Dark Hunger


Part Three. FINISH TRIM Chapter Twenty-Four


Every day brought visitors. Some she welcomed, and some she ignored. There was little she could do but ignore those who parked or stood on the shoulder of the road taking pictures of the house, the grounds, of her. She shrugged off the members of the crew who entertained themselves by posing. She couldn't blame them for getting a kick out of it, for grabbing a portion of that fifteen minutes of fame.

Sooner or later, she told herself, the interest would die down. When she caught sight of paparazzi stalking her while she shopped for hardware or lumber, she didn't acknowledge them. When she saw pictures of her home, of herself in the tabloids or gossip magazines, she turned her mind to other things. And when her mother's publicist called with requests for interviews and photo layouts, Cilla firmly hung up.

She went about her business, and prayed that one of the current Hollywood crop of bad girls would do something outrageous enough to shift the attention. As July sweated its way toward August, she concentrated on the house. She had plenty to do.

"Why do you want a sink over here," Buddy demanded, "when you're putting a sink over there?"

"It's a prep sink, Buddy, and I don't honestly know why I want one.

I just do. Sink here." She laid a fingertip on the revised, and absolutely final, drawing of her kitchen. "Dishwasher here. Refrigerator. And over here, the prep sink in the work island."

"It's your business." He said it in the way, as he often did, that told her she didn't know squat. "But I'm just saying, if you're putting this here island in, you're cutting into your counter space by putting a sink into it."

"It'll have a cutting-board top. On when I want to chop something, off when I want to wash something."

"What?"

"Jesus, Buddy. Um, vegetables."

He gave her his bulldog frown. "Then what're you going to wash in the other sink?"

"The blood off my hands after I stab you to death with my screwdriver. "

His lips twitched. "You got some weird-ass ideas."

"Yeah? Wait for this one. I want a pot-filler faucet."

"You're going to have two damn sinks, and you want one of them gadgets that swings out on an arm from the wall over the stove to fill pans with water?"

"Yes, I do. Maybe I want to fill really big pots with water for pasta, or for washing my damn feet. Or for boiling the heads of cranky plumbers who argue with me. Maybe I've developed a faucet fetish. But I want it."

She walked over, tapped her fist on the wall where she'd drawn a circle with an X in it with a carpenter's pencil. "And I want it right here."

He cast his eyes to the ceiling, as if asking God what possessed her. "Gonna have to run pipes, so we're gonna have to cut that plaster to run 'em down, tie 'em in."

"I know that."

"It's your house."

"Yeah. It is."

"I heard you bought another one, that old place out on Bing."

"It looks that way." The little flutter in the belly signaled excitement and nerves. "We don't settle until October, but it looks that way."

"I guess you'll be wanting your fancy doodads in that one, too."

"You'll be pleased to know I plan to go more basic there." She had to fold her lips when she caught the disappointment on his face.

"You say that now. Well, I can start the rough-in on Thursday."

"That'd be great."

She left him to his scowling and calculations.

The kitchen cabinets should be done in a couple weeks, she estimated, and could be stored, if necessary, while the plumbing, the wiring were roughed, inspected, finished, inspected. The plaster repaired, the painting done, the floors laid. If her countertops came in on schedule, she might have a finished kitchen, excepting the refitted appliances, by Labor Day.

Maybe she'd have a party after all. And even thinking about planning a party probably jinxed the entire thing.

"Knock, knock!" Cathy Morrow poked her head in the front door. "Brian said you wouldn't mind if I came right in."

"I don't. How are you?"

"Just fine, except for dying of curiosity. Brian's been telling us how wonderful everything looks, so Tom and I just had to come by and see for ourselves. Tom's out there in the back where you're having the stone wall built up. For shrubs, Brian said."

"It'll add height and depth to the yard and cut back on the mowing."

"I don't think Brian's ever done so much work for a private client-noncommercial, I mean. He's just... Oh, Cilla! This is just beautiful."

With a flush of pride, Cilla watched Cathy walk around the living room. "It's finished except for refinishing the floor, and we'll do all of them at the same time. And for furniture, and accessories, art, window treatments and a few minor details such as..."

"It's so open and warm. I love the light. Are those shamrocks on the collar, or whatever you call it?"

"Medallion, and yes. Dobby did an amazing job. And the fixture's true to the architecture of the house. I don't know what was there originally. I couldn't find any pictures showing it, and my father couldn't remember. But I think the straightforward Arts and Crafts lines and the design, with the diamond shapes of amber and deep blue, work."

"It's just lovely. But, oh my God, the fireplace."

"Focal point." Walking over, Cilla stroked her hand down the deep blue of the granite. "I wanted it to pop against the walls, the way the sky pops against the mountains. And a strong color like this needed a strong mantel."

"Wasn't it... Yes, it was brick before."

"Smoke-stained and pocked, and the hearth didn't meet code, which you can see by the burn marks from stray embers in the floor."

"It's funny, all I remember about this room, or the house, really, was so up-to-the-minute. The long sofa in lipstick pink with white satin pillows. I was so impressed. And the way Janet looked sitting on it in a blue dress. She was so beautiful. Well, everyone was," Cathy added with a laugh. "The celebrities, the rich and famous and important. I couldn't believe I was here. We were only invited because Tom's father was a very important local figure, but I didn't care why. We were invited here three times, and every time was almost painfully exciting.

"Lord, I was younger than you the last time I was here-in that era, I mean. So much time between," she said with a wistful sigh. "The last time was a Christmas party. All the decorations, the lights. Champagne, endless glasses of champagne, music. That amazing couch. People begged her to sing until she gave in. There was a white baby grand over by the window, and... Oh! Who was it, who was it everyone thought she was having a blistering affair with... the composer? And it turned out he was gay. He died of AIDS."

"Lenny Eisner."

"Yes, yes. God, gorgeous man. Anyway, he played, and she sang. Magic. It would've been the Christmas before your uncle was killed.

"I'm sorry," Cathy said suddenly. "I'm daydreaming out loud."

"No, I like hearing about the way it was. The way she was."

Cathy tucked back her swing of glossy hair. "I can tell you no one shone brighter than Janet. I think, yes, Marianna was just a few weeks old, and it was the first time we'd gotten a sitter. I was so nervous about leaving her, and so self-conscious because I still had all that baby weight on me. But Janet asked me about the baby, and told me how pretty I looked. It was kind of her, as I'd blown up like a whale with Marianna, and was barely down to hippo. And I remember because my mother-in-law nagged me about eating so many canapes. How would I lose the weight if I ate so much? Irritating woman. Oh, but Tom's father, I remember, too, how handsome he looked that night. So robust and dashing, and how Janet flirted with him, which irritated my mother-in-law and pleased me to no end."

She let out a laugh now, tickled by the memory. "We never did take, Tom's mother and I. Yes, he did look handsome that night. You'd never have believed cancer would take him so horribly just twelve years later. They stood right in here, Janet and Drew-Andrew, Tom's daddy. And then they were both gone.

"Now, I am sorry. How did I take such a morbid turn?"

"Old houses. They're full of life and death."

"I suppose you're right. It's about life now, isn't it, and what you're doing here. Oh, I completely forgot. I brought you two mimosas."

"You brought me drinks?"

Cathy laughed until she had to hold her stomach. "No. Trees. Well, they will be trees in a few years, if you want them. I started a couple dozen of them from seed, to give as gifts. I have a pair of lovely old mimosas. You may not want to bother with them, and I won't be offended if you don't. They're barely ten inches high at this point, and you won't see blooms for several years."

"I'd love to have them."

"They're out on your veranda in some old plastic pots. Why don't we take them around to Brian, see where he thinks they'd do best for you?"

"They're my first housewarming gift." Cilla led the way out, and picked up one of the black plastic pots holding the delicate, fanning seedling. "I love the idea of planting them so young, and being able to watch them grow, year after year. It's funny, you coming by, talking about the parties. I was thinking about having one, maybe for Labor Day."

"Oh, you should! What fun."

"Problem being, the house won't be completely finished, and I won't have it furnished or decorated, or-"

"Who cares about that!" Obviously already in the swing, Cathy gave Cilla an elbow bump. "You can have another when you're all done. It'd be like... a prelude. I'd be happy to help, and you know Patty would. Ford's mother, too. In fact, we'd take over if you didn't whip us back."

"Maybe. Maybe. I'll think about it."

AFTER THE CREWS HAD GONE, and the house fell silent, after two fragile seedlings with their pink, powder-puff blossoms still years from bloom had been planted in a sunny spot bordering the yard and fallow field, Cilla sat on an overturned bucket in the living room of the house that had once been her grandmother's. The house now hers.

She imagined it crowded with people, beautifully dressed, beautifully coiffed. The colored lights of Christmas, the elegance of candle and firelight glowing, glittering, glimmering.

A lipstick-pink couch with white satin pillows.

And Janet, a light brighter than all the rest, gliding from guest to guest in elegant blue, a crystal glass bubbling with champagne in her hand.

The granddaughter sat on the overturned bucket, hearing the dream voices and drawing in the ghost scents of Christmas pine.

Ford found her, alone in the center of the room, in light going dim with the late summer evening.

Too alone, he thought. Not just solitary, not this time. Not quietly contemplative, and not basking, but absolutely alone, and very, very away.

Because he wanted her back, he walked over, crouched in front of her. Those spectacular eyes stared for another instant, two more, at what was away, then came back, came back to him.

"There was a Christmas party," she said. "It must have been the last Christmas party she gave, because it was the Christmas before Johnnie was killed. There were lights and music, crowds of people. Beautiful people. Canapes and champagne. She sang for them, with Lenny Eisner on the piano. She had a pink couch. A long, bright pink couch with white satin pillows. Cathy told me about it. It sounds so Doris Day, doesn't it? Bright pink, lipstick pink. It would never go in here now, that bright pink with these foggy green walls."

"It's just paint, Cilla; it's just fabric."

"It's statements. Fashions change, go in and out, but there are statements. I'd never be a pink couch with white satin pillows. I changed it, and I'm not sorry about that. It'll never be as elegant or bold and bright as it was, with her. I'm okay with that, too. But sometimes, when it's me in here, I need-and I know this sounds completely insane-but I need to ask her if she's okay with it, too."

"Is she?"

She smiled, laid her brow against his. "She's thinking about it." She sat back, sighed. "Well, since I'm making crazy statements, I might as well lead up to asking you a crazy question."

"Let's sit outside on the crazy-question section of the veranda. There's too damn much of me to squat down this way for long." He pulled her to her feet.

They sat on the veranda steps, legs stretched out, with Spock wandering the front yard. "You're sure this is the crazy-question section?"

"I have season tickets."

"Okay. Did you know Brian's grandfather? His father's father?"

"Barely. He died when we were just kids. I have more of an impression of him. Big, strapping guy. Powerful."

"He'd have been about, what, sixty that Christmas? That last Christmas party."

"I don't know. About, I guess. Why?"

"Not too old," Cilla considered. "Janet liked older men, and younger, and just about any age, race or creed."

"You're thinking Bri's grandfather and Janet Hardy?" His laugh was surprise and wonder. "That's just... weird."

"Why?"

"Okay, imagining grandparents having affairs, which means imagining grandparents having sex, is weird to begin with."

"Not so much when your grandmother is forever thirty-nine."

"Point."

"Besides, grandparents have sex. They're entitled to have sex."

"Yeah, but I don't want to fix the image in my head, or the next thing I'll be imagining my grandparents doing it, and see? See?" He gave her a mock punch on the arm. "There it is, in HDTV, in my head. Now I'm scarred for life. Thanks very much."

"Yes, definitely the crazy section of the veranda. Ford, he could've written the letters."

"My grandfather?"

"No. Well, yes, actually, now that you mention it. He had a crush on her, by his own admission. He took all those photographs of her."

Ford simply dropped his head in his hands. "It's a terrible, terrible series of images you're putting in my brain."

"Would he tell you if you asked?"

"I don't know, and I'm not going to ask. Not in any lifetime. And I'm moving out of the crazy section of the veranda."

"Wait, wait. We'll switch grandfathers. Brian's. It's hard to see yours holding so fondly on to all those photos if their affair ended so badly. But Brian's was the type, wasn't he? Powerful, important. Married. Married with a family, a successful-and public-career. He could've written those letters."

"Seeing as he's been dead for about a quarter century, it'd be hard to prove either way."


It was an obstacle, she thought, but didn't have to be insurmountable. "There are probably samples of his handwriting somewhere."

"Yeah." Ford let out a sigh. "Yeah."

"If I could get a sample, and compare it to the letters, then I'd know. They're both gone, and it could end there. There wouldn't be any point in letting it get out. But..."

"You'd know."

"I'd know, and I could put away that part of her life that I never expected to find."

"If they don't match?"

"I guess I'll keep hoping I'll ask the right question of the right person one day."

"I'll see what I can do."

IT TOOK FORD a couple of days to figure out an approach. He couldn't lie. Not that he was incapable of it; he was just so freaking bad at it. The only way he'd ever gotten away with a lie had been when the person being lied to felt pity for him and let it slide. He'd learned to sink or swim in the truth.

He watched Brian and Shanna turning a load of peat moss into the soil behind the completed stone wall.

"You could get a shovel," Brian told him.

"I could, but there is also value in the watching and admiring. Especially in the watching and admiring of Shanna's ass."

She wiggled it obligingly.

"We all know you're watching my ass," Brian shot back.

"It's true. Shanna is only the beard. To be more convincing, maybe she could bend over just a little more and... I'm sold," he said when she did so and laughed.

It came, Ford supposed, from being friends all their lives. Only one more reason a lie wasn't an option. But stalling was.

"What are y'all putting up there?"

Brian straightened, swiped a forearm over his sweaty forehead, then pointed to a group of shrubs in nursery pots. "Make yourself useful, since you don't seem to have anything better to do. Haul them up here so we can start setting them, see how they look."

"He's just bitchy because I'm taking ten days off. Going out to L.A. to visit Steve."

"Yeah?" Ford hefted an azalea. "So...?"

"'The future has not been written.'"

You had to love a woman who quoted from The Terminator. "Tell him hey, and all that."

He waited while they arranged the plants he handed up, rearranged them, argued about the arrangement, and eventually jumped down to study and critique the arrangement.

"Okay, you're right," Shanna admitted. "We'll switch that rhodo and that andromeda."

"I'm always right." Smugly, Brian poked himself in the chest with his thumb. "That's why I'm the boss."

"As boss, can you take a minute?" Ford asked. "There's this thing."

"Sure," Brian replied as they walked away.

"Okay, this has to stay between you and me," Ford began. "Cilla found some letters written by a guy her grandmother had an affair with."

"So?"

"Big, secret affair, married guy, went sour right before she died."

"I repeat: So?"

"Well, they weren't signed, and Janet kept them and hid them away, so they became Mysterious Letters. In fact, we thought maybe, until Hennessy melted down, that the break-ins were an attempt by the mystery man to get the letters back."

"Wouldn't he be, like, a hundred years old?"

"Maybe, but not necessarily. And plenty of guys in their seventies once banged women not their wives."

"That's shocking," Brian said drily. "Hey, maybe it was Hennessy, and he had this wild fling with the beautiful, sexy movie star. Except I think he was born a dried-up asshole."

"It's not beyond the realm. But, ah, a little closer into the circle of logical possibility... See, she knew your grandfather, and he was an important man around here, and came to her parties."

Ford stood, scratching his head while Brian bent over double and laughed. "Jesus. Jesus!" Brian managed. "The late, great Andrew Morrow doing the nasty with Janet Hardy?"

"It's close to the circle of logical possibility," Ford insisted.

"Not in my world, Saw. I don't remember him all that well, but I remember he was a hard-ass, and self-righteous."

"In my world, the self-righteous are often the ones sneaking around getting blow jobs before they go home to the wives and kiddies."

Brian sobered, considered. "Yeah, you got a point. And God knows my grandmother must've been hard to live with. Water was never quite wet enough for her. God, she ragged on my mom all the damn time. Right up till she died. It'd be kind of cool," he decided, "if Big Drew Morrow had a few rounds with Janet Hardy."

It wasn't lying not to mention the claims of pregnancy, and the ugly tenor of the last letters. It was just... not mentioning. "Do you have anything he wrote? Birthday card, letter, anything?"

"No. My mother would, I guess. She keeps family papers and that kind of stuff."

"Can you get a sample of his handwriting without letting her know what it's for?"

"Probably. She's got a box of my stuff out in the garage. School papers, cards, that kind of shit. There might be something in there. She's been after me to take it to my place for years. I could get it out of her way, take a look through."

"Cool. Thanks."

"Hey!" Shanna shouted over. "Are you guys about finished or do I have to plant this whole terrace myself?"

"Nag, nag," Brian shouted back.

Ford studied her. Built, bawdy, beautiful. "How come you never went there?"

"Window of opportunity passed, and she became my sister." He shrugged. "But we've got a deal. If we're both single when we hit forty, we're going to Jamaica for a week and spend the whole time engaged in mad, jungle sex."

"Well. Good luck with that."

"Only nine years to go," Brian called out as he strode back toward Shanna.

For a moment, Ford was simply struck dumb. Nine years? Was that it? He didn't think about being forty. Forty was another decade. The grown-up decade.

How did it get to be only nine years off?

Jamming his hands in his pockets, he veered toward the house to find Cilla.

In the kitchen, where even the slices and chunks of counter had been torn out and hauled away, and odd-looking pipes poked out of a floor that might have been snacked on by drunken rodents, Buddy worked at a wide slice in the plaster wall.

He turned with some sort of large tool in his hand that made Ford think of a metal parrot head mated with a giraffe's neck.

"Who the hell puts a goddamn faucet over the goddamn stove?" Buddy demanded.

"I don't know. Ah, in case of fire?"

"That's a load of crap."

"It's the best I've got. Is Cilla around?"

"Woman's always around. Check up in the attic. Toilets in the attic," Buddy muttered as he went back to work. "Faucets over the stove. Want a tub in the bedroom next."

"Actually, I've seen... Nothing," Ford said when Buddy turned slitted eyes on him. "I see nothing."

He trooped his way through the house, noted that the trim was nearly finished in the hall, the entryway. On the second floor, he poked into rooms. He could still smell the paint in a room with walls of a subtle, smoky brown. In the master, he studied the three colors brushed on the wall. Apparently, she hadn't yet decided between a silvery gray, a gray-blue and a muted gold.

He wandered down the hall, then up the widened, finished stairs. She stood with Matt, each holding a sample of wood up to the light streaming through the window.

"Yeah, I like the contrast of the oak against the walnut." Matt nodded. "You know what we could do? We could trim it out in the walnut. You've got your... Hey, Ford."

"Hey."

"Summit meeting," Cilla told him. "Built-ins."

"Go right ahead."

"Okay, like this." With his pencil, Matt began to draw on the drywall, and Ford's attention shifted to the swaths of paint brushed on the opposite wall. She had the same silvery gray here, and a warm cheery yellow competing with what he'd call apricot.

He took a look in the bathroom, at the tiles and tones.

He tuned back in to hear Matt and Cilla come to an agreement on material and design.

"I'll get started on this in my shop," Matt told her.

"How's Josie feeling?"

"Hot and impatient, and wondering why the hell she didn't do the math last winter and realize she'd be going through the summer pregnant."

"Flowers," Ford suggested. "Buy her flowers on the way home. She'll still be hot, but she'll be happy."

"Maybe I'll do that. I'll check, make sure the flooring's coming in on Tuesday. Barring another screwup, we'll start hammering it out up here. Roses always work, right?" he asked Ford.

"They're a classic for a reason."

"Okay. I'll let you know about the flooring, Cilla."

As Matt went down, Ford stepped over, tapped Cilla's chin up, kissed her. "The pale silver up here, the dull gold in the master."

She cocked her head. "Maybe. Why?"

"Streams better with the bathrooms than your other choices. And while they're both warm tones, the gray gives a sense of coolness. It's an attic, however jazzed up you make it. And in the bedroom, that color's restful but still strong. Now tell me why Buddy's putting a faucet over your stove."

"To fill pots."

"Okay. I talked to Brian."

"You often do."

"About the letters. His grandfather."

"You... you told him?" Her mouth dropped open. "You just told him I think his grandfather might have broken commandments with my grandmother?"

"I don't think commandments were mentioned. You wanted a handwriting sample. Brian can probably get one."

"Yes, but... Couldn't you have been covert, a little sneaky? Couldn't you have lied?"

"I suck at sneak. And even if I gold-medaled in the sneak competition, I can't lie to a friend. He understands I told him in confidence, and he won't break a confidence to a friend."

She blew out a breath. "You people certainly grew up on a different planet than I did. Are you sure he won't say anything to his father? It's a stew pot of embarrassment."

"I'm sure. He did have an interesting comment though. What if Hennessy wrote the letters?"

Cilla went back to gape. "Kill-you-with-my-truck Hennessy?"

"Well, think about it. How crazy would you get if you'd been having an affair with a woman, then the son of that woman is responsible-in your eyes-for putting your son in a wheelchair? It's way-fetched, I agree. I'm going to reread the letters with this in mind. Just to see how it plays."

"You know what? If it turns in that direction, within a mile of that direction, I don't think I want to know. Imagining my grandmother with Hennessy just gives me the serious eeuuwws."

She sighed, started downstairs with him. "I talked to the police today," she told Ford. "There won't be a trial. They did a deal, Hennessy took a plea, whatever. He'll do a minimum of two years in the state facility, psychiatric."

Ford reached for her hand. "How do you feel about that?"

"I don't honestly know. So I guess I'll put it aside, think about now."

She moved into the master, studied the paint samples. "Yeah, you're right about the color."

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