Beads of Doubt

Free Beads of Doubt by Barbara Burnett Smith

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Authors: Barbara Burnett Smith
take care of it.” Then she raced out again. The speed of that woman was increasing in direct proportion to the amount of weight she was losing. It needed to stop soon or our almost-fifty-year friendship was going to end; I wouldn’t be able to keep up with her.
    By the time I made it downstairs, the volunteers were everywhere, and there was a line of people at the front door waiting to get in to have tea. Luckily each ticket had a seating time, so the line wasn’t too long. Others were milling outside the tent waiting for it to open.
    I was on a mission. That damned candlestick had to be somewhere, and that somewhere had to be in my house. I looked in the conservatory again, just in case I’d missed it earlier—as if that were even possible. I went around the entire room, looking behind plants and under tablecloths. I was practically under a serving table when someone spoke to me.
    “Hi. Did you need some help?” It was Lauren from Houston’s office. I crawled out and smoothed my hair as I stood up. “Oh. Miss Camden.” She backed up. “I didn’t know it was you.”
    “It’s all right, Lauren. I’m not going to bite you.”
    “Oh, I know.” But she didn’t look like she believed me.
    “I am looking for a very large brass candlestick. Actually two of them that were on the fireplace. Have you seen them?”
    “Uh, no, ma’ am. ”
    “Thank you. And don’t call me ‘ma’am.’ ”
    “Yes, ma’am,” she said, then stopped. “Uh, I’m sorry. I just forgot.”
    I looked at her for a moment. She was not dressed quite as top-of-the-line as she’d been yesterday in Houston’s office, but she still looked nice in black slacks and a white shirt, which was standard fare for the servers at the tea. I couldn’t help but wonder if she knew about Andrew.
    I decided she didn’t. I could only hope that when she found out she was back at Houston’s, fending off visitors or whatever her main job was. I didn’t want her here. I didn’t want that murder any closer than it already was.
    She was still watching me warily, which was her problem, not mine. “Lauren, I didn’t realize you were going to be here. You must be a member of the Bead Society. Or the OCO.
    “Uh, no, ma’a . . . I mean, no, I’m not. Houston sent me down here, kind of as a donation. He’s paying me to be here, since Rebecca can’t work this hard, and he’s busy.”
    I nodded. “That’s very nice of him. Thank you.”
    “It’s a really pretty house.”
    “Thank you.” She was so ramrod straight I was tempted to say “as you were, soldier,” but I didn’t. I went looking in several of the coat closets and even the pantry, but by that time the front doors were open and guests were coming in.
    When we have big events at the Manse, my mother and I become minor celebrities. Not movie star status, no secret service or hulking bodyguards, but we do make a point of walking through and visiting with people. We also end up getting our picture taken with dozens of guests, and we autograph menus or tickets or such. No one has ever asked me to sign a body part, and I’m just as happy with that. I did sign several T-shirts one year, after a bike race, but that’s all.
    Our family has always figured if we aren’t willing to do such things, then we should simply stay out of sight. Nowadays my mother can go to the gatehouse and she isn’t bothered. In the Manse itself we have some of those velvet ropes to close off areas we don’t want guests in. We don’t use them often, since we know people like to look around, but there are times when they are quite useful, like when I had the flu and I was upstairs with several boxes of Kleenex, bottles of aspirin, and two good books. I also had a box of chocolate-covered cherries, which I’m positive have vitamin C in them. Well, they are fruit. In any case, I didn’t want people seeing me that way.
    Another classic example is the time Sinatra had accidentally been closed up in an upstairs bedroom

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