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"Death Scents"

Well-received in print and online--Futures Mystery Anthology

Deidre's life is dramatically overturned when her husband is killed
by terrorists, then by the worst kind of betrayal by someone she loved
and trusted and, finally, by murder.

Death Scents
by Joan Regen-Ramirez
Source: Murder Mystery Anthology

Deidre Roth watched Matthew's casket being lowered into the damp
earth. A light rain had been falling all morning. Jet lag made her
shoulders sag as she stared at the flag-draped box.

Each word of Rabbi Robbins’s eulogy stabbed at her heart. "Matthew
contributed much in his thirty nine years on earth. . . ”

She dabbed at her eyes and turned to Natalie Saunders, her best friend
and former college roommate. "I don’t know how I’ll go on without

Natalie squeezed Deidre’s hand. "I know it’s hard, but you’ll get
through this. I can’t imagine losing Steven. He
wanted to be here, by the way, but he’s on assignment in the Orient.”

Deidre looked at Natalie. Between her penchant for tanning centers
and newly darkened hair, the woman glowed. Natalie was Vice President
of Marketing for Glorious Scents, a competitor of Matthew’s own company,
Scentsations. Their business competition never interfered with their
being best friends.

Deidre blew into her Kleenex. She turned to her sister, Stephanie, who
stood on the other side. "It's not fair," she whispered.
Stephanie kissed Deidre's sallow cheek. "Nothing ever is." Stephanie was
an actress struggling to get her big break in the theatre.
Matthew had been in Baghdad on a short-term assignment. He was reserve
Military Intelligence, filling in for someone who had been transferred
To Afghanistan. He only took those assignments when called upon. His
primary occupation was running Scentsations. After Baghdad, they were going to
meet in Venice for a second honeymoon. Then fly home to the
States to continue the research for Matthew's new line of scents.

Deidre couldn't imagine life without Matthew. They were planning to
start a family. Now, she was a widow at thirty-two, staring at the coffin
containing his last remains. All because a terrorist group bombed the building he
and six others were in. Deidre heard two airplanes passing through the clouds overhead. The
gray planes matched her mood.

After Matthew was laid to rest, Stephanie tried to pull Deidre
away from a barrage of photographers and reporters. It was no use.
They followed them to a waiting limousine, shouting questions.
"Is there any truth to the rumor that Scentsations has run out
of steam and perfumes?" the columnist for Global Fragrances

"What's it going to be, Deidre?” the reporter for Fabulous Scents
inquired. “Is the company poised for a takeover or are you planning
to run the whole show?"

Stephanie pushed Deidre onto the back seat of the limousine and
confronted the mob of reporters. "The last thing my sister needs at a
time like this is a bunch of gossip mongers. Cut her some slack. In a
few days, she’ll issue a statement."
She jumped in next to Deidre and slammed the door.
"Vultures! Poor Matthew isn't even cold in his grave, and they're picking
at his bones," Deidre cried.

An hour later, the limousine pulled up in front of a townhouse
on East Seventy-First Street between Second and Third Avenues.
Deidre walked into the living room and stared at a photo of her wedding
day. Matthew looked so handsome in his uniform. He’d been
preparing for the Baghdad assignment for months. He’d learned the
language, studied the history of the country, and found a trustworthy
contact. Matthew was a trained marksman and explosives expert.
He would never knowingly place himself in harm’s way.

She met Matthew in Paris when she worked as a perfume
correspondent for France Today. After they married, she used her
alone time to learn more about the business and the production
side of perfume. So much had changed in the industry since she helped
her grandmother collect rose petals in France to be shipped to perfume
manufacturers in the States. Her grandmother opened Deidre’s mind to
scent possibilities. Those were the happiest days of her life.

The texture of her life was now as delicate as the roses she selected
for Matthew's last perfume line. She felt stretched and strained like a
petal pressed under glass.

The doorbell intruded on Deidre’s mental anguish. She opened the door to
find Natalie standing on the front steps.
"Deidre, I have to catch a flight to Paris, but wanted to stop by
to see how you're doing."
Deidre dried her eyes. "Not so well, to tell you the truth. Matthew did
everything. He handled our bank account, paid the bills, and even
went grocery shopping. I only knew the world of perfume production."
Natalie held up her hand. "I'll be right back." She returned in a few
moments with flowers, a tray of sandwiches, a pot of hot tea, and a
box of cookies. "I would have brought more, but I didn't know what
you needed."

Deidre frowned. "Short of bringing Matthew back to me, I can't think of a
Natalie gave Deidre a peck on the cheek and ran down the front
steps. "See you in a few weeks."
Stephanie emerged from the den. “Who was that?”

Deidre pointed to the care package. “Natalie dropped it off, but I
don’t think I can eat anything.”

“Honey, you look awful. Go upstairs and take a hot bath. Then,
straight to bed. You need rest.”

“Can you stay with me for a few days?” Deidre asked.

Stephanie frowned. "Oh, I wish I could, but my manager called this
morning to tell me I've got a gig in Boston. It's only a bit part, but a beginning.”
Deidre's heart dropped, but she’d cope. Stephanie had been her
security blanket. Now both she and Natalie had to go away for a while.
After she and Stephanie said their goodbyes, Deidre ascended the
stairs for her bath and bed.

Stephanie called her every day for the next two weeks to check up on
her. Natalie never called, but Deidre knew what the perfume industry
was like in France. There was never a spare moment for anything.

At the end of those two weeks, Deidre decided she had to get out of the
house and begin restructuring her life. After dressing for a
visit to the corporate offices of Scentsations, she went onto the
terrace and opened an envelope an Army officer delivered the day before.
In addition to Matthew's will, there were detailed instructions for a new
line of products including formulas and marketing ideas. He called them
Cleopatra's Gold -- scented lip color, perfume, and moisturizer.
Deidre studied the fact sheet for the products. Now she had an
agenda for living. She’d put Matthew's new line on the market.
She dropped the information in a portfolio and headed for
the corporate headquarters on Fifth Avenue and Fifty-Ninth Street.
During the ride up to the Forty-fifth floor, she thought of the widows
she knew who tried to revive their husband's companies.
Only time would tell if she'd join the winner's circle or crumble from
the pressure.
As the elevator approached her floor, she held her breath and prayed.
When the elevator doors opened and she stepped out, the receptionist
said “Good morning” very politely. The messenger boy smiled then
hurried away, obviously not knowing what to say.
The rest of the staff went about their business as though nothing had
"Good morning, Mrs. Roth,” said Mrs. Conlan, Matthew’s former secretary.
“How nice to see you.”
After Mrs. Conlan unlocked the door to Matthew's office, Deidre
stepped inside and walked around the room.
She fingered the rose-shaped crystal paperweight Matthew had
won for his first creation as well as the FiFi from the Fragrance
Foundation. It was the "Oscar" of the perfume industry.
Deidre retrieved a fistful of folders from a low filing cabinet. Matthew
had told her what to guard in case anything happened to him.
She closed the drawer and returned the key to her pocket.
She sat at Matthew’s desk and reviewed the formulas for
Cleopatra's Gold. After that, she went through her mail and
found something from the International Cosmetic
Women's Association. She was invited to attend the Thirty-Fourth
Annual Beauty Awards Ceremony and Exhibition to be held at the
Hilton Hotel on Saturday evening at eight o'clock.
Deidre knew she needed to reinstate her professional as well as
her personal life and called in her reservation. It would be the perfect
time to talk to people in the trade and see what was new and exciting.
Natalie was sure to be there as well as many other people she knew.
For the remainder of the week, Deidre kept her mind focused on
bolstering Matthew's existing product lines and thinking up marketing
and promotional strategies for the Cleopatra's Gold line.
Launching Cleopatra’s Gold would be her first solo venture. She wanted
it to be perfect.
The afternoon of the big event, Deidre went for a pedicure, manicure, and
hair styling. She wore black with a string of cultured pearls Matthew
had given her for their last wedding anniversary.
When she entered the lobby of the Hilton Hotel, she noticed a crowd
gathered around a particular display. She was curious but was unable
to see over the onlookers. She pinned on her nametag and walked into the
main ballroom.

A few minutes later, the presenters took their seats on the podium.
Natalie walked right past Deidre without saying a word. How odd, Deidre
thought. She buried her hurt feelings. Natalie's name was called.
There was a drum roll, followed by an announcement.
"The award for the most creative new line goes to Natalie
Saunders for Cleopatra's Gold."
Deidre gasped. Her throat went dry. She felt as if someone had sucked
the air out of her lungs. Pangs of hurt and anger stabbed at her
heart. Natalie had been her roommate in college. She’d been maid
of honor at Natalie’s wedding to Steven.
A young girl dressed like an Egyptian queen walked around the room
handing out black parchment cards with the product name written
in gold script.

Deidre kept her temper in check throughout the program, but when
everyone filed out of the ballroom and into the banquet hall, she
walked over to the display of Cleopatra’s Gold products.
Forgetting to pick up her goodie bag, Deidre arched her shoulders and tapped Natalie on
the shoulder. "You've stolen Matthew’s new line. How could
you do that?”
"Matthew’s new line?" Natalie replied in an indignant tone. "It was
my own idea. I’ve been working on it for a long time.”
"You’re lying. You stole it. I don’t know how because I only learned
of its existence after Matthew's death, but I know you stole it.”
Natalie placed her hands on her waist and confronted Deidre.
"Listen, Miss High and Mighty, it's my formula. I already told
you, I developed it. There's no sense in being a spoilsport.
If the shoe were on the other foot, I'd be congratulating you."
Deidre felt her stomach muscles contracting. "You'll be hearing
from my lawyer. In case you hadn't heard, stealing a formula is
illegal. I thought you were my best friend. It shows what a poor
judge of character I was."
Deidre shoved her banquet ticket into Natalie's hand. "I'd sooner
have a homeless person sitting in my seat than to listen to more
of your lies. Goodbye."
Deidre was so agitated she almost walked into the men's restroom.
After splashing cold water on her face from a nearby fountain, she
jogged down the escalator and hailed a cab back to her townhouse.
Within the confines of her home, she dialed Dennis Jameson, the
family lawyer.
"You sound frantic,” he said. What's wrong?"
There was static on the line.
"She stole it, Dennis."
"Deidre, take a deep breath and calm down."
Deidre sucked in and blew out three yoga breaths. "Natalie Saunders,
my best friend, my former college roommate, stole my husband's
perfume formula. I went to a beauty award show today and saw our
products with her name on them. Can we sue?"

Deidre heard animal noises in the background. "Where are you?"
"On a game preserve in South Africa. At this point, unless you can catch
her with her hand in the cookie jar, there's not much I can do. I should
be home in another two weeks. "
Deidre gnawed on the edge of a pencil eraser. "I can't wait that long. I
want to stop her before she distributes those products."
A lion roared.
"Then, I'm afraid, you're going to have to investigate on your
own, but please don't do anything rash."
After she hung up with Dennis, Deidre turned on an antique brass
lamp and sorted through Matthew's scent notes. Then she searched
through Matthew's Rolodex. She found nothing in any of the notes
that would help her prove Natalie stole the formula.
She decided to call it a day. She’d begin anew tomorrow. She turned
on the TV just in time to hear a news broadcast.

"This just in. Natalie Saunders, of the import/export conglomerate,
Glorious Scents, was found strangled in her apartment. The killer is
still at large."
Deidre's jaw dropped. Somewhere in her mist of shock and confusion,
she heard a telephone ring. The phone rang and rang. Finally, she
picked up the receiver and heard her sister’s voice.
"Deidre, I just heard about Natalie," Stephanie said.

After Deidre told Stephanie what Natalie had done, she said, "I wish you
and Dennis were here."
"I wish I could be there, too, but you have to be strong,"
Stephanie said. "I have to get back to rehearsals. Promise me you won't
do anything rash or foolish."

Deidre promised, but she really had no idea what she would do.

The next morning, Deidre woke with a splitting headache. She swallowed
some Tylenol, showered, dressed, and was out the door
and on her way to Matthew's office.
After approving the manufacturing schedules for Matthew's last two lines,
she tried to focus on her research material. Now that Cleopatra's Gold
was gone, she'd have to start over. She leafed through page after page
of perfume and cosmetic concepts, but nothing appealed to her.
Damn you, Natalie!
What hurt most was that she treated the woman like a sister. No
matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t get it off her mind. She had to
find out how Natalie got her hands on Matthew’s formula.
The best place to start was Natalie's apartment. If she had to
tear the place apart, she'd find the answers.
She couldn't just walk into Natalie's apartment building. Or could she?
She wasn't a suspect. People heard them arguing, but Natalie was
alive when Deidre left the hotel.
"Please hold my calls," she told Mrs. Conlan and hopped on the
elevator. A block away from Natalie's apartment, she piled her
hair underneath a beret she had found in Matthew's closet. She
put on dark sunglasses and after taking several deep breaths,
walked into the lobby and over to the concierge.
He looked Deidre up and down.
"Hello,” she said, “Where is the regular concierge?"
"He's on vacation, Madam."
"I'm the late Mrs. Saunders best friend and I'm helping the family with
the funeral arrangements. They asked me to get a dress to bury her
in. Natalie gave me the key to her apartment some time ago."

"Well, I don't know. Can I see some identification?”
Deidre reached into her purse and took out her wallet. "Look, this is
a picture of us at her wedding. I don't want her to be buried like some
pauper. I promise not to touch anything in the apartment. You can
even come up with me if you like."
"No, I can't leave the desk unmanned."
"I'll go straight to her wardrobe closet for a nice pair of shoes
and her favorite dress."
The man relaxed his jaw muscles. "Well, I guess it'll be okay. The
police are supposed to come later, but I’m sure it won’t be for a
while. Just be quick about it and don't touch anything."

"No problem."

Once in Natalie’s apartment, Deidre searched every room looking for
anything referring to Cleopatra’s Gold. Finally, in Natalie’s bedroom
closet, stashed in a shoe box, she found a letter. After reading it, she wished she hadn’t.
The letter was addressed to Natalie
and the handwriting was familiar. It was Matthew’s. In the letter, he
said how much he loved her and how he couldn’t wait until they were
together. He also talked about how they would launch Cleopatra’s Gold
as the start of their new life.

Deidre dropped the letter on the floor and nearly collapsed. This
couldn’t be true. She would have known if he had been unhappy with their marriage,
or if there was someone else in his life; but it was all there in the
letter. She couldn’t believe it, but she had to.

Deidre began to shake. She tossed herself on Natalie’s bed and couldn’t
hold back her tears.

After a few minutes, she felt a firm hand grip her shoulder.
"Why, Deidre, what's the matter?"
She sat up to match a face to the voice. "Steven! You're here.
Natalie said....”
Steven Saunders folded his arms and laughed. "That I was in the Orient
and couldn’t tear myself away? That’s what I wanted her and everyone
else to think. “

“I don’t understand.”

“I've been back for over a week now, following Natalie around and looking
for an opportunity to give her what she deserved. I was at the awards
ceremony yesterday and was overjoyed at how you gave me the perfect
opportunity. Your presence and the argument you had with Natalie provided
me with the perfect opportunity to do what I had to do and place the
blame on you.”

“Then you knew about the affair she was having with Matthew?”

Steven laughed again. “Oh, that? I see you found the letter. Well,
dear Deidre, I’ll put your mind at ease. There was no affair. I’m the
one who gave her the formula for Cleopatra’s Gold. I found it among
Matthew’s effects after he was killed. I sent it to Natalie and told
her that we’d launch it after I returned, but she decided not to
wait for me. She went ahead on her own and told me she was going
to file for divorce. That's why she flew to Paris so soon after Matthew's
funeral; to put her plan in motion. That’s when I decided to come back without her
or anyone else knowing.”

Steven paced back and forth. As he talked Deidre,
tried to comprehend what he was saying. She was also thinking
of how she could get out of there alive.

“But the letter. I just read it and....”

“That letter was a forgery and a very good one, if I have to say so
myself. You have to remember that I’m in Army Intelligence just like
Matthew and that skill is almost a requirement of the job. The letter
was the final touch to make sure you got the blame for Natalie’s death.
So put your mind at ease. Your precious Matthew was true to you
to the very end. I didn’t intend for you to find the letter.
The police were supposed to discover it. Once they get the letter, they’ll have all
the motive they’ll need to put her murder on you.”

“You won’t get away with it, Steven. I’ll tell them the truth.”

“I’m afraid you won’t be telling them anything. This is how the police
will see it. You weren't satisfied with Natalie's explanation at the hotel so you came

here to the apartment to confront her. Your argument with her continued and
when she bragged about how she and Matthew planned to launch the new
product line together, you went berserk and killed her. Then, today, you came
back to make sure you hadn’t left anything here to implicate yourself. That’s
when you found the letter. It left you so distraught, you decided to end
it all by taking a ten-story dive off the balcony. I hadn’t planned it this way,
but your coming here today was perfect.”

Deidre knew she had to make a break. When
Steven reached for her, she ducked under his arms and made a dash
for the door.
Steven reached out to grab her, but she made it out of the bedroom
and into the living room. As he chased her around, she
knocked over several chairs, threw a folder filled with papers in his
face, but soon found herself pinned back against Natalie’s writing desk.

Steven grabbed a handful of her hair and pulled her head back. When she
tried to break away, he landed several blows to her face. She felt blood seeping
from her nose. She groped around on the desk for something to use as a weapon.
Her hands settled on a letter opener.

When Steven pulled his fist back for another blow, she plunged it into his stomach.

Steven staggered backward and stared down at the letter opener sticking
out of his midsection. With an anguished growl, he came at her again.

Deidre remembered what Matthew taught her about self-defense
and a man's weak point. With all the strength she had left, she kicked
Steven in the groin. He fell on the floor, writhing in pain.
Deidre stepped over him and ran to the door. As she reached it,
the door burst open and police officers rushed in.

They looked at Deidre, then at Steven lying on the floor and bleeding
from his stomach.

Deidre tried to blurt out her story. “He killed Natalie and he just
tried to....”

One of two detectives who’d followed the officers inside held up his hand. “Please, Mrs. Roth, you don’t have to explain. We heard everything. As a matter
of fact, we have it all on tape.”

Deidre was speechless. “”

The detective explained while his partner looked at Steven.

“We had a feeling the killer would come back here, so we bugged the
apartment. We were surprised when you showed up, but when
the perpetrator first came in, we knew we had the right man. A witness saw someone
leave the building last night matching his description.”

Deidre took it all in. Then, she felt a rage building inside of her. “Well
I must say you took your time getting here. He could have killed me.”

The detective stared at Steven crawled up in the fetal position on the floor, then back at
her. “Oh, I don’t know. Looks like you handled him pretty well all by
yourself.” He smiled at her.

Deidre thought about it a moment. Then she smiled back. “Yes, I

A few days later, Deidre received a desperate phone call from the
company who had agreed to manufacture the Cleopatra’s Gold
products for Natalie. They wanted to know when Deidre would be
available to plan the nationwide launch of the line.
Deidre waited two days. Then she returned the call.


Author Bio

Joan Regen-Ramirez’s passion for perfume sent her to Grasse, France, where she received a certificate in perfume production. She is also a former journalist, corporate communications writer, business presentation trainer and published photographer with a pre-9/11 photograph in the New York Historical Society’s archival collection. Joan wrote perfume articles for United and International Perfume Bottler's Association. She is also a member of Mystery Writers of America. In addition, she’s working on a suspense novel and a young adult story. If you’d like to comment on her story, she can be reached at