A Bone to Pick

Chapter 2


I floated out of Bubba Sewell's office, trying not to look as gleeful as I felt. He walked with me to the elevator, looking down at me as if he couldn't figure me out. Well, it was mutual, but I wasn't caring right now, no sirree. "She inherited it from her mother," Sewell said. "Most of it. Also, when her mother died, Miss Engle sold her mother's house, which was very large and brought a great price, and she split the money from that with her brother. Then her brother died and left her his nearly intact share of the house money, plus his estate, which she turned into cash. He was a banker in Atlanta." I had money. I had a lot of money.

"I'll meet you at Jane's house tomorrow, and we'll have a look around at the contents, and I'll have a few things for you to sign. Would nine-thirty be convenient?"

I nodded with my lips pressed together so I wouldn't grin at him.

"And you know where it is?"

"Yes," I breathed, thankful the elevator had come at last and the doors were opening.

"Well, I'll see you tomorrow morning, Miss Teagarden," the lawyer said, setting his black glasses back on his nose and turning away as the doors closed with me inside.

I thought a scream of joy would echo up the elevator shaft, so I quietly but ecstatically said, "Heeheeheeheehee, " all the way down and did a little jig before the doors opened on the marble lobby.

I managed to get home to the town house on Parson Road without hitting another car, and pulled into my parking place planning how I could celebrate. The young married couple who'd taken Robin's town house, to the left of mine, waved back hesitantly in answer to my beaming hello. The Crandalls' parking space to the right was empty; they were visiting a married son in another town. The woman who'd finally rented Bankston Waite's town house was at work, as always. There was a strange car parked in the second space allotted to my apartment, but since I didn't see anyone I assumed it was a guest of one of the other tenants who didn't know how to read.

I opened my patio gate singing to myself and hopping around happily (I am not much of a dancer) and surprised a strange man in black sticking a note to my back door.

It was a toss-up as to which of us was the more startled. It took me a moment of staring to figure out who the man was. I finally recognized him as the Episcopal priest who'd performed Mother's wedding and Jane Engle's funeral. I'd talked to him at the wedding reception, but not at this morning's funeral. He was a couple of inches over six feet, probably in his late thirties, with dark hair beginning to gray to the color of his eyes, a neat mustache, and a clerical collar.

"Miss Teagarden, I was just leaving you a note," he said, recovering neatly from his surprise at my singing, dancing entrance.

"Father Scott," I said firmly, his name popping into my head at the last second.

"Good to see you."

"You seem happy today," he said, showing excellent teeth in a cautious smile.

Maybe he thought I was drunk.

"Well, you know I was at Jane's funeral," I began, but when his eyebrows flew up I realized I'd started at the wrong end.

"Please come in, Father, and I'll tell you why I'm so cheerful when it might seem... inappropriate."

"Well, if you have a minute, I'll come in. Maybe I caught you at a bad time? And please call me Aubrey."

"No, this is fine. And call me Aurora. Or Roe, most people just call me Roe." Actually, I'd wanted a little alone time to get used to the idea of being rich, but telling someone would be fun too. I tried to remember how messy the place was. "Please come in, I'll make some coffee." And I just laughed. He surely thought I was crazy as a loon, but he had to come in now. "I haven't seen you to talk to since my mother got married," I babbled, as I twisted my key in the lock and flung open the door into the kitchen and living area. Good, it was quite neat.

"John's a wonderful man and a staunch member of the congregation," he said, having to look down at me quite sharply now that I was close. Why didn't I ever meet short men? I was doomed to go through life with a crick in my neck. "John and your mother are still on their honeymoon?"

"Yes, they're having such a good time I wouldn't be surprised if they stayed longer. My mother hasn't taken a vacation in at least six years. You know she owns a real estate business."

"That's what John told me," Aubrey Scott said politely. He was still standing right inside the door.

"Oh, I forgot my manners! Please come have a seat!" I tossed my purse on the counter and waved at the matching tan suede love seat and chair in the "living area," which lay beyond the "kitchen area."

The chair was clearly my special chair, from the brass lamp behind it for reading light to the small table loaded with my current book, a stained coffee mug, and a few magazines. Aubrey Scott wisely chose one end of the love seat. "Listen," I said, perching opposite him on the edge of my chair, "I've got to tell you why I'm so giddy today. Normally I'm not like this at all." Which was true, mote's the pity. "Jane Engle just left me a bunch of money, and, even though it may sound greedy, I've got to tell you I'm happy as a clam about it." "I don't blame you," he said sincerely. I have noticed that, if there is one thing ministers are good at projecting, it is sincerity. "If someone had left me a bunch of money, I'd be dancing, too. I had no idea Jane was a - that Jane had a lot to leave anyone."

"Me either. She never lived like she had money. Let me get you a drink. Coffee? Or maybe a real drink?" I figured I could ask that, him being Episcopal. If he'd been, say, Parnell and Leah Engle's pastor, that question would have earned me a stiff lecture.

"If by real drink you mean one with alcohol, I wouldn't turn one down. It's after five o'clock, and conducting a funeral always drains me. What do you have? Any Seagram's, by any chance?"

"As a matter of fact, yes. What about a seven and seven?"

"Sounds great."

As I mixed the Seagram's 7 with the 7 Up, added ice, and even produced cocktail napkins and nuts, it finally struck me as odd that the Episcopal priest would come to call. I couldn't exactly say, "What are you doing here?" but I was curious. Well, he'd get around to it. Most of the preachers in Lawrenceton had had a go at roping me in at one time or another. I am a fairly regular churchgoer, but I seldom go to the same church twice in a row. It would have been nice to run upstairs to change from my hot black funeral dress to something less formal, but I figured he would run out the back door if I proposed to slip into something comfortable.

I did take off my heels, caked with mud from the cemetery, after I sat down.

"So tell me about your inheritance," he suggested after an awkward pause. I couldn't recapture my initial excitement, but I could feel a grin turning up my lips as I told him about my friendship with Jane Engle and Bubba Sewell's approach after the service was over.

"That's amazing," he murmured. "You've been blessed."

"Yes, I have," I agreed wholeheartedly.

"And you say you weren't a particular friend of Jane's?" "No. We were friends, but at times a month would go by without our seeing each other. And not thinking anything about it, either." "I don't suppose you've had enough time to plan anything to do with this unexpected legacy."

"No." And if he suggested some worthy cause, I would really resent it. I just wanted to be in proud ownership of a little house and a big (to me, anyway) fortune, at least for a while.

"I'm glad for you," he said, and there was another awkward pause. "Was there anything I could do to help you, did your note say?..." I trailed off. I tried to manage a look of intelligent expectancy. "Well," he said with an embarrassed laugh, "actually, I.. .this is so stupid, I'm acting like I was in high school again. Actually... I just wanted to ask you out. On a date."

"A date," I repeated blankly.

I saw instantly that my astonishment was hurting him. "No, it's not that that's peculiar," I said hastily. "I just wasn't expecting it."

"Because I'm a minister."


He heaved a sigh and opened his mouth with a resigned expression. "No, no!" I said, throwing my hands up. "Don't make an 'I'm only human' speech, if you were going to! I was gauche, I admit it! Of course I'll go out with you!" I felt like I owed it to him now.

"You're not involved in another relationship at the moment?" he asked carefully.

I wondered if he had to wear the collar on dates. "No, not for a while. In fact, I went to the wedding of my last relationship a few months ago."

Suddenly Aubrey Scott smiled, and his big gray eyes crinkled up at the corners, and he looked good enough to eat.

"What would you like to do? The movies?"

I hadn't had a date since Arthur and I had split. Anything sounded good to me.

"Okay," I said.

"Maybe we can go to the early show and go out to eat afterward."

"Fine. When?"

"Tomorrow night?"

"Okay. The early show usually starts at five if we go to the triplex. Anything special you want to see?"

"Let's get there and decide."

There could easily be three movies I did not want to see showing at one time, but the chances were at least one of them would be tolerable. "Okay," I said again. "But if you're taking me out to supper, I want to treat you to the movie."

He looked doubtful. "I'm kind of a traditional guy," he said. "But if you want to do it that way, that'll be a new experience for me." He sounded rather courageous about it.

After he left, I slowly finished my drink. I wondered if the rules for dating clergymen were different from the rules for dating regular guys. I told myself sternly that clergymen are regular guys, just regular guys who professionally relate to God. I knew I was being naive in thinking I had to act differently with Aubrey Scott than I would with another date. If I was so malicious or off-color or just plain wrongheaded that I had to constantly censor my conversation with a minister, then I needed the experience anyway. Perhaps it would be like dating a psychiatrist; you would always worry about what he spotted about you that you didn't know. Well, this date would be a "learning experience" for me.

What a day! I shook my head as I plodded up the stairs to my bedroom. From being a poor, worried, spurned librarian I'd become a wealthy, secure, datable heiress.

The impulse to share my new status was almost irresistible. But Amina was back in Houston and preoccupied by her upcoming marriage, my mother was on her honeymoon (boy, would I enjoy telling her), my co-worker Lillian Schmidt would find some way to make me feel guilty about it, and my sort-of-friend Sally Allison would want to put it in the paper. I'd really like to tell Robin Crusoe, my mystery writer friend, but he was in the big city of Atlanta, having decided the commute from Lawrenceton to his teaching position there was too much to handle - or at least that was the reason he'd given me. Unless I could tell him face-to-face, I wouldn't enjoy it. His face was one of my favorites. Maybe some celebrations are just meant to be private. A big wahoo would have been out of line anyway, since Jane had had to die in order for this celebration to be held. I took off the black dress and put on a bathrobe and went downstairs to watch an old movie and eat half a bag of pretzels and then half a quart of chocolate fudge ripple ice cream.

Heiresses can do anything.

It was raining the next morning, a short summer shower that promised a steamy afternoon. The thunderclaps were sharp and scary, and I found myself jumping at each one as I drank my coffee. After I retrieved the paper (only a little wet) from the otherwise unused front doorstep that faced Parson Road, it began to slow down. By the time I'd had my shower and was dressed and ready for my appointment with Bubba Sewell, the sun had come out and mist began to rise from the puddles in the parking lot beyond the patio. I watched CNN for a while - heiresses need to be well-informed-fidgeted with my makeup, ate a banana, and scrubbed the kitchen sink, and then finally it was time to go. I couldn't figure out why I was so excited. The money wasn't going to be piled in the middle of the floor. I'd have to wait roughly two months to actually be able to spend it, Sewell had said. I'd been in Jane's little house before, and there was nothing so special about it.

Of course, now I owned it. I'd never owned something that big before. I was independent of my mother, too. I could've made it by myself on my librarian's salary, though it would have been hard, but having the resident manager's job and therefore a free place to live and a little extra salary had certainly made a big difference.

I'd woken several times during the night and thought about living in Jane's house. My house. Or after probate I could sell it and buy elsewhere. That morning, starting up my car to drive to Honor Street, the world was so full of possibilities it was just plain terrifying, in a happy roller-coaster way. Jane's house was in one of the older residential neighborhoods. The streets were named for virtues. One reached Honor by way of Faith. Honor was a dead end, and Jane's house was the second from the corner on the right side. The houses in this neighborhood tended to be small - two or three bedrooms - with meticulously kept little yards dominated by large trees circled with flower beds. Jane's front yard was half filled by a live oak on the right side that shaded the bay window in the living room. The driveway ran in on the left, and there was a deep single-car carport attached to the house. A door in the rear of the carport told me there was some kind of storage room there. The kitchen door opened onto the carport, or you could (as I'd done as a visitor) park in the driveway and take the curving sidewalk to the front door. The house was white, like all the others on the street, and there were azalea bushes planted all around the foundation; it would be lovely in spring.

The marigolds Jane had planted around her mailbox had died from lack of water, I saw as I got out of the car. Somehow that little detail sobered me up completely. The hands that had planted those withered yellow flowers were now six feet underground and idle forever.

I was a bit early, so I took the time to look around at my new neighborhood. The corner house, to the right of Jane's as I faced it, had beautiful big climbing rosebushes round the front porch. The one to the left had had a lot added on, so that the original simple lines of the house were obscured. It had been bricked in, a garage with an apartment on top had been connected to the house by a roofed walk, a deck had been tacked on the back. The result was not happy. The last house on the street was next to that, and I remembered that the newspaper editor, Macon Turner, who had once dated my mother, lived there. The house directly across the street from Jane's, a pretty little house with canary yellow shutters, had a realtor's sign up with a big red SOLD slapped across it. The corner house on that side of the street was the one Melanie Clark, another member of the defunct Real Murders club, had rented for a while: now a Big Wheel parked in the driveway indicated children on the premises. One house took up the last two lots on that side, a rather dilapidated place with only one tree in a large yard. It sat blankfaced, the yellowing shades pulled down. A wheelchair ramp had been built on.

At this hour on a summer morning, the quiet was peaceful. But, behind the houses on Jane's side of the street, there was the large parking lot for the junior high school, with the school's own high fence keeping trash from being pitched in Jane's yard and students from using it as a shortcut. I was sure there would be more noise during the school year, but now that parking lot sat empty. By and by, a woman from the corner house on the other side of the street started up a lawn mower and that wonderful summer sound made me feel relaxed. You planned for this, Jane, I thought. You wanted me to go in your house. You know me and you picked me for this.

Bubba Sewell's BMW pulled up to the curb, and I took a deep breath and walked toward it.

He handed me the keys. My hand closed over them. It felt like a formal investiture. "There's no problem with you going on and working in this house now, clearing it out or preparing it for sale or whatever you want to do, it belongs to you and no one says different. I've advertised for anyone with claims on the estate to come forward, and so far no one has. But of course we can't spend any of the money," he admonished me with a wagging finger. "The house bills are still coming to me as executor, and they will until probate is settled."

This was like being a week away from your birthday when you were six. "This one," he said, pointing to one key, "opens the dead bolt on the front door. This one opens the punch lock on the front door. This little one is to Jane's safe deposit box at Eastern National, there's a little jewelry and a few papers in it, nothing much."

I unlocked the door and we stepped in.

"Shit," said Bubba Sewell in an unlawyerly way. There was a heap of cushions from the living room chairs thrown around. I could look through the living room into the kitchen and see similar disorder there. Someone had broken in.

One of the rear windows, the one in the back bedroom, had been broken. It had been a pristine little room with chaste twin beds covered in white chenille. The wallpaper was floral and unobtrusive, and the glass was easy to sweep up on the hardwood floor. The first things I found in my new house were the dustpan and the broom, lying on the floor by the tall broom closet in the kitchen. "I don't think anything's gone," Sewell said with a good deal of surprise, "but I'll call the police anyway. These people, they read the obituaries in the paper and go around breaking into the houses that are empty." I stood holding a dustpan full of glass. "So why isn't anything missing?" I asked. "The TV is still in the living room. The clock-radio is still in here, and there's a microwave in the kitchen."

"Maybe you're just plain lucky," Sewell said, his eyes resting on me thoughtfully. He polished his glasses on a gleaming white handkerchief. "Or maybe the kids were so young that just breaking in was enough thrill. Maybe they got scared halfway through. Who knows."

"Tell me a few things." I sat on one of the white beds and he sat down opposite me. The broken window (the storm this morning had soaked the curtains) made the room anything but intimate. I propped the broom against my knee and put the dustpan on the floor. "What happened with this house after Jane died? Who came in here? Who has keys?"

"Jane died in the hospital, of course," Sewell began. "When she first went in, she still thought she might come home, so she had me hire a maid to come in and clean... empty the garbage, clear the perishables out of the refrigerator, and so on. Jane's neighbor to the side, Torrance Rideout - you know him? - he offered to keep her yard mowed for her, so he has a key to the tool and storage room, that's the door at the back of the carport."

I nodded.

"But that's the only key he had," the lawyer said, getting back on target. "Then a few days later, when Jane learned - she wasn't coming home..." "I visited her in the hospital, and she never said a word to me," I murmured. "She didn't like to talk about it. What was there to say? she asked me. I think she was right. But anyway... I kept the electricity and gas - the heat is gas, everything else is electric - hooked up, but I came over here and unplugged everything but the freezer - it's in the toolroom and it has food in it - and I stopped the papers and started having Jane's mail kept at the post office, then I'd pick it up and take it to her, it wasn't any trouble to me, my mail goes to the post office, too..."

Sewell had taken care of everything for Jane. Was this the care of a lawyer for a good client or the devotion of a friend?

"So," he was saying briskly, "the little bitty operating expenses for this house will come out of the estate, but I trust you won't mind, we kept it at a minimum. You know when you completely turn off the air or beat into a house, the house just seems to go downhill almost immediately, and there was always the slight chance Jane might make it and come home." "No, of course I don't mind paying the electric bill. Do Parnell and Leah have a key?"

"No, Jane was firm about that. Parnell came to me and offered to go through and get Jane's clothes and things packed away, but of course I told him no." "Oh?"

"They're yours," he said simply. "Everything" - and he gave that some emphasis, or was it only my imagination - "everything in this house is yours. Parnell and Leah know about their five thousand, and Jane herself handed him the keys to her car two days before she died and let him take it from this carport, but, other than that, whatever is in this house" - and suddenly I was alert and very nearly scared - "is yours to deal with however you see fit." My eyes narrowed with concentration. What was he saying that he wasn't really saying?

Somewhere, somewhere in this house, lurked a problem. For some reason, Jane's legacy wasn't entirely benevolent. After calling the police about the break-in and calling the glass people to come to fix the window, Bubba Sewell took his departure.

"I don't think the police will even show up here since I couldn't tell them anything was missing. I'll stop by the station on my way back to the office, though." he said on his way out the door.

I was relieved to hear that. I'd met most of the local policemen when I dated Arthur; policemen really stick together. "There's no point in turning on the air conditioner until that back bedroom window is fixed," Sewell added, "but the thermostat is in the hall, when you need it."

He was being mighty chary with my money. Now that I was so rich, I could fling open the windows and doors and set the thermostat on forty, if I wanted to do something so foolish and wasteful.

"If you have any problems, run into anything you can't handle, you just call me," Sewell said again. He'd expressed that sentiment several times, in several different ways. But just once he had said, "Miss Jane had a high opinion of you, that you could tackle any problem that came your way and make a success of it." I got the picture. By now I was so apprehensive, I heartily wanted Sewell to leave. Finally he was out the front door, and I knelt on the window seat in the bay window and partially opened the sectioned blinds surrounding it to watch his car pull away. When I was sure he was gone, I opened all the blinds and turned around to survey my new territory. The living room was carpeted, the only room in the house that was, and when Jane had had this done she'd run the carpet right up onto the window seat so that it was seamlessly covered, side, top, and all. There were some hand-embroidered pillows arranged on it, and the effect was very pretty. The carpet Jane had been so partial to was a muted rose with a tiny blue pattern, and her living room furniture (a sofa and two armchairs) picked up that shade of blue, while the lamp shades were white or rose. There was a small color television arranged for easy viewing from Jane's favorite chair. The antique table beside that chair was still stacked with magazines, a strange assortment that summed up Jane - Southern Living, Mystery Scene, Lear's, and a publication from the church.

The walls of this small room were lined with freestanding shelves overflowing with books. My mouth watered when I looked at them. One thing I knew Jane and I had shared: we loved books, we especially loved mysteries, and more than anything we loved books about real murders. Jane's collection had always been my envy.

At the rear of the living room was a dining area, with a beautiful table and chairs I believed Jane had inherited from her mother. I knew nothing about antiques and cared less, but the table and chairs were gleaming under a light coating of dust, and, as I straightened the cushions and pushed the couch back to its place against the wall (why would anyone move a couch when he broke into a house?), I was already worried about caring for the set. At least all the books hadn't been thrown on the floor. Straightening this room actually took only a few moments.

I moved into the kitchen. I was avoiding Jane's bedroom. It could wait. The kitchen had a large double window that looked onto the backyard, and a tiny table with two chairs was set right in front of the window. Here was where Jane and I had had coffee when I'd visited her, if she hadn't taken me into the living room.

The disorder in the kitchen was just as puzzling. The shallow upper cabinets were fine, had not been touched, but the deeper bottom cabinets had been emptied carelessly. Nothing had been poured out of its container or wantonly vandalized, but the contents had been moved as though the cabinet itself were the object of the search, not possible loot that could be taken away. And the broom closet, tall and thin, had received special attention. I flipped on the kitchen light and stared at the wall in the back of the closet. It was marred with "... knife gouges, sure as shooting," I mumbled. While I stooped to reload the cabinet shelves with pots and pans, I thought about those gouges. The breaker-in had wanted to see if there was something fake about the back of the closet; that was the only interpretation I could put on the holes. And only the large bottom cabinets had been disturbed; only the large pieces of furniture in the living room.

So, Miss Genius, he was looking for something large. Okay, "he" could be a woman, but I wasn't going to the trouble of thinking "he or she." "He" would do very well for now. What large thing could Jane Engle have concealed in her house that anyone could possibly want enough to break in for? Unanswerable until I knew more, and I definitely had the feeling I would know more. I finished picking up the kitchen and returned to the guest bedroom. The only disturbance there, now I'd cleared up the glass, was to the two single closets, which had been opened and emptied. There again, no attempt had been made to destroy or mutilate the items that had been taken from the closets; they'd just been emptied swiftly and thoroughly. Jane had stored her luggage in one closet, and the larger suitcases had been opened. Out-of-season clothes, boxes of pictures and mementos, a portable sewing machine, two boxes of Christmas decorations...all things I had to check through and decide on, but for now it was enough to shovel them all back in. As I hung up a heavy coat, I noticed the walls in these closets had been treated the same way as the broom closet in the kitchen.

The attic stairs pulled down in the little hall that had a bedroom door at each end and the bathroom door in the middle. A broad archway led from this hall back into the living room. This house actually was smaller than my town house by quite a few square feet, I realized. If I moved I would have less room but more independence.

It was going to be hot up in the attic, but it would certainly be much hotter by the afternoon. I gripped the cord and pulled down. I unfolded the stairs and stared at them doubtfully. They didn't look any too sturdy. Jane hadn't liked to use them either, I found, after I'd eased my way up the creaking wooden stairs. There was very little in the attic but dust and disturbed insulation; the searcher had been up here, too, and an itchy time he must have had of it. A leftover strip of the living room carpet had been unrolled, a chest had its drawers halfway pulled out. I closed up the attic with some relief and washed my dusty hands and face in the bathroom sink. The bathroom was a good size, with a large linen cabinet below which was a half door that opened onto a wide space suitable for a laundry basket to hold dirty clothes. This half closet had received the same attention as the ones in the kitchen and guest bedroom.

The searcher was trying to find a secret hiding place for something that could be put in a drawer but not bidden behind books... something that couldn't be hidden between sheets and towels but could be hidden in a large pot. I tried to image Jane hiding - a suitcase full of money? What else? A box of - documents revealing a terrible secret? I opened the top half of the closet to look at Jane's neatly folded sheets and towels without actually seeing them. I should be grateful those hadn't been dumped out, too, I mused with half of my brain, since Jane had been a champion folder; the towels were neater than I'd ever get them, and the sheets appeared to have been ironed, something I hadn't seen since I was a child.

Not money or documents; those could have been divided to fit into the spaces that the searcher had ignored.

The door bell rang, making me jump a foot.

It was only the glass repair people, a husband and wife team I'd called when window problems arose at my mother's apartments. They accepted me being at this address without any questions, and the woman commented when she saw the back window that lots of houses were getting broken into these days, though it had been a rarity when she'd been "a kid."

"Those people coming out from the city," she told me seriously, raising her heavily penciled eyebrows.

"Reckon so?" I asked, to establish my goodwill. "Oh sure, honey. They come out here to get away from the city, but they bring their city habits with 'em."

Lawrenceton loved the commuters' money without actually trusting or loving the commuters.

While they tackled removing the broken glass and replacing it, I went into Jane's front bedroom. Somehow entering it was easier with someone else in the house. I am not superstitious, at least not consciously, but it seemed to me that Jane's presence was strongest in her bedroom, and having people busy in another room in the house made my entering her room less... personal. It was a large bedroom, and Jane had a queen-sized four-poster with one bed table, a substantial chest of drawers, and a vanity table with a large mirror comfortably arranged. In the now-familiar way, the double closet vas open and the contents tossed out simply to get them out of the way. There were built-in shelves on either side of the closet, and the shoes and purses had been swept from these, too.

There's not much as depressing as someone else's old shoes, when you have the job of disposing of them. Jane had not cared to put her money into her clothes and personal accessories. I could not ever recall Jane wearing anything I noticed particularly, or even anything I could definitely say was brand new. Her shoes were not expensive and were all well-worn. It seemed to me Jane had not enjoyed her money at all; she'd lived in her little house with her Penney's and Sears wardrobe, buying books as her only extravagance. And she'd always struck me as content; she'd worked until she'd had to retire, and then come back to substitute at the library. Somehow this all seemed melancholy, and I had to shake myself to pull out of the blues.

What I needed, I told myself briskly, was to return with some large cartons, pack all Jane's clothing away, and haul the cartons over to the Goodwill. Jane had been a little taller than I, and thicker, too; nothing would fit or be suitable. I piled all the flung-down clothes and tossed the shoes on the bed; no point in loading them back into the closet when I knew I didn't need or want them. When that was done, I spent a few minutes pressing and poking and tapping in the closet myself.

It just sounded and felt like a closet to me.

I gave up and perched on the end of the bed, thinking of all the pots and pans, towels and sheets, magazines and books, sewing kits and Christmas ornaments, bobby pins and hair nets, handkerchiefs, that were now mine and my responsibility to do something with. Just thinking of it was tiring. I listened idly to the voices of the couple working in the back bedroom. You would have thought that since they lived together twenty-four hours a day they would've said all they could think of to say, but I could hear one offer the other a comment every now and then. This calm, intermittent dialogue seemed companionable, and I went into kind of a trance sitting on the end of that bed. I had to be at work that afternoon for three hours, from one to four. I'd have just time to get home and get ready for my date with Aubrey Scott... did I really need to shower and change before we went to the movies? After going up in the attic, it would be a good idea. Today was much hotter than yesterday. Cartons...where to get some sturdy ones? Maybe the Dumpster behind Wal-Mart? The liquor store had good cartons, but they were too small for clothes packing. Would Jane's bookshelves look okay standing by my bookshelves? Should I move my books here? I could make the guest bedroom into a study. The only person I'd ever had as an overnight guest who didn't actually sleep with me, my half brother Phillip, lived out in California now.

"We're through, Miss Teagarden," called the husband half of the team.

I shook myself out of my stupor.

"Send the bill to Bubba Sewell in the Jasper Building. Here's the address," and I ripped a piece of paper off a tablet Jane had left by the telephone. The telephone! Was it hooked up? No, I found after the repair team had left. Sewell had deemed it an unnecessary expense. Should I have it hooked back up? Under what name? Would I have two phone numbers, one here and one at the town house? I'd had my fill of my inheritance for one day. Just as I locked the front door, I heard footsteps rustling through the grass and turned to see a barrel-chested man of about forty-five coming from the house to my left. "Hi," he said quickly. "You're our new neighbor, I take it."

"You must be Torrance Rideout. Thanks for taking such good care of the lawn." "Well, that's what I wanted to ask about." Close up, Torrance Rideout looked like a man who'd once been handsome and still wasn't without the old sex appeal. His hair was muddy brown and only a few flecks of gray, and he looked like his beard would be heavy enough to shave twice a day. He had a craggy face, brown eyes surrounded by what I thought of as sun wrinkles, a dark tan, and he was wearing a green golf shirt and navy shorts. "My wife, Marcia, and I were real sorry about Jane. She was a real good neighbor and we were sure sorry about her passing."

I didn't feel like I was the right person to accept condolences, but I wasn't about to explain I'd inherited Jane's house not because we were the best of friends but because Jane wanted someone who could remember her for a good long while. So I just nodded, and hoped that would do. Torrance Rideout seemed to accept that. "Well, I've been mowing the yard, and I was wondering if you wanted me to do it one more week until you get your own yardman or mow it yourself, or just whatever you want to do. I'll be glad to do it."

"You've already been to so much trouble..."

"Nope, no trouble. I told Jane when she went in the hospital not to worry about the yard, I'd take care of it. I've got a riding mower, I just ride it on over when I do my yard, and there ain't that much weed eating to do, just around a couple of flower beds. I did get Jane's mower out to do the tight places the riding mower can't get. But what I did want to tell you, someone dug a little in the backyard."

We'd walked over to my car while Torrance talked, and I'd pulled out my keys. Now I stopped with my fingers on the car door handle. "Dug up the backyard?" I echoed incredulously. Come to think of it, that wasn't so surprising. I thought about it for a moment. Okay, something that could be kept in a bole in the ground as well as hidden in a house.

"I filled the holes back in," Torrance went on, "and Marcia's been keeping a special lookout since she's home during the day." I told Torrance someone had entered the house, and he expressed the expected astonishment and disgust. He hadn't seen the broken window when he'd last mowed the backyard two days before, he told me.

"I do thank you," I said again. "You've done so much." "No, no," he protested quickly. "We were kind of wondering if you were going to put the house on the market, or live in it yourself... .Jane was our neighbor for so long, we kind of worry about breaking in a new one!" "I haven't made up my mind," I said, and left it at that, which seemed to stump Torrance Rideout.

"Well, see, we rent out that room over our garage," he explained, "and we have for a good long while. This area is not exactly zoned for rental units, but Jane never minded and our neighbor on the other side, Macon Turner, runs the paper, you know him? Macon never has cared. But new people in Jane's house, well, we didn't know..."

"I'll tell you the minute I make up my mind," I said in as agreeable a way as I could.

"Well, well. We appreciate it, and if you need anything, just come ask me or Marcia. I'm out of town off and on most weeks, selling office supplies believe it or not, but then I'm home every weekend and some afternoons, and, like I said, Marcia's home and she'd love to help if she could." "Thank you for offering," I said. "And I'm sure I'll be talking to you soon.

Thanks for all you've done with the yard."

And finally I got to leave. I stopped at Burger King for lunch, regretting that I hadn't grabbed one of Jane's books to read while I ate. But I had plenty to think about: the emptied closets, the holes in the backyard, the hint Bubba Sewell had given me that Jane had left me a problem to solve. The sheer physical task of clearing the house of what I didn't want, and then the decision about what to do with the house itself. At least all these thoughts were preferable to thinking of myself yet again as the jilted lover, brooding over the upcoming Smith baby... feeling somehow cheated by Lynn's pregnancy. It was much nicer to have decisions within my power to make, instead of having them made for me. Now! I told myself briskly, to ward off the melancholy, as I dumped my cup and wrapper in the trash bin and left the restaurant. Now to work, then home, then out on a real date, and tomorrow get out early in the morning to find those boxes!

I should have remembered that my plans seldom work out.

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