In case you missed it this week, Chapter 3 is below Chapter 4. Go take a look.
And if you missed Chapters 1 and 2, go to SUNSPINNERS 1,2
At the top of the cover illustration click the
And if you missed Chapters 1 and 2, go to SUNSPINNERS 1,2
At the top of the cover illustration click the
A boring machine answered, not even Sam’s voice. Some answering service. “About those trespassers I mentioned, today a Simone Marsh claiming she’s from Home Realty trespassed big time. Hadley says there’s no-such.”
Probably I should have added a gracious thanks for his help but the nosebleed made me short on gracious. I hung up and then lay on my bed feeling as limp as the washcloth. Reality returned in reverse proportion to the fading pain. Damn, this was not fun. Mother had never mentioned physical attacks. Had there been any?
I rose, didn’t topple, and could actually walk without bumping door frames. I made it out to the bottom of the stairs where I steadied myself by sitting.
“Charley, have there been physical attacks on us before or am I the lucky start of something new?” I demanded of the empty hallway.
No one answered. Wasn’t that typical, always underfoot when not needed, gone when required.
I had known Charley all my life. When I was small I thought he was this funny uncle who was always at our supper table. I knew that he and the others lived upstairs and that upstairs was out of bounds for me. A few times I had talked about him to neighbors. They said they did not know him and now, looking back, I realize they thought my tales of aunts and uncles were make-believe. The only oddity in my life was Mother’s rule that I never go upstairs, but then, she also told me which streets I could cross and when to go to bed, and not to talk about my father who was a terrible disappointment and had deserted us, which was why she dropped his name and went back to the Royal name.
Like any child, I accepted all of her rules.
And then I was a teenager and had to be told the truth about my mother’s family. I was so shocked I tried to never look closely at any of them. Between friends and school activities, I lived my life anywhere but home, sliding in before bedtime and heading straight to my room.
At that time, Mother’s bedroom was the room that was now my office. Next I was off to college where I had four years to think about all of them, and I decided that they were Mother’s problem.
Although the University of Washington was an easy bus ride from my home, I lived on campus in a dorm for very good reasons. Five of them.
Those were years of pretending I could have a normal life. I loved those four years, walking across campus to classes in the middle of a group of friends, sharing coffee shop meals, wandering up and down the Ave, partying in each other’s rooms. When dorm mates asked me about my hometown I always said I came from Point Roberts, an odd little peninsula near the Canadian border that is difficult to reach and therefore discouraged any suggestions of visiting my family.
Sure, I went home fairly often to my real home in Seattle to visit Mother and give her a bit of moral support. I hadn’t realized then how much support she needed.
Now I was finding out.
Charley wasn’t on the main floor and I didn’t feel him upstairs and as soon as the thought crossed my mind, I knew it was so. Charley’s presence wasn’t something I searched for, never had been, because he popped up more often than I wanted. But now, sitting on the stair in a dead silent house, I realized that I knew that four of them were upstairs and that Charley specifically was missing. And that my nose had finally stopped bleeding.
My light tan slacks were a mess and would probably never recover. My dark sweater might survive. My nose was in worse shape than my slacks and wasn’t it a good thing that I could work from home because if I were faced with a coworker or client, she’d bolt.
The kitchen door opened and closed.
I leaned forward far enough to stretch my fingers and grab the antique brass candlestick from the hall table and clench it in a firm grip. It was tall and heavy and had the Victorians designed their candlesticks to double as weapons when necessary?
Next trespasser I saw, I was going to be the one doing the nose-bashing. When I didn’t see anyone but clearly heard bare feet padding toward me, I put the candlestick down. The jeans appeared in the dining room archway and crossed the hallway.
“Glad we have those all over the house. There are some heavier ones in the attic. Maybe I should dig them out,” Charley said. “How are you feeling?”
“Beat up. Has this happened before, physical attacks on any of us?”
“Not that I can remember, although there was this screaming crowd with torches running down a road after us.”
“That was Frankenstein, Charley. You watch too many films.”
“Is that what I am remembering? Big stone castle on top of a mountain? I think you’re right because I am remembering it in black and white. I can’t remember any attacks in the last hundred years. Earlier than that, I’m pretty fuzzy.”
“So this is new. Why?”
“Hmm.” The candlestick centered itself on the table, and then the flowers in the bowl fluffed up. “I checked the backyard again, in case that Simone person was lurking. Didn’t see her.”
Okay, I could play his game. Charley really loves the PBS mysteries. “What about footprints? We could make plaster casts of them.”
The jeans sat down beside me. I could feel the heat of his bare arm against my sweater. I leaned toward him, resting my aching head on his shoulder.
“Didn’t see any and yes, I looked,” he said.
“I’m sure you did. So make a guess, what started this?”
After a long pause, and pauses feel a lot longer when I can’t see the speaker’s face, he said, “The realtor. Or, no, not him. He must have a client who doesn’t take rejection well.”
“So Hadley should know the name of the client. Since he makes a point of contacting me, he also has a folder with my address. And some sort of form filled out with client information. If I phone and ask, he won’t tell me. He’ll claim some dumb sort of client confidentiality.”
“Could that Sam person get it?”
“I shouldn’t ask Sam,” I muttered into my cold washcloth. “I did phone and leave a message on his machine. I told him about the Simone woman. If I keep on bothering him, he might suspect the whole trespasser story is an excuse to get his attention. Okay, I think I will go to Hadley’s office and march in with my battered nose upfront and maybe nose to nose he’ll pick cooperation over lawsuit?”
“Could work,” Charley said, “especially in those clothes.”
I looked down at my ruined slacks. “Walk in covered in blood, probably impressive, but I might have to park down the street and walk a block, impressing strangers. I’d be surrounded by cell phones, all requesting an ambulance.”
“That shoots down a big bargaining chip.”
There was a badly mixed metaphor in that statement but I was too numb to sort it out. My accomplishments were limited to washing my face, combing my hair, changing my clothes, and finding my keys and billfold.
When I started out, Charley’s voice said, “I’ll go with you.”
“Should you stay here?” I asked. “Bad lady realtor might return.”
“Give me a minute to run up and get Paul. He can set the doorknob shocks after we leave and he can also keep his butt out of bed for a couple of hours and watch for trouble.”
Not worth replying. Probably jealousy on my part, I mean, after three hundred years sharing a bed, Paul and Gizelle still can’t keep their eyes or hands off each other. Me, I couldn’t get through the second year of either marriage. What bizarre hormonal thing drove me to try for another romance when I knew my love life was forever doomed? It wasn’t as though I was hung up on the ticking body clock syndrome. I would never choose to raise offspring to take over my role as protector.
The role should have provided some special ability, it seemed to me. When the family first realized that this was a position to be passed down through endless generations, why didn’t they give thought to inherited traits? Okay, at the time no one knew about DNA but they certainly knew about breeding animals for specific uses. So why not breed sons with increased height and strength, or daughters with amazing craftiness? Once the family gained a fortune, they should have been able to attract the correct mates.
Hmmph. So there is that passion element and Lord knows, I never picked a mate for his possible genetic advantage as a superhero. Still, weren’t any of my ancestors wiser than me?
After an annoying search, I found Hadley’s card with his address where I’d left it on my desk. We drove to his office, or rather, I drove to his office with Charley in the passenger seat. He wanted to drive.
“Right, let’s go flying down the street with no one visible behind the wheel,” I said.
That wasn’t my real reason. My life depends on me not getting in a car with Charley at the wheel. Probably his driving habits are in some way connected to his immortality but as I keep trying to explain to him, most of Seattle’s residents are perishable, including me.
Hadley’s office was in a one-story building that rented month-to-month. In a year or two it would be a hole in the ground, and then it would be a multistoried complex of badly designed, overpriced condos with oversized kitchens in the middle of the living rooms. No wonder so many people had weight problems.
And no wonder I was cranky at the world. My nose hurt.
I do that habitually, examine everything except what actually affects my life. Is that an escape behavior?
Hadley’s office had an entrance off the sidewalk, a large plate glass window covered with photos of available real estate and a door in the same condition. I peered through the glass between photos, saw his empty desk and pushed open the door.
“Hadley? Anybody? Hello?”
“Maybe he’s in the can,” Charley said. “I’ll look.”
“Or ran across the street for coffee.”
There was a Starbucks in sight. Duh. There is hardly a corner in Seattle that lacks a Starbucks view. I wandered slowly around the brightly lit office, reading the ads that papered the walls, prices that required stock options with Amazon or Microsoft. Maids’ rooms, indoor lap pools, granite counter tops guaranteed to chip the heirloom china, no temptation, but some of the ads showed views that I could love.
Sunset on the Sound, snow on distant mountains, cloud-filled skies. I whistled softly, reading descriptions, studying photos, my battered nose practically touching the wall.
My foot hit something squishy. At about that time Charley’s voice said, “Don’t look down.”
So of course I did.
Hadley lay crumpled behind his desk, his hair matted and his head lying in a spreading pool of blood. I started to reach toward him thinking I could help, that’s how shocked I was.
He lay face down, his neat clothing twisted around his curled body, one hand stretched out. He could have been searching for something under his desk and lost his balance. He could have, except for the red stain seeping into the fibers where his head rested on the carpet.
Charley caught my wrist to pull me back and said, “You can’t help him, Elaine.”
I tried to breathe. Couldn’t. Heat rose in my face and for a moment my vision went black. The only reason I remained standing was Charley’s arms around me. In my ear I heard Charley’s voice saying my name over and over.
At the same time, above the street noises, the man in the doorway said loudly, “Got your message.”
I screamed and started to shake.
Charley’s touch was gone and Sam Norris was there, grabbing me, pulling me against his chest. Sam is a big man, tall, broad-shouldered. All I cared about just then was that he was a pair of strong arms that made me feel slightly less terrified. There were decisions to be made. I couldn’t think what they were, just knew they had to be made.
He turned me away from the desk and the body and led me, half-carrying me, to the open street door.
He said something about “Breathe deep,” and I gulped fresh air and clenched my teeth and tried to stop shaking.
“What happened?” he asked.
For an impossibly long time, I couldn’t remember how to breathe. And then I did and the words tumbled out in a rush. “I don’t know! I just walked in, didn’t see him, did see him, ohmyGod, is he dead?”
“Is that the realtor you told me about?”
“That’s Hadley, yes.”
With his arm around me to keep me from collapsing, Sam flipped open his phone, thumbed in 9-1-1 and after a short pause he reported a homicide. So that answered my question about whether or not Hadley was dead.
After Sam snapped his phone shut he asked, “Did you touch anything?”
“Touch? No, I just got here.”
“How long ago?”
“A minute. Two minutes. I don’t know!”
“Was there anyone with you?”
I almost blurted Charley’s name. Instead I shook my head.
“And no one else in the office?”
“No. Not that I saw.”
“Right.” He leaned out the door and looked both ways. Then he put his hands on my shoulders and turned me so that I faced the street. “Elaine, I think you should walk at normal pace to the corner, cross, go to the coffee shop and wait for me. Now.”
If I had a different life, I would have refused, stayed and answered police questions. Sam thought I left because I was frightened. Uh uh. I was burning up and then shivering. Speechless. Terrified. But that wasn’t why I left.
I left because I am all my family has to deflect attention. A police interview here could mean later interviews at my house.
If I’d had any information that might help, I would have stayed, but I knew nothing at all about Hadley except that he’d been a pest. That was not a reason to kill the man.
Also, if the police decided they wanted to delay me with questioning, my invisible companion would have a long walk home barefoot.
Sam was right. Going to my car and driving away would draw more attention than sitting in a half-empty Starbucks. I used the coffee shop restroom to press wet paper towels on my face until I felt steady. I didn’t try to look at myself in the mirror. Didn’t even think about it, because how could I care about a reflection when all I could see in my mind was a man who was now a dead body?
After I picked up my latte, I sat down at a table away from the window but with a view across the street. I couldn’t even remember ordering the latte, but there it was, in my hands, and I must have paid for it or someone would be asking me for some money.
Police cars pulled up, one, then more. Sam stood across the street in the doorway talking to them, showing them his wallet, pointing at something down the street. He never glanced across the street toward me.
The police did, they looked everywhere, and as their numbers increased, a few wandered into nearby businesses. Two came into the coffee shop and talked to the barristas. I couldn’t hear what they said. They walked out carrying paper cups of coffee.
One of the employees circled the shop washing off tabletops. As she passed me, I said, “What’s going on? All those police cars?”
I could hear my voice cracking. She didn’t seem to notice.
“Don’t know. That’s a real estate office over there. Wouldn’t think he’d get robbed.” She was college age, young, pleasant, dressed in black slacks and a neat shirt with her name on the pocket. Obviously she had other things on her mind than what was happening across the street.
“A robbery? There was a robbery?”
“Don’t know. The cops didn’t say. Just asked if we’d seen anyone go in or out over there.”
I swallowed the question I wanted to ask, had she seen anyone? Instead I said, “You do have a good view.”
She laughed. “Oh sure, and I get time to stand around looking out the window. Hey, what happened to you? Is that a shiner?”
I touched my bruised face and had to concentrate to remember why it was bruised. A woman had hit me with a briefcase, not something to tell a stranger. I mumbled, “Had to brake fast. Hit my nose on the steering wheel.”
“Got cut off, huh? Crazy drivers, see them all the time speeding down the street out there. They all need to stop for coffee and wake up before they drive, right?”
She had a good look at me, chatting while she worked, so if she had seen me in Hadley’s doorway, she would say so. No expression crossed her face other than a sympathetic smile as she turned back toward the counter area.
After twenty minutes and a second latte, my mind started working. The police cars were still out front. An assorted crowd of people went in and out of Hadley’s office, and might be there for hours. I got up and walked down the opposite sidewalk, trying to look normal, whatever that looks like. I turned my head and stopped for a few seconds to stare at them because anyone would. Sam was still there.
At the car I opened the passenger door, pulled off my jacket and tossed it on the seat, and remembered to forget to close the door before walking around to the driver’s side. I took my time getting in.
“Could have brought a coffee with you,” he said.
I leaned across the invisible man without touching him and pulled his door closed. I could feel his body heat. Paranoid, yes, but who knew who was watching? And then another idea hit me.
“Charley, so many businesses have, oh, were there surveillance cameras? Did you notice?”
“One in the back corner. Not working.”
“Not working since when?”
“Since you arrived.”
I drove home slowly. Too much information tried to line itself up in my brain. What was wrong with this situation besides a dead man, a phony realtor and company, an attempted break-in at my house and a buyer whose name I didn’t know? As I turned into the driveway, his words finally soaked into my brain.
“Charley, if there was a camera, and it was working until we arrived, it probably shows whoever was with Hadley before we arrived.”
There was this long weary sigh and a very light touch of fingers on the back of my hand. “Right. I thought of that a bit late. On the cop shows they call that destroying evidence.”
“I wonder if Sam knew there was a camera when he told me to leave.”
“If he did, then he was setting you up, figuring they’d get your picture. He’d show, too, but afterwards.”
“After what? After I walked in, wandered around the room, stopped, screamed, didn’t in any way attack Hadley? It would prove he was dead before I got there.”
“Your Sam didn’t know you hadn’t shot Hadley. Unless he’s the one who killed Hadley before we arrived.”
Was this Charley analyzing or was this Charley trying to interfere? I almost corrected him about the “your Sam” bit, but then realized it didn’t matter, not compared to Hadley’s violent death. I slammed the car door, for no reason other than it worked off some frustration, and marched up the walk toward our house.
Charley shouted something at me. Who cared? He could close his own door. There was no one around.
I reached for the doorknob.
The jolt knocked me over. I lay flat on the porch trying not to whimper. I didn’t bother moving. Next there would be an earthquake and the porch roof would collapse on me. My nose was wrecked, my back was probably broken, my nerves were shot to hell, might as well lie still and wait for Mt. Rainier to erupt.
Charley caught my elbows and hauled me to my feet with no help from me. At least he didn’t say that he had tried to remind me about the charged doorknobs.
When I could speak again, I said, “I didn’t have a weapon. Sam would have seen it if I’d had a weapon.”
“Good point,” Charley said but he didn’t apologize for hinting that Sam probably suspected me.
If Sam did think I was a murderer, then he was covering for me and that made him a good friend, didn’t it?
My brain was broken. I couldn’t make any sense of anything that had happened. I made it through the rest of the day with handfuls of painkiller pills and by concentrating on a website design for a fussy client. Designing is a little like doing crossword puzzles. It focused my mind and was challenging enough to block out other thoughts.
Supper was silent, or rather, my relatives talked to each other about anything except intruders and murders. Their only questions to me were to ask if I wanted second helpings of food, at which point all I could do was hold out my wine glass.
They gave up asking if there was anything they could do for me. I may not be good at fighting but I excel at being a surly victim.
Next week: CHAPTER 5