Copyright ÂŠ 2017 Barry Knister All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission of the publisher. This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the authorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Published by Open Window an imprint of BHC Press Library of Congress Control Number: 2016954888 ISBN-13: 978-1-946006-13-4 ISBN-10: 1-946006-13-0 Visit the author at: www.bwknister.com & www.bhcpress.com Also available in eBook Cover, interior, and eBook design by Blue Harvest Creative www.blueharvestcreative.com
ALSO BY BARRY KNISTER BRENDA CONTAY NOVELS The Anything Goes Girl Deep North OTHER NOVELS Just Bill Dating Service
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 2003 Jimmy, they’re going to love you. You’re going to be their favorite grandson, the beautiful young man who helps them. I see it, I really do. If you go to the other coast, you’ll be a sensation. The hair, the teeth, perfect English better even than Harvard—they won’t know what hit ’em! Driving south on Florida’s 41, James Rivera smiled at the memory. Everything the old man said that day had turned out to be true. He still saw Arnold Kleinman in his office, seated behind his huge desk— You’re my protégé, my apprentice. You leave Boca Raton with all this knowledge you soak up like a sponge, and go to Naples— The dashboard clock read 8:20, but already intense morning sun was making him squint. He got his sunglasses from the console. The crowded, busy day ahead was definitely not the best day to be helping Hilda Frieslander. He had the Haileys’ big Christmas tree to take down, the Grizettis’ loose pavers to fix, plus a whole backlog of client problems in North Naples— Yes, Jim, but in business, when you make promises, you keep them.
And remember, old people are different, go easy. It always pays off in good word-of-mouth. ◆◆◆◆◆ The deadbolt clicked. He waited for her to roll back in her wheelchair before easing open the door. “Did you get caught in traffic?” she asked. “Not for long.” Mrs. Frieslander turned herself as Rivera stepped in. He closed the door, shifted her bag of groceries, and used his free hand to push her down the hall. It was narrow, with bookcases on both sides. Arranged on top were small, beautiful bronze horses captured in full gallop. When he came here, it was to read to her and cook. Today, she had asked him to buy a small turkey and a bottle of Banfi Brunello ’01. They passed the open door to the study she could no longer use. Mrs. Frieslander had been the first person to answer his ad, and as he rolled her past the unused guest bedroom, Rivera remembered Mrs. F smiling and looking up from his business card. I like the name of your company. All Hands on Deck is a rhetorical device. Seeing he didn’t understand, she had explained. All Hands is what’s called a synecdoche. The part of something that stands for the whole. The hands represent the people who help. Her condo was on the eighteenth floor, and as they entered the front room, he saw the slider was open to her terrace. “Were you up to watch the sunrise?” he asked. “Do you want me to take—” “You know me better than that,” Mrs. F said. “Sunrises are kitsch, just like sunsets. It’s open so I can smell the Gulf.” Anything kitsch was crude and unrefined, in poor taste. Like Arnold Kleinman, Mrs. F had taught Rivera a great many words. She nodded, and he pushed her around the corner, into the kitchen. “Have you got it?”
As he set her groceries on the counter, she turned the wheelchair to face him. Rivera reached in the shopping bag and brought out a cellophane package. He opened the drawer with her kitchenware, searched, and found a paring knife. He closed the drawer and began slicing open the cellophane. “Careful,” she said. “Yes.” When done, he stepped to her, placed the package on her knees, and stepped back. After a moment, Mrs. Frieslander peeled away the wrapping and unfolded a large plastic bag used for roasting turkeys. Shaking it loose, she brought the bag to her mouth and blew it open. “Perfect,” she said as she held it out. “Big and clear. I got the idea from an old Hemlock Society newsletter. But the photo showed a frosted bag. It put me off.” Still holding it, with difficulty the old woman reached with her free hand into her suit pocket. She tugged out a thick green rubber band and held it up. “From Barnes and Noble,” she said. “The band from my magazine order.” “Good. Let me get started—” “No, James. I’m going to throw you a curve.” That was from baseball, being thrown a curve, a surprise. She smoothed out the plastic bag, folded it and tucked it with the rubber band back into her suit pocket. Unlike many of Rivera’s elderly clients, Hilda Frieslander was still careful about her appearance. He had never seen this outfit. It was navy with white trim. And because of her diabetes she always wore compression stockings, but today she had on black nylons. When he looked up, Mrs. F raised both hands and held back her white hair. She was wearing diamond earrings. She lowered her hands and folded them on her knees. “You look very pretty,” he said. “Thank you. Please open the wine.” “You don’t want—”
“The groceries are just meant to keep your visit in sync with our usual routine.” She raised her hands and fitted the fingers together. “In s-y-n-c,” she said. “Synchronized. Coordinated.” “I understand.” Rivera again looked in the drawer and found the corkscrew. He set it on the counter, got the bottle and began working off the tinfoil. “Did you make sure to speak to the lobby guard?” “Dewey? Yes, I did. I told him you wanted to roast a turkey. I asked how you were.” “What did he say?” “That you seemed depressed.” Rivera finished with the foil and got the corkscrew. “He said you lost money on the horses.” “That’s good, he remembered. It explains my cash withdrawals from the teller machine in the lobby. Twelve-five over the last two weeks.” “It’s very generous, Mrs. F.” “Not really. Compared to the fees charged for medical procedures, it’s about in line with an appendectomy.” Once Rivera got the corkscrew started, he looked back at her. Because they were old and rich and he was Mexican, many of his clients disrespected him. Not Mrs. Frieslander. She never insulted him or used bad language. But as he held the wine bottle between his knees and pulled on the cork, Rivera remembered another of his clients. They were standing together, watching workers pull off the blue shrink wrap from Mr. Burlson’s new boat, and Mr. B had pointed at the men. Illegal spics, every one of them, and they breed like rabbits. Then Mr. B leaned close and squeezed Rivera’s arm. Not you, Jim. You know I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about a certain element. The cork came free with a pop. “Bottom shelf, next to the sink.” He found wine glasses, got out two and closed the cabinet. Mrs. F had long ago stopped drinking. At seventy-eight,
along with being diabetic, she had suffered two strokes and was now going blind from macular degeneration. Rivera never drank, but this was different. “I want to ask you something,” she said. “I assume I’m not the first.” “No.” “How many others have you helped this way?” He hesitated before pouring the wine. Arnold Kleinman would warn against saying anything. Warn about surprises and curveballs. There wouldn’t be any with Hilda Frieslander. She had no family except a niece who never came to visit. “Four,” he said. “Three men, one woman.” “I don’t want details, I was just curious.” He poured carefully, brought the glasses over and handed one to her. They clinked and drank. Rivera thought now that it was too bad they hadn’t met sooner. Mrs. F could have taught him useful things about wine. He lowered his glass. “Would you like me to read to you?” “Oh, I had quite a list,” she said. “Passages from Lear and Hamlet. Poems by Auden. Then I realized I was just assembling a bibliography to keep me up past my bedtime.” She sipped her wine. “A bibliography—” “Is a list of books on a specific subject.” She winked at him to acknowledge his good memory and raised her glass. “To the undiscovered country,” she said and drank. Rivera did the same. When he again looked at her, Mrs. Frieslander was staring. Not at him, but over his shoulder, remembering something. “That’s what Hamlet calls death,” she said. “The undiscovered country. ‘Thus conscience does make cowards of us all.’” She focused on him. “It’s funny, isn’t it? You can see how prepared I was. The rubber band, the clothes, earrings. You can’t imagine how hard it is for me now, getting into pantyhose. All dressed up and ready just an hour ago. But I’m sorry, I think not.”
She drank off her wine and held the glass out to him. “No, James, not today. A glass of wine, but not ‘the thing itself.’ Because it has to feel right, doesn’t it? You said so yourself, when we worked this out. ‘You’ll know when it’s time,’ you said. Just before you came, I was listening to the radio, NPR. To take my mind off it. They did a story on the favorites running in this year’s Kentucky Derby. I thought to myself, what’s the rush? That’s perfect, Hilda, the Kentucky Derby in May. It would be more appropriate, everyone knows I’m crazy about horses. Doing this in May would be my own run for the roses.” In May. He nodded and took her glass. Something similar had happened with the client with Parkinson’s. In the end, Rivera had talked him out of postponing, but Mrs. Frieslander was different. She was still clear-headed and sharp. “All right—” He set the empty glass on the counter and put his own next to it. “Why don’t we go in the living room? We’ll talk.” “We can freeze the turkey for later.” “Yes, but first I think we should be sure about the bag. For when you’re ready.” With difficulty she pulled the plastic bag from her pocket. He took it and stepped behind the wheelchair. He put the bag to his mouth and blew. “OK, try it on—” Holding it by the bunched end, he reached over her shoulder and handed it to her like a bouquet. She took it, spread it wide, and raised it over her head. “To keep your hair nice, want me to help?” She nodded. With both hands he took the open poultry bag, and as she lowered her arms, he carefully brought it down without disturbing her hair. “Good?” She nodded. “We also need to be sure you can put on the rubber band by yourself. Otherwise, they might want to talk to me. You know I can’t have trouble with Immigration.” Nodding, Mrs. Frieslander took out the rubber band. The bag compressed and inflated as she stretched the band with
splayed fingers. She raised it above her head as though putting on a hat and lowered it over her hair and nose. Breathing calmly, she held the band open at the neck. “Do you remember when we talked about this the first time?” he asked. “You talked about not getting something. What was the saying? I can’t remember.” “Cold feet,” she said, voice muffled. “That’s it, cold feet. Getting nervous, changing your mind.” “I’m sorry, James. In May, not now.” “Of course.” “I just think the Derby—” “The only problem, Mrs. F, I was more or less planning—” “The money? I put it right where we agreed. In the recipe box next to the microwave. Go ahead and take it. We’ll call it payment in advance. I trust you.” The bag crackled with her breathing. Through the nowfoggy plastic she looked up, signaling for him to take it off. The money was his, the curveball didn’t matter. But again Rivera saw himself standing next to Mr. B. Illegal spics, every one of them— From behind he took her wrists. The rubber band snapped in place on her neck and he cupped her hands in his, leaned down and pressed her palms against the chair’s armrests. She fought, surprised, twisting her wrists. The bag sucked in and blew out. She had no breath to scream. Rivera leaned close and pressed more firmly. “Come on now, Mrs. F, it’s time… You said so yourself… No cold feet, not for you.”
NORTHWEST FLIGHT 1178 DETROIT/FORT MYERS “One thing’s for sure—” Patrick Sweeney leaned close for emphasis. “All politicians love freebie flying,” he said. “I never met a state legislator who wouldn’t sell his grandmother to ride in a corporate jet.” Brenda Contay laughed too hard at the joke, but she wasn’t faking. People sometimes laughed to show gratitude, and that’s what she was doing. Showing gratitude for being taken out of herself by small talk. Being kept from herself. “Anyway, these lobbyists—my clan you could call them, my tribe—they actually schmoozed some Lee County commissioners into convincing voters—wait for it—to raise their property taxes. For the sole purpose of building roads for the developers.” Sweeney shook his head. “It was Oscar material. They had those commissioners in their pockets in spades, they flew six of them to Barbados—” In spades. The phrase hit her like a slap. “Please hold that thought.”
Brenda undid her seatbelt, shoved up and started down the aisle. Curious passengers watched her lurching their way. “Sorry—” She kicked a foot, banged a shoulder with her hip, but kept going. “Is there something—” The flight attendant stepped back. UNOCCUPIED. Brenda shoved in and clapped shut the folding door. She slid the lock, turned and leaned back. Toilets on planes always made her nervous. The engine noise, the way blue disinfectant swilled around before being sucked down. Not today, she thought. Today it’s a refuge. A safe haven. And everything had been going so well. For something like a hundred minutes, Patrick Sweeney had kept her occupied with stories about his life as a lobbyist. Brenda had held up her end by telling him about her recent interview with a famous, paranoid sculptor. To keep his work secret, the artist welded his sculptures in an abandoned copper mine, two hundred feet below ground in the Upper Peninsula. But then Sweeney had said in spades. She refused to look in the mirror at her red potscrubber hair and sleep-deprived, gray-green eyes. Her nose was running, something related to pressurized cabins on planes. She reached to the dispenser and snatched a paper towel. “What’s the matter with you?” She wiped her upper lip. “Get a grip, grow up. You said goodbye to lots of men, you won a Pulitzer, you have friends—” Jesus. She blew her nose with the towel. The crap people used to buck themselves up. Straightening her shoulders, Brenda breathed in, breathed out. True, she thought. Goodbye to lots of men. But just one Charlie Schmidt. ◆◆◆◆◆ In spades, in spades, in spades—she worked her way back up the aisle. A shrink had said repeating trigger words could
weaken their power. When she reached her row, Sweeney was looking over from his window seat. He was in his fifties, with a youthful, ruddy complexion that somehow fit with his full head of white hair. He said nothing as Brenda slipped in and reached around for her seatbelt. At first, she had expected him to come on to her—he seemed the type. But he hadn’t. His hand was resting on the fold-down tray, next to a glass of melting ice and a serving of Dewar’s Scotch. The Scotch was still unopened. Old School, Brenda thought and tightened the seatbelt. A gentleman like Charlie Schmidt. “OK—” She made a little show of sitting up straight and turning his way. “Mission accomplished,” she said. “Please open your drink. ” Sweeney nodded. As he twisted open his Dewar’s, the gesture made her want to open up and explain herself. “As you may have noticed, you pushed a button,” she said. “I know someone who says things like ‘in spades.’” Sweeney smiled as he poured. “Is he your father?” “No, someone about your age.” “I take it this is your main squeeze.” “Was,” she said. “We broke up.” “Ah.” Sweeney sipped his drink. Broke up. The expression all at once seemed bone-headed to her. And wrong. All she’d done was to see and to finally accept what had been there all along: there could be no future with Charlie Schmidt. She wondered what his term for it would be. Calling it quits? Throwing in the towel? “One thing’s for sure,” Sweeney said. “‘In spades’ isn’t from your own age demographic.” No, it wasn’t. “But that means,” Sweeney added, leaning close again, “there’s hope for me. If this guy’s around my age, the golden years could be full of promise.”
Brenda smiled at the compliment. She drank from her ginger ale and lowered the glass. “He’s a very good man,” she said. “We had problems, that’s all. Neither of us could come up with a work-around.” “How do you mean ‘work-around’?” “I won’t bore you,” she said. “It’s complicated. But the short form is, it was just over. Plus I had this trip scheduled to write an article. It just seemed the right time to make a clean break.” “It’s always complicated,” Sweeney said. He sipped again and set down his glass. “But it sounds to me like you’re running away.” Brenda looked at him. “You’re wrong,” she told him. “I’m not ‘on the lam,’ and that’s not from my age demographic, either. You’re just wrong.” Sweeney held up a hand. “My bad,” he said. “I just heard something different.” She sipped her ginger ale. A stranger sitting next to her on a plane had easily heard the truth lying just below the careergirl snappy patter. Lying at the bottom of her own abandoned copper mine. “Look, I’m sorry,” Sweeney said. “I see I spoke out of turn.” “No, I’m sorry,” she said. “What’s more boring than someone going on about ‘relationships?’” She used air quotes to show she was in control. Sweeney gave her a weary smile and sipped his drink. She had told him the purpose of her trip to Florida was to research an article on real estate for Esquire. Well-off baby boomers were preparing for retirement by snapping up houses and condos in Naples. She had arranged to spend two weeks at a friend’s place, on a golf course called Donegal. What do you know? Sweeney had said. I’m going there, too. I own a house at Donegal.
As he sipped his drink, she again noticed the tan line on his ring finger. “Your house in Naples,” she said. “Is your wife there, or back in Michigan?” “No, neither.” Was he divorced? She wanted details on how Sweeney had met his wife, whether they played golf together—anything to move things along. But he lowered his glass and said nothing more. This, too, was like Charlie Schmidt. Short and sweet. “‘Hunky dory.’” Sweeney smiled. “I bet that’s another one from your guy.” True, it was. Brenda turned away. She felt a strong impulse to spill the beans, to spill her guts and tell him how, last spring, she and three other women had gone fishing in Minnesota. We were followed by a man, she wanted to tell him. He murdered four people, and I killed him. An arm settled gently on her shoulders. Brenda focused on the seat in front of her, on the in-flight magazine, and the instructions for escape in an emergency. She nodded thanks, and Sweeney took his arm away. Spill the beans. How long was it going to take? Almost every time she had an idea or opened her mouth, Charlie Schmidt would be there.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Barry Knister was a university professor before turning to full-time writing. His first novel, The Dating Service was published by Berkley. His second, Just Bill is a novel for adults about dogs and owners, and was published by Gold Mountain Press. Knister has published two previous novels in the Brenda Contay suspense series. The first (The Anything Goes Girl) draws on his years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The Second (Deep North) is set in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota, where he fishes each spring. Knister is the past secretary of Detroit Working Writers, and served as the director of the Cranbrook Summer Writers Conference. He lives outside Detroit with his wife, Barbara, and their Aussie shepherd, Skylar. Visit the author at his website: www.bwknister.com or at his publisher: www.bhcpress.com