May 14 Monday evening
This evening Billie and I sat on her slip of a porch drinking iced white wine and teasing her new black kitten with slips of paper on which were scrawled old recipes. Perhaps they retained the scent of butter and vanilla. Instead of dangling these over little Ink’s head, we were supposed to be sorting and culling for the cookbook project. I’d collected my own and hers.
“We’re going to need twice as many recipes as we can actually use,” said Billie, thumbing through a dog-eared copy of Ramblin’ Chefs from Georgia Tech. “If everyone sends in just their favorite recipe, we’ll wind up with desserts, casseroles and a five-bean salad.”
“I think we’re going to have to use everyone we get,” I said. “If we get too particular, we won’t sell as many.” And the project will spiral out of control. “Once we see what we can gather, we can go back to the best contributors and ask them to fill in. Or we can pull from these.”
“No, we can’t, these aren’t from the University.”
“Mmmnn. I bet Phoebe, Veronica and Mrs. Moth have cookbooks like these. It might be cool to pull from some of theirs,maybe update stuff, do some microwave and low-fat conversions…what do you think?”
“That’s fine. Plus, we can ask contributors for favorites from their own association cookbooks…”
“Sorority cookbooks…” I interrupted.
“Right and the alumni association. And the recipes tucked into cookbooks.”
“Veronica has a good collection,” I said.
“I never thought of her as a cook.”
I am an idiot! How am I supposed to know Veronica has a lot of cookbooks! I just remembered them because they were wedged on her bookshelf next to the Gone With the Wind first edition.
“Uh, well, she was a gardener once, she must have done some cooking as well.”
I sat back and waited for Billie to ask me how I knew about Veronica’s personal library. Was it silly to feel so guilty about my activities with Professor Sargeant? Would Billie think that I would break into her apartment as easily? I would not.
The cat Allan had christened Ink curled up on Billie’s lap and slept. I let the wine ease into my fraught mind. A few minutes of silences always seems longer when both sit back and let the heat and the green intrude, as one must in a garden or a hot climate. There’s no point in having a garden, in living under old trees, if you don’t let them distract you now and then with their whishing and their forecasts.
“Does John still think Veronica killed Astible?” asked Billie.
It took me a second to remember Professor Sargeant’s first name was John.
“How did you know that?”
“I was at the vet’s when he came by for the report.”
“You were just there?”
“Right. Friday, when I brought Ink in for her shots.”
“But, Astible died weeks ago. He got news then that said the death was from the brownies. From the chocolate.”
“The chocolate probably did kill her, but John found out two days ago that the brownies Astible ate were laced with digitalis.”
“Witch’s bells. Someone mixed up a batch of brownies with foxglove leaves and brought it to the game,” said Billie, looking grim. “I thought you knew. I thought you were helping him figure out if it was Veronica.”
“I thought I was helping him. But he seemed to take it for granted it was Veronica. She did bring those brownies,” I said, wondering if I should mention that Prof. S. had not told me about the foxglove. Digitalis, or foxglove, is a heart stimulant. It can keep you alive, or it can kill you.
“My father takes digitalis,” I said. “He started it in his sixties. When I was in high school I almost took some just for the hell of it.”
“You must have been a happy teen,” she said with the quiet sympathy I was beginning to find unnerving.
“Not particularly. I was just short of stupid; I know that. Something made me look it up in the dictionary.” The old blue Webster that lived on the floor of the hall closet. Our library.
“So you know what it can do.”
“I learned enough not to mess with it.”
“Actually, a lot of people drink foxglove tea with no bad effect,” said Billie. “But I think it’s very dangerous.”
This explained a good bit of the professor’s behavior in Veronica’s apartment. While I was supposed to be keeping an eye out the window (but was in fact trolling her books for first editions, he opened and closed every cabinet, rummaged through her spice rack, twisting jars and bottles of seasonings, offering me a sniff at a decorative jar labeled “Herbs de Province” that I could assure him was probably a souvenir of France.
In Veronica’s freezer---a fairly small space in need of defrosting---we found a stack of aluminum wrapped pans with no labels.
“They looked like leftovers,” I told Billie. “Or extras from the senior center or church.” Veronica often returned home clutching a bag or a styrofoam container.
“Did you leave it there or take it with you?”
“We were afraid to spend too much time so John took one packet and left the rest behind. He’s bringing it somewhere for analysis. Maybe back to the vet?”
Billie sighed and stood, stretching her arms, which held the kitten, high overhead. She tucked it under her arm. “Time for his pill,” she said and left me staring into space.