Every Breath I Take

Author Neely Donovan's life is disrupted when her eighty-year-old mother calls, saying her best friend is dead, murdered, and she knows who's responsible. But there's a problem--the killer knows she knows, so it's up to Neely to make sure her mother doesn't become his next victim.

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Every Breath I Take

Arriving home a short time later, she hurried inside, stamped her snowy boots on the entryway rug, and rushed to answer the ring of the phone. She frowned, wondering who would be calling at 7:30 in the morning.

Her eighty-year old mother, Vivian, sounded more than a little upset, her trembling audible over the phone line.

“Neely, I’m so glad to hear your voice. Maybelle died last night and I think someone killed her.” Dr. Maybelle Friesen, an elderly retired forensic pathologist, who had studied medicine later in life, was her mother’s dearest friend.

“You’re kidding! Oh, Mom, I’m sorry. I can’t believe it. I know you’ll miss her something awful.”

“I will. She’s been my best friend and neighbor for nearly nine years. Oh,” she cried, her voice breaking, “what will I do without her?”

Neely suddenly frowned. “Wait Mom. Did you say you think someone killed her?”

“Yes. She was fine yesterday.”

“But she was nearly eighty years old. People that age don’t need a reason to die.”

“But I know her. She didn’t just die.”

“Okay, Mom. Whatever you say. Are you all right, or do you want me to come?”

“I’d like you to come, if you don’t mind, dear.” Her mother’s usually cheery voice held no wit or joy now.

“I’ll be there shortly.”

Upon hanging up, she strode to the coffee pot, poured another cup and stuck a slice of seven-grain bread in the toaster, needing to gear up to deal with her mother’s grief.

After nibbling a few bites of peanut butter toast and chasing it with a swallow of milk and another of coffee, she ran upstairs and showered, then hurriedly dressed in wool slacks and a warm pullover sweater. Before leaving, she let Jake out one more time, believing it unfair to force his elderly bladder to hold it for hours on end, if she could avoid it.

After donning her coat, she let Jake back in, wiped his snowy feet and patted his head. “You hold the fort, okay, boy?”

Turning, he headed for his inevitable spot in the sun, on the light wool carpet inside the east-facing dining room window. She knew he would follow that sunny spot all around the room, and it made her wonder if he was really that cold, or if it just felt good to his aging bones.


Traffic was heavy for early on a Saturday morning, and she wished she could say, “Open sesame,” and have it part to let her through. The trip usually only took ten or fifteen minutes. Clearly, something up ahead had caused a snag, and it was stop and go for nearly twenty long and frustrating minutes. Unfortunately, her cell phone lay forgotten on the kitchen counter at home, or she would’ve notified her mother that she’d be late.

Eventually, she could see a two-car accident up ahead, where one car perched precariously, upside down half in and half out of a ditch. Rescue vehicles and equipment now usurped several lanes of the road, forcing traffic into a single lane as it passed. Two uniformed police officers stood, waving their arms, confidently directing traffic around the obstacles.

A few minutes later, Neely finally breathed a sigh of relief and let herself relax as she pulled into a wide, luxuriously landscaped parking area at the Barrington Heights Senior Housing Complex, where a small village of charming gray and white ivy-covered brick cottages surrounded a matching four-story high rise and a corresponding sprawling, single level, skilled-care nursing facility, all for the purpose of housing the city’s aging senior population.

Entering the high rise, she made her way through the classically decorated upscale foyer, into the expansive elevator, and pushed the button for fourth floor. Quality Berber carpet covered the floors, while its walls were painted a cheerful pale peach. Crown molding covered every corner, and all the trim was painted a clean and creamy white. Large windows at the end of each hallway and skylights overhead lit the top floor with plenty of brilliant sunlight, making her glad her mother had chosen to live on fourth floor.

Vivian, though still clever and alert, now struggled to get around, due to advancing osteoarthritis, which had reduced her already short stature by several more inches over the past few years.

At her door, Neely knocked, called a greeting, then let herself in, knowing that answering the door was a challenge her mother’s joints didn’t need.

“Hi Mom,” she said, leaning down to gently hug her, noticing her blue eyes were puffy from crying. In spite of her grief, however, her thick white hair was carefully arranged, and she wore pale honey-colored slacks, pressed into a careful crease, with a flattering, classic pastel plaid shirt. She wore fastidiously applied makeup and tiny diamond studs in her ears, ready, as always, for guests.

Her mother looked up and gave her a tentative smile.

“Thanks for coming, dear.” After a thoughtful pause, she sighed.

“I’m just sick about Maybelle’s death. She and I were so much in sync with each other-- know what I mean?”

The two had shared a love of learning, and each had a well-developed sense of humor as well as a deep appreciation for the absurdities of life.

Neely sank onto the flowered sofa and covered her mother’s soft hand with her own.

“I know, Mom. She was a sweetheart. I’ll miss her, too.”

Vivian sat unmoving, staring into space for a time, before Neely finally broke the silence.

“Mom, what did you mean when you said you thought she was killed?”

“She warned me about this. She overheard two male coworkers talking in the office, while punching a time clock, when she went to pay her yearly rent a few days ago.”

After a long pause, she went on, “She was very upset, said they were talking about killing a nursing home patient they didn’t want to care for anymore.”

Neely frowned. “What? Oh, Mom, that can’t be right. They must’ve been joking. You know, as in wishful thinking. Euthanasia is illegal, to say nothing of unethical and amoral.”

Viv waved her hand in the air. “That’s exactly what I said, but she insisted it was so.”

“Well, what did she plan to do about it?”

“She wasn’t sure what to do, and she was frantic. From that moment on, she was suspicious of every little thing, worried about the food they served in the dining room and the possibility of someone substituting poison for our medications. I mean, she really went off the deep end when this happened.”

Neely frowned, puzzled. “That’s not like her, is it?”

“I should say not,” agreed Viv, with a violent shake of her head.

“Was there any indication of the cause of death?”

Viv shook her head, forlorn. “No blood or obvious bullet holes, if that’s what you mean. I think it’s possible that she was suffocated as she slept.”

“Why do you think that?”

Viv adjusted her glasses and let her shoulders sag. “I’m speculating here, of course. Nothing is certain until after the autopsy, which they’ve promised to do as soon as possible.”

Neely tilted her head. “Well, perhaps it wasn’t murder at all. Maybe her heart simply couldn’t stand the strain of what she knew.”

 “I would tend to agree with you, except for something she said to me last night, right before going to bed.”

“What’s that?”

Her mother swallowed and grew visibly paler. “She said that if anything happened to her, to leave no stone unturned. She was sure the two people she’d heard talking had seen her leaving the office and knew she had overheard their conversation.”

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