Saturday arrived more quickly than I had expected. There had been no breaks in the Price case, and I was hoping the announcement would take care of things for me. I arrived at Olivia and Kent's about nine-thirty. I was afraid they wouldn't be up yet, but Kent opened the door as soon as I knocked.
"I told you she'd be early." A voice behind him said, and presently Olivia appeared at his side. She is truly adorable. Only a little bit taller than I am, but with a heart shaped face and silky blonde hair framing it. Her eyes are naturally gray, but she's worn colored contact lenses since I've known her, making them blue. Olivia has always had a great figure, but right now her belly is stuck out so far that her arms barely reached around when she hugged me.
"Hi, Livi." I said when she stepped back. "How are you feeling? How's Maddie?" Madelyn 'Maddie' Alyssa Ingram was the newest addition to the family.
"I'm fine." She patted the protruding portion of her abdomen gently, "I think Maddie's feeling a little cramped, but she's doing okay."
"Good. I really appreciate you letting me borrow your car today."
"Oh, it's no problem," she said, "Can have a celebrity showing up in that Honda of yours, can we?"
"Speaking of which," I said, "I've got it parked on the street, but do you want me to put it in the commuter lot off the highway?" In their subdivision, you did not repeat, not see cars like mine.
"Oh goodness no," Olivia waved away my suggestion, "If anyone has a problem with it, they need to get a life."
"If you're sure…"
"Oh yes. Now, let's get you prettied up." She led me down the hall to a spare bedroom, where I slipped into my dress and shoes. I had stayed up late painting my nails blue with little white flowers to match my outfit. Olivia was waiting for me when I stepped back into the hallway. She nodded approvingly at my attire. "Looks good, Quinby. I love what you've done with your nails. But," she hesitated, "You aren't leaving your hair like that, are you?"
I fingered a strand of my mane. "What's wrong with it?" I had spent much more time than usual brushing it that morning.
"Oh nothing," Olivia said kindly, "It just isn't quite right for someone of your… prominence. What time do you have to be there?"
"The invitation said noon, but I'm supposed to meet my date at eleven-thirty."
Olivia consulted her watch, "Oh, we've got plenty of time then. Come with me." Before I could object to the command, she took my arm, and fairly drug me up the stairs, though their bedroom and into the master bathroom, where she proceeded to pull out an arsenal of curling irons, pins, sprays and gels. I faced away from the mirror while she attacked my hair with a small-tooth comb. "So, who are you going with?" she asked around a mouthful of bobby pins. "Anyone I know?"
"No, I don't think so. I met him earlier this week at the post office." I heard a grunt of disapproval from my hostess. "I'm not seriously interested in him," I quickly assured her. "After today, I don't intend to lay eyes on him again."
"Just be careful Quinby," she said softly, "If you're lonely-"
"I'm not." It was a lie- I was lonely, but not just for male companionship. No one could ever take Ted's place for me.
Evidently Olivia didn't believe my denial any more than I did, "It's okay if you're lonely. And it's been what three years?"
"There's no reason you shouldn't date," she wound a strand of hair on the barrel of the curling iron and I tensed. Hot appliances next to my scalp make me nervous. "Just maybe it should be a guy from church," she sounded so timid that if we weren't discussing such a serious topic I would have found it comical. "I mean there are several who are interested. I could-"
"Olivia, I appreciate your concern, really. But I don't want to start dating yet. Probably not ever. It's just that I needed someone to go with me, and I owed Garrett a favor. I figured in front of a hundred or so witnesses was a good time to pay up." I could tell she was frowning, "Do you not believe me?"
She sighed, "It isn't that I don't believe you, Quinby. But I've had a lot of friends tell me the same thing, and then… before long it's an every week thing, and then they're getting married, and next then you know they're out of church, and-" I turned around and removed the weapon from her hands. "Please don't be angry." She whispered.
"Livi," I stopped and stared at her, suddenly overcome by a rush of emotion. I did not deserve to have friends who cared this much about me. I resolved to thank the Lord more often for the wonderful people He has put in my life. I sighed, "I'm not angry. I don't know that I could ever be angry with you. Kent, sometimes, yes. But not you. I really am glad you l-love," I stumbled over the word which was unfamiliar to my lips- how sad is that? "Me enough to counsel me so. But you really don't have to worry. I am not going to start seeing Garrett or anyone else for that matter. But when- if I do, I won't pick some random dude off the street. I do know better than that."
She hugged me, "I'm glad you aren't mad. I know you 'know better' but believe it or not, I know how hard it is to keep from following your heart at times. I won't harp on you right now, but if I decide to later, you won't be able to stop me."
"I'm duly warned," I said with a giggle, trying to ward off the tenseness of the moment. "Now, we'd better finish this, because I don't think I want to set a new style by going to Carson Simmons' with my hair half done."
Olivia finished my hair do in record time. I freely admit it looked much better after she was through. She had casually swept it up into a twist at the back of my head, and arranged random curls so they cascaded away in a reckless style that I would love to imitate more often. After that we went downstairs, and she turned over the keys to her car. I had one more delay when she say me about to put them in my purse- yes, the faux leather black on I carry every day. Nothing do but Olivia bring me a silver satin clutch that did not hold everything I wanted in it, but looked better with my dress. I was again preparing to leave when she voiced another concern about Garrett.
"Quinby how do you know this guy isn't a serial rapist or something?"
The thought had occurred to me, but I blushed at the question, "I don't," she frowned, "Which is why I have a Colt .380 strapped to my thigh."
Kent burst out laughing, "How do you conceal a gun in that dress?" he asked, then immediately retracted the question, and put his hands up in the universal sign of surrender, "Never mind. I don't want to know."
"Trust me. It's there, and it's loaded. All seven bullets."
After that question was settled, Kent led me out to the garage, where I climbed into Olivia's navy blue Lincoln MKZ. As a passing thought, I wondered what the very nice car would look like by the time Maddie was in preschool. Kent reiterated to me that I should be very careful with 'this Garrett Whitson' (he sneered ever so slightly as he said the name) and to keep my cell on me at all times and call him if I needed anything. Even though we aren't related, Kent is exactly what I've always thought a big brother should be. I agreed to his terms, turned the key in the ignition, and backed out of the garage.
I was ten minutes early for my meeting with Garrett. He arrived a bit before eleven thirty. I was standing by the car waiting for him. He gave my attire an assessing look before greeting me. It was apparent he liked what he saw. I blushed; it isn't often I'm on the receiving end of those glances. "I suppose we should be going," I said once I found my voice. I dangled the keys to Olivia's car in front of me, "Do you want to drive." Famous pop singers probably don't drive themselves to parties. He accepted the keys from me, and after walking around to open my door slid behind the wheel. I gave directions as we drove. Though Mr. Simmons kept his office in Dover, his main residence was a country estate outside of Newark. Kent had told me exactly how to get there, which triggered some interesting glances from Garrett, as I was able to phrase my instructions as though I'd been there dozens of times. When we finally pulled up to the gate, a very serious looking security guard asked to see my invitation and identification. How Kent had obtained a fake visa for me in a matter of days, I did not know, nor did I want to, but the frowning man seemed appeased by my offerings and told Garrett where to park the car.
"You aren't from the U.S.?" he asked as we drove past the guard.
"Belarus," I said softly, trying to insert a subtle Slavic accent. We stepped out of the car and made our way to the terrace. A woman I recognized as Ellen Simmons, Carson's wife.
"Miss Auboshon, it's so good of you to join us." Ellen was in her mid-forties, her face devoid of age-defying improvements save perhaps a bit of Botox around her eyes, and some very good foundation. Her hair was dishwater blonde, (I suppose one properly calls it dark blonde) and caught up in a silver clip. I liked her immediately.
"It was most thoughtful of you to invite me, Ellen."
"Oh, there's someone over here you simply have to meet. And would you consider singing for us this afternoon?" she whisked me off to another corner of the terrace. If Garrett saw the look of alarm in my eyes, he ignored it as he moved to speak to Mr. Simmons.
Two hours later, I was up on all of Newark's aristocracy, as well as stuffed with all manner of expensive foods. The caviar was exceptional, and I heard the champagne was as well, though I don't imbibe, and Garrett, whether out of deference to me or of personal preference abstained also. Mr. Price had arrived about thirty minutes late, and I overheard him making excuses to Carson- something about Barrie. I had surreptitiously asked questions of her to be assured she wasn't coming before I showed up- that could have proved awkward. What intrigued me though was the woman who plastered herself to Mason Price almost as soon as he arrived, and had yet to let go. It was Lynnette Morris from the doctor's office. I wondered how she had wrangled an invitation. The other person Mason spent time with was a tall man who I would guess to be in his mid-fifties. Garrett informed me it was David Spencer, LEKU's CEO. It appeared that they were indeed as close as Kent had predicted, although I wondered how Garrett knew this. It was around two-thirty, and many of our co-attendees were a bit 'in their cups' when Mason solicited the crowd's attention.
"First of all, our hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Simmons have asked me to thank you for coming today. I'm sure you can all agree with me that they have been extremely generous to have us," he paused and we all applauded. "Now, I have an announcement to make," my breath caught, and I tried to read his face, but could not discern if he was unhappy. "I have already discussed this matter with my employer, Mr. Spencer- Dave why don't you come here," the tall man made his way over, "And with the rest of our company, as well as with Mr. Simmons, since I am making this announcement at his party. I have immensely enjoyed the privilege of working at LEKU these past years, but the time has come for me to tender my resignation." I gasped along with the rest of the crowd, but it sounded as though he was too happy to be announcing his impending demise. "I have been invited to join ArtSound, a similar firm in Tulsa, and will be leaving in a matter of weeks." While everyone else applauded, I sighed. I had just wasted my afternoon.
After a bit more mingling, I convinced Garrett we should leave before Ellen could force me to sing. We got back to Wal-Mart about four, and he left the car running as he walked around to my side and opened the door. "Thank you for asking me to come, Kiley." He said, "I had a great time. Would you like to go for supper sometime?"
"Thank you, but no."
"Kiley," he leaned in, and for one terrifying second I thought he was going to try and kiss me. Instinctively my hand crept toward my gun, even though it wasn't really a violence-worthy situation. I guess I looked frightened enough that he backed away, and instead asked, "Why didn't you tell me you were a singer? I had to find out from Mrs. Simmons."
I hated to lie to him, but had nothing to say that was the truth, "I want to be a normal American." It wasn't an outright untruth; I do want to be a 'normal' American, whatever that was.
"I hate to break it to you," he said with a chuckle, "but driving a car that looks like it's headed for the junkyard may not be the way to do it."
"I thought it was closer than," I gestured to my outfit and Olivia's car, "this."
"Maybe," he said, "maybe. Thank you again for a wonderful afternoon, Kiley." He pecked me on the cheek, and before I had time to react, he walked over and got into his truck.
I got into the car, and turned on the engine. Before I left the lot, I opened up Olivia's clutch and checked my cell phone. I had a text message from Kent. He knows I don't text, so it must be important. I opened the message, 'O water broke. Gone to hosp. Please pray.' Immediately I dialed his number. He picked up on the second ring. "Quinby?"
"Kent, hi, is everything okay?" I was pretty sure he wouldn't have answered if it wasn't. "Are Olivia and Maddie all right?"
"Yes, they're fine. Olivia's exhausted and Maddie is," a squall came over the phone and I pulled it away from my ear momentarily, "Cranky. But they're good."
"Oh, good. Congratulations. I was worried when I read your text."
"I know you don't normally message, but I wanted to tell you. I was too- scared to talk."
I knew the anxiety of rushing your spouse to the hospital, "But everything's fine?"
"Yes, it's fine. The doctor said everything was perfectly normal. I'm just the typical freaked out new father." I laughed at that, "Hey, do you think you could swing by here on the way home?"
"I didn't want to ask, but… are you sure Olivia's up to that?"
"She says she is. If you don't mind would you take my truck back to our house? I don't plan to go home, and I think it would be easier for Olivia to get in the car than the truck."
"Of course I don't mind. I'll be there in a few minutes." I left the parking lot and drove to St. Francis Hospital. Kent had told me what room they were in, and I found it without difficulty. The lights were off in the room, and Olivia was lying in bed resting, and Kent was cajoling a blanket wrapped Maddie who was softly fussing. I tiptoed over to steal a peek. I would say that she was a beautiful baby, but her face was all scrunched up as she was obviously displeased with the current state of affairs, and I couldn't see much except her mouth which was wide open.
"You want to hold her?" Kent asked without pausing his up and down bouncing that looked like some kind of crazy swing dance.
"I don't think she would like that," I replied.
"Go ahead and take her anyway; I've got to go get some things out of the truck." He deposited his daughter into my arms. I offered him the keys to Olivia's car in case he needed to transfer anything over. He took the keys, but said, "It's mostly trash. I was forbidden," he jerked his head in the direction of his wife, "to let you take it without cleaning."
Maddie started fussing louder after Kent left, and I tried an imitation of the bouncy thing he'd done, but evidently I just didn't have it. I held her against my chest and sat in the chair and rocked which mollified her a little bit. "Quinby?" Olivia said from the bed, "Is that you?"
Maddie froze at the sound of her mother's voice. I stood up and walked over to Olivia, "Yes, I'm here. Do you need anything? Kent's gone to get something out of his truck."
Olivia blinked a few times as if trying to get her eyes to focus, "He'd better be cleaning out his truck. That thing's filthy!" she started to push herself into a sitting position.
"Careful," I said, "Do you want me to raise the bed for you?"
"No, I've got it," she reached for the controller beside her and with a whine of protest the hospital bed folded itself at a 130 degree angle. "What do you think of my little girl?" she asked, nodding at Maddie.
"She's beautiful, Livi." Maddie scrunched up her tiny face again and I was afraid she might cry, "But I think she wants you." I relinquished the tiny bundle into her arms.
"She doesn't know what she wants." Olivia caressed her daughter's cheek gently. "Kent's been trying all afternoon to please her."
"Already got Daddy wrapped around her little finger, huh?"
"What's this about me?" Kent strode back into the room. He was immediately drawn to Olivia, "Did you have a good nap, Honey?" he bent down to kiss her.
I looked away feeling like I was invading their privacy. "I think I'm going home. Where do you want your truck, Kent?"
"In the garage. The door opener is in the visor." He handed over his keys. "I left yours in the car, but under the seat. I hope that was okay." He frowned.
"If anybody steals that hunk of junk, they're an idiot." I said.
I left Kent's keys in the console and after changing out of my dress clothes in the bathroom, got back in my car. I use I-95 on my way home, and took exit 7a for Delaware Avenue, and drove to Wilmington & Brandywine Cemetery. I'm not the good wife who visits her husband's grave on a weekly or even monthly basis. I show up whenever. It had been probably about six months since I'd come last, and weeds had begun to grow around Ted's headstone. Normally the groundskeeper was very good about such things, and I wondered what had happened. I pulled the weeds while I blinked back tears. After I finished, I sat down and studied his headstone for a while. I had wanted to purchase the adjacent plot and a double headstone, but Ted had been adamantly opposed. "You're going to get married again." He said with a certainty that baffled me, "And risk the possibility of going through this again?" I'd countered; "No way!" he'd won in the end, mostly because of our financial situation at the time. I'd always intended to come back and make arrangements to buy the other piece of land, but hadn't had the money, and now someone else was buried there. Ted's parents had bought his headstone, and called me right before it was set. "Theodore Walter Xander," it reads, "Born August 14, 1980, Died October 15, 2008." Ted had never gone by Theodore, but his parents had insisted on his formal name. It was the last time I had spoken with my in-laws- not that we'd been close when Ted was alive. After he came to know Christ in college, they hadn't wanted much to do with him, and I'd only met them a few times during our marriage. After a few moments, I looked over at the small bronze placard to my right, the one that had motivated me to come here today. "Trevor Clarkson Xander: April 2007: In the arms of Jesus" It was tradition in my husband's family that all the boys' names begin with 'T'- his father was Terrence, and Ted had all but insisted we give our son my maiden name for his middle name. I could recall (a bit fuzzily considering my drugged state at the time) lying in my hospital bed protesting that Clarkson was too long of a name for such a small boy. Ted had looked up from little Trevor, whom he was holding while we discussed names, and pointed out, very softly, and with tears in his eyes, that it wasn't as though he had to spell it on his first day of kindergarten. It's very hard, holding your son, not in your arms, but in the palm of your hand, and that being far too large a cradle, knowing that this is the first and last time you'll do so. It had almost been more than I could take holding Maddie at the hospital today Every time I looked down at her, all I had been able to see was Trevor's miniature face, wondering… I knew, deep down that in His infinite wisdom, God had done what was best for me. Ted had died mere weeks after what should have been our son's first birthday. I'd already had to take a second job for a while to combat the bills that came in faster than I could write checks to pay them- there was no way I could have taken care of a toddler- I mean, really, I live in my office because I can't afford an apartment, that is no place to keep a baby. Baby- no, Trevor would be starting school in a couple months- should be starting-… I could hold back my tears no longer. I don't know how long I cried, sitting between the graves of the two most important people in my life, but when I finally looked up, the shadows were growing long, and my small pile of weeds had begun to wither in the summer heat. I stood, brushed the grass clippings from my skirt and turned to go when I saw a man bent over the headstone next to Ted's watching me. The man was probably in his mid-forties; his hair was receding and had just begun to gray. He had blue eyes so light that for a moment I wondered if they had any color at all.
"Is that your husband and son?" he asked. I nodded. "I'd noticed the markers, and thought that was how it must be. I'm sorry."
"Thank you." I could barely force the words out of my sore throat. "You…?"
"My wife," he nodded at the headstone in front of him, and then pointed to the next one over, "and daughter."
"Oh," empathy is perhaps not the appropriate word for what I felt for this man, though it would likely be placed there. I would choose to say I understood. "I am so sorry."
He nodded, "You and I- we're in that group- it'll never happen to me…" his voice trailed off for a moment, "and then it does."
"Yeah," I crossed to look at his wife's headstone, 'Martha Jane Dryer 1970-2010' "How long had you been married?"
"How old was your little girl?" I couldn't see that far in the fading light, and figured he wouldn't mind talking about her.
"Gracie? Eight." I didn't say anything, but he must have expected the question playing in my mind, "Car wreck. Some jerk higher than a kite- never even knew he hit their car. Martha lasted a few days afterwards, but," he shook his head, "Knowing Gracie was gone- she just gave up- I can't blame her, I wanted to as well." He was quiet for a moment, "I saw your son was in infancy, but your husband-?"
"Cancer," I said quietly.
"Oh, man that's rough. Watching Martha for two days was almost more than I can handle. I can't imagine- I guess you don't want to talk about it."
"Not really." I already relive the last few days of Ted's life in my nightmares. I don't need to think about it in my waking hours too.
I left Mr. Dryer alone and walked back to the car. My cell phone rang in my purse as I reached for my keys. It was Kent. "Quinby, where have you been? I've called four times!"
"Sorry, what did you need?" I put the car in reverse and turned around in the lot before pulling onto Delaware Avenue.
"I just wanted to make sure you'd got home okay. Were your keys still in the car?"
"Yeah, everything's fine."
"Why didn't you answer?"
"I…I stopped by the cemetery on my way home."
"Oh," there was a pause, "I'm sorry, I'll leave you alone."
"No, it's fine, I'm on 95 now. Are Livi and Maddie doing okay still?"
"Yes, they're both asleep. I had to get out of the room because I was afraid I'd wake them. Right now I'm in the visitors' lounge debating about a cappuccino from a machine."
"If it isn't any better than the one at the gas station at the corner of Basin and Jay, forget it and buy yourself a Coke."
"Drinking a lot of those these days, Quinby? You ought to get more sleep."
"Only because my coffee maker died the other day, and I'm too cheap to buy one, but no one wants to hire a detective on a caffeine deficit."
"Sixty-nine cents a cup would pay for a new machine in a month."
It mildly disgusts me that he can figure mathematics so quickly, "All right, I'll start saving. But I'm warning you, our friendship will be in jeopardy if you have to be around me while I'm decaffeinated." Kent laughed. "I'm working on a big case right now. When it's over I'll have plenty of money."
"Like enough to get an apartment?"
The thought had crossed my mind, "Maybe. I don't know yet, but I hope so." The idea of the luxury of a real place to live- a kitchen with a stove- made me feel all warm and fuzzy.
"I saw an advertisement for an efficiency unit off Highway 4- you ought to call."
"Well, there's no sense worrying about it yet." I said with a sigh. "For all I know Barrie won't even pay me."
"Barrie?" Kent said, "You mean Barrie Getteman-Price?"
"Just Getteman these days," I said in an aside.
"You're investigating Mason, aren't you? That's why you wanted an invitation to the party so badly. What does she suspect him of this time?"
My ears pricked at Kent's words. "I'm not at liberty to disclose my mission, but what do you mean by 'this time'?"
"Oh goodness, it's common knowledge; Almost a joke in some circles. Barrie is forever having Mason followed for one reason or another. I reckon nearly every agency in the city has dealt with her at one time or another. Word has it a few of the bigger ones won't even listen to her anymore."
"Oh great," I muttered, "Just what I need."
"It's only because she's annoying," Kent assured me, "but don't hold back on the fees; she's loaded."
I snickered, "I am charging her double because she gave me a bad vibe."
Kent laughed aloud, "Good girl, Quinby."
I was trying to negotiate four lanes of traffic, so I said goodbye after promising to call and check on the girls in the morning. I was so tired when I got home I took a shower and went straight to bed. (Minor revision. After I took Olivia's forty million hair pins out, I took a shower, and after I washed my hair four times to get rid of the hair spray, I went to bed.) I did not wake up until my alarm clock screamed that it was time to get ready for church.
I was only a few minutes late, and since I sit in the back no one really noticed. I'm one of those not very memorable members of the congregation. I don't contribute much to the church (and I don't just mean financially although that is certainly true as well) and the only difference that would be made if I wasn't there is the back pew would have an extra spot for visitors. When Ted was alive it was different- not that I'm one of those Christian's whose existence is defined by their circumstances- well, to be honest I was for a little while, but with the Lord's help I climbed out of that hole, and most days am on fairly stable ground. It seemed though that I just sort of got forgotten afterwards- I was out of the loop, and though I tried, couldn't find my way back in. But I shouldn't be concerned over such I suppose. The sermon was about God's providence, a subject I always felt meaningful, particularly in light of my often precarious financial situation. After services, the pastor's wife asked some of the ladies if they would mind to take a few meals over to Kent and Olivia's since she wouldn't be feeling much like cooking for a while. I overheard, and naturally volunteered for one night.
Monday morning I called Barrie as soon as I got back from the post office. "Have you found a house in Oklahoma yet?" I asked. The question was mostly a test of reflexes, because my intuition told me Mason hadn't been completely forthright with her."
"A house in Oklahoma? What are you talking about?" Score one for Team Quinby.
"Mason announced Saturday that that he's resigning at LEKU and you two are moving to Tulsa in a few weeks."
"He what?! Are you kidding me?" I held the receiver away from my ear as she called Mason a few things I can't repeat.
"I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings," I said hesitantly when she had finished her rant.
"It isn't your fault of course," she spat tersely, "But I am for sure divorcing him now. There is no way I am moving to Oklahoma. Do I look like a country girl to you?" I mouthed a silent 'no', and (mentally) pointed out that Tulsa isn't exactly out in the boondocks.
"So, you don't need my services any longer?" I asked, intending to follow the question up with, 'I'll send you a bill.'
"Oh no, I want to throw everything I can at him in court. Please try to hurry as much as you can, I'll be seeing my lawyer this afternoon."
After hanging up with Barrie, I stared at the wall for a few minutes. Finally I decided to try a direct approach. I picked up the phone and pressed *67 to block caller id, and then dialed the number for LEKU's front desk. With a good bit of talking, I managed to convince the receptionist to put me through to Mason Price's private line, and when he picked up I put on my best Jersey accent and spoke loudly into the receiver.
"Mr. Price, my name is Kiley Auboshon. I was wondering about your recent announcement that you are moving to Oklahoma. What prompted your decision?"
"Really, I'd rather not."
"Was it due to your recent cancer diagnosis?" I breezed right over his refusal to comment.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I understand Southwestern Medical Facility is in Tulsa. Good choice, I hear they're state of the art. And it keeps you out of the press here. Don't you agree that it's downright shameful the way notable figures are splashed in the media these days? Of course you do. Now,"
"Now, I really don't have time for this. What did you say your name was again, young lady?"
"Have we met?" I could tell he was "trying to place me.
"I don't recall our being introduced." That much was on the level, "But I'd love to meet if you're interested."
"No. Now, who told you that I had cancer?"
"Oh, Mr. Price, you know how word gets around. And I want to tell you how sad I was to hear about it," Another point I could be honest about, "But,"
"I don't have cancer. You got the wrong information. I have other things to do. Leave me alone."
"Now, sir it's nothing to be ashamed of."
"I. Don't. Have. Cancer."
"Then can you tell me what prompted your decision to move west?"
"What does your wife think about this development?"
"Why don't you call and ask her?" he said, "I'm very busy!" there was a click and then the dial tone sounded in my ear. Well, that was enlightening. I logged into my computer and opened my file on Mason. In my notes I indicated that he had adamantly denied having cancer. But I couldn't disregard seeing him at the medical building or CVS. I decided to resort to the old-fashioned following method. For the next three days I followed Mason Price from the time he left home in the morning until he returned in the evening. I followed him to Dr. Tomlin's office Monday afternoon and paced the hall while he was inside. He emerged with a prescription and a reminder card for his next appointment. We drove to Walgreens where he filled his prescription, and then re returned to the office. Tuesday he went to a farm supplies store and bought fuel for a camping stove, but Barrie swore she had no idea why. That night I staked out the house, but nothing interesting happened. Wednesday afternoon, I followed Mason to a trailer park over be Wilmington Manor, which is s 1950s subdivision south of the city proper. He got out of his Volvo carrying a plastic sack, knocked at the door of a weathered green trailer, and was admitted by a Latino man in sweatpants. I took a chance and parked down the street, then walked backed to try and see what was going on, but all the windows were covered. I could hear lots of arguing, but it was all in Spanish, so I had no idea what was going on. By the time he emerged I was back in my car and already at the top of the street. After church I went back to the house for a few hours, but by 2a.m. I had a bad headache, and even though I was making good money on this case, marital disputes do not rank high enough for me to endure any serious discomfort. I went home.
Thursday, Mason went to two more doctors, Ian Rodgers, and allergist, and Miriam Northrup, another pain management specialist. One thing was sure, something was wrong. After each appointment he would go to whatever pharmacy was closest, C.V.S., Walgreens, Rite Aid- personally I would have been confused by having so many pharmacies. At one point Ted had been on ten different medications, and if I hadn't had them all filled by the same one there was no way I could have kept it straight. But evidently Mason wasn't feeble-minded like me. I was surprised that he was seeing two pain management specialists at one, but I guess they were working together. I still couldn't imagine what was wrong, or how to find out. I had tried being both subtle and direct, but neither had gotten me the desired result. I was supposed to take supper to Kent and Olivia so I went home and put together a casserole. I arrived at their house at four-thirty. Kent opened the door. We said hello, and then I heard Olivia call from the general vicinity of the living room.
"Who is it, dear?"
Kent closed the door behind me. "It's Quinby with supper."
"Ooh, what is it?"
"A," he lifted one corner of the aluminum foil, "Cold casserole."
I punched him gently in the arm. "You're supposed to cook it, you goose. I don't have an oven, remember?"
"What's wrong with your oven, Quinby?" I looked over to see Olivia standing in the doorway.
"I don't have one."
"Because I live at my office."
"You what?" she was clearly shocked.
I looked over at Kent. He shrugged, "I guess that never came up in conversation."
"You knew about this?" Olivia asked him, "Why do you not have an apartment?" That was directed at me, "You did try to discourage this, right?" back to Kent, "Isn't that like illegal or something?"
I couldn't decide who the last question was directed to, so I answered it, "The zoning board isn't overly fond of the idea." I said.
"Then why do you keep doing it?"
"I stayed in my apartment for a while, but it wasn't the same without Ted, so I left. I'm comfortable where I am now."
"But you're looking into getting an apartment, right?" Kent said, winking at me.
"Hopefully in the next couple of months." I replied. "You might want to turn on the oven, Kent. That will take half an hour or so to heat up."
"Oh. Okay." He wandered off in the direction of the kitchen.
"Is the little princess sleeping?" I asked Olivia a few minutes later.
"Yes," seeing the disappointed look on my face, she grinned. "You can still hold her though. She's a sound sleeper." I followed her into the living room where she took Maddie out of her bassinet and handed her to me. She was wearing a pink sleeper with purple polka dots, and Olivia had somehow fixed a tiny pink satin bow in her hair.
"Don't you think she looks just like her Daddy?" Olivia asked.
Kent walked into the room just as I was about to reply. "Yeah," I said, cutting my eyes his direction, "Poor kid."
"Hey!" he said, "I'll have you know some people happen to find me attractive."
"I'll bet that corresponds exactly to the percent of the population who need glasses and don't know it." he laughed, "Seriously, though, Olivia, she is absolutely beautiful even if she does favor Kent a little."
At that moment Maddie woke up and gave a scream that would wake the dead. "See," Kent said, "You've upset her, Quinby."
"Naw," I said, as Olivia cooed in an effort to calm her daughter. "She's afraid she might actually look like you." He stuck out his tongue. I told you he was just like a brother.
Just as Maddie was starting to get quiet again, my cell phone rang. I opened it without looking at the caller id screen. "Hello?"
Inwardly, I groaned, "Hello, Garrett," Kent raised his eyebrows. I got up and walked into the foyer. Predictably, he followed me. "How are you?"
"I'm good, how about you?"
"Hey, I had a great time with you Saturday, I was wondering if you'd like to go for coffee tonight. I'd really like to get to know you better."
I sighed, "Thank you, but, like I said, I really don't date."
"Oh." Why did he have to sound so disappointed? "I thought maybe that was just your opening line."
He thought I got hit on enough that I had a particular line? "No, I don't date. Saturday was just a one-time thing."
"I was hoping for the first of many."
I blushed to my hair roots. "Thank you, but I'm not interested." When I hung up, Kent was still standing there.
"Boyfriend can't get enough, eh?"
This time I stuck my tongue out at him, "Shut up."