- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
- All the Possibilities
- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
Monday turned out to be a much busier day than I'd expected. When I went in to work to put in what I thought would be four hours, I found that one of the other librarians had caught a summer cold ("The worst kind," all the other librarians said wisely, shaking their heads. I thought any cold was the worst kind). The head of the library, Sam derrick, asked if I'd put in eight hours instead, and after a little hesitation I agreed. I felt very gracious, because now I had it within my financial power (well, almost within my financial power) to quit my job completely. There's nothing like patting yourself on the back to give you energy; I worked happily all morning, reading to a circle of preschoolers and answering questions.
I did feel justified in taking a few extra minutes on my coffee break to call the phone company and ask them if the number I had at the town house could also be the number for Jane's house, at least for a while. Even if that wasn't possible, I wanted Jane's phone hooked back up. To my pleasure, it was possible to get my number to ring at Jane's, and I was assured it would be operational within the next couple of days.
As I was hanging up, Lillian Schmidt lumbered in. Lillian is one of those disagreeable people who yet have some redeeming qualities, so that you can't write them off entirely - but you sure wish you could. Furthermore, I worked with Lillian, so it was in my interest to keep peace with her. Lillian was narrow-minded and gossipy, but fair; she was a devoted wife and mother, but talked about her husband and daughter until you wanted them to be swallowed up in an earthquake; she knew her job and did it competently, but with so much groaning and complaining about minute details that you wanted to smack her. Reacting to Lillian, I sounded like a wild-eyed Communist, an incurable Pollyanna, and a free-sex advocate.
"It's so hot outside, I feel like I need another shower," she said by way of greeting. Her forehead was beaded with perspiration. She pulled a tissue from the box on the coffee table and dabbed at her face. "I hear you had a windfall," she continued, tossing the tissue into the trash and missing. With a deep sigh, Lillian laboriously bent over to retrieve it. But her eyes flicked up to take in my reaction.
"Yes," I said with a bright smile.
Lillian waited for me to elaborate. She eyed me wryly when I didn't say anything. "I didn't know you and Jane Engle were such good friends." I considered several possible responses, smiling all the while. "We were friends."
Lillian shook her head slowly. "I was a friend of Jane's, too, but she didn't leave me any house."
What could I say to that? I shrugged. If Jane and Lillian had had any special personal relationship, I certainly couldn't recall it. "Did you know," Lillian continued, switching to another track, "that Bubba Sewell is going to run for state representative in the fall?" "Is he really." It wasn't a question.
Lillian saw that she'd made an impression. "Yes, his secretary is my sister-in-law, so she told me even before the announcement, which is tomorrow. I knew you'd be interested since I saw you talking to him at Jane's funeral. He's trying to get his house in order, so to speak, so he doesn't want even a whiff of anything funny that might be dug up during the campaign. He's going to be running against Carl Underwood, and Carl's had that seat for three terms." Lillian had gotten to give me information I hadn't possessed, and that had made her happy. After a couple more complaints about the school system's insensitivity to her daughter's allergies, she stumped off to actually do some work.
I remained seated on the hard chair in the tiny coffee-break room, thinking hard about Bubba Sewell. No wonder he hadn't wanted to know what was fishy in Jane's house! No wonder he had catered to her so extensively. It was good word of mouth for him, that he would go to such lengths for his elderly client, especially since he wasn't gaining anything from her will - except a fat fee for handling it. If I told Bubba Sewell about the skull he'd hate me for the rest of his life. And he was Carey Os-land's first husband; maybe somehow he was involved in the disappearance of Carey's second husband?
As I washed my mug in the little sink and set it in the drainer, I dismissed any urge I'd ever felt to confide in the lawyer. He was running for office; he was ambitious; he couldn't be trusted. A pretty grim summation for someone who might be my elected representative in the statehouse. I sighed, and started for the check-in desk to shelve the returned books.
On my lunch hour, I ran over to the house on Honor to let the cat out and check on the kittens. I picked up a hamburger and drink at a drive-through. When I turned off Faith I saw a city work crew cleaning the honeysuckle and poison ivy from around the dead end sign at the end of the street. It would take them hours. Vines and weeds had taken over the little area and had obviously been thriving for years, twining around the sign itself and then attaching to the rear fence of the house backing onto the end of our street. The city truck was parked right in the middle of the road down by Macon Turner's house. For the first time since I'd inherited Jane's house, I saw the newspaper editor himself, perhaps also returning to his home for lunch. Macon's thinning, brownish-gray hair was long and combed across the top of his head to give his scalp some coverage. He had an intelligent face, thin lipped and sharp, and wore suits that always seemed to need to go to the cleaners; in fact, Macon always gave the impression that he did not know how to take care of himself. His hair always needed trimming, his clothes needed ironing, he usually seemed tired, and he was always one step behind his schedule. He called to me now as he pulled letters out of his mailbox, giving me a smile that held a heavy dose of charm. Macon was the only man my mother had ever dated that I personally found attractive.
I waited, standing in the driveway with my little paper bag of lunch in one hand and my house keys in the other, while Macon walked over. His tie was crooked, and he was carrying his suit coat, a lightweight khaki, almost dragging the ground. I wondered if Carey Osland, whose house was not exactly a model of neatness, realized what she was taking on.
"Good to see you, Roe! How's your mother and her new husband?" Macon called before he was quite close enough. The cleanup crew, two young black men being watched by an older one, turned their heads to cast us a glance. It was one of those moments that you always remember for no apparent reason. It was dreadfully hot, the sun brilliant in a cloudless sky. The three workmen had huge, dark stains on their shirts, and one of the younger men had a red bandanna over his head. The ancient city dump truck was painted dark orange. Condensation from the cup containing my soft drink was making a wet blotch on the paper bag;
I worried that the bag would break. I was feeling glad to see Macon, but also impatient to get inside the cool house and eat lunch and check on Madeleine's brood. I felt a trickle of sweat start up under my green-and-white-striped dress, felt it roll its ticklish way down under my belt to my hips. I looped my purse strap over my shoulder so I could have a free hand to hold up my hair in the vain hope of catching a breeze across my neck; I hadn't had time to braid my hair that morning. I looked down at a crack in the driveway and wondered how to get it repaired. Weeds were growing through in unattractive abundance. I was just thinking that I was glad Mother had married John Queensland, whom I found worthy but often boring, rather than Macon, whose face was made disturbingly attractive by his intelligence, when one of the workmen let out a yell. It hung in the thick, hot air; all three men froze. Macon's head turned in midstride, and he paused as his foot hit the ground. All movement seemed to become deliberate. I was acutely aware of turning my head slightly, the better to see what the man with the red bandanna was lifting off the ground. The contrast of his black hand against the white bone was riveting. "God almighty! It's a dead man!" bellowed the other worker, and the slow motion speeded up into a sequence too swift for me to replay afterward.
I decided that day that the dead person could not be Macon Turner's son; or, at least if it was, Edward had not been killed by Macon. Macon's face never showed the slightest hint that this find might have a personal slant. He was excited and interested and almost broke his door down to get in to call the police. Lynn came out of her house when the police car appeared. She looked pale and miserable. Her belly preceded her like a tugboat pulling her along. "What's the fuss?" she asked, nodding toward the workmen, who were reliving their find complete with quotes and gestures while the patrolman peered down into the thick weeds and vines choking the base of the sign. "A skeleton, I think," I said cautiously. Though I was sure it was not a complete skeleton.
Lynn looked unmoved. "I bet it turns out to be a Great Dane or some other big dog. Maybe even some cow bones or deer bones left over from some home butchering."
"Could be," I said. I looked up at Lynn, whose hand was absently massaging her bulging belly. "How are you doing?"
"I feel like..." She paused to think. "I feel like if I bent over, the baby's so low I could shake hands with it."
"Oo," I said. I squinched up my face trying to imagine it. "You've never been pregnant," Lynn said, a member of a club I'd never belonged to. "It's not as easy as you might think, considering women have done it for millions of years." Right now, Lynn was a lot more interested in her own body than in the body at the end of the road.
"So you're not working now?" I asked, keeping one eye cocked at the patrolman, who was now using his radio. The workmen had calmed down and moved into the shade of a tree in Macon's front yard. Macon disappeared into his house, popping back out with a camera and notepad.
"No. My doctor told me I had to take off work and keep my feet up for as long each day as I can. Since we got most of the boxes unpacked and the nursery is ready, I just do house things about two hours each day, and the rest of the time," she told me gloomily, "I just wait."
This was so - un-Lynn.
"Are you excited?" I asked hesitantly.
"I'm too uncomfortable to be excited. Besides, Arthur is excited enough for both of us."
I found that hard to picture.
"You don't mind anymore, do you?" Lynn asked suddenly.
"You dating anyone else?"
"Sort of. But I just stopped minding."
Luckily Lynn stopped there, because I simply would not say anything more about it.
"Do you think you'll keep the house?"
"I have no idea." I almost asked Lynn if it would bother her if I did, then I realized I didn't want to know the answer.
"Are you going to that party?" Lynn asked after a moment.
"We will too, I guess, though I'm not much in partying shape. That Marcia Rideout looked at me like she'd never seen a pregnant woman when she came over to meet me and leave the invitation. She made me feel like the Goodyear blimp and an unmade bed all at once."
I could see how that would be, given Marcia's aggressively good grooming. "I better go check on the kittens," I told Lynn. The situation down at the end of the street was static. The patrolman leaned against his car, waiting for someone else to show up, apparently. Macon was standing at the end of the pavement looking down at the bones. The workmen were smoking and drinking RC Colas.
"Oh, you have kittens? Can I see?" For the first time, Lynn looked animated. "Sure," I said with some surprise. Then I realized Lynn was in the mood to see baby anything.
The kittens were more active today. They tumbled over one another, their eyes still not open, and Madeleine surveyed them with queenly pride. One was coal black, the others marmalade and white like their mother. Soon their energy ran out and they began to nurse, dropping off into sleep directly after. Lynn had carefully lowered herself to the floor and watched silently, her face unreadable. I went into the kitchen to replenish Madeleine's water and food, and I changed the litter box while I was at it. After I washed my hands and had a gulp of my drink and most of my hamburger, I went back to the bedroom to find Lynn still staring.
"Did you watch them being born?" she asked.
"Did it look like she hurt?"
"It looked like it was work," I said carefully. She sighed heavily. "Well, I expect that," she said, trying to sound philosophical.
"Have you gone to Lamaze?"
"Oh, yeah. We do our breathing exercises every night," she said unenthusiastically.
"You don't think they're going to work?"
"I have no idea. You know what's really scary?"
"No one will tell you."
"Anyone. It's the damnedest thing. I really want to know what I'm up against. So I ask my best friend, she's had two. She says, 'Oh, when you see what you get it's worth it.' That's no answer, right? So I ask someone else who didn't use any anesthesia. She says, 'Oh, you'll forget all about it when you see the baby.' That's not an answer either. And my mom was knocked out, old-style, when she had me. So she can't tell me, and she probably wouldn't. It's some kind of mom conspiracy."
I thought it over. "Well, I sure can't answer any questions, but I'd tell you the truth if I could."
"I expect," Lynn said, "that I'll be telling you, and pretty soon."
When I left the house to return to the library, I saw two police cars parked in Macon Turner's driveway, and the city truck was gone. The rest of the skeleton having been found was a great relief to me. Now the police would be working on finding out who it was. Perhaps the remaining bones would be enough? If they could find out from the bones, I mentally promised The Skull I would give it a decent burial.
I was guiltily aware I was not taking any morally firm position. That evening the doorbell rang just as I had eased off my shoes and rolled my panty hose down. I hastily yanked them off, pushed them under my chair, and stuck my bare feet into my shoes. I was a hot, wrinkled mess with a headache and a bad conscience.
Sergeant Jack Burns filled my doorway form side to side. His clothes were always heavy on polyester, and he had long Elvis sideburns, but nothing could detract from the air of menace that emanated from him in a steady stream. He was so used to projecting it that I think he might have been surprised if you had told him about it.
"May I come in?" he asked gently.
"Oh, of course," I said, backing to one side.
"I come to ask you about the bones found today on Honor Street," he said formally.
"Please come have a seat."
"Thank you, I will, I been on my old feet all day," he said in a courtly way. He let himself down on my couch, and I sat opposite him in my favorite chair. "You just come in from work?"
"Yes, yes I did."
"But you were at Jane Engle's house on Honor Street today when the road crew found the skeleton."
"Yes, I had come there on my lunch hour to feed the cat."
He stared and waited. He was better at this than I was. "Jane's cat. Uh - she ran away from Parnell and Leah Engle and came back home, she had kittens in the closet. In Jane's bedroom."
"You know, you sure turn up a lot for a law-abiding citizen, Miss Teagarden. We hardly seem to have any homicides in Lawrenceton without you showing up. Seems mighty strange."
"I would hardly call having inherited a house on the same street 'mighty strange,' Sergeant Burns," I said bravely.
"Well, now you think about it," he suggested in a reasonable voice. "Last year when we had those deaths, there you were. When we caught them that did it, there you were."
About to get killed myself, I said, but only in my head, because you didn't interrupt Sergeant Jack Burns.
"Then Miss Engle dies, and here you are on the street with a skeleton in the weeds, a street with a suspicious number of reported break-ins, including one in this house you just inherited."
"A suspicious number of break-ins? Are you saying other people on Honor besides me have reported their house being entered?"
"Thaf s what I'm saying, Miss Teagarden."
"And nothing taken?"
"Nothing the owner would admit to missing. Maybe the thief took some pornographic books or some other thing the homeowner would be embarrassed to report."
"There certainly wasn't anything like that in Jane's house, I'm sure," I said indignantly. Just an old skull with some holes in it. "It may be that something was missing, I wouldn't know. I only saw the house after the burglary. Ah - who else reported their houses had been broken into?" Jack Burns actually looked surprised before he looked suspicious. "Everyone, now. Except that old couple in the end house on the other side of the street. Now, do you know anything about the bones found today?" "Oh, no. I just happened along when they were discovered. You know, I've only been in the house a few times, and I've never stayed there. I only visited Jane, over the past couple of years. Before she went into the hospital." "I think," Jack Burns said heavily and unfairly, "this is one mystery the police department can handle, Miss Teagarden. You keep your little bitty nose out of it."
"Oh," I said furiously, "I will, Sergeant." And as I rose to show him out, my heel caught on the balled-up panty hose under my chair and dragged them out for Jack Burns's viewing.
He gave them a look of scorn, as if they'd been sleazy sexual aids, and departed with his awful majesty intact. If he had laughed, he would've been human.
- The Loners
- The Saints
- Tome of the Undergates
- Black Halo
- The Skybound Sea
- If You Stay
- If You Leave
- Until We Burn
- Before We Fall
- Every Last Kiss
- Suspiciously Obedient
- Random Acts of Crazy
- Random Acts of Trust
- Her First Billionaire
- Her Second Billionaire
- Her Two Billionaires
- Her Two Billionaires and a Baby
- His Majesty's Dragon
- Throne of Jade
- Black Powder War
- Victory of Eagles
- Tongues of Serpents
- Empire of Ivory
- Crucible of Gold