Council Bluffs, Iowa, 1895
If forced to endure Roger Gordon for five more minutes, Marguerite Westing would die. Dead. Gone. Buried. Six feet under Greenlawn Cemetery.
Her parents would need to purchase a large headstone to fit all the words of the epitaph, but they could do it. Money wasn’t an issue, and after bearing this unbelievable torture, she deserved an enormous marble marker complete with a plethora of flowery engravings. She could see the words now:
Here lies Marguerite Westing. Only nineteen, but now she’s resting. Strolling through the park with Roger Gordon, Once full of life, she died of boredom. Marguerite giggled.
Roger stopped on the cobblestone path of the park and frowned at her. “I don’t see anything funny about my uncle Myron’s carbuncle, Marguerite.”
“I’m sorry. My mind wandered for a minute.”
“You do seem prone to that. Perhaps you should work on your self-control.” He patted her hand, lodged in the crook of his arm, like a parent would an errant child.
And perhaps you should work on making yourself more interesting than milk toast. She bit her lip hard to keep the words from escaping. Good grief. What did he expect when he was talking to her about a boil?
“Now, as I was saying, Uncle Myron…” He droned on, his dark mustache twitching like a wriggling fuzzy caterpillar on his upper lip. “Marguerite, are you listening?”
She forced a smile. “Of course I am. How terrible for your dear uncle.”
This whole ordeal was her mother’s fault. If her mother hadn’t insisted she accept Roger’s attentions, she could be home enjoying her newest book about the stars.
After the tedious monotony killed her this afternoon, she hoped her parents would make sure her final resting place would have a view of the Iowa bluffs, and that they wouldn’t let Roger know where they’d buried her. After all, he’d insist on bringing flowers to her grave and would probably stay for a long, carbuncle-filled visit. No. They mustn’t tell him where she was. She couldn’t spend all of eternity listening to him. This afternoon was long enough.
Around the park, crab-apple trees exploded with crimson blossoms and lilacs perfumed the air. How could one man ruin such a spectacular summer day?
The clang of the streetcar’s bell drew her attention, and she turned to see it clickety-clack past the two-story brick-andframe storefronts. Horse-drawn carriages and busy patrons bustled out of the car’s way. It snaked its way down Main Street and made an easy turn onto Broadway, disappearing into the business district. Marguerite sighed. If only she could go with it.
Then she spotted the striped awning of the ice cream parlor on the corner directly across from the park. Salvation.
She squeezed her escort’s arm. “Roger, let’s get a soda.” He gaped at her, his spectacles sliding down his nose. “But it’s still morning!”
“Oh, fiddle-faddle. For the life of me, I can’t see what harm there is to drink a soda before lunch.”
She wanted to swat the caterpillar off his scowling face. “Can’t we at least get that new ice cream with the syrup on top? The sundae?”
“Very well. I suppose you are used to being indulged.” He drew his hand over his mustache, smoothing the sides, and pushed up his spectacles.
His flippant words stung. And what about you, Roger Gordon, son of one of the wealthiest men in the state? “Indulged” should be your middle name.
She clamped down on her lip so hard she tasted blood. Glancing heavenward, she sent up a silent message. If You want the world to end right now, God, it’s fine with me. Upon entering the ice cream parlor, Marguerite disentangled her hand from Roger’s arm. She selected a wood-topped round table out in the open before he could lead her to one of the darkened booths where the courting fellows often took their girls. Roger ordered two bowls of vanilla ice cream --- no syrup, no nuts, no berries --- without consulting her tastes. Bland. Plain. Boring. Just like him.
He carried the scalloped bowls to the table and presented hers as if it were pure ambrosia.
After waiting until he sat in the heart-shaped iron dining chair, she picked up her spoon and dove into the treat. She scooped a spoonful into her mouth, and the creamy sweetness melted on her tongue, almost making up for the agony of the late morning stroll. “For what these cost, we could have purchased a chair for our first home.”
She dropped her spoon and it clattered against the bowl, the blissful taste replaced by a bitter one. Coughing, she waved her hand in front of her face. “Roger, please don’t jest like that.”
“I wasn’t jesting.”
Marguerite cringed as he covered her hand with his own. Please, Lord, strike him with muteness. Strike him with lightning. Strike him with anything. I don’t care what. You choose the pestilence. Have fun. Be creative. Enjoy Yourself. Just don’t let him say another word.
With a tug, she tried to pull her hand away, but he held fast.
“Surely, Marguerite, you’ve been able to see where our courting has been leading.”
She could almost hear God’s laughter. He must take great enjoyment in watching her squirm. It was punishment for the ungodly thoughts that ran rampant through her mind. Right now, for instance, she was seriously contemplating a murder --- that of her mother.