N Is For Noose Page 15

This time I murmured, ’’Really.’’

Her gaze brushed my face and then drifted off again. ’’You look like a good judge of character, so I don't feel I'm telling tales out of school when I say this. She has no spiritual foundation even if she does go to church. She's a mite materialistic. She seems to think she can use acquisitions to fill the void in her life, but it won't do.’’

’’For example,’’ I said.

’’You saw the new carpet in the living room?’’

’’Yes, I saw that.’’

Cecilia shot me a glance filled with satisfaction. ’’She had that installed about ten days ago. I thought it was in poor taste, doing it so soon, but Selma never asked me. Selma 's also confided she's considering having those two front teeth capped, which is not only vain, but completely trivial. Talk about a waste of money. I guess now she's a widder, she can do anything she likes.’’

What I thought was, what's wrong with vanity? Given the range of human failings, self-absorption is harmless compared to some I could name. Why not do whatever you deem relevant to feeling better about yourself-within reason, of course. If Selma wanted to get her teeth capped, why should Cecilia give a shit? What I said was, ’’I got the impression she was devoted to Tom.’’

’’As well she should have been. And he to her, I might add. Tom spent his life trying to satisfy the woman. If it wasn't one thing, it was another. First, she had to have a house. Then she wanted something bigger in a better neighborhood. Then they had to join the country club. And on and on it went. Anytime she didn't get what she wanted? Well, she pouted and sulked until he broke down and got it for her. It was pitiful in my opinion. Tom did everything he could, but there wasn't any way to make her happy.’’

I said, ’’My goodness.’’ This is the way I talk in situations like this. I could not, for the life of me, think where to go from here. ’’He was a nice-looking man. I saw a picture of him at the house,’’ I said, vamping.

’’He was downright handsome. Why he married Selma was a mystery to rne. And that son of hers?’’ Cecilia pulled her lips together like a drawstring purse. ’’Brant was a pain in the grits from the first time I ever laid eyes on the boy. He had a mouth on him like a trucker and he was bratty to boot. Back talk and sass? You never heard the like. Did poorly in school, too. Problems with his temper and what they call his impulse control. Of course, Selma thought he was a saint. She. wouldn't tolerate a word of criticism regardless of what'he did. Poor Tom nearly tore his hair out. I guess he finally managed to get the boy squared away, but it was no thanks to her.’’

’’She mentioned Brant worked as a paramedic. That's a responsible job.’’

’’Well, that's true enough,’’ she conceded grudgingly. ’’About time he took hold. You can credit Tom for that. ’’

’’Do you happen to know where Tom was going that night? I understand he was found somewhere on the outskirts of town.’’

’’A mile north of here.’’

’’He didn't drop in to see you?’’

’’I wish he had,’’ she said. ’’I was visiting a friend down in Independence and didn't get back here until shortly after ten fifteen or so. I saw the ambulance pass, but I had no idea it was meant for him.’’


Tuesday morning at nine, I stopped by the offices of the Nota County Coroner. I hadn't slept well the night before. The cabin was poorly insulated and the night air was frigid. I'd moved the thermostat up to 70, but all it did was click off and on ineffectually. I'd crawled into bed wearing my sweats, a turtleneck, and a pair of heavy socks. The mattress was as turgid as a trough of mud. I curled up under a comforter, a quilt, and a wool blanket, with my heavy leather jacket piled on top for the weight. just about the time I got warm, my bladder announced that it was filled to capacity and required my immediate attention or a bout of bedwetting would ensue. I tried to ignore the discomfort and then realized I'd never sleep a wink until I'd heeded the message. By the time I got back under the covers, all the ambient heat had been dispelled and I was forced to suffer through the cold again until I drifted off to sleep.

When I woke up at seven, my nose felt like a Popsicle and my breath was visible in puffs against the wan morning light. I showered in tepid water, dried myself shivering, and dressed in haste. Then I dog trotted down the road to the Rainbow Cafe where I stoked up on another breakfast, sucking down orange juice, coffee, sausages, and pancakes saturated with butter and syrup. I told myself I needed all the sugar and fat to refuel my depleted reserves, but the truth was I felt sorry for myself and the food was the simplest form of consolation.

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