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ONE WOMANíS POISON
A Gloria Trevisi Mystery
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ISBN-10: 1-55404-566-5
ISBN-13: 
Genre: Mystery/Fiction/Adventure
eBook Length: 256 Pages
Published: August 2008
OUT OF PRINT

From inside the flap

High School was deadlyÖ

Forty years ago, two teenagers witnessed a vile crime. Terrified, one buried the memory; the other wrote it in her diary and hid the journal.

Now one is dead and the other fighting for her life after a deliberate case of food poisoning. Has someone discovered their disturbing secret?

Not only must Gloria Trevisi follow the long-dead trail of a murderer, but she must choose between duty and friendship. Itís no easy taskÖespecially when her own distant past is threatening to ruin her futureÖ

Reviews and Awards

Five cups from CoffeeTime Romance! "This book is well and truly a mystery that keeps the reader hanging until the very end. A.R. Grobbo writes a wonderful series with characters that withstand the test of time."

Delane,Coffeetime Romance

ONE WOMANíS POISON (Excerpt)


Prologue

Forty years past ...

Twelve large stones; four heavy, rotting logs; dry leaves and soft earth; and at the bottom of a three-foot hole, wrapped in a shroud of tent canvas ... He hoped it would be enough.

It was hard work, with only a small digging tool ... and an axe. Flexing his aching arms, he straightened up and set aside the light, short-handled shovel.

A rustle in the underbrush ... For a long moment, he held his breath. What if someone were out there, watching? His heart beat erratically as his breath pumped quickly out of his lungs in a gale force. Slowly, with a slightly trembling hand, he pushed back his hair and surveyed his work by the light of a small lantern. A trickle of perspiration ran down the back of his neck and mixed with the grime that clung to his skin. Absently he used the blunt side of the axe to reach behind and scratch between the shoulder blades. And he heard it again ... a faint rustle, a breath catching ...

He spun around, listening. All he could hear were the soft night sounds of bullfrogs and buzzing insects and, nearby, the gurgle of the river as it curved steeply around a sharp bend on the other side of a row of fir trees. Dousing the lantern, he moved back several paces toward the river and scanned the darkened campsite with his flashlight to see if he had missed anything. Nothing, not even a tent peg. The small fire pit he left intact. The cooking gear was packed in a knapsack, stashed deep under the roots of an overhanging tree about fifty yards downstream. The axe ... He wrapped it carefully and stuffed it inside the other pack, the one he would carry with him. Taking the broken branch of a hemlock, he swept the ground carefully until all traces of recent footsteps were obliterated. Then he stepped from the moonlit clearing into the shadow of the trees. There was only one thing left to do.



Chapter One

Present Day ...

The August lunch meeting of the St. Peterís Community Church Canning Circle ended badly -- so badly, in fact, that the last thing Betty deVos recalled was staring into the chilly depths of a toilet bowl.

In those few minutes of regained consciousness as she was jostled into a waiting ambulance, she remembered Anna Stoker calling for help in the church kitchen, and a frenzy of moans, tears, and gut-wrenching sounds as the entire group of women were stricken with ... What? A dozen sick women, and four small washroom stalls ... Not a happy thought. Why? She was aware of a vehicle pulling up to the door of the church hall. Another ambulance? Oh, God ...

Turning away from the bright afternoon sun, she gazed at the impassive face of the paramedic. "Am I going to die?" she croaked.

"Not on my gurney, youíre not," the young woman in uniform replied, smiling.

Betty drew a shaky breath. The vehicle was moving, and the faces looking down at her seemed out of focus ...

You knew someone would come for you, eventually, a voice inside her head whispered.Youíve known for forty years.


***

Gloria Trevisi contemplated the cold, porcelain fixtures in the womenís washroom at the Plattsford Sun office, where she had just spent a few unhappy moments. It was not like her to suffer from a violently queasy stomach, even on the most nerve-wracking deadline days -- and as editor, reporter, photographer, and flak-catcher of this small weekly newspaper, she had plenty of those. This week, however, it had happened twice after lunch and once upon rising at six in the morning. And at three in the afternoon, she was feeling none too well. She groaned. "If this is a late-summer flu bug, Iím too damned busy to get sick!"

"I heard that," her friend, advertising manager Linda Grant, said as she came through the door. "Are you all right?"

"I donít know." She leaned wearily against the counter. "This doesnít happen to me, usually. I was brought up on pasta and hot sauce, and I have an iron gut. Maybe itís some sort of bug going around."

"Not something Iíd want to catch," Linda answered with a slight smile. Two in this washroom was definitely a crowd. Linda squeezed behind her into the closer of two tiny stalls. "Is something worrying you, Glo?"

"Yeah. My stomach. Maybe itís those pickles that Betty gave me from the Canning Circle."

"Nothing can go wrong with stuff from the Canning Circle. They know what theyíre doing, and they do it in a government-inspected church kitchen." Linda folded her arms and narrowed her gaze. "But youíre right; you canít afford to be sick. Youíre living on your own, and youíre working day and night. Go see a doctor, or at least, go home and rest. Isnít this your afternoon off?"

Gloria studied the reflection of Lindaís bright face, in direct contrast to her own drooping image in the washroom mirror. Linda was barely five feet tall, and petite, from her flaming red hair to the tip of her size five shoes. Gloria herself topped five-ten in flat sandals, with broad shoulders and big bones, nearly straight, shoulder-length hair the color of buckwheat honey, light brown eyes and a tint to her skin that never faded, even in the dead of winter. Linda was in her late thirties, fair and freckled, and a lively mother of two teenage boys. Gloria was in her early thirties, married to an absent husband, and chained to her job. And at the moment, Linda was a picture of health and energy, and Gloria was wilting quickly in the looking glass. She splashed cool water on her face and patted her cheeks and chin dry with a paper towel. "Iíll stop in and see Doc Logan sometime this week."

"Maybe right now," Linda advised.

"But I feel better now," she protested.

"Gloria ..." Linda gave her a stern, maternal stare.

"Oh heck." She blew out an exasperated breath. "I wonít win this argument, will I? Fine. Iím going." She smiled at Lindaís reflection, reached for the door handle, and returned to her work-cluttered desk by the front window. Stashed in the corner in-box, on top of piles of unread reports and agendas, were two rolls of film that needed processing; beside her keyboard were the notes to the crafts page feature she had started writing before queasiness overcame her. Sheíd have it finished in half an hour if ... She grabbed her handbag and headed toward the stairs to the street-level main office below. Linda was right; she had to let go of this job once in awhile.

It was a great job, really, for somebody who didnít mind a working week of sixty hours and who had no one waiting at home except two loyal cats ... in other words, one who had no life to speak of. She scanned the countryside as she headed out of town and was overwhelmed by its beauty. Taking a deep breath, she considered the good things she had experienced over the past sixteen months: open countryside and fresh air instead of a dusty concrete sidewalk; a roomy, rented farmhouse as opposed to a three-room flat above a small store on a busy downtown street; ... and constant activity.

Nothing about this landscape was languid; nearing the end of August, the fields of southwestern Ontario farm country looked spectacular. Large, colorful combines gobbled the bright yellow grain from the fields. Acres of soybeans were dabbed with gold. Corn was tall and straight, dark green stalks reaching for the warm, late summer sky. All around her, farm work had reached a fever pitch with harvest in full swing.

At the Sun office, Gloria also had her hands full. Fall fair committees were sending in their announcements. School enrolment had begun. She had several major features on the go, and summer soccer, softball, lacrosse, and other sports were in a frenzy of tournament play, chiefly the department of her one and only full-time staff writer, Rob Dixon. Soon her morning mail would be flooded with scratchy, barely-legible entries from church groups and womenís organizations that traditionally took the summer off, and her part-time community correspondence editor, Norma Simmons, would be using all her talents to decipher their scribbles.

And there was other work. This summer she had a good-sized vegetable garden in the backyard of her old farmhouse. Carrots and beets were bursting out of the ground. Tomatoes were ripening fast, and a dozen mason jars were beckoning from her kitchen counter, telling her to get cracking and get canning.

Last week Gloria had written a feature on the St. Peterís Community Church Canning Circle, a group of women who got together at the appropriate times of year to share recipes, conduct workshops in the age-old tradition of preserving food, and sample the fruits, and vegetables, of their labors. She had brought home jars of pickles, some peach preserves, and plum jam from the afternoon that she had spent with the circle and already had sampled a few this week. Two had tasted -- well, not to her liking. But, one womanís poison is anotherís gourmet gherkins, she presumed. She hoped they werenít having an adverse effect on her digestion; a new recipe column would be featured in the Sun next month as each member of the circle submitted her entries on a rotating basis, and she wasnít in the mood to cancel anything that would help to fill those big September-to-December issues.

She pulled up in front of the rural office of Dr. Thomas Logan, and shut off the engine of her old, once-reliable Mazda, praying that it would start up again. Twice this month it had stalled out, leaving her to call a tow truck. Tony Lambert, her absent husband, hated her old car, offering to leave his brand new Buick for her to use when he went away. She preferred her own, since it was much easier on gas, and she wasnít afraid to drive it into the worst rutted barnyard to take pictures of whatever the news dictated that week, from a two-headed piglet to a root vegetable that resembled -- well, sometimes it appeared they resembled things to their growers that Gloria didnít quite see, but it was becoming an interesting game to look for E.T. and Jabba the Hutt in a pile of fresh parsnips at the Saturday farmerís market. Anyway, it was far handier for Tony to have his car downtown so he could pick it up easily, whenever he took a break from -- wherever he happened to be.

At the moment, it was New York City, where the Upper St. Lawrence Symphony had sent him on an exchange program to perform with an American chamber ensemble and conduct workshops in chamber music as a training tool for young musicians.

Sixteen months ... That was how long heíd been on tour, and how long sheíd been living here and running the paper in Plattsford, far from their busy life in Toronto. There were times when she wondered just what was the point of it all ... like now, sitting in the waiting room of a first-come, first-served physician, staring at old, parchment-colored wallpaper, last of three afternoon patients. It was as though she and Tony had held a wedding, but put off the marriage to a more convenient time. She felt, and acted, like a self-supporting single woman of thirty-two, except that she didnít date, even when the opportunity arose, which occasionally it did. She wore a wedding band accompanied by a diamond the size and cut of which left no doubt as to the giverís intentions. And she waited by the telephone every night when she was home, which wasnít that often, considering her busy work schedule.

Lately, her telephone hadnít been ringing as much as it used to. Had his matrimonial enthusiasm finally waned, with time and distance? Hers hadnít; or at least, not yet. The page of the magazine tore in her fierce grip, and she muttered an oath.

"Gloria Trevisi, please donít mangle the reading material."

With an apology on her lips she looked up into the beaming face of Thomas Logan, M.D. Somewhat elderly -- in his early seventies -- and somewhat tall, Dr. Logan still held onto a slight Scottish accent that betrayed his British origins. "Itís nice to see you again, Doctor." It was, indeed. Last winter, he had saved her life. Perhaps today, heíd save her week, she mused as she discarded the magazine and followed him into his office.

"How have you been?" he asked, closing the door and turning to her. "Iíve not seen you for months."

"Iíve been fine, doctor. My arm has healed up nicely, but --"

"And how is that wandering troubadour husband of yours?" His eyes held a warm glow.

Gloria hesitated. "Still wandering, I guess. He manages to find his way home, now and then." She changed the subject. "Look, maybe Iím stressed, but it seems that whenever I have a decent meal these days I ... I lose it. Maybe itís a stomach bug."

He looked her over, his brow furrowed slightly, and she shifted uneasily. When he met her eyes once more, his face was a careful blank. "Well, you havenít been my patient for very long. When was your last physical?"

"A while. Well, years." She cringed under his penetrating stare. "I hate this!"


***

The doctorís examination was reasonably thorough, the diagnosis brief.

"Pregnant?" Gloria stared up at him, heart pounding and breath slightly short. "Are you sure?"

"Oh, yes, Iím sure," the doctor replied with a smile. "Iíd guess your husband managed to find his way home about eight or nine weeks ago. Wasnít that your last cycle?"

She heaved a short sigh. "Yeah. But Iíve missed them before, plenty of times, in fact," she replied, biting her lip. "I should have known. After all, we havenít exactly ... well, havenít tried not to." She took another deep breath. "I assure you this isnít bad news. Itís good news to me, just really surprising news."

"Good." His smile lit up his eyes. "Iím glad youíre not upset."

The ringing of his telephone, an emergency call from Plattsford Memorial Hospital, postponed any comforting, reassuring words the doctor may have had. Normally Gloria would have asked, with a news reporterís curiosity, what the emergency was. This time, her mind was too numb to pose the question. Apologizing, he escorted her from the office, promising to order lab tests to ease her mind of any anxiety. "Results will have to wait, however," he warned. "Iím leaving tomorrow for two weeksí vacation."

Five minutes later she was still sitting in her car, staring at the pattern of bug smears on the windshield.

Eight weeks? Seven weeks, four days, to be exact. Had it been that long since she had last seen him? It had been memorable, not just because heíd walked through the door one night and surprised her, and not because they hadnít managed to hold their passion in check until they made it upstairs. That had happened before. But the New York posting had come out of the blue, and she had been upset about it. Okay, she admitted, screaming mad was a better description. Why had he accepted a job so far away when the orchestra was about to bring him home to Ontario? The longer he spent away from her, the more he seemed a stranger to her when he returned.

Why? As singles, they had worked hectic schedules and never let it bother them. They had met at a gala dinner at Fort York Armoury in Toronto, more than three years ago. She was working in marketing and communications at a large insurance corporation; his performing career was still a promising dream. Sixteen months ago they had married, just days after he landed a contract for a cross-Canada tour as first violin of a chamber music ensemble sponsored by a prestigious symphony orchestra. His sudden success had coincided with the unexpected loss of her own dream job in a drastic corporate downsizing. Heíd left on tour, and sheíd grabbed the first job she could find, here, and settled down to wait.

Somehow, when one was married, one expected more, not less. He was her husband, after all.

Three days after his departure for New York, he left a message on her old answering machine at home, giving her the address of the apartment he had sublet from another touring musician, and a telephone number. She fought back tears, regrets, and desperate loneliness and sent him a letter, voicing her feelings in a way that she hoped he would take to heart. Sheíd waited until patience ran out, then finally managed, after several attempts, to reach him by telephone, hoping for one, just one, cozy, late-night chat.

"What is going on there?" she asked, noting the sound of loud voices in the background.

"Not much. Just some people here for a late dinner."

Dinner? With friends, in his apartment? Late at night? "Nice," she snipped. "We havenít had dinner together with friends in a long time." Immediately she regretted her response.

"I guess youíre right." His voice was flat, their conversation casual and distant. She had hung up feeling lonelier than ever. Why, after all, shouldnít he have some fun and companionship when he was far from home? So much for making up.

After that, calls ceased. And he hadnít acknowledged, let alone answered, her letter. Could she blame him? Was this twist in his fast-developing musical career truly taking up all his spare time and energy? Or did he not care? Was he leaving her behind? She glanced in the car mirror and realized suddenly that her eyes were filled with tears.

Never mind; today was payday and food-shopping day, and even if she had no appetite, her two cats did. Starting the engine, she pulled out of the doctorís driveway and down the concession road toward the county highway.

She hadnít gone far before an ambulance passed her, followed by a second, both heading for Plattsford. Curious, she followed along, a simple detour down a side street at the outskirts of town. Both pulled up at the rear emergency door to Plattsford Memorial, and both unloaded two patients apiece. She listened to her police band scanner, puzzled: no traffic accidents, as far as she could decipher. No fires or other disasters showed up with a flurry of broadcasts. A third ambulance swung in behind the other two, and her curiosity deepened. It looked as if Dr. Logan would be busy this afternoon, on the last on-call day before his holidays.


***

"Gloria, over here by the bananas!" Linda Grant interrupted Gloriaís reverie as she scanned the yams for familiar faces. "I have some news to cheer you right up." She grinned gleefully. "We have a new general manager at the paper, starting tomorrow."

"A new manager?" She groaned. "How many general managers have gone through the swinging doors of the Sun office since I started? Five? Maybe six?" The newspaper was owned by a mid-sized multi-media corporation, Heartland Communications. Apart from distributing the paychecks, which was important enough to the half-dozen people who worked at the Sun, and sending a stream of trainees to try out their wings, the corporation tended to ignore it.

"Did you see your doctor?" Linda asked. "Come over for supper, Glo, and weíll barbecue some of Jeffís last Four-H project. Sound good?"

Gloria wished it did. She wondered how Lindaís sixteen-year-old son Jeff, or the project, felt about the prospect. "I have a meeting to cover tonight, Linda, but thanks for thinking of me."

"You look tired," Linda observed, pushing her cart toward the fresh peppers.

"I am tired. All the more reason to make it an early night, if the hospitalís Board of Governors will let me, and make a good impression on this new guy in the morning."

"Good impression, you say? Why not your usual impression? March into his office and tell him not to interfere with the news, on pain of death." Linda waved goodbye and pushed on to the mushrooms.

Gloria turned away. A new boss? She had more important things to consider.