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The Five Wives Book Club
About the Author: Victor Kreuiter's stories appear in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Halfway Down The Stairs, Bewildering Stories, Tough, Frontier Tales, Del Sol SFF Review, Literally Stories, and other online and print publications. His story, “Miller and Bell,” originally published in the August, 2022, issue of Mystery, was selected to appear in The Mysterious Bookshop Presents the Best Mystery Stories of 2023.

It was only after her husband’s funeral that Marcie Beck’s drinking problem was revealed, and Marcie did the revealing. Family and friends rallied around her, she started attending AA meetings, she had some lengthy conversations with Pastor Hammond at Escher’s non-denominational, and then she was gone for thirty days, visiting a “distant relative.” Thirty-one days later she returned to Escher, quietly resumed her life and actually blossomed. She was fifty-three years old, attractive, and financially well-off. (Beck Farm was very large, very productive, and very profitable.) After her husband’s funeral, after the visit with that “relative,” Marcie Beck seemed more outgoing, more cheerful and, interestingly enough, a bit more down-to-earth. A long-time member of the Five Wives Book Club, it would still take several years after her husband’s death before Marcie would be able to say to herself … I think I’m in the clear.

Marcie had been the first from the club to implement the plan.

She’d lived her entire life in Escher, population 2,400. Escher was one of those sensible midwestern farm towns that neither withers nor flourishes, somehow managing to perpetuate itself as if suspended in time, avoiding the calamity and mayhem of the wider world and managing to retain its idyllic—some might say dated—nature. Daytime or nighttime, viewed from the bluffs of the Illinois River, Escher appeared quaint and tranquil. Agriculture provided the livelihood for most, and most residents enjoyed sufficient prosperity. Descendants of Scandinavians, Germans and the French, Escherians kept their town, their homes and their lives meticulously scrubbed and methodically maintained. To get to larger cities it was an hour’s drive or more, depending on weather. For its inhabitants, Escher was a comfortable, embracing refuge.

That’s not to say that Escher didn’t have its secrets. What small town, city, or metropolis, doesn’t? Secrets are non-discriminatory. They reside where required.

Six years after Phillip Beck suffered his fatal heart attack, Ronald Schmitt, president of the Escher Country Club and midwestern manager for a large multi-national agricultural firm, suffered the same. His wife, Elizabeth, was also a member of the Five Wives Book Club. She’d grown close to Marcie Beck after Marcie became a widow, and after Elizabeth’s husband passed the two grew even closer. They played tennis on Mondays at the Escher Country Club, and golf on Wednesdays. They bummed around together, did weekend jaunts to big cities, played cards with shut-ins, and tended to flowers around the library with the Escher Garden Club. They were on the entertainment committee at the country club, volunteered at Escher Elementary for whatever project needed volunteers, and shared similar tastes in movies, music, and books, and, of course, they shared a secret.

Secrets reside where required.

Just over a year after Ronald Schmitt’s unfortunate demise, widows Elizabeth Schmitt and Marcie Beck, and Grace Aaker (whose husband was, at the time, still breathing) were dawdling over mid-afternoon desserts at the country club when Grace leaned forward, placed her fork on an empty plate and stared at her two friends. Her expression was stern.

“I imagine,” she said, “you two are satisfied you’ve managed to keep things under wraps. Am I right about that?”

It was a barbed comment, something not normally heard on the patio of the Escher Country Club, but Grace Aaker was a bit more high-strung than most. She’d been growing envious over the past year, watching Marcie and Elizabeth reap the benefits of widowhood. As a member of Five Wives, she had actually been involved in the plans that shaped getting to that lifestyle—widowhood—and she, too, wanted to be there. In short, she was peeved, anxious, and impatient, and her book club friends knew it. “Look close,” she said to Marcie and Elizabeth. “Do I look like I’m getting younger?”

Grace was fifty-five, four years younger than Marcie, two years younger than Elizabeth Schmitt. She had a daughter living in Colorado and a son living in Arizona. Her husband was a major stockholder in The First National Bank of Escher and owned a successful farm implement business that serviced the entire region.

Trouble was, he was healthy.

“Look,” Marcie said, “we decided all this years ago. We stick to the plan. We’ve all been raised to err on the side of caution, haven’t we?”

This story appears in our MAR 2024 Issue
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