Did you miss Chapter one?
From Motherhood is Murder
Chapter One Continued…
Evelyn squeezed my elbow and flitted off to gather her husband.
Jim pulled my chair out for me.
“Coast Guard? What’s going on?” I asked.
Jim’s lips formed a line. “I was at the bar getting a Bud, when the
“Sara, Miss No-Nonsense?”
“No. The other one, the one with the . . . with the . . .” Jim waved
his hands around. “Fluffy dress.”
I nodded. “Margaret.”
Margaret was wearing a ballet tutu. I wish I could say it looked as
ridiculous as it sounded, but the truth was it looked fabulous.
Margaret was supertall, pencil thin, and had shapely legs. She looked
as if she could have stepped out of a children’s book—a cartoon char‐
acter with spindly spider legs and a ruffle at her waist. But the gold
top and shoes added something indescribable to the outfit. Making
the cartoon Olive Oyl look glamorous and runway-ish.
“Yeah, Margaret,” Jim continued. “She ran up to us, looking a little
dazed, and said Helene fell down the back staircase. Said she was
“Unconscious?” I felt a shiver run down my spine.
Jim pulled out my dining chair. “The captain asked if there was a
doctor on board.”
I sat down and let him push my chair in.
We were the only ones at our table. Earlier, we had dined with all
the parents from my new mothers’ group: Sara, Helene, Margaret,
Evelyn, and their husbands.
We had christened them: Sara was Miss No-Nonsense, Helene was
Lean and Mean, Margaret was Tutu, and Evelyn was Preggers. We
referred to the husbands as Cardboard Cutout Numbers 1 through 4.
Now, it felt almost irreverent to have given everyone a nickname.
“Where is everybody?” asked Jim.
I shrugged. “Helene, we know about, so her husband is probably
with her, right? Wasn’t Margaret’s husband—”
“Yeah, Alan, isn’t he a doctor?”
Jim frowned. “A podiatrist.”
“Okay. Well, med school and all. Maybe she twisted her ankle. Did
you see the heels she was wearing?”
Jim tried to hide his smirk by sipping his beer.
I pushed his shoulder. “What’s so funny?”
“You. We just heard that Helene may be unconscious and you’re
worrying about her shoes!”
“I’m not worried about her shoes! I’m wondering what happened
to her and where everybody is. I mean, the woman practically kills
herself wearing some ungodly high heels, just to please some man,
who probably laughed at her—”
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Margaret descended the main staircase and closed the distance on
our table. I cut myself off despite Jim’s snickers into his beer. She
raised her hand in acknowledgment and sat down grim-faced.
“Where’s Alan?” I asked.
“With Helene,” she answered.
I shot Jim a smug look, which he ignored.
“How is she?” Jim asked.
Margaret’s eyes clouded over and she shrugged helplessly. “I don’t
We sat in awkward silence. I perused the other three tables in the
dining room. The parties at each table were as somber as we were.
The four-hour dinner cruise on the San Francisco Bay had now been
delayed indefinitely and nobody looked pleased about it.
Margaret fiddled with a cocktail glass that lingered beside her
half-eaten dessert. She lifted the glass and examined the contents.
Only two melting ice cubes remained. She stirred them with her
straw, hoping, I suppose, to release any vodka that might be clinging
to them. After a moment of disappointing results, she returned the
glass to the table. Her eyes flicked toward the bar.
“Can I get you anything?” Jim asked.
Margaret flushed. “No. God, no. Thank you.” She picked up her
discarded navy cloth napkin and wrung it.
From the main staircase Sara and her husband approached. Behind
them Evelyn and her husband were struggling to keep up. Evelyn had
one hand on her pregnant belly and the other on her husband’s shoul‐
der. They took their places at our table in silence. The men smelled of
cigar smoke and looked relaxed. In contrast, both women had pinched
Now, there were only three vacant spots at our table. Helene’s, her
husband’s, and Alan’s. My eyes fell on Helene’s empty spot. Sara gave
me a tight smile, then put her hand on Margaret’s to stop her
“Everything will be fine, you’ll see,” Sara said to Margaret.
Margaret lowered her eyes and nodded.
Suddenly we felt a bump and the ship jostled back and forth.
Everyone in the dining room turned toward the sound. Through the
starboard window we could see the U.S. Coast Guard vessel had
arrived. Crew members were roping the smaller craft to our ship.
The Coast Guard quickly boarded our ship and disappeared out of
sight with the crew members.
Margaret cleared her throat and eyed Evelyn. “Does anyone know
what happened? I mean, did she just slip or what?”
I had noticed that the woman hadn’t been very chatty with Evelyn
throughout the dinner and now wondered what the look Margaret
had flashed her might mean.
Evelyn shrugged and returned Margaret’s look evenly. “How
would I know? Ask Sara.”
Sara pressed her shoulders back and sat a little taller.
“She was really out of it,” Evelyn continued, rubbing her extended
belly. “How much did she have to drink anyway?”
“I didn’t think she had that much, did she?” Margaret asked.
Helene’s empty place seemed to dominate the table. Her dessert
plate still held the untouched apple turnover. The ice cream had
melted and run over the edge of the plate onto the navy and white
place mat. Next to the plate, two drained cocktail glasses loomed, and
in the tall wineglass only the stain of red wine remained.
A strange hush settled on our table.
Howard, Sara’s husband, slouched into his chair and casually slung
his arm around the back of Sara’s. “Looks like we’re going to be here
Everyone at the table looked at Howard, and then followed his
eyes to the starboard window. The night and bay were dark except for
a troubling light that was converging upon us.
“Oh good!” Margaret exclaimed. “That must be the hospital boat
The craft nudged itself alongside us. Silence descended on the
entire dining room as letters on the boat came into view: “SFPD.”
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