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Alan Cook, Mystery and walking writer
Retired math professor Lillian Morgan gets suspicious when a fellow resident of her retirement community drops dead at the bridge table with an unbelievable hand of 13 diamonds.
Lillian Morgan, a retired mathematics professor who can remember any number but not what she did yesterday, is resigned to living a boring life when Gerald Weiss, a Nobel-prize-winning Economist and fellow resident of Silver Acres Retirement Community starts choking and then dies during a weekly meeting of the bridge club.
Gerald was holding a bridge hand of 13 diamonds when he died, which is rarer than winning the lottery. When the autopsy reveals that his death was caused by an extreme allergic reaction to shellfish in what was supposedly a tuna casserole served by the bridge club lunch committee, Lillian decides to investigate the possibility of murder.
"Those napkins are going to catch on fire!"
Twelve pairs of eyes turned toward the table against the wall where a candle flame used to keep the contents of a serving dish warm threatened a pile of paper napkins stacked on a nearby plate.
As we watched, the napkins did catch on fire, sending a jet of flame and a spiral of smoke toward the high wooden ceiling of the recreation room.
"I thought I put that candle out!" Dora, a small silver-haired lady whose back had been to the napkins, exclaimed. She sat closest to the fire. She jumped up from her chair and hopped the two steps to the table. Her gait reminded me of a bird, but she showed complete competence as she grabbed a pitcher of drinking water and poured it over the napkins, quickly extinguishing the blaze.
The other eleven bridge players at the three card tables spontaneously applauded. Dora took a bow and said, tartly, "Now help me clean up this mess."
Two women sitting at her table got up and among the three of them they quickly sopped up the water from the wet table and the hardwood floor underneath, with paper towels. They disposed of the charred napkins and everything was neat and tidy again.
A remnant of smoke odor hung in the air and reminded me of the fires that burned in the large stone fireplace at one end of the room during the winter. I started to deal the cards I had shuffled just before the crisis and said, "Well, I guess we've had our excitement for today. A false fire alarm, followed by an actual attempt to burn the place down. Something tells me they happened in the wrong order. Now can we play some bridge?"
"Quit your grousing, Lillian, and bid," the lady to my left, said.
"Pass," I said. "My cards are as dull as everything else around here. I wish something really exciting would happen."
"Cheer up," Tess, my partner, said. She was slightly plumper than the average woman there, with a round, smiling face and every hair immaculately in place. Tess was my best friend at Silver Acres, a retirement community in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She continued, "As a mathematician, you know you're not always going to get interesting cards."
A commotion started at the next table. A man named Gerald Weiss was making strange noises and pointing at his throat. Dora, who was a retired nurse, quickly got up from her chair again and asked, "Gerald, are you choking?"
He nodded, unable to speak. Dora went behind his chair and wrapped her arms around him, making one hand into a fist. She pulled it sharply into his body below the rib cage, once, then again. At that point Gerald fell forward and his head hit the table with a thud. A woman sitting at the table screamed.
"Help me get him onto the floor," Dora said.
Several people who had already stood up assisted her.
"Call the clinic!" someone said in an urgent voice.
I carry a cellular phone in my purse; my son insists that I do. I pulled it out and asked, "What's the number of the clinic?" I had wanted excitement, but not this much. Be careful what you wish for.... Somebody told me the number; I punched it in and was quickly connected to the clinic, a part of the Silver Acres retirement community. "One of our residents has collapsed in the recreation room," I told the man who answered the phone.
"He's not breathing!" Dora shouted.
"He's not breathing," I repeated.
"We'll be right there," he said, and hung up.