Murder On The Mind

Murder On The Mind

Murder On The Mind 36

  * * *

  I must’ve dozed off, because the next thing I knew noises from the kitchen woke me.

  Brenda sat at the table. The eggs were in a shallow bowl, already boiled and cooled. She measured water into four old-fashioned glasses. “Hey, Jeffy, sit your butt down and let’s decorate these eggs.”

  “Coffee,” I rasped. “Got any instant?”

  “Not in this house. I’ll make some while you fix the colors and start dunking.”

  I read the directions and dropped dye tablets in the glasses. Then I picked up the transparent wax crayon that came in the package and took an egg in hand.

  “What’re you going to draw?” she asked.

  “An Easter cross.”

  “Draw flowers, too.”

  “But all I can make are dumb-looking tulips.”

  “Just make it pretty.”

  She brought over two steaming mugs. After two weeks, she knew just how I liked my coffee. We sipped our coffee and dipped eggs like a couple of contented children. I debated spoiling the mood, but something had been nagging me.

  “Brenda, why don’t you and Richard get married?”

  The joy of the moment left her face. She stared at the glass of blue colored dye, taking her time to mull over the question.

  “Jeffy, there’s a lot of guilt involved when you love a white man,” she said, her voice soft. “Some of the worst racists I know are African-Americans. Some in my own family.”

  “Your mother?”

  She nodded. “For most of my life I’ve worked in the white world. Two—possibly three—other people of color worked at the Foundation in Pasadena, but that’s all. I know I was hired as a token black, but that’s where it ended. I worked damn hard and I earned every cent of my pay. And I was paid well. I don’t need Richard’s money. I have my own and I spend it.”

  “You didn’t answer my question.”

  She frowned. “I was married before. To a man of color. He abused me. He felt emasculated because I had a better-paying job than he did.” She stopped, pursed her lips. “It’s more a woman thing than a race thing. I’m a person. I won’t be a man’s property ever again.”

  “But Rich isn’t like that.”

  “I know. But it’s been hard coming to Buffalo. It’s a conservative, blue-collar town. And this is a very white neighborhood. It would be difficult for Richard to live here with me as his wife.”

  “He loves you.”

  “It’s more complicated than just love.”

  I hesitated, almost afraid to voice my next question. “Are you going to leave him?”

  Her eyes flashed in anger; then she shook her head and picked up another egg, carefully dipping it into the glass of dye. “You’re braver than your brother. He’s afraid to ask that question.”

  “Don’t leave him because of me. I’ll go before I let that happen.”

  Tears brimmed her eyes. She reached for my hand. “Jeffy, nothing you could do would come between us. You could be the glue that ultimately holds Richard and me together.” She smiled at my puzzlement. “It’s okay, you don’t have to understand. I don’t even understand. But, like those visions you have and hold as truth, I hold this as truth.”

  I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about, but then we were hugging each other and I felt better.

  “What’s going on?” Richard asked, entering the kitchen.

  Brenda and I pulled back, looked at one another, and smiled.

  “Nothing,” I said and took another sip of my coffee. “Nothing at all.”

  “Sit down and draw a caduceus,” Brenda told Richard, the somber spell broken.

  “What on earth is that?” I asked.

  “The medical symbol. A snake and staff,” he explained, taking his seat. He turned to her. “And why would I want an Easter egg with a caduceus on it—if I could even draw one?”

  She held up one of the eggs decorated with my artistry. “Because this is the sorriest example of an Easter egg I’ve ever seen. You have to be better at it than your brother.”

  He shrugged and picked up the wax crayon. “It’s blunt.”

  “So sharpen it.” I handed him a paring knife. “Hey, guys, I’m going out with Maggie tonight. Should I tell her about this psychic stuff?”

  “Yes. If it’s going to make a difference, you want to know before you get too involved,” Brenda advised.

  “Just do what feels right,” Richard said. He frowned at the crayon. “How am I supposed to draw something as complicated as a caduceus when the crayon is clear wax and I can’t see what I’ve drawn?”

  “Draw a tulip. It’s easier,” I said.

  Richard’s artistic endeavors were no better than mine, I noted with satisfaction, but the egg-coloring project was a success, if only for the fun we had.

  We finished about five, which gave me an hour before Maggie arrived.

  I showered and changed and found myself sitting on the stairs by the front door like a dog awaiting its master. I admit it, I was looking forward to my night out. Since I still had cash left from my tax return, the evening would be on me—not her.

  With time on my hands, I thought about Rob Sumner. He knew—or suspected—a lot more than he’d let on. I prayed for sudden insight so I’d know what part—if any—he’d played in his father’s death. Not that I believed he participated in the murder, but I couldn’t shake the feeling he was somehow involved, however indirectly.

  And perhaps Sharon’s next victim?

  Now where did that come from?

  I was still pondering different scenarios, with Rob at the center, when the doorbell startled me. I jumped to my feet and opened the door. Maggie stood on the steps, poised to ring the bell again. Her unzipped, iridescent, down jacket seemed to waver between lavender and blue. Dressed in jeans, boots, and an emerald green sweater, she looked terrific.

  “Hello!” She took a step forward and gave me a quick peck on the cheek. “Good to see you looking better.”

  “Glad to be feeling better.” I held on longer than absolutely necessary, soaking up that wonderful, peaceful aura she seemed to emit. I stepped back. “Come on in.”

  “Sorry I’m late. Lily had a crisis. She ran out of whiskey and her boyfriend was coming over. Elderly love.”

  I suppressed a smile.

  She looked around the grand entry hall. “Great house. I could kill for a tour.”

  “It’s not mine, or I’d say yes. But I’ll bet Brenda could be talked into it. Come on. They’re in the study.” I didn’t bother to take her coat, as we were going to leave in only a few minutes. Maggie followed me through the long corridor to the opposite end of the house. Richard sat behind his desk; Brenda was on the couch facing the fireplace. “Rich, Brenda, this is my friend Maggie Brennan.”

  Richard stood. “Hi, Maggie, I think I recognize you from the bank.” He held out his hand to shake hers.

  Brenda came up behind her.

  “This is Brenda.”

  Maggie turned and blinked, momentarily startled. I may have forgotten to tell her Brenda’s black. “Oh. Nice to meet you,” she said, extending her hand.

  “We’ve heard a lot about you. I understand interior decoration is a hobby of yours?”

  “Yes. You have a lovely home.”

  “In desperate need of updating. Would you like a tour?”

  Smiling, Maggie glanced at me. “I’d love one.”

  The women disappeared and I scowled at Richard. “Well, I won’t be eating dinner for a couple of hours.”

  “Have a seat,” he said, gesturing me into the empty wing chair in front of his desk.

  He took his own seat and started flipping through pages of what looked like bank statements. “Counting your millions?”

  Richard frowned. “Take my word for it, having a lot of money is a burden.”

  “I could get used to it.”

  “I doubt it. I’m forty-seven years old. Brenda doesn’t want to get married, and she certainly doesn’t want children. So
what am I going to do with all that money in one lifetime?”

  “Give it away.”

  “I’ve been meaning to. Grandmother got burned by a bogus charity. I guess that’s why I’m stalling. I haven’t even invested the money, much to my accountant’s dismay. It just keeps growing, even though most of it just languishes in bank accounts.”

  “Give it away,” I repeated. “Make it a business. Check out every charity. If it’s legitimate, send them money.”

  “I’d have every charity in town kissing my ass.”

  “Give it anonymously.”

  He looked thoughtful. “Maybe.”

  “Just leave me a million or two, okay?”

  “I thought you liked your independence?”

  “I do. And I’m kidding.”

  He shrugged, the barest hint of a smile on his lips. “I’ll leave you a million anyway.”

  “Don’t hurry and die on my account. I kind of got used to having you around.”

  “Seriously, Jeff, years ago I offered to send you to college. That offer’s still open. Or I’ll set you up in business, if that’s what you want.”

  “Look, Rich, you could buy me my own insurance agency, or a McDonald’s franchise, but then it wouldn’t be mine. It wouldn’t be something I’d earned.”

  “I can lead you to the road to success. You’d have to stay there on your own. You’d do it, too. You have integrity, Jeff. And my offer stands.”

  “Then how about a compromise? I’m going to need transportation to find a job. Maybe in a couple of weeks we could go look at cars. But I’ll pay you back. It’s important to me to pay my way. Understand?”

  He smiled. “Too well. You’re as bad as Brenda.” He collected the papers in front of him, put them into a file folder, and deposited them in his desk.

  “What about you? What do you want to do?”

  He shrugged. “Brenda’s got her heart set on volunteering at a women’s clinic. But a clinic that also handles abortions is a little too high-profile for me. I want to help people, but I don’t want to be a target.”

  “How about opening your own clinic?”

  He shook his head. “All my money wouldn’t be enough to fund it. Plus the logistics are beyond comprehension. That’s why we’ve looked into working for an established clinic.”

  “Do you really want to volunteer your time?”

  “I might like to work at UB’s clinic. And maybe teach.”

  “What does Brenda think?”

  “I’ve bored her with it for so long she cringes at the mention of UB. But I always thought of the place as home. I know that sounds silly, but I do.”

  “No sillier than having visions and trying to solve murders. In fact, it sounds a helluva lot saner to me.”

  “The problem is nothing can compare with my job at the Foundation. I worked with some of the greatest minds and computer equipment.” He shook his head ruefully. “So much of my life was tied up in my work that I didn’t have time for anything else—except Brenda, and she shared that work.”

  “So, you’re not a shrink.”

  “No, but I’ve done my share of counseling other people.”

  Including me, I thought. “So what stage of grief are you in now?”

  “Acceptance. Thanks to you.”

  “You mean my pitiful life made you realize how good you’ve got it?”

  He looked stricken, until he realized my sarcasm held no animosity. “Actually, yes.”

  I shrugged. “I’m glad one of us got something out of this experience.”

  He leaned back in his chair. “Give yourself time. It’s taken me a year to get this far.”

  “Then talk to Brenda about UB. She’s cool.”

  He smiled. “You’re right, she is.”

  Maggie’s boot heels tapped on the parquet floor. Laughter preceded their entrance.

  “You ready?” I asked Maggie.

  “Sure.” She nodded at Richard. “Hope to see you again soon.”

  Brenda and Richard waved to us as Maggie backed out of the driveway, making me feel a bit like a kid out on a first date. She headed toward Main Street, then turned right, heading away from the city. “Where are we going?” I asked.

  She gave me a wry smile. “Nowhere fancy. Just good, cheap food.”