One Fool At Least

By: Julia Buckley

The Third Madeline Mann Mystery


Chapter One


I’m reluctant to speak of my honeymoon, even when people ask. They want to hear tales of island cruises and balmy, breezy nights; they want to imagine Jack and me as young lovers rubbing suntan oil on one another as we breathe in the tropical air and sip from drinks adorned with umbrellas and wedges of bright, exotic fruit. When I say we went to Montana, they lose interest just a bit; if I dare to mention the kidnapping or the murder, they back away slightly, probably concluding that I am either lying or somehow peculiar for finding myself in peril at this traditionally happiest time of life. How much more odd would they think me if I said, despite everything, it did provide me with a great deal of happiness?

But after all, I am a Madman. At least that’s what my brothers, Gerhard and Fritz, have called me since I was a kid. My name, you see, is Madeline Mann, and my brothers quickly turned it into something they could tease me about, insisting all the while that my behavior had merited the nickname. Maybe my brothers were right.

None of it makes any sense unless I take you back to the wedding, the plane, the craziness of my fear of flying, and then the honeymoon in that strange and wonderful place called Montana. The main reason I still smile, when I think of my wedding and my honeymoon, is Jack Shea, my handsome Irishman with the wavy brown hair and a wholesome, clean shaven face that holds the surprise of one dimple in the left cheek, a dimple which appears only when he is amused or very happy.

One other thing I should say here before I get to the crazy stuff: my relationship with Jack is based on a lie. Long ago, more than two years ago, when I’d moved into the three-flat Victorian home of my mother’s German acquaintance Mr. Altschul, I’d developed a serious crush on my new neighbor Jack when I’d heard him singing and strumming the guitar a floor above me. We’d introduced ourselves politely on the day I moved in, and after that we said hello if we passed each other on the stairs or met in the yard. After two months I’d spied on him enough, and used my reporter’s interviewing techniques on our landlord enough, to determine that he didn’t have a girlfriend, at least not that I could see, and I was disappointed that he hadn’t asked me out, at least for coffee. Instead, he seemed content to wave in passing as he went to and from work (he taught at the high school) with his guitar slung over his shoulder. Mr. Altschul had informed me, as I plied him with Kaffee Wien and Marzipan, that Jack sang to his students sometimes.

So one day I approached Jack and lied. He was in Mr. Altschul’s little garden, stretching his legs on a black wrought iron bench. Pumpkin vines twirled aggressively around the metal, and Jack paused to examine one with his Jack-like interest in everything. He had resumed jogging in place when I reached him, obviously about to go for a run.

“Jack,” I said. “I wondered if I could ask you for a favor.”

He politely stopped jogging and blew out a breath which caused a cloud of condensation on the air, his eyebrows raised. There was a slight stubble on his cheeks and his wavy hair was mussy. His eyes, a mysterious blue-gray, met mine with what I hoped was interest.

I tried to sound apologetic. “You see, my mom talked me into singing in this variety show at our church. It’s a fundraiser. I have to do it or be kicked out of the family, is what it comes down to. I’ve heard you playing the guitar so beautifully, and I don’t really know this song so well—” I held up the sheet music I’d bought for the occasion.

Jack took the music, glanced at it, and smiled, giving me my first look at the dimple. “So you want me to help you practice?”

“If you’d be willing,” I said, trying to look beautiful.

“Sure,” he said. “I’ll come to your place after my run.”

He did, and we practiced the song. I had to lean close to him, breathing in whatever manly soap he’d washed with, so that we could both read the music. My hair was long and brown then, and sometimes I let it brush “accidentally” against his cheek. My shampoo smelled nice, I knew. I warbled determinedly into Jack’s ear. The song was “I Will,” by the Beatles. Jack even picked up the harmony, and after a few tries, we did a creditable version of the piece.

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