Authors: Krista Davis
I can finally afford to buy some really fine china but I'm confused. Do I want porcelain or bone china? What's the difference?
âSetting the Table in Tabler, Oklahoma
Dear Setting the Table,
Porcelain and bone china are both considered fine china. Each has its strengths and flaws. Bone china is thinner and more delicate but may break more easily. Porcelain is thicker, but more brittle and therefore more prone to chipping.
“Sophie! Thank heaven it's you.” Callie breathed hard, with her mouth open. “Do you see him?”
She held on to me like I was a life raft, but she looked back in the direction she had come.
We walked her beneath the streetlamp. “Callie, this is my ex-husband, Mars.”
“What's going on?” asked Mars. “Is someone bothering you?”
She bobbed her head. “Following me. I thought I was imagining things but when I turned the corner he lunged at me.”
She was still grasping my arm. The sleeve of her light cotton jacket was torn. “Did he do this?”
Callie released her grip and felt the open flap. “I guess so. I just ran as fast as I could. I've never been so scared.”
“Do you know who it was?” I asked.
She paused for a second, for a beat too long. “No. I don't.”
Mars pulled out his cell phone and dialed. “Wong had better know about this.”
“No! No police. Please.”
Mars threw me a doubtful look. “Somebody broke into my house and attacked my girlfriend last night. It could be the same person. You have to report it. It might prevent this person from hurting someone else.”
Callie appeared to be thinking about it. “I'd really prefer to go home. Would you walk with me? It's not far from here, just a few blocks.”
“What's your name? Callie?”
Right in front of her, Mars called 911 and reported the incident.
We waited for an officer. I found myself straining to peer into the darkness around us. “What did he look like?”
“I didn't see much,” Callie said. “You know the feeling that someone is watching you? I started glancing back but didn't really see anyone. But I had the creeps, so I walked faster. And when I turned the corner, somebody grabbed me from behind, and I ran.”
A young cop arrived. She asked Callie to step away with her.
While they were talking, I asked Mars, “Do you think some whacko is running around and jumping women?”
“I think you won't be walking Daisy alone at night anymore until they catch this guy.”
No problem. I certainly didn't want to be his next victim.
The officer finished with Callie and promised to see her safely home. Mars and I hurried back to my house. We didn't talk much. I suspected he was keeping an eye out for the guy, just like I was.
When we entered the kitchen, Mars said, “If you don't mind, I'll bunk in the den tonight. I don't like you being alone.”
The sad truth was that I welcomed his presence.
We spent the rest of the evening by the fire. Even though I saw Mars now and then, there was a lot to catch up on, especially regarding his work. Probably because of the assailant on the loose, neither of us wanted to drink liquor. We settled on hot chocolate. It seemed like old times having him around the house.
I rose at seven to a gloriously blue sky. I threw on a bathrobe and tiptoed down the stairs so I wouldn't wake Mars. The old wood of my stairs creaked as usual but if he heard it, he didn't budge. I put on the kettle for tea and fed Mochie chicken in pumpkin sauce. He ate heartily, signaling his approval.
Daisy whined at the front door and a moment later, someone banged the knocker. I had a hunch that the person who was attacking women probably didn't bother knocking, but I peered out the peephole anyway as a precaution. Natasha stood outside, looking impatient.
I swung the door open. “Good morning.”
“I would like to see my mother, please.” Natasha brushed by me.
She was already on the staircase when I said, “Wanda's not here.”
Natasha's eyes reduced to mere slits. “I'm not that stupid. Where else would she go? Of course she's here.”
I didn't bother to argue. I could hear Natasha's heels clacking on the hardwood floors upstairs as she searched the bedrooms. I poured myself a bracing mug of Newman's Own
organic black tea and stirred in sugar and milk. Daisy reached a paw in my direction, not touching my leg, but letting me know she wanted a treat.
“Okay, but only one. And then we're going for a walk. As soon as Natasha leaves.” I fed Daisy a cookie in the shape of a bunny.
I could hear Natasha coming down the stairs. The sounds of her heels on the floor had slowed considerably. She dragged into the kitchen and burst into tears.
“What's wrong with me, Sophie? Mars left me and now even my own mother has abandoned me.”
Tempting as it was to mention that she had claimed she left Mars, not the other way around, I resisted going in that direction. There was no need to depress her even more. She was going through a rough time. I poured her a mug of tea and ushered her into the living room, away from the den where Mars slept. “You're too hard on yourself, Natasha. And you hold everyone else to the same high standard. People are flawed. We're not perfect.”
She sipped the tea. “I can see why you would think that. I mean, look at you. That bathrobe is just sad.” She frowned at me. “Your living room is dated, and you refuse to hear me when I tell you the portrait over the fireplace in your kitchen is tasteless. I keep offering to help you redecorate but you always turn me down.”
I smiled at her mention of the painting of Mars's Aunt Faye. She had left the house to Mars and me, and I had bought him out in our divorce. Faye had loved her home, and I liked her portrait in my kitchen, even if it did slide to an awkward angle once in a whileâmostly when Natasha was in the house. Mars's mother thought she could talk to her deceased sister in my kitchen and a psychic had confirmed Faye's presence, but then the psychic also got some major things wrong. Maybe it
just a draft that shifted the portrait.
I was a little bit insulted by what Natasha had said. Who wouldn't be? I rubbed my hand across my forehead. “Think about what you just said, Natasha. Isn't the world a better
and more interesting place because we all like different things?”
“Oh, Sophie! It's just pathetic that people have no taste. I have no idea why anyone takes decorating tips from you.”
I was about to spew a retort when it occurred to me that I could say the same about her. “We like different things, Natasha. There's no right or wrong.”
She tilted her head and patted my arm. “You keep telling yourself that, Sophie.”
I clearly hadn't convinced her.
“Have you seen Mars?” she asked. “How's he taking our breakup? He won't know how to tie his shoes without me.”
I couldn't tell her he seemed to be pretty happy. Thankfully, she didn't wait for an answer.
“He never loved me, Sophie. I should have realized that much sooner. I had a long talk with Robert about him. For the first time, I'm seeing everything so clearly. Robert is quite brilliant, and he's deeply intellectual in a way that Mars will never be.”
At her mention of Robert, I feared I might know where her mother had spent the night. I wasn't about to tell her and give her the opportunity to make a scene, though. “Does Robert
“I don't think so. But he pointed out to me that when someone loves you, he supports you in the things you want to do. The things that are important to you. I'm not talking about going to the theater or an art gallery. I mean the big things. Mars always pooh-poohed my business efforts. He didn't believe in my line of gardening attire, he made fun of my tools for women, and he worked against my efforts to open a chocolate shop. I can't think of one thing he ever backed me on.”
I couldn't exactly tell her that all those ideas had been doomed to failure and everyone, except for her, could see that. She did have a point, though. I would want my spouse to encourage my dreams, even if they were a little bit far-fetched. After all, if people didn't dream big, there would be no
fabulous inventions, or cures, or spacewalks. Mars hadn't done that for Natasha. Maybe she and Robert were right about that.
Natasha grimaced. “He was only interested in me because he wanted someone more sophisticated and worldlyâ”
“Excuse me? As I recall, we came from the same little town in Virginia. It's not like you grew up in Paris and attended a Swiss boarding school.”
Natasha smiled at me sweetly. “Sophie, you're so naÃ¯ve. It's rather endearing.”
Uh-huh. NaÃ¯ve Sophie thought she'd better hightail it over to Robert's place to send Wanda home before Natasha found out and their mother-daughter relationship crashed and burned for good. “Have you tried phoning your mom?”
“How stupid do you think I am? She probably has the ringer turned off. She does that when she's mad at me, which is most of the time.”
“Maybe you should go home in case she calls. In the meantime, I'll check around.”
We were in the foyer when Mars stumbled in, yawning.
Natasha gasped and looked from Mars to me. “You certainly didn't waste any time.”
I hated to say it but I did. “It's not how it looks.”
“That's the standard line, isn't it? How dare you betray me like this? And you, Mars! Have you no shame? No loyalty? We were together for years, and you're already shacking up with your ex-wife?” She turned to me and her lips pulled tight. “You won't keep him interested for long looking like
.” She pulled the door open and left in a huff.
I locked the door behind her.
Mars groaned. “You see what I mean? Every day. Every single day there's a drama.”
“Want some tea?”
“I'd better get going. I have a meeting this morning.”
Just as well. “Okay. I have a quick errand to run as soon as I dress.”
“With that guy still out there?”
“It's broad daylight, Mars. I'm not going to hide in my house.” I ran upstairs to dress in spandex-softened jeans and a big white button-down shirt. Downstairs, I slid into a quilted vest, and dressed Daisy in her harness. We left through the alley that ran behind my backyard in case Natasha had paused somewhere on our street. Maybe it was silly of me, but I wasn't taking chances. It would be such a shame if Natasha and Wanda had a big falling out over Robert. Natasha might have a lot of fans, but she had precious few friends and needed her mom on her side.
Daisy and I walked at a good clip. I was glad I had bothered to wear the vest. The lingering warmth of summer days had made a sudden departure. A chilling breeze whispered through the streets, leaving the scent of fireplaces behind.
As we walked, I wondered why Wanda would have spent the night out when her purpose in visiting was to stay with Natasha so she wouldn't be alone. Funny that Natasha hadn't mentioned being afraid last night. Maybe installation of the alarm system had been enough to soothe her nerves.
We neared Velma's house, and I couldn't help looking at the windows. From the street, I couldn't tell if anyone was spying from them.
The black door of Robert's house bore a wreath made of acorns and topped with a burlap bow. I suspected it must have been handmade. Otherwise, Robert's door seemed very plain, except for the brass mail slot. I saw neither a bell nor a doorknocker. I rapped on the door.
There was no answer. I turned around and gazed up at Velma's windows again. She probably knew if he was home. I knocked again, louder this time. “Robert?”
Still no response. Maybe this had been a stupid idea. He probably took Wanda out for breakfast.
I turned to leave but Daisy pawed at the door and whined. I froze. She had done that once before, and when I opened the door, I had found a corpse.
“Come on, sweetie. Nobody's home.” But Daisy didn't budge, even when I tugged on her leash.
“One more time, then we'll go. Okay?” I knocked again, calling, “Robert!”
I tried the doorknob. It turned easily. The door was barely open a crack when I thought I heard something. Daisy reinforced that notion by whining.
The door creaked open to a dark house.
I found a beautiful tea set in an antiques shop. The salesman told me it was bone china, but I'm not sure I believe him. I'm not familiar with the mark on the back. Is there a way to know?
âWasn't Born Yesterday in Shopville, Kentucky
Dear Wasn't Born Yesterday,
There is a very easy way to tell. Hold it up to the light. Bone china is translucent. You should be able to see the shadow of your hand behind it.
“Robert?” I called.
This time I definitely heard it. A strange wheezing sound that wasn't familiar to me. Daisy stayed by my side, and we entered the house with caution. I left the door open for light and to beat a hasty exit should that prove necessary.
I found a light switch and flicked it on. A chandelier
lighted a narrow hallway, made even tighter by stairs on the right. Antique paintings lined the walls on both sides, and a marble-topped console held an old-fashioned globe lamp with flowers painted on it.
We ventured along the hallway at a snail's pace until I spotted a foot.
I raced toward it.
Robert lay on the floor of his living room, his eyes open and staring at the ceiling. A table lay on its side, and an old black dial telephone had fallen to the floor, the receiver mere inches from Robert's hand.
I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and dialed 911. “Robert?” I felt his wrist for a pulse.
One of his fingers moved, almost imperceptibly. Faint rasping came from his throat. He seemed to be having difficulty breathing.
The dispatcher answered my call, but I didn't know the house number.
“I'll be right back.” I dashed outside to get his house number and relayed the information to the dispatcher. She told me to stay on the line. I left the door open and rushed back to Robert. “Wanda?” I shouted. “Wanda?”
If she was there, she didn't respond. I should probably check around. She might be in a similar state. But first I had to do what I could do for Robert.
I kneeled beside him. “Can you sit up?”
He was having so much trouble breathing that I didn't dare try to move him. “What happened? Can you speak?”
The gurgle that came from his throat scared me. “It's okay. Don't try to talk. The ambulance will be here soon. Just hold on. Can you wiggle your fingers?”
The forefinger on his left hand twitched very slightly.
“Great!” I pretended like I thought that was wonderful but in reality I feared for him.
Daisy howled and a moment later, I heard the siren. That was one good thing about Old Townâit was so small that the police and ambulances never took long to arrive.
Knowing that help was on the way, I decided I'd better
just reassure Robert and forget trying to do anything to help him breathe. I placed my hand over his, hoping he could feel it. “Did you hear that? They're on the way.”
He seemed unable to move. Had he broken his spine or possibly his neck?
It appeared he was trying to say something. I leaned forward. “Do you need something? Is there anything I can do for you?” Only a weak hiss emanated from his mouth. I turned my head and brought my ear closer to his lips.
That was all he said. I sat back and looked at him. Clearly he couldn't be talking about a flower. What could he be trying to say?
like a color? Maybe the
sound was a result of his difficulty breathing. It could be the beginning of a longer word.
“Rosie?” I asked.
He made no effort to clarify. I patted his hand, and chattered again. “Help will be here any minute.” He didn't look good, though.
Thankfully, the EMTs arrived with Wong on their heels. I jumped to my feet to get out of their way. As if she understood, Daisy stayed by my side.
I answered their questions but wasn't any help at all. I didn't know how long he had been lying there or what he had been doing or if he had any allergies. “I don't really know him.”
One of them stared at me like he was wondering what I was doing in Robert's house. “Do you know his name?”
“Robert Johnson. I came over looking for someone else and found him like this. Wong, I think Natasha's mother, Wanda, might be here. I'm worried that she might be incapacitated as well.”
Wong nodded. “I'll check the second and third floors.”
She sprang up the stairs with surprising energy. I hoped she wouldn't find Wanda in the same sort of crisis. I didn't think it was going to work out well for Robert.
Meanwhile, I searched the main floor of the house.
There wasn't a soul in the dining room. It was beautifully furnished with an inlaid table and an antique sideboard that sparkled with crystal bowls and candlesticks. Huge portraits of people from days gone by hung on the walls. The kitchen was surprisingly modern. Outfitted with dark walnut cabinets, it was immaculate. No one had cooked in the kitchen for a while, though. No loaf of bread waited on the counter. There was no bowl of fruit, not even salt and pepper shakers. A door led to the backyard. I peered through the window as the wind kicked up leaves around a wrought-iron table and four matching chairs. A high brick privacy fence separated the tiny backyard from the neighbors. At the far end, a gate led somewhere, presumably to an alley.
Daisy and I returned to the hallway.
“Robert! Robert! What's going on?” Velma sailed down the hallway toward us.
One of the EMTs stepped into the hallway. “Ma'am, are you related to Robert Johnson?”
“He's my brother-in-law. Is he ill? Did he fall?” Velma tried to push past me.
“Maybe you could step over here and give me some information?” He led her outside.
Daisy and I followed them, pausing on the way to open three doors. One led to a stunningly gorgeous powder room with a small chandelier hanging from the ceiling, and paintings in gold frames covering the walls. One was a closet, and the final one led to a basement.
I heard footsteps behind me and waited for Wong. She shook her head. “No one upstairs at all. Have you been in the basement?”
“No. But she's not on this floor.”
Wong disappeared down the stairs, but Daisy and I hurried outside to Velma.
“Why won't they tell me what's wrong with him?” Velma grabbed my arm and held on tight. “Did you see him?” Velma asked.
“Yes. He was laying on the floor.”
“So he fell.” She shook her forefinger at me. “It's those threadbare Oriental rugs he likes so much. I told him he'd trip on one of them. Probably broke a hip.”
“I don't know, Velma. He didn't look like someone who fell. AlthoughÂ .Â .Â .”
“What?” she demanded.
“A table had fallen over and the phone was on the floor near him.” That did suggest that he'd been trying to make a call or had stumbled against the table as he fell.
While she yammered about not being allowed to see him, I was thinking that he wouldn't have trouble breathing if he broke a hip. Maybe he had a heart attack. Would that make it hard for him to breathe?
“You know, he felt a little queasy yesterday,” Velma said. “I told him he couldn't skip the auction. After all, it was bringing people into his store to see the auction items.” She waved her arms in the air. “Francie! Over here!”
Francie crossed the street from Velma's front door. “What's going on?”
Velma filled her in, Oriental rugs and all.
“Was your sister's nickname Rosie?” I asked.
Velma gave me a perplexed glance. “Whatever made you think that? Her middle name was a flower, but not a Rose. We called her Livy. Short for Olivia Violet. She was the fun one in the family. It didn't matter if it was a party or only a trip to get an ice cream cone. Everything was a celebration with Livy.”
“How did she die?”
“It was the craziest thing, completely unexpected. You know, you go through life thinking every day will be pretty much like the one before and then out of the blue, something totally bizarre happensâshe fell. It was that simple. She fell and hit her head on a rock.”
“She was gardening in her own backyard,” added Francie.
“That's crazy! Who dies from a fall like that?” I said.
“Apparently it's not all that unusual,” Velma said. “They had some decorative boulders and as far as I can tell, it was just her time. If she had shifted a little one way or the other,
she might have lived. But she conked her head and was dead almost immediately. I don't know who was more upset, me or Robert.”
We stepped aside as the EMTs rolled a gurney by us. A little crowd had gathered to see what was happening.
Velma hurried to the gurney and walked beside it. “Robert, dear. How are you feeling?”
She stopped in the middle of the road.
Francie and I exchanged a glance and walked over to her.
“Velma? Are you all right?” I asked.
She spun toward me. “That's no broken hip!”