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Authors: Mary Jane Maffini

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BOOK: The Dead Don't Get Out Much
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“We should have asked the doctor exactly when she left the hospital,” Alvin said.

“I don't think he knew. He seemed quite shocked when he figured it out. Remember? We were hanging around when she was long gone.”

“It's not like Violet to be inconsiderate, even if she did leave us sitting there in those miserable plastic chairs. Why would she do that?”

“Let's chalk it up to shock.” I didn't want to suggest dementia. I couldn't bear the thought of Mrs. Parnell, sharp as a tack, as cunning as any field commander, slipping into nightmarish confusion.

Alvin said, “Probably she didn't realize we were there.”

I said, “More likely, she thought we'd object to her leaving the hospital.”

“But why did she need to leave in the first place?”

“That's the question, isn't it, Alvin? What? What's the matter?”

“Wait a minute. How did she get home? Her car's here.”

“Her car's here?”

“Yeah. Someone picked her up to go to the meeting point for the march. A volunteer.”

“What are you waiting for?”

Three minutes later, our elevator reached the garage level, and we walked briskly toward Mrs. P.'s parking spot.

“Holy shit,” Alvin said.

“I'll second that,” I said as we stared at the spot where Mrs. Parnell's new Volvo should have been.

“Maybe the kidnappers took it,” Alvin said.

“Are you residents?” a voice boomed behind us.

I stared at an oversized, uniformed and unfamiliar security guard. “Not exactly,” I said. “We're looking for Mrs. Violet Parnell, Apt. 1608.”

“Yeah, sure. Stay put,” he said. “Let's see what the cops have to say about that.”


London, England
March 14, 1942

Dear Miss Wilkinson,

It was a pleasure to meet you at the dance last night. I never imagined I would meet a Canadian girl over here in England. You certainly do have a way of putting your ideas across. I've never met a lady who could drive a truck before. If I had ever given such an unlikely circumstance a moment's thought, I never would have expected the same person to be charming and feminine and yet to have such strong opinions on politics and economics.

I hope to have a chance to meet you again and to continue our discussion about the relative merits of Russian composers. I have quite a different take on this Shostakovich.

I hope you will allow me to call you Violet.


Walter Parnell


t's about time,” I said.

Sgt. Conn McCracken, my brother-in-law, joined the crowd scene in the garage. The cast of this comedy was now made up of the security guard, two police constables, and the Super, who had finally shown up in his pajama tops and chinos with pajama bottoms peeping out at the ankles. He smelled ever so slightly of bubble bath.

I'd never seen the two constables before. They seemed impressed by the arrival of a detective from Major Crimes.

Alvin and I were the criminal centrepieces.

Conn gave me a dirty look.

“It's not my fault. I told you Mrs. Parnell disappeared. Vanished. The police should be looking for her, not wasting time pestering us merely because we don't happen to live here.”

“Let's finish up this business of your trespassing in a building you were recently evicted from before we move on.”

“What a crock,” I said. “Sure, they asked me to move out of my apartment. So what? I did. It was a misunderstanding about a fire alarm, which I never pulled, and a neighbour complaining about Gussie, which was just plain petty. No one ever said I couldn't come back to the building. So what's this trespassing crap?”

Alvin said, “We had to go into Violet's apartment to see if she was there. It's like when the cops showed up here, they didn't even care about where Violet was. I don't know what society's coming to.”

I spotted a small spasm in Conn's jaw. “Please, tell me you didn't go into someone's apartment when they weren't there.”

“We didn't know she wasn't there. How could we?”

Alvin said, “Hey, I bet it was that neighbour. He closed the door right in our faces. He probably went back to his apartment and looked on the monitor and spotted us coming and called security. He knows we're not burglars.”

“Is that what happened? That jerk made a complaint again?” I said to the super, who was standing around looking useless.

The Super blushed. “I felt bad, eh, you getting booted out like that. It wasn't me. I would have let you guys in if I'd known.”

“No hard feelings, although you might consider answering your doorbell in the future.”

Conn said, “Let's just get this settled. You were searching for your friend who disappeared from the hospital. You went to her apartment because you were afraid she was in trouble.”

“We tried buzzing the Super.”

“I was in the bathtub,” the Super said, pinkly.

“That's unlawful entering,” the guard said. “I know that. I'm taking Law and Security at Algonquin.”

I said. “Even though the door was open, I have a key to Mrs. Parnell's apartment, and that's the equivalent of permission to enter.” I didn't bother to mention I had a perfectly serviceable law degree and a license to practice.

The guard puffed up his chest. “Yeah, well, the guy in 1603 said you weren't supposed to be in the building. That sounds unlawful to me.”

Conn shrugged. “This is a whole lot of crap about nothing,” he said to the two constables.

“It's something all right. Mrs. Parnell is not where she should be, and she's in rough shape. Her apartment's been trashed, and now her goddam car is gone. Something's wrong, and I want to know what the hell the police are going to do about it.”

* * *

“So the short answer is they're not doing much besides sitting on their hands,” I said.

Ray Deveau said, “There's not much they can do. She's a functioning adult, and she can come and go as she pleases. I'm sure you're aware of that, what with your law degree and all.”

“Go ahead, mock. I'm looking for support here.”

I had to admit, Ray was in a pretty supportive mood when I called. He always was. I wish some of that would rub off on my other friends and relatives.

“Something's wrong. I know it. Conn wasn't much help.”

Ray sighed. “Okay, we'll talk about the vacation at a more opportune moment. Where are you calling from?”

“Mrs. Parnell's place. I'm waiting here in case she comes back. Alvin's out driving around in the rain looking for her. We're taking turns. Is there any way to light a fire under the police? Couldn't they be on the lookout for her?”

“It's a bit early for a
. The problem is, not much time has elapsed since she took off. Lots of people would have still been lying on a gurney in the emergency room corridor. The cops just think you are overreacting.”

“Come on, Ray. The hospital staff were talking about heart attack. Add to that the weird talk of dead men and the fact she skipped out of the hospital, deliberately giving us the slip.”

“Camilla, you don't have to convince me.”

“Then there's the fact that her apartment has obviously been turned over by someone searching for something.”

“You said that the officers checked that out.”

“They didn't think it was such a big deal, but they don't know her. Her apartment is always in perfect order, like a showroom. She loves her music. She'd never scatter her
s on the floor.”

“Here are a couple of tips. Never mind telling them how well you know the person and how they wouldn't do this or that. I'm a cop, and I hear that all the time about so-called missing persons who just want to get away from the same someone who knows them too well. It's not even midnight. No wonder they're not doing backflips.”

“She should be in hospital, under medical observation.”

“I understand. Trust me, if you want the police to do something, you have to use whatever turns their crank. Dementia or Alzheimer's is a hot button for the media. They'll put out a bulletin. People will watch for her. Someone will spot her and call in.”

“She doesn't have dementia. The doctor said she was…”

“Don't quote the doctor when you're talking to the cops.”

“I get your point, but if Mrs. P. heard that, she'd have a fit. When there was a false bulletin out for me, I was really pissed off. And frankly nervous too.”

Ray chuckled. “I heard you did some crazy things. Now you're asking for advice, and I'm giving it. If you play the dementia card, mention medication needed and inadequate clothing for weather conditions. That'll ratchet up interest.”

“Maybe we can just allude to it. Say fears for her safety, that kind of thing. At the very least, they'll track the vehicle.” I had a flash vision of Mrs. Parnell giving the cops a run for their money in a high-speed chase. I bet her Volvo could outrun those Crown Vics.

The next step seemed obvious, if unpleasant. Unfortunately, as a rule, your previous relationships with the police can have a big effect on how they treat you later on. I was all too aware of this. I got voicemail hell on the police line for routine enquiries. I struck out with 911.

I saw no choice. I picked up the phone and dialled Conn's cellphone. Luckily, I knew exactly where Conn was. I asked him to make the appropriate contact at Headquarters. I said I was sorry if I was interrupting whatever he was doing at the time and requested that he not indicate I was the one calling during the family dinner. I made a point of mentioning that his own wife had introduced this dementia worry, and if he had a problem with it, he should take it up with Alexa later. Like that would happen.

* * *

Alvin stomped through the door, shook his wet ponytail and slumped on Mrs. P.'s black leather sofa.

“Still nothing,” I said before he could ask.

“I went by your place like you asked and fed and walked Gussie.”

“Thanks, Alvin. I appreciate it.”

“I fed the cat too. You think we should bring them over here?”

I glanced at Lester and Pierre. “Bad idea.”

“I thought you said that if the police put out a bulletin about Violet, that someone would call in.”

“Ray thought if we claimed dementia, that might speed things up. No guarantees.”

“Someone should have seen her.”

“This is Mrs. Parnell. She probably doesn't want to be seen. Maybe she's wearing a hat or something.”

“They had the license plate number of the Volvo.”

“Alvin, I'm getting a headache. Let's find something to do here instead of fretting.”

“There's nothing to do. We've already searched the place twice.”

“Let's search it again. Maybe instead of looking for something, we should concentrate more on what isn't here.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, what did she take with her. We think she took the two small red suitcases, and we know she left her uniform. We should have thought of this before.”

“We're rattled, Camilla,” Alvin said. He certainly looked rattled. The ponytail was damp and bedraggled, the earrings drooped, and he slouched, paler than dust.

“Agreed. And we have a right to be. Now, let's get moving. Her walker's here.”

“What do you think that means?”

“I don't know what it means. Where is her cane?”

Alvin zipped from room to room. “Nowhere,” he said. “It's gone. She's got two of them, and they're both gone.”

“So, maybe she was going somewhere where the walker wouldn't be necessary.”

“Or maybe it wouldn't be convenient. Or it might be too noticeable.”

“Like where, Alvin?”

“I don't know. A bus?”

“Why would she take a bus? She has the car. Okay. We need some kind of focus. Let's assume she's not just randomly driving around to clear her head. Why would she go anywhere in the first place?”

“And not to tell us where she was going, that's not like Violet.”

“You're right, it isn't. So either she's behaving irrationally, or she had a plan we don't know about and chose not to involve us.”

“I hate both those options,” Alvin said.

“Me too, but I think we have to face facts.”

“What if someone took her away?”

I felt a headache coming on. “We have no reason to believe that someone took her. Do you really think that Mrs. P. would just go off with someone without putting up a fight?”

“She wouldn't.”

“That's right. Now look around you.”

Alvin narrowed his eyes and scanned the room.

“Do you see any signs of a fight?”

“I see mess. Remember we thought it was a burglar?”

“No signs of a struggle, right? No chairs knocked over, no stuff broken, no phone off the hook? This is Mrs. P. She wouldn't go quietly.”

“Maybe he had a gun.”

“All right, before we explore the gun theory, let's work through the other much more likely reasons. First, that she was not thinking normally. What evidence do we have of that?”

“Just the conversation with the dead guy.”


“Your sister said that probably means dementia. That's got me all nerved up.”

“We were with Mrs. Parnell. She was upset, not demented.”

“Yeah, but she was troubled.”

“Deeply disturbed. Definitely rational, as usual.”

Alvin seemed to take some comfort in this.

I said, “So let's assume that she is her normal self, even if upset enough to give us the slip in the hospital. If she's gone somewhere under her own steam, the question is, why would she leave here in such a hurry?”

“To find something out? Information.”

“She's a whiz on that computer. She can surf the net as well as you can, and she's way better than me. I think if she just wanted information, she'd do it here on her own.”

Alvin furrowed his brow. “True, I guess.”

“She took suitcases, Alvin. Kidnappers wouldn't take suitcases. I think she's headed out of town, under her own steam and with some kind of plan we aren't privy to.”

Alvin dragged himself into the bedroom and stared at the large, red unzipped suitcase in the middle of the floor. I followed.

Alvin said, “Maybe she had something hidden in the suitcases. Maybe that's what the burglar was looking for. Or the kidnappers. Although it doesn't look like it had anything in it.”

I agreed, although to be fair, we were grasping at straws here.

He said, “It's hard to know what's missing if you don't know what was there in the first place. I have no idea what Violet kept in her suitcases.”

“Me neither. You raise a good point, Alvin. Something is missing. Something's not quite right. Look around. What do we not see that we should see?”

His eyes misted. “I don't know.”

“We'll figure it out. Stay calm, that's our main tactic.”

Alvin sniffed noisily. “If you can call it a tactic.”

“It's what we have.”

Minutes later, back in the living room, while I stood staring at the
cases with my mind a perfect blank, Alvin said, “That's it!”


“The photos!”

“Oh, right. Her war photos. Where are they?”

We both pivoted around.

Alvin said, “Do you think she just moved them?”

“They're always right here on the bookcase, place of honour,” I said.

“Maybe she was looking at them before the ceremony. Perhaps she wanted to honour her old friends, and she just put them down somewhere. Let's take a look.”

It doesn't take all that long to comb through a one-bedroom apartment, particularly if you've already checked it out several times within the hour.

“Not here,” Alvin said.

“Okay,” I said, “thinking strategically, which Mrs. Parnell would want us to do, there's probably some connection with those photos and her departure.”

“Sounds good,” said Alvin. “What do you think it is?”

“No idea. We have to start somewhere. It's better to be off-base than to sit staring at our navels.”

“So maybe she went to see someone in the photo?”

“Yes. Let's operate on that principle.”

“You're starting to talk like Violet,” Alvin said. “What's that about?”

“I don't know. Back to business. Let's start with what we've almost got. Who was in those photographs?” I closed my eyes and tried to imagine them.

BOOK: The Dead Don't Get Out Much
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