Authors: Laurinda Wallace
“Really, Gracie, she’s not
old. She’s only 86 and all alone. I don’t think she even has a cousin left anymore. The church is her only family now, so visits are her weekly highlight.” Gloria turned up her coat collar and glanced at her husband, who was buttoning his long gray tweed overcoat.
“Are you ready, dear?”
“Yes, I am.” She scooped up her bag from the table. “Oh, and Gracie, you ought to think about visiting Mrs. Thompson. Take Haley with you. It would really cheer her up.”
“I’ll have to do that sometime.” Gracie tried to sound willing, but the last thing on her mind right now was making a visit to her third grade teacher who had stood her in a corner more times than she could count for talking. She was sure it had scarred her for life, but the punishment really hadn’t slowed down the talking. Gracie didn’t think that Mrs. Thompson had ever liked her very much. The scowl, which was Mrs. T’s trademark, was always pointed in Gracie’s direction, even when she was eating lunch in the school cafeteria, and talking was allowed. She was sure that the same look had been aimed with laser precision at the back of her head when they had both attended church.
Gracie quickly followed the Minders out the door. Snow was filtering from the pewter-colored sky. At least the wind wasn’t blowing too badly at the moment. She started the small SUV and headed back toward Milky Way Kennels. She was sorting out which guilt trip was most important to deal with—a long-term houseguest, visiting the elderly and infirm, or her lack of church attendance.
Sybil drummed her fingers against her thigh. The tortuous meeting had gone on for almost an hour. The girl was way too young to run this library. As usual, the new boss had a lot of ideas, but Sybil knew that they’d never work in Deer Creek. Why she’d been passed over once again for the job was a complete mystery. Alice had been singing this girl’s praises ever since they’d hired her. It was all a bunch of hooey. Now she and Patti were trying to survive a “team building” meeting. She doodled on the steno pad lying across her lap, trying to look up with interest at appropriate times.
“So, that’s about it. I’m really so glad that I have such experienced staff to help me get off on the right foot. Are there any questions?” Terry asked cheerfully.
“No. I think you covered everything. We need to open. Are we done?” Sybil couldn’t wait to leave the office that should have been hers—at least three times now. Maybe it was time to look for something else. But after 27 years, where would she go?
“Sure, let’s open. I’ll be down in a few minutes.”
“You don’t expect us to dress up from now on, do you?” Patti nodded at Terry, who was dressed in a gray tweed suit and black pumps.
“Oh, no. What you’re wearing is fine.” She slid her hands self-consciously along the wool skirt.
Sybil smiled at Patti. That little comment had knocked Terry off the pedestal she’d been preaching on. The cousins marched down the wrought iron spiral staircase single file to the main floor. Sybil went straight to the front door and unlocked it. Bending over to check the book drop, she pulled a half dozen hardcovers and a couple of paperbacks from the box.
Patti turned on the computer and logged into the system. The day’s mail lay unopened on the counter. She pulled reading glasses from her purse and began sorting through it.
“Another invoice from Harris Accounting,” she sniffed.
“Nice to be the treasurer and bill the library for your services,” Sybil grumbled.
“How does that work?” Patti asked, piling the invoices together and keeping the magazines in another stack.
“It’s working for Alice. The board has to be blind or something, letting her charge for all these ‘special services’ she says she’s doing. Let me have those, I’ll take them to new boss, or should I say ‘team leader.’”
Patti handed the envelopes to her cousin who immediately stalked up the stairs.
“You need to take a look at what Alice Harris has been charging for these appraisals and whatnot for the library,” she said, standing over Terry, placing the pile in front her.
“What do you mean?” Terry’s eyebrows rose as she unfolded the invoice, outlining transportation charges and meeting time with Bostwick Appraisals. “What would the library need to have appraised?”
Sybil exhaled with a moment of satisfaction. That should stir the pot.
Theresa Clark sat at her kitchen table, scanning the classifieds for rental properties. So far, there were only two today that were within 10 miles of Deer Creek. She sighed and folded the paper. She couldn’t believe that between Gloria Minders and herself, they hadn’t been able to find a decent apartment or house in town, or even outside of town. The last place she and Gloria had looked at was in bad need of paint, cleaning, and the bathroom was so outdated, she wasn’t sure it even worked properly.
“Hey, how’s the house hunting coming?” Her husband Bob padded into the kitchen in his corduroy slippers, wrapped in a thick brown robe. His silver hair was receding in the front, but remained thick in the back.
“Not good, and what are you doing out of bed?”
“I can’t just lie around. I’ve got to get up and do something.” He poured himself a cup coffee and grabbed the front page section of the newspaper.
“You have bronchitis. You’re supposed to rest and let the antibiotic work.”
“It’ll work if I’m in bed or if I’m up doing something.” He began coughing and sputtering, trying to catch his breath. He leaned against the kitchen counter, his face beet red.
“Bob, go back to bed. I’ll make you some tea and toast and bring it up to you. I don’t want you getting pneumonia.”
After the coughing spasm abated, Bob managed a strangled, “OK.” He left the coffee on the counter and managed to cough only twice climbing the stairway to their bedroom.
“Men. Why are they so stubborn?” Theresa called after her husband.
He waved his right hand in the air, acknowledging his defeat as he plodded up the last two steps.
She put the tea kettle on to boil and began arranging her famous invalid plate of toast, jam, and red Jell-O. It was colorful and easily digestible.
Gracie knocked on her mother’s kitchen door and breezed in with her parents’ mail.
“Here you go, Mom,” she said tossing it on the counter.
“Thanks. Do you want a cup of tea? I’m making one for your Dad.”
“No, I can’t stay. Is Dad still sick?” She saw the red Jell-O and knew the answer. Why her mother thought gelatin made you feel better was always a mystery. But no matter what ailment she and her brother had contracted growing up, the “sickey plate” as they called it, appeared.
“He’s got bronchitis, and I’m having a time of it keeping him in bed. The doctor wants him to take it easy for a week and you’d think the man had been given a life sentence.”
“That’s Dad. It’s hard to keep a good man down.”
“Dumb is more like it. If he catches pneumonia, I’ll really give him what for.” Theresa buttered two pieces of toast, cut them on the diagonal, and scooped red Jell-O into a custard cup. The kettle whistled and she quickly poured boiling water into a large brown cup.
“Any luck on the housing front for Terry?”
“Not really. I can’t believe there aren’t any properties available right now. I’m calling Isabelle today to see if she knows of any.”
Isabelle was Gracie’s cousin and perennial nemesis. Since Isabelle’s change in marital status last summer, Gracie was of the opinion that Izzy had gone over the edge. She had been on a cruise, bought a restored classic Mustang, and was now working on her realtor’s license. For someone who had always been totally in control, Gracie had decided months ago her cousin had flipped out. Greg and Anna, her two teenagers had agreed when she’d talked with the pair a few weeks ago.
“Not, Isabelle, Mom,” Gracie groaned. “I don’t want her mixed up in this. Terry has enough to deal with without Isabelle.”
have enough to deal with,” her mother said with one hand perched on her hip. She swirled the teabag and squeezed it out with a spoon before putting the cup on the wooden ebony tray. “She might have connections that are helpful. I don’t have any other ideas, so I need to at least talk to Isabelle.”
“I’m thinking about asking Terry to stay with me for a few weeks. It seems to be working out, and maybe a really good property will be available by March.”
“Maybe. You’re sure you want company that long? You know, you like your privacy.”
“I know, but it seems to be …”
“Sorry, Gracie, but I’ve got to get this tray up to your father. I’ll be right back.” Theresa hurried up the stairs, while Gracie wandered to the living room and stared out the front windows. She was surprised to see Alice Harris’ car pull up across the street. The big woman trudged up the unshoveled front walk to the Silverbrandt’s house that was kitty corner from her parents’ house. Alice rang the bell, and Gracie saw Si Silverbrandt, the tax assessor, open the door. Alice brushed past the slightly built man and the door closed.
“Gracie, where are you? I’m back,” her mother called from the kitchen.
“I’m in here, spying on the neighbors.”
“Oh, was Alice Harris visiting the Silverbrandt’s again?”
“What? Do you have radar or something?”
“No. It’s just that she’s been there two or three times since the fire. Probably has something to do with getting that assessment lowered, since the house is a total loss.”
It was a reasonable assumption. Gracie shrugged and walked back into the kitchen. She grabbed a peanut butter cookie from the large brown and yellow owl cookie jar on the counter.
“She must be pretty anxious, if that’s the case,” Gracie said, taking a generous bite of the soft cookie. Only her mother made soft, chewy PB cookies. Everyone else’s were crunchy.
“Well, it’s only a guess, but she does own a lot of properties.”
“Why would she go to his house and not the office on Main Street?”
“I think he’s working out of his house this winter.”
“Hmm.” Gracie chewed the last bit of cookie and picked up her gloves from the kitchen table. It seemed kind of strange to her, but then a lot of stuff did. “Well, Mom, I’ve gotta go. Tell Dad to feel better. Fish on Friday night?” The Friday night fish fry was a long established tradition with the Clarks.
“Of course. You’ll pick them up, right? I hate driving in this weather, and I don’t want your Dad doing too much.”
“I’ll pick them up. Maybe Marc will come along if he’s off, and Terry might want to come too.”
“That would be nice. See you later. I’ll have Isabelle call Terry if she has any leads.”
“Great, Mom,” Gracie said with more than a touch of insincerity. With Isabelle involved, there was sure to be more drama than necessary in a simple hunt for a rental.
She earned a motherly look of reproof for her effort. Gracie sat in her vehicle, waiting for it to warm up, and watched Alice Harris stomp out to her car with manila folders in her hand. The woman was definitely not happy. Gracie pretended to adjust her rearview mirror in case the woman glanced her way. She pulled out of her parents’ driveway, well behind the black sedan that fishtailed slightly on the snowy street.
Terry’s car was parked in the side parking lot of the library when Gracie cruised down Main Street. Impulsively she turned in to see how Terry was managing the cousins. It was almost closing time anyway.
She pushed open the heavy door and inhaled the welcoming scent of books. Patti looked up from her computer screen, which displayed a game of Solitaire.
“Hey, Gracie. We haven’t seen you around lately.”
“No time to read unfortunately. Is Terry upstairs?”
“I guess so.” Patti turned back to her game.
Feeling a little important to climb the winding stairs, since they’d always been off limits, Gracie heard Terry speaking in low tones. Maybe she had someone in her office.
“Hi, Terry,” she called.
Sable and Max appeared with wagging tails.
“Hey, guys! You
be well-behaved to go to the library.” She rubbed their ears and rumps as she entered the office.
Terry put the phone in its base and smiled.
“Hi there! Stopping by to check out a book?”
“I wish. Just thought I’d see how you were settling in.”
“Well … it’s interesting. Have a seat.” Terry picked up a stack of publications from the chair next to the desk, plopping them on the credenza behind her.
“The cousins a little uncooperative?” Gracie asked, settling into the chair.
“Yes, but not unexpected. I have a much stickier issue to deal with. Have you got a minute?”
“Sure.” Gracie pulled the chair closer to the desk. “What’s up?”
“It’s my landlady, I guess, former landlady. She seems to be charging a lot of accounting services to the library and she’s the treasurer.”
“Really? That sounds like a conflict of interest to me.”
“Me too. But it’s been going on awhile. I was just talking to Will Dover, the president of the board, but he seems a little funny about it. I’m too new to press it. Sybil brought it to my attention.”
“Maybe Sybil just has some sour grapes over Alice. Will’s a good guy. He’s been a friend of my Dad's for years. It’s probably a misunderstanding of some sort.”
“Maybe. I’ll let it lie for now.”
“So, you brought the dogs to work?” She scratched behind Max’s ears.
“I did. I don’t like working here at night by myself, so they’re good company. Plus, the janitor is Sybil’s husband, and he gives me the creeps.”
“Jack? I didn’t know he worked here too. I thought he had plenty to do at the hardware.”
“I don’t know the situation, but he comes in to clean every night, and he plows the parking lot. He doesn’t like dogs, and he doesn’t like me.”
“Give him time. He and Sybil are two peas in a pod though.” Gracie shook her head and smiled. “You do have your work cut out for you.”
“Oh, yes, and there’s a fundraiser next month. Wouldn’t you like to volunteer to help with the St. Paddy’s Day party, The Givin’ o’ the Green?”
“Yikes! Let me think about it. I’d better get home. I have a ton of accounting to do myself. It’s payroll this week.”
As Gracie pulled out onto Main Street, she noticed Jack Greene throwing garbage bags into the dumpster. On his way back to the library, he knelt in the snow and picked up something that she couldn’t make out. He stuffed it in his coat pocket and went back inside.