This must have been some of the conversation in the hallway because Harry completely ignored Erika and walked to the table extending his palm. We all stood up and waited to see what Erika would do while he shook Margie's hand and then Cinda's quite politely. Erika remained stiff and unmoving as he offered his goodbyes. To my surprise when he turned to me he held my hand in both of his saying, "Don't worry about all this, Gwendolyn, it will be figured out in due time. You will be fine. Erika is misreading the evidence available." At that he gave my hand a soft squeeze and I heard Erika mumble something nasty under her breath. Cinda's eyes got very large so I knew whatever it was she had heard was less than nice. I could barely tear my eyes away from Harry. He definitely had a strong personality. I drew my palm free and picked up my bag. Thankfully the back door was just off the kitchen and we didn't have to walk past the living room.
It didn't take me long to settle into the routine at Margie's. The pull out bed was unlivable and the basic couch itself wasn't the worse place I had ever tried to sleep so I skipped making the bed and nestled on top with a comforter and a spare pillow from Cinda's room. That night Cinda filled me in on the various little tales she had found out during the missing hours. Her mom went to her bedroom rather quickly to give us 'girls' free time to talk. If it wasn't for the haunting memory of my mom's dead body frozen in the middle of my brain it would have been like one of the old sleepover Cinda and I used to have in junior high where we stayed up all night and talked until dawn broke. I would have been perfectly happy to stay there talking with Cinda for the rest of the night but around one in the morning Cinda kept nodding off and had to admit she was tired. Then the time leftover was mine. I knew sleep was going to be pretty much an impossibility.
At first I tried to watch a movie on the old television in the corner of the room. Margie and Cinda had such a lively soap opera life in the town they really had no interest in watching much TV. The set was an ancient black and white. I flipped the channels around until I found something other than fuzzy static and test screen patterns. The movie was a familiar old one with a heavily draped figure wandering around stalking pretty women. The eye make up on the main star was ludicrously thick and the eyebrows over groomed. I found myself snickering a bit at the poorly played script and the over wrought acting. Then it hit me that I would not be watching any movies with my mom ever again. Sadly I had begun to automatically light up and it dawned on me that Margie would have a fit if I smoked in her house. Switching off the TV I went outside quietly grabbing a coat before I hit the door.
The back stairs of the building were locked so Margie had thoughtfully provided me a set of keys to the doors. I unlatched the deadbolt and let myself slowly outside taking care to relock the door while shutting it very quietly as to not disturb anyone. The night was surprisingly clear considering all the rain earlier in the day. The lack of clouds meant it was more than a bit brisk. I could feel winter's hand sneaking towards me. It would probably snow at least once before the month was over.
Once away from the building I lit up and began to walk. The leaves were crunching under my feet on the sidewalk. The store fronts all looked so bleak with no lights inside to make sense of the shapes and angles of their window front displays. I stopped to peer in at the hardware store cupping my hand around my face. My other hand dangled to my side holding my lit cigarette. I couldn't see very far into the store and drew back bored by the lack of colors. Movement in the window caught my attention. It took my eyes a second to process what it was I was seeing. My drawing back I had turned the black surface into a giant mirror and I was seeing the whole street behind me in the reflected pane. The glow of my cigarette was mirrored at my side and over my left ear was another glowing orb. There was someone else out in the night.
After the day I had I wasn't surprised to see it was Harry. I turned around not letting him realize I had seen him. Slowly I continued walking the sidewalk listening for footsteps on the other side of the street. Harry must have been wearing soft soled night slippers because the only sounds were the crunching of fall foliage underneath my shoes. I smoked and walked glancing at the store windows to see in their reflections if he still followed. He did. Eventually I ran out of stores. I turned around and he stopped. At that point there was no way to avoid 'noticing' Harry. I sketched a wave to him like I had just noticed him. He waved back and continued walking in the direction I had been heading. He smiled and went on down the road to houses. He had to be staying with someone from town because there was only one hotel in the area and there was no way I could see Erika handling those rooms. It was well noted as a hotbed of excitement for the high school crowd and the folks having ill disguised extramarital affairs. It was in the opposite direction than Harry was heading. But maybe they were staying there. I made a mental note to ask Cinda later.
I went back to Margie's and settled in on the couch for another sleepless night.
The next day dawned and I was on the phone with various extended family members from my mom's family and then the Bartell Brothers Mortuary. Junior Bartell was the one who answered my call and made a point of saying all the right things. Bad news always traveled fast in town and my mom's murder was already known by more than a few locals. I just told him to contact the FBI about when exactly my mom's body would be available and then from there we would discuss the viewing and funeral arrangements. He was very sympathetic and slimy at the same time. He dropped in casual comments about how I needed to pick out the coffin and make arrangements as quickly as possible to guarantee a smooth time and limit the potential for problems. Thinking back on the funeral I had just attended at his place I wasn't overly confident he could guarantee me much of anything. I told him I would keep that in mind about time constraints and hung up. Cinda was at the doorway with coffee after I finished my phone call.
"Was that Junior on the phone just now?" Cinda had plenty of sleep and was bright and chipper. Grateful for the coffee I just nodded and indicated she could join me on the couch. She sat down and asked another question, "Do you think he is still sleeping with Louella? And did he know that the Mayor was sleeping with her or was it like a total surprise?" Trust Cinda to ask the 'important' questions first.
"I don't know, Cinda. I really don't even want to think about who sleeps with who around this goofy town. So do you have to help your mom today?" Usually Cinda went in for a few hours a day to keep up on the gossip and do various errands for her mom.
"Nah, mom thought I should hang out with you and make sure you don't need anything." Cinda sounded a bit upset about it.
I wasn't sure if she was upset she had to stay with me and miss potential gossip or upset that I may need something. Granted she wasn't great with handling some bits and pieces of life but then I rarely pushed her to go beyond the basics. After all it wasn't like she didn't mean well. She just didn't get the nuances of all the necessary interactions in life that most folks had. She was a great friend but not a whiz at handling hard situations I had always thought after a few extremely nasty childhood experiences with the local bullies and us as the main targets. I didn't know how she would survive when her mom died. Life was going to hit Cinda hard I feared. I could barely wrap my brain around my mom's death and I wasn't exactly stupid. I just hoped I would be around to give her the same support as she was so kindly offering me now.
"Cinda, I will be okay. You can go downstairs and help your mom for a few hours while I make some calls. Meet me at the diner for lunch and we can see if Louella shows." I gave Cinda an easy out.
"No, I think I should be here. But we still can go to the diner. Mom already suggested it and gave me some money so we could hang out a while." She seemed delighted with that idea.
The diner didn't like kids lingering and near as I could tell the term was loosely applied to anyone under the age of fifty. In order to sit at a table you had to order something and if you wanted to stay longer than a mere half hour or so there was an expectation of more than just a soda and plate of fries. The only exception was the old timers who had their own booth and someone well into their golden years always maintained residence. I had never seen the table empty in all my years. There was some unposted rotation schedule strictly adhered to by the town elders and a table near them always provided enough juicy gossip for Cinda for days. Usually her mom forbid her from hanging out there because it was expensive to maintain your place and they got overlapping stories from the beauty shop so it was pretty much a waste of money. Her mom recognized the added attraction of me sitting there would definitely up the odds of new information being overheard.
We all knew I wasn't big on sitting all day at the beauty shop. My hair got cut about three or four times a year and I didn't like perms so my being at the shop downstairs would have been too obvious a ploy. After all it wouldn't do to have the town actively notice Margie placing me in her home and her shop. Margie had the town standards to uphold. What with her being part of some of the local shop owner councils and associations that were deemed necessary to nitpick the town into whatever shape they decided. I figured it was the price I paid for staying at their place and it would make Cinda happy. At least someone deserved a little happiness.
I suggested Cinda start doing some of the chores around the house while I placed the last call. It was to the number for my father's family. I wasn't sure if I really wanted to even make the call but couldn't see a way out. Granted I had saved it for last, given my birthday letter of only a few weeks ago I was less than thrilled at the prospect. These folks basically accused my mom of extorting money from them for the past twenty-one years and now that I was of age they were washing their hands of that obligation. Yet, I had been raised properly in spite of the letter I knew I should call and tell them.
Slowly I dialed the number. Each time my finger hit the metal I pulled it out reluctantly and fingered into the next hole. I listened to the clacking of the dial and suddenly was afraid. The fear was washing over me as the last number was dialed. I wasn't sure what I was more scared of, someone not answering or someone answering.
Wishing for a smoke I waited while the first ring went unanswered. The second ring found me exhaling deeply. The third I was nearly ready to hang up when someone picked up on the other end. Damn, I was afraid of the answered call not the unanswered call.
"Hello?" The voice was a cultured sounding male.
"Hello, this is Gwendolyn McKay, Seth and Mimi McKay's daughter." I really had no idea where to go with this. The money had always been mailed to my mom with certified checks and the letter had been from a law firm down south. I had thought it best I contact my father's actual family and the number in the book just said Seth's parents. No first names or anything to help me with this call. I nearly just hung up as my statement was greeted with stone cold silence on the other end. I sucked in a breath and luckily there was finally a reply.
"Yes, and how may I help you?" Gee, let's see, maybe giving a name back would have been courteous. The tone had been cool but not rude just not every helpful.
"Is this the McKay residence?" I felt like I was going to throw up.
Looking up I saw Cinda lingering in the doorway. She looked at me and stayed there. The audience was not helping but I pushed onwards.
"Why, yes, it is. How may I help you?" A robotic response but given the tone of the letter stashed in my room it was somewhat expected.
"Well, um. I am?" here I trailed off. I had to tell this unnamed robot about my mom's murder?
Cinda grasped my problem and walked over to me. She grabbed the receiver out of my unresisting hand and said, "Who is this?" Something was said back, "And you are who exactly?" another response and Cinda said, "Okay, so let me talk to Gwendolyn's grandparents then."
A reply and then she said, "Well, I don't care if he is golfing, it's just another stupid game about chasing the ball. Is she around?" I was amazed by her firm tones and take charge attitude. I may have been underestimating my friend all these years. Then she reassured me I was not in error with her next comment, "Well, I just don't see how it could be any of your business. You being just the butler." All though it was not a skilled conversational gambit I had to admire her sticking to her guns. She pounded out with, "Fine, then have Mistress McKay give us a call at my residence," here she rattled off her phone number, "at her earliest convenience because it is regarding a murder." She hung up.