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Authors: Mary Jane Maffini

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BOOK: The Dead Don't Get Out Much
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I said, “Something upset her. We're not sure what.”

“She had trouble with a dead man,” Alvin said.

“A dead man? Well, I think we can rule that out as a causal factor,” Dr. Hasheem said. “Although, sometimes a blockage can cause people to appear to hallucinate.”

I opened my mouth, but he'd already vanished in a puff of smoke. Or maybe it was behind the door of an examination room.

* * *

Eons later, we received an update. Not a happy update, for sure. Still, not as bad as it might have been. According to Dr. Hasheem, she'd need rest, medication and a mending of her ways. In hospital.

“No smoking. Alcohol in moderation.”

“Sure, like that's going to happen,” I muttered.

Dr. Hasheem overheard. “It better happen. And, she shouldn't be alone, it goes without saying. We'll keep her here for observation for a couple of days, run some more tests. When she's released, she'll either require a convalescent home or a twenty-four hour caregiver. She shouldn't be by herself. You might want to get started on those arrangements for your grandmother,” Dr. Hasheem said.

As soon as he had snapped the file shut and vanished again, Alvin said, “Lord thundering Jesus.”

“No kidding,” I said.

“I don't think he really understands what type of person Violet is.”

We were both trying to imagine the impact of Mrs. P. on some unsuspecting convalescent home.

“I'm surprised they let her back into this particular hospital after the last time,” I said.

“Come on, Camilla, everyone's entitled to a couple of parties,” Alvin said.

“They can be pretty stuffy in the ICU. Anyway, I don't think a convalescent home is right for her.”

Alvin looked shocked. “Of course not.”

“I think she'd prefer to be in her own home.”

“For sure.”

“Between the two of us, and a bit of help, we could probably manage for a few days. What do you think?”

“Damned straight. Wait a minute. I thought you were taking a vacation with Ray Deveau.”

“That can wait.”

* * *

Not everyone was enthusiastic about the idea of postponing a vacation. By not everyone, I mean specifically not Ray Deveau.

I said for the second time, “I know you're upset, but there's nothing I can do about it.”

A long silence drifted down the phone line. I hate long silences. Unless they're my own.

I said, “I realize you're excited about this trip.”

“It's our kick at the can, Camilla. If we're trying to build some kind of life together, this isn't the time to start postponing it.”

“As romantic as that may be, we'll have to kick that particular can some other time.”

“This is the only time my sister can come down here to stay with the girls.”

“I'm sorry. I just can't go to Mexico and leave Mrs. Parnell alone. We don't know what kind of convalescence she'll have or how long it will take. I'm asking you to wait a bit until we know.”

“Can you get someone else to look after her? Just for two weeks?”

“Maybe you can find someone else to look after the girls later?”

“You don't know a lot about teenagers, do you?”

I hate it when people snort. “I rather hoped that was part of my charm.”

“Well, it's not. So back to my suggestion. Why don't we try to find someone else to take care of Mrs. Parnell? From where I sit, I think little old ladies are easier to handle than teenagers. Even tough and stubborn old ladies, in case you're planning to mention that.”

“In most cases, I'd agree.”

I suppose I should have said
I know how much this trip means to you. I know about all the planning and the deal-making and the books you've read and your total effort to make this be a wonderful holiday. This is a major chance to get to know each other better in close quarters without either of our families spoiling the mood and murderers muddying the waters
. In retrospect, perhaps I might have said how much I valued Ray and our new relationship.

I didn't say anything. The trouble is, I am lousy at relationships. I'd had nearly ten years to get used to the idea of my husband, Paul, being killed by a drunk driver. It was past time to move on. I couldn't imagine anyone better than Ray to move on with. I just needed to work on some new habits.

“Okeydoke,” Ray said, eventually. “New plan needed then.”

What the hell did he mean by that?

* * *

A couple of words about emergency departments. Don't think anyone you care about is getting in and out of one quickly. It was evening before I was able to trap Dr. Hasheem in another corridor. I didn't waste time on false pleasantries.

“It's been hours. Why keep my grandmother here, where we can't even see her? What is this, the Gulag?”

“For observation and stabilization. Your wait is not really out of line. We have to check her thoroughly.”

“Wouldn't she be more likely to recover in a room?”

“Yes, she would.”

“Then why isn't she?”

“They must be waiting for a bed to become available.”

“Unbelievable. How can she get better in this chaotic hellhole?”

His eyes flashed darkly. He was definitely beautiful when he was mad. “I'd like to see you do a better job with the same resources.”

“Okay, I realize you have resource problems. My job is to make sure Mrs. Parnell doesn't get lost in the system.

“Mrs. Parnell? I thought she was your grandmother?”

“She is my grandmother. I'm calling her Mrs. Parnell so you'll know who I'm talking about. Anyway, what I call her doesn't matter. The important thing is to get her out of this hellhole and into a room.”

His skin paled to light coffee colour. “She's not in a corridor?”

“I don't
where she is. I think

“I haven't seen her for…” He frowned in a way I didn't care for.

“I'll double-check,” he said.

“Double-check what?”

He raced down the corridor until he gave me the slip.

Something was very, very wrong.


21 Frank Street
Chesterton, Ontario
October 10, 1942

Dear Vi,

I hope England is everything you thought it would be. I am quite envious! I know there's a war on, but still you will see lots of London! We've been getting news about the Blitz on the radio. It's hard not to think of you and worry. Be careful with those flyboys, I hear they're all scamps. I know that you are used to scamps, especially growing up around Harry and Perce. I hope you have a chance to meet up with them. Are there lots of dances? When you get back, you'll have to spill the beans!

Things have changed a lot here. It's hard to get anything. I left the kettle on the stove too long and burnt the bottom out of it. Mum was very understanding, although we haven't been able to find a replacement. As for the old Ford, it's hard to get gasoline. Everything has gone to the war effort. Never mind, walking is good for the figure.

Mum has decided to let the upper floor to tenants. It is hard for people to get a place to live. Even in Chesterton, it's a problem. Mum says we should think about others less fortunate than ourselves. We have more than enough room downstairs. I suppose I am less likely to break a leg going out the downstairs window!

Harry Jones's father was kind enough to make some renovations for us. He seems lost in his own world. It must be very hard for him, losing his wife two years ago and now having Harry overseas. I bet Harry's having adventures too, even though there's a war on. If you see him, say hello from me. Tell him I think you make the perfect couple.

I have some grand news! I was able to get a job at the Court House as a court stenographer. Who ever thought all that shorthand and typing would be useful? It's very interesting, the judges are real gentlemen. Judge Stiles especially is quite handsome, and I get to wear lovely hats to work. We can use a bit of money. This old house is hard to keep up, and we still need the kettle. Movies are expensive too, but worth it. I just loved “Sergeant York”. You never know who is going to be a hero (like you, Vi!).

Love from your best friend,


P.S. I hope you find someone to help you with your hair since I'm not there!


hat do you mean gone?” I yelped at Dr. Hasheem. Alvin gripped my hand.

“Gone where?” I pried Alvin's fingers from my hand while continuing to block Dr. Hasheem's getaway.

“Lord thundering Jesus,” Alvin moaned.

“Try and control yourself, Alvin. Make it part of your voyage of self-discovery.”

The doctor said. “Apparently, she just walked out. We don't know where.”

“You were talking about potential heart attacks. You can't let her scamper off.”

“Actually, we believe she
have had a cardiac event. The results were really inconclusive.”

“Minor difference. The fact remains she's in her eighties, and something happened, and you were supposed to look after her, and now she's gone. That seems pretty irresponsible in the legal sense.”

“I spoke to her, and she was obviously reasoning quite well.”

“No one advised her to stay here?”

“Of course. She was told of the advisability of remaining here until we had run some more tests. However, she chose to leave. We couldn't hold her against her will.”

Alvin said. “She's seeing dead people.”

I took a deep breath. “You don't think she has some kind of dementia, do you?”

“She definitely seems sharper than most people.” I could tell that included us.

“How did she leave?” Alvin said.

“I have no idea,” Dr. Hasheem said. “I am sorry that no one let you know. If you'd had a power of attorney, they would have required your authorization to let her go. You didn't have a power of attorney for health matters, did you?”

“No,” I said.

“There you go,” the doctor said. “Nothing we can do.”

“But she'll need proper care,” Alvin said. “More tests.”

Dr. Hasheem said, “No argument here.”

I said, “She needs to be here. You said that yourself.”

Dr. Hasheem shrugged. “You'll have to work that out with her, since she's already left. We'll certainly re-admit her if she comes back. Now if you'll excuse me…”

Alvin bleated. “You are talking about a heroic war veteran here. She doesn't get frightened.”

Dr. Hasheem passed a hand over his brow. “Heroic war veteran. Okay. All right then, you might want to look into what's available for vets. The Perley-Rideau is a great facility. Maybe she'd be more comfortable there. And if you do get her in, she may need a psychological assessment in addition to having her heart monitored.”

“There's nothing crazy about Violet,” Alvin shouted crazily.

“I'm not saying crazy. That's not a preferred term. It could be physical too. I think I already mentioned that sometimes vascular problems can lead to a person seeing things that are not there. It's rare, but it happens. But we can't jump to conclusions. We have to check out the possibilities. One way or the other, her behaviour is troubling.”

“Something happened at that ceremony,” I said.

“After she saw that dead guy,” Alvin said. “I found that troubling, for sure.”

“So did she,” I said.

“I rest my case.” Dr. Hasheem steamed down the hall, his white coat flapping behind him.

* * *

My cellphone rang as soon as I turned it on in the hospital parking lot.

“Okay, Camilla, I knew you'd answer eventually,” Ray Deveau said cheerfully. “I've got a new plan.”

“Bad time for me, Ray.” I jogged through the drizzle to keep up with Alvin, who had commandeered the keys to my car. “Can I call you back?”

Ray paused, just briefly. “It will only take two minutes.”

“Mrs. Parnell's absconded from the hospital. We've got to get to her place to see if she's all right.”

Ray chuckled softly. “Absconded. She broke out? Just like her.”

I hadn't thought of that. “I guess it is.”

“Did you think she'd take being in hospital lying down?”

“Don't laugh at your own jokes, Ray.”

“Somebody has to. You know what, I hope we're capable of absconding when we're her age.”

He had a point. “I guess.”

“Just listen to the new plan. Can't you do that on your way?”

“Yeah, okay, shoot.”

“I talked to my sister. She'll stay with the girls whenever the time is right.”

“She will? Well, that's great.”

“Yup. I talked to my supervisor, explained the situation. No one else wants to book off time right now, so I can make arrangements on fairly short notice.”


“It looks like I can get pretty good deals online no matter where we want to go. November's not the best travel month for most people, so that works in our favour.”

“Hmmm,” I said, opening the passenger side door since Alvin had taken over the driver's side.

“You make sure Mrs. Parnell is all right, and when you're good to go, we'll arrange our holiday. When you have a moment to think about it, give me a hint where you'd like to go and I'll get cracking.”

This would have been a good time to say something lovey-dovish to Ray, something along the lines of how glad I was he was in my life. Too bad I was distracted by Alvin, who had turned on the hazard lights instead of the windshield wipers.

“Thanks, Ray.”

My neck jerked back as Alvin accelerated out of the lot, tossing ten dollars at the attendant.

After another pause, Ray said, “You're welcome.”

“Talk to you later, then,” I said.


* * *

In the apartment foyer, I shook my wet hair and jabbed the bell for Mrs. Parnell's unit repeatedly and without luck. Alvin and I both had keys to Mrs. Parnell's apartment, although I'd had to turn in my building key when I'd vacated against my will, and Alvin was too rattled to remember where his was. I buzzed a few other apartments at random. That usually worked. Not this time. The building management was on a security campaign, and it seemed to be working.

Normally, I would think security was a good thing. Tonight it was a damned nuisance. To make matters worse, my grouchy former neighbour pushed past us as we were making a desperate attempt to gain access. I was pretty sure that jerk was the reason I no longer lived in this building. Some people have no understanding of a dog's need to bark from time to time. I dug deep into my politeness reserves to get the right tone and called after him. “You know me, I was your next-door neighbour. I need to get in to check on Mrs. Parnell. She's your neighbour on the other side of the hallway in 1608. She's supposed to be in the hospital and…”

I was talking to the closed door by this time.

Alvin gasped. “Can you believe that guy? What is our society coming to?”

“You tell me,” I snarled and went back to jabbing Mrs. Parnell's bell and the Super's. Without result.

“Are we wasting time here?” I said, “Maybe she's not even home yet. Maybe she's confused and wandering.”

“Or, she is home, and she doesn't want us to see her.”

“Don't even think that,” I said.

“Here's our chance,” Alvin said. He took advantage of a nice girl who was leaving the building and grabbed the door before it closed.

The elevator took about a year to get to the sixteenth floor.

Alvin and I careened into each other getting out of the elevator, and we thundered down the corridor. We almost knocked over a somewhat startled man who was heading for the elevator balancing a hefty cardboard box. This guy's suit was already rumpled, and it looked like he was going to collapse before he got to the elevator.

“Oops, sorry,” Alvin said.

“It's all right,” the guy said in a wobbly voice, as the down elevator dinged.

I didn't have time to worry about innocent bystanders.

“Okay,” I said, as we reached her apartment, “if she's not here, we have to contact the Super, so that he can keep an eye out, and let us know if she shows up.”

“The Super's not answering. And if she's not here, where could she be?” Alvin looked a bit more wild-eyed than usual.

We both stopped abruptly. The door to 1608 stood open.

“Oh,” said Alvin.

“Great,” I said. “She's home.”

“Violet!” Alvin barrelled through the door.

No answer.


“Mrs. P.?”

Lester and Pierre, Mrs. Parnell's evil peach-faced lovebirds, screamed. Mrs. Parnell's place is neat, state of the art and minimalist. High-end stereo equipment and the latest in television, don't ask me brand names. The furniture was simple: black leather sofa and two chairs. Brushed chrome and glass coffee table and end table. Euro style lamps. There is a complete absence of doilies, knickknacks or clutter.

“Lord thundering Jesus,” Alvin said. “Was there a tornado here? Her CDs are all over the floor. And look at the books!”

I stepped toward the bedroom, my heart beating. “Mrs. P.? It's me, Camilla.”

Alvin said, “And me.”

“Silence implies consent.” I strode through the door.

Nothing. And no one. The bed was made, military style. Aside from that, Mrs. Parnell's room looked like the contents had been dumped from an airplane.

“What happened here?” Alvin said.

I shook my head. “A burglar?”

“The stereo's still in the living room, and so is her new plasma
.” Alvin said. “Burglars love electronics. You should know that, you had enough clients who were burglars.”

“Maybe we interrupted one.”

Alvin mouthed, “Maybe he's still here.”

“He'd have to be in the bathroom,” I mouthed back and pointed.

“Or under the bed,” Alvin gestured.

“Or in the closet.”

“Behind the drapes.”

“Cornered,” I whispered.


Alvin armed himself with the standing lamp, and I picked up a small metal chair. With his free hand, Alvin yanked open the bathroom door. I raised the chair over my head.

Alvin shook his head.

No one there. Somebody had emptied the medicine cabinet though, scattering toiletries into the sink and onto the floor. I reached over and whipped open the shower curtain. There was a crunch as I stepped on an empty container.

“Closet,” I mouthed.

No one in the closet either. A few items hanging. A couple of hangers lay on the floor. Together we checked behind all the drapes. As a last resort, I dropped to my knees and peered under the bed. I scanned the room again, trying to make sense of things. A large red suitcase lay in the middle of the bedroom floor, unzipped and open, with clothing strewn over it.

“Violet has a set of this luggage,” Alvin said. “She just got it. We were thinking of taking some trips.”

My mind boggled.

He said, “There was a carry-on, with wheels, and a little toiletries case too. It had a place to hang her cane. The two cases hooked together, and they were lightweight, so that she could handle them. Although I would have helped her.”

I said, “Well, there's only one here now.”

Alvin checked my facts by peering into the closet.

I said, “Do you think a burglar would steal suitcases?”

“He could use them to stash stuff.”

“Nothing's missing.”

“Like you said, maybe he got interrupted.”

“By us. Or by Mrs. P.”

“But she's not here,” Alvin said. “Do you think she even came home?”

I pointed to the open door of the closet. “Isn't that her uniform, hanging up there?”

“Ohmigod, she was wearing it when she went to the hospital.”

“Right. And naturally, she must have worn it home. Obviously, she changed her clothes, and she hung up the uniform carefully. And then what?”

“She must have changed.”

“Obviously, Alvin. But what explains all this mess in the apartment?”

Alvin swivelled around. “I still figure a burglar. I can smell his aftershave. Can you?”

“What is it? Not Old Spice.”

“Well, hardly. No, something contemporary. Hugo Boss maybe.”

“Okay, so we smell aftershave, and Mrs. P.'s not here. Where did she go?”

“Why would she go anywhere? She couldn't have been recovered from seeing the dead man.”

“We'll leave the dead man out of it. Dead men don't wear aftershave.”

“She's been kidnapped,” Alvin said

“That's just ridiculous. Why would anybody kidnap her?”

“I don't know. It doesn't matter why. Somebody must have. Expensive aftershave. There's a type. You know what? I think that guy we passed had it on.”

“Let's keep cool. It's unlikely that she was kidnapped. This is Ottawa. And that guy we passed didn't have her. She probably just went out. She's independent. Maybe she had to pick up something.”

Alvin was on his way to the kitchen this time, flinging open the door to the fridge.

“There's food in here. Cheese. Bread. Wait a sec. Yeah. Lots of frozen sweet and sour chicken in the freezer too. Her fave.”

I headed back to the living room and checked the small modern cabinet where Mrs. P. keeps her Harvey's Bristol Cream. Three bottles stood waiting. A full carton of Benson & Hedges sat near the bottles.

“It wasn't a trip to fetch booze or cigarettes. What else could it be?”

Alvin loped back to the kitchen and flung open a door. “There's lots of bird seed. And it looks like she just fed them.”

“No need to panic. We should think logically.”

“If there were kidnappers, they must have had a van,” Alvin poked his head around the corner.

“Why on earth would anyone kidnap Mrs. Parnell?”

“Maybe she knew something that…”

“Forget it. Let's operate on the principal that she simply went out, Alvin. Like anyone would do on any normal day.”

Alvin's beady eyes watered. He put his hand in his leather jacket and pulled out the book. Another storm on the voyage to self-discovery.

We both turned our eyes to the clock.

“Okay, so it's after nine. Most stores will be closed. What's she doing out at this time of night? She'd hardly go to a concert in her state.”

BOOK: The Dead Don't Get Out Much
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