Authors: Judy Ann Davis
Tags: #Suspense, #Contemporary
“Dad knows a few people down at Children and Youth Services, Lucas. I could see if there’s anything we could do, maybe to hurry things along,” she said.
His gaze found hers. “I don’t want to get you involved. You have your hands full already.”
“I don’t mind. I can’t spend every minute at the hospital.”
He shrugged. “Have a go at it. Nothing can hurt, that’s for sure.”
“I’ll need a car.”
He motioned to the top of the refrigerator. “Take the Trans Am. I’ve been using your Dad’s truck for the last two weeks to haul materials for renovating an old garage I bought.”
“What’s Dad been driving?”
“The Trans Am.”
“My father’s been driving the Bandit’s car? You’re kidding?”
Lucas smiled. His eyes were bright and clear now, like polished silver. “Yeah, it makes him look kind of cool and funky. He was a fan of
Smokey and the Bandit
, just like Fritz and me.” He finished his toast and glanced at the phone. “I’m glad we have the answering machine. I have some shipments coming up this weekend from Atlanta. Although I’m far from getting the restoration garage up and running, I figure if I put some cars on the lot, it’ll look like there’s at least some leasing activity about to start. Sort of like advance advertising. I’ll get you something new from Atlanta to drive once I get the lot set up.”
“One more thing. Who’s this Ranger Todd was talking about the other night?” she asked.
“It’s a tiny beanbag dog, golden brown in color, and about five inches tall. Mike gave it to Todd when he was younger. For some reason, it was like a security blanket or lucky charm at one time in the kid’s life. From what I can gather, he used to take it everywhere with him. During the move or commotion of Mike’s death, it was somehow misplaced or lost. He keeps asking me to look for it among the boxes at the cottage where I stashed Mike’s belongings. I was hoping to sort them someday.”
She nodded, and they rose together and carried their plates to the sink.
“First dibs on the upstairs bath,” she announced and inched her way backwards across the floor.
“It wasn’t the original deal. Nights only, remember?”
“I modified the rules for today.” She made a mad dash for the stairs, but he was quick for someone who claimed he was on the brink of death. He grabbed her around the waist with one arm just as she flew through the archway. He lifted her off the floor, her feet pedaling in thin air.
She laughed. “I give up. Put me down!” She wished he’d stop touching her. A series of lightning shivers coursed through her.
“If I forfeit the upstairs bath, am I forgiven?” His breath was hot in her ear.
“I was never mad, Lucas,” she admitted truthfully. “Maybe just a little ticked off. Put me down, I’m all sweaty.”
With an agile motion, he set her on her feet, but not before his lips lightly brushed against the side of her neck. “I’d never hurt you, kid, I promise,” he said with brutal honesty. “With everything that’s happening I feel like I’m inside a speeding car and can’t get control of the wheel.”
She skidded out of his reach and started for the stairs. “I know,” she agreed, taking the steps two at a time, but halting long enough half way up to turn and look down at him, “but remember, out-of-control cars have been known to crash and burn.”
“I’m sorry, Miss Springer, but Mr. Morrison is a busy man. If you care to make an appointment, I can check his schedule.”
The secretary from Children and Youth Services tapped the upended pencil on her desk and spoke in a clipped voice. She had been schooled by the very best to run interference for her employer. With pursed, no-nonsense lips, she peered over slim bifocals magnifying the pores on her aging, late-forties face.
Elise had met her type before, on the telephone, in boardrooms and offices, at conventions—any place where industry and service-related businesses scratched out their daily profits. They were the secretaries from hell, meagerly paid, but loyal as guerrilla soldiers to their bosses.
“We’re old friends, and I’m just in town for a short time,” Elise said, trying the first thought to cross her mind.
“Hmm, is that so?” The woman laid down the pencil and opened her planning book. “Mr. Morrison specifically insisted he wanted no interruptions. His time is very valuable, you understand. Let’s see, he does have an opening on Friday.”
The secretary’s eyebrow shot up. “How unfortunate.”
Elise smiled. So she wanted to play hardball. She had won imaginary blue ribbons against secretaries more hostile than this one. “I’m sorry, your name is?”
“And your last name, Linda?” Elise prompted.
“Well, Ms. Cook, would it be possible to slip a note under Mr. Morrison’s nose?” She lowered her voice to a near whisper. “I’d hate to see my relationship with Jack...or maybe yours...jeopardized because I wasn’t able to connect. You know what I mean?”
From her purse, Elise withdrew a pen and small tablet. “Have you known Jack long?” she asked, scribbling away. She could feel Linda Cook’s eyes burning holes through her.
“A little over a year.”
“Well, Jack’s a great guy. A real charmer, isn’t he?” Elise mused aloud as she finished the note with a flourish. She folded the paper into neat quarters. Rising, she brazenly reached across Linda Cook’s desk, snapped off a piece of tape, and sealed the note from prying eyes.
“I have another meeting across town in a half hour. I’d hate to keep my client waiting. Could you... ?” Elise nudged the paper toward her and glanced at the clock on the wall.
Frowning, the woman accepted it, and with a back stiff as a telephone pole, she strode toward a door across the room. A minute later, she emerged, clearly displeased. “Mr. Morrison will see you, Ms. Springer.”
Elise smiled a phony, beguiling smile. “Thank you.”
Jack Morrison rose from behind a large oak desk entirely devoid of paperwork. The shelves behind his desk held books, all categorized in alphabetical order with no folders intermixed with them. Everything looked like it had been organized with serious thought and never touched again. Beside him, a chair held a stack of golf and fishing magazines. In the corner of the room was a golf bag with clubs.
“Lizzie Springer, I did not break your nose,” he uttered, defensively, almost irritably. He crossed the space between them. “I can’t believe you still remember that silly little incident. What was it? Sixth grade pickup baseball?”
She laughed. “You bloodied it, Jack, and it was eighth grade. I hope you’ve learned to drop the bat when you get a hit, or better yet, have given up baseball completely. How’ve you been?”
She extended her hand, and he shook it. Then he pulled her close and gave her an unexpected giant hug. “How are you?”
“I couldn’t be better,” she replied and stepped away quickly. “What about you?”
“Fine, fine.” His eyes did an undisguised perusal of her, and she was glad she had decided to change into a black business suit at the last minute. “Well, well, no one mentioned you were back in town.”
The last ten years had not looked favorably on Jack Morrison. He had lost a lot of hair and gained weight. Once bright brown eyes were now marked with crow’s feet, and his hawk-like nose only seemed more prominent with age. His clothes, though well-made, lacked a crisp, put-together look. Or maybe it was just his blinding tie in swirls of reds, blues, and yellows, she decided.
“Here, here, sit down,” he said. “Back in town, huh? Everyone eventually gravitates home, it seems.”
“I guess.” She chose a chair in front of his desk. To her right, she noticed his computer screen held a game of solitaire before a swirling screen saver flashed on to obscure it.
“What brings you here?” Morrison asked.
“A little of everything. Dad injured an ankle and leg, so I’m taking time to be with him. I’m looking up old friends and helping some others out. Dad and I are especially interested in a foster child with your agency.”
“What’s the name?”
“Todd Fisher?” He leaned back in his chair and linked his fingers on his stomach. “Yes, I vaguely remember him. His parents are deceased. His dad was a cop. No will has been found stating who the father wanted for custodian of the child. It’s a sad story.”
“I need to know what it takes to get temporary custody.”
“Who wants it? You, your dad, or his uncle?”
Vaguely remember? Right, she thought. “Actually, Dad and I’ve taken a shine to him. He’s been staying down the road from our farm with the Johnsons.”
“There may be extenuating circumstances to prevent it, you know,” he said, hedging. “If it’s a special case, you’ll have to go through the department head, Mrs. Pedmo. You’ll have to go through her anyway to become eligible as a foster parent.”
Elise sighed. “Do I have to go through Miss Congeniality out there to get an appointment?”
Rubbing his jaw, he chuckled. “I suppose I can see what I can do.”
The words were like the harps of heaven singing out to her. She wanted to ask
, but dismissed the urge, not wanting to appear too eager. She caught him checking her hands, obviously looking for a ring. She hoped he wouldn’t stray too far from the subject at hand. She had promised Lucas she’d meet him at the garage at noon, and she was already a half hour late. Luckily, she had already visited her father at the hospital, but she still had to pick up a list of names of private duty nurses from the local Home Health office.
“I see Fritz once in a while,” Jack said. “He handles my insurance. He told me you were a big shot architect in San Francisco. How’s it going?”
“It keeps me busy.”
“It seems like it’s agreeing with you. You look wonderful, simply stunning, Liz.”
“Thank you.” Pinned by his leering gaze, she squirmed in her seat, wondering how much longer she could keep up the endless chitchat. “So how long have you been with Children and Youth Services?” she asked.
“For a couple of years. It works for me. Benefits are good and all that jazz.”
She gave him a killer smile. “I’m sure you’re excellent at it. Listen, I hate to rush off, but I have a luncheon engagement.” She started to rise.
He moved quickly from his seat to round the desk, adjusting his god-awful tie flapping at his stomach like a huge tongue. “Elise, if you’re free Saturday, maybe we could have dinner and discuss old times? It’s so good seeing you again.”
He moved close to her, much too close.
“That might be nice, Jack. Maybe if you can squeeze in an appointment for me with Mrs. Pedmo in the next few days, we could figure out the details for the weekend?” She patted his tie. “Nice tie.”
“Sure, sure, thanks.” He grinned. “How about I call you later today?”
She rested her hand on the doorknob. “If I happen to be out, leave a message on the answering machine at the farm, will you? I wouldn’t want to miss it.” She forced out another of her killer smiles.
He nodded, not hiding his pleasure, and she left quickly, heading straight to the parking lot where she slumped against the gleaming car. She blew out a puff of air, scattering tendrils of hair around her face. “Well, Springer, not a bad day’s work,” she mumbled to herself. “One caseworker down, one to go.”
Lucas stood outside the office of the old garage and felt the warm April sun beat down on his back. Somewhere lilacs scented the soft afternoon breeze swirling around the parking lot. Elise was already an hour late, and he was beginning to worry. She had promised him she’d meet him as soon as she finished at Home Health. He heard the hum of the motor before he saw the Trans Am’s sleek black finish. He lifted his gaze toward the highway. Seconds later, she barreled down the road and tore into the parking lot, tires squealing in alarm. The car slid to a stop, and she jumped out. In a black suit with a white blouse and three-inch heels, she could have passed for the Flying Nun on stilts. She crossed the lot toward him in quick, efficient strides, trampling the weeds growing through the cracked cement.
“Christ almighty, Liz, who taught you how to drive?”
“I’m a little rusty with standard.” Her voice was clipped and irritated. She removed her sunglasses, slipped them on top of her head and squinted up at him. “How’s the head?”
“Fine. How’d you make out?”
“What took you so long?”
“Traffic and sadistic secretaries.”
They were firing conversation like bullets from a machine gun.
“I did, of course.”
“So what did they say?”
“Children and Youth Services.”
“Later, I’m starved.” She pushed the door to the office open and stepped inside. “Where’d you stash the food?”
“I picked up a pizza, but it’s cold by now.” He followed her into the office and rubbed his forehead, certain it was about to explode if they didn’t gear down to a slower speed.
“We really are going to die if we keep eating pizza, Lucas.” She whirled and looked around. Her eyes flitted from floor to ceiling, wall to wall. “So this is it?”
He shoved his hands into his back pockets and looked at the dirty gray concrete floor, grease-stained fly-speckled windows, and yellowed water-stained ceiling. “Yeah, not much to look at, huh?”