Last Scene Alive


Chapter One

When I stopped at the end of the driveway to extract my letters and magazines from the mailbox, I never imagined that in five minutes I'd be sitting at my kitchen table reading an article about myself. But my entertainment magazine had had a fascinating teaser on the cover: "Crusoe's Book Comes to the Screen (Finally) - WHIMSICAL MURDERS Goes On Location." It had taken me only seconds to flip pages to the article, which was faced by a full-page picture of my former friend Robin Crusoe, his long frame folded into a chair behind a desk piled high with books. Then, with a much deeper sensation of shock, I realized that, in a green-shaded sidebar, the small woman walking to her car, head down, was me. Not surprisingly, I decided to read the sidebar first.

"It was a strangely jolting experience to see Aurora Teagarden in the flesh," began the writer, one Marjory Bolton.

Strangely jolting, my tushy.

"The diminutive librarian, whose courage and perspicuity led to the discovery of the serial killers terrorizing Lawrenceton, Georgia, is no recluse."

Why would I be?

"Though only in her thirties, she's experienced more excitement than most women have in their lifetimes," I read, "and though she became a widow last November, Aurora Teagarden could pass for someone ten years her junior." Well, I kind of liked that. I could see the end of my thirties if I looked real hard. I wasn't looking.

"She comes to work at the Lawrenceton Library every day, driving her new Chevy." Would I drive someone else's? "Modest in dress and demeanor, Teagarden hardly appears to be the independently wealthy woman she is." Why would I wear designer originals (an inexplicable waste of money anyway) to my job at the library? This was absurdity.

I skimmed the remaining paragraphs, hoping to see something that made sense. Actually, I wouldn't have minded another reference to my youthful appearance. But no. "Though Teagarden refused to let the filmmakers use her name, the main female character in the script is widely held to be based on her persona. Teagarden's mother, Aida Queensland, a multimillion-dollar real estate salesperson, attributes her daughter's distancing herself from the project to Teagarden's aversion to the memories the incidents left and to Teagarden's deeply religious heritage."

I brought the cordless phone into the kitchen and hit an auto-dial number. "Mother, did you tell this Marjory Bolton that I came from a 'deeply religious heritage'?" We hadn't even settled on the Episcopal Church until Mother had married John Queensland.

My mother had the grace to sound a little embarrassed as she said, "Good evening, Aurora. She asked me if we went to church, and I said yes."

I read through the paragraph again. "And you told her you were a multimillion-dollar real estate broker?"

"Well, I am. And I thought I might as well get in a plug for the business."

"Like you needed it!"

"Business could always be better. Besides, I'm trying to get into the best position for selling the firm. One of these days I'm going to retire."

It wasn't the first time in the past couple of months Mother had said something about selling Select Realty. Since John had had a heart attack, my mother had cut back on her work hours. Apparently, she'd also begun to think about how much longer she wanted to work.

Two years ago, I'd have sworn she'd die while she was showing a house, but now I knew better. She'd gotten a wake-up call.

"Listen to this," I said. " 'Ms. Teagarden, close friend of rising power-that-be Cartland Sewell, may have political plans. Some insiders regard her as a power behind the scenes in area politics.' Who on earth could've told them that? What a bunch of..."

"Aurora!" Mother warned.

"Codswallop," I finished. It was a word I'd never had occasion to say out loud before.

"I'm sure it was Bubba himself," Mother said. She was more politically astute without trying than I would be if I had a fully briefed advisor.

"Really?" Even I could hear the wonderment in my voice.

She sighed. "I hope you never remotely consider running for office or backing any candidate you really want to win," she advised me. "And I've got to try to remember to call him Cartland. After calling him Bubba for forty years, Cartland is a mouthful. He seems to think he has a better chance of getting elected if he goes by his christened name."

Well, I might not be politically astute like Bubba Sew-ell - excuse me, Cartland Sewell - but I could see that