Work that afternoon more or less drifted by. I was on the checkout/check-in desk for three hours, making idle conversation with the patrons. I knew most of them by name, and had known them all my life. I could have made their day by telling each and every one of them, including my fellow librarians, about my good fortune, but somehow it seemed immodest. And it wasn't like my mother had died, which would have been an understandable transfer of fortune. Jane's legacy, which was beginning to make me (almost) more anxious than glad, was so inexplicable that it embarrassed me to talk about it. Everyone would find out about it sooner or later...mentioning it now would be much more understandable than keeping silent. The other librarians were talking about Jane anyway; she had substituted here after her retirement from the school system and had been a great reader for years. I'd seen several of my co-workers at the funeral. But I couldn't think of any casual way to drop Jane's legacy into the conversation. I could already picture the eyebrows flying up, the looks that would pass when my back was turned. In ways not yet realized, Jane had made my life much easier. In ways I was just beginning to perceive, Jane had made my life extremely complicated. I decided, in the end, just to keep my mouth shut and take what the local gossip mill had to dish out. Lillian Schmidt almost shook my resolution when she observed that she'd seen Bubba Sewell, the lawyer, call to me at the cemetery. "What did he want?" Lillian asked directly, as she pulled the front of her blouse together to make the gap between the buttons temporarily disappear. I just smiled.


"Oh! Well, he is single -  now - but you know Bubba's been married twice," she told me with relish. The buttons were already straining again. "Who to?" I asked ungrammatically, to steer her off my own conversation with the lawyer.

"First to Carey Osland. I don't know if you know her, she lives right by Jane... you remember what happened to Carey later on, her second husband? Mike Osland? Went out for diapers one night right after Carey'd had that little girl, and never came back? Carey had them search everywhere for that man, she just could not believe he would walk out on her like that, but he must have." "But before Mike Osland, Carey was married to Bubba Sewell?" "Oh, right. Yes, for a little while, no children. Then after a year, Bubba married some girl from Atlanta, her daddy was some big lawyer, everyone thought it would be a good thing for his career." Lillian did not bother to remember the name since the girl was not a Lawrenceton native and the marriage had not lasted. "But that didn't work out, she cheated on him." I made vague regretful noises so that Lillian would continue. "Then - hope you enjoy these, Miz Darwell, have a nice day - he started dating your friend Lizanne Buckley."

"He's dating Lizanne?" I said in some surprise. "I haven't seen her in quite a while. I've been mailing in my bill instead of taking it by, like I used to." Lizanne was the receptionist at the utility company. Lizanne was beautiful and agreeable, slow-witted but sure, like honey making its inexorable progress across a buttered pancake. Her parents had died the year before, and for a while that had put a crease across the perfect forehead and tear marks down the magnolia white cheeks, but gradually Lizanne's precious routine had encompassed this terrible change in her life and she had willed herself to forget the awfulness of it. She had sold her parents' house, bought herself one just like it with the proceeds, and resumed breaking hearts. Bubba Sewell must have been an optimist and a man who worshiped beauty to date the notoriously untouchable Lizanne. I wouldn't have thought it of him. "So maybe he and Lizanne have broken up, he wants to take you out?" Lillian always got back on the track eventually.

"No, I'm going out with Aubrey Scott tonight," I said, having thought of this evasion during her recital of Bubba Sewell's marital woes. "The Episcopal priest. We met at my mother's wedding."

It worked, and Lillian's high pleasure at knowing this exclusive fact put her in a good humor the rest of the afternoon. I didn't realize how many Episcopalians there were in Lawrenceton until I went out with their priest. Waiting in line for the movies I met at least five members of Aubrey's congregation. I tried to radiate respectability and wholesomeness, and kept wishing my wavy bunch of hair had been more cooperative when I'd tried to tame it before he picked me up. It flew in a warm cloud around my head, and for the hundredth time I thought of having it all cut off. At least my navy slacks and bright yellow shirt were neat and new, and my plain gold chain and earrings were good but - plain. Aubrey was in mufti, which definitely helped me to relax. He was disconcertingly attractive in his jeans and shirt; I had some definitely secular thoughts.

The movie we picked was a comedy, and we laughed at the same places, which was heartening. Our compatibility extended through dinner, where a mention of my mother's wedding prompted some reminiscences from Aubrey about weddings that had gone disastrously wrong. "And the flower girl threw up at my own wedding," he concluded.

"You've been married?" I said brilliantly. But he'd brought it up on purpose, of course, so I was doing the right thing.

"I'm a widower. She died three years ago of cancer," he said simply.

I looked at my plate real hard.

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"I haven't dated too much since then," he went on. "I feel like I'm pretty - inept at it."

"You're doing fine so far," I told him.

He smiled, and it was a very attractive smile.

"From what the teenagers in my congregation tell me, dating's changed a lot in the last twenty years, since last I went out on a date. I don't want -  I just want to clear the air. You seem a little nervous from time to time about being out with a minister."


"Okay. I'm not perfect, and I don't expect you to be perfect. Everyone has attitudes and opinions that are not exactly toeing the line spiritually; we're all trying, and it'll take our whole lives to get there. That's what I believe. I also don't believe in premarital sex; I'm waiting for something to change my mind on that issue, but so far it hasn't happened. Did you want to know any of that?"

"As a matter of fact, yes. That's just about exactly what I did want to know." What surprised me was the amount of relief I felt at the certainty that Aubrey would not try to get me to go to bed with him. Most dates I'd had in the past ten years, I'd spent half the time worried about what would happen when the guy took me home. Especially now, after my passionate involvement with Arthur, it was a load off my mind that Aubrey wouldn't expect me to make a decision about whether or not to go to bed with him. I brightened up and really began to enjoy myself. He didn't discuss his wife again, and I knew I would not introduce the subject.

Aubrey's ban on premarital sex did not include a ban on premarital kissing, I discovered when he walked me to my back door.

"Maybe we can go out again?"

"Give me a call," I said with a smile.

"Thanks for this evening."

"Thank you."

We parted with mutual goodwill, and as I scrubbed my face and pulled on my nightgown the next day didn't seem so daunting. I wasn't scheduled to work at the library, so I could work at Jane's house. My house. I couldn't get used to the ownership.

But thinking of the house led to worrying about the break-in, about the holes in the backyard I hadn't yet seen, about the object of this strange search. It must be an object too big to be in the safe deposit box Bubba Sewell had mentioned; besides, he had told me there was nothing much in the box, implying he had seen the contents already.

I drifted off to sleep thinking, Something that couldn't be divided, something that couldn't be flattened...

When I woke up in the morning I knew where that something must be hidden.

I felt like I was on a secret mission. After I scrambled into some jeans and a T-shirt and ate some toast, I checked the sketchy contents of my tool drawer. I wasn't sure what I would need. Probably Jane had these same basic things, but I didn't feel like rummaging around until I found them. I ended up with a claw hammer and two screwdrivers, and after a little thought I added a broad-bladed putty knife. I managed to stuff all these in my purse except the hammer, and finally I managed that; but the haft stuck up from the drawstringed gather. That wouldn't be too obvious, I told myself. I brushed my teeth hastily but didn't bother with makeup, so before eight o'clock I was pulling into the driveway on Honor.

I brought the car right up into the carport and entered through the kitchen door. The house was silent and stuffy. I found the thermostat in the little hall and pushed the switch to "cool." The central air hummed into life. I glanced through the rooms hastily; nothing seemed to have been disturbed during the night. I was sweating a little, and my hair kept sticking to my face, so I did track down a rubber band and pull it all back on my neck. I blew out a deep breath, braced my shoulders, and marched into the living room. I raised the blinds around the window seat to get as much light as possible, took out my tools, and began.

Whatever it was, it was in the window seat.

Jane had had it carpeted over, so no one would think of it as a container, but only as a feature of the room, a nice place to put a plant or some pretty pillows or a flower arrangement. The installer had done a good job, and I had a hell of a time prizing up the carpet. I saw Torrance Rideout pull out of his driveway, glance at the house, and drive away to work. A pretty, plump woman walked a fat dachshund down to the end of the street and back, letting the dog perform on my yard, I noticed indignantly. I recognized her, after I thought of it awhile, as I pried and pulled at the rose-colored carpet with its little blue figure. She was Carey Osland, once married to Bubba Sewell, once married to Mike Osland, the man who had decamped in such a spectacularly callous way. Carey Osland must live in the corner house with the big climbing roses by the front porch.

I plugged away, trying not to speculate about what was in the window seat, and finally I loosened enough carpet to grab an edge with both hands and yank. The bay window really did contain a window seat with a hinged lid. I had been right. So why didn't I feel triumphant?

Whatever was in the house was my problem, Bubba Sewell had said. Taking a deep breath, I raised the lid and peered into the window seat. The sun streamed down into the seat, bathing its contents with a gentle morning glow. There was a rather yellow pillowcase inside, a pillowcase with something round in it.

I reached in and pulled at the corner of the pillowcase, gingerly working it back and forth, trying not to disturb its contents. But finally I had to pull it off altogether, and the thing that had been in the pillowcase rolled onto its side.

A skull grinned up at me.

"Oh my God," I said, slamming the lid down and sitting on the seat, covering my face with both trembling hands. The next minute I was in frantic action, lowering those blinds and shutting them, checking to make sure the front door was locked, finding the light switch, and flipping on the overhead light in the suddenly darkened room.

I opened the window seat again, hoping its contents had miraculously changed.

The skull still lay there with its slack-jawed grin.

Then the doorbell rang.

I jumped and squeaked. For a moment I stood indecisively. Then I tossed the tools into the seat with the thing, shut the lid, and yanked the loose carpet back up. It wouldn't settle back into place very well, having been removed so inexpertly, but I did the best I could and then heaped the fancy pillows around the edges to conceal the damage. But the carpet still sagged a little. I pushed it into place, weighted it down with my purse. It still pouched. I grabbed some books from the shelves and stacked them on the window seat, too. Much better. The carpet stayed in place. The doorbell rang again. I stood for a moment composing my face.

Carey Osland, minus the dachshund, smiled at me in a friendly way when I finally opened the door. Her dark chestnut hair was lightly threaded with gray, but her round, pretty face was unlined. She was wearing a dress that was one step up from a bathrobe, and scuffed loafers.

"Hi, neighbor," she said cheerfully. "Aurora Teagarden, isn't it?"

"Yes," I said, making a huge effort to sound casual and calm. "I'm Carey Osland, I live in the house with the roses, on the corner," and she pointed.

"I remember meeting you before, Carey, at a bridal shower, I think."

"That's right - a long time ago. Whose was it?"

"Come in, come on in...Wasn't it Amina's shower, after she eloped?" "Well, it must have been, 'cause that was when I was working at her mother's dress shop, that's why I got invited. I work at Marcus Hatfield now." Marcus Hatfield was the Lord & Taylor of Lawrenceton. "That's why I'm such a slob now," Carey went on smilingly. "I get so tired of being dressed up."

"Your nails look great," I said admiringly. I am always impressed by someone who can wear long nails and keep them polished. I was also trying very hard not to think about the window seat, not to even glance in that direction. I had waved Carey to the couch so she'd have her back partially to it when she half-turned to talk to me as I sat in the armchair.

"Oh, honey, they're not real," Carey said warmly. "I never could keep my nails from chipping and getting broken.... So, you and Jane must have been good friends?"

The unexpected change of subject and Carey's very understandable curiosity took me by surprise.

My neighbors were definitely not of the big city impersonal variety.

"She left me the house," I stated, figuring that settled that. And it did. Carey couldn't think of a single way to get around that one to inquire as to our exact relationship.

I was beginning to wonder about our relationship, myself. Considering the little problem Jane had left me to deal with.

"So, do you plan on living here?" Carey had rallied and was counterattacking with even more directness.

"I don't know." And I didn't add or explain. I liked Carey Osland, but I needed to be by myself with the thing in the window seat. "Well" - Carey took a deep breath and released it - "I guess I'd better be getting ready for work."

"Thanks for coming by," I said as warmly as I could. "I'm sure I'll be seeing you again when I have things more settled here." "Like I said, I'm right next door, so if you need me, come on over. My little girl is away at summer camp till this weekend, so I'm all on my own." "Thanks so much, I may be taking you up on that," I said, trying to beam goodwill and neighborliness enough to soften the fact that I did not want a prolonged conversation and I wanted her gone, things I was afraid I'd made offensively obvious.

My sigh of relief was so loud after I'd shut and locked the door behind her that I hoped she wouldn't hear it.

I sank down into the chair again and covered my face with my hands, preparing to think.

Sweet, fragile, silver-haired Jane Engle, school librarian and churchgoer, had murdered someone and put the victim's skull in her window seat. Then she'd had the window seat carpeted over so no one would think to look there for anything. The carpet was in excellent condition, but not new. Jane had lived in that house with a skull in her living room for some years. That alone would take some hard getting used to. I should call the police. My hand actually picked up the receiver before I remembered that the phone was disconnected and that I owed Jane Engle. I owed her big-time.

Jane had left me the house and the money and the skull. I could not call the police and expose Jane to the world as a murderess. She had counted on that.

Drawn irresistibly, I went to the window seat and opened it again. "Who the hell are you?" I asked the skull. With considerable squeamishness, I lifted it out with both hands. It wasn't white like bones looked in the movies, but brownish. I didn't know if it was a man's or a woman's skull, but the cause of death seemed apparent; there was a hole in the back of the skull, a hole with jagged edges.

How on earth had elderly Jane managed to deliver such a blow? Who could this be? Perhaps a visitor had fallen and bashed the back of his head on something, and Jane had been afraid she'd be accused of killing the person? That was a familiar and almost comforting plot to a regular mystery reader. Then I thought in a muddled way of Arsenic and Old Lace. Perhaps this was a homeless person, or a solitary old man with no family? But Lawrenceton was not large enough for a missing person to go unnoticed, I thought. At least I couldn't recall such a case for years.

Not since Carey Osland's husband had left to pick up diapers and had never returned.

I almost dropped the skull. Oh my Lord! Was this Mike Osland? I put the skull down on Jane's coffee table carefully, as if I might hurt it if I wasn't gentle. And what would I do with it now? I couldn't put it back in the window seat, now that I'd loosened the carpet and made the place conspicuous, and there was no way I could get the carpet to look as smooth as it had been. Maybe now that the house had been burgled, I could hide the skull in one of the places the searcher had already looked?

That raised a whole new slew of questions. Was this skull the thing the searcher had been looking for? If Jane had killed someone, how did anyone else know about it? Why come looking now? Why not just go to the police and say, "Jane Engle has a skull in her house somewhere, I'm certain." No matter how crazy they'd sound, that was what most people would do. Why had this person done otherwise? This added up to more questions than I answered at the library in a month. Plus, those questions were a lot easier to answer. "Can you recommend a good mystery without any, you know, sex, for my mother?" was a lot easier to answer than "Whose skull is sitting on my coffee table?"

Okay, first things first. Hide the skull. I felt removing it from the house would be safest. (I say "felt" because I was pretty much beyond reasoning.) I got a brown Kroger bag, from the kitchen and eased the skull into it. I put a can of coffee in another bag, figuring two bags were less conspicuous than one. After rearranging the window seat as best I could, I looked at my watch. It was ten o'clock, and Carey Osland should be at work. I'd seen Torrance Rideout leaving, but, according to what he'd told me the day before, his wife should be at home unless he was running errands.

I peeked through the blinds. The house across from Torrance Rideout's was as still as it had been the day before. The one across from Carey Osland's had two small children playing in the side yard next to Faith Street, a good distance away. All clear. But, even as I watched, a you-do-it moving van pulled up in front of the house across the street.

"Oh, great," I muttered. "Just great." After a moment, though, I decided that the moving van would be far more interesting than my departure if anyone was watching. So, before I could worry about it, I grabbed up my purse and my two paper bags and went out the kitchen door into the carport. "Aurora?" called a voice incredulously.

With a strong feeling that fate was dealing harshly with me, I turned to the people climbing out of the moving van, to see that my former lover, burglary detective Arthur Smith, and his bride, homicide detective Lynn Liggett, were moving in across the street.

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