Still In The Past
Marge stood in the middle of the doorway and looked at me with a sneer. I waited to see what she'd say.
"Well?" She bit out, teeth clenched. Her usual impressive lack of manners didn't bug me. I resisted my sudden urge to slap her as just naturally how Marge made me feel. I never could put my finger on it but I always thought she was laughing at me behind my back.
Deciding to answer in kind I responded, "Randolph?"
In the background I could hear laughing. It was Randolph and Rachel. I knew both of their laughs. The obvious lack of family being devastated by Randa's death was starting to get on my nerves. Randolph had told me how hard they were all struggling with the loss. I wondered. Why had I felt compelled to visit? That I seemed to be the only one who genuinely felt bad about Randa's death was puzzling me.
Marge turned away from me and walked towards the merriment. I closed the front door and followed. We made little noise because of the thick pile carpet, Berber or something pricey like that. I so didn't pay attention to the labels, but knew whatever it was underneath our feet, it was pricey. The walls in the hallway off the entryway were covered with large tapestries. The edges of some of the older pieces were beginning to show obvious signs of neglect and wear.
In my past visits the house had a just cleaned gleaming feel, but not today. Cobwebs were along the top of the hangings and I could smell decaying, musty odors. The carpet underfoot had stains of irregular blotches of unidentifiable matter. A major city's detective team would've had troubles with the various arrays of splotches I thought. That was decidedly odd but what came next pushed my concerns away.
We walked into the family den. Stunned, my eyes could barely absorb the room and the mess. Randolph jumped to his feet at the sight of me. Rachel sat back on a worn sofa and watched Randolph with a nearly predatory stare.
"Alanna, what are you doing here?" he asked in astonishment.
He ran his fingers through his hair in his usual bashful manner. This time I thought that it was a calculated gesture he used to create an image. My marriage was shattering before my eyes. His smile was askew yet somewhat charming. For once I wasn't baffled into the basic helpless female role like in my past. I looked around the room and disarray with a raised eyebrow. Years of running kitchens had perfected that arched brow to a finely tuned tool. Really having no clue what I'd walked into nor what I was going to do, I refused to impulsively jump into speech to fill the silence in the room.
Randolph turned me from his family, wrapping his arm around my shoulders while pulling me sharply from their view. Marge had joined Rachel on the over-stuffed brocade sofa and began another one of their incessantly soft whispers of a conversation. I really wanted to slap them both, but resisted putting their rudeness down to mourning for Randa. I knew better but didn't push it.
"Well?" his tone was more demanding out of view of his family. The hand on my arm was much tighter than I was comfortable with so I said, "Randolph, please remove your hand now."
His mouth dropped open as he awkwardly smoothed at my sweatshirt. The placating motion just irritated me. I rarely had demanded anything from him, but I was extremely upset and unsettled by his uncharacteristic behavior.
"Randolph, what is going on?" I asked while turning back unassisted towards the room and with a sweeping grand motion of my hand indicated the scattered papers and books -- freed from their cherry wood handcrafted shelves -- stacked haphazardly around on top of every surface in the room. At a glance I saw that all of the shelves had been cleared of nearly all of the books and bric-a-brac that usually resided on them undisturbed. One of the shelving units in the opposite corner of the room had even been partially dismantled. The beautiful hardwood was pried away from the back wall and plaster had been roughly exposed.
"Oh, we lost some very important family paperwork. Did Randa give you anything? Anything at all -- when you saw her -- an envelope perhaps or a file folders?" He looked closely at my face for a truthful response. His eyes were gleaming with deeply felt emotions.
"No, Randolph, we already covered this yesterday. What is it you said that you were missing? Financial papers? Can't you just get copies from whatever institute or bank that issued them?" I flooded my face with bewilderment as I answered in what I hoped was an innocent tone. Again I was lying to my husband. This couldn't end well.
"Why are you here?" Marge cut in sullenly after a whispered comment from Rachel. I turned back to the two witches side by side. They no longer had their heads tilted towards each other but they still had that sneaky stillness to their watching.
"Oh, because I was concerned about all of you. Randolph had called me earlier and told me how hard Randa's death had hit the family," I truthfully replied.
Rudely, Randolph walked over to his mother and cousin and softly whispered something to them. Marge and Rachel rose in tandem and walked out without another word. That was lovely and I said, "Bye," softly to their retreating backs. He turned back to me and raised both of his palms up spread out in a broad gesture to encompass the room with his hands and a wide-eyed stare.
"Sorry about the mess, Alanna, but you didn't need to come here. Why didn't you just call? Hmm?" He strode closer.
I grew aware of my vulnerability. He seemed larger than usual and not nearly as cute and harmless as usual. Stiffening my own spine I stood taller, "I need to know -- ahuh," fumbling for a beginning, "ah, that is to say -- damn it are you sending me notes?" I blurted out finally.
Silence greeted my stuttered outburst. Randolph dropped his hands to his sides and turned his back to me. Looking at his spine, a pulse of fear and dread welled up in my throat. I could smell the lilacs cut, dying, in a vase on the end table flanking the now deserted sofa. Crushed up against a stack of musty books the flower's scent had begun to permeate my head. With the dead flowers and dust in the room my face throbbed with a huge allergic reaction. Daylight flickered with dust motes dancing and swirling between the shadows from the trees outside as evening slowly began to approach. With his back still to me his voice bounced off the far wall, "Cards? Notes? Whatever do you mean?"
What stuck in my craw was that there was no surprise in his mocking questions. Why did he say 'cards'? I shivered, knowing I hadn't used that word. I might have been correct but I certainly didn't want to be right. With my stomach churning I just wanted out. This wasn't resolving anything and confronting Randolph wasn't helping me in the least.
"Never mind, I guess it was just stupid to bother you, bye," I left.
As I walked away I kept expecting him to say something or at least to try to physically stop me. As I neared the door I looked down the opposite end of the hall to see that Marge and Rachel were clustered together. They watched me silently then strolled back to the den to be with Randolph. On my way out of the house I saw even more signs of ill use and neglect. I didn't recall seeing such bad housekeeping in the past nor did it look to be something recent. Since I hadn't been to the house in a while I had no way of knowing exactly how long it had looked like that. Dirt had built up in corners of the carpet and the scent of mildew was battling cloying mold for air space. This was not the sudden mess that had begun with a death in the family. Randolph had told me extensively of all the maids and housekeepers that the family had retained over his lifetime, with the implication that his mother had never lifted a hand. Apparently she still didn't see the need.
Stunned by leaving my husband in that filthy mess of his family home, I shook my head and got back on the freeway.
But Randolph hadn't said, "Alanna, please stay! I need you!"
Much less anything after I'd said bye.
I hurried to meet with René Danzinger at the hospital. Jean-Claude's older brother had been sure that he'd make a full recovery so I was optimistic. I did much better in the traffic battle than I'd expected and I arrived well before the scheduled time to meet. While I waited, I purchased a diet soda and pre-made salad in the cafeteria. Hospital cafeterias had moved well beyond the age of mystery meat and heavy accent on fried foods. The salad was a fresh selection of greens and vegetables prepared attractively by the staff. I wasn't really hungry but needed to fuel my brain since I couldn't remember the last time I'd eaten a meal.
Methodically I crunched through the vitamins and minerals in my salad with little notice or much interest. Washing it all down with the diet soda I pondered my choices. I soon had some stray thoughts bouncing around demanding my attention.
Because I was fairly sure Randolph was responsible for the notes, I didn't see any real evidence from him to dispute my negative suppositions; rather he seemed to confirm my worst fears. So I would have to see a lawyer and start some sort of proceedings. Again I was exhausted before I'd even begun to start. I was rather dismayed by all the stray emotions in my head.
Absently noticing my plate was empty, I tossed away my trash and went to wait for Jean Claude's brother in the lobby. As I worried about everything a striking, tall, dark-haired man in a charcoal suit strode into view. He looked around the near empty cafeteria.
"Ms. Alanna Hagen?" I nodded, and then I stood to greet him. He briskly shook my outstretched hand.
"Do you mind if I get something to drink?" he asked while indicating the sign of the cafeteria. We went to the cafeteria I'd just left and found a table near the one I'd abandoned to find René Danzinger in the lobby. He bought me another soda while he added a mixture of chemicals to his cup of supposedly freshly brewed coffee.
Mr. Danzinger was a classically handsome man like his brother but he had deep, dark circles around his eyes indicating his worry and obvious lack of sleep. Both of the Danzingers were good-looking men with poise and elegance that I knew from the wealthier circles I catered, to be something many European men and women had, and Americans envied.
"How can I help you?" I wearily asked. I really wasn't up for chitchat but figured I wasn't in a hurry to head home and see what new hell had happened.
Non-verbally asking my permission to remove his coat with a slight hand gesture I nodded and he unbuttoned his coat and sat back. We discussed his brother, his prognosis according to his current set of doctors and what the police were focusing on when they'd questioned his family. It seemed his family found the police investigators far too interested in his brother's possible love life than the harm that was done to him and his restaurant. Before much time had passed, I found myself relating my theory and offering an apology for his brother's injuries. On the drive over to the hospital I had decided my involvement was the reason for Jean Claude being in the hospital.
The Present, in the Garden Room
I looked up to see Michael was fading and beginning to look a bit overwhelmed by the tale.
Taking pity on him I said, "Why don't we take a break? The innkeeper isn't booked and I need to sleep a bit. Meet me here in the morning okay?"
Looking far too relieved, Michael Stockwell said, "If it's okay with you?"
Laughing, we parted ways. The innkeeper had been thrilled to extend my stay at her bed and breakfast. I called to check on my house and Peter Grange, and he was still working on my problem. Surprisingly enough I actually got more than a minute of sleep. It wasn't like I could do anything to change it.