Authors: Lesley A. Diehl
Tags: #General Fiction
Mother Gets a Lift
By Lesley A. Diehl
Copyright 2011 by Lesley A. Diehl
Cover Copyright 2011 by Dara England and Untreed Reads Publishing
The author is hereby established as the sole holder of the copyright. Either the publisher (Untreed Reads) or author may enforce copyrights to the fullest extent.
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This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to the living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Also by Lesley A. Diehl and Untreed Reads Publishing
Murder with All the Trimmings
Mother Gets a Lift
By Lesley A. Diehl
I was panting my way through a contraction when my cell phone sang out, “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” The contraction ended, but the cell played on.
I turned to my husband. “Answer that, Dudley. I’m a little busy here.”
“My name’s not Dudley. It’s Fred.”
“Fine. Answer it anyway. Must be the scopolamine making me forget who you are.”
The doctor shook his head and made circling motions with his finger.
“Hey!” I sat up and pointed at him. “You were the one who gave me the drug.”
Fred or Dudley or whatever was the name of the man responsible for putting me in this position, turned his back on me and whispered into the phone.
“Give me that.” I reached for the cell.
“Later.” What’s-his-name, the man I loved right up until the last contraction, ignored me and continued to talk.
I grabbed his arm. “You’re supposed to be working with me, panting along, and cheering me on, not chatting on the phone. Where are my ice chips?” I knew my tone was accusatory, but I was not cheerful about how slowly this delivery was going. The other two each only took a matter of minutes. What was it with this kid?
“You told me to answer it.” He still held the phone to his ear, his usually tanned face drained of color.
I could feel another contraction coming on. I grabbed the phone out of his hand.
“What do you want?” That was what I meant to say, but instead all I produced were noises reminiscent of our dog’s gasping for air after an hour playing catch in the back yard.
The doctor signaled by shoving his palm forward in the air. “Push.”
Fred nodded, an encouraging smile plastered on his now greenish face.
“Is this Mrs. Baker?” I heard the voice on the phone say.
I blew out a strangled, “yes.”
“We need you to identify your mother’s body,” the caller said.
My husband dropped to the hospital floor.
I leaned over the side of the bed. “You promised me you wouldn’t faint this time. You lied.”
I pushed some more.
The caller still held the line despite the grunting from my end. “Could you come to the morgue this afternoon?”
“Not really. I’ve got a full schedule.” I tossed the phone to the midwife.
“Again.” The doctor positioned himself at the foot of the bed.
“Okay, but I hope you’ve got your catcher’s mitt on. I’m gonna give it my all.” I did.
A baby howled. Mine.
I couldn’t blame her. Such an antiseptically cold room after that warm comforting place. I’d yell too.
“Wake up, Fred. It’s over.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a baby, you dope. What were you expecting, a teddy bear?”
I was my mother’s daughter in many ways, most of them ways I didn’t like. I believe the term Fred used was “acerbic.”
“But only when I’m in labor.” The delivery complete, I held the baby in my arms, peering closely at her. I had wanted her to look like Fred’s side of the family, tall, olive-skinned, with dark hair and eyes, like her two older brothers. No such luck. She was the spitting image of my mother, now deceased if I could believe the coroner’s office in Miami.
Fred leaned over me. “Your mother would have been so happy having a granddaughter with her blue eyes and blonde hair and...”
“…Fat butt and stubby legs. She might like it, but I wanted more for this kid. Besides, now that Mom’s gone, she’ll never see what those recessive genes produced.”
“Angela, you have blonde hair, a round little tush, and you’re petite.” Fred made it sound attractive.
I patted his cheek. “And I forgive you for fainting on me.”
“I think it was the shock of your mother’s death this time.”
“Right.” Whatever he wanted to believe. Fred was the sweetest man. Obviously the scopolamine had worn off and with it, my irritation at him as more than competent impregnator but inadequate labor coach.
“I’ve got to get myself down to Miami sometime tomorrow after the insurance throws me out of this room. They need an ID, but I’m not sure I can do it.”
“No, Fred. You met her only once, at our wedding, and that was over ten years ago. You can’t be expected to recognize her.”
That was my problem too. I saw my mother only now and then, probably once every two or three years. We were not close. She sometimes forgot she had a daughter, and when she did remember, she couldn’t recall my name. And, no, she did not have Alzheimer’s. She just wasn’t into mothering and never had been. She was, however, into rich men. She’d married five or six of them. I lose count. She outlived most of them and divorced the others. Mom did not have great staying power in relationships.
What she did have was an obsession with plastic surgery. She called it her “little hobby,” discovered when her first wealthy husband died. My dad was her real first husband, but he was not wealthy. He was just tolerant, and he paid for it by dying of a heart attack brought on by the stress of living with my mother for over fifteen years. Of course the doctors didn’t say that, but everyone thought it.
Because of the plastic surgery I never knew whom I was going to see when we got together. She was barely recognizable as the woman I remembered from my adolescent years. Her body and face didn’t move much anymore, so it was difficult to say if she was glad to be with me or not. Aside from channeling her personality when I delivered my three children, she and I did not have much in common.
I put off identifying the body for three days, because Fred needed some bed rest. The deliveries were always hard on him. Aside from retaining some of the weight I gained with the pregnancy, I had accomplished my usual express lane delivery and recovery. No postpartum blues for this gal. The days following the birth were like discovering you misread your scale and you were really twenty pounds lighter not heavier. No running, of course, but skipping wasn’t totally out of the question.
I didn’t consider meeting one’s grandmother in a morgue the best experience for my newborn daughter, so I decided to view the body alone. Fred’s schedule of teaching at the community college would allow me half the day to pop up to Miami while he sat with the kids. I let Stella determine her schedule and found I could nurse her every two to three hours, enough time for me to drive from our home in Key Largo to the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office. If there was no accident on the twenty-mile stretch, the only road connecting the Keys to mainland Florida, it would take me an hour each way. I made it in under an hour.
A detective met me in the waiting area of the morgue.
“I’m Detective Estevez.” He shook my hand. “I’m sorry to inconvenience you this way with your new baby and all.”
“You have no idea just how inconvenient.” I thought of Fred, poor nervous Fred, trying to take care of two boys, ages four and six, and a newborn. Oh yeah, and the dog.
Estevez scowled. I guess he didn’t think new mothers should be so honest, but, in my book, that’s another word for “acerbic.”
“I don’t understand why you couldn’t have asked Clay, her husband, to do it.”
“I guess you and your mother weren’t close, right?”
“Don’t get me started. I hardly knew her. So where’s Clay?”
“He’s been arrested.”
“For her murder. Someone saw him push her off the ship.”
That sounded reasonable. It probably was only a matter of time before one of her husbands tried to do in the woman.
“She was on a ship?”
“The Cosmetic Cruise. It was advertised as ‘seven days at sea—under the knife in paradise.’ The ship cruised to the Bahamas and nearby islands, and the women had their faces and other body parts sculpted by some plastic surgeon out of California.”
That was Mom. And that was the problem. If she’d had even more surgery onboard, there was no chance I’d recognize her.
“I don’t think I’ll be much help. Can’t I give you a tissue sample and you can use DNA?”
He laughed. “The labs are so backed up, it’ll take years. I’ve got a murder case I’ve got to clear.”
I shrugged. “I’m here so I guess I’ll give it a go.”
We walked up to a window and a curtain parted. I looked at the body. It was that of a woman who’d had a number of procedures, some old (taut skin surrounded by a sea of wrinkles), others new enough that the sutures hadn’t healed. Her color was somewhere between muddy water puddle brown and overcooked pasta beige with a tinge of yellow and green. It sure looked like Mom.
I leaned closer to the glass separating me from the body. “Maybe.”
“Maybe? What do you mean? It’s either your mom or it isn’t. Do you need more time?”
I considered his question. Maybe I did need more time with Mom, but that was out of my hands. She wasn’t interested when she was living, and now it was too late. Assuming the body was hers.
“I’ve got to go with maybe.”
Detective Estevez gave me a cop look saying I was wasting his time.
“I’d like to talk to Clay. Is that possible?”
“You’re sure you can’t make an ID? Take another look.”
“Detective Estevez, I am the mother of a newborn. Do you have any idea how awful baby poop looks?” By the expression of horror on his face, I suspected he was a father.
“Right. Well, then, you and I know it looks appreciably better than that body on the slab, so, no, unless you want me to have you brought up on charges of police brutality, I decline the opportunity to have another peek.”
He signaled to whoever was behind the curtain, perhaps The Great and Glorious Medical Examiner Oz, and the drapes closed.
“Now about Clay. I’d like to see him.”
“Why would you want to talk with the man who killed your mother?”
“I just do, that’s all.”
“You’ll have to clear it with his attorney first.”
Estevez made a call and, after some time getting the runaround from the DA’s office, obtained the name of Clay’s attorney. He then walked me out of the building. “Your failure to identify the body is making this case difficult for us, you know.”
“Think about if you were in my shoes. You think it may be your mother dead there, but you’re not certain. How would you feel?”
If I expected sympathy, I was disappointed. “Someone saw her being pushed off the ship. Who else could it be? Your mother, Mrs. Davis, never got off the ship, and everyone else did. It’s only logical. She has to be your mother.” By now the detective was shouting, drawing the attention of all the others in the parking lot. His face was an ugly shade of purple. I’d seen colors on skin today that rivaled that of my husband’s face when he fainted in the delivery room.
I left the detective in the lot flailing his arms in the air and yelling while I ran for my car. Actually, given the fact of having recently given birth, I did a modified skip to my car.
When I connected with Clay’s attorney by cell, he told me Clay was in the Miami-Dade holding facility.
“You can stop by there or see him tomorrow after he gets bailed out, if he gets bailed out.” The lawyer didn’t sound hopeful for Clay’s release.
“I may have difficulty getting down here tomorrow, so I’ll pay him a visit now.”
We stared at each other through the smeared, scratched Plexiglas separating us. I picked up the receiver and looked at it.
Clay nodded at the phone. “You put it up against your ear.”
I extracted a baby wipe from my purse, cleaned off the earpiece, and did as he said.
“Nice of you to visit. I’m sorry we never met before this, but I can assure you…”
I looked through the smudges at Clay’s face, round, soft, patient in its demeanor, the face of a man my mother would divorce, but not the face of a man who would kill her for it. A cop would say I couldn’t be certain he didn’t kill Mom. Maybe not, but after raising two sons, I knew all the looks, from genuine innocence to guilt masquerading as guilelessness. Any mother of boys developed this ability better than an FBI profiler.