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Cruising toward home on U.S. 59, Dixie turned on the windshield defroster and counted the days until court would reconvene next Monday, January fourth. Today was Tuesday, her second full day back in town, and she hadn’t picked up a crumb of information linking the accidents that killed Betsy and Courtney Keyes. A squeamish part of her mind hoped she was barking up the wrong tree this time.
The Paynes had not seemed particularly distraught over the loss of their daughters. But then, Betsy’s death had taken place in May, Courtney’s swimming accident in August. This was December. Even after such tragedies, life goes on.
Dixie turned down the defroster’s blast of hot air and turned the radio to a news station. “Colder,” the weatherman predicted cheerily, “with possible freezing rain.” (more…)
Dixie was glad to see the word Garden separating Payne from Cafe. Regardless of the spelling, she couldn’t get past the image of hot soup in the lap or ground glass in the burgers — a restaurant dispensing pain as the house specialty. Payne Garden Cafe was a little easier to take.
Parked across the street in the Mustang, she studied the Garden Cafe and Payne Hardware, pondering what she might accomplish by going inside. She wanted to know Betsy Keyes, wanted to know her family, their routines and how those routines might have differed on the day the girl died. She wanted to know Courtney, as well. Dixie wasn’t sure how it would help her determine whether the deaths were accidental, but she needed to fill in the picture.
That Rebacca Payne was creative, she deduced from viewing the cafe’s exterior. Nestled among service stations, dry cleaners, and convenience stores, the Garden Cafe contributed a dash of vibrancy to an otherwise commonplace neighborhood street.
A glassed-in sun porch spread across the front. A terraced bed of herbs and flowers flanked the weathered boardwalk leading to the entry. Among chives, dill and other green edibles, which Dixie recognized by their hand-painted pixie signs, potted poinsettias raised red topknots to the midday sun. In one corner, a stack of flat clay pots and a box of daffodil bulbs bearing a fluorescent PLANT NOW sticker hinted at the yellow blossoms that would spring up in coming months. Dixie liked it.
Homicide Division had moved some years ago from the maze of offices in downtown Houston to the Southeast Service Center on Mykawa Road. The idea was to spread out, thereby easing the tension that surfaces under crowded working conditions. Dixie had known Benjamin Rashly as an overworked homicide sergeant sharing a desk and chewing Tums as if he owned stock in the company. Now, as a lieutenant of Accident Division, he didn’t belong in his old office, but he hadn’t broken the habit of dropping by.
When she popped in at eight o’clock Monday morning, he sat scowling down at an arrest report in a thick folder.
“Hey, Rash. Got time to talk?”
He held up a hand for silence.
Now that she was no longer with the DA’s office, getting Rashly to part with information on a police case was like trying to sweet-talk water from a well. On the drive over, she’d racked her brain for something she could trade for a look at the Keyes file. Official reports were public record. What she wanted were the bits and pieces that never made it to the official reports.
Rashly’s white hair was thinning on top, revealing a pink spot about the size of a silver dollar. He’d gained a few lines in his square face over the years and some extra padding around his middle. Not bad at all, though, for his age, which she guessed at mid to late fifties, same as Carla Jean’s. What a world of difference between this vital, active man and her wasted mother. (more…)
Sunday morning came and went in a blur. After pounding the pillow until well past ten, Dixie took Dann to breakfast and then to the grocery. They bought a carload of food, things like ginger root, which she couldn’t imagine eating, and parsley, which she thought was used only as plate clutter.
By afternoon, the smells from the kitchen convinced her Dann knew what he was doing — pasta with shrimp, coffee made from freshly ground beans, and homemade pecan pie. He’d found her pecan stash in the pantry, the fifty-pound bag she saved out of each year’s crop, and had spent the morning shelling pecans while she slept. She didn’t have the heart to tell him about the automatic sheller in the barn.
“So,” he said over coffee. “We get started first thing tomorrow?”
He had shaved, and she was still getting used to his new face. He looked younger, friendlier, less sinister. (more…)
At half past midnight, after depositing Dann and Mud at her home in Richmond, Dixie turned the Mustang into an alley behind a four-story abandoned brick building at the edge of Downtown Houston. The night was still, clear and unnervingly quiet. No sign of the snow that had thrilled Ryan on Christmas Day.
She slipped the car into a niche between two buildings, then trod gingerly among broken bottles and other trash to a back entrance, where a rusted padlock sealed the door. The lock hadn’t been opened in years. Fingering a small black button at the bottom edge of the brick, Dixie watched a double bay door slide silently upward. The room inside was as dark as an oil slick on a moonless night.
Visiting the Gypsy Filchers’ headquarters was like visiting another planet. They were only available between midnight and dawn. With first light, they’d be as gone as smoke in the wind. And no matter where they set up shop, the place took on an otherworldliness similar to nothing Dixie had ever experienced. Their short-circuited youth seemed to heighten their imagination and resourcefulness, like the lost boys from Peter Pan. (more…)
It takes both rain and sunshine to make a rainbow. Within ever family and every great friendship, rain happens, and if we hang in there the sun peeks out again. This is a day to celebrate the love we have for life, country, and for one another. Let’s do it.
December 27, Houston, Texas
Ellie waited until her mother’s bedroom door clicked shut, then switched her nightlight back on. she didn’t like sleeping in the dark anymore.
Shivering even under the extra blanket Mama had brought, she pushed the covers around Raggedy Ann’s chin and hugged her close. She wished she could go back to camp and find the lucky penny. Maybe if she hadn’t lost it, the bad thing wouldn’t have happened to Courtney.
She missed Courtney.
She missed Betsy, too.
Scrunching a corner of the pillowcase, she wiped her nose and eyes. Mama said the aspirin would make her feel better. Ellie wished it would hurry. Her tummy hurt and her head made pounding noises in her ears. (more…)
Brushing her teeth with the door open, Dayna watched her sister. For at least ten minutes, Erin had sat on her bunk gazing into a hand mirror. Now she touched her lips as if remembering a taste she couldn’t quite get her mind around.
“Narcissistic much?” The wisecrack came out of nowhere, and Dayna instantly wanted to take it back. Erin wasn’t at all self-absorbed. Since their parents’ death, she’d been the greatest big sister anyone could want.
When she didn’t answer, Dayna rinsed her mouth then sat down on the bunk beside her.
“Thanks for singing with me. We got some laughs, especially when you put your arms around Cookie on the final note.” When she still didn’t answer, Dayna said, “Cookie promised me five-hundred dollars if you’ll go to bed with him. I said you’ll knock on his door before midnight.”
Still no response. “Erin!”
December 27, Interstate 45, Texas
Parker watched the Houston Skyline tower into view, buildings like sentries waiting to close in on him. He was in a pissy mood, not at all interested in talking about the night of the hit-and-run. Why was Flannigan so friggin keen on the subject, anyway? They’d be quits soon as she dropped him at the county jail.
“Tell me about the guy who stayed late at the Green Hornet,” she said.
“Again? Nothing’s changed in two hours.”
The bounty hunter’d cut the twenty-two-hour trip to seventeen, driving like a Tasmanian devil — with the fortitude of a camel and the bladder of a friggin elephant. Stopped once, for gas, leaving him locked in the backseat without a prayer of breaking free.
IN HIS CUBBYHOLE, WITH HIS TECH EQUIPMENT and marked-up script, Bradley listened to the whisper of backstage activity. The lighting guy had gone home early, complaining about his cast itching as if invaded by ants, and left Bradley to work the changes for the first act.
Before the play started, he’d run through the whole script sequence with only one glitch, which he replayed until he knew it cold. Now, his brain on automatic, the irritation with his father intruded again.
What was Dad trying to prove? His old job had seemed safe all those years, yet he’d almost been killed. Investigating a murder had to be maximum dangerous.
Seeing his father in the hospital, tubes running everywhere, Bradley had sat beside his bed in the dark and confessed. He knew his mother had wanted the divorce. But fathers were supposed to be strong, able to fix things. Bradley counted on him to fix the family back together. He confessed that he missed his father and ached to talk to him at times. Dad hadn’t been awake to hear that confession. Later, Bradley never seemed to find the words to express how he felt.
Now that Dad had gotten sucked into another dangerous job, Bradley wondered if his own accusation had pushed him. Dad was no quitter. He’d tried more than once to patch things up. How many families stayed together forever, anyway? Among all his friends, he knew two. (more…)