The Girl in the Green Raincoat

BOOK: The Girl in the Green Raincoat
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The Girl
in the
Green Raincoat

LAURA LIPPMAN

For Niki, Claire, Logan, and Nash

I
am being held hostage,” Tess Monaghan whispered into her iPhone. “By a terrorist. The agenda is unclear, the demands vague, but she’s prepared to hold me here for at least two months. Twelve weeks or eighteen years, depending on how you look at it.”

“Nice way to talk about our future child,” said her boyfriend, Crow, tucking a quilt around her, although it was a typical early autumn Baltimore, not at all chilly. The quilt was a gift from Crow’s mother, an artist with an exceptional eye, which made up for her lapses when it came to the nickname she had allowed her only son to keep into adulthood. Under normal circumstances Tess would have been thrilled by this updated version of a Geese-in-Flight, rendered in her favorite colors: muted greens and golds chosen to complement the recently winterized sun porch. But it was another reminder of her captivity, no different from an orange jumpsuit.

All summer long she had looked forward to sitting in this addition to her bungalow, watching the leaves change, warming her back at the two-faced fireplace connected to the living room. But that anticipation had been based on her belief that she would be able to leave the room when she wanted, not forced to lie here for days on end, under strict instructions to move as little as possible. Much to her horror, there had even been a discussion of bedpans, and her well-intentioned aunt had sent her an antique chamber pot. The doctor told Tess she could avoid that indignity, except perhaps at night. “As long as you don’t overdo it,” she added. Overdo a slow waddle to the bathroom! This made no sense to Tess. Raucous fun could be overdone. Drinking could be overdone. High-fat food could be overdone, even exercise. But a ten-foot walk to the bathroom?

“Bring wine,” she hissed into the phone. “And Matthew’s pizza. Those lima beans with feta cheese from Mezze. Sopa-pillas from Golden West. Hurry!”

Crow took the phone from her gently. Oh, he was forever gentle, wasn’t he, except when his sperm was storming the gates of one’s diaphragm, eluding spermicide and wiggling its way into the winner’s circle, a 99-to-1 long shot that drilled into her unsuspecting egg, creating the truculent would-be person who now had her pinned to this wicker chaise longue.

“You’re welcome to visit,” he told her oldest and best friend, Whitney Talbot. “And she’s actually allowed to have some salt, within normal limits. She’s joking about the wine.”

“I am not! If this state weren’t so backward, I could buy wine on the Internet. Stupid protectionist liquor lobby. I bet Eddie’s will deliver, if it comes to that.”

“They probably would,” Crow agreed, bidding Whitney goodbye and placing the iPhone on the stack of books that Tess’s aunt had sent with the chamber pot, trying to anticipate all her moods and whims. “But I’ve already spoken to them about our situation and your dietary requirements for the next ten weeks. Meanwhile, watch your tone. Even mock outrage can goose your blood pressure. In fact—”

He took the cuff out. Tess already hated the sight of it. “Most expensive bracelet I’ve ever owned,” she muttered as he fitted it over her left bicep, and although the device was only eighty-nine dollars, this was a literal truth. That eighty-nine dollars was the first of many expenses, she now realized, that would not be covered by the modest “group health insurance” she had set up for her company. She would need a family plan, which cost four times as much, and even then there might be more unanticipated expenses that could drain their savings. She willed herself to calm down as the cuff swelled and deflated. But being angry was preferable to being scared, and she had been extremely scared since ending up in the E.R. three days ago.

The first warning bell, in hindsight, had been the ease with which she’d sat through five hours of surveillance without a twinge of discomfort. Normally, the ability to last hours before her bladder asserting herself would be a cause for celebration in Tess Monaghan’s world. Although many manufacturers had tried, there was no perfect solution for what she called the feminine relief problem. Men had more options, especially if they weren’t shy. Since becoming a private investigator six years ago, she had trained herself to be extremely stoic, and often blessed her father for those early years, when his insistence on making good time on family trips taught a young Tess to sync her body to the family’s ancient station wagon’s need for fuel. Edging into her third trimester, she discovered that pregnancy inevitably took its toll on her stalwart bladder, making surveillance problematic. Which was a problem, for surveillance was the bread-and-butter mainstay of Keys Investigations. That and Dumpster-diving, which she had reluctantly put on hold since she learned she was pregnant.

However, pregnancy turned out to be an excellent cover for surveillance. Women looked at her belly, not her face. Men looked away from her. Especially the one man she was determined to catch on her iPhone’s camera, a deadbeat dad named Jordan Baum. A house painter, he maintained via his attorney that he had taken a bad fall on a job, sustaining the impossible-to-disprove “soft tissue damage.” His baby mama believed that Jordan was a cheater twice over, working off the books for a contractor who preferred to pay in cash, allowing Jordan to shortchange her and the government.

But Jordan Baum was cagey enough not to take jobs that placed him in public view. Over the week that Tess had been watching him, he’d hobbled in and out of a major rehab near the Canton waterfront, and while it was suspicious for an out-of-work painter to keep visiting a house-under-renovation, it wasn’t proof of anything. Stymied, she arranged for an attractive blonde to cross his path, a blonde who would prove much unluckier to Jordan Baum than any black cat.

On the appointed day, Whitney hid around the corner from the work site until alerted by text message that Jordan was making his faux laborious way toward the building. Whitney sailed out, arms piled high with stacks of paper. Tess had asked only that she drop them, but Whitney literally threw herself into the role, sprawling at Jordan’s feet, screaming in horror as her papers scattered, faking an injury to her knee. Gallant Jordan ran about—sometimes limping, sometimes not—gathered the papers, and helped Whitney to her feet. She insisted on buying him coffee at a nearby diner. All the while, Tess was snapping photos of the miraculously healed Jordan. These would be enough to make him kick in what he owed his ex. The IRS could hire its own private investigator to get their piece.

“But once a cheater, always a cheater,” Tess told Whitney over a celebratory late lunch at Matthew’s Pizza. “He’ll pay for a while, then fall behind again. Without a regular check to garnish, it’s impossible to make him stay current.”

“Did you know he has four kids by three different women?” Whitney asked. “He actually took their photos out of his wallet and said, ‘I make beautiful babies.’ Is that a new seduction technique, advertising one’s bona fides as a baby daddy? I mean, I know I lead a relatively sheltered life, but—what’s wrong, Tess?”

Tess had finally registered the strange absence of her bladder’s demands. The realization was quickly followed by a pressing
presence
—intense cramps, then a stretch of violent vomiting, first in the restaurant’s tiny ladies’ room, then on the sidewalk, then the gutter, and finally down the side of Whitney’s Suburban as Whitney rushed her to Johns Hopkins. “It’s seen worse,” Whitney said when Tess apologized between retching episodes. “My mom’s corgis are prone to diarrhea.”

The tale unspooled in the E.R., where the doctors tended to Tess with reassuringly brisk confidence. Preeclampsia was just another day at the office for them. At thirty-five, Tess was officially a high-risk pregnancy. She was at risk, her child was at risk, and unless she wanted to deliver a baby the size of a bratwurst—Whitney had provided that elegant image—she must spend the rest of her pregnancy in bed.

“Remember how you used to say you would love to take time off just to read and watch movies?” Crow asked her now, continuing to bustle around the room, putting a vase of flowers on the mantel, then moving them to the windowsill. For a straight man, he was alarmingly in touch with his inner Martha Stewart. He seemed to have inherited the nesting phase that would normally be Tess’s, but that was true even before her diagnosis. He had wanted to paint the baby’s room, throw a shower. Tess, falling back on the traditions of her mother’s Jewish family, insisted it was bad luck.

“I used to say a lot of things.” Interestingly, she had never said she wanted to be a mother, but she did not remind Crow of this. His joy at the news had been unadulterated. If he ever had any fears or doubts about fatherhood, she never saw them. Crow, reliable as sunrise, was not one of the Jordan Baums of the world—right? She had not planned to be a mother, but she had not planned
not
to be a mother. Her whole life was governed by accidents—her career, her relationship, even this house that she so loved. It made sense that her future daughter would continue this pattern.

And if her daughter turned out to be a precocious pain in the butt in the bargain—well, she knew whose DNA that was, too.

Crow said: “With Mrs. Blossom now working for you full-time, you can afford to take the time away from the office. You were comfortable with her taking over during your maternity leave. What’s an extra two months?”

“Two months of reduced billings. Prodigy though Mrs. Blossom may be, she’s only one woman.”

“One woman ran your business for years,” Crow said. “Everything will be all right.

“You don’t
know
that.”

“No one knows anything, in the end.”

Those words could be a comfort or a curse. For once, Tess decided to accept the comfort. The sun was beginning to set, and although her porch faced east, she could see the effect in the amber light that filtered through the still-green leaves. The porch was cantilevered out from the house, which was built into the side of a steep, wooded hill, so it felt like a tree house.
Rock-a-bye, Tess, in the treetops
. Surrounded by books and Crow’s towering stack of Criterion Collection DVDs, she could improve her mind while her body held her here. She could read the great books, study maps of the world, attack the ideas—philosophy, economics—she had bypassed in college.

Or she could stare wistfully out the window, into the park, where the local dog walkers were beginning to file in. A week ago she had been among them, exercising her greyhound and Doberman, Esskay and Miata. How she missed that, she thought, forgetting all the times she had complained about the chore, how often she’d yearned to sleep in while the greyhound bathed her with hot, fishy breath. (Part of the reason she was on the sun porch was that Esskay would not fight her for the chaise longue, the way she did for the queen bed in the master bedroom.) Yes, she had longed for time off, for a chance to read more, to be absolved from the morning walks that fell to her. But she had imagined herself
on
a beach, not shaped like a beach ball.

BOOK: The Girl in the Green Raincoat
11.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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