Authors: D C Brod
Novels by D.C. Brod
Murder in Store
Error in Judgment
Masquerade in Blue
Brothers in Blood
Paid in Full
D. C. Brod
an imprint of F+W Media, Inc.
4700 East Galbraith Road
Cincinnati, Ohio 45236
Copyright © 2010 by D. C. Brod
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
This is a work of fiction.
Any similarities to people or places, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
eISBN 10: 1-4405-3098-X
eISBN 13: 978-1-4405-3098-2
This work has been previously published in print format under the following ISBNs:
In memory of my mother,
Ruth Elizabeth Ditzel Cobban
Many thanks go to writer and reader friends, and those who have supplied much-needed support and encouragement: Maria Alderson, Susan Anderson, Miriam Baily, Don Berk, Kathy Boller, Ann Brack Johnson, Mary Brown, Brian Davis, Ceclia Downs, Susan DeLay, Gail Eckl, Carol Haggas, Bob Keegan, Beth Mottashed, Patrick Parks, Laura Pepin, Joan O’Leary, Rachael Tecza and Laura Vasilion.
My husband, Don.
Ben LeRoy and Alison Janssen of Tyrus Books.
All the folks at Town House Books and Cafe in St. Charles, Illinois.
And, finally, thanks to Susan O’Neill for introducing me to Spud, Sassy’s inspiration.
The idea of stealing the money first came to me as I stood in line at Lundergren’s Liquors, my fist wrapped around a six-dollar liter of Chablis. It hit without warning and bored into my brain like a tiny meteorite, forever changing the landscape.
I quickly assured myself this was an intellectual exercise and not an actual idea. My mind tends to wander in bizarre places, but it usually comes home when called. I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear and focused on the squat little woman in front of me who was grabbing items from the counter displays and tossing them onto her pile. To her two six packs of Miller Lite, she added four Slim Jims, a bag of beer nuts and a lemon. Behind me, a man seemed to be carrying on an animated conversation with himself. But when I turned, I saw that the young, bald guy sported one of those ear phones. He looked like he was being assimilated into the Borg collective.
“I gotta stop at the deli for Carlisle’s liver scraps,” he was saying. I hoped Carlisle was their dog and not their two-year-old.
Robbing a store—how hard could it be? What would I use as a weapon? Not a gun. Those things can go off. Then what? Did anyone ever get away with the old stiff-finger-in-the-pocket ploy? The clerk calls your bluff with a Louisville Slugger and then what do you do with your finger? Nothing dignified, that’s for sure.
I watched as Marv Lundergren keyed in the woman’s purchases. Deep lines creasing his rough, reddened skin weighed down his features, rendering his expression immobile. When he’d rung up a total,
the woman began rummaging through her purse, finally emerging with a checkbook. “Can I write this for twenty over?”
“Sure.” Marv caught my eye and winked.
I tightened my grip on the Chablis, digging my nails into my palm. Of course I’d never rob a store in Fowler. Not only could I be recognized, but I’d never take money from someone I knew. Not that the folks up by the Wisconsin border or wherever I decided to pillage were any less deserving of their money. That was the problem: who did deserve to be robbed?
Having recovered a pen from her purse, the woman asked, “What’s the date?”
“August third,” I told her and added the year.
“Where does the time go?” she muttered as she began to fill out the check.
The cell phone talker behind me had moved on to another call. Maybe someone who bought dog food at the deli and couldn’t wait to get home to consult his stock broker deserved to be robbed.
As I watched Marv glance at the woman’s driver’s license and then pull two tens out of the till, it occurred to me that a liquor store heist would be pointless anyway. Even on a good day, the till probably didn’t contain more than a few hundred dollars. Most people used credit cards or wrote checks. In order to get the kind of money I needed, I’d have to rob a bank. And that was way too daunting. I sighed, more from relief than disappointment. That was when I realized I actually had been considering it. My scalp tightened.
I jerked out of my reverie and set the Chablis on the counter. “How’s it going, Marv?” I dug a five and two ones out of the canvas laptop satchel slung from my shoulder.
“Can’t complain. How’s your mom doing?”
Marv’s long, knobby finger punched open the drawer and plucked out my change.
“About the same.” I pocketed the coins and collected the bottle, now concealed in a paper bag.
“That’s a pretty nice place, isn’t it?”
“It is. She likes it real well.”
“Marcy Spender’s mother moved in there, didn’t she?”
I nodded. “I see her sometimes.” What I didn’t add was that my mother had pronounced Cloris Spender “duller than dirt.”
“Well, you give Lizzie my best.”
“Thanks, Marv. I’ll do that.”
As I stepped outside and into the damp heat, a wave of shame nearly flattened me. Whether I robbed Marv or a total stranger, I’d be turning someone into a crime statistic. The world was a scary enough place already.
Believing that ended my flirtation with crime, I filled my lungs with the muggy air and welcomed the return of my sanity.
A light rain began to fall. I tilted my chin up towards the solid gray sky and enjoyed the soft punches of cold against my face.
Rainy days accentuated Fowler’s blandness, which had to work some to get to pleasant on a crisp spring morning. Except for an occasional splash of color—a turquoise scarf, a basket of purple flowers in the florist’s window and a neon bar sign—the town looked like a film noir set. Along the wide, mostly empty sidewalks, a disturbing number of storefronts had a “to rent” or a “space available” sign propped or taped in their windows. I lived above a picture framing store that, in the two years I’d lived in Fowler, had also been a clothing boutique and a shop selling religious artifacts. Liquor stores and bars did well, and the coffee shop was always busy. A psychic had rented a retail space a half block from my apartment, so maybe that was a good sign. She ought to know.
Now that I’d determined that robbery was impractical, not to mention just plain wrong, I felt almost giddy. I didn’t want to steal anything. Aside from a souvenir ash tray and maybe a bar glass, I’d never stolen anything in my life. Even when the girls I’d aspired to
hang with in middle school dared me to steal—or “lift” as they’d eu-phemized—a tube of Yardley lip gloss, I’d declined. They’d called me “chicken” and shunned me at the lunch table. I suppose I was scared, but I also believed it was wrong. So why had it even occurred to me to knock off a liquor store? Maybe it was easy to claim the higher ground when you didn’t need the money. Or the lip gloss.
I considered walking to my destination, Dryden Manor, but decided I didn’t have the time. Not only did I have a three o’clock appointment with my accountant/financial advisor, but I was hoping to avoid April Clarke, Dryden’s director. I had a pretty good idea of her schedule—it paid to be attentive—and knew she usually took a late lunch. So if I got in and out of there by two thirty, I shouldn’t run into her.
I cut down the alley between the florist’s and the Depot to the small lot where I park my eleven-year-old Civic. The little green machine has got only thirty-five thousand miles on it, and I don’t think my mechanic believes me when I tell him the speedometer has never turned over. It hasn’t. The low mileage attests to the fact that I love to walk, don’t care to drive, and on most days I don’t stray far from home. The exception was taking my mother for a drive. There were times she got so antsy she couldn’t stand being indoors and around people. On those days we’d go for a long ride, usually out in the country, and the miles worked on her like a mild sedative.
I listened to a Vivaldi guitar concerto as I drove. He usually lightened my mood. As opposed to Beethoven, who made me want to conquer something. Or someone. I pulled into the lot at Dryden and let the strings crescendo and fade before turning off the car.
One of the things I liked about Dryden Manor was that I could honestly say I wouldn’t mind living there myself when my body and mind couldn’t make it on their own anymore. Not that I was planning for that to happen. I’ve never been able to imagine myself old, and I think there’s some timer in my head that keeps me from becoming too enamored with the idea of a long dotage.
From the outside, the building resembled an English Tudor estate surrounded by a thick, manicured lawn, mature oaks, pines and ashes, and seasonal gardens, now vibrant with purples, golds and pinks. Walking paths wound through the grounds and bordered the Crystal River, which ran the gamut from a meandering stream to a rushing torrent, depending on the amount of rain and the snow runoff. Today it flowed at a good rate, attesting to the wet spring and summer we’d had, and I took a moment to watch the current carry a narrow, twisted log downriver before I turned and headed up the walk.
I signed my name in the visitor’s register and rounded the time up to 2:15. The receptionist wasn’t the usual woman, but she seemed to know who I was and, with a wry smile, directed me toward the first floor lounge. “I think Lizzie’s holding court.”
That’s the thing about being Lizzie Guthrie’s daughter. People know me.
Two years ago when she moved to Dryden, I thought my mother was on her way out. She has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, brought on by years of smoking, and was wasting away, both physically and mentally. I believed that my mother had chosen her time, and while I wanted to respect that decision, I also wanted to see that she got some of the luxury and pampering she’d missed out on in her retirement. Dryden Manor was the place.