To his amazement, he opted for the Bloody Mary mix. He shook his head, amazed that he could gulp down the two-liter can so quickly.
There was some hamburger meat in the lower shelf. He'd meant to cook dinner last week for Jade-the one dinner he did well: hamburgers on the grill. He hadn't gotten to it. The meat was probably too old now. It was raw, red, and wrapped in cellophane. He could see just how raw and red-and probably bad-it was.
He reached for it, suddenly as hungry as he was thirsty. He pulled out the hamburger meat, set it on the counter, and delved into a cabinet for a frying pan. It wasn't hard to find. There weren't that many pans in his kitchen. He seldom ate at home. He had a lot of talents, but cooking wasn't one of them. And he was surrounded by some of the best restaurants in the country.
He never bothered with the pan, or turning on the stove.
He ripped the cellophane off the meat and started thrusting it into his mouth. It didn't taste bad. It could have been fresher. It could have been ...
His doorbell was still ringing.
"Hell!" he swore aloud. "A man is sick in here, sick as hell, I may be dying-go away!" He caught a glimpse of his face in the aluminum surface of his coffeepot. He hadn't shaved; bits of raw and bloody meat were stuck in the pathetic blond stubble on his cheeks. He shook his head, disgusted, ran the water, and vigorously washed his face.
He looked at the remaining meat, shaking his head. Well, hell, people did eat steak tartare. This was kind of the same. Maybe his sick body was craving the iron or something.
The bell was still ringing.
"Shit!" he swore.
He started for it, shook his head angrily, and walked back to the bedroom. He closed himself in, pulling his pillow over his head.
He never took time off.
He always paid his creditors.
Whatever it was, they needed to leave him the hell alone.
Shanna MacGregor woke to the sound of her phone ringing.
She groaned, pulling her pillow over her head. She wasn't a morning person.
The answering machine clicked on. "Shanna, dear, this is Liz. I'm so sorry to call. I was hoping to catch you in. I always hate to bother you girls, but..."
Shanna groaned inwardly. She knew that Liz hated to call.
She and Jade had both accepted Liz as their father's new wife. They had adored their mother, but they had lost her. And their father had grieved with them, long and deeply.
And though he was eight years older than his new wife- fifty to Liz's forty-two-he hadn't gone and married a woman young than his own daughters, something Shanna had seen men do.
For herself-though she adored her father-she knew she'd never marry an old fart.
But Liz was okay. She hadn't planned the twins, and she'd been embarrassed to tell the girls about them. And she tried never to be a burden on her new husband's first family.
Shanna adored the twins; so did Jade. They were like practice. Almost like having her own little moppets without having all the poop and vomit all the time.
"But it's okay, I'll give Jade a try." Liz's voice continued.
Jade? No, no, not this morning. Jade should be sleeping with supercop. Not a good morning to leap out of bed and off to the home front She staggered up and answered the phone. "Liz, I'm here."
"Yes, I'm here," she repeated, looking at the phone. Who else would it be?
"I'm so sorry, Shanna-"
"Liz, what is it?"
"I know this is terribly short notice, but Petey's got an ear infection, his temperature has just gone up and up, and he's got to go to the hospital, and your dad has been out since about four this morning. He's involved in a story for the paper, and I can beep him, but-"
"Liz, you need me to watch Jamie?"
"Only until I can reach your father."
"You don't need to get Dad. I'll be there right away."
"Oh, bless you, Shanna. I don't know what I would have done without you girls."
"No big deal, Liz. The little guy is my half brother. I'll be right over." Just don't wake Jade up. Not this morning! she thought.
She breezed in and out of the shower, hopped into jeans and a T-shirt, and ran out of the house with her sandals in her hands. Rather than go through the wait of getting her car out of the garage, she hailed a cab for the ride to the Garden District She made it to her old home in record time. Liz, a pretty, slender brunette, was in the doorway with a crying Petey in her arms. She looked very upset and worried.
"Don't you go trying to drive!" Shanna told her stepmother. "Get in that cab, and give me a call when you know what's up."
Jamie started to cry as his mother left. Shanna picked him up, letting him wail a minute, then telling him how she'd read him Dr. Seuss-he adored Green Eggs and Ham-and they'd make pancakes.
She kept her promise, reading first, then sitting Jamie in his chair in the kitchen, letting him stir batter with her, and keeping up a chatter all the while. He missed Petey already-he kept looking at his twin's empty chair. She knew what he felt; she and Jade weren't twins, but she couldn't begin to imagine life without her sister. They'd gone away to separate schools, and learned then just how close they were. When she'd gotten the awful call from Scotland a year ago-and had not known just what had happened to her sister-it had been the most awful thing in the world.
She poured pancake batter onto the griddle and thought about how strange it was to be here-home. It was a grand old house, and had been here at least ten years before the Civil War. The rooms were big, and there was a porch with large white pillars and an old swinging chair. Her rocking horse was upstairs in the attic; there were still pictures of her mother on the walls. Liz had never touched those. But the house ...
The silver was Liz's. The cookware, even the griddle. The kitchen was different. For a moment Shanna missed her mother with all her heart.
The kitchen had been far more cluttered when her mom was alive. There had always been pictures all over the refrigerator, "artwork" by her and Jade. Their latest essays had been attached to the fridge as well by several silly, cheap magnets. Liz was not a clutter person. There weren't even snapshots of the twins on the refrigerator. Those were neatly kept in frames out in the parlor.
"Here you go, baby," she said, turning to Jamie with a plate of fresh pancakes.
"I'm not a baby!" he told her.
"I'm sorry, of course not. Want me to cut it up for you?"
He scowled at her. "I'm not a baby."
"I know. Silly me. You're almost three."
The great thing about a kid his age was that a scowl didn't last. Jamie beamed at her now. He pointed at the kitchen window with his fork. "There's a man, Shanny." He might be almost three, and not at all a baby in his own mind, but he still didn't have her name quite right. He always called her Shanny.
"A man?" she spun around. There was no one there. "I don't see anyone, kiddo." The scowl came back. "Saw him! Looking in."
"I'll see," she said. She exited the kitchen, walking through the dining room to the open hallway and the front door. The wooden door had been left open; the screen door had been latched. She opened the screen door, stepped out to the porch, and looked around. "Hello? Is anyone there?" She saw no one.
"Can I help you? If you're there, show yourself!"
The phone started to ring.
"Liz!" she said, running back inside. The screen door swung. Shut, open, shut.
She raced into the kitchen and checked to see that Jamie was still safely in his seat. She all but wrenched the kitchen extension off the wall.
"Shanna! I was getting worried."
"I was running a bit."
"It scared me when you didn't answer. So many awful things happen these days ... that's why your father was out so early. His job is to edit these days, not walk the streets, but ... well, never mind. I'm on my way home. They gave Petey some magical shot, then left me in one of the little cubicles in the emergency room with him for an hour. They told me that if the shot didn't help him, they'd have to admit him. But it worked; his temperature is normal, and he's much better."
"Liz, that's great. But we're fine. You don't need to hurry."
"Frankly, I'm exhausted. I'll be glad to get back home."
"We'll be here."
"Great. Keep the place locked up tight, okay?" Shanna felt an odd, creeping sensation. "Why? I mean, I will, but I grew up here, Liz. This neighborhood is as safe as they get."
"Oh, I know. It's just that.. . I'm not sure what's going on, but something very bad has happened in the city, and your father is out because they're not sure what they want in the media. I mean, they're not trying to hold back freedom of speech or anything, but there was a murder, I believe, and they don't want the public to know the details."
"We're locked up. We'll be careful. See you soon." She hung up, grimaced at Jamie, and went racing back through the house.
The screen door was wide open, welcoming any kook who happened to be walking by.
"Shoot!" Shanna said under her breath. She quickly closed and latched the door.
She walked back in. Jamie was munching pancakes. "Mommy's coming. With Petey?"
"Yep. Petey's a bunch better. They're both coming home right now." She shivered. She accepted the piece of pancake he insisted she take. "Only a sister would do this, kiddo," she told him, ruffling his hair.
She shivered and looked around.