A no-nonsense politician and her children’s author husband search for answers to a retirement-home homicide in this gripping small-town murder mystery.
Fabian Bunting wheels herself down the hallway of the nursing home, opera glasses clutched in her gnarled old hands. Outside, nurses on strike have formed a picket line, and Fabian wants to watch the commotion. As she peers through her binoculars, she sees something incredible: two men beating another senseless and tossing the victim into the back of a van. One of the thugs sees her, and before she can call for help, he has raced upstairs and tossed the helpless old woman into a scalding steam bath to boil alive.
In her younger days, Fabian was a brilliant scholar, and the favorite professor of Connecticut politician Bea Wentworth, who has just been defeated in a re-election campaign. Bea refuses to believe her old teacher’s death was an accident and begins investigating. With the help of her husband, Lyon, a hot-air ballooning children’s author, she’ll find the answers to Fabian’s grisly murder lie at the center of an impossible locked-room puzzle.
The Lyon and Bea Wentworth Mysteries are unique for their blend of traditional mystery elements and hard-driving, page-turning action. “[This] is the most traditional book in the series to date,” wrote the New York Times. “It also may be the best.”
The Death at Yew Corner is the 5th book in the Lyon and Bea Wentworth Mysteries, but you may enjoy reading the series in any order.
“[Forrest] writes with a sure hand, and as always, leavens the writing with a touch of humor. . . . A neat, well-plotted, expertly written job.” —The New York Times
Praise for the Lyon and Bea Wentworth Mysteries
“[A] superb novel of detection . . . An intricate plot intelligently controlled.” —Publishers Weekly on A Child’s Garden of Death
“The writing is stylish and the plotting swift and well knit: a pleasure.” —Booklist on The Pied Piper of Death
About the Author
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The Death at Yew Corner
A Lyon and Bea Wentworth Mystery
By Richard Forrest
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1980 Richard Forrest
All rights reserved.
"Don't let the goddamn scabs in here. Hit him with a two-by-four!"
"Faby, please! Dottie is trying to rest and you're upsetting her."
Fabian Bunting ignored the comment, gripped the window frame tightly, and continued looking down out the window of the Murphysville Convalescent Home at the picket line of strikers one floor below. "There's a fink trying the side door. Get him!"
"Faby, if you don't stop I'll have to sedate you. We can't have you throwing the pin out of your hip."
"You just try that, hon. I'll jam the hypodermic in your fanny." The old woman shrugged the nurse's restraining hand from her shoulder. "And in the future, young woman, you may call me Bunting. Dr. Bunting. And for your information, the individual in the other bed is Mrs. Rathbone."
"We can't have this! Really!" The nurse wheeled the casement window shut, latched it, and firmly pushed Fabian Bunting back in her wheelchair. "I'm sorry there isn't any OT today, but with most of the staff out it can't be helped."
"Why aren't you on the picket line, sweets?"
"I'm a professional." The nurse straightened her carriage and aligned the fall of her skirt. "Now, please be good. We're terribly shorthanded and ..."
"What do I get if I'm good?"
"Well, I'll find you something nice. Perhaps a special dessert treat with lunch."
"A treat? Jesus! Do you think I'm suffering from anility, Miss Whatever-your-name-is?"
"Do you know what the word means?" The old woman peered closely at the name tag on the nurse's blouse. "Bambi. God, a grown woman named Bambi."
Miss Williams turned on her heels and flounced from the small room. Fabian Bunting spun her wheelchair in a semicircle. "It's the feminine form of senility, Bambi," she called. "The word has an interesting derivation. It's from the Latin anilis, meaning old woman. Old woman," she repeated again under her breath. She wanted to throw things, to throw something against the wall. She wanted to hear the breaking of glass to assuage the hurt that filled her. But most of all, she wanted to break the binds of her physical self that had brought her here after eighty-four years of thriving independence. Her hand brushed vehemently along the bureau, knocking cosmetics and assorted bottles to the tile floor where they shattered into dozens of shards. It made her feel a little better.
"Miz Bunting, please don't make so much noise."
Faby Bunting whirled her wheelchair to face the other bed, which was occupied by a frail woman younger than herself. There was a poignant quality to the plea. It was a note of desperation from someone who could voice no other. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Rathbone."
"I never did like loud noises," the wavering voice said in a plea of a different sort.
"I guess you didn't, dear," Fabian said in a compassionate tone. "I seem to get very angry recently. I get mad at all sorts of things, worthy or not. Do you know what I mean? I've got to feel, and God only knows there isn't much in here to laugh about."
"I only want to be quiet and sleep."
I know you do, Faby thought. You've already stopped eating and you hardly speak. I think you've chosen your time. She turned back to the dresser and bent forward to open the middle drawer. What she was looking for was at the back, and she rummaged until she found the small case. The leather was old and cracked, but the opera glasses were still serviceable. She wheeled out the door and down the hall.
She looked down at the opera glasses in her lap and she remembered that she'd bought them in Paris. The year? Oh, God, let her remember the year. 1930. Yes, 1930, the year she'd gone to the Sorbonne for postdoctoral work. It had been a fabulous year of talk in the cafés, love, and passion. What had become of Max? Dead. Like all the others now gone. Pity.
The long hall that bisected the length of the second floor of the convalescent home was empty. As she wheeled past the nurses' station at the hallway's midpoint, she noticed that it was vacant. The strike hurt. They were running their asses off. Good!
No one was in the sun-room at the far end of the building. She wheeled across the tiles toward the bank of windows overlooking the parking lot and right flank of the picket line. She raised the opera glasses and swept them across her field of vision. A covey of strikers surrounded a tall, black woman who seemed to be giving directions. Fabian remembered her. On her last visit, Bea Wentworth had introduced her to the union organizer. The name? She must always struggle to remember. Ward. Yes, Kimberly Ward.
A four-door sedan filled with six or seven men and women moved slowly down the road and turned toward the parking lot. More scabs. Newly hired workers brought to replace the strikers. Kim wouldn't let them get through. She saw the black woman shouting, pointing, and now taking a position in front of the slowly moving car as other strikers surrounded the vehicle and rocked it from side to side. A striker was pounding on the windshield with his sign. They wouldn't get by. Good!
Something was going on immediately below the sun-room windows. Along the side wall of the building was a small courtyard enclosed on three sides by a high brick wall that usually contained the home's station wagon and dumpster. The van parked there this morning was unfamiliar. Its rear door was open and three men stood nearby arguing.
She watched them with the opera glasses. It was impossible to tell what they were saying, but it was obvious that two of the men were in a violent fight with a third. Her knuckles turned white as her grip on the glasses tightened. One of the men pinned the arms of the second while the third hit him. The victim doubled forward and fell to the pavement where he lay on his side. She could see a small trickle of blood ooze from his right ear. The unconscious man was lifted and thrown into the rear of the van.
The van backed out of the courtyard and turned into the parking lot. The vehicle accelerated as it approached the picket line. The strikers parted before the rushing vehicle as it left the convalescent home property and turned up the street.
One man remained in the courtyard. He waited until the van cleared the line of strikers before he turned toward the building. She noticed that he wore hospital whites.
As the hunted will be furtive, the man in the courtyard glanced in either direction and then up. Their eyes made contact. Fabian Bunting lowered her glasses and placed them on the windowsill. She swiveled her chair and began to propel herself down the long, vacant hall.
There was a phone at the nurses' station. She would dial 911. Surely someone would be interested in what she had just seen.
She pushed the wheels as fast as she could but felt them spin from her hands. She turned to see a man behind her firmly gripping the handles of her chair.
"Let me go!"
He didn't answer. She lurched forward when the chair made a sharp right-angle turn. He had swiveled the chair directly toward the double swinging doors of the physical therapy room. The doors swung shut behind them, and she felt a strong hand clamp over her mouth. The fingers smelled of tobacco.
He pushed her across the room until the front of the chair bumped against the galvanized surface of a raised whirlpool tub. The hand that pressed against her mouth increased its pressure until her head slammed back against the headrest. The man bent forward and used his free hand to twirl a faucet valve.
Steam rose as scalding water rushed into the tub.
She looked up into the face of the man holding her not in fright so much as wonderment. She didn't expect her system could tolerate much, but she wondered why. Yes, why?
It would have been interesting to know.
Bea Wentworth awoke in a funk.
She opened one eye to peer up at her husband who was standing over her with a cup and saucer. It was unusual for him to bring her coffee in bed. He must have sensed her mood. She turned and opened the other eye to watch as he set the coffee gently on the night table.
She could have predicted his dress before she saw him: a loose-fitting sport shirt that was color-uncoordinated with rumpled khaki pants, canvas boat shoes, and no socks. For the first time, his lack of appropriate footwear annoyed her.
"There're clean socks in your drawer."
"Uh huh. Coffee?"
She sat up and held the cup in both hands. "You're the only person in the world who can wrinkle fresh wash and wear."
"You've forgotten our rule. You are never to speak until you've had your first morning coffee."
"Good rule." She drank and felt a warmth spread through her, causing a mild uplifting of her spirits. She drank again and watched Lyon lean against the wall with a bemused expression on his face. No socks and all, she liked the way he looked. He was a tall, angular, fortyish man. His blond-browning hair fell over his forehead, and he often pushed it back with a nonchalant palm. His smile had faded into a slightly troubled look, but she knew that his features could shift instantaneously to a wide, warm smile.
"You going to work in the garden today?" he asked.
"It's going to rain."
"You could return the governor's call."
He took the cup from her hand and sipped coffee. "And?"
"She offered me a job."
A smile broke across his face. If she hadn't been so irritable, she would have kissed him.
"That's great! Why don't you take it until you start your next campaign?"
"I may never run for office again."
"Sorry for ourselves this morning, aren't we?"
"The governor wants me to serve on a committee that's investigating legalized gambling."
He looked a little dubious. "Well, that could be interesting."
"I may be against legalized gambling entirely."
"Investigating it is one way to find out. Or you could take that Washington offer."
"No thanks. An under-under secretary on the civil service commission is burial."
Lyon looked at his wife with concern. The bulky quilt mostly hid her tallish, well-proportioned figure, but he knew well the trim curves of her body. He wanted to run his hands through her close-cropped hair, but this didn't seem to be a terribly auspicious time. Her dark eyes were usually darting and energetic, filled with bright perception and humor. This morning they seemed listless. His wife's vitality had temporarily vanished, but he knew it would return. She would eventually recover from her recent election defeat. In the meantime, he wished there was something he could do to lighten her depression.
"Suppose we take a trip to New York. We could stay a few days and take in a couple of shows."
She smiled for the first time that morning. "You're nearly finished with the book. Maybe when it's done we can go to the city and celebrate." She pushed up from the bed. "I'm alive now. Thanks for the coffee."
She rinsed breakfast dishes, placed them on the rack in the dishwasher, and then looked out the window into a misty morning. The day wouldn't entice her into the garden. She could faintly hear the steady pickity pock of Lyon's typewriter in the study. The steady rhythm of the typing told her that the book was going well. In a few days her husband's benign children's monsters, the Wobblies, would again sally forth to deal in more adventure and good deeds.
God, that's what she needed. Her own personal Wobbly to ward off the demons of depression. Bea slammed the dishwasher shut and turned the operating dial. She must keep busy. She must fill her days until the personal demons disappeared and life's color returned.
Bea drove the pickup truck toward the town of Murphysville. She had decided to visit Fabian Bunting. She laughed aloud. Fabian's iconoclastic outlook on life, and the vibrancy of the old woman, would put her depression in its proper perspective. She could almost predict what her old teacher would say: "For God's sake, Beatrice, cut the self-pity. You've taught, served in the state house of representatives, state senate, and a term as secretary of the state. So, you lost a congressional election to a man far to the right of Joe McCarthy ... go sulk, honey." Yes, Faby would make her laugh again, and Bea knew that her duty visit to the Murphysville Convalescent Home would do more for her than for the patient.
She'd go as soon as she did some shopping at the supermarket. The visit would be a needed remedy for a bleak day overshadowed with dark uncertainties that occasionally haunted midlife.
Murphysville, Connecticut, was located near the geographical center of the state, thirty miles southeast of Hartford. It was a town that in many ways appeared to be untouched by the past hundred years. The village green still faced a circle of homes, churches, and stores whose façades, by edict of the historical commission, had remained the same since the turn of the century. A mile down Main Street, away from the green, Bea pulled into a small shopping center. She purchased groceries and then continued on for another mile toward the outskirts of town and the convalescent home.
Activity on the picket line stretched across the front of the home was now desultory. The strikers seemed to be conserving energy as they waited for the next shift change when they would again attempt to intimidate those still working in the home. Two men walked slowly abreast with militant placards, while most of the others had spread out across the grass and held Styrofoam cups of coffee.
Kim Ward was talking animatedly to several workers as Bea parked her car up the street and walked toward her. The black woman had been Bea's assistant for the past several years, first in the legislature, then during Bea's term as secretary of the state. She had been Bea's campaign manager for her last disastrous campaign for Congress. Now, her former aide and friend was an organizer for the newly formed service workers union.
Kim smiled and waved as Bea crossed the grass and walked toward her. "Hey, Bea! You here to give moral support or join the line?" "None of the above. I'm stopping in to see Dr. Bunting for a few minutes."
"We've heard that one before," a heavyset woman stretched out on the grass with obviously painful feet said belligerently. "They give us that jazz and then sneak in and empty bedpans."
"Senator Wentworth's all right," another striker said.
Bea held up both hands. "Honest, no work, no bedpans, no mopping. One short visit to an old lady friend and teacher."
"That's the one who hung out the window this morning and yelled, 'Right on.'"
"Bunting's a tiger," someone added.
Bea waved, promised to return later to hear their grievances, and walked briskly down the short walk to the main entrance of the home. There was no one at the reception desk near the door. A glance down the corridors revealed them to be empty also.
She decided to take the stairs for one flight rather than wait for the slow self-service elevator. She hurried up the stairwell as if hoping to avoid the all-pervasive smell of the place. She detested this building and well understood why Fabian Bunting fought it with every fiber of her being. It was a mirror of the future — a future filled with Bea's own limitations and the inexorable march of old age. Her present depression told her that youth was past, which meant that age hovered around a nearby corner. Infirmity crept so stealthily that you were not aware of it until it was too late for conscious choice or action.
The stairway's exit on the second floor was directly in front of the nurses' station. A harried R.N. glanced up myopically at Bea and then back down to her medicine tray. Another nurse rushed from one side of the hall to a room across the way in answer to some plea. Bea turned to the left toward Dr. Bunting's room, which was the fifth door down from the nurses' station.
She knocked softly on the open door and stepped inside. Dr. Bunting's bed by the window was empty. The bedding was still rumpled from the night before.
A frail old woman curled up in a fetal position in the near bed blinked her eyes open and stared at Bea.
"Is Dr. Bunting around?"
"She makes so much noise" was the whining response.
Bea laughed. "I imagine she does. I'm Bea Wentworth, Mrs. Rathbone. We met last week. You told me about your children."
"I have four you know."
"Yes, and I know you're very proud of them."
"I'm going to die."
Excerpted from The Death at Yew Corner by Richard Forrest. Copyright © 1980 Richard Forrest. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
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