Murder On The Mind 2
“He’s different,” Richard said.
Hidden behind the butler’s pantry door, my head half-shaved like a punk rocker, eavesdropping on a private conversation . . . yeah, I’d say I was different.
“Of course he is,” Brenda said. “After what happened, I’d be surprised if he wasn’t.”
Broken arm, fractured skull. Emotional wreck. Working on paranoid, too. I leaned in closer, straining to hear.
“He’s keeping something from me.”
Richard didn’t know the half of it.
“What?” Brenda asked, over the clatter of silverware dropping into a kitchen drawer.
“He mentioned nightmares back at the hospital. I should’ve pressed him on it, but I don’t want to push him too hard. He still doesn’t trust me.” He fell quiet for a moment. “Something strange happened at the airport. I was looking for the claim checks. He knew they were in my wallet, but he hadn’t seen me put them there.”
“A logical place for them. Or maybe he’s psychic,” she offered offhand. The top dishwasher rack rolled out, glasses clinking.
Silence. I could imagine Richard’s stony glare.
“I’ll call UB Medical Center tomorrow,” Richard said. “See if I can find a doctor to treat him.”
“Then what will you do with him?”
“Nothing. He’s here to recover.”
“What if he wants to go back to New York?”
“Then he can go.”
The dishwasher door closed.
“Bull,” Brenda said. “You want him here. You want to turn his life around, remake him in your own image. But he’s your brother, not you. For years he’s made his own life without you. He’ll need to make his own life again. Don’t be disappointed when he no longer needs you.”
Trust Brenda to be pragmatic.
“Want sausage or linguine for dinner?” she asked.
Tiptoeing back to my room, I closed the door. I leaned against it, closed my eyes, unsure what I was feeling. Panic came close.
Yeah, I was different.
I stretched out on the single bed in that shabby little room and thought about what happened.
After six months of unemployment due to downsizing, I’d been about to resume my career as an insurance claims investigator. Until the mugging.
Ten days later, I was four hundred miles away, in Buffalo, New York, moving in with my older half-brother and his live-in-lover. Broke and dependent on their kindness, I was lucky to have somewhere to go.
Dr. Richard Alpert hadn’t changed much over the years. Silver now mixed with the dark brown hair around his temples, and in his full mustache. New lines creased his face, but along with the brains, Richard had the looks and, as sole heir, he now possessed the Alpert family fortune.
The flight from LaGuardia to the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport had taken fifty-seven minutes. With my skull-pounding headache, it felt like fifty-seven hours. Brenda Stanley, the pretty black woman behind the security barrier, waited for us. At thirty-four, a year younger than me, Brenda’s an old soul whose eyes reflected the depth of her compassion. After a quick kiss and embrace with Richard, she turned to me.
“Jeffy Resnick, you look like shit. You need to gain ten pounds, and I’m just the one to fatten you up.”
She was right about the weight loss. Ordinarily I’m just an average guy. Brown hair, brown eyes, and a respectable five-eight in height. More comfortable in denim than a suit and tie. Now my jeans hung from my hips. A sling hid the lightweight summer jacket—the only one Richard could find back at my apartment. A knit cap covered my partially shaved head.
Brenda frowned and, careful not to press against my broken arm, gently hugged me. She stepped back. “You two aren’t fighting, are you?”
“Brenda,” Richard admonished.
“Well, I know how it is when the old man and the kid get together.”
Because of a twelve-year age difference, Richard and I had never been close. Our reunion in the hospital in New York days before had been rocky. We’d called a truce. Now to see if we could live with it.
“We’re not fighting,” I assured her.
“Good. You two get the luggage,” Brenda said. “I’ll bring the car around. Those parking lot thieves are gonna hit me up for five bucks. Highway robbery,” she muttered, already walking away.
“Come on,” Richard said, and started off, following the overhead signs to the baggage carousel.
“Why don’t you marry Brenda and make an honest woman of her?” I asked, struggling to keep up.
“I’ve been trying to for years. She says it would break her mother’s heart.”
“Marrying a rich, white doctor?”
“It’s the white part that’s the problem.”
Richard had filled me in on the most recent details of their lives. I’d met Brenda only once several years before, when they’d come to Manhattan on business. I liked her right away. They had been colleagues at The American Patient Safety Foundation, a think tank outside of Los Angeles, where Richard evaluated new medical equipment. Brenda was a registered nurse and his assistant, although neither she nor Richard had worked much with patients.
Budget cuts ended both their jobs, and they moved back to the old homestead in Buffalo. With the inheritance, Richard didn’t need to work and he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do next. He seemed quieter, more introspective—if that was possible. I’d have to ask Brenda later.
We arrived at U.S. Airway’s baggage carousel, already in motion. Suitcases, boxes, golf clubs, and skis slid past the already thinning crowd. Richard patted his pockets.
“They’re in your wallet.”
“The claim tickets.”
A quick look in his wallet revealed the missing claim checks. Richard eyed me suspiciously. “Jeff, you were inside the terminal when the skycap gave them to me.”
Was I? I shrugged. “Lucky guess. But you don’t need them in the Buffalo airport. C’mon, let’s go home. I’d rather barf in familiar surroundings.”