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About the Author: David Bart’s latest stories are with Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Mystery Tribune, print edition.

The girls had gathered at Lara’s sprawling faux-adobe home on Arrowhead Lane; ostensibly for bridge, but they rarely got around to playing card games. What they got around to was drinking. And evaluating men.

It was Monica who brought up Jason Hauptman and Bill Irwin, both widowers and therefore fair game for the group, which was made up entirely of divorcées or widows. And both men were in their early sixties, not that old, so all systems were go, particularly factoring in modern pharmaceuticals. Good looking men, if somewhat long in the tooth; but at least they had teeth. Implants were acceptable, but removeable false teeth were frowned on; and ultra-whitening of even real teeth was just wrong.

“I love all that silver hair on Jason,” Monica said, trying for casual, though in the catty view of the other girls she was practically swooning. “Broad shoulders too,” she added, playfully making her fingers into claws, hissing like a cat.

“Yeah, and even broader than your butt,” Elise said, causing the entire bunch of women to erupt in wild whoops and cackles, a couple sloshing wine onto the Berber carpet.

Red wine, for Christ’s sake, thought Lara. And then the giddy idiots started laughing hysterically at that also. She jumped up, stormed toward the kitchen to get some club soda. Maybe toss back a couple of shots of tequila while she was there.

“Bill’s hair isn’t as striking as Jason’s, but those blue eyes …” Mary Ann said, giggling in the same way her daughter used to do when she’d been a promiscuous teenager. Course, that was three kids, two husbands and two divorces ago; now her daughter was a Facebook influencer. The other women agreed they had no idea what that was, but it sounded naughty; possibly involved a video camera and negligees.

Lara finished cleaning the stains, felt compelled to lower things to a respectable level; she’d use what had just happened in their mountain community to get these gals to settle down. “Are we ignoring the fact that one of us was just murdered?” she asked, not even trying to avoid an accusatory tone.

Tonya started to laugh at what she thought was a joke, but then reality managed to penetrate the fog of alcohol and self-involvement—because it was true, there’d been a murder.

Like flipping a switch—smiles collapsed under the weight of sudden sobriety, a couple “girls” blinking at tears and Monica, still mightily pissed at Elise’s hurtful anatomical comparison, said, “You are so right, Lara. This is no time for lame humor.” And glared at Elise.

The “one of us” Lara had referred to was Doris Mohr. She’d lived at the end of Crestview Drive, on primo acreage further up the sloping foothills of the Los Padre Mountains. Her husband had died two years ago while refurbishing a Fifty-One Chevy truck, the small-by-today’s-standards vehicle slipping off the raised jack, smashing Perry Mohr underneath as he was singing the last stanza of the Marine Corp hymn. Perry had never been in any of the armed services, but he liked the macho song. His father had finagled a deferment for him. Which was, in the old man’s view, the right of every rich man.

Perry’s widow, Doris, was recently found on a hiking trail. Strangled. Her Old English Sheepdog lay nearby looking depressed. The county sheriff’s department had no leads. Landscape workers labored sunup to sundown in their community, so the consensus was it was obviously one of them; bigotry was a shared ideology in Mountainview Village. Like privilege and entitlement.

Jason Hauptman and Bill Irwin got together for dinner at least twice a week. On the in-between days Jason hiked the trails of their community and Bill brutally punished the fairways of the private golf course, hacking into the lush, gray-watered turf with his expensive clubs. The greenskeeper referred to Bill as The Duffer. And had told coworkers that if there was a remake of Caddyshack, Irwin should be cast in Ted Knight’s part as the irascible judge.

Tonight was Tuesday, so it was Bill’s turn to cook. Swordfish steaks, red pepper, asparagus, and potato slabs on the grill. Accompanied by repeated pourings from a large pitcher of margaritas he’d blended to perfection earlier.

“I’m just saying,” Jason slurred, “that without proof I can’t accept that some gaseous vertebrate manufactured the universe.”

“You’re a heathen,” said Bill.

Jason, too hungry to argue said, “You got any soy sauce for the fish, chopped scallions?”

This story appears in our JUN 2024 Issue
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