A Fool and his Honey


Chapter One

The day everything went rotten was the day the woodman went crazy in my backyard.

My mother and her husband, John Queensland, were just leaving when Darius Quattermain rattled up my driveway, his battered blue pickup pulling a trailer full of split oak. Mother (Aida Brattle Teagarden Queensland) had taken a moment from her busy day to bring me a dress she'd bought for me in Florida, where she'd been attending a convention for real estate brokers who'd sold over a million dollars worth of property in a year. John, who's retired, had come out with Mother just because he likes being with her. As Darius was getting out of his truck, Mother was hugging me and saying, "John isn't feeling so well, Aurora, so we're going back to town." She always made it sound as though Martin and I lived on the frontier, instead of just a mile out of Lawrence ton. In fact, since there are fields all around our property, on clear days I could see the roof of her house, sitting on the edge of Lawrenceton's nicest suburb.

I looked at John, concerned, and saw that he did indeed look puny. John golfs, and normally he looks like a hale and hearty sixty-four-year-old. Actually, John's a handsome man... and a good one. But at that moment he looked old, and embarrassed, as men so often are by illness. "You better go home and lie down," I said, concerned. "Call me if you need me, after Mother goes back to work?"

"Sure will, honey," John said heavily, and eased into the front passenger seat of Mother's Lincoln.

Mother gave my cheek a little brush with her lips, I thanked her again for the dress, and then while they maneuvered through turning around to head down our long driveway, I strolled over to Darius, who was pulling on heavy gloves. I didn't suspect it, but a perfectly ordinary day - getting Martin off to work, going to my own job at the library, coming home with nothing more than a little housework planned - was about to go spectacularly wrong. It began slowly.

"Where you want me to unload this wood, Miz Bartell?" Darius Quattermain asked. "This area under the stairs, I think," I told him. We were standing by the garage, which is connected to the house by a covered walkway. On the side facing the house, there's a stairway going up to the little apartment over the garage. "You not afraid of bugs getting into your siding there?" Darius asked dubiously.

I shrugged. "Martin picked the spot, and if he doesn't like it, he can move it." Darius gave me a strange look, almost as if he'd never seen me before, which at the time I wrote off as conservative disapproval of my attitude toward my husband.

But he got down to work. After a brief conference, I'd given him the green light to pull the trailer as close as possible, and he began unloading rapidly in the chilly air. The sky was gray, and rain was supposed to start tonight. The wind began to pick up, blowing my long tangle of brown hair into my eyes. I shivered, and stuck my hands in the pockets of my heavy red sweater. As I turned to go inside, I looked over at the roses I'd planted at the corner of the concrete porch at the back of the house, outside my kitchen. They needed pruning, and I was trying to remember if I was supposed to do it now or wait until February, when a piece of wood flew by my head.

"Mr. Quattermain?" I said, whirling around. "You okay?" Darius Quattermain, deacon of Antioch Holiness Church, began to sing "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain" in a manic bellow. He also kept up with his task, with one big difference. Instead of stacking the wood neatly under the stairs, Darius pitched split pieces of oak in all directions. "Whoa!" I said loudly. Even to my own ears, I sounded panicky instead of authoritative. When the next piece of firewood missed my shoulder by only a foot or so, I retreated into the house, locking the door behind me. After a minute, I risked a peek out the window. Darius showed no signs of calming down, and there was still a lot of wood on the back of his pickup. I was thinking of it as ammunition now, instead of fuel.

I dialed the sheriff's department, since our house is outside the city limits. "SPACOLEC,"