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From Motherhood is Murder
I waved my cell phone around, counting bars as I moved
from window to window. I had five bars showing until I
hit the first number on the keypad, then three bars disappeared.
Most of the passengers were now lingering in the lounge area. The
captain had announced that we would be further delayed and compli‐
mentary hot beverages would be served.
Jim was in line getting me a hot coffee, while I frantically tried to
reach my mother, who was babysitting for us.
I moved away from the windows, still focused on the phone, and
slammed directly into Nick Dowling, the San Francisco Medical
“Mrs. Connolly! What a coincidence.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat. If Nick was here, it couldn’t be
good news for Helene.
“Mr. Dowling. Don’t tell me Helene is . . .”
Nick brushed his bangs off his forehead. “Well, I’m not supposed
to tell you anything. You know that, Kate.”
After giving birth to Laurie just a few short weeks ago, I’d been
dragged into a murder investigation. Well, maybe “dragged” wasn’t
the right word. I had launched a fledgling private investigation busi‐
ness. Maybe “launched” wasn’t the right word either. I had solved a
missing person’s case, and two murders.
Yes, I had solved it.
I’d also met the medical examiner.
The ME is called to a scene only when a death has occurred.
I closed my eyes and bowed my head. I felt Nick’s hand on my
“I’m sorry, Kate. Were you close?”
I shook my head. “No, I only met her briefly. She and another
mom invited me to join their mommy group. Tonight I met the whole
He sighed. Something buzzed from inside his jacket pocket.
“Sorry, I have to get that.” He fished out his cell phone and hurried
toward the exit.
Nick had reception, why didn’t I?
I tried to focus on my phone but there was a tightening in my
chest, my eyes teared.
Poor Helene. Dead? What could have happened?
How could a fall down some steps have killed her? Had she broken
her neck? Head trauma or what?
One minute she was alive and well, eating dinner with us, then
suddenly she was gone.
How many children did she have? They needed their mommy.
I swallowed the lump forming in my throat.
What was behind all the looks exchanged at my table? There
seemed to be some animosity between the women.
Could Helene have been murdered?
Maybe someone pushed her down the stairs.
No, that didn’t make any sense.
Certainly if anyone was trying to kill her, they wouldn’t have done
it on a crowded dinner cruise, much less by pushing her down a stair‐
well. That would have been stupid.
Push her overboard, maybe, but not down some steps.
It had to have been an accident. Or perhaps she’d died of natural
causes. But she looked so healthy!
Maybe an aneurysm—those could strike suddenly and take some‐
one’s life even if they were young and seemingly healthy.
The medical examiner would figure it out.
Could I help in any way? Maybe there’d be a need for a PI?
Right. What was I thinking? I had no license. No way to land a case
on my own. The only way I could fathom landing a case would be to
enroll help from Senior PI Albert Galigani.
Galigani had been instrumental on my first case. Maybe he would
let me use his license, or work for him. I’d do whatever it took to
make myself legit.
I pushed the thought aside. Legitimacy didn’t matter. Helping
Helene did. Although I hardly knew her, my heart grieved.
I recalled meeting her last week. I was at Angles de la Terre, the
ultrachic baby store in downtown San Francisco. It was pricey, but
they carried high-end products and had a great selection of items
such as cradle cap cream, which I hadn’t been able to find at Target.
Never mind the fact that there is no Target or Walmart in San Fran‐
cisco. So after being forced to shop in a neighboring town and
striking out, I made the trip downtown.
I was rewarded by the smell of chocolate wafting in from next
door to Angles de la Terre. A tiny chocolatier selling only superb
candy had been at the same location for ninety years. I stopped in and
conducted a quality check. After all, old-time traditions need to be
maintained. And who better to taste the chocolate than a San Fran‐
Wasn’t there something about chocolate that had medicinal properties
As I roamed the aisles of Angles de la Terre, I licked what
remained of the truffle off my fingers. Indeed the quality was still
I pushed Laurie’s stroller down the organic cotton diapers aisle,
which was flanked by signs noting MADE BY FAIR TRADE
WORKERS, and felt my shoulders relax to the new age music. The
next aisle held the remedies I was looking for, including cradle cap
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I grabbed the bottle and examined the ingredients—all natural, of
And ooh—aroma-therapeutic properties.
A woman, tall and slender with impeccable posture, rounded the
corner of my aisle.
She stopped short of Laurie’s stroller and gazed down at her.
Laurie was decked out in a frilly little pink dress with matching pink
booties and hat.
“She’s beautiful,” the woman said.
I smiled. “Thank you.”
She scrutinized me. “Your first?”
I laughed. “That obvious, huh?”
“All new moms have that same look about them.”
It was her turn to laugh. “No. Sort of shocked, kinda giddy, and
yet . . .”
The woman chuckled and stuck out her hand. “I’m Margaret Lipe.”
I juggled the bottle of cream to my left hand and shook hers.
“Magic Moments!” she said. “That’s the best product line ever. You
only need a little bit and it works like a charm. Have you tried their
infant massage oil?” She reached over and picked up a bottle. “It’s got
lavender and I don’t know what else in it.” She flipped it over to
examine the label. “Well, whatever it is, it just makes your little one
“Who wouldn’t want that?”
Margaret raised her eyebrows in a knowing response and handed
me the bottle. “A few drops and you’re set.”
“I haven’t heard about Magic Moments.”
She looked at me like I was from Mars. “Are you local?”
“Don’t you belong to a mommy group?” she asked.
“No. Who has the time?”
“You have to make the time. It’s important not to lose yourself in
the mothering process.”
“Yeah. It’s easy to get caught up in diapers, milk, and not much
else.” I shook the bottles in my hand. “Except maybe for cradle cap
“Well, mommy groups are really good for recommendations and
keeping up with the latest scoop on everything! I run one and I’m
always on the lookout for what works, what saves time, who’s the best
nanny, that sort of thing. And it’s great to have the support. When I
had my second baby, the other moms in the group took turns
bringing me homemade dinners. Are you a stay-at-home?”
“Oh, a stay-at-home mom? Yes, I mean, I guess so . . . well, I work,
too . . . sort of.”
She nodded knowingly. “You haven’t decided. Are you still on
“Uh. No . . . I . . . um . . .”
Why was I stuttering like a ninny?
I knew what I was doing. I had quit my job and I was staying at
home with Laurie. The fact that I was trying to start my own business
didn’t change my status. Did it? Was I considered a working mom? Or
was I a stay-at-home mom?
“I’m at home but I also work,” I blurted. I reached into my diaper
bag and proudly presented her with a homemade PI business card I
Margaret looked at the card curiously. “Ooooh. A private inves‐
My natural inclination was to shy away from the attention, but I
recalled my best friend, Paula, scolding me. “If you want to launch a
business, the first thing you have to do is tell everybody!”
I simply nodded at Margaret and stood there flatfooted.
Another woman appeared at the head of the aisle. “There you are!”
“Oh, sorry. I was chatting,” Margaret said. “This is Helene. We
cofounded our mommy group, Roo & You.”
Helene, lean and mean, was sporting designer blue jeans and char‐
treuse high heels. Her tan wool jacket was open slightly, revealing a
blouse in the exact same shade as her shoes. She reached out and
shook my hand. Hanging from her arm was the matching chartreuse
“Is Margaret recruiting you?” Helene leaned over the stroller.
“She’s darling. Pretty in pink and matchy-matchy. Just like me. I
“Next week our group is going on a dinner cruise,” Margaret said.
“Why don’t you join us?”
“A dinner cruise?” I asked.
“We usually meet at my place on Thursday afternoons for a play‐
date, but since you’re working, you might not be able to make after‐
So there it was. I was working. I wasn’t a stay-at-home.
Something inside me deflated. I wanted to be a stay-at-home
mommy. Why couldn’t I be? After all, I wasn’t really working. I didn’t
have a current client. I was free on Thursday afternoons. I could make
a playdate, whatever that was.
“Helene caught a cruising bug,” Margaret continued. “She scored
us tickets for a cruise around the bay. We’re all bringing our
“One thing that happens to new moms is that you practically
forget about the dads. They need attention, too.” Helene rummaged
around her handbag and pulled out a package of Nicorette gum.
“Margaret wanted to include our guys. So, Roo & You hired a couple
of babysitters to watch the wee ones.” She unwrapped a piece of gum
and popped it into her mouth. “And we’re going sailing!”
A bay dinner cruise.
An evening with Jim and no baby? No nursing, no diapers, no bath
time, no crying?
Hmmm. A cruise did sound a little more enticing than a playdate.
What would I wear?
Margaret dug a card out of her purse and handed it to me. It read
Roo & You—President and had a little graphic of a kangaroo with a
baby in its pouch. “You should come along and check out our group,”
“It sounds like fun,” I replied.
Helene poked Margaret. “We need to go. Marcus is probably
hungry by now.”
Margaret smiled at me. “He’s six months old and I’m vetting a new
nanny. Unfortunately, someone stole the one I used with my two year-old.”
A nanny. Must be nice.
Helene chomped on the gum. “This stuff doesn’t work. I still want
“You should try those patches.” Margaret said, linking her arm
through Helene’s. She turned to me. “Call or e-mail me. I’ll save you
two tickets for the cruise.”
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