward the wall phone and quickly pressed in 911. In a clear voice she gave the operator the address and told her that a woman appeared to have been shot. Then she led the still-trembling owner of the house into the living room where she sat down beside her on the textured tan sofa. Then she put her head between her knees to keep from fainting and waited for the police to arrive.
Copyright ) 1995 by Joy Fielding, Inc.