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May 27, 2024

Patterns in Blood 15

By Lydia Manx

Los Angeles
Still In The Past

The cop, Sergeant Cornell, seemed unable to grasp the connections I was making and I was afraid to make the leap. He asked me seriously if I had any practical jokers for friends. I said no. When he asked me about my enemies I sat still. Reluctantly I admitted other than a few caterers I had successfully under bid, I couldn't think of anyone who hated me that much. He brought up my luncheon and I explained about the clippings Randa had given me. He was very skeptical about any correlation. He asked where I kept them and if anyone else had ever seen them.

Since he treated me like a hysterical, over-reactive woman I decided not to explain exactly where the clippings were other than at 'home' and he gave me his card and I noticed that he reluctantly took mine. He told me when, and if, I brought the clippings to him he would look into it. Then he stated in an obnoxious tone that if it seemed necessary, he would fingerprint me downtown for comparison from the note and box if there were any suspects. He didn't seem overly confident that he'd be cracking the case anytime soon. He felt that there weren't any suspects worth his bothering to look for, considering the sparse nature of information we currently had, but would be contacting some of the people I'd out-bid and then he would have a real idea of the 'scope of the case'. It was genuinely more disenchanting than even earlier had been, when I'd walked in and tried to give another policeman a report. He took the note with the matchbook inside and the box with him, which was then carefully encased in plastic wrap he borrowed from my kitchen, as he'd failed to bring evidence bags large enough for the items.

He left saying, "Mrs. Hagen, don't worry. All of this sounds like just something that happens out of the blue and isn't much more than someone have fun at your expense. Alanna, you just call if you find something to back all that stuff up."

Nicely non-reassuring, but he hadn't exactly impressed me with his capabilities. I fingered his business card and tucked it aside. I didn't see myself telling him anything or showing him the clippings any time soon given his demeanor and arrogance.

The rest of the morning I delegated my personal chores and assignments while making arrangements for flowers to be sent to Randa's funeral. At the same time I sent a get-well basket to Jean Claude; during lunchtime a gossipy news reporter had given out the hospital and room number during the top story segment while talking about Jean Claude. It seemed he no longer had a last name and the town took over ownership of his identity -- which was pretty much Los Angeles to a T -- and it was added that he was still in a coma but everyone was hopeful. That was pretty much the only news that gave me any sort of relief. The day hadn't been going too well, in my opinion.

Quickly I drove home. Once inside I shed clothes, feeling like I was tainted by the day and needed to scrub myself whole again. A brisk shower with a loofa sponge and some very hot water nearly brought me back to humanity. I slowly got ready to attend the funeral of Randa. I didn't even consider calling Randolph but simply made the effort to calm down and get moving towards a funeral I had no desire to be at in the least. Deliberately I didn't pick up the answering machine messages. Whatever was on the machine could wait.

When the doorbell buzzed mid-afternoon, I was startled to see a florist delivery van idling behind a man on my doorstep. He thrust a huge box at me and ran off before I could even react. He didn't even wait for tip much less a signature. The name of the florist company was vaguely familiar. In my various dealings over the years with folks setting up dinner parties and gatherings I had probably seen every florist in the town at least once.

Amidst the star lilies and baby's breath bouquet was a small envelope suspended which dropped to the floor as I reached for it. The florist's card landed on top of a green envelope on the tile in the entryway that had been slipped under the door. Confronted with the choice I reluctantly picked up only the small white envelope that had arrived with the flowers. Apprehensively I opened the flap. The flowers were from my office. They hoped I would feel better soon and that they were sorry to hear about Randa.

Relieved and touched by the gesture, I placed the lilies in a vase while I thought about the unopened green envelope still on the floor just inside the doorstep. Chiding myself for being such a baby, I went into the entry hall and picked up the missive. Deliberately I opened the note. Inside was a gold charm, the kind that goes on a chain necklace, half of a jagged heart. The simple handwritten note card read, "Don't keep tearing apart my heart." The handwriting appeared to be identical to the earlier card at work. Sickened and scared I dropped it on the counter.

Lethargically I finished dressing for the funeral. Once rustling through my clothes, I decided to wear a navy blue suit rather than the traditional black ensemble. I cared about Randa, but the funeral was far too hasty and seemed callous to me. I knew of no religious reasons for her to be buried so quickly. There was no respect for Randa or her life with such a rushed funeral. It seemed like Randolph and his family were ashamed of Randa and uncaring of her final wishes.

I drove to Forest Lawn; once there a guard gave me directions to the family gravesite. He had a sheet of locations of various services. Naturally I'd assumed everyone would be meeting at one of the small chapels for a service or ceremony the family had planned. The guard gave me directions away from the chapel instead, towards a family crypt. I didn't know that any of Randolph's family had been buried locally. For some reason, I'd thought the Hagens hadn't lived in this area but back east.

Forest Lawn was peaceful in a small way. I still was uneasy about how quickly Randa had been buried, but then it wasn't like I had a choice. I had to show up for her funeral; she was family. And from everything I'd learned, she was the only true mother to Randolph in his life. I never asked what his mom had done to cause him to turn to Randa but that wasn't my problem. Randa had reached out to me and I felt obligated.

Uneasily I approached the gravesite. Randolph, Rachel and Marge stood outside talking. But I saw no minister or any of the other family members I'd met at the wedding. I parked along the driveway and shuddered. I took a deep breath and got out of my car, having parked behind a black sedan that looked to be a hired driver. The only sign of this casual gathering being something other than a picnic, was the rented limousine with a driver. That said funeral without a word being spoken. Solemnly I got out and immediately all three stopped talking and turned towards me.

Randolph was the first to break the silence, "Oh, why didn't you call? She's already inside. Do you want to join her?"

Chilled I looked at him sharply. Not a flicker of humor reflected on his face. I shook my head no. Then I noticed that the floral arrangement I had ordered was placed against the marble crypt. That wasn't true -- rather, the tastefully designed bouquet looked like it had been flung haphazardly at the death structure. Ill at ease, I expressed my sincere sorrow to Rachel and Marge at their loss. Neither of them had anything to say in response. Both bowed their heads lightly as if to symbolize something, but it was done so mechanically I had no idea what they meant. Small tight smiles on their faces flickered and my stomach dropped again.

Mystified by their odd responses, I looked away.

Light blond hair blowing in the stray afternoon wind, Randolph came to me. Tracing a finger down my cheek he said, "You look beautiful, Alanna." I started back at his intimate touch. He rarely touched me; I was bewildered by the meaning of the gesture.

We were standing in a graveyard. The whole scene was totally inappropriate by my personal standards. Morbid to say the least. Neither lady looked at us; they turned towards the car in unison as if a thread simultaneously tugged them to the limo. The driver was slowly emerging when Randolph said, "Excuse me," and dashed to open the back up before the chauffeur could reach the handle. He dismissed the man with a wave of his hand and leaned into the backseat speaking in hushed tones. I shook my head as I thought I heard a muffled giggle escape one if not both of the women. Randolph shut the door and came to my side.

"Marge is beside herself with grief. All day she's been inconsolable. They want me to accompany them back to the house to tidy up. Are you all right?" His tones were mechanical as if he'd memorized what to say to me.

I didn't have a second to answer as he continued with, "And Alanna, what's this I heard -- Marge said you'd had lunch with Randa yesterday?"

Puzzled I looked at him, "Yes, as a matter of fact she met me for lunch but couldn't finish. I told you she'd invited me to lunch remember? Anyways she flew out of the restaurant before she'd eaten more than a half dozen bites."

I waited to see if Randolph would pursue this topic any further. He shrugged as if it was to be expected. He walked me to my car, not saying another word. When I got to the car he opened my door. He kissed my cheek, patted my shoulder and told me to drive safe. Bewildered I drove off.

It wasn't until I was nearly back at my house when it hit me, nobody appeared to have shed a single tear over Randa's sudden death. That was just one of the things that bothered me. Randolph was uncharacteristically formal. He rarely opened my car door anymore. While mentally writing his behavior off to bereavement I approached my home.

Stepping inside my foyer I was relieved to see there weren't any scary green envelopes waiting for me. The message light was blinking very quickly on my answering machine -- the rapid blinks meant the machine was nearly full. Pouring myself an iced tea, I reluctantly punched the button to liberate the messages. I put the volume to a medium level and drank while tensely waiting to hear who had reached out to touch me. I jotted notes on the nearby pad as I listened to the real messages interspersed with strange ones. Near the last few messages there was one that stopped me cold.

"No more," was whispered into the machine about three in the afternoon. The ones that followed illustrated that as they were just legitimate ones concerning work or from friends. The weirdo must have finally grown bored of my not playing whatever bizzaro-land game was intended. I recalled in the past this or another such creature had called and left semi-pornographic messages on the machine or in my ear if I'd mistakenly picked up. People were too odd.

When the phone rang literally underneath my fingertips I unthinkingly picked it up. The silence paused in my ear as I mentally cursed myself for being so stupid. Then Randolph's voice filled the void. From the sound of the connection he was on his cell phone. He asked me an odd question, "Did Randa say anything about some family papers to you?"

My guilty mind quickly flew to the newspaper clippings she'd entrusted to me.

"No, nothing why?" I said softly.

"What exactly did you two discuss?" Randolph didn't ask so much as much as he demanded to know what we'd discussed. I grew wary.

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-02-18
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