This year the Christmas season held little joy for me. There were a few brief moments of pleasure that vanished all too soon. Seeing a small child’s delight in the twinkling tree lights. Selecting gifts for my family, friends and neighbors. Watching my granddaughter perform the role of Clara in a local production of the Nutcracker. Those times did little to halt my feelings of regret and grief.
On Christmas Eve, I sat with my family in a pew in St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church and huddled in my coat. The chill I felt had nothing to do with the voices of the choir raised in joyful celebration, or in the message of hope and peace contained in the sermon and the liturgy. My feelings were caused by things I had and had not done.
Though we sat several rows in front of the place where death had stained the stones of the floor, my awareness of past events nearly drove me to leave. Remembering last month’s Evensong and the death of the choir master brought frost-filled memories and stirred my guilt. For my covetousness had brought him here, and I’d been the one to discover the body.
Your fault. Your fault. Those words had circled in my thoughts for weeks.
As the candles were lit at midnight, I prayed my role in Roger Brandon’s death would fade and I could forgive myself. I also knew my decision to welcome the New Year in
with my dear friend, Lars Claybourne, was mete and right. Thoughts of the trip
had become my golden dream. Santa Fe, New Mexico
* * *
The evening before my departure, I carried a half dozen tins of dried mint to the bedroom. These were the last items for the suitcase on the antique sleigh bed. As I paused in the doorway, the urge to laugh was almost impossible to contain, but a stern approach was needed.
“Robespierre, an open suitcase is not a bed.” I glared at the Maine Coon cat who had curled among my neatly folded clothes. “You aren’t being abandoned. Maria and the baby are excited about your visit.”
The look of disdain on his face brought my laughter bubbling forth. I dumped the tea on the bed, scratched his head, then lifted twenty-five pounds of cat from the case. “Be gone.” As he stalked from the room, his tail twitched to signal his displeasure at being banished.
After tucking my stash among my clothes, I closed the case. With a supply of teas for every occasion, I felt prepared to face my flight to an unfamiliar destination. I wheeled the suitcase and carried a hanging bag to the kitchen where they would be on hand for my early morning departure. My son had grumbled about the hour, but he’d promised to get me to the plane on time.
Robespierre now lay on the kitchen floor and stared at the case containing my belated Christmas present for Lars’ granddaughter. I plugged in the electric kettle, this year’s gift from one of my neighbors, selected an assortment of mints and stuffed a tea ball.
Once the tea had steeped, I poured a mug and headed to the living room where I settled on the window seat. The lights from the
Tappan Zee Bridge
vied with the moonlight dancing on the dark waters of the Hudson
River. Stars formed patterns in the sky. I’m never tired of
watching the river and my early morning walks often end at the river’s edge.
The shrill ring of the phone startled me. I grabbed the receiver. “Hello.”
“Lars, is something wrong?” Why was he calling when he’d see me tomorrow? Had something happened to make it necessary for me to postpone my visit?
“Jitters. Afraid you’ve changed your mind. You’ve never come before. And...there is something...” His voice drifted into silence.
Something was bothering him, but extracting a story long distance is hard. Face to face is better. “My bags are packed and the tickets are in my purse.”
“Good. I’m looking forward to having you here.” He paused. “What are you doing with the cat?”
“He’ll be staying with Maria and the baby.” I chuckled. “At this moment he’s peeved. He tried to use my suitcase as a bed and I chased him.”
Lars laughed. “Guess he wants to come along. You could bring him.”
“Are you out of your mind? You want me to bring the creature who hates cars and being confined? He’ll be fine at the
’ house. I’m
looking forward to freedom from his tyranny.” Prescotts
“He does tend to act like a dictator. Kate, we’ll have a grand time while you’re here. I’ve so many things planned for us to do.”
I set down the mug. “That’s not why you called. What is bothering you?”
His deep sigh rumbled in my ear. “The problem is...I’m not sure what’s going on.”
“So tell me what you can. Are Don and Megan all right?”
“And...” I hesitated to ask if his daughter had staged a scene when she learned I’d accepted his invitation. “Is there a problem because I’m coming?”
“I’m not sure there is a problem.” He paused. “It’s just...vague...and...You know I plan to retire. I’ve been avoiding all the paperwork necessary for months. Last week I looked at some of the companies I’ve seeded. Something odd is going on.”
For years Lars has looked for new and sometimes unique businesses and provided funds for expansion and promotion. Most of these ventures have been successful and repayment of the loans with interest has made him a wealthy man.
“Someone’s stealing.” The words just popped out.
“Maybe, but I hope not. Except just before Ramona’s accident, she hinted she’d discovered a number of discrepancies. We found nothing in her records or her computer. I figured whatever she’d learned had been destroyed when her car burned.”
Eight months ago, Lars’ daughter-in-law had died in a tragic accident. A chill crawled along my spine. “Do be careful.”
His laughter boomed. “You’re telling me to be careful. This warning comes from a woman who set herself up to be robbed, who had tea with a murderer, and who single-handedly trapped a killer.”
“I wasn’t in any danger.”
“If you say so...What time does your flight arrive? I’ll meet you at the airport.”
“No need. I’ve rented a car.”
“Why? I’ll be on hand to provide taxi service.”
The image of a glowering Lars stomping after me while I flitted from shop to shop made me chuckle.
“How wonderful. Are you volunteering to go shopping with me? I plan to spend at least a day in the shops. Probably more.”
He groaned. “You win. See you tomorrow. You’ll need to announce yourself at the gate so I can buzz you in. Oh, bring an assortment of your mints.”
“And warm clothes.”
“Yes, Lars. Let me go so I can head to bed. My flight leaves at seven AM so we’ll be leaving here a little after four.”
“Do you remember the name of the estate?”
Why was he so reluctant to let me go? Tomorrow I planned to ask him a lot of questions and discover the answers. “How could I forget? Good night, Lars. See you tomorrow.”
After I hung up, I stared at the night sky. Something troubled him and I’d learned nothing from our conversation. Was I headed into another messy situation?
Stop it! Just because my nerves were frayed didn’t mean trouble lurked in
. Santa Fe
Robespierre leaped to the window seat and rubbed his head against my hand. His rumbling purr soothed my nerves. An uneventful visit was my goal. There’d been enough mayhem in my life.