“You can’t be serious, Charlotte. You would really buy a boat?”
Francine McNamara heard the grandfather clock in the hall chime the Westminster Quarters for the hour and then three bongs. She and Charlotte Reinhardt took tea at a round Crate and Barrel table on the patio just outside the kitchen of her house. An open umbrella in the middle of the table provided shade. The two septuagenarians often had tea about this time, but unlike the English, they had theirs iced. The hot August day in Brownsburg, Indiana was making the ice disappear. Francine could feel trickles of sweat dribbling into the front of her white t-shirt.
“If I could get this baby, yes.” Charlotte handed Francine a page she’d torn out of a commercial real estate magazine featuring a photo. The boat she was interested in purchasing was located on the White River canal in downtown Indianapolis.
Francine paused to consider what Charlotte had said. She’d emphasized the word baby. That must mean the word held significance. She couldn’t see the listing very well because she was wearing dark sunglasses. Like her indoor glasses, they had large round lenses that made her look wiser than she thought she was. She slipped them off to examine the listing.
“You get carsick riding from Rosedale to Bridgeport. What makes you think you’ll fare any better on the canal?”
Charlotte wiped her forehead with her napkin. Her gesture moved her wig of silvery curls slightly askew. “This one comes with a gondolier who sings opera in Italian. You know how I love opera.”
“That’s only half-true,” Francine said. “You like opera. What you love are mysteries.”
“So, work with me for a minute,” she said, a mischievous gleam in her eye. Charlotte paused to take a large bite out of her peanut butter chocolate chip muffin. Francine had picked up two of them at Mary Ruth’s Fabulous Dessert Shop, owned by their friend Mary Ruth Burrows, when she’d stopped by to place a special order around noon.
A few stray crumbs fell onto Charlotte’s lap. “This boat was owned by Diva Vita,” she said, picking up the crumbs.
Francine gave her a puzzled look. “Diva Vita? Do we know her?”
She nodded enthusiastically. “Here’s a photo of her in the boat.”
Francine was certain she didn’t know anyone named Diva Vita. Must be another clue. She took hold of the picture Charlotte offered her. A sturdy black woman stood in the gondola. She wore a flowing white robe and her mouth was open as though she were holding out a long note. A butterfly was embroidered on her robe. She held a scepter in her hand. The scepter was black and looked like wrought iron. It was topped by some figure. The gondolier stood next to her. “I hope you’re not planning on singing a duet. Even you will admit you can’t sing.”
“No, but I do think I could carry off holding the scepter.” She picked up her purse and pulled out a black iron rod. The top of the rod was shaped like a butterfly with painted plastic panels inserted into the wings to give the figure dimension. Charlotte thrust it into the air as though she were Lady Liberty.
Francine could see that turning out to be a disaster. Charlotte had a bad knee and wasn’t necessarily steady on land, let alone water. She’d need a gondolier who doubled as a lifeguard.
“What would you think if I named the gondola after the Diva?”
Francine took the scepter in one hand and the photo of Diva in the other. She eyed her friend. “Why would you do that?”
“Because I like the way it sounds,” she said, as though inviting Francine to continue.
Francine set the photo on the table. She bit off a piece of her muffin and thought on the situation Charlotte had presented. She held up the rod with the iron butterfly. “So this must be a clue.”
“Yes,” Charlotte answered, almost giddily. “It’s a clue.”
Francine again nibbled on the muffin. It had just the right amount of sweetness, capped off by sugar crystals crusted on the top to give it slight crunch. A rich, nutty, peanut butter taste came though, complimented by the milk chocolate chips mixed in. “I need more to solve the riddle.”
“So if I named the boat after her and got in, where would I be?”
In something? Francine thought. In Diva Vita’s gondola? She’d emphasized the word “baby,” too.
“Say it aloud,” Charlotte suggested.
“I would be in Diva Vita’s gondola. Baby?”
“How would they say it in Europe, if they used only her last name?”
Francine puzzled over that. They would put the name after the boat because adjectives come after.
“In the Gondola Vita. Baby.” She laughed. “Iron Butterfly. In-a-godda-da-vita, baby! The song you and Philip were married to!” Philip, Charlotte’s late husband, had said he wouldn’t marry anyone who didn’t want to recess down the aisle to “In-a-godda-da-vita.” Charlotte had been just the rebel to join him in that.
Charlotte clapped her hands in delight, but then tears streamed down her face. “We would have been married 45 years on Saturday,” she said.
Francine leaned forward and put her hand on Charlotte’s. “I remember, and the special order I placed with Mary Ruth today will help us celebrate on Saturday. It’s a white cake with a red raspberry filling and topped with butterflies. Just like at your wedding.”
“You’re a good friend, Francine.”
“I try to be,” she said. She cued up Iron Butterfly on her iPod.
You can read more about Francine and Charlotte in Murder on the Bucket List, the first book in the NEW “Bucket List” mystery series, published by Midnight Ink.
GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by 12 a.m. eastern on July 15 for the chance to win a print copy of Murder on the Bucket List. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Winner will be notified within 48 hours after giveaway closes and you will have three days to respond after being contacted or another winner will be selected.
Meet the author
Elizabeth Perona is the father/daughter writing team of Tony Perona and Liz Dombrosky. Tony is the author of the Nick Bertetto mystery series, the standalone thriller The Final Mayan Prophecy, and co-editor and contributor to the anthologies Racing Can Be Murder and Hoosier Hoops & Hijinks. Tony is a member of Mystery Writers of America and has served the organization as a member of the Board of Directors and as Treasurer. He is also a member of Sisters-in-Crime.
Liz Dombrosky graduated from Ball State University in the Honors College with a degree in teaching. She is currently a stay-at-home mom. Murder on the Bucket List is her first novel.
You can connect with Elizabeth on Facebook.