2. A Fatal Mistake

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Two weeks earlier, Sheila had taken her younger cousin shopping.

"I'm so lucky I met Barry before you did, Viola, or I'm sure he would have fallen for you!" Sheila had said as she adjusted her bosom into a green scoop-neck dress. "But don't worry, you can be my maid of honor and everyone will notice you. And I'll introduce you to all of the desirable bachelors in town. And with that gorgeous figure of yours, we'll find you a husband in no time."

A large white seagull landed abruptly on the sill of the open window, startling Viola.

"Did you notice anything else?" the policeman asked.

Herman tapped his pipe. "She smelled of sun cream an' roses. It smelled nice but made my coffee taste funny."

The policeman didn't bother to write that down. "And was Sheila holding the powder tin in her hand?"

"No." Viola shook her head. "No, it was in her pocket."

Viola looked at the chair beside her; the chair her cousin had sat in, when she was beautiful and vibrant and full of life, not thirty minutes before; rambling happily and a little pushy but thoroughly optimistic.

"Sheila sat down and put her handbag and her sunglasses on the table," Viola explained slowly, "and she turned the last coffee mug right side up."

"And Darlene was right behind her with the coffee," Clifton said, "I remember you saying to Herman that the Seagull was 20 feet when you poured it, and he said something about the Apple Blossom."

"She's a good boat," Herman added in his gruffly voice.

Barry was still staring at the table. "Darlene poured the coffee," he said, "and Sheila took off her hat. Then she took the tin out of her pocket and set it on the table."

"Wait a minute," the policeman asked suddenly, "Was Sheila the only one who had coffee?"

"Good Heavens!" Darlene demanded, "You're not saying that my coffee is to blame? Are you suggesting that I'm responsible for that beautiful woman's death?"

"Of course not, but I've got to ask the questions."

Darlene huffed angrily and crossed her arms.

"The coffee was perfectly fine," Clifton said. "After Sheila sat down, Darlene filled all of our cups from the same pot and we all drank it. Sheila's was no different."

The policemen looked at the empty cups. "So the tin was sitting on the table in plain view. And Sheila came in and sat down. How was she? Did she seem upset or depressed in any way?"

"Everything was normal." Barry said. "Sheila was excited and going on like she always did, mostly about Viola." He added, "Sheila has been preoccupied with Viola's well-being lately, especially as our wedding approached."

Viola could still hear cousin's affectionate worries:

"Oh Viola, what are you going to do without me? Barry, darling, I want you to give my cousin a raise after we're married. Promise me you will, please? Viola can't afford the apartment by herself, and if you don't give her a raise she might panic and marry a dock worker, or worse yet, she might abandon us all together and go back to her brother and her little farm!"

"Farm life has lots of freedom," Viola had objected, "it's hard work but—"

"But you're a city girl now!" Sheila had objected triumphantly. "You have prettier clothes and a better selection of men."

Clifton had leaned forward. "If it's a matter of money, Viola, I happen to be looking for a new secretary. I know you're only a stenographer, but you're a smart girl. I'm sure that if you're willing to work hard, you could do the job—"

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