Authors: Suzanne Young
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Cozy, #Women Sleuths
Carrying a platter of scrambled eggs and toast to the table, Edna sat in the chair to his right.
“I'd like to talk to you about your extra car,” she said, picking up her own coffee cup.
“Sure.” Grant folded the paper and studied the food on his plate. “As a matter of fact, Karissa asked me to talk to you about some sort of transportation. She thinks you're going stir crazy.” He rose and went into the kitchen, burrowing in the refrigerator for a minute before returning with a jar of salsa. Edna watched in amazement as he spooned the spicy, chunky tomato substance onto his eggs and began to eat. After swallowing a mouthful, he seemed satisfied and turned his attention to her.
“I thought there would be more for me to do while Karissa's lying down, but the meals, housework and laundry take so very little of my time. It would be nice to be able to get around a bit. I could do more of the grocery shopping, particularly since you don't seem to have much free time these days.”
“The 4-Runner is Karissa's.” Grant popped another forkful of salsa and egg into his mouth, seeming to ponder something.
“Actually, I wasn't talking about the SUV. I'd prefer to drive something smaller. Would she mind if you took her vehicle to work so I could use your Celica?” When Grant didn't immediately respond, she hurried on. “I don't always need to be right here in the house, you know. Karissa sleeps a lot, and I don't think it can be very peaceful to have someone else roaming around in your house. I wouldn't go far, and she has my cell number if she needs me.”
“Dad doesn't like the idea of you driving around Denver by yourself. He thinks you might get lost or something.”
“Your father doesn't need to be worried about what I might or might not do,” she responded. “When he was here, I had someone to talk to. We played cards and went for walks. We had the rental car to go for groceries.”
“I'm sure Karissa would talk to you or even play cards. She likes board games.”
“But I need to get out of the house now and then, and she needs time to herself, as well. You said she suggested talking to me about transportation. She might be getting tired of my always hanging about.” Thinking in part of her meeting with Ernie later that morning, Edna was not going to be swayed from her purpose.
“Where would you go? You don't know the area.” Grant said. “I don't want to be worrying about you, Mother.”
“As I said, I could do the food shopping, and I'd like to go to the library occasionally. I could visit Jillybean's school.” She hesitated, remembering her desire to go by Grant's office the night before. If he had something to hide, maybe he wouldn't want her driving around where she might spot him. She glanced at him from the corner of her eye. “I'd also like to drive over and see where you work.”
Grant straightened and his face seemed to light up. “That's a great idea. I'd like to show you around. Actually, I'd been planning on driving you over and back myself, but I've been so busy.” He hesitated before adding, “Somehow, I didn't think you'd be interested.”
“Of course, I'm interested.” She was surprised her son would think otherwise, but before he lost track of the main subject, she added, “So you agree that I can use your car?”
Almost as if on cue, Karissa waddled into the kitchen with Jillian close behind. The two new arrivals took seats at the table, and Karissa reached for the platter to help Jillian and then herself to eggs over which she liberally poured the salsa. “Have you been talking about a car for Edna?” she asked, looking at Grant.
“My mother wants to come see where I work. She wants to use the Toyota.”
Karissa's eyes brightened as she turned to Edna. “What a good idea. You've got to be bored stiff around here.” Turning back to Grant, she said, “What about the SUV? She could use that.”
“I thought she'd be better off in the Celica, and I'll take the 4-Runner to work.”
“Fine with me.” Karissa picked up a fork, smiling across the table at Edna.
“Gramma can drive me to school,” Jillian chimed in before shoveling eggs and salsa into her mouth.
Edna laughed. “I certainly could if you show me the way.”
The meal ended happily with Edna going off to school with Jillian, leaving Grant to spend more time over another cup of coffee with his wife. With Grant's explicit, written directions, Edna would later meet him at Office Plus for lunch and a quick tour. As she started the engine and backed out of the driveway with Jillian safely buckled into the back seat, Edna thought she knew what it must feel like to be newly released from prison.
The wind, so strong the day before, had stopped and the sun was shining. Not a cloud broke the expanse of blue sky. Edna thought even the light coat she had put on might be too warm. She would have sworn it was the middle of summer if it weren't for the gold and red leaves covering the trees along the route to the elementary school.
After dropping Jillian off and waving to the crossing-guard on duty, Edna drove to Safeway to meet Ernie and tell him the good news, not only about the car but about wangling an invitation to Grant's office. It was five minutes past nine when she sat down across from him at the small table they had shared the previous afternoon.
“This is everything you want me to find out?” she said, glancing up from the list he had handed her. He had gone to get coffee for them both while she read the list and had just returned.
“Yes, find out anything you can about Anita, who might have seen her and when. What did they talk about? Where she goes when she takes off for a few days.”
“And about her territory,” Edna offered. “I should probably find out something about the work she does.”
“Sure. See if you can get a list of her accounts or at least some customers she visits regularly.”
“I might not have much success, but I'll do what I can.” Stopping to think over what she was preparing to do, she wondered about her own sanity. How was she possibly going to pull this off?
Ernie ignored her hesitation and self-doubts. “Anything you can get will help. If we get even one customer's name, it could lead us to others.”
“Shall I meet you back here this afternoon? I don't know how long I'll be.”
“No, I've got a few things to do myself. I want to run a background check on Anita's husband.” Ernie pulled a small spiral notepad from his inside jacket pocket and flipped it open. “Rice Ryan.” He looked at her with an amused expression. “Who would name a kid Rice?”
Edna shrugged, smiling back. “I've heard worse. Maybe it was his mother's maiden name.”
“Could be,” Ernie conceded and bent over the pad, making a notation as he added, “I'm also going to check into the accident that killed her parents.”
Edna was silent for a minute, watching Ernie scribble notes. She hesitated, feeling as if she might be imposing on this new relationship. But who better to ask and she desperately wanted to know. “Could you … would you …?” she faltered before finally spitting out the words. “Can you check something for me?”
He raised his head and looked suspiciously at her, hesitating before responding. “Check on what?”
“I'd like to know what happened to my daughter-in-law, Grant's first wife Michele.”
He seemed to squirm in his seat. “I've already begun checking on your son and his past, especially the women.”
She felt her stomach knot at the thought of her son under investigation. Thinking about it for a minute or two, she nodded slowly. “I guess that makes sense, since you think he knows where Anita is. Well,” she concluded matter-of-factly, “I'd like to know whatever you can tell me about Michele's accident.”
“Do you want to know the details? From what I gather, she was skiing too fast, went out of control and hit a tree. End of story.”
“Is it?” She stared into his eyes. “Can you tell me without a doubt that Michele's death really was accidental?”
He picked up the pad and shoved it back into his jacket pocket as he held Edna's gaze steadily. “I'll talk to a few people and make sure, but I believe it was.”
“Thank you.” She rose, picking up her coat and tote bag from the seat beside her. “I have to do some shopping and get home to make Karissa's lunch before I meet Grant at his office.”
“Okay.” Ernie got up too and slapped his crumpled cloth hat onto his head. “I'll call you.”
For the next half hour she walked through the aisles of the grocery store, looking for items similar to what she had seen in the cupboards at Grant's home, checking particularly the Mexican food section and reading recipes on the backs of cans and boxes. A stranger to this particular style of cooking, she was unenlightened as to what a tortilla was or an enchilada or a burrito, so she picked up only a few staples like milk, cheese and a box of macaroni before leaving the store. When she arrived home, she found Karissa lying on the sofa, flipping through one of the magazines Edna had picked up from the bedroom floor and left on the coffee table in the living room.
“How are you feeling?” Putting the groceries away and coming back to the living room, she felt guilty she hadn't been there to help Karissa to the couch.
Karissa smiled up at her as she tossed the magazine back onto the low table. “I'm a little more comfortable today, thanks. Grant made sure I was safely settled before he left. He worries too much.” She made a face as if to say how absurd it was, but Edna could see a twinkle in her eyes.
“Are you hungry?” Edna asked, while wondering how to begin the talk she knew she must have with her daughter-in-law.
The look in Karissa's eyes turned wary. “Maybe a little. Are you going to make lunch?”
“I'm going to try, but first I think I'll need some instruction from you.” She sat in an armchair facing Karissa. “Is there something special you'd like? Keep in mind that you'll probably have to tell me how to make it.”
Karissa's lovely burst of laughter prompted Edna to join in. Then her daughter-in-law began to describe various Mexican, Asian and Middle Eastern foods to Edna and explain the family's preference for different kinds of rice, beans, and spicy dishes. At one point, Edna excused herself, went to get paper and pencil, and began to take notes and ask questions. A happy half hour went by before she finally went into the kitchen with directions on how to make nachos with jalapeno cheese.
After preparing Karissa's lunch so she needed only to warm it in the microwave when she was hungry, Edna helped her daughter-in-law settle more comfortably on the living room sofa and put magazines, blanket and cell phone within easy reach. When she was assured Karissa had everything she wanted, Edna arranged a navy blue hat on her gray curls and asked one last time, “Sure you'll be okay?”
Karissa's eyes twinkled over the top of her magazine. “I'll be fine. Really. I'm glad you're getting out. You'll like the Office Plus building. It's modern. Lots of glass, so it's bright and cheerful inside.”
Edna smiled. “That's nice. I think, if I had to work in an office, I'd like it to be airy with lots of light.”
“Oh, if you run into Wendy Fuller, say hi for me, will you? She was my supervisor.”
“Wendy Fuller,” Edna repeated, committing the name to memory, as she slipped into her coat. “I'll do that.” She opened the front door, gave Karissa a little wave and said, “You'll probably enjoy having the house to yourself for a while.”
Karissa buried her face behind the magazine but not before Edna saw the corners of her lips curving upwards.
Twenty minutes later Edna pulled the Celica into a parking space marked Visitor in front of a three-story building that did indeed seem to be built of glass. Gleaming in the sunlight, the windows appeared almost fluid, like water in a clear pond. She approached tall double doors and pulled one open with surprising ease, finding herself in a large room with a high ceiling and ahead of her, a waist-high semicircular receptionist's counter. Grant, partly turned toward the front doors with one hip perched on the wooden structure, was talking to the young woman seated behind the desk. He turned and straightened as Edna strode across the marble floor of the lobby.
“Be back in an hour, Nina,” he called over his shoulder as he took Edna's elbow and escorted her back the way she had come. “We can walk to the restaurant, if you're up for it. It's only a couple blocks away.”
Temperatures were in the mid-sixties, but with no wind blowing the air felt warmer. Dry heat, she thought, enjoying the feel of the sun on her back as she listened and responded to Grant's small talk.
Weggies was a bustling place where customers stood in line to order sandwiches, soups and salads. The few people ahead of them moved forward quickly, and before she could read any of the overhead signs listing menu items, Edna was greeted by a cashier in a white polo shirt with the restaurant's logo emblazoned on the breast pocket.
“What'll you have?” he asked in a cheerful baritone.
She was accustomed to sit-down-and-be-served eateries where she could spend time looking over the menu, but she decided the service line was very practical and efficient for busy working people who needed to get back to an office. However, at that moment, she felt rushed with the young man drumming his fingers on the counter and a line of people backing up behind her.
“I think you'd like the turkey with tomato, avocado and lettuce.” Grant came to her rescue, and at her nod, he ordered and paid for both of them. As her son put his arm around her shoulders and walked her forward, she wondered if a more relaxed atmosphere might be easier on the digestion.
By the time they reached the end of the long, cafeteria-style food line, their sandwiches were waiting on bright orange trays. Grant picked them both up, led her to a line of beverage dispensing machines, filled two large plastic glasses with water, then motioned her to a small table near the middle of the busy room.
She was glad to sit down but still felt harried and a little breathless. She waited in silence while Grant put their plates and glasses on the table and handed their trays to a passing busboy. Mother and son were silent until they had taken the first bites of their sandwiches. Slightly more relaxed, she finally sat back in her chair. “I think Karissa's a lovely girl,” she said, opening the topic carefully.