By Barb Lundy
Ed moved back to Atlanta to care for her father. Franklin Graves had aged rapidly in the fourteen months since Ed last saw him. Gray brows sprouted over rheumy green eyes, and blue veins mapped sunken cheeks. She supervised needed repairs on the house. Then hired caregivers to cover her remote work hours.
On the advice of a friend, Ed hid cameras in faux smoke alarms, silk flower planters, and wall outlets. She checked the camera feeds every couple of days. Now her hand trembled as she rewound the feed in her father’s room. Franklin sat forward in his favorite chair. Her sister Vivica, who arrived without notice the evening before, said, “We have an appointment with your attorney this coming Tuesday. Ed’s going to be furious with you for changing your will.”
Ed put the scene on a loop. Strange how watching people she knew well revealed so much. Her younger sister bleached her hair to mimic their mom’s ice blond. Vivica understood the power she held. She wore their mother’s face. In contrast, Ed’s long, lanky body clashed with her sister’s petite frame. Her deep-set hazel eyes peered from a face made more androgynous with each passing year.
Franklin laughed. “I’ll be dead. Not my problem.”
“You promised her the house if she looked after you.”
Franklin leaned back in his deep Natchez leather club chair. “I didn’t get rich by playing fair. Ed’s a smartass woman. She makes my life bearable, but you have children who will inherit.” Did Ed see Vivica flinch there? She reversed the feed. Yes, Vivica feared the man. Ed stared at the photo of her grandmother, Edwina.
“I have to do something. But what?”
“Hey, can I interrupt for a minute?” Viv’s soft southern tones carried through Ed’s study.
Ed felt a rush of rage and took a moment to calm her features before turning towards the door.
“You’re not interrupting. We haven’t had much time to talk since you got here.”
Viv carried a tray with tea and thumbprint cookies. “Miriam’s engaged. That’s our biggest news.”
“I’m so happy Mim’s found someone. What does he do?”
“Genetic counselor.” Viv rubbed her temples with her fingertips.
“Do you have one of your headaches?”
“A bit of one. I brought my homeopathic remedies with me.”
“That was smart.” Ed worked to keep her voice even.
“Father and I have decided to work on the backyard while I’m here.”
Ed waited a beat. “Like weeding and planting?”
“Goodness, no. Do you remember Wes Thompson?”
“Quarterback Wes? The first black boyfriend in our family. You almost did Grandmother Graves in,” she said. “Dad adores the man. Does he still live around here?”
“He’s running a very successful nursery. Wes made several suggestions for upgrades.” Viv handed Ed a picture with yellow fluted flowers. The description beneath the photo read: A well-mannered vine with bright yellow flowers and shiny green leaves. Latin name gelsemium.
“Pretty. I assume Wes will plant the full-grown version?”
Viv nodded. “He gave us a discount and promised to get started before it gets too hot.”
“That’s great, Viv. I’m glad Dad wants to spruce up the yard.” She slid the photo of the vine onto a stack of her papers. The plant’s name awakened an old memory.
Once Viv left to lie down, Ed did a quick computer search “Conan Doyle, medical school and poisons.” The future writer of the Sherlock Holmes series, Doyle, created a gelsemium tincture to explore its medicinal properties while a medical student in the late 1800s. Severe side effects forced Doyle to stop experimenting. Ed tried not to smile. Viv and her father planned to plant poison right outside the backdoor.
Wes’s truck rattled down the long driveway at seven the following day. While Wes drank coffee and ate half of Viv’s cake filled with juicy blueberries and crunchy pecans, Franklin relived Braves, Hawks, and Falcons highs and lows.
When the rest of the landscaping crew arrived, Franklin watched the work from the patio. He offered suggestions and kept up a running commentary on sports.
Ed studied the Carolina jasmine vines. They looked like the elegans variety she’d researched. Nicknamed heartbreak grass, the plant killed in minutes or hours.
Franklin decided to turn in early that evening. Viv asked Ed if she wanted the recipe for her favorite nightcap. Viv swore her lavender-infused milk and honey cocktail put her to sleep every night.
“Yes, Dad might like that as a change of pace from his warmed cocoa.”
“You can pre-make part of it and keep it in the fridge.” Viv pulled a plastic jug from a shelf. “I sometimes throw lavender petals into the mix. Then add some spiced rum and an egg white. Heavy cream goes in last. Shake it up, and voila.” Viv poured the mixture into two cocktail glasses.
“That is simple. Why not make one for Dad tomorrow and see how he likes it? Could you write it out and post it on my bulletin board so I won’t lose it?” Ed asked.
“Happy to.” Viv headed down the hall.
Ed removed a small bottle from her robe pocket. She’d poured a small decoction of gelsemium into her sister’s drink.
After Viv fell asleep, Ed set the stage. She left an article about using Carolina jasmine to banish migraines on the bedside table. She added a blossom next to Viv’s empty glass.
Ed and Franklin found Viv the next morning. The coroner determined the cause of death to be the use of a toxic homeopathic remedy. Ed took comfort in the shake of Franklin’s hands as he sipped his coffee in the following mornings. Fear and deadly knowledge filled his eyes.
Franklin never mentioned Vivica again.