For generations, my family followed a simple principle: If everything goes wrong, go back to the beginning. Every back to the beginning my mother undertook—every time her marriage tanked or her job failed to support us—she went back to the house she grew up in, with me in tow, to get back on her feet. Thus, it stood to reason that when my job fell apart in the midst of an epic investment banking scandal and my fiancé invited me to move out because he couldn’t stand the heat, I had no urge to take shelter in the over-decorated apartment where my mother currently resided. The only place in my life that had enough consistency to qualify as a place to go back to was that same rambling house my mother spent her childhood in and retreated to throughout her life. I took up residence in my grandfather’s spare room in the past-its-prime town of Wenwood, New York, population eighty-four hundred and me.
Make no mistake. I made a good effort to get back on my feet without leaving the city. But jobs were scarce for brokenhearted accountants caught in a scandal, and not being able to find a decent, affordable place to live on my own made the challenge of starting over seem insurmountable. And the lure of the familiarity and acceptance of my grandfather also seemed insurmountable.
So I had landed in Wenwood and there I would stay until such time as my life had direction again. Or my grandfather got sick of me turning the “hi-fi” too loud, I got sick of him sneaking cookies into the bathroom, and it was time for me to move out. For the time being, though, I was a Wenwood resident. And on a hot Monday morning in the early days of summer, I headed along the pitted, cobbled main road, admiring the weathered shops lining the village on my way to run some errands.
I steered my grandfather’s Jeep into the sixteen-space parking lot behind Village Grocery and slid into a spot in the shade of a black walnut tree whose branches overhung the boundary fence. With my stash of reusable bags in one hand and my list in the other, I crossed the cracked macadam and ducked in through the back door of the grocer’s. This was not the thing to do if you wanted to slip in unnoticed.
My eyes had yet to adjust to the sudden shift in light when a cheery voice called, “Good morning, Georgia!”
I stood just inside the door at the back end of the produce aisle and tried to identify the hulking shape of the man who greeted me. “Morning, Misterrr . . .” I began, hoping he would throw his name into the hole in my memory. No luck. He slowly came into focus, a half-bald gent in a white polo shirt and pale khaki trousers standing behind a fruit-strewn cart. His face was familiar, but his name remained elusive. While the awkward silence built, his smile faded.
“Harper,” he said at last. “Bill Harper.”
“Right. Harper. Sorry.” I tried for a smile; it might have come off looking like I was about to be ill.
He returned this with a grin that might be gas. “Can I help you find anything?” he asked.
I pointed along the produce aisle stretching behind him. “This is all I need.”
“That right? You’re not going to pick up anything for Pete?”
I called my grandfather Grandy. Hearing him referred to by his given name would take some adjustment. “Not today, thanks. Plenty of cake and cookies in the house as it is,” I joked, chuckling a little and looking to Mr. Harper as a fellow conspirator.
I stopped chuckling, cleared my throat, but his scowl didn’t budge. “Okay, then. Well. You know I think I’ll just hold off on the groceries until I’ve done the rest of my errands. Don’t want anything to spoil in this heat.” I forced a smile then scuttled past Mr. Harper. The grocery store aisles were no more than forty feet long yet I wished like mad they were shorter.
Talk about getting off on the wrong foot. Grandy had introduced me to Mr. Harper in the middle of the Sunday after-church rush at Rozelle’s Bakery. Really, was it so unforgivable that I couldn’t remember his name? I met a lot of people that day, before I had my coffee. I’m not a miracle worker.
The front door swung open automatically at my approach, and I left the market feeling far less assured than when I’d entered. I kept my head down as I walked away, reluctant to make eye contact with anyone else who might expect me to remember their name and take offense if I didn’t.
Homesickness rushed up and blindsided me. I missed New York City. I missed the noise and the fast pace and the strange marriage of anonymity and camaraderie. In the life I’d led, I knew Mr. Wang operated the produce shop on Third Street that sold the most amazing Asian pears. I’d shopped there every week. But it had taken more than eight months of residency for me learn his name, and a few months more for him to start putting some of the juiciest pears aside for me.
I missed the life I’d left.
Stopping on the old brick sidewalk as though something more substantial than a tear had caught my eye, I turned to face the display window of a narrow shop. I used the moment and the illusion to take a deep breath. Inside the shop, on the other side of aggie’s gifts and antiques painted on the glass, a smiling face gazed out at me. The woman waved then motioned emphatically for me to step inside.
Fighting the urge to look over my shoulder to see who she was waving at nearly made me shake, but I knew there were few people on the street. Who else but the elderly and unemployed would be wandering the village midmorning on a Monday?
With my forehead wrinkled in confusion, I sidestepped to the door—a lightweight wooden door with three-over-three windows, the kind you’d find on any home in any town where theft and vandalism were rarities. Sure enough, pushing the door open sent the little bell above it jingling. No high-tech electronic sensors for Wenwood, not when the old-fashioned methods worked just fine.
I stopped just inside the shop, angling my head to where the woman stood. “I . . .” I began, but I had no idea where to go from there.
“You’re Georgia, aren’t you? Pete Keene’s granddaughter?” She was older than me, but not by much, mid-thirties maybe, simply dressed in a polo shirt and jeans.
“Um . . .” I hated to ask it, I really did. “How did you know . . .”
“Oh, your hair.” She nodded as if her response were perfectly obvious.
I forced a smile but I’m afraid I might have come off looking constipated. My hair is, in fact, remarkable. Not remarkable in the sense of salon-inspired conditioner commercials or studio cut and style. Not even in the wild heyday of fast finance could I afford hair like that. I had curly orange hair. And when I say that, I’m not being modest about my auburn tresses. Little Orphan Annie would laugh at my hair. Irish red, corkscrew curls, and fine as the day is long. Oh, yeah, I was a looker all right.
“Okay, so what is it that . . .” I had no idea how to ask the right question. Did she want something from me? Need something from me? Want to know when Grandy would give in already and start selling off some of the old family heirlooms? A quick scan of the shop, with its frames and old crystal, earthenware and accent tables, assured me that most of Grandy’s living room would look right at home in an antiques shop.
“It’s in the back,” she said, and headed away from the window and to the rear of the store.
“I’m sorry. What?” Was I supposed to follow her?
She spun, hand over her heart, and laughed. “I get ahead of myself.” Waving me closer, she continued, “I have a lamp in the back that needs a little restoration work. Pete was by the other day and told me you had some skill with stained glass. I was hoping you could look at it and let me know, well, you know, if you could help.”
Okay, so one of the few things I took with me from my city life and carted back to my second-chance starting line was a half-dozen boxes of stained glass materials and equipment. Yes, it was technically bringing the past to the future. But the best thing I found to relax me while I was working at Washington Heritage Financial was glass. And okay, I took up stained glass because the receptionist for the company advised me to take up a craft instead of blowing money on a psychotherapist. After looking up the cost of psychotherapists in the city, I figured crafting was worth a shot. I tried a few different things, learned I was more dangerous with knitting needles than I was skilled with them, ditto for quilting needles, before I discovered the immense satisfaction of breaking glass just so and assembling the aftermath of destruction into something beautiful. All the scattered pieces had a very special place. I was hooked.
So there should be no surprise that I eagerly followed the shopkeep through a narrow passageway to the back of the store.
“Are you Aggie?” I asked as she led me past an employee-only washroom and a paper-strewn inlaid desk that looked precisely like a piece I’d once admired in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
She reached for a switch plate, and the far end of the space was flooded with light. Stacked tables, tilting curio cabinets, and an old schoolhouse desk cluttered the right side of room, with smaller pieces shelved along the left. “Lord, no. Aggie was my grandmother. She ran the place until her Corolla was totaled in a snowplow drive-by and then she was off to Palm Beach, where it never snows and no one even owns a plow.”
While she rattled on about Granny’s home in Florida and her mother’s disinterest in running the antiques shop, I walked to the shelving to my left, chockablock with dusty miscellanea and stacks of dishes. On the floor in front of it sat a lamp that called to me as loudly as a Godiva salted chocolate bar.
I tiptoed close and knelt beside the lamp. Resting my shopping bag on the ground, I reached to finger the edge of the shade. It was a Tiffany style, better than two feet in diameter, with delicate iron scrollwork forming the base. The shade had a classic floral motif: full-blown blossoms and trailing leaves dappled by unseen sunlight. It was also missing a large portion out of one side, as though the lamp had fallen over and the impact had shattered the side on which it landed. A hint of sorrow washed through me to see the forlorn condition of such a beautiful piece. A wilted flower needs water to restore it to beauty; this lamp needed me.
And yes, I know that sounds super-presumptuous and self-aggrandizing. But I’d just lost my job, my home, and my fiancé. I was in need of a little positive-self-talk pick-me-up. And maybe some of that Godiva.
“What do you think?” Aggie’s granddaughter asked. I had no idea when she’d stopped talking about the migratory patterns of her female ancestors. The lamp held me enraptured.
I stood and wiped the dust from my palms. “All right if I take it back to Pete’s to work on it?”
Her hand fluttered at her throat. “Really? Are you sure? You really think you can restore it?”
“I can try.” Then I confessed, “I would be truly honored to try.”
Her smile did more to start a friendship than all her chatter about Florida. “I’m Carrie, by the way,” she said. She extended a hand and ducked her head a bit. “I should have started with that, huh?”
“Leading with the lamp was good.”
Laughing, she shook her head. “You must think I’m crazy.”
“Well, now that you mention it . . .” I grinned to show her I was kidding. There was something about Carrie—about the way she stood close enough to be friendly but far enough to be respectful, about the way she looked straight at me when she spoke, and the way she kept her back straight and shoulders squared like she was ready to take on the world—that I instantly liked. “Just one question, though. You said you knew me by my hair, but . . .”
“Oh, that. Helen told me you’d be easy to spot.” Carrie wandered to the doorway leading to the front of the shop and peered out—perhaps in case an antiques hunter with highly honed espionage skills had entered the shop without setting off the jingly bell.
“And Helen is . . .” A butcher block table huddled beside the lamp, its surface scattered with gift boxes in a variety of sizes. Spools of boldly colored curling ribbon were affixed to the side of the table, tails dangling like strings of gems in the sunlight of the high-set window at the back of the room. I tugged on a bit of bright green, the texture of the ribbon somehow soothing beneath my fingertips. “I don’t remember meeting anyone named Helen.”
Carrie returned her attention to me. “Helen is Grace’s sister.”
Not a big help. “So who’s Grace?”
“Grace runs the luncheonette. See, she gets her rolls from Rozelle’s Bakery. And I guess you were in there with your granddad?” Carrie’s brow puckered, intimating she herself wasn’t quite clear on the progression of the gossip. I couldn’t blame her. That was quite a chain to go through. My arrival in town and visit to the bakery appeared to have made something of a stir. I wasn’t sure whether I should be flattered or frightened.
I told Carrie I had a few things to pick up while I was in town and promised to stop back for the lamp before I headed home. Then I was back on the sidewalk still carrying my empty grocery bag. If I’d had a schedule to maintain, I would have been a full half hour behind. Since the only schedule I had to adhere to ran on the whims of my imagination, I walked slowly up the street, nodding good morning to the odd passerby, trying to match them with the vehicles lining the road. A battered pickup, a faded minivan, a late-model Buick . . . those people I felt confident in identifying. But I had no idea who on earth would have driven the Jaguar parked in front of the hardware store. Surely anyone who drove a Jaguar could afford to hire someone to do their household handiwork.
Hand on the door latch, I eyed the sleek car at the curb, dimly aware of the sounds of heated words coming from the other side of the hardware store entrance. For a moment I considered delaying my stop there for a while longer, at least until the shouting stopped. Certainly I could take the time. But I’d spent too much time in a too crowded city to be dissuaded by the bluster of arguing men. It didn’t sound as though anything was being smashed or thrown, so in I went.
Like the door at the antiques shop, a jingling bell announced my entrance. Voices that were no more than disjointed sound clarified into words.
“. . . need you coming in here and treating me like some country bumpkin. I’ve been in this business for forty-two years! Forty-two years! I was sorting two-penny nails before your parents even said ‘I do.’”
I edged along the perimeter of the store, scanning shelves for caulking guns and caulk. Nothing I spied as I peered up the dusty aisles inspired me with confidence that I would find anything I sought.
“I respect the experience you bring to the field—” This second voice sounded measurably calmer than the first, though easily as firm.
At the last aisle I resigned myself to the necessity of asking the hardware store owner for his assistance. It was impossible for the shop not to have a caulking gun. More than likely it was a behind-the-counter item. Still, I sensed this was not the best time to request help.
“Respect? You haven’t shown me an ounce of respect since you and the rest of your associates first came in here, trying to snow me with stories of revitalization and renewal. Those were your words: revitalization and renewal. And look how far you haven’t got since then.”
Turning back the way I came, I tiptoed for the door.
“Mr. Edgers, a project of this scale takes careful organization and timing. I assure you we are going forward with construction as planned—”
“Oh, you assure me, do you? Funny, I don’t seem to have any faith in your assurances anymore. I don’t need promises, Himmel. I need you to place that order, or else.”
“Or else, Mr. Edgers? That sounds almost like you’re working your way to an ultimatum.” The man’s voice went all smooth and shrewd at the same time. A shiver worked its way up my spine in response.
There followed a quiet that was almost as unnerving as the shouting had been. I stopped and stood as still as I could, unwilling to call attention to myself. I wanted to creep out quietly. But what with the bell and all, it was really too late for me to slip away unnoticed.
“And you. Whoever you are that’s creeping around my store,” Mr. Edgers called loudly, “I know you’re here to back up your boss. You not man enough to show yourself?”
Was I not man enough? Lord, I hoped not. But I was woman enough to show myself even though I’d rather make a quick getaway. I had bigger things to fear than some guy in a hardware store—I hoped.
I moved into the aisle that gave me a clear view of the register at the back of the store, and the owner had a clear view of me. He had both palms flat on the battered wood counter before him, his wrinkled face drawn in a scowl. Some long-ingrained conditioning made me expect to see his expression shift into surprise when he saw I was a female. When his expression turned to one of distaste instead, I was the one surprised.
“What do you want?” he practically growled.
His unconcealed animosity rendered me speechless.
The man who stood facing him, the man I presumed to be Mr. Himmel, turned in my direction. He folded his arms across his chest, the soft fabric of his pale gray suit not making a sound, and tipped his head slightly as he regarded me with the bluest eyes I’d ever seen outside of a Tiffany stained glass window.
“Well?” Edgers snapped.
I flinched and took one cautious step forward. Great. A surpassingly handsome man stood at the end of the aisle, probably the guy who owned the Jaguar, and I was dressed for a day of errands and caulking the bathtub. Plus, you know, Little Orphan Annie. “I can come back,” I said.
But Edgers eyes narrowed. “Oh, hell. You’re Georgia Kelly, aren’t you? You’re Pete’s family.”
I nodded, smiled a little. “Yeah, but that’s okay, I can come back. I see you’re busy.” And there was a great big chain store just over an hour away. Suddenly, the long drive didn’t seem like such an inconvenience.
“That’s not the best idea you could have,” Edgers snapped. “Didn’t your granddad tell you anything? Didn’t he tell you not to bother coming in here asking for my help?” He leaned closer over the counter, as though at any moment he might vault over it and make a mad grab for my throat.
I was in the twilight zone. And it was scary. Even Mr. Himmel looked all at once like he’d rather be elsewhere.
“I’m sorry,” I said somewhat defensively. “He never mentioned any—”
“Now whose fault is that?”
“Whoa.” I held up a hand. Mr. Himmel shifted his gaze to Edgers, lowered his brow in something that might have been thought. Or a migraine. “Enough already. I’m leaving. Happily.”
I turned my back on the men and stomped toward the door. Of course, the stupid curls bouncing on my head probably took a measure of dignity out of my exit.
On the sidewalk I glared at the Jag. I thought about kicking the car. Probably the thing was alarmed. I shifted my focus to the tires. Tires weren’t usually alarmed, were they? Seemed like I should have done something to show my displeasure at Himmel just standing there, watching Mr. Edgers spit vitriol at me, without so much as pretending he might step in and do something gentlemanly like defend my honor or my innocence or my right to unimpeded retail indulgence.
Jerks, the both of them.
I reined in my anger enough to retrieve the lamp from Aggie’s Gifts and Antiques and stock up on fresh produce—and some ice cream—without lashing out at any of the nice people of Wenwood. Unfortunately, being alone in the car on the drive back to Grandy’s allowed me to work up a good head of steam. By the time I pulled into the driveway and climbed out of the Jeep, I was seething.
Seriously, who talked like that to a customer? Who turned away potential business with insults? And what’s more, who stood there and took that treatment and meekly ran away?
That last one would be me. And it was me I was most angry with. And disappointed. I was made of tougher stuff—or at least I had been. If this new mild me was an effect of having my life turned upside down, I was going to have some adjusting to do. Better yet, I was going to have to get over myself.
Grocery bag in hand, I slammed the back hatch on the Jeep. All things made of glass were best left untouched while rage was in the blood, so I left the damaged stained glass beauty for a calmer moment. Still, Grandy was at the threshold of the house, holding open the screen door and peering at me with concern.
“Go easy on the car, Georgia. It’s only made of steel,” he said. Grandy liked understatement. And sarcasm.
I slipped past him into the house, straight through the living room and on to the kitchen, where I had the presence of mind to rest the bag of produce on the worn Formica counter gently. I had deep-seated issues with bruised fruit.
“Want to tell me what happened?” Grandy leaned against the entryway to the kitchen, arms folded, one ankle crossed over the other. It was the pose of a younger man, not a man pushing eighty. But that’s Grandy for you—always defying expectation and convention.
“You know your bathtub needs caulking,” I said.
He nodded and hmm-ed as if he’d done career time as a therapist. “And what am I to infer from that? That you’re angry with me?”
I wrenched open the door to the fridge and grabbed a pitcher of cold tea before meeting his eyes. “I was idiot enough to think you hadn’t done it because you—” I didn’t finish the thought, preferring instead to busy myself with pulling a cup from the age-stained maple cabinet and pouring the tea, buying time.
But Grandy unfolded his arms and stood straight. “Because you think I’m too old to maintain my own home?”
“Because your eyeglasses . . . because all the bending . . . all right, yes, because of your age.” I closed my eyes for a second and let the guilt wash over me.
“You could have just said you thought I hadn’t gotten around to it, you know,” Grandy grumbled.
I didn’t want to look at him. The idea of him being hurt because of something I said was bad enough. To have a visual to go along with it bordered on unbearable.
Still, I could hear the suspicion in his voice when he asked, “So you thought you would do it for me and not tell me? Say, on a night I’d be at the office?”
“Yes, okay? That’s exactly what I thought.” I didn’t mention that I thought calling the movie theater “the office” was somewhat exaggerated. It was still work; he did own the place. And there was a room that functioned as an office. Still . . . “So now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, how about you tell me why the cranky pants at the hardware store believes you should have warned me not to go in there?”
His expression blanked. “To the hardware store? Why shouldn’t you go there?”
“You tell me.” I took a breath, not wanting to sound argumentative. “I stopped in for a caulking gun.”
“I have a caulking gun.”
“Missing the point, Grandy. That guy took one look at me and knew exactly who I was and showed me the door.” The anger bubbled up again. I grabbed a cantaloupe from the shopping bag, pulled a knife from the woodblock beneath the window slanting sunshine into the room. “Apparently Pete Keene’s granddaughter is not welcome.”
“He said that?”
“Not in those exact words, but the heartless intent was there.”
Grandy remained quiet while I stabbed the cantaloupe and sliced open the sweet fruit. Tugging at a stubborn drawer with one hand and reaching for a paper towel with the other, I glanced his way.
If it were truly possible for a face to fill with storm clouds, Grandy’s face would have shown a tornado forming. His lightly tanned, lightly wrinkled skin turned a blotchy red from his chin all the way up into his drastically receded hairline. He clenched his jaw to the point that his cheeks bulged, and I worried about the durability of his dentures. It was enough to snap me out of my own anger.
Abandoning the drawer, I wiped my hands on the paper towel and hurried over to him. “Don’t worry about it, okay? Really, it’s no big deal.”
“Of course it’s a big deal,” he growled out. “Andrew Edgers has no right to talk to you or any of my family like that.”
“Grandy, it’s all right.” I took hold of his elbow and squeezed gently, as though that action might loosen and expel the anger building in him. “I’m overreacting. It’s . . . I haven’t been sleeping well. It’s so darn quiet here, who can sleep?” I joked. “It’s fine.”
“It’s not fine,” he grumbled. “You deserve to be treated with respect.”
Oh, gosh. Where was Grandy when my engagement was falling apart? “I’ve had worse, believe me. I never should have said anything. Let it go, okay? I’m sorry I brought it up.”
Though the tension relaxed out of the arm I held, his jaw remained tight. “Don’t be sorry,” he said. “You can tell me anything. I’m a tough old man. I didn’t get to be this old by being weak.”
That made me smile—a genuine, unforced smile. The idea of Grandy ever being weak was laughable. “All right. From now on you get all the humiliating, embarrassing details of my life, how’s that?”
Shrewd brown eyes peered down at me, their color faded but no less arresting. “I don’t want to hear about shoes or nail polish. I only want to hear the good stuff.”
Turning back to the split cantaloupe awaiting me on the counter, I laughed, thinking Grandy was back to his calm, jovial self. Though a part of me was still curious about the issue between Grandy and Andrew Edgers, I figured if Grandy could let it go, so could I.
Yup. Sometimes I can be a complete fool.
The basement room in Grandy’s house had once served as my grandmother’s art studio. Being that the house was a split-level, the “basement” wasn’t underground but at ground level. The two walls cornering into the yard had windows that caught the northern and eastern light. Grandma had kept her easel and paints against the wall shared with the garage. This allowed her to place her still life arrangements opposite, between the two full-size double-hung windows that filled the room with all-day sunshine.
It was there, in the corner between the windows, that I had dragged a battered old table and set upon it the mock-Tiffany lamp. Glass work benefited from every bit of available sunlight. I had spent the day before trimming back the vegetation outside the windows so that once again Grandma’s corner delivered sunlight with rays to spare.
With a microfiber cloth, warm distilled water, and a little mild dish soap, I carefully wiped the dust and grime and—ew!—spiderwebs from the lamp. Each careful stroke of the cloth allowed a little more light to shine through, until the shade of the lamp was exposed as a tumult of blues and greens. Cornflower, azure, periwinkle, and robin’s egg mingled and tangled with moss, sage, emerald, and forest. The pattern was a classic Tiffany design, creating the illusion that the lamp shade itself had been formed by nature, dripping with leaves and blossoms, filled with beauty and life.
Of course, nature didn’t have threads of lead separating leaf from petal. Even if it did, the lead wouldn’t be dusty with oxidization. After tugging on one of the several pairs of disposable cotton gloves I kept in my work box, I broke into my trusty reserve of cotton swabs, and began the meticulous work of cleaning the dust from the lead.
Caught in the hypnotic effect of the work, I lost track of time. Only the setting of the sun and the loss of light clued me in to the late hour. Grandy had long since headed out to work; I vaguely remembered mumbling a good-bye when he called down the stairs. I still had full daylight then. He liked to get to the dine-in theater he owned a solid hour before the box office opened for the seven o’clock show. As much as he swore he trusted his management staff, several times a week he would review the establishment like a general inspecting his troops.
Since I was already on a roll, and Grandy was safely out of my hair, I made myself a quick dinner that didn’t center on meat and potatoes, turned the radio up loud, and went to work cleaning the neglected portions of the house—the baseboards and ceilings, under the stove, behind the fridge . . . all the icky places.
Long past midnight I blindly threw all the rags and cleaning towels and clothes I’d been wearing into the washer but held off switching the machine on. I wanted to shower the grime off myself, scrub it out from underneath my fingernails, and otherwise wash away the day.
While the dirt and tension slid down the drain, I opened the door to the basement, where the wash waited, and made a critical error. I paused. I took a breath. And on the exhale I felt every muscle, every tendon go limp. I was tired and ready for bed and in no mood to trudge down the stairs. The washer held nothing I would need immediately. I decided the laundry could wait.
The next day followed the same path – stained glass work while the light was strong and housework while it wasn’t. Grandy stayed well out of my way and left for the theater without a word. I kept going, not resting until the house was dust-free and every inch of wood polished to a gleam.
After two days of scrubbing, sleep claimed me quickly. Sometimes I thought I was catching up on the sleep I’d lost during years in a high-pressure job, juggling the books for Washington Heritage Financial, trying to keep a handle on the flow of billions of dollars. Sometimes I thought sleep was putting the final touches on the healing of my broken heart. Sometimes I was just tired.
But never had I woken up to a pounding on the door quite like the pounding that woke me in midmorning. Panic gripped my gut. Something was wrong. What could be wrong? Grandy. Something had happened to Grandy.
I flew out of bed and down the stairs, heedless of the faded T-shirt and gym shorts I wore in lieu of pajamas. Worse, heedless of the state my hair might be in after falling asleep with it wet. This was perhaps something I should have heeded. When I ripped open the door, the first thing I noticed was the look of utter horror on the face of the man standing on the porch. The second was the shiny gold badge he held at eye level. The third, a uniformed officer standing at his side.
The twisting in my gut got a little tighter. “Yes?” was all I could manage.
The man with the badge shook his head slightly as though calling himself back to the moment. “We’re looking for Peter James Keene. Is he here?”
My mouth went dry. The police were looking for Grandy? Specifically? No way that could indicate a social call. I nodded and stepped back, gesturing for the gentlemen to come inside. “He should be—”
“What the blazes is going on here?” Grandy’s voiced boomed from the stairway.
I looked over my shoulder then scampered out of the way. Grandy stomped down the stairs, turning for the front door while cinching the belt on his old-fashioned dressing gown and glaring at the policemen.
The one in the suit brandished his badge again. “Detective Nolan, Pace County PD. Are you Peter James Keene?” he asked.
Grandy reached the threshold and stood toe-to-toe with the detective, glaring down at him. “And if I am?”
“I need to ask you to come with us, Mr. Keene. I have some questions I’d like to ask you.”
“So ask.” He folded his arms, straightened his spine. Amazing. Eighty years old, in plaid pajamas and a dressing gown, wearing slippers straight out of the fifties and still he was a tower of intimidation. Even the uniformed officer shifted nervously.
Detective Nolan kept it together. I guessed the gray peppering his dark hair and the faint wrinkles at the corners of his eyes were testament to his years of experience. “I’m afraid you’ll have to come along with us down to the precinct.”
“What’s wrong with here?” Grandy asked.
Sweat prickled my scalp. I finally broke my silence. “What’s going on? Grandy, did something happen at the theater?”
“I’m afraid your . . .” Detective Nolan hesitated, looking between Grandy and me.
“Grandfather,” I supplied.
Nolan nodded. “. . . needs to answer some questions for us. And it would be best if he came along willingly and quietly.”
A whole new knot made its presence known in my belly. This was worse than bad, even though I didn’t know what worse than bad was called. Terrible? Horrible? Disastrous?
One question squeaked out. “Grandy?”
He looked to me, his expression softening as his posture relaxed. “I’m sure it’s nothing, Georgia. Just some sort of, er, formality.”
“Formality for what? What’s going on?” I tried to move closer to Grandy, but Detective Nolan reached out a hand to stop me. “Hey.”
Grandy turned to me with a slight smile. “It’s all right, Georgia.” He meant to reassure me, but the unease was clear in the pucker of his forehead, in the narrowing of his eyes. That only intensified my worry. “Why don’t you give us a few minutes’ head start and then follow? I’m sure we won’t be long and I’ll need you to drive me home.”
This was even weirder than the police presence. “Are you actually going to leave the house in your dressing gown?”
Grandy turned his gaze to the detective, a question in the lift of his brow.
Nolan shook his head. “You’re dressed enough.”
“In that case, Georgia, when you come, bring me a shirt and trousers, will you?” He turned to the door, and the uniformed officer preceded him onto the porch, but glanced back over his shoulder. “And some shoes?”
Arms wrapped around my body, hugging myself, I nodded. All at once, reality was something I was observing, not participating in. My mind couldn’t grasp any scenario in which Grandy would be taken in for questioning. What could he have done wrong? Mixed whiskey with his prune juice?
I stirred myself enough to cross to the open door. Outside, Detective Nolan shut himself inside a deep blue sedan while the uniformed officer assisted Grandy into the back of a squad car. Grandy didn’t look my way, instead looking straight ahead with a calm sort of dignity.
Not until both cars had pulled away did I close the door and get it into gear. I didn’t want Grandy sitting in the police station any longer than necessary.
I raced around the house, dressing, gathering clothes and shoes for Grandy, and shoving them into one of my trusty reusable shopping bags. With no time to do anything elaborate, I scraped my wild curls back into a soft ponytail. Flip-flops, purse, and keys to the Jeep and I was out of the house.
Crossing to the car, I spied the little cluster of gawkers across the street. Of course. Nothing brings neighbors together like a little police action.
“Everything okay?” one of the ladies called. “Pete all right?”
“Fine,” I shouted back. “Thanks for asking.” And I ducked into the car before any further questions could be lobbed in my direction.
I shoved the key in the ignition and wasted no time backing out of the driveway and racing down the street, away from curious neighbors.
Of course, once I reached the end of the street, I realized I had no idea where the police station was located. Yeah, I’d call that a flaw in the plan.
After putting some distance between me and Grandy’s street, I steered the Jeep to the curb and threw it into park. With the engine’s motor still running, and the dappled sunshine of a spreading maple tree shading me from the morning sun, I grabbed my smartphone out of my purse and did a map search for Wenwood Police Department.
The search returned no results. Drat. The jurisdiction must fall to the county. I closed my eyes and tried to recall the details of the uniform the officer wore to the house. My memory showed me a field of deep blue, a shield and name tag over the left breast. But it was the points of his collar I was interested in. I could visualize a precinct number there. The more I tried to focus, the more I worried my memory was painting in details from the city police uniform with which I had become so familiar.
I eased back onto the road and pointed the Jeep in the direction of the village. Someone there would be able to tell me where the station was, if I didn’t get struck by luck and pass it along the way.
Less than fifteen minutes had passed before the Jeep bumped along the old cobbled road bisecting the village. I rolled slowly along, reading shop signs in search of one wherein I thought someone would be able to help. When I spied the bakery, I knew I’d found a solution. What I needed to find was a parking spot. What I found instead were two more police squad cars and a yellow caution-tape barrier preventing anyone from entering the hardware store.
That knot once again took hold of my stomach. I flipped a U-turn and parked the Jeep on the opposite side of the street. Grabbing my purse, I hurried to the sidewalk in front of the hardware store and peered through the plate glass display window. All the lights were on, but I could see nothing beyond the rows of shelves I had wandered through two days before.
Determined to get some info while at the same time afraid of what I might learn, I headed up the street a little. Ahead, in front of Village Grocery, a cluster of senior citizens stood as if in conference. It reminded me of the scene across the street from Grandy’s house. Sweat prickled my scalp, from nerves or the heat or both, and I quick-timed it to Aggie’s Gifts and Antiques and burst through the door.
“Carrie?” I called over the jingling of the bell. “Hello? Are you here?”
Impatient, I circled the perimeter of the store, passing by jewelry armoires, quilt racks, an old vanity table to where the register sat midway along the western wall. Back to me, she was climbing down from a step stool, feather duster in her hand, when I found her.
“Carrie,” I said again.
Her eyes found me and opened wide. “Oh my gosh! Georgia, is it true? It’s not true, is it? It just can’t be.”
“I—uh—is what true? No, wait.” I squinched my eyes shut for a moment, as if that action alone could pause the conversation. “What happened at the hardware store?” I asked then opened my eyes.
Carrie’s eyes remained wide, and were now accompanied by a slack jaw. “It’s Andy Edgers,” she said. “Bill Harper found him yesterday morning, dead in the back room with . . . with . . .” She swallowed hard, and I imagined she had a knot in her throat as big as the one in my stomach. “With his . . . head . . . bashed in. Murdered.”
The knot burst open into a rush of queasiness. “Oh, my gosh,” I murmured. “Murdered? Holy cow.”
Okay, death did not stop the guy from being a jerk. Happily, I didn’t think for a minute the guy had it coming. He was mean. He deserved to have his house TPed or maybe as far as having his car egged. But murdered . . . wow. Still . . . “He must have really pissed someone off,” I murmured.
“Georgia.” Carrie stepped close, took loose hold of my elbow.
As her worried gaze met mine, the pieces fell into place. “No,” I said. Carrie asked if it was true. Andy Edgers dead. Grandy taken to the police station for questioning. “No, that can’t be.”
“Pete was in the shop the night before last. They’re saying they had a big fight.”
“Who are they?”
Carrie shrugged a little uneasily, took a tiny step back. “You know, people.”
“People like who?”
Her smile was a little wobbly. “It’s really not my place.”
I shook my head to clear away the unimportant thoughts. I was chasing after the wrong fact. Who was spreading rumors wasn’t the issue. “It doesn’t matter. Gran—Pete didn’t do anything.”
“I didn’t think so.” She let out a breath as though she’d been holding it. “And, I mean, you would know, right? You’re staying with him and all.”
“But okay, listen. The police . . .” Oh, mercy. I certainly didn’t want to announce Grandy had been picked up by The Detective and The Sidekick, but I needed to know which precinct house to go to. And if the town was talking, I didn’t want to add any grist to the gossip mill by asking anyone else for information.
I began again. “You know that lamp you need restored? I’ll do that job for free if you can give me some information and promise to keep a secret.”
Carrie took another small step away from me and leaned back a little. She regarded me through half-closed eyes. “It isn’t anything illegal, is it?”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Carrie, of course not.” I’d have stomped out right there but Carrie was the friendliest person I’d met. I needed to trust someone. Only time would tell if I’d made a good choice. If I hadn’t . . . well, it couldn’t get much worse, right? “I just need information and discretion. Deal?”
Again with the narrowed eyes. “I get to hear what you want before I agree.”
Shrewd. “Fine,” I said under a huff. “The police picked up Gra—Pete this morning and brought him to the station for questioning.”
That made her eyes pop wide again. “No! So it is true.”
“Just, don’t tell anyone, okay? I need to go pick him up and I have no idea where to go. I don’t know where he’ll be. I don’t know what precinct Wenwood is in.” I stopped talking before the panic threatening within me escaped.
For longer than was comfortable for me, Carrie stood with eyes wide and her mouth slightly open. What seemed like forever later she shot into action, tossing the feather duster onto the checkout counter and racing to bolt the front door.
“I’ll drive,” she said, flipping the open sign to closed. “Come on. We’ll go out the back.”
“Come on.” She waved me along and bustled to the back of the shop.
Rushing to catch up, I called, “All I need is a precinct number, I swear. I can get directions off the map program on my phone.”
In the back storeroom Carrie snatched a pair of sunglasses from a workbench and took her purse off a hook. “You need more than that. You’re going to a police station. You don’t want to do something like that alone. Forget the directions. You need a friend with you.”
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